From the Editors ...
The textured and intricate work of artist Sophia Luo is exactly what was needed for this issue of Vine Leaves Literary Journal—it draws you in, invites you to stay, and embraces not only the current season, but also leads you into spring, as though you can almost skip the cold of winter. While our new publishing schedule means a longer wait for the next issue, the work that flows between these pages will last the test of time. From the inspired art of W. Jack Savage and others, to the evocative messaging in the work of poets and prose artists such as Caroline Reid, Evelyn Jean Pine, and so many more, Issue 16 is a true showcase of global talent. Whether you’re reading online or with the issue in hand, you’re going to want to settle in. Like a fine wine, Vine Leaves is meant to be savoured. Sip—and enjoy!
Poetry & Prose To Stay in Elburn, by Richard King Perkins II p. 3 Sarah Brown Weitzman: pp. 3, 21 Chicken Dinner The Reading Test Small Lives, by Anshu Johri p. 3 Protect and Serve, by Jason Newport p. 6 Crazy, by T. E. Cowell p. 7 The Chosen Careers of Animals, by Michelle Dyer Peterson p. 7 Meet Me at The Grand Hyatt, by John Gorman p. 8 Map, by Tiare Snow p. 9 What Men Don’t Know About Women, by Ralph Monday p. 9 Caroline Reid: p. 10, 23 Seven Drunk Moons in Darwin The Singer Love Song Waiting, by Jim Harrington p. 10 Frost Lies Thick, by Carl R. Bettis p. 11 Anniversary, by Georgene Smith Goodin p. 13 War of the Gods, by Lorin Drexler p. 14 The Practised Eye, by Fiona Lehn p. 14 They, by Russell Hemmell p. 15 Excerpt from Roundelays, by Richard Kostelanetz p. 15 Ten Thousand People, by Nicole Troxell p. 17 Taconic Orogeny, by David Anthony Sam p. 17 Timeline, by Bridget Duquette p. 18 A Sunday Walk in Autumn, by Lisa Badner p. 19 I Miss You, by Adam Kennedy p. 19 The Tiny Bird Woman, by Samantha Guss p. 20 To My Students, by Michael Maul p. 20 Happy Hour at the Monet Café, by Frank William Finney p. 20 Tragedy of Habit, by Michelle McMillan-Holifield, p. 21 The Strawberry Patch, by Janet Buck p. 21 Girl On Bus With Hair In Bun, by Daniel Pravda p. 21 Sunlight, by Ariel Dawn p. 22 Yesterday’s Forecast, by Lindsay Adkins p. 23 Funerals & Cocktail Parties, by Dana Mele p. 24
Art & Photography Salt, by Leonor Morrow (cover) W. Jack Savage: pp. 3, 17, 18, 27, 28 Flying the Kite | If it’s Saturday | Still Theirs | A Range Like No Other II | Dramatic Measures Sophia Luo: pp. 4, 8–9, 12, 13, 16 The Pursuit of Knowledge | Fallen | Captive | Bound | Allegory Sean-Andrew Zeus Pyle: pp. 10, 11 Bicycle Man | Metalsmith Julie van der Wekken: pp. 11, 19, 23–24 Bicycle | Garden Portrait | Swings
Radio Silence, by Dina Greenberg p. 24 The Man Named October, by Amanda Lara p. 25 I’m More of an Amphetamines Girl, Myself, by Emma Rose Smith p. 25 Evelyn Jean Pine: p. 26 Radio Image Surrealistic Mermaid Our Lady of Pigeons Passion for Whistling, by Jada Yee p. 27 Tetris of Terror, by Rosa O’Kane p. 27 Her Red Dress, by Danny Earl Simmons p. 28 A Red Sky, by Holly Walrath p. 28 Martina Dominique Dansereau: p. 29 Suicide Notes Gallons Trout Mostly, by Mary Kudenov p. 30
Blooming Vine Leaves Grace Lam: p. 31 Fire I Believe Confession, by Irene Vazquez p. 32 Thoughts of a Lonely Girl, by Angela Luo p. 32 Reign, by Farah Ghafoor p. 32 Grace Montgomery: p. 32 November 2014 Polite
To Stay in Elburn
I met Andie a time or two at his dad’s shop. Angular, thin, too sweet for his own good. When Andie was in six or seventh grade, his dad moved the family twenty miles away so that Andie could start fresh. The father, Jim, told me that his son wasn’t being bullied nearly as much in the new town.
It seemed a treachery how my father stroked her neck to smooth the lie of feathers so his blade could sever them clean. But each poor-layer on its side upon the level stump for Sunday dinner rolled one eye at me seemed soothed and waited. Then when my father split the wood beneath its head, the thing that squawked and ran in spurts wouldn’t flop down until I was splattered and shrieking. But cleaned and dressed for Sunday dinner though young and tender I never skipped the chicken.
by Richard King Perkins II
A few days before high school graduation, Andie went out walking through fields of reclaimed prairie. He waited patiently, weaving bracelets of wildflowers, watching ants build their tiny volcanoes of dirt and sand. His patience rewarded, Andie stepped onto the tracks and waved goodbye to the engineer. Jim just kept the family in the same town. There was no place in the world left to go.
by Sarah Brown Weitzman
by Anshu Johri It wasn’t a thirst but an urge to empty the glass that I gulped all that was in it. It was a journey of the ant from the floor to the roof and the shiny, sparkling threads of a spider’s crafty artwork which had triggered my disgust, a foreboding, a travesty of life that supposedly needed my compassion. Then I sensed your quivering finger quietly crushing my thoughts into a wordless, lifeless heap; your poise as you cleansed and scoured the cobwebs of small moments sticking to a glorious life. Now I can’t resist loving small lives breathing in little shapes.
Flying the Kite by W. Jack Savage
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The Pursuit of Knowledge by Sophia Luo
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h Protect and Serve by Jason Newport
Greetings, citizens! Do you know why we’ve stopped you today? Guess. No, really, come on, give it a try— guess! Because your Lincoln Navigator was doing 31 in a 25 zone? Because you didn’t signal while you were parallel parking just now? Because you weren’t finished feeding the meter yet? Because your sharp suit and lovely dress look so elegant on you there, facedown and spread-eagled on the sidewalk with your hands clasped behind your heads? All great guesses—but wrong! It’s because you’re black. You’re not black? Are you sure? Okay, Latino then. With that sweet, rich, chocolaty-caramel-colour thing going on, just like a delicious—mocha Frappuccino! You thought I was going to say “doughnut,” didn’t you? That’s just like you habla español-ers, always stereotyping the police. You’re not Latino either? Are you sure? Asian? No? You’re just well tanned? I’d say you’re very, very well tanned, then. Very very very well tanned. Suspiciously well tanned, even. You haven’t been tanning on, say, a hajj to Mecca to pray for the success of the Islamic State, have you? Well, you are wearing a scarf, ma’am.
