Issue #7 Fall/Winter 2017 www.sblaam.com
Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #7
Something Right in the World
Tummy and Titlets
John A Hunter
Remember Me with Smiles
poetry Gale Acuff
Darren C Demaree
[that little ghost]
M A Istvan Jr
the dream is over pt. II
I Write to Fill the Holes in Me
And though the stars came by. . .
And though this bottle is empty. . . 26
Patricia B Walters
To Love a Musician
i still dream of you when the stars are gone
images Jeffrey DeCristofaro
Fabrice Poussin W Jack Savage
Mt. Pisgah in Autumn
Beyond Anything Past
cover: W Jack Savage, Beyond Anything Past (partial)
Special Section: Social and Political Issues of Today's World Bruce Louis Dodson
Where to Find It
C Z Heyward
I Can Hear Their Eyes Moving
Let's Restore the Draft
David Anthony Sam
I Am Cardboard
The Exile Breathes Sulfur
The Twilight's Last Gleaming
W Jack Savage
Robert Joe Stout
New Art, New Politics
Metaphor saved in a drawer with pressed daisies poem
Brad G Garber
After the 45th President. . .
The Editor's Note for this issue appears on page 109.
Easter A week after I bury my dog grass begins to grow over the mound I made. That’s a good sign, I guess--Nature at work yet. But still I didn’t want him to die, didn’t want to find him dead in the yard. I knew when I called him something was wrong when he didn’t raise his head to look at me. He must be deep in a dream, I thought, but as I walked closer and spoke his name again and again, each time more loudly, I knew that God was real and not just noise that we gassed about in Sunday School, week after week. Here was living proof in death. I was afraid but knelt down anyway to see his eyes staring and his tongue out. I was lonely with the feeling of love, as if I were God myself. Blasphemy, of course, but if ever I knew a sin for good, this was the time. I picked him up, heavier for the passing, both of us, but I felt that I’d crossed over, too, if not to another place then to some knowledge. I carried him behind the house and down the path that divides the garden, flowers from vegetables, but neither up yet--when I die too I hope it’s in Spring, when there’s always hope in always waiting and the waiting is as good as the gift when the gift ends but the waiting doesn’t. I set him down at the end of our lot and went for the shovel and dug a hole too big--I couldn’t stop digging and he must lie comfortably, not cramped or bent. Then I covered him with some pine needles and filled the hole back in upon itself and that part of the hole left over I
threw into the garden, thinking that it was my friend weighed out in topsoil and clay, scattered like ashes, broadcasted like seed. Now with him dead there’s a new kind of life. Now we’re both free to find God in the flesh. I’m still alive but I won’t let that stop me. Gale Acuff Gale Acuff has been published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Poem, and others. His three collections are Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.
Jake The neighbor’s mangy hound appears forever in motion, full throttle, chasing FedEx trucks & gray squirrels, rabbits & an entire array of backyard varmints (whatever's available) but then cuts short the chase to go after a blue Buick's hypnotic hubcaps until his frenetic energy abates a bit & he slows down to pant, giving him a chance to lap up the stale, day-old water in a tin bowl before he tips & flips the bowl over for that sheer mischievous pleasure of pushing it around the yard with what seems to be heavenly, doggy delight or until he's spent enough to reacquaint himself with yesterday's rawhide chew then demonstrates how to growl down an innocent neighbor lady standing on her redwood deck at the far side of the road which alerts him to sniff more closely under the woodpile for ground squirrels before nosing up to the backdoor where, with that pencil-thin chew hanging limply from his drooling maw, he checks out whether someone – anyone at all will do – has appeared as of yet & is prepared to itch that itch, Yes, yes, there, that one, there! that irksome hot spot an inch or so over – Yes! There! There! – that flaming itch just above Jake's left ear. Terry Savoie Terry Savoie is retired from a career of teaching. He has been published in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Tar River, and Birmingham Poetry Review, among others.
after an Edward Weston photograph (Chicago Art Institute, 1997)
Two muscle-bound wrestlers with their ire up, brawny backs & necks hardened, overdeveloped shoulders hunched, tight & eager for war, while heads are implanted in the fleshly amplitude of their other half's half, heading the wrong way down along a one-way street, bellicose but mired in a caricature pose as if they're Siamese twins, locked combatants grappling with life & death issues without so much as a thought of how sportive their dance looks to us, their gallery's audience. Terry Savoie
www.raptorresource.com after Marianne Moore
Lucky to live in this age so chock-full-o' the unexpected, such magic that permit me to squander a healthy portion of this March morning in a cat-bird's seat while it sways on the muscled, upper limb of a cottonwood at the edge of a stream which looks out over a barn & one roan mare who seems delighted – as only a foot-loose mare in springtime might be – standing in lush, green pasture grass beneath her. In my bird's-eye perch I sit here for three idle hours of computer-age spying that would've sent my agrarian grandsire reeling dizzily backwards with wondering just how such an inexplicable, close-up view, this eagle only an arm's length away sheltering her three hatchlings who seem all-out exhausted, their heads tippling over on wobbled necks too heavy to hold up after a midmorning meal – a view that might've come as some ominous sign for Grandpa imagining he must be a witness to the last of the very Last of Times. Yet nothing's here beyond a webcam's prying eye strapped to the tree limb, a voyeur's spy sights on the raptors' private goings & doings, the he-eagle's ascents skyward to ride thermals. So many death-defying, his back-up against-the-blinding-sun, fierce plummets taken for that rabbit, that rodent, that – what's that he's got there? – to quiet his she-eagle's maddened cries for more, her head swiveling left & far right, scanning far above while screaming frantically for her mate wherever he may be? All of her, from haute-designer talons to her ravenous beak speaks of her exquisite configuration for crushing any proffered prey – head, fin to foot – as she minces about the nest, waddles & waggles, pauses, then rips & strips flesh away, shredding (Look there! What's that? is a still-flailing carp!) to present
a dainty tidbit to each of her three nestlings, bloodied beak to bloody beak, before she tucks & scrunches them under her in their half-ton nest composed of last year's corn shucks, varmint fur, feathers & picked-over fish bones scattered & interlaced into a marvelous crosshatch weave with years of fallen sticks, branches & bird droppings. With all the camera stays unflinchingly glued on the "eagles eagling" as the nest comes alive, abuzz with hundreds of recently hatched & bothersome bluebottle flies, enough to drive this voyeur crazy, swatting & brushing the monitor to shoofly them off as far away as possible. Terry Savoie
Remember Me with Smiles Time it is a precious thing, Time brings all things to your mind, Time with all its troubles and time with all its joys, Time brings all things to an end. --from an English folk song Marion used to sing
My sister was burned to death on a lovely, sunny morning in May, 1990, while I was getting on with my life. I was at a friend’s house where we were preparing a garden party for a Belgian choir we were hosting. It was unusually mild and my children, four and six years old, were playing loudly in the garden with a gang of others. The sun was shining with an almost Mediterranean intensity. Hawthorn blossom lay like snow in the hedgerows, filling the air with a rich, heady scent. Our host ambled to the kitchen and told me: ‘Your mother just called. She said that someone is coming to see you. She was a bit blunt.’ It was obvious he didn’t take kindly so someone being blunt to the point of rudeness to him, on his own telephone, in his own house, and what he said didn’t make sense. I would be seeing Mum later, and she wasn’t the kind of person to be rude. I wondered if he’d got something wrong. ‘Did she say who?’ He shrugged negatively. Although surprised, I didn’t intend to let his short-lived annoyance, or my mother’s as yet unknown reasons for causing it, to spoil a glorious day. I laughed at the strangeness of it, and carried on making sandwiches, wondering, with increasingly unlikely suggestions from my friends, who could be coming to see me, and why. From time to time I glanced out of the window, then eventually I saw my brother’s car pull up outside. I ran out to greet him. To my surprise, David, my sister’s boyfriend climbed out of the passenger seat. I glanced in the back to see if Marion was there, but she wasn’t. There was obviously a reason, but who thinks of the possibility of tragedy on a beautiful sunny morning? Instead of wondering what on earth they were doing there, I smiled a welcome and told them to come in and join the party. They had both smiled in greeting, as one does. Then Richard put his hand on my shoulder, a universal gesture that signifies a sharing of some heavy load. It was only then that I guessed something was wrong. He didn’t prevaricate, but told me straight out.
‘I have some bad news. Marion’s dead.’ How could something like that really register? I thought about it for a second, and I remember my first word was, ‘No.’ It wasn’t a question; it was a statement, a denial. They waited while the words solidified, and finally I asked, ‘How?’ ‘A car accident,’ I was told. ‘David,’ I said. ‘I am so, so sorry.’ We stood there, the three of us, arms linked in a circle as though we were about to break into a folk dance. David knew what I meant. The long struggle he would face to readjust his life, the long hours of loneliness which was her legacy to him had already made their mark. He’d had several hours to get used to the idea that his partner of ten long years, was gone, that life would never be the same again. I was given a few small, pertinent facts before they drove back to my mother and father. Marion had been going to work and had crashed head on into an artic. I wondered: how do you tell parents that their first child is dead? No one can quite understand that, I think, until they have held their own first child in their arms. We carried on and hosted the choir for a long, hectic weekend. We went to various venues, we danced, played music, and they sang, and somewhere in the back of my head was this strangely unreal knowledge that my sister was dead. I learned then that grief doesn’t have the blunt impact I once supposed would be the case. I now know what people mean when they talk of grief numbing the senses. There was no blinding flash of comprehension, no tearing of hair and wringing of hands, because I simply couldn’t believe what I’d been told. My mind could not accept the fact; it was a cruel joke, and for a long time after this I subconsciously expected my sister to turn up in the wake of her boyfriend. The mortgage company and my employers weren’t bothered that my sister had died, however, so I carried on going to work and being the person my family needed me to be. Those necessities meant dividing grief into a separate channel in my mind, one that stalked silently alongside my day-to-day activities. For a while I was not wholly in the present. My past experiences with my sister compressed into a kind of montage of memory-bytes, cut out and pasted into solidity, because that store was now finite: there would be no more memories to add. I wish I had taken more note of each moment, so that I could recall them now in greater detail. I wish I hadn’t allowed my marriage and circumstance to keep us apart so much.
Despite the rifts life had wedged between us, we were still a family, in essence. News passed like Chinese whispers: if I told Mum something, Richard and Marion would know soon enough, and vice versa, and when we met the time between dissolved. Now there was a gaping hole in the flow of information. The days that followed Marion’s death were surreal. My parents aged before my eyes and I saw my father cry. On the telephone he said, she was my first baby. My father had never spoken to me so openly, and I had never thought of my ‘big’ sister like that; she had simply always been there. I know from experience that the first child is always a bit special. It doesn’t diminish the ones that follow, but something changes within you when you first view a child that has come from your own union. There is a sense of wonder which stays with you forever: did we really create that baby, that new life? Marion was fourteen months older than me, and slightly envious that I had children. She really wanted a child and was worried that her time was passing by too quickly. She and David had recently bought a really old house and had been doing it up themselves, a major project. Now there was a bathroom and the house was stabilised, they felt ready to take on that new challenge. There was a quiet strength about Marion, in her idealism and determination. I knew she would be an excellent mother, better than me, probably. I’d fallen into childbirth in the hope that somehow it would add meaning to a relationship that hadn’t lived up to its promise, realising too late that I’d simply added eighteen years to the self-imposed sentence of marriage. It is the utter, inexplicable nonsense of death which hits you most, the giddy sensation of things being out of sync. As a child you put things into a definite sequence in your mind, and I was still in that space. I expected my granddad or grandmother to be the next in my family to die. I was prepared for those deaths inasmuch as you can be prepared for the death of someone you love, but it would have been in the right order. When my sister died natural order was overturned. Marion was the second grandchild my grandparents had lost, the first being an even greater tragedy to them as my cousin had been a treasured toddler when he’d been run over in a bizarre set of circumstances. Though I recall the event, I was too young for it to have a deep impact, but they had taken it hard. They had known cruel times: childhoods so desperate I can’t even begin to imagine; Granddad surviving as a soldier through the Second World War; and Gran living through the blitz in Bristol with three children in a
bomb-damaged house. Surviving that, moving into comfortable old age, they had then had to deal with life’s further capricious knocks. Marion had been pretty, though she didn’t think so as her classic Romanesque appearance, an untameable mane of thick hair, a mobile mouth and slightly receding chin, were not fashionable. She was academically able, but not interested in fighting for a place in the corporate world. What made her the unique person she was could mostly be described in the way she actively threw herself into causes. She became a vegetarian and a bell ringer, volunteered when the canals were being cleaned, and joined various countryside groups that were trying to protect environments. She had a great internal strength. Willowy in build, she would stand up to anyone if her moral conscience was violated. She and David were soul-mates in all these things. I became distanced from them mainly because my own husband, John, a controlling and ultimately selfish man, was dismissive of these traits. As it was almost impossible for me to do anything without him, I gradually became isolated from everyone I’d known before meeting him. That first week after her death I lived in a strangely confused state, with the realisation that Marion’s body was lying in a drawer in an Exeter morgue. We were unable to finalise things because there had to be an autopsy, and she was in the queue, we were told, as if she were buying groceries. I met with David and my parents to discuss the funeral arrangements. We were all aware Marion hadn’t wanted to be buried, that it would be a cremation. She had no religious convictions, yet a service in a utilitarian crematorium would have been in insult to her character, so David suggested a disused church in Exeter. It had been de-sanctified years before (I did wonder how some guy in a black robe could believe he had the authority to evict his God from a church), so arrangements were made that it would be available to us for a non-religious ceremony. David didn’t go to pieces, at least in public. He took quiet command of the proceedings. We learned that whenever he said Marion would have wanted it this way, that’s the way it had to be. But almost without exception we all wanted the same sort of service for Marion. She had believed in love, life and honour. She had been a pacifist, a conservationist and a humanist. Her close friends came from all walks of life, including people with deep religious conviction. I knew her creed: she hoped that death was a continuation of existence in some way, but as no one had proved it, the only certain thing is the life we have and how we live it. But whatever our beliefs, funerals demand a sense of
pageantry, without which death is just a sordid end to life. The funeral was fourteen days after Marion’s death, and the guilt was still strong: for being alive, and for not having said goodbye, as though it had somehow been an oversight. It hurts, not being able to remember the last words I spoke to her, not even being able to recall when I last spoke to her. I do remember thinking it was better she died in the accident rather than linger in a coma or brain-damaged in some way. David voiced the same opinion at one stage, but said he was sorry she didn’t hold on long enough for him to say goodbye. Marion had been liked by so many, the church was packed in a way it probably never had been on Sundays. She and David had once been bell-ringers in that very church before God had been banned. Their friend, Tim, a curate, was given permission to lead the service there. Holding the service in this special, ancient building with its carved wood and coloured glass served all our needs, particularly those of my aunt and uncle who had lost their little boy twenty years before. They needed to believe in Christianity, in God and Heaven, because otherwise their little boy would be simply dead. Both were overcome during the service, and we understood that it was not just for Marion that they cried. Tim made his service a testament to Marion’s character, though he did supplement it with bible readings. He said he believed he was sending Marion off to heaven, that he did not believe his God would turn his back on someone so essentially good. We did not ask people to sing. How can you sing when your throat is closed? Instead, we asked people to tell stories, and chose music we knew she had loved: the theme from Thomas Tallis, a pan-pipes tune from the Andes, and others I can’t now recall. During the ceremony the roof beams thrummed with the rushing wings and soft cooing of pigeons that had moved in, lending a sense of all the things Marion had loved. Tim finished his service by asking us to let Marion go. I know she’s gone, but it’s easier to say than to do. She was with me then, and will shadow me till I die. It was hard to believe it was her inside the coffin. My memories of the service are that it was like a distant, vaguely distressing dream from which I kept expecting to wake. I was dry-eyed in the church until the coffin was actually brought in. I remember the sudden hush and the uncontrollable trembling of my mother. It dawned on me finally that Marion’s body was inside the casket, under the flowers. I had picked some flowers that morning, and Dad put them on the coffin for me. My little posy looked incongruously out of
place, disrupting the formality of the professional display. It contained poppies, snapdragons and wild purple toadflax, and was wrapped in a piece of green Christmas paper. But I knew that posy would have meant more to her than the commercial hothouse flowers that scented the church. All through the service the casket commanded half of my attention. I wanted to lift the lid to make sure it was really her. I had a picture postcard image of her lying there with a faint smile curving her mouth as it had hovered during life. I was surprised we had not been invited to see the body, to say our goodbyes, for closure. I vaguely supposed David must have identified the body after the accident, and wondered whether she had been too damaged to view. That worry stayed with me for many long nights. It was impossible to disassociate the character of a person from the shell in which it had been encased during life, hard to accept that the still body no longer held the essence which made it Marion. I discovered although I was sorry for the years which had been stolen from her, I was also sorry for myself and my family for having lost her. Grief is actually a very selfish and personal thing. I wonder, for a moment, whether I should be writing these things, but writing helps create logic out of tangled thoughts. I remember sitting on the grassy slope with my sister at the back of our school in Harlow, discussing our joint desire to write. At that time we both loved fantasy and science fiction. We used to recall snatches of dreams and write them down in notebooks, now long lost, hoping that we could one day use them as inspiration for stories. She had a recurring dream of going through to another world which I can only recall her describing as â€˜redâ€™. She had many dream-episodes set in the same place. In the years following our move to Devon, new schools, college, growing up, and the tiring business of earning a living, contact between us diminished. I never had a chance to find out if her dream continued, but I now wonder if it had been her own way of escaping a childhood which had been, in many ways, traumatic for both of us. As far as I know she never did write, but poured herself into her busy life. I had put my desire to write on hold, thinking Iâ€™d start when the time was right, but when Marion died I realised I might die suddenly, as she did, and never discover if I even could write. So in a way her death jump-started many things inside me, including the decision to live my own life, not the one which had sneaked up on me when I was too young to notice. So writing became my reality, my buffer in a lonely world.
