Issue #20, May 2011
compound light (La Jolla) by bl pawelek 1
In This Issue… Letter from the editors
Risk: A Zuihitsu
Love with Three
Powder of Sympathy
Art by bl pawelek
the death of fill (Oceanside)
Still Life with Neighbors
The Other Magicians Will Kill Me for Revealing This
Fifth Recitation Prior to the Consumption of Organic Psilocybin
Etched on the Bone Caught in Your Throat
53 Harrison Street Goes on the Market
Art by bl pawelek
circle and burn one (Vista)
Stacy W. Julin
Just Out of Reach
Review by Stacia M. Fleegal (ed.)
Dusseau’s Theory of Evolution: Review of The Body Tries Again
Art by bl pawelek
life inside (Vista)
Keith S. Wilson
rules of prejudice
The One You Love is a Piece of Beard Paper
Matt Mauch Kasandra Larsen Kasandra Larsen
Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly
Congratulations on beating teen pregnancy, reads your 20th birthday card
To You, To You, Dear
Art by bl pawelek
beach rock (Mission Bay)
Review by Kris Bigalk
Panic, by Laura McCullough
The Cruelest Man in the World
Brock Marie Moore
Brock Marie Moore
Art by bl pawelek
sunlight (Point Loma)
The Antique No
Days of the Righteous
Dear, dear readers, We are five years old. This is our 20th issue. As such, we offer one of our longest issues to date, packed with the best writing we’ve read in a long time. Well, since the last issue, at least. There are throwback elements here, a symmetry with earlier issues that just tickles us. You’ll find previous themes: food, sex, animals, death, the surreal, the taboo, and always, the relationship-in-turmoil. You’ll see some familiar names, former contributors whose second submissions made us look up their earlier work and smile. You’ll read work that dazzles with fresh imagery, language, and characters—our mainstays. But forward! There are changes as well, because change is good, grand, necessary. We’re relaxing a bit, moving toward more fluidity. No more genre sections; hell, let’s read fiction right beside poetry right beside poems in prose right beside one-act plays about you lecturing your food on feminism (yes, the patriarchy is still going strong; and yes, we are still publishing “gray area” pieces, but there are no formal “sections” now). We want you to experience an issue, not just read a few pieces here and there, hence our move to a document reader format a year ago…which, incidentally, was called “an elegant and streamlined online viewer, one of the best this reviewer has ever seen,” by Michelle Bailat-Jones (review of #19 at Necessary Fiction). Will we publish interviews, have guest editors, and bake free cookies for our ten zillionth reader in the future? You’ll just have to stay with us to find out. We can almost guarantee we’ll eat all the cookies, though. Sorry, ten zillionth reader. What else is new? We publish reviews. Oh yes. And what’s more, we want to publish not exclusively, but primarily reviews of books by former BL contributors. (Lest you feel this preference is somehow limiting, please check our ever-expanding BL Authors Library, a collection of links to buy books by our authors. We geek over this list at least once a week.) To kick things off, we have reviews of Panic, by Laura McCullough (BL #12), and The Body Tries Again, by Melanie Dusseau. If these reviews don’t make you want to go support the crap out of some strong female poets, then perhaps you were recently killed in a raid in Pakistan and buried at sea. As in, check your pulse. On, on, #20! Sweet mother, do we have some vibrant artwork this issue (oh yeah, we’re going to include more art from now on, too…so send art!). Artist (and writer, fyi) bl pawelek raided his Flickr to brighten our e-pages with trails of ebullient light. What else in this issue, you ask, somewhat impatiently? How about an iguana that imagines being a cat, a bit of obsession with hair, the best tamale in the galaxy, some organic psilocybin, a girl who’s afraid of her bathroom, and a German clairvoyant. Want a zuihitsu? Check. Got one. We aim, ever, to please. You’re welcome. Enjoy #20. Sincerely, The Editors 4
Ching-In Chen RISK: A ZUIHITSU I do want to be soft â€“ Akilah Oliver
The ice outside does its work. She puts cinnamon in my coffee. I ask questions to hide. Is there knowledge, consent to being poem, her hair in my mouth. We break apart by the door. What is friendship, I want to ask, now that I have pushed off into the world of winter. By the lake, breath is alchemy. surgical instrument.
How could it know what it feels like,
Ching-In Chen LOVE WITH THREE Â
One sang with her hair. We followed after that drifting low-flamed voice, down the pebbled sidewalks of the waking city, down our stretched throats. My other, tone-deaf like boiling water, liked to unroll her pinched voice in service for the blind on Saturdays. Those days, my songbird and I set the water on the stove, waiting for the wailing whistle, signaling her arrival. We were happiest when everyone was home, bumping thigh to burner, hip to icebox, all eyes on the steaming fish. One liked more ginger, one more green onion, but we were each other's guests, offered our boxes of roped-in treasure, our silver ears. When one left with the big pot we used for stew, one did not cook. We two left for the cornerstone deli, living in paper bags and rolled wax. Shorn for miles until one left with all the oranges. Then no one touched me and I sold my bed. My key left under the doormat which says welcome.
Ching-In Chen MORNING RITUAL At 5 am, the peckingbird knocks on the window. My mother boils a furious and odorless soup, a stream of hot water flung towards the sun. She needs to make herself some space for the kettle of her mind to heat up before we bother her. The silence only lasts for a few seconds. My brothers and I know to hide under our blankets. The sharp cut brings the flood of ginger to the doorway. Our call to the blue-daisied kitchen where my mother sits on a high stool, composing the morning’s orchestra. She cleanses the palette of the kitchen with ginger, something she's learned in the wine-tasting school run by her lover. Then, depending on who gets there first to turn on the kettle, the tea leaf unfurls or the bean crunches. My mother lets the lover make us porridge under her dreamy eye, sometimes adding in cardamom on storm-full days. Earth mingles with honey, strangling of eggs, drowning peapods. The melting chicken bone, a carcass trampled by a heavy man’s boot after a smoke, the grease of a truck wheel. It is our job to lick the plates well past clean. A wasted grain is a dirty mind, says my mother, smiling high on her stool. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, her lover responds. Our cues to gather up the crumbs for the crumb basket (naughty, disobedient children!), the plates for the plate-man, and the knives and spoons for later. My mother is very particular about these things. We hate to interrupt her or the song wouldn’t get made. On days when my mother is well, she places us carefully on the polished planks facing the pine trees. We wait one by one for our turn under the scalding shower, our bodies waiting for the mountain air. When my mother is busy, our salt rises with the sun out the door, on our way to the schoolbus. We try to hide the scent of bone and grease in our pockets, but our sheddings give us away. One time, my brother’s teacher catches little bugs lifting from his pockets, douses him with the killing fluid and sends him home with a note stapled to his shirt. This does not bother my mother. Her lover tries to initiate the washing ritual with us, but we do not want her pitying hands. We wait in the corner for our mother to stop singing.
