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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

IIs ss suuee 110055


Issue 105 March 5, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine


Cover Art by Keith Moul Keith's poems and photos appear widely. Three recently published books include: T"he Grammar of Mind" from Blue & Yellow Dog; "Beautiful Agitation" from Red Ochre Press; and "Reconsidered Light," a collection of poems written to accompany Keith's photos, from Broken Publications


CONTENTS Joseph Masser The Neversink Hotel

Ally Malinenko Clean Out Your Heart

ReneĂŠ Bibby Not Everybody Gets a Happiness Montage


Francesc M. Franch Ophelia, 1938

Richard Wagle Play

Jane C. Otto Ars Poetica – Conversation Hearts

Joshua Osto Don’t Yell at My Cow

Steven Leonardo Clifford Pocket Paths


Joseph Masser The Neversink Hotel I

He was five years-old In July, when fireworks and the lights of the are over and only hotel and the trolley cars singular explosions echo and the inclined railroad through the valley with on Neversink Mountain their solitary showers of loomed above him in the reds and blues and golds eastern distance, the size taking advantage of the of toys that, if he could earlier fall of darkness, reach out far enough, he when everything green could grab with his own below seems to breathe hand and pull back deeply in the calm through his window and shadows of its own arrange on his floor as fulminence, Jacob his own. Sometimes at Neulinger kneeled on a night when things were chair in his bedroom, still enough, he could neck and back curved as hear faint echoes of the if defying the guillotine, music and staccatos of and held his head out laughter and shouts of more into the night, long after people, he really should have enthusiastic than any he heard on his street or in been in bed.

town or in his neighbors’ houses, rolling down into the valley in which he lived in a small house on a side street with a fence and a yard and a brother and a mother and father who loved him and where anyone seldom laughed or shouted. Afternoons, when there were no chores he would retreat to his room and laugh for them, but quietly and shout too, but only in his mind or at most in a whisper, otherwise Mother would hear. But work came first, that was what Father said. So he’d take out the box, wooden


and heavy with a large number “4” and the word “Anker” arched over it. What does it mean mother? Das ist Deutsch es holds a boat in place so it doesn’t float away. But in here there is kein boat. Why not? Es ist the name of the company who makes the blocks, in Deutschland, across the ocean wo kommt our relatives here. So he imagined a company as a heavy thing where people worked and made blocks which could be used to build and which held the makers in place and kept them from drifting away across the ocean as he imagined his relatives he

never knew had, long ago. Does Father have a company? Nein, he is for himself working. Does he make things? Ja, many things. Will that keep him from floating away like our relatives? Du bist komisch! From where do such questions come? Go with your blocks and play so I can mein work finish. So he would build with the blocks and laughter would float down to his creations on the breezes of his imagination and sometimes his own breath and he would imagine the people within them making the

sounds like those he heard from the hotels on the mountain. But the blocks were heavy and geometrical and silent. And he could never manage to fashion them into the intricacies he saw in the distance. He had tin toys too, that he had bought at the newsstand with pennies Father would occasionally give him: a locomotive, a coal car, a passenger car, a horse drawn omnibus; he would arrange them about and have them travel around and through his blocks and he would shout and laugh for them, quietly of course, but they never responded. Soon it was


dinner time and the blocks had to be put back in the box, always arranged to the pattern on the inside of the lid so they’d all fit. This was the work that comes after, Father told him. Never leave a mess and never be late for dinner. “God is good, God is great, and we thank him for this food. Amen.” That night with his parents and brother safely snoring he dressed and snuck quietly out of his room to the pantry: it might be a long walk, but a banana and some crackers would be sufficient. Quietly shutting the heavy front door behind him he floated out into

the still July night and headed towards the glow and faint beckonings of piano and laughter from the eastern mountain top. Hand in pocket, he sifted through the pennies he had saved— ten plus one, surely that would be enough—and drifted as if in a dream, toward the light and living toys he could hear in the distance. II

These are the seductive voices of the night, the sirens too sang that way. It would be doing them an injustice to think that they wanted to seduce; they knew they had claws and sterile wombs, and they lamented this

aloud. They could not help if their laments sounded so beautiful. Their call wafted down from the hilltop, carried on lines of melody and breeze and harmonic resonance with that singular, yearning, hollow he felt growing inside of his own belly as he floated farther away from the heavy wooden door of his home, carefully latched behind him now, and moved through the shadows of the lamp-lit streets toward the invitation. Enthralled by possibility, he hurried forward toward the wooded hillside. There, the shadows commingled into


darkness nearly as complete as that which it and night carved out of chaos itself in the beginning. Following the harmonic stirring in the hollow of his own gut which ached in response to the living possibility of the mountaintop, he moved forward, while the ache inside tightened as if the tether rope which circled around some invisible mast pole at the center of his being on one end, and which anchored him to the home where his mother and father and brother slept, on the other, also grew more taught and squeezed tighter around him with each child step he took further into the

depths of the night and his own dreams. He balked at the darkness at the entrance to the narrow path that led into the brush beneath the tall overhanging branches of the wooded hillside. This was the way forward to the light and the laughter and the shouting and the music which now even had a human voice too. But he didn’t hesitate long, for with the shock of his trepidation came a tinge of electricity up his spine at the thought of the entrance into the unknown before him, and with it a knot in his anchor rope seemed to slip loose and the tether

