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Issue 3, May 2012 Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Cover Design Paul Brand

Published by Sweatshoppe Publications 1


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TheRustyNail CONTENTS Nor the Serpent

A Perfectly Good Couch by Vickie Fernandez…..…..…Page 4 Shameless Love Poem by A.g. Synclair………..……..Page 6 Sabotage by Tim Marshall……..……..…Page 7 Of the Apocalypse Crossroads The Little Bell’s Teardrops by February Grace…………....Page 8 On Frying Fish by George Masters……………Page 9 Leaving for Viviers by Tom Sheehan……..……..Page 10 A Pocketful of Verse by Tom Sheehan…………....Page 11 Blackout in Nan Ning Camera Obscura Belated by Jack Foster………….…....Page 13 I Want To Be You by Katie Allen Ross……….…Page 14 Melancholy Daydream by Andrew J. Stone……….....Page 14 Orbs by Michael Groves………......Page 15 Displaced Parrots Sunday School Blues Hell to Pay by Kevin Ridgeway…………...Page 17 Motel Substitute Fulton Missouri by Dave Gregg………………..Page 18 Frozen Crescendo by Kevin Ridgeway…………..Page 19 Me by Michael Price……….……..Page 19 Mourning by Corey Cook………….….…Page 21 Her Pound of Silence A Stone’s Throw by Tom Sheehan…………..…Page 21 You Have the Perfect Everything by Michael Brownstein……….Page 22 This Is Ridiculous by Lisa Westenskow Dayley…Page 22 Who Stalks Me 60 Years Yet by Tom Sheehan…………......Page 22 The Enigma of Arrival by L. Ward Abel……..……….Page 22 Wisdom Sits On A Park Bench by William J. White…………Page 23

by Joseph Goosey………....Page 24 Never Take Peyote & Go To Work by Catfish McDaris……..….Page 27 When One Dreams of Butterflies by Valery Petrovskiy……….Page 28 Arrival by Aaron Poller…………….Page 28 The American Way of Love Late August Sinking by Benjamin Nardolilli……..Page 29 Psychotherapy by Aaron Poller…………….Page 29 Pine Flats In Mid-August Cherry Coke by Askold Skalsky………...Page 30 The Joke by Steve Prusky…………..Page 31 Flying In the Talons by Catfish McDaris…….…Page 32 Typo by Korliss Sewer…….……Page 33 Spinning the Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception by Robert Levin………..…Page 34

The Rusty Nail Staff Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Associate Editor Dr. Kimberly Nylen Hart Graphic Design Editor Paul Brand Consulting Editor Jacob Nordby

www.rustynailmag.com rustynailmag@gmail.com The Rusty Nail magazine is based in Pocatello, ID.

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by Vickie Fernandez

A PERFECTLY GOOD COUCH

Aidan, if you fall off that couch and bust your head open, I’m gonna beat your hide raw!” The couch is a monstrosity that takes up space; pea green and mangled, wooden edges dented and chipped from too many moves, up and down narrow stairs. It’s an eyesore, but no matter how many times dad threatens to set the thing on fire mom refuses to get rid of it. “It’s a perfectly good couch!” she says a cigarette dangling from the corner of her ruby lips. Her hair wrapped in a silk scarf to protect the fruits of her Saturday morning trip to the beauty parlor. “Aidan! Quit jumping on that couch, you little son of a bitch!” She yells again as he begins to catch enough wind to graze the stucco ceiling with the tips of his fingers. He jumps off the couch and walks into the kitchen. “I’m your son right, ma?” “Yeah, and?” “Well, if I’m your son wouldn’t that make you a…” “Don’t you dare finish that sentence if you wanna live to see Christmas, young man. What are you eight goin’ on eighteen with that mouth of yers?” A smile creeps into the corners of her lips, signaling that she appreciates his wit. His sister plays outside while Aidan sits at the blue and white formica table watching his mother dice potatoes, careful not to chip her manicure. The dimly lit kitchen is a haze of second hand smoke and the smell of onions browning. The couch lingers in his peripheral view and he longs for dinner to be over so that he can curl up next to his mom and watch TV. Every night she sips a bottomless tumbler of Scotch and smokes ceaselessly with one hand, while the other grazes his shower damp hair. “Did ya warsh behind yer ears? Let me check,” she says placing her Lucky Strike in the ashtray examining the soft patches of skin on the sides of his head. She looks into his sleepy eyes, smiles and says, “Aren’t you just the most beautiful boy a mother could ever ask for? I’m going to have to get a bat to swat away all those girls who’ll come a callin’ soon.” “Eww, I hate girls!” Aidan squirms as his mother smothers him with kisses. Time follows the beat of primetime sitcoms as his eyes grow heavy and his thoughts ride the winding carousel of waking dreams. One minute his face is pressed against the scratchy green cushions of that big old couch and the next, he’s in his bed, sun creeping in through the curtains, mom screaming for him to come eat breakfast from the foot of the stairs.

syncing up to the beats of his heart. In his mind, each distant ding triggers a small universe of nostalgia. Remembering the house where he lived with his family, its smells, rooms and the sounds that made him jump up in the night, clutching his sheets just below his eyes, fearing the monsters that lived in the closet and under his bed. The couch sits in his small city apartment. It doesn’t go with the sleek leather love seat or the cherry wood coffee table he spent more money on than he cared to admit. Up until recently, expensive things brought him great pleasure. The relic sits alien among his nice things large, ugly and drained of its magic. Two months ago, his mother was found dead in the lonely blue house that Aidan had not seen the inside of since his father’s funeral, ten yeas ago. He insisted on taking the couch. “Aid are you fucking serious? What the hell are you going to do with that piece of shit?” His sister asked as they distilled the contents of their childhood home into two piles keep and chuck. “It’s a perfectly good couch,” he said mocking his mother’s high pitched voice, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. They laughed throwing back a case of Yuengling one green bottle at a time as they sorted through objects long forgotten. Upon parting, they told one another the same lies, promising to keep in touch. They reminded one another too much of things they didn’t want to remember.

• • • Aidan watched as the girl turned the pages of a book, biting her bottom lip, oblivious to the world around her. It was an old book, thick and worn stripped of its jacket. He imagined her in the isle of a used book store, standing on the tips of her boots and reaching her arm up to free the heavy thing. He thought of the stack of romance novels his mother kept next to the toilet in the bathroom. She wasn’t the type of girl who read romance novels like his mother. In fact, she wasn’t the type of girl who cared for ordinary things. Safe behind his dark sunglasses he studied her like a series of riddles he could not decode. Every so often, she’d pull a pen from her pocket and underline a passage, closing her eyes and mouthing something to herself. He wanted to know what the words were, how they made her feel, so that her could memorize them. He felt silly in his tailored suit and ox blood loafers. Everything about him modern, sleek and well thought out. Even the ink on his arms chest and legs screamed order rather than rebel. What would he say to someone like her? It was easy to swoon the drunk, corporate bimbos in short skirts and silk blouses he’d encounter during happy hour. She was not like those women. She tugged at him from a distance the continents inside him rattled at their veiny fault lines, like

• • • From afar, the sound of church bells sing. He hadn’t noticed them until now. Every hour they toll sad and slow 4


The thread bare upholstery was still redolent with the smell of smoke and his mother’s Avon perfume. “Its just a couch!” he says to no one, the walls of his apartment closing in on him, airless. Just beyond his line of vision, the Philadelphia skyline blinks, hopeful. He thinks about all the people out there, alive and breathing, drinking and embarking on first kisses in the pink and purple bruise of twilight. Esperanza is out there. He wonders what she’s doing. He gives up on his hard-on and fingers the cross around his neck focusing his gaze back to her profile. A jarring fit of mortality shakes loose the grip he holds on his impulses. Right next to the “send this person a message” button it reads, in plain English, like a warning label, “You and Esperanza aren’t friends.” “I don’t care.” He breathes in another glass of amber liquor and starts typing. You’re so beautiful that it’s kind of annoying. I keep meaning to talk to you but you always move so quickly, I’m convinced you may not exist at all. “She’ll like that,” he says out loud. “It’s sweet, not pervy. Oh, god this is so stupid, she’s going to think I’m a stalker.” He pauses, but the gold flecks in her eyes encourage him and continues to type. I immediately regret sending you this message but we’ll all be dead one day and none of this will matter. He lingers over the word send, taking a deep breath, and counts to ten, exhaling as he clicks the button, like he’s pulling the trigger of a gun. A week goes by and no response. He looks around the courtyard for her, but the bench where she once sat is empty. He stares at it anyway, as if she were there, like a mourner at the foot of a fresh grave. On the night she responds he can barley bring himself to read the message. His heart beats in irregular rhythms. For a moment, he brims with the rush of what it must be like to get what you want. His eyes skim the surface of every word. Never regret anything. This is flattering but you would be better off not ever really knowing me. He laughs at what he perceives as an attempt at being mysterious and replies. Wow, that was poetic. Sadly, I’m the worst at settling for being better off.

tectonic plates seceding into masses, sailing a drift into the blackened corners of his heart. Unaware she glowed, a spark at the center of his gray workday. On a windy Tuesday, he stood smoking, watching her as she read. She looked up as if sensing his presence. For a moment, their eyes met and she smiled at him. She closed her book and rose, walking toward him. He froze, every bit of him alert and alive. As she approached, he stubbed out his cigarette. “Hey,” she said and walked passed him and into the massive building where they worked on different floors, in separate universes. A catalogue of facts lit up in his brain blinking like lights on a pinball machine. He’d read all about body language. It only takes seconds to know if you’re attracted to someone. Did she raise her eyebrows? Did she smile with her whole face or just her mouth? He couldn’t remember. Everyday from then on they played the same fruitless game. She’d move too quickly and he’d stand petrified, his mouth full of words that he knew worked on other girls. A soon as she came near, smelling of sandalwood and cinnamon, his rehearsed sentences flopped and remained stuck on his useless tongue. How do you say, I’m dead and I think you can possibly bring me back to life, to a stranger? It wasn’t confidence that failed him but more so the way she tossed her black curls around and looked out from her world and into his that made him feel weak kneed and crude.

• • • Night sounds tumble in through the blinds on a cold gust of wind. The chattering of heels on pavement, snippets of conversations like tiny daggers pierce his thoughts. He closes the window, shuts out the world and sits on the couch. As he sips a single malted Scotch from a chipped glass a renegade springs pierces his tailbone. The heat from his laptop feels good against his thighs. Earlier that day he followed the girl into the mirrored bank of elevators. Their breath mingled in the confined space. As she stepped out onto her floor, she waved. He willed his mouth to move, to speak, to smile but instead he stood immobile as the door shut obscuring her from his line of vision. Searching the company profile, he scribbled down possible names and typed them in one by one until he found her face. There, among the disembodied, pixilated faces on the boundless blue and white social network she shone, striking, eyes feral and skin glowing against her raven hair. “Esperanza.” he says her name aloud letting it fill his mouth, roll off his tongue like a sweet song. She looked like his mother when she was young and beautiful - full of spit and fire. The couch closes in around him with every sip as he flips through photos of her. His thoughts grow slack. His pulse slows, as the heat builds in his groin. He wants to jerk off, feel something - his erection distracting, pushing away the sadness. He tries but can’t find a rhythm; it’s hard to seek that sort of release on the couch his mother died on. The mass of wood and fabric she’d nursed him on, sprawled out full length, its pea green tentacles tugging at is abdomen. The cushions worn, the left side charred from the night his mom fell asleep cigarette in hand, after too many cocktails.