R.L. Ugolini POWDER OF SYMPATHY I met Evgenia in the early morning hours of December 25, 1989, in the unheated kitchen basement of the Gentlemen’s Dueling Society in Heidelberg. At the time, I was hung over and sleep deprived, and at first glance she was just another fraulein, albeit one dressed only in a pair of boys’ skivvies and a ratty bra belonging to a much bigger girl. But the noise that had brought me down from my room was what made me reconsider she was anything but ordinary. The chill air had given her goose bumps that crowded out her freckles, and on her right calf, she’d taken a blue marker and connected the dots, making a rough outline of a rabbit. Her long, bare toes curled on the icy linoleum tile as she stood at the counter, stabbing a toaster with a metal fork, striking sparks and smiling like a demon eating angel wings. I wasn’t sure if I should know who she was. I was fairly confident I’d remember such a creature, but in the harsh fluorescent light of day, I couldn’t remember much of anything. The night before, I’d found a stash of back alley Iron Curtain grain alcohol and celebrated the coming of the Lord and a long, silent night. I had the chapter house to myself, the other brothers-in-arms disappearing for the holidays to Spain or Greece, or into the warm arms of women. Having spent my last dollars American months ago on two ounces of sterling silver and a very, very small diamond, I’d stayed behind. I tried to focus on work—three flintlocks from the collection had broken mainsprings, one had a misaligned pan, and another half-dozen had stripped screws, missing flints, and scabs of rust. But in this catacomb of walnut wainscoted halls and dimly lit parlors, I was no good alone. Back in Davenport, Katy would still be asleep, my early Christmas present to her on her finger. The thought should have cheered me but instead made me lonelier than ever and glad for the unexpected company. I made a grab for the fork, dodged her four-tined thrust, thought better of making another attempt, and unplugged the toaster instead. She grumbled under her breath and then turned her eyes on me. “I’ve brought you the Powder of Sympathy.” “What?” “You do not liff here,” she said, not asking so much as challenging. Three semesters away from a degree in Art & Art Appreciation from Grinnell, I was spending a year abroad at the Universität Heidelberg with an internship at the Kurpfälzisches Museum. Or, I had been until, surrounded by collectors and curators, I came to learn the distinction between “art” and “art appreciation.” The more I defined myself with the creativity of others and claimed it as a representation of my own passions, the less I valued or even recognized myself. People of my generation visited Europe to find themselves, but I couldn’t help but feel whatever spark made me, me, was fading away. 8
R.L. Ugolini One round of academic probation and appeal later, I left to pursue my true callings, namely binge-drinking and silver smithing. Which the dean informed me I was free to do—off campus. When I saw the Society’s want ad for a master armorer, I managed to talk my way into an attic dormer in exchange for what I could do with metal. So, live here, I did. No question about it. “What is your name, young American?” “Ben. Ben Gilly. “Listen,” I said, choosing my next words carefully. I didn’t want to ask—I was faithful to Katy. But I had to know. “Last night. Did we—” She shot me a Cossock glare, black eyeliner ringing bloodshot eyes. She huffed and said, “You mistake me for a whore.” “Who are you? Why are you here?” “You may share this bagel with me,” she said. Next to the toaster lay a crumpled bakery bag. “That was going to be my breakfast,” I said. The bagel was day-old and undoubtedly stale, but it was all that was left. “Did I say otherwise? You may haff half. But I will not make you eggs.” “I don’t want eggs.” Or, more truthfully, there were no eggs. “That is for the best.” She plated the halves and placed them on the scarred butcher block table. “Eat.” **** She left me to my breakfast and the house became so quiet, I wondered if I’d imagined her. I ate my half of the bagel, charred and dry and plastic-tasting from her bout with the toaster, and washed it down with tap water and an aspirin. When enough time had passed and she still hadn’t returned, I ate her half, too. I was just finishing when she reappeared, smoking a cigarette from a long ivory holder. She’d found a fur coat, gone bald in patches, and a pair of old cowboy boots. “You are engaged to be married,” she said. “How did you—” “It is what I do.” She sat down across from me and stared at the two empty plates. As a peace offering, I produced the remainder of the bottle from last night and we talked. Evgenia claimed to be a reader. If not someone who could divine names, at least someone who could see into hearts. “Prove it. If you can see things, then prove it.” “There is at this moment, in your letter box, a letter,” she said. Mail was distributed into windowed boxes in the front anteroom. I’d seen the letter, locked behind the frosted glass. “That is your proof? How about telling me where to find the key?” 9
R.L. Ugolini Ignoring me, she took a long, last swallow and said, “I’ve brought you the Powder of Sympathy, Ben Gilly. I should like to inspect the weapons kept in residence.” “They aren’t really for public viewing—this isn’t a museum.” After all I’d been through with the university, I wasn’t about to play docent to her. Besides, letting Evgenia anywhere near firearms seemed like a very bad idea. “It is of utmost importance I see them.” “You mentioned a powder? Earlier?” I asked as a way of distracting her. “Powder of Sympathy,” she said, affecting the cadence of rote learning. “A remedy applied to a weapon that caused a wound in the hope of healing the injury made.” “But, a powder?” “Roman vitriol.” I had a feeling I should have paid more attention in my Chemistry For Artists class sophomore year. “Who are you?” “I am the one who will help you. Or, I will leaf. You must choose.” Down the hall, the grandfather clock ticked, echoing in the emptiness, the cogs and wheels measuring out each second with such regularity it seemed as if it dictated the beating of my heart. I chose. **** I led her through the main salon to the recessed study we called the sanctum. When I pulled open the heavy doors, a lingering scent of gunpowder escaped from the room in a rush of air. Inside, built-in cabinets displayed our most treasured and notorious items, including a set of 18th century flintlocks used to settle an inheritance between lordling brothers, a New World blunderbuss reported to have been fired in Santo Domingo, and a brace of Napoleonic-era officers’ rapiers. Below the velvet-lined cases, other, more practical pistols, revolvers and épées rested in drawers. Evgenia exhaled, low and throaty, and pushed up the sleeves of her coat. One at a time, she took the weapons in hand, caressing the metal, warming it with her touch. But with each one, she seemed dissatisfied. “You are the weapons master?” She grabbed hold of my hands, turning each to inspect the peppering of flux burns on my palms. “You are young for such a history.” I shrugged. “I went to a magnet high school for the arts.” “I do not know these words ‘magnet high school’.” “It’s a—you know, it doesn’t matter. Technically, though, the term is ‘master armorer’—not weapons master.” “And are these the only injurious agents in the house? These are not what I have come for.” She dismissed the collection with a wave. 10
R.L. Ugolini “Injurious—” “Weapons. I would haff thought a ‘master armorer’ would be able to recognize the products of his trade. Scraps of metal fashioned by men, capable of delivering great suffering.” “There are a few others upstairs in my room.” The live-in arrangement came furnished—one single bed, one wardrobe, one chair, and one fully rigged smithing bench. I had all the pre-WWII clamps, files, soldering picks, reciprocal drills and jewelers’ saws I would ever need. Her eyes shone, creating an illusion of infinite depth. “Show me.” **** “You liff like a pig.” She crinkled her nose. My sheets were unwashed, my bed unmade. She stepped across to my bench, brushing aside the aluminum and copper shavings littering the pine board countertop and picking through spare parts. “This is not it. Nor is this. Or this. Where is the rest?” “That’s it.” “No. No! NO!” She threw herself on my bed and her coat fell open, revealing the length of her leg. The blue rabbit seemed to stare at me. “I am never wrong, Ben Gilly.” Her jaw set and her gaze seemed to defocus. Her hands kneaded the sheets, twisting, pulling. And then she stopped, her fingers clasped tight. “I haff found the key.” **** I listened to her boots clomp down the three flights of stairs. I waited in the anteroom, knowing she would find me, wanting, in some way, for her to. “So?” she asked. I held up the letter. “I see into hearts, not envelopes. Why don’t you open it?” There was no need. My thumb circled the impression the ring made. I didn’t have to open it to know what the letter said. The ring said it all. “What is it, Ben Gilly?” “Just a scrap of metal.”
the death of fill (Oceanside)
Ed Makowski UPSTREAM The water at home always smelled of sulfur, which I didn't notice til leaving, the way someone can share your house and become 100 pounds smaller every day for a year without notice. The city water a safe chlorinated distance from the well water of childhood home where dad declined. Two winters as the big city artist without heat or plumbing and I returned to argue at my brother over brown shoes holding up a black suit. Pacing around the old house I finally asked what the hell was wrong with the god damn rotten egg water -Mom chuckling the obvious A home can only ever smell exactly how you leave it
Ed Makowski STILL LIFE WITH NEIGHBORS A television. An argument on television. An argument about the television argument. An argument about television. A muted television,
argument A door slammed, discontinued argument. Again, television
Matt Mauch THE OTHER MAGICIANS WILL KILL ME FOR REVEALING THIS The knees are instructed—it’s a bullhorn only they can hear— to lead the legs, once the light’s green, in a quick and deliberate walk across the street. Be ready to jog or run say the eyes at the back of the head, where the enzymes have hung a fortune teller’s sign. It’s a long light, i.e., the brain has time to send a memo to the feet and toes; it says that the distance between you and the passing traffic is the distance a medium-sized jungle cat can stretch, hold fast. Not a bad way to put it, or so says a note passed by the remnants of a fourth-grade you for whom everything in the library is new. You have to open the note, a tiny crumpled ball, as carefully as you’d open a bud. A you too young to be afraid of anything can’t remember how many beers you’ve had since the front door was locked and we turned the sign to CLOSED. One kind of bleeding to death is from cuts made to the body by pillows and sheets while you sleep. You staunch that wound with clothes, but what are the clothes doing for you now? It takes one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand . . . five seconds for each of you to stop after passing on the sidewalk, before you realize you’ve met. She had a hand on her pepper spray, a hand on her phone. In jacket weather, you carry in your pocket lip balm and candy you wish it were okay to give away to kids. It isn’t, because of razor blades and wackos, which is why you feel hungover for drinking you didn’t do, it’s the price of playing it cool. Small “m” myth: only girls are afraid to walk alone at night. The light’s green, but what it isn’t saying is go. It’s like a dog whistle blown at a pitch you’re sure only you can hear. It’s says, Maybe you’re not a real man, man.