No, I know it isn’t over your hair, but it could have slipped— Okay then, I admit it: you’ve been stopped because you were listening to Beyoncé. She’s definitely black! And we know what that means in this neighbourhood, don’t we? “Suspicious.” The word I’m going for here is “suspicious.” Don’t move! Do not move! If you move, my partner will Taser your genitals. He hasn’t done it to anyone for almost two hours now, so he’s getting a little itchy for the twitchy, if you know what I mean. I mean massive electrical shocks making you gawp and squirm like a fish, possibly inducing a cardiac event which we are theoretically trained to handle. It’s hilarious to watch—YouTube it sometime, you’ll see. Because you tried to move, we now have to pat you down for suspicious articles. Do you have any sharp objects on you that we should be aware of, such as needles or stylish heels? What we’re doing next here with exposing your underwear is commonly called a “dicky check.” Yes, for you too, ma’am. Am I wearing a body camera, sir? Absolutely, state of the art. I even turned it on, as soon as you started trying to move. And again for the dicky checks. Parts of the footage will be readily available by subpoena, or possibly through a Freedom Of Information Act request, which may take several years for processing depending on whether an internal investigation is declared ongoing. This video is also currently live-streaming on our departmental YouTube channel, HilariousStopsInDowntownDistrict6, which only members of the Fraternal Order of Police can access. However, your colourful underwear is certain to make our shift commander’s highlights reel tonight. Fist bump! That’s fantastic—you didn’t move. Although my partner sure wishes you had. What a red face he’s getting! It’s all he can do right now not to introduce you to his little friend, Mr. 50,000 Volts. You must be excellent at Simon
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Says. Suspiciously excellent . . . Well now, what do we have here? Over a hundred dollars in cash and a pair of tickets for tonight’s ballet? Sounds like a drug buy to me. Going to meet your connect at first intermission? We’ll be holding on to this instead. Here’s a receipt. Aha! Wow, you still didn’t move—you’re, like, Olympic champions at Simon Says. I’ll tuck the receipt into your empty wallet for you. Those handwritten squiggles show my approximate badge number, time, date, and amount of forfeiture. Come down to the DA’s office and demonstrate proof of income accounting for this amount, and they’ll give it back to you. Less a service charge. Assuming you have no outstanding tax issues. They’ll check with the IRS, as well as Citizenship and Immigration Services, just to make sure you’re not actually prosperous-looking illegal Latinos. What’s that radio squawk? A shooting in progress? Finally! Come on, let’s roll before it’s over. No, not you, alleged citizens. Ha ha! You need to stay facedown on the sidewalk, letting passersby take Instagrams of your underwear. Close your eyes and count to a thousand. If the shooting turns out to be a false alarm—sad face, I know—we’ll come right back. Otherwise, we’ll be conducting surveillance on some suspiciously limber Russians, from these great seats at the ballet. Have a safe day!
by T. E. Cowell She said, “This is crazy.” She looked at me. “Isn’t this crazy?” I shrugged. I thought that, sure, maybe it was a little crazy. But I thought it was exciting, too. Crazy or not, I thought it might be crazier if we parted ways and never saw each other again. I was about to say something to this effect when she said, “I mean, we don’t even know each other. I know nothing about you.” “You know a few things,” I said. I could tell she was thinking now, remembering. We’d met in a bar the night before, and had enjoyed each other’s company enough to have a few drinks together. After the drinks I followed her back to her apartment. We had a good time, and I ended up staying the night. In the morning I made breakfast, an egg scramble for the both of us. Now we were in her car in her apartment’s parking lot. She was debating driving me to the bus station, and I was thinking about where I wanted to go next, which city, but I couldn’t make up my mind. I felt I could use a break from traveling, and felt weary at the thought of continuing on with this vagabond lifestyle. I’d been living this way for almost a year now, and it was starting to affect me. The idea of settling down somewhere, of finding an apartment and a girlfriend, a job, of getting into an agreeable routine, didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. I wanted to stay with this girl, this young woman, and see how things went. But I couldn’t seem to tell her this; somehow it just didn’t seem right. It was her life I’d be barging in on, not the other way around. Still, I knew I’d miss her if she left me, knew it’d hurt if she drove me to the bus station and we said sayonara and never saw each other again. She was about to start the engine, to turn the key. Her hand was on the key. I didn’t think I could take much more of this. I had to try. “Don’t,” I said. “Please.” We looked at each other then for quite a long time.
The Chosen Careers of Animals by Michelle Dyer Peterson
A pink flamingo has no choice but to be a yoga instructor. She naturally bends her body, beak below knees, neck into an S, curling into something entirely spherical or contorting into something strikingly geometric. She stands on one limb and balances perfectly— valiant, studious—while her other limb is tucked tight to form a perfect right angle. She will guide you through Vinyasa, and she’ll lead you to retreat open salute acknowledge honour—all that is around, all that is inside, all that is above, and all that will be discovered below. The raccoon could be many things—a scam artists, a city garbage collector, a manager of a grocery store (the tie and shirtsleeves a nice look), but instead has chosen massage therapist. With incredibly sensitive and manipulative hands, he files his claws down to a soothing length and kneads your muscles when things are tight and just not right. He can do plenty with his hands, the best of which is locating the nasty knots without so much as a nudge from you. He simply closes his eyes and feels, and once he finds it, he works, digging, spreading, moulding, mashing—all these things feel good at the hands of a raccoon. The tigers—they’re models—they’re gorgeous so don’t bother them, but bring them a seltzer with no ice. Your jazzercise instructor is a penguin. This makes you feel good because you’re just as tubular as she is, and she doesn’t seem to care about it at all. Penguin, although lacking the spreadable fingers to do jazz hands proper, does not lack in energy or pizazz. The koala is your marriage counselor. She is matronly and wise and is ready to give you a hug at any moment, but she won’t, because she is a professional. Her couch smells like fresh-baked cookies and stale perfume. She nods and hmms as you talk, and this makes you feel like you are warm and protected and a developing infant inside her pouch. When she tells you the hour is almost up, you wonder how you will face the bright light and noise of the outside. Horses will always become CEOs, mostly because of their varied temperaments. Some will be the stoic heroes that everyone looks to for advice, for e 7 f
hope; others will be so stubborn, all ideas will be their ideas (even though none of their ideas will be their ideas); some may even be so volatile that you had better steer clear if something even remotely troublesome gets in their way. All of them, at first, will project an air of superiority, and you will feel like you must bend to them in humility upon meeting. This will not last, as previously explained, except if you’re one of the lucky ones whose horse boss is the gentlest authoritarian in the industry. All lioness mums choose not to work. This is so they can spend their days together while their children play (they call this a “play date”), and while they lounge and observe, they gab and gossip. Some of them have shared men. They divulge their maneuvers and other indiscretions. These lionesses aren’t just mums to theirs, but to all—any will nurture any, because that’s what sisterfriends do. The fox is your typical doomsday prepper—no one knows how he makes money at this, but that doesn’t seem to concern him since the world is ending, anyway. He will take scraps of food, food that he didn’t eat or food that you didn’t eat—food that strangers didn’t eat—and stash it away until the end comes, when, of course, he and his fox buddies are the only survivors, because they’re the only ones who’ve properly prepared for this. He will try to recruit you, telling you that it’s only a matter of time, man, and if you start to help now, he’ll let you in on it when the real time comes. Just ignore this, but remain his friend—you know—just in case. The elephant is the introverted painter, the one who will bury his feelings for months until he shows you a painting that, to him, explains everything, but, to you, explains nothing. This heartbreaking missed connection will inevitably be another painting that you will see, although not too soon. When you look at this one, inspect the clumsy tusk marks and the faint paint splatters from his huffing. Study his strokes, where he hesitated or got distracted, where the textures and colours combine to create the emotions you’ve felt but never expressed. This is his mind, his heart, his beckoning.
