Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #4
The Mourning of Two
Nathan S Hipps
The Threatening Sky
The Sirens' Song
Celebrating at Home
Woman of Uncertain Age
Andrea Farber De Zubiria
From the Diaries of Emma Darwin: On the recombination of characteristics
What to do under the bed
Friday Night Recipe
Bedlamiteâ€™s First Date
I dreamed last night
On My 60th Birthday, I Dream of Malinche
non-fiction Richard LeBlond poetry Threa Almontaser
Brad G Garber
David Anthony Sam
Blue Dreaming in the Green River Gorge
J R Solonche
Two Portraits by Mathew Brady
Half a Sonnet for Our Marriage
Waitressing the Sunrise Shift
From Your Window, Final Summer
Intimacy, Part XVIII: A New Beginning
The Evolution of Man
Of the Light
Karen A Wolf
Fish and Bird
Ring of Smoke in the Trees
Lady in a Blue Dress
The C Train
Stream Visions 1
Stream Visions 8
D S West
images Brynda Bechtold
cover: Brynda Bechtold, Another Road (partial)
Editor's Note In the first issue, we said that we believed in organic growth, that this magazine should evolve on its own without anyone trying to force it into a niche. And we still believe that. We have become an eclectic publication, our only criterium quality. Owing to our roots, we still wish especially to showcase the work of seniors. But within the last two issues, we have noticed an interesting trend. We are including many works that delve into political and/or social commentary. (Two examples: from issue #3, Carol Clark's non-fiction piece "Children at the Border," and in this issue, Threa Almontaser's poem "American Muslim.") Such works follow in a great tradition in literature and art of being relevant to current events, and we welcome this development. We don't know where that trend may go, or even if it will continue; such is the nature of the organic. But we're very much enjoying the ride and hope you do as well.
Sugaring The tinny bang of hammer against metal parts the bark into beginnings that seep the bitter into a steeping fired by wood fallen from these same woods. If I could only tap the bark to unity and taste the syrup of earth rains sun, sugar seeping out its unmeant meaning from the slow flow of this season. But sap from the original tree has sugars written too thick to taste with truth. All flesh needs warming thrice by fire and sun and the thick turning of tree blood sweet. As hands stir the sap of these waking trees to an essence of late winter. David Anthony Sam David Anthony Sam lives in Culpeper, Virginia, with his wife Linda and has written poetry for over 40 years. The featured poet in the December, 2015 issue of The Hurricane Review, he has been published in Artemis Journal and elsewhere. He serves as president of Germanna Community College.
Whittling Emptiness Whittling on the cabin porch, he watches his familiar hands flick knifeblade back and forth, bits of wood dropping down to the planked porch to lie there in bright sweetness, woodsmell fresh from the cutting. A cord of wood chopped, a fire built, and one day's walleye filleted and dropped into sputtering hot grease. Then, having eaten, and the after-day drowsiness in him, he took up a piece of white oak, and began to carve memory. He watches his thick dry fingers come to wear the sweet wood juice, the white-yellow splinters. He knows these hands, their ancient calluses, special scars, the twitch of tendon and muscle, the bluegreen of veins. Still they are strangers. They work without his will until he finishes, stands, throws the small abstract of wood, his handsâ€™ sculpture, across juiceless untreed fields, scrapes up the splinters left behind and saves them for the fire. David Anthony Sam
Bundled Leaves Nest-narrow and treetop fragile My words like leaves Squirrel-bundled in a crook Tossed back and forth By wind and winter While a black wing wheels overhead Whispering hard consolation Quick and quickening Against bands of blue and white In a cold January sky Nested near silence My hushed rustlings are wrapped in faith Homeless save for winter When I draw my words close â€˜round In sheltering dim of twilit days Waiting out the beating wing The probing beak And I. . . I wait near silence In desperate stay through dark passage Huddled safe among my own In fragile forms Of seeming chance and circumstance The bundled leaves The words drawn close Steven Bucher Steven Bucher is a new poet living on a small farm in the Virginia Piedmont. He is an active member of the Poetry Society of Virginia. Steven's poetry has recently been published in Artemis Journal, California Quarterly, NoVA Bards, deLuge Journal, Calliope Magazine, and Blue Heron Review.
Another Snowfall Like the legendary Nuwa Mending the sky with five-colored pebbles More like Jingwei trying to Fill in the East See with twigs and stones The little crow hidden behind the thin lines Of my poetry cannot wait to fly out Ready to peck at every Dark spot on the ground Simply to make a perfectly white winter While I am trying to listen to the green noises Of spring far behind the west wind Yuan Changming
Fish and Bird Bird The height Is but a distance You can cover between heaven and hell Or beyond your own inner space Fish The depth you can swim to Is no more than another height You have achieved Within the coasts of the outer ocean Yuan Changming Yuan Changming grew up in rural China, began to learn English at 19, and published monographs on translation before moving to Canada. Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver and has poetry appearing in Best Canadian Poetry, Best New Poems Online, Threepenny Review and others.
Blue Dreaming in the Green River Gorge Everywhere on the side of the trail rest small stones flecked with mica, and down from the bank, sparkling underwater, specks glitter in the sand. Between the river and the leaning beings, boulders big as churches, I walk the trail. When the river disappears, her rushing still reaches my ear. The wind in the treetops sings harmony with her quickening, quickening over rocks. Three times I cross a stream and add to the trickles and rushes, my own new pour toward growth. I nod my reverence as I pass an audacious arising of Spring Beauties, and a fragile patch of creekside Hepatica. A Trillium pumps up tight, still closed, from the center of its tripartite show. Little Brown Jugs hiding beneath heart-shaped leaves, like wrapped gifts, tantalize. Carolina Vetch begins its toothy climb. A clan of slate-gray tree trunks marches up a storybook hill. Through their bare branches, the sky falls soft onto my head, like a cloth of soft blue dreaming. And all the dazzling afternoon, glistening flows the river, glistening flows the green Green River. Susa Silvermarie Susa Silvermarie, of Asheville, North Carolina, writes poetry and young adult fiction and bloggs at susasilvermarie.com. Her e-book, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimerâ€™s Unit, is available on all platforms.
Stream Visions 8
Drought There are more cedar waxwings this year the flies trapped and buzzing against the windows everything seeming to sink just a bit the skin of earth sloughing off like a disease with no guarantee of renewal just a battlefield of soreness while birds pepper the air before moving against a tidal swell of drought and I imagine myself an old Cajun woman boiling fish heads as a season changes the okra ripe for frying and catfish fat for winter wanting to store up a bowl as polar bears line the shoreline waiting for the haul-outs so much real estate having disappeared into the lawns of California and bottled shelves rice patties almond groves golf courses cooling towers hay fields and mountains stand naked under a relentless sun their aprons melting across the floor like bacon grease sealing the tiles and coating the roots of renewal as gases rise into the flyways warming the wings of lost migrations as they scatter across a shrinking blue orb searching for anything to fill the gut while the blueness grows along the edges and disappears in the center the Cajun woman throwing in stones and leather as the thinning steam starts to rise. Brad G Garber Brad G Garber is a writer and artist living in the Great Northwest. His work has appeared in Embodied Effigies, Clementine Poetry Journal, Sugar Mule, Barrow Street, and Rayâ€™s Road Review.
Family Values Tom and his grandson are rummaging through the dump. Made over fourteen hundred, last year, on returns Thadeus is six years old, playing with a rusted fan motor desert wind raising dust in the distance ravens sitting on the fill, waiting, coyotes slinking in the sagebrush sun. Seven people in town, and Tom knows them all by what they throw away, their lives mixed in with the garbage of hunters. Tom is a big man in dungarees, gloves, utility boots coated with rotten food, holding a plastic bottle creases of contentment stretched across his ruddy face. He smiles even when he doesnâ€™t want to. Interesting what folks throw away Thad throws a handful of junk at his grandpa giggles when grandpa throws it back skitters up the fill, chasing ravens into the sky. Brad G Garber
Friday Night Recipe In a large bowl combine the ingredients to make the meatballs kneading the mixture to a uniform dough-like consistency like dough does this to itself and enjoys kneading needing a tender touch then rub a few drops of cooking oil whether or not it may be cooking into the palms of your hands being careful to avoid the warts so the meat will not stick and form balls about two inches in diameter much less than that of a softball so that you end up with a sufficient number of balls of meat to devour then remove them into a holding pen and put some oil on some paper so that nothing sticks to nothing and run the inside of a shallow and emotionally unavailable dish to grease things up and place the meaty balls in a single layer and single file like little soldiers into their happy space before covering them with plastic and placing them into the refrigerator or ice house until you want to remove them to set them on the kitchen counter for a “selfie” before you make “the sauce” in a large wide deep happy skillet in which three or four tablespoons of oil have begun to swirl before exploding and toss in cumin chilies cloves anise ginger garlic onions seeds roots leaves until everything smells good and looks good stirring five or seven times with a blessed wooden spoon then add tomatoes which have been photographed before they lose their shape and become soup-like then dump in some curry powder tomato paste chicken juice and cook for five or twenty more minutes until you can gently lay all of the meatballs into the sauce pouring sauce over them like a lover before adding boiling water to completely bathe the meaty wonders and then cover the concoction with a glass lid and reduce the heat to medium mendacity simmering the balls for many minutes gently stirring to make sure they remain bathed in sauce and do not stick to the sides or bottom of their container and continue this love until the yogurt starts to separate a bit before serving over a hot and passionate wild bowl of steaming rice. Brad G Garber
Predatory Intentions My hand on your head like a tarantula while you sleep, hairy spider legs wiggling on your forehead but you donâ€™t wake; later in the night, my arm around your rib cage like a python, squeezing tighter, tighter, but still you sleep, unaware of my predatory intentions. Finally, I lay still as a lizard on a rock, eyes like stones, only my tongue flickering across my sharp teeth. Jan Ball Jan Ball taught ESL at DePaul University in Chicago. She has been published in Atlanta Review, Calyx, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Phoebe and elsewhere.
Always Telling â€œWhat is she to you?â€? He was asked, probed for her hair color, the size of her dress, how her face sits in the light or better, the darkness. Did she tremble? or hold you down, pinned and weak? Never tell. She has a way of finding me was all he said and it sounded loose and possible, perhaps even political. Where is that line, after all, between finding and seeking, desire and possession, victim and perpetrator? I have no answer, only the memory of Apollo, preserved in his desire, outstretched to Daphne, fleeing and also being transformed: small leaves from her hands, twisting her feet into roots, into staying, becoming captive, young, pitiful and powerful, green, lush and eternally woman. Always telling Valerie Westmark Valerie Westmark lives in Pensacola, Florida. She graduated college with a concentration in creative writing and her poetry has been in numerous publications. She enjoys chai tea lattes, fresh cut flowers, worn book pages, relationships and the white sand beaches of her hometown.
Of the Light Don't you know that the light is alive? He doesn't answer, but finds the pine tree glowing in the hue, needles dipped in softness. It's alive, I say, because it changes: every season, they all have their own name. Like this one, right here, it's October. I point at foliage, how everything green is lit, caressed by the clear, tender yellow, the full belly, the fading. It's not like Summer, bold, hazy, makes your hair frizz, the back of your throat thick with moisture. She blares loud and sinks spent, easy. The kind of light that pulls you from yourself, don't you know? He nods. He's catching what I mean now. And winter? he asks. What's his name? Ember, I say: holding on. Valerie Westmark
Lady in a Blue Dress
Wise Woman What spells you weave, Shaker of the senses, As you dance and chant The songs of memory And moments to follow. Birds are your chorus, The wind your rhythm, Snapping reeds percussion, And swans your brass. Alone, you are a vision, Bending with the trees, And frolicking with rabbits. As your veils dance And your eyes hack The blanket of night, What can you perceive? Potions for the blind? Language of wolves? Etiquette of serpents? Amulets to catch dreams? Forever a mystery to me, And more so to others, Who fear your wisdom, Who mock your talents, And who out of cowardice, Deny themselves a future Bold, bright and brilliant, Another wish I seek To be granted by you. Jeffrey DeCristofaro Jeffrey DeCristofaro is a Tennessee native, UNC-Asheville graduate and freelancing multi-artist currently residing in Asheville. He has done acting/crew work for local feature films, shorts, music videos and promos. He was recently published in the Blue Lotus Review.