line slackened enough to let him continue further on, so he entered. As his path twisted through the brush and the trees, and the moonlight fell through the cracks in the canopy, in his periphery, shapes formed—clawed shapes, toothed shapes and lunging creature shapes—moving from out of the shadows towards him as he passed and threatening more violently with each breeze that now carried no music, only rustling, creaking terror. Father had always told him to stand his ground with an angry dog— never turn and run for they could smell fear, so


he braced himself as best he could and in a twisting jump, squared his shoulders and face to the first arboreal monster that jolted him from his progress and did his best to smell brave and not tremble as he stared it down, only to find that when he did, it was gone. So then, jump, turn, square, stare again, at the next one— also gone. Again and again and to his surprise, each receded, back into the shadows in the branches from which it had come. So, cautiously, he moved forward, only to have challenges reissued from each side, but this time he only turned his head and

iced-over his gaze and directed it at each new threat and, just as before, each of these treedwelling terrors fled back into the night. If he had been able to see himself he would have seen his own lips bared and teeth parted, his own fists, clenched and occasionally clawing with his fingers in a forward, fighting progression into the darkness before him. But it was too dark to see. If he had felt himself he would have noticed the ache in his gut missing, and his tether line released, cut through perhaps by the teeth of some attacking creature before it had

succumbed to his threatening glare, or, perhaps, by his own bared incisors. He was not conscious of himself now though—he was moving forward— through the darkness. So his small legs took him upward, climbing, twisting, and deeper into the forest, and his small fingers periodically checked his pocket for the pennies that he would need when he reached his goal—the pennies with which he’d bring back the shouts and music and laughter to his own quiet, stoneblock world. Time passed or he passed it. Deprived as he was of most reference


for a clear measure of progress it was hard to say which. But the moon grew brighter and lower in the sky to his left as he ate the last of his crackers. His mouth was dry now so it was hard to swallow, but he managed and as he did he noticed the moonlight was brighter and the tree trunks themselves now made distinct shadows crossing the now lighted path. The branches were illuminated too and cast their shadows farther into the woods—there were no creatures to be seen. He also noticed his own hands and saw his fingers claw forward in front of him into the

increased visibility and, self-conscious, he clawed instead into his pockets to check his pennies again—eleven, good. The cause of the brightening was a clearing, closer now— there were only a few trees separating him from it—so he struck off the path and up a short, steep embankment, coming out of the woods there were rocks that he stumbled on, and another sharp rise and then railroad tracks inclining in the moonlight, further up the mountain. He could hear the music and laughter and shouting again— louder now than it had been before.

Strangely, in the moonlight, conscious of himself once again, he began to feel the return of that ache of anticipation—what would he find? He was getting close now. Then a strange thing began to happen. In addition to the joyful noises he heard ahead and the ache inside of him that seemed to harmonize with his desire to reach them, a third sensation seemed to rise up from around him and work its way through his spine— something like he had felt on entering the woods, but only subtler, sustained. It was a high frequency, through his


skin first, then he could hear it, high and thin and vibrating and with it the feeling inside of him seemed to change frequency too—higher, thinner, wilder, excited. Then he saw the light. It was just a firefly in the distance at first but grew as the sound around him began to drop frequency and sharp creaks and bassier groans rose up from below. There was a new noise too, subtle and distant at first but which quickly absorbed the music into its rumble and hiss which increased in a steady crescendo. The light was the size of a streetlamp now. He began to run, stumbling on the

railroad ties and the large, sharp stones, falling toward the light, legs catching him miraculously at each false child-step, preserving his progress by measure of one childlength gait at a time. The toys were coming to him. There is no darkness that can equal the terror of full and sudden illumination. There is no silence so isolating as a noise so loud it consumes the faculties of all our consciousness. Only when a fantasy is made wholly real is it completely destroyed— but also, only then that the idle fancier can wholly realize that he has dreamt up

something that now has the power to destroy him in return. But Jacob Neulinger was only a child and the light before him was too bright to stare down without squinting, and he could smell nothing at all, let alone fear, so, ignoring his father’s advice, he jumped from between those parallel tracks which now screamed and moaned like souls tortured at the feet of the bearer of light himself for their hubristic ambitions which were also his own, and tumbled back down the stony embankment into the safety of the shadows of the trees. Finding the path, he


turned back in the way he had come, the rhythm of the engine pounding in his ears. He began to doubt the reality of what memory told him. He halted under a tree and allowed the rhythm to die away. He could not feel her near him in the darkness nor hear her voice touch his ear. He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: he was alone. Then he felt his mother’s arms draw him in. “Jacob, Jacob . . . wo bist du gewesen? Where have you been?”