• • • The night of the fire, Aidan never made it to his bed. The TV spat sound bites of news and product jingles that wove in and out of his dreams. In a scalding moment, the world was drenched in smoke and the frenetic sounds of chaos. Everything felt like choking and whispers. Fire trucks wailed in the distance as heat licked at his arms. He heard his mother scream, “My baby, my beautiful baby!” No longer inside, the cold night air sent chills down his spine. The heat pulsated up his arm and the world went black. When he woke, in the cool umbra of fluorescent lights, his mother looked down at him. She rubbed her eyes with dirty knuckles, handprints of ash all over her pale face. “I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry.” His mother wept even after the doctors assured her that he had only suffered first degree burns to his right arm. “You’re a very lucky young man,” said the doctor as he 5


Vickie Fernandez is an award-winning writer and alumni of Ariel Gore's Literary Kitchen. Her stories have appeared in many online publications including Penduline Press, The Rumpus, Antique Children, Spurt Literary Journal, FYLM and Tiki Tiki. She was the recipient of the 2011 Judith Stark award and a finalist in Hunger Mountain’s 2010 competition for creative non-fiction. Vickie is currently working on a memoir while simultaneously wrangling a new set of unruly tales into submission.

bandaged his small arm in white gauze. Aidan’s eyes felt heavy from the morphine drip and a faint sting ran the length of his small mummified limb. The nurses fawned over him and snuck him extra Jell-O and ice-cream while his mom slept ensconced under a flimsy blanket on the pleather seat next to his bed. He was a beautiful boy, like his mother said, with pouty lips and sleepy eyes that took the world in slowly, through the net of his camel curled lashes. No one ever talked about the fire, or the furrowed, white flesh that remained on Aidan’s arm. He never fell asleep on the slightly scorched couch again. Instead, he waited for his mother to dose off and made sure to stub out her cigarette before climbing the steps to his room.

• • • He follows Esperanza - down the rabbit hole of subway steps, through the tunnels under ground and onto a subway car. Standing far enough away so that she won’t notice him. Up the steps and down the boulevard, passed the cantina, with its orange walls and waxy table clothes. He stands on the corner as she walks down her street and climbs the steps to her front door - turning the key and disappearing into her world leaving him alone in his. He now knows where she lives. Still, this knowledge fails to assuage the longing in his gut. He looks down her street one last time and his heart clefts in two from want. He turns hailing a cab and in the lull of traffic lights and stop signs, he resigns to do something about the ripping in his chest.

Shameless Love Poem by A.g. Synclair

The mad ones write poems about death, sparrows, lost youth and girls. About the eternal good and the blackened eye

• • •

of a yellow café door.

Aidan rubs his arm, the flesh still raised but the scars obscured under the vibrant colors of a full sleeve tattoo. The pads of his fingers graze his tricep, a phantom twinge of muscle memory stings beneath indelible ink; the word mom needled in delicate script within the red and blue flames of a sacred heart. It’s a crisp Saturday, light fills the rooms of his apartment. He stares at the couch, nursing the beastly ache of yet another in a string of hangovers with a beer. “Enough,” he whispers, taking a long pull from the long neck bottle. The couch is heavier than he remembered. He hoists the thing on to its side and slides it down the steps and out the front door. The day falls warms on his bare shoulders as he pulls a dusty bottle out from within one of the couch’s crevasses. He looks around to make sure no one is watching and cracks open the last of his mother’s twenty-five year old stash of Glenlivet and douses the cushions. A single match is all it takes. Blue, red flames lick at the seams of the monster couch. Memories rise in plumes filling the air with thick black smoke. “It was a perfectly good couch,” he says. As he walks away from the green pyre of memories and sorrow, a miasma of ash hovers over the cauterized carcass. The sun warms his face as if for the first time and he smiles a wide smile showing all his teeth and raises his arm flagging down a taxi. As the cab pulls up to Esperanza’s building, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten as his feet follow the hammering of his heart to her front door.

She is the pale beauty of rice paper you will write about her because you love her because she is a girl because you should always write what you know. You are a mad one but you have nothing to say about death so you trace the line of her back your hand is visible through her skin she is a ghost she is your air your sparrow.

A.g. Synclair is the editor and publisher of The Montucky Review, a journal of poetry and prose. His work can be found in numerous online and print publications. He lives, writes, and otherwise collaborates in southwestern Montana with his significant other, the artist and poet Heather Brager. 6


e g a t o b a S I thought I heard your heart ask for a safe place to build your broken soul A castle So I started building Began molding Continued crafting My instruments of building Gone You stole them I see it now What you really wanted was to live in the brokenness wallow in the pieces you wanted me down there with you I went Stuck No more I'm leaving You won't find me Why? Because you refused to come with me

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by Tim Marshall


Of the Apocalypse

Image: bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

by February Grace

Four little horses mares and foals lined up in pairs along my wall you brought them back as "keepsakes" just for me

The Little Bell’s Teardrops

faithful tiny equine friends you made them gallop, whinny, bend; graze upon imaginary grass still, unfeeling things precious, painful memories whisper sweetly of your absence just to me

by February Grace

they neigh and whicker and I cry as I still see with faded eye ghost of that happy little girl at play

Peter Pan with broken wing bound to Earth on darkest night no Pixie magic songs to sing prevented freedom of your flight

you have left that life behind not only them, but also me too wide a field to cross, too far a leap to fly

Never Never calls you home an image only, to exist a dream life, yours and mine alone dear wishes cannot conjure this;

such hell, these darling memories the air grows much too thick to breathe as tiny horses seem to whicker just to me

what happens to our merry band when second star above collapses nowhere to go and no way home when pirate sailing dream elapses

by February Grace

Crossroads

the ticking time bomb in your soul lies not in old crock's bulging middle but inside the sad and haunted truth of your internal, endless riddle

How many words am I to pack in the case I aim to carry? Ancient, typewritten heavier things or only lightest electronic figments of shifting neurons?

what will happen to the man never more than fragile boy? I wish that I could send you back to Never Never's pristine joy

February Grace is a writer, poet and artist who counts herself much more than just doubly lucky to be able to share her work in The Rusty Nail once again. She loves music, all things Disney, and after losing all and regaining some use of her sight is more obsessed than ever with bright colors, the Perseids, and fireworks. You can find her blog at www.februarywriter.blogspot.com or catch her if you can on Twitter @FebruaryGrace 8


h s i F g n i y r F n O

by George Masters

I

t is the middle of March in Maine. Snowed yesterday, raining today. The afternoon sky is the color of dirty socks. Waiting for a telephone call from a woman I do push-ups. I make cornbread. I want to thank her for the two pounds of San Francisco coffee that arrived yesterday. More push-ups. I drink a cup of her coffee and try to read. I try to write. The house is quiet. I go out to the kitchen and make a pot of rice and peas. She usually calls twice a day. It’s been two days since I heard from her. I’m not leaving any more messages on her machine. The last five were just to hear her voice. I know what’s missing. First thing I need is good fish. The half mile walk up Ocean Avenue is salt air, and seagulls. I pass a big grey hotel closed for the winter. Across the street, fishing boats at anchor strain against the inbound tide, their bows pointing to the mouth of the Kennebunk River and the open ocean beyond. Inside the fish store three men wearing bloody aprons fillet cod with blades you could shave with. Wet red hands, tough and sure, smooth the way they work. They, themselves haven’t shaved in a few days. The old chocolate lab that belongs to the store sleeps on his blanket near the wall. When I go to him and kneel he opens his one good eye. I stroke his sweet broad head; he gives me a tail flap of recognition. I walk home with a pound and a third of cod so fresh it doesn’t smell. No messages on my answering machine. I build a fire in the living room, watch how the flames work into the logs and warm my hands. In the kitchen I make the preparations. Skillet, flour, bread crumbs, cornmeal, cornstarch, seasonings, eggs, milk, Tabasco sauce, cooking oil, rice and peas. Outside it’s beginning to get dark. I open a bottle of red wine. When frying fish it’s best to be mostly sober. I put on a Chieftains album. Irish music is how I’m feeling. I take a drink of wine and give a long look at the photograph on the window sill of Jack, my dog. Jack died last June. I buried

his ashes in the flower bed outside my bedroom. Jack loved fried fish. Don Williams is singing “Wild Mountain Thyme”. The song starts at my feet and travels straight up the middle. I cut the cod into serving sized pieces. For oil I use one part olive to three parts canola. I break a couple eggs in a bowl, add some milk and four or five dashes of Tabascomore for flavor than heat and then beat it with a fork. In a separate bowl I mix the flour, corn meal, bread crumbs and a bit of corn starch. The corn starch will help make the fried fish crispy. For seasonings I add sea salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, dry dill weed, oregano, dry mustard and a pinch of chili powder. I glance up and see that Jack is watching all this John Prine and the Chieftains are doing “The Girl I Left Behind.” I dip the pieces of fish into the egg mix and then dredge them in the seasoned flour. Waiting for the damned phone to ring, I hope she is safe and wish to hell she’d call. I smell the oil getting hot. I do a test by lowering a corner of a piece of fish into the oil. It starts to bubble and fry, I’m good to go. Two pieces at a time and very carefully. Too much at once and you will lower the temperature and screw up the process. Most careful when I turn the fish. During this part I never leave the stove, I don’t dance around. Involved in the process I have stopped listening for the telephone. Lost in the primitive satisfaction of a wood fire, of fish frying and the haunting Irish music behind it all, I pause. With the fish fried and the stove off, “Danny Boy” comes to me achingly clear. Time to eat, I say aloud. I put a couple small logs on the hungry fire and treasure its warmth and light. In the kitchen I pour another glass of wine. Lifting Jack’s picture off the window sill, I bring him with me into the living room. My co-pilot won’t allow me to fly alone. On this March night Jack and I share the fire. I eat, he watches and together we wait for the phone to ring.

• • •

George Masters is a writer and seagoing cook. After serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam he attended Georgetown University and began to write. His work has appeared in national magazines, newspapers, and several anthologies. 9


TWO STORIES BY

TOM SHEEHAN

places in the campsite. Some began to shave, some just to wash their faces or strip to the waist and wash themselves. All of them had come to life in an instant, as if the war was over, but it was surely not. A whole fleet of planes, big ones, were flying overhead, the broad sky filled with aircraft as far as he could see, the noise another part of the everlasting whine even when he thought a small silence had been earned. Three of the soldiers stood still where they were, not at attention it appeared, but the officer continued talking to them, making more gestures the boy could not understand. Then the three prisoners were put inside a fenced enclosure, and the three soldiers the officer had been talking to took up guard positions. Another low sound, a hum, came to him. At the end of the small valley the boy saw two big trucks coming down the narrow road. The trucks, big army trucks, stopped at the campsite. After a while all the soldiers, including the officer, climbed up on the trucks, but not the three on guard, or the three prisoners still inside the fence. The trucks turned around and headed back toward Viviers, down the narrow road, becoming dark dominoes moving. The guards sat down. The prisoners sat down inside the enclosure. Each looked like they were talking to their own kind. A bird called, one answered and another. All six men looked back toward Viviers and then across the valley where the bird had called again, or one like it, or one near it. Buds, green as good vines, jittered nervously on tree limbs as a small spring breeze lifted its arms and waved. The boy smiled and said hello under his breath. But the smile made the boy feel sad. For at that same moment he remembered his sister, and the day she walked into the barn just ahead of some soldiers coming from behind the barn. She had not seen them and at least three of them followed her inside. He was hidden where his grandfather had left him, in a hole against one wall, the hole he just now slipped out of as he watched more soldiers, the ones with the prisoners. His grandfather had told him never to leave the hole while he was away and told his sister to stay hidden in the barn, but he knew she just had to feed their last animal, a mere piglet. He remembered hearing her screaming and he cried again, as he had on many days since. The soldiers left the barn after a long while. When his sister did not come out of the barn, he crept out of the hole and went to look for her. She was dead, hanging from a beam in the barn. She was fourteen. Her clothes had been torn from her and she had tied some in knots to cover herself. The boy knew everything in an instant. The soldiers did not tie the noose. They did not toss the rope over the beam in the barn. They did not get her to stand on the milk stool that still leaned against one wall. But they were the hangmen. He knew it. He knew his sister. It was the same day he heard the distant whine, the whine as it drew closer. It was the whine and roar of war and all its collected parts coming one at a time, or in continuing