Half a Sonnet for Our Marriage Now that itâ€™s finished, step back from the canvas. Study our handiwork, how we had planned it and how it came to be. Once, a sculptor standing before his masterpiece, battered with mallet the marble to dust. How come? An eyelash long crack on its cheek. Someday, show me which brushstroke made you tear us down. Armin Tolentino Armin Tolentino received his MFA at Rutgers University. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Bear Deluxe, Blue Earth Review, and New Millennium Writings. He was a 2014 Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient.
Inadequacies If only our table were, well, closer to table-size, we could fit a tray of white asparagus in hollandaise like your mother likes and still have room for a centerpiece and all your girlfriends’ gossip. But too often, the evening takes all I arrange on this small square of wood, and I can do nothing but cede my grip over that which I once thought was mine. The pond outside shrinks every day— I swear, when we bought this place, wasn’t it a lake? — and small mouth bass backstroke in it because there’s hardly room to even turn around. We’ve painted the living room four times already, but can’t find the color that will keep in the light when the days begin to shorten. Between now and whenever I can stop wanting more I hope there’s a quiet space for intercession: you and who I hoped you’d become and I and who you thought I could be holding hands in our séance of expectation wishing to earth the Ghost of Just Right. Armin Tolentino
Waitressing the Sunrise Shift Every Monday, those freakish delinquents ditch their classes and come to the diner, the two of them pale with sugar rushed eyes, always ordering the same damn thing: buttered toast and bottomless coffee. Then for hours they drink their refills, doodle on placemats, guzzle syrup and ask for marmalade they spoon without bread into their pierced mouths. The girl, a weed with limp blonde hair, carves words in her forearm I can't help reading; her flesh a diary of scabs. The years of musings scar her skin like love letters left in the bark of a tree. Last week I read from her elbow to wrist, I am the sorrowful mystery, and wondered what else was etched on her body. The boy that comes with her, a chubby face smeared with makeup and acne, makes clumsy moves to touch her, pretending to reach for napkins, hoping to graze the new words she slices each week, to feel the fresh droplets of blood on his fingers. But she stays alert and holds her arm tucked as she would a pet she protects from the cold. So maybe I should've called the school or the cops, but I never much worried seeing the gun bulge his waistband. With hands so pudgy, how could a kid so soft shoot anything more than cans or strays?
But today, when she comes at sunrise alone, I think he might have aimed at the only target slow enough for him to kill. I glance for an answer; four new words heal on her arm. this final dawnâ€” she covers up quickly and the cook yells at me. The coffee potâ€™s empty and the bacon is burning. Armin Tolentino
From Your Window, Final Summer You’re holding on to a life that’s slipping down the sharp slant of a body that’s failed you because summer brings your favorite weeks when polliwogs sprout within the backyard birdbath, nearly spilling past the marble lip, tails slicing S’s in the water’s still surface. From your window, you can’t see anything but brushstroke ripples. Still, you’re thrilled to know they’re back. This year you’re old enough to get that tadpoles are just toddler frogs, that their vanishing act isn’t a slaughter, but yet, you still resent how they’re taken from you, resent the peepers they become haunting nightfall with their onslaught of mating calls like the buzz of power lines we feel in our teeth. You believe there’s a god behind each of Earth’s wonders: God of Tadpoles, God of Peepers, God of Ivy, God of Sleet. Each pushing his own creation at the expense of all others, one phenomenon banishing the last. I never knew I’d have so little time to teach you better and now I can’t even say for sure you’re wrong. God of Leukocytes. God of Experimental Treatment. God of Wait and See. Next year, the frogs will be biblical in number, tumbling from branches and shaking leaves with autumn urgency. By then, you’ll know everything about transformation, loss, which god prevails. Tell me you were wrong. That it’s all a single God-driven cycle, that you’ll always come back as the humming in my ears. Armin Tolentino
The Sirens’ Song During a crossing of Cabot Strait from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, I found myself leaning against the ferry’s starboard rail, looking down about fifty feet to the mildly turbulent waters, a gray sky overhead. The sea looked deathly cold, but I must have heard the sirens’ song. The notion – without the desire – that I could throw myself overboard sent a shudder through body and soul. I considered how no one would ever know and could only presume I had cast myself adrift. Not many passengers venture outside on the ferry, and there were no windows in the adjacent bulkhead. Phase two of the event would not even begin until the crew went looking for the driver of the car that was making a bother on the vehicle deck as other cars departed. I have felt this shadow of an urge before, usually at cliff edges, which is why I am afraid of heights, uncertain whether the fear is of accidentally falling or of potential irrationality. Why should the thought even occur? Not jumping should be an elemental instinct, like not looking at the sun. Early the next morning, in a Port aux Basques hotel, I woke up in a state of dread from having even entertained the notion. I couldn’t calm myself until I remembered this happens to me at edgy heights, and was not some new gift of aging. In recent years I have thought about whether I would have the courage to stage an early exit if beset by a terminal and agonizing illness. It is a circumstance I regard as self-euthanasia rather than suicide. But so far, no motive has had standing at the edge of cliffs or ships – only notion, a thrilling concept from the mind’s nether region. How strange is the human capacity for suicide, how strange that evolution would allow such a thing. We all seem to have it, the dark cousin of our noble capacity for self-sacrifice. Maybe it is the cost of that capacity. Meditations on death have become more frequent as I age, prompted by that old man staring at me from the mirror. Cultured men of the Renaissance began preparing for death at age 60, summing up their life’s work, bringing closure where possible, and smoothing the edges of any contribution that might endure. I have joked
with friends that I am way behind, but I havenâ€™t begun to sum up, or close, or smooth. I am unfinished. I have plans. It is said the mariner dies when the sirensâ€™ song ends. For now, they must keep singing. Richard LeBlond Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. He has been writing about life experiences, travel to Europe and North Africa in the 1970s, and more recent adventures in eastern Canada and western U.S. His essays and photographs have appeared in numerous U.S. and international journals.
Stream Visions 1
I dreamed last night I paddled a kayak beneath a river of stars and tried to speak to the constellations in their native Greek, but my tongue got twisted within the withering silence of a dream when it’s pulled out of deep waters of sleep into this daylight where it thrashes around and tries to breathe. Help me, the dream says, but instead I take a knife and cut off its head, after which I gut it, casting aside the pink entrails before I scrape off the scales, which still glisten with rainbows of sun and sea. But I know the white flesh, when pan-fried with garlic in a splash of olive oil, will be more delicious and tangible than the words drifting through the sky of last night’s dream, that language of almost. Strange fish, after I splash you with a little lemon juice, after I carefully arrange you on a white China plate, I will devour you, leaving only your skinny bones to point toward the dream you once were and the meaning that once was. I suppose this is how we sleep and dream and fish. The water calls out to us. We cast our lines. We never quite know what to expect: A trout? A grandmother? That nightmare about drowning in the Elizabeth River? Our Savior told his disciples He would make them fishers of men, and sometimes when I dream I see whole schools of unsaved fish, hurtling over cataracts toward sharp rocks and shallow water. Sometimes I dream I’m flying down the river and there’s such exhilaration before the fall. 2 Last night I dreamed a man pushed his chair into me at the restaurant so I threw a bowl of soup at him. I think it was Minestrone. I missed hitting him and in repentance cleaned up the mess myself, scrubbing the white tiled floors until my hands bled. And then, too embarrassed to rejoin my wife and friends, I dove down a waterslide and ended up on some beach in the Yucatan where it was 1510 A.D. and Cortez was still in Cuba scrounging up reales for his Caribbean cruise. As I stood on the white beach at Vera Cruz, I thought about how the Baptist cross had failed me, how god was a dream some of us had
when we were children, but we all grew up and saw the sorry ass state of the world where many are enslaved like the Maya, and many are murdered, while billions of others watch reality TV shows in a rainbow of languages that all add up to the same thing: shiny drivel without meaning, but how the studio audience laughs, and how the duck dynasties accumulate their righteous homophobia, and how the world loves the fake breasts of cruel housewives. 3 Before I fell asleep last night, I read where Frost wrote a poem in high school called La Noche del Triste, which apparently showcased his talent for braiding formal design with New England vernacular, a little machine that sounded like a farmer speaking but hid metrical wonders beneath its hood. After finishing high school Frost went to the Dismal Swamp intent on killing himself, but was saved by duck hunters and in that way he became a poetic dynasty himself, a worthy alternative to reality, which was mostly in black and white back then, and every night was filled with sitcoms that were sweetly romantic and always gave us a happy ending. Frost gave us two paths diverging, an abandoned farmhouse, a woodpile in a wild forest, a boy swinging from supple birches, an earth full of life, beauty and birdsong, independent of us, even as we worship at its altar, supplicants before a beautiful and indifferent God. Jesse Millner Jesse Millner lives with his wife Lyn and dog Henry in Fort Myers, Florida, where he teaches writing courses at Florida Gulf Coast University. His work has appeared in The Prose Poem Project, Gravel, The Florida Review, Wraparound South, and The Best American Poetry 2013.
Our Habit In our dingy classroom the other day I saw Jesus’s face outlined a water stained ceiling tile. I didn’t tell my students that the savior looked down upon us as we read our first drafts of poems about car wrecks and Italy, the moon illuminating a sheer cliff in Colorado, white water rapids and sweet blackberries, the found buffalo nickel that still shone a little, even though it had been buried for decades. Too many of the poems were about tangible examples of loss: the engagement ring never given, the necklace retrieved from a mother’s suicide, the baby shoe of a dead sister, grandpa’s hammer, with which he once built sturdy tables, its head furry with rust, but we still heard the ghost echoes pounding. Jesus looks down upon all of us, as we sort through our losses, and realize sorrow is a habit of our bones, a way of making meaning from coins and rings, of seeing the dead in these things we hold in our hands, like offerings, like fetishes, like little gods we rub together with our fingers, hoping for just a little fire. Jesse Millner
On My 60th Birthday, I Dream of Malinche Here in my 60th year, I feel sorry for Montezuma, how the Spanish deceived him, the way they stole his kingdom with their gun powder and men on horseback whose armor glistened in the soft Mexican light. La Noche del Triste was not sad enough and the white men lived to fight another day, and the white city fell, and with time even the flowers lining the causeway died from neglect and the hubris those conquistadores had carried proudly from the barren plains outside Castille. Is it wrong to condemn them for not loving the flowers, for burning every native text, for torturing the priests into speaking languages of bloody sin? Let me in, Cortez said through Malincheâ€™s lips, and though the words sounded softer in her lilting voice their meanings shined with steel. Here in my 60th year, some nights I see Malinche in the back yard, her black hair shining like its own dark river and I want to speak to her in a way that might bring back a whole world that was lost so long ago when men worshipped hummingbirds and cut out captivesâ€™ hearts with black obsidian blades. Malincheâ€™s hair is black. The darkness beyond the areca palms is blacker still, like a psalm to the dead, to those who have perished in the gaining darkness that is history, quivering with its billions, voices crying out in languages of extinct birds that flew through silver skies of a past that was, so briefly, its own vivid present: vanished birds, singing in the night, soft wing machines fluttering through history like prayers. Jesse Millner
Woman of Uncertain Age It is so hard to tell if time just treats her well or if some work was done since she admits to none. Her figure is quite fit, though bosom sags a bit; her posture is upright, yet face looks slightly tight. Her nails are long and sleek, her clothing is trĂ¨s chic, but it has been a while since that hair was in style. I can but speculate about her true birthdate; if I should ask her past, that line would be my last. And efforts less direct yield much the same effect, for what she offers then shaves off a year or ten. Jane Blanchard Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her poetry has recently appeared in Artemis, Illyaâ€™s Honey, Lighten Up Online, Slant, and U.S.1 Worksheets.
The Disappeared Everything, however men may deem it assured and evident, proves . . . to be no less doubtful than are extravagant and absurd beliefs. ——Giordano Bruno, heretic and author of The Art of Memory
I Because I’ve seen magicians make a 737 disappear, an army tank, the Statue of Liberty, I believe in the magic of disappearance and having the tricks of the trade explained does nothing to dispel the magic of memory—everything destined to move out of range, lost like a set of keys and then found buried in a moment’s thought, recollection and surmise the same—as a pencil in a half filled glass of water appears to come apart at the center, yet one knows it whole and of a piece. So when I am offered lists of the disappeared I conjure whole lives, families together at dinner again, or dressed for church, a baptism perhaps, another marriage—but this is the art of deception, the trompe l’oeil of memory, Bruno’s defiance yielding to the fire, and a hopeful return merely a sleight of hand, a card trick to amaze one’s friends. II Because I have seen the graves of the disappeared, have walked over their sinking hillocks, have heard stories whispered as lights dim and flicker in late evening, windows shuttered, ears tuned to footfalls, metal jostled, muted and cautious movement through the dark, I have learned the magic, the art
of memory disappearedâ€” if one peered through a break in the shutters, stood with friends and relatives of those lost in a landscape of smoke and broken mirrors on a night with only a sliver of moon, one would see but a few shadows, small pieces of reflective tape on the backs of headgear, the red lens of a map light checking coordinates. And next morning there would be some few less no one would talk about or acknowledge in the public streets, another remembrance folded like heirloom linens and put away, waiting the return, the magic of memory and dreams: even the priest prays for the magic of salvation, a trick of the eye, a morning he can forget absolution. Dale Ritterbusch Dale Ritterbusch is the author of Lessons Learned and Far From the Temple of Heaven. He is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and twice served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy.
