Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #6
Lawrence F Farrar
A Reef in Repair
My Daddy Sold Christmas Trees
non-fiction Emily Pena Murphey
poetry William C Blome
Work in Process
Patrick Theron Erickson
"Manhunt for Manatee-Riding Lady Comes to an End in Florida"
lost shade, volume iv: roll tide
A World at Rest in the Mind
Change is on Its Way
Radical Peace in the Desert
[untitled] A lone whistle. . .
[untitled] And though it's your hands. . .
[untitled] A single charm. . .
[untitled] Dragging one leg. . .
J Stephen Rhodes
Secessionville, at Low Tide
Zachary M Hodson
Adrift on the High Seas of Poetry
To My Fellow Citizens
In the Necropolis
Blue Ridge Sunset
Creeping Over Peaks
Pretty but Poisonous
images Jeffrey DeCristofaro
Waves on the Mountain
cover: Jeffrey DeCristofaro, Graybeard Overlook (partial)
Editor's Note In this, our sixth issue, we feature poetry from Simon Perchik and Anne Whitehouse, as well as beautiful nature photography from Jeffrey DeCristofaro. In our September 1 issue, we will devote a section of the magazine to your responses to the social and political issues of today's world. We live in a time when silence has become untenable and unacceptable. "It doesn't affect me" no longer rings true. We welcome non-fiction responses, but we also hope for fiction (e.g., Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Arrangements"), fable (e.g., Swift's "A Modest Proposal"), poetry (e.g., Stacyann Chin's "If Only Out of Vanity"), short political theater (e.g., Hilmy and Simon's "Good Morning Gitmo"), and art/photography (e.g., see Cosmin Podar on blogspot.com). As always, we are looking for good writing and artistry, no matter which side you're on. We will not publish personal attacks or any work that we feel unfairly distorts the facts. Our deadline is June 1.
SBLAAM staff photography/art fiction
Jim Neuner, managing editor John Gordon, managing editor Gail Hipkins Meredith Norwood Jasmine Skye Bruce Spang Susan Coyle, managing editor Larry Hamilton Steve Wechselblatt John Himmelheber Pete Solet Chris Taylor
Our Gunner He had been a Sturmovik gunner post The Great Patriotic War, and that timeframe constantly triggered foul and derisive comments from the veteran pilots and gunners who were still in uniform but had really flown their heart out above the vast Ukraine. You add to that our gunner’s oft-voiced fondness for tangos and cranes, and, well, you didn’t have to be an Einstein to realize he wasn’t going anywhere career-wise in his Sturmovik. Dream-wise, it was obvious he would never taste the melting snow that tumbled down and got reservoired beneath the Andes in Argentina, while practically and pridefully, it can also be said that unlike many a Russian émigré to the ‘States, he would never keep clumsily striking his thumb with a tack hammer day after day, laying carpet in Manhattan. But what was not so evident or surmisable about our gunner was the fact that after he was mustered out of the Soviet military in the early 1950’s, he got a job in Estonia and more or less lived on the docks at Tallinn, unloading cargo vessels, and that’s how one day he came to suffer a nasty bite from a stowaway gray parrot (no, of course it wasn’t a crane), and the bite and attendant microbes that infected our gunner were to leave him forever-after unable to whisper or whistle one wit. William C Blome William C Blome lives between Baltimore and Washington, DC and holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Amarillo Bay, PRISM International, Fiction Southeast, Roanoke Review, Salted Feathers, and The California Quarterly.
Birthday 6th Arrondissement, Paris Out of a nymph’s mouth the fountain’s waters splash into a pool. His liver-spotted hands reach for toy fish his mother once placed on a large red hook while she hid behind a pretend sea wall. J Stephen Rhodes J Stephen Rhodes served as the co-director of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center in Berea, Kentucky. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including publication of two collections, The Time I Didn’t Know What to Do Next and What Might Not Be.
Clara after the painting by Thomas Eakins Her head tilts right. Two muscles hold her neck and head in a taut “C.” Her hair falls loosely into the curve, but not too much for Quaker sensibility. One eye is young, one old with its darkened droop. Perhaps that’s just the artist’s play of light. Or, maybe he knows something, the way the lips close into a frown-smile so naturally, the way they are full of youth, but chapped. The neck and shoulders form her marble podium. He has drawn her eyes to a spot on his wall, though she seems to be looking somewhere further. The eyes have left for another world― hoped-for once, but maybe now forever lost. J Stephen Rhodes
Secessionville, at Low Tide Five thousand feet of sawgrass stretch out, a drop in the bucket of green surrounding the island where rivers and creeks slither like a hundred snakes. Experts say cockroaches will be the big winners when the bombs go off. They’ll find a happy home in the muck, pluff mud they call it, gloming together this great mat that dares the ocean or pinewoods to presume upon its turf. Earth-movers are a contradiction in terms here. The most that can be done is to drive pilings and hang a pier. Ages ago Union shells thumped into the dirt just up the track, to no avail, too much mud on either side of the spit of land they wanted, six hundred eighty-three wounded or dead. The only sound now is the popping of oyster shells. It’s best to be a bird: yellowlegs, dunlin, gull, redwing, or an oystercatcher, this morning’s long-winded guest. J Stephen Rhodes
Street Knowledge The man on the median stands still staring at each of us as we drive by, his army jacket open, revealing the hand-lettered sign about the war. I’m ashamed by what comes first to mind: Is he for real or one more ploy, a play on my awareness of my sleek new car, of the difference between us, the divide easy to ignore if I stay on the quiet street where I live? So I pass him by only to see the fierce-eyed woman standing beside the on-ramp. Her face blinds me to her cardboard words. She reminds me of Red Cloud after his capture―arrogance and surrender― and this time I fall into my own humanity, feel our torn and stitched together world, the thinness of my house’s walls when the next hurricane arrives, the fragile balance, see-saw slips of the market. Because of traffic I have no choice but to drive by, at least that’s what I think. It’s certainly what I’ve been taught― to keep on going, to move efficiently. J Stephen Rhodes
Waves on the Mountain
A Reef in Repair It appeared before her eyes two hours after leaving Cairns: Michaelmas Cay, a white sand haven floating on a sea of blue-green, speckled with clumps of living black, the bouncing and diving birds of the Great Barrier Reef. The screams of the Great and Lesser Frigate bird, Common Noddy, and Crested and Sooty Terns echoed in Karen’s Robitussin-soaked brain and played Pong against the inside of her temples. Karen raised her sunglasses to her sweat-soaked head and tried to guess how much longer it would be until they reached the cay. She sat on the upper deck of the slow-moving catamaran in her navy and white striped T-shirt dress, the scratchy green Astroturf pushing pockmarks into her pale thighs. On the deck below, an Asian couple caught her eye. She lowered her glasses back to her nose and watched. The man held a hefty camera, a thick black strap around his neck. The woman looked stunning in a floor-length red sundress, thin straps resting gently on her silken skin. Straight black hair hung down her long slender neck from under a floppy straw hat. The scene was reminiscent of a thousand shampoo commercials. The woman posed playfully for the man. She turned and let her head hang back while the man bobbed and dipped, his hand working the lens furiously. The woman looked comfortable―in front of the camera and in her own skin. Karen felt frumpy in her T-shirt dress―the one she had bought from the sale table at Old Navy when she decided she was going to change her image. Brad would have told her she looked nice, but she had seen evidence to the contrary in the mirror of the catamaran’s small bathroom. “Hello, gorgeous.” The man’s booming voice came from above her and Karen looked up languidly, her hand shielding her eyes from the glaring sun in spite of her sunglasses. She was positive he was addressing one of the many beautiful sunbathers on the deck. The man met her eyes, a wry smile on the corner of his mouth. Karen stared at him for a moment more, her mouth slack. He was tall, tan, biggutted. He wore nothing but tight Hawaiian-print swim trunks and his nose was bright blue with zinc.
“I said, hello, gorg...” “Hello,” Karen interrupted, her head swimming, feeling the effects of sun and sickness. “A fine day at sea.” His Australian accent was charming. He knelt down next to her and extended a hand. “Noah.” Karen took his hand and he shook her arm violently. “Is…is this your first time on the reef?” Karen asked, because that was the thing to ask when you were on the Great Barrier Reef. “Crikey! Hundredth, I think.” Karen attempted a smile. “Does it get old?” “No! Never.” “It’s my first time.” “Have you signed up for the scuba diving lessons? Do you have your semisubmersible time? They run a tight ship, they do.” Karen dug in her bag and pulled out the red ticket she’d been handed at the office and shook her head. “I’m just snorkeling today. And,” she read the ticket, “I have the tour at one thirty.” “Not to be missed. Just make sure you’re back from your first dive in time to eat. And, believe me, you’ll want to head back out for a last dive before we leave.” Karen slipped the ticket back into her bag, touching the waterproof disposable camera she’d stupidly lugged through security in Chicago O’Hare and her connecting flight in Los Angeles, and made a mental note to take it out on the reef. “I’m sorry,” Karen said, feeling lightheaded, wiping the sweat as it dripped down her neck. “Do you work for the ship?” “Crikey!” Noah boomed and Karen nodded her head, shakily rising to her feet. “I don’t mean to be rude,” Karen said, reaching back down to grab her bag, a movement that brought a scary amount of black to her vision. “But I think I really need to get inside. It’s been a long trip.” “No worries,” Noah said, plopping down onto the Astroturf. “Enjoy the reef!” Inside, the catamaran’s cabin was taken up almost entirely by tables and bench
seats. In the back, the crew had laid out trays of cookies and hot water for tea. Karen blinked away the sunspots and grabbed a small plate of cookies and a cup of tea that she liberally sugared and creamed. The cabin was less crowded than the decks, so Karen was able to find a table to herself. Her wet thighs rubbed uncomfortably against the vinyl bench seat. She took one sip of the hot tea, the warmth spreading through her core and out to her limbs. Not a good idea. Sweat flowed freely off her forehead, down her back and legs. She felt like the oldest person there. Her T-shirt dress was pedestrian next to the posh outfits of the tan and happy tourists who surrounded her. She cursed herself for not attempting to go to a tanning bed. Instead, she’d stood in her bathroom at home two weeks ago in just her bra and panties and smeared the stinky fake tan on her legs while her sister, Linda, prattled away in the next room about all the fun she was going to have. “‘After arriving at Mossman Gorge, you will be treated to a guided rainforest walk past bark shelters and over cool streams. Your indigenous guide…’ Did you hear that, Karen? An indigenous guide!” Linda sat on Karen’s unmade bed, reading the travel itinerary. “Barramundi lunch special at Silky Oaks Lodge along the Daintree River, the Great Barrier Reef, saltwater crocodiles, exotic fruit…oh, Karen! This sounds wonderful! How could you ever afford it?” “The insurance money,” Karen said from the bathroom. Outside, in the bedroom, Linda was silent. “How the hell do you know if you put the same amount on each leg?” Karen asked, walking out of the bathroom. She stopped when the overhead light reflected a single tear as it fell down Linda’s face. Linda sat with the itinerary on the bed, one hand held to her mouth. “I’m so sorry, Karen.” “It was always the plan,” Karen said, returning to the bathroom and shutting the door behind her, hoping Linda didn’t see that she, too, was crying. The insurance money was mostly gone, anyway. Karen had taken a loan off her 401(k) to finance the trip, something she would never tell anyone. But this had been
their dream. Oz. Fourteen hours on a plane, halfway around the world, only to end up lying sick in bed for all her tours. She would have left Australia seeing only the roads to her resort hotel from the Cairns Airport if she had not forced herself out of bed for this, her last tour―the Great Barrier Reef. The cabin of the catamaran bustled now with people returning from the deck. Through some unspoken agreement, everyone began putting on stinger suits. Karen stood, peeled her dress off to reveal her no-frills swimsuit, and quickly slid on the stinger suit she’d gotten earlier. The stinger suit was moist and reeked of an odd mixture of disinfectant and BO, but she welcomed the cold on her skin. The guests began lining up for the boat that would take them out to the cay. Karen looked around at the purses and bags all strewn about the cabin, a certain amount of trust inherent in a trip like this. She left her bag and got in line. The boat was small and Karen did not make it onto the first departure. She leaned against the wall, waiting for the boat’s return. Two young girls in front of her giggled and pointed to the cay, speaking in what might have been an Eastern European language. Karen went through a mental list. She had her goggles, her snorkel, she carried her flippers. Her thoughts were interrupted by a British couple behind her. “Oh, love, you’d better take that off.” Karen turned to see the man motioning at his wife’s wedding band. It caught the light and sparkled in Karen’s tired eyes. “Why?” the woman asked. “It’ll attract the fish.” “Isn’t that what we want?” Karen rubbed her empty ring finger lightly. She’d taken the ring off shortly after the funeral. It sat on Brad’s bedside table, collecting dust. “Did you know there are more animals in Australia that can kill you than there are in southeastern Asia?” Brad had asked. “Maybe the world. Of the top ten poisonous snakes in the world, Australia is home to six.” “And we want to go there why?” Karen had joked.