Matt Mauch FIFTH RECITATION PRIOR TO THE CONSUMPTION OF ORGANIC PSILOCYBIN You can’t start a car, or tie a shoelace, without it being an end in itself. Everything we say is funny enough to be said on the radio during morning drive-time. Even farting is an end in itself. Maybe farting already is that. But did you ever think of lathering your face or your legs or armpits as an end? Lathering up is photographable if you know some photography students trying to capture bathroom rituals. When you start your car and remember you left something you need in the house, engaging the emergency brake is an end, so take the time to enjoy the cable tension increasing beneath your grip, a nervous system running up your back, through your shoulder, down your arm, to the wheel. Say fuck as shorthand for I left what I need inside. The CIA agents who bugged your car because you dreamed once it would be a better world without Dick Cheney in it, they’re in a black van on the street laughing their covert asses off. The people on I-35 with shortwave government-frequency radios are laughing so hard they may lose control if they don’t slow down a bit. You’re walk-running back inside. You used to call this losing three minutes from your life. You used to eat breakfast standing up. The one you thought you left behind for the day helps you find what you need. You feel a smile on your face, wonder how long its been there. The voice you had before it changed says, Since the Victorian age. The one who helps you find lost things asks, What’s so funny? You say, I don’t know. I don’t know is shorthand for If I die right now, I don’t die alone.
Kasandra Larsen ETCHED ON THE BONE CAUGHT IN YOUR THROAT Not the silent nightmare but the repeating dream where a necessary body takes you across space. The autopsy could go either way but will circle the point, that late period of smoldered sky thin slices of breath used to navigate by, hugely magnified so scattered fractured shards will fit inside. Not a black hole, no strange attractor, special magnet, but a freshly matched set: questionable tracks wringing shivers from skeletonized spine. What's writhing in the ragpile turned to ash. Cause of the undocumented accident. The red sign you couldn't translate or move past.
Kasandra Larsen 53 HARRISON STREET GOES ON THE MARKET I'll be open today, supposedly: for two hours, I have to keep my floors from squeaking as best I can, though I'm not used to them yet, bare, the faded blue Berber ripped off my hidden hardwood skin. I can't say anything about the raccoons recently found in the attic, snacking on wires, the mentally challenged uncle found dead in the basement in the 80s, the story of how he was normal until he got kicked in the head by a horse. I'll take to my grave the secret of the walk-in closet that hid a different uncle, a young cousin, a hushed-up molestation. I'll keep my driveway lip zipped, turn the freshly squeaky eyes of my windows away, not say a word about how the pavement cracks each year under snow's weight, how the steep grade makes it impossible to drive up and into the oil and gas-scented garage, won't whisper a word about the girl who told imaginary friends one day she'd own me, sit happily across from the park where her mother pushed her on swings as a baby, read those antique books passed down to her in front of the coveted fireplace. She can't afford me. Once, eleven members of her family shared my two modest bedrooms, spilling onto the floors in sleeping bags, a lot of crying and threats going on then, nobody with enough money for rent. I'll smile to myself, recall mom tugging at that girl's messy braids, the way she'd play sick to get grandma to herself for a whole day. With them gone into assisted living, the chickadees no longer come for winter meals of suet; stray cats don't mew for scraps outside the breezeway. I'll say nothing about the fire that nearly started on the stove one day, when they'd both long forgotten once familiar grandchildren's names and routine actions taken out of habit. I won't mention the meals eaten in silence after grandpa said she buttered her toast too loudly, while cracking another beer. The furniture's gone; I echo and gleam now, ready for fresh stories, my dusty history not part of what the realtor calls a starter house. Not for brand-new families to hear.
circle and burn one (Vista)
Stacy W. Julin JUST OUT OF REACH She disliked going into the bathroom to do anything. Avoided brushing her teeth in there, even urinating if possible. I don’t like the man and boy in there, she told me as I helped her dress in her room. They want me to go somewhere, and I don’t know where it is. Their names floated above her just out of reach, like the hummingbirds outside her window. She laughed about the weeds, things she could no longer grasp. Aware the tumor pushed out something new each day from her brain. On my day off, she must have remembered the man and the boy, recognized the place they beckoned her to. When I returned, she had gone with them.
Andrew Cusick JADE Around 10 o’ clock, a pretty woman walks in this dive fingering a cigarette and looking pretty aimless. I’m at some sloppy joint on the corner of 14th and 6th, on my third Tullamore Dew. She wanders around for awhile and sits down next to me and orders a Tom Collins. I don’t look at her directly for about five minutes. She fumbles with her IPhone and watches the television above the bar (someone pretty-looking says we’re at war again). The ice cubes clink and clatter. I turn and notice her staring and eventually she gets some kind of courage and leans in. “Hey,” she says. “Hi.” “Your name?” “Bret.” “Pretty name,” she says quietly. “Yours?” She ignores the question. “You married?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say, gesturing towards the band on my finger. “Too bad,” she replies. “Seem like you’d be fun.” The girl grins widely. I notice the ring on her. “See you’re hitched, too.” “Yeah.” “Like it?” “For what it is,” she shrugs. “Here for any reason?” I ask. “Husband’s away. Thought I’d have a drink.” She takes a swig and smiles to herself. “What do you do?” “Just a real-estate broker in Midtown,” she says. “55th and 3rd.” “Like the work?” I ask. “Not really. I have to pretend to like people, which is never fun,” she says. “What do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “Fiction?” “Copywriter. Make up bull-shit advertisements for a bubble-gum company.” “Doesn’t sound fun.” “Neither does real estate,” I say. She laughs. I take a sip of the drink and scan the rest of the bar. Some dude is drooling in the corner, tapping the jukebox like it was going to respond 21
Andrew Cusick at one point. There’s a fat woman in the back working on a martini (her fifth by my count) and twirling a large coin in her hand. “Lot of losers in here,” I say. “Yeah,” she says, spinning the bar stool, “but I like the bums better. They’re more honest. At least they can admit to being miserable,” she says. “That’s depressing,” I say. “Sad but true,” she replies. She hesitates. “You’re not much of a talker are you?” she asks, snarky as hell. I laugh and look down. “I’m just getting started. No point in being weird or anything.” “We’re having small talk. We’re not really getting to know each other, per say.” “Well then what would you like to know?” I ask. “How about your wife’s name?” she asks. “Keri,” I say. “Keri. That’s a pretty name. Keri and Bret,” she says. “That’s us.” “What’s she like?” “Quiet. Really quiet. Funny when she wants to be. Kind of timid. She’s a nurse. Almost made it as a doctor, though. She’s nice, she’s really nice. I think you’d like her.” “I think I would to,” she says. “What about your husband? What’s his name?” “Jerry,” she says quietly. She shakes her head and adds, “He’s an asshole. I think he may be a sociopath.” “Sorry to hear that. You seem nice. Seem like you’d deserve somebody better than that.” She giggles to herself. “That’s what I keep saying,” she says. “Do you love him?” I ask. “Ha. Not too shy anymore?” she asks. “Told you I’d warm up.” She shrugs and fingers the ice in her glass. “Probably not. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder.” “Sorry for asking,” I offer. “It’s not a worry. What about you? You love your wife?” I look up at the liquor rack and pretend to think. “Yeah, I love her. I mean, I don’t know…you get older, and it gets harder. I don’t even know anymore, I guess.” We don’t speak. The bartender comes over and motions towards my glass and I nod. He fills it up and I throw down a five and thank him with a hand gesture. Somebody turns on the jukebox. Springsteen. “Racing in the Street.” The girl lights up. 22