Sleepless Perturbation One sleeps less past middle age: thereâ€™s just this dozing off, then waking, long hours spent walking through the house, long hours spent reading reading matter that doesnâ€™t matter. It would seem it should be the reverse all work done, or most of it: some puttering in the garden, a few minor repairs, but most can be let go, left for another generation of gardeners, homeowners, missionaries. Now even the proselytizers donâ€™t walk up the steps, stand on the porch and ring to bring a benevolent word. Perhaps we are all past saving. But the nights are long and the hours grow like weeds. Remember the passion to stay awake when young, to resist a nap or bedtime? Now rest is desired and the desire is not strong enough, just another unanswered prayer. The trick it seems is to find other gods in the dark, to embrace the soft arms of night like an old lover, an arm curled around her waist until morning softly reaches in and gently turns out the light. Dale Ritterbusch
The Mourning of Two I was writhing the last time my brother and I were together. We were at our childhood house in Nagara, Japan. Our mother had just died, and my mind was unhealthy. I said unforgivable things, things that hurt me as much as they hurt him. "I want to die! I don't care what happens to me! I resent everyone who is alive! I hope death comes to everyone!" My brother slapped me that day. He slapped me roughly. I still check for his hand print on my face whenever I pass a mirror. "Shut up!" he whispered, his voice malicious with sorrow and with heartbreak. We haven't spoken to each other in 14 months. He might be a father now. He might be divorced. I don't know if my brother still loves me, or if I am a bad memory he reminds himself of when he craves self-pity. Maybe he pities me. I miss my mother too much to care or to consider his feelings. Sometimes I deserve to drop dead. After my brother slapped me I went psychotic. I laid on my back laughing wildly, my hands cuddling my ribs, my knees bending into my empty stomach. I remember thinking how liberating this was to finally show the depth of my suffering and grief without concern and without fear. My brother stood above me, his face contorted with contempt as he watched me break apart. At night when I am restless with stress, I can see him staring at me in the same frosty manner. The phone rang a week ago and I thought it was my brother. I answered it and a woman asked if I wanted to buy flowers for a loved one for Valentine's Day. "I have no one to send them to." I told her then put the phone down. If my brother called, I tell myself I would answer. Then I recite a script of apologies and become discouraged when it isn't enough to express the guilt and hatred between us. I also tell myself I still love him. I am uncertain about everything these days. I fell from the banister on our porch and split my skull open when I was six years old. My mother was at the grocery store, and when I started roaring at the sight of my blood, it was my brother who ran outside to collect my bleeding mind. He said I came close to dying that day. I don't remember much, but I remember smiling at the possibility of being mourned for after my brother told me this. He sat in the hospital
room with me, his entire body trembling. The doctors gave me some medicine to make me drowsy, but even through my weariness I could see his doleful face. I remember feeling his warm lips kissing my hands over and over until they were numb. He did not want me to be in pain without his love. After my brother left, I staggered outside. I was hollering for him, though I did not want to see him. Maybe I did not want to forget him. Maybe my grief made me desperate to scream my family's names. The sky was plum when I looked at it, and a vortex of leaves was spinning across the driveway. "Mama!" I cried out, thinking she had come back in the form of leaves. I chased after the twirling leaves, my hands reaching out in front of me. I chased them until I came to the dead end of the street, and until my neighbors asked me what I was doing. They still ask me what I'm doing whenever I go outside. No one trusts me in my bereavement, for I am unpredictable. My mother always told me I looked like a girl. I wore my hair long as a child, and still do. By the time I was in the 5th grade my hair was touching the back of my knees. Before I went to school, she would braid it and tell me I was a beautiful little girl. "I am fascinated that my son looks like my daughter." she used to say. "It is charming and mysterious. Has anyone ever told you that you look like a girl?" "Countless times." I told her. "Does it bother you?" "No." "Well in that case, you look like a girl, my son." We would both laugh. Eventually my mother started curling my hair before school. By high school I was wearing lipstick and mascara. No one knew what gender I was. I said I was neither. My restlessness has become worse over the past few months, so I have started taking over the counter medicines with drowsy side-effects to seek relief. It works at least two nights a week. The other five nights I spend singing the apologies I want to say to my brother, the apologies I should have said several months ago. When we were growing up my brother had a lot of friends. He would bring them back to our house and they'd stay up all night and talk. Sometimes they'd beat each other up, and our mother would scream until everyone held their ears, including me who was usually downstairs combing my hair in the basement. "Stop harming one another!" I'd hear my mother arguing. "I will kill you all!" My mother wasn't there to threaten to kill my brother when he put his hands on me and left a mark.
I get bored and walk up and down the stairs for two hours every night. In the past month I've lost fifteen pounds. It startles me to look in the mirror. I am not sure if it is in a good or a bad way. My reflection is no longer healthy. My hair now reaches the back of my heels, and my face is unnaturally thin. At least for a man it is. I am becoming my mother's daughter. If she was here, I'd ask her to paint my face like a geisha and call me Ms. My father died when I was two months old. He had heart disease and withered before I was big enough to climb on his torso and say daddy. My mother cried for 12 years straight. I remember hearing her sobs become monstrous at night. One night in the winter when I was twelve, I saw her wearing my father's black suit and kissing the sleeves of it as I was walking past her bedroom door. "Masa." she whispered a name. I knew it had to have been my father's name, and that was the first time I ever heard it. There was a photo album in my mother's top dresser drawer. She'd take it out frequently and look through it. Sometimes she'd laugh as she flipped through the album. Other times she'd hiss or become quiet as if she was facing an ugly memory she was defenseless against. I entered her bedroom once while she was looking through pictures, and she slammed the album shut immediately and growled for me to not come any closer. "Do not come in contact with gloomy memories." she said. "I do not want you to see how much you look like your father. It disturbs me, therefore I know it will upset you." Of course I obeyed, but deep inside of me I knew I would not stay faithful to my mother's wishes. It was two months before I sinned against my mother and took the photo album from her dresser drawer. I ran to the basement with it, and when I opened it, pictures began to fall out all over my legs. I scattered these pictures across the floor until I came across a familiar looking face. My father was holding me. His eyes were staring into the camera, and he looked very happy. His black eyes were shiny, as well as his trimmed black hair. His olive complexion seemed to glow, and his face was in the shape of a perfect heart. I studied the picture and realized we had the same sad looking mouth, and had the same sensitivity and shyness in our eyes. We shared the same long neck, and his body was tiny and svelte like mine.
There was a mirror which hung on the wall in the basement. I rushed to it and held the photo beside my face. The resemblance was haunting. I remember how sick I felt with longing and sorrow. I remember feeling helpless and defenseless, defenseless like my mother in her trauma. I moaned my father's name out loud. "I have your face. I have your everything. Why can't you hold me now and cheer me up? I am so sad I do not have memories with you." I laid across the floor with the picture of my father against my heart. I wonder if I would have writhed after my father died had I have known and loved him like my mother. The phone rang yesterday and I didn't answer it. Before I went to bed the message machine showed I had one voice mail. I hesitated to press the button and allow it to play. "We haven't communicated in months. I am curious if you miss me. Maybe you don't, but we should still talk anyway. I'll be at the Tokyo cafe in the morning, though I don't plan to leave until you show up. At least I don't want to leave until....I'll be waiting. Goodbye." I was standing when the message began. By the time my brother's voice ended, I was sitting on my ankles. The shadow of a tear dripping from my eye startled me until I tipped against the wall like a disturbed statue. Ukita liked combing my hair when I was a child. In the mornings when I would untie my braid, his hands would already be grabbing to pull my hair behind my shoulders and stroke it with a comb. "Kiyoshi Jien," he would say. "you don't say a word when I accidentally pull your hair. Do you hate your voice?" Ukita liked to whisper secrets in my hair. He whispered once that he lost his virginity to a Chinese girl. Another time he whispered he was unhappy and thought suicide was graceful. My mother was hard on Ukita when we were growing up. He was the oldest, so she considered him the man of the house. We were five years a part. Mother used to tell me Ukita hated me when I was born. She said he wept and said the love has run out of him. Our bond grew dangerously close over the years though. I cried whenever he left my room at night to go to his own. I wanted him to make me laugh again, or shove my shoulder and say, '"Come on, it's funny, laugh at me." I liked how he looked sad when the laughter was over and the joy of the moment began to die. My mother got angry at Ukita one day and smacked him. He was on his way to school, and the force of her hand was so powerful it made Ukita's backpack slip off his
shoulder, and made him teeter. He sat on the floor, his head bowed down as if he was ashamed our mother's hand had hurt him so bad and made him weak. I was peeking through the doorway. I saw it when she smacked him again and told him he was frivolous. "You are not funny!" she screamed. "Stop laughing at everything and take our lives serious! Your brother and I are all you have!" Mother must have heard Ukita's laughter in my bedroom. She did not know he was only laughing to distract his longing for her compassion. He was also laughing because there was no other way to disguise his sobs. I saw his tears every time. Ukita missed our father. There was a story Ukita used to tell me in those days. It was a story about a man and his son. "One day, the son got a nose bleed. The son had never seen a nose bleed before, so the father took his son's hand and used it to strike his own nose so that his nose would bleed too. The father did this to show that nose bleeds were normal. The two of them giggled as the blood dripped on their lips and stained their chins. When the son got another nose bleed, he was not afraid, and his father would always make sure to bleed with him." Ukita never said, but I believe this was a true story about my father and him. His nose bled every night when we were growing up. Mother would come into the bathroom and say, "Head up son, head up." He would keep trying to give her his hand, but she did not understand. When the bleeding would stop, and Ukita would sit on the edge of the bath tub in the dark, I would hear him whispering. "There is no one to bleed with me. No one else understands." Unlike me, Ukita looked just like my mother. He had her cold, raging eyes, and had the same sheen of malevolence in his pupils. He had an oval shaped face and small nose, and he had a plump, graceful mouth and high cheek bones. Ukita was beautiful. He was so beautiful I ached to look at him and know he would one day age and decay, and all his beauty would be forgotten. I kept my mother's clothes after she died. Her fragrance was stained on them, and I needed that scent, needed it always for a sense of her. It had been awhile since I looked at them. I could smell them through the closet door. Vanilla cherry, my mother spraying herself in the mornings, the mist glittering in the young, radiant sunlight.
I opened the closet. Death was inside her clothes. Her red kimono with cherry blossoms was gorgeous, and I wanted to wear it. I tied my hair in a bun as I sat in front of the mirror. Something was missing. I was pale and expressionless. I had no beauty products, so there was only one way. The blood dripped from my nose, into my palms. I dabbed my finger in it and painted my lips and cheeks. I made sure to close the closet door before I left. The smell of vanilla cherry followed me all the way to the Tokyo cafe. The cafe was in Nagara, my hometown. It was named the Tokyo cafe because the owner was from Tokyo and wanted to bring a sense of it to Nagarga. There were two men sitting on stools when I arrived. They were hunched over the counter drinking hot beverages. The steam that rose into their ghostly faces did not phase them. Everyone was tired and depending on caffeine. I wasn't sure what I was depending on. I had no courage when I walked in. I would have none when I left. A waitress approached me as I took a seat in the back of the cafe. "Coffee?" she asked. "Or something sweet?" She had short bangs and thin, shoulder length hair, and her eyes were dark green. "I am waiting for someone." I answered. "We have free coffee this morning until noon. I would be happy to bring you a cup." "Yes, okay." I watched as the waitress walked behind the counter and poured the coffee into a black mug. She returned to my table and set the mug in front of me. "You are very beautiful, ma'am." she said as she walked away again. I delayed the sip of coffee I was going to take and stared at her. She thought I was a woman. Maybe I was my mother. Ukita just walked through the door. "Is my brother here?" I heard him ask the green eyed waitress. The two of them looked through the cafe and agreed he wasn't here yet, as there was only me, a woman in a vibrant kimono, and two middle aged men sitting up front. Ukita dragged his feet to a table sitting in the middle of the cafe. There was a window beside of him, and the sun that was still rising made his cheekbones appear hollow as it brought to life his extraordinary features. I was stunned. My hands were quivering. My pulse was evil. I stood to leave, terrified, disheartened. I was dizzy with alarm, and my feet could not carry me. My coffee was suddenly dripping from the edge of the table. I did not realize my hands had knocked it down in their hurry to steady my horror.
