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Crack the Spine Literary magazine Issue Eighty September 11, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine


“Given

the choice, we will

always select madness over method�


Contents

Nancy Hightower Aaron Chelsey Clammer Write Essay Done Scott Miller Below the Earth !(FALSE) Jon Pearson Gospel Music Andrea Fekete On a Hill in West Virginia Michael K. Brantley Daddy Shot Crows J. Blake Gordon Objects Addicts Stephen Mander Screwed Up Paper Face


Cover Art & Interior images by Rose Mary Boehm A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm, short-story and novel writer, copywriter, photographer and poet, now lives and works in Lima, Peru. Two novels and a poetry collection, "TANGENTS," have been published in the UK. Her latest poems have appeared or are forthcoming - in US poetry reviews. Among others: Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Avatar, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck River Review, Boston Literary... See more of her photography.


Nancy Hightower Aaron Aaron: plagues are such strange things swimming through you, an unearthly, multi-limbed creature with slow dances in its arms. take my two youngest, for example my boys, my babies. one day they played with strange fire, unlike what my brother saw flaming within a bush, this blaze had no holiness about it, and so God burnt up them up, like paper dolls. with their ashes i daubed up my eyes and moved on. that’s the nature of plagues to arrive unbidden, a sad relative who comes to die upon you, the air sour with their breath. there was the time we both saw it coming with our tribes angry, driven to go back where there was meat and work, a sacrifice to simple gods--earrings and a sprinkle of blood. their cries spanned the desert floor, rose up to heaven. then we felt it, the wind’s changing, the sick smell,


saw everyone crumpling into fetal position, arms flailing like newborns, the bodies falling, slow and beautiful as the sea. and i stood there in between the living and dead, arms outspread: a broken symbol of atonement, blessing all. my sons’ faces wavered before me like a mirage. when i reached out to caress their cheeks one last time, that’s when the rains came, God’s weeping, a father’s rage at watching children turn and turn, blowing away like dust.

Nancy Hightower's poetry explores mythic narratives from a post-modern and at times, feminist perspective. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in The New York Quarterly, Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle, storySouth, Bourbon Penn, Big Muddy, Prime Number Magazine, and Strange Horizons, among others, and is forthcoming in Gargoyle. Her first novel, "Elementarí Rising," will be published in September by Pink Narcissus Press.


Chelsey Clammer Write Essay Done Personal Essay I have these things called goals. They have always been with me—are something like a guide of sorts. I declare them via my lists. And I always hope the lists will lead me throughout my day, will tell me what to do because I can't think of what to do on my own even though it is I who makes the lists. In essence, it is my jotted down ambitions that lead me throughout the day. But, as always, my lists are too ambitious, which creates a sour taste in my self-esteem for the day. I tell myself I will just have five things I need to do that day, but as I jot down my goals, the tasks start piling up, and soon enough I'm up to twenty-two things to do, some of which I know are, like, yeah right—like that's going to happen today. The effects of assigning myself too many tasks to do in one day is detrimental to my emotional health. As where anything not checked off of my daily list by the end of the day makes me feel like a failure. If I could just keep it at the do-able five then I would probably have a better level of self-esteem. I know these things. And yet. There was that one year when I was somewhere in my lower teens and sat in my room on New Year's day as I composed a list of that year’s goals. I lounged in my bed with pen and a small pad of paper in my hand brainstorming all I wanted to accomplish, learn, teach myself, master in the next 365 days. The things on the list were, in hindsight, ridiculous. Learn karate. Learn origami. Learn how to interpret people's hand writing (though on the actual list I wrote down the actual name for this field of study. I cannot remember it now. Cartography? That doesn't sound right. Obviously, this was a goal I left 1

unchecked). Continuing down the list as I best remember it, there were most likely other sports-related goals I strove to do in order to make my body toned, which was and still is a goal—a forever, unattainable goal due to the whole eating disorder thing. Start playing soccer, perhaps, could have been on that list. This was somewhere around the time when Mia Hamm was a god (yes, the masculine god) and Brandy Chastain ripped off her shirt, making at least half of the human population envious of her abs. Perhaps a goal on my list was to have abs like that. 1 Graphology. So says Google.


