Mojave River Review Volume 3 â€¢ Number 1
Publisher/Editor in Chief Michael Dwayne (aka MD) Smith Managing Editor Jennifer Glover Senior Editor Epiphany Ferrell Prose Editor Bonnie A. Spears Cultural Arts Editor Arlene White Photography Frank Foster “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” —Pablo Neruda MAY 2017 Cover photo by Larry Lamsa. Other photographs copyright © 2017 Frank Foster unless otherwise noted. Journal design by MD Smith. Copyrights to individual works published herein belong to respective authors and artists. Mojave River Review is published by Mojave River Press, an imprint of Mojave River Media, Inc. All rights reserved © 2017. Guidelines can be found at MojaveRiverPress.com. MRR re-opens for submissions during summer 2017. Friend and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
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Anna Lea Jancewicz Automobile Adrian C. Louis The Day They Set the Dogs upon the Water Protectors The Morning After Pussy Karma The Tinderbox Susan Tepper Meditations on dear Petrov: Always Meditations on dear Petrov: Tenderized Ace Boggess Why I Can’t Die Today Thaddeus Rutkowski Odd Wedding Bill Christophersen Sin-Eater Street Scene “Dead horses nosed through clover”* Katie Cortese Nowhere but Down Kahuna’s Lorraine Caputo Trickster Songs Canyon Winds FEATURED POETS, WRITERS, & ARTISTS Tim Suermondt & Pui Ying Wong—Poetry Times Two: Interview, with five poems from each poet Ruth Nolan—California Drive: four interconnected works of flash non-fiction Linda Blaskey—Like Putting Your Eye to a Keyhole, with six poems Frank Foster—Art is a Teacher: Interview, with photographs
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Kevin Tosca Happiness Cynthia Anderson Disaster Preparedness The End of the Affair Matt Dube Crickets Rich Soos Pairs Stanley Anne Zane Latham Stirring Winterâ€™s Midnight Steve Karas Ciao, Bella* J. Bradley The Ribcage Plans Its Halloween Costume The Ribcage Invents a Family to Escape From The Ribcage Talks about Some of Its Suicide Attempts Kyle Hemmings Woodstock Joan Colby The Beloveds The Blood The Tongue Monday Breakfasts Elements: Mother of Pearl Elements: Mercury George Howell Scorpion Headlights on the Rolling Hills Contrails Mark A. Fisher California Angel Nicolette Reim Giraffe
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Before I Open the Book to Look at Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 by James McNeill Whistler Steve Klepetar A Wren Singing Coal Dust and Lead Mick Corrigan Small Bird Bathing Steve Lyle Requiem for Retail David M. Harris Dead Letter Office: Jacob Adler Kleinhundt Bridget Clawson May Be Wearing a Hat, but Got No Cows Brady Peterson Artemis A Reprieve Kelly Nelson PURR (Puedo Escribir)* Jeff Handy Burial Mounds Contributor Bios & *Footnotes
Anna Lea Jancewicz
Automobile YOU START BY CUTTING YOUR HAIR too short for any man to grab hold of it. You tell your friends Long hair is for bitches in Whitesnake videos. You will not be the kind of woman who writhes on the hood of an automobile. Also, you will be the kind of insufferable woman who uses words like automobile. You watch the little white moths hustle through the sunlight, graze the tips of the grass in the schoolyard. You reach out to touch them with your black fingernails and enjoy the contrast. You ease back in the green and let the sun bleed through your closed eyelids, you think I will always remember this moment, until I die. Your vagina is a pristine wilderness. If you listen closely at night, you can hear owls down there, the near-silences of coyotes, the hum and thrum of feral bees. Pristine wilderness. It is true because you will it to be so. Underbrush overgrows the asphalt, the road disappears, swallowed by the dark bloody heart of the forest.
Adrian C. Louis The Day They Set the Dogs Upon the Water Protectors Ensconced in torpor in a demimonde of corn, the hero stood before the flame, its rivulets of smoke arching skyward. He was languidly inhaling Coors & grilling bratwurst. And then it happened. For the second time in a week, he was shaken from lassitude by the thuggish fluttering of a dark, whispering wind. Evil ghosts had broached his mundane inner sanctum. Custerâ€™s shit-stained saddle tramps had risen & were haunting the plains again.
The Morning After The baked morning dawned & Satan’s stomach seemed filled with thrashing, biting cobras. Bad tacos. Taco John’s tacos. He woke to the fleeting thought he’d died & gone to Hell, a place that he’d run from so long ago. So, he got up & seated himself upon the porcelain throne & turned on the morning news & everything became copacetic. Speaking to the nation, an orange shit-goblin who’d been his acolyte was croaking out massive lies from his tiny, reptilian brain. Satan smiled, Googled “best tacos” & booked a flight to Los Angeles.
Pussy Karma It was a large house, white paint peeling, perched upon beams stouter than any made these days. One day two scraggly cats appeared, drank from the gift of a saucer of canned milk & vanished. Then some months later six plump & fluffy kittens crawled from beneath the ancient house. Six became sixty & sixty became six hundred but at least they did not shit in the house. They found their way back underneath the house & shit to their heartsâ€™ content. A mountain grew under the house, taller & taller until its anchoring spikes snapped & the house broke free from its mooring & still it rose, a white house in white clouds, perched precariously on a mountain of shit.
The Tinderbox The parched land was brittle & the local paper said it was a tinderbox though I doubt any there could sketch one. It was metaphor, a semantic misfire much like the words of the alcoholic medicine man who had long ago sold his soul. He prayed to the rain to come when he should have prayed to the cloud nation. Clouds are the landlords of wetness. But, maybe out of pity, they came, towering thunderheads spitting lightning & no rain. His wife shook her head, scowled & then wept.
Meditations on dear Petrov: Always IN CARNAL LIGHT there is the abstraction then the memory. Hands. Bodies. Roiling. Soiled. Perfumed. Pretending. Who to be trusted. Afterward there is sorrow. A giving up. Clutching at cracks here and there. Small discoveries. A wall that is immoveable like the always hovering mountain. The floor boards feeling pensive when I leave the bed. Penetration, dear Petrov, does little to ease the unsteady. I go to the window and sit in the crooked chair. Pulling my shawl tightly. Colored like a rainbow. Or is it brown and I am deluded. You tell me return to the bed. Your voice dry. Or is it the crooked floor. This house is sinking. Quietly. In sections. Mistakes dropped like withered petals. Stem so depleted it won’t stand straight. Drooping and weary. As if about to breathe a final sigh. I lean out the window and pluck a single rose. The breeze is soft on my skin. The last climbing rose from summer. Extending it toward you. Is this a peace offering you say. I don’t know how to answer. Staring down at my naked feet. It’s pink I finally say. Your grin exploding the room. Shouldn’t all offerings of peace be white you say. Always, dear Petrov. Always. I bow and defer to you. If it makes you peaceful. It should be enough.
Meditations on dear Petrov: Tenderized EVEN OUT WALKING on the finest days I smell fire. The rush of unequal souls. Torment colliding. Skies darken over bluebells now why should that be. A trash of sorts collects near the mouth of the river. Once a foaming white has turned a foul shade. Dull. Diminished. On a day that changed we dashed along its banks. Only to avoid an oncoming storm. There was never any play, dear Petrov. Not for a single kopek. How my eyes long to meet yours on those same banks. Unexpectedly. The river rising too. Guns quieting forever. Not a speck of char in the air. Everything brightened by the sun and cleansed of its bloodied history. Your hair will speak to me in soft folds. The rough of your skin tenderized to its beginnings. Lips like a child. If only. But I am a dreamer you say. You say man was born for the single purpose of killing the next. I cover my ears and try to be blind to these disturbances. I wear my cross of silver. All thatâ€™s left of my mother. Pretending not to believe. Everything will turn on the one flower waiting to be born. Is that enough. I ask again, dear Petrov. This time without fire.
Ace Boggess Why I Can’t Die Today I’d rather be turned into an oak or walk brushstroked like a smudged thumbprint into a painting—“Starry Night,” “The Scream”—but it’s the cardboard box for me, flushed toilet, my name scratched on a rock. I’ll keep going as long as words do, because cigarettes kill slowly, consciousness rides soundwaves, & there’s much left I haven’t seen. All I wanted was to play a few songs in front of someone who would love me once. I’ve done that twice. Now I’m searching for undiscovered colors—I can name them, leave my mark in the lipstick aisle. Maybe then I’ll see a physician who can tell me how short life is & how much time I have to waste. I might seek out a famous Picasso, press my face to its canvas & lean in, dragging behind me my red guitar to jam along in concert with his blue.
Odd Wedding SHE COMES TO MY DOOR UNEXPECTEDLY. She’s been to my place before, so she knows where I live. But she hasn’t arrived unannounced until now. I don’t think twice. I let her in, and she climbs the stairs to my small apartment. I felt a little embarrassed, sitting there in my underwear. “I’m in my skivvies,” I say. “I don’t have to stay,” she says. “I want you to stay,” I say. * In my childhood bedroom, I see the double bed, the dresser and a night table in the spots I remember. I’ve just awakened. I’m going to a wedding on this day, and I have to get ready. Downstairs, my father is dressed and ready to go. My father never comes into sight, but I know he is wearing formal clothes, an outfit suitable for a wedding, something like a tuxedo. He isn’t wearing his familiar jeans, flannel shirt and hiking boots. He wants me to hurry up, and I want to comply, but I can’t. I’m too involved with what I’m doing.
* I’m on my way to my own wedding. The person I’m marrying is someone I’ve known for years, yet when I see her, she looks like no one I’ve ever seen before. The wedding takes place just before I have to be at work, so I’m in a hurry. During the party, I see some old friends. Then I realize I’m already married, and I don’t need to get married again. But I like the person I’m marrying. She’s almost the same as the person I’m married to. * I don’t want to be seen, so I put my fingers over my face. The bride’s mother says, “When you walk into the room, I can smell you.” I don’t question her judgment. If she finds me disagreeable, then I must be. I’ll have to stay somewhere else for the night and leave my bride with her mother. But I don’t know where to stay; I haven’t planned on being away. * I take a subway I’ve never taken before. Some of the passageways have ceilings that are so low I have to stoop. The signs are in another language. I arrive at an ornate, domed platform and look for a connecting train, but I can’t find one. The line I’m on goes across town, and I need to go downtown. I don’t know how to get a regular train. I have to walk across a long, low bridge to get to my room. I know which building it’s in, but I don’t know the room number. I figure I’ll use my key to find the room, but the key 17
opens every room. The first door I try reveals a young man and two empty sleeping bags. “You can stay here,” he says to me. * I want a cigarette. Even though I’ve quit, I think it will be OK to smoke one. I want one made of loose tobacco, the light-brown, stringy leaf. My father bought this kind of tobacco, and he rolled it in thin, small papers. I acquire the ingredients I need and start to roll, but the cigarette paper is as big as a sheet of typing paper. I don’t have enough tobacco to make a giant cigarette. My cigarette is all paper, and the paper gets thicker as I roll. I never light the cigarette. * Some other force is controlling my bed. I’m the only one on the mattress—my bride is staying with her mother. The force takes the form of spiders around my pillow. These creatures are not alive; they are mechanical. I can’t sleep until the spiders go away. I can’t even pull up the one thin blanket. I spend a lot of time lying awake as the night goes on. * I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure where to start, and I’m not sure how to recognize it when I find it. I think it will look like a piece of gold, like a nugget pressed into shape by water over the years. When I am in the object’s presence, when it is before me, what will I do? Will I keep it secret, away from prying eyes? Or will I come out with it, wear it on a chain looped through a soft part of my flesh, make it jingle as a tease, follow as my partner pulls a string attached to it, then hang it from my partner’s skin 18
so we can take turns fetishizing? Why don’t we just get matching rings and put them on our fingers? * We choose rings at a place near my childhood home. The jeweler has a studio in the woods, not far from where my mother lives and my father no longer lives. Later, we write our vows. On the day of the wedding, I rush to meet her as she walks into a crowded room. I know I should wait patiently, stay where I am, beside the mistress of the ceremony, but I don’t. The mistress, who is a cantor, says, “Go get her” and I do. We recite our vows. They still make sense. The cantor sings strongly and well. With my foot, I break a glass wrapped in a cloth. My bride’s mother is happy—she doesn’t find me offensive, at least not yet. We dance a step we’ve learned through practice, and then guests come onto the floor. Afterward, we travel to a place we’ve never been. That’s why we go, because we’ve never been there. We cannot get away soon enough, but we get away.
Bill Christopherson Sin-Eater Because I’m a wretch, they employ me, offer me bread, ale, a place at the fire. The corpse lies on its bier. I’m eating his sins (some blackberry-sweet, most like rancid pork) so he won’t have to walk the earth, a haggard shade. I’ll get what he’s got coming, drag my chains a little longer. Not much of a deal, yet a reprieve for us both.
Street Scene From the high awning of the Pretty Girl on Fordham Road, styrofoam torsos hang, displaying low-rider jeans, turtlenecks, hooded sweatshirts. The mannequins bob in the wind, denim and leather pants legs streaming behind. Pretty girls pass. The guys stare. Above their cocked heads, unreachable apparel vogues.
“Dead horses nosed through clover”* and breasted snow-encrusted hummocks on the ranch of residual possibility. Premiering larks, reincarnate, warbled above the cherry sage. Last April’s prairie flowers put on the dog. Flyblown chickadees festooned a bone-dry trough or practiced aerial maneuvers from summer’s playbook. Torqued revenants of juniper resumed their subterranean groping. Water vapors foamed and plunged, unmaking and making the alluvial bed. A Venus Paradise dusk burned out, then ―banked coals stoked by unseen bellows― rekindled to a whistled melody and clops of spooked quarter horses coursing.
