Crack the Spine
Issue 152 June 2, 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine
This issue is generously sponsored by:
CONTENTS Keely Cutts
Now and Before
Emily Eddins Candy Crush
William Waering Kissing Dragons
Sunday Morning a Century After
The $1 Million Haiku
Michael D. Grover
Airplanes and Feminism
The Conscience Round
Now and Before 5. Tin-can jazz filters through the living room as Hank sets the needle to the 45. His red flannel is rolled up at the elbows and sticks to his back. He draws the sundyed shade on his way to the dinette where long threads hang from duct tape patches on the black seats. The squirrels are waiting. Arranged along a bar, their tiny hands made of foam and covered in synthetic fur, they clutch pints of beertinted silicone.
1. Beth ran her fingers over the sample—Sunset Red in shag—and imagined how it would feel against her naked back. She wanted to rub it along her thighs and press her face against the cool nylon. It looked stylish and expensive and she could picture it covering the floor of their mobile home in a sea of soft impossibilities. Hank picked the shades and the dinette. He picked the trailer park and the town and the state. She would have this carpet.
3. The watery smell of scrambled eggs turns his stomach, but if he doesn’t make her breakfast, she won’t eat. Hank pairs the yellow cloud with a slice of dry toast and sets them on the china where the brown cross-stitch pattern peaks through the
breakfast. The plate is heavy in his hand, meant for Christmases and Thanksgivings, but there’s no point in saving them. At the door to the bedroom, his foot catches on a loose corner of carpet that he meant to fix in a year of weekends.
2. The ducks came up from the pond in the afternoons. Beth sketched them in the unlined notebook she kept it hidden beneath her underwear and hose. When Hank insisted on having his way—dinner, the wood burning stove in the trailer, choosing Gunsmoke when she’d rather watch anything else—she’d spread the bread crumbs on one of the good plates and head outside. Everybody deserved to eat off something nice.
4. “You should get a hobby.” Hank holds the straw to her mouth as she sucks in a shallow drink and grunts. “I mean for after.” He looks away, turns away, and sets the glass back on the nightstand. After is coming sooner every day. “I could make you a duck. You like those.” She closes her eyes and leans back into the spoon-well of her pillow, fitted to the exact form of her skull from endless days of rest. “Make me squirrels. I already know everything there is to know about ducks.” It's a sickness
Emily Eddins Candy Crush
This thing she feels for you A cursor that never stops blinking Even when she turns her phone off She always wants to know more It's worse when sheâ€™s drunk But most things are She ogles she Googles she ogles on Google And there you are A tiny thumbnail Unexpandable unknowable Your face frozen and Silent in its smile As if you want to know her too But can't speak will never speak At this rate You will never make it Off of the screen And into reality You will never be more than a game Hard candy crush
William Wareing Kissing Dragons
The day started as all days start: the abhorrent stench of hot, steaming caffeine, served up with stale bread set ablaze in order to mask the texture. It was six in the morning on a Monday. The air was frigid inside and out, and the cricket chirps echoed off of the crackling drywall. In the midst of this consistent ecosystem, Eric Stryker stepped out of crumpled sheets and onto cold hardwood floor. “Another gorgeous Monday to commence my fantabulous work week,” Eric said in a very silly sarcastic voice, augmented by what he thought to be a nerdy lisp. Immediately following the phrase was a more familiar one. “Fuck,” he whispered in an exasperated tone. Eric readied himself in a haze of low consciousness, like a black out, but not quite as far. He moved his groggy legs and his wobbly arms around in ways that seemed quite bizarre as he prepared himself for work. He then started to walk out into the kitchen, showered and fully dressed. Of course, before doing anything else, Eric could not help but admire himself in the mirror for a while. “Damn, I clean up good,” he said to himself, winking at his reflection. Eric was definitely the most attractive thing in this apartment. With amber-tinted hazel eyes, copper hair, a chiseled jaw, and an athletic build, Eric was 6 feet and 4 inches of solidified handsome. He wasn’t afraid of indulging his good looks either. Eventually he grew tired of looking at his reflection, and rather than dive after it like Narcissus, he decided to continue into the kitchen.
His coffee was already made for him, alongside his toast thanks to a strange automated toaster he bought half drunk while watching an infomercial. As prior mentioned, though, the bread was almost always stale. The only reason that Eric used the ridiculous machine was because, quite frankly, Eric was a lazy man. However, unbeknownst to him, the narrow road of his life was about to reach a fork, a fork that would force the path to change regardless of where he went thereafter. Eric proceeded to bathe his tonsils in coffee and fill his belly with awful toast. As the drips of brew rested on his tongue, mixing with the stray crumbs of bread that desperately tried to soak up the fluid, Eric reveled in an air of simplicity. So little was required of him, and so little managed to stress him. His job at the accounting firm would have rid him of his financial stresses as well had he not had a soft side for the destitute. â€œDogs beg for food; people should never have to,â€? he would tell himself. He got up to put the creamer back in the fridge, upon which he found his favorite poem, which he never hesitated to read aloud. Obscurity always enters normal ecosystems Absurdity always enters normal lifestyles Ordinarily things should appear ordinary, But normal eyes hate seeing normal realities Instead they dance, observing burning buildings Imagination is what eyes see in their free time Humanity never imagines reality Normality never gets noticed So the world falls to obscurity
Humanity to absurdity It falls in the dancing cinders It falls and burns before our eyes He never knew why it was his favorite poem. He barely understood his interest in poetry. Perhaps he believed the message, the idea of things moving to chaos because the eyes want to watch it burn. Upon completion of his treasured moment of Zen, Eric Stryker made his way to the door. He grabbed the cold steel knob and listened to the orchestral shriek of the hinges, and then he left the room behind him surprisingly in a very good mood. Eric proceeded down the two flights of stairs to the front door of the apartment complex. As soon as he had gotten outside, he heard a strange commotion coming from about one block down the road. The word “strange,” however, did not do justice to this particular commotion. It was one of the most bizarre species of hubbub that Eric had ever witnessed. Compelled by curiosity, Eric looked to his left wrist where his watch lay ticking. “I have more than enough time for a little excitement,” he whispered to himself. As Eric started approaching the scene, he made a few observations. “Whatever it is, it’s coming from around where Jennifer Jenkins lives. It looks like there’s . . . a bonfire in the middle of the street. Maybe it’s an impromptu concert! Then again, it might just be a silly protest. Either way, it beats the hell out of getting to the office early to punch numbers into a worthless machine.” Propelled by desire for entertainment, Eric Stryker paced toward the strange commotion only to find that his thirst for adventure was met only with newfound depths of terror.