Brad did an entire unit on the Great Barrier Reef. “The great Barrier Reef is home to over 300 varieties of sea squirts…” In the small middle school where Brad and Karen taught, Brad was always the favorite teacher. Biology was, arguably, more fun than math. But the wrong teacher could make even sea squirts and reef sharks boring. “Do you know why they call them sea squirts? Because, on land, they violently project water. On the test, you’ll see them called by their boring, scientific name. Ascidians.” Brad could make anything interesting for the students. Brad breathed biology. The line to the boat began to move. On the boat, the sun from the cloudless sky plunged down, searing Karen’s fair skin. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead but she fought the urge to rub it off, knowing she would remove what little sunscreen she had managed to apply. The small beach that had been set off for the tourists was marked sternly with a black fence and signs warning no trespassing. The rest of the cay was a bird sanctuary. The calls of hundreds of birds disoriented and lent an otherworldly air to the cay. The boat beached and a tan young woman with zinc on her nose and a large hat lowered the gangplank into the soft, hot sand. Karen skittered to get to a wet spot to soothe the burning of her tender feet. “Boat leaves every twenty minutes,” the woman shouted as they hobbled across the beach. Karen remembered Noah’s warning about the schedule and looked around for him, but all the swimmers looked the same now in their blue stinger suits. “Please remember to not touch the corals,” the young woman continued to shout. “And stay back from the fence. Big fine.” Karen waded into the water, which was colder than she expected, but was a relief. She slipped the flippers on, spit in her goggles and realized she’d forgotten the waterproof camera. Next time, she told herself and began the mantra in her head. Camera. Camera. Don’t forget the camera. Four broad catamarans were docked about a hundred yards out, small boats
darting back and forth between them and the beach. All around her, little heads and snorkels popped up out of the water. She felt like she was looking at the scene on a movie screen, felt like she wasn’t quite alive in this hot skin in cold water. She closed her eyes briefly. The image burned into the back of her eyelids. The cold medication was wearing off now, but her brain was still in a fog. Gracelessly, she bumbled into the deeper water, remembering the instructions of the man on the boat. Light kicks. If you get water in the snorkel, one good blow will usually get it out. When she was deep enough, Karen dipped to her knees and then onto her stomach, her face plunging into the water, jaw tightening around the malleable plastic snorkel that tasted of chemicals. There was more white sand below her. She floated above a school of translucent fish. For a moment, it was just her labored breath and the coolness of her body. She kicked with her feet―toes tight against the hard plastic, her clumsy body easing through the water―and soon she was looking down not on plain sand, but on another world, her aches and fever nearly forgotten. Breathe in. Yellows and blues and browns popped against the white sand. Breathe out. Fish the size of lake trout and the giant clams with their crimped lips. Breathe in. Corals that looked like a pile of old sticks. Corals that looked like waving grass on a prairie in the Midwest. Corals that looked like puffballs, threatening to release a spray of spores if stepped on. Corals that looked like the towels that were creased on the tub of the hotel they’d stayed at on their honeymoon. Corals that looked like brains. Breathe out. “All Cnidarians have stinger cells triggered by touch. They’re used to catch prey or in defense. Class, tell me again what a Cnidarian is.” Breathe in. The monotonous breathing made Karen feel hollow. Ahead of her, someone trampled on the reefs close to the surface. Breathe out. “He didn’t suffer,” the doctor told her in the stark white hospital waiting room. A brain aneurysm. “He never felt a thing.” Karen’s foot began to cramp. He breathing became strained. She wanted her feet planted on the ground again. Her side ached. Her heart ached.
The reef was alive. Turning, struggling, refusing to stand on this living mass, to touch this history she didn’t belong to, Karen made her way back to the shallows, her breathing punctuated by the screams of the birds that grew more frantic as she kicked. It was alive. A fish swam beneath her, paying her no attention, and then she saw it. It seemed feminine, yet fish-like. It was no more than five inches tall. It wore no protective gear. Its elongated body glided through the water holding onto a harness attached to an angelfish. Tendrils flowed like hair. The smooth creases in what might have been its face tilted into a smile. The small creature looked up at Karen. She struggled more, harder, foot cramping. Corals gave way to sticks, gave way to sand and Karen broke the surface, the screams of the birds filling her ears as she spit out the snorkel and couldn’t hear her breathing for the first time since her face had hit the water. Was she still breathing? Some of the snorkelers were making their way back to the boat. Karen looked out across the water in disbelief. A familiar figure lumbered down the beach toward her, skipping awkwardly from dry sand to wet sand. It was Noah, looking like a swollen blueberry in his too-tight stinger suit. Karen called to him. “Did you see the creatures?” Karen was waving her flippers at him, skirting along the searing sand. “They’re gorgeous, mate!” Noah said enthusiastically, moving past her and pointing toward the boat. “Boat’s leaving.” Karen tiptoed across the searing sand and up the gangplank. On the boat, she looked out at that blue, roiling surface and thought it had a lot to hide. Noah sat next to her, his arms resting on his belly, a grin plastered across his face. The wind whipped her hair into dreadlock tangles. Wind and motor made it almost impossible to talk. “Did you see the human-like creatures?” Karen practiced saying it in her mind. “Did you see the aliens?”
Any way she thought it, it came out sounding like she was crazy. Back on the catamaran, they were sprayed off and asked to remove their stinger suits before entering the cabin, which smelled of seafood, garlic and lemon. The words died in her mouth as the smell hit her nose. A makeshift lunch buffet had replaced the cookies and tea. People milled about, loading their plates with enormous shrimp, tentacles dangling off the sides of the flatware. Karen stood in line next to Noah, her hands shaking. She’d been too ill at the hotel this morning to eat and the cookie and sip of tea from earlier was not enough to sustain the physical strength she’d needed to navigate the corals. “Take some shrimp, love,” Noah advised as Karen peeled out of the line, her plate loaded, and sat at the first empty table she saw. She scooped a heaping amount of pasta salad into her mouth and followed it immediately with a hunk of bread. It was oily and salty―her stomach gurgled in an extended thank you as she forked at a shrimp. An announcement crackled over the speakers in the cabin. “Ladies and Gentlemen, those of you holding tickets for the one thirty semisubmersible tour, please make your way to the starboard side of the deck, we will begin boarding shortly.” Karen’s eyes grew wide. Noah lumbered above her, his plate high with shrimp. “Is that you?” Karen got up and found her bag on the bench where she’d left it earlier, apologetically smiling at the large family who sat at the table eating. She tore through her bag, finally grasping the small ticket. She noticed the crumpled dress still on the bench, but she dismissed it, quickly returning to her plate and shoveling a few more bites into her mouth and looking starboard at the moving line. The fork landed with a clank on her plate and she reached the deck just as they were readying to close the hatch. “Watch your step please, ma’am.” She pulled the last folding bench down. As the hatch closed with a smooch behind her, she remembered the dress, remembered the camera underneath. She closed her eyes and cursed silently.
The light shining through the windows of the vessel cast an eerie gray on everyone. The people in front of her looked ghastly; their lips almost purple. It felt like a living morgue. The engines droned on and vibrated the vessel as they were propelled out away from the catamaran and toward the deep portion of the reef. “Welcome aboard our semi-submersible,” said the Australian guide. “Our tour will last approximately twenty-five minutes. We’ll cruise through coral reefs, home of the giant clams, turtles, trevally, and several species of colorful tropical fish, including hump headed parrotfish.” Karen peered through the thick, curved glass, marveling at the fact that they hit none of the coral reef as they wound seemingly directionless. Without learning to scuba dive, this was the most up-close look Karen would get of the deep, hard corals and schools of striped surgeonfish and clownfish living on them. She slid from one side of her bench to the other as the guide pointed out blackfingered crabs and pipefish. “The reef sharks mostly come out at night. If you’re lucky enough to come across one, they will probably be more scared of you than you are of them,” the guide said. “Class, does anyone want to guess how many bones are in a shark’s body?” Her eyes wandered out away from the reef, where blue faded so steadily to black that it was hard to say exactly how far she could see. “That’s a trick question,” Karen whispered. “Sharks have skeletons made of cartilage, class. You might see the word Chondrichthyes on a test.” Karen shook her head and looked around. All the other tourists were pointing out the windows and whispering excitedly. No one had heard her. “Now what we’re seeing here folks, on your left, is a reef in repair. There are many things that threaten the reef, like acidification, rising sea temperatures, and depredation by crown-of-thorn starfish. But here, due to long-range planning and research from an integrated management team that includes the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Queensland, the reef is returning to what it
once was.” The tour guide droned on as they made their way back to the catamaran. It was all stuff she’d heard a hundred times before from Brad. They came around a shelf of reef and her thoughts were stopped by the sight of that same gelatinous, humanoid creature she had seen out snorkeling. There were several of them standing in a circle, fish bones in their fin-like hands, looking like a highway crew. One would pick at the reef while the others watched; then another would take a turn. A small school of black and white striped angelfish surrounded them, both obscuring and revealing them at different intervals. Breathe in. Karen pushed her face to the thick glass. She exhaled, fog coating the curved glass. “Look!” she said when she found her voice. “Look!” The shelf was almost gone, they could turn around, they could all see. “Look!” “Ah, yes, folks, please look out the right side windows here, someone has spotted the elusive green sea turtle.” Karen could no longer see the shelf, but the endless blue-black of the ocean came into sight and there it was, swimming majestically toward the surface, the green sea turtle. The confined space sparkled with camera flashes. The excited murmurs of the tourists drowned out the guide for a moment. Karen sat back. “Good eye,” the tour guide said, winking at her. Karen pressed her forehead to the glass and looked out with the feeling that she was losing something―that she might have already lost it. But she couldn’t define “it.” Soon, the vessel was docked and Karen was the first to climb out and enter the cabin of the catamaran. Lunch had been cleared. She filled her water bottle from the cooler and drank, wiping the beads of sweat from her forehead. Less sweat than before.
