Page 1

Crack the Spine

Issue Thirty-FOUR


Crack The Spine Issue Thirty-Four July 23, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack the Spine


Contents Philip Neilsen Snowy Owl Guitar Howard Winn Shopkeeper’s Tale Katherine Berta Ladies Brittany Fonte The Grapefruit Diet Mia Avramut Missing Ashley Underwood Object Permanence Confessional Poets Alyssa Robbins Others


Cover Art “Red Lips� by Carla Lopez Carla Lopez is an art major at El Camino College and is currently focusing on computer animation. She has taken various art classes since the time she was in middle school. She enjoys taking many English classes as well as writing in her spare time whenever inspiration hits her that is.


Philip Neilsen Snowy Owl “If climate change results in habitat changes and it affects the lemmings, it will show up in the snowy owls because 90 percent of their diet is lemmings. The owls are the key to everything else” - Denver Holt You know everything white face of the world even in flight you see a fox’s whiskers can hear a mouse twitch three feet under snow so what a cacophony we must be even on days when we catch ourselves and try to stay still the rodent that is your bread and butter keeps the flavour of flesh in memory the ice cliffs from falling a nervous system spread among the grass roots feeds on water, insect, mushroom to make a sacrifice more epic and strange than any lie of mass suicide homecoming, dark specks tracked from above, rodent and human conjoined, contained in the shriek from the Arctic though snow blind, we too can be stealthy, alert as a mouse’s eye


Philip Neilsen Guitar Driving home at 1.00am on Kelvin Grove Road. The red car in front, irrational, refuses the corner hits the telegraph pole in a flower of light. There is no other traffic. I stop and run back to the hissing machine. I can see the driver is a girl with dark hair. Her shape is all wrong. A guitar protrudes its head from the windscreen. A man in shorts comes out of the nearest house. ‘I’ve rung the ambulance’ he says, lifts one bare foot, then the other. ‘Her neck is broken’, I tell him. I’m not sure how I know this, where these words come from, or why, when he returns in slippers, I drive away.

Philip Neilsen is an Australian poet and fiction writer - his most recent collection of poetry was Without an Alibi (Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008). He was the editor of The Penguin Book of Australian Satirical Verse and co-editor (with UK poet David Morley) of The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing (2012). He is creative writing professor at the Queensland University of Technology.


Howard Winn Shopkeeper’s Tale Mr. Mathew White ran a country general store with two gas pumps standing like sentinels outside, as if they were those beaver-hated guards rigid before Buckingham Palace. His store opened in the late summer of 1941 and sold nearly everything but clothes. Canned goods, only the best packed by White Rose, Birds Eye Frozen Foods, Karl Ehmer’s deli meats, Kraft cheeses, ice cream. Breyers because it was the highest quality, fresh fruits and vegetables which Mr. White picked up at the Washington Market in town very early in the morning, putting the bags and boxes in his Plymouth station wagon. He and his wife were friendly people, but there was always a formality of manner with the customers. He was always Mr. White to them. His wife was always Mrs. White, particularly later when latch-key children ran to the store and to the motherly Mrs. White for assurance in thunder storms. Mr. White got the station wagon with genuine varnished wooden panels instead of a truck because it blended in with the exurbia country side and besides it was partly an ego matter. Mr. White was never a truck person. He made deliveries in that Plymouth to some select customers, the ones who ran charge accounts and owned horses. In those driveways his car blended in with the Lincolns, Chryslers and Cadillacs, preferred vehicles for people of that class, but auto makes that did not provide station wagons. Sometimes his estate wagon was not the only one in the driveway. He had always been a versatile man, a dexterous man, fixing things around the house himself, rather than calling in the professionals. It was not the cost, even then, but satisfaction in managing things for himself. He took pride in doing minor engine work on his cars. Tune ups, oil and filter changes, that sort of thing, in the driveway in clear weather. So in emergencies at the store, besides pumping the Mobilgas, that was what it was called then, at the sign of the flying red horse, now gone the way of buggy whips, tire chains, and manual typewriters, he would do some minor auto maintenance for certain privileged customers. Actually, he seemed to enjoy the occasional work as a diversion from selling groceries.


