THE LITERATI QUARTERLY POETRY, FICTION, ART & MUSIC
ISSUE NO. 6 | WINTER 2015
THE LITERATI QUARTERLY POETRY, FICTION, ART & MUSIC ISSUE NO. 6| WINTER 2015
FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, DIRECTOR OF ART AQUISITIONS Joschua Beres POETRY EDITOR Jonathan Hobratsch FICTION EDITOR Erin Pringle-Toungate ESSAY AND REVIEWS EDITOR Christopher Cadra © 2015 THE LITERATI QUARTERLY Cover Art: Man and Nature by Oksana Kalinchenko
TABLE OF CONTENTS LETTER FROM THE EDITOR by Joschua Beres 8 A REVIEW OF EDWARD ST. AUBYN’S LOST FOR WORDS by James Banks 10 RED by Kathleen Peirce 14 ON THE VERGE OF WHAT COMES NATURALLY by Stephen Haven 15 GRACE NOTES by Dante Di Stefano 17 I REMEMBERED YOUR NAME by Edwin Baty 18 I GOOGLED YOU by Yahia Lababidi 32 NO MORE GAMES by Peter Cowlam 35 A REVIEW OF BEN MAZER’S THE GLASS PIANO by Christopher Cadra 36 ON AUTUMN LAKE 2 by Paul Legault 40 WORSENING SITUATION 2 by Paul Legault 41 OLEUM MISERICORDIAE 2 by Paul Legault 42 FLING by Kate J. Reed 45 an excerpt from THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR a novel by Tom Noyes 48 A STUDY OF CIRRUS CLOUDS by Kathleen Peirce 52
CONTENTS CONT. BOTCHED HOUSES by John Garmon 53
FIVE DANCES FOR TOPAZ by Regi Claire 55 STRIPPED CLEAN by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson 61 IN MEMORIAM by Yahia Lababidi 63 WHAT TO DO ABOUT MAY by Kristin Joyce Stevenson 64 DESTINATION MISSOULA: WAITING ON THE DOG by Zan Agzigian 70 ON THE SADDEST DAYS YOU MAKE YOUR VOICE A TEMPLE by Dante Di Stefano 74 COMEBACK by Peter Cowlam 75 EXCHANGES by Yahia Lababidi 76 NECESSARY VOWELS by Dante Di Stefanov 76 RETURN by Kathleen Peirce 78 ALL THAT IS LEFT by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson 79 A SPEECH ABOUT ROSES by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson 80 THE COLUMNS by Rebecca Raphael 81 BRIDGES AND TRAINS by Mattie McIntosh 82 CONTRIBUTORS LIST 85
THE LITERATI QUARTERLY POETRY, FICTION, ART & MUSIC ISSUE NO. 6| WINTER 2015
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Dearest reader,
21 December 2015
Love is a special, pleasurable pain. Whoever has loved or is in love knows this secret. Arguably, love has inspired the greatest expressions of art, music and writing in the brief time we humans have called this blue marble home. Rumi tells us that “Those who don’t feel Love pulling them like the river, those who don’t drink dawn like a cup of water or take in sunset like supper, those who don’t want to change, let them sleep.” And there was no one more awake to this simple truth than Erik Henning Davidson. Here was a man so full of knowledge, love, charity and intellectual prowess it drew in my very soul. It was in the first few minutes of talking that I became drawn to Erik, a man of such passion and goodness so missing from most of his generation that it took me back. The cosmos reflected back through his eyes and into mine– he had a great fascination for everything and everyone, for the world itself. Where I had grown stagnant, Erik gave me new life. For all of this, I dedicate this issue to him. It is a surprisingly rare thing, Love - and growing more so everyday. To chance upon a kindred soul and bask in the light of each the other is an amazingly beautiful experience. Because of the power of love, the sudden loss of love or a loved one can be the darkest most humbling experience of a one’s life. There is not a day that goes by that Erik does not cross my mind. There is not a day that my heart doesn’t beats out a morse code of messages for him to hear across the chasm that seperates my life from his after life. Erik was so many things to so many people and all of it good and beautiful. He was an avid outdoors man and dedicated Airman in the United States Air Force. In my experience of him, Erik removed my fear from love. Many of us either have been or are afraid to love. We have been disappointed before, not only by our romantic loves but also by our friends and family. We can become afraid to open up and love again. When a loved one is lost so tragically and suddenly as it was with Erik, we can often close ourselves of from new oppertunities to love. This too is fear. I think we also fear love because it transforms us. And it is so. For the true lover, the sense of self dissolves so that the lover, love and beloved become one. The ego is afraid of losing control, and even more afraid of dissolving and comes up with reason after reason for refusing to let go, refusing to let ourselves love fully. In my loss of Erik, I was afraid to love again. I thought it impossible. I even rejected the idea wholly. It was through reading, writing, music, film and art that I learned to come out of this darkness again. To honor Erik, all I can do is be open to the possiblity of love and to sieze every oppertunity for it. I ask for those of you with a faith and even those of you without a faith to pause not only for Erik, but his family and friends. Many who have taken me in to their lives as one of their own. Pause too for all those who have come into your life and taught you lessons of love - from the sublime to the hardest lessons of love. Take time to express your love to all those who are around you this Holiday season and hug them extra tight and keep them extra close. Let us now be inspired by the words and images contained herein from those who have transcended into being lovers, by those who have been reborn from love and loss. Joschua Beres, Editor-in-Chief of The Literati Quarterly The King William District, San Antonio, Texas
Billy The Kid (2010) from the series Old West Gunslingers, Ink and Watercolor, by Allen Forrest
A REVIEW OF EDWARD ST. AUBYN’S LOST FOR WORDS by James Banks
A spirit is haunting more than Europe. It is not the presaging of a revolution; it is the swan song of a revolution which should have happened but did not. And the crisis is not economic; it is literary. Among members of the literary establishment, from V.S. Naipaul (at the end of his days) to professors witnessing their English departments redefine themselves with programs in “film” and “digital humanities”, there is a widespread, unspoken belief that we have reached the end of literary history. While Edward St. Aubyn does not endorse this view in his eighth work, Lost for Words, his narrative could only exist in a parallel universe which, like ours, widely assumed this view to be true. In his satire of elite literary culture—with its sights set squarely on the Man Booker Prize (here called the Elysian Prize)—St. Aubyn comes out swinging and squarely hits his mark on the first page. Writing of the former MP charged with selecting the Elysian committee (referred to as a “Cold War relic”), St. Aubyn writes:
After he retired, Hampshire took on the usual bushel of non-executive directorships that were handed out to people of his kind, including a position on the board of the Elysian Group, where he had somehow fallen into the role of selecting committees for their literary prize. (1)
Sardonic as his tone is, St. Aubyn alights quite effectively on what has historically been a criticism of prizes in the humanities: The selection of judges is often happenstance, but the prize can only be as prestigious as its judges. And, as St. Aubyn keeps emphasizing, the judges are struggling just to be mediocre. The prize committee itself, with all of their prejudices and pretensions, is the novel’s protagonist. Helming the committee chair is Malcolm Craig, a former undersecretary of state for Scotland, mostly interested in literature as an opportunity to “take up childish things” and lie low, after being sacked in his previous government post. Malcolm’s particular background inclines him to champion a quasi-social realist novel, wot u starin at (the text of which, St. Aubyn generously indulges the reader with, more than once), as well as any others with an ostensibly Scottish theme, such as a historical swashbuckler titled The Bruce. But Malcolm is not alone; when it comes to championing their pet literary works, all members of the committee have reasons, none of which seem to make much sense. Beneath it all is the sub-question of what literature is. This is obviously an important question to answer for anyone who is trying to award a literary prize. However, as The Palace Cookbook—a book which even its author claims is not a novel at all—begins to edge its way onto the final list of nominees, the question becomes perplexing. This is a paradox that St. Aubyn’s novel returns to more than once: Even while the authors, critics and judges at the center of the novel are lost when it comes to actually establishing—let along agreeing upon—any sort of standards by which to define art or language, the way that they employ both has consequences. St. Aubyn never misses a beat when employing this theme for humorous effect, particularly in the encounters between his protagonists and those from “the real world” per se. A signature example is the encounter between Sonny Badanpur (one of St. Aubyn’s novelists, utterly convinced of his self-worth) and a customs agent:
At the UK Border, an absurd little man asked Sonny the purpose of his visit. When Sonny said that he had come two weeks ahead of the Big List, so as to be thoroughly well rested before the hullabaloo of the publicity circus, the little man asked him what exactly this publicity would be for. ‘My novel, of course,’ said Sonny. ‘So you’ve come to the UK to promote a novel,’ said the man. “I have come to accept congratulations for my novel,’ said Sonny impatiently. ‘I have nothing to do with trade.’ ‘Is the novel published in the UK?’ ‘No!’ said Sonny. ‘It is published in India – privately!’ ‘So you are in fact trying to promote and sell goods from India in the UK,’ concluded his tormentor, ‘but on your Immigration Form you ticked the box stating that the purpose of your trip is pleasure.’ While the various characters are incapable of speaking in common terms, they are also incapable of living without them. But trying to share any kind of common vision becomes more challenging the more that their assumptions about the literary establishment break down. When one of the panel judges questions whether The Palace Cookbook is a novel at all, Malcolm can only fall back on his belief that “the distinguished old firm of Page and Turner would not have sent a book that wasn’t a novel”. And, while Malcolm’s somewhat conservative faith in institutions might seem anachronistic and misplaced (especially as we learn that the “distinguished old firm” is, in fact, bankrupt and owned by an obscure foreigner with no interest in literature) the justifications which others muster are not much better. Didier Leroux—a character who exists mostly to parody post-structural literary criticism—is capable of rationalizing the choice, albeit through an argument so convoluted that it is unlikely to convince anyone but the true unbelievers: … we are in the presence of the text-as-textile, as the fabric-ation that weaves a dissimulating veil over its apparent subject, expressing the excess of figurative language over any assigned meaning or, more generally, the excessive force of the signifier over any signified that tries to contain it. I suppose that sorts it out. Despite being a satirical figure (like every other character in Lost for Words, which is, after all, a satire), Didier is also one of the few who manages to say some things which, in the novel’s parallel universe, appear to be accurate, as when he describes the new dark age in which he and his peers have had the misfortune of living; a dark age which is instead defined by “lots of neon, and screen savers, and street lighting”. Though he is a product rather than a prophet of this dark age, it is hard to deny that the obscurant has had a moment of happenstance clarity. Conspicuously and intentionally absent from the novel is the humanist perspective most associated with Matthew Arnold that literature can serve as a bridge to transcendence in a materialistic age. Even Auntie, the author of The Palace Cookbook and only sincere character in the entire novel, appears to have no interest in literature as literature. St. Aubyn probably does not hold this idealistic perspective either and, given how diminished literature has become as a cultural pillar as the novel has slowly yielded ground to the movies and television, such a perspective has become increasingly quaint. Arnold’s heirs, like the University of Virginia’s good-hearted Mark Edmundson, have probably not helped. But better than any idealistic work, the sardonic tone of Lost for Words reminds us how much we have lost since the time when those who made a living off of literature believed that that was not the only thing it was good for.
Untitled (2015) by Kristin Stevenson
by KATHLEEN PEIRCE
Come back. Even as a shadow. Even as a dream. Euripides, Herakles
from Notebook Drawings, August 2015 (2015) by Ira Joel Haber
Invariable gist of red at the gate, then the gate red. Transferable, a gamelan being played in the next room, in the afterlife, round, rounded, reciprocal.
The moment Menelaus stalks Paris to nip the edge of war Helen’s in a fit: She’s a Spartan
Nine years a long time never Wrapped in her mother’s arms…. Against inconstant heaven, One husband’s death or the other’s, There is, for constancy, only the father Of the soon sacked city: Priam catches Helen’s grief In the dark streets, calls her dear, Absolves her of everything The gods stir. Even then She wishes Paris’s black blood Bubbling around the shaft Menelaus is soon to toss. But where is the radiance In that? Aphrodite seems to ask: Only air at the point of M’s Flung spear, the gathered men Muttering of fate and heaven, Lust or luck in the vanishing: Then beauty’s sweet talker, Favorite son and flatterer, Floating on a pallet of light A verb he conjugates Above his marriage bed. When Helen finally takes him, The lovelier, weaker man, The oracles of their bodies, Those concentric circles, Drift from forest to wilderness, The gods peering behind The curtains, the tongued O Of that hymn, stranger Than dissonance, unison.
ON THE VERGE OF WHAT COMES NATURALLY By Stephen Haven
After all! This is her swan song. She sticks with her old flame, Prayers in Menelaus’s name!
from the series Berlin in the 1920â€™s, Puddle Jump, Ink on Paper by Allen Forrest
You hold a dried bouquet of wildflowers and point to the ladybug that’s landed on your wedding dress, a dancing atom on the white embroidery near your knee. Your sister holds your veil back as you look with such gentleness at this little fleck of crawling luck that clings to the shimmer the gown gathers from the August sunlight. On this day of gathering happiness, when even the gray-groped edge of a cloud holds the promise of unremitting blue, and the poets all wear red ribbons pinned to their undergarments, the idea of time slipping doesn’t garter the grief that ghosts your dead mother or my father whose grave has only just sprouted seedlings. As the day unfolds like the handwriting on a fourth grader’s unfinished poem, precise, clear, tilted, tottering a warmth crayoned and blazed on construction paper, I glide with you among aisles of aunts whose faces break to shining, their crow’s feet footnoting how the hours whirl like wheel spokes. Before life does what it does and it will, after we have gone to gray, when the music hushes, and all the ladybugs fly back to wherever all ladybugs come from, recall this one as it flies from your gown, a dot that dances the brim of the wind: we will hold this day against all parting.
GRACE NOTES by Dante Di Stefano
You place the ring on my index finger at first, but this is not a bad omen, only a sign that our life together will undo the damage of haste, allow what’s done and what’s undone to blend, become this love begun, this is that is and is announced over the steps of the church.