Marion was envious of my marriage, my family life, she had told me so, but I’d never let her know how unhappy I was, about the struggle to keep sane, the loss of my dreams and my very self. She never knew how I saw my youth fade towards middle age, and sometimes even thought of taking my own life. She never knew that I was envious of her freedom, her happiness with David, her many weekends away doing interesting things; that I’d swapped all that for a stability that was crushing. It’s true that you don’t know what you have until it’s taken from you, and I ended with something Marion no longer had: life itself. After the funeral we went on to what can only be described as a wake. My brother had hired the functions tent at the ‘Double Locks’ in Exeter, which had been Marion and David’s favourite pub. There is a single track road which leads alongside the canal to the pub. At one point it crosses the canal via a tiny bridge, no more than a line of railway sleepers, set at right angles to the track. It was never designed for cars. One could look down into the water through the gaps, and every time we drove over I wondered whether we would make it to the other side. The pub is three-quarters surrounded by water: on one side the canal, on the other, the river Exe leads to the estuary. It had a reputation, back then, for real ale and wholesome food. When we arrived, the publican beamed a welcome at David and asked where his ‘pretty girlfriend’ was. David had to explain. Until that moment the publican had not realised that the funeral was for the girl whose photograph was still pinned on the wall, being silly at one of the pub functions. We drank ourselves silly that day, and the atmosphere was high. I spoke to people I didn’t know and relatives I hadn’t seen for ages; we all acted as if it was a Christmas party that Marion had laid on especially for us. We didn’t shun the subject of the dead person in whose honour we all got plastered, that would have been an insult. Instead we talked about her, about us, about the weather, and wasn’t it a lovely service? Looking back I find it hard to believe that I laughed and talked so freely. The party eventually petered out, and the farewells to me, my brother, my parents and David bought us back to earth with a jolt. I saw the strain on their faces, and I suppose it was on my face, too. A few days after the funeral, it was my birthday. My parents made a token gesture of a present and a card, but after that there was another treat in store. David asked if I would go over to the house and take first choice of her personal things – her jewellery and clothes. I thought it might be easier for me to just take all her clothes and deal with them,
but he said he couldn’t bear an immediately huge gap in her wardrobe. He believed it would be easier for him to give her things away in bits and pieces. I doubt it ever got easier. It wasn’t easy for me to rifle through her clothes; it was traumatic, in fact. I took some, more to help him out than in the belief I could ever wear them. I simply could not take anything else – the whole house was filled with a sense of her: every book, every picture, every piece of precious collected junk, some of which I recognised from our past, but other things belonging to her more recent life with David still spoke of her character. All the little treasures we had quarrelled over as children I would have given to her at that moment if I could. I took her leather motorbike jacket, which pleased David, as he’d tried to give it to one of her friends who had been horrified, not realising that her refusal to accept it was more distressing to David that a casual acceptance would have been. Marion had nothing of value, but had been a hoarder. Some things I recalled buying with her, some things I made for her, some had memories or anecdotes attached to them. It was a difficult time. David cried over the bits and pieces we were sorting through, and so did I. One item I took was a natural wool jumper she’d brought back from the Andes. When I got home I discovered a little brass broach attached to it, finely etched with a solitary tree. It seemed to stand for everything she held true: simplicity of design, the earth, sunshine, growth, continuity. This one item of hers I still have, as if by my choosing that tatty jumper she had reached out from the grave to give me this one, tiny, parting gift. That night I was ill, with cramping pains in my stomach, and I could only attribute it to the black bin liners on my bedroom floor which contained the clothes I had brought home. It was many weeks before I opened them, and over the following year they all gradually went to charity shops. I knew David worked for the Exeter Fire Department as a photographer, and it was during this time he told me that it was only circumstantial that he had not been sent out with the emergency staff to photograph the accident where his own girlfriend would still have been trapped in her car under the lorry. She’d driven a soft-topped Triumph Herald, so when the accident occurred the car had slipped under the lorry so far the people on site had been unable to extract her or disentangle the vehicles. I also learned that the press got hold of Marion’s name and blasted it over the news before it was officially released, so it’s a good thing Mum and Dad didn’t listen to local news or they might have heard of her
death in that nasty, sensationalist piece of reporting. My sister became newsworthy not by being gentle and kind, but by being dead and inconsiderately blocking a major road for several hours. Mum phoned to make sure I’d got home safely, something she’d never done before. She asked me how my brother was, and I said I didn’t know. He showed no sign of grief, though I know he loved her, and I wondered how he was coping. He shut himself away and became a stranger overnight. When I saw Mum again, she told me of a poem by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who I believe was dying of cancer when she wrote it: Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears, then don't remember me at all. Mum also told me, ‘In Exeter there’s the tombstone of a child, and the inscription reads: thank you, Lord, for the twelve years we had with our daughter. So I’m going to try to do this for Marion. To remember the good things; anything else is pointless.’ I knew then from where Marion had inherited her inner strength. I learned from David, poignantly, that it was Marion who found the stone in the first place and showed it to my mother some time before. Whenever I met David he recounted anecdotes, too, as though remembering the good things kept her closer to his mind. Sometimes his voice would break in the middle of something else, and he’d say, ‘I miss her so, your sister,’ then he’d carry on. I wish I’d known her better, this older sister he told me about. I sometimes felt I had not known her at all. I was able to tell David a story he had not heard before. When we were camping in Scotland as teenagers, Marion got up in the morning and clipped herself into a denim bib and brace I’d made for her. Suddenly her face dropped, and she grappled in panic for the buckles, getting the trousers off in a comical pantomime of haste. I was too dumbfounded to react. I shall never forget the look of horror on her face, which changed dramatically to hysterical laughter when an enormous stag beetle crawled out of the leg of the trousers. David wondered why Marion had never told him that, and I said we all remember different moments out of the same events. Some months later David phoned, to say the trees had arrived. We had asked people not to spend out on cut flowers, but to put some money into a kitty to buy trees. The collection provided a lot more than we had anticipated, and we had
enough money to plant a whole copse. The Trust for Nature Conservancy gave us the corner of a field, and there we planted some three hundred trees, and on the top of the hill beside it we planted seven larger evergreens, and put a little plaque with Marion’s name on it. We decided that would be her only monument, for when we are gone there will be no one left who cared. About thirty people turned up to help with the planting. It was tedious work, and rain threatened but didn’t fall till we were just about finished. We finally wrapped the trunks with rabbit protectors, and packed up. As we left I looked back. The churned patch of ground looked like a battlefield, and the white rabbit-shields made it look like a graveyard. A date was set for the inquest, on 17th July. It’s strange how that date has stuck in my mind. Because it was an accident with a fatality, of course, someone had to determine who caused it. I wanted to go to the inquest, but was overridden. David, Richard, Dad and my husband (who hadn’t even liked Marion) went and wouldn’t allow Mum or me to go. They said it was to protect us, but looking back I think Dad and David were protecting themselves. If Mum or I had started to cry it would have set them all off, and women have less control over tears than men. While they were away I went for a walk with Mum and the dog. It was better than sitting around just wondering. And that’s when Mum threw the curveball: Marion had burned to death. It turned out everyone except me had known, even my husband. It had been my brother who had insisted they keep this information from me, to protect me, apparently. Mum hadn’t realised I didn’t know. So instead of learning this dreadful fact when I was still numb, I learned it in the cold, analytical moment of the inquest ten weeks later. That’s why Mum had been shaking so uncontrollably in the church. She had known Marion’s blackened body was encased in a body bag inside the coffin. When my husband returned I was so choked I couldn’t even begin to express my anger, so it festered alongside the many other instances of lack of communication that ultimately led to my leaving him. The inquest reopened wounds. Marion had been doing about 45 mph and went out of control on a bend. An articulated milk tanker was coming down the hill towards her. The driver saw Marion go out of control, drive into the skid, and make a textbook recovery, but on his side of the road. He carried on around the corner and ploughed into and over her stationary soft top Triumph Herald at around 70 mph, trapping her inside. Several people stopped and tried to help pull the car free with ropes, but it was wedged under the lorry,
eventually bursting into flames. It was deduced that the bonnet pressed onto the battery, causing the short circuit which started the fire. No mechanical fault was subsequently discovered on her car, so guesses were hazarded that she lost concentration, had a momentary blackout, or swerved to avoid an animal. I can believe the latter, it would have been in character. The tanker driver was absolved of manslaughter, but I still wonder how that could be. He had time to see her go out of control and recover the vehicle on an almost empty road, but carried on driving his 38-ton vehicle downhill, round a blind corner, assuming she would have driven on by then. To my mind that was manslaughter; gross negligence at the least. David told me that he had had three premonitions about her death: twice he woke in the night with my sister in his arms, and thought he was holding a corpse; then, a few days before her death, he dreamed she was on fire. He remembered thinking, what a shame this should all be burned, but told himself not to be daft, it was just a nightmare. Some months later he finally took the plastic urn that held Marion’s ashes and went into the countryside alone. I don’t know where he scattered them, but it was somewhere special to himself and Marion. He said when he tipped the ashes out it was like letting a genie out of a bottle; a big cloud of grey dust that billowed and settled softly. She is out there somewhere, on a wild patch of land, at one with nature. In time, Richard went to look at the trees we had planted, and reported back that vandals had destroyed the trees on the hill and the plaque was gone. I will never go back to see what further damage has been done, I’d prefer to imagine a thriving copse, perhaps even one day a mature wood. If someone has destroyed it all, I don’t want to know. David died twenty-five years after Marion, barely sixty years old. He never had another girl-friend, though he had said, in his laconic, humorous way, that he’d ‘tried a few out’ over the years. I wondered if he’d finally just given up, slipped away quietly because life had lost its meaning with my sister’s death all those years ago. Writing about Marion’s death is not as hard as I thought it might be, but odd feelings flash out of the blue, sneaking through the cracks when I’m thinking of other things, catching me unawares. When something this horrific happens we assume that understanding will eventually arrive, but it doesn’t. Time allows grief to slide into the archives of the mind, but the door never properly closes. I have learned there is no such thing as closure. I
still ask: why her; why that way; why did she have to die on her own on a lonely road with strangers. The question is always: why? Susan Lewando
Susan Lewando is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at University College, County Cork, Ireland. Included in her widely published works are nine genre novels, a twelve episode soap, two stories and a newspaper article.
Nine 39 the mind bent to the bodyâ€™s questions what went on when the one meant nothing to the other try as it might night after night blind to find peace the ease of sleep in the end only in dreaming the one had wings the other the will to fly Ray Malone Ray Malone was born in Malta to an Irish father and English mother and currently lives and works as an artist, writer and translator in Berlin, Germany. He has been published in small magazines in the UK since the 1960s.
[untitled] And though the stars came by what you hear stays wet for your hands on the rope waiting till it’s dark –you hang the wash at night, sure the clothes will dry –by morning you’ll fill the tub again with her dress and stir till the water turns black smells from sleeves and the same shoulders that were always there with grass that you add later. Simon Perchik Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems.
[untitled] And though this bottle is empty it drifts on by as if the grass puts its trust in the thirst for sunlight and butterflies â€“drop by drop you water this grave till it smells from salt then sent off, comes back night after night as a wave telling you where, what happened. Simon Perchik
Rose ‘It’s like the beating of tiny, little wings on my ear drum. Are you sure
nothing is in there?’ Rose asks the young doctor sitting across from her. ‘It sounds like standard tinnitus. Sometimes people can hear the pulsing of their own heart in their ears. If you’ve no pain or loss of hearing, it doesn’t sound like something to worry about,’ the young doctor says with his widest smile to his patient, ‘it’s quite common in women of your age.’ ‘Of my age?’ Rose’s voice rises with annoyance at the man. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. You should be proud of that, you’re in great health for a woman near fifty.’ Rose eyes him up and down, thinking about how he couldn’t be much older than the teenagers in her house and how on earth he is already working in the local GP office. She has been explaining her latest problem to him in fine detail the last twenty minutes and he still doesn’t seem to be understanding. It’s not her pulse she can hear in her right ear. ‘Well, is there not anything I can do about it. It’s driving me mad at night.’ ‘Some people put balls of cotton wool in their ears while sleeping. It seems to relieve some of the throbbing.’ The thought of rolling cotton balls into her ears gives her insides a convulsion at the wiry spindling of the things. He opens the door for her, eager to get her out of his office. Rose grabs her purse and stands beside him and shakes his hand. The lad is even smaller looking when she is beside him. ‘Until next time, Mrs Kelly.’ ‘Have a good day, Dr Fahy.’ He closes the door too quickly behind her. She doesn’t appreciate it. She’ll be knocking on the door of old Dr Dillon next day, whether he has the time to schedule her in or not. Rose pulls into her driveway and notices the Garda car parked outside the gates. Roisín, the local Garda gets out of her car as Rose opens her front door. ‘Sorry to bother you, but we’ve got a girl in need of emergency care and I’m
struggling to find somewhere to place her. I know you’ve retired from fostering but
I was hoping you might help us out one more time?’ she asks. The little figure sits with her head down in the back of the Garda car. Rose stares at her skinny frame and can’t help but feel the pang of sympathy spread through her. ‘We had to take her out of the home this morning. The place was in an awful state,’ Roisín says, following Rose’s stare back to her squad car. ‘The dad’s an alcoholic and the mother has mental health issues. We’ve been aware of the family for a while but with the neighbours hearing the screams from the mother being beat, we had to get the children into care until she gets out of ICU. Hopefully, her mother can get help through women’s shelters once she’s well again. The girl’s name is Maisy.’ Rose nods slowly, taking in the history this child had to suffer through. She has taken similar cases before and knows what kind of damage that home-life can do to a young soul. ‘What age is she?’ Rose asks. ‘She’s eight this Friday.’ ‘The poor thing. Bring her in so. I’m happy to help until her mother gets back on her feet again.’ ‘Thanks Rose, the family that homed her younger brothers wouldn’t take her on, too.’ ‘That’s a shame, to separate them like that.’ Roisín walks back to the car and pulls open the door for the child to climb out. Maisy crosses her arms and shakes her head, pouting her bottom lip out with a determined look in her eye. Roisín kneels beside her and coaxes the child to finally climb out of the car. Maisy holds the Garda’s hand until they’re at Rose’s doorway. Maisy is shivering in her thin cotton dress. The only warm item of clothing on the girl is her torn elephant print, wolly leggings. ‘Well, look at you. Aren’t you a brave little girl,’ Rose says and kneels down in front of her, extending her hand. ‘I’m Rosanna Lilly Kelly, but around these parts I’m known as Rose. Welcome to our home.’ ‘I’m Maisy. I like Rosanna Lilly Kelly, it sounds like the name of one of those Victorian ladies with the big skirts. Can I just call you that?’ she asks. Rose chuckles, ‘You can call me whatever you like, dear. As long as it’s
fitting for a lady.’ ‘I’m afraid there’s a problem. This woman,’ Maisy looks up to the Garda crossly, ‘has taken my brothers to a different house and you see, I can’t leave Aodhan and Aaron. I have to be with them, no one else can deal with their carry on.’ ‘Listen to this one? You’ll be back together in no time. Once mum gets better.’ ‘I’m only coming in, Rosanna Lilly Kelly, on one condition.’ ‘Well, don’t keep us waiting.’ Maisy looks between the two women, her mind ticking. ‘I get my own bedroom.’ Her eyes study Rose carefully, watching to see how far she can bend her. Rose puts both hands on her wide hips and makes a show of thinking through her request. ‘We’ll see what we can do for you. There’s a few more heads in this house
and you’ll have to bargain with them, not me. They don’t like sharing much, either.’ Maisy nods and follows Rose into the house. Roisín waves bye to Maisy from the door-step only to get a sharp glare back from the child as Rose closes the door behind them. ‘We’ll start with a tour of the place and then I’ll get the kettle on. You look
like you could do with a hot drink. Maybe a hot choccy?’ Maisy nods furiously at the suggestion. Rose brings her from room to room downstairs then upstairs to the bedrooms. Maisy follows her along with awe at the size of the house. Once they’re back in the kitchen, Rose roots through the hot-press to find a faded green and white striped plastic bag of clothing, belonging to the other girls she’s fostered over the years. She finds a matching red polka dot jumper and pants. She remembers buying this when they adopted their first girl, Annie and how chuffed she was with this little red outfit. She’d came from a home where all the clothes she was given were half eaten by moths. The innocence she had shown when she first tried on the outfit, thinking she was the bee’s knees, had always stayed with Rose. She learned a lot from taking in Annie, it drove her to start fostering and
give other unwanted children a place in their home. A home her and Billy couldn’t populate with their own blood and flesh. ‘These should do, although you’ll take some filling out before they fit you
comfortably,’ Rose says swinging to face Maisy, only to find her on top of the counter with her face plastered to the kitchen window. ‘Get down from there!’ ‘It’s so big.…’ Maisy says looking back to Rose, her eyes wide.
Rose stares out at her own garden, with its two apple trees and some flowers scattered around the edges. The only defining feature is the old wall that encloses the back garden, from the ruins that used to lie on this site before herself and Billy bought it to build on. There used to be an old schoolhouse built here. She had loved the old stone walls left behind after the rest of the world had moved on and had felt the need to give them some life again after they found the site. The garden used to be beautiful when she had the time to work on it, before family life took over. Now it’s overrun with pissy-beds and ivy. ‘There’ll be no more climbing countertops, until your arse is the same
height as them.’ Maisy giggles as she lifts her down. Rose hands her the outfit and watches her eyes light up again at the colour of it. ‘Use the first bedroom at the top of the stairs. We’ll sort out the sleeping
arrangements later. Don’t forget the vest top, you’ll catch a cold without it.’ She runs out of the kitchen, her skipping sounding like gallops on the wooden floor in the hallway. Rose looks back out into her garden again, feeling like she’s only seeing the depravation it has been under for the first time. ‘I’ll need to get that sorted.’
Billy watches Rose pile the dishes into the sink from the armchair beside the fire, scrapping off the leftovers from the kid’s dinners into the old mushroom container for the compost bin. ‘She seems alright. Bright thing. She’ll be a handful though, you can see the spirit is strong in that one. Do you think you’ve the energy left to run after her?’ he asks, taking a sip of his tea. ‘Do I heck? You sound like that child-doctor, thinking a woman is past her prime at my age. She’s got a fire in her, most likely out of necessity. Think she was
close to raising those two brothers. The rest seem to like her as well,’ Rose watches his reflection in the window, with the smirk on his face. She knows well he just baited her into an argument about running herself thin again. ‘Aye, they do. And, what exactly did the doctor say?’ ‘He didn’t seem to grasp what I was describing in my ear. Kept on about tinnitus. Sure, I have that already. I know this noise is something different.’ ‘When you start hearing Nathan Carter whispering sweet nothings into your ear, I’ll worry then.’ He chuckles away to himself, not noticing her glare on him and stirs the ashes in the stove. ‘I’ll set up the sofa-bed for her, tonight. It’ll be nice to have some young life around here again. Might give us a break from the moody teenagers. She’s bringing out the soft side in them, already.’ Billy leaves his cup beside the full wash-basin and gives his wife a little kiss on the cheek and whispers into her right ear until she rolls her eyes. ‘Get out of it. You’re a bad man, Billy Kelly.’ Rose pulls up to the primary school and finds a spot close to the gates. The pavements are heaving with little heads running to their friends, parents hot on their heels trying to steal a kiss before the bell rings. Maisy is sitting in the front seat fiddling with the front of her pinafore dress, she glances at her own three in the back seat, engrossed in their phones. Vibrations and bells fill the silence in the car. ‘I’ll walk you to the office today, pet. From tomorrow on, you’ll have to line up with the rest of your class.’ Maisy bites her lip and stares out at the mass of children going past their parked car. ‘Don’t worry. We’re all a bit scared on our first day at school.’ ‘But what if they don’t like me?’ she stares up at Rose with big eyes. ‘They’ll have to deal with us if they’re mean to you,’ Annie says in the back, elbowing her siblings on either side of her. Her brother and sister barely look up from their phones with a quick nod and wave from each of them. ‘Don’t be late, Mam. I’ve to make sure I’m in early for the Irish orals.’
This seems to be the thing to encourage Maisy enough to pull the door handle and hop out. Rose follows suit and carries her Spiderman backpack for her. She had offered her a selection of bags this morning; a My Little Pony one and two other sporty types from when her son had wanted to be a hurling star. His dream faded due to his growing obsession with Pokémon cards, and the perfectly new training bags got shoved in the closet for another owner to claim them. But Maisy had wanted the Spiderman bag and wouldn’t even look at the pink one. Outside the office, she sits Maisy in a chair. The poor thing looks lost, staring around her in fear, she clings onto Rose as she tries to go into the office. ‘Don’t worry, you can see me through the glass. Look?’ Rose points behind her to the window of the secretary’s office. Maisy nods back reluctantly, not uttering a word. Rose keeps an eye on her as she goes through the door, she doesn’t close it fully so Maisy can still hear her voice. ‘Siobhan, thanks a million for fitting her in so quickly.’ ‘No hassle at all, is this her?’ she nods to the girl staring in at them. ‘This is Maisy.’ ‘Any issues to expect? I know some of the cases you brought here in the past struggled with our school structures.’ ‘There isn’t a bother on her, smart girl. If anything, she’s too quiet.’ ‘Hmm, we can put her in Ms Carr’s first class. It’s number seven down the corridor, across from the school hall. I’ve told her to expect you.’ ‘Thanks again, Siobhan.’ Siobhan smiles back at her and waves to the small face pressed against her office window. ‘C’mon you, there’ll be fingerprints all over the glass at this rate.’ Maisy takes Rose’s hand and they make their way past the children rushing to their classrooms. They stop outside number seven, its door scattered with recreations of Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night on paper plates. Rose tries to knock gently but a few of the masterpieces tumble to the ground, landing in a mound, acrylic paint peeling onto the floor. The door swings open and a young blonde girl smiles widely between Maisy and Rose. ‘This must be Maisy,’ Ms Carr bends over and extends her hand to the girl.
‘We’ve been waiting for you to arrive.’ ‘I’ll leave you to it, so,’ Rose looks down to the frozen Maisy and rubs her head, ‘I’ll be standing at the school gates at three. Have a great day.’ Maisy holds onto her arm when she tries to leave. Her teacher takes her other hand, guiding her gently into the loud classroom. Rose walks slowly from the door, listening to the children say hello in unison to their new classmate. She can’t help but feel that familiar pang of guilt at letting them out into the world without her eyes on their every move. Rose had planted honeysuckle along the old stone walls after every miscarriage she had, all seven of them. She had always loved the beauty of them, that they’d grow wild around the Irish countryside without much love or care. She pulls over her wheelbarrow, full of weeds, to the wall and leaves her coarse gardening gloves on top of the mess. She kneels on top of the damp grass and pulls apart the Ivy to find its yellow flower. It’s limp in this late September air, most of its goodness would disappear until next Spring. Even after all these years, it still thrives, once the weather allows. Its scent will fill the garden and remind her of those lost souls her body betrayed, not able to nurture them to term. Each time she planted honeysuckle she would give it a name. One, she’d whisper in silent grief to their bloom every year. The children she has raised in this house always stick their flower in the vases around the home, never aware of the comfort and pain this causes her. She cocks her good ear to the house and realises the landline is ringing through the open kitchen window. Willing herself back off her knees, she uses the wheelbarrow for support, feeling the beginnings of arthritis settling into her joints like the ivy climbing her wall. ‘Hello, Siobhan. Sorry, was in the garden, never heard the phone ringing for so long.’ ‘What do you mean she is lost?’ ‘No! She isn’t in the house. I’ve been here myself all morning. How on earth did ye lose her?’ Rose slams the phone back into its holder, feeling the ebb of panic shake
through her hand. She grabs her keys and runs out the door faster than she has in years. In the school office sits the principal, Siobhan, Ms Carr and the Garda, Roisín. ‘Someone must have seen something. A child doesn’t just walk out of school during class unnoticed,’ Rose says, getting frustrated with their incompetence. ‘We’re so sorry, Rose. We haven’t a clue how she slipped away. The caretaker is checking the cameras right now to see where she got out.’ The principal apologises. ‘Well, that just isn’t good enough. I would never have brought her here if I thought ye weren’t capable of watching the child.’ ‘Is there anywhere she would go?’ Siobhan asks from Rose’s side. ‘We have already called the hospital; in case she visits mum. The family minding her brothers are on the look-out, as well. There isn’t anywhere else we know she might go. She could just be acting out. I mean she’s had a tough week. She might have made it back to your house already, Rose,’ Roisín says. ‘I’m telling you she was nowhere near the house. I would have noticed her on the drive up,’ Rose snaps. ‘The best thing for you to do right now is stay at home; she will eventually come back. She has nowhere else to go,’ the principal says, trying to place a comforting hand on Rose’s arm. She pulls it away at her touch. ‘What about her parent’s house?’ Rose asks Roisín. ‘That’s a half-hour walk for me even, she’d never make it that far, Rose. The principal is right, the best help you can offer her is to wait at home. She’ll want a friendly face when she comes back. Let us search and we’ll call with regular updates.’ Rose thinks to herself, they don’t know the determination inside that girl, she’d easily make that walk if she wanted to. ‘Okay, call me every half hour.’ Rose walks back to her car and pulls out her mobile, dialling Billy’s number. He answers it on the last ring. ‘They’ve lost the child - What do you mean who? The bloody school! – Listen, I need you to get back to the house and wait in case she arrives. I have a
hunch where she might be headed.’ Rose hangs up the phone before he can object further. ‘You better be there, missy,’ Rose says through gritted teeth as she pulls off from the school zone, going as fast as her car can go down the road of ramps. She nearly misses the turn on the old Shannon Bridge Road. The hedges for the lane are so overgrown, they scrape her car going past. ‘Billy won’t be too happy about that,’ she mutters to herself, accelerating
down the lane, bouncing over the potholes until the bushes break and she can see the crooked wooden gate blocking the driveway to Maisy’s old home. Rose climbs out of the car and takes in the place. It’s an old cottage in dire need of repair. Sheds for the animals are clustered at the back, one of them missing a wall. Rose peers in the front window, a missing glass pane on the top is replaced with cardboard and masking tape. She tries the front door but it’s locked, she bangs on it a few times to no response. She takes the silence as an invitation to explore around the property. She can see the back door is open a few inches once she makes her way around the house and feels a weight lift off her chest at its sight. ‘Maisy! It’s Rose,’ she shouts as soon as she steps in the door and into a
small kitchen. The smell makes her gag and cover her mouth. It reminds her of swine and the farmers who used to slaughter them when she worked in the kitchens in the mart, years back alongside her mother, making some extra cash for college. The air around her is thick with flies. Shards of a mirror lie shattered on the stone kitchen floor; she steps over them carefully and makes her way through the house. She checks every room on the ground floor before heading up the stairs. A few of the steps are missing wood in parts, she silently curses the parents who would keep three young children in this death-trap of a house. She finds three bedrooms upstairs, all of them with the blackened marks of damp spreading on the ceiling. One is a little box room with pink rabbit wallpaper, which she assumes must be Maisy’s. The crusting edges of the paper on the walls break her heart, as does its lonely bed, not even a sheet on the mattress. The child didn’t have much chance of comfort in this place. A rustling noise pulls her attention back to the hallway, it’s too low for her to find its location easily.