She realized with a start that she felt clear-headed for the first time that day. She was still ill, but the heaviness was gone from her limbs and skull. She was surprisingly calm. More than that, she was resolute. It would be time to make the journey back to the mainland soon. Karen pulled on her stinger suit, grabbed her camera and got on the last boat leaving for the reef. The wind whipped her drying and tangled hair. She took a palm-full of sunscreen and slathered it on her face as they were called to the cay by the birds. Down the gangplank, across the searing sand, Karen wound the dial on her cheap underwater camera and sat down in the shallow water. She slipped on the flippers, spit in her goggles and glided onto her stomach, letting the water do the work this time. Head down in the water, the world changed. It was her and her breathing and the clicking sound of the fish nibbling on the reef and the faint shouts of birds and humans that all seemed to blend together with this sight in front of her. She kicked and kicked, ignoring the cramping in her foot and side. She only half marveled at the giant clams now, at the large parrotfish and coral waving like prairie grass. The clicking was like the second hand on a clock. Sheâ€™d been in the water either for five seconds or for hours when she heard the shriek of a whistle, a sign to come back to shore, but still she kicked. The water was getting deeper, the fish were getting larger. Breathe in. The shriek of the whistle. The clicking of the reef. The shouts of the birds. Karen exhaled heavily in defeat. The tightness in her chest was gone and she felt her heart sinking down into the thick corals, toward the bottom of the ocean. She turned clumsily in the water, poked her head up to briefly orient herself, and made her way back to the beach. A few kicks back, she saw one, right below her, seated on the lip of a giant clam. Its tendrils flowed behind it and around it and it looked up at her with black diamonds for eyes. Karen lifted the camera.
The creature reclined, waved, toying comfortably with her camera. Karen pushed the button. An alien click rang through the water. She stared at this marvelous creature. The creature waved again. Through and despite her snorkel, Karen smiled and waved back. Then, it was gone. Karen kicked back, still keeping an eye on the corals as they got smaller, closer, and then the shell of a dead giant clam swallowed up by the white sand. Even death here looked like life. She returned to the shore for the last boat back to the catamaran. Sprayed down, she threw her stinger suit into a wet pile with the others and entered the cabin, air-conditioning air hitting her skin and raising goose bumps on her arms. She sat at the table on her towel and the engine of the catamaran revved as they made a lazy turn and headed away from the cay. Soon, the cabin filled with chattering tourists. Karen sat alone at the table and stared out the window, watching the cay fade slowly out of sight. A few others slid into the booth in front of her but Karen barely noted their presence. “Hello, gorgeous!” The voice boomed from above. Karen looked up to see Noah. He’d pulled on a too-short T-shirt, the red skin of his belly poking out above his Hawaiian swim trunks. This time, he was looking at the two women who had slid into the booth in front of her. One was the Asian woman she’d seen earlier, posing for the man with the camera. Her head was dry, her hair beautifully combed. She and her friend giggled at Noah and said something in Japanese, or maybe Mandarin. Noah smiled broadly at them and then lumbered off to the back of the cabin. Karen watched him go, wanting to go after him, to ask about the creatures, but the words had still not formed in her head without sounding like she was completely mad. When she turned back, the woman caught her eye and smiled. “First time on reef?” she asked with a thick accent. “Yes. You?” Karen asked. The woman’s friend was punching furiously at a cell phone, head down.
“I have been much times.” “Did you snorkel?” “Oh, no. I cannot swim,” the woman laughed. Karen opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated. The reef already felt like a distant memory. Could she have imagined it? “There are creatures on the reef,” Karen began, finally. “They have beautiful hair, like you…” The woman continued to smile, but Karen could see the lack of comprehension behind her eyes. “They’re graceful, and…” Karen stopped. The words just wouldn’t come. The woman smiled and nodded. “Yes. In the water, everyone is beautiful and graceful like fish.” “Beautiful,” Karen mumbled, looking down at her lap, smoothing the lap of her T-shirt dress. “What an ugly fish!” Karen had exclaimed, peeking over Brad’s shoulder as he sat at the table on his laptop. Brad was about to teach his class on the Great Barrier Reef. He had the lessons memorized, but it was always an excuse to plan their trip. “It’s called a Maori Wrasse. See his characteristic humphead and big lips?” “I’m your wife, not a student,” Karen said, rubbing one hand through Brad’s thick hair. “Look at those lips,” Brad said, shaking his head. “I hope we see one of those things up close.” “Why? So you can kiss him?” Karen leaned over Brad’s shoulder and grinned at him. “One of these days you’ll get your chance. I promise.” “I’ll settle for a kiss from you,” Brad said, pulling her close. Karen breathed it in, but all she tasted was stale, salty air. An announcement came over the PA of the catamaran. “Ladies and gentleman, on our way back to land, we invite you to the cabin for a selection of artisan cheeses. Thank you.” On a table near where Karen and the woman sat, two crew members were
setting out trays and cutting boards. Karen closed her eyes and opened them again. The woman stared at her, concern on her delicate face. “You like cheese?” the woman asked. Karen looked down at her camera, the counter one dot below 24. She looked out at the blue sky and endless water, and back up at the woman and nodded. “I love cheese.” The woman smiled and began to rise but Karen stopped her. “Wait.” She put the cheap waterproof camera up to her face. “Say ‘Cheese’!” The woman giggled, reclined, waved, toying comfortably with the camera. “Cheese!” Karen pushed the button. Erin Smith Erin Smith is a writer, funeral director, and shiatsu therapist living in the Twin Cities. She has been published in Liars’ League NYC, Mount Hope Magazine, Here Comes Everyone, Strange Mysteries, TWJ Magazine, Anotherealm, and Mortuary Management Magazine.
Creeping Over Peaks
Oriental Although he now exists only in the abstract, I can hear Renoir in his studio urging students “Paint what you see!” For the painter to paint what he sees requires a sort of synthesis, encryption of fact, fantasy and fiction brought to life and given meaning seamlessly in the viewer’s mind. This is what I see, and what I shall paint: Tumbling gently in ocean waves by the shore, broken bottles are converted to sea glass. Bocce balls appear incandescent as they slowly roll down the gravel court to click and clack. Those old analog tapes are being remastered, their digital sound evincing awesome clarity. I will paint these, and ignore the taunts of Lautrec as he whines “Sacrebleu” in the other room. One measurement is the same as any other if you ask the pelican with rust dripping from its beak as I flip through pages of a tome that nobody else cares to read. But that makes no real difference so long as I stir the gravy well enough that I eliminate all of the lumps, and paint what I see, not what I don’t. So long as I catch the dream train chugging this afternoon for the orient. Thomas Piekarski Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared in Nimrod, Portland Review, Mandala Journal, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Boston Poetry Magazine, The Journal, and Poetry Quarterly. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems.
To My Fellow Citizens We are the fish that hum to birds in the winter. We are the first works of art that burn with quiet hysteria. Sometimes we can’t help but keep the sanctity of this world in our soggy gardens. Are we on the eve of rebirth in a bubble? We should be so lucky. We, the people, are the blow darts of silence circling nearby stars. Sadly, we miss the way the world builds to its crescendo, and we tremble at a moment’s notice when buses return from the conservatory (but we don’t know why). Our philosophy is simple: The court jesters are wise. We all inhabit the island of love and suicide. We are all witnesses to the glory of fall leaves teetering on the edge of a shower or thunderstorm. The colors can’t fool us when they fall into girls’ hearts, but they are grateful for the fruits of the storm. Are we moving beneath the sorrow in our bellies? We can’t afford not to. Everywhere we look there are puppets with paper bags over their heads. We’re proof that golden night contains magnetic crystals, proof that the last destination
has a pulse, proof of God’s little holes to fill with pencils. Are we just a flicker of light in the sundial of time? Never, ever, ever. We’re shepherds, we of autumn: Our broken hearts are woven together as one. Are we dreaming? Yes, we wash no bananas on our sleeves, and the goldfish stun when they change into highway call boxes. Secretly, we love it when the bride turns tyrannical, and we’re pathetic when painting our fingertips with blue cheese. Must we accept that lion in the window? Shouldn’t we try to grow wings to fly? Come to think of it, aren’t we already flying? We are made of rain, of the tiny snow that sticks to the bud, yet we still want our deadly snakes to have pumpkins that last forever. We like the way time is the light at our door. We touch the future and a single key rises from the bottom of the bay. And we call it justice. Cliff Saunders Cliff Saunders lives in Myrtle Beach, where he works as a freelance writer. His work has appeared recently in Iodine Poetry Journal, Connecticut River Review, Fact-Simile, Sonic Boom, and Gyroscope Review.
Adrift on the High Seas of Poetry Ahoy, there, I’m the sailor of the S.S. Poet. I’m the sailor peering toward the shoals for a lone egret and the meaning of life. Setting sail, I search for new words dropping on whales like green tokens of wisdom. On this day, I seek sweet poetry, the currents and eddies of magic spells, of kingfishers aloft above the rim of a sparkling harbor. I can even smell the sea attracting butterflies fit for sainthood! As the ocean churns, I muse over the moon and it pays off, with its finger of light leading me toward heaven like a small fish. O miracle in the sky! O book of the world! My heart sings because the sea is poignant and lyrical and I feel almost as old as the dark isn’t fair. Cliff Saunders
Earthly Paradise …in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked, I cried to dream again. The Tempest, III, ii, 140-3 A waterfall for every day of the year and the water so clean I could drink from everywhere I saw it flowing. Mountains and ravines, a tangle of vegetation, blue and green. Night and day the surf beat against the rocky shores, and the forest was full of sounds— leaves rustling and the sweet song of the mountain nightingale, an elusive bird nesting in the hollow trunks of trees. In the lowlands, near the river, grapefruit hung from the trees like golden suns, and a young woman, her skirt hiked above her knees, bare-breasted, stood in the shallow river where it ran over rocks, washing her clothes. It could have been a scene from a pastoral idyll of long ago that perhaps never existed, a dream of someone’s life. Into that life came a storm that took everything away. The woman I’d seen placidly washing her clothes in a green dream lost the blue house on the hillside built by her husband— all they had worked and strived for washed away in the mudslide after the hurricane, when two months of rain fell in a single day. Anne Whitehouse Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower, as well as a novel, Fall Love. Her bilingual reading with Silvia Siller is online at www.youtube.com/watch? v=Y5qtKh-5bUw&t=1345s.
