Crack the Spine
Issue 191 June 16, 2016 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2016 by Crack the Spine
“Alien Disco” by A.J. Huffman
A.J. Huffman has published twelve full-length poetry collections, thirteen solo poetry chapbooks and one joint poetry chapbook through various small presses. Her most recent releases, “Degeneration” (Pink Girl Ink), “A Bizarre Burning of Bees” (Transcendent Zero Press), and “Familiar Illusions” (Flutter Press) are now available from their respective publishers. She is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a two-time Best of Net nominee, and has published over 2500 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, The Bookends Review, Bone Orchard, Corvus Review, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press.
CONTENTS Zach Smith The Devolution of Birds Lauren Lara Nichole L. Reber
The Old House
Chicken Little, 28 Months Sober
Syllogistic Parallelism Parabelle
Andrew Weatherly Forbidden Vegetable
Bats Around the Streetlamp – Nha Trang
Steven Ablon My Sister’s Doll
Tara Roeder The Botanists
The Devolution of Birds
My earliest memory is of a train station, semi-open arched frosted glass ceilings merged, with birds on a concrete island separating a pair of train tracks, eating little bits of discarded food, following the path of waste that people had left behind them. I was running on the island, parallel to the tracks so that my parents wouldn’t yell, trying to catch the birds, but they would take off well before I could get close. There was a sign at this train station, a silhouette of a bird and a hand sprinkling salt onto the bird’s tail. Perhaps there was a red circle with a line across this picture, I don’t quite remember. “How can you catch a bird if you sprinkle salt on its tail?” I asked my father. “Well, if you’re close enough to get salt onto a bird,” he explained. “Then you’d be close enough to catch it.” It didn’t make sense to me then. The prospect of sprinkling salt on a bird’s tail seemed easier.
Growing up in the suburbs, I never truly felt one with nature. My parents would take me on camping trips and hikes when they could, and when they couldn’t the Boy Scouts would fill in the rest, but it was never quite enough. This lead to an overwhelming desire to render myself the top predator, kill to eat. It was a complicated feeling and difficult to explain as a lot of men did not feel the same way. I asked my father to take me hunting. Explaining it as an important and ancient ritual, including a sort of blood sacrifice, resulting in a bond that would
aid both father and son that would give them both the strength to get through through the next few tumultuous years. Unfortunately there are some things that some people just can’t do, my parents were not hunters.
Nearly a decade later the topic came up at an obligatory family gathering. “I’ll take you hunting with me, next time I go,” said my Uncle Alan. “Is it dangerous?” I asked. “You have firearms,” he said. “So there’s always a little bit of danger, but it’s rare, I mean I’ve never seen anything happen.” “I'm still not sure,” I said. After so many years of having been denied the opportunity, I had almost, somehow, become afraid of it. Uncle Alan was not giving up without a fight. He didn’t have any kids of his own and I was kind of like a son to him, he wanted to take me hunting for years. Of course nobody ever told me this. “If it makes you feel safer, I’ll take you bird hunting,” he said. “That way we’re only shooting up in the air.” It was agreed, I was going hunting. Finally. We would climb into my uncle’s old but reliable wood trimmed Jeep. Drive up and down the rocky trails of thick woods using the four wheel drive. Set up the base camp by a pristine and reedy lake. Make our way to the lake when the day’s first light began to define the cold morning clouds. Wade in the water. Wait, still, patiently, for a flock of geese to fly over. And if my eyes would be sharp enough, reflexes fast enough, and with just a little bit of luck, I’d knock one of those birds out of the sky and have goose for dinner for the first time.
