Crack the Spine - Issue 188

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Crack the Spine

Literary magazine

Issue 188

Issue 188 April 6, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2015 by Crack the Spine


Ultraviolet Fidelity

Rachel Hochhauser Fixer Upper

D. G. Geis Busboy

Qinglan Wang Ausl채nder

Josef Krebs Conquests

Lauren Lara The Old House

Ted Jean

Ultraviolet Fidelity ultraviolet fidelity since his diagnosis, Doug sits in the sifting shade of the silver maple our boy lifts his cap to trace the crusty tracks of metastatic barnacles across his erstwhile unloved scalp one finger tenderly follows the snail trail down his cheek to the darkening harbinger at the corner of his unshaved jaw a stranger steers her kid’s curious gaze away; old friends scoot by on unspecific errands only daddy death ray seeks him still, peering with proprietary care through the shifting branches

Rachel Hochhauser Fixer Upper

The sisters walked along the street, the stretch of their shadows in front of them—thin necks, swelled hips—like two chordophones from the same family. Holding each other, comfortably, they talked about camping. Their mother had always taken them growing up. Now, one of them, the younger one, was going, but with a man. She worried about the tent, about the hard ground beneath her body, about where and how she would urinate. “Pee is sterile. Did you know you could drink your pee?” The other said. “In an emergency.” Neither one of them had ever faced that kind of predicament. Their crises were matters of the heart—boyfriends, broken stemware, missed connections. Their grandparents were still alive. “Some people do it for health.” “Pee?” They drank coffee from insulated cups. All around them, there was construction. A police car—low, squat, brutal—drove by, not slowly, not interested. The neighborhood was rapidly gentrifying. Only a year before, the older one had been alone in her office and a homeless man had come in. He’d stood by her desk, blocking the exit. She’d seen his freckles, his ashy fingers. She’d given him water and a banana, and their hands had touched, for the shortest moment. Nothing bad had happened. The talk turned to the man the younger one would camp with. “He’s a good guy,” she said.

“You say that about all of them.” “They are. Good.” “They are something.” The older one imagined being alone with a man in a tent in the wilderness. Wild and alone. Her sister still did the adventurous things. Went to mountaintops with a stranger she didn’t know that well. A date! But she, the older one, had felt herself conform to the expectations that had been set out for her. There was need, now, for structure. “You start with something, you make it better,” her sister said, also saying: something is better than nothing. That evening, leaving the office, a well-groomed silver-haired man stopped the older one outside of the building to talk about its architecture. “Tell your boss,” he said, “that I used to own this property.” She had never mentioned a boss. When the man made his comment, she wasn’t thinking about the implications behind his question—she was concerned because it was nighttime, she was alone on an empty litter-strewn street, and a stranger was approaching. But she wasn’t really alone. Down the block, multiple animals tethered a dog walker. And just across the road, a janitor cleaned the sidewalk with a humming machine. The contraption left a trail of wetness behind it as it removed the dirt from the pavement—purring, purifying, purging—marking the path of its past like a sanitizing snail.

D. G. Geis Busboy

“And that was the whole show.� Charles Simic Busboy by day, Philosopher by night; This strange world of Disappearing tablecloths And naked tables Flashing leg. A little cheesecake For the diners Or maybe a fork Out of thin air. A brief demonstration In four parts And the metaphysician Struts his Stuff.

The cosmology of tableware, The ontology of napkins: There’ll be no applause When he makes Nothing from Something And hardly a glance When the diners levitate On a cloud of atoms. Prix fixe, the last course Is a mystery. This sleight of hand, This aproned magician, Bending over a table Reshuffling the universe One spoon at a time.

Qinglan Wang Ausländer

I return to meet the me left behind. Memory, a collection of sentiments, floats like particles above a surface. Faces blur. Voices echo and fade. A buried layer of mis-remembrance. Lost in the familiar, I collect the many parts of me. Heimweh I do not know where to begin, in defining home from homesickness. The Oxford English Dictionary defines homesickness as a sadness caused by longing for one’s home or family during a period of absence. Homesickness roots back to the German word, Heimweh. Heim is home while Weh is hurt – homehurt. A logical merge of two words, one describes an abstraction and the other, a sensation. Compounded, new definition emerges to add distance to the experience, the sensation. Schmetterling Language acquisition is a game of mimicry. As a child, I gleaned information from those around me: the proper way to tilt my head when responding to adults, construction of sentences, intonation of new words, inflection of emotions while chatting with other kids. I see a real Schmetterling in the shrub in front of my Berlin apartment. I had seen pictures of it in kindergarten, understood it was a flying insect with orange spotted black wings. I collected enough words to shift my identity to mirror expectations: what kids my age liked and what adults expected me to like, what emotions to show