Nowhere but Down I AM NOT THE GIRL who jumps off roofs into pools no matter how low the roof or how deep the pool, but now I’m grabbing wet rungs with Joey and Ashley holding me steady, two smiling moonfaces below, both dripping after solo-fantastic-daring dives from this red-tiled roof. When Ashley and Joey first set the ladder down— metal singing to concrete—it’s peaceful. The lights of Sky Harbor Airport set the nighttime desert on fire, and beyond the navy blue roof of the world, stars twinkle dimly through the brown cloud that sits like an old-fashioned bowler on the Valley of the Sun. The roof tiles are flat and loose and warm though the sun is long gone. Then, cannonball, cannonball, cannonball, goes the chant and loudest of all is Joey, clapping so his solid biceps shiver. He’s the reason I’m here: at this party, this school, this state, alive on this planet, though since we’ve arrived, we’ve both pretended it’s not true. But we are used to keeping secrets. I don’t want to turn from my private panorama but there’s nowhere to go but down and into the water below, its surface dimpled like a golf ball. We all watched Joey take the ladder in three leaps and pull a handstand on the roof until I screamed I’d get his mother on the phone. Then he’d jumped into space, easily clearing the edge, arrowing into aquamarine, a testament to bodily grace even more 23
reliable than the one time I felt the weight of his limbs up close, when he was both strange and familiar under my thin sheet. I hate you Joey Brown, I bullhorn through two cupped hands. He blows a kiss, which might have meant something once. When he got into school here for Physics, he begged me to study History in the desert instead of any other, better school back home. He was scared, he said, to move away alone. He needed his best friend with him. We drove down together. What goes up, Joey says, lilting so it becomes a question I pretend not to hear, just as I pretend to ignore Ashley sidle up and pull her wet body close to his wet body, their eyes pinning me against the midnight sky in my dry shirt and shorts because no one’s getting this girl to strip in public, not like some slutty Kinesthesiology majors who trick goodhearted boys into falling in love with their smooth skin and neat, even smiles. Here goes, I say, and the pool below is wide and deep, lit from below, radioactive blue, choppy with surf, soft if I land right, punishing if not. Just clear the gutter, he says, nervous behind his smile. He’d be the one to call my mother if I jump to my death. Ashley’s hand star-splays on his stomach like x marks the spot, staking a claim. Up or down, it’s all the same. Nothing will change for me either way. The roof is hot when I lay back against the tiles, going nowhere after all, stars above my head closer than usual but still, as always, out of reach.
Kahuna’s I KNOW HE USED TO WORK HERE, but that was a lifetime ago. Surely, I thought as we parked, he’s moved on. But joke’s on me because ten feet into the park there’s my first-love-and-hate, Mr. Randall J. Dumas III, driving a push broom at the shitty water park near my sister’s house in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which is now my house again too. His name tag reads Randall instead of Handy Randy or Randy Dandy or any of the other things I used to call him in bed. He’s scarecrow skinny and you can see the skull in his long face, which means he probably has all the same habits we used to share. I see him first and steer us away in time, but because of my stupid-ass luck, we end up right in front of the one slide my nephew Jimmy’s too short to ride. My sister’s kid tugs at my hand, voice spiraling into my headache like a dull knife through brie. “Woah, Auntie Julie,” Jimmy says, “Let’s do that one.” The Tsunami, it’s called, and of course he wants on, the little beanpole in cammo shorts. Kid’s only here with me because his mom’s getting poked and penetrated by any number of smart people in white coats. Irregularities, they said at first. When they upgraded to abnormalities last week, and then masses-ofunknown-origin, I quit answering phones for the absentminded psych professors of UNM and came right down. I point to the wooden dolphin cutout at the Tsunami’s base and its fin held firmly at four feet off the ground. Jimmy, at six, is in the 10th percentile for height, but I’d sneak him through if 25
only I wasn’t scared shitless of heights. It’s something that happened after I got clean. I don’t like things that spin me dizzy or raise me higher than my own five feet off the ground. Things like that elevator at the hospital with the glass wall so you have to watch the fern-filled cafeteria get smaller and colder and whiter as you rise. No thank you, ma’am, point me toward the stairs. “You must be this big, Jiminy Cricket,” I say, and hold my hand about a foot above his head. Because I’m not the best with kids and Jimmy knows this and forgives me and calls me his favorite aunt even though I’m also his only, I wish I’d found a different way to say it. “I’m big enough, Auntie,” he says, loud enough to get some laughs out of a pair of giggling high school girls that saunter past us to get in line. “Shush,” I tell him, but it’s too late. While we were talking and walking closer to the ride and certain disappointment, him in water wings a shade pink flamingos can only dream of being, Randall the Wonder Dick somehow circled around so he could shove his broom against my shins to stop me mid-step. I see how his fingers are saran-wrapped bones and his hair oozes over his shoulders, and though I can’t imagine how I ever spooned with this creature in bed, I finger the halter to my bathing suit before I can stop myself, adjusting. “Not so fast,” Randy says, “unless you pay the toll.” His voice is a high wheeze that gets lost in the rushing water of Terror Falls to our right. The toll turns out to be a hug and his shoulder blades are sharp against the arm I sling around him. Jimmy’s got hold of my other arm and there’s no way I’m letting him go. 26
“Long time, no see,” I say, just as Randy goes, “I heard you were back in town.” “Just visiting family,” I say. The last time Randy and I shared the same air, he chased me into the street in the Mickey Mouse t-shirt I’d slept in, screaming at me for killing the last of his stash. Since he was right, I didn’t argue and walked three barefoot miles to where my sister was full to bursting with Jimmy. Today I am twenty-eight and haven’t had more than a wine cooler in two years. I’ve dated men I should have loved but didn’t. Your first one messes you up, and Randy always made love and a really excellent high seem like the same animal. Even though it didn’t start out that way, it’s important to remember that’s how it ended. “Who’s this big man?” Randy says, getting on a skinny knee to look Jimmy in the face. The kid is old enough to be ours, and that is what he’s really asking. “We’re going on the Tsunami,” I say, squeezing Jimmy’s hand too hard. The face my sister’s child turns to me is all wide eyes so I know he wants to take this fall even less than I do. Randy charms us to the front of the line then leaves us to continue up the steep stairs, five flights of them, on our own. From up here, the Organ Mountains are a jagged-toothed saw tearing the sky in half. After the two girls chattering in Spanish in front of us lie flat on the slide, falling one at a time with arms crossed over chests like corpses waiting for coffins, there’s nothing for us to do but grit our teeth and follow, praying that we’ll float.
Lorraine Caputo Trickster Songs Travelling north I gaze upon the rain-drenched desert listening to his song of sun-bleached soil & sage of nopales heavy with fruit Arroyos once more flow with water Cuervo takes wing from the ground & across the landscape black feathers capturing cloud-weakened sun I hear his serenade to come into him to escape & write these words Near the edge of the road Rabbit awaits tail thumping & after many moons My Spirit dons moccasin boots & leather hat, feather trailing My Spirit ties medicine bag to waist & follows his song I feel the rocky earth beneath my feet the rough soil crunches
I climb the wind-eroded hills to the east & wander through the Joshua forests perfumed by the drooping racemes of snowy flowers & tawny-coat Coyote roams among those cactuses I hear the desertâ€™s lullaby & drift into the Dream World to be with him
Canyon Winds Winding through the sierra canyons cut deep below us & age-sculpted cliffs tower over us. Wind blows through my hair in the back of this pick-up. A Rarámuri boy flags us down & takes a seat in the cab. Winding descending the pine forests fading into small-leafed trees. Nopal & agave find hold in the rocky soil. Far below a cañón stretches to the horizon. The boy gets off at Basíhuare. The family of this truck gifts him with a knapsack hurriedly emptied of their belongings. Slowly he walks off, head bowed, & as we leave, glances over his shoulder at us. Winding descending deeper into Copper Canyon. 30
Its cave-eaten tors pink & pale grey scrape the clouding blue sky. Rarรกmuri women & children walk along a cliff path. Their full skirts bright & bouncing with their strong stride.
Spring 2017 Special Section: Featured Poets, Writers, & Artists
Poetry Times Two An Interview with Tim Suermondt and Pui Ying Wong By Epiphany Ferrell, Senior Editor Tim Suermondt is the author of the poetry collections Election Night (Glass Lyre Press, 2016), Just Beautiful (New York Quarterly Books, 2010), and two chapbooks, The Dangerous Women with Their Cellos (The Manny Trio Press, 2002) and Greatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2002). Pui Ying Wong is the author of An Emigrantâ€™s Winter (Glass Lyre Press, 2016), Yellow Plum Season (New York Quarterly Books, 2010), and two chapbooks, Sonnet for a New Country (Pudding House Press, 2008) and Mementos (Finishing Line Press, 2007).
They are married to each other, and they live in Brooklyn, New York. Will anyone notice if I suggest their book and chapbook titles ought to be used as a word prompt? By which I mean only 33
to say, who wouldn’t want to read books with such titles? It’s the electronic age, we talk by email. And so we did. MRR: Let’s talk about the news for a minute. But not the obvious news. I mean the weird little stories that show-up in quirky news outlets, or maybe a bit of research presented in a pop science outlet, or the news you overhear when you have coffee at a diner. How does a story you hear in such a way become a poem? Or does it? This question comes after reading “On Death and Every Sweet Flying Thing.” Pui: Inevitably what I hear sometimes makes its way into my poems, the trapped woman in the chimney, the man who fell from the stadium…came from news sources. We’d like to believe we are in control and can beat back what we don’t want. When writing this poem “On Death and Every Sweet Flying Thing” I was thinking about fate and chance and how they’ve always been with us. And of course, writing is not about reporting back what you hear. Contemplation is the starting point, imagination makes it go far. MRR: And reading “A Friend Says He’s Getting over His Divorce.” Tim: You’re just scratching the surface. For me, and as I suspect for most poets, there are multitudes of such overheard stories that can prompt a poem—not counting something you thought you heard, dreamt, conjured up out of the blue, the list is endless! And you can throw in personal experience for the cherry 34
on top. There’s so much material in the world for the poet, the problem often is deciding which one to go with at any given juncture. I often find myself being inspired by a poem I’ve read from another poet, and then using that to often write about something completely different—his or her poem about war becoming my poem about walking with my love down the boulevard. It can all be strange, mysterious—and I’m glad it is. MRR: Ok, now the other news. How do you keep from getting dragged down and distracted from your work when the daily news seems so dark? Do you incorporate, ignore, write in spite of, become more or less political in your writing? Pui: News is like life, good and bad and in between. Since the last presidential campaign, I have been watching too much news. But because someone like Trump is in the WH I have to stay vigilant. What exactly can I do I don’t know but I can’t just ignore it. As a poet, I let everything come to my poems, politics or otherwise. Everything has potential and there’s no need to force anything. MRR: What is your process for assembling a full collection or chapbook? What is your process? And who decides the poems ought to be in book form – you? Or the poems themselves? Pui: Because I don’t write poems for a book or do anything with a thematic scheme, I have freedom in shaping my book. My poems may be about different subjects, but they share common threads since I am the one who wrote them. I think each of my 35
poems relates to the other and it feels natural that they come together in a book form. MRR: What was the biggest mistake you’ve made as a poet and/or what was the most important lesson? Tim: That’s an interesting question. I know my poems keep the Poetry watchdogs gainfully employed, but mistakes? When I first started to send out poems many moons ago, I thought a good poem (or one I thought was good) would automatically be read and get some respect from editors. I soon learned that was not always the case—so many factors were involved and it often felt as if the poem was the last item to get any consideration. The poetry world is just like many others—there’s the good, the bad and the indifferent. Fortunately, the good editors and publishers are out there in decent numbers and the poems do not take a backseat with them. In addition, I’ve wondered if I should have gotten an MFA, Ph.D or something like that—many poets have and are part of a circle that eases them into getting published and helps get them some recognition. I applaud that, but if I had gone that route I’m rather certain that my poems would have been quite different. Maybe the poems would have been better, but I live happily with my quirks, and I’m constituted to be a lone wolf, though I acknowledge the help and kindness I’ve gotten from others—no man or woman is an island and knows it all. The most important lesson I learned on the poetry rollercoaster is to have a streak of stubbornness, don’t back down ( unless you’ve become convinced you should) and don’t quit. 36
Listen to everyone and no one. And be as joyous as possible— you’re writing poems, lucky you. MRR: Why is writing difficult? If you are having trouble, what’s usually the cause? Tim: If you’re trying to write well, the Muse can make you work. I’m not the only poet who frets over a stanza, one line, one word! It can drive you nuts looking for what’s best—but ultimately it pays off when you think you might have nailed it. We all get lazy—boy, do I know—but being honestly challenged is good for both writer and reader. I remember Charlie Smith saying that if your poem is not going well, just write in “Willie Mays” and that sometimes does the trick. It does. It doesn’t work with Mickey Mantle—why I’m not sure. And then there’s Borges who said he always had writer’s block, but kept on writing as if he didn’t. Keep writing and reading—it’s been the winning formula for centuries. Pui: Language, the tool we use, is not always friendly. Since writing is not reporting, not therapy and if we agree a poem ought to embody some kind of beauty, truth and art rather than just mundane, than perhaps it is natural that writing is difficult. There are times when I resist language, or language puts up a fight. But on some lucky days when we are in sync and the poem reveals what’s been elusive, it’s a great feeling. MRR: For many (most? all?) writers, writing is part of their identities—it’s not what they do, it’s who they are. If you, by 37
some odd twist of fate or in an alternative universe, were not a poet, what would you be? Is there some other calling you faintly hear? Some career that might bring some satisfaction? Tim: I like being in a poet’s skin, though it does often cause consternation in some people: “I hated poetry in school; you really do that?” “I never got poetry” and the simple “Oh poetry, yeah, right…” as the person backs away and starts looking around for the punchbowl. Probably the only thing I’d have liked as much as being a poet is having been the centerfielder for the New York Mets. I was tall and lanky and at around 12 years old, I pitched and ran and hit the ball a couple of country miles—but by the time I got to 16, whatever athletic talent I possessed pretty much vanished. So, instead of being a centerfielder I had to be satisfied with writing a few poems about them. It was the Mets loss, but I like to think Poetry’s gain—at least a little bit. Pui: When I was a kid, maybe in first grade, my mother asked what I wanted to be when I grow up. I replied “writer!” Seeing myself as a writer has been a lifelong constant, even before I understood what it meant. But if I were not a poet I would probably love to do something with modern dance. The fact is I can’t dance and am no expert but I am thinking about Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey…their work express something vital and beautiful about humanity.
