the bleeding lion
The Bleeding Lion: A Journal of Contemporary Arts & Letters is a new literary journal with a special focus on anatomy, cross-cultural, visual arts & diverse pieces. The Bleeding Lion is published online quarterly, with a print issue of selected pieces annually. The Bleeding Lion seeks to publish emerging and established writers alike. We publish fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, visual arts and other non-genre hybrid pieces (in publishable format). For more information, please visit: www.thebleedinglion.com. Reading period is year round; send up to 6 poems, or 4,500 words of prose via Submittable. For any visual arts submissions: please query us first. The Bleeding Lion is curated by Mahtem Shiferraw. Cover art ÂŠ by Mahtem Shiferraw, 2015. Copyright of each individual piece are of the sole authors. Find us on Facebook Submit to us on Submittable Visit our website to read teasers from this and other upcoming issues. The Bleeding Lion: A Journal of Contemporary Arts & Letters Los Angeles, CA | thebleedinglion.com| firstname.lastname@example.org ÂŠ 2015 The Bleeding Lion. All Rights Reserved.
Letter from the Editor Dear Readers & Supporters, After a long wait, we have the second issue, at last! We couldn’t be prouder of the pieces included in this issue; each piece is powerful in its own unique way and the voice of each artist is almost palpable, tangible beyond the page and into the real world. Try reading Jaimie Gusman’s “Shipping, route to Honolulu” out loud and you will be left bruised and breathless. Luther Hughes’ poems are as complex as his language, as rich as his audacity and calculated rhythm. Lisa De Young’s “Eleanor” is a well-crafted and elegant story, surprising in more ways than one. While Melissa Adamo strives for simplicity in the musicality of the human body, Sarah Lilius is brutal in her execution of it. And say, how can you not love a story that starts with “I’m in the process of divorcing a swan”? You must, because it is engaging, because it is demanding, because it is unlike anything else you’ve ever read before. It opens your eyes and leaves you more curious. Dorian Sinnott’s “Monsters” is a haunting poem that does not let you sleep at night, because it is made with that element of honesty all poems strive for.
Cherita Harrell is a master of narrative with a powerful voice and an equally powerful story. Throughout the issue, bits and pieces of the body resurface quickly and quietly, demanding your attention and your thoughts (Francine Rubin’s “Amaranthine”, Alan Hlad’s “Garden of Remembrance”, Jennifer MacBain-Stephens’ “Standard”, and Karina Lutz’s poems). The issue, finally, completes itself with Susan M. Botich’s “Edge of Tears” and Adreyo Sen’s wonderful piece, “The Dancer”. All of the pieces included in this issue are daring, richly imaginative and complement each other making The Bleeding Lion a proud journal for such talented writers. Please enjoy and do submit!
Mahtem Shiferraw Editor|The Bleeding Lion A Journal of Contemporary Arts & Letters
Table of Contents Jaimie Gusman
Shipping, route to Honolulu 7
hereditary 10 chordae tendinae 12
Garden of Remembrance 42
Lisa de Young
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens Standard 53 Karina Lutz
Corpse pose 54 Equally Invisible 60
Silhouette and Shadow 20
Cooking into the Night 22
Susan M. Botich
Edge of Tears 62
Troubled Wing: Be Slow to Heal Me 24
The Dancer 64
Call for Submissions
Shipping, route to Honolulu by Jaimie Gusman I am perfect, green leafed and sprouting endlessly. You don’t want me (never did), said the guy and the guy and the guy, my father, former lover from Mexico, the man who is/are the doormen druglords, holders of my exits, guardians to my throttle, unangelic white puffs going up up up. I can’t really breathe in here I say but the phrase stays stuck in my head I say in an elevator mirror, mirror. In Manhattan, there is a building amongst buildings you cannot get into. I stood with one foot on the high step banging my bloody knuckles while the garbage truck threatened yo girl to give me bloody knees in one, two. There are three buildings in Honolulu crumbling amongst buildings that won’t let you in, won’t let them in: sleepers, creepers, veterans? I managed to lift a parking lot structure out of pure enthusiasm and relocate it to the second, third, fourth story Matson bin complex. The university, unimpressed, TBL | 7
told me to Re: Message from the Chair to get off the bucket seat. When I hit reply, I stop to breathe, stop breathing, I say the phrase but the phrase stays stuck in my head. I am perfect, green leafed and sprouting endlessly along the entrance to Malaekahana where fireworks dust and Styrofoam ash fall like paper swans, fall like paper bombs, these are forums that swell then disappear into crevices on the street. re: read me, you owe me. I am a fancy trash collector, I am a fancy body that bends down, prays on concrete, dear god, show me a mirror when I go up, when I come up I am saying donâ€™t breathe in the sea I am saying you are breathing, yet. Your apartment had a rooftop, and when I stood outside your door, I looked up and saw myself dancing in your arms, fighting in your arms, bloody in your arms, all this inside flopping out of your arms. How do I get my attention, blending but never be yourself like a bell it is always time to measure your travels by way of the sea.
TBL | 8
It’s snowing in Manhattan when I stop knocking when I stop attempts at bending into the bricks. My blood is cold and pink swirls cover the sewers, does the doorman notice, does the elevator open this far down? When they ask where would you like to go do you think of the sun do you think of the Matson bins full of cars and tv’s and slim spaces for bendable limbs? Do you think of blending in a crowd or bending down, your knuckles soft breath, do you say breathe, no, don’t breathe they can hear you sleeping, creeping, a veteran pulls his head up from the bin, mirror, do you want to see what I see?
TBL | 9
hereditary by Luther Hughes speak of the body. how the chest spins into craters. it won’t breathe. it won’t pull the bones back together. does it remember something? the doctor’s voice? the limbs numb? the spine? it becomes bare: all plucked. the skin of it has worn into rust. the sound of the pelvis becomes a slow walk. how the legs shock with touch. how the vertebrae mulls things over. how the run of scars along the collarbone shape. how the mention of movement slows the finger. how the reflection of spine crams into the palm. into the silence of ache. the surgery of bone grouping the skin into a huddle. how arthritis fondles the bone. how marrow thins into a strand of feather. it looks familiar. the doctor rinsing his hands clean. the mixture of water and blood and skin. the creation of death. the remembering of fathers. the graves passed through generations. TBL | 10
how the body forgets. how the body slows into paralysis. it’s patient: waiting for the whole of it to shut down. why rush into slaughter? why let the doctor remove what is left? the body knows how to die – when to let go. the body remembers something. the body holds onto something – it’s son.
TBL | 11
chordae tendineae by Luther Hughes think wires: fibrous string attaching walls: wrung and wrought: pushing prolapse: everting halves: start at the heart valves â€“ the morning we muddled night for being hollow, let speech gather the room: knot each other to the collarbone, sun planked against the horizon: his breastplate, left in the night before, of knives with moon-shaped arcs, left ashes where memories were birthed: yank back the nerves between each rib: we are left sewing fingers to the groin, remember we are made of blood: as pressure increases, we forget the papillary muscles: there are ends, too â€“
TBL | 12
when wires become weary: when the blood slumps back into the atria: when the only thing left are urns: blood leaks: left in halves.