to whom and when, which story to tell about my past and what pronunciation of my name to give. The reinvention of self –an experience I first learned in Berlin and then later refined in Honolulu. Fang der Schmetterling! A boy’s cupped hand stretches out and whacks the shrub. Leaves rattles and shakes. Orange spotted black wings slap and flutter away. Language, a construction of pieces left behind. A rearranging of experiences, memories, and images. A language assigned to each setting. My mind, a series of transitions, assigned priority to each language: I needed English to survive in Honolulu, so I packed up Shanghai Dialect, Mandarin, and German. My mind gleans Schmetterling, connects word to orange spotted black. Sch sound forms in my mouth as I see a flutter of delicate wings. Wings smack together. Soft flapping echoes met of Schmetterling in my ear. Hidden, languages stale in the recesses of my mind. A chaotic mess, this attic of my mind, where these pieces left behind do not stay quiet. The word butterfly and “hu die” (蝴蝶) mean nothing except Schmetterling. The creation of a definition. Reiseroute Meine Reiseroute ist wie folgt... My travel plan is as follows... I am seven and watch my mother pack my clothes into a suitcase. I choose which stuffed animal to take. We climb into a car, driven by my mother’s friend, and leave Berlin behind. The wheels splashes yellow-mud slush into the city’s drains. From the back seat, I press my nose against cold glass, and wait.

The car stops in front of the Alps. I unbuckle and jump in front of blue ridges tipped in pink sunlight. I shiver, sniff and wait around. The car stops one final time in Paris. One famous spot after another. Concrete buildings and sharp chapels. Creaking staircases and cracked asphalt. I drag my feet through crowded streets. From Paris, we board another airplane and fly to Los Angeles. We wade through customs, where my mother stutters in broken English to a faceless woman behind a glass counter. She hands over two red-jacketed passports. We board another plane for Honolulu, Hawaii. As a child, words are not given in explanation, but in the form of instructions. Instructions detail the correct behavior on a plane, in a car, in meeting strangers. Words are expectations pressed into a child and act as a guide when walking through the world of adults. Everyone is a stranger or a familiar. Adults huddle and interact. The child fidgets alongside and looks up, silent, a presence expected but unnoticed. A travel plan seen through a kaleidoscope. Stories scatter faces, places, objects about. Turning, this jagged timeline smoothed into a memory. Chef of a Small, White Hole-in-a-Wall En route to rediscover an old home after my abrupt departure thirteen years earlier, I am twenty in Berlin. I am sent to see a chef at a dingy Chinese restaurant in the southwestern boroughs of Berlin. The afternoon sun sets in our eyes. The restaurant waits

half-empty. We squeeze into child-size plastic chairs on the outside patio and share a pot of green tea. Steam wafts through the chilly air. He recognizes my face. But I do not know this man. To me, he is just the Chef of a Small, White Hole-in-a-Wall. But to him, I am that little boy who always ran around the restaurant. He remembers how I knocked into things and got in the way while he and my parents worked. After an interval of polite weather chitchat in German, the Chef of a Small, White Hole-in-a-Wall stubs out his cigarette before lighting up another, switches into Chinese, and melodramatically exhales my past. I am seven again. Outside a window, I see snow-blue Swiss Alps drift by, a life-size replica of the chocolate wrapper in my hand. I am in Paris and riding inside a toy train chugging through the Parisian Disneyland. My head grazes the ceiling while my knees jut out like butterfly wings inside a freight car. I meet Snow White, who hands me a stuffed Minnie Mouse, and we pose for a photo. Stories are handed to me like pills I am to swallow as real memories. Waving his half-lit cigarette, the Chef of a Small, White Hole-in-a-Wall hands me a slip of paper: Schillingstr36. Schillingstr36 I am told I once lived on Schillingstr36 in the district of Reinickendorf northwest of central Berlin. Address in hand, I ride the U-bahn westward. Cigarette butts and newspapers-leaves swirl the air as faces, wrapped in multicolored headscarves, peer out from dark corners. Smell of fried dough and spicy tobacco filters

through the damp underground. Kebob stands crouch at subway mouths, looming with columns of lamb shanks that wait to be shaved and pressed into pitas. Above the subway tunnels, I find Schillingstr36 and Schillingstr36a. I do not know which side is which. It stands as a four-story apartment with thick, crisscross grates against tightly curtained windows. A flag hangs below a row of wilted petunias. The faint buzz of TV rains down to my ears. Staring at the building, I trip over the roots of a yellowing maple on the sidewalk. Up three steps to the glass entrance. Opening the glass screen, I wedge myself between slabs of glass and brass wood. My fingers trace yellowing tags of names aligned with silver call buttons. Tempted to push on all of them, I pull my hand away. A sudden scrape of heels echoes from behind the door. Without a glance back, I jerk out of the brass-glass cocoon. A man with a cane appears in the doorway. But I see only his three-legged outline when I turn the corner. Heimland The creation of homesickness: Heim + weh = Heimweh Heim + Land = Heimland

home + sick = homesick home + land = homeland

Heimweh and Heimland remind me of hymen. Hymen, seen as the Greek god of marriage, is a young man carrying a torch and veil. Marriages and wedlock were once referred to as hymen, as a hymenal was sung in praise of the shared connection. My mind hears Heimweh echo in break of hymen, the thin virginal membrane. When the hymen is broken, a torn ring forms. Sides flap open. A gaping hole.