‘Maisy? Where on earth are you?’ she shouts again in the faint hope the girl
will answer back. Passing the closet door under the stairs, she hears it again. Rose can see the door isn’t shut properly, left hanging open an inch like the back door. She opens it slowly, hoping to see Maisy, not a stray animal, inside. With her heart pounding in her ears, now this is what that child-doctor was talking about not the fluttering in her right ear. There is Maisy, head hidden under her arms, shaking with gentle sobs. ‘Ah pet, what are you doing here?’ Rose asks climbing down to her level. ‘I was looking for Mama or Da. I just wanted to go home,’ she cries into her
hands. ‘C’mere, let it out.’
Rose rubs her back holding the girl until she’s got most of the tears out of her. ‘Am I in big trouble?’ ‘Well, you near gave me a heart attack and don’t get me started on the rest
of them in school. But there is no trouble to be had, for being home sick. Don’t worry, we’ll start again.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘I’ve been gardening all morning. Done wonders on the place, was just about
to plant some tulips when the school called. Would you like to come home now and help?’ Rose stands up and extends a hand to Maisy, she takes it and they navigate their way around the broken mirror in the kitchen. Rose pauses for a breath as soon as she closes the back door. Sucking as much clean air back into her lungs as possible. Maisy looks back at her old home and gives it a wave goodbye then turns and hops back into the front seat where she had been safely belted only a few hours before. Rose shakes her head to stop the tickle of the feather in her right ear. Its sound is building to a crescendo. ‘What are you doing?’ Maisy asks, helping her plant the tulip seeds in the
‘I’ve this strange occurrence in my ear, I seem to be hearing things no one
else can.’ Maisy ponders this over while she shovels gentle hills of compost on top of the golden bulbs. She spreads it through her hands like she’s kneading scones. ‘And what does it sound like?’ ‘Like ladybirds fluttering about in there. But it only comes and goes
occasionally, I can’t seem to find any rhythm to it.’ ‘Is it like this?’
She cups her hands over Rose’s ears and makes small movements, starting a throbbing current through her ears. ‘It’s very like that.’ ‘I hear that too, Rosanna Lilly Kelly. That’s just the butterflies coming and
going, spreading their wings in the world. Only very special people can hear them, you know?’ ‘Oh really?’ ‘I know we’re special, because not many people can feel the beat of tiny,
little wings from far, far away. This makes me like you even more,’ Maisy beams up at Rose. Rose feels the warmth of the sun spread to her heart. She pulls the girl close for a hug and Maisy tucks her small head under her neck like a baby bird to its mother. Cathy Donelan Cathy Donelan, from the West of Ireland, is currently studying for her degree in Arts with Creative Writing at NUI Galway. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in ROPES, Dodging the Rain, The Honest Ulsterman, and others. Her poetry has appeared in The Galway Review and A New Ulster.
Foundling You thought of nestling birds released in glimpses of crag-limbed apple trees, pared wings fluttered through flounces of slanting sun. Shadow condensed at the cask of noon, you dreamt life sped by the grin of crimson, jettisoned veins rivering like vibrissaâ€™s threads of nerves. This scene staged without your gentling hand assuaged by bourbon, wilds felled the deep wells of sound, like coteries of phantom choirs on analogue turned. So you gazed heavenward for pale flashes of birds, marking feints, hoping the timeworn storks would be late reaching over the foam-blue sea, where you ached ever to be lullabied by the flights of memories, with yielding limbs to make the rise from grave to sun. Lana Bella Lana Bella has been featured in 2River, Acentos Review, California Quarterly, Comstock Review, and many others. She has authored three chapbooks, Under My Dark, Adagio, and Dear Suki: Letters. Lana resides in the US and in the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Playing Out The oxygen smell of blue fresh day has me slinging on scarf and yanking on wellies. Outside is a sweetshop of tastes for the senses. The wood is vivacious in its decay. An oak almost bare, limbs stiff as mine, grooved trunk reminds me of my ageing skin. Though old, I still hear high notes of the Robin, still see fine threads of web in the sunshine, smell marine seasoned scents and wilderness musks, clock the glow of deciduous ambers and russets, and dew studded cobwebs strung over tussocks, feel forest paths crunchy with bark and husks. A fool’s summer tarries in Fool’s Parsley galaxies as winds from winter lands nip at old skin. Visitor birds flit away to the sun, while starlings remain and dusk-dance in phalanxes. Silvery frosting creeps through my foliage, lines mark my eyes like a pheasant’s snow print. ‘Peppy’ should give ground to ‘sedate’ in my dotage, yet I kick the freed leaves and I don’t act my age! So just as the germ renews from the dry and green pumps moist inside the dead skin, years drop from my branches and I am a kid again, warmed by a swollen sun low in the sky. Stef Portersmith Stef Portersmith has been published in various magazines including Aesthetica and the Foreword Anthology.
[that little ghost] i told my son that little ghost that cold sighing you feel when you walk into your room is actually the air conditioning unit i dragged up there to keep you cool in the summer oh no there is a ghost up there her lover used to knock on our door because he lived across the street and had dementia and kept forgetting he had decided to stay with his wife those many years ago so sheâ€™s up there still leaning on the cape cod slant of the house she had built before she knew what would happen if you loved that which existed directly out your front door sheâ€™s up there but she just wants to stay there and look out the window maybe you decide to pray one night you could pray for her or just say the word love over and over again with your warm breath Darren C Demaree Darren C Demaree is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. His poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in Diode, Meridian, New Letters, Diagram, and others. He has authored six poetry collections, most recently Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly. He currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.
Beyond Anything Past
W Jack Savage
the dream is over pt. II it was so easy once. i never had to hunch over the keys to pull something out words just appeared and the second hand clicked as i lay on my back and put onto paper any good word that came through. like throwing darts at a wall like playing william tell and if you do this long enough no matter how bad it starts eventually you hit a bullseye. but they donâ€™t come so easy now. you see, love lived here once in these keys on that paper in the dark corners of the classroom i faded in to as the stories rolled out from the weekend from the bleachers from the diners over cherry cokes and disco fries. the rain fell like blue yarn that fall and the sun never felt good either. i wrote you a poem about an umbrella i had whose stem was carved to a duck head. but it was homecoming weekend the game sold out and they raffled off a new bicycle at half-time while the sophomores took turns under the bleachers. the rain turned to ice on saturday. my priest sang a homily sunday. then it was monday again. i listened in homeroom while horrible lips smiled over the weekend. you took a vow of silence too bad they never did Scott Laudati Scott Laudati lives in Cranston, RI, and is the author of a novel, Play The Devil, and a poetry collection, Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair.
Malicious Arson 1. His flash fire asphyxiated all forty-eight inside the illegal basement bar uptown where his ex worked as coat check girl. 2. Just an hour before lighting the match, he had her choked against the wall for saying that she was done with him. The smoky room, well over occupancy, laughed as the bouncer subdued him with an NYPD chokehold of death. “A small dick, fuck!” she yelled out and spit in his direction. To the patrons she explained, “I can’t stand a small dick!” 3. Having yelled from the street about how “Motherfuckers best be out!” he returned with a 64-ounce Gatorade of 87 unleaded. Accelerant dashed in pulses down the steps to the only exit, he got a match to light after some struggle against the city wind. The blaze left piles of waxen Dominicans frozen mid-life in their Friday-night best, some of them still clutching their drinks. M A Istvan Jr M A Istvan Jr teaches at Texas State University and is a method translator of AAVE (African American Vernacular English).
Afterimages In the predawn darkness Sara pulled into the Pond Manor parking lot, cut her engine. This wasn’t a manor, and there wasn’t a pond, judged to be too great a risk to wanderers from the Memory Care Unit. In its place stood a triple-bowled fountain, no bowl deep enough for danger, and all of them dry now that it was past Labor Day. Sara stared ahead at the spot-lit fountain, unprepared to rise from her car and make her usual trek from the parking lot to the main building, taking that sharp, lastminute right toward the employee entrance. The place she’d departed on her previous shift, a week before, was not the one she’d returned to today. Stalling, she felt for her phone and pulled it from her sweater pocket. He had to be dealt with, and listening to his message—all of it this time—would be a start. She found the message and let it play out: Hey, Sara, it’s Jared. Still among the living. Listen. I haven’t forgotten what Saturday is, and I’d really like to be there for Grace. So call me when you have a chance, okay? It had been three months since she’d heard from him. And now here he was without apology, his voice edged with entitlement and that lower tone of flirtation, part of what had won her long ago. Sara thought of the cake she’d ordered for Saturday’s party. She pictured all the gifts—new outfits and toys—and the pink balloons printed with sparkling 1’s to mark Grace’s first year. Jared hadn’t paid a cent for any of this. Worse, to Sara, was the way she’d been left, once again, to manage all of the details. “Fuck you,” she said, the words as unsatisfying as something read from a script. She took a deep breath and tried to return herself to reason. If I call him back, I’ll be civil. Or try. But that wouldn’t be today. As she made her way toward the employee entrance, to all that lay ahead of her, a phrase of Jared’s re-emerged and stayed with her: Still among the living.
The break room was empty but for Taisha, who was about to load her bag and jacket into her locker. Seeing Sara, she dropped her things onto the bench and opened her arms. Sara stepped into them, and they held onto each other, rocking back and forth. “Baby girl,” Taisha whispered. She’d been the one who’d called with the news about Mr. Doloro, knowing that Sara wouldn’t want to walk into it today, without warning. “How have you been managing?” Taisha asked. Sara broke away but held onto Taisha’s arms, studied her face. It looked as calm and open as always, though her eyes were perhaps more shadowed than usual. “I’m more worried about you,” Sara said. “You were the one who was there.” When Taisha delivered the news, Sara’s sadness had been compounded by guilt —for being a state away and four days from returning to work, unable to offer some comfort to Mrs. Doloro and other family members, and to Taisha and the other staff. But she knew how Taisha would respond to any expressions of guilt: You’re taking care of your aunt. And we have things under control here—as under control as they can be. Now Taisha said, “I was there and I wasn’t. Like I told you, everything happened so fast that my mind never caught up to what was going on, until we lost him.” After breaking his hip the month before, Mr. D spent a week in the hospital, then returned to Pond Manor for rehab. For a couple of weeks, he’d been doing reasonably well, until things took a slide downhill. Taisha nudged her bag into her locker, then shook her head. “I still can’t quite believe he’s gone, as weird as that sounds.” The weird part, Sara understood, was that the death of a ninety-two-year-old man at a skilled-nursing facility should be at all surprising. He himself had called Pond Manor The Home of the Living Dead, and he had been the oldest of the four residents who’d passed away since the place opened thirteen months before. The thing that was tough for Sara, and she supposed for everyone else on staff, was that Mr. D—
grumpy, funny, heartbroken Mr. D—was one of the few residents who’d remained fully in this world, in mind if not in body, until the end. For him, that state of affairs had amounted to more of a curse than a blessing, or so it seemed to Sara. “How’s Mrs. D holding up?” Sara yanked her nametag lanyard from her bag and hung it around her neck. Then she shoved her bag into her locker. “Honestly, Sara? I can’t tell. I haven’t seen her crying. I haven’t seen her express much emotion at all.” Same as usual, Sara thought. “But maybe the dementia’s masking things.” “Maybe.” Another possibility was that Mrs. D forgot Mr. D was gone, or never really registered his loss in the first place. Even though, according to Taisha, she’d asked to be wheeled up close to him before the funeral home took his body away. When her son obliged, she scooched forward in her chair and gave Mr. D a final kiss. Free of her bag, Taisha placed her palms on the back of her hips and thrust her belly forward in a stretch. She was eight months along, at just about the same stage Sara had been a year before. Sara recalled that very stretch and the need for relief from the weight she was carrying. She remembered, too, the excitement she’d felt for the arrival of her first baby, a joy undiminished by the understanding that she and Jared were coming to an end. A flash of blue caught Sara’s eye: Vannie speeding toward the coffee machine, head lowered, like a bowling ball heading for the center pin. Vannie moved that way everywhere, at all times. She called a greeting over her shoulder as she refilled her portable coffee cup. “Morning, girls!” “Morning, Vannie.” As the most senior nurse on the day shift, Vannie needed every bit of energy that caffeine and personal gumption bestowed upon her. Taisha was second in command, and Sara, along with all the other nursing assistants, was lowest on the totem pole. “All right, you two,” Vannie said, never pausing. After adding cream to her
coffee, she whisked spilled sugar from the counter, then straightened up the condiment bins. “I’ve been informed that the night shift was exceptionally long and trying. Mrs. Reckler attempted two escapes, and Mr. Conwell has ratcheted up the aggression, especially at pill time. You ready for a full debriefing, before we wade in?” Through all this, Sara stared at Taisha, wondering if she had the same question Sara did: had Vannie gotten one of her “signs” from Mr. D? Most likely, the answer was no. If Vannie had, she would have mentioned it right off the bat. “Ready as we’ll ever be,” Taisha said.
II Sara was an hour or more into her shift before she could visit Mrs. D, who now occupied a room at the end of a hallway that constituted the Memory Care wing. If it hadn’t been for Mr. D, she would have been in Memory Care from the start, not on the assisted-living side of the building. The couple had shared an apartment there, until Mr. D broke his hip. By the time Sara was halfway to Mrs. D’s room, she smelled lilies, a smell that grew stronger and stronger as she neared Mrs. D’s door, which was open, spilling sunlight into the hall. Sara pushed her cart up to the room and stared inside. Flowers crowded every available surface: the dresser and bedside tables, the windowsill, even obscure reaches of the floor. Not just lilies but roses, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, orchids, nearly every variety a reputable florist would stock, in countless combinations. Sympathy flowers, Sara realized. In the farthest corner of the room, Mrs. D dozed by a bouquet of stargazers, as if overcome by their perfume. She was stretched out on Mr. D’s battered old recliner, which their son, Mark, had moved over from the assisted side, along with the candy dish that Mr. D balanced on the armrest. Mr. D used to keep the dish stocked with wrapped caramels that he snacked on or offered to visitors and staff, Sara included. Apart from the dresser, the recliner was the only other piece of the Doloros’ personal furniture that would fit in the room. The staff had had to trade Mr. and Mrs. D’s old
bed for a hospital bed. Sara noticed that somebody, probably Mark, had brought Mr. D’s penny loafers into the room, as if to keep Mrs. D company. They rested on the floor next to her, the way Mr. D left them when he himself stretched out on the recliner. “Custom fitted,” is how he’d described the loafers, which he’d sliced down the middle to accommodate his swollen feet. At the same time, he’d kept them so polished they looked brand new. Sara rapped the door lightly, but Mrs. D kept sleeping, her mouth agape. Give it one more try, Sara thought. “Hello!” she called. Mrs. D jerked up her head, as if spooked, and watched as Sara approached, then sat on the bed across from the recliner. Sara wasn’t sure how well Mrs. D remembered her, if at all. She looked both expectant and lost. Sara reached out and took Mrs. D’s hand. “I’m so sorry about Mr. Doloro,” she said. “He was the best.” Mrs. D answered Sara’s hand squeeze with a weaker one. “Thank you, dear.” It was rare for her to end a sentence without a dear, and Sara imagined that had always been so. “I can tell from all these flowers that lots of people love you, and Mr. D.” Mrs. D smiled faintly, her blue eyes glazed. “Yes, dear.” According to Mr. D, flowers were one of the few things Mrs. D still truly enjoyed. He made sure she had a fresh bouquet every week. Sara gave Mrs. D’s hand a final squeeze, then rose from the bed. “Let me freshen up your water.” By the time Sara changed out the water in the pitcher and added ice from the cart, Mrs. D was already back asleep. As Sara headed back for the door, she stopped at the wall of family pictures, which had also been moved from the assisted side. They were nothing new to Sara, but when Mr. D was still alive she tried to not pay too much attention to them, lest she come across as nosey. Now she gave them a closer look: Mr. and Mrs. D in 1950s black and white, he in a bowtie, she in pearls, both of them smiling. Both of them looking off to the same spot, as if toward their future.
Mr. and Mrs. D in faded, late-sixties color, with Mark and their daughter, whose name Sara never learned. In this studio portrait, Mark’s the one in the bowtie. He’s seven or eight, his same serious, lawyerly-looking self. The daughter’s a toddler, with scarcely contained goofball energy. Sara can tell by the way she’s just barely not laughing, by the way she’s scrunching her dotted Swiss skirt in both hands. The daughter appears in one other picture—with rooster-banged eighties hair (her high school graduation photo?), her eyes as blue as Mrs. D’s—then vanishes. She is missing from pictures of later family gatherings, including what seems to be the most recent photograph, which couldn’t be more than a few years old. In it, Mr. and Mrs. D, Mark and his wife, Lena, and Mark and Lena’s two sons, are seated on a couch beneath a Christmas wreath. At this point, like the creak of footsteps early in a horror movie, a look of absence has crept into Mrs. D’s eyes. Sara turned her attention from the pictures to sleeping Mrs. D. What happened to your daughter? She’d asked that question, only in her mind, any number of times. But even if Mrs. D were capable of answering it, it wasn’t Sara’s business. And if Mr. D had wanted to talk about what happened, he would have brought the subject up himself. As she headed back to her cart Sara felt her cell buzz in her pocket, and waited. Two buzzes: her mom, who was looking after Grace; one buzz: someone else. When the second buzz didn’t come, Sara pushed the cart ahead, toward her next stop.
III On her 10 a.m. break Sara called to check on Grace. Then she saw Jared’s name and number in her voicemail. Her first impulse was to leave this for later, but that impulse didn’t win. She played back the message: Listen, Sara. I realize there’s something I should’ve said in my last message. That is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being out of touch. … The thing is, I didn’t want to call you till I got my shit together, and that took longer than I’d hoped. But now,
now I have what’s looking like a steady job. And I’m planning on bringing you a check when I come out to see you and Grace, unless you’d rather have cash. We can figure that all out if you just give me a call. All right? Okay, bye. Sara shoved her phone back into her pocket, then hissed back one of his lines: “When I come out to see you and Grace. Who says I’m going to let you see either one of us? Even if you actually drag your ass out here?” He’d lied about working and money before. Who was to say he wasn’t lying again? Sara was almost relieved by the sound of a chair alarm. Dashing from the break room, she spotted Mrs. Reckler hobbling toward an exit. Sara headed off in pursuit.