TBL | 13
Eleanor by Lisa De Young The crisp brown leaves piled up in front of me but did not completely hinder my view of the old, deteriorating house. The house was ugly; hideous. The multiple layers of gray paint peeling off the sides of the house hung in suspended bulky strips. Gray and black shingles covered the ground and let way to several holes in the roof. The porch was rotten and sagging, missing several floorboards. Termite holes peppered the porch railings and the rusted porch swing hung haphazardly by a single chain still loosely bolted to the ceiling. The property sprawled over three acres and butted up to a dense, unwelcoming forest. The lilies that grew in the front yard in the summer were the only thing of beauty on the entire property. The sea of boisterous orange and yellow would blanket the lawn making the grass practically invisible. Paul had wanted to get rid of them, he said they were unruly and took over the lawn. I had convinced him to keep them. I loved them, they were so beautiful and made me smile even after Paul ceased to. His smile was what stole my heart the very first time I had seen him. It felt like forever since I had seen Paul smile. Sometimes I did miss his smile, on the days that I forgave him; that beautiful comforting grin that graced the lips of the man I loved. I had loved him; passionately, more than I had ever loved anyone before. I still loved him. He had loved me too and had once told
me that I was the only woman he had ever loved; that he could ever love. We were so happy together. Then suddenly, we weren’t. A single long black hair pulled from the collar of my white robe one cold October night sent my entire world spinning and changed my life forever. I couldn’t recall exactly what I had said; all I knew was that Paul had broken my heart and that her name was Joyce. I remembered how I tried to explain my point of view and how he would only hear his own; how after hours and hours of arguing I had crumbled into a sobbing pile on the molding gray carpet of his bedroom floor still clutching the dark hair in my left hand and how he had told me to leave without even speaking. I had never known pain like that; like a dagger in my chest that I could not remove. I left the house against my will and promised myself one day I would return and she would be gone. I knew in the back of my mind that someday Paul would come for me and we would be together again. From that evening on I watched the house from the place where I hid and relived that day over and over in my mind…struggling desperately to purge his shameless secret from my memory, to forget the long dark hair and my mind’s conjured visions of its possible owner. I tried to only focus on Paul’s sweet words and take solace in TBL | 16
the sound of his voice that resonated in my memory…“The only one I could ever love…The only one I could ever love…The only one I could ever love.” My throat felt full of gravel and my chest was thick with anger the first time I saw her sitting in the white Adirondack chair wrapped in my robe. All the effort I had taken over the previous two weeks to suppress the horrible memory of her existence was instantly wasted as the anger, disappointment and grief of Paul’s betrayal flooded to the front of my mind. I had wanted to scream to him “Who is she?! What is she doing in my house with you?!” But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t reveal myself. I couldn’t let him see me. It was horrible; horrible to watch them together, but I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t move. He kept looking over the top his newspaper at her with those beautiful eyes of his, the ones that used to gaze at me. I had imagined her to be a hideous, beastly woman with a weather worn face and an abysmal grin. After actually seeing her I couldn’t deny the fact that she was beautiful. Long slender legs peeked out from the white terrycloth robe and teased Paul’s lustful gaze. Her long jet black hair cascaded down her back in rolling curls and ended at her tiny waist. He was beautiful too. They were beautiful together. I hated them both. I watched them eat breakfast outside together every Sunday for two months. I watched them and felt like I had been hit in the face with a fistful of nails. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t
stop staring. The cold wind whipped into my soul as I watched them and hated her more and more each day. I didn’t care how cold it got; I longed to see her, to overanalyze her, to find some reason to hate her more than I already did. I wanted her to suffer; I wanted something awful to happen to her. I knew these were horrible thoughts but I couldn’t help myself; she was with him and there was nothing I could do about it. So I just watched. Day after day I watched them. I wasn’t sure if they could see me; see me seeing them from the place where I hid. I was sure they couldn’t but slowly realized I didn’t care if they did. Then as quickly as she had transpired into my life and ruined everything I had, she was gone. Winter came and I watched the house fall further into disrepair. More shingles flew off the roof and skidded onto the melting snow to be lost in the muck of mud and dead leaves, bricks crumbled off the chimney and thudded to the ground and a family of raccoons made their way into a gaping hole on the west side of the house and up into the attic. The ice that accumulated on the windows made it difficult to see into the living room anymore but I could make out Paul’s silhouette pacing the floor from time to time. She wasn’t there. I couldn’t see the expression on his face but I could see him wringing his hands together as he paced. I wondered what was wrong and wished I could run to him and tell him I understood; that I forgave him. Sometimes I would
TBL | 17
see him sitting on the deck, alone, shivering, wrapped in a tattered blue blanket looking out at the forest. I so desperately wanted to be wrapped in that blanket with him, to put my head on his chest and hear his heart beat. I missed him so much sometimes, I wondered if he missed me too. I had almost completely forgotten about Joyce. I was curious to know what had happened to her, where she had gone and what she was doing but was glad she hadn’t been back. Perhaps she had broken his heart and moved on to another victim; perhaps he had done the same to her. I thought joyfully how wonderful it would be if he had broken her heart; if she had suffered the same pain as I had. I imagined her dejected and sobbing on the rotting gray carpet of his bedroom floor pleading with him to stay and him asking her to leave without saying a word. Perhaps I was the other woman this time and now Paul would come for me. I could only hope; hope he would come to me and tell me that he had been wrong; that he would kneel down and look into my eyes and flash that wonderful smile of his and tell me we could be together again. And I would forgive him. I knew I would forgive him. I already had forgiven him. He hadn’t meant what he had done. He hadn’t meant to drive me away. He loved me. “…More than any other woman ever.” The first day of spring Paul stepped off the deck into the back yard. He carried in his arms a ragged gray
blanket and a look of confusion and concern on his face. He clumsily stepped over the fallen shingles and kicked the pieces of crumbled brick to the side with his boot. He was headed my way. This was it. He was coming back to apologize, I knew it. I knew this day would come. I knew if I were patient enough and forgot about her that one day he would return. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream his name and run into his arms but I couldn’t move. His dark hair shined in the morning sun as he trudged through the dense forest behind the house. Sweat rolled off the tip of his nose and dripped onto his gray flannel shirt. My chest felt as if it would explode in anticipation as he neared the place where I hid. What would I say when we were finally face to face? I couldn’t say anything. He looked beautiful. I wanted to be with him so badly. Then suddenly he was standing right in front of me. All the horrible visions that had plagued my mind for so long suddenly vanished and all that remained were the wonderful memories of how in love we were. He had come back for me. He knelt down on the muddy forest floor in front of me and flashed me that wonderful smile. He was as beautiful as ever. Then he bent down and whispered in my left ear. “I’m sorry, Eleanor.” and laid Joyce’s lifeless body down on the ground next to mine.
TBL | 18
Silhouette and Shadow by Melissa Adamo My body is a plate of kluski, a recipe to be followed. My body is a graffiticovered building, a novella, inked breath on whitespace. My body is a pin-up poster, Technicolor popart, all silhouette and shadow. My body is stitched by male gaze, bandaged: after forced fingers and blood. My body is all ache, but only for itself.
TBL | 20
Cooking into the Night by Sarah Lilius My apocalyptic heart, how I exercise the muscle— I season it, pound it like meat, take it to trashcans on fire and cook it. I thought I saw my heart thump just once, guilt like a weed burrows down like a small animal. How I used it: unrequited from the beginning, then returned— another heart, his wasn’t looking. Now I find myself over open flame, I’m the chef they never ask back. A homeless man looks my way with strange wonder as I flip it high enough to meet the night sky. I can’t season it with stars, it’s a cloudy night tainted with airplane vapor and smog. I sprinkle with dried remorse that may have expired.
TBL | 22
My tiny drum grows black and crisp, itâ€™s finally done.
TBL | 23
Troubled Wing: Be Slow to Heal Me by Joyce Goldenstern after The Six Swans (The Brothers Grimm) 1. The Wife I'm in the process of divorcing a swan. Well, not a full-blooded one. Only part of him is swan. His left arm is a kind of wing. A relic of his wasted youth: an evolutionary anomaly. At first I was attracted to it: I mean, the wing, obsessed even. But now I blame it for all of our problems. For one thing, he insists on ironing all of his own shirts. He wears only those made of starflowers -- an arduous task, ironing all the tiny petals. Each shirt lacks a
left sleeve, a hole only for his wing to stick out. His expert ironing makes me feel unwanted. He spends his day preening the feathers on his arm and washing and ironing his peculiar shirts. Food, he hardly eats it. Sex, he is disinterested. He says our bed reminds him of a bed in a robber's den: a memory from childhood. He prefers to sleep alone under it or flutter lamely above. I've tried reasoning and expensive perfumes. But nothing seems to work.
2. The Swan Our father deserted us when he remarried. He sent me and my five older brothers to a boarding school. My sister got stuck in a convent. Before we were separated, I had slept in my sister's bed and loved drawing snakes and spiders on her back. Then one day everything changed. Dormitory life, I could not adjust to it. I lived for visitors' day. Once in a while Dad would show up tossing a ball of yarn, unwinding it in front of him and then following behind. My stepmother resented his visits and pouted and plotted at home. My sister
baked cookies in the convent kitchen, mailed them in a tin. Her loneliness took hold of her, led her to climb trees and hide in them. "Come down," well-wishers shouted. She would only drop down her clothes piece by piece by piece -- a necklace, a girdle, a garter -- and sit there shivering in her shift, quiet as a fish. Do not trust silk shirts sent special delivery from a wicked stepmother. That's a lesson I've learned from my life. As soon as they arrived, my five brothers and I tried them on. Deceived by glittering gift paper, we turned into swans.