Five Poems by Tim Suermondt Three Sisters in a French Film I love the older one, Yvette—the one who explains the philosophy of love best in her red bikini, who lets the ocean breeze caress her with a conviction her boyfriend, destined to be sent off midway through the picture, failed to match. How she handles the world! Look at the ending shot: the camera panning in for a close up as she smokes, stares straight into the camera as if wanting to say “I know life is difficult But I will always be here Please, Monsieur, let us be happy”
Built a Great Cathedral In ten days, Using an amalgam Of water, stone, wood, metal, Brawn and sweat. The townspeople marveled And how I wished all those Who worked on Chartres Were here to see it too. The local paper wrote an article, Including a picture of me Swinging like a cheerful ape From a flying buttress, Amusing even the Saints who Often will sit inside the nave, Slouching, thankful for the at easeâ€” 40
And the Angels who enjoy Soaring to the ribbed vault roof, Gazing at my name burned Into a beam, white as their wings.
“Letter to a Young Poet” Walk around, take the measure of things no matter how fleeting. Then sit and start scribing—pen and paper, computer keyboard, the choice is yours. Let gratitude introduce itself, tell loneliness to go to hell, let memories drop their duffel bags and suitcases anywhere. Write like the biggest son-of-a-bitch would— you’re writing a poem for Christ’s sake.
The Cavalcade of Children Who can’t wait to become grown-ups. Don’t tell them not to hurry—they won’t listen. We never listened. And speaking of you and me, here we are in the latter days of Fall, full-fledged adults, and mature (well most of the time), preparing ourselves for a harsh Winter, watching Children of Paradise while the city gets quieter with every doomed leaf, looking again to sleep, yes, like a baby.
Sometimes what’s Right with the World Just enough breeze to cool things down— pale blue sky courting a lonely but comely cloud. Trains moving slower than old beetles— cars and trucks on the elevated highway, crisscrossing like ants with racer’s legs. Even the twenty story building standing at attention wants to be humble—the tenants know magnificence when they see it.
Five Poems by Pui Ying Wong Lights Out (after the election) Darling, is the window shut? There’s wind banging at the door. Am I sleepwalking? Who are the men in our bed? I can’t tell if this is night or day, my life or someone twisting my arm with a knife. Darling, what’s happening? Is this our neighborhood and if god is not coming back are we still Americans?
Ancient Poet When the rat race become unbearable he retires to the country and spends the days by the river or chases the mountain covered in drifting clouds. Harmony, sun and rain, a little arthritic pain fill the border of his notebook. But the memory of the capital, the gold-plated rotunda where once his poems were recited, frets over the calm water. Wild geese, growing gray hair are the new subjects. And the wind blowing across the prairie tinges with a melancholy length of a dying dynasty.
Five Stanzas Not everything fits. Not every lesson is learned. The wind roughs up the water, the water rushes underground and overtakes the dam. Not every end is a beginning. Sun warms the roots, moonlight dispels the dark and calms the sea. Not every life ends with a full stop.
Day Tripping in Lau Fau Shan Shucked oysters sleep in their wicker caskets The fishmonger would like to find a match for her spinster daughter Across the bay Shenzhen the miracle border city ensnarls in factory haze Get Rich is patriotic even Mao’s granddaughter isn’t hiding her billions At the height of his power Mao swam the width of the Pearl River And men escaping him swam at night with lights from the trawlers Always a few didn’t make the journey their bodies already blue when washed up
The Days After In November after America voted for Trumpâ€” no longer trusting the news, wearied of petitions, rueful in sleep, forgetting birthdays and anniversariesâ€” we went to poetry readings hanging on every word, ravenous like someone in the midst of a bombed-out city scavenging for bread.
California Drive Four inter-connected works of flash non-fiction
By Ruth Nolan
Ruth Nolan, a former wildland firefighter in the Western U.S., is a writer and professor based in Palm Springs, CA. She is the author of the poetry book Ruby Mountain (Finishing Line Press 2016). Her short story, “Palimpsest,” published in LA Fiction: Southland Writing by Southland Writers (Red Hen Press 2016), received an Honorable Mention in Sequestrum Magazine’s 2016 Editor’s Reprint contest and was also nominated for a 2016 PEN Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Ruth’s writing has also been published in James Franco Review; Angels Flight LA/Literary West; Rattling Wall; KCET/Artbound Los Angeles; Lumen; Desert Oracle; Women’s Studies Quarterly; News from Native California; Sierra Club Desert Report, Lumen; The Desert Sun/USA Today and Inlandia Literary Journeys. She is the winner of a 2017 California Writers Residency award. Ruth holds her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside. Reach her at email@example.com.
California Drive 1. Neighborhood Watch 2. Short Sale 3. Ghost Flower 4. Over the Moon
“The great Creator told us, ‘I'm going to teach you these songs, but before I teach you these songs, I'm going to break your heart.’” —Larry Eddy, Mojave Desert/Chemehuevi Indian Salt Song Singer
Neighborhood Watch In 2012, the last year I owned my house on California Drive in the Palm Desert Country Club, all three of the giant Palo Verde trees in the front yard died, and they all died, coincidentally, right around the time I decided to sell my house. Each tree died a different way. And now, if you drive by my old house, you can’t tell they were even there at all. Now, in the front, there's only landscaper’s rock and a wall. An empty yard. And if you pressed me, I would tell you how my live-in boyfriend had committed suicide two years before, although he didn’t do it at the house, and he didn’t wait until the three trees died. He did it while all three trees were still alive.
However, if you look past the wall, into the backyard, you’ll see a huge pine tree in the side yard. It’s over 100 feet high, healthy and growing into the sky. That’s the Christmas tree I planted ten years ago, right after I moved in, and it took root and survived, against all odds. Pine trees aren’t supposed to thrive in the low desert. Summer temperatures soar up to 120 degrees, and 90 degree days in December and January aren't uncommon. In contrast, Palo Verde trees, which technically are shrubs, are more suited to the extremely arid conditions here. But I lost all three Palo Verde trees, in quick succession, despite my best efforts to care for them. Technically, the first Palo Verde tree didn’t die. Top heavy with summer rain from a desert monsoon, the trunk eventually split in half. One February morning, the tree was splayed across the driveway. It cost $1,475 to have that tree cut up and hauled away. That’s a lot of money for someone like me, a college professor, who raised a daughter as a single mom. As I stood in the yard, supervising the tree trimmers, the neighbors across the street – a husband and wife who ran the local neighborhood watch, along with our neighborhood city code enforcement for proper yard and home maintenance, and who had a habit of harassing neighbors they didn’t approve of, especially me –stood in their front yard, heckling. Their harassment had gotten much worse in the two years since Phil died.
“You bitch! Standing there so smug! You murdered your boyfriend, didn't you? Come over here, and I’ll beat the shit out of you, you murdering slut!” Instead of yelling back, I dialed 911, tears in my eyes, and asked for help. It took the police 10 minutes to arrive, and until they did, the neighbors continued to harass me. “Fuckin’ bitch, with your crappy looking house and yard. That’s what whores like you deserve, trees that blow down, ha ha ha! Should’ve trimmed ‘em when you were supposed to! Shouldn’t have been screwing your boyfriend so much. Sluts like you drive our property values down!” When the officer arrived, the wife continued to flip me off every time he looked away. The next day, my front driveway and car had been egged, sticky, yellow yolks crusting in the sun. I washed egg off my car the best I could, sobbing, and thankfully, the neighbors were nowhere in sight. If Phil had been alive, he would’ve taken the car to the best carwash in town and had the car detailed, just to cheer me up. The demise of the second tree started with rotten limbs. Termites. No way to exterminate them without killing the tree, so I just cut away limbs and branches, slicing my arms on the unforgiving razor needles, until the tree was dead. My pool guy, Dave, offered to help. It was March, already hot in the desert, and the tree limbs were buzzing with wasps. “I’ll bring a chainsaw. By the way, are you sexually active? Since your boyfriend died?” I pretended I hadn’t heard him. “Thanks,” I said. “Let’s get this tree done!” 53
Together, we finished off the second Palo Verde tree and he hauled away the remaining limbs and logs in his pool service truck. I paid him $100 for helping, and I managed to avoid having sex with him. While we worked, I could hear the woman across the street yelling at me. “What a slut! Your boyfriend’s still warm in his grave, and you’re already hooking up with the pool man! Unbelievable! Bitch!” I was so shocked that I went into the house, closed the garage door, locked up the house, and cried for more than two hours. The third Palo Verde tree didn’t really die. It was severely injured and uprooted by a freak, late night windstorm, to the point where it had to be taken entirely out, root ball and all. I thought was the healthiest of the three, and most likely to survive. It was also the one tree in my yard that sheltered my living room window, which faced the street, from the neighbors’ stares. Then, in April, on a very hot night, there was a drive-by shooting across the street, right in front of the house of the neighbors who hated and harassed me. On the night of the drive-by, I was in my garage, folding a load of laundry. I heard a brief commotion, and then a car door slam. Six shots were fired, sounding like fireworks. I saw a man lying face down in the street, and a woman leaning over him. “Help us! Help us,” I heard the woman yell. I grabbed a towel and ran outside, joining one other neighbor, who 54
came running from down the street, in helping the man who had been shot. He was lying face down in the street. The woman who was with him screamed for help. Nobody else came out. I saw the neighbors across the street look out their window once, and then pull the blinds shut before their house went dark. The other neighbor who was there to help was a young Army veteran who, as it turned out, had been a medic in Afghanistan. He pressed the towel to the man’s bleeding wound, while I held his hand and tried to comfort him until the ambulance arrived. I don’t know if he lived or died. And then, my remaining Palo Verde tree was uprooted in that freak windstorm three nights later. I called my former sister-in-law, Estrella, who had a new boyfriend, a soccer player named Angel, and asked for help. They came over, and for $200, Angel cut the tree into pieces. In the morning, I had to call the landscapers to haul the tree remains away, at a cost of $350. Estrella didn’t see Angel give me a kiss and a lingering hug in a back bedroom before he left. He handed me a little slip of paper with his phone number on it. Maybe she did, and maybe that’s why I haven't heard from her in almost two years. After that, my front yard didn’t have any shade, and every passer-by could look right in. And when the realtor came to pound the for-sale sign in the yard, I could hear the neighbors across the street yelling and laughing, “Hurray, hurray! She’s moving, at last!” 55
It makes me feel better to remember that I planted the Christmas tree long before suicide became a part of my life. Before the other trees died. Before my daughter Tarah grew up and moved far away. Before I tied a few outdoors-durable ornaments, left over from my daughter’s childhood years, onto some hard-to-see buried limbs of the Christmas tree, before I sold the house and moved away. Clifford, the Big Red Dog. A Carl’s Junior Star. A jolly, red-cheeked Santa. I wonder if those ornaments are still there. Orange poppies Explode desert-wide Your suicide
Short Sale It was January, 2012. I decided to put the house on California Drive up for sale, and move. The house on California Drive was once the place of dreams. It was the first house I’d ever owned. A house with a pool and stucco fireplace, a house for parties and friends, a house to raise my daughter in. Now, all of that was gone. So was all of the equity I’d built in the house since I purchased it in 2002, thanks to the financial crash of 2008. And my longtime boyfriend Phil was dead. I was a hollowed out, empty-house of a human being. It didn’t help that I’d lost my retirement nest egg. 56
I didnâ€™t really have anywhere to go, but I knew I needed to move. For one thing, Iâ€™d lost my view of the mountains after construction for a huge new country club next door leveled the
sand dunes that once enticed me with miles of hikes and dreamy explorations. Now, when I looked to the west, I only saw a 15-foot high wall they’d erected to block non-residents out. I asked someone at work if they knew a realtor who could help me. I told the realtor – a stylish woman named Deise from Brazil who drove a BMW and carried a big Luis Vuitton handbag that I didn’t care what happened to the house. I just wanted to do a short sale, that I was moving all my things into storage and that I’d be staying at the International Lodge for a while, with a suitcase and my MacBook Air. The dogs would be staying at the house until it sold. I told her that I planned to come by every morning and night to feed the dogs. They were used to spending time alone. Deise and her husband had lost a small fortune when the economy collapsed in 2008, and she constantly whined about having to sell the Bentley, and having to downsize from their 10,000 square foot mansion into a four bedroom house at a lesser-known country club. She’d always show up for our appointments wearing tennis or golf clothes, and I’d usually be schlepping around in a bathrobe and sloppy sweats, my hair down and uncombed, because she’d always come before noon, and since Phil had died, I never got out of bed before then. Together with Deise, ashamed down to my core, I took inventory of all of the repairs that the house needed. The modest Berber carpets were destroyed from ten years of pets and wear, and needed to be replaced. The pool pump was broken, the front gate needed repairs, the grout in the living room and hallway tile was filthy, the house needed a new dishwasher, and the hall shower wasn't working. 58
It felt like someone else had bought this house and lovingly taken care of it for years, and that I was an imposter, staying there on someone else’s back. It didn’t feel like my house anymore. It didn’t feel like I deserved to live in a nice place with a nice boyfriend. I didn’t feel like I deserved anything or anyone anymore. I just wanted to crawl into someplace dark and disappear. I was embarrassed that the house was so fucked up, but then again, I really didn’t care and just wanted out. There were also numerous “fuck you’s” scratched into the bedroom walls with various kitchen knives, along with half dozen kicked out patches of drywall. “Ruth, what happened? You should cover these up!” I didn't want to admit to her that it hadn’t been my Tarah who’d scratched those “fuck you’s” into the wall. It was me. After Phil died, I moved into her room, sleeping on an old mattress on the floor. I’d lie in bed all day and scratch those fuck you’s into the wall, when I was home alone. I used a bent paper clip, or the tip of a steak knife, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I’d yell and scream and cry, and watch Lifetime Movies, hugely ashamed to stoop so low. “Fuck you,” I silently thought when Deise chided me for not cleaning up the wall before I showed her the house. “Fuck you, too.” Part of me hated Deise. She had a husband and little boy to go home too. Unlike me, who had no one. But I needed her to help me get rid of that house. I knew I couldn’t do it without her. 59