Leaving for Viviers he boy slipped from a hole in the remnants of a stone wall that marked one section of his grandfather’s farm, crawled behind a small tree, and stared down into the valley. At least a week before, shells from distant cannon and mortar had severed the wall in dozens of places, and a crater sat where the chicken house used to be. The pig pen, from the dead of winter, was a new abomination, with the small fence heaved asunder and unknown body parts strewn every which way. The Alsace winter of 1944 had been cold and worn with misery, but now, as he breathed new air, he could see buds on the trees on the floor of the valley and across nearby hills. From a distance he heard a bird call for a friend, and heard the answer. It made him smile for the first time in the morning. Then, far off, he saw a group of soldiers marching back into their small encampment with three enemy soldiers walking ahead of them, docile prisoners at the points of rifles, their hands clasped atop their heads. All the soldiers, front and back, the catching and the caught, trudged tired and worn, as if they were weary of the war, too weary to carry on. Days earlier great tanks, support vehicles and hundreds of soldiers had passed through the valley and gone ahead. The boy could see their tracks trenchant in the new grass trying for green, in the matted grain fields on early legs, and coming out of the small, now distorted copse of maples and birches at the edge of the hill for a hundred years had provided heat for the family. As he looked down on the small group, he didn’t know who to feel sorry for, the ones up front or the ones with the rifles. More than a dozen of them were armed with rifles. The sun bounced off their helmets and parts of their weapons. The bird called again. “Just let us know if any soldiers are coming this way,” his grandfather had said as he ushered him out of the house that morning. “Give us enough time so we can hide a few things.” The old man had patted him on the head, the way he did on most errands these days, the way his father had patted him, the way he had learned. On some days the boy had forgotten what his father looked like. He’d been dead for more than two years, shot by one side or the other at a tumultuous point of the war. So the boy didn’t know who he hated. But he hated somebody. Anybody who came on their land stood a good chance. He saw an officer come out of a tent and stand at the head of the soldiers. Then all the soldiers of the small camp gathered around the officer, who was apparently talking to them. He saw the officer make gestures and point back toward Viviers. He could not hear the officer’s voice and tried to read his body language. Soon many of the soldiers ran to

T

10


odd pairs, the machinery of war, sounding out itself in pieces but slowly building its full way. At first it was as faint as if an old playmate, Rene or Jean, had called from the next farm or the next hill, coming as it did into a part of one ear, at the edge of all sound, at the edge of the belief of sound, and then came all the pieces of sound… the single bullets slicing in the air, the soft thump against wood or clatter on rock at the end of poor aim, the arc of shells screaming inside his head harsh as a close whistle, the distant impulses that sent the shells toward him and the farm and the tremors in the earth, the vibrations in the air as strong as evil itself, and soon the yelling rising up on its legs, the orders, the cries of terror and fright, the war itself, the terrible machine rolling across the land the way plows once wandered, turning everything over, the very land itself and all it offered up, the vines, the grass, the golden grains, day into night, night into day, silence into noise, noise into silence, peace into war. The awful impulses that came with war. With his grandfather off on the strange errands he often attended to, the boy kept watch on the encampment. He knew that more than silence and language separated the two small groups of soldiers down below. He tried to imagine all their differences and was hounded by the difficulty the problem presented. Nothing, he believed, could be resolved from distance. More whines arose. More planes passed over the valley, like a cloud of sparrows erroneously leaping south. The sound roared in his ears as the war continued beyond him and the farm and his secret hole in the ground. For more than an hour the three soldiers on guard were talking and obviously arguing. One of them kept pointing over his shoulder, back to where the trucks had gone. Gestures and wild motions came out of him as if he were on stage, in a wild drama. Perhaps it was a comedy. The boy did not know. Then the lead actor, the one with the motions and gestures, walked to the enclosure, opened the gate and pointed off to the other end of the valley, where the war was. The prisoners came out of the enclosure and began to walk off toward the war. Then they began running, stumbling, falling, rising, running again. The three guards put their rifles to shoulder and shot them in the back. In the silence that followed the guard soldiers began to clean themselves. Two shaved, one washed his torso completely. All three were waving their arms in odd motions, marionettes against drab canvas. Finally all three of them, rifles over their shoulders, began to walk toward Viviers. Now the boy knew who he hated.

A Pocketful of Verse Nothing brings it home like feasting on a poem. (Unknown guitarist on a troopship, San Francisco-bound, 1952.) omewhere down the line of soldiers on the march, above the thud of boots, web equipment jostling, grunts and deep breaths in unison, came the blast of a whistle. Two columns of fully armed men, passing each other and going in opposite directions, stopped in their tracks. They were beside a company of engineer troops digging roadside gutters to handle the promised seasonal rains coming from the Sea of Japan. Soon, as good as promise, the Sea of Mud would grab at them. Private Frank Butcher dropped his gear to take ten and stretched out on the damp ground beside the Main Supply Road (MSR) on the Korean eastern front, a May day at mid-morning, 1951. The sun rays felt hazy and damp. At the small of his back an ache made itself known. Realization came that silence in the war zone was eerie, and unbelievable. Butcher thought that measurement of a sort was in play, demanding attention. It was, he reflected, like stopping to smell a riot of flowers on a country lane or a manure pile ripening outside an old barn. Things forever lived and abounded all around him. The company of engineer, he noticed to a man, were all black, and the infantry marchers were all white. Butcher sat up when one of the engineers stood over him looking down, the eyes looking at him with a sad brown echo; a smile was stripping his face with perfect teeth, affability. The man, Butcher thought, knows how to smile. “Care for a smoke?” The black soldier extended a pack of cigarettes toward Frank, and then sat down beside him as Frank drew a single cigarette from the other soldier’s pack. “Thanks,” Frank Butcher said, nodding, looking into the deep brown eyes. “I haven’t seen any Luckies in a month of Sundays. What we generally get, at this end of the war, is floor stuff, factory sweepings not worth the bother to collect it commercially, more powder than a blast from a grenade sets off.” “Don’t mention it,” the black soldier said, as if disregarding Private Butcher’s claim, “I’m Calvin Boone.” Boone extended his hand and allowed a deep, gleaming smile to accompany his outstretched hand. White teeth, square and even, one of them capped in gold the sun found easily, carried contrast a distance. Butcher thought again, he sure knows how to smile. “I’m Frank Butcher.” The knowledge in Butcher’s back was teaching him a lesson about what side of the road to lay on, what hip cold tolerate a slightest temperature change or an ounce of discomfort, how to manage sudden movement. “You guys going back up?” Boone puffed away at his own butt, small exhalations of smoke marking the effort. “Yuh,” Butcher countered, not really up for small talk. “We were in reserve for a few days, but we moved out yesterday. We have to do it all over again.” A pause hung its

S

• • •

11


Butcher rolled over on his other side, his long legs crossing one another in a deliberate motion. “Man, when you’re getting popped at, it’s all the same.” “Difference is you can’t hit back with a shovel.” Butcher didn’t answer. The silence continued on for a long spell, and Boone finally said, “Where’s home?” “Ellston, Iowa. Population 210. 209 since I left.” “Farm country?” “Yuh, it is, but my dad runs the general store in town. I was glad to get out of there for a while, but I’d sure love to be back there now.” His gray eyes stared down the road and he pulled on his pointed chin with one hand. Reaching out, he grabbed a handful of earth and let it trickle through his fingers. Boone lit another cigarette and Butcher looked up at him. The whistle sounded down the line again and the moaning of men arose as they came to their feet. Butcher said, “What’s that you got in your jacket pocket?” Boone smiled as he said, “An orange. Want it?” Butcher said, “I’ll swap you for it.” “Okay. What you got?” “A book of poetry. Soft cover. I’ve been into a lot of it. Probably three or four times through it all the way. Marked it up a bit.” Boone’s eyes lightened. “Deal,” he said, then added, “pen or pencil?” Butcher laughed, reached into his fatigue jacket pocket and drew out the book as Boone handed over the orange. He stuck the orange into the pocket where the book had been, picked up his pack and hoisted it to his back. When he slung the rifle over his shoulder and walked away, Boone was thumbing open a page, seeing a verse he had read before.

stripe in the air. “Probably be back up there in a few days and cover the same ground. We did it before so many times, it’s like a friggin’ game.” Boone looked straight into is eyes. “Do it all over again?” Frank spoke from the side of his mouth as he was lighting up. “Yup, we’re going back up to take Sugar Loaf II. Blue Item lost it day before yesterday. And that’s after we had pitched it in our back pocket. Not that it was a piece of cake by any means.” He paused, measured, replied, “It friggin’ sticks the way I look at it. Ought to be a realtor here drawing lines, making sides, setting prices, and posting ads. Cover his ass if not ours, if you really want to know.” He was sorry he said that, as Boone broadcast a reaction. Boone flipped his cigarette arching through the air. It fizzled in a small pool of water in the main road bed. “That’s tough that way, ain’t it?” Frank leaned back and lay on one side, propping his head on one hand. “I don’t think we’re ready for it. We’re not even up to full strength.” “I’d sure like to be going with you,” Boone said as he looked back down the road. A company of black soldiers were standing on the side of the road, each one with a long handled spade. Boone began to rub his palms together. Butcher looked up at him, one eyebrow arching higher than the other. “Hell, I’d just as soon be back here with you guys digging holes while I was standing up, than be up there digging them on my gut.” He spit out the side of his mouth. The saliva landed on the edge of his pack. He reached out with one finger and rubbed it into the pack. Boone was still rubbing his palms together. “It’s different with us. They won’t let us go up. It’s not much of a fight with a shovel in your hand. I hate to see you guys going by, going back up.” “You guys have a job to do,” Frank offered. “If these roads get mired in, the supply trucks can’t get through… no ammo, no good chow, and “he laughed a bit, “no reporters either.” “I’ve heard all that soap before. It doesn’t sound so good when you see a unit go up and they come down a few days later and there aren’t so many of them coming back.” Butcher looked at the butt plate of his own rifle. The plate was all scratched. “Is it so damn important to you to go up there?” “It sure is when they just about tell you you can’t join a combat unit because your skin is a different color. Most of us are in transport or engineer units. Makes me feel damn useless.” He sat down beside Butcher, his hands stretched out behind him, one hand resting on the barrel of the rifle. “Where you from in the states?” “Jersey.” “Makes it kind of hard, don’t it?” “I never met anything like this at home. Some of the guys don’t feel anything different, but lots of us hope they stop this segregation.” Butcher sat up. “Why, I’d swap places with you any day of the week. In a damn minute. I’m kind of worried about this trip. I almost got wasted on the last trip up there. Never been so scared in my whole life.” “I’ve been afraid a lot back here, too,” Boone said. We get a little incoming mail once in a while. It can’t be the same feeling though.”

• • •

Image: Nuttapong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

12


poems by

Camera Obscura

Jack Foster

Smoke spews forth from century-old brick chimneys, lining the shore of the beach where you were once photographed in your cut off shorts, circa 1961. And as the swirling smoke lumbers down into the gas-lit streets, a portraiture of your figure is illuminated with just enough detail to insinuate the certainty of your features.

Blackout in Nan Ning When the lights shut off and the vents give one last sputter, time translates into something foreign and everything changes into what it once was.

I then begin to wonder who you are. You are the feeling my hands have never met; the concept I am in love with being in love with. The translucent

The rigid angles of buildings lined with bamboo scaffolding are transformed into sandstone pillars,

the unobtainable knowledge I thought might change something; the catalyst, the fountainhead. And all you do is smile through the thickness of your transitory screen.

the rickshaws pulling cans of kerosene and twenty kilo bags of rice assume the guise of paper dragons with the tiny legs of long gone dancers sticking out

Your image, like seen through a camera lens, soon becomes grainy and marred; and with the gentlest of cold air currents, you are abruptly effaced once more, borne back into the obscurity of night.

as they parade down the streets that once were theirs. When the lights shut off and the ocean currents brush

Belated

characters of ambiguous meaning over the canvas of the countryside,

I finally visit your grave on a Wednesday and press my ear to the ground, thinking the crinkling of the grass is you telling me a story.

I witness the march of terracotta warriors filing towards their final resting place, the place where they will wait until the power lines fail again.

And through your words I hear you knitting, pushing and pulling blue and pink thread through needles -

And as I stand peering out the window of my two-toned clay-tiled house,

Perhaps today you're making me a scarf, or maybe you're fashioning baby booties for my children you'll never meet.

I see as if for the first time a place beyond my own comprehension, where the past and the present reveals itself in the form of a blackout.

Then it occurs to me that you aren't there. You've been atomized and scattered reduced down to a slab of marble, letting only strangers know you in death.

Jack Foster is the Production Editor of A Few Lines Magazine. He has been published in various small press magazines, and is a current student of Cal Poly. Dark beer is his favorite, but he occasionally settles with a good Belgian.

I swear I hear you though. And even though I know the crinkling is only the insects that separate us, I start to remember your voice. 13


I Want To Be You by Katie Allen Ross

I want to be you, Standing on your platform of perfect prose, Never a misplaced verb or noun, Never too many beats of awkward silence Or print. You, with your simplicity that is gloriously complex You, drowned in whiskey and rum So that the cream floats to the top. Perfect like a six-toed cat Or a one-legged dog Perfect like the name Lady Brett Which fits just right in that hollow On our tongues, rolled in silk and Powdered chocolate. Perfect taste and sound Perfect words for a long-dead writer Lost in thought or oblivion. In eternity, I'll look you up. We'll share a drink and a pen.

