Crack the Spine - Issue 155

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 155

Issue 155 July 8, 2015 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine


Stuff Discovery

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky Mother’s Severed Head

Yaron Kaver

You’re Never Going To Be Rich

Paul Watsky

They Keep Fit Here

Lily Brent Hushaby

Audrey El-Osta

Il Magia della Nigella

Chris Campanioni

Love Stories From the Twentieth Century Caught on Film

Tom Ingram Stuff Discovery

It must have been a toy. That pink thing in the gutter. Its four white wheels, like the kind you see on office chairs, stood out from the gutter as I idled at a red light. The handles too were white. It was the seat and the back that were pink, maybe purple. Maybe purple turned pink under the summer sun, but this doesn’t seem likely: I was driving to work, and would have noticed the abandoned stroller the previous day. It must have been pink, with white handles and white wheels, wheels like the kind you see on office chairs. I don’t know what else has that kind of wheel. I know office chairs have them because fifteen minutes later I was in a chilly office, seated in my ergonomic office chair, remembering the pink thing in the gutter. It was summer, hot and humid, and the pink of that stroller stood out against the concrete gutter almost as much as its strollerness. What is strollerness? Strollerness is the sense of purpose maintained by a stroller that has been otherwise deprived of its purpose; that is, I could see, though the heat undulated the air, that the pink thing overturned and abandoned in the gutter was a baby stroller, a real baby stroller, far too large to be designed for the conveyance of dolls and stuffed animals. I was not productive that day in the office. My stapler, I realized, I hadn’t used in weeks. The file organizer maintained not order but space, holding envelopes whose purposes I’d long forgotten. I even had on my desk a telephone with multiple lines, one that demands I dial 9 for an outside line; but calls ever came, and I made none—why should I, when my cellphone could remember for me every contact, useful and otherwise?

For the entire workday I thought of leaving early. Maybe I had a headache or a cough. Maybe my son was sick at school and needed to be picked up early. Then I did feel nauseous: a mass of plastic, polyester garbage on the side of the road had me daydreaming of using my son as an excuse to ditch work. In my anxiety, I stayed late, but only a quarter of an hour, not long enough for anyone to notice, and just long enough for me to assuage the guilt of wanting to see the stroller. I wanted to speed back to it. Instead, I drove just at the speed limit, infuriating the drivers lined up behind me. I tallied the lights between the office and the stroller. Seven in all. I counted them down, one by one, as I passed through them, passing over any consideration for those in my wake who might be desperate to hurry home. At the sixth light, my heart ticked an aggravated tempo, and I began to sweat underneath the humidity. At the next light, the next intersection, I knew it would be there. It couldn’t be as I had seen it. It must have been purple. It must have been a toy. When I reached the intersection, I knew I wouldn’t see the stroller. With traffic being what it is in the hour after the clock strikes five, I was so ensnarled among other cars that I couldn’t merge into the lane nearest where the stroller would have been. Even if I had been able to change lanes, there would still have been a line of idling cars between myself and the object of my obsession. All this was several years ago. “All what?” I saw on my friend’s face as I tried to explain over coffee how an overturned, pink stroller had so diseased my day. My friend didn’t understand, and neither did I. He sipped his coffee and I said, “I guess it’s a little abstract.” Maybe my concern with the stroller was abstract, impractical, but I took a new attitude into the office the next day. I never found much use for the stapler,

but I dealt either with documents of a single page or documents so lengthy as to require a binding clip when printed. The desk organizer remained useless, but I’ve never been well organized. The phone I came to appreciate: I felt more involved with my work when I turned off my cellphone and relied instead on a technology that is otherwise antiquated—no, a technology that is absolutely antiquated, except, perhaps, when a person needs a stupid little something to make him feel more a part of whatever is going on around him. We meet friends for beer or coffee. We wear a favorite shirt to meetings, a special hoodie to the movies. One pair of sunglasses is for the car, another pair for the beach. For writing, I prefer legal pads; others get to work on their laptops in bed. All of these choices—it doesn’t matter, so long as they mean something to us. But a stroller, abandoned and overturned in the gutter, a mass of polyester and plastic that must have meant something to someone, I see it every now and then in my peripheral vision.

