Crack the Spine
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Crack The Spine Issue Sixty-Seven June 11, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine
Robert Marshall More Or Less About Rachel Greg Moglia On the Good Ship Explorer of the Seas Carolyn Mainardi Pam, Trapped Howard Winn Oak (Remembering William Stafford) Brian J. Helt For Lilly R.D. McManes GPS A Cloud in the Eye Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia Are Beds Filled
Cover Art Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier is a writer and a photographer who has developed a real love for capturing life and forms with her camera. Her work has been featured in many different forums, from national newspapers to heritage museums. She began her career in the field of news journalism and it was there she excelled at the art of photography; with film, negatives and endless hours in a darkroom. This appealed to the artist in her. She likes to say she has a trained eye for what the camera loves and that's why she rarely turns the lens onto herself. Enjoying experimentation with the camera has allowed Karen to broaden her photographic experiences to include portrait, fashion and style portfolios, lifestyles, sports, horse racing, military life, news, education and entertainment work. Presently, she is an online magazine columnist and photography contributor, putting her journalism/photography and mass communications degrees finally to good use. She has always found a place for her photography in print and online, being featured in Jaw Dropping Shots, and at literary magazines such as The Canadian Vocational Journal, Crack The Spine and Zen Dixie to name a few.
Robert Marshall More Or Less About Rachel Ulrike, crossing the traffic circle, on the way to a meeting at the School of Communication (where she was adjunct) marveled, as she often did, at how the swirling cars and pedestrians managed, almost always, not to collide. The world was full of subtle, unnoticed choreography. Performers almost slamming into each other but—last second—veering away. Constant, brilliant improv. She entered the park. It was a mild November; she walked under half-bare trees, holding her coffee, which slowly cooled, while the planet seemed to do the opposite. From somewhere she heard Blondie. Still, occasionally, as if out of nostalgia, someone brought a boom box to the park. It was not surprising to Ulrike that, hearing this, she thought of Rachel. People had their associations. Rachel had been her friend once, on the opposite coast, in the last century. Once, at Cafe Tuzzi, not far from the bay, Ulrike had told Rachel about a problem. The problem, at the time, had seemed immense to Ulrike. Intractable; deep pain. Now, crossing the park, patchy grass, gray squirrels, the problem seemed a distant nothing. Like the wisps of clouds above the School of Communication, the brown monolith on the park’s far side. But Ulrike could still remember Rachel’s response. Or, really, her reaction to it. Rachel (in Cafe Tuzzi) had told her about an experience she’d had which Rachel thought was similar. This had irked Ulrike (so much more labile then). She’d thought, then, in the last century, in the cafe, that Rachel’s experience wasn’t like her own. Hardly. Hers had been painful and significant. Complex in a way that Rachel, dressed in black, probably, wearing her orange and green scarf, possibly, and some cool earrings, surely, clearly had not comprehended. She’d known what Rachel was trying to do. She thought she was “mirroring” Ulrike’s experience. A particular subspecies of “mirroring” in which, to show understanding, one offered an experience similar to the one described. But the parallel experience Rachel had proffered hadn’t, Ulrike had felt, been parallel at all. She’d gone over this in her head, as it tossed on her pillow, in her attic apartment, deep into the night, on a hill not far from the foggy bay. She’d listed all the reasons her experience wasn’t like Rachel’s. Rachel had, Ulrike had thought (in the last century), been trying to make it about herself. These were of course thoughts in context; Ulrike had evidence, or believed she had, that Rachel often tried to make things about herself. What had puzzled Ulrike then, and puzzled her now, clutching her coffee, crossing the gray park, where
the squirrels darted and the people sat or ambled, was that, sometimes, it seemed entirely right (according to Ulrike’s surely never to be published general theory of communication) to do just what Rachel had seemed to think she was doing: offering-an-account-of-an-experience-more-or-less-parallelto-the-one-about-which-you-are-being-told. Had it been that she’d gone so immediately to her own experience, without expending sufficient attention to the details of Ulrike’s? Would it have been better if the parallel had seemed, to Ulrike, more parallel? There might be a parallel universe, there might be many, thought Ulrike, in the park, as the birds flew, in coordination, overhead. But each person was a universe, and they weren’t parallel. They often crashed. Or far more often, in her world at least, just averted it. The city was full of aversions. The world was. The sky changed like a mood. Ulrike clutched her coffee. Smell of chestnuts. Holidays coming. And