Melancholy Daydream by Andrew J. Stone Melancholy daydream blue in school blue in field silent children shrink and the bell’s thundering voice rings

Katie Allen Ross is a Georgia native, who is extremely proud of her Southern roots. She currently writes a weekly column for the Haralson County Gateway-Beacon. Her fiction has appeared in West Georgia Living and the literary journals Southern Gothic and Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. She lives in West Georgia with her husband and three cats and affirms that she’s not a crazy cat lady…yet. 14

the pawns are released into the King’s Courtyard the elements of summer are very strong in the sunshine


by Michael Groves

ORBS Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

them at the motel where we were staying the night before. “DO NOT DISTURB!” It snorted a little from its black shiny nose, flicked its white fluffy tail, turned, and was off into the brush like a shot. I kept walking, curious, because now I saw green and yellow orbs hanging from the same scrubby little trees. I guessed they were Key Limes. The cook at the motel had made us a delicious, tart, Key Lime Pie. So delicious. He told us he was grateful we’d enjoyed it so much. I reached for one and Ouch! I hadn’t seen the thorns! Sharp! 3.

1. While pushing my way through the soft spruce windbreak, I glanced behind me to where Dad and Judy were and blinked, hoping they would go away – well, at least Judy, but she was still there. She was on top of him, rocking back and forth. Dad said Ok to taking a walk with me here to look for shells, but she talked him out of it: “Oh, Alan,” she whined, picking up her chaise lounge and moving it tightly next to his, “We never get any alone time … stay here with me …” “Ok, Judy. Angie, go ahead and look for some shells on the other side of those trees. Get me some good ones.” I hate whiners. 2. I was surprised to find this stretch of beach deserted, it was its own beautiful, separate world. The water’s edge curved out to the horizon; West, I thought, into the Gulf of Mexico. I imagined chests of shimmering gold from Spanish pirate ships lying on the sandy bottom. For a second I thought it strange a girl would like to think about pirates and booty, but I liked other things boys liked, like girls, so there. I thought I heard a crispy rustling over my shoulder – just for a second I thought I saw something move. I turned and focused; I saw three shiny black orbs in the small trees and brush at the back of the beach. Two large and one small in between them. They were living, vibrating. I sort of tiptoed in the sand towards them, sensing they were attached to something, but it was like trying to make sense of jigsaw puzzle pieces in the scrub. When I got a few feet closer I saw it was a deer, a Key Deer, not much bigger than Mrs. Butterworth’s Great Dane back home. They were endangered; I’d seen a poster about 15

I wanted to find some great shells for Dad, so I began to wander along the edge of the beach, in the shallows. Judy’d given me a white plastic bag the black maid at the hotel had given her. The water was crystal clear, but it magnified the bottom – I’d find what I thought was a big one and it was half the size; I’d thought I found a bright, colorful one and as soon as I brought it out of the water and it dried, dull. At last I pulled out one the size of my fist and it stayed shiny purple and orange and brown. I was excited and started to run and show it to Dad, but when I took one step, a sharp pain shot up my right leg. There was a brown cloud in the water around my ankle. 4. I was between their chaise lounges: “Boy, Angie, that’s a keeper.” Judy exclaimed: “My God, Angie! What have you done to your foot!?” “Jesus Christ, Angie,” said Dad. “Judy, get a bucket of water to clean the sand out of it. I’ll get the first aid kit out of the wagon.” Judy grabbed the bucket, took one step and wavered and fell on her face in the sand. By this time there was blood everywhere.” They got it taped , but it still throbbed and hurt like Hell. Then they started arguing. Judy said: “We need to get her to an Emergency Room, Tom. She needs stiches!” “Stop worrying. There’s a small hospital in Key West, but it would take three hours to get there. If it still hurts later, we’ll find a local doctor through the guy at the motel. Angie, get off of it. Lay back on your chaise next to your mother. Don’t worry, Judy, kids heal fast.” Judy asked me: “Does it hurt a lot, Angie?” I almost said, “What a stupid question, you fucking...” but Dad didn’t like me talking like that to her, so I said, “Yes, it hurts


need a handsome man to save me, or I’m done for! This struck me as very funny, it gave me a little squirt of energy. Just then I saw those glistening black orbs looking at me from within the thicket. I tried to reach out to her although she was probably thirty feet away. When I raised my hand to her, she flicked her tail, turned and, like earlier in the day, squirted into the thorns. I thought, that deer wasn’t much smaller than I was, besides it was the only way back to my parents, though I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. I covered the beach to where the deer hightailed it. I entered the thicket and immediately I had spikes digging into my shoulders and hips. Digging into my new breasts—soon they were swollen and painful. I tried to protect my eyes, I felt I was bleeding everywhere, but inched along, kept going. It was the image of the deer that guided me. I heard a truck thundering across the bridge. I’d been at it for an hour, a day? “ANGIE??!” It was Judy…

a lot.” Then to Dad: “Dad, she put the bandage on wrong. Can you rewrap it?” Dad said: “Just lay back, Angie, and let Nature work its magic.” Judy poured from her glass wine jug into my big orange cup, nearly full. She said: “Here, this’ll help the pain.” I took it and sipped it. I’d only had a small glass of wine at Gramms at Thanksgiving. It was tart, like the pie at the motel. I got used to it and it started to go down pretty well. She was right, in a few minutes, it stopped hurting as much. 5. My eyes were like slits, parallel with the sparkling horizon. I looked next to me, here we were like the Three Bears after a Goldilocks dinner. Judy was snoring, she had on a green paisley scarf tied under her chin, and huge black sunglasses. Dad was dozing under his Baltimore Orioles baseball cap. I leaned next to her and took her jug and poured some more into my cup. What was the big deal? My foot didn’t hurt at all! Everything was so dazzling! Dad liked that shell so much, I wanted to look for some more. There was a bridge close to us holding up the highway where the station wagon was parked. I thought: ‘There must be some great shells under that bridge.’ There was a white sign with red lettering hanging from underneath the bridge, but I couldn’t make it out because everything was so bright; I walked onto the concrete wall holding up the bridge, and just as I started to make it out I slipped into the raging water. Later, it came to me: ‘Danger Riptide.’ Tumbling , sinking, foamy. Kissing boys, girl’s softball, snowstorms, gulping foamy water, nylon panties, Gramm’s great cooking; orbiting, rolling, spinning …bubbly…

7. I woke from a deep sleep, dreams of standing in my crib. Judy was there, with a man undressing her, a man not Dad. He was pulling down her straps and sucking on her breasts. I was lying back on a hard table with pink curtains all around. Dad and Judy were there. Dad had his arm around her shoulders. I looked down me, towards my feet—it hadn’t been a dream today—I had scratches and cuts and contusions over every square inch of my body. I was only sore, I guessed I was in the hospital, and the doctor had given me medicine for the pain. I started to ask Dad questions about what had happened, when a big doctor came through the curtains. He told me to sit up then poked me a little. “How do you feel, young lady?” “Ok, I guess. Tired. “Are you the girl’s parents? The doctor sounded angry. Dad said, “Yes.” “Then what in God’s grace happened to this child?” Judy pushed her sunglasses up with her middle finger. Dad was staring down at his tennis shoes. I’d never seen him do that before. The three of us could have been orbs, together.

6. When I woke, coughing, sputtering, eyes like sparkly slits again, there was a great black storm over the horizon. I thought it saved my life. I felt, I remembered being picked bodily and tossed around, then rolling in the sand, thrown onto a beach. My shirt was ripped up the side, my shorts and underpants had been pulled off. When I realized my little twat (Judy’s word) was exposed I cupped my hands over it, but I looked both ways and the beach was deserted, there was no one around to see it. The tape and gauze Judy’d used on my foot had twirled off and was stretched out along the sand. The bandages were more red than white. My cut was pink and foamy looking and Boy! did it hurt ! I looked way down the beach and it looked like the bridge next to where picnicking, but there were hundreds of bridges along the way to Key West that looked the same. Still, it was the only sign of civilization. So, after twisting the rest of the bandage off, I limped into that direction. I was getting pretty close to the bridge when I collapsed. The pain was weakening my legs, I felt like I was probably, how do they put it in the movies, ‘done for’—I

Michael Groves lives in Frederick, Maryland and started writing seriously 5-6 years ago. He has one national story published in Cortland Review in 2007.

16


Poems by

Kevin Ridgeway Displaced Parrots

Sunday School Blues

Hell to Pay

Years ago people say they were released into the open air from their hillside cages only to scream through the morning airwaves with their incessant cluster of hiccupping calls, greeting us along with the lawnmowers harrumphing across the morning grasses below

I went for the after service donuts, and the plastic toy Noah’s Ark of which I was skipper sailing the rug burned seven seas saving young girls in hand made dresses and being admonished for trying to free the animal figurines out the window my waterlogged adventures always ended with bruised elbows from after school steel folding chairs the scrapes and cuts screaming in my bored mind as the pastor with eyebrow forests and pop eyes spoke of hellfire and damnation while Jesus stared down on the congregation his eyes rolling at mine and his lips smacking puckered like mine Christ himself wanting those chocolate doughnuts already

fruit flies with names and social security numbers flutter between aluminum skyscrapers empty cans and bottles gleaming underneath a fluorescent sun cigarette butts piling up into ashen junkyards for crawling ants scavenging after survivors and food utilizing snoring people as bridges to stale rotgut water

It seems no matter where you are, there is a power line social club of these strange birds hobnobbing amongst themselves, their feathers dancing in the wind, waters of color bursting in the early light of day Their circular path in the sky hitting every local town by noontime and back again each morning They’re laughing at us down here we don’t know what we’re missing in the flight plans and secret skirmishes

this deadly miniature city of fuming squalor where no one goes or leaves quietly tells the tale of our slow extinction our indifference to the real city outside our window and a descent into madness wrought with hell to pay in this recyclable graveyard we demolish this city after a doomed dynasty and over the weeks we build another one made of our dirty living nightmares

that dot the wandering continents of clouds above

Kevin Ridgeway is a writer from Southern California, where he resides in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Recent work has appeared in Carnival Literary Magazine, Underground Voices and Dead Snakes. Mr. Ridgeway's chapbook Burn through Today is now available from Flutter Press. 17


3 Poems by Dave Gregg Motel

Fulton Missouri

by Dave Gregg

by Dave Gregg

this motel is nine rooms of ruin broken beds and busted window it comes out at night yes, this museum of sin and vice and yes-girls appears only at dark go ahead shake your head and roll them sorry eyes drop by some morning arrive with the sun you'll see it’s true all you'll find is me tapping my watch

At the Four Square church in Fulton MO God arrives in a climate ripe for tomatoes and the sweet red juices of strawberries Quick as slander word spreads of His visit And soon thousands converge upon the Frame church for his special attentions Multitudes walk and run in parade and caravan In trucks and cars and vans and bikes and bus Cycles, scooters, and horseback the limp and lame The lawless and luckless the lepers and louts With the large and little the dim and damned They assemble and flock to Milton, Missouri This coalition of the crippled cast the relics of Their infirmities into vast tall mountains of Mangled splints, fractured glasses and broken canes

Substitute

Pill bottles of every hue spill into six inch carpets Of sundry tablets and local legend is there were No sick dogs in of all Milton for three generations

by Dave Gregg I was a substitute for love her sweet and low someone to touch on rainy nights an answer to early morning prayers something to use when love was unavailable or simply not on the diet

But all good things must conclude and God departs Leaving the abused avenues of Milton to be swept Of debris and the tills counted and the receipts filed And no one notices much change in Fulton's denizens So one might conclude His visit was all for naught (but the strawberries were particularly sweet that year)