It was the Great Depression that landed him behind the counter or less often under the car hood. When his younger son was a young child, he watched his father going off in the morning wearing his Hart, Schaffner and Marx gray suit with a vest. Across the vest would be a gold chain attached to a gold pocket watch in one of the vest pockets. The watch and chain had come from his father, the foreman of a machine shop where dumb waiters for upper class homes and restaurants were made, when they were in style, who dressed like a banker when not at work as a matter of pride. His father had been a jack-of-all-trades A professional musician who played the trumpet. A portrait photographer when that was a beginning trade. A meticulous craftsmen as a tool and die maker. His ability to manage other workers had brought him the foreman’s job. Mr. White was the epitome of the small business man of the late nineteen twenties when the Republican world seemed prosperous and as though it would remain so forever. When Mr. White’s younger son set out to walk to the neighborhood grade school, his father would settle down in the front seat of his dark blue-black Packard and wave as he drove away to his modest office at the brick yard. As a young boy, this younger son had visited that office but only on weekends when no one else would be there except perhaps a worker or two who watched over the kiln, or sprinkled down the drying bricks. Mr. White was management and part owner of the thriving brick yard. Brick yards were important in the Hudson Valley. Blue and yellow clay was in abundance. First, young strong Irish immigrant men, to be replace by equally young and strong Italian immigrants, worked in those yards, digging clay from ever-deepening pits into the hills and woods of Dutchess, Westchester, Putnam and Ulster Counties and hauling it to the sheds to be packed into wooden forms. There the clay became bricks. The laborers would then lug them into the drying sheds. Here the raw bricks slowly dried before going to the red hot kilns. The only workers around on one such weekend when the boy was there, sitting behind his father’s desk drawing pictures on note pads while the father did some mysterious paperwork at the receptionist’s desk, were a couple of those Italian immigrants spraying water over the forms in the drying sheds so that the bricks would not dry too quickly or too soon. These men had last names like Velletri or Rossi or Lombardi.


When the boy asked questions about the unfamiliar names, his father said they had a history. Velletri was a famous town in Italy, for example, he said. When the Italians had replaced the Irish, who went on to become policemen, fireman, hosts of nostalgic Irish pubs, and politicians, Mr. White would carry home gift jugs of red wine made by the families of those Italian men and they would be put in the cellar of his house. Mr. White’s mother-in-law had been a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the infamous WCTU, axe-wielding scourge of saloons, and had left her mark on her daughter, Mrs. White, who never touched alcohol, even after her watchful mother died. Nothing like childhood training to mold the adult. Even when she was over seventy and her doctor suggested that a bit of brandy before dinner would improve her appetite, she refused as a matter of principle. “My mother said alcohol would never touch her lips,” Mrs. White would say, as if quoting Holy Scripture. The doctor had been on the local high school football team with Mr. White, and Mrs. White had trouble recognizing the grown professional where she still saw one of her high school contemporaries. “What does he know about brandy,” she had said. “Is it a medicine for him? What medical school taught him that?” Strong-minded woman, was Mrs. White, with firm moral convictions, about alcohol and about people. She could hardly speak of one second cousin who drank and played the piano in cafes, even after that cousin wrote some popular tin pan alley hits. “Jazz,” Mrs. White had sniffed. “Zeigfeld Follies with half-naked women. Fanny Brice, for example. Raucous female,” The Great Depression, when it came like some economic tsunami, slowed and then stopped the construction of homes and business buildings and the demand for bricks diminished considerably. Those few builders with construction jobs who still wanted bricks found that southern states could supply