TBL | 24
3. The Sister A wicked queen once daubed my mouth with blood and accused me of eating my very own infant. Because I had lost my speech, I could not defend myself from her scorn, nor could I answer my husband's persistent question, "Who are you?â€? The Mute Goddess dresses in a gown of gold and stands behind with her right hand on your left shoulder and whispers sweetness in your ear. "You needn't explain," she smiles. "You needn't tell. They couldn't possibly understand. Keep quiet. You are too complex, too precious for them to know." And maybe you believe her and maybe you bathe in her praise. Slowly your lips forget to move. Slowly the words fail to form. It can happen. It happened to me. And over my head, my brothers whirred, flapping their unnatural wings. And the whirring filled my head and held my tongue and my fingers threaded needles to sew the shirts of their redemption. For each cursed silk shirt, one of starflowers and infinite patience sewn. Time ran out; the left sleeve undone. Now he writes me Hands pricked with blood, marriage and motherhood a letters with his winged, undecipherable scrawl: "Do not blur. Only my brothers mattered. And I saved them all ever forget the one you failed." but one: my littlest brother, the one I slept with as a child.
TBL | 25
4. The Wife I remember the days of our courting. We blew at each other. I blew the feathers off his arm. For fifteen minutes his swan skin came off like a stocking-sleeve. We threw pillows â€“a flurry of feathers and urgent lovemaking. I spoke of soaring and great heights. I gloried his difference. I could be there at his side. I could be the one: Wife. Wife. Wife. The word entranced me. But now it mocks. The lawyer will call in an hour. I will let my husband keep the iron and the ironing board. I will take the robber's bed.
5. The Swan Be slow to heal me. My brothers walk like men and swing their arms in manly labor. Don't they remember? My sister married a king and cares now for her three children. But I wear a shirt of sorrow. I stand here ironing. I should never have married my wife. I cannot clap my hands nor can I flap my wings, nor yet forget my life as swan. Look at my arm, a kind of troubled wing. A cobweb clusters there in my armpit, grows wild to entangle my heart. Do not sweep it away. Leave me alone to my daily ironing. Be slow to heal me. Collect and save my feathers. Note each pressed petal of my starflowered shirt. Consider the missing arm.
TBL | 26
TBL | 27
Monsters by Dorian Sinnott I awake to the screaming— melody of monsters and ghouls hidden in the shadows, within the closest, beneath the bed. a sea of darkness spiraling from the corners, beckoning for your soul. I wish you weren’t so afraid. I pull you close, blanketing your fear. “Monsters aren’t real,” I say. “They only live in our minds.” Your eyes feign belief— a lifetime of living horrors proving me wrong. but still, I take your hand and take you back— take you back to your bedroom, flood the floor in the soft light of your lamp, checking the shadows, the closet, the bed. “No monsters here,” I say. “Not while I’m here.” The lights go out and I am left alone. It hurts me to lie to you, to tell you the monsters aren’t real. That they don’t exist.
TBL | 28
But I don’t want you to become like I am— shattered, broken, devoid of all hope. Melancholy is my only friend, the glimmer of light that gets me through the night. Keeping the monsters at bay. That’s why I have to fight to keep the light inside you alive, keep that sparkle in your eyes, reminding me there’s a flame burning within. A beacon. Don’t be like me. Don’t lose your light. The truth is, when you do, the monsters do become real. They just travel to the darkness. They live inside yourself.
TBL | 29
Crucible by Cherita Harrell
After dating for eight months, Dominic asks you to marry him. You think it’s sudden, but you accept his proposal. He’s witty and intelligent, and more attentive than any of the other men you’ve dated. Every day, he sends you a text that reads: Good Morning, Beautiful. When he discusses the future, you’re the focus of his plans. To you, marriage makes perfect sense. The ceremony is held at the military chapel at Fort Dix. Your parents attend, their bodies wrapped in spring colors, wide grins on their faces, and your younger sister, Camille, is the bridesmaid. She waddles down the aisle, her naked fingers wrapped around a plastic bouquet, her belly round with her third child. Your future mother-inlaw even flies in from Lakeland, her skin burnt by the Florida sun. She sobs during the entire ceremony and wears dark colors as if she’s in mourning. You are bothered by her sadness, but since she’s a widow, and Dominic is an only child, you understand. You and Dominic exchange vows and promise to honor each other until death, and when you are introduced as husband and wife and Dominic kisses your lips, you’re sure he meant every word. The honeymoon is in Atlantic City. The wet sand of the beach is like soft clay beneath your feet. You hold
hands and walk along the water’s edge, the salty scent of the ocean filling the air. You don matching Atlantic City t-shirts and feed each other taffy. And you ride in a bike carriage down the boardwalk, before splurging on dinner at the Borgata. In the evening, you make love. It is not the first time, but it feels like the first. Your connection is more passionate, more intense. After, you cuddle against Dominic’s body and run your hand over the soft swirls of hair on his chest. On your finger, a gold wedding band glistens, the grooves on the ring intersecting and resembling woven hemp. “I couldn’t be happier,” you say. The first time Dominic slaps you, you threaten to leave him. Sure, he’s grabbed you before, maybe twisted your arm, but he’s never hit you. You place your duffel bag by the front door, but he drops to his knees and begs you not to abandon him. “Please forgive me,” he says. “It’s work. I’m stressed. Never again, I promise. You know I love you.” And you believe him, so you stay. After the incident, Dominic is calmer, more loving. For your birthday, he takes you to a dinner cruise on the
TBL | 30
Spirit of Philadelphia. You drink wine and eat filet mignon, and line dance with the crew members on the ship. You’re impressed by the beauty of the Philadelphia skyline and its modern architecture, and you find comfort in the motion of the ship as it glides across the rippling Delaware River. Dominic wraps his arms around your body and kisses the nape of your neck, and the two of you watch the setting sun. When your sister goes into labor, you go to the hospital and Dominic reads Dr. Seuss to your nieces while Camille pushes another life into the world; a boy, this time, but the father is nowhere to be found. “Let’s hope this is her last,” your mother says. “Yes, let’s hope,” your father agrees. In the hospital room, you hold your nephew. You run fingers through the strands of silk on his scalp and place your pinky in the fleshy center of his tiny palm, surprised by the strength in the set of fingers circling your own. You inhale his scent of baby shampoo and powder, and as you cradle his body a longing rises in your stomach. “You want one, huh?” Camille asks. You nod, realizing you do. Dominic’s unit hosts a family picnic, and you attend and mingle with the other military spouses. You start a conversation with one wife who appears to be
around your age, a vivacious woman, named Julie, from Tennessee. “How long you been married?” she asks. “Five months.” “We’re newlyweds, too. Going on ten. First year’s supposed to be the hardest, but it’s been great, right?” You nod. The commander’s wife makes a speech while everyone is bent over their plates eating barbeque. “The men and women of our armed forces are heroes,” she says. “They deserve our support.” You applaud with the other family members and, for the first time, you recognize the sense of pride you feel for your husband. A year into your marriage, Dominic is deployed to Kuwait for six months and during his absence, you busy yourself with maintaining your home. You visit yard sales and thrift stores with Julie, careful to stay within the budget Dominic has set. You appreciate your military housing, but you dislike the bland walls, the dingy, tile floors and the dated appliances. You purchase artwork, bright area rugs and curtains, and a few pieces of second hand furniture to turn the home into something more welcoming. At the beginning of each month, Dominic sends you a bouquet of orchids. You email each other daily and, when his work allows, you video chat. But, after a
TBL | 31
couple of months, being alone amplifies your boredom, and you decide to discuss with Dominic your desire to find a job. “Hold off until I get home,” he says. “Doesn’t your sister need help with the kids?” You know you should help Camille, but caring for her children awakens needs of your own. One night, after Dominic has returned home from overseas, you tell him you’re ready for a baby. “Not yet,” he says. But you persist, angering him. You argue and he tries to leave the house, but you know he’s been drinking, so you take his keys. He grabs you by the throat, pushes your body against the front door, and rips the keys from your hand. When he returns the next morning, he slips into the bed, wraps his limbs around your body like vines, and apologizes. His words carry the metallic aroma of alcohol. He comments on the stress of the deployment and promises to speak to the Post Chaplain. He begs you not to give up on him and, after everything he’s been through, how can you? At work, Dominic’s schedule changes to mid-shift. During the evenings, there is a suffocating silence within the walls of the house. In order to sleep, you drink a glass of Malbec before bed. But, sometimes, one glass isn’t enough, so you have two. One night, you finish an entire bottle. The wine helps you sleep until Dominic comes
home from work. He strips the clothes from both of your bodies and presses his naked flesh against yours, and as he moistens your skin with sloppy kisses, you smell the pine scent of gin on his breath. You and Julie grow closer. You find you adore her brazen attitude, and her raunchy sense of humor that clashes with the hints of her southern charm. Some nights, when the loneliness is unbearable, you visit her home. The two of you sit on the porch and gossip while her husband cooks dinner, and you share a bottle of Malbec and smoke clove cigarettes. And, although you try not to, you notice the gentle way Julie’s husband touches her skin. The loving way he ruffles her hair. The playful tone in his voice when he tells you she only married him for his cooking. The rich sound of her laughter when he kisses the curve of her neck. You envy their relationship, but you notice how safe you feel in their presence, and how visiting their place feels more like home. Julie listens as you confess to her how lonely you are, and how boring it is being a stay-at-home wife. She suggests you enroll in school. You’ve always wanted to be a pediatric nurse, but with Dominic’s deployment, and then the change to his work schedule, you never thought it was the right time.