Once, she told me I should take better care of myself. “You are so pretty,” she said. “Go to the spa for a day. Get your hair colored, and get your eyebrows waxed over at Macy’s in the mall. Really. You’re letting yourself go. Not good.” I didn’t care what she thought. The front yard was empty, and offered a clear view of the hostile neighbor’s house across the street, which I tried to avoid looking at while Deise’s husband pounded the “for sale” sign into the ground in my front yard. I didn’t tell her about Phil. The house sold in one day, to a cash buyer from San Francisco, for $60,000 less than I’d paid for it ten years before. Escrow took 90 days. Fresh spray paint On the petroglyphs Indian Cove
Ghost Flower So I moved out in April 2012, when the Coachella Valley desert was flush with spring wildflowers – soft pink sand verbena; hallucinogenic yellow desert dandelions and hauntingly iridescent-white ghost flowers. It took two weeks to pack and get everything out of my house, as well as the tons of stuff my daughter left behind when she moved out, and shove it into a storage shed. Ten years of my life, excavated, just like that. 60
I reduced my life to what I could carry in my car, and I moved into a studio at the International Lodge on Highway 111 in Palm Desert, a hybrid apartment-hotel built in mid-century architectural style which called to mind the Rat Pack heyday of the 1950’s and 60’s in the Palm Springs area. But I knew I’d missed the party. Now, desert-wide, there were only Canadian tourists, wealthy retirees, and hordes of young hipsters invading the desert every spring for Coachella Fest out in the east valley. And because I felt so lonely, out of synch with my new surroundings, I decided to keep a box full of Phil’s remaining things with me. It’s a white box. It has a lid. It’s from Office Depot. Not long ago, I had more than this. For one, I thought Phil and I were on track to get married. Not anymore. After Phil died, I bundled up the few clothes he’d had, and the blankets and sheets from his bed, into a big green garbage bag, extra double strength. Then, my boyfriend-of-six-monthsafter-Phil, Jesus, threw them in the fireplace at my old house on California Drive, sprinkled BBQ lighter fluid all over everything, and burned it all up, bag and all. Jesus was jealous of Phil. He almost burned down my house, trying to get rid of Phil once and for all. But Jesus didn’t know about the white box, and he never found it, during the times he scoured my house and garage looking for drugs and things he could take back to Blythe, where he lived, to sell cheap or exchange for meth, his drug of choice. 61
He did find and smoke the last of Phil’s weed, one night while I was asleep, but he didn’t find the box. I always keep the lid on the white box. I might open it up now and then, look inside it, expecting to find something new, that I missed before - maybe a suicide note - but I never do. Then, with the same sad sigh, I put the lid back on. I’m looking through the white box now. Trying not to hold my breath, and giving myself exactly ten minutes, because if I don’t close that lid exactly as planned, I don’t know what will happen to me. How I’ll feel. How I might act. Where I might end up. The box has lived in several places since Phil died. First, I kept it in my garage by the garbage can full of dog food. When I sold my house and moved, putting most of my hundreds of office boxes full of books and various papers and what not into my storage shed, I took the white box with Phil’s things in it along with me to the International Lodge. I stored the white box in the bathroom next to the cat litter box. I snuck the cat in, because I wasn’t supposed to have animals. I left the dogs living at my house for two months while it was in escrow, checking on them every day, and then stashed them with a friend who lived on a ranch in Thermal, out by the Salton Sea. My rental on the second floor had stylish Ikea furniture, and a balcony, and a huge, floor to ceiling sliding glass door that overlooked a huge, circular swimming pool built around a black lava rock volcano that gushed water. People lounged around the 62
pool all hours of day and night, drinking and partying, but I never went out there. I missed my private pool at the old house, even with its broken pump. There was a full solar eclipse one afternoon while I was living there, and while it was happening, it looked like the sky turned to ash, with the eerie shadows of palm trees sketched against the building. I moved out of the International Lodge soon after the eclipse, into a small house in the Silver Spur neighborhood of South Palm Desert that, coincidentally, Deise, the realtor who’d sold my house, told me about. I think she felt sorry for me, that I was living at the International Lodge. “That place is full of hookers and druggies,” she said, and I had to admit, it was pretty evident that she was right. The new place was on Birdie Lane, and the front door had a huge, stained glass centerpiece in the shape of a hummingbird. The new place had a small backyard, so my dogs and cat had plenty of room for themselves. Phil loved hummingbirds, and would always point them out to me on our desert hikes, or in the backyard or by the pool at the house on California Drive. I got a few more things out of my storage unit, to make my life a little more comfortable. And, of course, I took the white box. Sometimes I take the lid off the box, and look inside, and then I feel sick. Nobody knows about this box but me, and no one else has ever seen it. I wrote Phil's name on the top in black Sharpie Marker. 63
Most of the time, I just forget about the box. But that’s a lie. And there’s still another box, buried somewhere deep in my storage unit. It’s very heavy, because it’s filled with 26 boxes of shotgun shells that Phil left hidden at the back of my bookshelf in the house on California Drive. There was also a gun. A shotgun. Brand new, price tag still on it, which I found hidden at the back of my closet one morning while looking for a pair of shoes. “We might need to use this someday,” Phil said when I confronted him about it. “Society is falling apart. We’re almost in the year 2012. I might have to defend us if the shit really hits the fan.” After that, I pretended it wasn’t even there. It was easier just to not think about it. The weird thing was, that Phil took the gun back to the Palm Desert Gun Store, where he’d bought it, and got his money back, before he killed himself. I only found this out because after Phil died, I asked his brother Paul what had happened to his shotgun, and Paul said that it wasn’t found at the scene of the suicide, and so I went to the gun store, and they told me that someone matching Phil’s description had returned an unused shotgun the day before Phil died. As it turns out, he never even fired it once. When Phil killed himself, he did it with his friend Wade’s shotgun. He lied to Wade, and said he wanted to go bird watching, so they went far out into the desert, in Joshua Tree. This is where you slept This is where you hid the gun The house has been sold 64
Over the Moon Something falls off a shelf in the dark closet. It’s my daughter Tarah’s stuffed blue bunny from her childhood, the one with a music box inside of it that plays, “Hey fiddle fiddle.…” The song is supposed to play every time you squeeze one of the blue bunny’s paws. I smile, and push one of the blue bunny’s tattered paws. First one, then the other. No music. Nothing comes out. No music, no song. Just memories that explode out of nowhere as I stare at its grinning face. Tarah is pregnant, with a baby boy, due in six weeks. I’m spending the summer with Tarah and Alex at their home in Ft. Lewis, Washington. They’ve been here for two years, since Alex joined the Army. I am in love with the Pacific Northwest. Cool rain, lakes and rivers everywhere you look, and of course, the Puget Sound nearby. I’m grateful to be far away from the suffocating desert, where temperatures are reaching, as they always do in July, more than 115 degrees each day. And the blue bunny grins away at me with its ridiculous sewn-on smile and fat black button eyes. It’s a little battered, and a dirtier hue of blue than it was twenty years ago, but other than that, and the silent paws, it’s still the same. I try to remember how the rest of the song goes.
The blue bunny has been sharing the closet with my sonin-law’s Army camouflage gear, where he tossed it after he returned from deployment in Afghanistan last year. “Mom?” “I’ll be there in a minute.” My mind is flooded right now; I’m remembering everything but the words to that song, and all because of this blue bunny, distant relative to the desert Jackrabbit: I’m with Tarah’s father, Vince, and we are both 22 years old. He’s just been discharged from the Marines, where he was stationed at 29 Palms. We’ve been living together in a shotgun shack homesteader cabin, without electricity or indoor plumbing, for nine months. We’re on a road in the Mojave Desert, on a dirt road, crossing a Rabbit Dry lakebed. We’re on our way to San Bernardino, the nearest city, 60 miles away. It’s four months before Vince, in a night of drunken blackout, shoots and kills his best friend on the upstairs balcony of our apartment with his 9 MM, and goes to prison for 25 years. And I’m pregnant with our daughter, which I just found out, something like eight or nine weeks along. And we’re on our way to have an abortion. And we run over not one, but two rattlesnakes, just a few miles apart, and my boyfriend pulls over each time to cut off their rattles, and tosses the dead snake bodies into the back of the truck so that, he says, he can make snakeskin headbands later on. And he says he’s always wanted a baby girl. And I tell him that much of the desert was once underwater, covered with giant lakes. 66
But it’s dry as fuck now, he says. It’s early in the morning, just past dawn, and the Mojave sky is orange behind alien Joshua Trees, so jagged and perfect in their odd April blooming, their thick white blossoms tightly wound, yet bursting out. We drive for more than an hour. Vince stops once to shoot a raven out of the sky. Just for fun, he says. And then we are penetrating mountains, descending through Cajon Pass on Interstate 15, all the way into the Inland Empire smog, to where the roads are straight and linear and the sky and buildings are uniformly gray. And before we get to the clinic, which is in a strip mall and unmarked, he pulls off at K-Mart off of Waterman Avenue. The parking lot is full of potholes and there are no other cars. And I wait in the truck, my head pressed against the dashboard, trying not to think or feel, and longing for another cold beer. And he returns with the blue bunny, and plays the music for me. It’s the size of a newborn baby. He got it, he says, at the store’s early morning blue-light special sale. Hey, diddle diddle… And he plays the song over and over, until I think he’s going to crush its paws, or wear out the batteries. And he says, have you thought it over? No, I say, and I just listen to that song, and stare at the blue bunny, and press its paws over and over again until he starts the truck and turns around, heading towards the desert again. 67
The cat and the fiddle…. And now, I remember. I remember. I remember the rest of the song. Hey, diddle diddle The cat and the fiddle The cow jumped over the moon The little dog laughed To see such sport And the dish ran away with the spoon. “Mom, don’t cry,” I hear my daughter say, from far away. “What’s wrong? Why are you on the closet floor in the dark? Are you crying about Phil again? Don’t cry. It’s not your fault he killed himself. I keep telling you that.” I look up, through blurry eyes. My daughter, big-bellied, stands over me. A smile lights up her face. “You found Blue Bunny! My favorite old toy!” I cradle the blue bunny in my arms, thinking we can finish organizing her closet another day, in time for the baby to be born. And outside, the soft rain, the soothing hues of green, a flock of robin red breasts fluttering in the trees, everything here says “go.” Summer 2013 Big trees, family Everything is green
Like Putting Your Eye to a Keyhole On Poetic Process, with six poems by Linda Blaskey Linda Blaskeyâ€™s work appears in journals and anthologies, such as Best New Poets 2014. Her work was chosen for the North Carolina Poetry on the Bus project and has been nominated for Best of the Net. She is the recipient of two fellowship grants from Delaware Division of Arts. She is poetry/interview editor for The Broadkill Review and is coordinator for the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. Originally from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas she now lives in the flat lands of southern Delaware.
FOR ME, poetry is like putting your eye to a keyhole, that small portal that gives access to the much larger picture. Even the smallest of poems can give us that view. And I like that, writing small poems in plain language that reveal more than the reader expected. Each of my poems starts from a sudden and surprising trigger pointâ€”a radio program, a box of candy, a luna moth dead 69
on a chain link fence. Which means, I always have to be a little Zen, open and receptive to what might present itself as a trigger. Most often, I build a complete poem in my head and most often that is when I am active—walking, mucking stalls, mowing the back pastures on the tractor. Once it is fairly well mapped out in my head (but sometimes it is only a few lines) I put it down on paper, read it out loud then begin revisions. Always, always read your poems out loud, to the cat if you have to. And I have to give kudos to poet/mentor Gerry LaFemina. What a patient man! It only took him about ten years to convince me that I had to ask questions of my poems. I can use the tall ships poem as an example. I was in Chestertown, MD with some friends for the announced tall ship festival. But the ships didn’t come, probably because it was so windy. So there is the initial promise in the first couplet. No tall ships, but what did come up the river? Trawlers and tugs. Next question: what is happening while we’re waiting? It is cloudy and cold and the water is glistening. Question after question built the poem—and each question led me to a new place. When I’m not writing poems, I am reading them. I think that is one of the most important things a poet can do—read and read. Then read some more.
Linda Blaskey Waiting for the Tall Ships I have been promised them, their splendor, canvas bulging in effort to push them upriver. So far only small trawlers, a tug alone, not unusual sights for an eastern tide. The water is silver from sun filtered through cloud-cover and the morning chill feels hard as dimes. There is glint like false promise in the air, like another kind of waitingâ€”waiting for the right man to come along. So many before you think you have it right only to find all you want is sleep, not this new waiting for his bearish back to stop heaving, for his pungent sweat to evaporate, for the suck of his pulling away. On the river the wind has picked up. The awaited ships now must travel under motor-power, sails furled, spars like bones. Already, I plan for disappointment.