Andrew Cusick “My favorite,” she says. “You’re a Springsteen fan?” I ask. “Of course! You?” “Born and raised in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey. Kind of a requirement to like Springsteen.” She laughs. “I’m not from Jersey. An ex of mine turned me on to him. I’ve been so hooked since. The lyrics. The music. The…have you ever seen him live? He’s incredible. So incredible. It’s like a religious experience.” “I have. Saw him at Giants Stadium in ’08.” “Ha. You’re serious? I was there too? Where were your seats?” “Nosebleed section. Don’t remember where exactly.” “That’s so funny. I was in the fifth row or so. Jerry landed us some seats through his company.” “What does Jerry do?” “He’s a market analyst at a boutique investment firm in Murray Hill.” “Sounds dull.” “It is,” she says. “He is.” I take a look around the bar. “Wanna’ dance?” I ask. She looks around for a second and nods her head. “Sure,” she says, standing up. I take her by the hand and rise up out of the barstool with her. I grab my drink and she grabs hers. We make our way into the center of the room and get real close. She smells gorgeous—perfume, sweat, and gin. I take a sip of my drink and rock her back and forth and it’s all gentle and pretty for a moment. She wraps her arms around the back of my neck and everything seems to come alive—the city lights, the jukebox, the drifters, the evening itself. “You okay?” she asks. “I’m great,” I say, even if I’m not sure why. “I’m glad to hear,” she whispers. “You?” “I’m good,” she says, head down, “I’m really, really good.” “You know you never told me your name,” I say. “I don’t think I want to.” “It would be nice to know you better,” I say. She looks up at me and her face gets all sad. “But no, because once you know my name, you’ll be able to pin that name to a face. And then when you think about me after this, all you’ll feel is pain. You’ll say ‘there was Elizabeth in that bar.’ Or, ‘there was Heidi with the Tom Collins.’ You’ll see me in your head and you’ll think of nothing but how you felt tonight and how bad it was to say goodbye. Without a name, I’m just 23
Andrew Cusick that girl. I’m just some girl you met in a bar. Some girl you can forget tomorrow. A girl who doesn’t matter.” She turns away from me. I touch her cheek. “You do matter, though,” I say. She shakes her head. “Only for now,” she mutters. I turn towards the television and watch the war for a bit. I turn back to her. “Then I’ll give you a name. I’ll call you Jade.” “Jade?” “Yeah. It’s a pretty name. It’s one of the most precious jewels in the world.” “I’m not that precious to you yet,” she says. “You don’t know that,” I say. She pauses and considers the word for a moment. “I like it,” she says, “I like Jade.” She leans in slowly. Just as I am about to close my eyes she brings the glass up to her lips and takes a long sip. Then she turns her head to the right and quietly mouths the lyrics to herself for awhile. At a point she turns to me and it looks like she’s about to cry. “Oh Bret, isn’t this nice?” “Yeah,” I say, “it really is.” “It could have been something pretty, I think. I really think it could have.” I don’t reply. I lean in close and breathe deeply. I cradle my chin against her neck. She starts quietly humming along to the song’s final refrain. Outside the rain starts to fall and the sound of police sirens start painting the silence. We get drunker and drunker, and our memories dissipate. And as the night retreats, Jade retreats, and so do I.
Stacia M. Fleegal DUSSEAU’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION: A REVIEW OF THE BODY TRIES AGAIN (WORD PRESS, 2010) In the acknowledgments of The Body Tries Again, poet Melanie Dusseau thanks friends and mentors and proclaims, “only in the wonderfully weird Midwest could many of these poems have been born.” Dusseau’s romp of a debut poetry collection is a natural selection of kitsch and ephemera, of tidbits you’ll delight in learning or remembering about culture and growing up in the Midwest. Word-treasures you didn’t even know you longed for until you let Dusseau take you by the hand to kick Rockette-style through her world and bear witness to her obvious affection for its strangeness. Denise Duhamel calls this book “raucous,” full of “sass.” Absolutely. I’d also call it, and Dusseau, thorough. In this poet’s world, nothing is not worth mentioning because language economy is the name of her game—never an excessive word, never an adjective when a better noun would do. The result is poem after poem filled to the brim, vertically and horizontally, with details. Dusseau is ever loyal to The Image, characterizing her native Toledo as “Detroit’s punk little brother,” and telling, of a childhood injury, that “the glass lodged like a dull diamond in / the butter of my foot.” Humor, pop culture, myth, and Darwin recurring at the end of each section to ground the book’s (and the poet’s?) evolution—it’s all here, crisp and clear. Dusseau accomplishes the mean feat of striking familiar without coming anywhere near cliché. Who hasn’t retold Persephone? Now, who’s done it like this: “Sick of playing Skipper to Mom’s Corn Orgy Barbie…She ate that pomegranate on purpose. And how.” Her pastiche of the Persephone myth as “The E! True Hollywood Story” transcends mere cleverness; it’s socially perceptive in that it rejects the outdated cautionary tale of victimhood and rape/abduction in favor of giving an adolescent female more independence and autonomy. What if Persephone really was just a rebellious starlet, and Hades a dreadlocked hipster? This consciousness of gender nuances (albeit primarily heteronormal ones) makes its presence known over and over, notably in “Poem Where I Pretend Like I Never Want to Marry,” in which Dusseau defends men by asking if they really are “so hopeless…that they’ll worship in the house / of your toxic moxie and hold the bags and cut the grass / and fill the tank and ask ‘Honey, do I like swordfish?’” Circling back to the lure of female independence, she ends this poem by claiming, “I use my gravy boat to catch frogs in the backyard.” Equally hilarious is when Dusseau admits, in “Rustbelt Grammar,” that “I thought euphemism meant putting the dog down.” But there is poignancy here, too, especially as the book winds down with “Darwin Enters the City of His Birth”:
Stacia M. Fleegal What is progress but a reason Not to hate ourselves? Isn’t every morning unfinished till noon?
This book is a loaded “pearl-handled, bantam / Bette Davis .22.” There are requiems, villanelles, and blues. Besides the aforementioned Darwin, Hades, and Persephone, the celebrity guest shots also include Gandhi, Harvey Keitel, Elvis, Patsy Cline, Marx, a chick sexer, angels, nuns, carnies, Neanderthals, and so many boys. The body may try again and again, but Dusseau gets it right the first time around. And how.