them more cheaply, even with transportation costs. So the making of bricks left the Hudson Valley for southern brickyards where clay was also plentiful, as was, apparently, even cheaper labor. The Italians went the way of the Irish, eventually upward in jobs as work came back, and ultimately in social class as well, They became expert stone masons at first, and then building contractors, then moving on to lower middle class occupations like policemen, firemen and politicians. The teachers, lawyers, and doctors come later. When the family had to clear out the house in town, preparing for the move to the new General Store, they found jugs of red wine turned to vinegar in the cellar and they poured them all down the drain. Such a waste of Concord grapes, labor and love, for the thought of giving that wine to a kindly boss was a sort of affection, or at least a way of showing both respect and acknowledgement of friendly and generous treatment. Or perhaps an accepted social gesture. Or a tribute to the memory of where they came from in sunny Italy. The brick yard folded, turned into a building supply company with few customers, which finally sold for less than its value to one of the ambitious rising Italians, who had a construction company with political connections, and Mr. White was left jobless in his fifties, but with a small amount of capital to reinvest. He had a diploma from some popular Correspondence School in business management, the kind of educational offering that distance learning and the Internet would replace as technology changed in the late twentieth century. That practical knowledge had originally moved him into the Mid-Hudson Valley Brick Company. He had not gone to college, although his wife had been in the class of 1916 at Vassar College and her parents were both Normal School graduates and teachers. Mr. White had been in the Army Signal Corps during World War One. He had served his time on the Texas-Mexico border, listening for radio transmissions from German spies, as he called them, sending coded information about troop movements and such. Mexico was a safe haven apparently, during that war, for both sides. He was a self-taught electronic wizard, that is for radio and sound systems because it was not called electronics in those days. That knowledge was good for a hobby, but not a paying job. He kept up with his ham radio for awhile but gave that up when the family moved out of town for the store. He kept


postcard acknowledgements that his signal had reached distant ears. His younger son remembered one from Australia with a strange kangaroo stamp which he gave the boy when he began collecting postage stamps at about age ten. It may have been a sacrifice, or he may have decided it was time to give up an enthusiasm of his youth. It could be supposed that Mrs. White married down, since Mr. White’s father had been a tool and die maker and finally foreman of a machine shop. His mother had been a seamstress before she married, sewing trousseaus for more affluent families, while living-in with families of the Catskill Mountains, and then she was a mother and housewife; although, she often made baby clothes for her grandchildren. Neither worked at an intellectual job. Skilled, of course, but not on a social level with school teaching. Everyone knew that. Mrs. White, on the other hand, had never held a job until she became joint owner of that country store, as someone in her social class would not. Raising children, being a housewife, and being extremely active in the Parent-Teacher Association took her time and energy. Selection as president of the PTA at the various schools where her three children were pupils was her reward .She felt that her work was an intellectual exercise in education akin in a respectable middle class way to her parents’ teaching careers. One could suppose it was the small town class equivalent that was available to a young educated matron interested in the arts and music who might have also joined the Junior League to do good works, but who did not get a paying job for herself. It was just not done. Of course, no one ever mentioned social class, but the right people knew who were the right people. There was no need for labels. The opportunity to lease the newly built general store with an option to buy came out of the blue. Another former high school classmate who had gone on to be a banker in town alerted Mr. White to this opportunity, since his bank, which was solid enough to re-open after FDR’s bank holiday was adventurous enough to provide the cash for the builder, particularly for certain old customers with solid gold credit. These connections were the benefits of small town life. Here was an opportunity to use some of that capital from the sale of the Brick Yard to invest in stock for the store.