Meet Me at The Grand Hyatt by John Gorman
We met in the revolving door at the Grand Hyatt, two sweaty bodies pressed into affable glass. You put up a good fight, but caved in the moment I complimented your Hermès scarf, and you plucked it off, festooning me around my Burgundy bottle shoulders. What a pair of hams we made. Remember the borscht-faced man hiding under his derby, cursing at us because the door wouldn’t budge? My day’s agenda went kaput, and I felt lighter than a jellybean all because you found me funny, maybe even stimulating. Strangers sharing secrets making orchids bloom. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping to bump into you again though I also think we’d be hard-pressed to find that first wick of magic. Jasmine. That’s it! I had it on the tip of my tongue or should I say nose? Symbiosis. Your scent carries into my smoke break, gives me a reason to roam. Maybe you didn’t buy it when I told you I never split a stick of gum before, but I snapped it anyway without a lick of regret, and we watched the rain paint the sidewalk.
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by Tiare Snow Stripped from her tangible happiness, she found herself without and wanting. The void became a gaping hole inside her chest, mind, soul. She followed the ache like dots on a map, in search of unknown treasure, wishing to drape herself in purpose. Little did she know she was the “x” that marked the spot: She had to dig within.
What Men Don’t Know About Women by Ralph Monday
You think that we are eyes and hair, lips and legs, breasts to take to dinner, collected colourful insects set under glass in a cigared study. You think this without thinking as you think that emancipation is freedom given like a drink of water. You think that you know why we dance, that music sets us to moving like air, like storm clouds, like stars blinking out in unison, that we go to bars looking for men. We know that we do these things to page ourselves like phones, fleshed dish antennas waiting for transmission. We know what we are for we carry around a familiar spirit that whispers always to us that love is our ground note. We know that passion is birthed in tree tops, that we are seasons in music: vast octavo volumes like autumn bass cellos, clear pregnant trills of spring glass armonicas, summer’s forest drums calling like stones, winter’s bells tuned through oboes where our copper eyes pulled to the rim of sacrifice reads text by an hourglass, all the texts ever known. We know that spent cattails could be a weed or love, a blood-blossom or other notions, that violet snow moonscapes are almanacs prophetical, the moon’s motions are not cogged machines. Yours are polyester thoughts, jagged snow judgments, lips that you would kiss, fountain of youth legs to remind you of long ago—this is why our looks can be wind-blown icicles, for you would quarry us, dig us from the earth as gold, precious stones, assemble what you believe to be rubble, a shrine, ossuary, make of us a holy place, immovable, sacred, like ripe seed pods that fill our bellies. You do not know that you are a museum of stones, entombed by lava lies where you would mortar us by three crosses and a crypt. This in error for nothing can be owned, we hear all the animal cries as human children, our saving grace in that we are ancient punctuation—threaded question marks, years of exclamation points, a shadowed prepositional phrase moved by skin, silk dresses. Like a fish-hooked electrocution, we drag you behind us as shadows. e 9 f
Seven Drunk Moons The Singer by Caroline Reid in Darwin by Caroline Reid moon pig lazy over a ping-pong world sautés the sky soothing moon strepsil moon show off they say these two danced once moon, the fire woman, the bloody open pod she likes to dance naked, red wine and moon in hand she is half moon half cyclone she feels something is happening moon holds a rose between its teeth sings karaoke on the corner … why are you standing alone? she has a special skill she knows how to capture moon burps
Ravishing in frost and a tinkle of jewels, The Kid sings at night. It makes her feel less like a tweet, more like a blue-tongued skink slipping over pinballs or a transvestite gallivanting in a stew of possible. She sings for hops in a dazzle-razzle-black-money club where the layout of gin rushes like bored thoughts through blood. She sings: Jelly bounces high when it’s raspberry wet … she pauses, like lightning. A hung whaler moon plaits its diacritical crown. The Kid owns all the parties of tomorrow and yet she dreams of being space-bound in some delicate steel monster, serenading stars, shredding ice hearts into milk.
by Jim Harrington We waited. Two brothers. Unrelated. He the elder. The crash brought us together. His older brother and mine drag racing on a residential street. My mother and his parents had to be separated, faces red, fingers wagging, shouts filling the small waiting room, surging into the hallways. He and I—I didn’t know his name, we hadn’t talked—stayed out of the way, quiet, almost like we were meditating. He laid his hand on the floor palm up. I put mine on top of his. Sweaty, nervous fingers entwined. When the doctors came, we listened. Our parents began another verbal assault amidst their sobs. We squeezed our fingers tighter and cried. I didn’t know if my tears were because my brother lived or his didn’t.
by Sean-Andrew Zeus Pyle
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by Julie van der Wekken
Frost Lies Thick by Carl R. Bettis
Frost lies thick on the window pane. The old house creaks in the wind. My cold hand on your hot breast. The bed frame shivers.
by Sean-Andrew Zeus Pyle
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by Sophia Luo
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by Sophia Luo
by Georgene Smith Goodin On our anniversary, we go to a motel. Not to be romantic, or deviant, but for the air conditioning. In summer, our apartment is too hot for sleep, let alone making love. We sit on the edge of the bed, studying our wine glasses, eight inches of worn chenille between us. Itâ€™s been months since weâ€™ve touched, and not just because of the heat.
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War of the Gods by Lorin Drexler
The jostling between the way a heart will empty for someone and the abrupt lobotomy that will thereafter, leave a person limp and frail. I have been masquerading the streets with a false identity. If love were a shark, I’d hope to be a bigger shark. But if love were a garden, cricketless and plush in the meadows of a pineapple dream, I’d hope to be your imagination theatre. If I knew how to breathe, I would inhale all of you; inches of your soft damp palms, flickering whispers to bequeath my electric strata. A simple touch and my body knows it’s right, or at least has premonition to the weaving of laceleafed lovers. I would prefer not to walk alone, to take my time, to enjoy the apples of our absence. I would prefer not to accept love, but rather give, with no diamond receipts or conjunctive expectancies. I would prefer a world filled less of vanity and more of spare change, more pure, more lawless. Can we see beyond the buildings, scaffoldings, clothing and metal? And if then we see, do we really? Would you turn the corner after experiencing presence and absolute self-awareness, to the muddy tepid hypnotic mist which scourges our modern societies to auctions of do-and-demand? I suppose it’s time to accept the war of the gods and be more than do more. See more than saw, hear more than said, say more than heard. It’s time to forgive rather than bout the angry sword no man can grip, where all men perish. There are no rules; we are truly free, and as I carefully wipe away the remaining sediments of my carvedout petroglyphs, I notice the decay is no longer vapid. There is such a thing as harmony, and when it happens, we can be reminded of the wind traveling to the sea and being forever changed. We can notice the sky and how it seems to go on and on. We can look at each other, and know, we are nothing more than this. Hundreds of thousands of years later, I may notice a scent, if a scent were a scent; and just then in an instance, your
life will pass through me once again. It may be unfamiliar, but I’ll feel it, the way I have today. And as I recollect you here, in earthly greasepaint, your feet and head and limbs and smile, a mild fraction of who you really are and what you really meant to me, I recognize there is no coincidence for time truly is forever. We have been doing this over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, again. In spans and fragments we couldn’t possibly fathom, with suits and satchels we couldn’t design with our utmost cognizance. When I tell you my love is forever, it is. And in between, of course, single handedly, the most impossible task in our lives as human beings, to say goodbye. The naked dormant messenger secretly creeping, but unsecrectly crept. My memories are yours to keep, to blanket the in-betweens, to span and fragment, suit and satchel, sing and sailor. And just as mine are yours, kept away in whatever part of me must leave; when one part of me dies and the other picks up the scattering vestige, will I be forever changed and we be forever one. The holy moons conversing to the plethoric light, as children, we move to the skips of the rain.