The “bonfire” was a beat up Chevy Monte Carlo that seemed to have exploded directly next to a series of buildings, almost igniting the entire block. Several buildings were still on fire, and shouts and screams reverberated off of the burning walls. Angry residents, who were very clearly the source of all the noise, were shouting at police officers. Amongst the various degrees of clutter, Eric made out some select phrases. “He was driving drunk,” one of them said. “My memoirs,” another voiced. “My baby is still in there!” a woman yelled. As sobering as a sinking ship, the phrase pulsed into Eric Stryker’s mind immediately. “That was Jennifer. I’d recognize that voice anywhere,” he whispered to himself. Strange that Eric never knew a woman named Jennifer in his entire life until now. Eric rushed over to the source to find a beautiful woman crying hysterically. “Jennifer! Are you alright?” Eric asked. Simultaneously, he was thinking, “Of course not, you moron! Her apartment burned down and her child might be dead!” “My baby . . . my beautiful baby girl . . . my little Addison.” Jennifer could barely speak among her sobs. “What happened? Is she still in your apartment?” “The fireman . . . took me away . . . not again . . . not again!” Without a second thought, or let’s be honest, without a first, Eric found himself hurtling over the caution tape and into the burning building. Had he given it thought, he would at this point say that he knows a woman named Jennifer, but such a Jennifer never once lived in an apartment, and such a Jennifer was focusing on her career, and therefore would have no time for a child.
Caught in the heat of the moment, no pun intended, he made a dead sprint toward the staircase, constantly saying, “21C, 21C, 2-1-C,” as if repeating the apartment number would teleport him to it like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Through the haze and smog, Eric could tell there were a few firefighters on his tail, trying to stop him from doing anything stupid. He outran them, though, and eventually reached the staircase, forgetting how lazy he was and the fact that he would never run headlong into danger. When he arrived there, he noticed that there was a large section of stairs missing. It had crumbled down in the flames. He did the first thing that came to mind. He jumped as far as he could, but it was not nearly far enough. He fell straight down into the basement, landing on the set of stairs that should have been there in the first place. Screaming in agony as chalky pieces of drywall and smoldering ash fell on his injured body, Eric still managed to pull himself up, but felt an immense stabbing sensation. Running his hand for a brief moment over the midsection of his back, he noticed a vertebra poking out of his skin. Writhing in pain, he still stood on his two feet. Again without even thinking, he fell back on it as hard as he could, putting it just about back where it belonged. “Arrerarargh!!!!!” he screamed, as tears rolled down his face. The agony was unimaginable. In fact, the pain was so blinding, that analytical Eric could not be bothered to realize that no single vertebra on the spine could be put back into place by ones own elbow. Ignoring the pain, Eric Stryker used every last ounce of strength he had to continue on. There was a tiny ledge where the first floor met underneath the midsection of the flight of stairs. He buried his fists as hard as he could into the top of the first ledge, trying his best to not have to move his core a single bit. Still wincing with pain, he managed to pull himself up using only his arms. He
did the same thing with the midsection of stairs, and then he proceeded to limp up the remainder of the flight to the first door on the left, 21C. He used all his weight to tackle through the door, knowing full well that touching the knob would have melted the skin off of his hand. Finally, Eric had a lucky break. The door had been molding over prior to this catastrophe, so he got by with only a handful of tiny splinters on his arms. Eric’s perception at that point was through a lens of blurs and flashing lights. He noticed a pile of flesh engulfed in flames on the hardwood in the kitchen. He figured it must have been the babysitter, who was always at the apartment at 7:00 AM sharp to watch little baby Addison. There was no hope for her. Eric searched all over the apartment, but he couldn’t see anything through the smoke. Then suddenly, as if by some divine intervention seeking to not let this absent-minded act of bravery go in vain, Eric Stryker heard a crying noise. It was coming from the bathroom. Eric trudged and waddled his way to the door. This time he opened it using the knob in case the baby was directly on the other side. The flesh on his hand bubbled and made awful spitting noises as he clenched the knob and twisted it to open the door. The baby was directly on the other side. Had Eric crashed through as he did prior, it would have killed her. Eric was unfazed by the idea that the bathroom was the only part of the apartment that wasn’t on fire. With the living little baby Addison in hands, Eric kneeled close to the ground, still trying to keep his spine straight. He did this so as to make sure Addison didn’t suffocate. He moved as quickly as he could through the door and to the flight of stairs. There he was met by three firemen, the same three that ran in after him. “We need to get this baby out of here!” he yelled in a clearly tortured tone.