The store was in what was then considered by town folk “the country” where there were horse farms, riding stables, a farm with Black Angus cattle, another one with Guernsey cows that a local milk company owned, and numerous fields of lacey asparagus grown tall, of corn in season with yellow pumpkins appearing scattered amongst the dead corn stalks in the autumn. The only other commercial establishment was a country inn where adventurous souls came for a real county meal, heavy on the red meat, huge baked Long Island or Idaho potatoes, soaked in butter, and local apple pie a la mode. So Mr. and Mrs. White took over this new general store, moved into the apartment over the establishment, and began a new life just a few months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The White’s daughter had gone to college, supported in part by President Roosevelt’s New Deal Agency, the National Youth Administration for college students, the N. Y. A. She got a job out of college writing advertising copy, a career not usually open to women, but her male predecessor had gone to war, as did the two sons. The older son had recently received a degree in business from a small church-related college in Tennessee. The younger was just out of high school. This action was unlike that of many of the farmers’ sons in the area who were deferred as essential to the war effort on the home front. For some without the legitimate connection to farming, other solutions were found. Sheep appeared in what had been a golf driving range off one of the narrow country roads leading out of town, land that belonged to an ancient cider mill. The son of the cider mill owner suddenly became a sheep farmer and sat out the war with his sheep and the left over golf balls. Patriotism was a choice, it seemed, or at least its manifestation. The cider mill and sheep owners continued to attend church and to pray for the boys overseas. They felt like good people. The war ended. There were many local dead and the town put up a gigantic marble slab with the names of the dead heroes at a major street intersection just at the edge of town where wreaths were to be placed every memorial day by the rotating local politicians, some who had served and were rewarded with political jobs, and others who had sat it out, but talked a good fight against the red menace which had been discovered with the vanquishing of the Nazis and the Japanese. The county went back to being a conservative back water for that moment. Unknown progress was waiting in the wings, however.


The two sons returned. The older son was discharged from state-side duty in Atlantic City, where he had found and married a local New Jersey girl, met at a U. S. O. dance. He went to work for I. B. M. which had discovered the available non-union labor in the Hudson Valley. The younger son had come back from the Pacific and went to college on the G. I. Bill. Sharp real-estate people now started to subdivide the farms and a Levitt town north with G. I. mortgages began to fill what had been the asparagus and corn fields and the cow pastures. Returning service veterans with the wish to re-start civilian careers wanted the split-level home with picket fence and resident dog. Vassar girls discovered the quaint Cider Mill and began to bike out on Sunday afternoons with dates from Yale and Princeton, particularly in the fall during apple picking time. The sheep were sold and the former golf range was subdivided for more homes, but the cider mill remained as a picturesque emblem of a rural past with a room devoted to local artifacts like a mounted two-headed lamb The sheep herder who was still a devout church member, became the proprietor wearing bib overalls and telling stories about the nineteenth century, a time before he was born. Most customers did not know that fact, of course, and were charmed. Such is the staying power of illusion. This cider mill owner, on the other hand, lived well in a new raised-ranch home in the latest subdivision, hidden behind the rolling hills of the quaint country road, bought without a G. I mortgage, but with the steady flow of cash from the relics of that romantic past, and the Cider Mill. He continued to attend the socially-approved Episcopal Church in a part of town slowly decaying as the local upper crust moved from the city and the poor and black seeped out of the ghetto on the wrong side of town. Too many poor and too little space on the North Side. Mr. White, the shop keeper, prospered in the post-war world as his country store became surrounded by more and more homes, raised ranches, split levels, cape cods. Doctors and dentists moved offices into strip malls that began to appear along the county and town. A hard-ware store arrived to feed on the do-it-your-self culture of these new inhabitants. An independent pharmacy opened to complement the medical men who had followed their patients into the suburbs. Flower shops and hair stylists followed, along with a liquor store where the newly affluent could buy fine wines. Even a shop selling