The Practiced Eye by Fiona Lehn
Funny not to know her, although every day side by side we are seated as the bus growls and sputters its way up the town’s steepest hill. The four and one half minutes between stops certainly are not enough to reveal a stranger, but blips of time accrue, like dots of darkness on light, becoming shadows, forming a picture. Funny not to know her, and yet to know these certain things about her: the favourite mini skirt, very short and black, that rides up distractingly in the front. Her sea-legged stance in the unmowed grass as she waits to board, with hands clasped at her abdomen,
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like a princess at a public appearance. The woven basket bag of faded pink and green, into which she stashes her monthly bus pass after flashing it at the driver. Her careful, slow step in the aisle, soles of her everyday tan loafers squeaking on vinyl flooring. Her legs crossed, loose shirt, hands gathered in her lap. Her hair, pulled back in a frizzy ponytail, smells of strawberries, her breath smells of cinnamon chewing gum, and her cheeks, strikingly pale, have recently shed the down of childhood—she’s sixteen if a day. Funny not to see her, but for the mornings, until yesterday. It was late afternoon, the bus was roaring down the hill like a bear on a leash. I clung to the armrest and peered out the window at the unkempt field alongside the road. And there she was, walking with a boy amidst the waist-high grasses. The two were holding hands. She had flushed cheeks and was talking through her smile. The summer breeze toyed with her shirt, lofting it about, exposing her midriff. She dropped the boy’s hand to gather the material around her and cover the bare skin, as if it needed protection. Then she took his hand again, and as the bus zoomed away, I noticed that her skin and his were of complementary colours. I wondered, do they have to fight in this small town with old ideas like weathered stone walls, resistant to changes the big city folk made decades ago? And do they love each other truly? Perhaps they cleave to one another to make a point, mistaking the excitement of rebellious confrontations for an emotional bond surpassing any other. No, she doesn’t look like a rebel, with shoulders arched back against the weight of justice. She looks like a young lover, starry-eyed, fooled into believing she has discovered and planted her flag in forever. Funny not to speak with her, for it would be nice to know how she’ll manage with the child, and if she feels all right when she’s alone. Don’t want to scare her, because she does hide it well. Certainly it’s apparent only to the practiced eye.
by Russell Hemmell
They look at me, excited. They’re scared of me. And they’re scary. I run for cover, to a remote part of the hall where a tiny pool of shadow lingers. Reassuring, protective. I lie down, hidden from their view. For now. I know how things work. They won’t let me stay here. They will chase me with their torches—white lights so intense that they make my eyes squint, and my head spin. But not yet. Un, deux, trois. The hunt has started, like a waltz in the dark. Breathe. And wait. It has been two moons since I got here, and no, I can’t sleep well. Sometimes I wake up with a scream that pierces my ears, and it takes me a few moments before realizing that scream is mine. I’m alone in this hall, day and night—a desolate, barren place. They don’t let me out. And they don’t let anybody in, apart from official tours— out of fear, or out of shame. Quiet, quiet. I stay in my hideaway. There’s still time. They’ve captured me during their last trip. They’re exploring. After colonizing a handful of planets next door, they’ve made the great leap forward, going out of their star system. They feel invincible, the universe is their oyster. And they eat it raw. Still, still. They don’t look away any longer. They’re getting bolder. I’m not just alone: I’m lonely, a cute specimen down for display. The other members of my family have all been killed in the chase. My baby brother too, soft skin and tender flesh. I see him in my dreams sometimes. Serene and smiling, he welcomes me in his embrace and he nuzzles my head. Gentle. Silent, silent. They’re realizing they’re numerous, and it’s only me—frightening and odd-looking as I might be. I tried to make contact with them. Somehow. Talking at first. Then humming, blinking, screeching. Using the full range of the sounds I’ve learnt
here. But not one has proved effective. They do communicate with their kind, but not with the rest of the planet’s biosphere. They’ve no appetite for it, or they simply can’t. And they’re coming. Dancing is over. They’ve encircled me and the game will start in earnest now. Playtime. Their sounds become louder, movements almost frantic. They pick up and throw something at me, expectantly. One of them comes closer, braver than the rest, attempting a contact. She looks like a female, blue spots on raptorial legs, blades that glimmer under the transparent wings. I stiffen, my hairs bristle up, and I’ve got to refrain from biting. Her extremities start moving up and down, rhythmically. Is she petting me? But then, she grabs my neck and tightens her grip. I cough and try to shake her away, in a desperate tentative of escape. She lets me go after a few moments and begins shrieking in a nasty laughter, that others join. I feel humiliated. I’d cry, if— I could only feel pain. But I can’t. There’s something that makes me hold back instead of reacting, and musing instead of suffering. Something frozen inside. She throws something at me, a goo-like swarthy stuff I sniff while keeping my distance. It looks weird, and I can’t imagine what it might be. But I’m famished. I sniff it again, and I swoop down, biting that intriguing, vaguely disgusting dark sticky substance. I swallow it, slowly, taking good morsels. Trying not to look too close, as if some sort of monsters with sharp claws and beaks would come out of viscous matter and hurt me. But it doesn’t move, only wobbles when I feast on it. That’s the best meal I’ve had in this place, and I could call myself fortunate to get a goo-piece every time. Because, I bet, this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my days, many or few they might be. Perhaps settling down, possibly forgiving, always longing. They are tired, finally, tired of playing and proud of their achievement. Aliens and horrid to me, they’ve faced their horrid alien. Grown-ups of their species arrive and take them for a well-deserved rest after their day of adventure. They’re not cruel, I know that now. I’ve hated them, and cried, and cursed, and wished I were dead. Not any longer. Every day, when the sun is high in the sky, I await their e 15 f
visit. With trepidation, but expectantly, for they’re the only company I’ve got. They’re my keepers. They’re my torturers. They’re my playmates. They’re children like me, although they ignore it, and I’m Marion Octavie from Montreal, Canada no more. Here I’m the attraction that came from Planet Earth, Solar System, Orion-Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way. Whatever feeling I might have had, has been lost in space in a hyperdrive flight.