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky Mother’s Severed Head

Mother’s severed head is talking in your sleep All night long She’s talking in tongues Talking like there’s no tomorrow Tomorrow has gone berserk Smashed tablets hurled stones terror breeds terror & broken children Look for Mother in memory Look for Her in myth In oak leaf in river in weeping willow There’s no sign of Her body Chaos breeds chaos & frightened children Coyote seizes the border Sex is traffic Love is roadkill Once Mother worked for Chicago Child Care Taught parenting skills to baby mamas Before blood crippled blood before guns became God Her body can’t find Her head

Mayhem breeds mayhem in the streets of Chicago Drug money kidnaps the kids of Honduras Sex is roadkill gangs are God Mother’s in a rage about Oracle Arizona How can a town whose name means Her shrine Cast snake eyes on terrified children? Hate is a wildfire it leaps across borders Gangs and guns ricochet What Jackal God eats babies? Mother is a summons in the cave of dreams Listen for Her wailing in the dark before the dawn Wailing like there’s no tomorrow

Yaron Kaver

You’re Never Going To Be Rich

“I’m never going to be rich.” “What’s that?” “I’m never going to be rich.” “Oh. You only realized that just now?” “Not for the first time, but yes. I’m realizing it now, again. I’m never going to have money.” “We have money.” “Not really, we don’t. It passes through us. We never retain it.” “You want to have money and not spend it?” “I want to wield it.” “Did you think that would happen to us?” “Yes. I always thought it was just around the corner, right past the horizon.” “What? Why? How?” “I know, I know. You’re right. I mean, even when I was being optimistic, I still thought of it as the

horizon. I should have known I’d never get there. But now, it’s like it’s really hitting me. I’m never going to have that. Never going to plow through life like I’m in a golden tank. I’m always going to be tiptoeing around.” “Wow. I had no idea you were tiptoeing around.” “I’ve been counting on it for so long, too. This idea that one day, I’d be rich. I’ve been leaning on it, you know, even though it wasn’t there, the way a mime leans against an invisible bar. Now it’s like my whole body hurts from leaning on nothing. ” “Uh-huh. Sure.” “It was my promise. My carrot on a stick.” “You know the whole point of that is that you never get the carrot, right?” “I sincerely believed that my future

would broaden. All my concerns would morph into options. We’d live in the sky, fortified, sound-proofed, looking down on the city like the opening shot of a movie, but also on the ground, surrounded by green land, ‘cause we’d own distance from other people, like our own force field. We’d travel in a bubble, and if we got sleepy we’d close our eyes. We’d never hesitate again, never regret again, not when it came to where to go, what to buy, how to afford, any of that. It would all be gone from our lives, extinct. It would be like another faucet we could turn on and off at will.” “You mean facet?” “No, no, I mean faucet, like for water. You know, the way running water eliminated our worries of thirst? This money-faucet would eliminate our worries of anything. Have you ever worried about water? Ever, in your life, really worried about water?”

“I don’t know... I guess not.” “And I’d have self-worth because my self would be worth so much.” “Oh, really?” “Yes. I’d have indisputable, numerical proof of my value. I’d attract moochers and users, and I’d use them for entertainment and offer them a taste, and then I’d cut them off. I’d elevate my friends and family to another realm of existence like some guardian angel. And my modesty would mean something, finally, because it would stand in contrast to my stature. Honestly, what good is modesty when you’re poor? It’s not modesty at all then, it’s... it’s... realism, or... acceptance. That’s all it is.” “I can’t tell if you’re joking anymore.” “I wish I was joking. It’s the truth. I’m never going to be rich.” “That’s not what I... never mind. Forget it.” “I’m never going to be rich.” “Yeah, but you’re never going to be

poor either.” “We don’t know that. We could lose everything. We could go broke. We could be poor. I’m not rich enough to never be poor.” “Fine. But we’re not poor right now.” “I was going to buy my health, if I wanted to, you know? A chef and a doctor would monitor my consumption. I’d hire a team to force me into shape. I’d wear tailored clothes shaped to flatter my body, picked out for me by professionals. They’d groom me into the best possible version of myself. I’d finally look good. I’d finally feel happy.” “This conversation is making me sad.” “I’d buy your happiness. I’d buy my way out of arguments with you. I’d buy my way into having my way with you.” “You can have your way with me right now.” “Can I? Always? For certain?”