I knew something was wrong when Uncle Alan picked me up in his polished brand new hatchback Hybrid (and not the Jeep). “It’s a long drive,” he said. “This is a lot better on gas.” “Okay, but how is this car going to get through the wooded trails?” He didn’t seem to understand the question so he just ignored it and kept driving. An awkward silence crept in and was eventually broken by a loud thump as a ball of black feathers hit the windshield, bumped along the roof, then landed on the road behind the car. The bird twitched a few times as our car drove on, then no more. Ithad been flying many times higher than it needed to in order to stay safe, but as it approached the road, it dipped down to street level, to be hit by even the smallest and most fuel efficient of cars. You couldn’t get within 20 feet of the birds at a train station, with or without salt, and they would fly away minutes before the trains arrived. They would fly high above the road and not get hit by tractor trailers let alone tiny Japanese cars. It might sound strange, but I have this theory that at some point since my earliest memory, birds have devolved. But this theory asks more questions than it answers. Why did it happen? How far would it go? Would birds eventually forget how to fly altogether? Had this or something like it happened to humans too? Had there once been a time when humans could fly and out of indolence and/or social pressure preceded to cast aside and ultimately forget this skill? Or maybe it wasn’t flying, maybe it was something else. How would we know? Uncle Alan did not swerve out of the way of the bird though, and a moment or two after the impact he acted as though he hadn’t noticed anything. He did
though, he just didn’t want to make any comment. He opened up a new topic of conversation while nonchalantly turning the windshield wipers on. The bird’s abrupt and untimely death disturbed me, in spite of what I was on my way to do. As a distraction I started to imagine the rough camp site we were heading toward. However with this I began to hear a little disembodied voice somewhere beneath my mind telling me: you didn’t pack any camping gear.
The campsite was not a campsite at all, it was a hunting resort. The property was located, not in the wilderness, but just another suburb, similar in its own nondescript ambiance to where I lived, with its well-manicured lawns and cookie cutter houses. A high fence surrounded the resort, and beyond that a thick wood. From one angle it seemed to be holding back the woods, preventing it from escaping and infiltrating the suburbs. From another angle, it appeared to be keeping the suburbs from spoiling the forest within. In the center of the property was the lodge, a log cabin enlarged to the size of a small hotel. In fact it was a small hotel. We would be “camping” in an electrified room with heat, plumbing, and beds with thick blankets. The onsite restaurant had several unusual animals on the menu, animals I didn’t realize people ate, and at least one or two I had never heard of. For dinner, I tried quail for the first time. It was good, but a little disappointing, since it tasted just like turkey. Trophies were on display all over the lodge: deer, moose, wild boar, grouse, all keeping an eye on the visitors. The most prominent was an enormous buffalo mounted over the communal fireplace, where Uncle Alan and I sat drinking hot chocolate in the evening.
Thinking we had to get to the marsh early, I got ready for the hunt well before the sun came out, but Uncle Alan groggily told me that that was not the case. Several hours later we had breakfast, again at the onsite restaurant. Being anxious about the hunt, I never realized just how many steps there were to eating at a restaurant: waiting to be seated, ordering drinks, looking at the menu, waiting for your order to be taken, and so on until you finally get the receipt for the bill, and that is still about four steps after you get the bill itself. After breakfast, we made a stop at what looked to be a pet store. Uncle Alan pointed to three fat birds, and the man behind the counter nodded his head. “What are the birds for?” I asked. “They’re the birds we’re going to hunt.” “Okay?” I said, thinking Uncle Alan just wanted to show me the kinds of birds that we would be shooting for some reason. As we left the man behind the counter took the birds out of their cage. I chose to ignore what this meant. We marched into the woods, guns broken and hanging over our shoulders, following the lodge provided dog. I felt myself communing with nature. It was the feeling I had always been looking for, with every hike and camping trip, but had never, until this point, truly felt. I still wasn’t sure how I would react, when the time came to make the decision to kill or not to kill. Uncle Alan seemed to know this was on my mind. “If you can’t do this,” he said. “It’s no big deal.” I appreciated the reassurance but didn’t say anything. The dog started to act strange. “Here we go,” said Uncle Alan. We followed the dog, putting the shells into the shotguns, and clicking them together, leaving the safeties on. The dog stopped and started to sniff more