In the past decade and then some my yearly lists have grown and multiplied into daily lists. Currently, each day I put down the necessities, the baseline, the bare minimum of what I must accomplish that day. They are always the same. Run. 3X10 (which, when translated from Chelsey's head to paper means writing for 10 minutes each on three different topics I randomly come up with. This current writing is round 1 of the 3 for today's objectives. The prompt was simply “Goals.” The next 2

prompt is “Chelsey (3rd person)” and then “lines of the sky.” ). Read at least 50 pages in whatever book my imagination currently resides. Some editing. Some magazine work. More editing. Typing. And there are the annoying things I will most likely never do but they appear on my list every day—such as scanning “The Yellow Wallpaper” into my computer or watching a short video to include on the syllabus I am creating for a writing workshop that may never exist. 3

Library. Laundry. Clean _____. These are the daily duties, one could say. They are the today's goals that will keep boredom away from me, keep me from falling into that blank space in which nothing feels doable, where a lack of motivation overwhelms me, then metaphorically paralyzes me. And even with these simple daily duties in place, and even with the standard five I usually check off every day, I habitually feel as if I have done nothing by the end of the day. A complete failure. So to combat this Ididn't-do-shit feeling, mid-way through the day I put items on my list I have already done, just so I can cross something off. I know I am not the only one who does this. I learned this trick from my mother. Wake up. Shower. Dress self. And there are the days that I am proud of myself for even doing those three things. There is also the numerical goal that oscillates between 800 and 1000 each day depending on the number I achieved the day before. Same number today as yesterday if yesterday was a good day by which I mean if yesterday had a smaller number than otherwise planned for. Less today if yesterday was more. As where these numbers set my limitations of allowable calories for the day. I also learned this from my mother.

2 I never did those other two prompts today, because I just got rolling with this prompt and went with it. 30 minutes of writing is still 30 minutes, no matter what topics you may or may not cover. These unused prompts will be dealt with tomorrow. 3 “____” = anything. Anything, for the love of god, just clean anything.


*** About my mother. She, too, has her list of goals. Get gas. Take mom to eye doctor appointment. Call insurance company. Red bell peppers. Work 1-10pm. She scratches out the items the moment she accomplishes them. Though, unlike my simple line or sometimes check mark that ticks off what I have done so far that day, mom presses her ballpoint pen into the page, ferociously scratching back and forth and back and forth as if she's slaying the now-done task with black ink. And then she says to herself “That shit's done.” Or, “Yeah, bitches. I own you.” Actually, I do not know if this is what my mother says to herself as she slaughters another item off of her list. But I like the image I have of her sitting at her kitchen table with her small teal day planner before her, her pen hovering in the air, collecting energy, then triumphantly smashing down to the page, slashing up her tasks. “Take that, fucker.” *** There are too many daily goals I never fully complete. The leftovers carry over to the next day. Then the next. And the next. And soon it is three months later and I still haven't scanned “The Yellow Wallpaper” into my computer. That task still squats there, getting dusty and harumphing at the bottom of the list as it has become one of those annoying tasks I do not and possibly will never put out of its “you’re just not that important” misery. And yet each day I tack that goal onto my list, knowing I will never do it. It forever carries over to the next day. That is what tomorrow is for. And I briefly feel guilty for abandoning a goal. But only briefly. I shrug my shoulders. Who knows? Perhaps I will do it tomorrow.

4

4 I started this essay at 8:30am after I made my list for the day using Google Tasks as well as a Post-It note to put in my notebook just in case I am not around my computer when I realize I must do something. As per usual “Scan Yellow Wallpaper” was there. And awe fuck it, I thought, just do it. Inspired by my own essay, I took a break from chain smoking cigarettes at my desk while searching for writing contests I would never submit to because of the hefty entry fees, much less would I actually win. I grabbed my library copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” (how did I get through a BA and an MA in Women’s Studies without ever having read this book nor owned it, I do not know), marched over to my scanner, sat my ass on the ground as I did the tedious task of scanning in the pages. All nine of them. At the start of this event I lit up another cigarette and proceeded into the dreaded, the boring, the time-consuming activity I had been avoiding for a quarter of a year. In the time it took me to scan the whole story into my computer, however, I had yet to finish my cigarette. Two minutes of my life used to mark something off a list that had been festering there for three months. Score.