“I don’t know. I guess now I’m not sure what you mean by ‘your way’?” “That’s what I mean. I could buy certainty. I’d never know uncertainty again.” “Are you serious? Are those tears? Are you crying?” “I’m never going to be rich.” “Not if you keep crying like a little bitch, you’re not.” “You’re right.” “Blow your nose. Jesus.” “I’m sorry. Is that better?” “Not really. You look like hell.” “That’s ‘cause I’m in hell. I have no hope.” “That’s not good. Hope is essential.” “Do you have hope?” “I try not to think about it.” “That’s what I do, too. Most of the time, it works. But then, other times, it wears me down and I can’t deny it. I’m never going to be rich.” “That is true. You’re never going to be rich.” “Really?”

“Yes, really. You are never going to be rich.” “Well...” “Well, what?” “I mean... you don’t know that for sure.” “That’s the spirit. Now wipe your tears away.” “I can’t. We’re out of toilet paper.”

Paul Watsky

They Keep Fit Here on the Big Island, running, biking, in full sun, uphill, miles along the highway’s broad shoulder, beside lava slopes. Backpackers trudge. The poor pull improvised contraptions or a wheeled valise. Out of sight, the volcano vents. Angsty paradise, historically hedged with taboos, pond fish fattening, walled by black igneous rock. Well before oceans rose, with toothed clubs ancients would bludgeon their way to status. Always bracing for the next something.

Lily Brent Hushaby

It started in the bomb shelters. Those musty, subterranean caverns where the floors were always cold. The sunset marches: muffled, rhythmic clapping of worn shoes or feet swathed in cloth. Down, down, down the stairs. The people never looked at each other, their shiny eyes rolling like marbles in a labyrinthine children’s game. In orderly rows, their bedrolls fell sighing, like a layer of heavy snow. They gathered the wool around them and settled in. A woman’s voice. Soothing, resonant, steady, perhaps a little gravelly, and certainly unhurried, like a low bell taking the time to round out its ring, rippling, rippling in perfect circles ever wider. The people breathed and gratefully drank in the sound. Predictably, comfortably, the shoulders slackened. The bellies approached and receded in the rhythm of the sea. The voice tapered off, but in their shallow unconsciousness, the people clung to the notion that the speaker was still there, that she could cast out her voice again any time it was needed and rock them back to peace. The municipal government had organized it at first, as part of the women’s contributions to war effort. They had urged the female folk to form associations. In the early years, their activities were optimistic, proud, steadfast. They knitted caps, gloves, blankets. And when the wool ran out, they rolled bandages. And when the bandages ran out, they published a newsletter

with recipes for the unreliable rations and spotty kitchen garden yield. When the paper ran out, they gave demonstrations on cooking and first aid. Down in the shelters, the mood was bleak and the nerves electrified with panic. The municipalities wanted a woman appointed to keep watch through the night so the others might rest. It was suggested that if she had a pleasant voice, she might sing, and if someone had a lantern or a candle stub, she might read from a book. The women’s groups took this as their mandate. They auditioned every girl and woman in the sector. They listened to teacher’s wives, preacher’s wives, baker’s wives, seamstresses, schoolgirls, widows, even prostitutes, all pasts and futures blown away like so much ash. Dutifully, they recorded and submitted the names of the nominees, one for each buried sanctum. That first night, in a thousand dug basements, the appointed maidens and matrons took up their posts. They were old, young, fat, thin, clever, slow, pretty, plain. They wore coats over their nightgowns and mufflers, mittens and heavy boots to keep warm. They stayed upright throughout, kept alert by their sacred duty (and perhaps the very common malady of insomnia). They cradled sobbing children, gently woke old men out of night terrors, and heralded the morning like a miracle. No surprise the people did not want to give up their talismanic keepers when the war ended, the nation’s fate decided abruptly by men they would never see from countries they would never visit. The new government did not like the look of it, the surface abandoned as if by nation of moles. It was not the image they wanted to project: victorious, righteous, robust. The nightly pilgrimage made the people look cowardly. The