TBL | 32
“Or, if you’re not ready for school, maybe find a job. Something part time,” she says. You drink another glass of Malbec and consider her advice. After a couple of months, boredom gets the best of you and you decide to post your resume online. You’re contacted by a supervisor from Blue Jersey Health. He asks you to interview for a receptionist position in Cherry Hill. You agree to a meeting, careful to consider your husband’s schedule since you only have one vehicle. Later that evening, you tell Dominic about the interview. “If you’re working during the day, when will we see each other?” he asks as he finishes a six pack of beer. You feel your stomach tighten. “I, um—I can start out part time, so we can see each other. Or they might have a shift at night. It’s just an interview. I might not even get the job.” He stares at you for a long time in silence, while tapping a metal cap against his empty beer bottle. “Okay,” he finally says. The next night, as he’s leaving for work, you remind him about the interview. “I know. I’ll be home in time.” But he isn’t. You call his job, but they don’t know where he is. You try his cell phone, but he doesn’t answer the phone. You try to get a ride, but Julie and your parents are at work, and
your sister doesn’t have a car. Again, you try Dominic’s cell, but no answer. You contact the supervisor. “I apologize, but I was wondering if we could reschedule the interview? I had a slight emergency.” “Well, we have a few other candidates. How about I give you a call tomorrow morning and we see where we are?” “Great. That’s perfect. Thank you,” you say, but you doubt he’ll call. When Dominic returns home several hours later, your own temper has peaked. “Where were you? I missed my interview.” You don’t care about the scent of alcohol permeating from his pores, or that he’s staggering. You scream and slam your fist against the countertop in the kitchen, and when he tries to hold you, you push him away and his body slams against the wall. You see the rage darken his expression and you tense your body. By the time he’s finished, you have a busted lip. “Don’t ever push me,” he says. On Sundays, your mother calls. “How are things?” she asks. “Fine.” “You sure? You don’t sound like you mean it.” You consider telling her everything. “Things are a little tense. Dom’s job. He’s stressed.”
TBL | 33
“Anything I can do?” “Do you think, maybe—could I stay with you guys a few days?” “Oh, honey, we have a full house. Your sister was evicted again. It’s crazy here,” your mother pauses, “Nothing’s happened, right? What am I saying? Of course not. You know, sometimes men don’t know how to handle stress. Your father was the same way.” And you remember your father’s anger. You remember the arguments, the slamming furniture, and the nights Camille would sleep in your bed. You remember the long sleeve shirts your mother would wear during the summer. “It’s okay. I’m fine. We’re fine.” “Okay. If there’s anything I can do, let me know. The first couple of years are the hardest, but it gets better.” So you’ve heard. Julie agrees to let you stay at her house. She doesn’t ask questions about your swollen lip, but she suggests you make an appointment with an attorney at JAG. “He’s my husband. I’m not going to ruin his career.” “Well, you stay as long as you need. No rush.” Julie’s loyalty remains untested until Dominic figures out where you’re staying. He parks in front of their house each day, only leaving when he needs to go
to work. When he returns, he bangs on the door and argues with Julie and her husband while you cower in a back room. “I need to see her. I need her to come home,” he says. They tell him to leave and threaten to call the MPs, and he does leave, but he always returns. At night, you hear Julie and her husband talking, but their words are tense, their voices elevated, and you know you’ve caused the strain in their relationship. So when Julie comes to you and asks if there’s anywhere else you can stay, you’re not angry, you understand. You call your husband. “I’ll call the chaplain. It’ll get better. I promise,” he says on the ride home. In the house, you unpack your duffel bag and unwrap tissue from the plastic stick that reveals you’re pregnant, the test you’d taken at Julie’s house. You rub your stomach and wonder about your unborn child and the life he or she will have. Will the baby agitate your husband? Will he beat the child, too? Will you be able to protect him or her? If you leave, where will you go? Who will help you? Later, when Dominic starts drinking, you don’t stop him. When he gropes your body and tries to kiss you, you push him away. When he yanks your arm, you slap him. When his anger explodes, you fight back. And the next day, between your legs, you bleed.
TBL | 34
During a trip to the commissary, you notice a group of women sitting in the lobby. The sign affixed to their table reads: Domestic Violence Awareness Month. They’re handing out pens, magnets and pamphlets, but you avoid their eyes. But when Dominic starts a conversation with one of his co-workers, you hurry down the aisle and circle back to the table. “Do you know any victims of domestic violence?” the woman asks. “A friend,” you say and tug at the cuffs of your long sleeve shirt. “Okay,” she says as she gathers a handful of the materials. “Give her these. And let her know if she needs help, the number is on there.” You take them just as Dominic approaches. “What’s going on?” he asks. You drop the items in your shopping cart and force a smile. “These are for Julie,” you say. As you push the cart, you’re aware of the silence at the table, and you hear your husband’s rapid footsteps behind you, but you keep walking. On the ride home, anger settles on Dominic’s body like a stain, and he grips the steering wheel until it looks as if he might rip it off. “How could you do that, go to that table? What if those women thought you were there because of me? What if they contact my first sergeant? Do you want to end my career? Is that what you want?”
You don’t respond, which upsets him even more. He slams his hands against the steering wheel. “You ungrateful bitch. I take care of you, don’t I? You want to leave? Fine.” The car swerves on the empty road as he leans over and opens the passenger door. You cling to your seatbelt and his arm, screaming as he pushes you toward the moving asphalt. “You want to leave? Go! Leave!” But, after a few seconds, he releases your body and you’re able to close the car door. For the rest of the evening, you are silent, careful. You cook dinner and clean the kitchen, and you wait. Your parents call, but you don’t answer. Julie sends you a text, but you don’t respond. Before Dominic leaves for work, he comes to you and presses his body against yours, wraps his arms loosely around your waist. Your body is rigid, but you don’t resist. “I’m sorry. About the thing in the car.” You nod, but remain silent. After he’s gone, you stand in the same spot until you’re sure he won’t return. When you finally move, you make a phone call. The taxi honks as it pulls into the driveway. As you stand at the front door, you hear your cell phone chime. It is a text from Dominic: I’ve been thinking. Maybe it’s time you go back to school. Let’s talk when I get home. I love you.
TBL | 35
You stare at the phone, your trembling fingers wrapped around the doorknob, and you know you
should leave and never look backâ€”if only you can manage to open the door.
TBL | 36
Amaranthine by Francine Rubin The body can move forever in an infinite number of configurations. Knees hinge in circles. A quadricep is an unsnapping rubber band. Toes lift to ear, forming a widening line. Legs splitting 360 degrees, the angle grows into a circle. Elbows ripple. An arm becomes a fin. Infinite ripples; multiple fins. Bodies strum at the slightest provocation, vibrating air. Humming. Each body can lift multiple bodies.
TBL | 38
Multiple bodies in the palm of a hand. Convergence of lines: ten bodies become two bodies become one body, limbs merging. A fin is an arm is a wing. When a body jumps, it escapes earth, suspending indefinitely, thrumming air.
