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Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine inaugural issue

fall/winter, 2014

fiction Pete Solet Technically Speaking

52

Shay Thames My Side of the Story

71

Steve Wechselblatt Never Wrong

78

non-fiction Susan Canale Leaving by the Back Door

14

Meredith Norwood On Vacation?

32

images Gracemarie Cirino Mother Nature Weeps

27

Tristan Collins Appalachian Mountains

77

Jeffrey DeCristofaro Descent Behind Peaks Golden Fire on Peak

87 50

Virginia Land Himmelheber Louisville Paddlewheel

60

Barbara Mueller Mother-in-law Tongue

57

Jim Neuner Smoky Blue Mountains

44-45

Denise Parks Echoes of Laughter Musings on a Screened Porch Musings on a Screened Porch 2

70 63 9

Jacquelyn Schechter Coffee Bubbles Pelicans

64 18

Lyndia Stauffer Rocky's Eyes Safari Orchid

83 36


poetry Simone Chimyo Atkinson A Monk Leaves the Temple Yemaya: ablution Zazen: pulling

6 7 8

David Barratt For Chris: The Manner of Her Dying Her Silver Soul

10 11

Stephanie Biziewski Virgin Dance in Four-Three-Seven Time

12

H.R. Bird Twenty Years

19 20

Jane Mary Curran Reading Dr. Zhivago

22

Karen Depew Musings on a Robin Persephone in Autumn Words

24 25 26

Larry L. Hamilton Winfred Wanted to Write

28

Nancy J. Hannah Once Ago

29

Grace Hatton Mountain Song

30

Meredith Norwood Physics Lesson

43

Sabrina Presnell Rockoff Israel Rewind The Seam

46 48 51

William Swarts New Day, New Job

56

Chris Taylor For Georgia For Those Who Hold My Heart No Two Turns Oh, That I Could March You Up a Hill Spring Trespasser on the Tracks Walking

58 59 61 62 62 65

Shay Thames Judy Freeman: Holocaust Survivor

66

Savannah Wade Apostasy Dead Men Don't Need Funerals Lie Down Where My Bones Lie

74 75 76

Mark Yungbluth Bedtime

86

cover: Smoky Blue Mountains

digital mixed media

Jim Neuner


Editor's Note

I'm a believer in organic growth. All the planning in the world is not as important as nurturing a project along its way while allowing it to take its own form. When I first thought of resurrecting the defunct literary and arts magazine at the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, I imagined a ten to twenty page print magazine of poems and memoirs from the folks in my writing classes. I was about to teach my second class there, and NCCCR was transitioning to OLLI at UNC Asheville. A simple, small, in-house magazine seemed like a simple, small project that would offer my students and other seniors at the Center an opportunity to publish, albeit modestly. That was nearly two years ago. The idea of a small limited print magazine has morphed into a substantial online publication welcoming submissions of any type from anyone, anywhere. The staff and I have come to believe in a populist approach: while we look for quality in our submissions, we try to be open to works that may not be perfect but have appeal nonetheless. And we judge our submissions based on our own wide range of life experiences and on our love of literature, art and photography. You may notice that we have a number of contributors who are staff. When staff members first brought up the subject of submitting their own work, I thought, Why not? The works are anonymous as we review them, by committee, and judges recuse themselves if a work is their own or recognizable. We feel it's in keeping with a populist outlook that we don't limit submissions in any way. Is this a firm policy? No more than anything else. As we proceed and grow, I'm sure we'll reconsider many of the ways we do things at SBLAAM.


We have enjoyed the work of putting out this first issue and look forward to more. Many folks have helped, to name a few: Catherine Frank, OLLI at UNC Asheville Executive Director, for her encouragement, help and guidance in assembling a staff and publicizing the magazine within OLLI at UNC Asheville; Kevin McIlvoy, author, teacher, and friend, for his insights into beginning a small magazine; Rachel Haley Himmelheber, author, teacher, and daughter, for her support and experience; my wife Virginia Land Himmelheber, for her patience, encouragement, and love; the amazing staff of volunteers who shaped this magazine of the people; and all the contributors, accepted for publication or not, without whom this would be impossible. We hope you enjoy the magazine's inaugural issue. Should you have any comments or suggestions, please email us at editor@sblaam.com. We welcome everyone's input as SBLAAM grows, organically.

SBLAAM staff:(front, l-r) Perien Gray, Pat Moeller, Gail Hipkins, Jacqi Schechter, Susan Coyle (back, l-r) Jim Hilderbrandt, Jim Neuner, Pete Solet, John Himmelheber (Not pictured: Sam Bedinger, Margie Klein, Steve Wechselblatt)


A Monk Leaves the Temple I’d like to roll around in the grass and leave my imprint on the lawn. I wish I had hair – I’d tangle it in the branches of these trees and leave tuffs of myself caught in the briars along the path. If I could spare a bone I’d leave it standing as a marker among the carrots that won’t be ready to pull until after I’m gone, or the zinnias that will have wilted away a week after I leave. The green summer will burn away into fall whose flaming leaves will have tumbled away on winter winds long before I make it back. Children will have grown so many inches and heads will have grown whiter, and I can’t stay because of a promise I made to live among clouds where the rarified air is not so rich As the soil around the blueberries, and, by definition, where there are no roots. Simone Chimyo Atkinson Simone Chimyo Atkinson is a Zen Buddhist nun residing at Great Tree Zen Temple in Alexander, North Carolina where she is head of practice. She occasionally writes poetry.


Yemaya: ablution just after dawn my estranged child approaches shuffling barefoot through cold sand she stands aloof at the edge of the water she listens she hears the voice of the surf tastes the sweat of the earth as the salt sea mist rises with the sun i reach for her she leaps backward i will be patient no doubt the voices of her stepparents compete their rumors of the cold the deep and wild chaos but this is a willful child willful and intelligent i need not change my voice to her she would hear the low rumblings behind my whispers and coos she would know there is no healing without pain that loss is requisite to discovery she cocks an ear to the half-remembered language of the waves her nostrils flare at the scent of a far away home i wait Simone Chimyo Atkinson


Zazen: pulling i carry them to the woods. the grass seems greener but there are new weeds sprouting from stubborn old roots even as my fingers slide from the dirt-stiff gloves Simone Chimyo Atkinson


Musings on a Screened Porch 2

mixed media - Denise Parks


For Chris

The Manner of Her Dying Did the last of the Bronte children die so? You had the grapefruit in the womb aborted, Only to find an orange in your lung. Both bring starvation – only the apple feeds. In the final exile of an expectant bed Loving accoucheurs vainly accede To the search for eggs, which, infertile, Became the bone mass of your skeletal knees. You relieve the blacked exhaust Grotesquely using your plastic penis, The anorexic passion for food unassuaged. The grey-grained contours of your cheek Skull through the waters of death. We are amateur rowers; Charon’s car Stands outside, the transport of the blind; Which the professional believers will not see, Nor Emily’s kindly chauffeur. But the bone people know. They know Since they have no prophetic word, They know. Down the terminal escarpment By the week, hour, seed falls. They know. David Barratt David Barratt is an English teacher, having taught in the U.K., Pakistan, and the U.S.A. He has also written on literary and theological topics. He was born in London, and has lived in Asheville since 1992.


Her Silver Soul Five days before she died, She accepted death. The secret suitor had gained her hand, The hoped-for lover having married another. Then she could escape her besieged body, Cut through the wires and tubes That sent false sustaining messages, Slip out through the postern unobserved, Crossing the outlaws' nomansheath. At the funeral they left the shell uncovered, Grotesque, lips barely stretched over teeth. The place of the skull is velveted Obscenely whilst we talk of her fun And she all the while laughing At the sight of muddy boots taken off After a difficult hike and left in the porch As she goes shower. I put her on the train at Nottingham With two cases too heavy for her to lift: Fragile, she made it home that Christmas, The food she’d bought still uneaten, All fruit confiscated at the gate of heaven. Always food bought, uneaten, this hunger For manna. Now the right time. At the reservoir the water fiercely spilled Itself, thrust on by other waters further up. In the golden dying mirror All moves in that still scene, Must come to the fall The fisherman below Casting For her silver soul. David Barratt


Virgin Dance In Four-Three-Seven Time Dawn Curtains parted, light falls in. Naked stretch lifts from the bed.  Speaking for myself I call his cell on a whim. What weight I make from whimsy!  Picnic lunch on Michelle’s lawn under the arching maple Placemats? Why not? A fool would choose to be uncomfortable.  Surprise encounter with Abby Our friend’s sick from chemo. We argue. To cure our sorrow.  Afternoon radio meeting with Jason and Gillian We say we’ll do one show. But each wants something different.  At dusk


I wash dishes. Contemplate the sounds that moved me today.  Into the night Light hides. I rest in the breath of my belly, my bared bones. ∞ Stephanie Biziewski Stephanie Biziewski came to Asheville in 2003 and studied with many local writers during the last decade. She wrote poetry for several years and, in 2010, read her work in a radio interview on WordPlay’s “The Laureate Hour.” Stephanie started writing fiction this past spring and is glad to expand her skills into another genre.