international donors found it bizarre and the international journalists wrote about it in the foreign papers. Some people slept in the shelters because they had no home to go back to. No roof or no walls or the furniture chopped up long ago for firewood anyway. Some came because they saw charred, chalky skeletons where there were none. Some because they were too superstitious to lay down their heads in a place yet untouched and still plush with undeserved luck. The government passed a law: someone had to staff the hotels for the aid workers and the trickle of voyeuristic tourists, testing their tender feet on the country’s stony beaches. And so the problem came up from the ground like an enthusiastic weed. A few of the anointed females took it upon themselves to hold vigil in the hotels. Their followers followed. Some couldn’t bear the exposure and joined the coteries of other sleep priestesses. But some found they preferred the ventilated air of ballrooms and restaurants, with their chairs turned upside-down on the tables. The above-ground movement was born. Daylight continued as always. Or at least, it limped along making the necessary adjustments. People broke the ice sealing their buckets of water. They detoured around the rusting hulks of buses with no gas. They dutifully visited the empty market stalls. Workers returned to offices lacking paper, polishing the purely ornamental phones, and opening the protesting metal mailboxes to confirm that no letter had braved the trek. The people patched and repatched their own clothes, leaving the seamstresses idle. The surviving schoolmasters returned to school, though the teachers and students could not seem to recognize each other. The priests were speechless for the first time in memory, and the people spared them any embarrassment by loudly singing the

old songs, though the organs couldn’t be played on account of the pipes having been harvested for other use. The government became concerned about the lack of new life. Of course, there were many husbands died in the war and many wives wasted to infertility by deprivation. But the later should have been reversible. The vitamins arrived by the planeload. At first to be swallowed, and when that didn’t work, injected. The gentle night watchers seemed to inspire a new sexlessness with their eternal eyes, shaded Christmas candles, virginal vigils. The evening migrations continued, though the people now had their choice of venues. In the warm weather, a few camped together on the roofs, a woman or girl standing like a ship’s figurehead, incanting into the wind. The jobless were recruited to rebuild as the supplies arrived from overseas. Fresh houses sprang up, their wooden frames shocking in their naked youth. There were rolls and rolls of copper wire to be shot through the veins of buildings old and new, promising vitality, illumination, a soundtrack to the gray silence. The government passed another law—like the general stamping his heeled boot. His soldiers cum policemen distributed leaflets printed on crisp, imported paper. They used a sparking, humming generator to power loudspeakers. The people must sleep in their homes. It is time to return to normalcy. The young were incredulous and distrustful, not remembering a time when people slept alone, one or two to a room. The older people demurred, I just want a quiet sleep. And yet they were afraid of silence—silence being something akin to holding your breath, always the precursor to its opposite.

And so the dream keepers spoke and spoke and spoke through the night everywhere. One evening, there were policeman stationed in front of the shelters. The people jostled through. The next evening, the policeman had nightsticks and there were black eyes, fractured clavicles, ribs cracked like wishbones. The ordinary women of the crowd wept and begged and a few fainted. The sleep keepers, dressed in white nightgowns, walked the streets singing and crying out their reassurance. The nation was sleepless. The young men were restless. At lunch, they stewed and plotted in their work crews. The next night, they found the shelter doors cemented over and the treachery was unbearable. The crowds followed their nocturnal guardians in a swarm, swelling the streets with tired, shuffling bodies. The police beat them at their edges, but it was no use. The night angels—those mothers, heads covered in flowered scarves, those wispy old women, those barefoot girls—smelted by the intensity of the fear they habitually absorbed, they didn’t flinch. The general was a clever man—how do you think he won the war? He sent an auditor to fetch the municipal records. The honorable register of bewitching voices. Under cover of daylight, he instructed the police to snatch them one by one. The first improvised bomb thundered at midnight.