In the Necropolis In the cemetery of Beit Sheâ€™arim inside a tomb from the third century paved with mosaic and decorated with wildlife reliefs is carved an inscription commemorating a local resident. The author, though Jewish, had a Greek style: I lie, son of Leontius dead, son of Sappho, who after having gathered of the fruit of all wisdom left the light. Woe is me, in my Beit Sheâ€™arim. After having gone to Hades, I, Justus, lie here with many of my relatives for that is what powerful fate has decreed. Be consoled, Justus. No one is immortal. Dark is the house without windows. Dust is the only weather in the tomb. Indifferent as a reflecting moon, a green moth flitted over the stone, then lay for a long moment on the ground. Anne Whitehouse
Lament in memory of Renata Horowitz My darling’s photographs were reflections of her inner eye. I look at them, and I see what she saw: a fly on a window, a corner of a frame, two riders on horseback, a bunch of ripe blackberries. What did she see just before she lost control of the car? It was twilight, when apparitions appear. Her friend who survived said she was pointing at something. Then memory stops. What’s essential is invisible to the eye. But what shall I do now there’s nothing solid left for me to hold onto? When one thing shifts, all else moves like clear water when you step into it. Now everything goes against the current. In the crosswinds, I hear her saying, When you get lost, you have a chance to find out who you are. Anne Whitehouse
Pretty but Poisonous
Osage Wedding The groom-to-be is named Wolfgang. I call him Wolf. It suits him. With his wary blue eyes, wild black hair and big white teeth imbedded in a cruel smile, I can almost hear him say, “The better to eat you with, my dear.” My brother is powerfully built: broad shoulders, arms and legs braided with muscle. Some might say Wolf is matinee idol handsome, but not me. “What are you looking at, Dumpling?” he asks. Wolf leans against the barn sporting a fresh haircut. A stripe of pale skin winds around his neck and ears, spilling across his tanned forehead. He resembles a treacherous Romeo, and with love’s light wings he’s about to escape this farm. “Nothing much,” I say. Wolf has called me Dumpling since I was a toddler. He said my face looked like Mama’s home-made spaetzle. Even when I was little he was a thorn in my side. Every morning for sixteen years I have looked in the mirror and saw why my nickname stuck. My real name is Estella Schultz. I study Shakespeare in my high school English class; the tragedies suit me. “You’re thinking,” says Wolf, “how much you’ll miss me.” I am feeding the pigs on our parcel of land, ten miles outside of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Our land is flat, hot as a skillet in summer and none too sweet. A pale blue sky dusted with cirrus clouds stretches out to the horizon of prairie grass. All color has been blanched away by a furious sun. “I’m just thinking,” I say, “that thank the Lord tomorrow is your wedding day and I’ll be rid of you once and for all.” “Ah, Dumpling, you’re breaking my heart.” “Can’t break what you don’t have.” “Estella!” Ma calls from the back door of the house. “Estella, come help with supper!” “You’re wrong, Dumpling,” Wolf says heading into the house wearing his killer smile. “My heart is pumping like a gusher.” I bet. Tomorrow my brother, Wolfgang Schultz, will be married to an Osage princess. I will witness the union of the Sky People and our family, German immigrant farmers. Only
in America! A marriage between the handsome, penniless Wolf and the tall, some might say plain and very wealthy, Sweet Water. With Wolf’s departure, I see a bigger portion of farm work falling on my shoulders. We have one poorly paid hired hand, Pablo Martinez, and he’s no youngster – just shy of thirty. Pa believes in hard work and not paying for it. “You, your brother and mother,” Pa has said nearly every day of my life, “need to earn your keep; nothing is free in this world.” Wolf and Sweet Water met last summer after my brother’s high school graduation. He worked in the oil fields of the Osage reservation on the odd Sunday Pa let him off the farm for church. Wolf had his own form of worship. Like most girls, Sweet Water fell for my brother. He quickly surmised that the water flowing through her land was sweet all right, scented with oil. The black gold my father sniffed after all these years rushed like liquid ingots into the hands of his son. My Pa, Richard Schultz, traveled from Wismar, Germany in 1919 to Mexico to make his fortune in oil. He found fate if not fortune. Pa, with no prior experience of love (some might say no present one either), fell headlong into a quagmire of passion and got married. She was a young bitty girl named Estella, delicate as a whisper with skin white as cream, hair black as onyx and dark brown saucer-shaped eyes. Her photograph sits right on our mantel as if she was a long-lost relation. Pa said her beauty was not meant for this world. She died in his arms within a year, her lungs filled with fluid, her forehead burning with fever. Pa pieced together the broken bits of his heart, scabbed over with bitterness, and returned to Germany. There he met a stout German woman named Frida – not likely to die from fever or from a kick in the head by a bee-stung horse – which happened right here on this farm. Ma and Pa traveled across the Atlantic, landed in Corpus Christi, Texas, worked the oil fields and finally settled in Oklahoma. They didn’t find oil on their land, just acres of dirt. Pa named his firstborn, a son, Wolfgang, a good German name. He insisted that I be named Estella after the ghost that had drilled a black hole in what was left of his heart. Like a good German, Ma believed in obedience as much as Pa believed in hard work. I wish that horse had kicked some sense into her. Now it’s 1939 in Ponca City, Oklahoma and I am a stout, sixteen-year old dough-faced German-American girl, with the unlikely name of Estella Schultz, about to be the sister-in-law to an Osage princess. God bless America!
“Estella,” Ma yells again, “Come help with supper!” I drop the slop pail and wipe my hands on my apron. Feeling someone’s eyes on me I look up. “Hola, Miss Estella.” It’s Pablo, our hired hand. He’s hiding something behind his back. My heart flutters in my chest. Pablo is not tall, but he’s strong and some might say he’s good looking with the lean muscles of a horseman and dark soulful eyes. “Hello, Pablo,” I say. “I have to go help Ma with dinner.” “You are looking muy guapa today, Miss Estella,” Pablo says. He has a slow smile that reveals even white teeth. In the last year, Pablo has taken quite an interest in me. I’m no beauty, but I have filled out. Ma says I’m built for childbirth and farming with full breasts made for feeding babies and short heavy legs for squatting. I love Ma but I fear she lacks imagination. Now me, I’ve read every one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies and most of his sonnets. “Estella, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders,” said Mrs. Banks, my English teacher. It was the last day of my junior year. “If you study hard you could win a scholarship to college.” Her words struck a chord in my chest, a dream born and quickly quashed. One thing I learned from Mr. Shakespeare is that there is nothing new in this old world; treachery, penury, desire and sorrow are the constant companions of underappreciated writers and hard working farm girls. Plus Mrs. Banks never met Pa, who’d rather choke on a chicken bone than let free labor escape his clutches. Pablo gestures for me to come closer with one free hand. I sneak a peek toward the house. No one’s watching. I nonchalantly loosen the top few buttons of my sweat drenched blouse and rustle my collar to cool myself down. I walk toward the blind side of the barn where Pablo is standing. His smile brightens. Some might say all men are dumbstruck at the sight of a woman’s assets. It’s true of Wolf, who has spent the last few years staring at a parade of women with lowered necklines and heightened expectations. “What have you got there, Pablo?” I ask half hoping the fool hasn’t spent his hard earned money on a silly trinket. But if he has, I hope it’s silver, I don’t like brass. He pulls me behind the barn, out of sight of the house. “Shoot your eyes,” he whispers. His accent is heavy. I giggle and close them. His breath smells like fresh hay after summer rain. His lips are chapped as they press on mine.
But I kiss back. My lips feel stung with heat and the warmth runs right down into my belly and regions south. “Miss Estella,” he says. “I have a present for you.” He stands so close I can see a tiny nick on his chin. He must really like me, because I don’t smell so good. “What is it?” I ask. Pablo pulls a canvas bag from behind his back and out pops a rust and white colored ball of fur; a puppy. “He’s part Spaniel. I’ve named him Querido in honor of you, Miss Estella.” I look into Querido’s big brown eyes, rub his silky hair, his warm chubby body and wildly beating heart. I read about love at first sight in “Romeo and Juliet.” I thought it was hooey. Love almost killed Pa. And Sweet Water, our Osage Princess, is in love and I see nothing ahead for her but heartache. But I sink to my knees and let the puppy lick my face and neck. I pet Querido. Pablo pets Querido. Our hands get tangled up. I look in Pablo’s eyes and I spy something rare; I think it might be kindness? “Estella,” I hear Ma yelling. “Estella, for the final time, you better get in here and set the table, dinner is ready! Vere are you, girl?” “I have to go,” I say. “When Mama gets mad, her hands get heavy. Querido, my sweet little puppy.” “It means “Beloved,” Pablo says. “Beloved,” I repeat. “I’ll keep him in the barn,” Pablo says. “Meet me later, after your Mama and Papa go to sleep.” “Goodbye, Beloved.” I kiss the soft spot between the puppy’s ears. Querido smells like fresh baked bread. Pablo says, “I’ll wait for you.” Dinner is grim. No rehearsal dinner before this wedding. There is the usual conversation at first -- none. Cutlery hitting china is the only sound of human intercourse. Wolf can’t keep the shit-eating grin off his face between bites of Ma’s gravy-laden spaetzle and fried chicken. The left side of Papa’s mouth has taken a more southward turn, the razor slash of a perpetual grimace. He knows none of Wolf’s largess will pass to him. The river doesn’t flow that way, no sweet water for any of us. I don’t take offense. If I dug up buried treasure on this old farm, I’d high-tail it out of here before anyone knew I was gone.
I might feel sad leaving Ma, but if I sent her a dollar, she’d hand it to Pa in a heartbeat, obedience burnt like a cattle brand into her soul. My father stands up, sways on his feet. His eyes are bloodshot and he looks at each one of us, clearly not liking what he sees. “Tomorrow,” he says focusing on Wolf, “you’ll be starting another life.” I can smell the whiskey fumes from across the table. I am surprised. Pa doesn’t like spending money on drink, tobacco or medicine; nothing for pleasure or easing pain. “You leave behind your family,” Pa says, “and here we’ll be, picking up your load of work, scratching in the dirt for our living, day by day, year after year.” Pa is not going to let Wolf get away easy. “Richard,” Ma says daring to interrupt. “Quiet, woman,” Pa says slapping a flat hand on the table. Ma’s fingers fly to her mouth. “I should never have let you off the farm on Sunday. You owe me everything you’ve ever had and anything you’ll ever get. And don’t think,” Pa continues, “you or any of yours will inherit one cow, one pig, one stone from my land. I’ll outlive you and everyone in this room to keep what’s mine.” With that, Pa turns and heads up the stairs. He stumbles on the first step, catches himself with an outstretched hand then straightens himself to full height and climbs up the staircase without a backward glance. I peek at Wolf. A sickly grin is frozen on his face. I almost feel sorry for him. Having your father, even a bitter old coot like Pa, disown you before your wedding is a splinter in the heart. “Excuse me,” Wolf says heading outside. “I believe I’m done.” “Volfie,” Ma says calling after my brother. The slam of the screen door is her answer. I start clearing dishes. What will become of me day after day, year after year? Pa will make Mama and me suffer out of pure spite. I wash up after dinner, put away the plates and glasses, wipe down the counters and store away the bread and salt. I polish Ma’s heavy silver platter; her dowry, carried from Wismar to Ponca City. I am bone tired. The wedding will be tomorrow at noon on the reservation, but before that there will be half a day of chores to do. I carry the silver platter into the dining room to return it to the buffet.