Rachel would be where? Ulrike knew she may have been unfair, long ago, at the cafe. How was one to know whether the experience you offered, your proffered parallel, really was parallel? Had it been fair of her to expect such knowledge from Rachel? Ulrike knew she often did not know whether the experiences she offered as parallels were indeed similar to the ones being shared. She went on intuition. Sometimes she got it wrong. Often she became irked when her parallel was rejected, when she, Ulrike, was told no, it really wasn’t the same, as had happened with her friend Luis the week before. She’d gotten angry at Luis in the way one does when a gift is not accepted graciously. She’d hidden her anger from herself and him, bundling it as she might have wrapped herself against the wind if it were colder. Pride was shit; it went before the fall or was the fall, and it was everywhere. Oh, clichés. They too were everywhere. Rachel probably would have gotten angry at her if, outright, rather than furtively, on that afternoon in Cafe Tuzzi, in the last century, Ulrike had rejected the parallel rather than just brooding about it, in her attic, in the foggy nights, near the bay. Of course Rachel, who’d been her best-friend-maybe then, had probably sensed that Ulrike hadn’t been impressed—if not in that instance, then in others, in other conversations, in other cafes. And if not in the moment, then sometime later. Hurt, Ulrike knew, often worked that way. It came back to you as if on a delay, the way that on television there was a pause between live and seen—to screen for obscenity. A student read on a green bench. A man, likely homeless, snoozed. Words weren’t the only means of communication; there was the vast nonverbal world. Expressions, gestures, inflections subtle as the weak and shifting wind. Rachel was gone from her life now. But from Rachel had come her friendship with Luis. One might say life was funny that way. But it wasn’t, Ulrike thought. Funny. Many things made her laugh, but not the way people moved apart. She was lost in all this as she crossed the park. A squirrel ran in front of
her. She almost tripped over the squirrel. Some of her coffee spilled, but luckily not on the squirrel. She and the squirrel looked at each other. This was not supposed to happen. People weren’t supposed to trip over squirrels. They both seemed embarrassed, almost awkward. Ulrike knew, or believed, that this couldn’t be so. It seemed a good bet that squirrels did not feel social awkwardness: experience once again not matching science. How odd, she thought, that she remembered so clearly that moment—or, really, its aftermath—that stuff between her and Rachel, which had all occurred, one could say, if one wished, so long ago.
Robert Marshall's novel, A Separate Reality, was released in 2006 by Carroll & Graf and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction. In its review of A Separate Reality, The Washington Post called it "as good an encapsulation of adolescence as you're likely to read." His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Salon, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Alembic, apt, Event, DUCTS, Stickman Review, Blithe House Quarterly, The Coe Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Lake Review, and numerous other publications, including the anthologies Queer 13 and Afterwords. In 2007, his investigative feature "The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda" was chosen for "Best of Salon." A visual artist as well as a writer, he has exhibited widely in both Europe and the United States at venues such as Richard Anderson Fine Arts, the Peter Kilchmann Gallerie in Zurich, the Köln Art Fair, White Columns, and the Brooklyn Museum. He is a recipient of fellowships from MacDowell, Yaddo, The Virginia Center and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Greg Moglia On the Good Ship Explorer of the Seas
That would be on the picnic table And the crowd bursts into wild applause - a match For a moment all the silly moves the cruise director pushed From bingo to the single's mingle to the art auction
Comes together with a sweet unity in the theatre That would be on the picnic table the old man matches his wife's response Most unusual place where the couple made 'whoopee'? Whoopie that wonderful word that puts sex into the conversation with a smile
His wife of 66 years gives him a gentle kiss And the crowd knows something special here Not the canned side shows of the cruise 'World's sexiest man' - 'Belly flop contest' - 'Casino jackpot'
A friend calls it 'sweet' and I think too small This about collective surpriseâ€Ścollective understanding We so wish for that stadium moment - the home run and all that Here it appears within the frame of a silly game
His wife reaches for his hand And as they walk off stage The crowd now standing At full joy
Greg Moglia is a veteran of 27 years as Adjunct Professor of Philosophy of Education at N.Y.U. and 37 years as a high school teacher of Physics and Psychology. His poems have been accepted in over 100 journals in the U.S., Canada and England as well as five anthologies. He is five times a winner of an Allan Ginsberg Poetry Award sponsored by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. He lives in Huntington, N.Y.