18


ME Frozen Crescendo by Kevin Ridgeway the fire of summer is put out by the shimmering quilt of color blanketing the autumn world, and the mania of autumn is frozen in time by the cold bitch of winter’s frost this mind slows into a jazzy downturn of horn solos and sadistic drum clatters rumble across the blacktops of a cold space of dreams that linger from the uncertain rants of the mind-holidays come and go, pumpkins turn to mulch, another birthday is celebrated with rain hitting the roof with yet more music-reaching a crescendo come December’s dissolution and the early months’ rise, an internal scream that takes the unrecorded frantic rhythms of the previous year to a dramatic close celebrated in lawn tableaus and other dances born out of different holy texts that dot continents in a glorious globe lantern of the spirit that have suddenly burned to black

by Michael Price

This story is about me. Aside from the fact that you have obviously, somehow, become fortunate enough to come in contact with this finely crafted piece of literature, you don’t matter a whole helluva lot. Simply put, in words that even you might understand, based solely on your merits alone, you don’t count. Therefore, you should thank me. As you read this, I give you worth. Many years ago, it became readily apparent to me how truly special I am so I, therefore, have been obliged to accept this as a matter of fact. You should, too and, for the most part, you have. Good for you. I know it must come across as fairly obvious that my intelligence is undoubtedly to be revered. Additionally, I have amassed boatloads of money over the years, as notably evidenced by my…well, for one thing, my boat, my spectacularly gorgeous yacht…by my exceptionally fine wardrobe, two stylish European automobiles, and thousands and thousands of dollars worth of designer sunglasses. My state-of-the-art, elegantly modern, high-rise bachelor pad provides the quintessential definition of the term ‘luxury condo’. Furthermore, I am exceptionally handsome in the classic GQ/beefcake mode, far too glib for words (get it? that’s funny!), and, for years now, stunningly beautiful women have worshiped my every move, swooned over my every utterance. None of this is my fault, and should not be held against me. I seem to have been born this way. Whenever I treat myself to a leisurely jaunt down the sidewalks of the big city I always walk right down the middle. None of this keep-to-the-right shit; I make you move. And those candy bar and gum wrappers I toss on the ground? Some city employee or whoever actually gets paid to pick that shit up. I mean, can you believe that? I’m a walking stimulus package. I grace a local health club with my presence three or four times a week, whenever I feel like it, only during peak hours, of course. I always get the aerobic stuff out of the way first. Why? Sure, it’s a good way to warm up. But more importantly, everywhere I go after that, everything I touch, every bench I lay on, a welcoming little bonus of special perspiration awaits whoever’s next in line. Good for them. If they or anybody else wants to wipe it up, that’s their business, I couldn’t care less, it’s not my problem anymore. Occasionally, somebody will actually ask if they can work in with me on something I’m doing, usually something with the weights, go every other set on a machine, split a bench, ya know, whatever. I always say no, of course. The nerve...they can wait. What I’m doing is always more important, always has been, always will be, and takes precedence every time. Most people already know all that but every once in a while I regrettably am approached by God’s most recent gift to ignorance and--can you believe it?—I get asked to share. It actually happens more than you might think. It’s sad. I almost feel sorry for the damn morons. Well, not really. Okay, not at all. I borrowed a couple thirty-five pound dumbbells from the club a few weeks ago. Walked out with 'em in my Gucci gym bag, right past the pimply little chicky-poo at the front desk, the one always smiling her tight little junior college ass off at anything that moves, doin' the minimum wage/free membership hokey-pokey along with the rest of her cutesy little pals (pretty pathetic, actually--pubescent eye-candy, at best). And I know what you're thinking; yes, those weights were kinda heavy, hanging so low, thought for a minute I might even be running the risk of stretching out the ol' Gucc bag, that maybe I shoulda borrowed 'em home one at a time. But, hey, I really do need 'em back at my place, for those days when I don't feel like going out or it's raining or whatever, or for the big game on my big screen. Priorities, am I right? And for what I'm paying that money-sucking sweat shop? Hey, I deserve 'em. Gotta keep the pipes pumped up for all the pretty little of-age 19


start talking to this chick...ya know, real suave-like, charming the crap out of the whole deal. Says she’s meeting her boyfriend. I’m thinkin’, sure honey, I’ll bet. Go ahead, play hard-to-get, I know how to play that game, too. So we’re talking, ya know, mostly about me, naturally. Turns out she’s the poster child for Air-Heads Anonymous, a total flight deck, brain of a pocket gopher, and, as it turns out, a fabulous ass to go along with those wah-wah knockers which now, up close, look absolutely delicious. And I’m thinkin’, let’s get outta here, honey, I know a place, wink, wink, yada, etcetera...but hey, I’m playin’ it cool, ya know, keepin’ the eyeses on the prizes, as it were. So we’re talking, talking, five, ten minutes, maybe…turns out she actually does have a boyfriend, no shit. He shows up, a half-hour late, and a real pip-squeak at that: five-eight, five-nine maybe, one-thirty-five, tops, bad hair cut, wearing an L-Mart clearance-sale close-out three-piece job and a buck-special tie, not to mention the scuffed-up brown penny loafers (more like penniless)—none of which matched. And I’m thinkin’, the whole time laughing my ass off inside, oh baby, this is gonna be so easy. So I buy the guy a drink, what the hell, try to be a good guy, anything he wants, on my tab (a Fuzzy Navel!—nice drink, Mary!). So we keep talking for a few minutes, she and me, I mean. Then junior fashion plate with the pretty little drinky-poo goes all brave on the deal and tries to bunny-hop his way into the conversation. Turns out he’s an idiot, too, one of those puny entry level business geeks that should never be allowed to speak where liquor is served, all of which I probably could have told you before he ever opened his skinny-ass lips to yap, yap, yap it up. Not to mention, a lippy little punk on top of everything else; wouldn't you know, a real sass-box. Suffice to say, we kinda got off on the wrong foot, didn't hit it off real well. There were issues, more than one of which were directly or indirectly related to a few of my favorite female physical attributes, all of which were practically gift-wrapped and sitting on a bar stool right in front of me. So, what does he do? The little shit gets in my face. He actually gets up in my face, starts bitchin’ at me, calling me this, that, the other; couldn’t frickin’ believe it! Starts railin' on me for hitting on his woman. Well, duh!--no shit pally! I was saving her, for God’s sake. Him, too, for that matter. The puny little twerp was bound to get dumped sooner or later, no way a babe like that was gonna stick it out with...that!...she was bound to come to her senses, and probably a helluva lot sooner than later. A beauteous prize package like that obviously deserves better than little Miss Penny-loafer, sipping on his fu-fu-juice. God, he was pathetic. But he would just not let it go. He keeps comin' at me. So I take this little twit's bullshit until I just can't frickin take it any more, nobody could've. And I get pissed. Like, really pissed. You would've, too. Hell, anybody would’ve. Twerp! Fuzzy Navel...pfft! What a wuss. Long story short: I end up with a couple broken knuckles outta the deal. Hurts like hell, too. So I've been informed that I'm allowed one phone call as one of the honored guests in this shit-hole. Damned if I can think of anybody to call who might want to help me out. The food here is terrible. Got my first court appearance in the morning. Good for me.

babes, right? See, there ya have it again--priorities. They're great to have around during commercials. The dumbbells, I mean, not the priorities. Incidentally, that time you had your hands full of whatever crap was in all those boxes and the guy in front of you let the door slam in your face? Yeah, that was me. I know you said something, I think you might have even stooped to foul language, but I wasn’t really paying attention, nor did I give a rat's ass. Besides, the guy behind you helped pick everything up, anyway, the schmuck. I know, I checked, just for the hell of it, more for shits and giggles than anything else. And I’m guessing (so I've been told) this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you how bad I feel about the whole deal, that I’m really sorry, I'll never do it again, but those would all be lies, so never mind. I don’t do the door thing. My time is more valuable than that. Automobile turn signals have always been a waste of electrical engineering, as far as I’m concerned, and a colossal pain in the ass to boot (ass to boot, boot to ass…God, I really am funny!). I don’t even bother with ‘em unless I see a cop hangin’ around, trolling for suckers, and sometimes not even then. Hey, I’m right here, I know you can see me, it’s a red Porsche, for chrissake, get the hell outta my way, I’m turning. And yo, pedestrian, pay attention, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a lot bigger than you are, get your lousy ass across the damn street or I’ll run ya down, chop-chop, whad'ya say? Hell, a long time ago, I even tried to get my mechanic to disconnect the blinker wires on my cars. I mean, why bother? Everybody sees me. C’mon, it’s a brand new Mercedes convertible, ya gotta be lookin’ right at me, I’m turning, already. Joe said he couldn’t do it. Communist. Shortly after I purchased and moved into my delightfully urbane abode, some artistically challenged addle-brain was hired—by who, I don’t even want to know--to deck the walls of our building with art. It was all I could do to refrain from unmercifully belittling him and his excruciating lack of taste, that week he hung the hideous tripe. I waited until he was done and gone, then mercifully replaced some of the more offensive of his imbecilic selections with a number of aesthetically captivating paintings from my collegiate art class days, plus a few award-worthy photographs from my prodigious personal stash. I hated to break up a fabulous collection but, my God, something had to be done; I live in the damn building. I tossed the other shit in the dumpster, where it undoubtedly came from in the first place. Okay, so a couple nights ago I walk into this bar. Nice place, decent scenery, been there, done that. Better than average success rate, not bad at all, really, definitely worth my while for a return visit. Anyway, I'm standing there, posed at the end of the bar, affluently dappered for the evening, as usual, scotching to myself, I dunno, on my second, maybe third...I see this chick across the bar. Real dolly-and-a-half. She's sitting there by herself: big jugs, nice hair, good make-up job, cavernous cleavage, the whole package. So I call the bartender over, tell him to buy her a cocktail, anything she wants, put it on my tab, shot, wine, whatever. Bartender goes over to the chick, brief conversation, she looks right at me, gives me the cute little smile…shakes her pretty little head no. Couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t frickin’ believe it. I’m thinkin’, she has no idea what she’s missing out on. So I go over there, introduce myself. Nothing. So I

• • • 20


A Poem Trio Mourning

A Stone’s Throw

by Corey Cook

by Tom Sheehan

Gile and Floyd sit in the second to last pew. Arms crossed, knees apart, heads hung. Gile donning his greasy cloth conductor hat and Floyd in his black jeans. Scoot stifles sobs at the front of the church as his daughter swats at, shushes her children. It’s awful quiet, Gile mumbles. I didn’t know a room could be this quiet with Kitty in it. Floyd silently chuckles, leans in, whispers, You think the undertakers had to grease the inside of the casket to get her in? Gile smirks and says, I’d say so, but I hear Kitty’s latest diet is a sure-fire way to lose weight.

Her Pound of Silence by Tom Sheehan Every so often I’d catch my mother standing in her bare living room, a pound of silence she called it, looking as if one of her children were missing. Hair and eye dark, white complexion she said was a toast to Cork’s clear air, she did not use gestures to express words. Only if you stared hard, would you see firmness tighten her jaw, set her lips; mind made up; a deed to be done; that too-silent room, that useless cubicle, begged for furniture, formality. She’d pause on her way to peer out the window, look over her shoulder. I’d think she was being followed, had vowed to lose herself in silence, my tall, lovely, obstinate mother, who said less words than heard. Late night arguments about furniture, the very need of it in the first place, an extravagance, we don’t live in a barn, the inexhaustible supply of doilies grandmother crocheted for a hundred years gathering dust in old hat boxes,

I am into rocks tonight, stones, pebbles, boulders, those huge artifacts and paraphernalia left over from the cold time, left over from the hot time, the cold embers from the first fact of fire. In Gilsum, New Hampshire one house of a boulder, inertia’s final mark, sits on a hill in a man’s backyard above the Ashuelot River, its path here, its conflation road, must have been the river bed, fire chasing it all the way, like some colonist trying to settle down. Inside, where fire and flame cross, a hundred people could live, a hundred stars have buried a last flicker, a gasp. Nearby, at a neighbor’s place, in a wall a mason loved, behind a piece of glass from a game of poppies a daughter played in, a marble agate moves only when the earth shakes from pole to pole. By the ocean, stones have edges like used bars of soap or bottle pieces trundled and rolled and abraded through ten thousand years of relentless tide. They are smooth like first breasts touched; edgeless, round, real, warm, different. Through adverse rocks flushes the character of old men at bus stops, cross walks, making a last effort in the day about them, it too growing gray and cool and diminishing.

standing by like Providence wharfed. She never raised her voice, but a rhythmic engine came through other rooms her speed steadily at five miles an hour. To a word she was intractable. 21


A Poem Quartet You Have the Perfect Everything by Michael Brownstein

Who Stalks Me 60 Years Yet by Tom Sheehan John Maciag was all bone knees, elbows and jaw hated his rifle proficient at killing wanted home so badly it burned his soul We leaned up that mountain near Yangu, frightened War’s hurricane tore our ranks trees of us lifted by roots I came running down three days later

You have the perfect everything, But which am I? Not the city snow Gray and full of air. Not the river Thick with waste, A lack of breath, The vomit of poison. Not dawn’s first sunbeam Over the lake. Not rolling driftwood Over the waves. Not The old herring gulls Waiting for that foolish fish To rise to the surface In search of the commotion.