Leaving by the Back Door They were laid out along the drab, sterile green hallway in perfect formation, their legs stretched out in an orderly fashion, neatly pushed against the wall, five of them lining the cold floor, their massive jaws, muscular chests and slender tails too warm still to be put in the freezer where they were kept until disposal. Every day ten or twelve came in the front door and most left by the back. Everyone who worked there or volunteered there knew what “leaving by the back door” meant. It never got easier; the heartbreak never diminished. The tragedy never would end until more people knew what happened to the dogs they surrendered, thinking they would go off to better homes. No one revealed they'd be leaving by the back door. Driving across town to get there was always the most dangerous part of my day. Sometimes flashing blue lights lined a block and a crowd gathered. Sometimes the streets were empty. But I always held my breath as I drove, especially after dark, when shadows became people and people became shadows as I sat there, hoping the light would turn green any second now. I was on my way to volunteer at my city's animal shelter. What an odd name – “shelter.” A more appropriate name would be “warehouse” or “killing field.” Dogs, big dogs, were housed in cinder block kennels with barred doors, hard concrete floors with drains in the middle, and if they were lucky, a thin towel for a bed. When there were no longer any empty kennels, the dogs deemed least likely to be adopted were euthanized, killed by lethal injection. Every day roughly ten were left in the overnight, anonymous drop boxes. If my shift started in the morning, I'd peer through the slats into the dark, cold steel cages, wondering which of the dogs were simply lost, soon to be reunited with their owners, and which were abandoned or captured strays, emaciated or aggressive, too unsocialized to be offered for adoption or


transfer. Sometimes it was obvious; I knew their fate as soon as I saw them. Sometimes I wondered if that final walk down the cold hall would be the first act of kindness these poor canine souls had experienced in their short doomed lives. Sometimes I wondered if the tide would ever stop, or if I was in a warped sci-fi movie, a constant treadmill of animal flesh and death. The small dogs had the worst of it. Hollywood stars made fads of owning chihuahuas or other small barky dogs and as their numbers skyrocketed so did their abandonment. Staff didn't respect small dogs, probably because they didn't fear them. There's something about out weighing or out muscling your captor that demands respect. Lunging, snarling massive-jawed pit-bulls received the respect they demanded; shivering, quivering, yipping dogs the size of inner city rats got none. The small ones were housed in big-dog kennels, but five or six to a kennel. At feeding time five or six bowls of food were tossed in. The dominant ones ate; the timid ones didn't. They didn't stand a chance. Feces and urine covered any towels or blankets they might have had because there were too many dogs and too few staff and volunteers to get them all out of their cages to relieve themselves outside. Ridiculous rules imposed by the inexperienced director who wanted to feel in control exacerbated the problem. Volunteers were not allowed to walk a dog that hadn't been evaluated but volunteers were not allowed to evaluate. Evaluations were slow in coming, sometimes weeks passed without one. In the meantime, the dogs pooped and peed and never saw the light of day. Fancy breeds, once fluffy, now matted and covered with waste, waited for volunteer groomers to uncover what beauty might be hiding under that fleainfested snarl of hair. Breed-specific rescue groups could have been called and these dogs would have been removed immediately to be groomed and


placed in foster homes, surely to go off to a pampered lifestyle in a matter of days. But the rescue groups were not called because these dogs, these glamour dogs, were money-makers for the city, too valuable to be transferred out for free. So they sat, in their dreadful state, waiting for the resources that took so long to arrive. But sometimes angels did appear. Though strictly forbidden by management, volunteers contacted rescue groups to tell of a deserving creature, either a glam dog, or one so helpless and scared its prospects of making it out the front door were virtually nil. Public policy dictated that rescue groups were allowed to take any animal that had been held for at least five days and after five days of hell, the lucky ones were pulled out. And that's how I started my stint as a dog foster mom. The first one, a sixmonth old chihuahua, had a broken leg that had been crudely put into a cast before the dog was shoved into one of the overnight dropboxes. Her shelter name was Polka Dot because that was the pattern of the vet gauze wrapped around her cast. After she healed and was adopted, Precious came to live with me – a whippet mix so shy and terrified while at the shelter that she began losing hair, her purple skin coming off in flakes. She loved running in large circles in my backyard and after I posted photos of her on the web in such a joyous state, she went off to a happy home too. Then came Charlie Poodle. Grooming uncovered a glossy white miniature poodle with a cast almost up to his shoulder. But a broken leg didn't put a dent in his energy. He escaped the yard once and ran down the street, his cast going “thump, thump, thump” against the sidewalk as he ran. If he wanted to go somewhere, he jumped, cast and all. I told myself that activity was good for his healing because there was no way I could stop it, but I worried that if the leg didn't heal, I'd be accused of dog abuse. Then he ate


the corner of my Turkish rug and I had had about enough of Charlie Poodle. Fortunately after the cast came off he was adopted too. Of all my foster dogs, there was only one I considered keeping. Calvin was a Lhasa Apso, so matted when he came into the shelter that it was hard to find the dog under that fawn-colored mess. Terrified and hiding behind anything that might conceal him, he was not a good candidate for adoption. Through a rescue group, I took him home and his spunky self returned. A lap dog in every sense of the word, he inserted himself into my life and my heart. But I didn't want a permanent dog at that time of my life and so it was fate when two weeks later I was at a party, chatting with an acquaintance. “I'm thinking of getting a dog,” she mentioned. “I'm thinking of a Lhasa Apso.” “Well,” I replied, a broad smile on my face, “I happen to have one at my house right now, waiting for adoption.” And so it went, another dog rescued. Calvin left by the back door, but this time it was MY back door. Susan Canale Susan Canale retired and moved to Asheville two years ago, having spent most of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earning her living through numbers but always expressing her passion through art, she now finds endless creative possibilities in crafting words.


Pelicans

photo - Jacquelyn Schechter


Bird I barely know which happens first: the bird or the breaking, the fade or the bloom. It's dusk now, and the bird is a tuft of feather escaped from a pillow, coughing its blood in my hand. Outside, the world clings to a given degree as though seasons can't shift in his absence just like I can't shift in yours. H.R. H.R. first began studying creative writing and poetry at the College of Charleston in 2006. She currently lives in Asheville, NC and is a graduate student at Western Carolina University.


Twenty Years From fifth grade to present to middle age half of life inside a cell; these were boys who played kickball on the side of a sloped hill spotted with dandelion weeds, misunderstood trees. An empty bench in the park is empty because no one will sit here in the sleepless sun. Yellow grass beneath steel equipment smells of fire, breath so heavy it punctures the unloved field. We studied arithmetic, history, a little writing to keep our moods in check, raw and undefined as the wars we are now fighting.


Molestation, robbery, suicide, murder, Afghanistan, Iraq; running the points of fingers below a line of text, one hand below the desk. H.R.


Reading Doctor Zhivago My stories began with Dick and Jane, I read Cinderella and sanitized Grimm. The ladies of Cranford thrived in adversity. Nancy and Sherlock nabbed the bad guys. The frost was on Orphant Annie's punkin . . . and Jane married Mr. Rochester. My glass slippers glittered in the moonlight of spring. I waltzed toward my own ever after. The princess has grown old in her castle. She sits alone in a high stone tower, eyes closed in sleep. A book lies abandoned in her lap. The time of the fairy godmother returns with gifts only age can bring-Passion turned to gentle memory, hunger no hotter than a distant star. Time no longer lunging ahead, but spread out, flat, shining silver, sunshine on shallow water, a blossom drifting to the ground. Attention to Orion rising, the sorrow of children and fragile bones. Endings are simply endings now, one yet to be met. Comedy and tragedy live in the same small house, two sides of the same thin wall.


Now it is winter. Snow flies in darkness. I know stories of wandering without an arrival, Heathcliff and Yuri on a streetcar named loss, Laura, Tess and Ophelia in their unfinished dramas, requiems sounding, illicit as love. I have lived enough to read Doctor Zhivago, a story without a happy ending. Jane Mary Curran Jane Mary Curran is a poet and spiritual director in Asheville, NC. She lived her first life as a pianist and college professor, her second as a chaplain at hospice. Now in retirement, the third third of life, she returns to poetry for the essential stuff of living, fewer words and greater soul.


Musings on a Robin Each morning she throws herself against the porch door window. Once, then again, and again. From either exhaustion or frustration, she finally sits on the door handle as if it were a tree branch. Her head cocked to one side, she gazes at the other world. What does she see on the other side of the pane? Does she picture herself flying through the transom with bits of string, twigs and leaves to build a dry roomy home for her impending family? Can she see herself, worm wriggling from her beak, bringing breakfast to her babies as they safely snuggle in her dream house? Or, is it the absence of prowling cats or jay birds clad in Prussian blue that attracts her, instead of swaying high up in the oak tree by the porch? One last time, she flings herself against the hard surface, then flies away resigned to another day of disappointment. Karen Depew Karen Depew moved to Asheville from Washington, D.C. Now that she's enjoying life as a retiree, she's returning to her roots as an English major. She has participated in OLLI Asheville's poetry classes and is active in the Poetry Special Interest Group, where she finds support and encouragement as a budding poet.