“Good night, Ma,” I say. She sits alone in the dining room, staring down at her white knuckled hands on the bare table. Ma doesn’t answer. She appears shrunken and old. I feel a stab of pity. I set down the heavy platter and touch her shoulder. I can feel her quake as if her bones are rattling around inside her body. She is weeping, which is not common in this house. “Don’t mind Pa,” I say. “It’s just the drink talking.” “It’s not Pa I cry for.” “What is it, Ma?” She says nothing. “Is it Wolf?” I ask. She nods and cries some more. “Ma, he’s just getting married. He’s not dying.” “I vas remembering,” Ma says, “when he a vas little boy. Those beautiful blue eyes. That sveet lovely face. I could not believe that something so beautiful came out of me.” I see twenty odd years of regret running down her cheeks. “Every time I look at him,” Ma says, “I see a part of me.” She lowers her head to the table. “The lovely part of me; all gone.” I imagine myself lifting up the silver platter, her dowry carried from the old world into the new, and slamming it down on her skull. An end to her misery, once and for all. I look into the polished silver and see my distorted reflection; the familiar soft face is narrower, stronger, surrounded by a halo of dark hair. I don’t see loveliness nor beauty, but something steady and resolute, not prized by Ma or anyone in this family. “Well, soon enough,” I say. “You’ll have a half-breed grand-baby to care for. Six months or so.” Ma looks up and away, too quickly. It has remained unspoken, but we all know why Sweet Water’s father, Chief Hard Rope has finally agreed to the wedding tomorrow at noon. The Osage believe white people have impure blood; that we are out of balance with the earth. The old Chief can’t be happy at the prospect of his daughter being married into the lackluster Schultz clan. But Wolf being the eternal happy predator, he has staked his claim right inside Sweet Water. The partnership must be blessed, for Sweet Water’s and the unborn baby’s sake. There will be no rehearsal dinner, no polite and awkward introduction of families. The Chief has surrendered his princess, but he won’t share a meal
with the pretender to the throne or his family. As I leave Ma downstairs, I think about the farm. How animals mate, give birth and die. I’ve cleaned up all manner of blood, piss, and excrement. I’ve held a newborn calf with a coat like wet velvet and felt the old horned skin of a dying bull. But broken hearts breed and beat solely in the human body. Querido, the puppy, waits for me out in the barn. Now that I’m up in my bedroom, I’m worn out and inclined to lie down. I open up my battered “Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” a gift from Mrs. Banks. A play I haven’t read, The Tempest, seems appropriate. I know Pablo will take care of the puppy and wait for me another night. A Mexican hired hand, even a good-looking one, doesn’t have many options on a farm ten miles outside Ponca City. A scatter of stones hits my window. It’s a full moon. I half hope that Pablo isn’t fool enough to stand in full view of the house, thinking he can woo me to the barn. But if it is Pablo, I hope he brought the puppy. Peeking out the window and looking down, I see a pretty girl with a low-cut dress and a flurry of blonde ringlets. It’s Emma Sue Rule, as dumb as a fence post, she has chosen the wrong window. I’m about to lift up the sash and say, “Go home, Emma Sue. Your boyfriend’s getting married tomorrow.” But then, I see Wolf move out from the shadow and pull Emma Sue into his arms. She is weeping. He nuzzles her neck and I can see her body stiffen then surrender; his hand slides the top of her dress off her shoulder, then down to her waist. Her breasts gleam in the moonlight like two scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with maraschino cherries. Wolf’s hands are beneath her skirt and he lifts her up and carries her out to the field where fresh hay lies in soft billowy piles. Wolf is at home on the farm despite Pa’s declarations. Feeling suddenly restless, I tiptoe past Ma and Pa’s bedroom. My parents snore behind their closed door. I sneak down the stairs and outside. The barn door is cracked open; a sliver of moonlight exposes a triangle of dirt floor and wood wall. An old shovel hangs from a rusty hook. The rest of the interior is black. I am afraid, not of the dark, but that my old familiar world might sway and fall, timber-by-timber, no longer able to withstand the pull of gravity, the absence of my brother. Just then, I feel a tap on my shoulder and I jump. “Miss Estella, is it really you?” I look in those eyes again. Even in the dark I can see something I’ve been missing. “Where is Querido?” I ask.
“Follow me,” Pablo says, “I show you.” We climb up the ladder into the loft where Pablo sleeps. There is a single cot, a beat-up dresser and one window that moonlight slips through. The floor is swept clean and there is a pile of straw in the corner where Querido rests. I sit down on the floor and take the warm, silken puppy in my arms. Pablo stands above me, comes a few steps closer. I reach up and pull him down beside me. Pablo finally kisses my cheek, breathes noisily into my ear and fumbles with my hair. I put down the drowsy dog. My nightgown is loose around the neckline and I slip it off my shoulders. Pablo catches his breath. “Miss Estella,” he whispers, “are you sure?” I hush him with my finger and lie back. Some might say I’m too young to be sure of anything, but not me. Pablo looks stunned, then worshipful and finally like a little boy who has just been given an amazing treasure. I am beautiful, amidst the straw, bathed in moonlight, the old timbers moaning beneath us. He buries his face in my breasts, but not before I hear him whisper, “Dios mio.” My God. The next day at noon, a small group is gathered on a bluff overlooking the Osage Reservation. Ma and Pa in their plain black church clothes resemble mourners at a funeral. I have chosen a scarlet dress from last Christmas. Ma frowned when she saw me, but said nothing. Wolf is wearing his only suit, a hand-me-down from Pa. Some might say he could wear a scarecrow’s jacket and look like a million bucks. Wolf’s best friend from high school, Dodd Smith stands beside him, wearing shiny black shoes and slacks that are too short by a few inches. Dodd looks scared; because of the Osage, or the impending marriage, or Pa’s sour face, I can’t say. Sweet Water’s aunts White Sun and Fawn stand twenty feet away, representing her family. Sweet Water’s mother died two winters ago, and it’s been whispered that if she wasn’t already dead this wedding would have killed her. The sky is the color of blueberries; thunderheads loom on the horizon. There is an electric tang in the air, making the hair prick up on my arms. A wind has risen carrying the scent of distant rain. It whips Pa’s ill-fitting jacket around his barrel chest and skinny legs, but Ma’s clothes are as weighted down as the rest of her. A lone car appears on the dirt road and meanders toward our gathering. It is a fancy Ford coupe with shiny black fenders and lots of chrome. The Ford stops, rolls a bit and then
jerks to a standstill. Out from the driver’s side emerges Charlie Big Eagle. Standing over six feet tall, he is the holy man who will perform the ceremony. Out of the passenger door the father of the bride, uncoils long thin legs to the ground, then the rest of him follows. It’s Chief Hard Rope and he looks every inch his name. He stands taller than Charlie Big Eagle. Both men wear dark western-style suits and no smiles. Hard Rope leans into the car and pulls out his daughter, Sweet Water, and her attendant, Gentle Bear, a short round girl who looks close to my age. Sweet Water, almost as tall as the men, wears a fine old military jacket with brass medals and shiny epaulets, the traditional bridal wear of an Osage princess. Her hair falls straight, hanging like a curtain of black silk. Her face is strong with a clear milk-chocolate complexion. The military jacket enhances her firm jaw and prominent nose. How did I ever think of her as plain? I can see Sweet Water in battle, astride a horse, cutting down Emma Sue Rule with her fuzzy pale curls and skinny legs without mussing a hair on her noble head. Gentle Bear has to scramble to keep up with Chief Hard Rope, Charlie Big Eagle and the bride to the rise of the bluff. Sweet Water looks Wolf in the eye, acknowledging him, but she doesn’t smile. Wolf has the good sense to appear humble and maybe a bit peaked. He doesn’t quite reach Sweet Water’s height. For the first time I can recollect, he looks like the lesser god in this gathering of souls. Charlie Big Eagle wastes no time with chitchat. He begins with a prayer in the Osage language. It ends with I-tha'a-bpe. “I wait for someone,” he says at last. “We all wait for someone.” A fork of lightning strikes the near horizon. I count one, two, three, four. A crash of thunder rumbles across the prairie like quarry stones in an oil barrel. The air turns cold and humid. Charlie Big Eagle quickly draws the ceremony to conclusion, figuring that we are about to be deluged with rain and even worse, become lightning rods up on the bluff. Charlie Big Eagle and Hard Rope stand higher in the sky than the rest of us, and more likely the targets of electrical attraction. Charlie Big Eagle pulls out a knife and for moment I wonder if Chief Hard Rope has had a change of heart. But no, Sweet Water offers her arm and Charlie Big Eagle makes a quick incision. He grabs Wolf’s arm, pushes up my brother’s sleeve without asking
permission and perhaps with more gusto than necessary stabs his flesh. Sweet Water places her arm on top of Wolf’s and their blood mingles. Wolf looks pale and unsteady; the marriage is official. Dodd Smith, the best man, turns and runs down the dirt road, not waiting to wish the newlyweds well or accept a ride with us. It’s a good five miles or so to his house, but he runs surprisingly fast in his shiny black shoes. Charlie Big Eagle wipes the blade clean on a handkerchief. He and Hard Rope turn away without a word and head toward Aunt White Sun and Aunt Fawn. Gentle Bear gives Sweet Water a kiss on the cheek and runs after them. They pile into Aunt White Sun’s car, a big Ford Tudor. Gentle Bear is wedged against the side window. None of them look at us, except for Gentle Bear who nods her head and smiles shyly at me. I wonder if we are now related. Pa takes Ma’s elbow and pushes her toward our old truck. I look at Sweet Water and Wolf, who stand alone in the middle of the field, deserted by the past and unsure of the future. A dust cloud from the Ford Tudor sweeps over them. Another fork of lightning, this time a few hundred yards away, strikes ground, followed immediately by thunder. Needle pricks of rain begin to fall, driven hard by the wind. I look skyward and see a fast-moving swirl of hope, fear and wonder coming to ground. Maybe it’s my imagination or perhaps the beginning of a funnel cloud. I close my eyes and dream of being carried away to another place: first there is sand, great dunes that rise and fall, and then I am swept out to sea. Not a hallucination, but a proposal made last night by Pablo. He wants to escape from Oklahoma and try his fortune in California with me by his side. He doesn’t care if I read Shakespeare or even go to college. Of course there are several state lines between here and there. At sixteen years-old this is an exciting proposition for me and a dangerous one for him. The newlyweds begin to laugh, shake their heads like wet dogs and trot toward the Sports Coupe. Hard Rope has given Sweet Water a house on the reservation. I guess they’ll head there and do whatever married people do. Pa honks the horn from our old pick-up. “Get in the truck, Estella,” he says. “It’s tornado weather, we have to get to the farm. Now.” I drink in the rain as I run toward the truck. The wind lifts up my red skirt and whips
my sodden hair into my mouth. I imagine it tastes like seaweed and I’m frolicking in a distant sea. “I wait for someone,” I say to myself repeating Charlie Big Eagle’s words. Some might say the best a girl can do is reach for the next rung on the ladder and pull herself up. Others might say that true love is worth waiting for. “Girl,” Pa yells from the truck. His eyes are two hard-scrabble gray stones. “You are slower than a cow.” I don’t reply. But I have my answer. Denise Frost Denise Frost works as a fundraiser at a liberal arts college. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, an NPR producer, and son, an aspiring film-maker. Denise studied writing with Tom Filer at The Goat Alley Workshop and has published two short stories in WestWord.
Blue Ridge Sunset
Animal House Now that the great hall no longer resounds with the clickety clack of your plastic sandals and the drawing room is no longer filled with your sound advice I believe Iâ€™ll turn our home into a menagerie an animal house whose residents will eat me out of house and home and fill the rooms with sounds unintelligible but persistent and no sound advice. Patrick Theron Erickson Patrick Theron Erickson is a retired parish pastor. Recent work has appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, Lavender Wolves Literary Journal, Futures Trading, Wilderness House Literary Review and Danse Macabre.
"Manhunt for Manatee-Riding Lady Comes to an End in Florida" Slightly surreal in its gravity police report The alleged offender was wearing a white cap red shorts and a black bikini top And yes she tried to ride a manatee an endangered species and a second degree misdemeanor under Florida law Go ride a Jet Ski the sheriff advised Itâ€™s a wild animal Itâ€™s not something to be ridden a manatee expert weighed in The lady in question pled ignorance She is new to the area and didnâ€™t know it is against the law to ride a manatee The case is being referred to the proper authorities for possible prosecution And the manatee
for the moment is unmolested if slightly surreal in its gravity Justice is pending. - National Public Radio, October 3, 2012 Patrick Theron Erickson
[untitled] Dragging one leg you dust the way sunlight changes colors once it touches down and this rag spreading out along the limp that carries you away wiping off weeds, winds and those webs spiders are taught to listen with just their shadow for distances â€“you smother as if one death would point where the others let you and cover the Earth with mouths that never close though you tug, taking root in wobble, losing hold strutting into these corners pulled by a closeness that is not dirt or moving. Simon Perchik Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press.