Like cordwood the bodies were stacked between two stakes all Korean, but that jaw of John Maciag I saw a log of birch amongst the scrub I stopped, the sergeant said move on I said maybe never I’m going to sit and think about John Maciag’s forever, whose fuel he is what the flames of him will light Perhaps he’ll burn the glory of God or man

This is Ridiculous

The Enigma of Arrival

by Lisa Westenskow Dayley

by L. Ward Abel

I have never liked reading poetry let alone writing it. (I indented the above because isn’t that how a poem is supposed to look?) All it reminds me of is being in Mrs. Prestridge’s eighth grade (indent) (indent) (indent) poetry class only Because it was the only only only class open. I had to stand in front of the ENTIRE CLASS and recite a poem I didn’t like nor understand. We used to joke (major indentation) that “I’m not a poet, and I know it.” I’d rather write a story or a book where all the words stay on one line. This is ridiculous Thank you The End.

To Sylvia Plath The hover the smear edges brighter than background, a ghost reached out she opened that mouth as if to recite but all dialect remained behind quiet lips russet at dawn, a rain had come for the purpose of reflecting only her. And we just listened for a blueness. Poet, composer, teacher, lawyer, L. Ward Abel has been widely published in print and online, and is the author of Peach Box and Verge (Little Poem Press, 2003), Jonesing for Byzantium (UKAuthors Press, 2005), The Heat of Blooming (Pudding House Press, 2008), Torn Sky Bleeding Blue (erbacce-Press, 2010), and the forthcoming American Bruise (Parallel Press, 2012). He lives in rural Georgia. 22


Wisdom Sits On A Park Bench

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

by William J. White

T

he elderly man sitting on the park bench was deep in memories, not seeing the words on the newspaper that he held in his lap, but becoming quickly alert as a young couple,arguing, walked past him. Under a short white mustache, his wide lips opened into a smile, as he watched the girl trying to encircle the waist of her companion ,with a thin arm. Each attempt was rebuffed, and finally the young man sidestepped away from her. When she reached out for his hand, it was quickly jerked away. As they walked down to the edge of the pond, there to continue their disagreement, the old man’s eyes followed them, his head slowly shaking from side to side, and even when the young man turned and caught him watching them, he continued to look their way, and only after he was given and sent back a middle- finger salute did he return to his newspaper. "That young fellow is slightly on the crude side," he declared to himself, raising his paper and peering over the top. “…harmless,” he heard the young girl saying in a raised voice, as she turned to join her companion in observing the old man. “I’ll go up there and see why he’s looking at us; maybe he knows us… No! You stay here. I don’t want a policeman coming by and hauling us off. I’ll be right back..." As the girl approached him he lowered his eyes, not wanting a confrontation in a public park. She stopped directly in front of him, staring over the top of his paper, with azure-blue eyes that didn't appear to be too friendly. "Hey, mister!" she said sharply, “why have you been watching us? My boyfriend don't like it." He looked up at her for a long moment. "Miss, it would take a long explanation..." "Do I know you?" "I believe not, miss."

"Just nothing else to do, huh?" "I like your hair." "What?" Placing her hands on her narrow hips, she glared down at him. "Are you one of those dirty-minded old geezers that hang around in parks ogling young girls?" Smiling up at her, he said: "My Elizabeth, bless her sweet soul, had hair like yours–a little dark brown added to pale yellow..." Still smiling, he closed his eyes, savoring the recollection. When they opened, he added: “She also had a walk like yours, sort of a glide, as though her feet weren't touching the ground." The girl, looking about, replied: "Where she at, mister...your wife. Elizabeth?" Placing his hand over his heart, he said, "You two young people have brought back to me some wonderful memories. She and I had spent many hours in this park, just walking, usually winding up on that bench down by the pond..." He locked his eyes onto hers. "But we would walk close. The air that we breathed was no more important to us than our feelings for each other..." "Yea," she said, looking down toward the pond to where her boyfriend stood, throwing rocks at the near-by swans, "me and Andy are like that...you know, close." She sat down, bumping her hip against him, making more room on the bench. "Yes, miss, I could see that. He must be real sweet on you." Frowning at him, she said–rather sharply, "Well, I suppose it's really my fault. He wanted me to do something with him...you know, to prove my love for him, and I told him that I wasn't ready for that. When you and what's-hername...Elizabeth were going together," she said, toying with her hair with thin fingers capped with dark blue nails, "did she have to prove her love for you before you would marry her?" "Young lady," he said, not too gently, and taking her hand in his, and being surprised when she didn't pull it away. "I cherished that woman from the first day I saw her. I cherished her purity; her innocence. It was my place to prove my love for her!" With his free hand, he pointed down to the pond. "You go down there and tell that young man that he is to prove his love for you by not asking you to do something that you don't want to do. If he cares for you at all, he will be proud of you for not accepting his terms." She stood abruptly, and looking down to where Andy was still throwing rocks, she remarked defiantly: "I will do it!" "That young lady has spunk," he thought, "If she can go through with it." He heard harsh words from both of them, and finally the young man turned and and stomped away. When she returned, her eyes were damp. "I'm sorry miss. I should not have butted in." Rubbing her fingers across her cheeks, and giving him half a smile, she said: "I'm glad you did, mister. I told him that I was not Lucy from school, who is always proving her love to different guys." Giving him a lop-sided grin, she remarked unhesitatingly, still dabbing at her eyes, "I told him that I was going to be an Elizabeth."

• • • 23


by Joseph Goosey

NOR THE SERPENT

The goal really is to exist small as possible We've gathered here today to remember our possums Our tethered tired possums who so faithfully and patiently went without Without food Without water Without fuck These possums who gave their souls to be one with such polluted air So that we may go on to breathe accordingly So I chew my cheek and a friend grows Minute victories Like finishing your sandwich before being bombed Or raising a baby Who becomes an adult Who has no penchant for bestiality When does earth comply mommy When does the stationary become stale These are questions for a more experienced god Over nachos I scream There is no space I'd prefer to occupy over any other space There is no side of town lacking shit When the Americans tremble that's when the chips taste best NOR THE SERPENT Nothing is exclusive Except for being a sculptor and also having a spouse Which is more or less impossible Try it some time and record your opinions on this vintage cassette player I am open I am now open to anyone I am now open to anyone of any nationality sex or age At any stage of their modeling career When my eyeball quivers no one calls in sick When my teeth rattle from their homes The metro continues to run We are not snowflakes but sidewalks Immense victories Like running down the boulevard nude Covered in a thin mixture of Alfredo sauce and comfort I used to eat Ice Cream But that was replaced with an S&M collection Small breath is tight breath is a womb I cannot afford I cannot afford to enter the ring and tangle with such learned rats Slathered in doo I cannot pray with saints

24


NOR THE SERPENT

For saints still own noses If you want to martyr here's how NOR THE SERPENT I bought a new knife set My favorite is not the sharpest But the first to enter my forearm Sex it up and say Hey Ding goes the popcorn You've burnt up all the forgiveness Do you think these spots on my chest and neck are correlated at all with liver failure If so can we order the liverwurst I've applied to your harem and was told to inquire after thirty days It's been thirty nine My EMT license is set to expire I cannot legally handle your thighs Mortuary is a word I keep trying to place in buckets I am frightened of sex as my bedroom stinks of burn I am frightened of sex I am frightened of disappointing anyone who has never been disappointed I am frightened of my bedroom Who is cooking toast In lieu of purchasing a symphony I purchased a lottery ticket In lieu of purchasing a hardback memoir I purchased an exercise in humiliation Such is the waiver but really Someone should look into fixing the toaster This floor will be covered in former parts I am the ship captain All governors form a single file line To the gallows Plank Whatever I don't give a shit just die already Would you NOR THE SERPENT The trick is to point your dick skyward The blood rushes to the bottom Giving the impression of thickness I read In an ad in the margins of my more mainstream porn But I dizzy with recompense Seriously this room doesn't even have plugs So what's going on with this stench

25


NOR THE SERPENT

The corpses have long protested for back-wages It's so hot Here and on your insides No I mean even further like the places I can't reach I'm elbow deep and I think this is pushing things a bit The skin is the largest organ I am your largest fan Between your skin and my eyes For what else could you want I feel as everything breaking Empathy for the characters is no longer a prerequisite for biology How do you taste This is my address Mail me some skin I promise a lack of contagion This is now what toenails do How can you expect me to have a thirty dollar confidence How can you expect me to have anything left to sing I have never witnessed Judas but sure have big plans My cat plays with herself while my mom does pilates They share a floor They're amazing at sharing the floor O pilates it's a new thing like urban burials are new things Watch cat go cat Cat is now a plant One could say we're breathing cat NOR THE SERPENT Watching My Fair Lady for the first time ever What use does this husk have Can anyone tell me Can anyone explain away this stagnant situation Grease arrives Acts awkward This is just oxytocin Blame science for the tears in your cup The nicest apartment in town burnt up in a fire set by former some former fuck you couldn't satisfy with a broom handle The prospect of living on the moon is dreamt up by an ambitious young Libyan Don't talk to me of items current Tell me about your veins Smashed up in the lawn the bottles bleed say please These costumes have had tremendous amount of influence on my directorial style These sliced out tongues have not peaked yet in value You must WAIT to sell Have you noticed my peripheral is getting sharper I almost wept

26


NOR THE SERPENT

I did weep After paying six bucks to watch the movie Chronicle During the super bowl I too want everyone to go away And by saying I want everyone to go away They will not go away They will in fact sit down They will in fact confront me They will throw this declaration in my face and warp it into insult But I am talking about myself Which is an insult to everyone around always I'm better alone Which is why I refuse to shell out the six bucks for a tube of Lamisil When you cum you cry Not you but You There is not even a second to separate the separate sorts of tears I try to cum Quick as feasibly possible Get the embarrassing parts out of the way They are bricks

Joseph Goosey dropped or failed out of the MFA program at George Mason University. His most recent thing is called WE, THE INSTITUTIONALIZED and can be read at notapunkrockpress.com. Unfortunately, he lives in Jacksonville Florida where he reads court records to make money.

Never Take Peyote & Go To Work by Catfish McDaris I was on the loading dock having a smoke in the no smoking area When I noticed a black widow spider, it seemed to smile at me & wink Next time I came out, the spider bummed a cigarette from an Asian lady with strawberry nipples It shared the smoke with a seagull, I gave the bird a stick of gum & it flew away The spider got jealous & bit me, I passed out & woke up in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

27


WHEN ONE DREAMS OF BUTTERFLIES BY VALERY PETROVSKIY say I saw butterflies in my dream last night: there were three of them, bright, and beautiful, and motley, with colored curls on the wings as on a pheasant’s tail. I recalled it in the morning, walking to the bus stop. You know that particular spot by the underpass to the railroad station, I mean between it and a bus passenger terminal, or how they do call it. The place is rather popular, and they sell flowers down there in the underpass. So I was standing at the entrance of the underpass. It was comfy to stand there as if one were waiting; the fact was that I didn’t wait for anybody. That was the problem: I wasn’t dating there, so felt unhappy. More than that, nobody waited for me at home, and all the people passing by didn’t want me. Still they all were quite unremarkable, none to keep in mind: just ordinary girls, quite plain men and some women well tired before works started. But all of them were businesslike and all knew where to advance in a hurry: and who was waiting for them there? I ever wondered where dogs were running for example. What did they cross a street for, what did they need on the other side? Some of them perished while crossing a street, others fell victims on high roads or became cripples then. A cripple dog looks even more piteous than a man with a crutch. A sick person somehow adapts with a stick or a pair of crutches, a dog is unable to do so. Sick dogs with a broken paw hobble in a strange way: clumsy, with a jerky stride. It hurts to see them leap up and down as if a puppy pursuing a butterfly. While no butterfly is there, it’s disgraceful to watch them leap, as if one chanced to find a woman evacuating in bushes. Then a hit dog is more disgusting to my mind! So, I was standing at the corner on the way to the bus passenger terminal, and I was watching people to go here and there. And there were no dogs about. …A limping lady was walking briskly, one better say hastily, to put it right, and she couldn’t be fast because there was something wrong with her legs. She was quick to shift them like a basset, its forelegs advancing bit by bit. Basset is a dog with a pitiful look and ears hanging to the ground. The woman with a dangling shoulder-bag in hand caught my eye immediately. The day was somehow gray and gloomy, and the woman advanced in somewhat jerky move, firm of purpose yet. She was of an average age and there was something wrong with her legs, but her moving was irregular and jerky. So she leaped up and down, still advancing anyhow. Where was she heading? And how did she manage to conquer the underpass with so many slippery steps in such weather! It was an early spring day with a bit of ice with slush on the pavement. And then she slipped down there! I didn’t catch it, overlooked the proper moment. When I looked up, someone was helping her up and she failed to rise. She was very clumsy with her bad legs as if they were alien. And I

I

stopped dead in my tracks, I was about to start to her but was late. Someone made her get up and was off to his business. A handbag prevented her from shaking herself up, and she stained her overcoat and it got wet. In the morning she had dressed up at home and packed up her bag, and she had not enough clothes to change. And at that moment she fell into crying like a little child! Remember a grown up had hurt your feelings and you then a child could do nothing, and so couldn’t the woman utter a word and just burst into tears. She cried in a thin little voice because of an injury, I think, or because of something else how would I know. I missed the moment she’d fallen down, I saw her only to lie wrecked there. Children do not fall down like this even for a butterfly. Mr. Valery V. Petrovskiy is a freelance short story writer from Russia. He is a Chuvash University, Cheboksary graduate in English, then graduated VKSch Higher School, Moscow in journalism, and had a degree at Kazan State Technological University in psychology at last. He has two dozen of his prose works published in the U.S.A. in The Legendary, DANSE MACABRE, The Other Room, among others, and a few pieces released in Australian journals Going Down Swinging, The Fringe Magazine and Skive. Valery lives in Russia at a remote village by the Volga River dealing by Inet mostly.