*** My sister hypocritically pokes fun at her family members’ lists. “Everything’s gotta be on your list or you won’t do it,” she teases us. Though I find nothing wrong with this. And I do not know what my sister’s goals are, but I do know I have never seen her push around a shopping cart without a list in one hand. Her partner is the opposite. Her partner is my best friend of fourteen years and I have never seen her make a list. Recently I have wondered that if my sister's partner/my best friend were to create a list then would she write down on it “no drinking.” Due to the fact that my sister's partner and I are besties, I actually know that “no drinking” would be that one task she would never check off. It’s the task that would always carry over to tomorrow’s list. It's the task she would forever declare I’ll tackle that one tomorrow. It's the task that took me a decade and then some to check off my own list. *** Three years ago “No BP” was one of the necessities, the baseline, the bare minimum of what I must accomplish that day. “No BP” was not for no bipolar disorder-induced actions that day, though it could have been, but no, it was for no binging and purging. I abbreviated this goal on my list, worried that if someone were to find my list, get a glance at my list, they would say “What the fuck?” for two reasons. 1) You’re still bulimic? 2) You really need to put that on a list so you’ll remember to not throw up? And they might have asked how often this goal appeared on my list. And they would have more than perhaps thought of me as crazy when I answered them with “every day.” They would have then known it, would have then been able to identify the crazy in me. Proof on the page. I wouldn't have been able to handle that. Thus, the abbreviation. “No BP.” *** The word “goals” reminds me of the old school word for jail: gaols. Substituting this word for the word that describes what it is I want to do in that day, I begrudgingly have to admit sometimes that the goals do feel as if they are my gaols. Confined. Trapped by the tasks, unable to wander off from them. There will always be more annoying and yeah right tasks that will forever roll over to the next day. And I will never escape them because I can never seem to force myself to do them, even though they are on my list. Fail. *** I had the idea a few months ago of making a list into an essay. It was going to be funny and ironic due to what I put on that list. Though now I can’t remember what all I was going to write down to compose that list/essay. Perhaps a list about making a list.


Paper. Writing utensil. Goals. Ick. How boring. *** Society runs by its goals. Meritocracy at its best. Pull up them bootstraps. Do these things and then you’ll be better. In every department store/neighborhood chain store pharmacy/stationary store/book store/any place, really, you can buy a long pad of paper that says “TO DO” at the top of it, followed by an absurd amount of horizontal lines. Some of them might be numbered. Sometimes they are just an unnecessary amount of lines. Who in the hell could have that many things to do in one day? This gal. We buy our tools for organization, for making plans and deciding on the trajectory of what we will do that day. As if the lists define us, show us that we're not lazy assclowns but are quite ambitious and honorable. That we do tug on those bootstraps. That we are accomplished. That we will not just manage but actually be in control of the time we spend on tasks, god-like. I could make my list look even more impressive were I to add to it the few things I don't have to remind myself to do. Smoke cigarettes, have sex, stare at wall when overwhelmed by To Do list, check email, transfer To Do list into Google Tasks. *** I want to marry Google Tasks. *** One night at a bar (this was when my item of “don’t drink today” always rolled over to tomorrow’s list) I was with a good friend (not a bestie, but more than an awkward acquaintance) and as we were both feeling stuck, directionless, we pulled out some scraps of paper and created a life goals list. Mine was written on the back of a long Target receipt. Because try as you might, it is impossible to walk out of Target with a bag full merchandise (most of which you do not really need) that totals no less than $55. The Target receipt was long and gave me much room to write out my life goals, because when I went 5

to Target I didn’t create a shopping list because I only needed to buy Target brand protein bars and yet I came out of there with a $78.65 transaction then pending in my bank account. This occurred because 5 $5 for 6 bars, peanut butter flavor, 20 grams of protein each!


somehow I managed to wander over to the side of the store opposite from where the protein bars were located which made me somehow, two hours later, end up with three plastic bags full of blue shorts, candles, a chair (not put in plastic bag, but carried under left arm), three picture frames, a soap dish, 6

green sandals, a bag of white chocolate covered cranberries, and a yoga mat. And yes, I didn't really 7