Without skipping a beat, one of the firefighters was already at the ledge of the first floor with his hands held high. “Pass her down! Hurry!” Though, thinking he was pretty much already in the clear, Eric didn’t see what the rush was all about. Regardless, he hustled to the edge, got down on his belly, and passed the baby down to the fireman. The fireman then handed the child to one of the other firefighters, and said, “Alright, now your turn.” Eric Stryker started to move, but before he could even get his shoulders over, the second floor ceiling caved in, and he was smothered against the staircase by drywall and wooden planks. Like an old computer booting up, each one of Eric Stryker’s senses came online separately and at varying degrees. A bitter smell, faint, but clearly bitter, permeated the air. The sound of wheels and footsteps surrounded him. The feeling of rough paper-like sheets became apparent to him. Chemicals, the smell was chemicals. The wheels and footsteps were in tandem. Gurneys and wheelchairs, the sound was gurneys and wheelchairs (and they’re corresponding “pushers”). Yes, Eric was in the hospital. He finally opened his eyes to observe himself as a burrito. Wrapped in sheets and arms and legs tucked in, Eric almost felt as though he was training to become a missile. He then proceeded to feel like celery, not the celery that has been pre-cut, mind you, but the celery that still possesses its leaf-like appendages. Upon moving his arms, Eric had noticed a plethora of needles, tubes, and wires sticking out of his body, or rather, sticking in. So you see, reader, he not only was wrapped in a way such that his body formed a straight tube (like a burrito). He also had various tendrils protruding from his body, making him look like non-pre-cut celery.
Eric noticed that one of the tendrils had a big red button on it, so he pressed it, hoping that he did not just set the hospital to self-destruct. Seconds later, a nurse walked in. “Oh my God!” the nurse exclaimed as she ran out shrieking. Eric Stryker would have said, “Well that was rude,” but he then realized that he had missed a tube. There was a very long tube sticking down his throat. He yanked it out, and based on its size, it should have hurt to have done so, but it didn’t. At that point, a physician entered the room. “Well I’ll be,” he said. “Mr. Stryker, let me start informally by saying you should be dead. I see, though, that you are still functioning, considering you have managed to remove your incubator tube. Although, once the painkillers wear off, you might regret having yanked that out yourself.” The doctor was pacing slowly across the room, checking the various readings on the machines and taking notes. “Did . . . did the,” Eric spoke as though his tongue had stopped working, but he allowed his dignity to drain in order to ask this question. “Ditha bay . . . bavey mech ih?” (Did the baby make it?), he asked as clearly as he could manage. “Please,” the doctor said, “Don’t try to speak yet. The amount of numbing agents we had to administer so as to get your vitals down to normal was astronomical. You will be able to speak in a few minutes. For now, just relax. I will spare you the embarrassment by addressing everything that happened that day as well as everything that has happened and has been happening to your body.” Eric responded with a weakly made thumbs-up.
“Good,” the doctor said with a smile. He was now looking at Eric, addressing him directly. “First I must ask you a question to which you can answer by nodding ‘yes’ or shaking ‘no.’ The press has been relentless in their pursuit of your story. Are you okay with them coming in so we can get them out of here as fast as possible?” Eric nodded. “I don’t really mind, but if it makes things easier on the hospital, of course I’ll allow it,” he thought to himself. He was still far more concerned about baby Addison, however. “Thank God,” the physician said. He then waved outside the door, and two small camera crews walked in. Eric could hear him whispering to them before they fully entered. “Now, you listen up. I reserve the right to throw you out of this room at any time at my own discretion. That means I make the rules. Rule number one: shut up. You are not allowed to say a single word. This patient has enough to deal with already. He doesn’t need to be interrogated or bombarded with questions. Rule number two: stand in the corner. If you’re doing it right, he shouldn’t even know you’re there. In other words, act like you’re on a subway, where you listen to other people, but you don’t do anything to let them know you’re listening. Got it?” The two crews nodded in unison and moved themselves over to the far corner of the room. The ones holding boom mics were hilariously left waiting in the lobby. “Okay, so where were we?” the doctor hypothetically asked Eric. “Ah, yes. Of course. Don’t worry, Mr. Stryker. The baby and the firefighters all made it out okay. Monica Buchannan, the child’s babysitter, unfortunately passed away in the fire. Don’t let that worry you, though. The autopsy revealed that she had been dead for several hours before you were even there. There was nothing you or anybody could do.” The doctor paused in a brief moment of silence.