genuine oriental rugs moved out of the city to locate in one of the strip malls to sell impressive and authentic floor coverings to the newly housed middle class inhabitants of the area. The owner, son of Armenian immigrants made periodic trips to the Middle East to purchase in bulk genuine Persian rugs. Middle management for an expanding unit of the International Business Machines moved in. Basic research for computers took over another one of the country roads and the rolling fields of an old family estate. Offices for the developers of Artificial Intelligence AI took over the Nineteenth Century manor house. Computer labs were inserted in other out-buildings like the stables and the homes of former live-in estate managers and workmen. Highly educated people demanded art and music. Galleries appeared, and the local symphony hired the rakish son of an important international conductor. He played the flute and the local gentry, mostly the housewives. In the political world, the General had left his mistress-driver back in the United Kingdom and became the hero president, dragging the five o’clock shadow of the Vice Presidential crook along behind him. The country had settled into the post-war boom, the interstate highway system was being built and Republicans were respectable again. Mr. and Mrs. White’s older son bought a house in their neighborhood, produced three daughters, and advanced to middle management at I. B. M. His wife died of a blood clot, fatal side effect of the Pill newly on the scene, used to stop the flow of daughters, .He remarried to a former beauty queen, Miss Alabama, and his daughters were pissed. The younger son finished undergraduate work paid for by the G. I Bill. He married one of his classmates and they moved to the west coast for graduate study, teaching jobs, and the production of two sons and then two daughters. The baby boom was on. The shop keeper extended his store. He rented space to a genuine butcher who also expanded the deli area. Tired of working long days, of politely dunning the newly affluent residents of the area who wanted charge accounts and did not pay on time, he leased the grocery section of the expanded store to a young couple who were willing to work the killing hours. The young man had been an assistant manager of a super market that was part of a national chain and wanted the freedom of being his own man, just as the American Dream promised. His wife had to tag along, although her work had been in a law office as a paralegal. The service station, whose two pumps outside had morphed into four, grew


with an addition to the store. The enlarged structure now housed a hydraulic lift and space to do more major auto maintenance and repair. It was leased long term with an option to buy to Mobil Oil for what seemed at the time like a fabulous monthly payment to the shop keeper and his elderly wife, who was as tired as he. They retired to a new home built at the top of a hill on land the couple had purchased with foresight during the war when it was cheap. It had been an orchard that had gone wild when pickers had left for war or to war industries, and there were not yet itinerant roving farm workers. They would come later, first from Jamaica and the south. The trees still blossomed and apples still ripened and fell to be uneaten. The trees were not trimmed and grew skyward where the apples, knotty and worm-eaten, could not have been reached easily anyway. But in the spring these run away trees were beautiful and a reminder of the rural past. The shop keeper, feeling justly rewarded for his triumphant personal return from the depths of the great depression, banked the monthly checks, gardened, and walked in the second growth woods that gradually filled the spaces between the apple trees. Every Sunday he drove his wife to the local church, a small building with genuine Tiffany stained glass windows, soon to be cleared away to provide runway space for the local airport which was growing in size to accommodate IBM corporate airplanes and the private Beechcraft and Piper Cubs of the newly rich. He would come home to smoke a leisurely cigar in the woods beyond the house where he had placed an old aluminum porch chair. He promised his wife never to smoke in the house and he was good to his word. He had never been much of a “believer� and in fact, when he thought about it at all, was something of an atheist, at least an agnostic, and had been since about the time he served in the Army during World War I. Religion did not seem necessary in his life and the idea of a beneficent God had not survived the combination of the two wars and the Great Depression. One took care of oneself. A deity was not necessary.


A good Havana cigar smoked at leisure in his own woods seemed more satisfying than a prayer to a fictitious being. That and watching the birds. He knew them all. Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Purple Finches, Golden Finches. Downy woodpeckers. Hairy woodpeckers. Pileated woodpeckers, if he was lucky. Nuthatches, both the large white breasted and the small rosy breasted kind.. Cardinals. Flickers. Phoebes, Pine Siskins. Once a black-throated blue warbler flew through on the way to the Caribbean. Wild turkeys gobbling. And if he was very quiet and attentive, a red shouldered hawk would start up from the top of a tall sugar maple, crying its hungry call and the squirrels and chipmunks would scurry to safety or freeze against tree and ground. At night, as he lay awake in the double bed next to his quietly breathing wife, he heard the soft hooting of the Barred Owl awake in the woods. He was not the shopkeeper any longer. He was the retired gentlemen who purchased his Havana Cigars at the local store where he was greeted with some deference befitting his age. The husband of the “nice lady” who taught Sunday School classes to small children. All this was evidence enough for him of the rightness of things. Mrs. White, no longer the shop keeper’ wife, just his equally elderly wife, immersed herself in church activities. She became a Sunday school teacher for the very young, and corners of their house filled with religious coloring books and simple picture books of the baby Jesus. She been a loyal member of a group called “The Christian Association” when a student at Vassar College, where some young women talked about Bible study and Mission work with the innocence of the expected. She now organized a bible study group of somewhat younger women. Missionary work was not an option. She became a beloved fixture of the church, someone the pastor, who was blind and had a guide dog that led him to the pulpit, depended upon for all sorts of churchly support, and whose wife could expect help from for church suppers and the like. The minister’s wife concerned herself with the choir and played the electric organ during services. She was a large imposing woman, heavy of face with an under slung jaw, a mannish hair cut, taller than her blind husband, but of course he could not see that. They were childless. She also ran the church office and was extremely officious but efficient. She counted the offering after services. She was a friend of Mrs. White.