need green sandals , but damn it they were cute and matched the blue shorts I bought that I also didn't need but that were also, damn it, really cute). So I had a plenty long enough receipt to compose a Life To Do list on it. I sat at the bar with my good but not bestie but also not an awkward acquaintance friend and jotted down my “Before I Turn 30” goals, because when we attempted to name life-goals it all felt so overwhelming because I didn't even know what I wanted to do tomorrow, much less for the next fifty years, so we decided to decrease the due dates of the goals to “Before Turning 30”. I was twenty-seven-a-half at the time, which gave me a bit less than three years to accomplish each goal. I divided them up into sections. Money. Job. House. Possessions. Hobbies. Friends. Love. And some other epic goals I was dead-set on accomplishing in the next less than three years. I put that list in my wallet to keep my intended future always near me. I am thirty. I lost that list two years ago. The only things I can remember that were on that list are:  $5000 in savings (I currently have $183.42 in my back account with a $63.02 pending Target transaction, and I have yet to have an income that necessitates a savings account)  Write full time (happened, now to get paid for it…)  Work part time at a bookstore (which was contingent on the goal of being a paid writer, because working part-time at a bookstore would have helped me to get out of my house and away from my desk and into the world for at least twenty hours a week)  Volunteer at a dog kennel (also contingent on being a paid writer. Thus, also didn’t happen. See above as to why.) That’s it.

6 I hate yoga, but it was on a temporary price cut! 7 And I will never forget some old woman who said in some meeting or event or something of which I cannot remember now what it was, she said “Just because it’s on sale it doesn’t mean you need it.”


*** At my favorite independent bookstore that I do not work part time at, nor have I ever worked at, there is an employee with a blank To Do list tattooed on the inside of her forearm. I wonder how often she 8

scribbles her goals on her skin, most likely using a Sharpee and how hard of a time she has washing/scrubbing away her daily goals before she goes to sleep so she can wake up in the morning 9

with a clean slate, a fresh To-Do list start. Or maybe she washes them off as she goes about her day instead of crossing them out. Or, perhaps she jots the goals down on her flesh before she goes to sleep, hoping that during the night the goals' intentions, her impetus to do them will sink into her skin, will become a part of her life, tomorrow.

8 Because as Xerox is a brand and copy machine is the thing, as Kleenex is the brand and tissue is the thing, as in Texas where Coca Cola is the brand and [insert any soda flavor here] is the thing, she actually writes her tasks on her skin with a permanent marker, but, let's face it, it's a Sharpee she uses because no one knows of any other type of permanent marker, nor can one find any other brand of permanent marker at Target. I am surprised that the thing of a department store has yet to be appropriated by the generic trademark of “Target.”Or, better yet, that “Target” has yet to turn into a verb. I'm going to go Targeting today. 9 But what if she scratches the goals out like my mother? What if she slaughters her goals so fiercely that her therapist refers her to a self-harm treatment center and so she's left with lines/scars crossing out goals that were once on her skin but have long faded away? What a mind trip to write goals on a line that crosses them out as you write them down. I would be so fucked .


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women's Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently a student with the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor's Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as Pushcart Prize nomination and an honorable mention for Best of the Net 2012. Clammer is a columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the Managing Editor, Nonfiction Editor and workshop instructor for the journal. She is also the Nonfiction Editor for The Dying Goose.


Scott Miller Below the Earth

“There came to me a sensation of emptiness, an inkling of futility— as if in grasping at what had seemed the bright substance of victory we had but stumbled a little farther into shadows.” —Duncan Grinnell-Milne, Wind in the Wires Lavish the sonorous orchestra of the disbelieving dead, all the opera of their histories, so many movements. Listening without ears, the audience draws in, wriggling, angling the grass in a glut of lyric intensity; the lower registers work best here. Minimal instrumentation, simplicity without silence, vanished forms silting the banks. Oceans of dirt. Centuries will squeeze us all into grapevines, clutches of soil and sun, bastioned in brown, redolent of rondo in red so deep red purples at the bud of thought. Opening to the dark, a subtle, measured pizzicato plays tricks, turning mind over to the rank embrace of sky. Above, the wandering watchers gather in a clog of gray film.


They will never cease in their passing, I know. The hour is late. Soon the water will be wine. In the hilly green of some French countryside, somnolent artillery shells merely await opportunity.