d Except from Roundelays
by Richard Kostelanetz
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by Sophia Luo e 16 f
Ten Thousand People by Nicole Troxell
by David Anthony Sam
If you loved me, it would be different. I could run, drenched with sweat, through an airport into an unknown city, only the clothes in my backpack for a one-way trip. Greet you outside Terminal A, watch you stand with squinted eyes at the back of your rented car, pop the trunk, wrap your arms around me, shaking. I could watch our contorted faces of anticipation turn to smiles that fall at the corners of each of our lips, like the last time I saw you. My sunglasses covering that deer-in-headlights look underneath. That stunned look from something balled tight in my chest for six months without ease. Something like fingers clenched into a fist reaching, grasping, choking throat, lungs. If you loved me, I could get into your car; sit next to you in the front seat, keep from disappearing into the lull of quiet conversation behind you. Listen to your voice, the measured talk of what’s inside, solve the mystery. Feel white knuckles loosen their grip. Drive through a strange city, meet a strange family, take out the fist of pain inside me, throw it into a trash can in a large park operated by the city. On one of our routine walks, I could reach way down into my chest when you aren’t looking, when your head is turned toward the bay, and yank it out so quick you wouldn’t notice. Un-ball its clenched fingers that strangled my breath, squeezed my stomach, discard it in the can the next to the recycle bin, because it’s not on the list of sustainable items. Discard it on our routine walks. Our walks in cool spring and hot summer and dying fall where we would talk about apartment renovations and how your mother would hate me and everything I stand for. Where we would read poems anyway—ones that we had written, maybe for each other. If you loved me, it would hurt ten thousand people. Ten thousand people with balled up fists in their chests with no routine walks to snatch it out in secret and bury it among the rubble. Ten thousand people drenched in sweat, shaking, waiting in a familiar city. Ten thousand people who could disappear into quietness, while I sit up front with you and we drive to take walks and read poetry and hold each other’s gaze without shock or fear or restlessness. If you loved me, we could drive on some road, silence sleeping for a while behind us.
The old geologist bends down to taste the layers of time exposed in the steep uplift. He feels the ache and click of the calcium he deposits within his own joints, history and time building inside, knowing the earth is clean and tastes like metalled water. The blood of eons has flowed beneath him, within him, as he stands in the angular remains of an ancient seabed. He sits on a flat outcrop, removes his earth-encased gloves, and touches memory in the strata beneath him. This tentative knowing, this feel of cold stone, this brittle ache of loss and gain, this timeless sense of the long journey of time—his hand ungloved feels the fingers of her hand in wind that curls around his, and he whispers her in the names of ages: Ordovician, Cambrian, Proterozoic, as time breaks like the thin pages of shale written for him to read into the long forever of the after.
If it’s Saturday by W. Jack Savage
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by Bridget Duquette Andy sat next to me, puffing on a joint and waxing poetic about outer space. “That’s what these scientists have all wrong – they think the universe is a collection of matter in space, but it’s not – it’s a collection of moments in time.” I was not sure what he meant, but I kept nodding and humming in agreement whenever he paused for breath. “If we are to reach other worlds we’ll have to travel through time,” he went on. “Only then will we make contact with other life forms.” I nodded, I hummed. He looked over at me, his face screwed up disapprovingly. “You’re not listening,” he said. “I am!” I slid onto the floor and sat cross-legged at his feet, gazing up at his big-bearded jaw and his murky eyes. “You’re saying that time is the only thing that exists, and that matter is an illusion. Is that right?” I asked, though I knew it was wrong. He leaned forward and blew smoke into my face. “You’re not in the right mindset to understand,” he told me. “Why don’t you explain again?” I asked, but this seemed to irritate him. He heaved himself off the couch and made a show of putting on his jacket and his boots. “You know, you’re very close-minded,” he said as he walked out the door. It was two in the morning by then, and I didn’t know what to say to him when he was stoned, so I just stood at the window and watched him disappear into the darkness. “My mind is wide open,” I said to my reflection in the windowpane. There were snowflakes in my hair, and my skin was all white. When I was sure he wouldn’t be back, I crawled into bed with my laptop and googled “matter doesn’t exist”, but I didn’t understand what I was reading, so I looked for articles about time travel and the big bang theory and the shape of the universe, and I read them through, even the words I didn’t know, even the parts that made no sense. I read until the sky began to lighten in the east, then I bundled up and set out into the cold of the early morning, my mind buzzing with theories and speculations. Andy’s footprints from the night before were still on the sidewalk, faint in the snow, like he was leading me onward from another dimension. I hurried along, leaping from one track to the next. “He’ll be happy to see me,” I told myself. “He doesn’t like to sleep alone.” Still, I felt like an intruder, creeping alongside his house and letting myself in the back door. I didn’t even think to take off my boots, so I left a melting trail behind me as I stomped up the stairs and pushed open his bedroom door. What I saw inside did not shock me. “I knew this was going to happen,” I said out loud. At the sound of my voice, the dark haired girl lying next to Andy murmured something in her sleep and held him closer, but he kept on snoring, oblivious of my presence, because time can only move forward.
by W. Jack Savage e 18 f
A Sunday Walk in Autumn by Lisa Badner
The leaves are dried up in piles mixed with dog shit and human trash. The Gingko stinks like sickness. Fuck that extra hour of sleep. Winter is coming, and I am another year older.
I Miss You
by Adam Kennedy There is a click, click, click coming down the hall. The eaves that echo with every footfall, the ladder creaks as she begins to climb. Hands parting the cobwebs of this old attic. She hasn’t been up here in years. The picture fills her hands and she cries. “I miss you, Mum. I love you so much. I miss the way you used to sing. I miss you making me soup when I was sick. I miss you just sitting there, watching me sleep.” But she can’t hear me when I whisper, “I still do.”
Garden Portrait by Julie van der Wekken e 19 f
The Tiny Bird Woman
To My Students
by Samantha Guss
... frustrated with learning English as a second language
by Michael Maul
There once was a tiny bird woman who never left the land of books. She knew the names of all the flowers in her garden and she could speak fluently with the squirrels in her trees, but figuring that she must know everything about this world, she chose to disappear into another. (And then another and another and so on.) Some days she would even straddle as many as four or five worlds at once, a toe in each. Books followed the tiny bird woman everywhere. They lined the walls of her tiny house, always tripping her tiny husband, who did not seem to mind; they rose in pillars and columns around doorways and windows, and in this way books kept the roof up and the walls straight and the cold out; they sat stacked in bunches around the toilet and were constantly being shuﬄed in and out of the bathtub; they filled the pantries in the kitchen and the boxes in the toolshed, and the umbrella vase in the foyer. And when the tiny bird woman was in her garden or in the car or making coffee or cleaning the garage, she listened to books on tape, which she found for free on the internet, or borrowed from the library. She was not the sort to remember her dreams, but she knew that if she were, then she would wake up and remember having dreamt of Hemingway and Rushdie and Dahl and Dickens. She drifted back and forth on a current of stories, her imagination a wild cacography of voices that were not her own, her words never her words, but someone else’s, clipped apart and taped together again like a collage. She worried that she was too little and too frail to encompass the multiplicity of what she took in, always filling herself, gluttonously, like a cup with a hole in the bottom. That her body, so unusually small, harboured an interior life so unusually capacious was not a casual accident. She suspected that as she moved from one book to the next, she displaced something inside of herself to make room; and as deep as the reservoir of her memory was, it was not interminable. She knew that she did not love books so much as she needed them to fill a hollowness inside of her, a hollowness that consumed her body like a cancer. With each story that she read she parted with something indeterminate, but precious. With each story she sought to fill herself to the brim, but with each story she gnawed away at herself, digested herself, suffered the emaciation of a malnourished soul. Each story was an answer to this evisceration and its own tapeworm. Each story bore deeper and deeper into a place where the tiny bird woman invited them, her intention being the complete eviction of Self. She would give her body to books the way that some people gave their lives to their gods; her home an ashram, her person, a shastra of shastra. She had all the universe written on the inside of her eyelids, and various alternatives inscribed on the soles of her feet, in the hollows between her hollow ribs, on the backs of her teeth and the underside of her tongue. In fact, she believed in an infinite number of universes, concentric and parallel and perpendicular to one another, and worried that only a handful of them were trapped in books. Only a teaspoon.