REMEMBER MY NAME by Edwin Baty
drunk old man was stumbling under an orange streetlight. He looked up, with a hopeless look on his face, at the glowing signs, buildings, and people. He thought of the fresh bleeding cuts under his shirt and the man that gave them to him. “Demon,” he spoke to himself. Unintelligible gibberish began to spill out of his mouth with the occasional bit of whiskey, and an old tin flask came to his lips often. Hunched forward he marched on, slurping whiskey from his beard and wiping the excess away with his arm. The bars would not be open for much longer but the old man was nearly at his destination. He was beginning to shiver a bit, so he tightened his ragged old blazer over his shoulders, but it was not cold outside. All sorts of people passed by him and cars coasted through the street. A racial melting pot of college students walked by, sharing a bottle of wine to save money. They had young faces and they wore clean, rapidly dying fashion with black glasses that had no lenses. Fat older men with fishing button ups smoked cigars and one of them spoke with their arms held out. Underneath one of their shirts – past the skin, fat, muscle, and bone – was a failing heart like the old man’s. Girls with short dresses, porcelain faces, and dark eyes walked in packs and had trouble walking in their high heeled shoes. Behind them were their boyfriends, severely underdressed by comparison – with their combed hair, polos and boat shoes. Their eyes occasionally appeared cross eyed and they stumbled often – more than the old man. One of them demanded a cigarette from the shortest of the lot. In his observation, he found that each one would look at him as well. People studied his clothes, the stains and the smell, and they pitied him more than anything. They looked at his hair in its scarcity and its yellowish tint, and they studied the frailty of his skin by the spiral-like wrinkles that ran up his neck and forearms. Most of the passersby could easily manage such a study of the old man’s body, but the moment they observed his face they whipped their sight away. They were frightened by something. Not that he seemed hostile, but that he seemed a sad story. In their looking away they could lie to themselves a little longer, convinced that the world has no such sadness, as long as they did not have to endure it. There was never a shortage of passersby and the old man glanced at as many as he could, but his back did not always permit a pain-free lifting of the head. Generally he kept it down, sipping from his flask. The bitter, stinging beads of whiskey agitated his dry lips, but he always wanted more. His neck was weak and so was his back, causing his head to tilt to the right. In his dark blue eyes you could see a frustration with the pain of his neck and body. With an age heavy brow, his eyes blinked slowly, and exhaustion revealed itself with each opening. A man standing at the door of a bar was talking to someone when he turned to look at the old man. The old man caught him looking, and saw a strange look of concern on the young man’s face. The old man raised his hand as much as he could, keeping it below the height that would cause him pain. “It’s okay,” he said, coughing. “I’m far from that damn scissor man now.” The old man nodded and passed by with some gibberish trailing off the end of his statement. The two at the door stared at the old man as he walked on. They were puzzled, and they were happy he was not entering their bar that night. The old man walked along a little further when he saw the lights he was looking for. A screamingly bright sign hap-
hazardly attached to the side of the building. It was one giant arrow pointing from the sky down to the entrance and the letters vertically read Check’s. He was looking up at it and he accidentally bumped into someone. He apologized quietly and trailed off with gibberish before taking a swig of his flask. His eyes flared, caught in the act, and he slowly screwed his flask shut before sticking it in his pocket. There was not much distance between him and the two men at the Check’s door. They watched the old man slowly pat his flask down into the pocket and close his jacket. His eyes were wide and quiet, and their lips were tightened with pity. “Heya, bud,” said the more compassionate of the two door guys. “Last call.” He patted the old man on the back and showed him into the bar. The other door guy stood still, head up, but he did turn around for a moment, trying to catch a glimpse of the bartender’s reactions before the door shut. The bar was as old as the town, and it was one of the few bars that was not managed by college students. They served their drinks in glasses, not plastic cups, and they advertised the unnecessary: that they made drinks correctly. The bar had a smell that spoke of its age and told of its stories. You could smell beer, you could smell sweet perfumes, you could see stains, old and new, and you could smell popcorn popping in a vintage machine behind the bar. There were many lights coming from neon advertisements and old signs with light bulbs outlining the letters and borders. Yet, the place still managed to feel dimly lit and moody. Like a place where you could sit and think, admire a well-made old fashioned, or laugh uproariously with old friends. The old man stumbled toward his usual spot. Thinking gibberish and speaking gibberish. His head flopped downward by the weakness of his neck, but he managed to lift it back up with each step. For a moment, he was granted some clarity. Untaken, he thought, as his seat blurrily appeared in his vision. A woman behind the bar put down a bottle of cheap whiskey and stepped next to a young bearded man wearing a grey vest and pocket watch. She placed her hand on his strong, tattooed upper arm as he poured a pint of cold beer. She whispered something. The man looked up with one brow raised toward the end of the bar. A perfectly parted line in his hair came into view with the rising of his head. He nodded and mechanically turned his head back to the pint. He studied the foam and scraped away the top. The old man struggled to his seat. His smell dispelled the people near him. The bearded man approached the end of the bar where the old man rested his arms. The old man was looking around confused, and his mouth moved with closed lips, chewing on nothing. There was another man sitting quietly at the other end of the bar. He wore a black jean jacket, had his hair slicked back, and looked rough. His hands were dirty and his face was tanned like old leather. His expression was a perpetual glare and he looked down the bar toward the old man. The bearded man stopped at the end of the bar with a bounce in his final step. “Sir,” he said with his hands behind his back. “What can I get for ya?” The old man was again granted a moment of clarity. He slapped a clean five on the counter. “I’ll take a beer,” he said. “One that’ll leave some good change for yourself to keep.” His voice was distinctly southern and polite, with a tinge of a ravaged throat. He looked into the bartender’s eyes and smiled. The bearded man raised his brow and held up the five. His left hand let go of the bill and his right brought it down to
his side. “Thank you sir.” He turned away. The rough man in the jean jacket saw the bartender put the five in his pocket, but he hadn’t begun to pour the beer. Instead, he resumed his prior conversation. Two people flagged him down for a couple of shots and he quickly poured them, took their money, and placed it in the register. The rough man kept his eye fixed on the scene, suspicious, and he squinted. There are many strong young men and women here, thought the old man. Maybe one of them can help me with the man in my home. Damned scissor man. “Cuttin’ me,” said the old man to himself. The sharp and fresh cuts stung under his clothes. The old man turned to his right and saw a young man with long hair sitting around the corner of the bar. The wood looked to have been shined recently, and a small stream of water ran from the soaked napkin under the young man’s drink. The old man studied him - his arms and his height. “Young man. I’ve got somethin’ to tell you.” The young man turned to the old man and decided to be polite. His movements were jittery and he struggled to look the old man in the eyes. “What is it?” he said. He raised his whiskey soda for a sip, hoping it would make him more comfortable, but the ice hit his lips with no trace of a drink left. The old man stared. He thought in gibberish – a language he understood to himself. His head felt heavier and he struggled to remember where he was. He had consumed a great deal of alcohol and his head oscillated in its ache. Blood pumped hard and he could feel it in his neck, and he could feel his heart’s irregular pattern. “You alright?” said the young man. The old man gained clarity. “I,” he said. He had again forgotten where he was but only for a moment. He took a short breath through his nose. “I need to tell you something.” The young man was puzzled. “Yeah? What is it?” “I need your help.” The old man tried his best to keep composure. He wanted a sip of his flask but he denied it. “There is a man, in my house. He’s a demon, stealin’ my life, tryin’ to replace me.” The old man’s eyes were wide in his attempt to interest the young man. “He cuts me. He just stands there and he cuts me.” The old man nodded and did not blink. “I tell ya. He-he tells me to leave and never come back. I just want to sleep in my bed I tell him. If he needs help he can have it. I just don’t take a likin’ to demons cuttin’ my body when I’m tryin’ to sleep. But he doesn’t care. I just want my bed.” The young man was far too polite to leave the old man just yet. But he turned slightly away on his bar stool, disturbed. The rough man in the jean jacket had been watching the exchange. He could not hear what was being said, but the old man looked desperate, like he needed someone to talk to. The rough man’s eyes dulled and his mouth tightened as he looked down at the bar, sighing through his nose. The old man was reminding him of his own father before he passed. He remembered that his father couldn’t recognize his own son and died without saying goodbye – without being able to say goodbye, and unable to recognize the dozen faces, his own son at the center, that stared at him when he took his final breath.
The young man still had not responded and the old man’s face became instantly desperate. He leaned forward, breathing a few short breaths, hesitating with quick grunts. “I – I need you to scare him off,” he said. “I need you to tell him to leave. I need you to come to my house and help me.” The young man’s brow flashed concern and he slowly reached toward his pocket. He pulled out his phone and put it to his ear. “Hello?” There was no call. “Oh yeah,” he said, speaking loudly. “Sorry I’ll be right there, sweetheart.” The old man’s lips shook for an instant as the young man stood up with his phone pressed against his ear. The old man waved goodbye and the young man walked out of the bar. The old man pulled his old tin flask from his jacket, sighing as he took a sip. Two girls walked in. They were young and they both had clean, straight hair. One was blonde and one was brunette, each wearing black dresses. They approached the bar a few feet away from the old man. They would have been able to smell him but they seemed not to care. The old man perked up and turned toward them. The vested bartender noticed the old man’s gaze and squinted. “Howdy,” said the old man. “I need either of you, or both of you to come to my house.” The rough man in the jean jacket’s eyes flared and he straightened his back. He looked around quickly and got up, moving down the bar and sitting closer to the old man. He was only six or seven seats away. The bartender was busy making drinks, and the rough man looked to him with piercing eyes, wondering why the old man was not getting his beer – wondering why the old man hadn’t noticed, and hoping that the old man was not trying to pick up these girls. The girls looked disgusted and the blonde turned to the brunette. Her eyes begged for help. “To help me,” said the old man. His mouth moved compulsively. “I need some help.” “Uhm,” said the brunette. She deliberately looked ahead, away from the old man. “Please don’t talk to us.” The old man’s brow flashed concern. “The scissor man can’t just-“ The girls began to step away further down the bar. The old man nodded to himself. “Okay.” He raised his hand. “Take care now.” The rough man wondered who the scissor man was. The vested bartender approached the old man and sighed. “Can’t talk to people like that, sir.” “Like what?” said the old man. He was offended. His eyes were crossed and his pupils shrunk. They expanded again. “The way you were talking to them,” said the bartender. He had a tinge of laughter in his voice and the rough man glared at him. “You were hitting on them.” He spoke louder so the girls could hear him, and they smiled, unable to look away from the grilling of the old man. The old man was completely silent and was completely still. He looked down at the bar and his eyes became wet. He couldn’t help but frown. Tears welled up in his eyes and for a moment he felt sad, but he quickly forgot what he was
sad about. Gibberish filled his mind and his mouth began to chew on nothing again. The rough man shook his head and downed his whiskey. The bartender checked in his peripheral vision that the girls were still paying attention. “You can’t just hit on young girls and expect me to not say something about –“ The rough man lunged over the bar and yanked the bartender toward him by his vest. The bartender’s torso was bent upward above the ice bin and he cocked his arm back. The rough man reacted quickly, grabbing the bartender’s arm. He squeezed it as hard as he could and the bartender squealed. “What the hell!” said the bartender. The crowd was petrified but they were silent. They wanted to see it all play out. “You’re taking advantage of this man,” said the rough man. “What? He’s drunk and he’s hitting on my customers!” “No he’s not. He’s obviously not doing so well. He’s obviously sick, talkin’ about a scissor man, and he’s drunk. He’s asking people for help, and you’re using him. I know that much. Why didn’t this man get his drink?” “He’s too drunk, I’m not serving him.” “Fair enough. But that’s not stopping you from charging him.” He gripped the bartender a little tighter. “I’ve seen that old man in this bar three times now this week and you’ve done the same thing every time.” The bartender was silent. “I don’t serve drunks.” The rough man shook the bartender by the vest and gripped his arm painfully tight. “He doesn’t ask to be served!” The bartender’s eyes flicked from left to right and back to the shadowed eyes in front of him. “I like this bar, but I can’t watch that shit anymore. So…” The rough man began to speak softly. “I’d like to close my tab now, and I’d like you to give the old man his five back. It’s in your vest next to your pocket-watch in case you forgot. ” The bartender grunted something that sounded like an agreement as he nodded. He was thrown away, nearly hitting the shelves of liquor. The rough man stood up from his stool and the crowd noticed how tall he was. The old man stared at him quietly with a half-smile. The man retrieved his cowboy hat from the rack near the pool tables. The crowd continued staring at him, wide eyed. They didn’t look like they agreed with him, but they didn’t look like they disagreed either. The man donned his hat and adjusted his jacket as he casually walked back to the bar. He was a tall man, and he leaned forward a great deal to place his elbows on the tall old chair. The bartender returned with the debit card and tab receipts. The rough man sighed through his nose, occasionally glancing up as he signed the receipt. The bartender still hadn’t given the old man his five back. The rough man walked toward the old man. He turned toward the bartender and saw that he was on the phone. “Hey. The five. Now,” he said. The bartender talked for a second or two longer before he hung up, grabbed the five and approached the end of the bar. He held up the bill in front of the old man. “I just got off the phone with the police. They’re coming to pick you up. I’m going to give you this five back and you are never going to show your –“
The rough man punched the bartender in the nose and grabbed the five after it fell on the bar. The bartender fell on his back, blood pouring from his face. The rough man placed a cigarette in his mouth and looked at everyone around the bar before he lit it. Smoked billowed from his mouth and parted upward around his hat. “I’d get to calling an ambulance as well.” One person in the bar began to clap but quickly stopped as no one else joined in. “Come on old man.” The rough man patted the old man on the back. He handed him the five. “I’m givin’ you a ride home.” The old man grabbed the five and held it. He was granted a moment of clarity. “You can help me?” he asked. “Sure can.” The old man smiled but he forgot what he was smiling about. The rough man walked ahead into the breeze and under the streetlight. He turned around to see the old man had not moved to follow him. “You comin’?” The old man eye’s flared and he was granted a moment of clarity. “Oh,” he said as he walked ahead. After a difficult time getting directions from the old man, they arrived at his house. It was nice. It had a big yard, three floors, and a separate building for the garage. It was obviously expensive. They drove through the front gate and went about a hundred feet before they were parked in front of the door. The old man took a sip of his flask and thought gibberish. “This place been in the family for a while?” asked the rough man. “Sixty eight years. Mom and pop bought it when I was thirteen years old,” said the old man proudly. His hand was shaking, holding the five, and he could feel the cuts under his shirt. “That long ago, huh?” “Yes sir.” The old man nodded and began chewing on nothing. “Need help getting to the door?” asked the rough man. His hand was on his door handle. The old man opened the door. “I’ll be alright. Don’t think I’ll need help after all. Much appreciated, young man.” He stepped out and trailed off with gibberish. “Well alright then, have a good night.” The old man shut the truck’s door and walked toward his house. He raised his hand and waved it, trudging forward into the dim porch light. The five fell from his other hand onto the damp dirt ground. He took another sip of his whiskey. There was no anxiousness in the old man, only exhaustion and a throbbing headache. He was thinking of nothing besides how drunk he was and unconnected, unrelated, neural gibberish that festered and smothered all other thoughts. He hadn’t noticed the five fall out of his hand, he had already completely forgotten the rough man and the few minutes he spent at the bar. Even the scissor man was a lost thought. He felt no
fear walking into the house. All he felt was the need of his body to rest, the biological demand that he lay his throbbing head on his pillow and drift off to sleep. He was calmed thinking of his own bed before it dissipated like every other thought. Deep in his chest his heartbeat slowed. It was tiring out. From his truck, the rough man watched the old man fumble with his keys, and he wondered who the scissor man was. The keys slipped from the old man’s hands and landed on the concrete at his feet. His left arm went numb and his chest flared in pain as if a knife had broken through his sternum. The old man bent slightly forward, gritting his teeth and rubbing his heart softly with his right arm. His left hand dangled numb as it began to prickle and sense the wind. It was a warm breeze, and he could feel a small amount of moisture. Heart palpitations slowed the old man’s breathing but they subsided and his heart began to beat normally. He knelt down and picked up his keys and fumbled with them only a moment more before finally getting into the house. The front door shut behind him and he was gone. The rough man sat in his truck, looking at the house. He was alone, comforted by the soft vibration of his engine and the sound of the crickets. The breeze flowed over his arm as it hung out the window and the night was clean and cool. The stars were bright in the sky and he could clearly see the Milky Way. He reached for a cigarette and flipped out his lighter. Fire flashed and his lighter was gone. He dragged the cigarette methodically, staring at the door with no break in his concentration. He saw a figure move on the third floor. With no hesitation he squinted and turned off his car. It couldn’t have been the old man – he moved far too slowly and had only just entered. The figure showed up again in a different window, silhouetted behind a curtain. It looked like a male. His body was skinny down to his bones and his jaw was large and out of proportion. He stretched and moved like he was dancing. It disturbed the rough man and he got out of his car. He waited next to the front door, listening carefully. He had been standing next to the door for a few minutes and heard nothing, but he continued to stand there, listening quietly and staring at the Milky Way. The old man had made it unnoticed to the master bedroom on the first floor. He removed his clothing except for his boxers and he sat on the bed, drinking from a bottle of water. Moonlight came through the tall window next to his bed and illuminated his body in a pale blue light. The window was cracked and a breeze came through, sending up the curtains and soothing the old man’s worn body. His heart began to burn. There were old black and white pictures on the tables in the room along with many other antique looking decorations, but they were in disarray. The paintings and figurines that once were neatly organized were scattered about, and the old man took note of it, sitting on the edge of his bed. Beneath broken glass on the floor there was an old picture of a beautiful, long haired woman smiling and laughing. She was facing a handsome young man who was smiling back at her. She was wearing a veil and he was wearing a bowtie and his eyes were a deep blue. The picture was once framed, placed against a fabric canvas with a single ring beneath it. Threaded underneath the portrait and above the ring was “1938-2015”. The old man was granted a moment of clarity and he frowned and swayed with tired eyes. The ring on his finger clanked against the wood under the mattress. The thought disappeared into the void of his failing mind. The cuts on his stomach and chest were long and painful. They had healed only a little. They were no longer bleeding, but there were dried blood stains coming from each of the dozen or so. He felt thirsty so he finished off his water and crawled toward the head of the bed, ignoring his cuts. He covered himself with his comforter and smiled as he worked his head into the old pillows. The rough man was sitting on the porch outside. He checked his watch and glanced inside as he had regularly done