Mrs. White had found her niche and her milieu. She also had found her other appropriate friends, a bit younger naturally, but not customers. That was the benefit of the new life. She, too, had escaped the humiliation of the Great Depression. The Whites in retirement knew they had survived the humbling forced by the Great Event, that consequence of greed and false optimism. The fears created by the World War II ordeal were allayed. Somehow finally the expectations of their American Dream had been fulfilled, only dimmed slightly by the shadow of the Cold War which did not really penetrate the cocoon of their lives. Mrs. White waited to be reborn. Mr. White smoked his vintage cigars and listened to the birds. The religious convictions of her parents and the good works of her church supported the meaning of life for Mrs. White, that and her love of her children and grandchildren. The security of good economic times, even without belief in the supernatural, made Mr. White contented with his condition under the trees of his woods, What more could one ask? Now, everyone stand absolutely still and smile while a photograph is taken for the family album. Don’t blink. There. Caught it. For the moment. Was everyone smiling? Eyes not closed? Someone’s were! Always that way in group photos. Live with it. Illness, heartbreak, loss, death. Those other inevitable portions of life, of course, would come to them, outside the border of this temporary image, caught in a digital moment. Reality can be individual and isolation pass for smugness. No one is prepared. Somewhere people are still suffering, starving, dying of untreated diseases, even fighting and killing over old myths and contested territory. But not within the frame of this portrait. Let them approach the end of their lives in the harmony of innocence, deluded though they may be.


Kindness is important. The dream is not yet a nightmare.

Howard Winn’s writing, both fiction and poetry, has been published by such journals as Dalhousie Review, New York Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Raven Chronicles, Borderlands, Beloit Poetry Review, Xavier Review and Toyon. His B. A. is from Vassar College. He also has studied as an undergraduate with A. B. Guthrie and John Ciardi at Middlebury College. He has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Stanford University where he studied with Wallace Stegner and Yvor Winters. He has done additional graduate work at the University of California San Francisco. His doctoral work was done at N. Y. U. He has been a social worker in California and currently is a faculty member of SUNY, Professor of English. He has taught courses in both fiction writing and poetry writing, as well as in literary criticism.


Katherine Berta Ladies Make your snarled faces if you wish, but I have been doing this my whole life; if there is a line to tight rope I walk it. If there are flowers to kill with water I do. My lip looks a bitten thing, but it has been months— I only always bear the trappings of sin: blemishes that refuse to sink, bruised thighs and ragged nails. They’re things I’ll explain to a daughter one day or sink with the soiled clothes in detergent, domestic gestures like sloughing off the pond scum of spoiled food that collects on dishes.


You wear gloves to hide your hands or your tight faces: you protect yourself. Sometimes I might be wrong. I could teach piano lessons instead. Or, at the very least, wipe the mirror so clean it casts light on the wall opposite, on my face.

Katherine Berta, an Ohio native living in Tempe, Arizona, is a recent graduate of Arizona State’s MFA program. You may read her work in 2 River View, Stirring, and Forklift, Ohio.