life inside (Vista)
Keith S. Wilson RULES OF PREJUDICE
if you call someone a spic it's probably not racist if you insult islamic culture that isn't racist if you call someone a towel head not racist if you say it around your friends it's definitely not racist unless one of them is a democrat then everything is racist if you're a democrat and you say something racist it's liberal humor if you don’t hold your ground you're racist if you apologize and mean it you're still racist if you apologize while crying it's no longer racist if you use a slur ironically it's not racist if you're caught on camera it's racist if your uncle had a rough life he's really not racist if your girlfriend had racist parents it's not her fault she's racist if you were born before world war ii then jap isn't racist if you're on youtube it doesn't matter internet comments have been okayed to be racist if you take off work on martin luther king day you're not racist if you look up the definition of the word nigger and then use it they say it's not racist comedians are not racist unless they’re on bet then honestly, they’re a little racist 28
Keith S. Wilson if you have even one black friend it's impossible to be racist if you call your white friend nigger it's not racist unless someone black is around then it's racist if you're reciting a rap song it's not racist even if the music's not playing the word nigger-rigged is not racist if you call a black man a coon that's racist if he calls you cracker that's a very complicated question but let's face it, it probably isn't racist
Jonathan Bakken THE ONE YOU LOVE IS A PIECE OF BEARD PAPER Whenever I shave In order for my hair to not fall in the sink And clog the drain all up I will take a piece of binder paper From one of my school binders Then I will hold the binder paper under my face As I shave When I’m finished I dump my beard from the paper Into the trash Then I place the paper back into my school binder Later on when I’m in class Someone will ask to borrow a piece of paper I will take out a piece of beard paper And hand it to them They in turn start using the paper All the while having no idea of its history
THE BARBER Come, sit down in my chair, I will chop tiny pieces off of you. I will smile in the mirror, a sad clown smile and I will show you the back of your head. I will take you home with me, little pieces on the steering wheel, stuck between the crevasses of the pleather back seat. I will find you on my thumb while eating chicken wings and smear you on the musty blue couch cushion. I will snag you with a condom, a long blond strand entangled in short black ones, and I will stop. I will wipe an eyelash from under my eye, blow on my finger, then notice it is you stuck to my skin. I will shower three times a day, trying to rid myself, like a masturbatory priest, of the ugly snippets of work I confront each day. I will hire a maid and I will help her clean but I will still find you in the paintings on the wall, on the dishes and even on my keys in the morning. I will wake with you on my tongue and curse my choice to enlist in this endless battle, that traps me into seeing your face everyday in the mirror and makes me wear this dead clown smile. And one day, I will say, I’ve had enough! and I will take a straight razor, 31
Aaron Blum scalp that pretty hide of yours. And no one will know that I killed you because Iâ€™ve got all your hair covering my whole life and how much DNA is that for the cops to uncover. And when they figure out who it was, by that time, I will have traded the red white and blue slowly spinning pole for a Spanish tongue and a yacht, I will be sailing around the islands, bald and scissorless, the last barber left to drown in a sea of endlessly growing hair.
Nancy Freund GALACTIC TAMALE I unwrapped the warm foil, Fragrant hotwheat cornmeal bulge nestled in hand. The smell of it overwhelmed The whole earth. I dipped my head and bit. And the universe came to life in my mouth, It laid down, rolled over And obeyed. “It’s…” I said through the chew. I know my eyes widened. All the planets, All the stars, shooting, spinning, and bursting, I know That’s what he saw. “I…” I tried to begin. I saw maybe Twelve in the hot basket. I’d eat them all, would not stop, Till I burst, and then more. “I like –“ “Don’t like it too much,” he stopped me. Too late. I dipped again, I bit. I commanded the fleet of canine starships and flew, Conquering all galactic evil for all time. It was so good. I was so good. “You will never have it again,” he explained. Panic got a good grip and stopped my chew. “She’s the only one who makes them,” he said. “It takes a very long time, and you don’t live here.” Fear grabbed my intestines, heart, head, and core. My pilots all aquiver, awaiting news of the next mission. “They are for your grandfather. Very nice man. He may give you another. But my grandmother asks you to take them to him.” I didn’t move. My grandmother wept in the market when he said what he said To her. And she told me what he said of the neighbors, Too many of those people moving in. I fueled myself, asking, “What do you call it?” “Sweet tamales,” the boy said out loud. I silently said it many times, While I chewed. Making plans: I will fly the world. Every country, every planet, I will find it again. But first, I must go to my grandfather, not always nice, He might eat them all by himself, 33
Nancy Freund He might say bad words and throw them away, But whatever heâ€™ll do, I am ready to roll over, sit up, say please, and beg.
Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly CONGRATULATIONS ON BEATING TEEN PREGNANCY, READS YOUR 20TH BIRTHDAY CARD You develop a crush on the juvenile delinquent with the tag sticking out of his shirt collar. In your September dreams, Stephen plays the cello. You pull him into the forest, stick wildflowers behind his ears, count the pocks on his skin in four octaves. He is fourteen, barebacked, giving you his flannel shirt to hide in, in exchange you present naked knowledge. Draw on his back, a taboo tattoo. This love is translating too. And it grew and it grew into something unresolved. Kiss the back of Stephen's peacock shins. Stephen is typing the headlines for tomorrow's newspapers, tickling the keyboard in morse. You are not my mother, reads the title. The letters feel like pins and needles. Peer into his closed mouth and search for passion. It is shaking, this stomach tooth marked with every time he bit his lip, slipping through the sluices of his body's stoicism. Dangle above your heads like mistletoe. He says, where are my wisdom teeth? Respond, inside the plums of my hands.
Autumn McClintock TO YOU, TO YOU, DEAR The dead still celebrate birthdays, taking up the cup to get shitty drunk. In the afterlife, nausea and headache replaced by feathers and a knife. Ten feathers for a butter knife but twenty for the butter. They can’t taste with the fur from their drunken tongues. One hundred feathers for a carving knife, the very one the farmer’s wife used. A thousand, a scimitar in the manner of heaven. A bargain for a bottle of scotch. If the cash of the dead strikes the breathers as trifling, translate feathers as cigarettes to the jailed. Let go your years and take up the bird. Consider the dead leaning into their cups.
Kathleen Kirk THE APPLE The apple just wanted to be itself, not a fruit laden with significance in the Garden of Eden, where it might have been confused with a pomegranate. It certainly didn’t want to be compared to an orange. “An apple walks into a bar,” the apple told the psychiatrist, who nodded and played along, smiling, taking notes. After the punchline, which was “appletini,” the psychiatrist asked, “And how did that make you feel?” as if life were a television sitcom, and the apple told a long, rambling tale about all its past lives, its blue period, the time it tasted like a banana—all documented in The Botany of Desire—and when the hour was up, the apple was left to itself, which, sliced in half, not vertically along its core, but horizontally, revealed the inner star.
beach rock (Mission Bay)
Kris Bigalk A REVIEW OF PANIC BY LAURA MCCULLOUGH Panic, winner of the Kinereth Ginsler Award and published by Alice James Books, is Laura McCullough’s most recent volume of poetry. With many of the poems being set in the summertime, on the beach or at the pool, it might be tempting to throw a copy into the beach bag this summer, which isn’t a bad idea—but this collection is far from light summer reading. These carefree settings provide a backdrop for some serious explorations of the age-old question: are we ruled by fate, or do we decide our own fates? Thematically unified and very artfully conceived, the book is loosely centered around recurring poems that center on accidental drowning, but the collection as a whole more broadly explores and examines the personal and social aspects of accidents and the aftermath. Water, and our ambivalent relationship with it, is a recurring image in the collection, which features many poems set at swimming pools or on the beach. In these poems, parents are less than vigilant; lifeguards save lives and and fail to save lives; Mako sharks wash up on the beach; a little girl is bathed by her mother; a boy and his father contemplate the sea wall. In some poems, the water is a symbol of peacefulness, as illustrated by these lines from “Oxygen, Moon”: “He puts his arm in the water up to the elbow,/ his hand flat on the rough bottom/ and breathes easily,/ his shirt riding up exposing the basket of his ribs.” In others, such as “Crawling Live at the Bottom of the Pool”, water threatens: “She is unaware of her child/ tipping this way over the shallow pool…” Water serves as a character, an ever-present element in the lives of the characters represented in these poems. Though all of the poems are written in third person point of view, there is a varying level of narrative distance that adds interest. In some poems, we enter the consciousness of the character, experiencing his or her point of view; in others, the narrator is a disinterested bystander, or a storyteller. Such distance works to the advantage of these poems, which often address horrific, terrifying situations. For example, in the poem “Sleeve”, this cold narration only intensifies the emotion the reader attaches to the moment: “One reached his hand into the stinking pile/ burning skin up to one elbow,/ his screams the only ones anyone would hear,/ since the boy was already dead.” In “Collection Pockets”, a lifeguard looks up to see “…the boy’s body at the bottom of the pool suddenly,/ then floating toward the surface,/ arms out, legs dangling./ The coroner said he’d hit his head on the bottom,/ yet no one saw him take the dive.” The emotional context of these poems is achieved by what is not said, inasmuch as what is said. In Panic, Laura McCullough has created a collection of poetry that is accessible, yet challenging. Though at times these poems present difficult, 39
Kris Bigalk painful topics, they do so in a way that achieves the goal of all good poetry—to make the reader consider language and ideas through a new lens. Panic belongs on the discerning reader’s summer reading list, if not in the beach bag itself.