I should not be teaching this class, a subject without beginnings, middles or ends; a mother tongue which I don’t understand. Though so far I’ve given answers back to all the tricky questions asked: Y is both a letter (no, not the kind that you can mail) and a question. Next. Yes, all the days in the week do have names, but No, the one after Saturday is not pronounced “Someday.” Next. No, a smart man and a wise guy are not the same things. Next. No, angina pain is not restricted to women. Next. Why do some people call liking something “taking a cotton to it”? This is unanswerable. Next. There is no such thing as a Grey Wall of China. Doesn’t exist. Ask your Asian classmates. But bewilderment, and wanting something to hold onto, I understand. I refer those to the Course Description: You’re in a big country in which native speaking people make a living on TV explaining what other native speaking people are saying. Almost no one understands anybody. So in the end you will find your way into English alone. You will learn to listen, speak and imitate. These three things, above all else, will help you find a job, disguise your soul, and then assimilate.
Happy Hour at the Monet Café
by Frank William Finney ‘Yes, but you make me think’, he said, passing her a pickled onion. ‘Yes and you make me laugh’, she said, fishing the mint from a spent mojito. Meanwhile, the barman divided a lemon. Outside the rain blurred a passing bus.
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The Reading Test
The Strawberry Patch
by Sarah Brown Weitzman
by Janet Buck
(First published in The Windless Orchard, 1980.)
The teacher said today you will take a mark-sensemachine-corrected timed three-part-standardizedfourth grade reading test, so get quiet. We did a sample together. How many cookies are in a dozen? Three was given first and six and ten and twelve each had an answer box but where was thirteen? When my mother sent me to buy cookies a dozen was always twelve plus one in my hand to eat. Right then I knew I was in real big trouble.
I’ve never sorted runes attached to what I have become. A tattered flag facing the street, cloth turned inside out by sitting still as caterpillars under leaves. I’ve made a tiny office chair a fortress now— this folding table just won’t lock, teeters so, the cursor does a rabbit hop, letters land in places where they don’t belong.
The teacher said fill in the boxes with care to stay within the lines and if you must erase, well, erase well or else the machine will think you fourth graders are smart alecs trying to boost the odds and if any person even glances at another person’s paper or if any person opens up his booklet before the signal or goes ahead to the next part without permission that person will get a zero and a zero will affect his promotion his grammar school graduation, his high school.
I see too little, think too much. Ruminate upon the ruins, no longer rise, no longer laugh. Jokes are lost like salt that settles in jars where fragrant spices once sat whole. Ace bandages12 feet long, a shrinker sock surrounds my stump-like tourniquets. I planned to wear this carbon leg until I die, but there it stands, leaning against a dresser built in 1812. I am as old as its nails lifting now from oak that’s warped.
His whole life that zero will follow him around. His whole life! Tension can cause poor test results so everyone take three deep breaths and then begin she said real quick while I was still on two.
Tragedy of Habit For Janis L. J. by Michelle McMillan-Holifield
(Previously published in slightly diﬀerent form, Mississippi Poetry Journal.)
The train sings like Etta James, lulling you back at half past midnight. Fog so wet as to drown you. I beg you not to go. You embalm my throat with spices. My voice concaves, returns void. Your lower lip scarred by the scrape of your teeth: habit. This habit. Your habit. The sole of your left combat boot came unglued. You tried to fix it yourself— that worked for a long while. But that sole, rebellious, unhinges itself again. You are frenetic, blurred, a drowned photograph. You’ve become numb: to the eruption of noise and smoke as the train appears out of the fog, to the trail of hands behind you reaching for a hem of your jacket, for one swathe, one small thread, enough to snatch you back from the track. You’re engrossed in the progression of boots on concrete, the slap of that unhinged sole sweeping you toward the train. . . the train . . . the train. I’m the camera on the corner of the station’s roof recording you, the foliage, sluicing bitterly downward. Shadows outline the delicate ridge of skin where your bottom eyelashes bloom.
Eating is a curse that makes edema worse. I dodge it like some needle heading for my arm— to keep the dream of wearing the hand that makes the puppet move and talk. Every day, walking is the failure of a shuttle launch. The flame is there. Engines running as I wait. I count on change that does not come. I used to drag that 10 lb. leg everywhere, despite the weather tied to pain. I lived in the middle of a strawberry patch bearing fruit, even in a heavy snow.
Girl On Bus With Hair In Bun by Daniel Pravda
I find the mole on the back top of your right ear exquisite. I would kiss the clasp of your gold bud earring. But you are getting off at this stop and we will never speak.
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by Ariel Dawn In the dandelion gutter (once we made wine from them; it was stolen) I shrink and grow, fearful as the child who swallowed a worry doll. It’s rumoured one chooses their parents. Rhys and I live in a stone tower with nine flights of stairs (my black dress drags in the dust, and he walks too fast). Who would choose us: I can’t cook meat, or even play games, for life is already a game I never knew how to play. He waits by the road, where dust glitters; it dances. So I will follow him home. Our rooms with everything spilling: cream, apples, dried roses with baby’s breath, light from windows.
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Yesterday’s Forecast by Lindsay Adkins
And when will the rain realize that I am sick of sunny days, the light crashing into all these rooms without knocking first, leaving no corner or crack filled with a shadow? That there is more beauty in the reflection that is collecting in the crumbling sidewalk than in the white stare of the sun?
by Caroline Reid And I said to him: Your eyes glow in the dark like two mobile phones, my footsteps are a train track to your heart. You are better than the thing that’s better than sliced bread, more precious than rare sandalwood growing in the hot northern lands. You are my Foodland, my shopping list, my Bendigo bank, you’re the creak in the front gate, the bubbles in my sink, you’re the shelf in my oven, you’re my unlocked loo, you are my shiny clean floor. You’re my Friday night movie, you’re my special treat, you’re in my guitar chords, my tool box, you’re in my tv, you are there in my chair, the one with the footrest. You are in my bed. You are what comes next.