Brittany Fonte The Grapefruit Diet Girls play dress-up in their mother’s heels, healing wounds dealt by media hands: A size six is more than the average toothpick, almost a plus-size. If you weigh more than 120, wear more than a 10, surely = demise. This streams from a world that will sell you out (if you ask), then up a river in designer thongs, tanning bronze, cover-ups meant to conceal what cannot be shown on the cover of Cosmo. Remember this: You can only sell off for so long before you start to sell short. Some, (Carangi), settle with pricks. An Uptown Girl, famous for her blonde and blues, did this to you: Scale: 143. (Vomit.) Poor me. Then, running and spinning, liquid diets and pills. Men will not want me; women won’t thrill me. Suffering for pretty has never been so intense. The girl with the mole is down to skin and implants, small bones, waxed hair; there are boners, there. I am what the television trained in “A” cups sans the plumes of puberty and vain fears. In tears. Iman, at least, was a Somali who brought a different body: not white, “right for sight,” but a buoy to hold onto when the KKK regrouped, David-Duked. My hair, like my heart, not quite straight, not quite light, seemed less frizzy with the balm of black beauty. With night. I can start my day with coffee: black. No cream. No sweetening cure. (Sports Illustrated is my lure.)

Brittany Fonte holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction). Her work, both fiction and prose poetry, has appeared in numerous journals. Her first collection, Buddha in My Belly, is due out in August with Hopewell Publications. She was recently a participant in the national queer poetry slam, Capturing Fire.


Mia Avramut Missing My sadness, Chante-Loup, departed this morning. Fifteen hours later, a report filed untitled, fifteen arcane years stretch between us. Asked for her truthful likeness, I shared a harpsichord daguerreotype sensitized on our first foray outside the walls. It shines a bit indecent, half conical bust exposed, dense with whorls. Such subtle body smiles adorn vanishing edges, freed. I read now like a grieving ousted escargot. Our Police Department requests the public’s assistance in locating a missing male-female form. Hermaphrodite sadness, four decades old and change, known by the name of Chante-Loup (M-elle), left her long-term residence on foot at 6:50 am this morning to go for a walk. Her residence is located in the 700 block of Fruitless Drive, Sunset Commons neighborhood. Gangly trees and prickly bramble canes surround that estate. She may go by the nickname “Desiderata”. She was last seen by a neighbor walking along the Weltschmerz Boulevard, then over the railway embankment, at 7:50 am roughly. She wore a grey button-down jacket, aqua combat pants, bronze shoes with green socks and a silver necklace with a pendant watch. She checked this watch frequently. Sadness shows signs of forgetfulness, cyclothymia and workaholism. Described as being about as tall as tall waves, she has big cloudy eyes and wears her silver black-streaked hair down. She weighs twelve stones. Her ears have long been pierced. Her voice can sharpen razors. She is quite sensitive to barometrical disturbances: senses the monsoon season from afar; unsettled, falls in a long thaw after deep frost. She sees too far, and therefore normally wears glasses. She moves with relative difficulty on tetrapod-thick legs that harbor, from the knees downward, a form of elephantiasis made worse by marshes, stimulants and absinthe. Fond of the arched footbridge over the park’s pond, a replica of the bridge at Giverny, she might pause there to contemplate the mating dance of fish, spit on unsuspecting water lilies, throw rocks at her reflected sunken scars, marks, moles and henna dragonfly tattoos. She once worked as a jailer, but played favorites with one or two poètes maudits. It is uncharacteristic of her


to travel into night without just cause and warning, at least not until Moon sets and night watchmen cease to roam. A dozen Sunset Officers, assisted by the Sunset Fire Department, are out as we speak combing the neighborhood where this wayward sadness form was last seen. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of M-elle Chante-Loup is asked to provide it immediately by calling 9-1-1 or the numbers below. Her family craves her. I would add that sadness has few gracious habits, speaks in tongues nothing but the truth and howls French curse words every chance she gets mostly just “merde” or “canicule” or “apr s moi le déluge”. Our other roommate frets and fears that, overcome by her self in the midday heat, she might turn into roadkill. Never you mind, I say. She’s pretty much the only thing the road does not kill.