The physicality of being torn. Heim, a solid wall, collapses when the body departs from land. A gaping hole. Weh seeps in. The severance of body from home. I listen to a recount of my mother’s subway attack in Berlin. One night after her shift at the restaurant, a neo-Nazi enters her U-Bahn car. He grabs her arm, shakes her as he shouts Ausländer! Her German limited, she does not understand. The train thrusts deeper into the tunnel. She slides closer to him in her attempts to pull away. His shouts fill the carriage. Other passengers watch this scene from the corners of their eyes. Resolute to ignoring her whimpers, they sit muted in their seats. One man uncrosses and recrosses his legs. He flips over his newspaper. A woman clears her throat, turns to the window, and pats down her hair. The ride seems endless. Finally, a Sikh man pulls on the emergency lever. The U-Bahn halts a few feet from the station. The platform lights glint from the window. The doors fly open. His laughter rings out in the half-lit dark. The conductor shuffles through, Alles Klar? Staring at the vinyl floor, she waits for two more stations before exiting. The Knoten of Brows Last night I dreamt I was part Knoten of brows. Held down, a pair of rusted scissors flick and switch, so the Knoten begins. Wink of needle and coils roll. Pale hands Knoten thread the eye. Wire unfurls in white fingers like cereus to dusk. Limb over knot, a knoten for a limb, the Knoten loosen before the taut pull. Smell floats up dried lips pried open. Fly fingers, fly. Switch-stitch-Knotennote-not-knot back skin from face. Cross-stricken, I melt. Wake now, awake.

What more Knoten, more knotting inside wakes the Knoten within. Nameless Place When the exile is relegated from home, the tongue of origin is lost. The exile must negotiate an entrance with the exit, an exit with the entrance. Home – Land = Land – Home = A separation of home from land is another nameless place A break in the sense of belonging. The bond between home and body is fragile, translucent. Physical distancing severs the body from home. Torn, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, an entrance to an exit.

Josef Krebs Conquests

Conquests illuminate weaknesses As pastels set off primaries We are all relative to primates and colors Tripping strapped to the desk Eclipsed by ourselves Hidden beneath the surface Unknown unborn Irrational suppositions on existence Keep us occupied While we wait for the real moments Of transcendence and transformation Into something worthwhile Opinioned to be The next Evolution Incarnate

Lauren Lara The Old House

Up and down, up and down, aisles of fair booths, red dust landing in a thin sheet on my boots with each step. I was on break from running the concession stand for my daughter’s drama fundraiser. At one point I enjoyed the fair, but that was a long time ago. Screams from The Old House at the back of the carnival felt like ice water dripping on my spine. That horrible attraction had been a staple here for the last fifty years. My parents petitioned to have it removed after the incident with Johnny and my sister, but the fair council said what happened was a freak accident. More like Johnny’s dad ran the carnival and the house brought in too much money every year. The fairgrounds were built around The Old House. The story goes, when the town decided to start the fair, founders planned to tear down The Old House, but with each attempt some accident would occur and someone wound up dead. Electrocuted. A sudden storm and lightning strike. Crushed. A wrecking ball with a malfunctioning chain. Beheaded. A faulty second story window. Frozen, I heard the screams again and decided to cut my break short. The shrieks would be muffled by the crowded food stands. Another hour left in my shift. That’s all. I grinned as a lady walked up to my window. She had a toddler in tow and one of those radiant faces, the kind that’s always happy and makes you want to be happy too. She ordered a corn dog for the child, held up a finger asking me to wait and called over her shoulder, “Jonathan, love, what would you like?”