Scott Miller !(FALSE) in the loop one often fails to see the knot; it is a problem of determinism: Turing machines who cannot see their termination; for safety’s sake abstract primitives to references & where possible make types final; you never know who is looking

Scott Miller was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1978, under the sign of the Lion. He holds a degree in Mathematics from MIT and remains a software developer even as he pursues a writing career, in an effort to achieve the elusive left-brain/right-brain balance. In 2008, he completed an MFA program in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. Scott has work published or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, Barefoot Muse, Raintown Review and numerous others, and has featured at several readings in the Los Angeles area. He served as the managing editor in poetry for The Splinter Generation, an online journal dedicated to encouraging the voices of younger writers. When not writing poetry or software, he can most likely be found baking desserts, working out to counteract those desserts, or beating the latest incarnation of The Legend of Zelda. Scott lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and newborn son.


Jon Pearson Gospel Music

The complete absence of gospel music filled Tommy’s head, like a ballroom missing a chandelier. Aware now of the space between his own thoughts, the absence of things was everywhere plain as day. Staring hard at the parking meter in front of him, he felt faceless, bodiless, mindless. Fishing for quarters, he started thinking about women: the land of women, the terrain of women, the mystery of woman. Woman as gospel music: hot, sweaty women; tasty women; little dried-up, sun-cured women. Feisty, bitey women. Half-thoughts of women, like slurps from a whiskey bottle. He didn’t want sex. He just wanted to crawl on his hands and knees through a woman. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Oh, no. That was girls. Women were different: pies and phones and potted plants, maybe. Perfume and linoleum. He was thinking about women, or the back of his mind was, which was like the backseat of a car with an open pizza box: more smells than thoughts. “Women.” The word sent him down a kind of waterslide into warm oatmeal. He wanted to dissolve like Alka-Seltzer in a glass of woman. Hard to do, since the world didn’t exactly work that way. He was going to the dentist and didn’t feel like it. It was easier to think about women. He once saw this big, fat-bottomed black woman standing smack in the middle of the road with a boom box in her hand. It was a Sunday morning on a downtown side street. She was a whale of a woman swaying and undulating in a yellow terry-cloth dress and yellow high-heel shoes—a house of a woman. She was watching her husband and retarded son work on the car. He sure looked retarded, the son, in his plaid blazer and polyester pants and white shoes and blank stare. He was getting cushions out of the back of the car, while dad, in a tan suit, was on his back under the car changing the oil with a wrench, so they could all go to church. She was all woman—all women—packed into this one woman who rose up from the crown of the street, easin’ to the music that seemed to radiate like heat from her body: her bulging calves, massive thighs, and a bottom the size of a couch. He knew it was wrong to think such thoughts. But these weren’t really thoughts so much as half-thoughts, and they were thinking him. Oh, and she had a dainty little hand with a pinky stuck out holding the handle of a boom box that boomba-boomba’d for miles. A dollar and seventy-five cents ought to buy plenty of time on the meter. Otherwise, a tight little buttoned-up meter maid, all prim and proper, might give him a ticket or, better still, a spanking. What


the hell was that all about? Naughty, naughty. Again, the absence of things: there wasn’t a meter maid in sight. All of a sudden, sex seemed like orchestra music—kettledrums and brass and woodwinds. Oboes. Clarinets. Blares and shrieks and whimpers and long violin sighs coming from below. He was going to get his teeth cleaned. They had plaque buildup. The reason he wanted to “dissolve” in woman was it just seemed easier that way. No muss. No fuss. No arguing. He wanted to go up in smoke or song or poetry. “Okay, rinse and spit,” the hygienist would say; nothing “poetic” about that at all, and like a good little boy, he would lie back and let the scraping resume, staring up at the ceiling. Whole thing made him want to join the circus and have sex with a cute little trapeze artist in a polka-dot dress. He fed the slot in the meter and started thinking about Cat Woman—Halle Berry—in a slick black catsuit, baring her cat teeth. The sharp teeth looked female and sexy. Raspy and starving. And compared to that, he wondered what women saw in men. He imagined women everywhere with long, rippling tails, even his grandmother with a ripply tail, and even she seemed sexy. Cat mouths. He imagined women all having secret cat mouths—sharp little tear-you-apart teeth, just behind their regular teeth. The cat mouths would only come out at night. Women, maybe, actually were cats. He imagined women privately licking their paws and washing themselves all over, then staring hard at a dresser leg and their eyes going all funny and otherworldly. He wondered if women secretly came from another planet, whereas men might have all come from a truck stop in Oklahoma. Walking up the cement steps to the dentist’s office, he couldn’t imagine dentists ever having sex. He imagined dental hygienists all wanting sex at the drop of a hat. She sure was a whale of a woman, that black woman rising up from the asphalt, occupying the shit out of the street, music spewing from her every pore—a Grand Canyon of a woman. He pictured her someday having two hundred grandchildren and hugging them all to her wide, churchly bosom. Ah, the gospel music. He imagined his own little head crushed to her chest and hearing her heart, like the engine of an ocean liner. Busy little women maybe didn’t want sex. But no. He knew, for a fact, that wasn’t true. Somehow, all women wanted sex, whether they admitted it to themselves or not. Somewhere at their core was a cat woman, crouched and panting. You might have to dig down deep, but she was there, lickin’ her pretty whiskers. He wondered, mounting the last steps, if outlaws had better sex than law-abiding citizens. Rob a bank and then, quick, go nail a woman, a willing woman but a stranger. Larval semithoughts ebbed through his mind. Animals had it right, as usual, he thought. Just walk over and have sex. And the whole idea of the mating call was pure genius. Make some magical little sound and the female comes running.