TBL | 39
Garden of Remembrance by Alan Hlad Winter Her eyes are the color of cinnamon, or sage. One or the other. I finish my glass of whiskey, light a cigarette, and rest my palm on the pile of dried petals. Squeezing crisp buds with my fingers, bent like twigs in water, I extract any remaining oils and hold them to my nose. Behind the taste of malt whiskey and burnt tobacco, I notice the faint smell of her favorite flower, Casablanca Oriental Lilies. And I remember what she looked like, if only for a moment, before her porcelain skin disappears along with the floral scent in my nostrils. I adjust my dark glasses that conceal my opaque eyes, hardened from the habit of obeying the rules of social acceptability. I notice itâ€™s snowing as the sounds of passing cars are muted by the blanketed road. I reach for the bottle. It feels lighter, considering I started before dinner while listening to Madame Butterfly, which is still playing softly on the stereo we purchased over forty years ago. A penny is taped to the stylus to keep the needle from skipping. The music stops. Deafening silence sucks at the air, broken by the splash of whiskey hitting the bottom of my glass. With the click of a spring, the needle rests on
TBL | 42
the album with a static sizzle. The singer’s angelic voice floats to my ears, carrying me away to another time, another place. I met Katherine fifty years ago on the train to Portland, the one we both took each day to work. She managed a boutique dress shop and I was employed as a CPA with an accounting firm. Katherine was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, even though I struggle to remember her face now, her exquisite features scrubbed from my memory with the passing of years. I do remember, very distinctly I may add, that it took me three weeks to get up the nerve to say hello, especially when just about every young man in the greater Portland area was jockeying for the seat next to her, only to be politely rejected when they abruptly asked her for a date which usually involved a drink down at Sully’s, a dive bar in the Old Port. I took a different approach. It happened on Good Friday. The train was practically empty, and, as luck would have it, we were the only two people in the car. I took a seat in the row across the aisle from her, wearing my best suit, and the wing-tipped shoes I’d spit-shined the night before. My heart raced. “Hi,” I had said with my stomach in knots. “Hello.” Her voice was so lovely, so captivating, I forgot the lines I’d rehearsed all morning. My mouth went dry.
She returned to reading her book. And I sat there, watching telephone poles pass by my window, hypnotized by her beauty through the corner of my eye. When I finally remembered my lines, the train stopped and she got off. I wanted to kick myself. The following week, I had gathered enough courage to sit beside her, and noticed the book she was reading, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fortunately, I was also an Ernest Hemingway fan. “How do you like your book?” I asked, my voice cracking like a boy in puberty. “It’s good.” She smiled, as if I had said something funny. My face became warm. I tried to think of something intelligent to say, but nothing came. I had suddenly forgotten everything I knew about Hemingway, and would likely have forgotten my name had she asked. She returned to reading. I stared at my shoes, breathing in the botanic fragrance of her perfume, tracing with my eyes her sculpted calves polished in nylon. Despite my embarrassment, I spent the rest of the day with a grin carved into my face. A couple days later, I sat by her again. But this time, I properly introduced myself. “My name is Cal,” I had said, relieved to hear my normal voice. “I’m Katherine.”
TBL | 43
I felt my heart rate quicken as we shook hands, but kept my composure. “Tell me about your book.” She crossed her legs, placed the book on her lap, and turned to me. And that’s how our relationship started. Nothing more than a simple conversation about Hemingway until the train squealed to a stop. We politely said our goodbyes. She gracefully walked away, heels clicking on the sidewalk. And I left in the opposite direction, hoping she didn’t notice me glancing back. For the next few days, we sat side by side, to and from work. With my confidence building, we strayed from the boundaries of literature. “What do you like to do when you’re not on a train?” I noticed our feet were almost touching. “Do you mean when I’m not working?” I nodded. “I volunteer at the Portland Autism Center.” “What do you do?” “I help children with language therapy.” “I’m impressed.” I shifted in my seat. “My twin sister, Celia, was born with autism. She communicates with gestures more than words, so she still lives with my parents.” She smoothed her dress over her knees. “She’s a sweetheart. You’d love her if you met her.” “I’d like that.” She smiled.
I went to touch her arm, but stopped and placed my hand on my lap. “We were born minutes apart.” She took a deep breath and looked out the window. The tone of her voice turned somber. “I often wonder why.” “Why Celia has autism?” “No.” She turned to me and swallowed. “Why her and not me?” It was at that moment that I had realized there was a lot more to Katherine than her looks. Despite the fear simmering in my belly, I reached out and grasped her hand. We sat in silence, our fingers intertwined, until long after the train had stopped. We were the last passengers to leave. Considering the train ride was only 30 minutes each way, I spent the remaining 23 hours each day looking forward to sitting with Katherine. I came to realize she did too, when she began saving my seat with her purse. A week later, we had our first real date, lunch in Longfellow Square, feeding most of our sandwiches to the pigeons. The following morning, I surprised her with a bouquet of lilies. She thanked me with a kiss on the cheek that sent warm tingles over my skin. Within a year, we were married. And I gave her lilies every chance I got until the day she died. I stuff my nose into the petals, like a pig searching for truffles. A dull scent sifts through my memories for her face but finds nothing, except what I ate for breakfast,
TBL | 44
buttered toast and a soft-boiled egg. I hold her framed picture and caress the glass, trying to conjure the image beneath my fingers. But nothing comes. Lighting another cigarette, I place it in my mouth next to the shorter one that’s still burning. I inhale deeply, fighting the urge to cough. We had been married for twenty-two wonderful years, until a twist of fate, or an act of God, I’m not sure which, broke us apart. It started when I began to have trouble reading numbers at work. When you’re an accountant, mistaking a four for a nine is pretty significant stuff, so when I royally screwed up a profit and loss statement for an important client I almost got fired. That’s when I decided to see a doctor. He ran some tests and told me I had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes blindness. If I was lucky, I had a good year or so left before the lights went out for good. It felt like a piano had been dropped on me. I went home and told Katherine the news. She hugged me and kissed my eyes, her lips moistened by my tears. “Everything will be alright,” she whispered. I held her tight. “We’ll be okay. I promise.” There wasn’t time for self-pity. I promptly quit my accounting job and started tinkering in the garage, knowing I’d have to develop another profession since they don’t make ledger statements in Braille. I practiced repairing lawnmowers and snow blowers with a
blindfold. But before the lights went out, God took my Katherine. He came back a month later for my eyes. I scratch the stubble on my face and take another drag of the two cigarettes still burning between my lips, deeper this time, envisioning my lungs turning to hunks of black coal. Then I exhale, knowing I’m just a little closer, if only by a few seconds, to seeing my Katherine again. When she was alive, I never drank, smoked, or even ate poorly, except for the occasional hamburger down at Doreen’s Diner, a five-star greasy spoon with laminated menus and buckets of lard for lathering the grill. But now I eat at Doreen’s five, maybe six times a week. And despite puffing smoke like a steam train, and eating as much fat-filled foods as a carnivorous dairyman from Wisconsin, I’m disheartened when my doctor tells me my cholesterol is perfect and my lungs are as clean as a whistle. I’m convinced God is toying with me, putting me through a meaningless test, or taking pleasure in delaying my reunion with Katherine. No worries. I have no plans of doing anything drastic, like taking a nap in my garage with the engine running, or mistaking a bottle of sleeping pills for candy, though I have to admit, I have thought about it. But I would never risk ending up in Hell, if there is such a place, and never seeing my Katherine again. No, my plan is to speed things up a bit, to push forward the big hand on God’s clock by sipping whiskey and smoking
TBL | 45
cigarettes, snipping off the filters with a pair of scissors when I think Heâ€™s not looking. I lean back in my chair, take a sip, and search the crevices of my brain. The softness of her skin, the floral smell of her hair, and the soothing tone of her voice are missing. Everything is in black and white. Her once crisp images have become blurred shadows, as if the Mona Lisa were scratched on a chalk board and run over with an eraser. I put my hands together and pray, assuming Heâ€™s listening, to be able to remember the color of her eyes. Spring I dig a hole with a hand trowel, place in a bulb, and cover with four inches of soil. Rubbing my hand over the bed, I feel a weed sprouting. I pluck it and toss it into a bucket with the others. My arms are caked in mud up to my elbows, fingers numb from the remnants of melted snow. Even though I am wearing a poncho, one that smells like a mildewed canvas tent, the rain has drenched the back of my legs and is seeping into my boots. I slide over 18 inches, my joints like rusted ball bearings, and dig the next hole. I plant as soon as the ground is thawed. The litmus test: if I can stick my crooked fingers all the way into the mud. If I hit frost, I wait, and try again in a few days. Itâ€™s important to start early, because I have a lot of
work ahead of me. My yard is approximately one acre, give or take a few feet. And every inch is filled with beds. The only grass lies in thin strips running between the mounds, barely wide enough to fit a mower. Despite all the mud, I prefer it when it rains. It keeps people from noticing me, or at least deters them from slowing their cars, or stopping their walks to gawk at my yard. I often hear them walking by, their pace fading like a wind-up toy running out of juice, followed by the sound of whispers. The guy must be nuts. Looks like rows of corn. There should be some city ordinance against it. The old man must really love gardening, or he really wants to tick off the neighbors. But today, there is only the sound of rain pellets striking my poncho, and my joints cracking. I feel the bulb in my hand, similar to an onion, slippery from mud on my fingers. I hold it to my nose
TBL | 46
and imagine what it will smell like a few months from now. But I only take in the scent of clay, worms, and decaying leaves. I stick it in the ground and bury it, then slide over another 18 inches. It will take me several days to finish, assuming my knees and hands hold out. Last year, I resorted to strapping ice packs to the back of my knees. It did nothing for my crumbling knee caps which are as flimsy as cheap pie tins, but it kept the swelling down enough to finish. I rub my hands across the bed and feel a metal pole running up from the earth. Its twin is several paces away, the bond between them rotted in the wind. Gripping the pole, cold flakes of rust scrape my fingers, and I remember the day I found my Katherine under the clothes line. I had been in the garage all afternoon, attempting to learn how to repair lawn mowers with a blindfold over my eyes. My hands were covered in grease when I heard our dog, Buttons, whimpering. He had tugged at my sleeve and pulled me into the yard. I removed the blindfold and saw Katherine’s feet under a fluttering line of linen. The wicker basket had spilled and wads of wet clothes were covering the grass. It was like looking through a peep hole with my failing eyes. I ran to her, ripped away the sheets and saw her spread out like a rag doll. Buttons was licking her face and whining. I fell to my knees. As I hugged her, I noticed the coolness of her
skin, and heard the sound of air leaving her body. She was gone. The coroner had told me it was a heart attack. But sometimes I find I’m not so sure. I feel something wet on my cheeks, and realize it’s not the rain. I plant another bulb, then another, suddenly finding myself trying to forget. But I can’t get the images out of my head. I had worn a black suit and tie, or so I thought as I had been unable to see anything but mere shadows by that stage. The urn that held her ashes felt cold against my palms. I took off the ceramic lid and carefully placed it on the grass. Then I said a prayer, the words of which I can no longer remember, and spread her ashes over the yard. It had been her wish for me to do so. And mine. A promise we made years before, mostly in jest, as we planted our first garden together. I had always assumed I would be the first. I squeeze mud through my fingers, trying to cast these memories from my mind. But I’m reminded that this grass, these lilies, all grow with the dust of my Katherine’s bones. I weep. Unable to finish, I go inside. I can always finish tomorrow. Unfortunately, there is always a tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be raining, and I will forget what I remembered today.