Persephone in Autumn Darkening days Beckon me to return To sit beside my gloomy lover. Time to descend Down shadowy corridors. With each step, A chill blows across the land Withering the last lonely leaves And the fruit upon the vines. Mother’s tears cannot save me Because my lover’s seed lies deep in my belly And with it The knowledge of death’s coldness. Even on summer’s warmest day, When once there was nothing Except endless joy, My lover’s cool caress lingers Reminding me of my fate. Karen Depew


Words Old friends Some from early in life Short & simple Like the child I was When we were first introduced Differentiating Mom from Dad Cat from Dog No from Yes Over time They grew In size and complexity Mingling together Moving in different combinations Changing meaning in their couplings Now they hide from me As I search for them In the corners of my mind And I can’t call out to them Because I can’t remember their names Karen Depew


Mother Nature Weeps

photo - Gracemarie Cirino


Winfred Wanted to Write Maybe what was most memorable or maybe what was most irritating about Winfred was the way he talked about the way writing ought to be - at least the way he wanted it to be for him. He shouted sometimes from the rooftops and sometimes from the page that what he was seeking were words and rhymes so sharp of steel edge or jagged glass they could rip your eyes out if you looked too close to the page. They would burn your mouth if you spoke them too slowly, you must rush to get them out newborn and screaming with joy and maybe rage that they had been in the womb too long. You must wear asbestos gloves to handle the page because the print would sear your fingers and even then you could only bear the fire so long before setting it down to see if your fingerprints were scarred for life. Breathing too deep close to the page could burn your lungs from heat and passion, cold and ice. Like junkies in early days used to say about their horse, their skag, their stuff of dreams, “So good you don’t ever want to try it!” “My man Jack!” he used to say, always in the exclamatory when in the throes of his passion, “Don’t keep it to yourself, be a benefactor to us addicts of your mind,” Jack being his poet source of inspiration at the moment. Always Jack he begged to visit, to stay on and on through wintry nights when his funds were low and there was no heat but that from inspiration. Thin but dogged, pale but panting with fever that only paper could mediate, paper with prose or poems scribbled changing as fast as lead could smear back through iambics and sort nouns and verbs anew so that the paper began as if to scream itself from such torture because it could not keep up the pace of his mind racing, raging, praying. And he almost always ended with a dictum and a warning, “Print no lies! Let the truth chase away the dark, there is darkness aplenty in the truth." Larry Hamilton Larry Hamilton, born in Georgia, grew up an Army Brat and served time himself. He led a public writing group in Columbia, SC for several years before moving to Asheville, where he joined OLLI Asheville. He is retired.


Once Ago

(for Philip, who loves the game) Late summer lies languid; the afternoon’s wake Cast by decades of musings on memory’s lake Drifts me soft to my childhood – a half-century gone Since the stalwarts of sandlot stood on my front lawn. Fast, fast to that milestone my memory lash As those sirens of horsehide and leather and ash Call again to me thirteen with sweet time to pass In the pungent, fine dust leavened, sere August grass. Here’s to the bases, red clay-clods of dirt, And a bow to home plate, marked by Chuckie’s old shirt. Applause for the infield, adrift in the sand, And a nod to the fielders, who mostly just stand. Ragtag ensemble, sing soft to me now Your seductive old ballads of baseball, and how My lithe, lean-limbed, brash shadow in yesterday’s light Stole those days of my passing and saved them for night. N.J. Hannah N.J. Hannah is a retired mathematics teacher. She was born in Middletown, Ohio and lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her partner of many years.


Mountain Song 1 Standing in this valley I forget how these mountains found me Drifted through on an August breeze between summer’s crisp and autumn’s kiss On a lonely night In a smokey bar Met some other travelers The hippie and corporate escapee Fell in love with the mountains like a sinner with a vice Took no time at all Didn’t have to think twice 2 Winter came by stealing fall All the fire in the mountains blown away in a nightly crawl Naked woods draping the mountain peaks Did what any mountain dweller might do Found myself a rocking chair Best seats to witness the valley’s yearly death Legs turned stiff as the hair grew and breath turned to a darker hue Icy chill sweeps on through Taking the boy I thought could replace you 3 Spring rears her pretty head All flowers and sun and rivers and blue Met a mountain man along the way Never been nowhere else Never even wanted to Told me about the valley All her frailty and the boots that have stomped on her muddy skin Some come for isolation Some for the air Some for the banjo pickin’ hippie oasis just down there But they all come, every single one, looking He says between slurpy sips of his local brew For the infinite escape


With a nod he moves on through Leaves me with my quiet truth I ain’t gonna settle Not even if this wandering soul makes me lose you Grace Hatton Grace Hatton is a British kid who’s lived on two continents and traveled to four. Hatton double majored in Creative Writing and Studio Art at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. She enjoys sketching quiet people and writing about love, loss and home.


On Vacation? It is day three of my visit with Ma and Daddy, a Sunday. Day three means that family news has been shared and hashed over long ago and there is nothing new to say. Now each parent is jealously demanding individual time with me to vent about the other’s shortcomings. No matter who I am with, the other is put out. It is lethal ping pong. I do my best to end each game in a tie. Sometimes it works. Aware the visit is almost over, I am eager to do chores for my parents. My heart hurts when I see bits of food stuck on the counter and stovetop, and thick dust on beloved photos and knickknacks. I realize I always use the guest bathroom now because the one used by my parents is cluttered, and has a patina of grunge. This is so unlike them, so far from the standards of the home of my youth that sometimes, without thinking, I plunge in armed with rubber gloves, toilet brush, and cleanser. I try to set things right, or at least the way I think they should be. Sometimes I remember to ask first, to gently offer help. Either way, I manage to offend. It makes my eyes sting with tears to learn the little things they want me to do. My mother showers at night to save time in the morning. She awakens early every day because she needs to allow at least two hours for getting dressed and grooming herself. Dressing apraxia, they told us, a result of one of the strokes. She cannot recognize the features of clothes anymore so sleeves, buttons, and zippers are a daily mystery and frustration. Putting on underwear is especially difficult. Even putting a dress on a hanger the right way eludes her. My father has to check her out every time they leave the house to make sure nothing is inside out or cock-eyed. He is very matter-offact about it, but she is still humiliated. I have purchased pull-on pants, roomy T-shirts, shoes with Velcro fastenings and sports bras for her, a means


to simplify her life. She gratefully hates it all. This morning my guess is she will want me to sort out the tumble of clothes in her closet. Her request, however, surprises me. She wants me to straighten one of her bureau drawers. Ma hovers nearby, watching as I untangle her jewelry. Daddy’s requests are more intimate. He has had several skin cancers removed. He barks orders over his shoulder as I check his back for any suspicious moles which may have appeared since the last visit. He stares stoically out the window while I bend over trying to trim his yellowed toenails. Both parents offer to help me do my jobs. They would so much rather do it themselves. I would so much rather do something large and heroic for them. *** Daddy asks if I would like to go grocery shopping with him. My dad hates crowds, so our 7:50 a.m. departure ensures we have the road, the store, the world to ourselves. On our way out to my father’s yacht-like Buick, he startles me by tossing the keys at me. “Ow!” There is a bundle of them and they crash into my ribs. “Caught you napping, didn’t I?” my dad chortles, delighted with himself. “I gather you want me to drive?” I wish he would just ask. “That’s the idea. You always were a smart girl.” I realize brevity and sarcasm are my dad’s defenses. I wish knowing this would keep me from being angry. Still, I am relieved to drive. My father has had, I learned from my mother, several close calls and a fairly serious fender bender recently. He chooses not to mention this to me. I have rehearsed the, “Maybe you should think about giving up the car” conversations in my head but, so far, have lacked the courage to try it out loud. I know, if he no longer drives, they will need to


move to assisted living or some other arrangement since my mother can no longer drive. I have talked to my father about moving. He single-handedly absorbs the extra care required by every new health crisis in my mother’s life, and I can see the toll it takes on him. Nevertheless, he has a ready supply of reasons why moving is not necessary or even possible. He delivers his well-rehearsed rationale in a tone that suggests only a fool would disagree. When I press my points, he lashes out. Hot tears spring to my eyes, partly from frustration, but mostly because the precariousness of my parents' position scares me and his stubborn pride makes me angry. Ever his little girl, I do not dare reply. In the car, we remind each other to buckle up. As we drive, both his right foot and mine are active as we navigate the three-minute trip to the grocery store. His “braking” is a beat behind mine and much more of a stomp than I think is needed, even in pantomime. I grit my teeth and try to convince myself that two feet are better than one. Except for a few verbal skirmishes, we arrive unscathed. We step on the mat at the entrance to Publix, but the automatic door does not open. “Are you sure they’re open this early?” I peep, hoping not to unleash some sharp retort. “They’re just late; the new kid isn’t as sharp as the last one.” I notice our reflections in the glass doors. People always remark on my resemblance to my mother. I am much smaller than my father, but I am struck by how our silhouettes are just the same. Today we both wear sandals and shorts that show our thick, strong legs. My reverie is short lived; someone appears and unlocks the door, which quickly whooshes open.