intently, making its way to a tuft of grass in a small clearing in the woods. The dog stuck its nose in then jumped back as a bird flew out from the growth, slowly, in a zigzag path. How could it get stuck in a tuft of grass on the ground? A moment later I realized that it was the same bird that Uncle Alan had pointed to in the pet store. I stood there frozen, while the bird just flew away, taking an important piece of me with it. Uncle Alan remained still, waiting for me to take the first shot, then just letting bird disappeared into the clear blue sky above the pine trees. He smiled and looked at me. “Couldn’t do it?” he asked, more as a statement then a question, and not without sympathy. “Is that the bird you pointed at in the pet store?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Yes?” “Yes, we buy what we’re going to hunt, and the lodge assistants plant them throughout the property. That’s how it’s done.” Uncle Alan explained it to me like a teacher, telling me the facts of life, but not implying I should already know this. I clicked the safety back on, broke open the gun, and took the shells out. “I can’t do this,” I said, and Uncle Alan understood, although only partly. “Maybe we can spend the rest of the day at the shotgun range?” He suggested. “Yeah, that would be great,” I said, but my tone probably said otherwise. It would be a kind of secret between us. Uncle Alan was a good man, and he would not tell the rest of the family about how, as he saw it, I was too soft hearted.
We followed the dog around, liberating the rest of the birds that would have otherwise been killed. I had this strange feeling that those birds would somehow find their way back to the hunting resort. Maybe the lodge will put salt on their tails to catch them.
Nichole L. Reber
Chicken Little, 28 Months Sober More bullets sear through another public scene in Europe or America and news crews hustle to capture pieces of the sky. They fall onto me as I sit beneath a tellie in the cafeteria and the news spreads from my table to the next and the next and then upstairs to a conference where a rude gesture becomes a crude word, a dirty look shows the weight of a barrage of blood news. II. The next week terror rages again and seeps through my car radio. Voices of even the more sedate national public radio stations seem intoxicated by blood and insults and corruption until I slam the grimy black knob. It staunches the noise that threatens to shatter me, but not the voice from deep within who asks: “When will you start drinking again? That’ll shut out the news” I open a window instead, hear the noise of rush hour, smell
gas fumes that remind me I’m breathing, feel a cold gust on skin. I want to shut it out, the world and everything beyond the cocoon of this silent car but the news will continue, like a military march into madness riddling holes into democracy and diversity, tearing through dollars and gods and liberty while we put back together cracks in the sky with glue and tape. How long-- how much-- can they and I hold as the media pays for ratings with the currency of sensation and scandal? Will I forego the oath taken twelve steps ago, and open the bottle to escape the falling apples or stay sober when the sky goes black? I used to believe what Brandon wrote: “If you’re not affected you’re not paying attention,” but sobriety is hefty tuition for feeling informed
so I disconnect. I tune out of the 24-hour cycles of illness. I switch to 101.1 where Schubert’s fluttery notes carry me sober and aloft with “Ave Maria.”
Syllogistic Parallelism Parabelle
x(Elegant spare bare predicate logic) ∃ x(Modal metamorphing transforming to illogical tautology) ∃ x(Formal deduction demolished in the fire of its own implication) ∃
Andrew Weatherly Forbidden Vegetable
Forbidden fruit we know so well red green gold Forbidden love we aren’t supposed to know and knowing such thus deny. But forbidden vegetable, well… it’s firm rounded curves meaty flesh, thousand seeds royally sublime color— the eggplant. The French, knowing how to gussy up, naming it aubergine making mysterious that purple skin Purple the forbidden color for royalty and forbidden love forbidden and forbidding: few others dare walk that noble imperial road Thin skinned so smooth it glows with promise vulgarly violet or near ebony dark to lead to wonder what unknowns lurk within Flesh baked into red sauce
claiming descent from cheesy Parma or crushed and dressed by that dancing girl Tahini wiggling her tawny hips lubricating luscious flesh into the strangest common delicacy Baba Ghanoush melting on the tongue feeding the soul girding the guts in a Near Eastern garden of paradise leaving your palette longing desperate for more yet milky flesh hidden inside a purple veil inside a lumpy nameâ€” eggplantâ€” forbidding indeed!