While Driving Home from Recycling I Listen to Terry Gross Interview Pat Conroy About His Rough Childhood The light by Rite-Aid has stopped traffic. In the next lane over a little boy in an Explorer leans out the window and says I have tires on my fingers so I can be the toughest man alive. He holds up his armor-clad fists for me to see. Conroy tells Terry that at dinner the older kids sat at their fatherâ€™s end of the table, keeping the younger ones from his reach. He says he and his brothers are violent men like their father. But I never beat my children. Though at times I wanted to.
Another Mode of Self-Defense The sun has dragged its shimmer across the river, shore to shore I’ve watched it go; have lain here, bland in head, followed its progression— hawks cry, wind scuffles, still I stare until retinas sear a blur in center vision. Go ahead and try to lay me low; I’ve made your face a plate scrubbed clean of all expression. Another look upon the river, beauty in the burning.
I Listen to a Woman Read a Poem about HIV and Think of Timothy and How It Was in the 1980s Each day after my shift I would go to his third floor room. Each day I would bring him ice chips and Jell-O, smooth balm on his lips. Each day I would crank up his bed. (Have you ever seen the fragile carcass of a cicada? Its veined wings?) Each day he would ask for his mother who would not come.
Stoned and Almost in Love So we’re sitting at a country crossroad ten at night waiting for a stop sign to turn green and Ed Kefauver— who is no one’s boyfriend and who wears Lennon-esque glasses that are sexy as hell— he hands a box of Mike and Ike’s over from the back seat and we are blown away by the fruit flavors each lemon-cherry-lime tasting louder than it’s supposed to then Ed says oh man….it’s a freakin’ stop sign we all go far out and laugh and I put my foot on the gas stall that little bug because we’ve been in neutral all this time we laugh some more and I slam that puppy into first glance in the rearview and there is that mop of hair that manicured mustache and those (oh my) silver-rimmed round-as-a-half-dollar glasses the stars are turning and the bug’s wheels are turning and we’re tooling down a two-lane — Stephen Stills’ anthem on the radio
The Lepidopterist I’m afraid if I had told you of my penchant for sticking pins through the crisp thoraces of moths, you’d be wary, perhaps of my arm draped over the back of the kitchen chair, my fingers exploring your spine through cloth. I found a luna moth, dead on the chain link fence yesterday. They only live a week and this one is losing luminescence in the cupboard behind you. Did you know lunas emerge from their cocoons always in the morning, a bit like we emerge from our beds? Another similarity: their wings start small and are enlarged by pumping bodily fluids through them. Your shirt is almost the color of my luna’s wing. It is a good shade for you and brings out your eyes.
Art is a Teacher Interview with and photographs by Frank Foster
Frank Foster has been teaching all of his life and apparently cannot stop. Currently he teaches at Victor Valley College. His work has appeared in the New York Times, California Today, and has been exhibited at galleries in London, Vancouver, and Santa Barbara. He continues to photograph despite the urging of his friends to stop.
MRR: Can you share some of your history as an artist? FF: I always was drawing something. I never really considered it related to art until a girlfriend suggested that consider it more seriously. I began drawing more and kept a sketchbook. When I decided to go to art school, I first took courses at a local community college to test this new interest. I credit a very gifted teacher, Mr. Alexander, who encouraged me to pursue the study of art. I went on to attend Memphis College of Art, first studying printmaking. I had begun to photograph while in high school but never could control it the way I could with a drawing. Photography became and continues to be something I am trying to perfect. I was quite lucky to be accepted to the California Institute of the Arts where I earned a Master of Fine Arts in photography in 1979. That same year I was hired as a teacher at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana. Like photography, teaching has also been a pursuit, wanting to challenge myself to find ways of engaging others in the pursuit of learning by using art. Iâ€™ve had numerous exhibitions in the U.S., including showing my work at competitions. Iâ€™ve recently also shown in the U.K., a traveling show of my work, and in an important competition. I continue to pursue the exhibition of my work centered more on using the web as a means of presentation. MRR: Why do you do what you do?
FF: I feel art is an essential part of my existence. I could not live without creating it as often as I can. I consider myself still learning, making mistakes and correcting them. Art I believe is created to share. It is this means of communication that offers the possibility of connecting to another person and opening their eyes to what you see. I cannot stop this process of creation. I feel it is the reason I am given another day to live. MRR: Who has most profoundly influenced you as an artist and photographer? In what ways? FF: I have always been interested in the act of creation. What is intriguing about it is the simple fact you can make something that will reach another person. My background is an odd mixture of the traditional training an artist undergoes with courses in drawing, color, 3-D and crafts, but Iâ€™ve also taken courses with artists who are risk takers. They sometimes belie the traditional and seek to challenge whatever is traditional. As far as influences, I have had so many. I was lucky to have a mother who forced me to attend symphony concerts, ballet, musicals, plays, museums and other cultural events. She knew the value of the exposure to such diverse and rich sources of culture. I later realized the profound affect this exposure had of me and I now see this as the foundation of my understanding of all of the arts. Certainly there are photographers who influence me such as Josef Koudelka and Robert Frank, but Iâ€™m also influenced by classical music and film in how those art forms create an existence that encapsulates the viewer, overwhelming them with environment and meaning. 79
MRR: I feel like I want to ask “what is the photographer’s job?” or “what is the artist's job?” Your thoughts? FF: They are the same question and that role is to revel in a world that connects elements together and gives them a context and broadens our understanding of where and how we live. Art is a teacher because it can take what is common and find within it the significance of why we live, love, hate, fear, control, create, destroy, cry, laugh, die. One of the reasons I do what I do is to create something that will connect with another person. I must do that. MRR: Do you think the camera consequently made artists feel they had to create pictures of something else, different from or beyond nature or literalness? Is that the reason for abstraction? FF: The camera was first created by frustrated painters to enforce the visions they had first as painters. It then became something that could replicate what is known to exist. Beyond the act of documentation, the camera and the negative were something to manipulate for the sake of creating a personal vision. It continues to evolve and because of digital and it is now practiced by many more than ever. This is because of its simplification of process—point and shoot. Gone are all of the technical decisions taught in art and photography schools. This has hurt and helped photography. It has hurt it because it belittles the experience and training any artist goes through to become who they are. The Internet has played an important role in this 80
assassination because fame is just a return button click away. Digital has also helped photography by making it more portable and malleable. The Internet glides on so easily and into the computers of billions of people in the fraction of a second. No longer is Andy Warholâ€™s wish for all who see fame to be given their fifteen minutesâ€Ś because of the Internet it has been shortened to fifteen seconds. MRR: Can you describe your process? How has your practice changed over time? How has your work changed? FF: My process has been tampered with through the years. I do however believe in intuition and forethought. Sometimes I do see an image prior to taking the picture and then fight like hell to find and hold on to that image. But I do enjoy a challenge and a risk. I have been shooting more on the street, where control is hard to achieve. But I like this because it forces me to think differently and to react quickly to what is changing so rapidly. I believe the street is the vitality of our daily life anywhere on this planet. Itâ€™s a measurement of popular culture, fashion, activity, interaction, gender, peers, commercialization. Consider how a street in a town or a city projects what it does about the people, their social levels, their interactions, and how we all live with each other. I shoot on the street because I feel that is where I will find life. And if my images mean anything beyond today, they will reflect this time period and how we as humans attempted to live.
MRR: It was an honor and a pleasure for me to work with you on your latest exhibition. From your perspective, how did it come about and then come together? In what ways did you hope to affect the audience? What’s next for you, project-wise? FF: I have always thought about how words and images could work together. I’ve looked at other’s work and tried to learn from what they had done by this pairing. Words in their simplest of form are so pure. Images are loaded with specifics and can be limited. But a word allows the viewer more a chance of interpretation and ironically we explain and describe images by using words. What happens when words and images interact? I am fascinated by this relationship and will explore it because of the risk of trying something new and untested. I have too many ideas but despite this, I want to explore the idea of linking parts of images with parts of a poem, fiction or a description. I want to find new ways images and writing can relate and evolve in to a unified medium that expresses profound meaning. MRR: What do you currently dislike about your work? What do you currently like about your work? FF: I need to take more risks. Too often I do not push myself as hard as I should. When art is created too easily, it tends to repeat what you have already done and instead of progressing you just stagnate. I thrive on change and on pushing myself to create more powerful images. I really want my images to mean something and matter. I am still working on that. 82
I try hard too to create a kind of unity in the larger groups of images centering on one subject. I have always worked this way thinking of how a large group of images with link together and what individual and collective statements that group communicates. MRR: What are your favorite and/or most inspirational places? Why so? FF: My heart lives in the Quarter of the city of New Orleans. I feel for some reason a connection to it. I lived there only for a short period of time but during that time, I feel I became an artist. I would sit and draw children playing in a fountain in City Park, uptown. Each time I go back to photograph, I affirm that decision with how I connect to the spirit and emotion of New Orleans. I could live there again if blessed and never tire of photographing itsâ€™ architecture, streets and people and I love the food. MRR: Whatâ€™s the best piece of advice you've been given about living the life of an artist? What advice might you give to your students and other emerging artists? FF: Create as often as you humanly can. See each day as a gift that makes it possible to create. Do not worry about it being good, bad or great, just create. Challenge yourself by going beyond what you think you are good at. Take risks and see a risk as a step towards growth. Fail often and fail beautifully, because it is 83
through this process we gain the potential to learn. Creating art is learning and you should never let that stop.
Kevin Tosca Happiness GERALD HAD HEARD OR READ that cold water could keep you young. Not only the skin, but the soul. He didn’t believe much of what he heard or read, but he splashed cold water on his face nonetheless. After savoring the shock, he shaved and showered and rinsed his hair, but he didn’t use shampoo because he had used shampoo the previous morning. Then he dried himself and dressed himself and prepared breakfast: a glass of organic cranberry juice, a bowl of fiber-filled cereal, an immodest slice of carrot cake, a double espresso. While he ate, he used his phone to scan the morning’s headlines. Reading them, his emotions ranged from disgust to indifference to curiosity. Never pleasure. One of these days, he promised himself, he’d stop looking at the goddamned things. Then he checked the weather, which was what he wanted to do in the first place. No rain in the forecast, so he decided to take his Triumph to work. This made him feel better. Taking his father’s motorcycle to work always made him feel better. At work, he flirted with Tina because Tina flirted with him, because it was harmless and fun and made him feel handsome. He set a date to play tennis with Jerome, was annoyed (as he knew he would be) by Roger and Colleen’s presentation— their pessimism and trumped-up sense of urgency—was flattered (unexpectedly) by the e-mail from France that allowed him to 94
wonder what it would be like to live in a foreign country, become a foreign man. But the wonder passed as quickly as it had come, was one of those what-if, bittersweet wonders that would never evolve into action, nor cause real regret, not in Gerald. He was happy where he was. Thinking of elsewhere and lost horizons only made him happier. After work, he met Marlene for a pint at The Black Windmill. They chatted and laughed with friends, danced to one of their favorite songs and made plans for the weekend, agreed not to overplan their lives. At home, Gerald ate leftovers. Pasta and a salad. The salad’s lettuce, a mix of iceberg, romaine, and radicchio, had been cooked by the vinegar to the wilted point he liked best. When he was done eating, he drank a beer from Belgium for dessert and watched an hour’s worth of television. Then he read twenty pages of the novel he was halfway through. In it, a rich, famous, borderline geriatric Scotsman was falling in love with a mysterious—dangerous?—young woman from Brixton. Gerald wondered what kind of old man he’d make. A grump? A pillar? A rogue? Would he live that long? Be lucky enough to have his health if he did? Tempt troublesome love? He put the book on the nightstand, considered masturbating, but opted not to in order to keep the desire high for Marlene. He set his phone’s alarm before turning it, and the light, off, slept for seven and a half hours, never had to get up to pee, didn’t toss and didn’t turn, remembered nothing when he woke up. Not one dream. Not even a nightmare. 95
Cynthia Anderson Disaster Preparedness Because I live in fire country, earthquake country, flood country— three in one, thanks to the desert’s largess—I’m warned to be ready, and I’ve done what I can to be ready— stocked house and car, packed grab-and-go bags, backed up data, learned how to turn off utilities. I feel better for doing these things, though I know full well my efforts may be as short-lived as a moth. The calamity we can’t prepare for is the one that never occurs to us— a trailer marooned in the road, flipped on one side, the pickup that pulled it askance, an elderly couple on the shoulder, sitting in camp chairs, heads in their hands, summer over before it began.
The End of the Affair He had no idea the moment he killed her his own life would be over. A discharged marine well versed in death, he saw himself as allpowerful, deploying the perfect crime. But he was no mastermind. A trail of conversations, emails, web searches led the law to the decomposed body of his mistress, dumped down a mine shaft in the Mojave. Unable to contest his own DNA, he confessed in court, adding the sordid claim that his lover molested his daughter. From whatever heaven she fled to, the dead woman, a girl herself, shook her head in disbelief. She had expected a marriage proposal, got in his car aflutter and let him take her someplace remote enough for his surpriseâ€”a garrote.
Cornered, he broke down in court, sobbing for his own lost life, the unfairness of it all, after he almost got away with it.