“Morning Dr. Norwood.” “Afternoon, Eddie.” “No way, it’s exactly 8:00,” Eddie protests. “Not by my watch it isn’t,” my Dad counters, none too friendly. A flush creeps up my neck and makes its way to my face. He means it as a joke, but I cringe at how curmudgeonly my father sounds. “Have to get up pretty early to stay ahead of you, Dr.Norwood!” It turns out Eddie’s remark is just what the doctor ordered. Daddy grins at the “kid” (who is 45 years old if he is a day), and we get a cart and start down the first aisle. I ask what is on the shopping list and my father assures me, “Get anything, Sugar, just glad to have you along.” He criticizes every choice I make. “You’re not gonna buy that health food junk, are you?” “Guess not,” I mutter. “Well, of course, if you like that stuff.” “It’s okay, Daddy. What do you guys usually get?” I turn my head so he cannot see my irritation but, of course, my voice gives me away. “Oh, we’re fine. Get whatever you want. You’re the one on vacation.” Vacation? He thinks I’m on vacation? I wish I didn’t, but I feel a sudden urge to slap my handsome, soon-to-be-83-year-old father. I sigh and realize we


Safari Orchid

photo - Lyndia Stauffer


each need our respective versions of what these visits are about in order to endure them. And just as suddenly, I also know our crabby words are our idiosyncratic love song. *** We are home with the groceries by 8:45 a.m. My mother must have gotten up at 6:30 because she is dressed and has her matching purse at the ready when we traipse in laden with bulky plastic bags. Going to church on Sunday is the highlight of her week. Every Saturday she goes to the beauty parlor in preparation. The expense of her weekly manicure and hair styling irritates my father. It is the same every Saturday. My mother laboriously prepares for her trip to the salon and has to remind my father it is time for him to take her. He sighs melodramatically and heaves himself up from the recliner in which he has been reading, he claims, but sleeping in truth. “I suppose your nails have to be done, too. We are on a fixed income and you spend $50 a week on your nails!” “That’s for my nails and hair, remember. And don’t forget the tip money.” “Oh right, we have to tip them, too!” He goes off muttering. “There’s no reason to talk that way. It is my one pleasure during the week and I don’t see why I shouldn’t have my nails done. You never hesitate to get things you want. . .” and the bickering escalates. I totally understand both points of view. The end is always the same. My mother steadfastly holds out her open purse and my father dutifully drops in three twenty dollar bills and takes her to her appointment. Then, when he picks her up, he tells her how beautiful she looks and how proud he is of her.


“What time do you want to be at church, Ma?” My guess is she and I will be heading to the 9:30 service at Palm Beach Episcopal. I glance at my watch and figure if I hurry, I should be able to shower and change and make it. “Ten thirty sharp, dear.” “Ten thirty? Don’t you want to go to the 9:30 service?” “Oh no, Sweetie, you’re on vacation. I want you to rest up while you’re here. The 11:00 service will be fine. You just enjoy yourself.” I chew on that while I put the groceries away in all the wrong places. At least they both agree on something: I am on vacation. *** As we leave the condo, I encourage my mother to bring her shawl. “Are you out of your mind?” she snaps. My eyebrows shoot up. The shawl in question is one I made for my grandmother a decade or so ago. My mother religiously reminds me of how comforting it was to Nana and adds, “Isn’t it lovely that I get to enjoy it, too?” Today, however, she continues, “Your father bought this dress for me at Lord and Taylor’s in Palm Beach and I am certainly not covering it up with that!” Thus it went from treasured shawl to wretched rag in one breath. Still, from the standpoint of style, I have to agree with her. Trouble is, since the heart attack, she has been on blood thinners and is convinced the world has become colder just to spite her. I offer a silent prayer for a warm sanctuary this morning. Ma and I arrive at the church at 10:25, slip into a convenient Handicapped Worshippers slot, and make the short, slow walk to the narthex. Not until my mother precedes me do I notice her crop of thick, white hair is askew. She


forgets to brush the back since the stroke. The hair on the back of her head is mashed flat and there is an irregular part which extends down well past the crown of her head. It would be so simple to fix, but it would make her cry. She doesn’t seem to mind rising early or the extraordinary effort to don clothes properly, just don’t comb her hair for her. I restrain myself. Otherwise, she looks fabulous and I tell her so. Okay, so her decidedly lopsided shoulders (a legacy of childhood scoliosis) make her silk turquoise dress slide starboard exposing a bra strap that is, mercifully, clean. And yes, there is a stray make-up smudge on her earring, but the jewelry, shoes and purse match and compliment the outfit tastefully. The make-up is good, and the nails are perfectly, stunningly ceramic. Her color choice this week is “LavenDare.” The first church service is just ending and the early birds’ bowed heads snap up at the first notes of the organ postlude. Friendly chatter erupts as the doors across the back of the sanctuary slowly open. “Quick!” My mother’s hand tightens vigorously on my upper arm. “Let’s let ‘em clear out first, Ma.” “Oh no, dear, we have to get a good seat.” Chances of getting any seat we want look pretty good to me but my mother leads a surprisingly spirited pace across the entryway to the other side of the sanctuary. Salmon-like, we buck the current of exiting worshippers. I am in tow and I feel four years old. My mother makes her way down the side aisle, touching and greeting people she thinks she knows, but sometimes does not because of her macular-degenerated vision. She makes some accurate “hits” as we progress toward the front of the church. My stomach hurts as I notice


that the greetings from the “hits” and “misses” are similar, laced with pity and knowing looks at me over her sloping shoulder. I feel like sticking my tongue out at them. “Here we are, dear. Oh no, you go first.” “Okay.” I sigh audibly and head in. My mother seems to think we have scored a major coup by bagging this particular pew, but I have not figured out why. The last notes of the organ fade and the choir makes its way out of the loft. The singers are eager for a slurp of coffee in their few minutes of freedom until it's time to line up again for the next service. Now I get it. Of course this would be the pew my mother would want. Our early arrival guarantees the chance to see singers as they slip out the exit door next to us. Ma was a member of the choir for many years before her series of illnesses. It was not her voice, a reliable alto, which distinguished her long tenure in the choir. She was the unofficial choir mother--all choirs have one. If there was music to be catalogued and filed, robe measurements to be taken, or schedules to be devised, typed and distributed to 40+ people in a flash, Ma did it. Not only that, “What we really need,” she would say, “is a monthly newsletter.” She sustained one for decades (long before word processors and e-mail, of course). All she asked was copious gratitude, preferably very public and hug-laden. People gratefully complied, and Ma carried on with joy and flair. So the pew to which we hastened turns out to be a perch, a place from which Ma can be spotted with her thick crown of hair, carefully chosen outfit and accessories, and outstretched arms. A few choristers come by with hugs, air kisses, touches to her hands, arms, a shoulder. Some linger with a word or two, pictures of the latest baby, or an update on an ailing spouse. These transfusions of spirit uplift her and change me, too.


I know that on my next visit, I will rush to make sure we are on time to spawn our way up the right-hand aisle and snag our pew. My heart bursts with love for those people who take the time to genuinely greet my mother and forgives those who, like me, were impatient, patronizing or blind to her simple needs. *** Soon enough, I face an open suitcase. The only packing dilemma is how to cushion treasured items my mother has insisted I take home with me: yet another delicate teacup and saucer (originally gifts from her women friends over many years), a small cut-glass relish dish, an assortment of early family snapshots, and an enamel brooch I had given her when I was in high school. I wrap each piece in my clothes and hope for the best. When I zip the suitcase for the final time, my eyes brim and my throat is tight, I am trying to hold back tears which threaten to overwhelm me. A loud rapping on the bedroom door makes me jump. “You better hurry up in there!” My father sounds like a drill sergeant. “The taxi’ll be here any minute.” “Coming!” I open the bedroom door and we are suddenly face to face. We cannot bear it and quickly glance away. “Let me help you with that.” “I’ve got it; it rolls.” We compete awkwardly for the suitcase and manage to leave it near the front door. “Let me go say goodbye to Ma.” Daddy follows me as I make my way out to the balcony where my mother is in her usual chair.


“All good things must come to an end.” Her benediction is always the same. “I’ll miss you, Ma; take good care.” “Oh, you know your Dad will see to that.” With hugs and quavery voices we assure each other we won’t cry. I turn to my dad who gives me a bonecrushing hug and says surprisingly softly, “Thanks for everything, Sugar.” I am way too close to tears to answer. The taxi horn sounds and we pull apart. “Okay, Daddy, I guess this is it.” I make my way to the door, grasp the extended handle of my suitcase, turn to wave and know, with a sudden certainty, nothing will ever be the same again. I close the door behind me and am overwhelmed by the dignity and bravery of my parents. Seeing their courage has transformed my irritation. The edges of my heart are softened, chastened. I am grateful, grateful to them for letting me walk this uncharted, precarious path with them. I am proud, proud of how the quirks of their personalities continue to serve them. And lastly, I am hopeful, hopeful we will successfully negotiate the future and maybe I will have learned a thing or two to help me when my time comes. Meredith Norwood Meredith Norwood began life in Boston, spent most of her adult life in San Antonio and has lived in Asheville four years. She has been a psychologist, mediator, choral singer, photographer, wife, mother and, of course, a scribbler. Her works have appeared in small literary journals and various on-line publications.