Carolyn Mainardi Pam, Trapped
I work at Rusty’s Cantina. Five nights a week, I carry trays of salted margaritas to thumping music that sounds like knives in a washing machine, like snare drums tumbling down a cliff. Tonight, a man named Eric, perched alone at a high table, buys me a tequila shot and invites me back to his condo. The storm comes out of nowhere while we sleep naked on his Tempur-Pedic mattress between cotton sheets. I wake first to a thundering rain and wind at dawn, and then again at ten to a crash outside. The power is out; the air conditioning is off. Our sweat and the humidity cling to the damp bedding. The alarm clock blinks red zeros on the table next to his head. I have to pee but I’m on the side of the bed against the wall. I contemplate standing on the bed and leaping over him. Instead, I slide off the end of the bed and touch my feet down on the carpet. The bathroom is dark and has no toilet paper. I open the cabinet beneath the sink: an empty cardboard paper towel roll and a tube of Clorox wipes. I stand and pull up my skirt. I walk down the hall, moist, dreaming of a shower and clean underwear. I turn the knob of the front door, the only door of his first-floor condo, and push. It opens two inches and no more, jammed against a fallen palm tree. I stare at it—the exit that leads to fresh air, black coffee, Chinese food, my own bed in my studio apartment downtown. Back in the bedroom, Eric lies on his stomach. From behind, he looks like every other guy I’ve met at Rusty’s. Last night, his pillow smelled like so many other colognes and bad breaths. “There’s a tree blocking the door,” I say. “I can’t get out.” Eric moans and flips onto his back, and I see his face clearly for the first time since Rusty’s. “What do you want me to do?” he says. “Do you have the number for a maintenance guy or a tree removal service?” He sits up and calls his friend, a landscaper, who says he can be there in three hours. “I’m sorry,” he says after he hangs up. “What’s your name, again?” This is not the first time this has happened to me. “Pam,” I say. “Pam,” he repeats. “What should we do now?”
“What do you mean?” “We’re stuck here.” He reaches up and touches my jaw line, my flea-market necklace. I swat at his hand. If I ever get out of here, I promise myself, I’ll quit Rusty’s. I’ll move out of the city, get a job picking oranges or rescuing dolphins. I spot a deck of cards on his bedside table. “Let’s play a game,” I say. I deal out gin rummy on the bed and focus on my hand. The Queen of Diamonds—strong, unfazed, encouraging—gazes up at me from my sweaty fingers as Eric leers over his fanned cards. I deserve better.
Carolyn Mainardi, a graduate of Boston University, lives and writes all around New England. Her short fiction appears in Danse Macabre and fiftywordstories.com, and is forthcoming in Burn Magazine.
Howard Winn Oak (Remembering William Stafford)
Gray green leaves and tangled branches hung like an ink drawing in the humid Carolina air. William Stafford, two years left of life, watched that tree and considered absence. Caribbean tempests have torn this coast, strewing lesser trees and boughs over the streets of Charleston, into the yards of historic houses, and across the swept porches of the poor. He told us about that tree, and we saw the man and the tree unite. I suppose he did, too, but left the metaphor for his listeners. I do not know if the tree exists still, or if natureâ€™s forces have done it in. Decay and hurricanes are part of a pattern. The man is gone as inevitably as the tree and what remains of both is art.
Most recently Howard Winn has had poems and fiction published in, Dalhousie Review, Descant (Canada), Cactus Heart, Main Street Rag, Caduceus, Burning Word, Pennsylvania Literary Journal. Southern Humanities Review, Cutting Edgz, Borderlands. and The Hiram Poetry Journal. His B. A. is from Vassar College. His M.A. degree is from the Writing Program at Stanford University. He did his doctoral work at New York University and University of California San Francisco. He was a psychiatric social worker and also taught for three years in California. He is a State University of New York faculty member.