III

Back

in his bed he awoke to the sound of his father’s saw from the open-door workshop in the back yard. His room was hot and shadowless and the mid-day sun was bright on the yard and the mountain in the distance swam in a watery haze. It was too bright to make out the hotel and the railroad even if he had tried— which he didn’t. He could hear his mother was already putting lunch on the table. They ate together silently, his father getting up as soon as he had finished and returning to his sawing which had a different,

rhythm than before. Clipped, agitated. His mother quietly cleaned up his place at the table and took Jacob’s plate, with the half-eaten ham sandwich and pickle still on it, impatiently out from under him. She said nothing when he slid off his chair and returned to his room. His brother lingered at the table, half nervous, half expectant—what would happen next? “Robert, gehen sie aus! See if your father konnst du help machen!” his mother finally barked over her shoulder as she cleaned dishes. He obeyed, disappointed that the drama was over, but fearful to become a


subject of it himself. In his room, Jacob lay on the bed and looked across the room at his shelf of toys. Silent, lifeless. He had been so close. There was nothing else to do so he took out the box and the tin toys and sat on the wooden floor staring at them. One by one he took out the heavy, hard blocks, feeling their coolness in his hands he arranged them on the floor: a wall, then another, finally four, a rectangle, pillars, steps--an entrance. He placed the blue pyramidshaped block outside, symbolic, a faceless sign. The omnibus pulled up outside, ready to unload

its passengers. He fingered the passenger car and the coal car and reached for the locomotive but hesitated. Something was different. He wasn’t sure what it was at first. There was something missing. He had formed the blocks in the shapes and positions he had the previous day. He haltingly coupled the cars of the train and placed it, parallel to the omnibus, as the rails ran parallel to the entranceway in the view from his window. He arranged four small blocks and formed the rail station—that wasn’t it either though—there was something, different,

there wasn’t an absence exactly, but something was not right. He put the train into place and then he noticed it, it was something coming from inside of himself—a low pulsing rhythm that grew as he focused on it. As it increased, he heard its component parts. A low throbbing, a clacking mid-range, hissing and at the higher ranges, screeching and a bell clanging slightly out of time all punctuated by the ghoulish groans he had heard rise up around last night on the mountain. But the sound rose up out of him this time and he realized he could no longer hear the music from the mountain


in his mind. He tried to shout and laugh in his head and couldn’t hear anything but the locomotive. Louder and louder in imagination he shouted now, for laughing was out of the question—but nothing. A panic overtook him. As if in a dream he felt an auditory paralysis, felt fixed in place by the overwhelming noise in his mind and needed to shake loose of it. His lips and tongue resisted him at first. The will to form his imagination into audible noise rose up behind him, but his very being and body resisted it—it caught in his throat like a cough. He couldn’t

loosen his restraint on himself. No noise came. The panic rose—he needed to do something. He picked up the blue pyramid. It was cool in his hand he noted in misplaced window of lucid thought in the midst of his panic, as he raised it over his head and brought it down squarely on the tin locomotive, smashing in the steam stack, and again, flattening the engineer’s cabin, and again, sending small tin wheels scattering across the floor, again and again and again. And as he did his throat and tongue and lips loosened and he shouted into the

deafening silence of his own destructiveness so that everyone could hear.


Ally Malinenko Clean Out Your Heart

The woman in the mirror doesn’t recognize you. She’s not sure where you came from and she’s wondering when you’ll leave. She doesn’t like the way you fall slack and silent and stare at the wall. She doesn’t like the way the words stop coming the way the air feels like clay when you breathe it. She tells you, Clean out your heart Pack for your trip, yes, but first clean out your heart. but instead you wait and watch and wonder about how it became so tangled and how you would ever find the strength to get up and find the one tiny piece of string in this worldwide spider web that is tied to your finger


There is dust all over everything over the pictures and the books, the maps and the globe there is a dust you can clear away should you chose but instead with a finger you paint your initials or you would if you could remember what they are.


Reneé Bibby Not Everybody Gets a Happiness Montage

In

the slow roads, the warren of curved and dead-end streets, the girl went over the back of the truck onto the cement. There is the machinery of cutting back all that grows green. Lawn mowers churn and hedge clippers are held by hand, snapping dry twigs and sometimes even tender green ones. The soil is dark as tar, so rich with minerals—the little pixels of life. No one notices the girl on the road, not even the driver of the truck, who might be her uncle, driving slow but on his cell phone. Her bright hair fans out against the dark street and without the slow pool of blood she would be like a starlet in the dream sequence of a movie. The very road is warm like butter on toast and the entire sky is just a soup of insects and gauzy clouds and the

never-ceasing sounds of lawn mowers. A tiny turtle starts out across the same road, his front leg—scaled and curved with claws—hovers at the apex of a windmill and when he brings it down, he tilts off the curb onto the cement. She cannot turn her head, so she cannot see him pass, and so it is that no one notices the turtle. And, what if someone had? What if there had been witnesses to all of it? What if we saw the turtle make his dogged way, saw the girl’s eyelashes starred with tears—what if we could have understood everything that pained you? Could you have been something different than an inbetween being that is just like the cutoff limb of the acacia: not dead and not growing. Because it wasn’t you in the middle of the road. But maybe it would have


been better if it was—a sharp turning point in the movie of your life. You could have pulled air down your throat and groped at all the round grains of asphalt under your fingers. You could have had a broken clavicle and a strange weight on your ribcage, while all around the snapping of shears and sharp things, and the buzzing of all the creatures from the winged world— asked you to choose one of two worlds—to be dead or to be living. And you would choose the living.