Physics Lessons

(inspired by a Special Education meeting) force – energy used to push, shake, twist or stop The father, a pit bull squat and thick, barks orders. The mother, a heavy-lidded lizard, occasionally darts out her tongue. resistance -static friction which creates heat The daughter, armed only with a smirk, yawns, rolls her eyes, giggles in the face of charges leveled, imminent consequences. chaos – a system whose behavior appears unpredictable The mother changes colors in an instant stands, whirls, skitters from the room leaving a scattered trail in the dust of the father's words stanched only for a moment by the slam of the door. power – the rate at which energy is used to do work Not to be outdone, the father leaps up in pursuit flings the door wide, smashes the wall raises his voice to bridge the gap between him and his prey. equation - expresses physical laws and finds the value of unknown quantities Their blindness to her equals the degree to which she causes herself pain. Willing to push pain to the nth power, the daughter sighs, glances at her forearms, the scars still red and angry. Meredith Norwood


Smoky Blue Mountains


photo - Jim Neuner


Israel I did not answer “Hinani” Despite the faith of my father And neither did you; We wandered Parched and dry Lost and afraid Through a wilderness of ego. I did not answer “Hinani” Regardless of the prayer of my mother And neither did you; We ran Seeking the isolation and solace of the sea Only to be tossed by the storms of anger Swallowed by the surge And spat upon the shore. I do not answer “Hinani” Even as my soul calls out To the heat of the flaming bush And neither do you; We stand Stiff-necked, stubborn Spitting accusing inquisitions Stewing in silence When the answers do not come. We search Aware of our eternal divinity In constant struggle with our immediate blinded humanity Present, but wanting more. We strategize Terrified of losing our façasde of control We bargain, negotiate Making promises knowing they cannot be kept. We struggle We beat our fists against the Firm Guiding Everlasting Arm


We entangle our legs, arch our backs and scream with equal rage and passion We pull our souls close and rest our torn muscles and tear stained faces Only to grab hold and lash out again. We wrestle Continuously in intimate commune with the Divine And when we shout, cry, exclaim, and doubt God answers “Hinani, Israel. Hinani.” "Hinani": the Hebrew transliteration meaning “Here I am.”

Sabrina Presnell Rockoff Sabrina Presnell Rockoff is an Asheville native who was fortunate enough to be able to return to her beloved mountains two years ago after 17 years in bigger cities. She is an attorney with McGuire Wood & Bissette in downtown Asheville, but her most important roles are as mom to Addie (9) and Dagny (6) and wife to Isaac.


Rewind We should have met in the Chelsea Hotel You and Me In a darkened elevator High and damp With downcast eyes You would have spoken first Your talent the talk Mine the words in my head I would have followed you to an unmade bed In a poorly lit room Where we would have found A secret chord Two-part harmony or dissonance The shadow of my lean body As I dropped my blue trench coat Against the yellowed wall Would have been poetry in motion If I could have seen And you would have opened a window To let in the noise of the street And the smell of the city That you would have appreciated And I would have tolerated So I could hear your heart beating the rhythm Of the love we made In your unmade bed In the Chelsea Hotel Perhaps you would have written a song After I walked away Perhaps I would have written a poem After you disappeared Or perhaps a case of you


Would never have been enough and I would be waking up Exactly where I am now. Play it again. Sabrina Presnell Rockoff


Golden Fire on the Peak

photo - Jeffrey DeCristofaro


The Seam I no longer yearn to live on the edge Toes curled over the darkened precipice Staring down into uncertainty, obscurity, emptiness The thrill of the net-less tight rope walk Is not now what I seek Ancient teachings tell Of sanctified tailors given needles And threads with the often painful purpose Of mending the rifts between our human world And that of the Divine On those seams silently sewn Between humanity and divinity Where the holy and the human collide and intermingle Enforced with repentance and forgiveness, determination and grace Is where my soul longs to be Where the flesh and spirit mourn the tragedy of humanity most The call for healing is as much by me as to me The expectation greatest that I will take action with mercy and compassion And where the beauty of the seen and unseen is most praised Where between the threads may slip unnoticed to all but those immediately present A spirit from the other side With a message of courage or comfort or thanksgiving Where a thread may fray and send a shiver up the spine Or a tear to the eye Or an ache to the soul And in the act of mending, a miracle appears Where the transformation that is death Is nothing more than A duck beneath a whip stitch And the trade of one dominant form for the other No, it is not the fleeting excitement of the edge Of the potential drop into the unknown that stirs my soul But it is my eternal quest to find and remain cradled in The Seam Sabrina Presnell Rockoff


Technically Speaking "So, yer interested in technical writing," the old timer said, sidling down beside me at the darkened bar. It was 3 PM and the place was empty-- too early for the regular after-work crowd and too late for the martini-lunch gang. "How the hell could you tell?" I answered, too quickly. I was surprised all right, but I didn't want the old rummy to know. "Who else'd be here in the middle of a sunny afternoon," he retorted. It was a truth I didn’t wanted to face. But I had to admit, I’d failed to notice the sun, or the time, or even what day it was. The old guy had me pegged. I clapped him on the back, and he wobbled dangerously on the stool. Jeez, I said to myself, and I slapped him again, a little softer. "Waddya drinking, partner," I offered, hoping he’d skulk off to a corner, leaving me and my misery. "Whadever yer having, my young friend, whadever yer havin'," he rasped as the stool slowed down. "They usta call me Tex," the old geezer began. I hoped he would talk slowly so I could take notes. "Tex Riter," he added, with a wink. He took another swig of Old Thompson and wiped the trail of spit spilling from his toothless old mouth. He was ugly, no doubt about it. He winked again. I realized it was a nervous tick and put away my notebook. He'd probably been drunk longer than I'd been alive. I would have to rely on my razor-sharp memory to cull the gems from this bum's story. If only I could remember what day it was. . . Thursday? Tuesday? Christmas? In desperation I collared the barkeep, a dwarf named Tony who lived on the half-gallon shelf next to the gin. "Tony," I demanded, "what the hell day is it?" But Tony wasn't talking. He'd waited a long time to see me squirm, and he


just leaned back against the Gordon's with a grin. That's when I decided I’d been right to take him out of my will after all. "Yep, back in those days, tech writers were far and few between," the ancient one intoned. There was a quality in his voice that forestalled any notions I had that he was an imposter. Only a wrinkled, sere, decrepit, incontinent, foul-smelling old tech writer wearing a vomit-stained raincoat and nothing else could have been aware of facts such as these. He was the real thing. "But hell, sonny, there were dang fewer people back then, too," he mused. "Now, gimmie 'nother drink," he said, as his elbow slipped off the bar and he toppled to the saw-dust covered floor. He groggily crawled to a table in the empty saloon. I knew then that his barstool days were numbered. I think he was up to day number 8,678, but who's counting? Tex was not long for this world, and he knew it. "Sure wish I was back at 6,432 --that were a good one," he cackled, and fell over on his side. I will spare you the details of the ensuing scene, when he rolled over on his back and the raincoat fell open. Somehow I got Tex back installed at the table. He was going fast, his eyes rolling crazily as if his life was passing before them. "Tex," I pleaded, "not yet, not yet. I know you've got more to tell me." "Quiet, grasshopper," he shot back. "Now you made me lose my place and I've got to start all over again." How did he know my name was Grasshopper? Never before had the voice from a disgusting old sot sounded sweeter. It seemed hours before his autobiographical newsreel caught up to the present. His eyes stopped rolling, first the left and then the right. "Are you done?" I asked. He looked at me queerly, and I knew he was going to try to give me the slip and go back to October, 1954, the year the Giants beat the Indians in


4 straight. "Just a minute, old-timer. None of your shenanigans. Give me the poop, and now." And he did. Later --I don't know how much later, time had lost all meaning (in truth, I never cared much for time anyway), Tex resumed his last words. At least, I was beginning to hope they were his last words. "Ya know, sonny. There's a book. . . on. . . a shelf in the library. . . has everthin' ya need. . . ." He was fading. I held some water to his parched, twitching lips. "Stop twitching and drink this," I ordered. He just laughed and laughed. He laughed so hard his lips fell off and we spent the next 20 minutes looking for them. "Okay, old-timer. What about the book." "What book?" Was my opportunity slipping away? I had to know. I grabbed Tex by the lapels and started shaking him. "Hey, lay off the dermis," he squawked. "Grab the coat, you dimwit." I have to admit, his knowledge of anatomy impressed me. I grabbed his coat and started shaking, but he had slipped out of it, leaving an empty shell. Now he lay crumpled on the floor, naked as a jay bird and eight times as ugly. Was I too late? "The secret is in China, circa 1200 AD," he whispered into my kneecap. I was too lazy to bend down. "Invention of gunpowder. . . invention of guns. . . invention of bullets. . . invention of tech writing. . . ." He was nearly gone. I looked him in the eye, the left one, and waited. I knew he had one last thing to say to me. "C'mon, old man. You can do it. You can tell me." His mouth moved but no words came out. There was too much sawdust in it. I got Tony to come and clean it out in exchange for my collection of Matchbox


Cars. "I got one question," the fading communications giant gasped. "You positive it was 3 PM when you come into this dump?" With that he sagged, twitched, passed air, and was gone. The end of a legend. I knew there'd never be another Tex Riter. Okay, so maybe there'd be one other one. But not two. Pete Solet Pete Solet lives in Marshall, NC, with his wife Katherine and their, yep, three cats. In 2008 he retired from monitoring clinical research studies and now mows, harvests, cuts, splits, and stacks various growing things. His work has been published in the Asheville Poetry Review, Argestes, Quiddity, the Tipton Poetry Journal, Ars Medica, Fresh, and the Great Smokies Review.