IV Midway through lunch, Katie Jo asked the question that Sara had steered clear of. “Hey, Vannie. You heard from Mr. D yet?” Vannie, who was seated at her usual spot at the head of the lunch table, put down the slice of pizza that had been on its way to her mouth. “Not that I can tell.” Katie Jo glanced around at the others, as if gathering courage, then said, “I don’t mean any disrespect, but isn’t it something you either notice or you don’t?” “Not necessarily.” As the newest of the nursing assistants, Katie Jo hadn’t been around for any of the three earlier deaths at Pond Manor. So she hadn’t come to learn, and apparently hadn’t been told, that connecting with the afterlife, for Vannie, wasn’t always so simple. Vannie went on: “What I mean is, signs from the spirit world are sometimes so subtle you can almost miss them. Most times, we probably do. Other times you don’t realize something happened till after the fact.” The term spirit world never failed to trip the bullshit signal in Sara’s mind. She was sure it would have done the same for Mr. D, who seemed doubtful of just about
everything, from the financial solvency of Pond Manor to whether the kitchen would ever figure out that “crisp bacon doesn’t mean burned bacon.” Sara wasn’t sure he even believed in God. He always took a pass on the Sunday vesper service, preferring to watch a sports game instead, or to listen to one of his audio books. Katie Jo was staring into her Coke, mulling over Vannie’s words. “I kind of get what you mean, but can you be a little more specific?” Vannie honored this request with stories of spiritual manifestations both subtle and not-so-subtle. On the subtler side were the blobs of wintry air that drifted through the room of Dorothy Nadler, the first resident to die at Pond Manor, shortly after her passing. A/C couldn’t explain the phenomenon; it had been unseasonably cool at the time and the heat was on. On the more blatant side was the repeated sounding of the call bell from the recently vacated room of Howard Stark, the third resident to meet his end at the facility. As Vannie told these tales, a few other staffers, those who claimed to have felt or heard just what she did, nodded knowingly. Sara wasn’t among them. She’d never been on the receiving end of one of Mr. Stark’s post-mortem summons, and when she’d helped clean out Mrs. Nadler’s room, the air felt nothing but warm and closedin, all around. Maybe, Sara considered again, she just wasn’t a “sensitive,” as Vannie called those like herself. As for Taisha, she didn’t nod along to Vannie’s stories either. Yet Sara wasn’t sure she was a full-on skeptic. Before they’d come to Pond Manor, both Vannie and Taisha had worked at a considerably older and shabbier nursing home, Whispering Pines. Over the thirty-plus years the place had been in business, it had accumulated enough spirits to, in Vannie’s words, “fill a small stadium.” As Taisha told Sara once, in private, “Early on I thought Vannie was full of it, and maybe a little crazy. I mean, she’d talk about dead residents whispering stuff in her ear or showing up as vapory shapes, and I’d be, like, come on! Then I saw something that just—I don’t know.” When Sara pressed her, Taisha admitted to seeing something strange toward
the end of her tenure at Whispering Pines: one of the vapory shapes, seated at a bridge table that had been set out on the patio. “I still don’t quite believe it, though,” Taisha said to Sara. “It was twilight, and one of my migraines was kicking in.” Now, Vannie looked to Katie Jo. “Have I answered all your questions?” “I think so,” said Katie Jo, but she still looked a bit uncertain. She was swirling her Coke absently yet steadily, as if to conjure a spirit. “I guess time will tell about Mr. D.”
V If Mr. D were to reappear in this world, Pond Manor would be the last place he’d choose. Of this, Sara was certain. First, there was the problem of the food. How many times had he groaned when Sara read him the choice of dinner entrées, replying, more than once, “It’s like choosing between the guillotine and a firing squad”? How many times had she watched him greet a plate set before him with a frown of disgust, sometimes accompanied by a “Holy hell”? Second, there was the sense of entrapment. A worsening case of macular degeneration had ended Mr. D’s driving days not long before he and Mrs. D had been admitted to Pond Manor, limiting him mostly to the apartment on the assisted side or to the community living room, where the other residents—Mrs. D included—dozed in front of the television or kicked around a beach ball that the activities director had set in motion. Among the others he looked like the only occupied house on a nearly abandoned street. Third, and worst, was the absence of Mrs. D as she’d once been. Whenever Sara saw Mr. D take Mrs. D’s hand, or drape a sweater across her shoulders, or pass her a bag of the gumdrops that she’d started preferring to dinner, Sara wondered if he still sensed traces of the woman he’d fallen in love with, the pretty, witty-looking young lady in pearls, the one from the black-and-white photograph. Or maybe Mr. D’s devotion, as deep as it clearly was, was purely to a memory.
The worst state Sara had seen him in, before he broke his hip, was when Mrs. D developed a bad enough case of pneumonia to be hospitalized, when it looked as if she was going to precede him from this world. A few days into Mrs. D’s hospital stay, Sara found Mr. D alone in the resident living room. He was sitting on the couch and staring into space, still wearing the plaid cap he donned whenever he went outdoors. Sara guessed, rightly, that Mark had just returned him from a trip to see Mrs. D. Though it had been a day of barreling from one crisis to another, that sight of Mr. D stopped Sara in her tracks. She took a seat beside him and said all she could think of to say. “I’m so sorry about Mrs. Doloro. We’re all thinking of her.” He nodded in what she took to be thanks, his eyes welling with tears. When Sara reached out her hand he grasped it with tender force, as if she might pull him to safety. They sat that way for some time. When he let go of her hand he said, “I can tell you’re a good daughter. And a good mother.” On the mother score, Sara was doing as best as she could. On the daughter score, Sara hoped her mother thought she’d turned out okay. As for her father, he was in no position to make any judgments of her. He’d vanished before she was born. “Hey,” Sara said, thinking of something that might help cheer up Mr. D. “Want to see a picture of my baby?” The instant the words came out of her mouth. Sara regretted them. First, there was the trouble of Mr. D’s eyesight; he’d told her how he could just barely make out football plays on his wide-screen TV. Second, there was the possibility she’d dredged up more sadness for him, a reminder of his own daughter’s absence. “Sure,” he said. Sara whisked through the pictures in her phone, until she found her favorite: a close-up of Grace’s face and her huge, toothless smile. Mr. D studied the picture and nodded politely, even though Grace might have been nothing but a pink blob to him. “What a sweet-looking girl.” After Sara pocketed her phone, that distant look returned to him. “Daughters
are something special, aren’t they? When mine was born I felt like I was walking on a cloud.” “Me, too,” Sara said, her throat tightening. She was afraid to say anything more. A day or so later, Mrs. D was back from the hospital. And shortly after that, Sara accidentally deleted her favorite picture of Grace. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it was the most minor of losses.
VI When Sara listened to the third message from Jared, she was staring through the French doors in the dining room, out to the sunlit courtyard. There, someone had wheeled Mrs. D up to one of the patio tables, which was topped with a pot of yellow chrysanthemums. Though Mrs. D’s head was hung in sleep, she was smiling. Hey, Sara. It’s me again. I guess I should have told you that this new job’s in Oklahoma: fuel hauling. That means I’d probably need to leave this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest if I’m going to make it in time for Grace’s birthday. So please just call me as soon as you can. Let me know that this is okay by you. Thanks.
VII The brush of fingers roused her. She felt them first along her back, then across her cheek. Lifting her head she saw Chester standing before her, smiling. He was wearing the sky-blue polo that had been her favorite until it got lost, along with the suitcase containing it and his other travel clothes, on the return from their thirtiethanniversary trip to the Cayman Islands. “Well, look who’s here!” she said. He sat down next to her and took her hand.
“Where are Mark and Kate?” she asked. He shrugged. “Off doing what young people do, I suppose. Off with their friends.” It seemed so very long since she’d last seen them, especially Kate. She couldn’t remember if Kate’s hair was still red and in that cute little pixie or if it was back to being long, and dyed that awful vampire black. “You look concerned, Ellie.” It seemed to her that he was being overly casual about the absence of the children, as if nothing in the world could possibly be wrong. “Let’s just decide one thing together, Ches. Make a little pact.” “Sure. What do you have in mind?” She pictured the red and blue lights of an emergency, pulsing through the living room windows, pulsing against the walls. “Let’s not let Kate drive anymore, anywhere. Let’s agree that her driving days are done.” “It’s a deal.” He leaned closer, regarding her with a puzzled look. “That doesn’t seem to be the only thing that’s bothering you, Ellie.” He was right. But how to put into words what the trouble was? “Well,” she said, “the people here are all very nice, and just look at those pretty flowers. But never in my life have I stayed in a hotel for so long, for no apparent reason. Never have you drifted in and out of my sight like you’ve been doing lately, like the wind. It just doesn’t make any sense, Ches.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “Who ever promised life would make sense?” He’d said that countless times over the years and, sadly, he’d always been right. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Now, tell me that’s only the wind.”
VIII Thoughts of the now-empty Room 106 had been lurking in the back of Sara’s mind, like images from a bad dream. At the end of her shift, deciding that the room
itself might be less troubling than her mental pictures of it, she ventured to its closed door. Just to the right of it, his name was still in the slot: Chester Doloro. Hesitating, Sara recalled her last visit with Mr. D the week before. That day, as she entered the room, the physical therapist was on her way out. “I’ve decided to give him a break,” she explained to Sara. “I think he’s just a bit too tired.” The day before, Sara had watched the therapist coach him up from the bed and onto his walker, and he’d stood for longer than Sara thought possible, his weight on his one good leg. He looked like he was on his way. The last time Sara saw him, though, he was lying in the dimness, and she thought he might be asleep until he said, in his usual joking way, “Who the hell are you?” She’d chosen to take that greeting, and what he’d been able to do the day before, as promising signs. She’d been wrong. Now, Sara opened the door. The room had been cleared of Mr. D’s few possessions, with the exception of the walker, which stood in the corner where she’d last seen it. On his stripped bed lay a single orange rose. The sight of this ambushed Sara, bringing her close to tears. Almost certainly left by Josie Smith, who led the weekly flower-arranging class, the rose was about the last thing Sara would have associated with Mr. D, except for the fact that it had been uprooted from life, and had more than the usual number of thorns. Enough, she thought. Time to go. As she turned from the bed, Sara spotted a glint from the floor, under one of the bed rails: it was a wrapped caramel of the same brand that Mr. D kept in his candy dish. If it had been some other bit of trash, Sara would have left it for the cleaning crew. But, to her, this was one last bit of Mr. D, and she couldn’t bear the thought of it getting tossed into the garbage. As she stooped to pick it up her phone tumbled from her sweater pocket and landed on the floor, screen side down. “Shit!” Thank God for carpeting, she thought. She’d fatally cracked her last phone
when she’d dropped it in the parking lot. Sara slipped the caramel into the pocket of her scrubs, then knelt to pick up the phone. Just to make sure all was well, she clicked the screen to life. What she saw stopped her breath: it was the close-up of Grace, the one she’d thought lost. Delighted, and a little out of sorts, Sara drifted to the chair in the corner of the room and lowered herself onto it. The Grace in the picture was every bit as joyful as she remembered. Even though it wasn’t her first smile, it felt like the first one Sara had truly captured. Studying the picture, Sara rediscovered something she’d forgotten: Grace was wearing the bright yellow sweater from Jared, one of the few things he’d given her. This time, the phone’s buzz spooked her. Jared, the screen said: an incoming call. Sara paused, thinking, then answered it. “Hey, Jared.” “Sara! I’m so glad I finally got you. I guess you got my messages about Saturday.” As he went on about his plans Sara’s mind drifted to the pictures that had been moved to Mrs. D’s new room—the pictures of her own daughter as a toddler and a young woman. Sara couldn’t imagine having to bear such a loss. “Sara? Are you still there?” Pay attention, Sara told herself. Keep your feet in this world. “I’m here,” she said. “I’m listening.” Beth Castrodale Beth Castrodale has published stories in several literary journals. Her novel Marion Hatley was published in April.
I Write to Fill the Holes in Me Are you enmeshed in ambiguity? Life’s vagaries getting you down? Has uncertainty dashed your brainchild’s skull against the cliffs and stones of reason? Then turn your mind to this gypsy camp I’ve invented out of nothing but sheer willpower. See the mongrel dog barking and straining its leash. Note the ripped t-shirt hanging off a tree branch. Smell the dirty water inside an old tire leaning against a rundown trailer I’ve placed here strictly for your amusement. And next, a hypothetical elderly woman. She’s pissing in the bushes. Now she’s hiking up her tatty drawers. One of her eyes is rimed with red. The other is runny and yellow. Bruce McRae Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island, BC, has been published in many magazines; Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review among them. Collections include The So-Called Sonnets, An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy, and Like As If.
i still dream of you when the stars are gone you were the centerfold i stared at in the dark growing crinkled over time catching a few rips on the edges but flesh is only temporary when i thought about tasting you the air stood still my frame grew fragile hushed breaths squeezed out the thinning of my dreams as i let you roam around inside me we were skeletons playing bass with each other’s veins waltzing jitterbugs through our blood this is all we have left chunks of bone growing brittle over time Weasel Weasel Patterson, the (self-described) “main dude” at Weasel Press, received his BA in Literature at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. He has released a poetry collection titled a warm place to self-destruct and a novella, We Live for Half-Moons.
Ritual I take her up a cup of tea, then go back down for toast. I empty the dishwasher and prepare her breakfast – puffed spelt with milk and strawberries, and an egg boiled five minutes to the dot. I swill out the commode, pull up the bedding, carry her bits and pieces downstairs, arrange the cushions in her chair. I have – fingers crossed – an hour in the study on work that’s well behind time. I return to my task, but she calls from the lounge: she can’t bend to pick up a dropped crutch or grab it with a mechanical claw. I come down. Distracted, I put the kettle on and make us both a drink. We drive to the medical centre. She says the stairs to the surgery, on crutches, will be the Matterhorn. The doctor reports on blood tests (all OK) and prescribes stronger tablets for the jags that stab her back. I prepare soup for lunch – today, sweet potato and butternut squash with celery, garlic, onion, tomato, a random scattering of herbs and slivers of ginger to give it some zip. Then it’s a trip to hydrotherapy, where water’s buoyancy takes the weight from the crumbled vertebrae in her back: in the pool she can swivel freely at the waist and stride, an Olympian in slo-mo, across a width. Back to start on the evening meal – today, I prepare stuffed red peppers with new potatoes, carrots, broccoli, beans and courgettes: for afters, we have yogurt with spiced pears. We watch regional news on the BBC, then the national news on Channel 4, before viewing, semi-attentively, an old episode of Inspector Morse – this time, though, we’re a step ahead of the cops. Bedtime: I massage her back with gel and count out into pots the pills and capsules for the next day. I lift her legs on to the bed, hoping to forestall a stab in her back, arrange her pillows, then tuck her in. Nearly eleven: I’m back at the computer – playing Solitaire, desultorily aiming to do better than my best, my clicking of the mouse as automatous as a gambler stuffing a Vegas slot-machine. Then a bath, a chapter, and sleep, knowing I’ll get nothing like eight hours before I wake and, for the Nth time, much the same ritual begins. I’m tired: should my heart fail, is there anyone who’d care? Mantz Yorke Mantz Yorke lives in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in a number of print magazines, anthologies and e-magazines in the UK, Ireland, Israel, Canada, the US and Hong Kong.
Something Right in the World During the period of time while Father Antonio waited for his volunteer application to be approved, he had Mary Grace drive him up to the children’s convalescent hospital on Wednesday mornings so he could bless the building from the outside. He prayed in Latin and then made the sign of the cross with his hand held sideways in front of him. He blessed all four sides of the building, moving slowly from one to the next while Mary Grace stood off a few yards away with her head bowed. On those occasions, Gwen sometimes watched Father Antonio from her office on the second floor of the hospital. She was the social worker there who had arranged for him to serve as their volunteer chaplain. They’d been without one for over a year until she decided to put an ad in the Council of Churches’ newsletter. She hadn’t been particular about denomination, and Father Antonio had been the only person to reply. Actually, it had been Mary Grace who’d phoned Gwen after Father Antonio plopped the ad down in front of her and growled, “I want to do this.” She told Gwen that she had been Father Antonio’s personal assistant since he’d retired eight years earlier from St. Dominic’s in the city’s Portuguese neighborhood. She inquired as to what would be involved in the position. “Well,” Gwen told her, “not much, really. Perhaps visiting once a week or so. Just ministering to the patients and families…being available, if needed, for counseling and advice. As for visiting, I mean that in a limited sense. All of our children are severely disabled and medically fragile. Virtually none of them can communicate meaningfully. Most are G-tube fed, and some are on ventilators. All require round-the-clock care.” “I see. How many patients are there?” “We have fifty-five beds. They’re always full. There’s a waiting list.” “How old are the children?” “A full range. From infants on up. Some have been with us fifteen years or more.”
They were silent until Gwen asked, “Can you tell me a little about Father Antonio?” “He’s a wonderful man.” Gwen could almost feel her smile, and she did the same. “He was an assistant priest at the parish here for almost a decade, and then became the pastor for another two. To some, he may appear gruff, but he’s very gentle, very kind. The diocese allowed him to stay on in the rectory after they reached an agreement about his retirement. With the shortage of priests, they could only find travelers to fill most of his former duties. The congregation has grown very small over the years, so there wasn’t much to do and the rectory would have been unoccupied otherwise. He still leads the rosary on Friday evenings.” “I see.”
“He is almost eighty, and he forgets things sometimes. But he still has his wits about him. Generally speaking.” “Well,” Gwen said. “If he’s game, so are we. When can we meet?” They got together the following week at the convalescent hospital. Father Antonio couldn’t make the climb up the stairs to Gwen’s office, so they met in the lobby. Gwen wasn’t sure what to expect, but she was surprised to see that Mary Grace appeared to be at least sixty, perhaps twice her own age. He was stooped, slightly pot-bellied, wore large rectangular glasses, and shuffled a bit when he walked. They both had short gray hair. “Shall we find a place to sit down and talk?” Gwen asked. Father Antonio frowned and made a gesture with his hand as if he was shooing away a fly. “No need. Mary Grace has summarized the phone conversation you had together.” His Portuguese accent was thick. “Can you show us around?” Gwen smiled. “Sure. I’d be happy to do that.” She led them into the first room in the hallway to their left. Two children, a boy and girl who were both about five, shared the room in beds separated by an undrawn curtain. Father Antonio followed Gwen to the bedside of the boy. Mary Grace stayed in the doorway.
The boy lay on his back with the head of the bed elevated. A continuous sat monitor on a pole blinked next to him; a cord from it led to a probe that was taped to one of his fingers. A tube from a feeding pump attached to another pole disappeared under the sheet that covered the boy’s stomach, and it made a steady whee-whir sound. The boy’s head was misshapen, the crown tilted on one side and flattened. Gwen touched his leg and Father Antonio did the same. “Hey, there,” Father Antonio said quietly The boy stared over their heads. Gwen used a bandana tucked into the collar of the boy’s shirt to wipe away secretions staining the gauze pad under the tracheotomy button in his neck, and then did the same with the drool on his chin. “So, this monitor tells us what his oxygen level is,” she told him, “as well as his heart rate. It's set to certain margins and alarms if there are any problems.” Father Antonio nodded and followed her to the next bed where the girl lay on her side facing a small television on a stand. A cartoon played on the screen, but there was no sound. She was hooked up to the same combination of equipment, but also had an oxygen cap fastened over her trach. Father Antonio recognized some sort of scoliosis in the curve of her back, and the features on her brown face were stunningly beautiful; he thought that he’d never seen eyelashes so long. “And this is Gabriela,” Gwen said. “Gaby.” She smiled down at the girl who
appeared to be staring over the top of the television screen. When Gwen rubbed her back, she groaned loudly and grinned. “Look at that,” Father Antonio said and smiled himself. There was a chest of drawers on either side of each bed, a bathroom opposite, and a window that looked out onto a parking lot in the wall that Gaby faced. Except for the murmur of the machines, the room was quiet. Father Antonio asked, “Do they just lie there all day?” Gwen shook her head. “No, they’re all bathed daily, wheeled on special shower chairs down to a room we use for that. They also have PT, OT, and most have respiratory therapy. We have another large room I’ll show you where we show movies, play music, and do crafts with them. There’s a garden across the way that they’re pushed to on a rotation when the weather is nice and they’re well enough.
The recreational therapist takes groups on monthly outings.” “And their families come to see them,” Mary Grace said from the doorway. Gwen looked over at her and then at Father Antonio. “Some do,” she said. “Yes.” They continued up the hall stopping for a few moments in each room. Most had wheelchairs parked outside and held two or three children, all similar to the first, with an assortment of individual characteristics: Cleft palates and other physical anomalies, different levels of seizure disorder, wall-eyes, ileostopies, and the like. A few held tiny infants or babies still in cribs. Many patients were sleeping; others were looking off somewhere. Some had radios or televisions turned on. A few were sitting up in wheelchairs. Hoyer lifts stood next to the beds of all the older, larger children. In the half-hour or so that it took to return to the lobby, they came upon no other visitors. “Well,” Gwen said when they were back at the front doors, “what do you think?” Mary Grace and Father Antonio exchanged glances. “I know we’re not for everyone,” Gwen said quietly. “It’s fine if you’re not comfortable or interested.” “How many are Catholic?” Father Antonio asked.