Francesc M. Franch Ophelia, 1938

I lost track of time In the murmur of the waves, Sitting quietly And thinking of nothing at all But sweet Ophelia. Then, around noon, The waves spat out Prehistoric skeletons Of suicides And a necklace that used to belong To a woman I knew Years ago. Then I lost track of time, In awe of the drenched corpses And the memory Of luscious Ophelia. A white, stifling mist Invaded the hallway In the midafternoon, With a rumor of lukewarm echoes From boats sinking among the reeds. I was distracted, alas, Staring absentmindedly And thinking of nothing at all Except for poor Ophelia.


And thus at dusk, The moment of truth, I mistook the stillness For bliss, and a vase For her head, her bosom For my realm, And a cup of black coffee For an inkwell. When I finally awoke From my timelessness, I wanted to leave a note For Ophelia and flee In the dead of night. But as I paced around The darkened chamber, Pen in hand, For the life of me I couldn’t find the right words To say good-bye Or, for that matter, My pants, My beleaguered common nonsense, Or my sand clock, And in the end I lost track of time In the murmur of the waves. That’s why I’m still here, Seventy years later,


Drowning beside Luscious Ophelia Day in and day out, Holding my breath And a candle and her hands, All packed up And with nowhere to go But to the dampness Of Ophelia’s seating room In the coves of purgatory.


Richard Wagle Play

The bridge has holes in

alone freezer, but all us had it, missing planks and grandchildren rotted boards. I'm scared cleaned her out. “I’m coming!” walking across it. It's I wonder if I could fit just the canal underneath, maybe 6 ft through one of the holes, deep, no current, but or if I’d get stuck halfway through. still... By the time I make Doug laughs at me for being so timid. If I wasn’t make it over and into the so frightened, I’d tell him store, Doug's already he was too dumb to be filling the cart. He puts things in that aren't on afraid. “Come on Rich,” Doug the list, but he won't be is yelling at me from able to trick the clerk selling him across the bridge. into “Grandma said we could cigarettes. Not this time. “Hey pussy.” use the change at the DQ “Hey cunt.” if we didn’t take too Doug motions me long.” My grandmother usually had a supply of closer. “Do you think you Dilly bars in her stand could grab a magazine

while I'm checking out. You're good at that.“ I look around the aisle at the cash register. The clerk is sitting there reading Country Music News and smoking a cigarette. The magazine rack is across from her – the bottom shelf has some comic books and newspapers - up are the sports and gun magazines. At the top, above the Time and Newsweek are Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Club. You get pussies in Penthouse. Playboy is just butts and tits. I didn't like Hustler, women with


hairy pussies, holding them open. Club was just a cheaper version of Hustler. It was full of ads for blow-up dolls and dick-enlargers. “She's too close – plus I don't have anywhere to put it – no jacket or newspaper bag.” “Shit, “ he says, “I've only got old ones.” “It's not my fault. Come on, or we're not going to have time to get to the DQ.” Doug takes the cart over to the check out, starts putting stuff on the belt. The clerk looks up. She's in her forties, overweight and tired. She puts her cigarette in an ashtray, rings up each item. “Anything else?”

“Yeah,” Doug says. He doesn't even flinch, “a pack of Marlboros.” The woman almost turns to the racks of cigarettes behind her before she says, “I know you're not 16.” I move to the magazines. “They're for my grandma, you know, Mrs. Peters.” He points back towards the entrance. “You know she can hardly walk. She's in the car.” The clerk thinks about it, “I don't know.” The dirty magazines are up high. It'd be obvious what I was reaching for, take too much time to get one down.

“I can get her to write a note. Just give me a pen and paper, and I'll be right back.” I look at the mid-level rack, the one at my height. “Fuck Yeah,” I almost say it out loud; someone's hidden a Penthouse between the covers of a Lady's Home Journal. “No,” the clerk says, turning around to grab the pack of cigarettes, “but only this time.” I stuff the Penthouse down my pants. The thick cover scratches my leg. “Next time, she's got to send someone who's 16 or over.” Doug smiles, “No problem, “ he says, “I'll tell her.” I follow him out the


door, one leg stiff, unbending, like I'm hurt, wounded.

“Tell me a joke.” “No,” I say. “Oh, come on. I like your jokes.” “O.K.” Doug and I are in the street, in some concrete joint or coupling that will be put in the ground. We're crouched out of sight. The road's closed for the construction, so it feels like we own it . I think for a minute, “a little boy is at his grandmother's, and he walks in on her as she's getting out of the shower. The boy goes, 'What are those?' The grandma says, ' These

are my spotlights...'” My jokes are all the same, always a variation of “Grandma, Grandma, come quick. Turn on your spotlights. Daddy's sports car is in Mommy's garage.” Sometimes it's a train in a tunnel – headlights not spotlights, but Doug breaks up every time. And I like it. It's something I'm good at. “Let me see the magazine?” I pull it out, hand it to him. It's cover is damp and loose. I can see one of the comic strips on the back page. “Don't worry. You'll get it back.... Here.” He hands me the pack of cigarettes. I pull one out. Doug’s already put a

book of matches in the cellophane. I don't like them really, and I don't think I do it right, get it down my lungs. I just suck and blow. “Hey, look at those spotlights” Doug points to a pair of glossy breasts. “What I'd do if I was with her.” I manage to take a drag without coughing. “What would you do?” “Huh,” Doug looks up from the picture. “What would you do if you were with her. If she let you do whatever you wanted.” Doug looks at me, kind of angry, maybe a little scared. “I'd fuck her,” he says it. “I'd fuck her till she


can't stand it. Then I'd fuck her some more.” He keeps looking at me, so I turn my head. I look out the hole in the concrete. It's not as sunny as it was before. All the shadows have gone.