Arrival by Aaron Poller A calculation, September praise, a common sense unspoken, varnish from a dresser, closeness to your face again. Thumbs blistered by history, the rest revealed unevenly. And going forth the song meant to enchant, would lead us here into an open field, a rise, summer gone, the fall extant. Aaron Poller currently works as a nurse- psychotherapist in Winston-Salem, N.C. He also teaches Mental Health Nursing at Winston-Salem State University. He has been writing since the 1960's when he studied poetry with Jean Garrigue and Daniel Hoffman while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives happily in a small house with his wife, four dogs and three cats.

28


The American Way of Love

Late August Sinking

by Benjamin Nardolilli

by Benjamin Nardolilli

The country is crucified by power lines, Calvary and Golgotha arranged To be easily damaged by storms, Damages of thieves and icons of dogs Are stapled to the wooden poles, While utility customers gamble In their laid-out prefabricated lots.

The afternoon air thickens, I boil, the only pedestrian, And get sticky inside With itching skin that crawls Under the patterns of my shirt. Branches sink under the weight Of aerosols bubbling up Invisible from the highway, Shade is only a darkened oven, All air conditioning is inside.

Guns go off in the dark corners, Making urban fireworks to ward off All dangers real and imagined, Or to cut a cowboy piece out Of the American Dream, a withdrawal From the pockets of others to fund Another criminal’s entitled deposit.

Sunset lights the world on fire, The cement and asphalt Both burn equally, windshields Carry that glow in their glare As they pass me along the street.

Adam and Eve take to grasslands Wherever they can find them, They drive away from every hedge, Too many gardens and too many Snakes hide under the guise of roots They trample laughing over lawns Like buffalo without wounds instead.

Ben Nardolilli currently lives in Arlington, Virginia. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, One Ghana One Voice, Caper Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Grey Sparrow Journal, Pear Noir, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and Yes Poetry. His chapbook Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained, has been published by Folded Word Press. He maintains a blog at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish his first novel.

The boss’ chair swivels empty at a desk, By the open windows, a branch With its first leaves erupting Trembles from the force of the wind, A secretary goes in to close the glass And cancel the chill’s appointment, There is no sight of her employer. Metropolitan brambles move and roll Across the expanses of traffic, Trains, taxis, and automobiles hiss And brush against the tumbling masses, They are on their acrobatic way to find One unused space in all of America, Where no root, brick, or bark claims home.

Psychotherapy by Aaron Poller The argument is always fierce, draws us in.

Drunken Jeremiah stumbles home, With the help of his long hairs he holds The imagined reins to a woman Whose head is turned away to him, As he cries and calls out name after name. Magdalene, Rapunzel, he tries them all, His educated guesses fail to reach her.

What follows is unsure, a kind of sainted hush, whispering about the fragile wind, adores the labyrinthine cave within. The mystery and the sound survive. Forget the rest, what we contrive. 29


volutpat dignissim Pine Flats In Mid-August

by Askold Skalsky

Summer light, the needles odorous with heat.

Cherry Coke

ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer Someone's fingers touchLorem the keys adipiscing elit. Cras gravida sem ut massa. to make a melody wind itself out Quisque accumsan porttitor dui. Sed interdum, by the window in late afternoon, a mass of green haze nisl ut consequat tristique, lacus nulla porta. by Askold Skalsky ready to enter each pore and shoot the vein with pleasure. High on my bullet-proof cloud tipped with silver fantasies of happiness in this lifetime, I swell like apple bloom— until she calls for another loan on my credit card, traversing every limit of relationship, five thousand dollars’ worth in a single month.

Later a pumpkin moon comes out and hangs itself on a branch like a clown with his pate sliced off in the semi-dark, licking the fields clean of shadows. Even the rigs and cycles hush along the interstate.

I lunge into anxiety. What if something happens to that flushed flamingo neck? The fine jargon on the monthly statement will kick in like a cool teller clicking her keys. It’s the last time, she says. Still, I can’t sleep all night, sucker-fresh like a pink squid unable to let go of its rock.

And what do you do with a day like this that brings the merest hell down on its knees?

(123) 456 7890 • www.company.com

Originally from Ukraine, Askold Skalsky has appeared in numerous small press magazines and journals, most recently in Permafrost, Rockhurst Review, and Ozone Park Journal. He has also published in Canada, England, Ireland, and mainland Europe, and has been a recipient of two poetry awards from the Maryland State Curabitur felis erat Arts Council. His first book of poems, The Ponies of Chuang Tzu (Horizon Tracts), was published last year.

When she arrives at high noon for the cash, she talks about computer ventures, vast connections, and big loot—but I’ve already started on my binge: last night hot chips, this morning breakfast cereal bars. The day wears on as I exhaust myself with noodles, cheese, more breakfast bars, swigs of ambrosial cherry Coke.

Nulla vestibulum eleifend nulla. Suspendisse potenti. Aliquam turpis nisi, venenatis non, accumsan nec, imperdiet laoreet, lacus. In purus est, mattis eget, imperdiet nec, fermentum congue, tortor.

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“How much ya think he’s got?” Marcy asks. She perches cross-legged on the bed of their stark, musky room in an out of style Vegas motel once briefly owned by a too prudent movie star forty years ago. The wall mount air conditioner hums a steady base drone, laboriously fending off the one-hundred ten degree Mojave Desert mid-summer heat. A brave black inch long water bug scoots along the floor. Prepared for that euphoric first hit, Marcy waves a flaming wand slowly back and forth across the freshly cleaned glass bowl of her blown glass pipe, expectantly sucks, anxiously watches the opaque white cocaine stream flow like a swift river through the clear stem with the promise of a blissful two-minute high. Sam and Marcy are locals, Vegas born; a rare breed in this cosmopolitan town over-saturated with greed motivated transplants hiding from a vengeful ex-wife, sour luck, warrants, debt. Sam and Marcy have their street degrees, earned young in the desert dirt back alley classrooms of the neighborhoods they grew up in on the fringe of down town. Fremont Street, from Eastern west to 6th Street, known locally as Crack Alley, is the island they plant their flag on; the cold flashing reddish-orange neon lit bars are piers doting their islet shore, transient infested rent by the week motels their home, barely crawling under the scrutiny of the law their lives. The town drips of money like fat endlessly squeezed from a sponge; Sam and Marcy chase the sops. They have been together two years now, a near record in the Vegas low-end social strata. On these streets, there is no trust, no honor, loyalty. Nothing lasts here. “Maybe ten, twelve thousand. Some nights he wins-others he loses. But, I never guess less than ten thousand on him in the end--win or lose.” “Which motel?” He tells her. She knowingly grins, excitedly shooting the creamy white smoke through her flared nostrils like a dragon spewing ivory fire. “When?” She takes a swig from a pint bottle of Everclear, dips her burned out torch in the bottle, re-lights it for the next hit. “Tonight.” “Tonight…good,” she grins. “Let the games begin,” she declares, mentally piecing together how profitable the sequence of her part in this plan may be.

Image: Paul Martin Eldridge / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Joke by Steve Prusky

v

egas: a bright lit ship cruising off course in a desert sea; home to the scam, rub and tug massage parlors, overly tattooed women, pawn shops, musical video machines, pan handlers, the rich, the lost, Sam and Marcy. Sam, a thug, thief, unscrupulous con. He cooks and deals rocks, shoots any drug he can liquefy, mugs moneyed tourists, keeps a .25 pearl-handled pistol in his Wellington boot next to his six inch clip on knife. He possesses every quality required for a position as lead pimp in a sleazy bed bug infested New Orleans whorehouse. Grown snake eyed with a plot, Sam tells Marcy, “Been watchin’ this guy at the El Cortez last two weeks. He’s hittin’ big off and on at the Texas Hold’em table. Keeps a lump a cash in his front pants pocket; idiot gotta be from out a town to be so obvious about it. He plays until he gets too drunk to think straight. It’s usually around one in the morning. Casino security stuffs him in a cab headed to a shit hole motel on Las Vegas Boulevard just north a Russell Road.” Marcy, a rock-ho, absentee mother of two has no conscience. She steals a schmoozed gambler’s coins from a bar-top video game when the player is distracted by a delivery of fresh cocktails from a Mediterranean tanned Rockette clad waitress, her silver dollar sized hand palm up for a tip. Marcy gives a quick sleeve job in the front seat of a Metro cop’s cruiser as information from his dash mounted Tuff Book computer flashes on the crystal screen. She fondles him in exchange for chips off confiscated narcotic evidence the cop holds back for just this affair. She is young, twenty-two, not yet half used up. Average breasted, adorned with clear light olive skin, thick raven hair blanketing her slim hips. Her mouth is shaped a constant kiss, her musky scent a library filled with volumes of lust. She exudes wanton sex… always.

• • • The Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard: The richest four miles of asphalt-padded transformed desert in the world, a mega resort casino studded gaudily lit patch of wealth lost money built. The motel lies on the seedy southern fringe of the Strip close to the intersection of Russell Road and the Boulevard.Early evening. Dusk settles dully dim. Shadows feed off artificial Vegas lights as if every night is a full moon. Sam is cautious. He arrives early--9:30. This is too big for him to risk the gambler getting in early if his loses grow heavy quick. A conspiracy like this requires unlimited patience, time, the thousand-yard stare of a hunter stalking his kill. Presently these are luxuries in which, this evening especially, Sam is amply supplied. Sam sits on an orphaned half demolished concrete barrier rail behind an overfilled, stinking dumpster. He shoots up. 31


“How much did she get?” “Dunno, maybe fifteen, sixteen thousand. I had a good night with the cards. Are you the cops? Help me here.” Sam stuffs the tennis ball back in his prey’s mouth, forcing it in past half its circumference. He places the pistol in his boot. The gambler immediately struggles for breath. Sam watches him writhe, thrash in panic as if the mark is caught too near land’s edge, left behind by ebb tide to flop about the beach, gills just feet from a single breath of water. Sam sneers at the penniless drunk, “Gambler’s luck, huh!” he says. Sam leaves for Las Vegas Boulevard to join the swift current of sleepless mobs swimming with the Strip’s current like directionless, darting schools of fish soon to be abandoned on shore when the shadowy lit Vegas night, like the ocean’s retiring tide, retreats to glaring day. Each receding wave of remaining darkness is a hiss of laughter, ridicule, a joke night in Vegas plays.