Audrey El-Osta

Il Magia della Nigella

Sensuous Seduction, a class by a goddess of love food: velvet voiced instruction teaches one to set the mood, allude to luxurious comfort incarnate, for you or your love. Get nude, invite your crush, don some blush and cook mellifluous honey sweet rack of lamb, side of rosewater raita for date night. It’s my favourite, you’ll like it, we’ll dine by candlelight. Divine pleasure from vital needs like eating, feel beauty in your hands as you crunch into fruity jewels, rubies of pomegranate and emerald butter, golden angel hair strands twirl round your fork, there’s rustic flavour i’the very air. But even better than to make sacrosanct the act of dining, is to ritualise that of cooking, baking; enshrining your kitchen as a chapel, the stovetop as an altar. Stand beside your cauldron, pan, conjure otherworldly auras as you heat oil and infuse alliaceous herbs fresh, and stoveside magic rises in steam, and frying atmosphere spreads: power, aromatic.

There is satisfaction deep in creating delicious cuisine, something lovely to devour ravenously, lick the plate clean. In it’s ephemeral nature, it’s unforgettable, memorable and stays in your heart in a way strangely inimitable. To produce sounds of hedonist indulgence and orgasm in your diner, there is implied gracious love to you, O baker. But beware, though it’s easy to mistake enthusiasm for true passion, there is a price for this emotional allure: desperation for validation, and appreciation afforded by cooking may turn sweet love to sour bitterness. And in the greater scheme of it all, the sophistication is meaningless, overindulgent and makes no difference To a lonely soul that just wants to feel hearthwarm affection. I suggest a cup of tea, a kiss on the cheek, nothing beats the simple things like cuddles under blanketed perfection: the feeling of comfort: human touch as warm skin on skin meets.

Chris Campanioni

Love Stories From the Twentieth Century Caught on Film

i. If there’s a train, there’s a man running after it. ii. We agree to meet at a bar. She walks in from the dusk, sun spots lingering on her cheeks. As if lit from within. The camera pans across the room to show the eyes, how each face turns. I’m pretending to be on the phone. Something to hold. iii. The scene involves climbing a fire escape with a bouquet of roses, conquering a fear of heights with music and a kiss. iv. The illusion of being in someone else’s possession.

v. He’d run by her home every morning. He didn’t know if he was more afraid of seeing her, or not seeing her. Every morning. vi. As the two lovers talk, the Amalfi coast rushes by, slow enough to catch a glimpse, quick enough to want to catch it in place. The camera focuses on their faces, each exchange cropped in medium shot, leaving the site secondary, letting the setting recede into a fabulous black-and-white blur. vii. I kept looking for suggestions of her presence, as if she was everywhere. As if she’s everywhere. The bend at a corner. Silhouette turned toward a street lamp. Puddles on the sidewalk. Especially, behind the window. Tracks left by sandals on the prefab beach, sand driven in from somewhere else. On a day like this. Well, aren’t you going to invite me in? viii. Hoist a boom box over your shoulder and blast the song you first made love to On a loop As if it never stopped

ix. The soft blush of flowers. Lonesome whistles. Press my ear to a tree and listen. x. The airport, right before the take-off. Someone is always arriving, or leaving. Or taking. Or off. Pull back from a piece of luggage, the roving escalator in the distance. Shouts and the skid of rubber, loud enough to turn around. The camera encircles them in wild swoops. Reverse angles. It makes you lightheaded, just to watch it happen, just to see it outside yourself. xi. The way she points her thumb and index finger to salvage the crumbs. xii. The reason why song is so beautiful is that it’s temporal. Three minutes, four. Epiphany with a countdown. xiii. Such a long take between when our eyes finally meet—me still clutching my phone close, speaking to no one—and when she glides forward, drifting as if being carried. Glass chandelier, a bar with shelves that reach toward the ceiling.