Grandma

is making us lunch. She's wearing a house dress and sandals. Her hair is a mess. I know she just got up to make us food. A four hundred piece puzzle is on the card table, two times as finished as yesterday – evidence of her insomnia. Doug's house is across the street, but we can get a meal from any of the family on the block, and everyone gets cans from

Grandma's pantry. “Jesus Doug! Leave the braunschweiger alone.” He's holding the plastic tube like a gun, “shooting” at me and Darren, a younger cousin. “Stop.” he says. “You want me to stop?” He wags the tube in front of Darren's face. “OK,” He puts it down by his crotch and bounces it up and down. “I stopped doing what you said.” He laughs. Grandma leaves the stove and grabs Doug by the arm. “Do you want me to tell Grandpa what you're doing? Well, do you. He'll whip you, boy.” “OK, OK” Doug squirms out of her grip.

He puts the braunschweiger down on the table and sits. “Don't tell. I'm good. See.” Grandma looks at him for a minute, then goes back to the bologna bubbling and popping in the pan. I take a knife, open the braunschweiger and make myself a sandwich.

I

punch Doug in the shoulder. I'm sure I have a reason why. We're behind the church in an empty lot. The grass is high. “Hey, what are you doing?” I stop. The voice could be an adult. I look and two kids are coming our way. I don't know


them, but Doug's my cousin, so I hit him again. The two come closer. They could be twins, brown scruffy hair, pug noses, both in jeans and vinyl jackets. “What the fuck you think you're doing.” One is a little bigger. He's the one who talks. “Doug, is this kid messing with you?” I'm waiting for Doug to say I'm his cousin, that would explain it all. You don't have to interfere if it's family. “This is Rich,” he finally says. “He's visiting me.” “Well that doesn't mean he can hit you.” Stay out of this. I want to say, but I don't. I don't

understand what's going on. Not quite. “If you want to fight someone, it's me.” He says this and takes off his jacket. Doug is quiet. The kid punches at me as we stand in the weeds. He misses. I go for his legs. I took wrestling, just one season, but I put him on the ground. I keep him there. I have his arms pinned with mine, my body on his. He tries to move, but he can't. We stay there. His friend or brother, whatever the hell he is, comes up to us, “OK, OK, it's a tie, come on, nothing's happening.” I get up. Let him up. I look over at Doug. He looks

nervous, but doesn't say anything. “Alright,” the friend says, “lets do it again.” “What?” I ask. “Let's do it again.” It's the guy I took down this time. He rushes me. He's on me. I hit the ground. I try, but I'm on my back. He's on top of me, hands holding my hands, but he moves, pins my arms with his legs. He sits on me, with his crotch in my face. He blocks the sun, and his silhouette begins to hit me, over and over, in the face. When I start crying, he gets off. My nose is bleeding, and my sobs are huge. He seems embarrassed, walks off with his friend. He


doesn't even talk to Doug. I follow the kid with my eyes. I keep thinking, as the blood runs down my chin. I could have done this to you. I just didn't know. I just didn't know.


Jane C. Otto Ars Poetica – Conversation Hearts

Reach with your pen into the bag of sweet recall. BE TRUE to words that land like runes in your hand. Etched like an epithet, WRITE ME is a chamber of your heart. Remember when the phone rang, and you dragged your push-button lifeline down the hallway, around the corner, into a closet—away from mother and brother for SWEET TALK? The chalky residue of first love lingers on your tongue. Each heart is a country, a pastel map to some familiar place. BE GOOD. Document red-coil rage, the bruised sunset of longing.


Let SWEET PEA guide you to that place by the fence when watercolor, tissue-paper tendrils wafted in a June breeze and your mother— an opaque outline—gravid with baby, was an “S” on the horizon. Reluctant keeper of truth, each heart is a PEN PAL that speaks in tongues, baggage—nagging to be unpacked. Believe in PUPPY LOVE, milk teeth for wisdom. There is no escape from the TOO HOT heart that dazzles like a dayglow newt. When LOVE ME crosses your path—


chance chooses you. When a poem begs, pleads, insists that you curl your toes over the edge of a diving board, it calls out, BE MINE.