Gwen laughed. “Well, I’m not sure. At least a few, I’m sure.” Mary Grace touched his elbow and said, “Does it really matter?” His eyes blinked at her behind his big glasses. “No,” he said. “No, you’re right. It doesn’t matter at all.” He turned to Gwen. “How do I get started? We could come back later this week, maybe on....” He frowned at Mary Grace and asked, “What’s today? Tuesday? Wednesday?” “Tuesday,” Mary Grace said. The cardigan he was wearing had fallen a little
off one shoulder, and she pulled it back up for him. Gwen explained the volunteer screening process and called the coordinator before directing them through the garden to his office in the acute hospital. They shook hands, and Gwen held the door for them. Father Antonio linked his arm through Mary Grace’s to steady himself, and Gwen watched them shuffle slowly down
the wheelchair ramp. She noticed for the first time that one of Father Antonio’s socks was blue and the other was brown. After Mary Grace had left that evening and he’d finished eating the dinner she’d prepared, Father Antonio read in the armchair next to window in the living room. He liked to sit there because the light from the shaded stand-up lamp was good and he could hear the last trains of the night enter and leave the station. He was reading a biography about one of his favorite saints, but his mind kept wandering and he found himself having to re-read whole paragraphs. About nine-thirty, he felt his head nodding, so he closed the book and turned off the lamp. He made his slow way into the bedroom, undressed, dropped his underwear and socks in the hamper, and carefully hung up his black shirt with the white clerical collar, black trousers, and sweater in the closet. He took his pajamas off the hook behind the closet door and put on the top. He stumbled trying to step into the bottoms and sat down hard on the floor of the closet. He’d forgotten to pull the string on the overhead light, and he struggled to find a handhold in the darkness to help himself up. Finally, he pulled on the legs of the pajama bottoms sitting down and scooted forward on his rear end until he could cinch them up to his waist. He continued sliding himself forward out of the closet to end of the bed, which he was finally able to use to climb to his feet. Enough light came through the curtains from the streetlamp outside the window to find his way to the far side of bed and under the covers. He took off his glasses and set them in the empty space on the bedside table. Then he closed his eyes and began his night prayers. Stray memories flitted across his mind as he mumbled over the words: he and his parents around their kitchen table in Portugal when he was a boy, waking to the first snowfall of the season at the seminary in Michigan, the acrid smell of the bishop’s cigarette during their last fateful meeting in his office. Father Antonio was aware of the familiar sounds from the neighborhood and of traffic moving on the streets. He was asleep before finishing his first prayer. It took several weeks for the volunteer approval process to be completed, and
Mary Grace drove Father Antonio up to the convalescent hospital for his first official visit inside on a warm morning in mid-July. Gwen was there to meet them. They reversed the same basic route through the halls that they’d taken during their first meeting, but this time, Gwen remained in the doorways of the rooms with Mary Grace. Father Antonio paused at each bedside asking the children how they were, how their days were going, if they felt all right. He waited after each question; often he would place his fingertips on a knee or brush away a stray lock of hair from a forehead. After several moments of silence, he would whisper a prayer, make the sign of the cross with his hand over the child, and move to the next bed. Sometimes, Father Antonio would bend down to try to put himself in the gaze of whatever a given child was staring at, and occasionally he would elicit a squawk or the turn of head. When he came to the room with the cribs, he asked Gwen if he could hold one of the infants. She settled him in a rocking chair and lifted one of the babies, untangling the chords and tubes as she did, so he could settle it into his arms. Father Antonio looked down with delight. He made small kissing sounds and then began to sing softly in Portuguese. “My,” Gwen whispered in the doorway.
Father Antonio spent a little longer lingering in the last room nearest the front desk. The two children were in exactly the same positions as during the first visit, and when he rubbed Gaby’s back, she groaned again and smiled. After that, Mary Grace began regularly driving Father Antonio up to the hospital in his car each Wednesday morning. Gwen accompanied them on their visits the first couple of weeks, and then generally left them alone unless she had other business of her own on the floor. Sometimes Mary Grace would wait in the hallway as Father Antonio made his circuit through the rooms, but just as often, she’d sit in a chair in the lobby and knit. Father Antonio grew familiar with most of the staff and a few of the families. At one point, Father Antonio came upon Gwen and asked her, “Will any of them get better?” Gwen waited a moment and then said simply, “No, they won’t.”
The family member that he became best acquainted with was Gaby’s grandmother, Marta, who was one of the few regular visitors they encountered. She was often in Gaby’s room folding clothes into dresser drawers that she’d taken home to wash or reading to her granddaughter from a book of fairy tales when Father Antonio came by. She was a small, thin woman with a wrinkled face and shy eyes who spoke only Spanish. When they greeted one another as he came into the room, she always took both his hands in hers and rubbed them while smiling quietly. Then she would nod, touch her heart with her fingertips as if folded in prayer, and kiss them. She would stand silently a few steps away while Father Antonio made his visit and blessing with Gaby and rubbed her back, and then she would go through the same ritual as her greeting when he left. It was Marta, Gwen told him after several weeks, who’d asked her if Father Antonio would possibly be willing to start a monthly Sunday service in the activity room for interested patients. They were standing in the lobby together after a Wednesday visit and Father Antonio said he would be glad to do that; Mary Grace nodded. Gwen held the door for them, and after Mary Grace had helped Father Anthony to the top of the wheelchair ramp, she came back to Gwen, gave her another short hug, and whispered, “This will be so good for him. You have no idea.” Gwen made phone calls to all the families to find out who would like their children to attend. In addition to the half-dozen or so patients besides Gaby who were arranged in their wheelchairs in a semi-circle the next Sunday morning, a few staff members also joined Gwen, Mary Grace, and Marta for the service. It was short and nondenominational: Father Antonio stood behind a folding table that Gwen arranged near the doorway with a white tablecloth and did two readings from the bible he brought, an epistle and gospel. Then he said a few words of thanks to God, asked for good health, led the Lord’s Prayer, and made a final blessing. It took perhaps twenty minutes, and aside from a crucifix on a chain around his neck, Father Antonio wore his same regular outfit of black with the white collar. Each time he finished, though, he looked out among the tiny congregation in the dimly lit room, a small smile creasing his lips.
Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during their regular visits to the convalescent hospital that fall until Father Antonio and Mary Grace came for the Sunday service at the beginning of December and neither Gaby nor her grandmother was there. Gaby wasn’t in her bed the following Wednesday evening. Father Antonio found Gwen talking with Mary Grace in the lobby when he finished his rounds and asked about Gaby. “She’s on the acute side,” Gwen told him and Mary Grace. “I’m afraid she has
pneumonia. She was admitted a few days ago. Not unusual for our kids this time of year.” “Can we go see her?” Father Antonio asked.
Gwen smiled and said, “Of course.” She walked them through the garden to the main hospital. They took the elevator to the third floor. On the way up, she said, “She’s in the ICU, but don’t let that alarm you. Our children are very often treated there because of their levels of complication. It’s not uncommon.” Gaby was in a room alone, lying on her side, as always. In addition to the same equipment as her regular room, she was also on an IV drip and had a mask blowing mist over the oxygen cap on her trach that Gwen explained helped thin her secretions. She was sleeping. Mary Grace and Gwen stayed at the foot of the bed while Father Antonio bent down next to Gaby and rubbed her back. She didn’t awaken as he did. “Hey, there, beautiful girl,” he said. “We missed you. You need to get better
now.” Gaby laid still, her eyes closed, the machines making their noises. A nurse that Gwen knew entered the room and they exchanged greetings. Gwen made introductions. The nurse told them that Gaby was hanging steady; her condition was about the same as when she’d been admitted on the weekend, but the pneumonia wasn't a small one. Father Antonio asked about Marta, and the nurse said, “She’s been here pretty much around the clock. We convinced her to go home to rest and to get something to eat. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
A couple of orderlies came into the room to take Gaby to radiology for an xray. On the way back to the convalescent hospital, Father Antonio looked at Gwen and said, “So, we’ve never met Gaby’s parents.” Gwen shook her head. “They’re gone, not involved. Just the grandma.” She watched both Father Antonio’s and Mary Grace’s eyebrows knit together. “That happens more than you might imagine. I suppose you should know that.” Father Antonio and Mary Grace found Gaby’s room in the ICU on their own after their visit the following Wednesday. Marta was there, seated in a straight-backed chair next to the bed. She rose when they entered the room and made her regular greeting to Father Antonio. “Better?” he asked. “Mejor?”
She shook her head and lowered her eyes. Father Antonio nodded and then went through his normal visit rituals at Gaby’s bedside while the little girl slept. He noticed that the amount of oxygen that Gaby was on had increased and her breathing seemed more rapid. Instead of leaving afterwards, he pulled another chair over next to Marta’s and sat down next to her. They said nothing, but just sat watching the young girl sleep and listening to the noises from the equipment. They sat together like that until an orderly came in a half-hour later to give Gaby a sponge bath. As the elevator descended afterwards, Father Antonio and Mary Grace were silent until he said suddenly, “We need to talk to Gwen. Let’s go back and ask to meet with her.” They waited at the front desk while the receptionist called up to Gwen. She came downstairs after a few moments. “We’ve been to see Gaby,” Father Antonio said to her. “I’m wondering how
she’s doing…her condition.” Gwen pursed her lips and looked back and forth between them. “Let’s go out in the courtyard to talk. It’s quieter there.” She led them through the activity room and out the sliding doors into the courtyard where they sat on chairs around a table that held a closed umbrella in the middle. The sky was gray; it was cool.
Gwen looked back and forth between them again before she said, “I’m afraid Gaby has gotten worse. It isn’t looking hopeful for her.” Mary Grace frowned and Father Antonio blinked behind his glasses. It was silent for a long moment until he said, “I don’t understand.” Gwen sighed. “She doesn’t have long, I’m afraid. Her little body just doesn’t have it in her anymore.” When they both shook their heads, she continued, “It’s the way most of our kids pass on. They’ve all had so many pneumonias. Each weakens their lungs further, which means they’re more susceptible to further infections and they have less and less strength to fight the next one. Then there are fewer and fewer new antibiotics that they haven’t grown immune to…it’s a cruel geometry.” Mary Grace had begun weeping quietly. Father Antonio swallowed and turned away, staring over a shelf of potted plants. “I know this is hard,” Gwen said. “It will be your first death here.” After a
moment, she said more softly, “There will be more.” Father Antonio looked back at her and nodded slowly. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for explaining things to us.” He stood up. “Mary Grace, I guess we should be on our way.” Gaby passed away late that night. Gwen’s pager went off as she was getting into bed, and she immediately returned the call from the charge nurse at the ICU. Yes, the charge nurse told her, the grandmother had been there at the end; she’d gone home to try to sleep. Gwen went into the convalescent hospital early the next morning, but waited until nine to call Marta. She put her on speaker phone in her office and had one of the Spanish-speaking CNA’s translate for her. There were extended pauses while they listened to Marta crying on the line, so Gwen kept the call short. When she asked about memorial services, the CNA told her that Marta wanted Father Antonio to say a funeral Mass at her parish church, which was the cathedral. The CNA said that Marta was very insistent on that, and she wanted the service to take place as soon as possible. Gwen remembered the tiny apartment with aluminum foil over the windows that Marta lived in at the foot of the hill where the cathedral was perched. She’d
given her a ride home once when Marta’s car had broken down. When Gwen called the rectory a few minutes later, Mary Grace answered. There was a long silence after Gwen told her the news. “Well,” Mary Grace eventually said very quietly, "that’s it then. I’ll get Father Antonio for you.” In the background, she could hear him shuffling across the floor to the phone. “Yes?” he said. There was another long silence after Gwen had spoken. It went unfilled until she added, “Marta would like you to say a funeral mass at the cathedral. If you like, I can contact them there to make arrangements.” Another long silence followed. Finally, he said, “I’d be pleased.” And then he hung up. Gwen had to be in the area of the cathedral to run an errand that afternoon, so she drove up to the hill to it afterwards. She’d been by the cathedral before, but never inside. She was surprised to find its wide doors open when she climbed the steps. Inside, she gazed around at the ornate woodwork, the high ceiling with its chandeliers, and the colored streams of light from the tall stained glass windows. The cathedral was empty except for a priest dressed in the same manner as Father Antonio up on the altar, pouring hosts into a large chalice. His back was towards her, but he turned as she approached, her footsteps echoing on the wide tiles. He came down off the altar to meet her, a tall, balding man of about fifty with wire rimmed glasses and a stern face. She told him she was looking for the monsignor. He said, “I’m Monsignor Kelly.” They shook hands, and Gwen explained what she’d come for. When she finished, he stretched his glasses over his ears and took them off. She watched him close his eyes and rub them, then replace the glasses and look back at her evenly. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but that won’t be possible. I was on the review panel
that led to the bishop’s decision about Father Antonio’s retirement. You see, even eight years ago, he wasn’t capable of saying Mass any longer…he’d become confused
and forget parts of it. He had the same problems during baptisms and weddings. He’d lose his way through homilies; parishioners told us he’d finish confessions without giving them a penance. And he was frankly belligerent at the time of the decision. He certainly didn’t endear himself to the diocesan hierarchy, I can tell you that. I’m surprised they’ve allowed him to stay on at the parish rectory.” “But…” Gwen said.
He held a hand out to stop her. “I’m sorry. It’s just not possible. However, we’ll be happy to make plans for the funeral Mass to be said by another priest. In fact, I’d do it myself. I’m fond of Mrs. Rodriguez; I admire what she’s done for her granddaughter.” “I see.”
Monsignor Kelly made a small shrug. “I’m sorry,” he said again. Gwen turned and started back toward the cathedral doors. But a short way up the aisle, she stopped and turned around. She frowned and said in a steady voice, “You know, that won’t do. It just won’t. He was there for that little girl and Marta every week and for Sunday services right up to the end. He was with them yesterday, gave what turned out to be her final blessing. With all due respect, I’ve never seen anyone from this church at our hospital.” She took several steps back towards him. They stood staring at each other, his eyes narrow. “You know,” Gwen continued, “it doesn’t make a single bit of difference what
Father Antonio would say or forget to say during that funeral Mass. There won’t be more than a handful of people who would attend. The only thing that matters is that Marta wants him to do it, is adamant about it in fact, and that request should be honored.” She waited a moment, and then added, “She’s entitled to that. Her granddaughter deserves it, and frankly, so does Father Antonio.” The monsignor looked at the young women staring intently at him, her arms folded, her mouth in a thin, hard line. He shook his head, but his eyes had widened and softened a bit. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “All right. We have a crowded calendar here, so next Monday morning at ten.” He gestured with his head towards the side of the altar. “I’ll be in my robes in the sacristy there during the
service ready to take over if needed. I insist on that.” “Fine.” She smiled, stepped forward, and reached out her hand. “Thank you.”
He nodded once, and they shook. She asked, “Will you contact Father Antonio and Marta, or shall I?” “We’ll take care of all of that,” he said.
Gwen arrived at the cathedral early on the morning of the service. Father Antonio’s car was parked on the side of the church. She was pleased that the low layer of clouds had already burned off on the hill because when she entered, soft streams of colored sunlight were swept across the pews. Only Mary Grace was there, sitting in the second row, and Gwen sat down next to her. “He’s already in the sacristy getting ready,” Mary Grace whispered to her.
“He’s very honored. It’s always been a dream of his to say Mass in this cathedral…and for Gaby.” Gwen looked at the large framed photograph of the little girl that was propped up on a table in front of the sanctuary next to an urn of her ashes. In the photograph, Gaby was lying in bed and appeared to be smiling at the camera, her tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth, her eyes wide, her eyelashes prominent. Shortly afterwards, a few other staff members from the convalescent hospital arrived. They exchanged nods with Gwen and also sat in pews towards the front. Just before ten, Marta came up the aisle. She paused to embrace Gwen and Mary Grace, and then took a seat directly in front of them in the first pew. At ten o’clock precisely, the cathedral suddenly filled with the peal from the organ in the choir loft and then the first strains of a woman’s high pure voice. What followed was the most majestic music that Gwen had ever heard. It seemed to engulf the entire church in rhapsody. Mary Grace gasped next to her and turned to look up with awestruck eyes. When the hymn concluded, Father Antonio shuffled out of the sacristy to the altar in a white robe over his black cassock, a purple sash around his neck. He glanced out at them, raised his upturned palms toward them, and announced, “Let us pray.” Gwen had only been to a few Catholic services before, but she followed Marta’s
and Mary Grace’s lead when they stood or knelt or sat. After several prayers, Father Antonio managed to climb the short steps on the side of the altar to the pulpit, adjust his glasses, and read the epistle and gospel carefully from the large bible there, turning the pages with its ribbon. Instead of starting a eulogy afterwards, however, he left the pulpit altogether and made his slow way down towards them from the altar. Gwen could see Monsignor Kelly watching from the shadows at the corner of the sacristy entryway. Father Antonio paused at the table, lifted Gaby’s photograph off it, and gazed it for several moments. Then he kissed it and lifted it over his head. His eyes turned skyward. Next, Father Antonio gently replaced the photograph and walked over in front of Marta. He smiled at her, took her hands in his own, rubbed them, kissed her fingertips, and tapped them against his chest. He smiled again, then glanced up at the choir loft and nodded. The organ’s strains of Ave Maria filled the cathedral accompanied by the soaring voice, and Father Antonio held Marta’s hands until the final note. Gwen felt Mary Grace shaking, and she took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the corners of her own eyes. Several people blew their noses as Father Antonio shuffled back to the altar and continued the Mass. Soon, the Our Father was recited and the consecration followed. Only Marta and Mary Grace came forward for communion. Father Antonio returned to the altar, finished the final prayers, made his blessing, and then the organ music and the majestic voice filled the church in closing. Monsignor Kelly was no longer in the sacristy doorway when Father Antonio disappeared into it. When the music ended, the rest of them followed Marta down the aisle and out through the cathedral’s doors into the bright sunlight. Marta didn’t linger long to receive words of solace or hugs from them; she went down to her car parked in front of the church quickly and gave a small wave as she pulled away. The other hospital staff members left to return to work, and Mary Grace went around to the side entrance of the sacristy to get Father Antonio; Gwen stayed on the front steps to be sure that she was able to get him to their car. While she waited, Monsignor Kelly emerged from the cathedral doors and came up to her. “Well,” he said, “that was quite lovely.”
“Thank you again.” “Just so you’re aware, he skipped part of the Eucharistic Prayer as well as the
entire Sign of Peace.” He smiled. “But, you’re right. It didn’t matter, did it?” Gwen returned his smile and shook her head. He went off around the side of the cathedral. She heard Father Antonio’s car start up on the other side and watched the back of it glinting in the bright sunlight as Mary Grace drove it off down the hill. Gwen looked out over the city below. The organ’s peals erupted again from inside the church, followed by the soloist’s lilting voice; it was a hymn she didn’t recognize, but it was lovely. She thought about Mary Grace and Father Antonio who would be settling down soon to lunch in the rectory’s kitchen. She thought of the memorial service, of Gaby, of Marta with her covered windows. The beautiful singing lifted, ended, seemed to sigh, and she suddenly recalled a quote she’d heard somewhere from a famous composer having to do with great music leaving one with the feeling that something was right in the world. She believed that was true, and she was glad and grateful for it. William Cass William Cass has had short stories accepted in december, Briar Cliff Review, Ruminate and many others. He is recently retired and lives in San Diego, California.
Mt. Pisgah in Autumn
My Sins Sometimes I sit down to pee. I swear and break a few laws. My living space isn’t tidy. Neither is my mind. I read Allen Ginsberg and James Joyce. My friends don’t care. Some of my writing is unpublishable. I have a hard time taking criticism. My mother has told me. Some nights I fall asleep before I brush my teeth. The words had to get out. I find myself flaunting my father’s money. And I hate myself for it. I’ll kill a bug if I want. But I’m not a murderer. I pick my nails, until they bleed. My mother hates it. I don’t care. It makes it easier to type.
Nicholas Soluri Nicholas Soluri is a freshman at Union College in New York, majoring in English. He has been published in The Slag Review.
Skull Tips I used to think about the temples on the sides of my head, how if I pushed hard enough, my fingers would slip through, gross, into my brain. A young boy, skull buzzing and boiling and brimming with this crisis and that crisis, sometimes I wanted to pop the temples, relinquish the mad, and offer some peace. I still want to do it every now and then. Shit. Every now and when and it seems like all of the time. Slip my fingers behind my eyes, kill the beast, set the bastard free. Come to find out, the pen works much better than the finger. Dredge on.
The Housewives Scared, â€˜till the time comes, propelled by alcohol and love yet not ready for the piss that comes with the dark. Too Hard, Too Fast, one might go and end up down the road with his shoes off and his dignity fleeing down the storm drain as the rain washes away every last ounce of moral fortitude thatâ€™s left. Shit and piss come too, down the drain and into the mouths of angels, Angry, angrily, too angry for the good of the man; Not angry enough for the God he killed me that night. Mouths and hearts open and tongues deep into the throats of the sane, too grotesque for the housewives, they cannot bear to look in the company of others, yet go in the company of none and stare with eyes unflinching, teeth clenching lips, a smirk comes. Scared, sweet and tired, raw and alive, I wish to hold on; the night is still young and holy. Nicholas Soluri
Bull's Argument My finest adversary is having trouble dreaming. He knows my horns are seething. I've already gotten his small red eyes, terminated both knees & live beyond his demise. He's been erecting his reputation with my gashes, drool, locks of intestines, blood, blood in the bathtub, blood in the mattress, spine stuffed with blood. A lance, because he knows how I hate their sting more than the sting of my blood. None of his costumes work. All of them crushed beyond dental analysis. The tired cape he was made to drag around as a boy, flapping his surrender just as I work him into the soil. Phillipe Vicente Phillipe Vicente's work has appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Ceasura, Lightning Bell and Poesy.