A man walked up, wrapped his arms around the woman’s waist. He smiled at her and turned the smile on me. Jonathan, with honey-brown eyes my sister melted over and a dimple she licked. My smile fell away as the memories flooded me. His own smile faltered before expanding, forced. I could tell by the hardened crinkles around his eyes. “Johnny?” My voice shook. “Hi there,” he nodded. “Sweetheart, this is,” he cut his eyes to my face that was once a perfect match to my sister’s, as if he were unsure what to say, “an old friend.” “Oh, how fabulous!” She put her hand on Johnny’s arm and looked at him half drunk on love, like my sister once did. She reached under the fly screen to shake my hand. “We’ve only been in town for a few days and I haven’t had a chance to meet any of his old friends yet.” I looked from him to her, back to him. I thought about the last time I ever saw Johnny. It was the end of our senior year of high school. Five of us snuck into the fairgrounds. It was a graduation tradition to see who could spend an entire night inside The Old House. I lasted an hour. Johnny’s friends lasted two. We slept under the stars on hard picnic tables near the pavilion and waited for Johnny and my sister to give up. The rising sun permeated my eyelids and I blinked them open to see Johnny’s friends still asleep beside me. Johnny and my sister were no where to be seen. They’d made it all night. They were the first. No one had ever completed the challenge until them. I tiptoed back to the old house, leaving Johnny’s friends at the tables. I remember the grinding of rusted hinges as I pushed the paint-chipped door open and stepped inside the muggy entryway. Wallpaper curled at the edges. I

remember seeing Johnny in front of the white-sheet covered sofa, curled up on his side, his arm flung over an empty blanket. I searched the downstairs for my sister. I walked the outside perimeter of the old house, but she wasn’t there. I remember waking Johnny and seeing the red liquid puddled under the blanket where my sister should have been. I remember telling Johnny the joke wasn’t funny and yelling for my sister to come out already. Johnny swore he had nothing to do with the fake blood and we both tripped over a rotted-out step as we made our way upstairs. I don’t think we actually expected to find my sister there. She hated this house, never even came in during fair time. Why would she venture further into the house than was required of the challenge? But there she was in the second bedroom from the top of the stairs, the one decorated with a canopy bed and floral duvet. A time-weathered porcelain doll perched in front of the mound of frilly pillows. She hovered over the bed, dangled from the canopy crown with her feet and ankles folded awkwardly to the side. Covered in shiny red. I could almost believe it was paint. I could almost pretend it wasn’t her. Almost. I don’t remember screaming, or vomiting, but later I saw the putrid tan chunks on my sneakers and my throat felt like fire ants scaled it. I know Johnny screamed. He was still screaming when the ambulance took him away. He’d left town right after. His dad said he sent him off to some out of state college, but the rumor around town was he spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I heard Johnny’s screams in my head as I watched him walk away from my booth with his wife and daughter. He was never charged for my sister’s death. The coroner said there was no evidence, no weapon. They never determined where the blood came from that covered both my sister and her blankets. I wanted to blame Johnny, but I remembered the look on his face and heard the

terror in his voice when we found her hanging from that bed. I often wonder what really happened in that old house. I wonder if Johnny ever thinks about it too.


D.G. Geis D.G. Geis divides his time between Houston and the Hill Country of Central Texas. He has an undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Houston and a graduate degree in philosophy from California State University. His poetry has appeared in 491 Magazine, Lost Coast, Blue Bonnet Review,The Broadkill Review, and will be featured in a forthcoming Tupelo Press chapbook anthologizing 9 New Poets. He loves dogs, Irish whiskey, and redheads. (His wife is a redhead). Rachel Hochhauser Rachel Hochhauser is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Per Contra, Selfish, and Darling Magazine, amongst others. The recipient of the Pillsbury Foundation Creative Writing Award and an alumna of NYU, Rachel also has a Masters in Professional Writing from University of Southern California. Find out more at Ted Jean A carpenter, Ted writes, paints, plays tennis with lovely Lai Mei. Nominated for Best of the Net, and twice for a Pushcart Prize, his work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, [PANK], DIAGRAM, Juked, and dozens of other publications.

Josef Krebs Josef Krebs has a chapbook of his poems published by Etched Press and his poetry also appears in Agenda,Bicycle Review,Calliope, Mouse Tales Press, The Corner Club Press, The FictionWeek Literary Review,Burningword Literary Journal, the Aurorean, Crack the Spine, and The Cats Meow. A short story has been published by blazeVOX. He’s written three novels and five screenplays. His film was successfully screened at Santa Cruz and Short Film Corner of Cannes film festivals. The past seven years he’s been working as a freelance writer for Sound&Vision having previously worked at the magazine as a staff writer and editor. Lauren C. Lara Lauren C. Lara is a summa cum laude graduate of the honors program at Sam Houston State University. She has a B.S. degree in psychology and special education and spent five years sharing her love of storytelling with elementary school students. She is now a mom and dance instructor, sharing that love with her son and dancers through both written word and movement. Lauren is currently earning her M.L.A. in creative writing with the University of Denver and volunteers with Writespace, a literary arts organization in Houston, TX. Qinglan Wang Qinglan Wang is a multilingual writer, artist, and teacher originally from Hawaii. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2012), her work has been featured in Bone Bouquet, Deluge, and ROAR Magazine.

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