A fireplace and exposed brick. Soft shadows. Entrance of a piano without anyone seated to play. Kind of place with a coat check girl and a man that opens doors. In the bathroom, for the privilege of watching me empty my bladder, he asks for money, preferably dollar bills. Green with envy; wanting to be outside at the same time I’m within it. Wanting to remember the first time as if it were still the first time. As if it were five minutes ago, when we’d looked at each other from across the room and it started to come down. xiv. There’s a French saying. Or at least I heard it said in France. There is one who is loved, and one who does the loving. This would come right after the opening credits but before the names dissolve into a panorama of Brooklyn Bridge Park. xv. Best to meet a man or woman who’s already moving. Capable of flight or fancy. All the strangers who would not be strangers disembark, moving through Grand Central like a billiard ball, slipping in between each other on a dolly, cross-cut with a close-up of the station’s clock, the big and little hands.

Through a bus’s cloudy window, the city looks unexpected, carameled and soaked in sepia, strange landmarks spinning toward the audience like a carousel with every twist. xvi. Hunger for everything I’ve never had, for everything I’ve ever had. Wondering what it was Meat Loaf wouldn’t do after all. xvii. Tell me more. xviii. Aerial shot of the bridge during a storm, gaze slowly edging toward the promenade. A city that could be your own. Two figures at a stoplight. Lightning that sounds more like laughter than shrieks. Slow-dancing in the street. xix. I put you into my memories for a purpose. xx. Something has been left out, but I don’t know what. A wipe, change of scene, sound of rainfall to match each pearl of rain, the passage of time.

I don’t know what. Only enough to know something has been left out. Only enough to know something is missing. The way you sit silently and wait for it. Even after the lights go. Even after everyone else has left.

Contributors Lily Brent Lily Brent has a D.C. address and New Jersey roots. She has worked in prisons and public schools, East Harlem and the Eastern Province of Rwanda. A graduate of Oberlin College and Columbia University, her writing has previously appeared in 42Opus, Apeiron Review, Blue Fifth Review, Cleaver Magazine, and Fiction Now, and has been featured by Chris Campanioni Chris Campanioni’s recent work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Prelude Magazine, Quiddity, Rosebud Magazine, and Fjords Review. Find him in space at or in person somewhere between Brooklyn Bridge Park and Barclays Center. Audrey El-Osta Audrey El-Osta is a Melbourne based writer, studying Linguistics and Psychology at Monash University. A collector of cookbooks, listener of audiobooks and reader of poetry, she lives with four cats and three humans that don’t quite measure up. Her work explores themes of femininity, sexuality and womanhood, mental illness, comedy and linguistic identity, and has been published in Danse Macabre and Poetry D’Amour by WA Poets.

Tom Ingram Tom Ingram is an English literature and creative writing student at Columbus State University. He has published fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry in Arden, and fiction in the online journals Red Fez and Sprinklers. He writes advertising copy for the Ledger-Enquirer and Her Magazine, and he edits PlayGrounds Magazine, Columbus, Georgia’s monthly arts and entertainment magazine. Yaron Kaver Yaron Kaver has written for Israeli television and translated screenplays for hundreds of Israeli films and shows, including the original series adapted into Homeland. His fiction has appeared in Fractal Magazine, The Bookends Review and Cold Mountain Review. His short story “And the Oscar Goes to Jail” won first prize in the 2014 Mark Twain House Humor Writing Contest. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Naomi Ruth Lowinsky Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s fourth poetry collection, “The Faust Woman Poems,” trace one woman’s Faustian adventures during the 1960s and ‘70s, through Women’s Liberation and the return of the Goddess. Her memoir, “The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way” tells stories about her pushy muse.

Paul Watsky Paul Watsky, a Jungian analyst, is Poetry Editor of Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche. He is author of two collections, both fromFisher King Press, “Telling The Difference” (2010) and the newly-released “Walk-Up Music,” a Kirkus recommended selection. His work has appeared in Rattle, Interim, The Carolina Quarterly, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere.

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