Bats Around the Streetlamp â€“ Nha Trang
Again Mr. Kien saw the bat fly across the top of the streetlamp on the opposite side of the street. He was sure it was the same bat even though he knew that wasn't possible to know. There must be hundreds of bats in the city, his wife said. The night before, she was in the back room washing out the bowls from dinner. It is the same bat every evening, he said. He had been fingering a cigarette but didn't light it. Thousands of bats, she yelled back. She could be loud when she wanted to and he could hear her above the street noise and the neighbors blaring television even with his bad ear turned to the washing room. But now sitting on his small stool at his corner, the fruit spread out beside him, he saw the little bat coming over the streetlamp, its arms fluttering like a dragonfly and he was sure it was the same. They can have regular spots, just like people, Mr. Kien thought. It knows the streetlamp attracts the insects, and so it returns every night. The same spot, just like people. Mr. Kien looked over his remaining produce. The bananas wouldn't last until tomorrow so it was sell them tonight or eat them for breakfast tomorrow. The watermelons, pineapple, oranges, these were acceptable. Tomorrow he needed to get rambutan and mango. Close to six, it was getting to be twilight. The Vietnamese bought everything in the morning close to home, but the Russians close to the beach were unpredictable. Even with unreliable customers, a shrunken old man sitting at the corner, but he tried set out good fruits, attractive ones, ones they recognized and would buy. He noticed it wasn't the cost of everything that prevented sales but that they didn't want to carry
anything else back in the evening. Lately, he'd begun to feel an ache just under his right arm, on his side. It was a sharp pain when he pressed on it but also he felt a dull pain there all day. Or rather now he didn't feel it because he had become accustomed to it. He had stopped noticing it. It was always there, that dull ache now, but he could not think about. But when he thought about it, yes, he brought it to mind and there it was. The bat again. He'd swooped down just over a large white car and Mr. Kien could see the shadow of it fall across the driver's face just an instant. The driver wouldnâ€™t notice the faint shadow, instead he honked at a motorbike carrying a young couple. Mr. Kien wondered how long bats lived, how long this bat had been coming to this streetlamp. Or maybe his parents, and theirs before that even. The streetlamp wasn't new. It was a concrete pole like a ladder and the wires crisscrossed and dangled and drooped like they did everywhere in Nha Trang even if this neighborhood was filling with new buildings. The bat made a loop around the streetlamp, a full circle in the air. It flew far up into the night. Mr. Kien lost it in the jumble of light and dark against the buildings. They were building a tall hotel on the other corner, not Mr. Kien's or the corner with the street lamp, and they worked at least twelve or fourteen hours a day. They'd set up bright spotlights to illuminate the workers late into the night and moved the light as necessary. It was a jumble of dirt and water and noise, sure to confuse the small bat. What did it think of all the concrete that rose higher every day? Stop being romantic, he heard his wife say so clearly in his ear that he turned to look, expecting to see her standing next to him. She had a way of standing, her hands flat against the back hip bones and leaning slightly forward. When she stood like this, it was like an official, inspecting what was before her. Mr. Kien's daughter called it the colonel pose. Something magical about that pose gave his
wife extraordinary powers of observation. She'd be looking at his fruit now with that keen eye. Why don't you turn this orange around? she'd say. It has a soft spot. Sprinkle a little water on these grapes. They look dusty and tired. His wife was not there though. She didn't come down to the fruit stand anymore. It's too noisy, she said. Those Russians are so big, she'd say. The bat swooped down and flew not more than a meter from the top of his head. It had never flown so far down. Maybe it was a different bat, but no he was sure it was the same. There it went again, circling the street light. Mr. Kien was so mesmerized by the animal he didnâ€™t notice the couple stop and look at the fruit stand until the woman spoke. They were pale and sweaty and looked as dejected as rabbits stuffed in a metal cage with some wilted grass. The man was short and had hairy legs and arms, flat leather sandals and a camera strung around his neck, which he held onto like a small animal. The