Crickets NO ONE BELIEVES ME when I tell them that crickets spit tobacco. Some fiddle, it’s true, and others dance, leaping legs crisscrossed in the air. And others sit still and sip whiskey from a tiny tin cup no bigger than the end of a blade of grass, barely big enough to taste the lightning on your tongue. Others congregate together over potato salad and divinity to tell tales on each other. Some visit, even, with wives not their own, and everyone else in the room can’t help but turn away. But some, you barely even notice them, stand off to the side. And when they see what you’ve done, they can’t barely help themselves. They’ve got to spit, because no one will believe them anyway.
Rich Soos Pairs night quarreling spouses attract spiders to dangle new webs in the air moon shares its reflection in the newly formed river on the desert floor a traveler happily drinking his open bottle of wine shares the final taste
Stanley Anne Zane Latham
Stirring Winter’s Midnight WINTER BORN. Snow melting from my father’s boots interlacing with my mother’s water shattered on the linoleum. He had walked from the river knowing – leaving his torch, his shift, and his ’57 Chevy that would not ignite in the cold. Knowing. Hours before my mother knew. His children were coming. I picture my mother’s frost blue eyes dancing terrified; the dark hair I never knew a thundercloud as my father enters the kitchen. Her pink nightgown is drenched. She does not know whether to harangue or run to him. My father wraps my mother in a comforter and carries her out the door. He moves through the snow like caribou. I feel her arms around his neck. I feel the sudden cold on the palm of her foot as her slipper drops and spins on the frozen snow. The wind lifts and takes it; my mother’s feet never quite touching this earth. I am clinging too. William Condor is weak. This I know. Not his name for we are neither separate nor named nor is it even known by us that I am she and he is he. Lately, I had been sharing my food with him. When I am asleep I know he gives it back to me. I don’t want to leave him. I am holding on to him. I am pleading 101
with him to come with me. William Condor says I must let him go, it is not his time, and there is a force that is first sparks on a red sea then black as winterâ€™s midnight as I am torn away from him. Thrust/Apart. My father is the first to hold me. The smell of sulfur. Crisp air and musk. Salt and sorrow envelope me. He takes me home. Water soothes me; the supple pods that are the flesh of his fingertips mold in my fingertips. The nap of his field jacket against my heart. Until my mother can leave the darkness under her snow white hair.
Ciao, Bella* A JAPANESE DUDE WANTED ME to switch tickets with his girl so they could be in the same cabin I assumed, and I couldn’t say no. I’d want someone to do the same if it were me and my girl. My girl, whose salty tears I’d kissed from cheeks only yesterday in a busy airport terminal. My girl, who didn’t stick around to blow me romantic silver screen kisses because there were no promises once I’d stepped into the security line. We were nineteen and I was going to Italy for two sweat-dripping summer months with no guarantees we wouldn't fall in love with other people while I was gone. So after I’d lugged my suitcase to carriage number ten of the overnight sleeper train from Rome to Sicily where my distant family was awaiting me, bumping past travelers along the narrow corridors (“Scoozi…scoozi…scoozi,” among the few Italian words I knew), it was back to carriage three. There were five women in the cabin who began speaking rapid-fire Italian and I didn’t understand a thing until one of them with Ferrari red hair and crazy in her eyes said in broken English, “Only girls in theees cabin, boy.” But they let me stay and I was glad because I didn’t know how I’d explain it to a Japanese dude who didn’t speak any English at all. Our cabin had no air conditioning and smelled like white vinegar. In the corridor, young Italian guys stood with their 103
elbows propped onto windowpanes, watching Italy go by, the cool breeze drying sweat on their foreheads. One of them turned and said something to me; the red-haired woman translated: “Five women. You are a very lucky guy.” I rubbed my thumb against fingertips like a handful of liras and said, “I paid extra for it.” The red-haired woman laughed and then translated for the rest of them so they could laugh too. Red rattled on to me for hours about her time in New York City, her love of jazz, and her love affair with Kevin Eubanks before he was Kevin Eubanks, leader of the Tonight Show band. “He told me,” she said, “you are crazy enough to be my woman and I’m crazy enough to be your man, but I’m not crazy enough to have a baby with you.” She recalled returning to New York to find him a year later and tracking down his brother who said, “What do you want from me, baby?” “I want your brother,” she told him. She ended up back home, got married and had three kids, and the next time she saw Kevin Eubanks was on American TV. The whole time I had my eye on the girl across from me with a silver stud in her nose and cappuccino skin. She wore headphones and I watched her lips softly sing along to American songs from American bands no Americans our age listened to. Her mother sat beside her in a flower-patterned dress and fanned herself emphatically. When the mother and the rest of the women fell asleep, I followed the girl out of the cabin. We sat in a hidden corner of the carriage trying to communicate through gestures and a pocket dictionary over the clanking and clacking and rumbling of the train against the tracks. “My favorite song is— you know?—Every step you take…” she said, singing the verse. 104
Mountainsides were speckled with lights now and again, proof of life in little villages. We stuck our heads out like dogs from car windows and watched the villages shrink into the distance as the train tore past them. And I began to fall in love with Italy, with her, with being out in the world on my own. We fell asleep on the floor, our shoulders against each other, and awoke at 4 a.m. to the sound of the train being disassembled like a toy set and placed onto a ferry. We grabbed our suitcases and shuffled half-asleep to the ferry’s deck, watched it carve through the sea to the Sicilian port. There was a slice of moon in the sky with a pink-orange streak growing below it, announcing the rising sun. The girl’s mother began moving through the crowd to the front of the ferry and the girl reluctantly followed. “Ciao, bella,” I mouthed to her. She waved goodbye and blew me a kiss for each of my cheeks.
J. Bradley The Ribcage Plans Its Halloween Costume For as long as you can remember, you always choose to be some kind heart. When you are in like or in love, you wrap Christmas lights around your costume, dare other party goers guess what you are, watch them laugh at the obvious pun. When a lover just left you, you drill a hole where he touched you the most, dare other party goers guess what you are, count the hugs you collect. When you have been alone for too long, you paint your costume jet black, dare yourself to stay home.
The Ribcage Invents a Family to Escape From Father left mother for the needle. Mother beat the venom of your father out of you. You beat the venom into your little brother who grew to loom over the city; the citizens ask you for answers.
The Ribcage Talks about Some of Its Suicide Attempts When he found me, he said you look like a wind chime hanging there. When he found me, pills littering the carpet like petals, he asked: where is your throat, your stomach? When he found me, he knew why the children fled from the swimming pool.
Woodstock POOKIE, MY STRAWBERRY-BLONDE GIRLFRIEND who always forgot the sun tan lotion and the extra tampon, was sitting Indian style on the ground while Ritchie Havens sang “Freedom.” Uncle Ernest was off somewhere, walking aimlessly past couples and small groups of people who, in one way or another, resembled us. It was six months since his last stroke and his gait was still somewhat wobbly. He kept mispronouncing “Pookie” as “Poochie.” She asked me just what happens during a stroke and I tried to explain that the electricity in your brain surges, then goes out. “Like a black-out?” she asked. She was wearing a poncho that reminded me of Janis Joplin in posters. “Yes. Something like that,” I said. I knew that really was not a correct explanation but I didn’t want to be bothered with a hundred more questions because Pookie was naturally curious about everything. And when dissatisfied with the answers, she’d become angry in a tense lip sort of way then depressed. She lived with her father, an ex-merchant marine, on alternate weekends. He kept her high on blood oranges, chocolates in the shape of butterflies. She described her favorite room in his house, a neglected one in the attic as “quiet with dust and dead spiders.” When it began to rain, I covered Pookie in a blanket and went off to look for Uncle Ernest, who by now was totally out of 109
sight, as in we couldnâ€™t see him. Couples huddled together and children hid under blankets. Soon I spotted Uncle Ernest standing with head thrown back, arms raised to the sky. People sitting around him started whispering to one another, and if I could eavesdrop, Iâ€™d say they were wondering who was this strange dude with the bald head and thick black glasses and small tummy protruding over a pair of bus-driver pants. I mean, he looked over thirty and not exactly hip. A guy at the mike onstage said if we keep praying hard enough the rain would stop. I spotted Steve Stills wondering through the crowd, his feet sloshing through mud. Eventually, the rain did stop but Uncle Ernest was still standing, which made him even more visible to those sitting. Soon everyone started clapping for Uncle Ernest. Maybe they thought he did stop the rain. At that moment, he became a kind of leader, spiritual or otherwise. Someone handed Ernest an acoustic guitar and he began jamming with some bare chested hippies. And Ritchie Havens, who was back on stage for another set, spoke into the mike that he wanted that fellow with the striped shirt and thick glasses to jam with him on stage. He waved for Uncle Ernest to join him. I ran over and guided Uncle Ernest to the stage and he jammed marvelously with the borrowed acoustic guitar. And although none of this made it to the Woodstock album, it did make it to some bootlegs, where Ernest could be heard playing with Ritchie. Later, when he joined us, Pookie asked Ernest where he learned to play guitar so well. He stated dryly with one eye halfclosed that he learned from a legless Vietnam vet during rehab. 110
And why you never played for us? asked Pookie. Ernest wandered off again. It was about a year to that day, when a second stroke shut off the lights on Uncle Ernest for good, and Pookie was killed in a car accident while she and some friends were trying to make a cross-country trip to California in a beat-up Volkswagen that left huge trails of smoke. They both died on the same day, hours apart. As if a kind of synchronicity, a kind of musical time signature, maybe two notes tuned to the wrong mysterious key. As for me, I live a quiet and uneventful life in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, where no one comes to visit. No one remembers me. Sometimes in summer, dark clouds settle over and near my little house of brick and stucco and refuse to move. Then, a fierce rain floods everything and I stay inside for hours, sometimes days, just listening to the radio. I survive on sourdough and flat breads, the pickled carrots and jams that I make from scratch, imagining myself playing the guitar in the corner, a twelve-string Guild F-212 rumored to have once belonged to Tim Buckley. Wishing I could. I never did learn to play while it rained. I only sang to myself.
Joan Colby The Beloveds I emailed our friends Beloved Sophie has died When we lost our Shepherd To hemangiosarcoma. Replies of sympathy flooded in, All referencing their own dead: Beloved Trixie, Beloved Lucy, Beloved Thor, Beloved Skippy. The adjective fitting easily As a collar. How easily We express the love Of a furry creature, Holding it for the needle, Burying it in the yard With its favorite ball. Even then Beginning to plan the new Puppy on which we may bestow The same name and the Beloved. When my father died, I screamed Until the bones of my chest tightened Into an armor that I wore In public, grim-lipped At the grave, fearing that If I should speak it would be like A foghorn calling from a Sinister coast. So I was Silent, nodding at the convention: Sorry for your loss. No one said 112
Beloved. I could not say Beloved, an easy word Easily leashed. Beloved Sophie. Beloved Vesta Mouthing her red Kong As I write.
The Blood A delta on the back of my hand Fed by blue tributaries that course Over wrist bones. Within, the red Rivers run. Like a limestone subtstrate, the body Is undercut with subterranean Waters. Cells that pool and disperse. The brain can submerge Like a car in a flooded viaduct. Or a barge Stuck in a lock can shock All passage into collapse. So much Can go wrong. Bad blood thought To cause syphilis, the failed marrow, Uncontrolled ravages of leukemia. Old tactics of leeches. There are those who canâ€™t abide The sight of blood and those Who fly through windows at night To suck it from the throats of virgins. A hunter at his first kill Is smeared: blooded. Mine is the blood of the universal Donorâ€”O-negative. I give you blood. Your blood Would kill me. I think of your blood As having awkward lego shapes. 114
Thalessemia Minor. You merely Have the trait. It’s the traces that betray The murderer. That can’t be scrubbed Away. Sangre de Cristo, transubstantiations. An old story, how we might change. Those little fountains pulsing With every heartbeat. Today, My cousin’s latest book with an inscription We share the blood and the poetry.
The Tongue Red boat of taste, it explores Seas of savory and salt, Grieves like a mermaid in waters Churning from sweet to bitter. Inspector of crevices, soul kiss And nipple. The worm of desire. Intimate eel. It slips In a Freudian alley, waltzes in Irony cheek to cheek. Bitten to vanquish the slur, It bleeds like the Sacred Heart Hung over the bed to warn Lovers who lick the crumbs. See how it roves in the cage Of bicuspids and molars. A map Of arroyos, it roots at the edge Of a gulf to lap pieties Or project the insults of a Scarlet child. Gustatory muscle of Prophets and blasphemers, Incarnate with the rage Of peppery notions. Incantations Cartwheeling like tumbleweeds. Choirs of papillae Silent for eons, the tongue In its cave like a snake Anticipating the word That unlatches the gates Into a world of temptation. 116
Monday Breakfasts Near the end of our Monday breakfasts, He grew thinner, frail, frequently Forgot his teeth, then embarrassed, Gummed his eggs and hash browns. Took to wearing the POW cap He’d been given on the Honor Flight to D.C. Sometimes a patron Of the diner would thumbs-up and buy His meal. After years of silence, he Began to talk about it. The plane Shot down over Czech fields, Parachuting into trees, the capture, Starvation in the stalag on the Baltic sea. He was nineteen, years ahead: College, law school, five wives, a single-engine Cherokee to skim the Sierra’s, that’s what he misses Most now: flying. We always sat in the same booth. He liked the bosomy waitress Who parried his jokes. He’d studied with John Williams who later wrote Stoner And told him he ought to teach. He still Regrets he ignored that, how he Ignored his distant daughters. That final fall, he’d barely make it To the vestibule where we waited Steering him in, he’d have to sit A minute and catch his breath. He still drove the handicapped van He’d gotten for his last wife. Now 117
He was alone, he didn’t mind that. I mostly sleep, read, watch TV. At 91, you can’t expect Much more than that. His eyes shone Our of the prominence of bones. He weighed less Than when the camp was freed By the Red Army. Talking science, philosophy, He was not a man of faith When you’re dead, you’re dead. but he Cared about how things worked: Industry, space-flight, politics, art, The obligations we pursue or Ought to, the integrity A man must have; he thought he’d failed Too frequently, but then we all do. After the fall, in the hospital bed He was folded like a wooden toy A child dangles from a cord. Insect-small He grinned at us, then grimaced as The pain struck. Gritted out I’m not going to make it We shook our heads, said he had to It was his turn to buy Which invoked a shattered laugh. It was our special place. Eggs over easy, bacon, toast, Every Monday prompt at ten. Since then, we don’t go back.