Brian J. Helt For Lilly
Before boarding the plane I called my counselor. I sat there, eight years old again, looking for answers I knew in my own mind she couldn’t or wouldn’t give me. I was looking for something abandoned across country over ten years ago, after Lilly had to go to Grandma’s because of Mom, and the school still had to ask me about the bruises and scratches. Everyone knew, everyone cared. No one did anything. None of them saved us. Anyone could have saved us. I remember wondering what “contusions” and “CPA” were. The next week I found myself pulled from class with a permission slip. The phone call had come in through my apartment like a stone cherub, kicked from heaven. The ringing of a riptide pulling me into myself, forcing me to look past the dirt, and into everything I’d buried under it. I knew what it was about before he said anything, so I packed my stuff and headed to the airport to leave, promising that this was the last and only thing that would bring me back there. The most crystallized memories of my mother emerged from beneath my knowing, from the unreachable place of exhausted repression, the subterranean space of primal being. She could not exist in my heart as a whole, but rather float in the peripherals of my mind as pieces of a silver haze. *** “How are you, Ambrose?” she said, leaning over a notepad with those glossy eyes like beads of polished oak wood. “Alright.” I licked for the peanut butter from the sandwich I had at lunch. The bruise from the day before was still tender. “I’m glad you’re alright, Ambrose.” I looked down at my feet, swinging under the chair I sat on, realized what I was doing and stopped. “Are you alright most days?” “I don’t like school.” “School? What don’t you like about it?” “I don’t know.” “What about home?” “It’s boring I guess.”
“Your home is boring?” “School.” “Right. Do you like being at home more?” A cluster of moments passed between us like a flock of clumsy city pigeons, awkward and mutilated. It was impossible to ignore the vacancy we shared. “Sure.” “You don’t sound so sure.” “I like being home.” On her bookshelves sat lines of books, crammed side by side with one another titled, Engaging Autism, The Boy Raised By Dogs, Screaming Silence. Back then I hadn’t learned about mental illness yet. She shifted in her chair, the only stirring on an island neither of us could escape. “What’s it like when you go home, Ambrose?” I shrugged my shoulders, trying my hardest to mute the broken dishes, the screaming, the tied up, the forced to sit in my own piss and found myself staring at the carpet, short-haired burgundy. I hated it then. I still hate it. “What’s that one about?” I pointed to a red leather bound book on the shelf. It was significantly larger than any of the other books and seemed so much more elegant and luxurious. “The book?” she asked. I brought it over from the shelf, hugging it with both arms, and opened it in my lap. It sat there like the heaviest dove ever to fall from the sky. I sounded out the unfathomably big words. “I guess it’s a book about people. The things that happen to them.” I lingered on that section. I thought of the huge words as vastly complex machines you could hold in your hand, all folded up. I let them resonate within me, finding a marrying tone in our first encounter, somehow knowing they’d follow me around for the rest of my life. Maybe a part of me knew that book would plough through my life like a Mack truck quickly losing its traction. Maybe I knew it would leave a gaping hole in the family I imagined was my own. I look back and wonder how much I always knew underneath, but denied for the sake of holding onto something. My eyes glided across descriptions of people and the misfiring synapses, and mixed signals, and correctable conditions. “What happens to these people?” “I wouldn’t worry about it, Ambrose. Why don’t you put that back. We’re almost out of time. I’d like to sit and talk to you.”