woman was taller than the man, at least fifteen centimeters and carried a large bag made of fabric across her torso, which she gripped with both hands. She smiled and pointed at the string of bananas. "How much?" she asked in English. Mr. Kien, startled by the human sounds, blinked several times before his mind caught up with the correct language. She tried in Vietnamese as he hesitated, but her pronunciation was poor. Mr. Kien smiled back and put down his magazine so he could hold up eight fingers. He said "tam," then translated into English, "eight," and emphasized each the words by bouncing his palms up and down once. She smiled again. She wasn't Russian, Mr. Kien realized. He didn't know what she was. She turned to the man beside her who watched them interact with flat lips. Mr. Kien saw several lines of sweat falling from his hairline down to the edge of his jaw, but the man either did not care or had no way to wipe it away. The man
held out his hand with a wad of bills folded in half, the Vietnamese money folded over other currency, some dollars, some other colorful bills, perhaps Australian, perhaps British, he could not tell. She began to dig into his palm to find the correct amount. The man said something to her Mr. Kien could not understand and she turned back and pointed to one of the small watermelons. "Yes, yes," she said to him. It was so small, he could hold it in one hand. He grabbed a plastic bag and lifted the melon to tip into the yellow plastic. She placed the bananas on top of the bag and looked at him with an expectant face, eyes open, another half smile and her breath, he noted, was sour and yeasty. They must have been drinking beer on the beach he realized. He said "hai mĆ°ĆĄi sĂĄu," then again, "twenty-six" in English. He heard his own voice but it sounded somehow far from him, like he was now watching himself. The couple's movements seemed delayed, just a step behind what they should be. He felt like the world were drifting a bit out of sync with time. His wife liked to watched Chinese soap operas. On some of them the translation was poorly done, just one or two actors doing all the roles, one for the old men, one for the young men, and one for all the woman. Of course the voices never matched exactly with the movements of the mouth, but occasionally the actors or the soundtrack would slip a moment or two behind and the brain had to reconcile what it saw with what it heard. He felt that same sensation now. The girl's slender arm, browned by the sun, her long fingers with bright pink tips digging in the stack of money held by this man with hairy legs and a wilting face. The light had shifted, too. The sun slipped behind the new hotel being built, a little higher it was every day, and the day shifted to night.
The women found the bills she was looking for, and, after checking them again and then once more, she handed them to him. The sound of the rustling, soft money and the sensation he felt in his hand did not match. He felt himself separating from his own skin, cleaving out of his own body. He bobbed his head in thanks and handed her over the bag of fruit, but she did not take it. His head felt like it was moving under water. The ears attached to his head were clogged, and the sounds his mind registered were coming from the soles of his feet. He imagined his wife would be slowly shaking her head now and criticizing his foolishness. The woman stepped back one space and the man, after shoving the bills back into the pocket of his shorts, stepped forward and took the bag instead, hanging it off of two fingers. He let the bag drop to his side and it bounced with the weight of the heavy melon. It was a good fruit. If they ate it tonight, it would be sweet and juicy and they would commend him he was sure. Mr. Kien said "thank you" in English, and he bobbed his head once more at them with a broad smile. The voice was not his but dropped from the sky. His head was on a string, something manipulating it up and down. The couple both nodded back and said "thanks" in return before they continued walking away from the beach, back to their hotel. Their footstep sounds, shuffling and clacking on the concrete sidewalk, did not match their legs swinging along. The heads floated above their bodies, barely attached with threads as luminescent as guitar strings in the sunlight. The yellow bag of fruit seemed to fill with hydrogen and expand and expand until the couple was lifted into the air and floated away. The sunlight diminished quickly. The streetlamp had flickered on while Mr. Kien had been serving the pale couple. He looked away from them to find the
little bat, and there it was, still circling, still seeking food, still flying around the light.