for half an hour. He smoked his cigarette and watched the smoke trail up to the sky. Everything shined light blue and was a little damp from a fine mist that came down when he drove the old man home. The plants to his left and right were dewy but dying, and the lawn ahead of him was a sickly yellow, tall, and choked by an army of weeds. The moon was covered for a moment by the fast moving clouds above – the source of the mist – and the world was dark. The darkness strengthened the smell of rain, but after a few moments the clouds had passed and the moon returned the world its pale blue glow. The rough man puffed on a cigarette that was nearly burned to the filter when a cool wind blew into him, putting out the cigarette and slowly pushing the front door open. It creaked steadily before it settled, barely cracked. The man turned his head slowly, holding his burnt out cigarette, and closed his eyes to listen. He could hear a quiet tapping and someone’s low humming coming from the stairs. They were the first thing you’d see when entering the house – a staircase just ahead and a long hallway going to the left and to the right. “What was that?” said something up the stairs. It whispered loudly but came from far away. The rough man had to replay the sound in his mind before he deciphered what was said. The voice sounded young and strangely deep. It was quiet for a moment but the tapping returned and the rough man could hear a fevered, panicked breathing coming from up the stairs. The breathing became an obsessive and pained humming and the rough man could feel his stomach turn. There were four fresh cigarette butts at his feet and he sighed while he looked at them. He stood up and put out his fifth cigarette with his shoe. Placing his hands into his jacket pockets, he shook his head, frowning, and he marched quickly toward his truck. “Ahh, I’m hungry.” Said someone inside. That’s what I think he said at least, thought the rough man. He wanted to leave quietly and never come back but he also was worried for the old man. He wondered about the scissor man. On the damp dirt ground he saw the five, wet and muddy. He was standing on half of it. “Oh!” A groan of pain came from the inside. It was accompanied by the sound of breaking glass and it alarmed the rough man. He quickly turned around and headed back toward the house. The groan sounded like the old man. Everything was silent and the man stepped softly toward the door. He pushed it open just enough for himself to fit through but the creaking drowned the silence. He grunted and cringed at the sound and moved sideways through the barely opened door. He was certain that the groan came from the old man but he was confused as to why the place was so silent and devoid of any reaction to it. There was not a single light on in the house and the place felt wet. Every breath was thick and dusty. It seemed there had not been any air conditioning for weeks. The dust covered everything and glass was everywhere – it was all shattered and littering the ground like someone robbed and trashed the place. Each little object on the ground became a hazard to the man and he stood carefully still so as not to cause more noise. He was quiet and he breathed slowly. He stood for several minutes, feeling each passing second in his chest, before he felt the need to see a light. Any light, thought the rough man. He turned to his right toward the cracked front door. A thin strip of white glow ran down the half inch opening and he sighed. He wondered what the Milky Way would look like if the moon was dimmer. He heard a click come from
up the stairs and he turned to his left. On the wall above the first set of stairs was a shadow of a skinny man with scissors in his hands. The rough man’s eyes widened and his chest burned. He gulped and his head began to shake but he managed to suppress it to a minor vibration. The scissor man began to sniff loudly and the shadow of his arm rocked back and forth, holding a pair of scissors. He began his panicked breathing and his chest visibly filled, raising his shoulders, before exhaling with his head lurching forward. He repeated this for two minutes and was completely still for three more minutes. He started to sway his arm again and did so for four more minutes. He was speaking to himself, too, but it was inaudibly quiet. The rough man had closed his eyes and kept them closed for the entire duration. He gulped and breathed quietly when he heard another click. He quickly opened his eyes and whipped his head to the left and the shadow was gone along with the light. He immediately began to move forward and away from the staircase, whipping his head around often to check behind himself. He was rolling his feet, dodging the glass and objects on the ground, silently walking toward the old man’s groan from earlier. He heard a tapping again come from the stairs but he gritted his teeth and moved as quietly as he could. One slow rolling step after the other. At the end of the hallway there was a door that looked like it would open to the master bedroom. The rough man continued forward slowly, nearing it as he extended his arm. He stood just in front of the door and twisted the knob slowly. Gently, he pushed it open and it gave way before it suddenly became obstructed. He pushed on it only slightly harder and it became easier to open. A half second later a tower of chairs crashed down onto the ground just behind the door and a loud scream of hysteria came from down the hallway. The rough man frantically turned around. Powerful stomps came from the floor above him and steadily progressed toward the stairs. The scissor man maintained his scream and ran violently down the staircase, gripping his scissors tight and knocking the paintings off the wall. The rough man found himself strangely calm and he opened the door completely. He entered the master bedroom and looked over to the old man who was snoring loudly with his mouth wide open. He had obviously pulled the curtain down from the window behind him to use as a blanket because the bar that the curtain dangled from was on top of his head. There was a stream of blood running from his head to his pillow but the old man seemed not to notice. He continued to snore. The rough man turned back toward the long hallway as the screaming became louder. The scissor man shot out from the staircase and into the hallway and ran into the opened front door, shutting it completely and darkening a small segment of the hallway. The scissor man’s screaming and running resumed but he could not be seen as he ran toward the master bedroom. Before long he was running by the closed blinds where a few streams of moonlight broke through and his figure could be seen before re-entering the darkness, always nearing the bedroom. The scissor man repeatedly entered and re-entered the darkness as he passed by the many windows in the hallway before the whole of his body was visible. The rough man could see the scissor man’s beady eyes and his dirty, wide face as he ran screaming through the bedroom door. The rough man turned around to pick up a chair. The scissor man extended his arm with his scissors pointed forward and the light flashing on it. The rough man swung the chair around and clocked the scissor man in the jaw. His body was sent like a ragdoll into the bookcase and he fell to the ground. The scissor man groaned and gasped for air. “Who the hell are you!” The rough man straddled the scissor man over the back and held his arms back. The scissor man was fighting back and wailing loudly, but after only a few seconds he gave up and his weight dropped. He was crying loudly.
“I hate daddy,” said the scissor man. His crying became louder. “Fuck him.” The rough man was confused and turned to the old man who was still asleep. He looked back to the scissor man. “Daddy?” The scissor man began to calm down. “Yes,” he said. The rough man looked to the old man who was now waking up. He was still unaware of his bruised and bloodied forehead. “Your dad?” asked the rough man. He pointed over to the old bleeding man. “Is this man your dad?” The old man spoke gibberish quietly, but he was frightened when he saw the scissor man. “That’s a demon. You damn demon.” He trailed off with gibberish and was chewing on nothing. The scissor man made some sort of confirming grunt and nodded his head. “Tell daddy shut up and I’m hungry.” “You’re hungry?” The scissor man nodded the same way as before. “Tell him he has to. Or I cut him open and take the food out.” The rough man’s face shifted to a confused sort of terror. He kicked the scissors far away across the room and turned back to the scissor man. He released his grip, flipped the man’s body over, and, when he saw the man’s face, gasped hard as he felt his chest emptied of all breath. The scissor man was crying, holding his stomach – you could hear it growling loudly – and his face told the rough man everything he needed to know. The rough man pulled out his phone and called the police. “Yeah I need someone here at the big place off of Elysium Road. Yeah with the black gate. This old man here needs some medical attention.” He listened to the woman on the other end. “No, he’s just bleeding and he really shouldn’t be living alone.” The woman responded and asked another question. “Yes there is actually. He’s uh, he’s here next to me and he’s a little off, a little scared right now. Well, you guys can assess him, obviously. Not that I can give you permission, er, whatever. He’s just uh, he’s got some mental problems. Like, he’s special I think. I hope I’m not being insensitive.” The woman at the end of the line cut him off there as politely as she could, telling him that she understood and was sending a few officers right over. He thanked her and hung up. “You’re hurting me,” said the scissor man. The rough man sighed. “If I get off of you will you behave? Will you try to hurt me or your father?” The scissor man shook his head like a small child. “No. Promise.” “Good.” The rough man slowly stood up and placed his hands on his hips. The rough man was ready to react to the scissor man but there didn’t seem to be a problem. He was just quiet and he slid himself back over to the dresser, sitting there with a guilty look on his face. He was whispering to himself again, only, this time the rough man could hear what he was saying.
“I’m hungry, I’m hungry,” he said. Over and over. The old man moved the bar away from his head and began to sit up. Another heart palpitation shortened his breath and he paused for a moment before completely straightening his back against the window. As the daze of sleep left him gibberish filled his mind and he began to chew on nothing. The rough man flashed a glance at the old man but turned away to the corner of the room. He looked at a stack of frames that caught his eye before. There were around forty of them neatly set against the corner of the room. The top one was completely covered in dust and there were spider webs at the base of the stack with one larger spider resting at the center of the most ornate. He grabbed the top frame. Dust escaped from underneath as he lifted it and a few unseen webs shook off their traces of dust before they were torn away from their tethers. He wiped the thickly caked on dust from the frame and saw an old portrait of a man and a woman looking into a glass window at a hospital. Their backs were visible with a baby at the center amongst many other babies. Nurses stood around the baby and were monitoring it with decades old equipment. The grip of the man and woman’s arms against the window said a great deal. They seemed desperate and hopeful of their child. He picked up the next frame and wiped off the dust, less severe than the first, and he saw an old portrait of a man, woman, and a baby boy sitting in between them. They were smiling, all of them, and the man had the same blue eyes as the old man. The rough man turned around to the old man who’s eyes were wide, petrified, and who was unaware of where he was, and he turned back to the portrait. He looked at the baby boy’s face. He knew it was the scissor man. The face was wide, the eyes were thin, and the boy was uncontrollably happy. The rough man wondered how the scissor man had managed to live for so long. He had to have been in his forties or so. The rough man looked through most of the stack, neatly placing each picture back where it was. The scissor man told him to be careful with them, that he didn’t keep them so neat so that someone would break them. The rough man looked around his feet to see broken frames and portraits scattered all about, specifically portraits that the scissor man was not in. He smirked and resumed his study of the stacked frames. Over a few cigarettes he browsed pictures of a young boy on a swing with his parents, family outings with the young boy center frame, and a final picture of a woman, his mother, lying in a hospital bed with her arm stretched out to the young boy. He was resting his head, dressed with a ball cap and sunglasses, on her hand. On the side of the frame, out of focus, was a man standing close to the camera with his arms crossed, wearing the same blazer the old man was wearing, but it was newer and cleaner. There was a knock at the door. “Hello,” said someone loudly. “Police. We’re gonna go ahead and come in.” The old man was still sitting upright, completely still, blinking occasionally, with gibberish overwhelming his mind. The rough man placed the frames back neatly and moved closer to the scissor man, placing his hand on his shoulder. He made sure the scissors were out of sight. A few seconds later two officers walked in and stood just inside the door. One of them pulled out a notepad. “Everything seems pretty calm,” said the taller officer. “Yes sir,” said the rough man. “I was just taking this old man back to his home. He had a bit too much to drink so I got him home safe. And this man here…” He gulped and hesitated on a few syllables. “He was, uh, trying to help me with the old man. He’s got some cuts from somewhere, we don’t know, and we just needed him to get some attention.” “I see,” said the same officer. “Well, we’ll just need to get your names then and we’ll head back out to the car to call in some help for the old man.” “Thank you,” said the rough man. He gave the officers his name.
The officer additionally asked for a home address and phone number. The rough man gave him both. The officer then knelt down and looked the scissor man in the eyes. “Poor guy,” said the officer. “You alright?” “I’m hungry,” said the scissor man. “Me too buddy,” said the shorter officer. “We’re gonna get out of your hair in a second and get your father some help. Could you just tell us your name?” “I’ll get you some food after this,” said the rough man. “Whatever you want.” The scissor man smiled and felt relief. The hunger wasn’t so strong anymore. The old man leaned forward, thinking gibberish and beginning to speak gibberish. The scissor man could hear the quiet grumblings and looked up to his father. He began to stand up. “Alright let’s get out of his way,” said the taller officer. The rough man and the shorter officer stood back a bit. The three of them moved sideways toward the bed as the scissor man moved forward. The four of them stood there, evenly distributed in the frame of the old man’s vision. His son was standing at the center, frowning. The scissor man quickly reached for the old man’s leg and grabbed it gently. The gibberish in the old man’s mind began to clear and his heart began to pound. “Just need your name real quick, bud,” said the taller officer. The scissor man kept his eyes on the old man. “What?” “We need your name, bud.” The scissor man continued to hold his father’s leg. “William Allen.” The officer was writing the name down. “That your last name? Allen?” “Last name Grayson,” said William, still looking at his father. “William Allen Grayson,” said Frank. The old man’s eyes flared and he was granted a moment of clarity. “Time to wake up little Billy.” William’s eyes widened and he jutted forward a little. His frowning lips opened and began to shake. “Billy? Did he say my name?” The rough man felt he completely understood what was going on in William’s head and he placed his hand on his back. “Yes. Is that what you wanted to hear?” “I don’t remember when he said it before,” said William. He was laughing a little – relieved laughter. “I don’t remember.”
The old man’s mind was scrambling and his heart was pounding so hard that his torso shook, rippling the sheets. “Wake up, Billy.” The old man’s heart began to beat irregularly. “Wake up Billy. Momma’s gonna take you to school today.” His heart began to slow and he was nearly out of breath. “Momma’s downstairs with some bacon and eggs, Billy. Did ya hear?” William was smiling with red, wet eyes. Frank and the officers stood there quiet. “Did ya hear, Billy? I’ve gotta go now, okay?” The old man’s heart slowed dramatically. “ I love you, Billy.” The old man escaped his trance and felt the cuts on his chest. “I – I’ve got to go. Billy.” His heart pained him and he felt his body falling out of his control. His limbs were going numb. “Billy.” His heart had nearly nothing left to give. William leaned forward. The old man was granted a moment of clarity and he looked at his son, remembering who he was. The rough man glanced at his watch, and in the same instant the old man saw his wife again and was young again and the sun was out and he was running like he used to and so was she and she was smiling. For a moment he wondered if he was in heaven, but the dream subsided as his mind was filled with gibberish and his headache began to leave him. His legs and arms went numb, and his eyes were heavier than they ever were. His heart pumped a weak flow of blood throughout his body and the next beat never came. The blood became still. The old man’s body went limp and he fell back into his pillow. The rough man and the two police officers stood completely quiet. The officers removed their hats. William’s red eyes squinted and his bottom lip shuddered. “Daddy?” The old man heard nothing and the rough man thought of his own father. He raised his head and looked at the old man with a tight brow, hoping he had passed on to someplace else.
Robson Street Vancouver, BC , oil on canvass panel (2015) by Allen Forrest
I GOOGLED YOU by Yahia Lababidi
To all those I dearly love, but for the sake of my sanity must avoid or cannot afford to see in person, or even speak to: Yes, I did, I Googled you. Amid the shipwreck on the world wide waters I found precious little flotsam bearing your name a blurry picture here, some garbled voice there still it was enough for me to summon you create a history and sense of belonging Of you, there is always far too much afloat your smiling face like a cardboard cutout that everybody poses with at the fair, yet occasionally there will be a rare find and Iâ€™ll feel we spent an intimate afternoon You, I check in with periodically, your news and views surface in installments that I rearrange to better remember not how you are now but as I knew you then when we laughed hard, and you were my heartâ€™s friend All of you I miss as I trace your outlines through the one-way mirror of my monitor and when I shut down, you remain with me as pulsing presence and murmurs in my blood (thanks to that intravenous internet injection).
Three Ships (2015), cold wax and oil on canvas by Kristin Stevenson
Jean and Jean-Paul (2010), oil on canvas panel by Allen Forrest
This now is the inspiration Of my nights, as I calculate the roamings, In the appalling magnitudes and curves Of my arithmetic. It’s a revised vision For the dissolution of my life, This setting down as a pale algebra Eternity’s bending ratios. What hopes can I measure In the dropped perpendiculars and other lopsided lines I have drawn? They’re as an epitaph, Or the concrete of abstract being, Time interpreted only by its sundial, as I mistake The sundial and the cosmos For a clock.
NO MORE GAMES by Peter Cowlam
I told you, under the night-long Shadow – one implausible century Added to the next – how As an old Arlecchino I suddenly lost my rhombs. I set off, horribly solemn, Across the sward and its moonlit Checks, squares that under My new system of measurement Stretched into parallelograms. I felt my flesh in a libellous shade Of yellow – a crush of ice To my cheekbones. I had this new remembrance of statements I had made – all in the thousands Of days that have gone. Obscenities Or jokes, or really imprecations. Curses Into the sunlight, and all of them encrustations On the grammars of superstition.