I put the book back. “Why do you want to talk to me?” “Because I want to be your friend. Do you have any siblings?” “I don’t need friends.” “Everyone needs friends. Are you friends with your siblings?” “People are stupid.” “Why do you say that?” “I don’t like anyone.” “That’s not true, Ambrose.” “Yes it is.” “What about your brothers or sisters?” “She’s just a baby.” “I see,” she nodded slowly, scribbling on a pad of paper. “What’re you writing?” “How do you two get along?” “I don’t know.” “What do you mean?” “I hate people.” “Do you feel like that around your family?” “I like my family.” “Do your parents ever make you angry?” “I guess.” “Does your Dad get angry?” “No.” “What about your Mom?” “I love my mom.” “Does she yell at you a lot?” I shook my head, afraid that if I spoke, the ball of yarn in my throat would tumble out and unravel. Everything swelled with anxious buzzing from inside me. She was right in front of me and I couldn’t escape it, her eyes somehow surrounded me like a crowd of dozens of her, all closing in on me, sucking the air from my lungs and space from my being. I knew if I looked at her, it would all spill out,
the pain, the longing, the truth. Her question cut through the thickening distance between us, binding me in a constrictive inquisition. “What happened to your face, Ambrose?” With her eyes dialed into me, I felt like a prisoner with the guard tower spotlight burning through my attempt at escaping. I couldn’t look at her. “My Dad.” I said. Even then it felt wrong. *** After baggage claim, in the parking lot, I saw that old Ford with the different seasons rusted into the paint job. Hearing Dad’s voice over the phone felt so far from seeing him in person, almost as if the man on the phone and the man in the car were two different people. It was tedious anxiety between us, my steamed blood and electrified spinal fluid. I could never say the right things, at least for myself. I was the only stable thing he could take his frustration out on. I leaned over the armrest and gave him a one armed hug. We stayed like that for a moment longer, when I felt his chest expand with a gasp. I never knew him to cry. Even when I was little, and the cops came to the house for Mom and Lilly, I didn’t see him cry. I held him for the chance that this may be the only time I’d ever share any moment like it again. There must’ve been so much of a cataclysm inside of him. He heaved, recoiled from our embrace and wiped his eyes with the top of his wrist and a swift sniff from his nose. I wanted to tell him he was still a man for it, but knew my words were just that to him, words, and had no pull in his world. He thought he was too much of a man to let anyone help him quit feeling. The engine started with an aged roar. We pulled away slowly and made our way through the empty roads, black water polished divides between the snow covered fields, and frost dusted woods. The sound and feel of air on a frozen day have an odd way of fusing. You can listen to the sharp whistle as you drive and know how it’ll feel, dragging its bladed chains across your cheeks as they flush red. We were halfway through the woodsy neighborhoods when I realized there was no ‘home’ left for me here, in this town, only houses and apartments of people I once knew, or grew up with. But even most of them had left. The ones that stayed were devoured by the town in entirety, locked into eternity like blackened gum, burnt into the summer sidewalk. I didn’t want that for myself. There was something bigger out there for me. “How is mom?” I asked. “No better than before I guess.”
“Any talk about a release date?” “No one’s told me anything. Not like that’s any of my business.” We shared the kind of awkward silence reserved for strangers and high school classmates, the exact same type of silences I shared with the school counselor. Those memories followed me close behind. “Do you not want to talk?” I asked. He shrugged, staring into the road being swept under us. “Look, Dad, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t-” “Don’t. At least for now,” he said, looking into my eyes. I could see the lingering tears. I tried to remember the last time I saw him cry and drew a blank but convinced myself that just couldn’t be. “Are you going to see her while you’re here?” “I don’t know.” “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, Ambrose.” “Sure.” “I mean it.” I wondered if the pain had subsided and knew I wouldn’t know until I saw her. Something in that was treading hot coals for me. Part of me was ashamed to see my mother, another part of me hated feeling obligated to see her. What did I owe to a woman who couldn’t help herself, let alone help raise a family? “When’s the service?” The moment the words left my lips, I knew I should have let him bring it up. Again, he looked at me square in the eye. This time made my stomach turn, the way that planes do when their feet just leave the ground. He lost his eyes in the distance of the road again, and he said nothing. “Dad?” I tried gently. “Yeah.” “Do you remember the night Lil’ had to go to Grandma’s?” The words felt like chopped winter wood tossed out from my throat and I could feel a cold sweat start in the center crease of my back. An oscillating anxiety, like the feeling you get in your ears when you hear a high pitched ringing, rose from the center of my stomach and I couldn’t help but look out the window, trying to escape myself. ***