That simple. He wondered what sort of sound he would have to make to attract the woman of his dreams; probably, the sound of being tall, rich, and handsome. Damn, he hated going to the dentist.

A writer, speaker, and creative thinking consultant, Jon Pearson was once a cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune and an extra for the New York Metropolitan Opera. Secretly, though, Jon sees himself as a magician pulling hats out of rabbits or miracles out of the mundane. He writes now for the same reason he played with his food as a kid: to make the world a better place. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barely South Review, Barnstorm, Carve, Cultural Weekly, Fiction Fix, OnTheBus, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Sou’wester, West Wind Review, Wild Violet, and Existere.


Andrea Fekete On a Hill in West Virginia

White mining belt lights hover in the dark on the mountainside. Coal miners bones curl under orange clay mud. Bone crack cold wind slices through the graveyard parting clover, dead dandelion. Shadow-memory of saber tooth hardened in swamp. Markings of the formerly wild in dirt, rock.

Andrea Fekete was born and raised in southern WV. She earned her MA from Marshall University and is currently teaching there. She will earn her MFA in creative writing from WV Wesleyan College in December, 2013. Her work has appeared in journals such as ABZ, The Barbaric Yawp and anthologies such as "Wild Sweet Notes II: More Great WV Poetry." Her first novel "Waters Run Wild" was released in 2010.


Michael K. Brantley Daddy Shot Crows

Daddy was laid back in his hammock, which was tethered between a pecan tree and a rusty old solid metal pipe. He was wearing a sleeveless, ribbed white undershirt, black slacks with a loosened belt, and no shoes. As he usually did right after the corn went in the ground in the back field behind the house, he had a shotgun barrel in his left hand, and used the butt end to rock himself. Just as I got within speaking distance, he shouldered the shotgun. Boom. It echoed long and loud off the woods that bordered the far side of the field. “Dammnit,” Daddy said, as a crow lighted on a row and went to work. “Shit,” I said. “Watch your mouth,” he said. “Your mama would have a fit if she heard you talk like that. Don’t they teach you no manners at that school?” Boom. The second shot blew the crow off the mounded row, dead. Daddy reloaded the two spent shells and resumed his position. “No, actually they don’t,” I said. They didn’t. “What’s this mess about school? Your mama says you ain’t studying business no more.” “Yeah, I switched to English.” “Well, hell, you spoke English before you went to college. What kind of job you going to get with that?” “I could write. Or teach. Or go to graduate school.” Boom. The 12-gauge sounded again. A crow fell out of the sky. Daddy barely moved. The reassuring smell of gunpowder blew back into my face. “You know, I always thought your cousin Ed would turn out to be the queer in the family. Not you,” he said. “I think cousin Ed just has bad luck,” I said. “Yeah. When Ed shows up at Christmas one year and tells my sister he needs to have a talk with her, ‘cause he’s confused. Shit.” Ed was in fact, gay, or “queer,” as Daddy’s generation put it. I thought everybody already knew.