Christina Our father was not a sentimental parent. There was no embodied moral imperative that the conceived child should be forever loved and cherished. He likely would have taken exception to Kant’s notion that to not adhere to the moral law was contrary to reason and self-defeating. This was in spite of it being abundantly clear in his old age, and long after his 20 years younger last wife had dispensed with him, that he was in dire need of the compassion of his children for his care. The best that I can glean from reflecting on his being the progenitor of six children by three different women was that they were each the byproduct of a relationship with a woman with whom he was enamored at the time. When the romantic ardor of that relationship dwindled, the child receded from his conscious mind. Little further thought was given to the child unless some unfortunate circumstance, such as the child happened to be at his parent’s house during one of his biannual visits, served as an unwelcome reminder of the their continued existence. If the child no longer lived in the vicinity, there was no particular reason to think of him or her. At that point, he or she only existed in the abstract. The child was essentially a historical footnote, if one were tracking such things, which of course he was not. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” This was the case with Christina, who was two years old when our father at age twenty-nine left her same-age mother in favor of my 19-year-old mother. Mexican divorces were quick and relatively easy to obtain. He didn’t have to wait long to usher out the old family and bring the new into the house he had just built beside his parent's. Small towns, though, make it difficult to be inconspicuous. Christina could remember seeing my father and his new family on Main Street of this little coal mining community nestled in the mountains of southern West Virginia. She would run up to him gleefully but things were oddly not the same. He didn’t greet her quite the same way as he had when he lived with her. Answers to why he had left her, and why he had a new family, could not be found in his steely blue eyes or on the mortified face of her mother. Soon the humiliation became too much for her mother to bear and she moved, with Christina, to Iowa. The landscape changed. Mountains
were supplanted by miles and miles of flat farm land, and a new man, a stepfather, entered her life. Life in Iowa with a scorned mother and harsh stepfather was not a blissful one. Christina could vividly recall frequent fights and the exchange of strident words, words that stung and would become etched in her mind. She did not feel wanted or loved there, and she and her mother grew farther and farther apart. Lying on her bed each night after her tears dried, she dreamed of her father and her old home in West Virginia. She dreamed of the days when he made her feel that theirs was a love affair. I was a young child of 4 when my mother explained to me that my father had been married before, and that I had an older half-sister. I was told that her name was Tina. I had seen her portrait in my grandmother’s house. It hung on a wall beside the other grandchildren’s. The picture was of a pretty baby with dark hair and eyes, and pierced ears. I remember the pierced ears because I had never seen them before on a baby. I thought it made her look like a princess from a faraway land—some exotic place I had never been. This was in part true. My grandmother told me that Tina’s mother was Syrian. I knew about Syrians because there were several Syrian families who lived in our town. I knew that Tina was related to them. I can remember seeing letters from Tina in my parent's bedroom, and I can recall my mother earnestly telling my father that they should visit her on a trip they were planning. I can remember her saying it was the right thing to do. But for some reason, it seemed that it was more important to her than him. Tina came to visit us once when I was 6 and she was 9. I remember her turning cartwheels in the backyard, her long, black hair flowing in the breeze, and her legs kicking straight up and high to the sky. She showed us how she could twirl a baton like a majorette. I remember that she moved excitedly and seemed to like to play with my older cousin, Nicky. She and Nicky had played together as young children and I thought she must have remembered him from those days. Many years later she told me that I was quiet and a little standoffish. It is true. I was nervous. I was worried that this visit must be difficult for her, and I suspected that underneath her smile she must have resented us. Resented that her father was taken away from her and that he now had other children to play with when he came home from work. I worried that
she might not feel loved by him or welcome in our home. I think I may have felt a little guilty, too--guilty that he was taken away from her, and at such a young age. However, there was one other thing about all of this that troubled me the most. It was the thought that if my father had left Tina then he could leave me and my younger brother and sister, too. I did not like this thought and I tried hard to convince myself otherwise. But no matter how much I struggled, I could not make this stomach-quivering notion go away. The logic was too strong to dismiss: if his love for her was not strong enough to keep him in her life, then why would his love for us be strong enough in keep him in ours? That question haunted me for a long time. Life is like mountain weather, it can change quickly. One minute the sky is blue and the sun is shining, and the next minute dark, foreboding clouds come rolling in. My dark clouds first appeared at age 7, when we returned from a month-long epic trip that took us from West Virginia across the country and to California. Along the way we stopped to see an old Army buddy of my fatherâ€™s who lived in Kansas City, and I had played with his same-age daughter. We had journeyed to New Mexico and seen the desert and painted cliffs upon entering Arizona, where we later peered into the vast abyss of the Grand Canyon. We slipped into Mexico for a quick visit to the border town of Tijuana, where we were told to not drink anything but bottled Coca Cola and where in a small pawn shop I saw walls filled with guitars that were for sale. Las Vegas was on our itinerary, too. There we stayed in the Silver Slipper and saw Mickey Rooney perform a slapstick comedy show. Scantily clad women with rouge painted faces walked by selling cigarettes and cigars, as I sat wide-eyed in my tight-fitting white shirt, bow tie and sports coat. But most thrilling of all we got to go toDisneyland, a place I had always dreamed of and had seen on television. There, we went on the Jungle Ride, our boat going under a waterfall as we screamed with delight. The captain took out his pistol and shot a menacing crocodile before he could swallow us up. We went to our motel that night with helium-filled balloons, mine red and shiny. When we finally reached West Virginia on the long trip home I remember that the sinuous mountain roads seemed strange and foreign, as though we had been gone for years instead of a month. It had been a magical journey, indeed. We had only been home for a few weeks when my mother became ill. It was
not entirely clear what was going on, but she felt tired and had swollen glands. The local doctors were puzzled too, and eventually my father, having grown more and more concerned, decided to take her to the Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic was where people in West Virginia went when they had more serious maladies. My father had gone there in years past for treatment of migraine headaches, which he referred to as â€œdizzy spells.â€? It was at the Cleveland Clinic that they solved the riddle of my mother's illness. She had a form of acute leukemia, and although my brother and sister were not told until it happened, she was going to die. She would die at the tender age of 29, and with three young children. It was on a dreary rainy day that we buried my mother. I remember standing at the cemetery where her casket was surrounded by an assortment of red and yellow roses. Yellow roses were her favorite but she had cried when my father brought her a bouquet from Memory Gardens, the cemetery where her lifeless body was lowered into the ground on that gloomy day. Apparently, it had not occurred to my father that his terminally ill wife might not want to get flowers from the owners of the cemetery where she knew she was going to be buried a short time later. But then again, my father was apt to overlook a lot of the more subtle things about intimate relationships. My mother had been dead for two weeks when he told me to wait in the car while he spoke to a young woman who worked in the local bakery. He had decided that starting to date again would be a good thing for him. He later told my grandmother that my motherâ€™s illness had been hard on him because he had had to go for such a long time without sex, although it somehow came out later that he had been sleeping with a woman in Cleveland while my mother was hospitalized there. Things always seemed to move expeditiously with my father and before too long he had found a woman who he was thinking of marrying. She was 12 years older than me. One day he asked me what I thought about this, and I told him that I preferred another woman to whom he had previously introduced me. Her name was Mary Jane and he had met her while taking classes at a nearby college. She had been kind to me and suggested that I sit up front with them in our car as we traveled to a college basketball game; however, my father promptly informed her that I was just fine sitting where I was in the backseat, and so there I remained. When I expressed
my preference for Mary Jane, he stated that she was a nice person but that he was more sexually attracted to the younger woman and felt that this was the better choice for him. I solemnly nodded my acknowledgement of his decision. It would be about five years later, and after she had slapped me into a wall, had me cut more switches than I can recall for my whippings, and shared with me that my lips were too big and that I was not as good looking as a same-age boy who lived across the street, that my father informed me that he thought it would be a good idea if I went to live with my mother’s sister. He saved this revelation for a weekend trip to the beach which he had proclaimed was a vacation for me and my younger brother. I was 14. A year or so later I learned that his new wife had given him another son, who they decided should be given his first name, which also happened to be mine. I was at my father’s apartment many years later when Tina called. She had changed her name to Christina by then. I didn't know too much about her life. I knew she was an artist and that she had grown children. I knew that my father had visited her once, and that my younger sister had, too. I had moved my father to Charlottesville, Virginia where I lived. I was a psychologist by then and had a position at the University of Virginia. I had not moved my father to a retirement community there because we were close. I moved him because he had serious mental illness and had burnt his bridges with my younger brother who lived in Virginia Beach. I stepped in not because I thought that he had earned my caring for him in his later years but because I thought it would have been what my mother wanted. I felt it was my duty. I was a bit startled when my father suddenly thrust the telephone into my hand and said talk to her, “it's Tina.” What was I going to say to someone who I had not seen or spoken to in nearly 50 years? I knew it was going to be awkward, but I took the phone and said “hello.” To my great relief, she seemed relaxed and friendly. It was not difficult to talk to her at all. We chatted for a few minutes and I explained a bit about the psychiatric and medical care I had arranged for him. We exchanged telephone and email information and agreed to stay in touch. It started out that simply, just agreeing to stay in touch. I made a point of sending her a note on her birthday, which interestingly was also mine. Before too long we were talking on a regular basis and the more we talked, the more I began to perceive our commonalities
and feel close to her. We would talk about our childhoods and she would tell me about the pain of our father leaving her when she was too young to understand. We talked about the irony of taking care of a neglectful father in his old age. We both had made peace with our childhoods and reconciled ourselves to our father being the man who he was. We had not forgotten our pain but neither of us felt malice toward him either. We understood who he was and who he was not; what you could expect of him and what you should never look for in terms of love or affirmation. I imagine that it is somewhat like people who have been through a war together. There is a deep kinship that you feel, knowing that they know and understand what you have been through--a bonding around loss and tragedy. I think, though, what was most surprising to both of us was that we viewed and experienced the world in a very similar way. This included both the things we liked and the things that made us uncomfortable. We would laugh and talk about the power of DNA although we both knew that we were inherently different in our personalities and make up from our father. Christina, like me, took parenting very seriously. We both had a deep love for our children and took a keen interest in their lives. She would talk of her daughters and their lives as rock stars. She even sang on some of their recordings. Christina was a talented artist and had her artistic pieces displayed in art galleries across the country. She loved to travel and lived part of each year in the south of France, where she studied and painted pictures of wild white horses. She lived at various times and worked as an artist in New York, New Mexico, and northern California. She was very much a free spirit but at the same time firmly grounded and practical in her approach to life. Christina and I met in Oklahoma to visit our father after he had moved there to live with my younger sister. I had not seen her in person since we were children. Her hair was no longer black and her face, like mine, had soft traces of the passage of time. But she still moved excitedly as she did as a child, and her spirit was still strong and confident. I watched as she talked with our father, who was now an old man of 89. She was sweet and gentle with him, laughing as she listened to his stories and tales of his youth. There was no hint of bitterness. Later in the evening we sat in her hotel room and talked for hours. We grew even closer after that visit and talked
frequently by telephone. It was in the fall of 2015 that she wrote to tell me that she was headed to Europe for several months. She shared that she was opening up her heart again to the possibility of love. There was a new boyfriend who was going to travel with her. She laughed that she had not made it easy for this man but had finally consented to allowing him to hold her hand. That, she said, was as far as she was willing to let it go at this point, and then we both laughed long and hard. I said I was excited for her and couldn’t wait to find out how things went. A few months later, I nervously inquired as to whether she had been close to Paris when the terrorist activities took place. She reassured me that she was safe and doing well. We talked about getting together when she returned from her trip. It was in August of this year that she wrote to ask if I was available to speak. When she called her voice was sedate and she asked how I was. She said there was something she needed to tell me and I asked if she was okay. She said that it was both good and bad news, and then informed me that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She said that it could not be treated and that she had tumors throughout her body. She said that the doctors only gave her a few months to live. On this day there was no good news for her to share. The thought that she was going to die hit me hard and I became choked up. I kept saying that surely there was something that could be done medically but she softly replied that there was not. I had not cried after learning that my younger sister had died seven years ago, and I had not cried when my father passed about four years later. But that night I cried hard and could not stop. I did not want to lose Christina. There was no one who could take her place in my life. There was no one who quite understood me as well and as profoundly as she did. Dying isn’t a pretty thing; nature can be cruel. Christina admitted that she was scared of dying but that she was working to get her mind around it. And that she did in the months ahead that she lived. While she wanted to go on living, she did not seem angry or resentful that the end was nearing. She once joked that she had lost 25 pounds and “never looked better”, and quipped that it was a “drag…a little late to take advantage of it.” At first we planned for me to visit her where she was staying near Sacramento but my trip was delayed and then she asked me not to reschedule it
yet because she wanted to go to Mendocino where she used to live and create some of her art. She told me that she would tell me if she started to feel bad, so that I wouldn’t miss seeing her. After Christmas she was still feeling well and we planned for me to come to see her in San Francisco in late February. But things can change quickly when you are terminally ill, and they did for Christina. By the time I could schedule to travel from my home in New Orleans to see her, she had rapidly deteriorated and the end neared. She told her daughters to tell me that she loved me and that our relationship meant a lot to her. They told me that she refused pain medication and remained conscious until the end. They said that as she passed, they could feel her light and spirit fill the room. In her death, she seemed to be answering a question that she had posed many years before: “Does light descend from the sky or rise out of us?” I end this story with a heavy heart, for I have lost someone who cannot be replaced. Someone who brought me happiness and joy, and who helped me gain perspective on my life and find continuity in the vicissitudes of its many twists and turns, Her death was a reminder of the fragility of human existence; that those you hold dearest can be suddenly taken from you with little or no warning. Nature makes no apologies and in the end not even the virtuous are spared. However, our relationship also reminded me that the capacity to love cannot be extinguished—not by the callousness of others, nor the cold hand of fate. Like a light that may flicker but will not die, it lives on. It lives on in our hearts through perilous and trying times and guides us to what is good and meaningful in life. Therefore, it is a beacon of truth that we should heed. Her light will live forever in my heart, for I loved her. She was my sister, and her name was Christina. John A Hunter
John A. Hunter practices as a medical psychologist in New Orleans. After having published numerous professional psychology articles and books over the years, he has recently begun a different style of writing. Christina is his second work focused mainly on growing up in Appalachia. His first story, Growing Up in Boone County: Memories of a Bygone Era, was published in Goldenseal magazine.
Ramon's Bongos The spice of the soup The surge of the sound From those two small circles Wrapped in stretched skin They fit very firmly Between his legs And he caresses them With some quick Latin love With emphasized throbbing It powers the point And it rocks the boat Itâ€™s cargo of music and words Those skins are organic So the sounds have life Rich and thick and full They warm all listening blood Feet and hearts vibrate Ears so softly caressed Bodies sway with heat From the rhythm of Ramon Patricia B Walters Patricia B Walters began her professional career in the 1950s and 60s as a jazz singer. She then spent the next 40 years as a psychotherapist in private practice. Now in her 90th year, she has devoted her life to writing poetry. Her work has previously appeared in Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles.
To Love a Musician to bite into the brassy salt of a hand that just sweat on the finely tuned instrument to kiss the softness of the lips which formed the embouchure to press against the firmness behind the gentle control to take the breath that makes the notes real to be touched by the fingers that probed for sound Patricia B Walters
Tummy and Titlets He looked normal from the rear. It was the sideways view that skewed things: His stomach stuck way out front. His belly bedeviled him. He could see being a boyfriend at the age of sixty-six—but not with this belly. Besides, his equipment had stopped working. He’d tried Viagra. Nothing happened. Funny how he could accept that his sex life was over—yet he still stared. Two years since he’d had an erection, and he still hungered for the sight of a young woman. Jasmine said her name tag. She was the hat-check girl at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She had a droll naïf of a face, exquisite with large, bright-brown eyes and short, black hair in a pixie cut. She couldn’t have been more than twenty. He was kind of around the corner and thought she couldn’t see him. “Are you going to stare at me all night, or are you going to give me your coat?” “OH! Oh, sorry. Sorry. It’s just that’s you’re so—so—” “So sorry?” “No, so remarkable.” “That’s a first.” “And ravishing.” “That’s two compliments. Are you busy later?” “UH—well—uh—” “Do you want to take me out or not?” “OH!” He folded his hands over his belly, embarrassed. “You can bring your cute little belly.” “UH—oh—I—uh—” “Tell you what, you be here when I get off in fifteen minutes, we’ll go out. Dutch treat.” She turned away. So did he, blushing furiously. He spent the next fifteen minutes hiding around the corner, nervously patting his newly cute little tummy. When it was time, he walked out in the open in front of her, suddenly worried about what his daughters would think. “Oh, there you are. I thought you were going to stand me up.”
She put on a black beret. She had long arms, wide shoulders, and no breasts to speak of. She followed his glance. “Yes, they’re there. You just can’t see them. A boyfriend of mine called them titlets once. Are you ready? Let’s go. The bar is right near here. By the way, what’s your name?” “Donald.” “As in the duck?” “Yes.” “That’s funny. I’m Jasmine, though I bet you already read my name tag.” She was a few inches taller than he was. He couldn’t think of a thing to say, he was in such awe that she would want to be seen with him. “I like you,” she said, once they were walking, “for two reasons. One, your little fat tummy—it really is adorable—and two, you don’t babble all the time. My last boyfriend never shut up, that’s why I had to dump him. Here’s the bar. You first.” He led the way to a standing table, acutely conscious of his belly. While they waited for their drinks to come, his a craft beer and hers a vodka tonic, he suddenly blurted out, “How old are you?” “Twenty-three on my fake I.D. But really nineteen.” He blanched. She was younger than his daughters. Was he being weird? But for sure this wasn’t about sex. So why couldn’t he stop looking at her titlets? Probably because of the black see-through mesh netting she wrapped them in, her bony shoulders, and the red shawl tucked under her armpits. “Just don’t ask me about my father,” she said, “in case you were going to. He abused me from the age of nine to fifteen—which is when I kicked him in the nuts and started screaming and didn’t stop for two days. My mother nearly had me committed. In fact her threat to do so was what finally shut me up. Dad moved out the next day. Haven’t seen him since. I’m not doing a father number on you—in case you were wondering—because you’re way too old. How old are you anyway?” “Sixty-six.” “Sixty-six! Wow. That’s like Grandpa! So you see I’m not doing a father thing. He’s only forty-four, the bastard.”
He was awash in her. She was either wearing a scent or just naturally smelled good, like youth and flowers. He wanted to climb into her arms—and tried not to stare at her titlets. They were really just little bumps with nipples. “I have children!” he blurted out. “Boys or girls?” she asked, interested. “Both.” “Did you ever abuse them?” “Never.” “How old are they?” “Twenty-two, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-eight, and twenty-eight.” “Twins?” “Nope. Different mothers.” “Boy, you were busy.” “Not anymore, though.” “We’ll see about that,” she said, sending a shiver down his arms. “Being abused does something to you,” she said, ordering another drink. “It makes you cold and wild at the same time. Like right now, for example, it makes me want to take you back to my place and play with that nice little tummy of yours.” “But I—but I can’t—I mean—I don’t—” “Relax. How did you get here?” The question mystified him. “Oh! Oh, I mean—oh, the T. I came on the T.” “Perfect. Let’s make it a date. You love my titlets and I love your tummy! Relax!” she added, seeing his agitation. “Only the right thing will happen, and just between you and me, it’s not going to be sex.” He exhaled with relief. Back at her place she mesmerized him with gentle, long-fingered circles of his belly and nearly put him to sleep. By unspoken mutual consent they avoided each other’s genitals and went to sleep in one another’s arms like puppies. She had one big, soft, heavy quilt and no blankets. This is what cozy means, he thought when he woke up in the middle of the
night, his head in her armpit, his hand on her titlet. He awoke to the smell of coffee. He sat up. She was walking around the kitchen in a wide-open robe, open to her waist. That expanse of skin, showing both nipples, did him in. It was like more kindness than he could bear. He made it to the bathroom and peed. I am peeing in a girl’s toilet, he thought, a girl who is nearly fifty years younger than I. He walked out into the kitchen, ready to leave with many excuses. “I don’t have work until two,” she said before he could say anything. “So let’s just hang out.” She smiled at him, a smile of such soft glory he could only agree. “Coffee?” she said and put one hand on his tummy. She bent her head and kissed him long and languorously. Her nipples erected, which made them longer. Then she made him an omelet. “Tell me about your children,” she said. “First tell me if you have any siblings.” “Only child. I think that’s one reason it happened. More of us would’ve meant more of us to fight him off.” “Rebecca is twenty-three, a student of international affairs at the London School of Economics; Lin, twenty-four, is getting her master’s in gender studies at the University of Toronto; Jessie, twenty-eight, is working for a film company in Santa Fe; and Kyle, twenty-eight, just graduated from a master’s program in non-fiction writing from Columbia University. And Harrisun, twenty-two, is in a Ph.D. program at Brown, and Victor, twenty-two, is going to be a lawyer.” “Wow! What a crowd! I wonder what they’d think of me, hanging out with dear old Dad.” “They’re all pretty old now.” “But they’ll hate me. They’re all older than me.” “I don’t hate you. I love you—oops!” “What do you mean, ‘oops’?” “I mean it’s way too soon to say that, it might drive you away. What am I saying! I was just now trying to escape!” “No,” she said in a small voice, her face soft. “It won’t drive me away. You
don’t want anything from me. It endears me to you.” “I love your niplets.” “Titlets.” “Right, titlets.” “And I love your tummy.” “Gosh, really? But it’s so fat!” “Really.” She kissed him again and kept on kissing him until his lips got all loose and blubbery. Then she sat in his lap and kissed him some more. “I want you,” she said. “Lie down.” “I don’t know,” he began—she pushed him back on the bed and mounted him, kissing and kissing and kissing. “I want to touch you,” she said and unzipped him, pulled down his pants, and placed her hand directly on his member. It didn’t stir. “It hasn’t worked for years,” he said. “I’m sorry.” “Oh my God, this is just what I needed: a non-working penis.” She bent down and held it in her mouth like a soft lollipop, tears trickling down her face. He had never felt so complete in his life. *** Donald’s oldest daughter was the first one to contact her. They met at the café in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Kyle had wanted to see Jasmine where she worked. Donald had introduced them and then left. “Listen,” Kyle said, “I know he loves you from the way he looks at you. But—you have to give me some leeway here. I’m twenty-eight, and he’s my dad, and you’re eighteen?” “It’s nineteen, though just barely. Should I feel defensive here? Are you attacking me?” “Oh my God, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to do that—is that how I’m coming across? I’m concerned about my father—if he’s okay, I mean—” “You mean if I’m ripping him off or something? Like taking his Social Security checks?” “Or taking advantage of him—sure, he’s a really nice guy, and he might be really vulnerable to someone—”
“Like me? Did he tell you about my father?” “No. He just said you were the best thing to happen to him since he had kids.” “I feel the same way about him. My father abused me—and your dad wouldn’t hurt a fly.” “That’s true—but is that a basis for a relationship?” “Listen, you don’t go into a relationship making sure it’s got the correct basis first. You follow love, then you grow into it. I don’t know how long it’s going to last or how things will change, but right now I would live with him the rest of my life. I know he’s sixty-six and that can be a long—” Two tears erupted from her eyes. “Oh dear. Oh dear. I thought I had to protect him from you, but I don’t! You’re perfect for each other. I feel like your big sister. Listen, anytime you need someone to talk to, just call me.” “I always wanted a big sister.” They hugged each other good-bye, awkwardly, newly. And I thought I had small breasts, Kyle thought. *** “Hi, I’m Lin,” Donald’s next oldest daughter said, holding out her hand. They’d found each other at the museum because Lin was wearing a bright-red scarf and Jasmine was dressed entirely in black. They shook hands and went to the cafeteria. “I have to tell you I’m not happy with Dad being with someone younger than I.” “How old are you?” “Twenty-four. And you’re eighteen, right?” “Nineteen. Barely.” “I’m sorry. No, really, I’m sorry. I’m stuck in this belief that someone—that you —would take my dad away from me. And why do you have a right?” “I’m not taking him away from anything except loneliness. He’s told me so himself. I’m certainly not taking him away from you.” “How dare you hook up with my father?” “How dare you be jealous?” Lin’s eyes narrowed. “I hate you.” “Suit yourself—but me and your dad are an item, just so’s you know.” Her brown eyes were flinty with anger. She hungered for Donald’s protection.