Ukita moved his eyes in my direction. His eyes, oh, the sadness they carried, the stress. Yet still so devilish! Still so furious! I was frozen. There I was on the floor, wriggling in grief, and there was Ukita, his hand lifting to bruise my face, his face furrowing as if he could see the dread of the future, the bitterness. I did not want to look at my brother as I remembered that awful day our affection was cracked forever. Ah, how incomplete I was, standing there, off balance, my brother in front of me, his head now turning away to gaze out the window. He was looking for me. I'm right here, I wanted to say. My heart was afraid of its rapid beat. I stumbled through the cafe, just like I stumbled through the street when I thought my mother was the vortex of leaves, and before I could change my mind, I was facing him. He looked up at me. How pale he was up close. The plum circles beneath his eyes worried me. He seemed to be dying. We were both confused as we said nothing. The waitress cleaned the coffee maker in the back of the cafe. She smiled as she passed us. Somewhere plates rattled in a sink, and my voice was drowned out. Ukita narrowed his eyes. He saw my lips move. "Do you recognize this kimono?" I asked. He reached into his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes. He lit it as he focused his eyes on me, the expression in them severely stony. They might have been murderous. He studied the kimono, glanced up and down at it until there was a change in him. He held the burning cigarette away from his face as his eyes became bulbous with sensitivity. "No." he whispered. "Why are you doing this?" I knelt before him and laid my head against his knees as I quietly wept. He recoiled slightly. I had a feeling he knew who the person begging his forgiveness was. This was just not the way he pictured us meeting again. "Ukita Ken." I whispered his name. "I do miss you. I want you to know how I have suffered, and how I have mourned for your presence. I am ashamed to have disliked you once upon a time. Please forgive me. I did not mean what I said." I started sobbing as I felt my brother's hand press against the top of my head. There was that old comfort, that old joy that made voices worth hearing and made the mind temporarily safe. "Are you going to strike me again?" I asked. "Do whatever it takes. Just tell me you love me and still want me as your brother."
Silence. Motionlessness. The spicy scent of the cigarette burning, the same smell clinging to my hair and to his pants. I felt the soft brush of his sweater against my forehead as he slid from the chair to join me on my knees. "Kiyoshi Jien." his lips trembled as he wheezed my name. "Are you my sister now? What has happened?" He rubbed his fingers across my bun, then pushed them against his lips in astonishment. "Mother always said I looked like a girl, and always encouraged me to be feminine." I said. "I still want to make our mother happy, regardless if I cannot see her smile anymore." He let his hands explore my face as his eyes watered with tears. "So I will never meet my brother again." he said. "I have mercy for my sins, Kiyoshi Jien. I am unhealthy with guilt. And of course, I still love you." I took his cigarette and set it between his lips. He inhaled the smoke and blew it through his nose. "Do you still get nose bleeds?" I asked. "Twice a day." "Well you have someone to bleed with now." "I will never lay my hand on you. Please never leave my side again. The world is too terrifying without you." Ashlie Allen Ashlie Allen writes fiction and poetry. Her favorite book is The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. She loves Japanese and Native American culture.
Celebrating at Home A holiday’s here and secretly everyone’s eyes are lit up with what’s missing—maybe a grandparent no one’s named after. An aunt? An uncle? We keep it hid in the rim of each toast, lie-like, deep in our lips— by the time we reach ourselves and the end of the eggnog that adolescent lick of rebirth has gone underground. Serious talk has drifted to the kitchen, the dinner prayer playing dead as the date and time blur into everyone’s version of holiness. Has the family dog died? God knows that wasn’t on our list of what not to expect. Funny how holidays reach into a fire we look into all our lives, how they find shadows of what we never received burning the gifts we didn’t ask for—it’s the way our eyes keep finding the light and secrets keep coming alive. George Bishop George Bishop attended Rutgers University and now lives in Saint Cloud, Florida. His work has appeared in Carolina Quarterly and Lindenwood Review, with forthcoming work featured in Pirene’s Fountain. Bishop won the 2013 Peter Meinke Prize at YellowJacket Press for his chapbook Following Myself Home.
Control A dirty hat hides her blonde locks, baggy clothes her enticing body. Melon-size breasts, just like her grandmotherâ€™s, barely detectable. They were her wild cards, arranged in tight lacy blouses, presented to garner a raise, a promotion, reprieve from a traffic ticket, a night out on the town. Now every night is out on the town, worldly possessions slung over her shoulder in a plastic bag. Her name, Mary Etta, shared with her grandmother, once took center stage on her business cards, flowed in whispers from loversâ€™ lips, was called out, encouraging her to push her son into the world. She goes by Hank now. Sometimes trust peeks out like a curl from beneath her hat. She cozies up to a vet, knowing when a plane flies over, changing his world into a war zone, his punches will hurt less than being gang raped. Sheâ€™s in his unit, a member of the brotherhood, never to be left bleeding on the field, at least for this moment. Security comes in fits and starts like her sleep pattern. Bedding down near a well lighted building keeps the crazies at bay. And a planned step across the line of sanity provides solitude from those longing for sexual intimacy.
Nothing is for certain on the street, but she has control, something she will never relinquish to the four walls of a shelter. Karen Wolf Karen Wolf has an undergraduate degree in education from the University of Toledo and a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. She retired from a 30 year teaching career and is semi-retired from her own pet sitting company.
The C Train
American Muslim Smoke settles in your lungs like the unwanted children in your living room that scuff new walls and stain costly rugs. Your wife stands in the kitchen, quietly disapproving. It makes the house too tight. Leave. Get yourself a triple cheeseburger with bacon this time. Very American. Because thatâ€™s what you are now, right? Alone and lost, tripping over familiar ghosts across a dark field on the side of an abandoned road, light-headed from the shisha and the pork. Thinking that headlights look holy from afar. Slobbery prayers spray out of your sinful mouth like a punctured garden hose. Tell the sky youâ€™re sorry and then plow the dirt with broken nails until you find water and a few shells of a carcass to keep in your pocket for tomorrow. Threa Almontaser Threa Almontaser is an undergraduate studying English Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. Her works have appeared in Atlantis Magazine, The Wake Review, Phoenix Magazine and more.
For Rahila “Her memory will be a flower tucked into literature’s turban.”
A quiet home in Kabul holds a young girl waiting for her phone to shatter silence with the same swiftness of a fallen egg. This young girl watches the sunset turn her neighborhood into the color of concord grapes. The electricity is gone, the room cold and bare. Her eyelids painted a shimmery blue, face glowing green from the cellphone’s light. Waiting, waiting. Hello? In hushed tones on the other end of the line, Rahila recites love poems outside her father’s hut without her coat, bathed in tremors. Rahila’s static breath kisses the receiver with each word that rounds her mouth. “I am like a tulip in the desert. I die before I open, and the waves of desert breeze blow my petals away.” Rahila places as many calls as she can, reciting to the women of Mirman Baheer. Each of them complains to God in their own way about the state of their lives, risking life for poetry.
Rahila becomes their secret solace. Hearing her landai’s feels like sparks from clashed rocks---bonfires. The young girl in Kabul shivers with each syllable Rahila gifts to her, savoring it like the first bite from a ripe pomegranate. Rahila’s sister-in-law overhears and teases: “How many lovers do you have?” “Are you still listening?” Her brothers think boys, they assume lovers. Fearful shouts like a river dam breaking, fists break her body. They surround her in a livid windstorm. “My pains grow as my life dwindles, I will die with a heart full of hope.” Rahila’s poems are her flowers. Tonight, she surrounds herself with them, reading each one slowly, strolling through her written garden. Too soon, the bonfire of her body makes it all wilt. I like to think she was still writing as ash coated the pages of a landai about a lake in the middle of the desert. Threa Almontaser
Knickknacks It was at the coffee-urn table in the community center that Wade met Malcolm, two silver coffee urns, paper cups and condiments nearby. Wade had been walking from his singlewide at the far reaches of the mobile home park to the community center on a daily routine in quest of exercise, but he was also seeking conversation that might alleviate feelings of loneliness, for Wade was new in the community. The name of the mobile home park was Saturday Meadows, and in order to be a resident at least one member of the household had to be fifty-five years of age or older. In effect, Saturday Meadows catered to senior citizens, and as Wade was discovering many of those people had little to say, or, at the other end of the spectrum, too much to say about nothing. Thus, meaningful conversation was lacking. But Malcolm seemed different. For starters, he introduced himself by name while adding a touch of courtesy: “I don’t believe I’ve had the honor. Name’s Malcolm. Are you a recent arrival?” “Yes. Moved in a month ago. My name is Wade.” “Pleasure’s all mine, Wade.” And with this they shook hands. Naturally they started talking about the weather, which was “gorgeous,” according to Malcolm, Wade concurring. Malcolm attributed the “gorgeous” weather to “mid-October in southern Nevada, best time of the year.” Wade nodded, but then related that when he moved into his singlewide the week after Labor Day the weather, in terms of temperature, wasn’t “gorgeous.” Malcolm laughed, a hardy expression that showed off large teeth in a wide mouth, teeth gapped. Wade and Malcolm moved from the coffee-urn table to some folding chairs that had been set up near a dormant fireplace. After sipping their coffees, Malcolm said, “Time.” But that was all, utterance left hanging as if lost, or perhaps mysteriously important. Wade waited for more. “Time,” Malcolm finally resumed, “a subject I’ve been thinking about for the last three years.” “Only three years?” responded Wade.
Malcolm chuckled and said, “Well, maybe for more than three years, but for the past three years it’s been a major project of mine.” Again, Wade waited, for he was certain that there’d be more. Malcolm, it seemed, was introducing a topic that carried some weight. At six-two, Wade was rangy, but due to recent weight loss “rangy” had been whittled down to borderline skinny. Other physical lessening had taken place as well, such as hair loss, but when he was outside, balding wasn’t evident because he always wore a billed cap on the advice of a dermatologist who had removed a couple of suspicious spots from his forehead. Yet, as of late, it wasn’t just outside that he employed a hat, for he now wore the cap indoors as well to ward off enthusiastic airconditioning, the same as he almost always donned a long-sleeved shirt, outdoors to stop sunshine, indoors to prevent chilling. And then there were his eyes, which required bifocals. In sum, Wade was a sixty-six-year-old man contesting frailty. Malcolm looked to be the same age, mid-sixties, and his eyes, like Wade’s, were behind the lenses of glasses. Both men were clean-shaven. But beyond these similarities Malcolm’s physique and visage took a different route. In standing next to Malcolm, Wade had to look up to make eye contact, and where Wade was thin Malcolm was thick. Malcolm’s stature resembled a concrete block that began at the top of his buzz-cut gray hair and ended at his black-leather shoes. In contrast, Wade’s tender feet were encased in spongy sport shoes, and if Malcolm had skin cancer concerns, he was violating standard precepts: no hat, no long-sleeved shirt. Yet it looked like Malcolm ought to have had skin worries because he was extremely white to the extent that he looked blanched. A large albino was what first came to mind when Wade spotted Malcolm at the coffee-urn table, but rather than being repulsed Wade was drawn, for one of the thoughts he had entertained in moving from Los Angeles to the eastern Mojave Desert, which for Wade translated into a mobile home park on the outskirts of Las Vegas, was eccentricity. The desert—home of the loner, the recluse, the gambler, the prophet, the sage, the mystic, the nonconformist—a place where reptiles roamed. “Time,” Malcolm picked up, “never leaves us alone.”