New Day, New Job This was my day! The day trees in Riverside Park would burst into blossom just for me. Dressed in my brand-new suit heading off for my brand-new job, I kissed my brand-new wife and sallied forth that spring day to commandeer a subway, to conquer the City, a vested conquistador, crusader for success, and defender of a faith that intelligence and charm would guarantee a life straight as the train tracks coming out of the tunnel to the golden spike, a pinstriped pilgrim blessed by a creed that this was sure as scheduled stationed stops. But my straight-through express was shunted to a local line; detoured to a siding where I understood why the man who punched my ticket said, “Hey, bud, best make your trip your destination.� William Swarts William Swarts is the author of Strickland Plains and Other Poems (Black Buzzard Press, Austin, TX), a chapbook, "Treehouse of the Mind," and winner of the First Prize in the 2004 Litchfield Review Poetry Contest. His poetry has been published in over 30 literary reviews and journals. An English Lit major at Brown, he received his law degree from Penn, then practiced law in New York City and Paris. He studied with Bollingen Prize winner David Ignatow at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA Poetry Center in NYC. He lives in western North Carolina.


Mother-in-law Tongue

photo - Barbara E. Mueller


For Georgia I’m missing my copy of “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rilke. With every other lost book it is enough, “bastante.” But sans that slim volume, my library’s in a fallen state. Easy to replace, but just now, before being crossed off my to-do list to make my library whole, I feel the loss as though one of our cats ran off and was never seen again, which happened recently. Moving, the manse was empty and silent, the full truck rolled away. Two cats came out of hiding - but the third, Georgia, didn’t come as I clacked their dinner plates together. I walked and I called and I clacked five days while my house was empty and silent. Be well, Georgia, wherever you are. Come, lost leaves, to this new home for my old heart. Rainer Marie, gentle and patient and wise and kind with his importunate correspondent – metaphysically sublime, the miglior fabbro lowered the veil where guy-ropes hold up the angels of his art. ‘Beauty is but terror that disdains to destroy us’ he said, trusting unfamiliar mercies, and walked along space’s border with destruction – while we imagine that we ourselves are up there. He calls from the deep, offering us witness to the voice of grace, without a tether other than cosmic winds that hold us while unknown spirits of the night batter us. Chris Taylor Chris Taylor, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, USA, lives and works in Weaverville, NC.


For Those Who Hold My Heart For those who hold my heart, for those whose bodies wapp them upside their souls, whose selfalogues are intranquil, who will eat three circles of sorrow today, for those whom misfortune has saddled for a ride, for whom every item on the docket is an accusation, whose faces have gotten lost in shadow’s valley, Let us pray that they may be succored according to their needs. Chris Taylor


Louisville Paddlewheel

photo - Virginia Land Himmelheber


No Two Turns No two turns are the same. Jeans, black sock, shirt, shorts, White sock, jeans, black sock, hand towel, Shirt, t-shirt, boxers, jeans, A random clothing generator A textile-ticular bingo ball mixer, A two dial, four button, Native American Lemon-sock, cherry-shorts, lemon-sock Sensor sniffing for moisture until the fog lifts and they all fall down. Textile ball mixing bingo-ticular Hot time in the old Kenmore tonight When they get to the top of the drum then I see you again. Do you, don’t you, want me to lose you, I’m falling down wet but don’t let me shrink you Helt skelt terin my ment base, ter helt my base inter skelt and I see again you. Round goes she again see, I see again you! Moisture must decrease; heat must increase Running shoe laces tied to be worthy Down and down (up) I go if every inch I go like a rail road track to Gary, Indiana my shirt goes Clothing constellations, billions and dittos of galaxies Boundlessly exspandexing You may be a turtleneck but you ain’t no dancer Row, row, rowtating, round with railroad sound they go until sensors in the same room dry and it dies (with low bows to Lennon and McCartney) Chris Taylor


Oh, That I Could March You Up a Hill Oh, that I could march you up a hill in decorative fetters, urging you with leaden steps and feathered insistence to move in front of me, until you reached the top, where you could ascend no higher, and then, with a final ba-boom, catapult you off the cliff of your stability, equilibrium and ground. I’d watch with love, hope and belief as you fell, fell, fell into the pillows of my chest, your cheek, your hair, your relief, and laughter. Chris Taylor

Spring The rain barrel is full Like a soul that has traveled far. Ebony soil is tickled by peat moss That will visit roots, and with yogic breath Blow the unrepentant moisture from their toes. Startled seeds look around like women at a tomb. Iris try to wake the rose bush, "Show me the queen’s cheek blush!" White buds, like kittens, rest safe in Mary’s branches. Jejune dervish leaves come for evening lessons And I turn my head toward home Without one dry twig of a thought to snap. Chris Taylor


Musings on a Screened Porch

mixed media - Denise Parks


Coffee Bubbles

photo - Jacquelyn Schechter


Trespasser on the Tracks Walking Trespasser on the tracks walking, Right mind forsaken, Sounds he makes resemble talking. Meds should be taken. What are druggists and doctors for? I ask you. (Tighten a loose screw.) He steps through the train door. This car has a vocation, To ferry gods home Sans consternation. (Where’s this man’s shalom?) You who seek Jerusalem’s peace See the man Before you stands. Someone calls the police. There, underneath the Goethals Bridge He lives with a man. The ones who scare him are the kids. He’s no Solomon. On and on and on he will search For something Like the odd thing. That the rich find in church. Chris Taylor


Judy Freeman: Holocaust Survivor I-Prologue Five times death came for me, Five times my angels turned it away, Five times death slipped around behind me, slithering up my back, wrapping its cold, gnarled fingers around my chest, daring me to breath. Five times my angel rescuers loosened its grip and spirited me away. What did I know of life, much less death? Until deportation II- First Encounter The Finger of Death beckoned at AuschwitzDr. Mengele. Point to the leftthe crematorium, point to the rightlife in Hell. My mother and sister to the left as ordered by the man playing God I - to the right NO, NO I should go with my mother and 12 year old sister. Suddenly My first angel, garbed in prisoner stripes, gave me a forceful push to the right. Why was he so angry? What did I do? What did I know of life much less death? Until Auschwitz- Birkenau- Lager C III-Numbers Numbers on our arms. Numbers to keep track of us. Numbers to order our days and nights.


Numbers to rule the smallest details of our lives. 32 buildings, 1000- 15 and 16 year old girls in one place, Shelves stacked 3 high to the ceiling, 10 bodies per shelf. Sleep impossible, 4:00 a.m. roll call, 5:00 a.m. standing as still as death, 5 girls per row 60 minutes by 60 minutes by 60 minutes ad infinitum in line Day in, day out Stand Stand Drop What did I know of life, much less death ? Until Selection IV- Second Encounter Smokestacks churning out clouds of The newly arrived, The old and worn out, The young and useless, The vacant ones with the hollow stares, The ones in the wrong place at the wrong time Me. A Selection 2000 at a time, Undress, Wait huddled together on the cold gray benches, 1000 herded to the showers. My turn next. My Second Angel, The Air Raid Siren. Saved for another day. Still what did I know of life Much less death? Until Guben.


V- Reprieve From Poland to Germany Another cattle car ride At last-Guben-Factory work- INDOORSsoldering and staying out of the cold. My Third RescuersTwo angels from my hometown to protect me, One a warehouse worker slipped me a coat The other, a kitchen worker, smuggled me extra food. Reprieves are just that; a temporary break, The worst to come, the Death March. Two weeks on the road to Bergen-Belsen Learning about life and death Until VI- The End Life-barely. Death-almost. Typhus wanted me; stalked me; lured me with its siren song My Fourth RescueMy hometown angels pushed, shoved, hounded death to leave, Made me live To see Liberation Day, April 15, 1945 To survive, to tell the story of the Six Million To tell about life and death. Epilogue-The Final Angel Books-My Fifth Angel Death craved my physical body Retelling remembered books nourished my spiritual body


Through them, what did I know of life, much less death? EVERYTHING. This poem was inspired by a writing class at OLLI Asheville. Instructor Sarah Larson took the class to view the art exhibit of Holocaust Survivors at the Asheville Museum. Judy Freeman’s portrait was one of the paintings on display that captured the author's attention, and she obtained information about her life from several websites and incorporated that information into this poem. Shay Thames Shay Thames lived in Florence, SC for 62 years, where she was in education for 34 years. In 2011 she and her husband moved to Asheville to be near their sons and granddaughters, and life has indeed been grand thanks to family, OLLI, Asheville’s cultural offerings, and the mountains.


