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Burning Bright Passager Celebrates 21 Years Edited by

mary azrael & kendra kopelke

passager books Baltimore, Maryland Spring 2011


Contents 21 Of Some Renown: Old Age �

37 Strawberry Season: Childhood �

81 Live in the Layers: Generations �

127 In the Shadows: War & Politics �

173 What They Don’t Tell You: Sex & Love �

197 This Mortal Coil: The Body �

223 Past Lives: Death & Loss �

253 I am, I am, the Dreamer Cried!


Never had I more Excited, passionate, fantastical Imagination, nor an ear and eye That more expected the impossible – w.b. yeats

Age and the passionate imagination – This is the intersection that has sparked our interest at Passager for over 20 years. The body may be slowing down, even breaking down, but the spirit is waking up in ways no one could have predicted. Passager exists to give voice to this deepening spirit. Even the sound of the voice is beautiful, with all its cracks and resonances, sudden bursts of laughter, flashes of insight, and freedom to express. Founded in 1990, Passager was the first, and until recently, the only national literary journal to focus on promoting the older writer. The idea for Passager grew out of a creative writing class for seniors that Kendra was teaching at Baltimore’s Waxter Center. “It was an unbelievable group of men and women in their 80s and 90s,” she recalls. “I don’t think I’d ever been in a room with so many people of that age. I was overwhelmed by the passion, so invigorated by it, that my whole orientation about old age shifted. I left there thinking, ‘Nobody knows about this. If it’s going on at the Waxter Center, it’s going on all over the country . . . the world!’” At the time, Kendra was also teaching a publications class at the University of Baltimore and became excited by the possibility that a new literary journal could make this passion and creativity more


ďż˝ strawberry season: childhood


Strawberry Season: Childhood

� If Music Be the Food of Love • Leon Arden

T

he most unforgettable character I ever met was the worst teacher I ever had. And in those days there was no lack of competition for this honor. Mrs. Mctavish, who taught biology, believed in repetition as the key to learning and so the whole class often found itself chanting simple truths such as, “Egg plus sperm equals fertilized egg, egg plus sperm equals fertilized egg.” Mr. Lebeau, our French instructor, purposely made screeching sounds with a piece of blackboard chalk and, when we groaned, would hold up his hand, the middle finger bent out of sight, and say: “What are you complaining about? Look what happened to me.” Economics was taught by “Mr. What” due to the way he asked questions. “Bad money drives out what? The direction of a Bull Market is what? Inflation is what? Depression is what?” Soon all we heard was “what what what.” And Mr. Rickman advised the boys in Hygiene that if we met up with a “fairy” we were to straighten him out by beating him up. We had almost no opinion of our school principal because his lofty manner seemed to place him far above the petty tasks of education. Rarely seen in the halls, he dwelt in a large bright room with a desktop as clean and polished as a ballroom floor. Within arm’s reach was a microphone into which he occasionally made solemn pronouncements that were broadcast throughout the school with biblical portentousness. “This is Mr. Tinworth. I would like to speak to you this morning on the proper way to salute your country’s flag.” High school was mostly something to endure until the last bell set us free. Yet there was one class I couldn’t wait to attend. On the top floor, in room 305, Mr. Itzkowitz taught the structure of the string quartet and his lucky students, I was told, listened to Toscanini conducting Beethoven and Beecham interpreting Mozart. Itzkowitz also compared different renditions by various 44