After this pronouncement Wade watched Malcolm sip his coffee. Malcolm’s lips were white and inflated just like the rest of his body. But then Malcolm’s tongue made an appearance, a glistening pink appendage that collected residue milky coffee from Malcolm’s puffed lips. The tongue receded. “We are usually oblivious to time,” Malcolm said. “We spend our lives ignoring it, or trying to ignore it.” Wade nodded in response, a response that suggested understanding, or maybe even an acknowledgement of sagacity, for sagacity was somehow implied in the way Malcolm had weighted his words with a slow, deliberate delivery. Evidently a serious discussion was underway. In search of further information, Wade looked at Malcolm’s eyes and found that they were bulging significantly. Had this been the case before, moments before, at the coffee-urn table: bloated eyeballs? Wade didn’t think so, but perhaps he had missed this salient feature on his initial scanning slash evaluation. In any case, Malcolm’s blue eyes had Wade’s attention now, for they were protruding to such an extent that they looked like they were going to rub up against the lenses of Malcolm’s glasses, a disconcerting potentiality. Adding to this disquiet was the discovery of no eyelashes, which struck Wade as reptilian. And then there was Malcolm’s nose that looked to have been broken a half dozen times, a nose that was now inhaling air audibly. Was this going on before? Again, Wade couldn’t recall. Clarification was needed. Wade was tempted to ask Malcolm about these recent revelations, but then Wade’s thinking was further jarred when he noticed that there were no eyebrows, and above no-eyebrows there was Malcolm’s broad forehead, which was now wrinkled horizontally and thickly, something like a bulldog’s. Was it possibly that the topic of “time” had brought about these changes? “In a sense, it began when I put my mother’s house up for sale after her death,” Malcolm resumed. “Or more precisely, when the property entered escrow. You see, it was then that I had to decide what to get rid of and what not to get rid of.” Malcolm sipped his coffee, after which his pink tongue swept his lips. “This was up in Elko, Elko Nevada. Have you ever been there, Wade?”
“Elko? No.” “It’s pleasant enough during the summer, but in the winter there’s an all-toooften wind that carries a mixture of sleet and snow.” “I see.” “Northern Nevada and southern Nevada are different in terms of weather.” “Yes, I imagine so.” “That’s why I moved down here.” Wade nodded and removed his cap and placed it on the seat of the chair to his right. Malcolm was on Wade’s left. “So anyway, there I was, in my mother’s house, where I had been living for the past two years. Before that I was in Washington, the state of Washington, near Seattle, but then I returned to Elko to take care of my mother. She was old and sick. So I’m looking around the house, and I’m wondering if there’s anything worth keeping. Escrow would be closing in about a month and a half. I had already separated my things into what I was going to take and not take. You see, I had already been down here, Las Vegas, and had purchased a doublewide, a resale, that was already spotted in the mobile home park here.” Malcolm and Wade sipped their coffees, hissing sounds part of it. Malcolm’s pink tongue materialized and then disappeared, and like a snapshot in his brain Wade recalled going next door when he was a kid to watch his neighbor’s tortoise eat dandelions, a very large tortoise, about the size of a deflated basketball—gray bulbous head and wrinkled neck protruding, prehistoric mouth opening, pink tongue revealed, plump and moist. “I was already retired, you see, so there was no need to return to Washington, and besides, I didn’t want to go back there because there’s too much rain up there. I had had it with the rain.” Malcolm’s face appeared to be easing, wrinkles across the forehead fading, eyes receding into their sockets. “And there it was, this display case in my mother’s living room.”
Malcolm swept his white lips with his pink tongue, which took Wade by surprise because there wasn’t a coffee precursor. In addition, the bulldog-wrinkles were growing again, and so were Malcolm’s eyeballs. “There was a glass door that swung open on the display case. The display case stood vertically, you see. There were glass shelves, and on the shelves there were knickknacks and bric-a-brac, and to the untrained eye it all looked like junk. I’m putting this in past tense, but really, I could put it in present tense as well because I still have that display case. It’s in my living room now.” “I see.” “Anyway, back to Elko and my trying to determine what to get rid of, I was standing there in my mother’s living room and I saw her, saw her in my mind’s eye, standing in front of that display case, looking in. Sometimes she’d just stand there and look and look and look. Other times she’d open the door and take something out and hold it in her hand and gaze at it. She often did this, those last two years of her life, the two years I was there with her. She did it up until the time she went into the hospital and died.” Malcolm sipped his coffee. Wade sipped his coffee. Malcolm’s tongue emerged. Again, Wade thought of that turtle next door in his neighbor’s yard, childhood recollection alive and vivid in Wade’s mind. “There were times, when I’d find her in the living room at three in the morning with a light on, standing in front of that display case, looking in.” Wade nodded slowly. “Whenever she took something out, she’d hold it in her hand and look at it for ten or fifteen minutes before putting it back in the display case. Her skin, even the palms of her hands, was like tissue paper. There were always bruises on her arms those last two years, purple and ugly, but then there’d be these little white hands holding something, a little ceramic doll or an old photograph.” Malcolm moistened his lips with his tongue, pink versus white. “There was a small pine cone the size of a billiard ball on one shelf. There were some figurines and a couple of dolls, and then there was stuff like a buffalo nickel and a big belt buckle that had Amarillo Texas etched on it, a pair of sunglasses,
a pair of plastic chopsticks, a few ticket stubs, a report card of mine from elementary school, some small spoons with the names of towns, a glass ashtray advertising the Desert Inn, and so forth and so on.” Malcolm’s face was halfway between slack and bulging. “Why do people keep these things, Wade?” For whatever reason, it took Wade a moment or two to understand that the question was not rhetorical. But then maybe it was. To be on the safe side, Wade issued an answer. “I don’t know.” “To remember,” said Malcolm, and blinked his eyes. Here again, another remarkable feature, for whenever Malcolm blinked his eyes, which wasn’t often, it was like a couple of slow-motion shutters descending and ascending, irises blue, eyelids white. And, the lenses of his glasses magnified this. “But what really set me off was a small, pewter replica of the Eiffel Tower. You see, I have one just like it, or nearly like it. The one my mother had was as big as a softball, whereas mine is about the size of a baseball.” Wade sipped his coffee and noted that it was turning tepid. He also noted a pink, tortoise-like tongue in the aftermath of Malcolm sipping his coffee. And there it was, another snapshot in his mind: Wade going to the San Diego Zoo with Lydia, a woman he lived with for nine months, and at the zoo Lydia remarked about the giant tortoises, remarked about their gray, leather-like heads and necks sticking out from their shells. “Phallic” was what Lydia said, which prompted Wade to remember how inventive Lydia was when eroticism possessed her. “Of course I had seen the pewter Eiffel Tower in my mother’s display case before, but it was only then, when I was trying to decide what to get rid of, that a number of things struck me. “One, my mother had never been out of the United States, so either she bought the Eiffel Tower at a bric-a-brac shop, or else someone gave it to her. Unfortunately, I never asked her about this. I never thought anything about that pewter Eiffel Tower of hers, or about anything else in that display case, until that afternoon when I was trying to decide what to throw out.” Wade nodded, memory of Lydia fading.
“Another thing was that my mother’s Eiffel Tower made me think of my pewter Eiffel Tower, which was in a box of this-an-thats, a box I was going to bring to Vegas, and in thinking of my Eiffel Tower, I thought of that summer in Europe when I was a college student, and how miserable I was that summer, and how I bought that pewter Eiffel Tower in a shop in Paris, like I was desperate for something that I could take home to show people, you know, ‘Hey, I’ve been to Europe!’” Malcolm seemed to be winded, chest heaving. “See what I mean, Wade?” “Yes.” Malcolm’s chest and breathing settled down, and then, of all things, his countenance brightened. “Okay, so now there’s this other part that I almost always associate with my Eiffel Tower, a part that took place in my room, a room in a house that a bunch of us guys rented near school, in Reno, and this part has to do with Marisa, who was my girlfriend for a year and a half. You see, we’d make love in my room on the mattress that was on the floor, and then we’d drink beer and look at that Eiffel Tower that was on a chest of drawers, and we’d make up stories about going to Paris, all kinds of stories, all kinds of fantasies. See what I’m talking about?” “Yes.” Tepid coffee, pink tongue, white lips. “All this while I was standing in my mother’s living room.” “I see.” “So I decided that I’d bring my mother’s display case to Las Vegas, and now I’ve got it in the living room of my doublewide, and I’ve kept all the things in it that she had in it.” “Okay.” “And that’s not all. I went out and bought another display case that’s almost identical to my mother’s, and in that display case I have my things, things I’ve picked up here and there, and of course that includes the pewter Eiffel Tower I bought in Paris.” Malcolm seemed enthused, yet enthused seemed difficult.
“That’s just the beginning, though. Because for the last three years I’ve been taking one item at a time out of my display case and placing it on the coffee table that’s in front of the sofa in my living room. I sit on the sofa, and I look at that item for an hour. I have an alarm clock in the kitchen. I can’t see the clock or hear it ticking, but I can hear it when it starts ringing after an hour. My TV and cellphone are off.” “Oh?” “So do you know what happens?” “No. What happens?” “The thing that I set on the coffee table ignites memories, which is understandable. But some of these memories I’ve never had before. I never knew they were there. And I’m certain that they are memories because when they start I can remember what happened and follow the storyline. They have a life of their own that unwinds.” Malcolm ran his pink tongue over his white lips. “Time and memory, Wade. It’s funny how you can be transported.” “Yes.” “Familiar memories or these other memories, these brand new memories, carry visuals that take place in my mind, but sometimes they are so vivid that it’s like I’m looking at them in front of me. And sometimes there are sounds that I hear, and conversations that I listen to, and tastes that I taste, and even smells that I smell. And there are emotions, emotions that overwhelm me.” Wade was looking at Malcolm’s face. The bulldog-wrinkles on the forehead were back and so were the bulging eyes. “Sometimes I start laughing or chuckling, and sometimes I even start weeping.” Wade nodded slowly. “What’s more, I see myself sitting on that pastel yellow sofa of mine, looking at a piece of driftwood on the coffee table, and I’m weeping.” Wade was looking at Malcolm. “And there’s something else as well.” “What’s that?”
“These items in my display case are inanimate, but sometimes they take on what might be considered a life-like form. I don’t know what words to use to describe this, but these . . . items seem to be alive at times.” Malcolm’s face displayed serious concern, particularly through the forehead. “I’ve been doing this for three years now, and I’ve gone through all the items in the display case any number of times, but the same item looked at a second or third or fourth time tells a different story each time, and it yields a different experience.” Wade nodded. “I’ve always thought of time as linear, and I’ve always thought of experience, or experiences, in the same way, linear, because they are anchored in time. But now . . .” Malcolm looked down at his coffee cup. After a pensive moment he raised his head and looked at Wade. “What takes place while I’m on that sofa is experience. I’m actually experiencing something, something from the past that has shifted to the present. The only thing is, I can’t reach out and touch it. Yet it affects me, affects me deeply.” Malcolm blinked his eyes. After watching this, Wade looked down at his coffee cup. There was still some coffee at the bottom of the cup. “I tell myself that I got to stop this. But I can’t stop it. I think I should stop it, but I can’t. It’s too interesting. Even though it’s crazy, it’s too interesting to ignore or set aside. I keep going back to the display case.” Wade was looking at Malcolm. Malcolm only sat. Wade raised his cup. A slightly grimy solution drizzled into his mouth. “I somehow think that this is related to getting old. I mean, I never did anything like this when I was young. I never had these kinds of experiences with inanimate objects.” Wade swallowed. “I’m kind of worried about this.” Malcolm sipped his coffee and then cleared the residue coffee bits from his lips with his pink tongue.
“I walk into my living room, and against one wall there’s my mother’s display case, and against the opposite wall there is my display case.” Malcolm paused, face a mixture of happy and sad. It was a complex face. “I keep getting deeper and deeper into this, Wade, and I ask myself, ‘Why should the past affect me? Why should it stir up these emotions? And why should I even be thinking about the past?’ After all, it’s gone.” In back of his glasses, Malcolm’s eyes hovered, magnification at work. “Wade, do you think you could you do me a favor?” “A favor?” “Yes. You see, I was going to ask a stranger, you know, someone passing by, if they’d take a photograph of me standing in front of the sign for the mobile home park here, you know, out at the entrance where those little chrome palm trees are. But now that I’m talking to you, I think you’d do a better job of it than a stranger. I got one of those small digital cameras in my pocket. If you’d snap a couple of shots of me while I’m standing next to the sign, Saturday Meadows, I’d greatly appreciate it.” “Okay, I can do that.” “I’ll take the camera to a shop and have some pictures printed. It’s all computerized now.” “Yes.” “I’ll select one of the pictures, and I’ll put it in my display case.” Wade looked at Malcolm and saw a grin on Malcolm’s face. “And that will be the end of it. I’ll take the photograph out of the display case, and I’ll place it on the coffee table.” Michael Onofrey Michael Onofrey grew up in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. His stories have appeared in Cottonwood, Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest, and Terrain.org.