“As for you, you have been in a coma for over a month. Like I said earlier, however, you should be dead. The amount of smoke you inhaled, alongside the various injuries you sustained, should have killed you. We easily deduced that you didn’t bleed out due to the fire having singed most of your wounds shut. Furthermore, you didn’t burn to death because the debris that landed on you smothered all of the fires around you. As for the smoke, we had to examine your lungs. Using various imagery tests, we were able to conclude that your lungs are malformed. They can’t absorb gasses efficiently. In an attempt to adapt to this abnormality, your body has developed a system of oxygen storage sacs.” The doctor paused to allow the information to sink in, and then continued. “We then had an entire team of interns researching how your body adapted so rapidly. The results were inconclusive beyond ‘Darwin must be his guardian angel.’ To put it in simple terms, though, your body has developed it own organic form of scuba gear. It is quite honestly the coolest thing that I have ever seen.” The doctor briefly lost himself in excitement, then looked back at Eric and became serious once again. “Next on the list are your actual ‘guardian angels,’ though. Based on your heroic efforts, as well as various charitable donations you have made in the past, a charity team was immediately assembled to pay for your hospital bill. Because you were uninsured, it was quite steep, but you will be glad to hear that this organization has raised over one million dollars on your behalf. It only took one fifth of that money to pay for the countless operations that saved you from being handicapped the rest of your life.” “What am I missing?” The doctor anxiously tried to recall any information he had left out. “Ah, yes. You and Ms. Jenkins have been cleared from your work at
the accounting firm and may return at your convenience. She and your mother have made countless visits, and would both like to talk to you immediately. Your mother has already gone home for the night, but Ms. Jenkins is still in the lobby. Now, I’ll get these pesky news teams out of your way and allow you some privacy with Ms. Jenkins. Are you okay with speaking to her? You should be able to speak instead of nodding now.” Eric Stryker immediately noticed the feeling back in his face. “Yes,” he said eloquently. The doctor smiled, escorted the news teams out, and waved his hand to Jennifer who was sitting nervously in the lobby. Jennifer Jenkins walked in with her wavy charcoal hair intact. All else seemed disheveled and out of place. Her eyelids were crusty, her nose was runny, and her tear-stained cheeks formed the strangest of wrinkles below her eyes and beside her lips. Regardless, her gross and bloodshot eyes looked longingly at Eric Stryker, and she seemed just as beautiful as ever to him. “Welcome back to the land of the living,” she said with a crooked smile. Suddenly, though, she lost it. She filled the entire room with the sound of her sobs. She cried fervently and obnoxiously, and each breath she took quivered as if one breath were trying its hardest to be two. Then, Jennifer reached out and wrapped her arms tight around Eric. Eric, meanwhile had rested his hand against her back, which he patted softly in an attempt to calm her. “It’s okay,” he attempted to say, but the best he could do was “It . . .” before his mouth was sewn to hers with threads of spit and snot. Though even as her halitosis made his taste buds scream, he never wanted it to end. When Jennifer was finished, she yet again looked longingly into his eyes. “Thank-you,” she whispered amidst her tears and watery groans.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, feeling his heart strings being gently moved as if they rather belonged to a harp. “He was drunk, you know. He didn’t care about anyone he could’ve hurt. He was just like the guy that killed Andrew. He deserved to die.” “Jen, you know that man never forgave himself. He’s still at the mental institution. He didn’t kill Andrew. The fire killed him. As for this guy, who knows what was going on in his life?” Eric thought immediately after that he shouldn’t have said that. “So that’s it? After all this time you’ve known me, you would side with them? The drunks? The murderers?!” Jennifer was now in hysterics. Eric clearly shouldn’t have said that. Eric Stryker, however lazy he was in his daily routine, felt very adamant now about making his case for what he said. “Of course not. I’m just trying to say that people shouldn’t be defined by their mistakes. You wouldn’t want me to judge you for anything you’ve done wrong either.” His justification wasn’t helping. “That’s not why I’m here anyways,” she said very sternly. “I’m here to tell you that you should quit your job.” “Why on Earth would I do that?” Eric asked, meanwhile thinking, “It involves two things I quite admire: using my intellect and not moving.” He would never dare say something so sassy to Jennifer, though. “Because you have a greater calling,” Jennifer replied very calmly. “And what’s that?” Eric asked, fearing the answer. “You should be a firefighter.” “Christ, Jen. I’m just not cut out for that. You saw what happened to me in there. I’m lucky to be alive.”
“Yeah, well Andrew wasn’t so lucky!” Jennifer bellowed at the top of her lungs. Eric looked at her with a terrified countenance and remained silent. She slowly calmed down and continued, “You and Andrew were best friends. You owe it to him.” “Jen, you and I both know that he would be fully against me risking my life like this,” Eric said as gently as he could. “I don’t expect you to understand what it was like for me, but all other injuries aside, there are few things more painful than swallowing flames and embers. I just can’t do it.” “Well you owe it to others! Damnit, Eric, you have a gift. You have a really powerful gift, and you need to help people with it.” “I help people all the time, Jen. I give almost all of my money to charities, charities that support firefighters, soldiers, the impoverished . . .” Eric was cut off before he could finish. “No. You listen to me. You can spend all of your money and hope it goes to good use, or you can keep your money and put yourself to good use.” Jennifer then stormed out of the hospital room. Eric waited until she was out of earshot. Then he sighed, rolled his eyes, and said, “Welcome back to the land of the living.” Eric Stryker had taken up drinking again, and he did so in no small way. He hadn’t been this bad since a drunk driver caused a fire that killed his best friend Andrew, the same Andrew. He had just arrived back at his complex with a bottle of tequila, planning to drink the entire thing before the night was over. As was custom to Eric’s drinking habits, he burrowed himself in the sofa and watched the news, finding it far more entertaining while drunk. As soon as he
had turned on the television, though, he was met with a very recent problem he had been dealing with, or rather, refusing to deal with. After his ordeal saving Addison, countless articles had been published about him. They originally started with silly titles, such as “Superheroes Among Us.” The titles became more abrasive, however, so soon as the press got to Jennifer. Thanks to Jennifer Jenkins, now the entire press was suggesting exactly what she had been. The titles became things like, “God Calling Eric, But No Answer” and “Brave Man Now A Coward.” So when Eric Stryker turned on the news, he was met with the words: “Apparent gun shots heard on 3 rd Avenue. Police are saying the situation is under control, but we sent our reporter to get the full story. And later tonight, Eric Stryker: waste of talent or waste of time? We’ll have more for you on that after the break.” Eric proceeded to yell, “Oh, fuck off!” Then he threw the empty bottle of tequila at the T.V. and passed out. At 3:00 AM, Eric Stryker woke up to hear his phone ringing. Hesitant to answer it, he did so anyways. “Hey, Eric, it’s Jennifer. I’m sorry to call you so late, but I need to talk to you. Is there any way you can make it over to my apartment?” Eric tried as hard as he could to avoid slurring his speech. He managed to hiccup and say, “Yeah sure.” He hung up the phone. Then he walked out the door, downstairs, and out of his apartment. Eric knew full well that he couldn’t walk, but he also knew that he didn’t have enough money on hand to call a cab. As hesitant as he was to do so, Eric decided to drive. The next morning, Eric Stryker was found dead in his car about one block from his apartment. He had burned to death in a fire caused by his Chevy Monte Carlo. Addison survived, but there was no hope for the babysitter.