Elements: Mother of Pearl Three indigenous women worked in mother-of-pearl On a clay plaque uplift a platter Of avocados, peppers, corn, tomatoes, squash Skyward to the mother-of-gods, Coatlique. Bare-breasted, hair veiled, woven maize skirts, Muscled arms accustomed to burdens, They are iridescent as the mantle of mollusks. Nacre, the outer dress of the pearl, That precious fetus strung On the family tree. An altarpiece of Worship and sacrifice The living hearts drenched in blood. The god Huitzilopochtli praised the priests And their obsidian blades. Women carry compacts lined With mother-of-pearl to hold the powder designed To spackle flesh in matte perfection. The mirror admired the eyes That said Look, we are beautiful. In the late afternoons upon the terrace, They sipped caviar from nacreous spoons To preserve in the black pearls of the sturgeon That extravagant oceanic taste.
Elements: Mercury The little barrel-racer called Quicksilver, His winged shoes flashing The way the barometer falls before a storm. The messenger speeds to the pantheon of the gods With his precious envelope. Alchemists believed All metals derived from this Silvery fluid that the Mayans poured into bowls To divine the future. Spies sabotaged planes While the Mad Hatters hosted a tea As dentists filled cavities and doctors prescribed Blue Mass, Mercurochrome Deadly as big fish devoured too often. The First Emperor of China Longing for eternal life Drank an infusion of mercury and powdered jade. Casanova thought Calomel and ointments Cured his syphilis. One night with Venus, A Lifetime with Mercury.
George Howell Scorpion I don’t like to kill things. The critters live here, we’re just visitors. Remembering the sidewinder That crawled under my chair In the garage last year, Sunlight sparkling on the silvery arms Of the lawn chair & the snake Finally slid away as the sun went down. I don’t like to kill things. I found a scorpion sitting on the air mattress Where Maria slept Last night. I’m cleaning up her bedding & there he is, all bristly, Pincers at the ready. I try to sweep him out the door With a broom & he scoots underneath the baseboard, Tail curled up like an angry fist. What do you do? Live by chance? Leave the door open & hope he exits gracefully? 121
What if he scurries into the other room, Burrows into our suitcases. Or crawls into the pile of sheets Laying on the other bed? Snip off his tail? That’s where the poison is. And leave him defenseless Against his enemies? What do you do? You get a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer And jab it precisely under the baseboard— A puddle of blood staining the Saltillo floor tiles. I hate to kill things. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Headlights on the Rolling Hills A hand once swept across This darkness, pushing up The hills that swallow my headlights, Pushed up the hills, Rising and dropping in the night, And I speed along, 60 miles an hour, scanning for red-eyed coyotes scrambling across the road bed. We meet like this, at night, Your headlights in the rear view mirror, The ghost light of your car Sweeping under my car, Its shadow imprinted on the hills And vanishing when you drop into a dip. We meet like this as if the hand That pushed these hills in place So many heart beats ago Set our wheels in motion. I donâ€™t want to be lonely. I love the rush of the unknown, Speeding down these hills at night. Meant to follow and to lead, Headlights on a back road. Over how many hills will time lead me? And who will carry my ashes in a jar 123
When the headlights go out forever? Do you, too, think about dying On a dark road in the desert, Your headlights shining in the rear view mirror, My car leading the way?
Contrails I noticed that the pepper tree Is gone, a tree of life We planted over Chuckâ€™s ashes, And the circle where we sat Remembering our old friend Is replaced with a swimming pool. Itâ€™ll be 95 today, And many of us Who sang and cried and wished Our friend a good farewell Will float on our backs And watch the contrails overhead Dissolve into wispy Nothings.
Mark A. Fisher California Angel An angel abides at the Luna Motel on the lonely end of wormhole time where the landscapeâ€™s crucified by the crossroads of midnight Cadiz along the dark highway where her hitchhiking began Nothing new in that creosote and sand save rusty tin cans beneath the yucca trees and ancient black rocks covered with pictographs and spray paint as white bloomed Datura like lilies grow Once Beat poets burning in a fever pounded out the rhythm of the road in engines and tires hauling loads of angels and Okies singing blacktop hymns not heard there anymore And the angel dances beneath uncounted stars 126
across the vast empty stretches of road where the truckers no longer go to shatter solid doubt beneath a veneer of conviction and the spectrum hosts no pirate radio to rant of forgotten destiny and spout its midnight religion full of pious preening but only the silence of despair But still she waits by the side of the road at the old Luna Motel waiting for lauds and a rideâ€” to take her back to heaven
Nicolette Reim Giraffe The giraffe Never met D. H. Lawrence But knew instinctively No form of love is wrong As long as it is love and You yourself honour what You have to do Love has an extraordinary Variety of forms And that is all that there is in life It seemed to me Nibbling leaves Gently above A tree
Before I Open the Book to Look at Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 by James McNeill Whistler Quick glance through window glass at the stained ledge and invisible drop with dilapidated fire escapes disappearing, a drab leaf on the whitish edge of the wide slab. Was it the night rain that fell so slight that held the frond past dusk? But, now, WOW, Whistler’s painting is quite vast. Mother hovers then poses in a chair still there. She seems right in black. Sits back a bit. Whistler daubs in imposing darks while his mother bides still there. It’s as if a light beam holds her will. On the grey window sill at the beginning of another day a rust brown leaf in a dim lit building shaft foretells the changing season. I look at Whistler’s painting for that very reason.
Steve Klepetar A Wren Singing Or is it just wind chattering in high branches? I have woken to this intricate weaving of song after a sleep of many years. Could I be wrong about this, having overstayed my welcome on the sea? Here is a cup of milk, and someone has brought me a crumb of bread and the golden cheese I love, but my hunger is lost among the waves. I hear it calling from caverns in the sea, its hopelessness licking at my ears. Oh, what a desperate lover I am! And the wren sings on, crowned king of winds as daylight drowns. Who has seen my sailors rising from their graves with ragged lips, and reef-torn garments on their flesh?
Coal Dust and Lead Even after fierce cleaning, white specks of dust rise at every step. Now the spiders are gone, but small gray woodpeckers worry our walls. It’s so warm, we don’t seem to be sliding into winter, not yet, with the north wind absent and the sky empty as a dead sea. Everyone is shocked, as if the air had suddenly turned to ice. Some moan quietly, but mostly to themselves. The saddest remain silent on this day of coal dust and lead. We have become a company of wingless birds pecking at our tasteless food. The past, that black river churning over shadow rocks, pours through us, its detritus dragged onto the muddy shore, but there is nothing to dig for, nothing to try to own. The road hasn’t risen to meet us, and we don’t know where to go.
Mick Corrigan Small Bird Bathing A sharp jaw punch from out of the dark, waking pain in nights’ small hours then the doctor’s rooms, the meds, the tests, the rays, the scans, the comforting, reassuring, well-rehearsed words, “just exploratory, no need to worry”; but I do. Draping this blanket around my beloveds, the comforting, reassuring, well-rehearsed words, “just exploratory, no need to worry”; but they do. Running while the world sleeps, concrete chanting beneath my drumming feet, mantra keeping pace with pace, the comforting, reassuring, well-rehearsed words, “just-ex-plor-a-tory-no-need-to-worry”; but I do. And then this morning, outside our kitchen door, a tiny robin, a feather flurry, gleefully bathing in her sparkle of water, reveling in the here, reveling in the now, singing life.
Requiem for Retail MOM-AND-POP RETAIL began to expire in 1962. The rest of it began its descent in 1994. Those were the years Walmart and Amazon were born. Retail was already dying then but didn't know it. We know it now. Drive almost anywhere. With the exception of a few relatively affluent communities fiercely supporting local merchants and upscale chains, darkened storefronts are commonplace, and “Available” signs fly helplessly as their communities pass them by much like Uber and Lyft drivers glide past decrepit taxicabs haunting our streets. America still has too far too much retail. The contraction is far from over. Sears is where America no longer shops; the Gap is gasping; Sports Authority turned out to have less expertise than a guy named Dick; and Radio Shack is steadily going dark. The list goes on and on - a sad procession of memories and neon signs. For every national retailer that is imploding there are dozens if not hundreds of locals already in ruins. But you can’t stop progress. Even if you could, how would you do it? The forces in play are vast; much too large for any attempt to slow them. Some retail experts believe that, even with decades of clues pointing in this direction, the final decisive cataclysmic shift away from brick-and-mortar is now at hand. A recent story in the New York Times stated that e-commerce is growing by an average of $40 billion a year, and that 89,000 Americans working in retail 133
have been laid off since October – that’s more than the total of all people employed in the coal industry, which should be instructive. The fallout from layoffs is largely affecting low-wage workers without a lot of places to turn in the short-term, so severe stress on support systems may follow. Retail has been a reliable source of jobs for generations, but the people filling them may be forced to consider the new economy, the “gig” economy, and bid farewell to 200 years of tradition. The history of modern retail can be traced back that far to the 19th Century, when Brooks Brothers, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Macy’s, and Sears, Roebuck and Company all opened for business. The 20th Century saw the birth of J.C. Penney (1913), and Barnes & Noble dates back to 1917. Their successes created the momentum for the retail model many of us grew up with in the post-World War II era – suburban malls. They were ubiquitous. Some small towns had their own. The malls facilitated eminently forgettable chains like Spencer’s Gifts, Casual Corner and Chess King and, in areas near my hometown in Southern California, they were anchored by now-defunct department stores that seemed largely the same – May Co, the Broadway, Bullock’s and Buffum’s. It was a golden age featuring a social compact with commerce that provided something for everyone. But the discount houses chipped away at the façade and the internet brought it crashing down. And now at holiday time Black Friday is passé; Cyber Monday is the place to be, a dynamic, unlimited world of shopping right at your fingertips. Christmas shopping in the nude, if that’s your thing. One of our new catchphrases is the “Internet of Things” (IoT). It’s meant to denote the ever-increasing connectivity of the 134
devices we use in our daily lives to the internet, and the devices’ capacity to contribute to the giant pool of big data. But we can co-opt the phrase to discuss an Internet of Things for Sale. It’s all out there. Clothing and, food; cars and houses; and just about any device or creature comfort you can imagine. Buy groceries from Safeway’s web site and the store will deliver. Buy almost anything from Amazon and you’ll be offered a shipping option to receive it as soon as possible, perhaps the same day, possibly delivered by a drone. We bought our house in 2001 by finding a listing on a web site and instructing a real estate agent to meet us there. Online home shopping has only improved since then. To be sure, there’s a bit more risk in buying items on the internet, and returns can be cumbersome, but you can’t beat the selection, and the parking is pretty sweet. All of which leaves us with a problem – what to do with millions of square feet of useless retail space, with much more probably to come. We’ve seen some solutions. Community colleges have claimed some of the space; recreational facilities have gone in elsewhere; and some of the shopping centers have been reborn as low-end indoor swap meets. There are two stories I can share from my current home in Sacramento County. A planned supermall in south county never advanced beyond construction of its outer shell. A local tribe is purchasing the land and plans to develop a $400 million casino complex. And in the city of Sacramento the once-hip and vibrant Downtown Plaza was eliminated to make room for The Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. But there are many more less-desirable properties doing nothing more than a slow burn; passively preparing for a future starring role in an archaeological dig. That’s 135
where our leaders at all levels of government need to come together and find solutions. Here’s an idea – turn all that retail space into parks and other public spaces. Provide incentives for partnerships with landowners. Their bombed-out properties probably aren’t contributing much to the tax base, anyway. Use those properties to create natural buffers between busy commercial streets and neighborhoods, buffers that should have been part of the planning process in the first place. Embrace the suck of our current dilemma and turn it into something good. And don’t forget to greet your neighbors at the hardware store.
David M. Harris Dead Letter Office: Jacob Adler Kleinhundt I don’t suppose you know more words now than you did alive. “Come,” and “stay,” “good dog” and “bad dog.” Your name, in all its variations. Our second channel was touch, my fingers through your fur. Did a scratch behind the ear mean to you something different from a rub on the nose? And your soft whuffle, the way you settled down beneath my desk, head on my foot, how you’d butt my leg. That meant dinner time, and I assigned my meanings to the others. I could pretend I understood, and that you did. I guess we heard each other about as well as any couple.