Like the way light spreads and stains the inside of a dusty attic, fall occupied the empty space of air, held tight and soaking through the walls. Dried leaves broke the placidity of a still afternoon with their tense scrawling brushstrokes across the sidewalk. I took great meticulous care to crush every brittle piece I could, letting the richness of the crisp shattering bubble up through the bones of my feet and feed me in all the ways I was starved. An entire hour of walking home could pass you by while wound up in thoughts about the day. I turned the corner, looking uphill for home. Up a ways, lights swept across the trees and the fencing, the type of lights you’d never feel good about seeing outside any house in your neighborhood. The different colors bumped into and layered on top of one another. I already knew it was my house they were at, the same way I would know the phone call was about Lilly. Caught between the wanting to run away, and knowing I had nowhere to go but home, I forced myself onward with short and stunted steps. Three police cars and an ambulance were parked outside, encapsulated by the shrubbery and foliage and the dead fall breeze wading through them. Everyone knew about the things Mom did back then. I’m sure they still talk about it now. Looking towards my house, I stood there in the street that cut through the rustic hills with the trees and their vanishing painted leaves. In that instant, I wanted to be one of them, a tree, watching the police invade my home. My lonesome was my safety and I was slowly unfolding from it. I completed my empty being with all the things I wish I were: a tree, a robin, a cloud-- tumbleweed of the sky. I walked up my driveway towards the front door with several policemen standing by it. Inside, on the couch, I saw my father being treated by an EMT and questioned by two officers. Even then he was so far from me. A man wearing latex gloves put a knife in a marked bag. “Where’s mom?” I asked. The entire house went silent with the exception of chirping radio chatter. Everyone’s eyes locked onto me. That’s when I heard her outside, being taken away. *** Fluorescent lighting is the first thing about hospitals. The second is the tiling, third is the sound of hard soled shoes echoing in the empty space overhead and fourth is the doors, heavy enough for bank vaults. Every hospital smells the same, and that one was no exception. I saw her through the thick, scratched and stained Plexiglas, just the way it should be in a public hospital. I thought I forgave her for everything. What was it to forgive? What did I have to compare her to? “Ambrose?” she said.
“Yeah, mom.” “You came.” “I’m up for Lilly’s,” she couldn’t possibly have been told yet. “I thought her birthday was October.” “That’s my birthday, Mom.” “How’s school, Ambrose?” “I’m living in Los Angeles now.” “How is that?” “I like it. Hotter, obviously. Working with Stefan on a new site for ChemPlex now.” A quickening edge of impatience burrowed into my lower spine. “When did you cut your hair?” “Mom, I haven’t seen you since I was eighteen…” “And how are you, dear?” I felt my lips bend inward as I looked down, shaking my head, the same goddamn thing. What did I expect? Why did I come here? “I’m good, mom.” “Where did your father go?” “Mom what’re you talking about?” “You left.” Her face wrinkled, tears collected at the creased corners of her eyes. I’m five again, discovering horror for the first time. “Mom I didn’t leave you, I just-” “You left me.” Her voice soured into vinegar. One orderly looked over, my stomach turning and sinking like a bird, shot dead in the sky, plummeting to topsoil. Or maybe I’m on a plane again, crashing down to earth. “I didn’t leave you.” In that moment I’m eleven, bargaining with God. I closed my eyes and shook my head. “You left me! You all left me!” She shouted; a mess of contorted aggression. I could feel my face burning; her eyes hit me with striking blows remembered. Then, I’m eight again, butt naked on the lawn in front of the entire school. “I never left you!” “You left me! You fucking left me! You fucking left me you fucking shit!”