Ruth Foley LIVE BIRTH Never guess at rippling water: a secret, spoken, grows autonomous. Praise the drop-bellied knowing, the sudden end of conversation. Praise the long mottled brown. Beneath the star-reflected mirror something sleek moves. Its head breaks the surface, skimming minnows, and it watches you as it passes, as if it doesn't belong to the earth. Now you are no longer floating, yet your feet don't dare to touch the leaves rotting on the dark lake bottom, and water, cold as the melt that spills across the dam in late spring, bubbles from somewhere below. It strengthens your stroke, evens, cuts where you cut it, slaps you back. You think live birth, you think twenty babies, forty, slipping into the shallows, coiled around a root, secreted in the stone wall near the pier. You think how many mothers. You stretch towards the shore, the house, its windows burning music. Someone inside is telling a story about the time you netted a water snake, how you frothed and foamed. You think of fits and prayers and smoke and how you are late, so very late.
Victoria Henry FEVER For Susana
For me, she transformed her barren womb into cinnamon oatmeal, and boiled water infused with mint leaves that she grew in plastic pots and cultivated with fertile hands. She held the cup to my lips saved me. The old world half of her blood, that precious hair a shade lighter than the rest could not be reconciled could not watch me be destroyed by dark parasites like the girl—my age she told me— who died in my very bed of the fever that left her ravaged head lolling on her shoulders, fingers outstretched ivory arms turned yellow. And of course, this girl studied the delicate paper wings of butterflies while I learned of dirt and ice embedded in the ruddy cheeks of children. In my delirium, I thought the sky was on fire and stood barefoot in the concrete courtyard, watching it glow orange above the jagged glass that divided us 42
Victoria Henry from those other precarious houses. Collapsed in the thin airâ€” sliver of moonlight translucent fairy in the dry season.
Caroline Misner SOLSTICE There is an obscene language in the strength of the wind that howls like stricken cats down the alleyway. A boy balled up into himself constricts me with his demands. He is only marginal in the lives of others. No fault, it is no fault of his, craving the green sickle of summer. I watered the garden faithfully, attended him with the same care I attended the standing lilac tree, the rose bush with its garnet petals that clasp his heart, the cold impatiens. At dawn the neighbor walks his yellow hound, wasps hover round the garbage cans, sucking up a free meal; the spider bounces on its own string. And when my bones are shadows growing, tugging at ceremonies with limbs blue from forgotten cold, lips parting for signs of perfection, the longest day has finally begun.
Edward Manzi THE CRUELEST MAN IN THE WORLD The Iguana walks to walk, as weather, indifferent, appreciated or despised, as if now and forever, he shall never be patted or scratched under the neck like a cat by an old lady sitting on the hearth of a well lit fire, smoking a cigarette indoors at her daughters house, for one of the last times, making sure the majority of the smoke goes up the chimney.
Edward Manzi DRAGONFLIES Fluorescent blue sewing needles fuck. Together their bodies form a distorted heart shaped like the drawings nursery school kids do. They hover in the breeze above the rippling water stopping on green blueberry leaves to rest.
Brock Marie Moore TURNING
we played in the woods like the children of witches, where mulberries grew long and curved as our fingers. light bugs flashed at the peripheries, always turning our eyes to the shadows. white fungus breaking beneath our shoes, slippery and stinking as putrescent skin, we climbed the muddy hillsides and buried magic rocks in tree stumps and were thoroughly disgusted, at the end of the day, to find we were still human.
Brock Marie Moore STYMIE
they were crisp-leafed senescent sheathed in raw-rubbed skin yet shelved among thousands of less-interesting peers at the perfect height for our eyes take the right hand of a convicted killer severed from the wrist on a full moon morn... set candles made of murderer's fat with wicks of woven corpse-hair when grandpa noticed the books we were reading, he removed them discreetly from his library
sunlight (Point Loma)
William Hart MIRAGE How she kept her legs so smooth was a mystery. Never any stubble or razor nicks, just silky olive skin on gentle curves. Another mystery was the delightful coolness of her body. Even now in the heat of summer she felt cool— her lips too. Internally, her temperature seemed normal. Her breath was warm like any woman’s. But for whatever reason her skin was cool. Fire bit his wrist, ending his pleasant distraction. He released the power lever on his burr motor and pulled down the top of his glove. A fold in the leather held a stainless steel burr turned blue by the heat of friction. He shook it out and examined the new freckle on his throbbing wrist. Burring control panels for helicopter gunships was probably the least appealing work he’d ever done. The long, floppy parts came to him sticky with machine oil, smelling foul, and were a bitch to handle. As he burred them they would suddenly chatter against his workbench, pinching the bejesus out of his fingers, even through leather gloves. Each panel was made to cover the brain stem of a thundering mechanical dragon, a merciless predator designed to prowl the green farmlands of Southeast Asia, breathing death down on humans in grass hats. His task, as with any part, was to smooth the rough edges left behind by the cutting and boring machines. His contributions to the war effort raised troubling questions given his opposition to the war, but he was skilled, the pay was good, and he had a family to support. He foresaw Cessna Military job orders stretching far into his future. Half an hour before dinner break he finished the last panel in the batch. He stacked them, wired them together and took them to the parts rack. Spenser was manning his usual post at the rear of the shop, standing behind the rock tub with arms crossed on his chest. He looked like the watchful captain of their ship, and so he was. Did the guy ever sit? Not on company time. He sat for breaks and for dinner but otherwise didn’t even lean. The supervisor uncrossed his arms and smiled as he was approached. “Work yourself out of a job, did you?” “Not feeling too good.” “Oh?” He looked into Spenser’s eyes with as much sincerity as he could feign. “Think I picked up a virus from my kid.” “So you’re sick?” His super’s smile was fading. “Sure feels like it.” “And you want to go home.” “Maybe I should. Before I infect somebody else.” Spenser looked away. “Clean up your area while I write you a pass.” 50
William Hart It felt strange carrying his uneaten sack dinner through the cavernous aircraft plant while others continued working. It bothered him a little that Spenser had avoided his eyes when he handed over the pass. The old bird must have seen through him. Not much to do about that. Outside it was dark except for a purple patch of sky to the west. Night had fallen on the fields around the plant and the smell of alfalfa hung in the humid air. He walked past row after row of cars, feeling the heat of the day lifting from asphalt. When he opened the car door he was greeted by more heat from the blistering afternoon. On the highway he accelerated toward the lights of the city. Small white moths, hundreds of them, flowed through his headlight beams and snapped into the windshield. He drove to the little grocery with no name on the frontage road along the west 54, and turned into the parking lot. He parked under a buzzing neon sign for the motel next door. In the store he bought a small carton of milk from a middle-aged woman with a battleship chest, a clerk he hadn’t seen before. He took the milk back to his car and ate while watching traffic pass on the expressway. Afterward he smoked a cigarette, then another. He checked his watch again. Nine twenty. Was she going to stand him up? She’d never been late before. He remembered the pinball machine in the grocery. It might take his mind off waiting. The clerk seemed surprised to see him back. Maybe she thought it was a stickup. She watched from behind the cash register as he walked to the pinball. He’d just lost a game to tilt when a presence appeared at his elbow, a slender presence with dark hair. Under the florescent lights her brown eyes looked purplish, somewhat disconcerting, but her teasing smile got through to him. There was love in her smile, and a warning: handle with care. He left two games on the machine and followed her past the frowning clerk and out the screen door. Her family’s blue and white Ford station wagon was parked next to his car. He drove along the frontage road past car dealerships and closed stores as wind played with the girl’s hair. She moved some strands from her face. “Sorry I’m late. When I went to pick up the gremlin from swim practice, he ditched me.” “Where’d you tell your folks you were going?” “Wedding rehearsal.” “When are you supposed to be back?” “Twelve.” He was glad. They’d have more than two hours together. Usually it was less. At the drive-in he parked far to one side, away from other vehicles. In the drama unfolding on high, a claw-handed monster was sniffing around a house full of unsuspecting human entrees. The girl was looking through her purse, an unlit cigarette between her fingers. He worked his lighter out of his 51