Echoes of Laughter

photo - Denise Parks


My Side of the Story The day before I’d go see Ma Maw in the nursing home, I’d always get the most gosh-awful pain in my gut. I ain’t never been in a fight, but I knowed it felt just like a sucker punch. My brother -J. J.- had described it to me enough times for me to recognize the feelin’; that sharp blow to the stomach when you ain’t looking; a throbbin’ strong enough to take your breath away. Anyways, that would come on me the day before I’d go visit my sweet Ma Maw and there was many a time that I was tempted not to go. . . but I did. . . unlike some folks I know. Now it’s not that I didn’t love Ma Maw or want to go see her. I just didn’t want to see her there at The Golden Years Nursing Home. Let me tell you, there weren’t nothin’ golden about it. Thinkin’ about that place even now brings the pain back. My Ma Maw was somethin’ else. Me and Ma Maw, man, we was close. Everything I know come from her. . . how to cook, clean, sew, how to treat my fellow man as the Good Book says. . . she’s the one who taken me to church when my mama and daddy were too drunk or hung over to bother with me. Her and me, we used to have so much fun together. . . goin’ to the VFW for Friday Night Bingo and eatin’ at Cap’n D’s on Saturdays. I’m tellin’ you, I loved that ole’ biddy. And funny, Lord, she could be funny. She’d get to laughin’ and sound just like a hen cluckin’ and cacklin’ in the farm yard. But when my Aint Sarey Beth put her in the home, Ma Maw just started to dry up as tough and hollow as a gourd. . . . There weren’t no more laughter leakin’ out of her. Poor ole’ thing. But, it weren’t just the change in Ma Maw that I dreaded. It was the home itself. I’m tellin’ you, that place give me the creeps. I’m pretty sure Aint Sarey Beth didn’t look for the best place for Ma Maw, just the cheapest. I hated every cotton-pickin’ thing about it. . . the cracked linoleum floors, the rump sprung chairs in the common room, and that God-awful mint green paint on the walls. But the thing that knocked my socks off the very first time


I went to see her was the smell. Pew-wee! It was worser than the men’s room at Buster Logan’s gas station. I know Buster ain’t hit a lick at a snake as far as cleanin’ that piss hole, but you’d think a nursin’ home would be up on the best methods for cleanin’. Evidently, there’s too many old people wettin’ their diapers for the staff to keep up with changin’ ‘em. I’ll be honest with you, though. As bad as that place smelled, the worstest part was the people who lived there. Such moanin’ and cryin’ and yellin’ like you ain’t never heard. Scared the hell outa me the first few times I went. I thought some poor soul was bein’ beat up. Ma Maw said it was just the way of some of them folks in there and to pay them no never mind . . .but I tell you, I thought I was goin’ to come out of my skin when that caterwaulin’ started up. And the looks on their faces. Well, the curtains were open but the lights weren’t on, if you know what I mean. Sometimes, I thought I was in the land of the zombies. . . they’d shuffle down the hall soundin’ like a root hog gruntin’ and snortin’, and they’d look right through you. . . like you wasn’t even there. Ma Maw wasn’t like that at first, but over time I could see it sappin’ the life blood right out of her. Bein’ in there with all those crazy people will make you start to wonder what’s normal and what’s not and who’s normal and who’s not. Yeah, ain’t no doubt about it, I hated that place, and I especially hated how Ma Maw seemed to shrink a little bit each week when I visited. But I went ‘cause I wanted them nursin’ aides to know Ma Maw was loved and had somebody checking’on her and to be truthful, checkin’ on them, too. Aint Sarey Beth, that good-for-nothin’ lyin’ hussy, plunked her Mama down in that there home and saw her only twice the whole time she was there; the day she dropped her off and the day she come sashayin’ in there to see her on the coolin’ board. I get mad just thinkin’about it. Anyways, the staff there knew who I was and knew to call ME when Ma Maw needed somethin’ and that I was the one who really loved Ma Maw. It ain’t fittin’ what we do to old folks. If we have a old wore out dog or horse,


we put ‘em down and say it’s the humane thing to do. What about humans? That there word humane has the word human in it, right? Anyways, Ma Maw had started droolin’ and messin’ herself and it just about broke my heart. One of them nurses had put a old soft sock on her hand to keep her from rubbing the skin off her fingers and face ‘cause she’d started rubbing her cheek over and over in a circle-like motion. I’d ask Ma Maw, “How come you doin’ that?” and she’d say nothing but “Su-sie- Su-sie, Su-sie” in a rhythm with the strokin’. (Susie was the baby girl she had who died of diphtheria back in 1935- Ma Maw never got over losin’ that sweet girl. . . .) So, it come to me that I was goin’ to reunite Ma Maw and Susie. . . . . . . and I ain’t ashamed of what I done. She deserved dignity and for sure she weren’t gettin’ it there. So, you good folks in the jury, you do what you gotta do, just as I done what I had to do. Shay Thames


Apostasy We never tried to kill each other. That’s lie. Who says Satan is a cruel lover. Not I – Am I one to scream when he kisses my forehead before he leaves to start a war? The only screams I give him are in his ear in the Alabama heat. Even angels envy. They taught me Satan tempts, seduces, attempts to steal you away; Pray, they say. He say I am dolled up heresy and dressed in blasphemy yet He loves me anyway. I considered choking him in his sleep until he put his arm around me. Imagining all the people I would save, myself not included. He watched me ordering food wishing he could send me to his domain. Even with the fire licking my feet, he wouldn’t cause me pain. I didn’t ask to be written about To be logged into apocrypha Apocryphus Apokryphos Apokryptein All humans are mechanicks, a replaceable machine but He says loves me anyway Savannah Wade Savannah Wade is a creative writing student from UNC Asheville who hails from the North Carolina foothills. Due to growing up in the Appalachian mountains, she uses Southern Gothic and the grotesque in her works.


Dead Men Don’t Want Funerals No dead man wants a funeral Not unless they did things with breath in their body That rose the rot in their stomach and invited hell into their fingers, Like when Baby Mae grew up never feeling happiness between her thighs Or when Jim Bean found his father on a TV screen And found him in you and me. Ariel looked down at her chest at a ripe age thanks to him Seeing a wasteland instead of a canvas. Fynn laid in bed with sin denounced by his father’s kin. The boy never looked at winter the same again. After that late Thursday finding his Papa face down In what he wished was snow. Lola never went to the kitchen willingly Killing him every chance she got. Till she got caught. After the gin and tonics, vodka martinis, and scotch over ice. Delivered from a brand new gilded tray to men she never Could meet their eye. Never shy, too afraid to bat an eyelash. Dead men don’t need funerals Too many witnesses Just the perpetuated lie. Dead men want to be remembered So they never truly die. Savannah Wade


Lie Down Where My Bones Lie Let us get something straight, for you seem to have forgotten. I am not your ghost to have nor your skeleton to hang in the closet. Not something worth rotten, flowers on Sundays and prayed for on Christmas. Tears won’t summon me and grief won’t bring me back. You have to let go for this isn’t how a love story should go. Not lying next to me breathing for us both or me pining at midnight creaking floorboards to ward off that girl from my old job. Do you imagine me… This is not how a love story should go. You can’t keep me here and I can’t stop you from tracing my outline at three in the morning. Mirrors be covered, your dusty black tux discovered or I will never recover Mourn me. Don’t call my voicemail, Don’t inhale by graveyards, Don’t Don’t you agree? This isn’t how a love story should go because I can’t help you move on. I don’t want you to. I am not your ghost to have because you haunt me back. Savannah Wade


Appalachian Mountains

color pencil - Tristan Collins


Never Wrong The man who was never wrong lived alone in the great Belovezhskaya forest near a tributary of the mighty Bug River in a one-room cabin. A rickety cabin with rafters so rotten that mushrooms sprouted, with wood so brittle it looked likely to crumble to dust. All day long, oak, pine and beech trees cast shadows over his dwelling. On winter nights, shivering under layers of blankets and clothing, he’d listen to the faint cries of wolves. When the cold grew unbearable, he’d carry in two or three piglets and snuggle with them so he’d feel warmer. He didn’t bathe. People visited him reluctantly and only when necessary. Especially pregnant women from the surrounding villages, who stepped the narrow, pitted path through the forest to find out if they’d give birth to boys or girls. The man who was never wrong was about 5’11” in height. He wore a scruffy tan leather coat with fringes. His long, greasy-gray hair ended an inch or two below his neck and curled over his shoulders. He had thick, sensual lips and carried a crooked staff. Village elders said he’d been a fine dancer once, but that some disease struck him and made movement difficult. It explained why he rarely left his dwelling. Bears and wolves lurked at the edge of our village. They often carried off a stray calf or cow, occasionally even a child. The forest held a fearful influence in our minds, its trees older than memory. Some of them surely had been mature before men built homes or villages. When the women traversed its leafy paths, they carried pitchforks to stave off wild animals. The women’s eyes swept the ground for traces of wolf or wild boar and peered up into the hardwood trees to watch for bats. Fear flushed the women's faces, making them feel faint. Still, they flowed to his cottage, as if swept bodily into a river. The man who was never wrong waited for them. Face blackened and