A Romanian-born writer and brain researcher, Mia Avramut has worked in laboratories and autopsy rooms. Her literary work appeared or is forthcoming in The Prose-Poem Project, Conclave: a Journal of Character, A-Minor, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Dirtflask and several anthologies.


Ashley Underwood Object Permanence

I don’t speak poverty anymore. When I go home now, (a rare occurrence these days), I only know one way to get there from here. I have never been in need of a shortcut. I am a foreigner on my mother’s couch. I watch her as she fumbles with my son, conscious of the fact that at no point during my childhood was she aware of the words object permanence. It’s the weight of knowing this, that makes it almost impossible to watch as she pops her face out from behind a dirty towel in an effort to make him laugh. He of course, doesn’t anymore. She thinks the reason (last time we visited, he loved it when she did this) is because I don’t bring him around her enough. She doesn’t know the words for growth.


Ashley Underwood Confessional Poets

I had a few classes taught by a woman who said she’d never teach the confessional poets. Plath, Sexton, they were beneath her (Plath, Sexton) And I’m not calling her a liar. There is no merit in spilling your heart out if you can’t be bothered to do so in iambic pentameter.

Ashley Underwood is a poet living in Springfield, Missouri. She studied Creative Writing at Missouri State University and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Education from the same University. She teaches English, Creative Writing and is a Librarian for a small rural school district tucked in the hills of the Ozarks. Her poetry has previously appeared in Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies, and is forthcoming in The Cave Region Review. She is at work on a chapbook of poetry.


Alyssa Robbins Others

This is the first time I’ve ever heard that noise, or rather, picked it apart from the other nightly statics. Now concentrated, sleep’s daze has left and my mind is on high alert, giving identity to the slightest noises, a recent and annoying habit. These old houses have those kind of downfalls: drafty windows, loose floorboards, strange places for an entrance into the attic, three closets and a fireplace in one bedroom, and a window in the closet; things that make you question whether it was just your mind playing a trick because, you can’t match the noise to any of the logical sources. Blaming an electric malfunction seems the easy escape, but in these houses malfunctions aren’t due to a shorted circuit; there’s another interference. A few weeks ago, up after midnight working on homework, I realized that minutes had been lost, but to what I couldn’t remember. Time had lapsed and I felt a sensation of disbelief at music still playing out of my stereo because I hadn’t acknowledged it for some time. But then I listened closer. It was no longer my music. The system had switched from aux to radio all on its own and was tuning in and out of stations, ordering in an ominous, deep voice, “Turn off your stereo.” Needless to say, I don’t listen to that system any more. Not that it matters whether I do or not, the incidents have already screwed in the tentative mind needed before this body can slumber because no matter what I do, they sneak up. Like now, almost midnight, a mass of statics crawl through the cracked windows and tap, tap, tap. Arm hairs stand guard when one of the pitches breaks off from the others. This, I’ve never heard till now, but conclude it must be the neighbor’s sprinkler system. That’s the best excuse head can conjure up for the heart running in this sack of potatoes and it’s going to have to work. The midnight train hollers from somewhere in the distance; a reminder of the time. Exhale breaths loudly; they’re the only living thing to focus on. It’s best to get sleep while you can.

Since her freshman year, seventeen year old Alyssa Robbins has attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, where her perspective of herself, others, this world, and life were changed through the craft of writing. An entirely new world opened up with her journey into the mind of a writer and an adult simultaneously; a combination of experiences, epiphanies, and freedom of voice that put her on a path she never wants to step off of. And now as a junior creative writing major, with the tools and knowledge it has allowed her, she hopes to share her writing outside the classroom, find a job, and save enough money to study biology in college.


Visit www.crackthespine.com to review our submission guidelines or to subscribe

Crack the Spine - Issue 34  

Literary Magazine

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you