Joshua Osto Don’t Yell at My Cow

I had a dream last night that brought back to me my time in China. I was eating breakfast, in my dream. I ate breakfast in China as well but that’s not relevant, as far as I can tell. I had three boiled eggs in front of me, in cups, and toast cut into narrow strips on a plate by the side. I hit the first egg with my spoon and it cracked, fell in on emptiness – hollow. The same happened with the second egg, and the third, so I went to eat the toast when I saw there wasn’t any butter on it. If it meant something I don’t know what that would be, but it brought China to mind. Beijing. I woke up screaming. I came to Beijing as a teacher of the English language, but after six months or so I managed to get a job working freelance for an English-speaking magazine, contributing reviews and short articles about English-speaking

people in Beijing for English-speaking readers that lived in Beijing. My Chinese wasn’t so good, but it didn’t seem to matter much as most people in Beijing spoke English and all of the Chinese seemed to want to speak English as well. I learned the Chinese for “straight ahead”, “left”, and “right”, so I could get taxis from one Englishspeaking place to another without having to fight an insurgent language war in local restaurants, shops and bars. I was twenty-three when I got there. The magazine was run out of a small office on the fifteenth floor of a building in the most popular ex-pat area, Sanlitun. There were a few faces that passed through but the one I was fondest of belonged to Jessica something-or-other from Boston. She had the right kind of Boston accent,


without the tenement, docker drawl that people always imitated for her when she told them she was from Boston. She wanted to be a writer and she was working on a novel about animals, a bit like Watership Down I assumed. We would talk about our ideas and plans for the future in bars and restaurants, punctuating the time by writing short reviews that were basically concise paraphrases of the sections of the conversations we had about the bars and restaurants, while we were eating and drinking in them, not respectively. We eventually came up with the idea of having a literary page in the magazine and for some reason no-one objected, so we kicked-off with one of Jessica’s stories printed under a pseudonym and followed it up with one of my stories under a different pseudonym. I was pretty happy to see my fake name in print, but after that we reluctantly held up our hands and

started advertising for contributors. With hindsight we probably should have advertised earlier because then we might have gotten some responses in time for the third outing of the nowinfamous Literary Page, but it’s easy to say these things in hindsight – at the time it wasn’t obvious. We skipped a week and breathed a sigh of relief when no-one phoned or wrote in to complain that the Literary Page was missing. “We should maybe do a book review,” Jessica said. “Boom,” I said, by way of agreement. We had one submission for week four, from a Chinese guy calling himself “Lee Wow”. His name had a nice ring to it and he seemed personable enough when he came in to drop off the manuscript, which was hand-written on lined paper. He spoke with a New York accent but assured us that he was Chinese and that “Robert Wong”, which was written on the last page of his


manuscript next to the word “Author”, was a pseudonym and that we should use his real name, “Lee Wow”. We suggested taking the manuscript down to a bar so we could read it and talk, get some pictures of him, and maybe do an interview. “I don’t talk about my past,” he said, which might have been mysterious but was just irritating. “Do you drink?”Jessica asked. “Sure.” “Good enough.” Jessica read his story while Lee impressed me with his detailed knowledge of NBA. When I asked him if he’d ever been to a game he reminded me that he didn’t talk about his past. Eventually Jessica finished reading the story and put it down on the table. Something about the way she let go of the pages, as if she thought they might have been doused with anthrax, told me that I was going to have to read a book tonight and write a

review of it. Fuck that, I thought, I’ll just do something on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – people in China probably didn’t know it that well. “What’s this about, Lee?” She asked our writer. “It’s about the tension that exists between two lovers, from different cultures, when they are thrown into the spotlight of public disapproval. It’s about joy, and sacrifice, and all that life stuff.” “That’s interesting,” Jessica said coldly. Damn, I thought, trying to remember again how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby ended. “That’s interesting,” Jessica said again, “because I thought it was about fucking ten year old girls.” “It’s a metaphor,” Lee replied. She read us a short passage from the story. “Even though her eleventh birthday


was still two months away,” she read, “Ling Ling already felt like a woman. She had been changed somehow, by the deliciously firm rod of this older, sensitive, more knowledgeable foreigner. She wished she had known about this before. I am never going to stop fucking, she said to herself...” Lee tried to interrupt but Jessica raised her voice. “I am never going to stop fucking,” she continued. “I am going to fuck white men, black men, yellow men, and green men from Mars if they are dumb enough to land in China. I’m a woman now, even if this oppressive Communist society will not recognise my rights as a woman, even if my narrow-minded parents disapprove, and even if people think that physically it’s a bit risky – I am free!” She dropped the paper again. Lee was smiling and nodding, but perhaps he’d never had his work read back to him before because he was starting to

look uncomfortable. “I can redraft it a bit,” he said. “It feels a bit clunky. That exclamation mark should probably go.” We knew there had been an exclamation mark because, rather than suggest it’s presence by altering her tone of voice, Jessica had said the words “exclamation mark”. “I am free, exclamation mark,” she had said in an almost neutral tone, but one that managed to convey a combination of disbelief and scorn in a way that I am sure she would have been happy with. “Funny joke, huh?” said Lee. “Why don’t you fuck off, Robert,” Jessica said. “Can I have the story back?” he asked. “Maybe he’s a genius,” I suggested after he had gone without, I noticed, paying for his beer. Jess laughed. “What’re we going to do about the Literary Page?”