[untitled] A lone whistle cut short and this chair alongside waits till its wheels, half iron, half the way trains are calmed on gravel beds, let you push till everything you gather smells from steam from a mouth that is not yours â€“doze off! the rails will carry you between Spring and this blanket filled with shoreline that no longer moves closer and yes, the shadow is yours, bit by bit the station youâ€™ll need, built from homelessness and no one to sit near your heart, hear how weak its breathing is windswept and the sky unstoppable, taking on water and not sure why itâ€™s going down inside you. Simon Perchik
[untitled] And though it’s your hands that are cold you sleep with slippers on, weighed down the way shadows change places to show what death will be like before it gets dark –even in bed you limp, the blanket backing away and you hang on, want to be there still standing yet you can’t remember if it’s more rain or just that your fingers are wet from falling in love and every time they pass your lips it’s these slippers that save you from drowning, let you go on, caress something that is not dressed in white, disguised as the warm breath thrown over the headboard smelling from cemeteries without moving your feet. Simon Perchik
[untitled] A single charm and the air slows though what you breathe in is clustered with stones falling into stones â€“even here you use the ruined to anchor between one miracle and another â€“shoulder to shoulder with no place to go these graves are opened for stars half coming back, half the way your breath covers the dirt takes hold and lifts from under. Simon Perchik
Nearing Port Pushing through oncoming seas, on a September day in 1935 the American President Line’s James K. Polk cruised ever closer to Yokohama. Two weeks out of San Francisco, the Pacific veteran would enter Tokyo Bay at first morning light. Primed with anticipation, Peter McGowan, a twenty-eight-year-old American doctor, had devoted much of the afternoon on deck to searching for signs the ship was nearing land. He’d been rewarded with sightings of black-tailed gulls and cormorants, coastal fishing boats, and rock-like islets. Peter had also been rewarded by a sighting of Maria Federoff (he had winkled her name out of a steward) strolling on the promenade deck. The young woman had boarded the ship in Honolulu, and Peter had immediately been struck by her resemblance to the German film actress, Marlene Dietrich. Her eyes, at once sensual and sad, captivated him. She was, he decided, dangerously good-looking. Although he stayed vigilant for any opportunity to meet her, she rarely emerged from her cabin. When she did come out, her father, a Tokyo businessman, invariably hovered nearby. Now, by the time Peter reached the promenade deck, she had vanished. Undaunted, Peter remained determined to speak to her. But, with the ship due to reach port the following morning, it seemed less and less likely that aspiration would be realized. Rumors flew around like small birds that the father was engaged in some sort of political intrigue on behalf of the Germans. A scrim of mystery surrounded both father and daughter. One of Peter’s British bridge partners suggested she wasn’t Federoff’s daughter at all. She was, he declared, a German agent. Someone else labeled her a stateless person from Shanghai, Federoff’s mistress. And a well-oiled habitué of the ship’s West Wind Bar intimated that, while he was not at liberty to say just how, the pair came from a branch of the deposed Russian nobility. Such stories fueled the fires of Peter’s enthrallment. ----Ten years had passed since Peter, then eighteen, said goodbye to his missionary parents in Japan, climbed the gangway to the Empress of Canada, and
sailed for the United States. Now with Oberlin, OSU medical school, and an internship at Cincinnati’s Riverview Hospital all behind, he was going home. He supposed the notion would strike fellow passengers as incongruous; he was, after all, an American. But Peter had spent his first eighteen years in northern Japan’s Tohoku region and he, indeed, felt he was going home. Before launching his topside surveillance, in his cabin Peter had nibbled a corned beef sandwich, downed an iced bottle of Kirin beer, and re-read his father’s most recent letter. In sum, both the senior Dr. McGowan and Peter’s mother expressed eagerness to see him and to be treated firsthand to tales of his adventures in the hospital emergency room. His father said the fact Peter would return to do God’s work and to follow in his footsteps as a medical missionary excited and gratified them. They felt blessed. Peter experienced a rush of self-reproach. He had failed to tell his parents he felt no calling to a religious vocation--none. He would comply with the three-year commitment the mission board expected in exchange for his medical school stipend. But that would be it. No doubt the image cherished by his parents had been one sealed in amber. But the boy had become a man. Tall and trim, Peter had dark brown hair, sharply parted on the left and combed over. His brown eyes communicated sincerity and competence, just right for a physician. He had broken his nose playing baseball, but it required close examination to detect the lump. The composite was an honest face, clean shaven, and a bit longish―a sober and earnest face. Yet, his serious demeanor could dematerialize in an instant, transformed by an easy and disarming grin. The fact that times were hard asserted itself in almost every black ink sentence set down in his father’s cramped hand. Peter also inferred from his father’s words (things aren’t the way they used to be) that the rising tide of Japanese nationalism intimidated foreigners generally and missionaries in particular. Some of the old timers had called it quits and gone back to the States. Peter’s customary optimism faltered when he thought of the different Tohoku world he’d confront when he arrived at the little Akeyama mission. He could not dismiss images of a place where farmers starved, daughters were sold into prostitution, and sons were swallowed up by Japan’s war machine for service in
Manchuria. Peter folded the letter and tucked it in his Boston Bag. He expected his mother would want to know about Francine. His parents knew he had been much involved with the Cincinnati girl and assumed they were engaged. But Peter would arrive home alone; no bride to share the joys and challenges of enlightening the unenlightened about the road to salvation. Peter smiled at the formulation. She refused to go to Japan. Perhaps this long separation would provide a measure of their relationship. Perhaps she wasn’t the right one at all. And now Maria Federoff, the enticing Maria Federoff, had entered his field of vision. ----Near the bow, Peter leaned forward and rested his elbows on the ship’s rail. He gazed toward the west where the sun, crisply defined against a blue-black sky, lingered over an unbroken horizon. The sun hung there for a time and then plummeted from sight. Ever since his first transpacific crossing Peter had remained in awe of the ocean’s vastness, sometimes even dreaming about it in landlocked Ohio. Peter imagined that if you could go up in space and look down, the ship would become a mere speck and the people on it specks on the speck. Such musings rendered him conscious of his insignificant place in the great universe of time and space. Hardly profound or original thoughts, most ocean crossers likely experienced them at one time or another; still, they made him uncomfortable. He preferred to be ashore where the scale of things proved more manageable, less menacing. On his previous crossing, and again on this one, he’d been troubled by an ill-defined sense something bad was going to happen. In fact, nothing bad happened; nonetheless, his discomfort persisted. He looked forward to walking down the gangway in Yokohama. A handful of passengers in deck chairs basked in the fading glow of the disappeared sun, while others paused to smoke or take one last turn around deck before dinner. The engines hummed reassuringly, propelling the ship through the sea like a living creature. For a time, a pair of porpoises bounding in the bow wake garnered Peter’s attention. As quickly as they appeared they disappeared into dark blue water that seemed glazed by the gray-white reflection of the ship’s hull. An elderly woman submerged in a cotton shawl shuffled by, momentarily
engaging his attention. Without stopping she said, “Lovely sunset, wasn’t it?” “Yes. Very nice.” Once she passed, Peter reabsorbed himself in consideration of the abyssal ocean on which he floated. Thoughts merged and melted away. None of it made sense, and he felt uneasy. Did the sea want to swallow him up? Swallow the ship up? He’d heard of people so drawn to the ocean depths, they could not resist and simply jumped. Peter had dealt with kindred, if less pronounced sensations on high bridges. A chill capered across his shoulders and then rippled down his back; perhaps he should have worn a jacket. He had been there for ten minutes when he became aware of a woman in a light coat standing a few feet further along the rail. It was Maria Federoff, her minder nowhere in sight. She’d come to him by chance. Hands thrust deep in her pockets, like Peter she seemed fixed on the western horizon. Strands of short hair, blonde or light brown, sneaked out at the back of a close fitted hat; a cream colored scarf fluttered behind her. She appeared oblivious to his existence and consequently caught him off guard when she turned and said, “Could I trouble you for a match? I seem to have come without my lighter.” “Surely.” Peter extracted a matchbook from his shirt pocket and, shielding a struck match in cupped hands, lighted her cigarette. Tinted softly by the last glow of sunset, her face defined the word lovely; the Dietrich resemblance confirmed. “Thank you,” she said. But she offered no hint of the obligatory smile that acknowledges a small favor. “I think I’ve seen you on deck before.” Peter hunted for words. “And in the dining salon.” In the fading light he guessed the beckoning eyes were hazel. “Quite possibly,” she said. He would have to hear more to determine if the accent was Russian or German. “My name is Peter . . . “ She intercepted the introduction. “You must excuse me. I have some things to think about.” And, with that, she moved further along the rail and resumed her scrutiny of the sea ahead. Color abandoned the sky, and it became dark enough to see the winking glow of the tobacco whenever she took a puff; the smoker herself an illdefined silhouette.