Sunday Morning A Century After: A Homage This poem is a homage to Wallace Stevens “Sunday Morning.” Fall 2015 will see the 100 th anniversary of the publication of the poem. “Sunday Morning, a Homage,” written in loose blank verse of 8 stanzas of 15 lines each, like the original, concerns the theme of the woman one hundred years later musing on events of the past century since the original poem was first published.
I Not so complacent in her dressing gown, the sensuous world remains mused upon, thoughts common to many still not dispersed by sun, moon, heavens above, trinity eternally present, each spring revived in cathedral dreams. For a moment the ancient calamity stilled by wide water, until the quiet dead in muted voices pass as a transparent procession in a forgotten carnival parade. Then no modern science can stem Jerusalem’s return to this day, crossing of water, where dreams speak now of a quickened kingdom inhabiting not only the mind, but a crown of blood, a cross, a tomb, of mind.
II Is it conditioned conscience that makes you reward the dead? Is the divine a thought made manifest by the dreams of others? Can you not find in fields, fruited trees, the burning sun, fit things for worship? The self, a century’s disciplined lens for thought, made material gauzy spirit quick in divinity within. To exalt, those eternal seasons must be tempered in recognition of all autumn souls who have felt the presence in stirring suns, sap returning to the bough, a measure of human joy and sorrow, summer’s heat, winter’s crusted beard. Reality is formed of mind—nature is the soul of thought.
III In mind’s myth any number of gods was theogony formed, motherless, the land itself ancestor, eternal queen where gods enthroned, sat with attendants musing intermingled blood, human and divine. Not even science, a world spanning web, a tomb and cross, can banish the return. Longing for heaven dissipated as the Italian, the Pole, Gaia from dark moon, beamed lack of virginal connection for the spinning orb passed eternally through heaven’s gates. The sky a conduit joined to earth by pencil flame, seat of gods labor of return, love found in wet leaves— paradise translated by mother’s tongue.
IV “When the green cockatoo is gone,” she says, “contentment flies astray. Why do they not return from dark autumn’s embrace? Have they no knowledge of paradise eternal?” Century’s two wars destroyed paradise when mind could no longer comprehend that savage desert dervish feasting on a sacrifice. Apple’s birth polluted by an aged, impotent god, the land barren, not even all the church choirs, seraphim, could undo the wreck, that and two thousand’s end, Darwin’s dance, physics’ deep peer into the heart of darkness, epiphany of matter— May follows winter, endures as swallows preening on green branches awaiting song.
V She says, “For serenities’ sake my mind must know whence I am gone what follows.” Obliteration is now key. The time long past when gods walked among us like a welcoming balm. Zeus, Mithras, heaven’s hill banished by thought’s realm. Embrace now lover’s caress, autumn’s leaves, sighs on wet thick nights, for this too shall pass, all left but a memory of those remaining behind as Achilles sought Timê and kudos as an ointment for memory lost in the above world. These passions drive the sphere to bloom, maiden to dream of eternal love’s embrace; they are unthought faith, desires in far setting suns where girls sense their recurring equinox.
VI Is the eternal a static haven? Do tender leaves never know autumn’s red? How can that which remains forever green excite the lover when new seasons are needed? Rivers run to the sea yet they return whence they came. The sun forever knows its dumb circuit in horizon’s sweep. The heart of paradise is seeker’s thoughts, not naked Eve before the tiger turned away. Those that voice heaven’s choir deprave this moment’s eternity. Asleep, or shook by waking dream, October’s slanted light gives witness for dark sorrows returned after winter’s barren crust. There in sprouts on forest floor the knowing awaits all.
VII The old god speaks its charms in rings of light with naked men, bare women, equal as their swanlike dance blends through tattooed drum beat. A shapeless white moon, burgundy evening sun, ungendered conductors, symphonic nature’s metronomy keeping time as in the first eyelids of morning, these twinned dancers measure the earth’s turning tune as a cathedral beneath bare feet. This is the fire burning in heaven, angelic, that makes of rock a pew, of leaves, choir book. Let this be thought’s funeral—where men and women drink river’s communion cup, the dawn’s blessing brings sacrament’s earliest kiss where they go and come from liquid fog.
VIII She returns to silent waters, whether in dream or Darwin’s reality, a procession of ghosts walk backwards through time’s gates, all that have ever been. She is but a flicker among them, shade not quickened by Calvary’s hushed call. The wilderness of bird choirs, flowers and orchards shall be all final rites watched over by heaven’s hanging lights—this is enough, the savage old mother a soothing maiden and crone. She would hear their disembodied, still tongues, fly with them to know if Orphean songs quicken their step. They, like the morning dew proceding darkness, do not pause—fellowship ambiguous, baptized by still, black waters.