“I didn’t leave you!” “You should’ve been an abortion! You should have been cut out of me like a tumor!” Two orderlies, one for each arm, carried her away, back to her room, screaming and kicking and spitting and clawing and snarling every wretched and eternal step of the way. This moment lasted for a thousand and one years it felt like. I’m fifteen, having just walked home from school, watching my mom get arrested for attempted murder. *** Simple grass, and wind, emptied of those frailties and sagging gasps of fall. We were all renewed like spruced up and innocent daisies. Springtime came through my toes, the arms and hands of thousands of tiny struggling people from the ground that we will never see, reaching up to the sky. Forgive us, save us, beautiful blue, white and that sun. We asked for an excuse to play kickball outside until seven thirty in the cul-de-sac. Soon came the quiet gentle grip of third season. It had been twenty minutes after the bell rang tightly cracked tin, strained robin song. Half of the kids had shuffled home, tumbled along with their parents or older siblings. The sprawling front lawn was mowed just that morning. With no one to bother me, I pulled my feet from my socks and let them happily greet the young blades of grass. Then I saw her, and that Honda. I brought my backpack to the car. She stood there, taller than any watchtower, arms crossed. She must’ve been watching me. When I realized this my back tightened and an electric sting jumped up my spine. “What were you doing?” Winter in her voice. “Just walking.” Her hand came down firmly across my face once, again, three times before I reached up to protect myself. She took my wrists in her grip, pulled my hands from my face and struck again. My face heated up like July sidewalk. “You want to act like a dog?” I didn’t answer. “Are you a dog?” her voice bent upward with hate. I could almost smell the fire burning everything I loved about her from the inside out. Still I didn’t answer, only looking down, tears collecting at the corners of my eyes, hotter than I could stand. “I wish I had you cut out of me like a tumor!”
December snapped from her throat. She slapped me before undoing my belt and my pants and tearing them down with my underwear to my ankles. I could feel the school’s eyes on me. Everyone knew then, and everyone cared. Nobody did anything, not even me. *** We put Lilly into the ground on a Tuesday, after the service, with all the consolations of a priest and the bible and everyone packed into that church, family I haven’t seen in years. I spoke before my father, who choked through his speech like a hummingbird locked inside a burning box, before the priest shared his last thoughts. I was caught by trying to access the sum of my kinship with Lilly, and the riptide of longing the sorrow of her absence had inspired. The words felt like sun dried clay pots, if I held them wrong they would crumble into themselves. It was hopeless, trying to find the words and the ways to tell the world how much I missed her. Everyone shuffled out from the pews with their soft eyes and running noses, and lingered in front of the church, each taking their turn to offer their sorrys and tears to my father and me. They wanted to know how we were coping, and how my mother was doing. Each of them seeming to care then, feeding off of one another’s upheaval. Somehow, “I’m sorry for your loss,” became enough as there is nothing on earth that can be said about death and dying; funerals are for the living. I took my father around the shoulders and walked him to the car, which we led the procession with. At the plot he reduced to a steamy faced, misty eyed old man. We sat there, listening to more bible verse and I wondered how we could possibly get anything more than an ache in our backbone from things like this. Even though I asked him if he wanted to leave for the reception and let the groundskeepers take care of the interment. He wanted to stay there with her, watched her locked in that luxury box, buried in earth for hours even after the sun set, knelt by the headstone with his modest heaves and whimpers to keep him company. I had nothing to give him with exception to the circuitous and often standoffish neighboring we shared for the years after I left for the west coast, the same lonely distance I had with my mother, the same strangers my counselor and I were in grade school. I wondered if I could ever be more than strangers with anyone. Moments after the sunset, when the air and the sky maintained that lingering light, diffused like glowing linen, I walked to his silhouette, kneeling with one hand on the headstone. He looked like a guilty man, kneeling at the mouth of a pew just minutes before the sermon of Sunday mass. I stood over him, trying to figure out what to do.