She’s not likely, Peter thought, to win any shipboard competition for congeniality. Could anyone be more somber or more disdainful? He’d been neither fresh nor rude; he hadn’t had a chance. Besides, she’d approached him; not the other way around. Yet, once she obtained her light, she wanted nothing more to do with him. Peter toyed with the notion of trying to speak to her again, but the specter of rejection loomed large and he abandoned the idea. He stayed at the rail for a few minutes as darkness enveloped them more fully and until the first musical dinner gong alerted him he should return to his cabin and change. When Peter last saw her, Maria continued to stare into the dwindling light of approaching night. Was she one of those people? Did she, too, feel a compulsion to climb up on the railing and plunge into the murky water sliding beneath the ship? He hoped not. ----Forty-five minutes later, Peter entered the dining salon and trailed the maitre’d to a corner table. The place was busy with people, alive with chatter. On a small stage the Tokyo Jazz Masters, a tenor sax in the lead, offered up a slow-paced arrangement of East of the Sun - and West of the Moon. When they shifted to a more upbeat tune, with vocal, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Peter decided the Ink Spots they were not. Peter looked forward to a pleasant dinner and good night’s sleep. Once in Yokohama, he still had the long train ride to Sendai and then to Akeyama. A British diplomat he’d met earlier waved from the Captain’s table. Peter lifted his hand in a reciprocal salute and began to explore the bill of fare. He was hungry. “Excuse me, may I join you?” Peter looked up directly into those same sensual and sad eyes. He had it right; hazel. And this time the young woman had a smile for him. “I hope I didn’t surprise you. It’s quite crowded. The maitre’d said you were alone and there was a place here. My father is over there--at the Captain’s table.” Peter’s eyes roamed the room; several chairs still stood empty. Had she singled him out? He hoped so. “Yes, by all means, join me,” he said. Napkin in hand, Peter half stood while a steward assisted her with the chair. She was perfect. Her flaxen hair was perfect. Her lustrous skin was perfect. Her navy blue dress, long and sleek, was perfect. And, he surmised, her svelte body was
perfect. Peter savored and internalized every detail. She wore no jewelry, save a small silver broach. And no ring. “I was just going to order a Gibson; would you like one?” She nodded, and said, “Is it good?” “Gin and vermouth. With a little cocktail onion. Give it a try.” She considered him with a weary smile. “My father thinks dining with the captain is a mark of social acceptability. I think,” she said in an accent more German than Russian, “it’s just an example of his bourgeois pretensions.” “But, you’re here with him. Does that mean you have bourgeois pretentions?” “No. I’m here because he is my father.” She smiled a bit more brightly. “And you are not the captain.” “Touché.” “I am Maria. Maria Federoff.” She extended her hand. Smooth and well tended, it revealed no evidence of recent labor. “When I saw you on the deck I supposed you were an American. I fear I was rather unpleasant.” Surely her mood had shifted―more warm, more engaging. And her smile seemed to manifest a worldliness Peter could only guess at. She flirted unabashedly, her gaze again inspiring fascination--and not so nascent lust. Even when she did not look at him, he felt she was looking at him. “Oh, I don’t think you were rude,” Peter said. “But you did seem a bit preoccupied.” Her smile went away. “Yes. I suppose it showed.” “Anyway, my name is Peter McGowan. And you’re right; I’m an American. But I grew up in Japan.” “I also grew up in Japan. Sort of. We left Russia when I was a little child. Some years in Germany. My mother was German. Now Japan.” “Do you live in Tokyo?” “No. In Yokohama. My father is import-export man. He also has offices in Sendai and Sapporo.” “Then you know Sendai?” “No, I never went there.” She said it with an abrupt finality. She seemed disinclined to say more about herself; the somber mood he’d
encountered on deck had reasserted itself. Her outlook, he thought, seemed to change with the frequency of a traffic light. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. A ruddy-faced American businessman and his round-faced wife, both in their fifties, presented themselves at the table. “Care if we come to roost. Place is packed. I guess everybody is here for the last night,” the man said. While Peter’s mind went into high gear seeking an excuse to fend the couple off, Maria blithely declared they were welcome. Was she teasing Peter? Or was she simply relieved to be free of his questions? The Americans hailed from Akron. Ted and Evelyn Mortinson. Ted was in inner tubes and exhibited the kind of chamber of commerce pat ‘em on the back bonhomie Peter despised. The Mortinsons were coming to Japan for the first time, and, once everyone had ordered, the conversation gravitated to timeworn topics--geisha, jinrickshas, hara kiri, and, Evelyn’s great concern, the safety of the drinking water. While Maria responded to the questions with competence and a winning, if counterfeit, smile, Peter glumly dedicated himself to consuming his medallions of beef and to quaffing down multiple glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Peter wanted to be alone with Maria, and he intended to wait out the intruding couple. But that did not happen. Ted had just launched into an exposition on the prospect for self-sealing inner tubes when Maria’s father strode up to the table. Peter sensed the man had been monitoring them; certainly he had glanced over from the Captain’s table several times. Peter felt like a medical school specimen under a microscope. “Come, Maria, it’s time to go. Morning will come quickly.” Federoff’s paunch challenged his vest and provided a resting place for his watch fob. His dark beard and forbidding stare made Peter think of Lionel Barrymore as Rasputin in the recent film, Rasputin and the Empress. It would be easy to believe, Peter thought, that he was a glutton, a bribe giver, and a debaucher. “But, father, I am not finished, and we are having a nice talk.” “We must go. I am sure these people will understand.” He offered an indulgent smile, but his voice lacked warmth. When Maria hesitated, Federoff placed his hand on his daughter’s arm, rather too firmly Peter thought. Maria immediately got up from the table. “Goodbye,” she
said, turned, and walked quickly away with her father. Had she first mouthed the word later, or had Peter imagined it? “Well, that was rather abrupt,” Evelyn said. “Rude, if you ask me. Didn’t even introduce himself.” “They’re foreigners after all,” Ted said. “Did you hear those accents?” He reached across the table and scooped up a dish of Peach Melba. “I guess she won’t need this dessert.” Peter continued to watch the salon doorway. Did he expect her to return? “If you want my opinion,” Evelyn said, “I think there’s some kind of trouble between them. That girl looked frightened when he took hold of her arm.” Peter nodded. He did not want to agree with the biddy. But he had seen it, too, the fear in Maria’s eyes. “Pretty thing, too,” Evelyn added. “And, if you want my opinion, I think she had her eye on you, doctor.” “Both of ‘em phony as a three-dollar bill,” Ted said. “Slippery, if you know what I mean. She looked fast, too. Who knows what these people are up to?” Peter pushed back his chair. “I still have some packing to do. Good night.” Undeterred, Evelyn said, “Mark my words, there was some trouble there.” “See you on the dock,” Ted said as Peter walked away. He then reached over and retrieved Peter’s untouched dessert. ----All thoughts of turning in early gone a-glimmering, Peter perched on the edge of his bed. Maria had become a tenant of his mind; she occupied every space. He’d already been intrigued from afar; now her approach at dinner, or what he deemed to be an approach, further piqued his interest. He’d never encountered anyone like her: no one at Oberlin, no one at Ohio State, and surely not Francine. An aura of mystery enfolded her, a sense of melancholy embraced her. Perhaps he’d conjured it all up, but there it was. He wanted to learn more, needed to learn more about Maria, but it appeared her father’s assertive appearance had obliterated any chance to do so. When he first encountered her on deck, he’d decided Maria was somehow troubled; he later dismissed the notion as the product of an active imagination, an assessment based on no facts. Now, he concluded, she must, in fact, have been
keeping up a brave front at dinner, a front that disintegrated when her father arrived. Even the dense woman from Akron recognized something off key. He had no business prying, but thoughts of Maria surged front and center. Someway, somehow, he had to see her again. He tossed aside a Collier’s Magazine he’d paged through in hopes of drowsing off. It hadn’t worked. Absolutely awake and inspired by the hope Maria would slip away from her father, Peter decided to make one more circuit around the deck. He convinced himself she had signaled him--later. He expected that by now he would be able to make out the lights of coastal towns and villages blinking back at him--orange and red, white and green--as the ocean liner neared the entrance to Tokyo Bay. He slipped on a light sweater, climbed a stairway, and went on desk. Shimmering shafts of moonlight ricocheted off the water as the ship plowed slowly forward. The prospect of the ship’s imminent arrival in port set loose a cascade of memories and a round of renewed anticipation. Tomorrow he would be in Japan. Tomorrow he would be back. Peter was hardly alone in his anticipation. For many of the foreign passengers, their apprehension about the new and aggressive Japan colored their anticipation. For many of the Japanese, thoughts of touching their native soil shaped their anticipation. For many of the crew members, memories of Yokohama bars and brothels stirred their anticipation. Whatever the emotions, after days of a rolling deck underfoot, landlubber and seafarer alike awaited the opportunity to go ashore. Peter had completed a full loop, when he arrived back at the spot where in the early evening the sea and then a young woman had so mesmerized him. As fast moving clouds skittered across the moon’s face, rays of intermittent illumination fell on the ship. In one of those moments of soft light, he glimpsed the shadowed form of a woman at the rail. It had to be her. “Maria?” He hesitated. Perhaps it was someone else. “Hello,” she said. “I hoped you might be here.” “I hoped you’d be here. What about your father?” “He is sleeping.” “I wasn’t sure if . . .” Peter could not find words; uncertain of what it was he
wanted to say. Canvas awnings flapped and rippled behind them. A ship’s flag stirred softly on its staff. Otherwise silence prevailed. “The lights are quite pretty,” Maria said. “Like little dots of life.” She wore no coat, only a diaphanous dress that left her shoulders bare. “I never thought of them that way, but yes, I suppose you can say that.” They stood without speaking. Peter gazed ahead, picking up on increased ship traffic as they moved toward Tokyo Bay. Mast lights and running lights--white, green, red--flickered like water-hugging fireflies. “We’re nearing port,” Peter said. “I guess we’re waiting our turn.” Maria did not seem to notice, her eyes exclusively directed down toward the dark water barely disturbed by their own slow-moving vessel. “Are you warm enough?” Peter said. When she did not reply, he stepped closer and put his arm around her shoulder. There was a delicious fragrance about her. Peter hoped for a response. But, she neither welcomed nor rejected the gesture; she simply continued to stare into the water. “I don’t mean to intrude,” Peter said, “but is there something you would like to talk about?” Was he genuinely concerned about her well-being or was he simply trying to gain her confidence? He felt a bit underhanded. It was not a good feeling. “Oh, it’s nothing that would concern you.” “Try me.” “Are you a nice man, Peter?” “I hope so.” “I am a sad person, Peter. That is me, Sad Maria.” “Tell me. Why is Maria sad?” “It is from history?” “I don’t understand.” “My father is Russian. There came the revolution. He was a banker and a marked man. He lost everything. He hates the Reds.” “Is that why you are sad? He seems prosperous.” “No. He has had good trading business in Germany. My mother was German. My
father divorced her when I was little. He said she was a socialist; maybe a communist.” “I still don’t . . .” “Do you know about the Nazis?” “Of course. They’re a bad bunch.” “My father gives them money. He thinks like they do. But, he feels they do not trust him.” “Because he is Russian?” “Yes. Because he is Russian. So he wants to use me.” “What?” “I am to marry a German officer. His name is Kurt Richter. He is a captain at the German embassy in Tokyo.” “But do you want to . . .?” “No. It is true he is very handsome and from a good family. My father thinks it will be a good match.” “And the marriage would work to your father’s advantage?” “Yes. But Kurt is a beast. A Nazi beast. He boasts of beating communists and Jews. Kurt says it is how we must deal with people who do not belong. He is an evil man.” “But surely you can say no. This is the 20th century. We’re modern people. This sort of thing sounds medieval. How old are you?” “I am twenty-five years old.” “Then how can he force you to . . .?” “If I refuse, he says he will abandon me. I have no passport of my own. I will be a stateless refugee.” “There must be some way. I’m sure there are people who can help, good people . . .” “Peter, I cannot marry this man. I cannot. I have no hope.” Again Peter said, “There must be a way.” But none came quickly to mind. She turned toward Peter and put her arms around him. She was crying. “You are a nice person, Peter. I wish I met you before.” Then, without another word, she pulled free and started toward her cabin. She had taken only three or four steps when
she pivoted and said in a half whisper, “Perhaps again in Tokyo.” She said nothing more, and he listened to her footfalls fade across the wooden deck. He would stay in Tokyo, delay his trip north. He would find her. Peter bubbled with determination; but, while he foraged about for practical ways to assist her, he found none. Was he in love with her? He’d barely met her. But, if the answer was not yes, it soon would be. Perhaps again in Tokyo. ----Peter slept fitfully and awoke disoriented. He regretted he had not called a porter. In the passageway he struggled with a heavy leather bag in one hand. The smaller Boston Bag he clutched in the other hand failed to provide balance as he maneuvered his way toward the gangway. And he had to stop to adjust his straw boater that tilted precariously to one side. He had been watching for Maria, but had been unable to catch sight of her. He worried he had missed her. Her story, what little he knew of it, seemed heart-wrenching. Even if it had only been a shipboard dalliance, she had seemed interested in him. It could not end so easily. He was determined to locate her once in Japan. Just his luck. The line of departing passengers had backed up, and Peter found himself standing immediately behind his dinner companions from the previous evening. “I suppose you heard about it,” Evelyn Mortinson said. “Heard about what? Did something happen?” Peter said. “I’m afraid I’m a heavy sleeper.” “What? I thought everyone knew. I’m talking about that girl.” “That girl?” “He doesn’t know what you mean, Evelyn,” Ted said. “She means the girl who jumped off the boat.” Peter experienced a dreadful unease, but he spoke evenly. “No. I heard nothing. I skipped breakfast.” “I’m sure it was the girl at our table,” Evelyn said, her voice rife with a sense of knowing something others did not. “They say she was young and said something about nothing to live for. Then jumped right into the drink.” “Had a foreign accent too,” Ted added. “Old woman says she saw her do it.”