Leon Arden

pianists as they played Schubert, Chopin and Brahms. To me, an only child, classical music was like an assortment of dear friends. Tchaikovsky, for example, was such an old friend I couldn’t remember when we first met. Chopin quickly became an intimate while Dvorak never failed to cheer me up. Bach withheld his great secret until I went to college. But Beethoven was the very model of manhood while Brahms held forth on autumnal wisdom. The Amazing Mozart, who at first seemed slightly lightweight, a bit quaint, slowly won me over until we became absolutely inseparable. So I walked into my first music class as into my first cathedral. I was ready. I had never been more ready. I walked in, sat down, and discovered that the legendary Mr. Itzkowitz was no longer with us (he had been snapped up by a private school and carried off to Boston) and in his place stood a Mr. E. Trundle whom none of us had ever seen before. His bald head had a semi-circular fringe of hair that stuck straight up like grass. He wore a Chaplin mustache, Heinrich Himmler glasses, displayed a toothgap in his half grimace, half smile, and had a face that evoked no fear in any living thing. Though he wanted ever so much to make good, it was clear he was one of those who thought that to teach you had only to talk. You could sometimes get away with that in a required subject. When teaching an elective (Music, Sewing, Carpentry) with all of us knowing it didn’t matter a damn if we passed or failed, there was no question about it: you must dominate as if you were Rommel. The students filed in quietly, trying to get the measure of the man. It didn’t take them long. One of the last to enter was Francene Swick, who brightened my life whenever she appeared. She exuded such good will that she was forever offering it to others in generous smiles. I knew her soundless laugh, that head-toss of hair, her blight of braces over which her beauty easily triumphed. I also knew of the complete absorption she brought to every subject she took and how totally unaware she was that I stared at her. Mr. Trundle stood up, adjusted his glasses, introduced himself, and said: “Welcome. I hope in time we will really get to know each other. But now we must move right along because we have a lot of ground to cover. Today we will study music by a man some consider the greatest composer who ever lived. The three Razumovsky Quartets, or Rasoumoffsky, as it is sometimes spelled” (he wrote this out on the blackboard) “or ‘ovsky’ or even ‘owsky’” he wrote this out, too. Before he turned to face us, a paper glider, thrown at Francene Swick, third row, fourth seat, dove into the open desk of “Fat” Biggs, seated next to her, which he closed 45


Strawberry Season: Childhood

� Smoking

• Luna Tarlo

O

ne winter in Montreal when I was ten, I would often find myself so wide-awake about an hour or so before daybreak that I could not bear to spend another moment in bed, and I would go and wake up Babette so that we could have a smoke together. Babette never seemed to mind being roused so early. She was a French Canadian Catholic girl from Acadia in Nova Scotia. During the Depression a lot of girls left their homes to come to Montreal to find work. My mother had hired her as a live-in maid six months before. She slept on a sofa in the kitchen, which was next door to my bedroom. Babette was the most fastidious person I had ever met, even compared to my mother, who was neatness itself. Every night after washing the dinner dishes, Babette would be at the ironing board steam-pressing her things by placing a soft damp cloth under the iron – a lace dickey or a detachable organdy collar, her white cotton crocheted gloves or her small white linen handkerchiefs with the initials BL entwined in one corner. Babette Leduc. One night we were sitting, Babette and I, on a piano bench in front of my bedroom window. A sharp, peppery odor emanated from Babette’s feet. It was an odor I’d gotten used to during these sessions but it never ceased to surprise me that, for someone as fussy about her appearance as Babette was, she didn’t seem to be aware of her smelly feet. Holding my father’s Sweet Caporal cigarette gingerly between my thumb and forefinger as I’d seen my father do, I leaned towards the lit match in Babette’s hand. My mother loved to smoke but because of her migraine headaches had been told by her doctor not to. She sneaked one occasionally but after school I invariably found her in the living room lying on the sofa with a damp napkin across her forehead, her eyes closed, her feet in neatly laced shoes resting on a towel.