The $1 Million Haiku
One day my father came home from work in his moth-eaten blazer, threw his briefcase on the floor and announced he’d quit his job to become a haiku writer. “We’ll starve,” my mother said. He’d never written a single haiku in his life but the next morning he holed away in the study with a borrowed fountain pen and began composing hundreds of haiku. At night he studied the masters – Issa, Bashō, Hitomaro – ear-benders who’d squashed the world into a Rubik’s Cube of seventeen syllables. At day’s end my sister and I would sort through the crumpled paper balls in his wastebasket, fascinated. We figured we had six months before we all ended up on welfare. Other kids’ fathers were lawyers or doctors. Ours was the author of gems like: The goddam neighbor’s dog barking all night next door – wish I had a gun But a month later one of his best haiku – “Childhood” – was accepted by a literary magazine with national distribution. The magazine itself was just a xeroxed kitchen-sink production by an alcoholic in Florida but its release marked the beginning of the weirdest phase of our lives.
Within twenty-four hours, a clothing manufacturer contacted my father and offered to print the haiku on a T-shirt. “We’ll give you $10,000 for a one-time printing right and a 15% royalty on all sales.” My father hung up and whooped. Over the following week he was contacted by a greeting-card company, an advertising agency, a calendar maker and a mug producer, all wanting to license “Childhood.” The week after that it appeared in The New Yorker. Then Esquire. Playboy. Rolling Stone. Time magazine. Overnight, “Childhood” became the rage of American pop culture. It sneezed from one person to another at bus stops and office watercoolers. It was transformed into one of those cliché sayings that appear on everything from helium balloons to bumperstickers, like “Shit happens” or “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck.” It was recited at weddings and funerals, tattooed on people’s arms and scrawled in yearbooks. Altogether, my father made over $1 million. “See, hon? I told you,” he told my speechless mother one night. But like the rest of us, he was overwhelmed by his own success. “Childhood” is just nine words long but the rights have since been sold to a German multi-media conglomerate who refused permission to reproduce it here. All I can say is that it’s a beautiful poem. The real victory came when he was approached by a martini-and-cigarettesera New York publisher who offered to release it in a hardback book with fifty of my father’s other haiku. To celebrate, we had dinner at a French restaurant where my father poured champagne and raised his glass. “Gentlemen.” When we finished eating, we walked past the white-glove doorman and my father was ambushed by papparazzi. “James, over here!” Cameras flashed and my father pulled his blazer over his head and tried running for the minivan.
He was mobbed by hundreds of shrieking fans who wanted to touch him. They ripped the blazer off his back and tore it into confetti. One girl flashed her breasts and demanded an autograph. Another girl leaped onto his back for a piggyback ride but knocked off his wire-frame glasses so that he turned the wrong way and ran through the plate-glass window. When he opened his eyes, he was lying across a platter of moules à la crème on a table covered in shattered glass. The next morning we opened the paper and found a photo of my father lying facedown with the headline: “Haiku Genius Has Illegitimate Child with Michael Jackson, Attempts Suicide.” It was the first of many such articles. My father became an instant favorite of the celebrity scandal scene. Evidently the tabloid journalists were tired of discussing the drinking problems of America’s top entertainers and turned to a tortured haiku poet instead. Over the following weeks I learned that my father was actually a woman who’d had an affair in the Bahamas with a Wall Street mogul, that he’d been a crack baby, that he ran a Taiwanese sweat shop. But the biggest blow was yet to come. “My book flopped,” he announced at dinner one night. He held up a copy of the New York Times Book Review, where his haiku collection had been panned. They called him a one-hit wonder. “None of the haiku in this volume capture the grace of ‘Childhood’,” the critic wrote. “I can’t help but wonder if the author has been distracted by his numerous abortions in Mexico, his cocaine binging in Zurich, his extramarital gallops in Malibu. Nothing destroys a poet like success – which seems to be the only explanation for this sad, loose, deeply disappointing book.” Like many celebrities, my father was ruined by his own fame. He bought a Corvette and totaled it the same day, was in and out of rehab, punched
papparazzi and was summoned to court, appeared in a leaked sex tape, was thrown off a flight to Los Angeles, was arrested outside a nightclub, totaled his BMW, was parodied by late-night comedians. One night we turned on the TV and my father was on The Late Late Show sitting under the bright lights in an armchair with a limp wrist and roaring with laughter. “Are you always this pretty?” the host asked him. He was missing two front teeth after a barfight in Malibu and he tossed back his head and roared with laughter. But the fame didn’t last. “Childhood” was just a fad and it soon disappeared as untraceably as childhood itself. My father returned home and shut himself in the study but with no money now, no fame and no way to earn a living, so that he sat alone in the glow of his own private autumn.