CHRISTOPHER CADRA REVIEWS BEN MAZER’S “THE GLASS PIANO” In Alexander Pope’s 1711 Essay on Criticism, he wrote the following denouncing easy verse and hackneyed, clichéd rhymes: Wher’er you find “the cooling western breeze”, In the next line, it “whispers through the trees”; If crystal streams “with pleasing murmurs creep”, The reader’s threatened (not in vain) with “sleep” Fast-forward to the present and you don’t find all that many poets writing in rhyme. There are many reasons for this. I think one is because it’s difficult to write rhymes without coming off as the straw-man-poet Pope was attacking. Another is because it’s difficult, plain and simple. A third reason, I believe, is because writing rhymes these days can come off as antiquated. Perhaps rhymes are best left for slam poets and rappers. Or maybe not… Though it’s rather uncommon today, or so it seems, to come across a new book of poetry that contains poems written in tight, structured verse, Ben Mazer’s The Glass Piano is just that. I am a big fan of free verse, and I’m a big fan of experimentation (e.g. erasure poems and such), but above all, I’m a big fan of poetry, and it was a great delight to read Mazer’s latest work, a book rife with deft iambs, smooth rhymes, and great poems. The Glass Piano exhibits not just technical skill, but also a fierce intelligence and artistry that seeps through each and every one of the aforementioned iambs and rhymes. Mazer pulls off something that I’ve seen in very few contemporary works, and he does it well. But to state what he pulls off as simply writing with technical skill and/or writing in rhymes would be far too simple. What he pulls off is great poems, one after another, that, yes, do indeed rhyme, without reminding one of the above quoted lines from Pope, and without seeming antiquated, that are injected with a fresh vitality that rushes through each line, each rhyme, and the whole of the work itself. A vitality that makes the work read as fresh and contemporary as anything out there. I’ve read, and believe (though I suppose every writer is different), that putting restrictions on oneself forces one to be more creative. Thus when one attempts to express something in a poem, it’ll be more difficult if the poem is written in feet, with rhymes, etc., simply by nature of the restrictions, but it is just that difficultly that forces the poet be more creative so as to express within a structure. Say for example I want to write, “So much depends upon a red wheel barrow.” In free verse, I could cut that into lines, or that line in itself could be the poem. However, if you’re writing heroic couplets, an idea as simple as “So much depends…” becomes a bit of a conundrum. (I should state I’m not taking a shot at free verse here, which some consider the most difficult form of poetry, or Mr. Williams, whose lovely words I used as an example.) This is why metered verse is not some antiquated form of poetry or anything like that, rather it’s a kind of poetry that not just demands a great deal of technical skill but incisive artistry as well. Had seen Tirolean dances there before. And thought she was no whore. (“Lupe Valex with a Baedeker…”) This, from the very first poem, is worth quoting to show the meter, enjambment, and (internal) rhyme. That “there” and “whore” don’t rhyme but simply share “re” is offset by the fact that “before” fills the rhyme-gap, and thus we have a couplet worth examining at length. come into focus, and demanding light! night’s clockless teleology of spirit (“The Glass Piano”) And as you read on, you realize most poems, most stanzas, most of each and every line is worth examining. And not just for the technical skill, but for what’s being expressed within the lines themselves. The poems are webs (meant
in the best of ways), in which one can reread over and over again and gain new nuggets, whether with regard to the actual composition or the way in which the composition was written. I often attempt to find an analogous poem, poet, or work when I’m reviewing a book of poetry, and I could compare Mazer to many poets, but what kept hitting me over and over, as if literally, atop the head, was Coleridge’s “Christabel.” The reason being is that Christabel was written in a way that the first few times I read it, no matter how closely I read it, I’d get caught in the way it was written and thus was often unable to understand what was written. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, yet when I finally unglued myself from the trees to see the forest, I wanted desperately to revert back to tree-gazing, and wait to see the forest until I had viewed each and every tree within it. The Glass Piano also, here and there, also reminds me of Eliot, whom I should state is, in my opinion, an archetype to be imitated. But nothing here reads or feels like imitation. Yeats wrote: A style is found by sedentary toil And by imitation of great masters. (W.B. Yeats, “Ego Dominus Tuus”) Mazer likely, as I imagine all writers of any kind, be they poets, novelists, or what, went through a period of imitating great masters, and seeing as he’s written of John Crowe Ransom, a leading figure of the New Criticism, a school of which Eliot also played a major role, it’s more than likely he’s very familiar with Eliot. But the connection to Eliot is my own. Mazer has his own voice. It’s developed, strong, and independent. A loose connection to Eliot is not to say Mazer is attempting an Eliot imitation, or even that Mazer occasionally reads, to me, like Eliot, rather, it’s quite literally to say he’s a voice worth reckoning to the Titans of English verse. To pinpoint something Mazer does that reminded me of Eliot, among other things, would be to pinpoint the internal rhyme found here and there throughout The Glass Piano: All the is’s, was’s now are nots. What is not? The tree which over me put my head asleep so I can’t see. (“Trees”) Reading the above (and many other poems featuring internal rhyme) sparked a thought of Eliot: And the light shone in darkness and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled About the centre of the silent Word. (T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”) It’s so easy to harken back to many of the 20th century/Modern greats, and even pre-20th century/pre-Modern greats as I read and write about Mazer. (I’m often reminded of past masters when reading any poem or work of poetry.) But yet, while reading Mazer, and thus while being reminded of past masters, I was also reminded of Harold Bloom, and a bit from his Anxiety of Influence: “The apophrades, the dismissal or unlucky days upon which the dead return to inhabit their former houses, come to the strongest poets, but with the very strongest there is a grand and final revisionary movement that purifies even this last influx. […] For all of them achieve a style that captures and oddly retains priority over their precursors, so that the tyranny of time almost is overturned, and one can believe, for startled moments, that they are being imitated by their ancestors.” The voice I found in Mazer was translatable to many of the long gone poets I was reminded of while reading him, while reading them, and that’s a phenomenon that only occurs here and there, with the best of the best. Though I’m ripping the couplets from context, I think Mazer himself describes best what he’s done with The Glass Piano in a featured poem, “A New-Fangled Prodigal.” forwarding goodness by intuition, measurement, calculus, and division, exercising divine revision with a maximum of precision.
Falling Stars (2015) by Kristin Stevenson
ON AUTUMN LAKE 2 by Paul Legault
from Legault’s forthcoming Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2
Leading in from the foliage is Another activity of the dark philosophies I subscribe to—oh stop! The problem is That of obscurity in the frog moment, In its green way, in the spell of said juncture. The distance doesn’t count for much To “the machines” that line their shore Of what turns out to not be an actual lake But something partially made into one. To do art—and here some take liberties In defining their contemporary practice As such—is to forget the remainder, Indigent of color, like rabid impressionists Floating off somewhere that is nature, With the notion of finding a stone tree. I don’t know what I tripped on On my trip to Autumn Lake, But I’ll gather several natural antidotes Just in case—preparing for the dead end We expected like a weather report. If I sound foreign, it’s a mistake Of the distillation of sound in music That can be studied, like the way that There are intersections.
from Legault’s forthcoming Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2
WORSENING SITUATION 2 by Paul Legault
Like the way rain gets wet, he said, in its own storm the idea of color gets braided into this texture of thought, and the place had known it was only a matter of time until the target went ahead and flew westward, or up, or off, or else just wherever it was to be shot at in the rural festival. I keep seeing things in the carpet. Clouds are not An abstraction or two of them. One is a succotash. One bothers the nurse nearly constantly To remove the flaneur from his post And the monitor from your now-quite-rested body. One part had been separated all of a sudden, And the chef offered it to you. A hand can be Thought of fondly, even if it continues to elude you In the coat room. They stained their white laundry white Before entering the modern infrastructure Where they go every day despite an untenable preference For race-tracks built in the desert, staying in And up until the late hours make their bird-noises Through the paper wall, everything left out returned And ready to be re-programmed. Surely they’d already written, But the telephone was invented for a reason, that being To speak low. Some man said, “You should be on the alert. There are important events occurring To everyone that should include you If you are a self-respecting citizen.” I am at a loss, and that allows me To have not thought of the thing all at once like a convertible in the rain. They make clocks In America that look at you. Fire still exists Though it’s an obsolete technology. Prometheus Is lost as a used lighter. Death’s a film I accidentally saw twice.
OLEUM MISERICORDIAE 2 by Paul Legault
from Legault’s forthcoming Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2
To manage the blank spaces they made Something mild and arranged, Starting with the ground and going Up. Yes, we were waiting. No, this is our stop. After all that it takes A while before starting To know that it already did. I beg of you. Listen to me, I beg of you. The first thing shuts But not down irremediably Like an accident That accidentally happened thus. But the novel is one In which we shouldn’t bet On a single probability to answer The question of what Will get done. Luckily, you could know That life would play its part And come up to you. You followed the elf to a crossroads Where she turned into an eagle or sign And left you like two arrows shot In either direction. One led
Back to the well-furnished studio Where they design aquatic wallpaper For use in beachside hotels (the sink Is a seashell; the floor’s made of seashells.) Things have been transient, which allows you Free range in the second world Of green flowers and secretaries (With their guest appearances.) Everything was a facade there, even the water Of life which has been stolen (But you’ll find out. It wasn’t Madonna whose last name You forgot.) Jethro needs your assistance, And so does the old man In his inherited kingdom. Rescue comes late, on page 500, As you rise from Centreville into the center. But they took you From the abiding waters Like a killer whale Into a kind of Florida. Everybody looks for whatever And will get it Eventually, such was the strategy Until everybody Finally did and being Thought back to itself Like it could think That it would come to this With its one wheel forever.
Tree Body Worship (2015) by Sally Deskins
Women Sleeping (2014) from the Africans series, ink on paper by Allen Forrest
by Kate J. Reed
It’s Tuesday, so when Kara leaves, it will just be me. This is what I do when I close on Tuesdays: I make sure the espresso bar and counters are clean, and all the customers have hot coffee, and all the cookie crumbs are cleaned off of the display case trays, and the empty tables are wiped down, and all the dishes are clean and restacked. Then I start a fresh pot for the late night University graduate students who come in to study. I put on the John Coltrane CD that the old manager gave me even though I “won’t appreciate his music for a good fifteen years,” and all the college students will compliment my music choice. I live for this moment. “Live for this moment” is a phrase I picked up from Kara. I wonder what else about her is rubbing off on me. “I have to tell you this secret,” Kara says. Behind the column she leans on is the only place the customers can’t see and she likes to stand there. I like standing in front of the espresso machine where I can see all the customers, and although they rarely look, they can see me. At the moment she tells me her secret, they are staring at their laptops like their laptops are staring back: quarrelling lovers who can’t quite understand where the other one is coming from. “Go ahead,” I say. Because I have one of my own. “Before we moved here? From Minneapolis? I made out with this guy.” She leans on the column behind the espresso station, twisting a clean rag in her hand. When she tells her secret it seems like a silly sprite secret and my secret feels like a fucking ugly troll secret and suddenly I’m embarrassed that I thought we might swap secrets. But I don’t think she sees my shame because I am younger than her and this makes me sort of invisible. I stand in front of the espresso machine, fiddling with the wand, and I wait. Because she is not the type of person to say one line and leave it at that. “And it wasn’t anything,” she says.” I’d never tell Ryan because it would, like, kill him. Literally.” I start to wipe off the counters. That’s the thing in a coffee shop, you’re always wiping off the counter. Always clearing the wand, emptying the grounds, rinsing out the steamers—whether or not you’re making coffee in between. The old manager would say, “If you don’t look busy, I might realize I don’t need you.” But Kara is the new manager and I don’t think she cares whether I look busy or not. “You won’t tell,” she says.
I agree. I know she means the kissing, but I think she also could mean the fact that she’s fucking lazy and never does anything. Either way, she’s right, I will not tell. She keeps leaning there even though there is soup that needs preparing and inventory that needs taking down. I kneel and start clearing the milk out of the refrigerator so I can clean the shelves, and right when I am thinking to myself that I am surprised that is all she has to say, she says, “Okay. I lied.” The bottom of the refrigerator smells like spoil because no one cleans it but me, and I haven’t worked in two days. “I’m thirty-three, who are we kidding? We had sex. What thirty year old makes out with a guy?” I’m nineteen and maybe I don’t know what kind of a thirty-three year old does what with who, so I say, “You’re probably right.” Then I add, “What’s the difference anyways?” to sound cool. She smiles a toothy smile, and I know I just said the right thing. I am pleased because even though I don’t particularly like Kara, I feel I should, and more importantly, I really want her to like me. My secret is this: I just had sex for the first time with the old manager. By for the first time I mean it was the first time I had ever had sex with anyone, not the first time I’d had sex with him. He took me to tea at a teahouse on Capitol Hill, then, in his basement apartment he poured glass after glass of whisky and each one tasted less and less like vomit. It was only when I vomited that it tasted one hundred percent like whisky. And when I was done vomiting he rubbed my back and I said I felt better, and I did. When he kissed my neck all I thought was, please don’t kiss my mouth. When he kissed my legs all I thought was, please don’t kiss my mouth. When he finished on my belly, all I thought was please don’t kiss my mouth. I was glad I had just thrown up, because it meant he never kissed my mouth. The old manager told me, “The espresso bar is never clean enough,” so I would wipe it down over and over. “Clean it again,” he’d say. But he’d always say it so nicely, like he was flirting with me. And I guess he was. Kara was still twisting that clean rag and the thing was, I could use it. With two rags, a wet one followed by a dry one, you could really get the espresso machine looking bright. I am paying attention to Kara, but I am also nervous because the milk is all over the counter, and I’m worried about it spoiling, though I know ten minutes can’t make that big a difference when it comes to milk, especially this ultra-pasteurized stuff. I grew up drinking fresh goat milk because by little brother was allergic to cow’s milk and spoiled goat’s milk smells bad enough to make you dry heave. “Anyways,” she says, with a tone in her voice that means she’s momentarily relieved of the burden of her secret, “Do you think I’m a terrible person?” she says. “No,” I say right away to give myself more time to think of something better to say. But all I can think of is the old manager sitting on his couch watching TV afterwards and me not being able to move. A pain spreads in the back of my neck and my shoulders and through my jaw. It settles in my eyes where it makes everything dull, but my jaw is the thing that kills. My jaw has been half clenched since I vomited whisky that night and I can’t seem to unclench it. I want to tell her something bad I did, because I think that’s what would make her feel better—knowing that we’re the same. But my stuff seems too little or too big. I am thinking of sneaking into an abandoned building, I am thinking of secretly having a crush on my best friend’s boyfriend, but I’m mostly thinking of the old manager. Maybe if I can say it out loud it will seem tiny, like her secret. If I said it right, she would say, “Oh my god!” like it was hilarious and we’d laugh. Laughing is the key to things being normal. But I can’t think of the right way to say it. “We just have to get out of here? You know? We’re really trying to get to San Francisco. Seattle is just another big small town,” Kara says. I don’t know what she means. Maybe when you move from Minneapolis to Seattle, it’s only a stepping stone to San Francisco, but when you move from Spokane to Seattle, it means you’ve made it. You don’t leave. Even if you’re too busy working two jobs to go to your community college classes. Even if the closest thing to romantic you’ve experienced is your manager grabbing you, flinging you around fast and wild to a too-fast to a Robbie Fulk’s song. “You’ll make it there,” I say. “And maybe you’ll be happier with Ryan now.” “You’re so wise,” she says. And then: “I’m going to the bathroom.” She puts the clean towel on the counter. I grab it and polish the old machine until it is bright.
Tree Worship Bum (2015) by Sally Deskins
THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR a novel by Tom Noyes
The fox saw us first. By the time we were aware of its presence, the animal was already heading for us, splashing through the reeds and mud of the swamp in full trot. My younger brother George shouted at it, and shouted at me to shout at it, but the fox was not intimidated. It lowered its shoulders and head, flattened its ears, and picked up speed, putting me in mind of an arrow. The sounds emanating from its grinning, panting mouth, though, could have been human. The loud, insistent squawking of a discontent baby. George picked up the large, muddy stick lying at his feet and held it out to me. When I took it from him, he turned and ran. George’s sudden bolting enticed the fox, who tried to dart around me to continue pursuit of George. As the animal rushed by, I surprised myself by swinging the stick down like an axe across its back. It yelped and spun, gnashing wetly at the air between us. When I swung again, this time landing the stick across the fox’s shoulders, its front legs collapsed, and its head slammed, muzzle-first, into the mud. On the third blow, the stick broke across the top of the fox’s head. Blood seeped out of a gash on its crown, and its foamy gagging turned to strained wheezing. When the animal had been at a distance from us, I thought it was large, but now, lying still at my feet, I was struck by its taut scrawniness, and afraid that if I stared at the creature long enough, one of its blade-like ribs would pop out of its skin. When I looked up in George’s direction, he was still running across the swamp toward home. “George! Come back here!” I called, but he gave no heed. I watched him trip over the roots of a black gum tree, pull himself back to his feet, and continue running without so much as a backward glance. When I caught up with my brother at home, I first made sure to shame him for his cowardice, and then I proudly rendered him the tale of how I had extinguished the fox. On the first point, he did not seem at all chagrined. In fact, he told me I had demonstrated stupidity for not also running away, and he asserted that even though he was the younger and I was the older, it was now a proven fact that he possessed more common sense than I. How had I, he wondered, reached the age of twelve without knowing enough to run from rabid animals? What other basics of survival was I not aware of? Furthermore, George did not believe me about killing the fox. He even denied remembering arming me with the stick—this especially confounded and infuriated me—and he told me that, even if he had equipped me with such a weapon, he did not believe that I possessed the physical strength necessary to swing it hard enough to slay a squirrel or field mouse, let alone a fox.