Bedlamite’s First Date A DROLL FROM MONSIEUR THOMAS
THE SUITOR: Courtly I won’t court thee; nay instead I’ll woo ye madly. I’ll start with petticoats and wig to fright thee if ye give a fig. I’ll serenade ye by moonshine with out o’ tune songs asinine. I’ll bring no flowers that I’ve picked but rather padlocks I’ve out-tricked. Thou mayst clasp unto thine mams love notes boasting my flimflams. I’ll recite to ye exquisite rhymes authored backwards, extolling crimes. I’ll give to thee, to prove my worth, eructations of noble mirth. THE SWEETHEART: Thou will court me with cavorts and I shall wag ye mad retorts. Beckon ye to my window, prepare thyself for quid pro quo. Towards my boudoir I’ll invoke then touze thee with a scurvy joke. Upon thy pate I’ll break a plate to show thee how I approbate. When ye beg for clemency I’ll duplify thine knavery. Prepare for cudgels and typhoons and siring heirs of worse buffoons. If ye thought to outwit love I’ll mate thy madness, shove for shove. Craig Kurtz Craig Kurtz, who lives in the Twin Oaks Intentional Community in central Virginia, was the leader of the St. Louis punk rock band The Philosophic Collage. Recent publications include Aerie Literary Journal, Floor Plan Journal, The Madras Mag Anthology of Contemporary Writing, and The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry.
The Threatening Sky The sound rolled over the hills of North Georgia, undulating like giant waves rising and falling with an approaching storm. Its dull roar blew through the fields of dying corn and dandelion, piercing the early morning fog as it traveled to the doorstep of Newton County. Once there, it lumbered into the quiet villages that dotted the landscape, passing down the country lanes into the rural cabins of the wary residents. The distant rumble might have gone unnoticed in another time and under different circumstances, but on this day it was as loud and clear as the church bells that used to ring every Sunday. He looked out the window, toward the sound, a resignation about him, his face stern, knowing, at last, that it had come. Some of his neighbors stepped outside into the naked light of day, cautiously removing themselves from their homes, their last vestige of defense, as they nervously faced the northern terrain. Plumes of brown, ashladen smoke snaked over the horizon, like giant skeletal fingers unfurling, maliciously reaching upward as if to steal the very sky from them. They knew what was out there, rumors of the pillaging and devastation had reached them weeks before. For those who still had hope, and there were very few who did, the swath of destruction might mercifully pass them by. But, for most, hope had taken flight long ago as the list of dead and missing expanded into the thousands, touching one family after another. He walked through the small group, standing alone in front, looking at the threatening sky, the set of his jaw belying the fear that seized him by the throat. It was only a matter of time now, a few days at most. The lengthening fingers of smoke grew larger as they ominously drifted south. He turned to the group, knowing they were watching him, their voiceless cries desperately calling for a miracle, if not a leader. He could not show them his fear; instead, they saw in his eyes the determination to protect what was theirs. Of the sixty or so residents of Rocky Plains, Thomas was the only one who had seen the inhumanity of war, having volunteered as a na誰ve young man only to return a much older and wearier soul, emotionally scarred and withered by the horrors of
battle. He saw firsthand its brutality, the incomprehensible lack of respect it has for human life. It was a monster like he had never seen before, nor wanted to ever again. The rumbling sounds grew louder, cannons firing, their bombs bursting, collapsing buildings and homes and lives. Scores of refugees from Atlanta and Covington began passing through the village every day, each more terrified than the one before, all of them warning of impending doom. “Get out while you can! They’ll steal everything you got and burn your houses down to boot!” Their grim predictions held no meaning for the simple farming families of Rocky Plains; the thought of leaving the land that had been their livelihood for generations never crossed their minds, it was all they knew, the very definition of who they were and where they belonged. Knowing what he did of war, he couldn’t ask them to stay yet he knew that uprooting them from their only known way of life would imperil them all the same. Throngs of strangers and, eventually, familiar faces from neighboring towns, continued to pass, more of them as the realization of danger and death crept ever nearer. Their beleaguered faces, bodies bent from stress, foretold the peril that approached. The hour of decision stood upon him, weighing on his shoulders like the cannons that fired continuously for days on end. There was little time to act, and even less to think. Following his natural instinct, the root of who he was, who all of them were, he quickly formulated a plan for survival. Setting every family into motion, he hoped to outwit, if not temporarily stall, the marauding force. He instructed the Pickens family to empty the smokehouse of the season’s beef, ham, and pork, and bury the provisions in wooden crates in the fields beyond the cabins; the Chestnut family was to herd the livestock into the woods and tie the cattle to trees along with mounds of hay to keep them quiet. The Cowan family, his own, was asked to collect the few valuables the community had to offer and bury them underneath the haystack in their barn. Everyone worked without question or complaint, tidying up their subterfuge, covering the tracks of their deeds until the approaching rumble bade them to stop. And then they waited.
An uneasy quietude peeked over the trees as the morning sun began its ascent in the Eastern sky. A flurry of displaced landowners rushed down the red clay road, their lives bundled under their arms, shock etched upon their faces. “They’re here!” they shouted. “The Yankees are here!” He raced outside, Malinda following him to the road. Whatever this day had in store for them, she would be at her husband’s side. Agonized faces swept past, leaving behind their parting words of despair. “They hanged Old Man Blankenship yesterday; cleared out his house, burned it to the ground, then hanged him!” The rumbling sounds edged closer, just over the hill beyond the bend in the road. “God have mercy on us all!” the old man wailed as he and the others scampered into the shelter of the woods. A cloud of red dust gained momentum as the noise cupped the crest of the hill. Thomas swept Malinda inside the cabin. Down the lane, a band of lawless bummers, Sherman’s henchmen, arrogantly strode atop the slope like the menacing Huns of old. Living by their own rules, the bummers ransacked and murdered their way across Georgia, cutting a swath of destruction that would take them all the way to the coast at Savannah. With arrogant contempt, they surveyed the land below them, scouring the area for anything that may be of use to them, or simply things they desired. Having devoured the towns of Decatur, Oxford, and Covington, the ravenous horde set their sights on the tiny hamlet of Rocky Plains. Thomas gazed out the window at the men in blue as they slowly descended the hill. The rhythmic patter of the horse’s hooves upon the hardened clay echoed into the nearby homes, eerily synchronizing with the heartbeats of the apprehensive townspeople. As the mercenaries made their way through the thicket of sycamore trees that lined the creek, Thomas reached for his rifle though he had no intention of using it, at least he hoped not to. Engaging in a gun battle would only bring about certain death to them all.
He cautioned Malinda to stay indoors, away from the window, out of the line of fire if it should come to that, and he prayed that it wouldn’t. The leader of the invading party signaled four of his men to circle around either side of the village, creating a blockade of sorts for anyone who had a notion to attempt an escape. Having set the trap, he called out to the stoic cabins, his voice a bayonet stabbing the air, his vulgar words falling unanswered into the ground. With an aggravated sigh, as if every cabin he’d encountered over the past weeks had greeted him this way, he silently nodded to the man on his right, who abruptly fired his pistol through the window of the closest cabin. Shattered glass sprayed onto the floor in the adjoining room. Thomas started for the door but Malinda grabbed him by the arm. “Don’t, Thomas! They’ll certainly kill you!” she pleaded. Respecting the urgency of her cries, the love she had for him, he set the rifle next to the door before slowly walking outside. “Well, well, well, there is life in these here ramshackle pig pens after all!” the leader affected an exaggerated Southern accent, leaving no doubt that he had the upper hand. “We were beginning to wonder if you Jawja ponecakes were as hospitable as we’d been led to believe.” “Can I help you with something?” Thomas asked, his voice sterile. “Why I do believe you can, sir.” The leader mocked with savage graciousness. “You see, we’ve been traveling around your fair state for quite some time and we’ve built up an awful appetite. I thought perhaps you could spare us some food. Seein’ as how there’s a right smart number of us, it might take a couple of sides of beef to fill up these men’s stomachs.” The sneering lies the man told, the naked temerity in asking for the very provisions the townspeople needed to survive, the arrogant manner of his request riled Thomas’ calm nature, though he dared not show his anger, for they would shoot him dead without blinking an eye. “We done run out of food. Some men came by here weeks ago and wiped us out,” Thomas returned the man’s lie. Their words collided in the space between them, unable to penetrate the impasse of indifference and deceit. Two worlds spinning in
opposite directions, despair against ridicule, life against death. If either were to back down, retract the words spoken, that world would cease to exist. The man stared through Thomas, into the cabins and smokehouse where the objects of his mission lay hidden. The lengthening shadows of morning gave way with the rising sun, exposing Thomas’ dispassionate face. The man had seen people like Thomas all over Georgia, desperate to hold on to what little they had left and willing to risk their lives to protect it. Their plight did not move him, any more today than it had yesterday or the day before. He had a score to settle, a lesson to teach these rebels, one by one if necessary. Malinda peered out the window; her strength stood next to her husband, her love wrapping around him, protecting Thomas from any harm. The leader of the bummers again signaled to the man on his right, and again he raised his rifle. A shot rang out, piercing Malinda’s soul. She ran from the cabin and stood at her husband’s side. Thomas glanced over at her, his face reflecting the displeasure that she had not done as he cautioned. Subtly nodding his head, he motioned her behind him. They stood before their tribunal, the two of them, united together for better or worse, til death do them part. “I will not leave you.” Malinda whispered into Thomas’ ear. On command, the man with the raised pistol shot through a window in another cabin, the bullet, intentionally, whizzed past Thomas’ shoulder. Undaunted, Thomas stood firm; Malinda gripped his arm, her love for him refusing to let go. Two men stepped from their cabins into the dangerous encounter and stood next to Thomas, followed by two more, and then, collectively, the remainder of the men from the village. The leader of the bummers looked over their ranks, unimpressed and unconcerned by the motley group of poor farmers. They represented what he loathed most about this war: weakness; weakness in cause, weakness in spirit, and weakness in resolve. It mattered not that they were simple folk living simple lives, surviving by the sweat of their brow, the tilling of the earth, the bounty of the harvest, and their belief
in God. They were pesky insects in the estimation of the bummers, armies of little ants biting and stinging the flesh of civility, to be brushed off and squashed by the hand of retribution. “Nice to see you folks on such a bright, shiny, glorious morning. I was just telling your neighbor here that my men and I hoped we could impose upon your generosity for some food and drink. But we were informed that your provisions, such as they were, had already been depleted.” “That’s right,” replied the man next to Thomas. The man on horseback pushed the brim of his hat away from his face and scratched his forehead. The action was unnecessary, of course, neither did his forehead itch nor did it need scratching. But the disbelief in what they told him, the sheer audacity of a communal lie, required him to respond with just such an effective motion. “Looks to me that none of you fine gentlemen has missed a meal over the course of a few weeks.” With this definitive statement, the leader motioned for three of his men to investigate the cabins and smokehouse. The men dismounted their horses and brushed their way through the small crowd, pushing the townspeople aside. Thomas remained steadfast, refusing to give an inch to the gang of men. The others followed his example though most wanted to return the rudeness with swinging fists. As the intruders entered the houses, women and children ran outside into the safety of the midday sun, joining the ranks of their husbands and fathers. Still, the leader was not impressed. He had yet to truly test the will of these contemptuous vermin. They would be broken, one way or the other, for in his way of seeing things, his was the mightier cause. Upon the weak and evil shall the wrath of heaven reign down like a ball of fire and vanquish their sins. Before his troops marched on to continue their quest, he would make certain that the people of Rocky Plains would see the face of God. He watched Thomas closely for his reaction to the inevitable as the men in blue plundered the modest cabins. They could be heard smashing all that was of no use to them, leaving nothing behind. The spoils belonged to the victor, the rubble to the
defeated. Wives held their husband’s hands; children buried their faces in the pleats of their mother’s long dresses. It was their duty, their cause at this very moment, to endure. No matter the scope of destruction to their homes and possessions, nor the insult of humiliation, Thomas did not flinch in the face of his adversary. Their homes could be restored, their possessions replaced in time, but it was their lives that depended upon acquiescence. This was calm compared to front line duty where young men’s bodies were blown to pieces, sending body parts raining from heaven as rivers of blood washed away the dead and dying. They were fortunate, he reasoned, if fortune could have such a deceitful face. As if cued by Thomas’ thoughts, the invaders returned from the cabins, their arms filled with women’s petticoats and undergarments, dresses, boots, bed sheets and hand-made quilts. With contentious smiles, they disseminated the goods to their fellow warriors, who used the petticoats and quilts as cushions upon their saddles, and the undergarments to wipe away the sweat from their necks and faces. They reveled in the indecency of their acts, breaching the intimacy between husband and wife, becoming, in a sense, in this charade, surrogate lovers in the bedroom of war. The leader glanced at one of his returning men, catching his eye, the meaning understood between them. The man nodded his head, inspiring the ire of the leader. “So am I to understand that the lot of you have been surviving solely upon air? That even your children have the remarkable capacity to live by breath alone?” he pontificated, as if before a congregation of disciples. The rule of survival, Thomas learned in battle, was to meet defiance with defiance. “I already said that we were wiped out.” The game of cat and mouse no longer held interest for the leader; he had wasted enough time on these backwoods rebels. “If one of you does not produce so much as a string bean in the next five minutes then we will shoot down every one of you but only after we make you watch your children being hanged by their skinny little necks!” Blood spat from the man’s threats. The change in his demeanor, from condescending sarcasm to homicidal rage, irrevocably changed the complexion of the standoff. For the first time since the men
on horseback intruded upon Rocky Plains, Thomas flinched. Though subtle, the tweak of an eye, the flexing of his jaw, the leader noticed the weakness in Thomas’ suit of armor, the very piece of information he needed to pursue his goal. Guiding his horse forward, to within inches of the townspeople, the leader looked down upon them from the saddle of heaven itself. In one swift motion, he snatched the tiniest child from her mother’s side. The little girl screamed, as did her mother, who instinctively went to her child’s aid. The father bolted up to the horse, reaching wildly for his daughter, barely caressing the side of her leg before the leader kicked him in the face with the heel of his boot. The ferocity of his action sent the man sprawling to the ground, a bloody gash ripped across his forehead. Another man tried to rescue the child from the clutches of the enemy; her screams, as well as those of her mother, echoed around them, creating a chorus of fear and desperation. The situation rapidly approached chaos when the leader whipped the pistol from its holder with his free hand, cocked the trigger, and pointed it directly at the man’s forehead. “If you so much as move a nose hair I’ll split your head in two.” The leader’s chilling voice stopped the action dead in its tracks. “Now we will do this one of two ways; either you give us what we have come for or this little wench will become gator bait in the Savannah River. Now, what’s it gonna be?” The girl’s mother dropped to her knees, clasped her hands together in prayer, and begged the man for her child’s life, offering her own to free her daughter. The anguish in her heart became the anguish of them all, reflecting the insanity of the moment, of the war, of a world gone mad. Sadistically, the leader raised the pistol to the little girl’s head, nestling the barrel into the pit of her ear. She became eerily still, as if guided by nature itself that to remain alive she must not move. The resolve of opposing forces had finally, inescapably, reached the point of climax. Humanity retreated in the face of such needless violence, into a time and place where simple civility held court.