“I’ll write a review of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road,” Jess said. “I watched it last night and it was pretty good. Nate was there and he said it was almost identical to the book.” “Do you want another rum and coke, question mark,” I asked. I didn’t believe Nate had really read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I still couldn’t remember how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby ended. We ordered more drinks and, mockyawning, I dropped my arm around Jess’ shoulders. “I don’t think Nate really read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road,” I said, maybe out of jealousy. “No,” she agreed, resting her hand on my crotch. “But he probably heard that from someone else who has read it. I’ll write it now then you can turn me into an alien-fucker with your sensitive, knowledgeable rod.” She pulled a pen out of her jeans and flipped Lee’s pages over to write on the

back of them. I looked around the bar for something to keep me entertained. The group on the table next to us looked promising. There were three of them. There was a young guy who looked like a Nordic surfer, a blonde girl who for some reason was wearing a yellow Zorro mask, and another guy who I can’t really remember. I think he was small, or British. I said “Hi,” and slid over to them. They were drinking shots and inventing jobs for themselves. They were almost certainly all teachers. “We’re all journalists,” she said. “I write for a paper called The Paper. It’s written on one sheet of A4 and we only print one page a day, otherwise we’d have to call it A Paper and it’s an uncountable noun so that creates all sorts of problems. What do you do?” “I’m a journalist too,” I said. “Another round of shots?” I asked them rhetorically and called the waitress over.


“Who do your write for?” she asked. “The Anthrope,” I said. “The Antelope?” “The Anthrope,” I explained. “It’s a Washington Paper with a broad agenda that generally advocates a hawkish, male-centric world view.” “Sports, war, lingerie...” she suggested. “That sort of thing,” I nodded. “But the lingerie and topless section is in the supplementary women’s magazine, Miss Anthrope, so you can buy it without making it obvious you’re going to jack off.” “We should get a haircut,” she said, and took off her mask. It was a bold move and I wished she had kept it on. I was luke-warm on the idea of getting a haircut. “Who’s your reader?” I asked. She frowned at me for a second and then her eyes cleared, or almost cleared, and she said, “No-one. The words are in invisible ink. At least

that’s what we tell people, but really the page is blank. It’s a meta-paper,” she added, I assumed cleverly. I looked over at Jess, wondering if I could get away with exchanging cell phone numbers, and saw that she was engrossed in her review of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Her head was on one side while she wrote, stopping every few words to chew the pen with intense, introverted eyes that searched for the next unwritten sentence, or maybe she was just trying to remember what happened in the movie. She caught me looking at her and smiled up at me with a look of trust and mischief that reminded me, not unpleasantly, of a ten year old nymphomaniac. If we’d been back in the states I’d probably have been thinking about marrying her, and I breathed an internal sigh of relief that we weren’t back in the states. I exchanged numbers with the girl, who was called Sarah, and with the Nordic-


looking guy to cover my tracks. “Are you a teacher?” asked the small, British guy. “No,” I said, knowing that it would confuse him and kill the conversation, then moved back over to where Jess was sitting. Her beaming face told me that she had written enough words for the next day’s literary page. We dropped off the review at the office. Again, with hindsight, we probably should have made it clear which sides of the pages were going into the magazine, but it didn’t cross our minds that half of the staff and probably all of the printers spoke limited English. In the end they printed everything, so that it read like a demonic kaleidoscope of underage porn and under-informed literary criticism. The next day we read sentences like “The end of the world is a popular motif in the mouth of a nymph-like, prepubescent angel” with something not unlike embarrassed

awe. We fucked and got high and then met up with Nate who, later that night, admitted that he hadn’t read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but that he had read a review of the film in the magazine that Jess and I wrote for, and the review had said that the film was pretty close to the book. I didn’t have to teach until late afternoon the following day, so we got pretty messed up. Thinking about it, I guess that afternoon was the last time Jess and I fucked. We went back to her apartment, which was actually a traditional Chinese house called a hutong and cost her parents about eight hundred dollars a month. She read me some of her novel, which was set after a nuclear war and described a pack of dogs looking for food and trying to work out where all the people had gone. It was exceptionally violent, and I think I passed out to an involved description of a Labrador called “Fluffy


Muffin” eating a child’s eyeball. The next morning, or early afternoon, we woke up and decided to go for a walk. The main reason was to get a copy of the magazine that we were both at that time so proud of, but we agreed to get some fresh air in Chaoyang Park while we were out. We didn’t know yet. We had not stood sat there, looking across a bar table at each other, with horrified and embarrassed expressions on our faces. That was all later, after we had left the hutong and bought a copy of the magazine and sat down to read it. That was all about an hour and a half in the future. First we have to get up, and out of the hutong. I don’t think we fucked, I probably showered, and I’m sure I smoked a cigarette, before I was ready to brave the hostile Beijing environment. Jess led the way. “I’ve just had a great idea,” she said, holding the door open for me and

standing aside so that I could move onto the street. “It’s a conversation. It’s better than anything ever written before.” I shrugged. “There’s a man and a woman leaving a house and they’re talking,” she said, closing the door and locking it. “The woman locks the door and turns to walk off down the street, and as she does she mumbles something under her breath which the man doesn’t properly hear but later on, after something has happened....” “What’s happened?” “Doesn’t matter. After something has happened he realises what she said and it changes the way that you look at everything that’s happened until then.” “Genius,” I said, maybe sarcastically. She turned around and started walking down the street, towards the park, and said something quietly to me or to herself. She did not say it quietly enough and I heard every word. She


said, “I won’t tell you now.” “Don’t bell my sow?” I asked. She laughed. “Don’t smell my brow?” She hit my arm, hard. “Don’t yell at my cow!”