We argued bitterly for a while before I suggested that it was an easy enough matter to settle. I would hit George with a stick on the top of his head as hard as I could, and then he could tell me whether or not I had swung it hard enough to kill a fox. When he balked at this suggestion, I offered another. We would simply go back to the swamp. Either there would be a dead fox or there would not be a dead fox. George was initially reluctant to accept this course of action, also. He said he was worried to return to the spot because he imagined the fox would likely be there waiting for us, not only still very much alive but also still game for bloodshed. When I told George that I suspected the real reason he did not want to go was because he did not want to be proven wrong, he had little choice but to solemnly acquiesce. There was no dead fox at the swamp. There was a mess of tracks where the animal and I had tangled, and a swatch of matted fur, but there was no carcass in sight. The stick, now two sticks, was there, but George told me that proved nothing. “There are sticks everywhere,” he said. “Wherever there are trees. Do not think me so stupid.” When I got down on my hands and knees in the muck to scour the area for blood, George snickered above me, shaking his head. “You are putting on quite a show, John,” he said. “This is a farce. Why not just own up to your fib? We could then be done with this foolishness, and you would have a clear conscience.” I stood to face him, told him to recant, and when he would not, I shoved him in the chest, sending him stumbling back onto his hind end. “There is your farce and your fib,” I said. “Beating me will not make your lie true,” he said as he pulled himself up and wiped his hands on his trousers, “nor will it make me believe you.” “Your belief or unbelief does not determine what is true, George,” I answered. “Nor does what you think in your muddled brain matter a whit to me. Now go do what you always do, tattle to mother like the petulant brat that you are.” George studied me silently for a moment, and then his eyebrows rose and he pierced the air between us with his finger. “I think I may know what happened to the fox!” he said. “I told you what happened,” I said. “I mean I think I may know, if it indeed were killed by you like you say, why and how its body has disappeared.” “Well,” I said. “I believe the varmint must have been resurrected from the dead!” George said, and then he folded his soiled hands at the top of his chest, and his voice quieted to a more reverent tone. “To save us from our sins.” Before I could grab him to give him a fresh pummeling, George was off running across the swamp toward home again, this time cursing me bitterly over his shoulder. I considered giving chase, but I knew he was a fast runner—I was not always able to catch him even though my legs were longer—and when I watched him trip over the same set of black gum roots he had tripped over earlier, I thought that was sufficient comeuppance, at least for the time being. I took care to cackle loudly enough at his clumsiness to ensure his hearing. A few months later, at the age of ten, George was dead. A vicious fever cut him down suddenly. He was bed-ridden the last few days of his life, and on several occasions, against my mother’s orders, I entered his room to attempt to persuade him to believe me about the fox before it was too late. With each passing day, my obsession with the issue grew more fervent. I could not help but suspect that George’s infliction had something to do with his rejection of the veracity of my story. As George’s death appeared to grow more inevitable and loom more closely, desperate measures were taken. During the final stages of his illness, my mother gave birth to her fourth son, her ninth and final child, and she named the new baby after George. She and my father thought this would make the dying George happy, give him a glimpse of his family’s affection for him before he departed, but their well-meant gesture did not have its desired effect. George did not say much about the situation, at least nothing that I heard, but I sensed that there being a new George in the household, a fresh, innocent version, who demanded more than his fair share of our mother’s diligent and tender care, greatly injured him and made his last days even more miserable than they would have been. In some sense, the birth of his namesake seemed to depress George more thoroughly than his own imminent death. Or perhaps the birth of his brother made his own impending death more concrete and immediate. He knew there was not enough room in one family for two little boys named George. If he had been harboring hopes of a recovery, he now understood those hopes were empty. He would have to go. Is there anything more tragic and more mysterious than an action born out of grace and selflessness that
instead functions to harm and destroy the very souls meant to benefit from it? Allow me here to answer my own inquiry. There is not. My new brother could not have been more than a couple weeks old when I sneaked into my dying brother’s room early one morning and gently awakened him by cupping his hot damp head in my hands and pressing my lips against his ear. I told him I would always miss him greatly—even in my old age, I whispered to him, I would never forget his brief life—and I assured him that he had almost always been, for the most part, a good and capable brother. Moreover, I confided in him that he was my favorite brother, what with little Horatio and the new baby George being entirely useless as companions, and, finally, I told him I had decided to forgive him for wrongfully accusing me of lying about the fox. As I spoke to George, I remember liking the way he smelled, pungent like cider, and being cognizant of how deeply and desperately sad this scent made me. I had not at that time in my life felt such sadness. My gift of forgiveness enraged George. When I drew back from him, I saw that his dim eyes had widened, and his teeth had clenched. He summoned the strength to lift his head and tell me clearly and slowly that he rejected my forgiveness. He said so twice to ensure my understanding, and as he spoke, tiny drops of hot spittle landed on my face. He then eased his head back onto his pillow, reached over to his nightstand, and rang his bell. Since my mother was still asleep with Baby George, it was my father who answered my dying brother’s beckoning. He did not even hear George’s complete complaint before grabbing my elbow and ushering me out of the room and then out of the house and into the rain. He looked up at the dark sky and seemed to doubt himself for a moment, but when he looked back at me, he regained his resolve and informed me matter-of-factly that I would not be welcome back inside until supper. If I protested or tried to sneak home earlier than that, he promised, I would not be welcome back until tomorrow morning’s breakfast. When he asked if all was clear, I did not answer, and I tried to look as hurt and as pitiful as possible, but the door shut anyway. As I tramped through the soggy woods that morning, I spent the first couple of hours pouting, wallowing in self-pity, and indulging in self-righteousness. In my mind, I staged an exchange with my father at the end of which he saw the error of his ways and, as part of his apology, confided in me that of all the wonderful things he had done and experienced in his life, nothing had brought him more pleasure and pride than to be able to claim me as his son. If it sometimes seemed the opposite, he told me, if sometimes his temper seemed to flame most quickly with me as compared to his other children, whom he also loved, but with a more tempered paternal fondness, this was only because he strove not to let on to them how he truly felt about me, so as to spare their feelings. This fantasy satisfied me enough to allow me to turn my thoughts to my brother, and after much deliberation, I decided the best course would be to reverse strategy. Instead of forgiving George, I would ask George’s forgiveness for lying about killing the fox even though I had not lied. I thought affording him the opportunity to exercise the grace of forgiveness, even if the forgiveness were unnecessary and misdirected, might be something that could help him. Perhaps, I hoped, it might even work to stave off death. At least it might bring him some peace as he prepared for his final departure. It struck me then that dying might not be so horrible if one were blessed to enter into it free and clear of concern, if one accepted it and was not distracted by the loose ends and nagging troubles that informed the life one was leaving behind. Having settled on this new tack, I directed myself out of the woods to our neighbor’s farm and into his horse barn to escape the rain. I nested in a clean, dark corner behind some empty bushel baskets and scraps of lumber, wrapped myself in a rough blanket I found draped over one of the stalls, and dozed. I napped in fits and starts until dusk. On several occasions I was awakened by Mr. Sharpe wandering into the barn. He talked sweetly to his horses, asking one named Archer when the weather was going to clear, and assuring another named Patty that when it came time for her colt to be born, he would take good care of the both of them and see to it that everything would turn out well. I wondered what I would say to Sharpe if confronted—I hoped he would be as kind to me as he was to his animals—but that situation never came to pass. If he did catch sight of me that day, he graciously decided that the best thing to be done was leave me be. By the time I returned home that evening, I was thoroughly convinced that my plan for George was a perfect one and would help him greatly, and I was eager to enact it. But I was too late. He was gone. I knew this before anyone told me. I knew the moment I opened the door to find my mother shivering in grief at the kitchen table, weeping over the sweetly sighing infant nursing at her breast.
Untitled (2012) from Late August Collages , Ira Joel Haber
STUDY OF CIRRUS CLOUDS by Kathleen Peirce
after Constable’s Willy Lott’s House, Near Flatford Mill
It’s too easy to say something once. So says John Constable’s adamantine dog of paint, of black paint thick on a brush made of fur for the hind fur, white on another for the fore, whose paws neither touch nor paint the ground, though it seems otherwise. Light casts doubt there. The same light emboldens the house’s front like a looker unwilling, finally, to look away, brightening the house so wildly the pond collapses in its shade. Know I waited like a dog. I said my sayables over like an olden door, like a dog, like a sky made by clouds. I saw myself become a lace of spray. Then a door opened on a friend, world-made, sitting like a painting on the edge of my bed, hair down, shirt off, who also let me really look, who also could and did look back at me.
BOTCHED HOUSES by John Garmon
Unplanned lean-to wood walls Full of scattered wind resistance At edges of ancient wheat fields Shading empty eaves above dust Where wind stacks tumbleweeds At night stars shine through Beside a highway passing by the way Drifting sunlight over fallow fields Dry roots and weeds surround Hold weakly where they grow No paint remains on grey wood Rusty nails barely hold Barbed wire on door knobs Wonâ€™t do to stop intruders Where few would want to enter Another spring storm And a tornado may dip Down and take the last Of what was once Or maybe some developer Will buy the dilapidated town And send bulldozers With much more power Than years of slow decay To provide quick destruction But there are things you say Words remembered By those who lived inside you Dreamers who moved on Drifters like all of us
FIVE DANCES FOR TOPAZ by Regi Claire
This story was first published in Edinburgh Review 139, Spring 2014 (ed. Alan Gillis [Print]) opaz felt glowing inside. Holding a bunch of daffodils, she dance-stepped into the room, light and feathery on her feet despite her weight, and said, ‘Good morning, Mr Jardine.’ She still called him that and always would. The old man glanced up as she approached, his magnifying glass hovering close above the newspaper on the table. ‘My dear girl,’ he replied. Ever since Mrs Jardine had died, his vocabulary had shrunk. Topaz reckoned he was losing about a dozen words a day. All his favourite obscure expressions had vanished from his conversation, if ‘conversation’ it could be termed. No more ‘crepuscular’, ‘obfuscation’ or ‘unequivocal’, just plain English, which, to be honest, suited her fine. Even his French hardly amounted to more now than a ‘bonne nuit’, ‘bon appétit’ or, his favourite with a pre-lunch beer, ‘santé!’ Yet he kept treating her – really quite obstinately, she felt – like a child. But that would change soon now, very soon. Topaz touched her belly, smiling to herself. Only look at him, hunched in his heather-grey tweed jacket with the chocolate stains on both lapels. Look at his white hair like an untrimmed hedge – had his comb gone walkabout, too? Those tall tales that had made him famous in the past had worn as thin as the seashell he was inspecting and – Seashell? Yes, lying on top of the Evening News. The old man had lifted the shell to his ear and seemed to be listening to it. He blinked at her. Nothing to hear, of course. Topaz shook her head and slowly, almost reluctantly, he set the shell back down on the table. A pigeon, yes, that’s what he reminded her of – an ancient pigeon, windblown, dusty, abandoned by the flock. But now Mr Jardine’s eyes suddenly lit up. ‘Oh, it’s you, Topaz. For a moment I thought that Mrs Jar…’ He broke off and Topaz noticed his hands were shaking. She moved closer, placing the flowers on the table. ‘Where did you get that seashell, Mr Jardine? May I see it?’ He nodded and slid it towards her. The shell was a creamy, near-translucent pink, with a minute fissure, barely visible, in its lustrous inside of mother-of-pearl. ‘It’s lovely...’ Topaz paused and ran a finger around the rim, pressing hard enough to feel the sharp edge graze her skin. ‘A gift from one of the other residents?’ Mr Jardine gave her a confused look and she quickly passed the shell back to him. She nodded towards the daffodils, ‘I’ll just put these in a vase and then I’ll make us a cup of tea, shall I? To get the day started in style.’ ‘That would be nice, dear. Thank you.’ He sounded relieved. Topaz was about to turn away and pirouette through the archway leading into the kitchen when Mr Jardine hauled himself upright in his chair. Next moment there came the unmistakable squeak-and-squeal of little Charlie’s voice – she remembered it quite clearly from watching the show on Blue Peter as a goggle-eyed kid: ‘And a chocolate biscuit for me. No, make that two. I need to line my nonexistent stomach.’ The laugh that followed was so loud it startled her. ‘Nonexistent’ was no longer a word Mr Jardine used. And little Charlie was long gone. Mrs Jardine had thrown him out when her husband reached pension age. ‘Too shabby after all that touring, and his head keeps falling off,’ she had told Topaz. Topaz’s reply that she’d be happy to make him a new head and find him a new outfit, had been met with silence. From then on, Mr Jardine had sat in his armchair by the gas fire, snoring his afternoons away in the stuffiness of the too-hot lounge while Mrs Jardine had taken his agent’s phone calls in the bedroom until they became fewer and farther in between, and finally stopped altogether. Topaz had tried to sympathise with the woman. Having a famous husband and being generally referred to as ‘Mr Jardine’s wife’ must have been frustrating. Soul-destroying, really. No doubt this had hastened the old lady’s
decline and brought on her death the previous summer. As she waited for the kettle to cool down, Topaz stood gazing at the daffodils splayed out in the glass vase with the frilly neck. Soon the warmth would make them burst from their papery sheaths; she could almost hear their secret rustlings as they readied themselves, drawing strength from the water. She covered her belly with both hands and pressed gently, then harder, until she was sure she could feel a shifting, somersaulting lurch. Her baby boy – because it would have to be a boy, wouldn’t it? – was gearing up for some serious kicking. One day, she knew, he would play for the national team. How proud she would be then - how very proud. Light and feathery on her feet despite her weight, Topaz dance-stepped along the hallway, bearing a bunch of red tulips from her hidden garden. ‘Good morning, Mr Jardine,’ she called out. And there he was in his bedroom, seated in the off-white rattan chair with a sock in one hand, trying in vain to tug it over his left foot. His toenails needed cut, she noted automatically, wondering if the bathroom scissors were still in the mirror cabinet above the sink before remembering that Mrs Jardine had got rid of them and instead bought nail clippers, a nostril-hair trimmer and individually wrapped sticking plasters. ‘The seashell,’ he cried. ‘Where, where, where is my seashell?’ His voice had risen to a querulous, plaintive pitch. ‘Don’t you worry.’ Laying the tulips on one of Mrs Jardine’s hand-crocheted doilies on the chest of drawers, Topaz reached for the sock and slipped it over his foot; no time now to fuss with the clippers, upsetting the old man still further. Already his eyes had begun to tear over with a viscous film that refused to spill, making them look like blurry mirrors. ‘Slippers,’ she ordered. Then, ‘Come on now, Mr Jardine, cheer up. We’ll play a game of cards.’ A coaxer of old men, her friends called her. Game over - Topaz had lost as usual, deliberately - she was sitting enjoying a mid-morning ginger and chocolate biscuit when there was a rap at the door. ‘Hello? Anybody home? Wait till you see this, Mr Jardine. Genuine new stock.’ It was salesman Todd. Again. Before she could stop the old man, he had opened the door and in strode Todd with his carcass of a leather suitcase. ‘Hi there,’ he said breezily. In the bright sunlight streaming through the window Topaz could see the stubble on his skin. The gold tooth in the corner of his mouth seemed to wink at her. She quickly swallowed the rest of her biscuit and jumped out of her seat, grabbing a duster and flicking it over the bookshelf with the Mills and Boon paperbacks that had entertained Mrs Jardine while her husband was on tour. Wiping down the wooden mantelpiece she had polished only the other day, she noticed a faint scratch mark near the clock, where the seashell had been. Frankly, she was not surprised at its loss. Every so often things disappeared in the little flat. Small things, hardly noticeable. As her colleague Roanna frequently pointed out, Mr Jardine was getting forgetful. Truth be told, she was surprised that not more stuff had gone missing, considering all the people with access to the place: the building’s caretaker couple, the newspaper boy, the laundry man, the barber, the window cleaner, the occasional plumber trying yet again to fix the leaking bathroom tap, the doctor, the prescription delivery girl, and that salesman... Topaz glanced over at Todd, whose sample case lay spilling its insides right next to Mr Jardine’s chair. Two heads, one grey, one white, both going bald, were bent over the contents. She sighed when she saw Todd offload yet another tin of Brodie’s shortbread ‘just for starters’. By the time Mr Jardine was invited to ‘feel the softness’ of half a dozen cheaply flabby, garish green tea towels, ‘a bargain at only one pound fifty each, plus green is soothing to the eyes after an evening of TV’, she had heard plenty. ‘Mr Jardine has enough merchandise to open his own shop, Mr Todd - as you well know...’ Pulling the bundle out of the salesman’s hands, she brought it up to her face, then wrinkled her nose. ‘Thought so: mothballed since the last century.’ And she stuffed the lot back into the case. ‘Oh, but I want one of these for a pillow because my head keeps falling off,’ a pip-squeaky voice suddenly announced beside her. Todd laughed out loud and clapped his applause. Topaz turned away. The shower needed cleaning quite urgently, she had just remembered. The door shut behind her with a satisfying bang.