William Hart jeans pocket and struck it. Holding back her hair, she touched the cigarette to the flame as he took the opportunity to study her face—soft and small featured. He’d seen prettier women in films maybe, but they’d had the advantage of professional makeup and lighting. This one looked great with no makeup, windblown, you name it. Of course, at eighteen, she had youth going for her. Their smokes were still burning when they began to kiss. More kisses followed over the next hour as every piece of her clothing was circumvented but not defeated. At hour’s end everything was more or less in place and nothing conclusive had occurred. “Why not?” he asked quietly. “Because I can’t.” He got out a cigarette and lit it. Then he saw the cigarette in her hand and held the lighter for her. Her lipstick had worn away and hair was sweated to her brow—her cool exterior having met its match. “I brought something.” “Weren’t you using something when your wife got pregnant?” It was now familiar, this pattern of her giving in to him nearly all the way, then at the precipice putting on the brakes. Was she trying to draw him into a commitment? If so, she couldn’t have wanted that more than he did. He dreamed of being married to her, but he wasn’t yet the person it would take to leave his wife and kid. He had, as charged, gotten his girlfriend pregnant back in high school. He’d married her even though he questioned whether he was in love. Two years later, at a Cessna company picnic, while playing on the same volleyball team with the girl, his question got answered. She’d been the main thing on his mind since that afternoon back in the spring. Her father was a crew chief in Inspection, a guy he saw five nights a week. They returned to what came naturally, losing track of the world outside and further heating up the car. Some time later she broke off their kiss, took his arm and turned it till his watch caught light from the screen. “I’ve got to go,” she said. “I’m already late.” She tugged up her shorts and fastened her bra. He zipped his jeans and started the engine. He drove fast, not worried about a ticket because of the hour. She brushed out her hair, then applied lipstick. His eyes were on the road but he was also watching her—his favorite thing to watch. “Lunch next week?” he asked. “Yes, but let’s find a new place. Lynette, at work, was asking who you are.” “What did you tell her?” “That I knew you from West. I said we just happened to bump into each other. That didn’t fly though because it turns out she’s seen me with you before. Now she’s really suspicious.” Another complication. Should that surprise him? “It probably wouldn’t matter,” she continued, “except she knows Donny.” 52
William Hart Christ, he thought, just our luck. “Will she tell him?” “I almost wish she would. I hate lying all the time.” Her words forced him to examine the selfishness that allowed him to risk hurting so many people in pursuit of a dubious goal—and he felt guilty. “Should we stop seeing each other?” She didn’t answer right away. He couldn’t read her face. When she spoke her voice was cool. “Is that what you want?” “It’s the last thing I want.” “Then don’t say it. At least we can be honest with each other.” He covered her hand with his. She rolled her hand and squeezed. The lunch remained up in the air. * * * Descending stairs into their basement apartment, he saw his wife on the couch watching Johnny Carson, a floor fan spinning in front of her. He went into the kitchen and got a bottle of beer from the refrigerator. After a long swallow he entered the living room and joined his mate on the couch. He began unlacing his boots. “You look hot,” his wife said. “Hot night.” She didn’t look exactly cool herself. Her auburn hair lay close to her head like it had wilted. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that she might be happier married to someone else. A lot of guys found her attractive. One guy, he believed, had loved her—maybe still did. Everyone should love and be loved, he decided, now that he knew what love was. “How’s Stephanie?” “Better. She finally went to sleep. Want some popcorn?” “Too hot.” He took a swig of beer and rose from the couch. He carried the bottle and his boots from the room. As he tested the flowing water with his hand a familiar slickness emerged on two fingers, reminding him where they’d been. He washed the fingers under the showerhead, recalling events in the car. As he stepped under the warm flow, rising desire prompted him to take the matter in hand. Closing his eyes, he held her again, the woman he loved, even closer this time, flesh to flesh, her breath falling on his cheek as he pushed and pushed into her softness. Thrill took him quickly to the peak. His powerful release buckled his knees and he fell backward into the shower wall with a thud. Head spinning, holding the soap dish for balance, he stood again. “You okay?” his wife asked through the bathroom door. “I’m fine,” he shouted over the shower. “Slipped.” He turned into the streaming water and let it wash him off. In bed, between fresh sheets, with his hair still damp and a fan blowing on him, he felt cool for the first time since early morning. He stretched out, 53
William Hart loving the feel of the sheets. He closed his eyes and began a little game he played every night before falling asleep. He imagined she was in bed next to him, unclothed like himself, and that he could reach out and touch her. He ran his hand slowly from her shoulder blade down through the curve of her hip… His wife entered in the dark. He listened as she removed her shorts and blouse and placed them on the vanity seat. She came to bed, turned back the sheet and eased herself onto the mattress. He felt a touch on his shoulder. “You asleep?” she whispered. He pretended he was. He felt her turning away. She adjusted the sheet and was quiet. Their daughter, in a bedroom up the hall, babbled in her dream. Far away a dog began barking. For some reason he didn’t feel sleepy. He was remembering Spenser’s negative reaction when he played sick. It seemed a bit much, now that he thought about it. Didn’t everybody need to blow off a shift from time to time? Otherwise the work became too oppressive. But of course Spenser was a company man to the core. He probably wouldn’t abandon his post even if he was having a stroke. Hell, he’d lash himself upright to the rock tub. He’d be manning the poop deck when the grim reaper arrived. Amusement failed to dispel the emptiness opening in his gut. He lay still as the malaise grew to the point of almost overwhelming him. He’d felt this way before and it scared him. He sensed his life sliding off course and didn’t know what to do. Well, he knew. But she was by far the brightest, most alive thing in his world and he wasn’t going to give her up. Not unless he had to. Not unless she dumped him. The sheets felt warm now, almost hot. So did his pillow. He turned the pillow over but soon that side felt hot. Even his hair was hot and he was sweating into the sheets. Was it going to be another one of those nights he couldn’t sleep? He hoped not but this was how they usually began.
John McKernan THE ANTIQUE NO Walks nude Wearing scent of lilac Such melody lifts the spirit On a lightning rod Deep into the sky Tomorrow’s history books Are floating already From various volcanoes Riding lightning backwards to the stars The Maps of the Future Each sunlit dawn Shout a curious music Don’t be afraid Don’t kill your self We’re waiting
Gary Sokolow DAYS OF THE RIGHTEOUS I read stop signs all day, still no poetry. In sidewalk cafes they sit in clean leather driving shoes, Eat salads I walk past them as the city burns. The cul-de-sac is the way out The artist’s hunger The begging. Sit by this window and count the last grains of coffee Mud silt in mug. On overpasses, beneath a blazing sun, The young boys squash ants, chalk circle The tiny remains, purple and red sidewalk circles. And the young girls in the flaring pink light of creation Sip fruit punch. And the city burns and the city burns. And that year we sat in the cafes drinking our blood wine Laughing as we laugh with friends as the ashes Sifted slowly down. Inconspicuous cover, causations. Careful of the thorn of the rose, its bloom only a few months off. The unceasing flow of traffic— Human, motorized, animal, wire, wave. Sixteen stories below earth our future planted. Don’t look back, don’t look back, cries the sparrow. Hold this book, arms raised high, join with your neighbors.
Gary Sokolow How so long ago he sat behind the counter of Yet another dead end job turned to me and said Y’know it wouldn’t be the worst thing if this whole Damned planet was obliterated to start again.