“What happened?” Peter said, swept by a shattering wave of concern. “Did they pull her out?” “Don’t know. Ship came to the pier. Purser said some crew members went back on a Japanese pilot boat, whatever that is, to look for her.” Peter’s chest constricted. The woman might be right. It could have been Maria. She had surely been depressed, frightened of the German. Could Peter have done more to help her? To reassure her? He felt nauseous. He had to know. His missionary upbringing asserted itself. Dear, God, don’t let it be Maria. The line of passengers crawled forward, the pace maddeningly slow. Frustration come to life, Peter dropped his bags and elbowed his way through the crowd of complaining passengers. As he came on deck squadrons of caterwauling gulls banked and glided above the pier, and the more brazen of them strutted among the disembarking passengers’ feet. Light rain had dampened the ship’s arrival, and the sun had just begun to poke through the last tendrils of morning mist. Breaking free of the crowd at the quarterdeck, he approached a steward. “I understand a young woman fell from the ship.” A burst of anxiety shaped his questions. “Has she been found? Identified?” “Don’t know, sir. Search was still going on when I came on deck. I heard she was blonde. Somebody said German. Who knows?” Peter’s voice caught. “Where can I get more information?” Maria. Poor troubled Maria. “The Purser’s over there on the quarterdeck. I expect he can help you, sir.” Peter shoved through a knot of irritated passengers. The Purser, a lanky fellow who took his role and himself very seriously, was engaged in a heated discussion with a tourist couple about their Pekinese that had gone missing. The Purser ignored Peter’s effort to gain his attention. A dog? Peter was racked by agitation and indignation. A damned dog? Peter’s concern was for a human being. He caught the Purser by the arm and spun him around. “I need to know about the person who was lost overboard. I want to . . .” At that point Peter’s eyes fell on the pier and he felt his heart depart. First he saw Federoff, and then he spotted Maria. Thank God, she had not been the one. But
his jubilation was short-lived. Standing next to a dark limousine with tiny swastika flags mounted on the fenders, Maria turned to embrace a man in a German military uniform. If the prolonged kiss was fraudulent, she must have been an accomplished fraudster. Peter was torn; could it be part of an ongoing drama. But, the passion seemed authentic and when the couple broke apart they both laughed. Laughed. Maria caught sight of Peter standing at the top of the gangway. She waved, blew him a kiss, and hopped into the car. Peter watched the vehicle drive off the pier; he felt totally defeated. Confusion replaced certainty; doubt replaced possibility. Where was the truth? What was the truth? Had it slipped away somewhere in the darkness of Tokyo Bay as they neared port? Was she an accomplished liar? A tease? A victim? She remained an enigma. Would the real Maria please step forward? “Sir.” The same steward stood beside him. “Turns out nobody went overboard. Old lady imagined it. Wandering around without her nurse. Caused quite a commotion, I’d say.” “Yes,” Peter mumbled, “quite a commotion.” Five minutes later a driver loaded his bags and Peter climbed into a taxi. He pondered for a moment and then said, “Take me to Yokohama Station.” Lawrence F Farrar Lawrence F Farrar is a former Foreign Service Officer with multiple postings in Japan and Washington as well as assignments in Germany and Norway. Short term assignments took him to more than thirty countries. Farrar's work has appeared in The Chaffin Journal, The MacGuffin, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Zone 3, Tampa Review Online, Curbside Splendor E-Zine, Jelly Bucket, The Worcester Review, and Lindenwood Review.
lost shade, volume iv: roll tide there was the one i remember least on a biting autumn night just outside the hipsterest of pizza places she was the kitten and i was the purr of the can opener she shivered beneath a lean tank top and mini skirt this long before electric patio warmers were standard as a mere gentlemen i lent my favorite college sweatshirt ragged from seam to smile which set off her daddy issues and i became even more desirable through the next excruciating hour she lobbed crude advances upon me like hand grenades not knowing my buns were happily safe in another foxhole i never did have the heart to tell her much later she sulked towards a bullied pick up truck failed fuck me stilettos slung over defeated shoulders i watched from two blocks away as she repeatedly dropped her keys to the cement she didnâ€™t care about flashing her v-string to the few cold souls still out but took care to conceal the tears of which there were plenty i asked my drummer at our next practice to get my sweatshirt back it was that same shitty band Zachary M Hodson Zachary M Hodson is a multi-genre artist from Kansas City who has spent the last decade focused equally on poetry, music and music/sports journalism. His writing has been featured in Euphony Journal, Leveler Poetry, The Literary Nest, Futureâ€™s Trading, Skidrow Penthouse, Royals Blue and The Deli Magazine.
junk the woman next to me reads bossypants the man port the crossing i chew through naked lunch
for some reason
yet feel superior for it safe to say right now everything is junk off the right wing tantrums of fire gone wild on junk draw deep the prairie wind the field mice and bunny rabbits [and farmers] not embalmed by flame have lost their homes i wonder if they will turn to junk the bastard child three rows back screaming up the good air junk the fitful lightning down the back of my left thigh junk the whoopsie daisy bouts of turbulence junk the gay flight attendants condescension junk everyone is yellow or grey and at different intervals of erect a man has passed gas & attempts to play off he is asleep junk one lady has indentions on the back of her head where her ankles customarily go she says nothing yet continues to talk a banal tongue bucking off the tray tables junk i hear her crawl so far up her own ass the sun blushes & the clouds stop sending christmas cards mountains avalanche
but do so with a frightful oh shit i want to chaw off her tongue & softly coo as i feed the lil blue birdie in my coat pocket i have always been the most caring of my friends junk i close my eyes in vain & try to remember back when my veins were organ pipes my blood the salted breath of saints oh how i could howl in meter with the wind tracing dead branches across your bedroom window at night or when my face was the brave little toaster my mouth the animated tea kettle watch as I blow the whole damn kingdom down there was the time i declared i was the fastest boy alive & with frightful spin broke a tree branch over my best friendâ€™s jaw he was never allowed to attend boy scout overnights again now every memory has this arenaceous icing of junk
im not quite sure this is what mr burroughs had in mind Zachary M Hodson
Radical Peace in the Desert In the morning the desert air is dry and cool, you have to get up early to move around in it. The orioles and the sparrows, small as they are, fly south toward the ocean, the lee side. The birds know when to go, head for some Mexican cafĂŠ, hang out in a palm tree blowing from side to side in the sea breeze. I have learned what it means to stay put in the hard times, summer in the unrelenting heat. When the unbearable heat comes, those of us under it are forced to stay or go, set a place for how and when to eat in the hot of the day, use less water and drink more water. Learn to sit quietly with the eyes closed. This is one way to live here now, a light supper, fruit, an organic sandwich, large red succulent tomatoes from the Farmerâ€™s Market. Plans for some sketching, a box of colored pencils, green and brown and blue for the trees and the sky. Drawing in the middle of less, lines on white milky paper, a pad of it, an eraser to erase what does not work. Plans for a garden. Plans to save ourselves and the world at the exact same time. Outside a little wren in the heather wilder than ever. A sign we will make it back. Charlene Langfur Charlene Langfur is an organic gardener living in southern California. Recent publications include poems in The MacGuffin, Poetry East, The Split Rock Review, and Sugar Mule and three essays in Evening Street Review, The Northeast Review, and Still Points Arts Quarterly.
A World at Rest in the Mind Here, where the wind is blowing the sand up against the sea roses and light is shining through the pine needles. A luminous place. Palpable. It reminds me we are not alone. The sound of the grey shore birds negotiating a safe landing. A day full of exactly what I can see. I know this is a place to return to again and again no matter what else happens on the planet earth. Here where we are moving over the sand and back again, a small amount of rest, mindful, near the ocean, looking out after more. The light blue sky over the dark blue sea. Charlene Langfur
Change is on Its Way Archaeologists find palm trees in Alaska. Change is on its way. I see how the scientists track and map whatâ€™s up these days. I used to make lists to prepare for whatâ€™s out here but now all I do is plant seeds wherever it makes sense and save any resource that I am able. Here in the desert some of the palms are older than any of us know how to date, from the ancient oasis where the Aqua Caliente made everything they needed out of palm and agave, century plants that grow in the hills near Palm Springs, here where life explodes in one of the hottest places on earth. Last week it was 124 degrees in the shade. We all dealt with it. Who knows how? Underneath the ground the oasis buffers earthquakes and it is magical for the people on top of it who live in the desert proper, waterless as it is. I plant sunflowers and herbs in the winter here. Calendula and nasturtium. I give them shade on the porch, protect them from the sun. I plant zinnias and purple petunias near summer when the black crows sit in the palm trees chattering like yentas as if they know more than us. They talk of transcendence and the goings on of the desert neighborhood. How deep the change comes nowadays. We all try to figure out what to do when the wrens bury their nests deep in the mesquite. Figure out how soon the tiny date seeds will grow fat, full-fledged as dates. When the rabbits and the road runners will be out at dawn hunting them, superfood, delicacies in a luminous place. The crows know exactly what will happen next. How the pink California poppies open in the blink of an eye, how the world can explode overnight. Charlene Langfur
Work in Process Change into your last clean bra, the one with the janky underwire. pull Spanx over your Thinx, put on a power suit and grab a chocolate breakfast bar. At the station, wait looking up at a sky the color of the sidewalk. In the reflection of the train’s window, notice wrinkles around your eyes, but because all the good plastic surgeons are out-of-network, consider a crowdsourcing campaign for your Crow’s feet. On the train dream of artisanally-named, CRISPR/Cas’d kids designed to like vegetables and do well in math. At work get along with Matt until he shushes you in front of your boss’s boss. Give him your trademark sloe-eyed, side eye before heading back to your Dilbertian cubicle to calm down with an adult coloring book. Spend lunch rebunking the claim that a woman of a certain age is more likely to get killed in a hoverboard accident than get married. At the afternoon meeting, think about your loser boyfriend at home on the couch drinking beer and pulling 360 no-scopes. After work, hook up with Ahmed in his food truck but not before scarfing down an order of bitter melon fries. Give The Moroccan Paradise Grill two stars on Yelp. Later get squiffy painting sunflowers with friends at Cocktail & Canvas. When it’s all over, Uber home screaming for your life as a pony-tailed grad student auditions to be the next Stig. Back at home, crawl under the covers, hit CONTINUE WATCHING on Netflix and realize that you get to wake up tomorrow and do it all again and that is not nothing. Lara Dolphin Lara Dolphin is a chocolate addict, slacktivist and determined dreamer. As a recovering attorney, prePA student and full-time mother of four, she divides her time between looking for lost Legos and breaking up pool-noodle-related combat.
My Daddy Sold Christmas Trees When I was a very little girl, probably around three, there was a winter when my daddy’s job was selling Christmas trees. It may have been the first Christmas that I can remember. I recall a fenced lot filled with a small forest of cut trees, and the enchanting evergreen fragrance. I can picture my daddy there, wearing an old sweatshirt and his red baseball cap, looking friendly and handsome with his brown skin and dazzling white smile. He would help people pick out the very best tree to take home, demonstrating a good tree’s beauty by lifting it by the trunk and stamping it down a few times onto the hard ground. This caused the boughs to quiver and to spread out a bit despite the cold. Then he would twirl the tree around in a pirouette to reveal its form and symmetry. He seemed to love each tree and to be very proud of it, as if he were dancing with a beautiful lady and showing her off. He knew how much joy these Christmas trees were going to bring into the lives of families. Once someone had bought a tree, Daddy would fold the bills away into his blue jeans pocket and then move energetically to tie the tree onto the roof of the customer’s car. Another time, my daddy showed me how to plant a tree that had had its roots cut and tied up in a burlap ball. He dug a very big hole with a shovel, and then removed the rope and burlap and set the tree down into the hole just right. He took a garden hose and filled the hole with water before shoveling the dug up dirt back in. He explained to me that the tree needed a good drink of water in order to start to grow in a new place and become strong. The business where my daddy sold and planted trees was called a nursery, which I knew was also a word for a place to take care of babies and young children. My daddy loved children even more than trees and would laugh with great enjoyment when he played with them. He had a special delight in things that were alive, growing, and beautiful; he seemed to understand their mysteries and the best ways to care for them. In my mind, this was somehow connected with his being Mexican,
because it set him apart from all of the other people who looked more like my mother and me. I was very happy and proud the year that my daddy sold Christmas trees, and that was a good Christmas. Emily Pena Murphey Emily Pena Murphey is a retired psychotherapist living in Philadelphia who holds Master's degrees in Social Work and Clinical Psychology and has had extensive training in Jungian psychoanalysis. She has family roots in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains and Texas' Rio Grande valley and performs the traditional music of both regions.