Steven Leonardo Clifford Pocket Paths

The sky drops acid, spewing trees into the dirt road. birds escaping to binge on the sky; a psychedelic line. The telephone wires resemble industrialized rainforest, humming for a reinvention. Petals fall, flutteringly, carving the air for travelers, drinking the world with a teacup. Back roads spill out, connected to a shortcut to a truck stop with five horizons. Hitchhikers walk in circles, always seeing with convergence; the highway paints the telephone booth. Where are the eyeless alleyways, the cosmos engrossed in a grain, the island existence minus the sounds of the shore, a dreamer without the world’s anchor, a lucid dreamer with stamina? Bubbles surface, and pop against the brim, the brim of existence itself or a coffee cup where I found this imagery. I sip this world, clearing the bottom as I lift it, shaken by


fusional earthquakes, and lay it down on the newspaper where an equator is created over a homicide. It’s infinite galaxies away yet unfolds in my lap. A kitchen eclipses with a blood halo. See it through a box and one’s eyes wont burn. The kitchen now has ruffles like cardboard, torn into pieces as I exit. The street develops roamers like an illusionist, foliage over signs. I delve into a new crevice, a path randomizing sights. Children sell me lemonade, self-sufficiency through a coin. A weeping willow showers firework-sparks over my vision, I dunk my head; an underwater metropolis at my face, worldly sounds muffled. I sneeze, reorganizing my surroundings; I’m on my porch drinking iced tea, wishing it was lemonade. Bored, I migrate from room to room, introducing my pocket journeys to my immediate space, reinventing itself


instantly, as I turn my head. Out the window, scenery downpours. The world streams through a gutter drain a convoluted pipe system with my personal light hooked up. Somewhere is the holistic view, burned by my eye, instigating wildfires. Under a mindless eye, The sidewalk doesn’t steam.


Contributors Reneé Bibby Reneé Bibby is a teacher and a student with The Writer Studio, Tucson. Previously published in Black & BLUE, she has read at Writers Studio National and International Branches Reading at the KGB Bar in New York, NY. Steven Leonardo Cifford Steven Leonardo Clifford is an experimental poet, a Long Island native and self-proclaimed “postmodernism lover” and “literary theory buff,” Clifford has written for a series of online publications including: Eviscerator Heaven, Calliope Nerve, Asbestos Boots on Beatnik Feet, See Spot Run, Camel Saloon, penmen review, Blind Vigilance Revue, and was the only poet to be featured in an online edition of Queens Politics. A member of a family of artisans and the artistically minded, Clifford’s relatives shared with him their insights and nurtured him throughout the years, which no doubt helped to transform him into the poet he is today. Francesc Franch Francesc is a native of Spain who came to the United States at the age of seventeen. She has authored three novels, "Amelia Asleep in the Darkness" (Pagès Editors, Spain, 2011), "Gray City Under the Rain" (Editorial Milenio, Spain, 2007), and "A Hidden Portrait" (Editorial Milenio, Spain, 2005). The


first was written in Catalan, while the latter two were written in Spanish. Francesc has also written "A Catalan Symbolist: Selected Poems of Marius Torres" (Peter Lang Publishing, 1992), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Compass Rose, Front Range Review, Fourteen Hills, G.W. Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Hospital Drive Magazine, Monarch Review, Natural Bridge, The Old Red Kimono, Phantasmagoria, Quercus Review, Quiddity Literary Journal, Rio Grande Review, Sanskrit, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Spoon River Poetry Review, Stand, and Verdad. Alley Malinenko Ally Malinenko occasionally gets stories and poems published online or in print. Occasionally she doesn't. It's all relative. She is the author of the poetry book "Wanting Bone" by Six Gallery Press and the children's novel "Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb" published by Antenna Books. She lives in Brooklyn which is amazing except for when it isn't. Joseph Masser Joseph Masser is a high school English teacher in rural New Jersey (yes there is such a thing), currently pursuing his MFA in fiction from National University. He has been a national cycling champion and a coppersmith, and his musical alter ego has written, recorded and released four original albums of folky rock and roll under the name Joe Cassady & The West End Sound. Keith Moul Keith's poems and photos appear widely. Three recently published books include: T"he Grammar of Mind" from Blue & Yellow Dog; "Beautiful


Agitation" from Red Ochre Press; and "Reconsidered Light," a collection of poems written to accompany Keith's photos, from Broken Publications. Joshua Osto Joshua lives and works in London, England. He has been published this year in Prole andBirkensnake magazines. JOshua is a co-Editor of The Red Line magazine. Jane Otto Jane Otto’s poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Nimrod International Journal, Existere – Journal of Arts and Literature, Eclipse, Talking River, The Journal, and New Southerner. She was a finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry for 2013, and received an Honorary Mention in the New Southerner’s 2012 Literary Edition. Jane was raised in Colorado and grew up in New York City, where she lived for nearly 25 years. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, where she is working on a chapbook entitled, “Why I Went Away.” Richard Wagle Richard Wagle is a writer and artist who resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He has lived in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and may one day escape the Midwest.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 105  

Literary Magazine

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