Smack back, he serenely nods, waits, reconnoiters the twenty-room motel between blinks. Sam judges he is a safe distance from any curious cop wandering from his route on the Boulevard. Sam checks and rechecks his .25, pulls the clip out, slides the action back, slips a round in the chamber, stabs the clip back in the pearl handled grip, clicks the safety on. One-hundred dollars persuades the Pakistani desk clerk to ignore their scheme. The motel is adjacent to McCarran Airport. Sam looks up at a 747 blasting off the runway behind him like a belligerent tsunami rumbling past the beach. Good, the jets will muffle any screams or yelling in the room, Sam mumbles. No surveillance cameras. Six cars are staggered in front of their respective rooms. A single low sodium 100-Watt roof mounted lamp lights the area out side the desk clerk’s office. Half the wall mount lights outside each room door burn. They barely tint the immediate area Sam plans to work a rotting banana peel pale yellow. The gambler’s room is #19. Lucky this time. A quick escape, less exposure, Sam slurs. There is a hole in the Cyclone fence the other side of #20, the end room of the motel. The opening in the fence is large enough for Sam and Marcy to crawl through one body at a time. Behind the long building, an alley stretching perpendicular to the motel runs a quarter mile to a waiting stolen car. Eight-foot high cinder block walls cordon off both sides of the trash-filled lane, perfect defilade from the scrutiny of any brave neighbors. If Marcy can only come through, he whispers. She has always been reliable before. He weighs the chance this night may be different. Two A.M… The cab pulls up. Marcy helps her drunken gambler stumble from the cab, steadies her trick, his arm clutching her shoulder while she slyly casts an eye Sam’s way. Both stagger to his room. Marcy closes the door, fakes locking it on the outside chance the nearly sick with the spins drunk is even slightly observant. Good. It’s late, he must a won big, Sam believes. He waits ten minutes for Marcy to set up. Ordinarily Marcy needs twenty, but Sam guesses a fool this drunk will stay limp until he wakes next morning broke, gripping a whiskey hard-on. Marcy’s task is to get him completely naked and blow him until Sam gets in. She has the gambler stripped and on the bed in two minutes, fondling the wad in his right front pants pocket in the process as she slips them past his ankles. Sam scoots from shadow to shadow, gun drawn; long thick zip ties flap half out his hip pocket each step he trots. He opens the door, neatly slides in as if he were slipping through a subway turn-style without a token. His victim lays naked, hog-tied, fat belly spread flat to the floor, a tennis ball shoved in his mouth. He is gagging, wheezing for breath as if breathlessly struck asthmatic. His face is nearly blue. Sam looks in the bathroom at the cranked open frosted glass window Marcy fled through to the back alley. Sam knows she is already in the hot car and gone. He feels the man’s pants for the money. Nothing. He takes the tennis ball out of the choking man’s mouth. Suddenly sobered by fright, the man gratefully sucks in air like a frightened child going down hill in a roller coaster. He excitedly asks, “Are you the cops? Vice? Undercover? Goddamn. Gave the bitch two Franklins, two-hundred bucks to fuck me. We get here, she gets me bare ass naked, pulls a butterfly knife on me, hog ties me, takes all my money. Are you the cops? Cut me loose.”

Steven Prusky has lived in Vegas for the past twenty-five years where he writes and works. He is a native Detroiter. He attended Northern Michigan University in the late 1960's, joined the Navy during the Vietnam War, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after. His fiction and poetic work have appeared in Foundling Review, Orion headless, Flash Fiction Offensive, The Legendary, Whistling fire and others nation wide.

Flying In The Talons by Catfish McDaris Time is a measurement, a withered harvest of man’s wisdom, a dream within a nightmare It’s said you never fully appreciate life until you’ve faced death Fear is a tired joke, ducks on an icy pond, termites, a ripe banana, four artichokes, a burnt match, an empty bottle A green lizard in the talons of a Mexican eagle, a bulldog with its teeth buried deep in your ass.

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Spinning the Wheel of the

Quivering Meat Conception by Robert Levin

I

I was also, much of the time, in a small rage about the new burden I’d be taking on. I’m referring not to the responsibility of child raising per se, but to the fact that no matter how large was the contempt I’d developed for humanity over the years, having a child would force me to care about what the world might be like after I croaked. Thoroughly upended, I even began to think about homosexuality; about, that is, the solution it afforded to the problem of getting your rocks off without spinning what Kerouac called the “wheel of the quivering meat conception.” Though a less than appealing option for me, there were hours when, oddly and perversely, I could not help but feel…well… titillated by the concept of having sex that was unencumbered by procreative ramifications. In the petrifying absence of contraception I found myself avoiding sex with Connie. And when I could not avoid it my performance was impeded by occlusions in my circuits that would leave the both of us in a condition of considerable frustration. Worse, my very biology joined in the protest, forcing me to suffer the embarrassment of a sperm count that a lab I visited at Connie’s insistence twice reported as “virtually negligible.” Compounding these miseries, locking me deeper into paralysis as it increased my sense of urgency, was Connie’s evident disappointment in me—a disappointment that was evolving into disdain. Terms of endearment like “honey” and “sugar,” for example, were routinely being replaced by “washout” and “loser.” In my timorousness I’d become, in her eyes, something less than a man. Recalling her admission to me once that she’d believed that all Jewish men were extraordinary providers and natural born fathers— and having long ago disabused her of the former assumption—I knew that I had no choice now but to keep the latter one alive. Then, reasoning that a change of scene might turn the trick, Connie came up with the idea of spending a few days in the country together. When I agreed, she arranged for us to stay with our friend Betsy who ran a little print shop out of her ramshackle house in a Catskill town not far from Kingston. With Connie’s patience rapidly dissolving it was, I knew, something like now or never for me and I geared myself as best I could. Scrupulously adhering to a plan we devised—a month of wholesome foods and regimented exercise; no masturbation for a fortnight—I made ready to win a war with myself. But arriving upstate, I felt like a German soldier must have felt upon arriving at the Russian front. It was the middle of winter, the sky was low and gray, the snowdrifts were thigh-high and the temperature was near to zero. This was

was, I suppose you could say, in a prepartum depression. It started when my wife, Connie, decided it was time to have a baby. I was thirty-one and she was twentyeight, a circumstance which I reminded her in my argument against the idea was no cause for alarm. But after she’d voiced her ambition—and thereby made it real to herself— the achievement of motherhood became an obsession for her and she would not leave me alone about it. Finally, after several months, my reluctance to enlist in her project compelled her to resort to a not so veiled threat: “Steven,” she said. “Either we have a baby now or I’m going to leave you.” “All right,” I told her, “get off the fucking Ovril then.” Now it wasn’t that I never wanted a baby, and not that when I had one I didn’t want it to be with Connie. Strong of character and will, nurturing, quick-witted and sometimes astonishingly perceptive (not to mention pretty), Connie was a terrific wife and more than qualified to be an exceptional mother. The notion of one day having a family with her was hardly repugnant to me. No. What troubled me when the prospect became imminent—what troubled me immensely—was a consequence inherent in the making of a baby, a consequence that I could not stop recognizing. Fathering a child would tie me into the hideous plan that Creation has devised for everything corporeal. I would be, and by my own hand, replacing myself. Once the deed was done, once I had accomplished the only thing we know with any certainty Creation wants of us, I would be, in Creation’s estimation, expendable. If Connie, born Catholic but now earnestly New Age in her faiths and sentiments, mollified her fear of death by believing in reincarnation, I was a secular Jew and so had only the void to anticipate. And if I’d always been keenly tuned to the price of existence, and lived in a perpetual state of medium-grade anxiety as a result, my heightened appreciation of my mortality destroyed any semblance of internal equilibrium I could claim. With Connie’s demand the sinister underside of nature had turned itself toward me and it wouldn’t turn away. Indeed, my now hyper-consciousness of what it ultimately meant to be alive made any vista of extravagant pullulation, albeit as manicured as Central Park, grotesque to me. On the most festive of occasions I would see what William James saw”—the skull grinning in at the banquet.” And I understood as well what Burroughs meant by Naked Lunch. When I ate I saw exactly what it was—the once living flesh—on the end of my fork.

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lifted them until they were almost perpendicular to the bed. Then, holding my haunches up and steady with both of her hands, she lowered her head to my starkly exposed ass and drove her tongue as deep as she could into my rectum. Lingering there for a while, she finally resurfaced and, brushing it against my nostrils en route, brought her mouth to my ear. “You little Jew bastard,” she whispered. “I wish you’d be the lesbian you are right now because what I really want to do is eat your pussy.” Score one for Connie’s acumen and her resourcefulness in an emergency. “Harder,” she was instructing me after no more than a minute had elapsed. “Go deeper. Yeah! Oh! Splash.” Cody was born nine months later, almost to the day. Nature being oblivious to human expectations of justice and symmetry, he had, contrary to the circumstances of his conception, both a proper allotment of toes and fingers and a countenance that was amazingly genuine in its sweetness and innocence. I mean there was nothing unhealthy or freakish about him, nothing that was even remotely Damienish. By every measure he was a wonderful specimen. And me? Well, I was worn by then to a physical as well as emotional nub—I lost fifteen pounds during Connie’s pregnancy that I didn’t need to lose. But not dropping dead with Cody’s arrival had a salutary effect on my nerves that was almost immediate. I was still filled with trepidation, of course, but—my panic significantly less clamorous and debilitating, my not so quiet desperation much quieter—it was, relatively speaking, a manageable trepidation. Just days after his birth I was, in fact, as close as I get to all right again.

not exactly an atmosphere conducive to a successful completion of the undertaking at hand—especially not when in the back bedroom to which Betsy assigned us (and which she used to store old printing equipment and bound stacks of yellowing posters and flyers), you could see your breath and needed to wear a coat. But as inopportune and unlikely as the setting may have been, it was on our second afternoon there that a child was conceived. I should say, first of all, that I was feeling physically ill—and it wasn’t only that I was on the edge of a cold. If, having lived all of my life in city apartments, heating oil prices were never a concern for me, they were for Betsy and she usually made that very clear. On this day, however, in a generous but woefully misguided demonstration of support, she had pumped the thermostat up to steam bath levels. The oppressive heat, coupled with an effluvium of musty furniture and nasty chemical compounds, threatened my ability to both keep my lunch and remain fully conscious. In any case, with Betsy at work out front, Connie, after giving me a thumbs up sign, took off her clothes and arranged them carefully over a chair. Deliberately presenting her bottom to me as she bent to the bed to pull away the quilts, she followed this maneuver by abruptly turning around and flopping onto the bed on her back. Then, reaching for a pillow, she propped it under her buttocks and spread her legs. “Stevie, do you feel it too? It’s as though there’s a spirit hovering near us waiting to be born again.” “Great,” I said, removing my pants. “I hope it’s the spirit of a heavy-duty bond trader who happened to have a coronary while he was up here for a weekend. Please don’t let it be one of the local yahoos who ran his pickup into a tree.” I entered her immediately—it had, after all, been two weeks. But just as quickly I knew I was going to wither. My deprived member’s rote reaction to a welcoming vagina notwithstanding, the gravity of the occasion continued to undermine me. Still, I’d made a compact which I had to honor and I began to leaf through bodies, shuffle through poses, postures and configurations in my personal mental Kama Sutra file—then, beginning to panic and sweating obnoxiously—to ransack my memory and imagination. But no one and no thing I could remember or think to want would keep me up, let alone elicit the participation of my gonads. I tried, with my hand, to stuff it in. I would happily have settled for a premature orgasm. “Stop,” Connie said. She squeezed out from under me and, her hair trailing along my chest and stomach, ran her tongue down the length of my torso to the numb thing between my legs. A determined virgin into her early twenties—she had not permitted a man inside her until she was twenty-three— Connie’d had more than a little experience keeping boyfriends with her mouth. In seconds, my mental state notwithstanding, she got it half way up and we tried again. But once more I evacuated her ignominiously and she was obliged to root in me again. Ten minutes must have passed before she raised her head. I was expecting an expression of scorn. Look, I was prepared to say, I’m sorry. This is really out of my hands. But Connie was grinning at me. Crawling backwards a little, she reached her arm under my legs and

A former contributor to The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, Robert Levin is the author of “When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories and Commentary” (The Drill Press), and the coauthor and coeditor, respectively, of two collections of essays about jazz and rock in the '60s: "Music & Politics," with John Sinclair (World Publishing), and "Giants of Black Music," with Pauline Rivelli (Da Capo Press).

• • •

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The Rusty Nail, May 2012, Issue 3  

The third issue is 36 pages of prose and poetry, surrounded by brilliant color and design. Our featured writers are: Vickie Fernandez, A.g....

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