68


Luna Tarlo

I inhaled some smoke instead of holding it in my mouth for a second or two as Babette had recommended, and began to choke. “Shhh!” warned Babette, shaking my arm roughly. “You will wake them!” I watched through teary eyes as the last of the smoke issued from my lips; in the shadowy room it appeared like a veil of grey chiffon drifting away in a breeze. “There were very many cigarettes in the package?” Babette asked. “No,” I answered. “You must be careful or your father will notice. Then where will we be?” “He doesn’t notice things,” I said. “He’s absent-minded.” My tone was an exact replica of my mother’s. Babette, I surmised, was too poor to buy her own cigarettes. I never saw her smoke except with me. She struck another match and lit her cigarette and her delicate profile materialized in the light from the flame. Everyone agreed that Babette was an extraordinarily pretty girl, and husbands of people who came to visit my mother often hung around the kitchen and engaged Babette in conversation. “Where did you find them, the cigarettes?” she asked, smoke streaming from her nostrils. Babette smoked like a professional. “In his jacket pocket. He always keeps them in his right hand pocket.” I shivered in my cotton chenille bathrobe. “I wish they’d hurry up and turn on the heat,” I said. “It is almost six o’clock. Soon they will turn it on.” She turned to me. “Why you don’t get your quilt?” she asked. She herself was snugly wrapped in a blanket. I stood up and got my quilt and sat down again. We puffed in companionable silence for an interval and stared out the window into the winter night. A few large flakes of snow began to fall, spiraling slowly from above. Beyond our apartment building the snow-filled field, smooth, untouched, glimmered whitely in the dark. On the other side, parallel to it, ran Van Horn Avenue. It was deserted now, flickering in the uneven street lights. The somber darkness, the soft-falling snow, the emptiness of the street across the way filled me with an awe as if I were in on some secret of the night. “Do you believe in God?” I asked Babette. “But of course.” “What’s he like, God?” 69


� what they don’t tell you: sex & love


What They Don't Tell You: Sex & Love

The Road to Amphigouri

for RC at 65

When did you arrive, he asked, by which he meant, can you remember what you wore? Not a stitch, she said between the lines, and seven hundred eighty months ago – more or less, knowing, even as she spoke, he might go to valiant lengths to make the number more precise – ferret out Hokkaido's average winter rainfall, say, or count the notes in all the mad cow music in the world, but all he did, it seems, was ask her if she'd like to dance, forgetting that they were already dancing, so busy was he counting all the clouds in sight that summer day.

• Julian Crowell

180


What They Don't Tell You: Sex & Love

They Don't Tell You How Sex Changes Sex impinges less as I grow older but is more precious, that some one, the one and only now, still desires, that the furnace can yet be lit and finally roar. Intimacy opens slowly as a rose – an old garden rose, a centifolia with its crowded labyrinth of petals dark pink as labia, ruddy with amorous perfume thick as honey. No more quick ones in the bushes. We like a bed and time that does not press in constricting us. We like to loll in moments before the pulse rushes in toppling waves. We take much pleasure in kissing that once we passed through, gateway to what we really sought. We linger in sensuality keen as orgasm prolonged like an endless chord.

• Marge Piercy

181


Past Lives: Death & Loss

What the Dead Do Best Though seldom said, it’s true: the dead release us when they die. We do not know it for a while, we think we hear their voices, we think they linger in the shadows of cats. We think we become them, the way they sneezed, the way they pruned their roses. And yes they may be with us, but now so far in love with the world they watch us raise our glasses to them and think Ah, a perfect earlobe, Oh, the rippling sound of laughter, the profligate perfection of fingerprints! Then they do what the dead do best: watch a bud grow to a leaf that lasts a green season, then free itself in a brief, lit symphony of flight and recreate itself as loam. They love to watch a wave course a thousand miles, pulse over a whale, lift plankton near Greenland, then build and break across the patient sand. They breathe in centuries. They follow dawn’s quickening birdsong around the globe for decades. When they feel the need, they drift into our sleep and light our dreams. They love it that, through the years, we realize we, too, are free.

• Will Walker

252


� contributors’ notes


Contributors’ Notes

Joyce Abell (va) “The Red Menace of Ravinia” is a story that I

performed at our community theatre. I write and perform just one story a year. I’m one of those unfortunates who find it painful, though ultimately rewarding, to write. It is a joyful moment for me when I present a story directly to my neighbors, the pain of writing quite forgotten. (p. 149)

Barbara A. Adams (ok) Being an only child, it took me several years

to be able to narrate the huge event that was my mother’s death. When I finally decided to approach the abyss of her loss in “Broken Summer” I was drawn to recount it alongside the natural world that always seems to find its way into my work. (p. 119)