Salesman Todd departed nearly an hour later - an hour that Topaz spent cooped up in the bathroom, sweating herself into a frenzy as she heard the word ‘mothballed’ echo all around her while she slapped the sponge (one of Todd’s) first round the shower, then the sink, squeezing and wringing it extra hard, then scrubbing the toilet with, yes, a brush from Todd, scrubbing so hard the handle broke and the brush fell into the bowl, by which time she was swearing freely and loudly, apologising (in whispers) only to the baby she imagined she could feel sloshing about inside herself. Feathery light on her feet despite her weight, Topaz dance-stepped into the flat, a pale pink shell (one of her own) clasped in her hand. ‘Hello, Mr Jardine!’ ‘Bonjour, mademoiselle,’ came his reply from behind the bathroom door, which was standing ajar. One of the old man’s better days, it seemed. Topaz could hear him urinating noisily into the toilet bowl as she took off her shoes and put on the plastic clogs reserved for her clients - easier to clean if there was an ‘accident’. Averting her eyes, she went quickly into the lounge to set her shell on the mantelpiece. It wasn’t perhaps as delicate as its predecessor but similar enough to fool the untrained eye. Just in case, she stuffed Mr Jardine’s magnifying glass down the back of the constipated-looking armchair in the corner. Formerly Mrs Jardine’s, the chair was no longer used, except for certain individuals like the health-and-safety person or the new doctor who thought he knew it all, though, Topaz was sure, he would be incapable of locating the fog lights on his own BMW. She was thumping the embroidered cushion back into position when a shriek of beeps alerted her to ‘please replace the handset and try again please replace the handset and...’ The old man must have hidden the phone to avoid having to deal with ‘the world’ - old neighbours and acquaintances, mainly. ‘No,’ shouted a voice from the earpiece, ‘I can’t find it anywhere. Shut up now I’m…’ Then a whisper, perhaps the whisper of a child. ‘Please,’ it said, ‘can you help me, whoever you are? He’s unscrewed the light bulb and...’ ‘...replace the handset and try again please replace...’ the automated message cut in. Crossed wires even in this digital age. Topaz shook her head as she returned the phone to its base on the antique tallboy. Anyway, it was showtime or, rather, shower time. Not a time either she or Mr Jardine relished. On her first day with him, the old man had insisted on wearing his faded red swimming trunks. But when the water began sluicing down his body, they had flopped right off his spindly haunches and had lain twisting and flailing between his submerged feet like something fleshily alive, and drowning. Topaz flinched at the memory. Then she hugged herself, stroked her belly, which felt drum-skin tight and round. ‘Sleep, little boy,’ she breathed into herself, ‘sleepy-sleep. Don’t take any notice of your mummy’s fancies.’ Carrying a bouquet of white roses from an obliging bush along the way, Topaz dance-stepped into a sunny patch on the hall floor, light and feathery on her feet despite her weight. ‘Good morning, Mr Jardine!’ Mr Jardine made no answer. He either hadn’t put his hearing aids in or was still in bed - how could he, on a bright, fresh morning like this? Topaz went into the lounge where the curtains had been opened. On top of yesterday’s Evening News, splotch-bang in the middle of a fat-faced politician, sat the ceramic tea bag tray, a relic of Mrs Jardine’s pottery-collecting days. And, nestling against a dripping tea bag, were the brittle remains of two seashells. So he had not lost his, after all. But it was broken now, split along the fault line of that old fissure, split like a pod spilling its seed. Not that there was any seed. Nothing apart from a few stray tea grains that had leaked from a tear in the bag. In the kitchen, a plate with a half-eaten slice of toast sat next to a sticky jar of marmalade and a half-drunk mug of tea. Sulking in the bedroom, was he? But Mr Jardine was not in the bedroom. Topaz found him behind the shower curtain, slumped on the blue IKEA plastic stool she had bought him for his last birthday, so he would feel less exposed while getting his privates washed. He was still in his pyjamas. And he was crying, head hung low like an overripe fruit on a too-thin stalk. At least thirty minutes’ worth of tears, To-
paz couldn’t help thinking - the professional part of her brain had registered the dribbles of spit on his front and the soaked state of his right sleeve, which he used like a windscreen wiper, at regular intervals. ‘My goodness, Mr Jardine, what’s wrong?’ Sometimes, feigning ignorance was the safest option. At first he pushed her away. Wouldn’t even look up. Just dropped his head lower, in danger of falling fully off, like that of little Charlie. ‘I saw her again last night,’ he mumbled finally, in between gulps. ‘She was holding out the seashell. The seashell she had given me on our honeymoon in Nice... Nice,’ he repeated, with another sob, ‘lovely, lovely Nice!’ Then, all at once, he sat up straight; his head seemed to snap back into place, realigning itself with his spine. His eyes lost their customary fuzziness. ‘The bloody seashell she had fobbed him off with instead of a child,’ came little Charlie’s squeak-and-squeal. ‘And now the seashells are multiplying. Bloody bitch!’ Topaz tried not to look shocked, or concerned. If she ignored Charlie, the voice usually quietened down again pretty quick. ‘Like pressing the hibernate button,’ she joked with her friends sometimes. ‘Wish I could delete him altogether!’ Now and again, Mr Jardine had complained of hearing his wife’s footsteps in the night; she would creep up to his bed, he said, and touch the bedclothes, not to tuck him in but to pull off the blanket, toss it to the floor - as if she was looking for someone. Someone small and burrowing. Later, after Topaz had cleared away the breakfast things, including the two broken seashells, they played a game of Patience. Still later, when Mr Jardine was settled at the table with a bottle of pre-lunch beer - ‘santé!’ she had said to him - and his freshly delivered paper, grumbling about his missing magnifying glass, Topaz brought out her bag of wool. Because, yes, she had taken up knitting again. And what a pleasure it was. Knitting and moving her hands just so. Creating something from a small ball of wool uncoiling at her feet and the yarn snaking around her fingers, pulling tight, tight, tight, and the needles click-clicking with the sound of so many tiny knives being sharpened, endlessly. Between their silvery grey flashes the fabric grew in a soft dangle. Longer and longer it grew until it flopped onto her belly, her thighs. What was she knitting, she wondered at one point, once the sheer pleasure of creation had abated a little and given way to a sudden weariness. ‘What am I knitting?’ she addressed Mr Jardine, tentatively almost. He looked up from his Evening News and replied without thinking, ‘Why, you are making a puppet, of course. Can’t you see?’ And he was right: there between her legs was what looked like half the body of a figure, complete with head, torso, arms and leg stumps, not quite finished yet. Topaz, she heard an inner voice say, warningly. And the implication was plain. Topaz had never been a particularly gifted knitter before. At school, in handicraft, she had always had help from her best friend, a champion knitter who took part in competitions, knitting whole shawls within less than a day, her fingers moving like the pistons of a machine, so mechanically it had scared Topaz. In secret she had wondered if her friend had inherited, due perhaps to some weird genetic modification, the genes from a spider. After all, she had heard that there were tomatoes with pig genes, so why not humans with genes from mushrooms, for example, or indeed, spiders? Topaz patted her belly. She pictured her little boy beginning to unfold and stretch himself in the dark, unfurling his perfect fingers one by one as if they were petals, then his toes, readying himself to burst free. Topaz felt glowing outside. Carrying a bunch of dahlias, juicy pink and tinted with gold like tiny baby faces, she dance-stepped into the room, light and feathery on her feet, her weight all gone now. ‘Good morning, Mr Jardine.’ She greeted him with a smile. The old man glanced up as she approached, his magnifying glass, which had magically reappeared one morning, hovering close above his paper. ‘My dear girl,’ he said. Topaz gave him another smile before she went into the kitchen to place the dahlias in the frilly-necked vase. She smelt them for a moment, inhaling their sappy warm scent, then she kissed them, very gently, and carried them back into the lounge, positioning them well out of the range of Mr Jardine’s rustling newspaper. Having put the bedroom to rights, even whipping the hoover out of the cupboard for a cursory clean, she
suggested a cup of tea. The tea was bait because, first of all, Mr Jardine’s hair needed washed (the home-visit barber was on holiday), and he hated getting wet at the best of times. His shower wasn’t due until the end of the week. Roanna’s turn, thankfully. Topaz fetched the orange plastic basin and a stack of Mr Jardine’s new towels. The old man’s hair had grown so thin by now that a bit of sponging would do the trick. The less fuss the better. It was afterwards that she heard a small voice calling, ‘Topaz! Topaz! Topaz!’ The voice was whispery low and seemed to wax and wane, as if coming to her from a great distance, across mountains and forests and snowy wastes patrolled by hungry, red-eyed wolves, across the seven seas. Well, perhaps not quite, she reminded herself. After all, she wasn’t living in a fairytale. She was a denizen of the twenty-first century engaged at present in making a cup of tea for herself and her octogenarian client in his well-appointed kitchen that boasted not just a microwave, but a glass-ceramic hob and a new-fangled kettle that boiled only the amount of water you needed, to save energy. A talking kettle, in fact; it spoke in a horrible piping voice which seemed to work well with those hard of hearing, especially the elderly. ‘I am thirsty,’ it would say, ‘please fill me up.’ Or, inanely, ‘One cup is for one,’ ‘Two cups is for company,’ ‘Three cups is a gathering.’ The first time Topaz had jumped nearly out of her skin and looked around. But Mr Jardine had been asleep in his chair by the window, snoring and grunting. The only thing that had moved was a wisp of white hair next to his open mouth. Again that new voice came, sounding louder now, ‘Topaz! Topaz!’, more insistent. ‘I want to play with you. Please play with me, Topaz. Come and dance with me.’ Topaz lifted her head and looked out the window. Above the ancient linden tree in the parking lot, the sky was a sugar-dust blue. The vapour trails of two airplanes seemed set at quarter past ten. Well, why not? she thought. Why not dance for just a little while? She felt her heart skip a beat, as if in anticipation.
The sun gets warmer slowly pulling in the afternoon.
Kids play naked at the shallow end of the pool.
When winter comes dad put plywood outside to keep the white out. Darkness all around. Florescent lights were seen and the buzz of an old refrigerator hummed over momâ€™s sewing machine. The wallpaper held stagnant birds, stripped clean of song, staring out at a sun-drenched sky,
left with cold shadows of a wood burning fire place. Diamond Willow haunts the walls.
The fetus entombed in formaldehyde, surrounded by toys on the bookshelf.
STRIPPED CLEAN by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
Clean white sheets cling to a white line with the help of wooden clothespins. Flicker with the breeze and come down elegantly as a curtsy.
LOVEâ€™S CARCASS by Shokoofeh Jabbari It begins as madness When the first kiss of lust that stained Your eyes would push you over the edge. And this is my last price. The last peak is always a wish. I love the carcassâ€™s smell. It makes me drunk Maybe God has gone to sleep.
Untiled (2010) from Notebook Drawings by Ira Joel Haber
But illness changed his tastes as though, dipped in terror, he somehow acquired color Blossomed in riotous patterns sporting vests that grew bolder as did the stomach cancer The stealthy advance of blackness brought forth a gleaming will the bodily treachery, more trust And that sweetly spirited protest meant he smiled more, and softer opening up as his body shut down This was his last, graceful stand emaciated and wasting away in some way, to give style to death.