Lin shaded her eyes with one hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. If I don’t change, I’m going to lose Dad. That means I have to accept you. Can you give me some time with this, Jasmine? Please?” “Sure. Take all the time you need.” “I have to go now.” Lin stood up, her coffee untouched. “Sorry. Bye.” *** Rebecca was the next daughter to contact her. She braced herself and took her time going on break. Her coat-check post was feeling like wartime central. “I know what you’re going to say,” Jasmine said once they’d settled into their seats at the cafeteria. “What?” Rebecca’s eyes flashed anger. “That I’m too young for your dad.” “I wasn’t going to say that.” “What then?” “I was going to say how much happiness he’s had since he met you.” “Oh! That muddles me. I thought you—never mind. I’ve been happier since I met him too. He listens to me—I mean, he really listens.” “Yeah. Dad’s like that.” “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve had to put up with.” “I can imagine. How old are you anyway?” “Nineteen. Barely.” “Wow! So you’re, what, fifty years younger than he?” “Not quite. Forty-seven. My mother was the worst. She thought I was getting kidnapped.” “What did your father think?” “He’s long gone. And good riddance.” “Why?” “He raped me.” “God! That’s awful.” “Your father is the first man I’ve been with really—is that weird?” “I bet it’s a real healing experience.”
“That’s exactly right: a real healing experience. Now tell me about you.” “Why do I feel I’m your older sister?” “Funny. I feel it too. I always wanted an older sister. Now it seems I’ve got more than one of them.” Rebecca changed the subject to international relations and the London School of Economics. They chatted away amiably until Jasmine had to go back to work. *** The next day Harrisun was waiting for her at the bar. “Don’t worry,” he’d said on the phone. “I’ll be the only one in a lime-green sport coat.” He was. She sat next to him and ordered a Double Bag, her favorite beer. “Jasmine.” “That’s my name.” “Who named you? Your father or your mother?” “Who named you?” “Both. My dad wanted to call me Harold, but my mother wanted the sun in my name, so they compromised on Harrisun, spelled it S-U-N.” “It was my mother. My father said it was like naming your daughter after bath salts.” “Ouch.” “Not a nice man.” “Where is he now?” “Nobody knows. He ran off when I was fifteen.” “Double ouch.” “Why did you want to talk to me?” “I’ve been asking myself that.” “What was your answer?” “To see if Dad needed protecting.” “From me? You’ve got to be kidding.” “I guess I was wrong. You don’t seem normal though.” “I’m not. I’m an art student.” “And you’re sleeping with a man old enough to be your grandpa.”
“Are you going to insult me now?” “…I’m sorry. Really, I’m mad at Dad for competing with me.” “Trust me, you’re no competition. I’m happier with him than I’ve ever been.” “Wow.” “Wow is right.” “I believe you.’ “That’s nice.” “I owe you an apology. I wanted to meet you to see if I could find a way to break you and Dad up.” “Why?” “I thought I was jealous but now I don’t know. There’s something you should know about dear old Dad, though. He’s on heavy meds, and a number of years ago, he really lost it and tried to kill my mother. He’s manic depressive. But he probably told you that, right?” He scanned her face through hooded eyes. She reached across him for more peanuts to disguise the trembling. “Of course he did. It was one of the first things we shared. And you’ve been lying in wait for me with your little poison pill, haven’t you? Well, you truly are an asshole, and I hope I never see you again. I’m out of here.” She flipped him the bird, then stalked out. She took the T to her studio and called Donald from there. “I just met your son,” she said. “Oh? How’d it go?” “Terrible. He tried to break us up! He said you’re on heavy meds and went crazy and tried to kill his mother! Well? Did you? Are you?” “It’s true.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I never thought of it. It’s all a long time ago, and I don’t think about it anymore.” “Well, if you’re going to lie to me, I don’t want to see you anymore.” “I am not lying. When I was forty-eight I suddenly became bipolar, mostly manic, and as is typical of a bipolar, I refused to take my meds for the longest time. I
was in and out of mental hospitals until finally I got it: I have to take my meds! Do you tell me things from eighteen years ago?” “I’d just been born.” “Exactly. And yes, I tried to strangle his mother in a peak manic episode—but I failed! And I’m not weak! Something in me overrode the insane impulse to murder! Please don’t leave me. I’m so happy with you. Every day is a million ways I’m glad you love me. I only tell you a fraction of them because there just isn’t time to say them all…Jasmine?” “I’m going to need some time with this. Just so you understand. It makes me feel abused.” “Okay, I understand. Take your time.” *** It only took her twenty-four hours. “I bet you felt abused by your mania,” she said, “especially that part where you didn’t know you were manic.” “Boy, that’s for sure. You’re the first one to understand it so fast.” “I know what it’s like to be abused. I’m glad to be back with you. That was scary for a while there.” They settled into a routine. She tasted so fresh and glowed all over and made animal ecstasy sounds. She usually fell asleep with his soft penis in her hand. It was the happiest sex life he’d ever had. After breakfast she would go to art school, and he would go back to his apartment and write. It wasn’t a living—alimony took care of that—but he got a story or a poem published every month or two. The idea occurred to them simultaneously: She moved in with him, since his place was larger. They felt like an old married couple and a newly married couple both at once. *** “I think it’s time I saw your mother.” “Are you out of your mind? The last time I brought you up, I made the mistake of mentioning your age. She called you a baby snatcher and slammed the door to her room, then opened it to yell, ‘Pervert!’ at me!”
“I have hopes we can get along or at least be civil.” “You’re nuts—but all right. Any idea what approach to take?” “Tell her that I love her daughter.” “Shit. Like that’ll work!” “She’s hurt. This might repair the damage.” “Aren’t you all tender and understanding. All right. I’ll try it.” She bounded up the steps, used her key, and let herself in. “Hey, Mom.” “Hi. How are you?” “Couldn’t be better. Classes going great.” “You still with that old guy?” “We live together now and he wants to meet you.” “Oh. You live together now. Right out in public. What do your friends think of that?” “After the shock, they’re glad for me. But I’m serious. He wants to meet you. He’s old-fashioned—” “Or at least old—” “—Old-fashioned polite and for him it’ll be doing the right thing, so what do you say, Mom? Please?” “What’s he expect? Tea and cookies?” “He’ll likely bring everything.” “I might give him a piece of my mind.” “He’ll listen to you, really listen.” “Oh, all right. But I might be rude, real rude.” “I know, I know, it won’t be a problem.” The next week at the appointed time, there was a knock on the door. First Jasmine stepped in, looking all giggly, then came Donald with a huge package. “I do hope this is no imposition, Mrs. Claremont.” “Oh, don’t call me that! Call me Molly. What have you brought me here?” “Well, Jasmine said you had no proper tea set, so I brought one, with a teapot and four cups and a tea cake and some cookies.”
Molly laughed out loud. “She did warn me. I did not know what I was going to serve you, old man soup perhaps.” “Old man soup would’ve been just fine.” “Now don’t you go thinking I’ve forgiven you for being so old, because you’re older than my father for Christsakes, and here you are hanging out with my daughter.” “Yes, it’s true. I think the world of Jasmine.” “Well, you would, wouldn’t you, her being one-quarter your age.” “Mom, I think the world of him too.” “Sorry, dear. Well, I should warn you I’m famous for my rudeness, Donald, you’ll just have to get used to me.” “I look forward to the chance to do so.” “Well, isn’t he the smooth talker, Jasmine.” “It’s just the way he is, Ma. I’m gotten way more polite just from living with him.” “So, Donald, what’s your last name?” “Smith.” “Donald Smith.” “That’s right, and I already know you’re Molly Claremont.” “Oh please! Molly!” “Molly it is then.” “So tell me, did you seduce Jasmine?” “Mom!” “Actually it was the other way around. She dared me to come to a club with her.” “True, Mom.” “What were you thinking, girl? He’s like your grandfather.” “I don’t know. I like his little fat tummy.” “Look at you being adorable. Are you blushing?” “He is, Mom. See what I mean?” “Well, I never would have believed it! I thought you were the old man after my
little daughter, and now I see it was my daughter after an innocent old man. Well, how about that? Are you going to want the tea things back?” “Oh no! They’re for the next time we visit.” “Aren’t you just a hoot. Isn’t he, Jasmine?” “Yes, he is, Mom, yes, he is.” They had tea every two or three weeks, and a fine friendship grew between Molly and Donald. After a year of living together, a miracle happened. Jasmine let out a cry of joy and engulfed him. It happened unpredictably every now and then after that. Nine months later there was another miracle. They called her Massachusetts, Chusetts for short. They couldn’t have been happier. Then one day he carefully laid the baby down, clutched at his chest, and fell over. “Donald! Are you okay?” she yelled, but she could tell he wasn’t. She called 911, then cradled him and the baby at the same time. The baby cried. She felt life leave him like slow seepage, and then he was all the way gone. The 911 guys did their thing, but it was way too late and they knew it. She didn’t want to go to the hospital with him. She entered a blue silence. She sat at the window with baby Chusetts and counted cars as dark deepened. The baby fussed so she kissed her and bounced her. She was exactly six weeks old. She would never know her father. Then she called her mother and said he was dead. “We’re going to the hospital,” Molly said. “Get the baby ready. Sure enough he’ll be sitting up and waiting for us.” But he was in the morgue instead. “Can you take care of things?” Jasmine asked her mother. “Yes, but I’ll be needing help from you. Shall we cremate him?” “Time out. Time out.” She didn’t want to have anything to do with corpses or arrangements. Molly ended up doing everything. Jasmine went to the service but wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even to her mother.
She buried herself in her art studies and in Chusetts. One month later to the day, she cracked like an egg and howled like a banshee, Chusetts howling along with her. She could barely see for the tears, barely breathe for the sobs. She moved back in with her mother. She couldn’t stop crying. “I wondered when it was going to hit you, darling. He was a fine old gent, he was. You come home now. Everything’s going to be all right. Let’s make sure Chusetts always knows how to make tea.” Daniel John Daniel John is a garden and landscape designer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Amherst Review, The Comstock Review, Drumvoices Review, Mindprints, and many others.
Bruce Louis Dodson
Editor's Note After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. . . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn't the game that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than nine innings. When the game stops it will be called on account of darkness. But it is a long day. â€”Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
We (and by we I mean the world) seem to be in a time of crises. There are so many: climate change, immigration, US political leadership, classism/racism, even how we grow the food we eat. Six months ago, when we called for submissions on the social and political issues of today's world, we did not know what kinds of works we would receive. The contributions following this page offer a variety of topics --from GMO farming to the Trump presidency-- in a variety of approaches --from abstract art to dramatic monologue. Some are understandably angry, while others are more contemplative. Six months ago we also hoped that some or all of the crises would subside. Unfortunately, that seems not to be true. But what is true is that with crisis comes opportunity, the chance for recognition, reform, and renewal. And so many of us are now writing our congresspersons, marching in the streets, and initiating dialogue. We hope that the next few pages may inspire you to think, to investigate, and possibly to act. Art can have no higher calling.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee. And revery. The revery alone will do, If bees are few. â€” Emily Dickinson
Remember so you can answer when your grandchildren ask, what was the sound Yeats loved, the sound of a bee-loud glade? How big were the blueberries you plopped into your cereal, or served on ice cream? What is this strawberry shortcake you speak of with such nostalgia? Explain that asparagus was green and pointed, that its absence spears your heart each spring. Tell your grandchildren why lovers called each other honey. And when they pull out the collected works of Emily Dickinson, say she was wrong. Reverie alone is not enough to make a prairie. Wilda Morris Wilda Morris is the Workshop Chair of Chicago's Poets & Patrons. Her blog at http://wildamorris.blogspot.com provides a monthly contest for other poets.
Where to Find It
beginning with two lines by Imtiaz Dharker
It walks along a street that has a familiar name and piggy backs on electromagnetic waves into a house which looks like yours or mine, into the living room where, after supper, a mother sits watching TV near father, who reclines with the newspaper, both listening as host and guest teach their childrenâ€”who half-watch as they sit on the floor playing hand-held versions of PokĂŠmon and Super Marioâ€” ideas which will encourage them in their teen years to paint graffiti on the wall of a mosque or synagogue, a 7-Eleven recently purchased by a Pakistani immigrant, or a Korean-owned grocery store, or throw a fist into the face of a dark-skinned neighbor or homosexual man walking along a street with a familiar name. Wilda Morris
I Can Hear Their Eyes Moving like a side show freak the clatter of rails beneath me mark in time the calibrations that measure dignity. clack clack clack nine maybe ten yet her steadfast eyes lock in dissecting the weight of my inhalations while her body sways with the metro I hear her father say in German why do you stare so hard Him? He could be Afrikanisch or Pariser he tells her No need to stare. He tries to explain me away The way a parent explains stripes on a zebra Or the length of a giraffe's neck Or why apes don't have tails and monkeys do. clack clack clack Thirty years later. I'm stopped At random by the police at a Bronx train station into New York City. I'm stopped because Black lives don't matter but others do so the two women wearing niqabs with their children in tow are stopped and questioned too. on the subway next to her shrouded mother the little girl's eyes find me same stare as in Frankfurt.
but wait someone forgot to tell her You're the bad guys. I know this because when I was her age the bad guy Arabs wore black Sometimes even a black eyepatch Like in Raiders of the Lost Ark the big bad Arab in black with the fast sword got shot. the good guys wear white. Black White that's all y'all gotta know to be good guys here. tell your mother to stopping wearing black forget your Quran forget your tradition black hangs like strange fruit here And y'all are the strangest yet. Yet she stares at Me the same way a solider or a hunter stares at the silhouette on a range. clack clack clack measuring divinity one calibration at a time clack clack clack We all get off at Grand Central Station but now
All eyes are on them. I watch those watching them zoo questions in their eyes How do they breathe like that in all this heat Are they dangerous out in the open Look at the littlest ones they start out so cute They're stopped for more questions by men in uniforms. Little girl tell your mother not to wear black his finger is on the trigger guard clack clack clack C Z Heyward C Z Heyward is a poet, spoken word artist, and playwright whose sociopolitical work has found platforms in France, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Born in Harlem, he is currently pursuing his PhD at St. Johnâ€™s University in New York.
Imagining Rosa Parks Each day she wondered if that was the day to do it, to sit where sheâ€™d cause a ruckus, maybe get hurt. Each day she watched passengers get on, blacks walking to the back, tired, not just from work, that too. But tired of walking back, back while all those up front had to watch them pass and then not have to see them at all. Each day she wore her suit and hat, looked respectable, carried her purse at her bent elbow and waited for the time she would do itâ€• knew the name calling, could feel being dragged off the bus, so many cops for one black lady, charged and booked, not saved, or maybe saved. Each day was almost the day. Connemara Wadsworth Connemara Wadsworth has poems published in Valparaiso, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Connecticut River Review and others. Her chapbook is titled The Possibility of Scorpions.
Let’s Restore the Draft Other than me, there are no veterans among blood relatives in my family. I had the good fortune to serve between two wars, Korean and Vietnam. Back then, our wars were sequential instead of pop-up targets. No one in my family has had to experience what it is like to have a relative at war. But my sister’s husband, who joined our family in the 1990s, is a twice-wounded Vietnam vet. Although I was against that war, I was never against the veterans who fought it. At the time, there was a draft. In a stroke of seemingly unsurpassable callousness, the government turned one of the best days of the year for a young man into a death lottery. If your birthday was the first one randomly drawn, you were the first to be drafted. Consequences of avoiding the draft included imprisonment. Vietnam veterans took the heat for a war declared by civilians. The My Lai Massacre and slogans like “Kill them all and let God sort them out” didn’t help. But war begets brutality, demands brutality. Who can say what a man will do when others are incessantly trying to kill him? The battlefield has its own morality. The treatment we gave to returning veterans was shameful. Many were scorned or shunned, as if the war were their idea. The government fell well short of what was needed and deserved by returning veterans and their families. They received substantially fewer benefits than returning World War II veterans. Thus the Vietnam veteran was spurned even by those who sent him to war. I am a retired biologist living in eastern North Carolina, not far from Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. I have lived in the area since 1990 and have worked on the base. During that time I have gotten a glimpse of the relentless burden suffered by the families of active service men and women. In some ways the government has made no progress at all. After stonewalling for decades, Congress finally granted compensation in 2012 to veterans and family members sickened by water pollution in Camp Lejeune. But to pay for the compensation, the U.S. Congress raised the interest veterans pay on certain home
loans (Stars and Stripes, 8/9/2012). In other words, the veterans are paying for it themselves. (Speaking of unsurpassable callousness….) A few years after 9/11, I was surveying habitat on Camp Lejeune with one of the military installation’s biologists. At the time, her husband was a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, and I asked her how she was dealing with it. She replied calmly, even though what she said was harrowing. It was part of her daily life. “I can’t have the TV or radio on at home, and I try to avoid places where they are on. I freeze every time the war is mentioned, afraid they’ll report there are casualties. I can’t help but think my husband will be among them. Worst of all is when I hear a car slow down outside the house, afraid they have come to tell me he’s been killed. That happens almost every day.” Then there are the children. Marines returning to Camp Lejeune from deployment in war zones sometimes surprise their offspring in televised encounters. I don’t know whether it is the military, families, or TV stations who trigger these surprise visits, but the children have no idea their fathers have come home from a war zone. Surprised pre-school children usually run into Dad’s arms laughing. But school-age children are more likely to be bawling their heads off. That is because they have lived every day with classmates whose fathers (and even a few mothers) can never come home. These conditions are a constant for every partner, parent, child, and sibling of every service man and woman at the front. I have a proposal that may reduce the number of our sons and daughters killed in battle, reprioritize motivations for going to war, and send spin-doctors to respectable employment. It involves a partial restoration of the draft. No troops can be sent into battle until all age-eligible children and grandchildren of every U.S. senator, congressman, and White House staffer (including POTUS) have been drafted into combat units. Next on the list are the age-eligible children and grandchildren of family units with current annual incomes of $400,000 or
more (the â€œone percentersâ€?), as these families have enormous influence on the politicians. I think it would make a great constitutional amendment. We could even require they be drafted on their birthdays. Richard LeBlond
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in Montreal Review, High Country News, New Theory, Compose, and others.
I Am Cardboard No sign, in such hard light where streetlights cross darkness with these red blurs of taillights streaking eyes. No signal, no word of warning or direction for my homeless, lost in old memories, infected by alcoholic fear of an old new war or two. Cardboard barriers cold thoughts inside, hide weak stars from red eyed contemplations that send derelict nightmares and old sweat stains. The face of God angers the pavement, drags the unforgiven to sunrise where most are able again to exit cardboard carapaces into the seas of morning. David Anthony Sam David Anthony Sam lives in Virginia and recently retired as president of Germanna Community College. Books include Finite to Fail: Poems after Dickinson and All Night over Bones. Poems have been published in 50 Haikus, Aji Magazine, Arlington Literary Journal, and others.