“I like girls,” I said, “I just have better sense than to bring one home.” Boom. Another crow dropped. “More school? Damn that,” Daddy said. He hadn’t been much of a scholar. “If you can’t learn something to do in four years for all that money, you need to bring your ass home. Somebody’s got to dig ditches. Go bring me those crows.” Despite being dressed for a night out, I hustled down a dusty row. The thought crossed my mind that I needed to leave. Soon. I looked back over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t thinking of taking a crack at the crows taunting him from the edge of the woods, just over my head. He always thought that was funny. It was the only time he ever laughed. I quickly gathered up the lifeless birds. I walked back and handed him the crows. He sat up and passed me the shotgun, while he reached for the stakes and the tobacco twine he’d stuck under the hammock. He broke a foot long piece of string off the spool for each bird, knotted one end around a foot and the other to the stake. He handed me the stakes and a hammer. “Hurry back,” he said. This was Daddy’s version of a scarecrow. Daddy shot crows, then hammered the corpses up in the field as a warning to other crows. “They’re smart, they’ll get the idea,” he always said. The flies were starting to gather around the crows as I spaced them out in the cornfield. I hurried back to the yard. I handed him the hammer and walked on by the hammock. “You pay attention, boy, at that school. Who knows? You’re liable to end up laying in a hammock, shooting crows on a Saturday night, hoping Monday never comes, dealing with a smartass who already knows everything.” I stopped and almost turned back to say bye. But I didn’t. Boom. The gun went off one last time.

Michael K. Brantley has been a freelance writer and photographer for over 25 years, and is an English instructor at Louisburg College. His creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry has most recently been published or is forthcoming in Word River, Bartleby Snopes, Revolution House, Stymie, The Smoking Poet, The Fat City Review, Short, Fast, and Deadly, The Rusty Nail, The Circa Review, The Cobalt Review and Prime Number Magazine. Michael is pursuing an MFA in at Queens University.


J. Blake Gordon Objects Addicts

first of all i would like to explain my uncle phantom of my horse barn red eyes of the daywoods what lacy saw in the closet the cats knew first our house was an open door a knock on the wall peacefully i try to go down the stairs like marbles from the attic you’ll want to remember this: as she grabbed onto my arm she pointed to a window i saw my reflection and thought somebody else was coming i felt the hand repeating its pattern pinching and slapping tears, fire ruth from hell


dollie and doll the piano plays on from happy bride to nervous wreck chair being pulled cowgirl come back call me cyndi screaming

J. Blake Gordon lives in Evanston, Illinois with a temperamental tuxedo cat. He collects records and works as a proofreader. Eating cookies in the middle of the night is a problem. He'd like to be a more comfortable dancer. He could learn to do a lot of things better. His poetry has recently been featured in Similar:Peaks:: and Third Wednesday. He can be reached by his name at gmail.


Stephen Mander Screwed Up Paper Face

I remember that guy. He had a bow tie for every day of the week, and used to wear braces as if he were a Master of the Universe from the 1980s, though he clearly wasn’t. He was short and thin and had veiny arms, right? And his face was so wrinkled it looked like a screwed up piece of paper someone had tried and failed to throw in the bin. I tried to write a story about him, back when I thought I could be a writer. I had it all planned out. He worked in a pub, of course, collected glasses and pulled pints, suffered the piss-taking he got from the local grammar school boys, or us, then went home to look after his bedridden wife, an old harridan who wasn’t really sick but pretended to be sick to stop him from doing what he wanted to do, whatever that was. He loved her and resented her in equal measure and couldn’t leave her because he couldn’t be that guy, you know, the arsehole that leaves a dying wife for someone younger, even though she wasn’t dying and he would never get with anyone younger because of his bow ties and screwed up paper face. I imagined someone pretending to love him, some customer, younger of course, who did it for a dare. Her friends bet her she couldn’t do it, but she did and enjoyed flirting with him, the power it gave her, even if his responses and her reactions kind of revolted her. It all came to a head when she invited him out for a drink. Only when he turned up at the bar or cafe or whatever, she was there with friends. He said, hello. She said, who are you? He said, you invited me here, and she said, don’t make me laugh. All of them laughed at him. At his veiny arms, at his bow tie, at his screwed up paper face, and he went home humiliated to his not-really-sick wife who told him to massage her feet and have a go at her corns while he was at it. I didn’t write it, though. I couldn’t. I didn’t think it was true to life. It was too humiliating. And, anyway, my wife had a baby on the way and I had that to think about. Stephen Mander is originally from Liverpool in the UK, but has lived and worked in Japan, Australia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Syria. His work has appeared in the Journal of Microliterature, Fiction365 and Flash Fiction World. He currently lives in Vietnam.


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Crack the Spine - Issue 80