IN MEMORIAM by Yahia Lababidi
He preferred muted suits prison grey, mousey brown before the death sentence
WHAT TO DO ABOUT MAY by Kristin Joyce Stevenson
When Mamu died it was hard on all of us, of course, in the way death always makes living and breathing just a little bit harder. I’m realizing as I get older—with friends and old customers just dropping like flies—that all these deaths, well, they leave a mark on you. It’s like some wound you can’t see that just never heals, but maybe only slows its bleeding as time passes. Well, Mamu dying was a different matter altogether. And all of us—her remaining children—well, we dealt with the loss of Mamu in completely different ways. Now, I know everyone has their own way of dealing with death, but I’m going be honest and tell you I just can’t get over the fact that Louise went out and bought herself a brand new white Cadillac—with the gold package, and everything. Now, maybe that was her funny old way of dealing with Mamu’s passing, but Louise isn’t too far from the grave herself, and I sure as hell wouldn’t trust her eyesight enough to take me to the doctor for one of my appointments in that ridiculously expensive machine of hers. I couldn’t help but see it as a stupid way to deal with her grief. But then Louise told me one day over coffee that the real reason she went out and bought that car was because she is determined not to leave anything to her children. You ever heard of anything like that? I sit on my savings like a goose on a golden egg, hoping it grows big enough to be worth passing on to my babies. But not Louise. Well, I’m too old to be holding my tongue about something so un-family-like (although, to tell the truth, I never was one for keeping my mouth shut when I ought to have). So I told Louise just exactly what I thought about her and her new Cadillac. I told her that fancy new car would attract attention from neighborhood thugs, and she’d better be sure to lock up tight each night because, without a doubt, her house burgled within the week. I told her I thought there was something just a little deranged about living it up on her children’s inheritance, or rewarding herself for whoknows-what, or living life to the fullest or whatever other hogwash she was using as an excuse for buying a luxury car just after the death of her precious Mamu. “Precious Mamu, Ada?” she said in the snakiest voice I’d ever heard. “It’s not like Mamu ever paid me any mind in all my life—why I expect she hardly noticed I was born after I came so quickly, the last of her six children. It was Arthur and Edna she loved best, and you damn well know it. And the way she was with May, coddling her like a little baby, even as an adult—no, Mamu didn’t have time between loving all the others to pay me any mind.” “Never paid you any mind, Louise?” I said. “Well, you’re a damned fool if you can’t see how she doted on you. You were the baby, after all, and when you came, Mamu just couldn’t attend to the rest of us in the same way anymore. Arthur and Edna were big enough not to care. And May was, well, May was in her own world. But me? Who did I have when you stole Mamu from me?” She smirked, so I carried on, letting my words turn hurtful. “I only had Papu. It was him I turned to. You were Mamu’s favorite and I was Papu’s, and that’s just about that,” I said putting the world to rights for this bird-brained sister of mine. Well, I tell you, she liked that just about as much as if I had poured my coffee in her handbag. When we were little she was always fussing for Papu’s attention, with him not even noticing because he was too busy buying me a doll (“our secret,” he whispered) or taking me to the county fair. He even bought me popped corn—although that did mean that Mamu couldn’t buy fresh vegetables for a week and we all had to take those laxative tablets we hated, so the fried dough we were living on wouldn’t stick to our insides. But, as I was saying, Louise just flew off the handle. She just went completely berserk, as if I had run my key along her fancy new Cadillac (which I had considered, to tell the truth). I couldn’t offer her another cup of coffee like that, but she wouldn’t have taken it anyway—she walked right out my front door, without a word—which is unusual since her lips are always flapping about some nonsense or other. Louise lives two streets from me. She’s been my sister for more years than I’d like to count (and we’re probably more alike than either of us would ever admit to). She and I just lost our precious mother. But she walked out my front door, refusing a cup of coffee, and has never come back to my house since. Now, I started all this by telling you that people deal with death in different ways, and that’s exactly what I mean: Louise deals with death by going a little crazy for a while, buying things she doesn’t need, and throwing out things she does. Then there’s Edna and May. These are the other two sisters, who make up the four living children of our
recently deceased mother. We had a brother, Arthur, who was just about the kindest man you could ever meet, and a sister Thelma, who died very young. After Thelma’s death, Mamu got herself a job at the grocer’s, which meant we all had shoes even in the summertime and also helped with the constipation problem (since she always tried to bring home a bit of fruit when it was in season). It wasn’t much, but it sure was more than anything Papu ever brought into the house. That house. Now, that house that Papu built was condemned as unsafe by the authorities not long before Arthur died. So Mamu had to move to an assisted living apartment, which she was not happy about—she didn’t need any assistance, she kept telling us, and she sure made that clear to the girl who visited her every day to assist her, in ways I don’t like to recount. Now, I sometimes wonder if that’s not what killed her: the loss of her home and her only son dying within the space of just a few weeks of each other. Mamu was strong—well, of course she was—she had to be to stay married to Papu for as long as she did. But maybe nobody is really strong enough to lose the home they birthed and raised their children in and spent most of their life in. Or maybe the wound that comes from losing your first baby, your only son, is just too deep for it to ever stop bleeding. And, well, anyway, she was 94. Now Edna, just as natural as can be and without a single complaint, took on taking care of everybody when Mamu passed. She gave me Mamu’s wedding ring, bless her heart, because she knew just how much that meant to me—and you know it’s been on my finger ever since. I will be buried with this ring on my finger. In fact, I need to remember to update my will to say exactly that—my children can have everything else. Anyway, Edna was just as patient as a saint with Louise, making sure she ate a bit of some of the casseroles that had been brought around. And never once did Edna join me in my tirades against that damn Cadillac. Edna just quietly reminded me that we all have our ways of coming to terms with death. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s her own death that Louise is struggling to come to terms with. But it really was May we all worried about. We always have worried about May because, well, she’s kind of special. Not in any kind of developmentally slow way, but special in the sense that she wasn’t like any of us: she had always been so delicate, so sensitive. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that her twin, Thelma, had died when they were three. Anyway, May has always seemed to me almost as if she didn’t belong in this world. It had occurred to me that it might have been May’s sensitivity that made her more susceptible to that cancer she has, that lymphoma. She’d been in the hospital getting treatments, but when it became clear that Mamu was passing, we wheeled her right on out of that hospital so she could have a chance to say her good-byes. (I tell you, I just can’t write that sentence without tears coming to my eyes.) All of us sitting around that bed, holding Mamu’s hands and stroking her face and remembering all the times she did the same for us, and her not being aware of any of it—or so the doctors said. Well, let me tell you, I don’t put too much stock in what doctors have to say—I know in my bones Mamu felt us there with her, and it made her passing more peaceful. And, Oh! Was it peaceful! She left this world just as peaceful as can be, with all her remaining babies, like angels, sending her off into the beyond. Well, it takes time to prepare a body and bury it and talk to all those left who knew Mamu—or anyway, all those left who knew us and knew we had lost our mother—Mamu had pretty much outlived everyone she ever knew; it’s not many make it to 94. And throughout all that time we were drinking coffee and visiting with guests, and Edna was preparing all the necessary things for the funeral and reading the will—surprising us all with the fact that Mamu had been sitting on quite a lot of savings, that would still be a good bit of money after being split four ways—and we were laughing about how Mamu used to keep her money hidden from Papu in an old coffee can under her mattress, and must have opened a bank account only when Papu died because it was only then she could be sure he couldn’t touch it. Well, all throughout that time May was still with us. Sitting there, quietly, sipping her watery drinks. Nobody thought to send May back to the hospital; we all felt she was right where she belonged. She said some beautiful words at the service, which made us all cry—even Louise (can you believe it?). And then Mamu’s body was put into the ground, and I tell you, it’s that first fistful of dirt that sends it all home—Mamu’s gone. Now, I’m a pretty strong woman myself, in good health (unless you believe the doctors about cholesterol and blood pressure), but I couldn’t keep standing after I put that first handful of dirt on the casket containing my mother’s body. For just a second I thought I’d throw myself in there with her. And then I thought better of it and sat down on one of the chairs nearby. We all have our different ways of dealing with death, and mine is to grieve. I wear Mamu’s ring and think of
her several times a day. I go to Edna’s and visit with her and May, and we drink coffee and eat doughnuts and talk about Mamu until we look outside and I realize the sun is setting, and then I go home. That’s how I deal with death. I grieve, I cry, I talk to my sisters about the old times and the current ones—grandbabies in particular. I make myself feel the loss because I know if I don’t, the loss will come back and haunt me. The dead don’t like to be forgotten. Mamu and Papu and Arthur and Thelma too (May’s twin, who died so young) visit me in my dreams if I haven’t been thinking of them enough. So I keep ‘em with me during the day. I keep ‘em a part of my conversations with my sisters. They’re always near. Yes, but about May. I keep forgetting to tell you. The funeral came and went, and she never did go back to the hospital. She had been staying with Edna all that time in her green guest bedroom. The hospital had Edna’s number because she was the emergency contact, but every time they called, Edna simply told them that May was not returning and would receive no further treatments, but that she would be grateful for a prescription for morphine to help her manage the pain. May had been going for treatments for three years (they had given her two years to live when the cancer was first discovered) and she said they just left her feeling awful. “I was lying in the hospital bed at some point after some treatment—don’t ask me which one—and I thought to myself, ‘you know, this cancer is a part of me. It hurts like hell, but don’t so many other things in life? This cancer is mine.’ And that’s pretty much when I stepped out of that losing battle. I stopped wanting to fight my cancer, because it is mine and I’m really just fighting myself.” She paused for a second and we all sipped our coffee, and then she said: “I know I’m going to die from it, sisters. Maybe even today. So why in the Sam Hill would I be putting myself through unnecessary pain trying to get rid of it?” “The woman from the hospital suggested hospice care,” said Edna, in her naturally comforting way. “A hospice?” said May. “You think that would be any better than waiting to die in a hospital? No ma’am. I’m not doing that.” Our sensitive, delicate sister had made her decision: she would ride this to the end on her own—with the help of a little morphine. What could we do but uphold that decision? Maybe she had been holding on only for Mamu’s sake, so Mamu wouldn’t have to bury another child. It hurt Mamu so, losing Thelma and Arthur. Or maybe this was May’s way of dealing with Mamu’s death, readying herself to meet her in the afterlife, or wherever the hell you go when you die. Edna and I looked at each other (Louise wasn’t there—no doubt touring her Cadillac around the golf course). Something had to be done about May. Who would look after her? One of us would have to make our own home a hospice for her. I tell you, I don’t know where the hell it came from, maybe from a desire to save Edna from having to look after anymore of her folk—like she had done when her husband Frank got that horrible disease and she nursed him for years in their sunny guest bedroom—but I shot off my mouth like a shotgun and said that May could live with me, could stay in my extra bedroom. We’d make it comfortable for her, with all her things around her, and I would make sure she got her morphine injections at the right time. We’d watch our favorite soaps. I would even give her a manicure. May might have had something else in mind, though, because she said, “But Ada, what about your grandbabies? Isn’t that where they stay when they visit?” “Honey, don’t you worry yourself about that. I got a sofa that’s real comfortable, and I can make it so the kids feel like they’re having a slumber party,” I said, just as breezy as you please. But I noticed Edna and May exchange secretive looks. And then Edna said, “my guest bedroom is available to you still, of course, sweetheart. I have a lot of Frank’s old things that we could make use of.” “Thank you both for being so kind and willing to help me with my pain,” May said, in a way that made me feel I had missed something. And then something changed in Edna’s face. She made some mention of needing to go and get a prescription filled, and asked if we would still be here when she got back. “Well, that’s the plan, Edna, but who knows what plan God has in store for us,” I said. But nobody laughed. So Edna left to get the prescription and I put on another pot of coffee and These are Our Lives, or one of our other favorite soap operas, and May and I sat there watching, with May just quietly smiling. And then the funniest thing happened—since our family is not one to show affection except at births, weddings, and funerals—May put her hand on top of mine and gently squeezed it as hard as her delicate bird-bones could manage. I looked at her, thinking she must need something, and she simply smiled back: “I love you, sister.
You have always been one of my greatest friends, my protector. Thank you.” The tears came to my eyes despite myself and I told her I loved her too of course. That she was so precious to us, such an important part of our lives that we would do anything to help her feel better. Her hand remained and she smiled, “I know.” Well, by the time Edna got back, the special moment between May and I had passed. I asked her if she would feel more comfortable staying at my house or Edna’s, that neither of us would have hurt feelings regardless of her decision. And she said she would just stay where she was at Edna’s. said, “Well alright, but if you change your mind because she snores too loud and keeps you awake, you can call me anytime.” Everyone in the family has known about Edna’s deviated septum for quite some time, which is why we all manage to make it back to our own homes before the sun sets. “You know I have a phone by my bed (and a loaded shotgun on the other side). I just hope I pick up the right one when the phone rings.” They both chuckled and called to me “goodnight, sister” as I walked to the door, and Edna guided May to that green room where Frank had died years before. It wasn’t long after, maybe just a few hours, when my phone did ring. I was just putting on my nightgown. I was expecting to hear May’s voice on the other line, complaining about Edna’s snoring. But it wasn’t May. Edna said, “Honey, are you sleeping yet?” “Well, no Edna, I’m not,” I said. “Is everything okay?” “I think you should come on over here, sweetheart.” “In my nightgown?” I asked incredulously. “What’s this about Edna? Is it your snoring?” “Ada, please. Nightgown or ballgown, it doesn’t really matter. Just come now.” Well, I did exactly as Edna told me to do, and put my shoes on and got in the car in my nightgown. I drove the few blocks to Edna’s house—which I usually walked in daylight hours, but wasn’t about to do at night—wondering what it was she could need me for. As I pulled up, I saw Louise’s obnoxious Cadillac taking up the whole drive, and had it in mind to squeeze in so close to it that my door would dent the side when I opened it up. Instead, I parked along the road, trying to remind myself that we all have our ways of dealing with death, and Louise’s Cadillac was apparently hers. The door was open, of course, and all the lights were on. Louise was in her nightgown, too, so I didn’t feel so underdressed. Edna sat fully dressed in her usual comfy chair at the head of the coffee table and Louise and I sat across from one another, accepting the coffee and bearclaws Edna offered. But before I could ask where May was, and as if Edna knew the question was coming and the importance of heading it off, Edna said, “May has passed.” It all took a while to sink in, as death always does. But it just wasn’t making any sense to me because I had seen May only hours before and I was even going to give her a manicure. I felt quite sure she’d make it at least another night. I remembered her words while holding my hand, but now in a completely different way. But again, as if she knew I might speak and break the solemn silence of the moment, Edna held up a bottle of morphine to the light— completely empty. We all looked at the bottle and then at each other and understood. Edna said, “Our dear May’s cancer has finally taken her from us.” And we knew the obituary would read something similar, despite the empty bottle of morphine that would lie at the bottom of Edna’s kitchen trash.
Missing in Action (2015) by Kristin Joyce Stevenson
for Todd Schlapfer
It’s the UP escalator in the Spokane Greyhound Station to a wide-open sleep of humanity, go figure, neutral zone, some deep down on benches, video games, dormant, but blinking: Deerhunter XXVV’s hunting rifle hangs limp from a chain. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, wedging my bag between my legs, when a guy walks up and asks if I’ve seen “the security guard.” What the hell do I know? Yet, I answer, “I just saw him, but don’t mind me, he was somewhere over there, but don’t know where he went. Check outside?” He starts to take his pack off simply, calm. I sacrifice one earbud, let it drop. ELO continues in my other ear. He wants to talk, so I figure, “Okay, Todd, I’ll practice compassion, open my heart and listen, observe, be present.”
But, he goes on to find it. Dirty—He wipes it up and down his knee, knocks it against the edge of the bench, his boot—what looks like sparkly dust spills out from between the blade—SAND—RIVER SAND—from fishing the river the other night. I ask, “What were you fishing for? BIG/SLOW FAT river trout?” Knew well—had my own lines tugged, held them that cold from the Spokane—in winter. Huge survival mechanism at work—so a fight, they hit HARD, and HARD to land, all muscle. So, Kev and his crucifix are leaving Spokane for the last time, “…and you know why?” He finally realizes that the people he knows here aren’t his friends. They’re drug dealers, prostitutes, users and pimps. I am not naïve, nod at the labels. Suddenly, I feel a sense of awe. “That’s quite a revelation,” I say. He nods, “Enough of one that I’m leaving. I’m heading out, for good this time.” He goes on to explain that a few months back, when he went clean, he went down to Boise to tour a Bible College. He liked it back then, and hoped he would end up there. Four months later, that’s where he’s headed, the opposite direction of me, but not really. I’m heading to Missoula to help with a play called BELIEF, and he’s heading to a place where he hopes his belief will become more fully realized. Don’t we all? All this time, Jesus is dangling in his hand, hovered over his open backpack. “Let’s have a look,” my Catholic upbringing slips. The Jesus is metal, and so it’s freezing cold. A stone cold Jesus on a wooden cross—I flip it over, chuckle.
by Zan Agzigian
WELL—his name is Kevin, Kevin Jay…aka Preacher. Not “The Preacher,” merely “Preacher” (past life.) He shows me the crucifix he has in his bag that a friend gave him just last night. (“Willis”). Rummaging deeper into his bag, at first, he suspects Willis took his knife. Nice friend, I think, admiring the “Exorcist-type” kit Preacher has there, but figure he’ll take a breath and find it. Funny, a lot of people who’ve been to the Bible know something about breath. I am ready to gift him my knife if he can’t find his. I can spare it, have two on me (one for safety, one for stage handiwork)—the bennies of the BUS!
DESTINATION MISSOULA: WAITING ON THE DOG
4:30 a.m. Dead city. My taxi driver is impressed that I got up and fried myself a couple eggs. He may have been hungry. He could be. Long night. He’s only wearing a t-shirt, even though much snow earlier in the day. The earth is insular—We are warm in snow.
“What’s it say?” he smiles. “.99 cents,” and hand it back. There’s a screw missing from his crossed feet—Kevin taps it up and down—How ironic, he isn’t completely “nailed” to the cross. Kevin is German-Irish, says that’s partly why he has problems. I nod, Shit, I’m Irish and German, too! He says he was a Marine in the 1st Gulf War—a medic. Once had strawberry blonde hair long down his back. He asks me my age. I say 50. He says, “No way!,” be kind to him guessing his—62. I want to go have a smoke. OK, he goes with me. Outside, a woman appears with bags from the pavement of the lot. She’s also a Marine. I wave my arm in Kevin’s direction. “He is, too. Please meet.” She’s Hawaiian/Italian, so don’t go calling her a Mexican! Kevin apologizes for his guessing like a loudmouth she is Mexican. I merely inhale slow, and wait to see how Preacher’s going to get himself out of this one, because the woman is miffed. Can’t guess everything, Kev. Kevin names his War, in particular, where stationed, and the woman remarks, “That was a bad one,” shuffles her feet, change of heart, looks down, puffing, forgets being mad. She leaves it at that. He does, too. We all do. In the air, we are suspended for moments, and for those moments, share a vulnerable place so unguarded, both surreal and beautiful, yet dangerous, unpredictable. I look at Kevin—thinking to ask something, but just let him tell me how bad it is merely with his eyes. We go back inside. He comes up to me and sits back down. This is when he lays down a story about saving a life in the past week. The story comes naturally, talk about being on a bus headed downtown, but then yelling for the bus driver to STOP because the back doors open, and he sees a man choking a woman on a bench. Kev jumps out, tells the guy to “let go, lay off.” The guy turns around and knocks him in the head. K then describes how his body instinctively goes into what he’s trained to do. He leans back in his seat and mimes me the moves with his hands, wrists and arms that could give that guy, or anybody else, a near-lethal whack. How could I not be impressed? He goes on to describe how the guy keeps coming back for more aka musta been a mutha of a guy, as the woman is screaming, “This is my stalker! This is my stalker!” The guy down, Kevin instructs the woman to get on the damn bus, the police’ll be called ahead and meet her at the next stop. He says she was in shock, so had to literally force her from the scene. So, he also gets back on the bus, leaving the stalker on the ground with a broken jaw and nose, arousing applause from the riders who witness the heroics in full. But, no, Kevin isn’t happy with himself. He says it suddenly hit him then what he had done, and he thought, “Crap, now I’m screwed…Was that really her stalker? Was it worth it?” In a panic, he quick gets off the back of the bus and sneaks away from the police, who truly are there on the scene to assist. Note, there’s a busload of witnesses that can give full descriptions of Kevin down to what he’s wearing.