The Exile Breathes Sulfur I am not citizen of your land, more a tourist of past and present whose luggage has been lost. A homeland is a nest in a wayward tree, now uprooted by winds and floods. I shade my eyes from your sun which is too low and yet too hot, as sulfur clouds dissipate in orange sunsets. The world is wide and empty but with only a narrow place for an exile unowned by every country. Tides rise, cool winds turn torrid, ice caps drown the seas, and the dark bottom of the world rises against me. David Anthony Sam
The Twilight's Last Gleaming it’s not funny i’m not hungry i wish i died before the 90’s came back but no one retires at the right time the fade is a slow burn and usually the ones who could’ve been good drop out first. they name baseball fields after them probably a scholarship but no one alive cares memories replaced too soon by the next draft and no ghosts hang like frames in these halls the dead don’t want any part of this shit either. no one is well. the fast clap of the audience was muted long ago. the people needed to eat and stole the generator the nypd shot at the black ones and the white working class didn’t like it this time. no one is well. they turn the lights on but the audience doesn’t laugh the twilight last gleamed on some other era when we didn’t have to hide from the dawn and everyone could still smile at the mirror Scott Laudati Scott Laudati lives in Cranston, RI, and is the author of a novel, Play The Devil, and a poetry collection, Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair.
W Jack Savage
New Art, New Politics Because I had just arrived in the city of Oaxaca, Hiro Yoshida suggested in his e-mail that we meet at the Institute of Graphic Arts, across the avenue from the imposing Convent of Santo Domingo. A small encampment of people clustered under a row of plastic tarpaulins eyed me with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity as I paused in front of the television sets they’d set up on the sidewalk in front of the Institute to show videos of heavily armed federal police ripping out the barricades that had been set up to protect residents from marauding paramilitaries. I told a young videotape vendor that I had left Baja California Sur in order to write about the turmoil the city was undergoing and he described how more than 4,000 “Robocops” (armored military and federal police) forcibly had evicted striking schoolteachers and their supporters from the center of the city. We were interrupted by Hiro waving to me from the steps of the Institute; I thanked the vendor and followed Hiro into the building. The patio and display rooms were blocked by sheets dangling from ropes tied to the pillars. As Hiro swung the backpack he’d left by the doorway over his shoulder he explained that there’d been a “confrontation” with the police the day before and the injured were being treated at the Institute. After we’d lunched with some of his art students and Hiro had boarded a bus to return to the little valley town of Popolutla where he lived I asked several vendors and people at the Institute about the confrontation. Some were reluctant to talk to me but one of the women vendors, who asserted that she was a member of Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly, explained that neither federal nor state authorities were willing to haul those whom they’d beaten and tried to arrest out of the Institute because they didn’t want to create a scandal that such an action involving “Maestro Francisco” would invoke. “Maestro Francisco” is Francisco Toledo, the founder of the Institute and one of Mexico’s most prestigious and influential artists. Because he is so wellknown nationally and internationally and because he had political connections with the political party to which Oaxaca’s governor Ulisés Ruiz belonged the military and the police conceded him immunity from the persecutions they had no
reluctance in imposing on protesting teachers, students and members of opposition political parties. Toledo and the leaders of the Popular Assembly knew that armed soldiers and police had swept through the city’s hospitals to arrest those who’d been wounded during a previous confrontation; consequently, they felt that the Institute was the only place the injured safely could be treated. Although plainclothes operatives photographed those entering and leaving IAGO with cell phone cameras to identify doctors and the relatives and friends of the injured, family members and the Popular Assembly adherents gradually were able to ferret the injured protesters out of the building. The immunity granted Maestro Toledo didn’t extend to those caught in the wake of a concentrated police and military sweep through the city’s historical district on November 25, 2006. Armed troops, abetted by paramilitaries, teargassed hundreds and indiscriminately arrested and sent over 140 Oaxacans to federal prison. While others fled, or went into hiding, Toledo organized the “Twenty-fifth of November Committee” to negotiate the release of those who’d been arrested. Ruiz and his government refused to deal with any international human rights organizations but they dealt with Toledo because, a state-paid attorney confided to me, “For many people, Toledo is Oaxaca. The government doesn’t don’t want to arouse the publicity that subduing him might cause.” Newspapers, television and the wire services like the Associated Press, fed propaganda by Ruiz’s high-paid hacks, had convinced most of Mexico (and most of the world) that the Popular Assembly was a communist-led militant terrorist organization that needed to be stomped out. By dealing with the Maestro’s committee, the attorney told me, Ruiz’ government could appear “benevolent” by releasing on bail those who’d been incarcerated rather than risk the publicity that arresting or repressing Toledo would trigger. That Toledo and his committee were acting independently, rather than coordinating with or going through the Popular Assembly (and that the imprisoned were released on bail rather than vindicated of the crimes of which they were accused) evoked criticism from many aligned with the protests. At the same time conservative and pro-government groups, particularly within the governing Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI) berated the artist for what they considered anti-
government (and consequently anti-PRI) activities. The maestro continued painting and exhibiting, ignoring both side’s invectives. “Why should he care what they say?” an artist who for years worked with IAGO, as the Institute popularly is called, laughed. “He thinks in politics the same way he does in art. Creation is his virtue, not consistency.” Fernando Gálvez, for several years IAGO’s director, noted in an article in the Mexico City daily La Jornada, “Neither the INBA (National Institute of Fine Arts) nor the CNCA (National Arts Council) nor Oaxaca’s Secretary of Culture ever has offered the public anything as diverse or important” as Toledo’s collections of plastic arts, art literature and films. Often he had to overcome government attempts to obstruct, amend or take over his projects. Toledo is not an easy person to get to know. He seems brusque, preoccupied, oblivious to his surroundings as he bustles through IAGO or through the streets in Oaxaca’s Centro Historico, a mop of gray-streaked hair flopping past his eyes and his short beard twitching. He dresses for all occasions as he dresses in his workshop―open-necked shirt, sleeves rolled almost to his elbows, gray or khaki cotton pants―and though he is featured at public functions he often has the least to say and is the first to leave. (A newspaper photograph of a Twenty-fifth of November Committee press conference shows him with his head resting on the table and his eyes closed while other nattily attired committee members smile for the cameras.) According to Gálvez much of the money paid for the release of the prisoners came out of Toledo’s pocket. (In addition, he and/or the Committee also paid bail for family members who were incarcerated in a military sweep against protesters outside the prison in Tlacolula forty-some miles from the city of Oaxaca.) Throughout the early months of 2007 Toledo and IAGO continued to host cultural events with a pronounced anti-government and pro-Popular Assembly stance. Although neither the military nor Ruiz’s militarized police attempted overt actions against IAGO or two other Toledo holdings, the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photography Center and the little El Pochote movie theater, they barricaded the street leading to the Institute. They tripled these barricades when the Popular Assembly announced plans to sponsor a giveaway of donated gifts and toys to the children of the prisoners and members of the Assembly as part of the traditional
Día de los Reyes January 6 holiday, an event scheduled to take place in the public plaza adjoining the Institute. The metal barricades and armed federal police were aligned three-deep a few meters from the entrance to the Institute when I approached to attend the event. As I tried to go through them a guard barred my entrance, his R-15 pressed against my chest. We glared at each other, neither of us moving, until the officer in command of the barricade stepped between us and asked, more or less politely, if I wanted to enter. “Por favor,” I responded. He hesitated, then opened the gate. Perfunctorily I thanked him, knowing that I was allowed to enter only because I was a foreigner and the federal police had been instructed not to create any further international scandals after the assassination of U.S. video photographer Brad Will a little over a month before. That leniency, similar to the immunity accorded Maestro Toledo, extended to most foreigners, although one had to be careful only to observe, not to participate in Popular Assembly-related activities, since a foreigner accused of political participation could be deported. And one had to guard against entanglements with government-paid porros (ruffians), particularly at night, since government prosecutors and judges passed them off as common criminals, not political operatives, and released them shortly after they were arrested for “lack of sufficient evidence.” Non-identified gunmen riddled Toledo’s house one night in October and PRI party leaders censured many of his cultural projects. (However, they didn’t interfere with the Twenty-fifth of November Committee’s continued forking over of bail money, which Oaxaca Human Rights attorney Yésica Sánchez told me was “exorbitant because Ruiz and his confederates have siphoned so much out of the treasury that the state is almost broke.”) Conflict already had arisen between the government and the artist over the San Agustín Etla Center for the Arts (CASA), a joint project in which both Toledo and the state were involved. The artist clashed with the government’s attempts to focus Center activities and displays on promotions designed to bring tourist money into Oaxaca and the project foundered for over a year with neither side willing to give in. Like Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto, Ruiz considered “culture” to be
a mercantile concept. Ruiz’s predecessors transformed traditional folk ceremonies like the Guelaguetza into Ticketmaster spectaculars that only superficially resembled their origins and doctored the appearances and bowdlerized the histories of archeological sites to attract visitors more interested in luxury than history. The Twenty-fifth of November Committee continued to work for the release of political prisoners after the Popular Assembly, wracked by internal dissention and the loss of much of its teachers’ union base, dwindled as a political force. Ruiz fortified his hold on the state by increasing the size and capacities of his police and security forces. His government spent millions of pesos on tourist advertising. If Toledo’s receiving an honorary doctorate in a ceremony that extolled his contributions to society as well as to Mexico’s culture piqued Ruiz he avoided comment but through underlings he let it be known that “culture” as reflected in art openings, book presentations and musical concerts was froufrou, a sideshow, and that he ran the state. He ran it knowing the federal government needed the backing of his political party, the PRI, to push the privatization of the oil and electricity industries and increasingly subjugate unions to presidential control. Mexico’s president Felipe Calderón’s government hid political repression behind the U.S.supported “War on Drugs,” breaking the back of a teachers’ strike in Morelos in 2008 with militarized police as it had done in Oaxaca a year-and-a-half earlier and invading Zapatista villages to search for “illegal substances” even though those villages were not located in drug-producing or drug-transporting areas. Unconfirmed reports attributed the teachers’ decreased participation in the Popular Assembly to bribes paid by Ruiz to union head Enrique Rueda; nevertheless, the majority of teachers needed to resume working after being without salaries for an extended period of time and they approved a compromise package for salary increases. Without its teachers’ union backbone the Popular Assembly became a mere shadow, conducting occasional marches of mourning to commemorate events like the brutal November 25 purge and the repelling of militarized police in front of the university on November 2. Ruiz and his government tolerated these marches, which had dwindled from an estimated 700,000 during the summer of 2006 to less than 700 by autumn of
2007 since they no longer threatened his authoritarian rule. Nor did his government interfere with vendors from the anarchist and Leninist-Stalinist organizations selling t-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing pro-Popular Assembly and anti-government slogans in the Zócalo or speakers and book presentations critical of the government presented at IAGO and by the state university. Meanwhile, Maestro Toledo continued his individualistic ways, appearing now and then in forums and Twenty-fifth of November Committee events, painting, sketching, sculpting, accepting awards and scowlingly bustling through the Centro Historico. Artists, would-be artists and their friends congregated at IAGO to work, read and exchange ideas. The FRP―Popular Revolutionary Front for its initials in Spanish―held press conferences there and Carlos Beas and others affiliated with the Popular Assembly emceed public forums. Sergio Hernández, who had become one of Oaxaca’s better known artists, exhibited huge crocodile-filled paintings deriding Ruiz’s government in IAGO’s galleries and El Pochote, the little movie theater tucked behind a park by the same name, included documentaries about the militarized police assault on Atenco, Marxist films from the thirties, indigena speakers and noted foreign filmmakers and writers with definite leftist, if not revolutionary backgrounds, among its regular offerings. Although gallery openings and book presentations also attracted older, university-educated persons, the vitality running through IAGO and El Pochote was youth-generated: high school and university students, artists who produced and distributed politically motivated stencils, foreign exchange students and young urbanites. While the Popular Assembly lay moribund beneath ideological carping, an impetus for social change vibrated throughout this youth-dominated, computer literate, curious and aggressive mix of students, artists, young activists and poets. University and high school students openly advocated anti-government policies in their writings and campus activities (although they often disagreed on the hows and whys of putting those policies into effect) and formed allegiances with indigena and other minority groups within Oaxaca. This vitality―electricity―was evident when the state teachers’ union held a general assembly of members in the fall of 2008 to elect new leaders. Several teachers who took part told me that the competition was the most intense they
had ever seen with vote after vote taken until Azael Santiago, the youngest and most aggressively critical of the candidates for secretary general, won “by sheer determination, he was inexhaustible, he wore everyone down.” Within days after assuming the secretary generalship Santiago announced plans to reorganize the Popular Assembly with full union participation. As the Popular Assembly, not just a teachers’ union, the newly formed coalition ordered two-day walkouts and the takeover of the city of Oaxaca’s Zócalo for a week-long cultural exhibition that spread for over a square block from in front of the Cathedral to the recently repaved square with its newly planted flower beds and spiffed up bandstand. Popular Assembly and student vendors spread blankets to display handmade jewelry, video cassettes, t-shirts and revolutionary tracts much as students and activists had done during the late 1960s and early 1970s around university campuses in the United States. Members of indigena organizations affiliated with the Popular Assembly set up portable stalls to sell hand-embroidered clothing, hats and leather works and tables set up under trees in front of the bandstand displayed books in Spanish, most of them self-published, written about the protests and repression. Most impressive was the art. No longer were protesters merely passing out mimeographed caricatures or angrily stenciling RUIZ ASESINO on church walls. A corridor of twenty-foot-wide mantas ushered one towards the speakers’ platform. Each manta depicted aspects of the conflict, from starvation in the Mixteca to violence against women and the use of brutal military force against unarmed innocent civilians. No longer were characters squeezed into margins because of faulty designs, or facial expressions more caricature than human; dynamic colors emerged from realistic and impressionistic spatial arrangements of animals, people, mythology and nature. Large prints depicting Popular Assembly events and martyrs (including Bradley Will, the American assassinated by non-uniformed police at a Popular Assembly barricade) reflected talent and craftsmanship and attracted not only People Assembly and teachers’ union supporters but tourists, diners and families with children as well. The vitality that created the popular movement that was brutally repressed
by state and federal police and the military resurged during the gubernatorial and state assembly elections in 2010 to defeat Ruiz’ hand-picked PRI successor and places like IAGO, the university, the recently opened galleries and the writing and art workshops sizzled with new ideas, new concepts, new ways to express the politics of the new century. As a young artist, deflecting a question about “revolutionary” art, asked, “What is revolution but a different way to view, to interpret, politics? “What is art but a different way to view, interpret reality? “Art is revolution.” Robert Joe Stout Robert Joe Stout has written about Mexico for a variety of publications, including Commonweal, American Educator and Notre Dame Magazine. He was a member of two Rights Action emergency human rights delegations to Oaxaca. His books include Why Immigrants Come to America and Hidden Dangers, Mexico on the Brink of Disaster.
Metaphor saved in a drawer with pressed daisies By way of protest I have selfied my keyboard performing an act of qwerty revolt. Fashionably scrapbooking my polaroid I surround this poem with enraged emojis parallel, askew, perpendicularly bullet pointed: one at a melting glacier one at planet Earth one at Titanic one at planet Earth dressed as Titanic floating in azure, ship of hubris, fuming, burning coal into the night until the rats drown with the bankers, oilmen, no space lifeboats available. The final bullet an ice-bright dollar sign for the lucky winner of the jackpot at the bingo on Titanic. Bruce Marsland Bruce Marsland is the author and editor of several works on language teaching, most notably Lessons from Nothing: Activities for Language Teaching with Limited Time and Resources. Born in the United Kingdom, he now lives in the US and is self-employed as an editor and writer.
Tough Love If I say shit that you did not think I could possibly say you will wait to hear what next will come out of my mouth you dumb fucking piece of shit waste of space and oxygen for I know how much money I have and how much you don’t have and how small your dick is and how fat your ass is and you are a sad and pathetic human being so infinitesimally minuscule next to my creations and I really do not understand how you can live through your meaningless life every day and why you continue to listen to things that escape my superior brain day after day while I build walls and threaten the world with false hair and pursed lips my eyes squinting in the darkness to discern the level of your impotent hatred . . . YOU’RE A BUM! GET THE BUM OUT! YOU’RE A BUM! TAKE IT SOMEWHERE ELSE, BUM! . . . that is an impossibly ugly dress and where in the hell did you get that boob job (laughter) don’t you just love this but you are quite possibly the most unattractive person I have ever seen and we will bomb the shit out anyone who doesn’t listen to me and all of you retards and cripples out there will just have to put up and shut up or move to Iran or one of those other African countries and everything will be beautiful and shiny and you can look at my wife who had better work than you did and I knew all along that you idiots would vote for me because you are idiots and I can attract idiots like flies to fly paper and moths to flames and I refuse to put up with mean people because mean people are like bed bugs they just munch on you and disappear because they have no guts and they have no energy . . . did you hear what she asked me? I love women! I employ many MANY women . . . I have lots of energy I have more energy than anyone including all of you in this room and if you worked for me like the many MANY women who do work for me which you never would by the way . . . seriously folks . . . I would fire you because it really feels good really REALLY good . . . you cannot imagine how good because you will never be in that position . . . to yank the rug out from someone’s feet and watch them crumble but you will come back to me because I tell it like it is because I can’t be bought and I don’t care and you can’t hit me but I will protect you like no one has ever protected you because I know business and this is all business . . . all business . . . and I always win because I am a winner unlike you and I know you eat that shit with a smile on your face and return because those other bimbos refuse to insult everyone and that is not really very honest is it . . . just “PC” stuff to make you feel good about yourselves even though you are slugs on the planet sliding along in your own slime until you die having never accomplished anything close to what I have accomplished in my life and thanks for listening. Seriously. And I said that. And I said that. See you tomorrow night! Brad G Garber Brad G Garber's work, which includes poetry and essays, has been published in Edge Literary Journal, Pure Slush, On the Rusk Literary Journal, Sugar Mule, and others.
After the 45th President Unveiled His “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” Budget, the Same Day a Judge in Hawaii Enjoined the Administration’s Second Attempt to Draft an Executive Order for the President’s “Muslim Ban”: A Poetry Triptych 1. Welcome to the Club “…most of the white people I have ever known impressed me as being in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order…” ―James Baldwin
Here, with each normalizing aside, where spouting bile and lies so spectacularly bleed (no matter what hurt) invincible, loud-mouthed, our world gone afterthought, undone, it seems my eyes no longer blink, can’t black away the looking from an outside rattled, shook. Yet why am I, are we, all speechless, ragtag, stunned? This tale spills nothing new, is known to all the others cast aside, cast out of the republic― it was all ways them, not us. 2. White Settlement “Residents of White Settlement turned out in record numbers to reject a proposal to change their city’s name to West Settlement. More than 33 percent of the city’s 7,800 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, and of those, 92 percent voted against the name change proposal…” ―Matt Frazier and Martha Deller Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 9, 2005
I drag the pots of root bound hostas out of the garage after their winter vernalization, rhizomes pushing through hardpan
dirt as sprouts bleached white, albinos desolate for sun. A day of light’s enough to chlorophyll, to turn each unfurled budding green. Later, I’ll haul them one by one to their flagstone homestead, plantain lily plantations under the big-leaf maple shade in this palest of the biggest U.S. cities, white-born homeland, Oregon, 1859. Forget those lone-star stolen lands once slave now bomb-wing AFB― here was the only, boldest state to black-and-white enshrine supremacy in her constitution’s draft. Where, weekly, more For Sale signs stake dominions, my few remaining, elderly Black neighbors cashing out, fleeing streets once red-lined, before the next thing barrels through leaving in its wake, oh time and time again, what roots, what face, no trace. 3. America, the Exceptional White Nation “Get out of my country.” ―Adam Purinton (before fatally shooting Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer from India whom Purinton had mistaken for an Iranian, in Olathe, Kansas)
It is going down, rushing, circling the grate
after I scooped the detritus― Styrofoam, plywood shims, fallen cones and fir limbs, persevering hints of ice― from the drain with my bare right hand, my Gore-Texed feet in water more than inches deep. One more avenue flood-blocked after the sky changes to a sickly peach, shoos away sun and curtains fall, drops so large I could reach out, catch them in this palm now cold and freckled with the chaff of broken leaves. I cross to an even wider Jordan, boots turned leak, the storm drain ankle-high, stopped with mud, so not even fistfuls or kicks will do, when the Friends of Trees truck appears on Holman, makes the corner, pulls over, parks, the engine on. Out hops a man, his only weapon a sturdy rake― one of “them,” one of the too many “they” now wish to whisk away, deport. He buries its teeth in the eddy. I hear the metal-on-metal scrape as he pulls away the clog, culls it into the potholed street. He looks up, smiles. I nod in thanks. And so the waters flow, free to go their fated way. And I want to think the same will be true
of this pox that continues to this day to vex to hex us all. Nancy Flynn Nancy Flynn lives in Portland, Oregon. Her collection Every Door Recklessly Ajar appeared in 2015; her long poem Great Hunger was published in 2016.
Smokey Blue Literary and Arts Magazine
is published online twice yearly, March and September. For more information or to submit work, visit www.sblaam.com. STAFF art/photography
Bruce Spang Gail Hipkins Meredith Norwood Jasmine Skye
Susan Coyle Larry Hamilton Steve Wechselblatt
John Himmelheber Pete Solet Chris Taylor
A magazine of literature, photography and art. SPECIAL SECTION: the social and political issues of today's world.
Published on Aug 31, 2017
A magazine of literature, photography and art. SPECIAL SECTION: the social and political issues of today's world.