Michael D. Grover
Airplanes and Feminism
What compels a Poet To write about anything Aside from what They are writing about To make the pen Or the fingers dance Way around the target Beating around the bush Politics are so passe are so preachy Why even want to write of politics Why not dance around serious stuff Isms and such
The Conscience Round Matt Briggs spent an hour cleaning his weapon with the thoughtfulness one would restore an ancient relic or dust fossilized deposits. He meticulously bored the barrel with a brush, blowing on the pieces rhythmically in time with the brushing; the smell of gun oil permanently ingrained in his skin. Done wiping everything down, he reassembled the weapon. Muscle memory allowed him to move at record breaking pace making the rifle whole again. Once finished, he repeated the process. I slid the hundred on the bar with instructions to keep them coming until the money ran out. Of course, that would be an impossibility. Either Iâ€™d suffer from acute alcohol poisoning or get bounced for brandishing my weapon during an altercation with another patron, a fifty-fifty proposition. The shot placed in front of me, I offered the bartender a toast and drank back the murky liquid. Chasing it with pickle juice, I went back to fidgeting with the coin. About the size of a half dollar, it weighs a little more than the similarly sized standard US currency due to this coin being more dense. The first few times the coin slips between my fingers, falling to the ground. Eventually, I can turn a few revolutions before it escapes me. The bartender, wearing clothes two sizes too small for her frame, hits me with a refill of both drinks. Sheâ€™s all warmth and smiles. While I know the routine and emotional connection are fabricated, itâ€™s still inviting. We talk for a
few moments, she laughs and drops down an extra coaster signifying the next round was on her. Clay Teagle had just returned from his final tour in Afghanistan. He doesn’t reveal which specific branch he’s with, but the manner in which he carries himself and constantly surveils the room we’re all in suggests some sort of reconnaissance patrol. Instead of the usual long winded diatribe about IED’s and OK Corral type shootouts, Teagle regales us with a sophisticated existential philosophy regarding the edicts of Pashtunwali. Those of us listening are only half paying attention. “Nanawatai,” he begins, then starts again. “Nanawatai is the obligation to give sanctuary to all those who ask regardless of if they’ve killed your entire family.” Even Briggs pauses, ever so briefly, to digest what we’ve all heard. Teagle’s use of syntax and word choice are better suited to the pages of a Doctoral treatise and seems somehow wasted on the collection in front of him. Soon, the bar fills up with regulars, and the jukebox in the corner belches forth Journey’s “Open Arms.” The shots are not working quickly enough, so I order a Jack and coke as a chaser. The weapon is in the front of my pants. The steel, warm now, feels like an extension of my body. Looking around the bar, it’s a mix of locals just off their shifts and college kids from out of town. Pool balls crack together near the back, and laughter from one table rises and falls cresting like an ocean wave. The coin makes another revolution around my knuckles.
One side commemorates the date and my service; the other a latin phrase bearing the current motto of the department. They were bestowed on us after the deed. While ceremonial, it was a rather dull and cordoned off event, with little enthusiasm. I spin the coin on the bar, watching it pirouette, catching the light, giving it energy. Tara Nappi wears wraparound sunglasses; whether they are standard issue remains to be seen. Hair pulled back into a ponytail, her ear buds blast dissonant rock. The song is on repeat: Bullet with Butterfly Wings. Her face does not reveal whether this is an ironic choice. Every so often, she sips from a styrofoam cup of black coffee, her eighth. It’s the tenth time we’ve all heard the song. Though it’s easy to see everyone has tired of hearing it, no one tells her to turn down the volume. “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage. Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved.” The bartender’s name is Liz. She gives off the impression only last year was she still calling herself an actress but has since embraced this job as an amputee might resign themselves to life without a limb. Sometimes memories of her former pursuit creep in, a phantom pain of sorts. Giving a long pour to my Jack and coke she removes the coaster. I peel off a few dollars for a tip. Only two more to go until I get another round on the house. She lingers for a moment and I recognize a genuine need to for solace. I talk to her without motive, and she reciprocates but soon has to attend to the swelling crowd at the bar. Next to me a construction foreman discusses
whether the local high school football team will make State this upcoming year, mulling over the status of returning upperclassmen and debating whether the coaching staff is adequate. On the other side of me a silent watcher of Friday Night Fights is engrossed by the defensive display of Pernell Whitaker. A classic from the vault, they’re showing his dressing down of Julio Caesar Chavez. Taking another hefty pull of my drink, the coin continues to dance. Stephen Anderson’s jaws move like a cud chewing animal as he speaks. With a seemingly endless supply of trivia, he rattles off allusions and facts; a nervous energy akin to daily amphetamine ingestion. “What if they manage to put him together like Robocop, and he hunts all of us down like Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker?” No one knows whether this is a rhetorical question, but Anderson continues moving off onto tangents which are tenuously connected at best. He discusses Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville a notorious prisoner of war camp constructed to house Northern soldiers during the Civil War. “He became the first American convicted and summarily executed for war crimes.” “Giles Corey, accused of witchcraft and heresy, was crushed under stones; his last words were ‘more weight.’” Anderson finally pauses and wipes sweat from his brow. He has a somber look on his face. His enthusiasm is now gone as if he suddenly remembered why he’s here. “In some places, they request a bullet fee from the family of the deceased before they can claim the body.”
These final words hang in the air for a long time before dissipating like smoke. Nappi’s song changes and everyone pauses to wait for reveal: Cypress Hill’s How I could Just Kill a Man. “Here is something you can’t understand; how I could just kill a man.” “It’s called the conscience round,” I offer. At this point, I’m not even sure if Liz is listening anymore, but it’s like the seal has been removed, the protective dam cracked, and the conversation continues no matter whether someone is paying attention or not. My words slur the sentences together, in a stream of consciousness manner, but I still have my wits about me. “The thought is that it has a psychological implication, ‘The diffusion of responsibility.’” The coin comes to a rest on the bar top and I give it another spin. Captivated by its inertia, I continue on, letting the words pour forth. “It’s supposed to make us feel less responsible.” I take another hefty pull of my drink. “Like if you’re getting raped, and I don’t do anything because I think other people are going to help.” I look up. The recoil on her face is immediate and accusatory. Fear is there as well, and she makes quick haste. “The fuck did you just say?” I turn and see Pernell’s fan full of righteous indignation. He’s already standing, and his stance suggests he’s not just an armchair enthusiast. “You better sit back down,” I say.