The little girl’s eyes locked into Thomas’ own, displaying not fear but resigned acceptance of whatever might happen. Her courage emboldened him into action, to set himself once again onto the battlefield that had nearly taken his life. “Let her go.” Thomas spoke without relinquishing the little girl’s trust. The leader gripped the girl tighter, his finger fondling the trigger. “You know what that’ll take.” His response was a challenge to Thomas. “I do.” Thomas stepped forward. Malinda gripped him by the arm though she knew this was what he had to do, what must be done for all of them. The world they’d built together, their lives as they knew them on their wedding day, would irrevocably change. Whatever he faced, she faced; his burdens were her own. Her love for him extended beyond any bounds and would endure beyond any consequence. “I am with you.” She whispered to his back, the weight of her words as heavy as her heart. “Let her go and I’ll do as you ask.” Thomas stated in defeat. The reckoning had arrived, at last, as the leader knew, eventually, it would. The fire in his eyes smoldered into a smugness that, if possible, made him uglier and even more dangerous than he’d been. He dropped the little girl to the ground without the least bit of aid as she fell in a heap and rolled over. She limped over to her mother’s waiting arms and hid behind her embrace, just as all of them were hiding behind Thomas. They were enveloped by silence, not a stirring of sound or wind, invaded by calm, every particle of matter, every molecule of existence transfixed by the cruel hand of fate reaching down to them from the sky. The leader pulled out a whip that was fastened to the side of his saddle, gripping it with his right hand. The braided leather glistened in the sunlight, as if it had been purposely cleaned for the occasion. A tinge of color, deep copper and red, darkened the braids in a spotty pattern. Malevolently, the leader rolled the circled whip in his hand, intentionally delaying the inevitable, content, sadistically so, to make Thomas sweat it out. The action, however, had little effect on Thomas, certainly not what the leader expected. Thomas stood in quiet defiance, as stoically and erect as he had from the beginning. If anything, the delay only made him impatient for the beating to begin. His
pacifism, serene demeanor, refusal to grant what the marauders demanded, inspired the leader’s wrath. He raised the whip above his head, loosening his hold on the coiled leather braid, which slithered down the grip like a retreating viper. After three forceful spins, building the precise momentum he wanted, the leader cracked the spiraling whip around Thomas’ torso. The braided strip of leather wrapped around him like barbed wire, piercing and stinging his flesh as it dug into his body. With a powerful pull, abetted by his horse, he yanked Thomas onto the ground. “Now that we understand each other, I will ask again. We are hungry and would like some food. I don’t care if what you have amounts to three fish and a loaf of bread but you will feed us or I will not spare the life of any one of you.” The leader sneered. Thomas raised himself up, his soft blue eyes not filled with hate or remorse but, rather, reflecting the irony of a situation he might have predicted on the battlefields of Tennessee. He’d been in the worst of battles, in the advance troops that served as human shields to the advancing battalions behind them, knowingly, and mostly willingly, sacrificing life and limb for the cause. He’d seen his comrades fall beside him, skulls shattered by bullets, brain matter the cushion upon which they fell, eyes ripped from their sockets by thrusting bayonets in hand-to-hand combat, screams from every direction spinning into a vortex of unified pain. In spite of the madness around him, the fighting, the killing, the dying, he persevered, somehow surviving as if divined for another purpose. After two years of chance, his life on the line in every mission, he was discharged in the midst of the rolling hills of Tennessee, to return home and become a home guard in the tiny hamlet of Rocky Plains. With little water and even less food, he trekked back to Atlanta, following the stars by night and the arcing sun by day. Bodies of young men, many younger than himself, littered the fields around him, their lives having not yet begun, ended by the fevered actions of idealistic yet invisible men. He returned home on a Sunday, barely a year before this day, into the embrace of the young girl who’d captured his heart, now matured into womanhood by the opposing dictums of worry and faith. “You came back to me,” she stated knowingly as he held her close. Their love had been renewed, having endured the specter of death,
and now reunited in marriage, committed to one another through lifeâ€™s journey, whatever it may bring. The leader of the bummers savagely pulled at the whip, tugging at it so that the braids dug deeper into Thomas' skin, ripping open the wounds created from the lash. Thomas winced as the cord sliced through his flesh but the acute pain could not touch his spirit. They would not break him. The man on horseback spat on the crown of Thomasâ€™ head, then kicked him with the heel of his boot, all the while tugging at the coiled braid. A current of tension passed through the townspeople as if a streak of lightning had ripped from overhead and passed through them one by one. What they had managed to escape for so long, by providence or design, now stood before them. The leader pulled on the horseâ€™s reins, forcing the excited beast backward, in a jump that sent Thomas hurtling forward. He rolled over and over, like a spinning top released by its string. Malinda ran toward him, her movement abruptly stopped by a bullet fired into the ground at her feet. Though she could not touch or comfort him, her spirit gently caressed his cheek. His forthright manner impressed her upon their first meeting. The strength in his stance and the purpose in his stride made her feel safe, that no harm would ever come to her. In his eyes she saw strength and commitment, tenderness and longevity, the merging of two souls into one. When he left for battle, she never once believed that he would not come back to her. By force of will, enduring love, and a belief in those things that cannot be understood in this world, she determined their fate. The beating of her heart, the changing of the winds, the thought of his smile, the beginning of winter, all brought him back. He had crossed the hill and rounded the curve that led into Rocky Plains, his body weakened by thirst and a heaviness in the air that sat on his skin like the hot breath of a roaring fire on an August afternoon. The last steps seemed like miles, his breathing was deep and labored as he approached the church. The sun peaked in the midday sky as parishioners emerged from their weekly vigil of prayer for loved ones on the fields of battle.
The doors opened as he stood at the bottom of the steps, waiting. Hers was the only face he could see, wanted to see. The others who approached him with hugs and smiles and tears were blank faces with soundless voices. He saw her at the top of the steps, entranced by the delicate features of her face, her loving eyes. She looked at him neither with surprise nor relief, as if she had seen him just yesterday and the day before. He returned to her, as she knew he would. They settled in Rocky Plains, moving into a small cabin that sat closest to the dirt road. They resumed their lives together as if the breach in time had never occurred. She rested comfortably in the stability he provided and he leaned upon her compassion. When the memories of war clouded his soul, she held him close. When tears filled his eyes she laid his head upon her shoulder. Such was her love for him and his for her that he worked with the strength of two men, plowing and planting, nurturing and harvesting. On the leader’s command, two of the bummers approached Thomas with a heavy chain they’d plundered from the Cowans' barn. It was a thick chain, approximately twelve feet in length that was used for plowing. Having performed this duty many times over, the men were cruelly efficient in their task. They wrapped the chain around Thomas’ chest, securing it tightly with a corded rope which they then tied to the horse’s saddle. The women gasped in silent horror at the spectacle unfolding before them, attempting to shelter their children’s eyes from witnessing the act of premeditated violence; instead, however, the entire village was forced at gunpoint to watch every second of the punishing lesson. Malinda raised her head and looked directly at Thomas with a serenity about her face that almost gave one the impression that she was watching a beautiful sunset. He was even more gallant and brave than she had previously known, her admiration for him knew no bounds. He was and always would be the love of her life. It was her duty at this moment to infuse him with love and comfort, to cushion his pain, cleanse his wounds, and ease his mind. “You will come back to me,” she whispered to herself.
With the chain fitted snugly around Thomas’ torso and the rope fastened hard to the saddle, the leader turned to the townspeople, looking over them as if watching a herd of cattle being led to slaughter. His words spat upon them. “This will teach you damn rebels a thing or two about war.” With the stinging of the crop upon the horse’s flesh, the horse leapt forward with the fury of a steam engine, jerking Thomas into the air before slamming him down and dragging his helpless body across the hardened earth. The leader whipped the horse soundly, prompting it to run faster and harder. The excruciating pain multiplied with every stump and rock and stick that penetrated Thomas’ body. He could feel the bones in his legs cracking like dry twigs; once, twice, and three times, twisting and turning at will, unattached to his body. The individual grains of dirt and sand grated his skin as if he were being scrubbed to death with a steel brush. Blood poured from the sores ripped into his face and hands. The townspeople watched in silent horror as Thomas’ body was being torn apart in a macabre dance. A magnificent oak tree stood near the barn, its powerful roots protruding precariously from the ground, large tentacles of impenetrable, solid oak. The maniacal driver, whipped into a self-induced state of vengeful fury, steered the horse toward the opening between the graceful oak and clapboard barn. The onlookers stiffened in the face of the ensuing collision, mouths yelling without sound, voiceless cries screaming toward heaven. Malinda watched her husband intently, never removing her eyes from his twisted body or averting the blind stare of torturous agony upon his face. Silently, she encouraged him to fight the pain of broken bones, endure the lunacy of inhuman acts. “Survive, Thomas!” she whispered, “Survive and I will bring you back to health.” The stampeding horse raced through the pathway, jumping over the knotted vine of roots, briefly lifting Thomas into the air. The momentary respite, deceitful in its brevity, ended violently as Thomas crashed onto a knotted root that struck him square in the back. It felt as if someone had hit him with the blunt end of a shovel. The impact cracked something inside, Thomas screamed in pain, an inhuman howl that sent chills through the townspeople.