TBL | 47
Summer I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, the rustle of the breeze through the leaves, and the glorious sweet scent of lilies hanging in the air. I pick at the nicotine patch glued to my arm, my summer tattoo. The tobacco interferes with my sense of smell, so I have quit my vices for the next few weeks, including the whiskey and my unheard prayers. Iâ€™m not willing to take any chances with clouding my head. My shirt and pants are pressed, and my face is shaved, smooth like oiled leather. The dirt from the garden is cleaned from under my nails. I feel the corners of my mouth pulling, a strange ache in my cheeks, and notice I am smiling. The cot I am carrying feels light, as if my bony arm has regained its muscle. My other hand holds my framed photo of Katherine. I maneuver through the maze of flowers, and, reaching the center of the yard, I unfold the cot and prop up the frame. I touch the base of the hearty stalks that have already outgrown their wooden stakes, their tops bending under their own weight. I let my hands glide up the stems and feel the silky petals, spread open to reveal their stamen, ends like tiny cayenne peppers. In the center of each flower, a stigma extends with a delicate heart-shaped tip. The ooze of fresh nectar attracts a few bumble bees, focused on exploring their floral treasures.
I inhale deeply, until I can take in no more air, trying to capture more of the sweet bouquet. And I feel my memories begin to unthaw, the scent shedding the permafrost covering my brain. As the warmth of the sun begins to fade, the singing birds and buzzing bees are gradually replaced by chirping crickets rehearsing for their nocturnal concert. And I know from experience, and the local weather report, that tonight is a full moon. The one evening that I will have my moonlight garden at the peak of the blooms. The temperature is neither hot nor cool, and the garden swaddles me like a womb. I sit in silence and sense the moon rising above the horizon. As its celestial curvature crests the flowers, the poignant smell of the lilies grows, as if their roots are pumping essential oils to their petals. I inhale again, taking in the sweet smell. With each breath, I find an even more magnificent scent than I believe possible. The only thing I can compare it with is a childhood memory of riding the school bus past a Portland bakery each day. I recall how all the kids, including myself, slid down the windows and stuck out our noses to take in a whiff of rising bread, despite the bus driverâ€™s medieval barks to put up the windows. It was irresistible. This is the only reference I have to describe what I am experiencing now. Except tonight, the smell is ten, if not a hundred times more intoxicating.
TBL | 48
As if a rejuvenating compound is hidden inside the pheromones swirling in the moonlight air, my memory snaps into focus and becomes acute. Every neuron in my brain is firing off an electrical charge. And suddenly, the dam breaks and releases a flood of memories. I see Katherine wearing her pretty pink dress on the train to Portland, fate giving me the open seat next to her. I’m transported to our wedding day, like a genie on a magic carpet; I see her flowing, white-laced gown, and hear the soothing timbre of her voice as she recites her vows. Suddenly, I’m in the kitchen pouring a box of baking soda over a flaming pan of pommes frites, and I hear her laugh, like a baby’s belly laugh, as I fail miserably to make her a birthday dinner. Then I’m lying beside her in bed. I feel the warmth of her body. My thumb is resting in the curvature of her spine, her head nuzzled into my neck, breath flowing in waves across my chest. A moment later, I’m walking through our front door and surprising her with a bouquet of lilies. And she gives me a hug that takes my breath away. I pick up her photo and say her name. My voice sounds smooth, as if the Casablancas have erased the years of smoke flowing over my vocal cords. Tonight, my youth is restored. I toss my glasses and look up to the sky, as if the moon can clear the opaque jelly filling my eyes. Rubbing my callused fingers over her picture, I believe I see her. She’s smiling, her lips, painted the color of rubies, are slightly parted. Soft curls of chestnut hair
rest gracefully on her shoulders, each strand a perfection of beauty. And I see her eyes, those radiant, alluring eyes. They are the color of cinnamon. I press the frame to my chest. And we dance, like we did on our wedding day, our family and guests replaced with crickets, moon beams, and the swirling scent of lilies. Fall I’ve gathered all the flowers, even the crisp fallen petals by rubbing my hands across the beds. I put them in paper grocery bags, placing them in the hallway, kitchen, and living room. I’ve stashed some in the freezer, between what I believe are bags of peas and a container of last year’s bean soup. I even stuffed a handful inside my pillow case. But each day, their sweet oils evaporate. And Katherine’s face slowly begins to fade. Her picture is propped on my bedroom dresser, for now. I sit at the kitchen table, my hands holding a bag of petals, and listen to the clock ticking. I wish I could turn back time, or speed it up, anything just not to be here now. Perhaps God has sentenced me to living in purgatory, a temporary punishment of blindness, tormenting me by poking my head with the stick of senility. It’s my purification, to ready me for heaven, so I pray. And if not, there’s nothing I can do about it, except
TBL | 49
continue to fight for my memories, even if itâ€™s a futile effort, like piling sand to hold back the tide. I hear a carton of stale cigarettes whispering my name, so I turn on the stereo and select the album. As a familiar angelic voice fills the room, I prepare myself for a long winter, convincing myself through affirmations of
lies that I have the strength for another year, and two more after that, a hundred more if need be. I stick my nose into the bag and take in the weak scent of her favorite flower. And her face emerges from the darkness. Her eyes are the color of cinnamon, or sage. One or the other.
TBL | 50
Standard by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens Lawn chairs balance on green turf. Brown irises enlarge, thumbs rise and fall out of the plastic sewing box. Like the sad sacs before us, there are no ski trips. Sharing wool socks, I teach my twin how to whisper, how to actually sound that low. Low is where we live under AM radio. I play pretend without recovery. Recovery is a vegetable garden. Recovery is this pot holder. The mutt we named Skinny. The tiny doll clothes we sew. Dime store eyes. Stitches made there unraveled here.
TBL | 53
Corpse pose by Karina Lutz lying on backs faces to sky everyone closes eyes no one can see or be seen faces soften no one looking nothing to express nothing to hide heads together feet out aster petals in the field nothing in the center sky shines faces soften a layer deeper jaws drop open some lips may part or not hear the sighs spontaneous synchronous
TBL | 54
settling here for life.
TBL | 55
Equally Invisible by Karina Lutz Cancer harvested these ghosts as children. Out of love, they haunt. They float up stream, fly up wind, falter and hover looking in out fall pipes looking down smoke stacks. See! A troop of the child ghosts works under a willow, weaving the baskets and nets they will scoop with. More! Over there in the field! They scythe away at the particles, already too small, too small.