May Be Wearing a Hat, but Got No Cows A STRONG MAN WHO WILL BEAT A WOMAN needs to be revealed and repudiated, don’t you agree? Perhaps you were walking on the upper trail, and you looked just there between those two snags next to the fallen hemlock. You may have seen a slumped figure of older female, bleeding and scuffed. If you could see that, then you were looking at me, Bessie, and my small dog. But not you, not anyone was there. I was hurt, as if I had been bashed against the silent trees, or maybe tumbled down a stony slope. A man did all that to me, I tell you. And there I lay, thinking about delivering justice, and doing it well. “Yip.” I was silent. For a second I forgot the innumerable insults to my body, and the dizziness that was making me forget what I should do. Finally, “Fraggle? Is that you, Fraggle?” After my diminutive dog, Fraggle, slowly returned, apologetic affect, disoriented, I found my phone and called my daughter to come and get me. Soon, cops everywhere. At least four, flashing, dust everywhere, gravel sounds. Then, I was in the white, metal smelling station, shrouded in cotton blanket, with Margaret crying and hugging my legs. Fraggle was grafted to my tummy. 138
“God, why,” Margaret said. “Why. Oh, Mom. No, Mom.” It didn’t happen to you, I withheld uttering. I wanted revenge because I needed justice. I wanted to expose this asshole, and leave him in a huddle, done. I was in fact marinating in vengeance. A person attacked is robbed of humanity. Of dignity. There is no return. Separation is the new race to which the attacked person belongs. The tribe of the flayed. Where can the justice for such a robbery be had? And who will seek it? “Mrs. Milliford,” said a cop in regular clothes. “It is my understanding that you do not want to go to hospital, is that right?” “Yes. I need Fraggle with me. Hospital won’t allow him. Besides, the paramedics said I’m roughed up, not broken.” “Can you describe who hurt you? Was it a man?” Slowly, I described: Big. Young. White. Bald. Texas drawl. Male. “Can you tell me what he said to you? Are you comfortable telling me what he did, I mean… can I have an idea of…” “Not raped,” I said. “Just roughed.” I began to ease into an upright posture, putting my folded hands on the table. “I was walking Fraggle,” I said. “That man, we passed him and then a moment later, he grabbed me from behind.” Margaret had to leave the room. I asked her to leave if she couldn’t stop crying and dramatizing. I used softer language. “You had your cell phone,” cop said. “Did you try calling 91-1?” 139
I sat for a moment. Accused? Is there a checklist? “I was stunned, and I never got unstunned,” I said. “Did he say anything to you?” “Yes,” I said. “He said something ironic. I can’t remember what it was. He said he was sorry.” “You mean him saying he was sorry was ironic? Did he have a certain tone?” My voice was stronger now, and I said “He said something else ironic that I can’t remember and he also said that he was sorry while he was pushing me about.” “I’m sorry to put you through this, ma’am,” the cop said, “but can you tell me what you mean by that?” “You aren’t putting me through anything,” I said. “He grabbed me from behind, knocked me to the ground. Fraggle’s leash came out of my hand and I heard him yapping. The man shoved my head into the ruts, the rocks in the trail, and I bit my tongue. I could taste the blood. He shoved the side of my head. He pushed me like a bear pushes a carcass. Then it was silent. I was in a heap, and then Fraggle came.” “The man took my headband,” I said. I stroked my crusty hair. “Can you describe it?” “It’s my fleecy, gray, wide band, ear muffler type headband,” I said. “Do you think you hurt him, like scratched him or bit him?” “No. I was stunned.”
A knock on the door. Margaret came in. “I need to know you are alright, Mom. I wonder if you want me to take Fraggle home for you.” “We can drive you home, Mrs. Milliford.” “I want to go now. I can go with Margaret.” I rose. Margaret was molding me like a wad of clay. We were one mass then, moving toward the door, Fraggle in my arms. “Oh, I remember the ironic thing he said—I may be wearing the hat, but I got no cows.” The cop wrote it down. Two days later, The Sun Tribune had an exclusive ratings grab story about the cop who beat up the old lady in the park. The big, young, white, bald, Texas drawl, male was a Sergeant, no less. Not all the facts were revealed in the article. Not the ironic quip about “hat, no cows,” although that tell was the snare in my trap. Disgrace, just as I wanted. Whiff of justice. The trial will be just a formality. The court of public opinion already cost him his job. The police union barked, but no bite. He was finished. If you were walking on the upper trail three weeks ago, did you see me? I was the old lady, plus Fraggle, consoling a young mother, battered and bloody and hiding in the woods near her home. No way could she ever count on justice, when her wife-beater husband was a popular cop. I said, “Don’t go back. When will he be home alone? Your believability problem is highly solvable. Trust me.” I asked her if he had any peculiarities, ticks, expressions. A tell. She said he insulted everything, everybody, saying, “May be wearing the hat, but got no cows.”
Brady Peterson Artemis When slaughter ends, a pause between hostilities is all we really hope for, but if for a season, a decade, a hundred years, we brew beer in the basement, barrels and barrels—a rose blossoms. A woman sitting in a café elevates her chin ever so slightly as she turns her head. You watch from a safe distance. She is waiting for someone else. The rub. A boy joins the union Army because he believes the girl will find him handsome in uniform. Months later he is walking through an old battlefield of shallow graves, arms protruding from the ground. The girl has died—some fever passing through town. The war continues. The rub. Bury the dead, the hallowed dead. Speeches and hats and ties. Young men sporting beards. They sing at night across the battlefield— to their cousins, to die in the morning sun. She turns her head—to see her in profile is enough.
A Reprieve His hands collected splinters, calloused tough, his forearms Popeyed, knotted, the handling of boards and beams—arm wrestled his father and easily beat him. My son beat me, was all the old man could mutter the rest of the day, soothing himself with a cold Falstaff—can anyone get that beer anymore—but seething nevertheless with a certain dark brooding. The poet should sooner or later get over his father, Angela once told him. Yes, but only after he’s been dead for two hundred years—the poet or the father, either one.
Kelly Nelson Puedo Escribir*
En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos. La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito. Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería. Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos. Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido. Oír la noche inmensa, más inmensa sin ella. Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío. Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guardarla. La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo. Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos. Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido. Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca. Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo. La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles. Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos. Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise. Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído. De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos. Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos. Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero. Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido. Porque en noches como esta la tuve entre mis brazos, mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido. Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa, y éstos sean I also feel to be without my soul los último
Jeff Handy Burial Mounds A metal, elephantine spine: apt the way elephants mourn their dead. Those videos of the baby ones, their trunks like swollen hoses prodding the leather weight their lifeless mother. There’s more under the mounds—the hours shaved jagged, the pearl tusks of my adolescence red, green, and blue; the stitched mosaic a bone clock skinned bare and sanded. It’s poetic: the best way in always through the front the mouth, headlong over the beaten corpses my other, briefer selves.
CONTRIBUTORS NOTES Ace Boggess is author of the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and two books of poetry, most recently, The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. Adrian C. Louis grew up in Nevada and is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. From 1984-97, Louis taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He retired as Professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State two years ago but lacks the energy to flee the horrid state. Pleiades Press published his latest poems, Random Exorcisms, in 2016. More info at Adrian-C-Louis.com. Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts public libraries. She is an Associate Editor at Night Train, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at The Citron Review, Hobart, matchbook, Prime Number, and many other venues. Yes, you can say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEVich. More at annajancewicz.wordpress.com. Bill Christophersen is a New York writer whose work has appeared in such journals as Antioch Review, Hanging Loose and Poetry. His poetry collection Two Men Fighting in a Landscape was published by Kelsay Books in 2015. A second collection, The Dicerâ€™s Cup, is due out this summer. 146
Brady Peterson lives near Belton, Texas where for twenty-nine years he worked building homes and teaching rhetoric. His poems have appeared in Windhover, Nerve Cowboy, Boston Literary Magazine, The Journal of Military Experience, all roads will lead you home, Blue Hole, Red River Review, and Illya’s Honey. He is the author of Glued to the Earth, Between Stations, Dust, and From an Upstairs Window. Bridget Clawson is retired from a career in human resources, a widow, a creative writer and a rock hound. She’s authored and self-published two books to help grieving others, The Widow Lessons and Baptized Every Morning. She lives with dogs, camps in a teardrop trailer, and is writing about a fictitious madam in 1890s, based loosely on her Great Grandmother's experiences as a prostitute. Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she is the author of seven poetry collections. She co-edited the anthology A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens. Find more at cynthiaandersonpoet.com. David M. Harris lives in Tennessee with his family. His work has appeared in Pirene’s Fountain (and in First Water, the Best of Pirene’s Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, Mojave River Review, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2013. 147
George Howell lives in Wonder Valley, a rural Mojave Desert community, where he writes poetry, as well as prose about contemporary art. One of the first live poetry readings he attended was a “Human Be-in” in Delaware Park, where poets like Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan entranced a gathering of hippies and students in 1967. J. Bradley is the author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016) and the Yelp review prose poem collection Pick How You Will Revise A Memory (Robocup Press, 2016). He lives at jbradleywrites.com. Jeff Handy’s poetry has previously appeared in Anthropoid, The Boiler, Cartridge Lit, Gandy Dancer, SOFTBLOW, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. He is an Academic Advisor at the University of Texas at Austin. Find him on Twitter @j3ffhandy. Joan Colby has published in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, and South Dakota Review. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards. She has published 16 books, including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press, which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize, and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press, which was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. She is associate editor of Kentucky Review. Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other ShortShort Stories (ELJ, 2015) and Make Way for Her and Other Stories (University Press of Kentucky, 2018). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, 148
Wigleaf, The Baltimore Review, and elsewhere, including the Rose Metal Press anthology, Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. She is the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Kelly Nelson is the author of Rivers I Don’t Live By (Concrete Wolf, 2014). Her found poetry has appeared in Boktor, Verbatim, Really System, Found Poetry Review, and NonBinary Review, and her non-found poetry in Another Chicago Magazine, I-70 Review, Sequestrum, Tar River Poetry, and Watershed Review. She’s the winner of Found Poetry Review’s Dog-Ear Poetry Contest and recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Kevin Tosca lives in Paris. His stories have been or soon will be published in Redivider, Literary Orphans, Paper Darts, decomP, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and elsewhere. Poetry in Motion, a fiction chapbook, is forthcoming from ČČ ervená Barva Press in 2017. Find him at kevintosca.com. Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. His latest collections of poetry/prose is Future Wars from Another New Calligraphy and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s SciFi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s. More at upatberggasse19.blogspot.com. Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator, and travel writer. Her works appear in over 100 journals in Canada, the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. She has published 11 chapbooks of poetry, including Caribbean Nights 149
(Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017); her work appears in 17 anthologies. More at latinamericawanderer.wordpress.com Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, CA. His plays have appeared on California stages and his poetry has appeared in A Sharp Piece of Awesome, The Antelope Valley Anthologies, Avocet, and a Woody Guthrie centennial anthology. Matt Dubeâ€™s flash fictions have appeared in Minor Literature(s), Hartskill Review, Weirderary, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-Missouri university and is the fiction editor for the online journal-turned-print book publisher H_NGM_N. Mick Corrigan has been published in a range of periodicals, anthologies, magazines and online journals. He divides his time equally between Ireland, Crete and the vast open space in the back of his head. His first collection, Deep Fried Unicorn, was published in 2014 by Rebel Poetry Ireland. Nicolette Reim is an artist who divides her time between studios in New York City and Atlanta. A graduate of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, she has feature video films in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago. She exhibits regularly as a member of M55 Gallery, NY, NY. She is represented in artistsâ€™ book and film 150
collections of the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, NYC and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Her visual poetry has been published in two books, “Swerve” (2014) and “Lament” (2015). More at nreim.com. Rich Soos has been published in over 200 print magazines. He has 20 books of poetry, including Somersaults With Life (2016) and Parting/Departing (2015). His poetry appears in Peacock Journal, Tuck, Leaves of Ink, Micropoetry, Random Poem Tree, Cuento, In Between Hangovers, and others. He is the editor of Cholla Needles and blogs at soospoems.blogspot.com. Stanley Anne Zane Latham was named after Lake Huron when it was at the Chippewa-Stanley low water stage 10,000 years ago. Her work has been published in Dagda, Deadbeats, and Resonance: An International Bilingual Anthology. She lives in Ensenada, Baja California where she is writing a memoir in prose poems. Steve Karas lives in Chicago. He is the author of Kinda Sorta American Dream (Tailwinds Press, 2015) and Mesogeios (WhiskeyPaper Press, 2016). His stories have also appeared in the short-fiction anthologies Bully (KY Story, 2015), Saudade (Tortoise Books, 2016), and Road Story (KY Story, 2016), as well as literary journals like Necessary Fiction, jmww, Hobart, WhiskeyPaper, and Little Fiction. More at steve-karas.com.
Steve Klepetar’s work has received several nominations, including Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize (four in 2016). Recent collections include Family Reunion, A Landscape in Hell, and How Fascism Comes to America. Steve Lyle is a blogger, dormant poet, and recovering journalist who spends weeks each year observing leaf-fall in the iconic City of Trees, Sacramento. In his spare time he enjoys Seinfeld reruns, endlessly viewing the same fourteen old movies, and diligently studying “Trump: the Unabridged Vocabulary.” Susan Tepper is the author of six published books of fiction and poetry. Her seventh book, a novella, will be out in the fall from Rain Mountain Press, NYC. She has published hundreds of author interviews as well as essays on the writing life. Her reading series FIZZ, at KGB Bar, NYC, is sporadically ongoing these past nine years. Find more at susantepper.com. Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of Violent Outbursts (Spuyten Duyvil), and the novels Haywire (Starcherone/Dzanc), Tetched (Behler Publications) and Roughhouse (Kaya Press). He received a 2012 fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His work is anthologized in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. More at thaddeusrutkowski.com. Page 22 *The poem “Dead horses nosed through clover” takes its title is a line from “Many Medicines,” a poem by Nina Puro. Page 101 *The story “Ciao, Bella” was previously published in a WhiskeyPaper Press chapbook available here. 152
Page 141 * PURR is an erasure of “Puedo escribir,” poem #20 in Pablo Neruda’s Veinte poemas de amor y una canción de desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair).
Mojave River Review Volume 3 • Number 1
Bless you for reading—
Next issue, late summer of 2017 To catch our next open submissions period, “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter To read previous issues of Mojave River Review visit us at MojaveRiverReview.com To purchase books by Mojave River Review poets and fiction writers visit the Mojave River Press online store
Published on May 25, 2017
FEATURING Tim Suermondt & Pui Ying Wong: Interview & Poems; Ruth Nolan: Four Inter-connected Flash Non-fictions; Linda Blaskey: Essay & Poem...