He could no longer feel the pain in his legs; it was merciful almost for he knew they were shattered. The sturdy chain tightened its grip on his chest, unintentionally protecting his rib cage and lungs from more serious damage. The pouring blood left a grotesque pattern of red streaks zigzagging across the field. As unconsciousness became his ally, Thomas’ thoughts turned to the past, pictures of his childhood flashed before him. The summer afternoons spent swimming in Chastain’s Pond and then chasing snowflakes in the open field during the light snowfalls of winter. The one-room schoolhouse where he played pranks on his friends and the autumn afternoon when he first laid eyes upon Malinda, the pretty young girl in the lavender dress whose soft eyes and beautiful smile captivated his imagination. Finally, with a pull on the reins, it was over. The horse calmly strode past the townspeople pulling its mutilated cargo behind. Stillness enveloped them as they tried to fathom the significance of this event, if any lesson could be learned from such violence. Their numbed souls searched for but could not find any answers, any reasons for man’s hatred for his own kind, any sense of compassion that separates humans from animals in the wild. Spiritually bereft, immobilized by fear and shock, they looked to the ground they stood upon, the only thing they could look at, the life source they depended on, the provider of harvests and stability upon which they built their homes, the one constant in life that would see them through. The leader looked them over, an expression on his face that conveyed both satisfaction and condemnation. As his men detached the rope and chain from his horse, he slowly pulled out a pistol and aimed it at one townsperson and then another, his finger caressing and teasing the trigger. Swiftly, he began firing, followed by his men. The rapid shots ripped through the air, one after another, without end, shattering glass, splintering boards, collapsing the façade of Thomas’ small house. A rush of dust, the remnants of innocence swirling and filtering through the wind-swept air, escorted the bummers away from Rocky Plains. Thomas lay still on the ground, his body crumpled as if a piece of paper had been wadded up and tossed aside. He was alive, barely, every breath an exercise in searing, exquisite pain. His arms moved with laborious effort, his legs uncooperative,
mangled and bleeding. The townspeople, afraid to move, afraid that the men on horseback were waiting beyond the trees to finish the business at hand if they went to Thomas’ aid, slowly gathered around their fallen leader. Malinda stood alone, apart from the others, encircled by the light of her love for the man who claimed her heart. Courage built within her, strengths surfaced from deep reserves of devotion and sacrifice that would shape the future of their lives together. Though the days would be long and the work to be done never ending, she would get them through any obstacle that stood in their path. She walked over to her husband, her posture gentle yet sturdy, reflecting her commitment for things that lie ahead. Passing through the circle of townspeople, she knelt beside Thomas’ broken body, her serene face the first thing he saw as his eyes struggled to open. She smiled, a radiant smile, then cupped his bloodied head in her hands. “I will take care of you, Thomas. You will see the sun rise tomorrow and every day thereafter; you will see spring turn into summer, and autumn into winter. I will be the legs that walk you into town and the strong back that plows and plants the fields. I will not let you leave me, Thomas, never again.” She stroked his forehead then kissed him gently. He smiled, weakly, strengthened somewhat by Malinda’s undying love for him. As neighbors gently picked him up and carried him to the nearest house, his eyes closed and he drifted off into a deep sleep. He dreamed of a day when his home was filled with the laughter of children, when the smell of ripening corn filled the summer air, when holidays brought the family together again, and of a day when the sky was blue. Nathan Smith Hipps Nathan Smith Hipps was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia and raised in Tallahassee, Florida, where he graduated from Florida State University with a degree in communications and creative writing. He has contributed articles to national and regional magazines on southern life and people and is the author of Remembrance: A Story of Family Love & Survival.
Ring of Smoke in the Trees
felt-tip and Bic pen
Two Portraits by Mathew Brady 1. Here is Walt with his hat on his head, his crumpled hat without a shape, his rumpled, comfortable, free-verse hat on his head. He looks as though he has just come in from the rain and has suddenly sat down without being asked. He looks like a grandfather, Walt does. Better than that, Walt looks like a grandmother, even with the beard, a grandmother, kindly and wise. Walt has his hands in his pockets. He looks as though he has just come in from the rain and has sat down in front of the camera without being asked and without taking his hat off and without taking his hands from his pockets. Walt fills the chair completely. Walt sits in the chair as though sauntering down the street. You cannot see Walt's hands and you cannot see the chair because he fills it completely. What a perfectly natural pose for kindly, wise, grandmotherly, comfortable Walt. Walt looks at you. Walt looks right at you and no one else. That's where Walt's eyes are. Right in your eyes. 2. It is hard to look at Hawthorne without getting hurt. Everything about Hawthorne is hard. Everything about Hawthorne hurts. His hat is a stiff, black, formal, silk top-hat. It looks like an iron cylinder in an iron ring. It sits on a book, not on his head. The book must be the bible, Hawthorne's bible or Brady's bible. The bible sits on a table. The book, the hat, the table. These are the props it hurts to look at. Hawthorne's hands are clearly visible. His right hand is clenched in a fist on the table. It looks as though he has been pounding on the table. His left hand grasps the arm of the chair. Hawthorne looks as though he's been sitting in the chair all his life. The chair is visible because Hawthorne does not fill it completely. Hawthorne's hands are hard to look at.
Hawthorne looks like a preacher. He looks stiff and uneasy and uncomfortable. He looks as though there is something about the camera he is afraid of. Hawthorne looks as though he were propped up with iron rings. Hawthorne looks like his hat. He is hard to look at. He looks like a preacher who doesn't know what to do with his hands because there's no lectern. Hawthorne looks over your shoulder. His eyes are on the shadow over your shoulder. The shadow. J R Solonche J R Solonche has been publishing in magazines and anthologies since the early 70s. He is co-author of Peach Girl: Poems for a Chinese Daughter and author of Beautiful Day and the chapbook Heart's Content.
From the Diaries of Emma Darwin On the recombination of characteristics Oh my Dear Charles, I would never tell you that the good women of Downe have been worrying at me lately, that perhaps you’ve become feeble from nothing to think. Just yesterday, Virginia Towneshend saw you whispering over the last wild rose by the garden trellis. Except for “Hosanna” she doesn’t know what you said. But her pity made me intolerant all through tea. I know I drove her away and I must make it right Sunday at mass. It isn’t her fault that you are odd Mr. Darwin who had a voyage instead of a parish and who has seen brown skinned heathens with nearly no clothes. Mr. Darwin who keeps bugs and bones and wanders among flowers. The ladies can’t understand that you are a separate breed of man. I am the only one who knows that furious calm after the eighth stone kicked of your circles about the glade. Or how you come to the parlor haunted even in the afternoon and lean your head back while I play and play Beethoven’s last, chasing theories back to the page. I believe you are grateful for the forces I have kept constant, these twenty years. But lately you remind me of those turtles in Galapagos you sometimes speak about. Once you said, “Think of their secrets!” Old Tortoise, the pen I’ve seen rallying across the pages of notebooks and your mumbling, your headaches and ill stomach but none of our old talk of Nature and God, Biology and Man hint that you’ve ideas hidden between your fact hard shell and soft underside. You mean to protect me from change. But Charley, you should know that we are all mutable, there are no absolutes. We cannot move forward, we cannot even survive without modifying ourselves, without partnership. Andrea Farber De Zubiria Andrea Farber De Zubiria lives in the San Joaquin Valley of California. She recently returned to writing after a thirty year hiatus and has been published in Foliate Oak, Cargo, and The San Joaquin Literary Review.
What to do under the bed You could be the monster or just take a nap. When you wake up, listen for secrets. If there are no voices, remember a story: the girl who only ate bread and jam until that’s all her mother gave her, Micky and the milk in the night kitchen or the pale green pants with nobody inside them... Don’t plan what’s for dinner or make a list of errands. Don’t even meditate or clear your chakras. Round up the dust bunnies and become their queen. Andrea Farber De Zubiria
Intimacy, Part XVIII: A New Beginning In keeping all my doors locked, when a draft, an apparition, or, worst-real eyes, a sincere smile, a mutant beauty born with my skeleton key imbedded, enters-I escape through a window, flee free-roaming werewolves wearing my makeshift chastity belt, less than stainless, ears plugged by fingers singing LALALA loud as I can, tuning out howling wolves, purring screeching native cats wanting petting. Here, kitty kitty-- No! LA!LA!LA! and, on the lam, hopping fences, but the lumbering butcher, his practical mask remains inexplicably one step ahead, toting his phallic rusted machete, chasing me to act two, the inevitable sex scene. This movie is about intimacy addiction. She removes her nightgown. Fingers brush shoulders. The dogs and cats have caught up with us; she traces the skeleton key with slender dexterous fingers. Welcome to me, intimacy, your unshaved pre-stained machete... avoid the loud whirring chainsaw at all costs, but if it catches up? It purrs. Trade me little deaths. Flash my BIOS. Startle my streetlights asleep. Compromise the clocks downtown. Eat my brains. Disembowel my heinous opinions. Suck on garlic, snuggle, stake our glittering worldly Twilight delusions ’til we’re off the boat, act three, fleeing Yama through crowded city streets, subways, luring the butcher into Manhattan’s underground sewers in time for the nightly purging of toxic waste, where death, young again, disappears. Deader than dead, and we leave together to music. End credits. What's left for either of us to say? Death's dead. Cue the sequel. We'll send it to hell next time-if hell fails? Outer space. Inside the nightmares
of worser dreamers. Just don't leave. Don't leave. I'll remake me! You have my skeleton key! But the scariest scene, the shock ending: One of us always leaves. Cue the sequel. D S West D S West lives in Boulder, Colorado. His poetry has appeared in Centrifuge, Birds Piled Loosely, and Crab Fat Magazine.
The Evolution of Man 1839 “Let's hit things and run after them!” “No! Let's hit things and run around in circles!” After millions of years bashing skulls with rocks, cave-dwelling man discovers baseball, his first in a knotted, linear string of absurd compromises. 3.9 million B.C. Genesis opens on a single-camera, cave-couple sitcom. Man wants a home-cooked meal, but Woman's all like, Sorry dear! I have Vinyasa, then I'm meeting a friend for dinner. There's half a mastodon ass in the coldest nook, if you want it. Man considers knocking Woman out, dragging her to the hearth-fire. Instead he has brilliant idea-- the first, unrecorded, hitherto unreported example of passive-aggression among cohabiting homo sapiens. "Of course, dear," says Man. But once Woman's retrieved her sabre-tooth Prada purse from the tree stump he bought her, for Valentine's Day, Man wins a fifth-dimensional sweepstakes, the prize being the distinction of fathering the primordial, passive-aggressive idea for paternal, patriarchal society. “She can have her yoga rubbish and friends, the minx! I'm going to start an institution that doesn't allow women to go out alone, where none save myself may intrude on my safe, comfy bubble-dome. If I keep her at home, Woman won’t know what she’s missing! Parable of the--” The troglodyte looks directly into the camera. “Hey. Who's there?” I turn my night vision off, attach my scuba line, and run like hell. 2025 In order to get off, Henry, on his laptop, consults women who aren’t his wife,
younger than any who’d have him, than he’d dine with, or listen to, for lips quite unlike lips; augmented breasts; a squealing-bleached, totally shaved wax sculpture contractually obligated to orgasm, when he’s ready; to become an enthusiastic Asian, when he’s bored; to close, in her little window, when he’s finished and stand by, submissive, as history erases, arson in the wax museum-- a dollop of hand soap, I have to turn away, flee the scene in disgust-“Hi, honey! Are the snacks ready for the game?” 8181 I remove my helmet, fall to my knees and kneel. Imperial Priestess Sundari extends her toes, grazes her disillusioned crusader’s right ear from her altar. Touch means, please speak to me. “It’s worse than you described. We were so primitive… Squandering our resources beating balls with sticks, sabotaging our relationships watching recordings, girls pretending to have sex, sort of. Barking, whimpering like animals, or bad actors pretending to go into labor.” I swallow, hard, following cracks in her palace floor, remorseful. “I don’t ever want to go back to that.” Sundari dangles, rests both legs on my slumped shoulders. Parted seas means, let me comfort you, and you comfort me. I raise my head and reach for her, fingers extended, virginally, wide-eyed; a thespian really reaching for God; for the dead; for atonement, if a mirage; for her succulent, sacred salvation. D S West
Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine art/photography Sue Dolamore Jim Neuner Star Rush
fiction Jim Hilderbrandt Gail Hipkins Pat Moeller Jasmine Skye
non-fiction Susan Coyle Larry Hamilton Pete Solet Steve Wechselblatt
poetry Perien Gray John Himmelheber Chris Taylor
publicity Jim Neuner Steve Wechselblatt
editor John Himmelheber
A magazine of literature, photography and art.