TBL | 60
And they are giggling, like children. Like children, they reach right out to try to stop the effluent and emissions, as if their tiny invisible hands can stop poisons and radiation. Water, air slip through. Listen carefully, for they will tell you, you future generations and wild things (if you exist): â€œWatch out here, this is where the poison lies.
TBL | 61
Edge of Tears by Susan M. Botich His suffering would leak through any tear or seam worked open. His face shadowed regrets: he'd given up playing jazz horn, flying—dreams he kept hidden in the corners of his dark, dark closet. How many times had he turned to her, saying, “I wish things could have been different. I wish I could have done better.” And the floor would always swallow his sigh. But she knew what he'd meant was, I wish I had been able to show you love. I wish my rage hadn't beaten you down so, causing all those tears beyond all mending. Now, years after his death, she thinks of him. She thinks, We shards of light cut each other’s hearts, then, without a sound, twist into just a memory.
TBL | 62
The Dancer by Adreyo Sen Every evening, dear girl, I return home from work to find your grandmother waiting for me at that old wooden table where a pair of large, beautiful eyes once made us a family. As I sit down, she gets up wordlessly and begins to busy herself at the stove. I confide my heaviness to the doll by your grandmother’s vacant table and she tucks them underneath her with graceful ease. Your grandmother and I wordlessly sip our tea. Looking into your grandmother’s face, I wonder how she’s so much more beautiful now that wrinkles have conquered every inch of that soft, smooth face that expressionlessly registered the ardent kisses of my youth. She gives me a querulous smile. Our tea over, we rise as one and painfully make our way to that little room we pace endlessly in our dreams, sometimes aware of each other’s presence. Your mother lived here and it is exactly the same as the last night she slept in it. Your grandmother sits on your mother’s chair and plays with the scraps of paper and ribbon your mother used to store in an old cigarette tin. When your mother was so much more than a grim voice on the telephone and the plaintive silence that followed, she and your grandmother would quarrel over these strange captives
to your mother’s fancy. What your grandmother saw as garbage, your mother saw as the beginnings of beauty. Your mother was, even when she was three and growing anxious that she would outgrow the little cardboard box she had designated as her home, an artist. As your grandmother grumbles irritably over the little intangibles dear to your mother’s heart, I flip the pages of her diaries, diaries filled with the minuscule handwriting her teachers were furious at. They all had high hopes of your mother, a girl who was already someone whose moments of unconscious beauty brought tears to their eyes. Even in her happier years, even in those days she took for granted – how couldn’t she? – the admiring TBL | 64
tribute of her playmates, your mother was a very serious girl. This seriousness was hidden under her cheerfulness, it was the worry in the hugs she gave her dour mother, the concern in her laughter over her playmates’ slips and falls. Even then, she laughed to comfort, to make little those sudden onslaughts of grief that make the lives of little people fraught and so transparent was the child who worried she was opaque that her friends – and there were so many – knew she was never laughing at them. I am not much of a reader. Sometimes, I bring home the children’s magazines in the waiting room of the doctor I work for. I always read the joke columns. But even I can recognize the beauty in my daughter’s writing. I never read too much of it, so moved am I by the manner in which her tiny words are animated by a desperate attempt to understand the world and herself. Even when her face was bright, even when she smiled and danced, we knew our daughter was a worrier. We just didn’t know how much. Your mother, who was already reading large, fat books with no pictures in them when she was five, worried about my seeming ignorance. And often, on the evenings when I would have liked nothing better than to puzzle over the puzzling spirit in my arms, she would tell me the stories in the books she was reading, pausing to question me severely.
This would eventually win her a stern scolding from your grandmother, who pretended to see in her daughter’s unusual articulacy, arrogance. Like your mother, your grandmother is a worrier – it was her fear that the daughter she doted on with all her large heart, with all the tenderness she kept hidden from her onceteasing husband, was too extraordinary. Your mother was always angry when your grandmother interrupted her thus. She would grow sullen and withdraw from us. She would return an hour later, evidently herself again. But then, she outgrew this anger. Perhaps she had begun to understand just how much our love for her made us as much her captives as her slivers of ribbon and paper. Neither your grandmother nor I are particularly brave. Your grandmother (who bought your mother notebooks we could ill-afford), tortured by her family’s contempt for her beautiful line drawings destroyed all her art before moving to the city to become a maidservant at one of those large blocks of flats that seem to spring up everywhere. I met her when I my boss on his visit to your mother’s then mistress (a lady who ate too many chocolates). And I was too terrified to leave my comfortable employ to aspire for better things. I let my hard-won commerce degree acquire dust. I accepted that I would always be overlooked by the men and women who walked in and out of my employer’s office, always little
TBL | 65
more than the pen that filled in their appointments. Together, we never dared to look for anything better than the little flat your grandmother’s mistress allotted to us in the servants quarters, knowing that this way your grandmother would always be on call. Do you understand then, how much we loved and feared your mother? She was Courage, possessed of a brightness that both warmed and singed us. Once, however, she was also Joy. Even though, as I said, she was always a worrier. She was a handsome girl, a talented child, a spirit that sang and danced and wrote. It was her headmistress who paid for her training in that ancient dance form that compresses a lifetime of experience into a single short, fluid movement. Joy has its detractors. And even though my cheerful, helpful daughter had few enemies among the servant families that played out their daily dramas by the parked cars of the apartment blocks, she was aware that my grandmother’s mistress hated her. Your grandmother’s mistress was a firm believer that everyone should know their place. She believed your mother didn’t know her place, furious that my creative, passionate child refused to be a meek silence. When your grandmother was occupied with her many household duties, her mistress would send your mother to the market or to the washerwoman, an hour’s walk away, to fetch her laundry. When your mother demanded payment, the chocolate-addicted woman
slapped her – to her, your mother was only an extension of her mother, bound to her whims by your grandmother’s meager salary. I don’t think your mother really minded. She liked to work and she liked the fresh air. And the monotony of her work allowed her mind to build the great forts and castles wherein resided her best work. Besides, your mother had a quiet, sincere love for the woman’s daughter, a sullen, overweight thing who was harassed by her mother’s attempts to fit her into a mould she could never aspire to. I could never like this child, whose weakness soon turned to viciousness. But your mother felt a kinship for her, never minding that the child stuck up her nose at her plain clothes, or pinched and scratched her when she was angry. Like your grandmother, she knew she was less flesh than wood to a girl brought up to believe servants were implicitly inferior. When your mother was ten, her fond headmistress gifted her a diary whose beautiful cover was illustrated with birds. She knew my daughter’s slender feet never rested on the ground. That is, then. The diary became your mother’s dearest possession and she carried it everywhere. She even slept with it under her pillow. Then she made the mistake of showing it to the girl whose only friend she was. Instantly, the girl coveted it. She took it from her.
TBL | 66
“If you value my friendship, you’ll give it to me,” she told your mother. Your grandmother’s mistress, who was watching television in the living room, had heard this exchange. She called out to your mother. “What would you do with a diary anyway?” she sneered. Your mother didn’t abandon the lonely girl. She had her friends and her loving teachers. I dare say, she had us. She puzzled over her headmistress’ brief coldness, never realizing that the headmistress had assumed she’d lost the diary she had bought with such care. Years later, when I told her what had really happened, that wonderful woman wept. At fifteen, your mother was so lovely it hurt our eyes to look at her. She was a mixture of strength and gentleness, grace and fire. But there was a sadness in her beauty and it broke our hearts. Her room was full of trophies – she won so many of them in dance competitions. My wife clipped out the articles she appeared in and saved them. On your mother’s sixteenth birthday, we pooled together our salaries and bought your mother a pair of ballet shoes. Never content with her achievements, never resigned to rest, your mother wanted to become proficient in yet another dance form. That same night, your grandmother’s mistress sent your mother to the ice cream parlor with her
daughter. That child, depressed, had demanded the company of the girl she despised. They were standing outside the parlor, your mother gamely licking at the cheapest lolly money could buy, and attempting to cheer up her tearful friend, when one of the neighbors, a pretty woman who admired your mother’s daintiness, saw her and rushed towards her. “I saw your performance at Siri Fort,” she told her, “You were lovely.” It is only at this moment that I have any sympathy for that fractured creature who was the least of my daughter’s friends and the sorrow that would suffuse her life. Always a nonentity, never able to love the mother who controlled her every action, resentful of the friend whose love she knew was never really her due, she howled in rage. She pushed your mother into the street and as a speeding bus hit your startled mother, your grandmother woke up from a troubled sleep, screaming. Your mother grew used to the pins in her legs, to the way the curiosity of passers-by sometimes slipped into a teasing all the more painful because it was as free of malice as the jeering of a child. Sometimes, your mother wondered if she would grow up to be like the people who persecuted her before being won over by the sadness in her eyes. I never saw your mother smile after that day. But then, I never saw her cry. Not even when we rushed her side at the hospital.