Steven Ablon My Sisterâ€™s Doll
First remove the dollâ€™s arms, swivel arms like wishbones hard to break. Legs are easier snapped from their ball joints, then pausing to admire the dismemberment, my medieval transgression, each limb attached by rope to a horse, and what will my sister say when she finds Eloise? Will she now never walk into my room, never take my toys, never sit so beautiful while I pick my nose but there will be jail for me. I buy a new doll, in her ermine coat, tell my sister Eloise is studying abroad, Jasmine has taken her place.
Tara Roeder The Botanists
He presses it into my skin. Cockle burr, he says. I say nothing; my mind wanders far beyond the hiking trail. Somewhere a young, potential botany major is about to make a big mistake. Anyone can spot poison oak. Anyone can fuck on beds of stinging nettles. (The hives can last for hours, but they are treatable.) He crouches by a wispy flower whose name eludes me. Eat this, he says. Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s just enough poison to make me ill.
Contributors Steven Ablon Steven Ablon has published four books of poems: “Tornado Weather,” (Mellen Press), 1993, “Flying Over Tasmania,” (Fithian Press), 1997, “Blue Damsels,” (Peter Randall Press), 2005, and “Night Call” (Plain View Press) 2011. His work has appeared in many magazines. He won the Academy Of American Poets Award in 1963. Ivan Faute Ivan Faute is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago Program for Writers. His prose has appeared in a variety of on-line and print journals. He is completing a collection of stories on post-Chính sách Đổi Mới (Renovation Policy) Vietnam, of which this is one. His plays have been produced in Chicago, New York, and San Diego. His stage adaptation of Cris Mazza’s novella “Disability” will premiere at the Planet Connections Festivity in June 2016. He currently is a Lecturer in English at Christopher Newport University. Tara Roeder Tara Roeder is an Associate Professor of Writing Studies in New York City. Her work has appeared or will appear in multiple venues including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Monkeybicycle, andCheap Pop.
A.J. Huffman A.J. Huffman has published twelve full-length poetry collections, thirteen solo poetry chapbooks and one joint poetry chapbook through various small presses. Her most recent releases, “Degeneration” (Pink Girl Ink), “A Bizarre Burning of Bees” (Transcendent Zero Press), and “Familiar Illusions” (Flutter Press) are now available from their respective publishers. She is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a two-time Best of Net nominee, and has published over 2500 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, The Bookends Review, Bone Orchard, Corvus Review, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. Rose Knapp Rose Knapp is a poet, novelist, multimedia artist, and music producer. She has an experimental novel forthcoming and various poetry publications in Commonline Journal, Blue Lake Review, Danse Macabre, Turk’s Head Review, OccuPoetry, Shot Glass Journal, Chicago Literati, and others. She currently divides her time between Brooklyn and Minneapolis. Nichole L. Reber Nichole L. Reber’s work has been published in LunchTicket, The Fanzine, Entropy, PANK, and elsewhere. She writes a Ploughshares blog series on contemporary Asian lit and indigenous lit from around the world. She tends to the news less now and hopes to still be sober at press time. Find her at@NicholeLReber.
Zach Smith Zach Smith grew up in Devault Pennsylvania, and as a young kid lived in Egypt and Indonesia. He is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and now lives Chester County. He has been writing for more than a dozen years as both a passion and a tool to overcome Dyslexia. His work has previously appeared in:FastForward Festival, the Short Humor Site, Schlock Magazine, and several others. You can see more of his published works and various reviews at his blog. Andrew Weatherly Andrew Weatherly hears inspiration from dying trees, Hawaiian shirts, fires, and other poets. He is blessed to live in the hood, teach adults to read, and dance in the streets in Asheville, NC. Heâ€™s been published inBelle Reve, Axe Factory, Former People, Danse Macabre, Cordite, the Literary Nest, Commonline Journal,and Hot News. Last year he led a workshop at the National Association for Poetry Therapy conference.
Visit www.crackthespine.com to review our submission guidelines or to subscribe