saturated with dirt, he’d offer each of the women a tin of water. He didn’t ask what they wanted. He knew, so he’d look into their eyes, take their hands in his grimy paws, and focus his mind. Afterward, he’d whisper to each woman what he’d foreseen. And he’d take a worn ledger from his pocket, write the name of the woman, the date of the consultation and his prediction of the child’s sex. Shortly after Anna and I married, she became pregnant. She visited his forest home with another woman and returned with the news that we’d have a boy. I was overjoyed. Six months later Anna gave birth to a girl and didn’t I eat bitter weeds! I needed a son to help me run the farm when I’d grow old, to inherit it when I’d die. I didn’t even consider the possibility of failure from The man who was never wrong. Sure, he’d been challenged, but his ledger backed him up every time. I clenched my fists. My breath grew uneven, making my nostrils quiver. Damn the man, we’d paid him with a piglet. I wanted it back. I set out early the next day. If the morning was chilly I didn’t feel it. I saw beaver and ermine, but I didn’t slow down to catch and skin them. I didn’t stop to admire a large, white-tailed eagle that flashed by overhead. A purpose harder than flint drove me; I didn’t pause until I smelled the wood smoke and followed it to his door. As I approached, his lips opened in a semblance of a smile. I could see his rotten teeth. In the very front, one of his teeth was missing. “What can I do for you?” he asked. “Six months ago my wife came to see you. You told her she’d have a boy. You were wrong, she had a girl. You did not tell the truth rightly yet you took our piglet. I want it back. If you’ve eaten it, I want the cost of a new piglet in return for the lie.” “Lie? I do not lie. And I am never wrong. Here, let me show you” He took out the ledger and showed me clearly, my wife’s name, the date she’d come and


his prediction – a baby girl. I shook my head. I could read a little. There it was in black and white. Evidence I couldn’t refute. I apologized for the misunderstanding, thanked him for his patience, and went back home to tell my wife. In the end, everyone agreed his predictions were accurate. Why did I doubt him? Because I’d trusted Anna. Sheer foolishness, though she was a sensible woman and I’d never known her to make such a stupid mistake. I’d never had cause to regret marrying her, but if she couldn’t be relied on to recall a simple detail, perhaps she couldn’t be trusted to raise a child. When I came home Anna walked up and I confronted her with the truth. “How could you have been so wrong?” I barely stopped myself from shouting. “I saw it with my own eyes in the ledger he’d written. He predicted all along that it’d be a girl.” “No, I know what I heard and he told me nothing of the sort. Will you trust your wife or this gypsy of the forest?" “People say he’s never wrong. No one’s ever said that about you.” “How do you know he’s never wrong? What proof is there? The words in a notebook? Did it occur to you, maybe he told me one thing and wrote down something else? If his prediction’s right, no one complains. If he’s wrong, he’s covered his tracks. Look, he’s fooled everyone in the village, even you." I thought about it. Her explanation made as much sense as his. But it meant I had to trust the words of a woman, not a man. But then again he was a gypsy and gypsies are notorious liars. How could I learn the truth? Finally, it came to me. I went to Radzik – he’d been disappointed like me. Radzik was the wealthiest man in town. He owned thirty acres and a team of oxen and hired workers to plow his land. He also had rights to a large pasture for cattle that he sometimes let us use, especially if we flattered him.


“Radzik, you’re the cleverest man I know. I need your help in unmasking our gypsy neighbor’s fraud.” As I talked I felt certain my wife was right. “I understand. What do you want me to do?” he finally said. “Pretend you’re in pain. You’ve been to see doctors from as far away as Brest. They said you were healthy, but you don’t believe them. You still feel sick and want to know why. Ask the man who’s never wrong to evaluate your condition and see whether he gives you clean bill of health or not.” “A good plan,” Radzik said, “except for one thing. What if I really am sick? Perhaps I should be examined by a few reputable physicians to be sure I’m healthy." “You’re as healthy as any man in the village. But if you want, reassure yourself first. See some real doctors." Radzik smiled. “I’ll return in two weeks with an answer for you.” More than two weeks passed before I heard from Radzik. It was harvest season, so I was out in the fields nearly seventeen hours day after day. While I harvested, Anna cleaned out the stables, milked the cows and cared for our livestock. At the same time, she’d be caring for Emilia, our baby. When she finished she’d go back into our house, mend clothes and make dinner. Each night Emilia woke up crying three times. Three times each night I rose with my wife to keep her company during the feeding. Not that Anna needed me, but I liked to watch her. She’d open up her nightgown and give Emilia to suck, with a dreamy look of contentment. Anna seemed younger than ever in the candlelight, her hair a golden river, no longer parted or hidden under a scarf, and her skin glowed. As soon as Emilia burped, Anna put her back in her little crib. We’d look at the baby together and smile. Then I’d take Anna’s hand and we’d stumble to bed. Each day, while nodding off in the field, I’d find myself wondering why I’d been disappointed by the birth of a baby girl for even an instant.


Finally Radzik did me the honor of coming to my cabin. He’d been the mayor since I was a small boy and I’d always looked up to him as he passed through town in his black carriage. Even as a child, I knew I’d never have such a carriage. Radzik arrived after Anna had set a pot of vegetables on the open hearth. She’d set out our wooden dishes and spoons. I sat on a bench waiting to be served. Radzik sat across from me, and bragged about his health. He asked for a small beer, and even though it was too early to drink, I gave him one. He made a sour face as he pulled on it. He didn’t complain, he wanted to keep the conversation friendly. But then he added, “No ice, I presume.” “Where would I get ice? And even if I could, where would I store it?” “The same place I do, the Modikna caves.” “If I tried, your men would kill me.” “No doubt you’re right. I’m just pointing out that there are places where you can shelter it. And no one would blame you.” I didn’t bother to argue. I really was tired. So. . . “Are you in?” I asked. “Fully. I’ll tell him my symptoms; drop the names of famous doctors who’d seen me. Not that he’d know any of them. Then I’ll grumble because they didn’t find anything wrong.” I stifled a yawn, tried to turn it into a smile. “I’ll enjoy seeing his face after he tries to sell you medicine. Guaranteed to cure whatever ails you.” *** A few days later Radzik and I visited the man who was never wrong. He ignored me and fawned all over Radzik. “Please sit down your Excellency. Please have a cup of tea, your Excellency. Can I get you anything, your Excellency?”


Rocky's Eyes

photo - Lyndia Stauffer


As he handed Radzik a steaming cup of tea, he gestured with his head to a bucket and an empty can as if to say, “Water’s good enough for you.” The talk moved to Radzik’s pretend illness, a wily adversary that randomly attacked different parts of his body. The man who was never wrong felt sure he could help. “How can you help when the best doctors in the entire region couldn’t?” Radzik asked. “They couldn’t find the source of your pain because it hasn’t manifested itself to them, only to you. Its source lies deep within. Think of it this way. Imagine an invisible worm. It enters your body and swims through your blood, depositing an undetectable poison. This worm belongs to the spirit world; it’s not an actual worm. And a doctor trained only in medicine has no tools to fight it off.” “But you do,” I said, keeping my tone even. “Yes I can do this.” he answered confidently. Radzik paled, took deep breaths, face and body contorted in pain as he fell to knees. “Oh, oh, there it is again.” I bit back a laugh, but something in his voice made me pull up. Something in his voice, an overwhelming ache, worried me. I bent down and squeezed his shoulder. I stayed silent as The man who was never wrong mumbled a spell, his eyes half-closed. Minutes later, Radzik had regained his strength. “Am I cured?” he asked. The forest-gypsy’s manner shifted from sober to confident. “You will never be totally cured. The worm’s attached itself to your soul. If I removed it, it would kill you. But I can quiet the worm, make the pain go away." I’d thought Radzik’s attack was part of the charade but no, I could see it in his eyes, how afraid he was, how much he relied on the healing powers of the


man who was never wrong. The man who was never wrong turned to me. He gave me a disturbing look. It was as if he saw me as someone who couldn’t possibly challenge him and was not worth fighting. I felt a chill roll down my back as I imagined the future. Neither Anna nor I would visit him again. Neither would the few villagers who believed us. Then one day he’d be gone, along with all of Radzik’s wealth, spent to prevent that terrible pain from returning. And I foresaw the day Radzik would make his way into his yard, where there was a row of oak trees, and where he’d go one by one, as is our custom, embracing the trees and crying, saying goodbye to them because he knew he would not return. When autumn came the following year, the leaves in Radzik’s yard didn’t flutter to earth but cried like new-born infants. Steve Wechselblatt Steve Wechselblatt, born on Long Island, received a BA in English from Binghamton University before heading out to Iowa to study language and literature further. He retired after a moderately satisfying career in strategic communications and started writing fiction about a year and a half ago.


Bedtime I come to bed each night And resume relishing Poe or Melville Or the like Till the thieving pillow steals my mind Like opium, an addict’s Like the often stuck white whale Steals the harpoon tossed At it - sounding Into ever darkening depths Knowing well That Ahab has no choice But to follow Mark Yungbluth Mark Yungbluth is a graduate of John Carroll University and three time winner of the Carroll Quarterly best published author award for poetry. He later attended the University of Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo), and was a student of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Dennis. Mark taught English for 33 years in Western New York and is now a permanent resident of Asheville, NC


Descent Behind Peaks

photo - Jeffrey DeCristofaro


Profile for Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine

Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine #1  

A magazine of literature, photography and art.

Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine #1  

A magazine of literature, photography and art.

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