by Julie van der Wekken e 23 f
Funerals & Cocktail Parties by Dana Mele
It’s a painfully beautiful night. The sky is blacker than my dress, the simple silk sheath I only wear to funerals and cocktail parties. The air smells like lilacs and summer rain, and you’re standing fully clothed in a swimming pool, holding me against you, pale and pretty in my favourite dress. The moon glitters in droplets like ground glass in my hair and my cheek is cool and wet against yours. Water sways us slightly and time seems to slow as you wonder how all of this came about: You and I, perfectly dressed and drenched, out of the warm air and friendly familiarity of dancing and drinks and into the cold, unlit, and certainly off-limits backyard pool. Did the others see us steal away, see signals pass between our eyes above the murmur of lifeless conversation? The heat between us was palpable, escalating in the lukewarm drudgery of another tired cocktail party. Passion danced through our bodies like electricity, making the air thin and dangerous. You followed me out the back door, away from the candles and the music and the laughter. We whispered, warm breath tickling each other’s ears in the darkness, hushed at first, then rising, morphing into gasps of breath, muﬄing the sound of our bodies moving against each other. Could the others hear the stifled cries escaping my mouth as I struggled for air, before you decided to drown me? Killing me was more manageable than allowing me to run back to the house, tear-streaked after another embarrassing semi-public fight, this time with red, ropey bruises decorating my neck. They couldn’t possibly have, you decide, as you shiver in your wet dress shirt and pants, and dip my body under again. You’ve been staring at my lifeless face for so long, my skin is beginning to dry. The water makes my hair swell out like seaweed and you almost regret the events that have transpired. But you are who you are, and I was who I was, and sooner or later one of us was bound to destroy the other. And you’ve got big things ahead, or so you’ve always imagined. But then, so did I. You bring my face up close to yours again and
study it. Was I the one who should have gone ahead? You carefully nudge one of my eyelids open and look into it. No good. It’s all messed up and wrong; it reveals nothing. It’s nonsense anyway, you were the stronger one, or else I would have overpowered you, you would be drowned, I would be the one holding you, contemplating these things. But then, you realize, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t question it; I would be sure. I would weigh you down with all my might, ungently forcing you as low as you would sink. I would sit on your floating, downward-facing corpse, as you gaped at the pool’s blue underneath. I’d lift my chin up, gazing at the stars, breathing the lilac in, loving the summer air, asking no forgiveness, forgiving you instead. You look down at my glowing face, wet with moonlight, your hand firm beneath my neck, tilting my chin skyward, and realize that that’s what I’m doing. You’ve never had a chance, you realize. You’ve been doomed to defeat since the moment we met. It’s an awful night. What will they say when you carry my body up to the house? The sky is blacker than the pupils of my eyes, all liquid hell. Somewhere up towards the house, a door opens, and a dog comes bounding out, barking and raising hell. A voice calls after it. You are damned. The air smells like wet flowers, like Sundays and graveyards. You’re going to be sick. The dog is barking into your ear, two feet from your head. “Shut up!” You swing your fist out heavily at the dog and it yelps, crouching away from you, settling into a low growl. “Dennis?” An uncertain voice enquires. You turn, and in your most plaintive voice, your face a picture of sorrow and disbelief, you say, “She must have hit her head and fallen in.” But that’s not what comes out. The words you actually speak are, “We were so unhappy.” That’s how, Dennis, you came to be standing fully clothed in a swimming pool, holding me against you, pale and pretty in my funerals and cocktail parties dress.
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by Dina Greenberg The Skype image of Lisa and the boys kept freezing, muting Lisa’s chatter mid-syllable. Her face, her hair a little greasy, pulled back in a ponytail, full breasts and nipples outlined against one of his T-shirts—all pixelated. She got up off the bed and angled the laptop so that Jeff could see a six-inch crack in the drywall above their dresser. “Jesus, Lisa,” Jeff said. “That? It’s no big deal. The house is settling is all.” “It makes me nervous.” “Forget about it.” The image on the screen disappeared and a few seconds later Jeff saw his baby boys scuttling across the pale blue carpet like two diapered crabs. He remembered that rush of happiness when he and Lisa got the news. Double trouble, they’d joked when the doc said twins. They’d been so tired, but damn, were they ever happy. Then he got called up and Lisa freaked. Fucking lousy timing but nothing he could do. “Okay, it’s nothing,” Lisa said. Her tone was flat, dead calm, but underneath crackling with dangerous current, the way the treeless highway felt at the start of every convoy. “And the icemaker’s not working again,” she said. Jeff sucked in his breath. “Lisa,” he said, but she’d turned away from the screen. A couple seconds of silence and then a long thin wail shrieked across the time zones—exacting and swift—like tracer fire in the night. Jeff felt the familiar ache of guilt-and-anger-anger-and-guilt. The screen showed nothing but pale blue carpet. “Oh, sweetie,” Lisa cooed then. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” Jeff felt his heart pumping like right after the blast. He heard Lisa shushing one of their sons. Cooing and shushing. “What the fuck’s going on, Lisa? Is he hurt? What the fuck?” No crying then. Nothing. Radio silence. Lisa came back on. She cradled the laptop and both his boys, Ethan’s round cheeks splotchy from crying, Tyler reaching with one pudgy hand for Lisa’s earring. Jeff felt his breath return, his lungs aching with relief. “I gotta go,” she said. “They’re hungry.” “Yeah,” he said, and then a hair’s width of a second after Lisa logged off, “I love you.”
k The Man Named October by Amanda Lara
His name means cold nights and fear, deep blues and burnt orange; after they are married, her name means wife. For that alone, she hates him. His sin is one of the deadly ones— lust. But it is her sin too, so she never brings it up, never objects when he rips off her clothes and fucks her in the house they were supposed to share. Sometimes she closes her eyes, unable to look into the crimson gaze of the monster who has so thoroughly destroyed her life. If he’s feeling generous, he lets her turn the lights off. Other times he grabs her chin and demands she face him, demands her attention like a greedy child. It’s never frightening—privately, she knows he wouldn’t hurt her, not really—so she’ll kiss him back and allow his long, raven hair to tangle itself around her throat as they pretend to love each other. October is always cold, and his spine presses against her nails under a layer of bone-white skin. Every angle of his body hurts, and she whimpers when their hips grind together, but he doesn’t care. October is used to killing things; she is no exception. Even now, years later, she’s not exactly sure what he is. Not quite a god, not quite a ghost, not quite a demon— just an innominate entity, whose existence was bound to a single month on the calendar. October means thirty-one days of life and three-hundredand-thirty-four days of absence, like it means withering leaves and haunted, empty houses. Too soon (or not soon enough), he’s gone. Like any other month, October dies at the stroke of midnight, leaving grey skies and a wife who cries into his pillow—the latter forever torn between relief and despair. By now, the neighbours have stopped asking why her husband was constantly absent, or why she hasn’t filed for a divorce; nowadays, they simply accept her bland, automatic excuses for his behaviour, and she no
longer cares whether or not they talk to her at all. Every year, he gives her a fresh set of scratches and scrapes down her back; every year, she hopes they scar. They’re always deep enough to stain her shirts scarlet (ironically, the colour matches his eyes), which makes her think that he draws blood on purpose -- a reminder of their bond, a testament of his devotion. So she keeps them, tolerates the pulsing ache of open wounds until her body finds the strength to close the gashes with thick, rugged tissue. There are no pictures of their wedding, no mementos of better times; broken flesh is the only gift he’s ever given her, and sometimes she wonders if October means asshole. She has his baby that summer, when the pomegranate trees had begun to bud with rosy, misshapen lumps of unripe fruit. It is a boy, their first-born; briefly, she considers naming the child James (supplanter), or David (beloved)— anything that doesn’t mean death, anything that doesn’t mean October. But she can feel his father’s stare from across the seasons, red and uncompromising. Wordlessly, she smothers their son with a pillow, because she cannot trust men named October, and refuses to condemn the infant to his namesake. When her husband returns, he smiles and kisses her at the front door, as if he’d never vanished, as if they were a normal couple. The air is sharp, and the corpses of leaves trail behind his feet, catching on the ‘Home Sweet Home’ mat she’d tossed atop their doorstep in a moment of weakness. “How’s my baby?” October inquires lightly, mockingly. She doesn’t know if he’s asking about her or their son, so she gives a ubiquitous answer. “Dead.” He laughs harshly, ruining his brief (albeit poor) performance of a doting spouse and father. Vaguely, she’s aware that the charade is for her sake; that this pathetic, broken parody of a family is all he can offer. October—for all his faults—means good intentions. She supposes she could have done worse. “I’m happy to be home.” Garnet cuts through the darkness of night, boring into her skin, sparkling with a sort of amused malice. Too tired to resist, too tired to argue, she lies back: “I missed you.” Again, he laughs, sweeping her into the house and locking the door behind him. Tonight, he will cater to e 25 f
her domestic fantasy; for that, she is grateful. Their child is rotting in the backyard, buried beneath the roots of a pomegranate sapling, but tonight they will pretend October means alive and well instead of cold and dead. She will force herself to smile, and he will force himself to love, and they will fake matrimony until November comes back to kill him once more.