#20 Contributors Jonathan Bakken is 29 and lives in El Cerrito, California. Kris Bigalk is the Director of Creative Writing at Normandale Community College. Her poetry has appeared in recent issues of Waterstone Review, the cream city review, Mead, and The New York Quarterly, and is forthcoming in Rougarou and Silk Road. She lives with her family near Minneapolis. Aaron Blum is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. He currently lives in Aranjuez, Spain where he teaches English. His writings have appeared in Liminal and various online literary journals. Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press). A Kundiman and Lambda Fellow, she is part of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. Co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press), she has been awarded residencies at Soul Mountain Retreat, Vermont Studio Center, Paden Institute, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Millay Colony. www.chinginchen.com Andrew Cusick learned to write from the Alien: Resurrection screenplay that his sister bought him. He’s not ashamed to admit this. Andrew is also currently pursuing his M.F.A. in Creative Writing-Fiction at The New School in NYC. He graduated from Bucknell University in May 2010, where he majored in English (Creative Writing) and Political Science, and minored in Philosophy. At school he completed an Honors Thesis entitled All That Is Silent in Blood and Water, co-advised by professor John Rickard and novelist Porochista Khakpour. He was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity and spent most of his time writing, eating, drinking, or thinking. Above all things, Andrew enjoys the company of friends and family. Andrew lives in Hoboken, NJ and works as a copy-editor in Jersey City. He is currently working on a full-length novel/thesis about a group of young, confused people in a country seemingly falling apart at the seams, and hopes to have it fully completed by May 2012. He also hopes to be fully out of debt by the time he’s 77 years old. Andrew’s story “Shotgun” recently appeared in the magazine Underground Voices. If you feel like he has some inkling of talent, feel free to contact him at email@example.com. Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her recent work is appearing or forthcoming in River Styx, Measure, The Ghazal Page, and Umbrella, which just nominated one of her poems for a Pushcart Prize. She also serves as Associate Poetry Editor for Cider Press Review. 58
Nancy Freund writes fiction, poetry, and book reviews. Currently working on her 4th novel, she's a New Yorker with a Kansas City upbringing, a UCLA undergrad degree in English/Creative Writing, a UCLA M.Ed., and a British passport. She lives in French-speaking Switzerland with her family and flatcoat retriever named "Ace Ventura, Pet." William Hart is a novelist and poet living in Los Angeles. His stories and poems have appeared in several hundred literary journals, newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Two novels: Never Fade Away (Daniel & Daniel, 2002) and Operation Supergoose (Timberline Press, 2007). Nine poetry collections. Hart also makes documentary films with his wife, filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar. Their last feature played nationally on PBS and was nominated for two Emmys. Victoria Henry is currently a junior at Smith College in Massachusetts, and will receive a B.A. in English in 2012. In addition, she is completing a minor in Engineering. Her work has appeared in Enormous Rooms, the literary journal of the University of Utah, in 2008 and 2009, and is forthcoming from Word For / Word. Stacy W. Julin has always loved poetry, and has been writing, in some form, since she was a young child. Her work has appeared in Shemom, The MidAmerica Poetry Review, Encore, Tiger’s Eye, and The Provo Orem Word Review. Her first chapbook collection, A Pebble Thrown in Water, was winner of the 2009 Tiger’s Eye Chapbook Contest and was published in June 2010. She lives in Provo with her husband and three sons, and works at the Provo City Library. Kathleen Kirk has appeared previously in Blood Lotus, and in a variety of other journals, including Fifth Wednesday, Greensboro Review, Leveler, and Poems & Plays. Formerly on the editorial staffs of Poetry East and RHINO, she is now poetry editor for Escape Into Life. She blogs eight days a week at Wait! I Have a Blog?! Kasandra Larsen's Stellar Telegram won the 2009 Sheltering Pines Press Chapbook Competition. One of three winners of the Third Wednesday 2011 Poetry Contest, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award, and was a winner (Finalist) in the Tiferet 2010 Sacred Poetry Contest. Her work has appeared in journals in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., including: 100 Poets Against the War, Ballard Street Poetry Journal, Denver Syntax, The Nervous Breakdown, nthposition, Pure Francis, Roanoke Review, Short Fuse: The Global Anthology of New Fusion Poetry, and SLAB. Originally from Boston, she moved to New Orleans in 2000. Ed Makowski is a poet and from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As Eddie Kilowatt he released Manifest Density and Carrying a Knife in to the Gunfight. Ed prefers 59
two wheels to four and skiing where roads don't. More of his work can be found on his weblog, Ed Makowski's Kitchen Table. http://edmakowski.wordpress.com/ Edward Manzi currently lives in Barnstead, New Hampshire, though is planning to move to the Lake Tahoe area in a couple months. He has just completed an MFA in poetry at the University of New Hampshire. Matt Mauch grew up in small Midwestern towns between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, in the snow and wind-chill belt. He is the author of Prayer Book (Lowbrow Press) and the chapbook The Book of Modern Prayer (Palimpsest Press). New poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, NOÖ Journal, Leveler, InDigest, Connotation Press, Water~Stone Review, H_NGM_N, and elsewhere. The editor of Poetry City, USA, Vol. 1, and curator of the annual Great Twin Cities Poetry Read, Mauch teaches writing and literature in the AFA program at Normandale Community College. He lives in Minneapolis. Autumn McClintock lives in Philadelphia where she writes, works at the public library, and revels in the success of her baseball team. She earned her degree in poetry from Emerson College in Boston and is thankful to be seeking homes for her poems again after a brief hiatus. John McKernan—who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska—is now a retired comma herder. He lives—mostly—in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other magazines. Caroline Misner was born in a country that at the time was known as Czechoslovakia. She immigrated to Canada in the summer of 1969. Her work has appeared in numerous consumer and literary journals in Canada, the USA and the UK, most notably The Windsor Review, Prairie Journal and Dreamcatcher. Her work can be viewed online at www.thefurnacereview.com, www.glass-poetry.com and www.millerspondpoetry.com. Her short story “Strange Fruit” was nominated for the Writers’ Trust/McClelland-Steward Journey Anthology Prize in 2008. In the autumn of 2010, her poem “Piano Lesson” was nominated for The Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in Georgetown, Ontario, where she continues to read, write and follow her muse, wherever it may take her. Brock Marie Moore lives in South Texas with her husband, their mixed-breed agility dog, and several ennui-stricken housecats. She writes poetry and short stories and owns what she humbly calls "an epic My Little Pony collection" as well as a room full of myth-themed dolls and figurines (fussily crammed between all the books, of course). 60
bl pawelek grew up on a small Japanese island (kinda true). He wonders if his master’s degree in Literature was worth it (not financially). There are stories, poems and plenty of art (google search). "The Equation of Constants" and "Ten Everywhere" and "the unfirm line". He tries to show mad love to everyone, especially you. http://blpawelek.wordpress.com/ Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly is currently pursuing her MFA in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence University. She received a bachelor's degree in Psychology and English: Creative Writing at Bucknell University. Two of her poems will be featured in “The Clearing: Forty Years with Toni Morrison, 1970-2010”, a book by James Braxton Peterson and Carmen Gillespie. She has been published in Barely South Review, The Salzburg Review, and eighteen other journals. She was named Breadcrumb Scabs' Editor's Pick of the Month. She lives in New York. Gary Sokolow has an MFA from Brooklyn College and works nowhere near the arts these days. His poems have appeared in Up the Staircase, Chantarelle's Notebook, and Blue Print Review blog. R.L. Ugolini is a short story writer whose work has appeared most recently in Annalemma Magazine, Underground Voices, and Summerset Review. She lives in San Antonio, Texas. Keith S. Wilson is an Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem fellow currently living in Northern Kentucky. He is a graduate from Northern Kentucky University, with a BA in English. Keith runs a personal blog on writing called The RobottoMulatto and writes for the blog We Who Are About To Die, as well. Some of Keith's publication credits include Appalachian Heritage, Muzzle, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Breadcrumb Scabs, The Driftwood Review and the anthology Spaces Between Us.
Blood Lotus issue #20, May 2011