TBL | 67
Ignoring the feet that would never again be the slender slivers a lovesick classmate had penned a poem to, she looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll become a writer.” And when your grandmother started crying, it was your mother who attempted to console her. But your grandmother was heartbroken at your mother’s desperate attempt at strength – she knew her troublesome beloved would break down. Your mother did break down. But this was years later and she was already a published writer whose slender first novel her mother had stitched into a pillow and slept on. Our daughter had returned home after eight long years, years in which she had made her talent known to the world. She was limping by my side, dragging her right foot along, when a little child, the daughter of one of the building’s new residents, paused on her way to ballet practice to run over to my daughter. She began to imitate her. But my daughter, whose eyes were fixed on the girl’s slender shoes, had already begun to scream. My daughter spent a month in hospital. Luckily, she could afford private health care. I shudder to think of my lovely daughter in the filthy republic of neglect that is a government mental hospital. And then she went straight to the airport. When she called us a month later, she didn’t say she was sorry. She didn’t call us to her wedding, two years later, to a man who loved her with
something of our desperation, a man who forgave her silences because he knew the rainy music her feet had once danced to, the music her mind still danced to, a man who was ready to reside in the beautiful world your mother had built with her unshed tears, a world whose first citizen will always be you. Two years later, your grandmother’s mistress died. By then, your grandmother had already left her employ and was working for a merry little woman who really wanted a surrogate mother to replace the delighted parent she’d enchanted to death. Missing your mother, dimly aware of the faery child that was you, your grandmother was only too glad to comply. I still worked at the doctor’s office, increasingly indispensable to my absentminded boss, but I only looked forward to those moments a little child would visit our home. Your mother, in unknowing cruelty, had forgiven her last persecutor when she visited her in the hospital – and our wonderful new friend was no longer a stranger to remorse. You will meet her today. She is dying to meet you. She, too, is a writer. Sadly, the other child your mother had an unintentional effect on didn’t grow up. Still an overgrown child when your grandmother’s mistress died, her daughter was unable to endure being bereft of the last person who had truly loved her. She was committed. She died when you were five, your mother’s diary still in her possession. Unlike your mother, who’d
TBL | 68
always been the queen of her ordered imagination, this poor child had been a slave in her own dark kingdom. Finally, she was free. I am glad to know that in her last days, your mother was planning to come home. Perhaps, this is why she didn’t call for us, perhaps in her pain she closed her eyes and, as you say, dreamt of the eucalyptus tree she used to climb and whose branches she would fashion into toothbrushes, of the street dogs who were her first and most loyal friends, of the headmistress who still finds herself parceling leftovers for her favorite student. Perhaps your mother had been home already in the magazines your headmistress sent us, in the increasingly despairing novels your grandmother’s new employer
bought for us, in the university students returning to India who would visit us to see the parents their favorite professor spoke so fondly of. I know you will forgive an old man’s garrulity. You see, looking at the photographs of your childhood, I delight to see that in many of them, captured (but what an illusion that captivity is), in movements more poetic than your mother’s most elegant words, you are wearing the same shoes. Those ballet shoes your mother never got to wear. And so I know, finally, it wasn’t a mistake to send them to her.
TBL | 69
Contributor Notes Adreyo Sen is pursuing his MFA at Southampton College. Alan Hlad’s work has appeared in The National Underwriter, Larks Fiction Magazine, Claims Magazine, and Property Casualty 360. He is an executive search consultant in Akron, Ohio, a frequent conference speaker, and a member of the Akron Writers’ Group. He is currently working on a novel. Cherita Harrell is an MFA candidate at Rutgers-Camden where she primarily writes fiction. She is a self-proclaimed foodie; although, her diet mostly consists of pizza and red wine. Her fiction has appeared in Decades Review and is forthcoming in Minetta Review. She lives in New Jersey with her two children. Dorian Sinnott is a graduate of Emerson College currently living in upstate New York with his bossy painted turtle and sassy munchkin-mix cat. When he’s not working on new ideas and projects, he juggles between co-running a youth writing program and caring for cats at a humane society on the weekends. His poetry has appeared in Alter Ego, Pinetree Poetry, and Shadow Poetry. Francine Rubin's chapbook, Geometries, is available from Finishing Line Press, and her pamphlet The Last Ballet Class is available from Neon. A former ballet dancer, she now works as the Director of Academic Support at Roxbury Community College. Online, she lives athttp://francinerubin.tumblr.com/ Jaimie Gusman lives in Kaaawa, Hawaii where she is a freelance writer and founder of Mixing Innovative Arts, Honolulu's longest running reading series. Jaimie has three chapbooks: Gertrude’s Attic (Vagabond Press, 2014), The Anyjar (Highway 101 Press, 2011), and One Petal Row (Tinfish Press, 2011). Her work can also be found in the journals Moss Trill, Sonora Review, BODY Magazine, Trout, Mascara Review, Unshod Quills, LOCUSPOINT, Capitalism Nature Socialism, Hearing Voices, Hawaii Women’s Journal, Spork Press, Shampoo, Barnwood, DIAGRAM, 2 River Review, and others. Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU but currently lives in the DC area with her family. She is the author of three chapbooks: Every Her Dies (ELJ Publications,) Clotheshorse (Finishing Line Press, 2014,) and Backyard Poems (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2015.) Recent work can be seen / is forthcoming at Toad Suck Review, The Poetry Storehouse, Flapperhouse, Pretty Owl Poetry, Yes, Poetry, Gargoyle Magazine, Jet Fuel Review, LunaLuna and Hobart. For more, visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.
TBL | 72
Joyce Goldenstern, a Chicago resident, has been adapting folktales and writing fiction and warily “living by fiction” for many years. A full collection of her stories will be published by ELJ Publications in fall 2015. Karina Lutz is a workshop leader, poet, teacher, and lifelong activist. She helped found and lead People’s Power & Light, a green power provider and energy consumer advocate. She was instrumental in the passage of sustainable energy legislation, thwarting a proposed megaport, and restoring wetlands in her home watershed of Narragansett Bay, RI. In 2013, she received honorable mention from Homebound Publications Poetry Prize for her manuscript, Preliminary Visions. Lisa De Young lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband and three daughters. She is the office manager of a dental
office and enjoys writing fiction in her spare time. Luther Hughes was born in Seattle, Washington, but currently lives in Chicago where he is pursuing his B.A. in poetry at Columbia College Chicago. Luther's work has been published or is forthcoming in Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Four Chambers Press, Curator Magazine, Chelsea Station Magazine, Good Men Project and Toe Good Poetry. He curates, "Shade," a literary blog for queer writers of color. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful. Melissa Adamo received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Newark University. She is a contributing staff writer for English Kills Review, and her other poems, essays, and book reviews have previously appeared in journals, such as Per Contra, Mezzo Cammin, and The Rumpus. Teaching various courses at Rutgers, Montclair State, and Ramapo College while working as a writing tutor at Brookdale Community College, she enjoys the best the parkway has to offer due to her love of language and try-hard students. Follow her word-thoughts on writing, comedy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Twitter @adamopoeting. Sarah Lilius lives in Arlington, VA where she’s a poet and an assistant editor for ELJ Publications. Her work has recently appeared in Stirring, Rogue Agent, and Red Savina Review. She is also the author of What Becomes Within (ELJ Publications, 2014). Her website is sarahlilius.com. Susan M. Botich has published poetry in Margie, The American Journal of Poetry, Rattlesnake Review, The Meadow, The Danse Macabre, Illya's Honey, Wildflower Magazine, The Tonopah Review, Avocet, The Inflectionist Review, About Place Journal, Edgar Allan Poet Journal s #1 and #2, PIM Publishing, and The Seismic Thread. She was the recipient of two Nevada Arts Council (NAC) Artist Fellowship awards, two NAC Jackpot grants, and one NAC Professional Development grant. She lives in Oregon. Cover artwork by Mahtem Shiferraw, cover image by Arno Meintjes via Flickr, under CC license. All other images courtesy of Flickr, via CC.
TBL | 73
TBL | 74
Call for Submissions Do you write quiet, confessional pieces? Does your poem read like prose, like an essay, does it flow beneath your eyes and does not let you go? Do you write scientific poems, are you enchanted by the macabre as much as we are? If so, send us your submissions! For more visit thebleedinglion.com
TBL | 75
the bleeding lion