He doesn’t throw anything, not yet, but it’s bubbling up inside him. His face betrays his intention and I pull the piece from my waistband. “This what you want?” I’m calm. Though the rage and fury are apparent in my voice, it never raises above the din of Steve Perry’s. Pernell’s fan’s eyes go wide, his body relaxes, and he melts back down onto his stool. My SIG Sauer P225: a cobra with fanned hood. Enough time on the range, my hand doesn’t waver. By now, people have noticed. The music cut, no one really moves as much as they are suspended in animation. I can sense them willing me to put the gun away and leave. The weapon remains pointed for another few seconds, powering down, then I put it back in my pants. Fingers begin to dial, and I hear the echo of people speaking to 911 dispatch. If Anderson were telling this story, I’d do the shot before I left. Jay Martinez, the senior officer in charge, and my boss, reiterates what we’ve already been told. We will follow him to the chamber. On the walk down the gray corridors, I imagine each of us will be silent. We all know the bona fides of William McClelland: the facts of his case as printed in the newspaper, his time spent on death row, and the many calls for clemency by ardent politicians, activists, and artists. Martinez continues. One of us will get a paraffin projectile which mimics the recoil of the jacketed slugs; the same which will ultimately remove the life from Mr. McClelland. It’s hard not to imagine the person responsible for forging this bullet, how they shape the malleable wax, weighing and honing it until no one can tell, erasing any sense of shame so we may keep our aim true with no hesitation.
McClelland will be in a seated position and blindfolded. In the extremely unlikely event McClelland survive the initial salvo, Nappi has been designated to issue the coup de grace. Again, none of this registers on her face still emitting an steely resolve. When it’s over, there will be no need to police our brass. We simply exit the room, no bow or standing ovation. There will be a short commemoration ceremony afterward. Typically ribbons are issued, but this is the first year we will all be given a coin. There are no questions after Martinez finishes his speech. He mentions how we were selected from over a hundred applicants from various law enforcement personal. We are thanked for our meritorious service and file through the doorway to mete out justice, scabs working for The Archangel. Passing underneath the threshold, I check for ram’s blood but find none. My tires pummel the gravel in Martinez’ driveway, and I almost put the nose of the car through the trunk of an oak tree. He’s out to greet me before I’m within ten feet hurling the typical questions and threats. By the time I get within five feet I’m already screaming, demanding to know if I got the wax bullet. He goes silent. We stare at each other, and the previous month’s conversations edit into a few brief snippets in my head: the opportunity, the desire to know what it would be like to execute someone, and my requisition of the job. I shut my eyes and McClelland sits before me, an eternal after image. I ask Martinez a second time.
The silence is broken by the howls beyond me, and soon his house is painted in alternating blue and red. They probably picked me up a few blocks from the bar. The front lawn erupts into a chaos of commands. I lay on the ground feeling hands grip and contort me into a sculpture of submission. I’m stood back on my feet. The look on Martinez’ face is one of understanding as he begins to give his statement. I hear the Miranda come to the final question: Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you? “Nanawatai.”
Contributors Keely Cutts Keely Cutts earned an MFA candidate at Rosemont College. She has been published in Front Porch Review and has work forthcoming in Inaccurate Realities. Originally from Florida, she now lives in suburban Philadelphia with her wife. Andrew Davie Andrew Davie received an MFA from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright grant. His work can be read inBartleby Snopes, A River and Sound Review, The South Dakota Review, Necessary Fiction, and Menacing Hedge. Emily Eddins Emily Eddins twenty-year professional writing career includes time spent as a speechwriter, a journalist, a grant writer, and an editor. The author holds a BA in English from Vanderbilt University, an MA in liberal studies from Georgetown University, and she has studied creative writing at both Georgetown University and Stanford University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cape Rock, Forge, Front Porch, Toad Suck Review, RiverSedge, Willow Review, The Louisville Review, Rio Grande Review, and other publications. This summer, her essay collection â€œAltitude Adjustmentâ€? hit the Top Five in Kindle Hot New Releases in 90-minute memoirs and short biographies.
Jay Gershwin Jay Gershwin’s work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Monkey Puzzle, Fractured West, Red Fez, and is forthcoming inPidgeonholes. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Michael D. Grover Michael D. Grover is a native Floridian now living in Toledo, Ohio. He sees himself as an activist for poetry, and has hosted weekly readings. Michael has been published all over the world, and has performed all over the country. He has had over a dozen chapbooks including his newest “Some People Go Crazy” which is available on Citizens For Decent Literature Press. His first novel “Lockewood/The Wolves Of Lockewood” is now available on Hipity Scotch Press. Michael is the current head poetry editor at www.redfez.net. Ralph Monday Ralph Monday is an Associate Professor of English at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN., where he teaches composition, literature, and creative writing courses. In fall 2013 he had poems published in The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Fiction Week Literary Review, and is represented as the featured poet with 12 poems in the December issue of Poetry Repairs. In winter 2014 he had poems published in Dead Snakes. His work has appeared in publications such as The Phoenix, Bitter Creek Review, Impressions, Kookamonga Square, Deep Waters, Jacket Magazine, The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Dead Snakes and Poetry Repairs.
William Waering William is majoring in English with an emphasis on creative writing at ASUâ€™s Barrett Honors College. He is also minoring in psychology.
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