Liliane Roy Anders (md) I’ve won the lottery of life so many times. I was born into war and survived, came to the USA and became educated. I suffered a stroke in 2002 and was left with only minor traces. I have tried marriage several times; my exes keep in touch. Today when I write, when I need to fill out a scene, I have concrete evidence. (“Grandmother” p. 131) Connie Anderson (md) When my grandmother was in her 60s, she

started taking art lessons in a little studio in Amarillo, Texas, and she painted into her 80s. As I grow older, I am moved and inspired by her courage and beautiful spirit. (“Grandmother Talked to Things” p. 96)

Virginia B. Anderson (ca) If a young woman dreams one by one, an

old woman collects dreams in bundles until she, herself, is so deep into them, she can no longer be recognized. At 90, I have glimpsed the back of the moon, have found out squares are often circles and vice versa. We live in a nest of shadows and the shadows do speak upon occasion. Thus, “The Adventures of an Old Woman.” I haven’t learned yet to cast a spell, but any day now . . . (p. 25)

Cicely Angleton (va) Almost 90, I hate getting old but rejoice that

creativity is still operating. I write mainly about loss, death, humor and aging. Rarely about sexuality, happiness, falling in love, joie de vivre. My style has become more abrupt, less dreamy, more “in your face.” (“This Mortal Coil” p. 206)

Judith Arcana (or) “Past Lives” is fiction. Nonetheless, I do share

my narrator’s personal history, notably the four early deaths plus four more in one year. Like hers, my education about death began early and is continuous, sometimes inflicted and sometimes sought. (p. 230)

Leon Arden (london) What was missing in “If Music Be the Food of Love,” I thought afterward, was how the young lad became interested in classical music in the first place. His father’s influence was the answer. This and a few other pieces of the puzzle bumped together and I found I


ďż˝ authors index


Authors Index

abell, joyce • The Red Menace of Ravinia 149 adams, barbara a. • Broken Summer 119 anders, liliane roy • Grandmother 131 anderson, connie • Grandmother Talked to Things 96 anderson, virginia b. • Adventures of an Old Woman 25 angleton, cicely • This Mortal Coil 206 arcana, judith • Past Lives 230 arden, leon • If Music Be the Food of Love 44 arenas, marion • Effie 118 baggett, rebecca • Resolution 221 bashkirew, karen • What I Can and Cannot Do 210 beck, christine • The Manicure 85 benson, carolyn • Afterlove 125 bolstridge, alice • Desire 100 bowker, larsen • On a Still Green Hill 209 bradley, ardyth • Choices 255 brewer, shirley j. • Men from Mars 196 brocki, anselm • Emphatic 99 cameron, lisa • Love’s Collusion 110 campbell, clinton b. • The Day I Saw FDR in the A&P 77 campbell, sheila • Walking Alone 267 cartier, francis • Legacy 229 chapman, norma • The Greatest Generation 129 connor, jean L. • Of Some Renown (precedes first section) coomer, jeff • Canyon Letter to Andy 266 crowell, julian • The Road to Amphigouri 180 culbertson, b.r. • Sequestration 264 dabney, sarah • My First Season as a Short Grown-Up 58 davis, fran • Especially Babe 188


Authors Index

day, lucille lang • Aunt Ethel, Please 29 denenberg, risa • Second Chance 87 denicola, deborah • Let Love 178 drexler, wendy • In the City of the Cruise Ship Valor 158 drooker, nina • The Brave Boys 160 dudis, ellen kirvin • That Luxury Is Yours, Walt Whitman 222 ernst, sindee • Monument 170 friedenberg, tillie • Love Poem 202 galle, bart • At the Mirror 240 gould, jean colgan • After the War 140 gould, lee • Dreamhouse 57 haug, mary • Taking the Plunge 212 hayna, lois beebe • Traveling North 225 held, grey • Junior ROTC 169 hennessy, mary • Hillsborough Street and the Idea of Evening 207 hoffman, wendy • When Things Become People 260 holzer, ruth • The Snowdrift 138 horowitz, fedora • Bertha 132 hotch, phyllis • Thought 28 hurd, barbara • Blue-Eyed Woman on the Streets of Bombay 159 isherwood, george • The Bright Blue Walls of Babylon 241 jandrey, g. davies • A Widow’s Dream 187 john, daniel • Helen 183 johnson, sheila golburgh • Myself in Love 175 karlin, wayne • Rumors 89 kay, stanley r. • Fifty Chickens in a Coop 139 king, robert • Family Story 130 la mers, joyce • When the Aspirin Bottle Is Empty 204 ledbetter, j.t. • What They Told Me 238