“I never wanted this,” he said between bitter gasps. “I never wanted to see either of you buried before me.” I squatted next to him with my fingers intertwined, wondering if he would cast the same tears at my funeral. “I know, Dad.” What do you give a man who has lost everything he ever thought he had? “I found her, you know. In the bathroom. The day before I called you.” I wanted more than anything to have something, anything to say to him, to bring us closer, if not anymore than an inch. I drew nothing. Was I even the person he wanted to confide in? “She was flushing them. She would be in there for her morning routine and flush them. I found out a week before she did it. Walked into the bathroom without knocking one morning, there she was, dumping the pills in the bowl.” “You could’ve called me,” I said with mounting guilt. How could I ever tell him that I knew? That I could’ve stopped this entire thing? The guilt inside me felt like poison, eroding the layers of my body. “What could you have done from California?” “Something. Anything. Talked to her, maybe.” “You were gone a long time before you left.” I wanted to go back in time and undo everything. I wanted to tell myself to stay home, to look after Lilly, to tell Dad what she told me. So much guilt crystallized in me it stifled my every breath. “Dad, I never wanted to hurt you.” The words felt pulled through the mud, having broken through the lump in my throat. He held his face in his hands. “She must’ve been in there for hours, eyes staring out for miles,” I didn’t like how his sobs collected; they reminded me of my mother’s. I put my arms around him, trying to close the gaping space between us. “And when you leave, Ambrose, that’s it. Everything will be done.” “Let’s go home, come on.” I walked him to the car, my arm still across his shoulders, playing with the idea of telling him about Lilly’s call. The night was ripening by then and everything felt newer and foreign. What were things going to be like for us now? What would we talk about on the phone? Would we talk at all? It scared away all the pieces of my humanity. “Do you remember the last thing she said to you?” I asked while driving. He looked out onto the road beside the plot, the same way he did when he picked me up. It felt so claustrophobic on that drive, with nothing more but the cabin lights, heater and headlights to keep the night out. “I don’t think I can. Why?”
“I was just wondering.” “Can you?” I shook my head. I could never tell him the truth. That I knew, that I could’ve done something about it, that Lilly told me she was going to kill herself. “I’m sorry,” I said, the entirety of Lilly behind it. “Why?” “I just need you to know that I’m sorry, for everything. I would change it all if I could.” It looked almost as if tears were returning to his eyes, but he held back, “I love you, dad.” He looked at me and through a thinning of his throat he said, “I love you too, son.”
Born in San Diego, Brian discovered writing at an early age. He didn't realize it as his true calling until attending the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2006, and has since never looked back. "For Lilly" was a piece he began writing during his Creative Writing studies at SFSU. He is currently working on a novel, residing in the San Francisco/Bay Area.
R.D. McManes GPS directional sense and non-directional nonsense are not remotely related the presence of one eliminates the other the thought of someone being here or there with a map without marks or locations without purpose and the honest truth the GPS lied behind a luminous smile recalculating and once again we are lost
R.D. McManes A Cloud in the Eye through sky bound eyes the cloud’s shape maps the course of thought aloft
surveys solid ground and visits the old dreams to drift slowly away unencumbered by worries
straight ahead it flies toward its distant intent an imaginary horizon shaped by another eye
R.D. McManes is the author of seven poetry books. Mr. McManes has had over 200 poems featured in 60 worldwide publications , including Scrivener’s Pen, Mipo Magazine, Swooping Hawk Quarterly, The Heron’s Nest, Poems Niederngasse, SP Quill Quarterly Magazine, Newtopia, Lochraven Review, Muddy River Review, Commonline Journal, and Barefooot Review. He has been a featured speaker and conducted poetry workshops and copyright presentations for the Kansas Author’s Club. He currently resides near Scranton, Kansas.
Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia Are Beds Filleds Deviated from the cure for a cough a tenant for throat coming/going all day faithful to tour duty outweighs rest. *** Night considers each exit an intrusion And every sound is sound nobody wants to hear *** Breath leaves as a climber with ropes dangling and the many imprints left from all the gear the face of the wall is changed its cheeks had all its snow fall off the thought of whiskey is always neat to make sure the sunken drift from above melts to drops torn by the need to sing the desire itself as thirst
for a song which can’t be cleared and can’t be discovered by health Antidotes are death to cantos – canzone shots shoot straight to eyes and vaccinate fragments so nothing is ever missing So final order are beds filled in silence.
Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia is the author of "This Sentimental Education" and "Enter the After-Garde" along with two other collections of poetry. He was raised in Brooklyn, NY and has a degree in Linguistics. He has studied several living and dead languages in addition to philosophy and poetry at SUNY Albany and Hudson Valley Community College. He spent over ten years working in restaurants – cooking, washing dishes, etc. Currently, he works overnights putting boxes on shelves. By day, he runs kjpgarcia.wordpress and altpoetics.wordpress.com.
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