Kev describes his lousy duck job, behind a dumpster near a Zip Trip. I close my eyes and envision the dark glisten of green, him crouching down behind. There they are with flashlights, flipping their beams, asking him to come on out, and he does. “They asked if I was recently involved in an assault. I said, Well, yeah, officers, a woman was being choked, and she was yelling, ‘This is my stalker!’ So I felt I had to do something. If I’m in trouble, fine.” He said he even raised his arms up. They say to me, ‘Well, that was her stalker, and we’ve been looking for him. You’re free to go. Thanks.” And they shake his hand, and let him walk off. I put my fist in the air, YES, justice, after all! “I couldn’t believe it,” he says, wide-eyed. “Me, neither,” I’m amazed. This man has had opportunities to do GOOD, even in his messed up life—What a crazy, brave person this K is. I relay to him a story of Norvel and me helping this guy one New Year’s Eve downtown when it was raining cold and hard. While stopped at the red, a man tipped and fell out of his wheelchair coming off the corner, into the street, face first. I told Norvel to stop, jumped out, and went to cover the man so no one would run over him. The man needed both of us to lift him. We wheeled him, wetter than a dog, back to his room at the Downtowner, where he was staying, and put him to bed. Happy New Year. I tell him I have lost friends, Vets/Suicide/Cancer/Addiction/Love. I wish him luck, say we need brave people in this world—alive! We need them to be strong and healthy—Good luck with Boise. Then, without care, I start to cry for him---because I want to see him make it. He wells up, reaches out, takes his hand and wipes my tears down my face. He holds my cheek and says, “You are so beautiful. You are a beautiful person. If you haven’t heard that lately, I’m telling you.” “Know where I learned it? Unconditional love, unconditional love, Dearie. My mother.” And I sob, because he calls me Dearie without knowing, and because I can relate. “Same here. Kevin Jay.” When I was in second grade, my mother volunteered as a schoolyard moderator during recess. On the days she was there, boys would run up, surround me, roll their eyes, “What’s with your mother? She’s breaking our fights up, ‘Don’t fight. No hitting. Loveee ooone another….’ Love one another? She’s weird. Your mother’s weird. So are you.” “Guess we’re stuck loving one another, huh, Preacher?” Kevin bows Namaste, grabs his things, and makes way down the escalator: legs, torso, head disappear below the horizon of hanging ceiling lights. Suddenly, a man comes up to the trashcan in line and slapdunks an empty bottle. It startles the man with a service dog, and reminds me of boys in the schoolyard throwing balls hard against brick walls. How mean they could be, even in the face of beauty and love, just because it wasn’t their own. I’ve never been anybody’s mother. Kevin is back up the escalator as my door to board gets near. The elevator doors open, no one there, and close. Birth of morning, pelvic thrust. being born unto ourselves. Smartly, Kevin acts like he doesn’t see me, like I don’t exist anymore, because the morning was just that, nothing more. What we had and were belonged to before. Understood, life is fleeting. Let go or be dragged. Sun begins to rise outside, big dose of Vitamin D, blinding, blocking out the cold steel tracks outside, gift.
Court Yard in Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (2014) by Mikhail Zahranichny
by Dante Di Stefano
ON THE SADDEST DAYS YOU MAKE YOUR VOICE A TEMPLE
The great men I’ve known have gone into the ground, where they will keep company with the stones and the moon will not whiten them. Snow drifts through their ribs and if I say their names now those holy syllables will turn to sleet. As a kid I remember my father driving through a blizzard, from Albany to Binghamton, with me in the passenger’s seat and no words spoken the whole way, no sound, save the windshield wipers’ squeaky beat, to contradict the silence. Once, I drove David’s van to pick up pomegranates from the grocery store for him to use in his eighth grade class when he taught the myth of Persephone and when I entered his classroom the laughter of thirty children filled it. When we buried him yesterday, I thought of that laughter as the Kaddish was read, thought of the stillness between father and son, between friend and friend, the ache contained in such an ark, the way loss somehow renews a covenant.
All I can see is suds And receding foam, while belated In its clarity is proof I have been Here before. My pole, a departing orange star, Is the sign of lifelong minutiae Seeping from my midnight, Where the pines are silhouettes. Time I sift from the dunes, And inscribe in a billow of ash A voice of the not yet dead, Decaying to the sea â€“ My would-be glossator of revival. And of what? Of a flagging Revolutionâ€Ś.
COMEBACK by Peter Cowlam
In return is a dead anniversary, On the shores of a country A remorseless, better futured man Is mapping on my behalf.
What unexpected turns our losses take in winding their way back into our arms: an absent lover returns as many others, a nation forsaken in the shape of a new life; poems might take the place of a mother and friends gone come back as a wife. If Love were not always a step ahead how would it ensure we kept up the chase?
The last sounds my father made were a string of unpronounceable moans like the vow a trowel makes when it slaps mud between brick, or the green shudder the leaves make when sheets of rain wince the line of trees by our house. What was unsayable between us brooked to breaking when his neck lolled back at last, and his breath reversed its recoil and stopped as if to forever exhale amen. The minutes cringed their heavy consonants, no syllable came to say goodbye then, and my words girded themselves with tool belts, weighed down by wrenches I couldn’t handle, bruised in the wool of curses turned to prayer.
NECESSARY VOWELS by Dante Di Stefano
EXCHANGES by Yahia Lababidi
Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. – Rumi
Peter and Paul Dispute (2014), oil on canvas, by Mikhail Zahranichny
RETURN by Kathleen Peirce
So little, so lithe, a skirt lifted by twirling, thatâ€™s how you returned in my sleep beyond your death. Pink wall that has to have a door that locks. Odor of lilacs warm and doubled in a vase. If only we hadnâ€™t killed someone, but who, and did we divide the money equally? We did not. We recounted it, out loud as the little kids and clocks that charm the hours do.
Dead as flowers turned up side down picked of color yellow left bare. Dead as a White Horned Owl shot through the heart on the Alaska Highway. Dead as the man in a photograph bullet always about to enter his brain frozen with apology to his temple.
ALL THAT IS LEFT by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
I have been there dead on the side of the road.
A SPEECH ABOUT ROSES by Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
A rose has teeth Then begin to think, Why does a red mouth want to open wide to kiss? At sea as fog creeps in. Then put the thorns in hand. Thorns bleed, gray ground. Highway 1. Condors donâ€™t know how to kill their food. A person brings them food, not roses. Roses cannot be eaten, except by sixth grade boys. Roses can be preserved in ice and snow. When winter thaws roses will be red, fighting spring with teeth. Until, light comes as Thomas Kinkadeâ€™s piss filled palette of color. He coats his canvas. Teeth held his paintbrush. He drank scenes black as whiskey. He painted copies come out as light pastel colors. He filled in shadows of life with paint. He painted copies of roses asleep with their eyes open, mouths closed.
This habitat contains every species of martini known to science.
The observer, dragged from nether-ville by an itinerant friend who fancied a climb, seeks refuge in metaphor: the ladies wearing pastel skirts, silk and linen blouses, pearl necklaces every one, are well-chiseled as a gaggle of Heras sculpted on a pediment. Animated groups recount their epic lives in limp-wristed, alcohol-laced sighs. Before them lies St. Charles Avenue, its neutral ground and oak canopy slightly blurred as if shot in soft focus, like its Olympian non-observers. To huddle behind a column and nurse a glass of Long Island Tea, one would never know that there was life or death in Marigny.
THE COLUMNS by Rebecca Raphael
Uptownâ€™s best, the martinivores, take Doric columns for their pastures.
Today I called out to you. I was standing on the bridge looking out at the view and as the trains rumbled by I called out for you.
BRIDGES AND TRAINS by Mattie McIntosh
I wonder where you are. I wonder if you heard me. I stare straight down. I count the cars. Just one more step. I’m weighed down by the guilt I feel so falling would be easy. There’s nothing heavier than a broken heart. Do you realize I failed you? Do you realize I didn’t call? I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I didn’t know that as I was sleeping you were weeping and You were falling. You were falling. You were falling. And there was no one there to catch you. You let the waves, but I should have been there to catch you. I should have, could have, would have but I didn’t. I didn’t. I can’t imagine the walk you took to get there, but then again I’m on the same path. I can’t begin to understand what it felt like to stand on the rails, but I stick out my arms for balance. I stand on the top of the bridge and I call out to you, for you. Time crawls forward and with each silent minute each lonely minute, I comprehend that you’re never coming back. The ocean carried you away and I stand here thinking about that train. Do you think it’d take me to the same place?
Sailboats Under the Golden Gate Bridge (2014), oil on canvas, by Lisa Elley.
ZAN AGZIGIAN is a poet, story writer, and playwright who devoted many years to arts advocacy in the NW. She spent nearly 20 years in collaboration with Native American Poet, Victor A. Charlo co-writing and producing half a dozen contemporary Native plays which have been performed throughout the NW. Zan has received grants for fiction, plays, and poetry. Her 1st collection of poetry, Stamen and Whirlwind, was published by Gribble Press in the fall of 2008. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Eastern Washington University and lives in Spokane with her dog, Itzy, where she works from home, and produces and hosts a weekly eclectic mix music show, Soundspace with Zan, for Spokane Public Radio (KPBX). She also produces special monthly music share shows with fellow poets, artists, writers, painters, musicians. JAMES BANKS is a San Antonio-based writer. Previously, he taught writing at the University of Rochester. His reviews and essays have appeared in The Weekly Standard, The Intercollegiate Review and elsewhere. EDWIN BATY, whose full name is Harold Edwin Baty III, lives in San Marcos, TX. He has been writing for a long time and has been creating stories for even longer. He tries to write a new short story, piece of flash fiction, or do some outlining every week. He generally writes about characters dealing with some sort of emotional trauma.
REGI CLAIRE grew up in Switzerland and now lives in Scotland. English is her fourth language. She is the author of four books of fiction: Inside-Outside (1998), The Beauty Room (2002), Fighting It (2009), and The Waiting (2012). She has twice been shortlisted for a Saltire Scottish Book of the Year award. One of her stories was selected for Best British Short Stories 2013. Regi is currently a Royal Literary Fund Lector for Reading Round Scotland and a former Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. She teaches creative writing at the National Gallery of Scotland and at City Art Centre in Edinburgh. She is married to Scottish poet and novelist Ron Butlin. PETER COWLAM is a writer and critic. His brief stint as a commissioning editor saw two issues of The Finger, a journal of politics, literature and culture. His last novel, Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?, won the 2015 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. His latest novel, Across the Rebel Network, was longlisted for the Guardian 2015 Not the Booker Prize. Poems forthcoming in Fulcrum. Poems and short stories have appeared in The Battersea Review, Literary Matters, The Brown Boat, The Criterion, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Liberal, Horizon Review and Epicentre Magazine. SALLY DESKINS is an artist and writer. Deskins’ art explores womanhood and motherhood in her life and others’. Her art has
been exhibited in galleries nationally; and published in journals such as Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, and Painters & Poets. She has curated various solo and group exhibitions, readings and performances centered on women’s perspective and the body. Her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, was published in 2014 by Les Femmes Folles Books. Explore her work at sallydeskins.tumblr.com. DANTE DI STEFANO’s poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer’s Chronicle, Obsidian, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, The Southern California Review, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Thayer Fellowship in the Arts, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, The Ruth Stone Poetry Prize,The Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, The Bea González Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize. He earned his PhD in Poetry from Binghamton University and he makes his living as a high school English teacher in Endicott, New York. ALLEN FORREST is a graphic artist and painter who was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. JOHN GARMON’s poems and stories have been in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Radius, Commonweal, West, Southern Poetry Review, Paradise Review, BlogNostics, McNeese Review, Southern Humanities Review, Forum, Everest, New Mexico Humanities Review, and many other places. He serves students at the College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas. IRA JOEL HABER was born and lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in the United States of America and Europe. He has had nine one-man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum and The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Over the years he has recieved three National Endowments For The Arts Fellowships and three different grants. He currently teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn. STEPHEN HAVEN has published three books of poems, the most recent of which, The Last Sacred Place in North America, was selected by T.R. Hummer as winner of the New American
Review Poetry Prize. For his second collection of poems, Dust and Bread, he was named Ohio Poet of the Year, a distinction won in previous years by such poets as William Heyen, Mary Oliver, Martha Collins, Elton Glaser, William Matthews, and Deb Allbery, among other poets.
Since 2010, his output has taken on characteristics similar to Kenneth Koch works such as One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays, with absurdist miniature dialogues between animate, inanimate, or abstract characters. In 2012, he released terse English-to-English translations of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
Haven has been published in The Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Salmagundi, The North American Review, Guernica, Parnassus, Image and elsewhere, and my collaborative translations of contemporary Chinese poetry in such journals as World Literature Today, The North American Review, American Poetry Review, and The Common. He was twice a Fulbright professor for year-long teaching stints at universities in Beijing, has been a repeat fellow at Yaddo and MacDowell, spent a recent residency at the Djerassi Foundation, and has won four Individual Excellence Awards in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council.
His writing has been published in The Awl, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Field, Pleiades and other journals.
SHOKOOFEH JABBARI was born in Shiraz, Iran on May 2, 1986 and grew up in Yazd. She went to the University of Tarbiat Modares and studied in a variety of fields, including graphics, film directing, dramatic literature and the sciences. Her husband, Mohammad Ali Mirzaei, is a photographer and a manufacturer of musical instruments. In 2004, Jabbari published her book, Outfit of Love. In 2011, she was named one of the best ten poets by the Jaleh Esfahani Foundation in London. She has made two short films named “Bell (2013)” and “The Food Is Prepared (2014).” JULEEN EUN SUN JOHNSON has read at: Prairie Lights Bookstore and The Mill in Iowa City, Iowa. In Portland, OR she has read at: Open Door Enjambment and Cirque. In California Johnson has read at: Steinbeck Library and CSU Monterey Bay. Her poems have been published in printed publications, including Cirque: A Literary Journal, Nervous Breakdown, The Rio Grande Review, Buried Letter Press, Apeiron Review, The Round, and other journals. Johnson currently writes and creates art in Portland, OR. YAHIA LABABIDI, Egyptian-American, is an internationally published poet and thinker. His book of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere (Jane Street Press), was selected as a 2008 Book of the Year by The Independent (UK). This was followed by well-received collections of poems, essays and conversations. Most recently, Lababidi is included in the first ever anthology of modern American aphorists, Short Flights: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration, and Wit (Schaffner Press). His forthcoming book, Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993-2015) will be published by Press 53, Silver Concho Poetry Series, in Spring of 2016.
He lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and serves as a writer-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis. MATTIE MCINTOSH has been writing ever since she learned how. She is currently studying film and new media and technical theatre at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with hopes to one day create her own films. She also enjoys reading, watching movies and spending time with her family and friends. TOM NOYES’ newest book, Come by Here: A Novella and Stories, won the Autumn House Prize in Fiction and the Gold Medal in Short Fiction from the Independent Press Publishers Awards. He is the author of two other story collections, Spooky Action at a Distance and Other Stories and Behold Faith and Other Stories, which was shortlisted for Stanford Libraries’ William Saroyan Award. Currently, he teaches in the BFA program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, where he also serves as Assistant Director of the Humanities and as Consulting Editor for the literary magazine Lake Effect. KATHLEEN PEIRCE teaches poetry in the MFA program at Texas State University. Her poetry collections include Mercy, The Oval Hour, and The Ardors. Her work has been awarded The AWP Prize for Poetry, The Iowa Prize, and The William Carlos Williams Award. She is the recipient of fellowships from The Whiting Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Guggenheim Foundation. REBECCA RAPHAEL’s poems have appeared in Red Savina Review, Stirring, The Lyric, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, New Laurel Review, Able Muse, Di-ver-city (Anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival), and the New Orleans anthology From a Bend in the River. A native of New Orleans, she currently live in Austin with her musical instruments and cats. KATE J. REED lives, teaches, and writes in Spokane, WA with her husband, son, and wicked cat. Her fiction has been published at Copper Nickel and various online journals. She blogs at spokaneisgood.weebly.com.
PAUL LEGAULT is a Canadian-American poet. He was born in Ontario and raised in Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Southern California, where he obtained a BFA in screenwriting and the University of Virginia, where he earned an MFA in creative writing.
KRISTIN JOYCE STEVENSON is a Texan writer and painter living with her British husband and culturally confused children in Rome. She is largely a self-taught painter, though she does occasionally travel to learn new techniques. Kristin paints representational paintings in oils, but she finds abstract mixed media more freeing psychologically.
He is a co-founder of the translation press Telephone Books.
Her paintings can be viewed at www.kjnsart.com.
Published on Dec 21, 2015
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