Authors Index

leopold, nikia • Small Pleasures 259 lurie, bobbi • The Black Hole 31 maclean, pam calabrese • The Dead Park Their Cars 227 magarrell, elaine • Where the Blue Begins 95 mamber, ellie • I Cannot Get Enough of Silence 88 matanle, stephen • Factory in a Landscape 262 maynard, gertrude • Fragments 23 mccracken, julie • Lord, Please Let Me Live Until Strawberry Season 39 mcgovern, ann • Old Geezer 182 mcintosh, joan • The Crow Has Dyed Its Feathers 256 mckenna, james • Toll Taker on the Maine Turnpike 203 nash, peter • Windy and Fawn 84 nash, valery • October Swimmer 36 norton, edwina • Both 24 ouellette, anita • The Word 157 pearl, sherman • Men at Work 101 penrose, nancy • The Color of Cloth 52 petti, matthew • Ducks 111 pfingston, roger • Fortieth Wedding Anniversary 177 piercy, marge • They Don’t Tell You How Sex Changes 181 rayburn, ann • Deep Hour 263 reid, heddy • Recovery 265 renker, skip • Admittances 258 riche, robert • Love in the Rain 176 salamon, russell • Impossible Beauty 199 schneider, mike • Breath Through Bones 26 scott, joanna catherine • The Climb 109 schultz, paul • First Sign 161


Authors Index

schwarz, bluma • Taking Off 102 seiden, henry m. • Acceptance Speech 78 shapiro, rochelle jewel • At the Candy Store, 1936 76 silsbee, ann • Still Space Before Thunder 86 smith, james • The Great Debate, 1960 156 smith, michael s. • Mother on the Diving Board Ladder 83 snyder, maryhelen • The Meteor Disaster 226 southgate, joan • Dying 98 sward, robert • How to Pray 228 symmes, jean sinclair • When Words Fly About 205 tarlo, luna • Smoking 68 thompson, don • Show and Tell 200 tremblay, mildred • Early Morning Meditation on Stones 272 tucker, duane • Windows 257 van gerven, claudia • January Makes Love to Crone 27 varon, susan • Proposition 211 vossler, ronald • My Great Uncle Otto 97 walker, will • What the Dead Do Best 252 weaver, margaret • Laughter 126 weinberger, florence • Anguish 186 white, gwendolyn • The Mystery of Life 30 white, julie herrick • Because Firemen Are Omniscient 261 whittle, emily hayes • In All the Wrong Places 208 wilson, evelyn • Judith 73 youtt, harry • What-Not 108


In legends, the crane stands for

longevity, peace, harmony, good fortune and fidelity. A high flyer, it is cherished for its ability to see both heaven and earth. These ancient, magnificent birds, so crucial in the wild as an “umbrella species,� are now endangered and must be protected. Passager Books is dedicated to making public the passions of a generation vital to our survival. We invite you to help us carry out our mission.


Also from Passager Books A Cartography of Peace Jean L. Connor Improvise in the Amen Corner Larnell Custis Butler Keeping Time: 150 Years of Journal Writing edited by Mary Azrael & Kendra Kopelke The editors are delighted to present Six over Sixty, a series of chapbooks by writers whose work has appeared in Passager. Six limited-edition chapbooks will be available individually and as a set. A Little Breast Music Shirley J. Brewer A Hinge of Joy Jean L. Connor Everything Is True at Once Bart Galle Perris, California Norma Chapman The Black Notebook Poems Stephen Matanle

“

�

coming soon

passager journal publishes twice a year, once early in the new year and again in the summer. For subscription information and guidelines please visit our web site at www.passagerpress.com.


Sample: Burning Bright  

Celebrating 21 Years of publication, Burning Bright presents some of the most memorable pieces from Passager's long and prestigious career.

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