I’m More of an Amphetamines Girl, Myself by Emma Rose Smith
I. Seattle When the first legal green shop opens someone’s granny lines up all night to be the first inside. Says it’s every retiree’s dream: ‘Sleeping late and smoking a bowl.’ This made the front page. II. Humboldt County At the festival everyone showers nude. I see one lady with hairy armpits and shaved labia and someone else says ‘All r edibles are rooined from water damage. It’s actually the worrrst-uh.’ III. East Bay His friend was murdered at 16 in a drive-by shooting for mouthing off the drug gangs on Facebook. Now he keeps a gun at home: calls it self-defence. IV. Los Angeles All across the city skinny bitches drunk on champagne splits confess to munching pills that make them shit instead of digest. V. Calexico Middle-aged internationals cross down to Mexicali to seek back-alley vets selling something they call ‘a choice in the face of illness’; hoping on the way home they’ll pass as tourists.
n Evelyn Jean Pine Radio Image Carl’s voice on the radio is like soup, thick, and warm and a little bit loopy, and more than a bit delicious. He’s one of those slow talkers who annoys as he delights. I lean into him and write him another letter. Never about what he’s yakking about. Never about me. Always about him because they like that—they like to know you’re listening, they like to believe you respect them—and I do—I am—I would stalk him, but he’s fat. I tore his picture out of the paper and burned it. Now I listen—trying to crush the image in my head.
Surrealistic Mermaid She bites my leg. I draw scorpions on her face in Magic Marker. We air kiss. Buss one cheek, then the other. The sky opens. Her poodle faints. Blood drips from its eye into my pastis. “Don’t leave me,” I cry, as she walks into the sea. Only her bowler floats on the waves. How can she cry out when tiny fishes fill her mouth like licorice?
Our Lady Of Pigeons The birds circle my feet expectantly, a swarming circle of grey. Don’t feed them, my mother warned when I was little, but they’re relentless, tripping me and pecking at my shoes. Kidnapping by committee. I could kill one with a kick but my heart is beating too fast. Who can I call? Diversionary tactic: I throw them my cellphone. They peck at the glass, texting my mother my murderous thoughts. “She doesn’t text,” I screech, and they scatter, leaving the side walk stained with white excrement, silver feathers, and shards of glass. Background image © E-vint.com
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Passion for Whistling
Tetris of Terror
Passion is the pretty one, the glass teapot, the ice leaf, the hot sugar figurine. My whistle is as silent as my scream, its moment, one flame away from a flickering finger snap.
Even though I’d been waiting forever I was ready when your envelope arrived— the key, the twenty-four hour notice. I was ready when the roller door retracted on the damp cube of concrete. Ready for your perfect pyramid!
by Rosa O’Kane
by Jada Yee
There, nonetheless; deep within the chest, the ones who can’t whistle still rely on the chisel; carving their hearts, unveiling the center to fill with a passion, that’s prettier than… the chime in the mind, when all is understood; pursuit of the whistle is really the find, and passion can be the other kind, where symbols and signs don’t gleam in our eyes. The teapot can break, the leaf can melt, the sugar can dissolve. But passion revives, like a whistle that’s silent, but tries.
I was ready for the heavy boxes at the base my books, slow-cooker, saucepans. I was ready for the middle tiers the wedding gifts, bubble- wrapped Bohemian crystal, Belleek vases. The broken mirror. For the smallest box you placed on the apex of that altar, I wasn’t ready. The walnut-brown mini-casket engraved footprint on top, I wasn’t ready. You promised me I’d never see her again.
A Range Like No Other II by W. Jack Savage e 27 f
Her Red Dress
After reading Kim Addonizio’s “What Do Women Want?”
by Danny Earl Simmons She calls it her burial gown, and it reeks of absinthe sweat, cigarette smoke, and one too many broken-heeled walks home all alone where cabs don’t go that time of night. It slips over curves it doesn’t dare hide,
turning every used-up inch of the sticky white skin it embraces into an ashy smolder of regrets as deep as the way her men breathe. It’s a wanton red lust, wet with kisses that suck all its sour secrets before the panting end comes— wrinkled and thrown to the floor.
A Red Sky
by Holly Walrath At the funeral midland was soaked red. A dust storm, overnight. We assign meaning to these things. The wind that rose up as the coffin lowered, and whipped red dust in our eyes, the fingers on the car window. we look for signs in the opera of remembrance, in a black, leather bag still smelling of oils and wood shavings, the bravery of story, the prayer, comforting little voice of a child, the way she danced under the still clinging soul of a man recently passed. We say he passed away as if he lingered slowly before dropping into the beyond as if he gave some comfort to the wife he left behind as she, watched over like a baby, rocked back and forth by familiar arms between grave and sky, a red sky.
Dramatic Measures by W. Jack Savage e 28 f
l Martina Dominique Dansereau
We were drinking tea and you were talking about something to do with the First World War. I said I could be a killing machine, but there was only one person I was meant to kill. You said don’t turn yourself into a gun but I had already swallowed the bullet, so I cut open my stomach and tried to carve it out. There was so much ugly inside, so much unravelled intestine, bruised tissue, bleeding sorrow. You passed me a towel so I wouldn’t make a mess but I’m a can of loose ends, there’s alphabet soup spelling suicide notes across the floor. Sorry for bleeding all over your carpet.
Gallows There is a noose around your neck and an emptiness in your ribcage that scrapes the flesh off your bones. Termites feasted on you until there was nearly nothing left, a pile of dirty melancholy. No one seems to realize that nowadays your smile is a grinning skull. There, your hollow eye sockets like vacant spaces in the night sky where twin stars fell and turned to ash. e 29 f
Background image © E-vint.com
Trout Mostly by Mary Kudenov
He stands on the bridge by the university, pole in hand, black and white flannel, black t-shirt, denim trousers worn to a crust. I spot him after the morning lecture where students train to be keen to landscape, character, opposites. It would be insensitive to reach into my satchel and pull out a journal, to capture in a quick sketch the glorious way his mustache explodes outward. The brim of his soiled beige hat allows light and shadow to move across his flat features and red-leather skin. Sun-loved. He doesn’t look cityborn. I once read that it’s common for the urbanite to dream of farming during times of stress. Our collective memory reaches out with calloused hands and we itch to milk cows or pitch bales of hay from a truck bed. As though part of our body is dormant in the knowledge it can grow or gather everything it needs. It’s easy, at the day’s end, to romanticize leaning against a porch rail with one last, satisfied look out at fields that slope into a fading golden sky. I came from the country, granddaughter of a man who felled trees, built homesteads, came to town for salt and whisky. During his life I was embarrassed by his conversations and the gaminess of his sweat-soaked clothes. I recoiled from his coarse language and the unexamined practice of his social values, racism and sexism included. I was ashamed too of my own poverty and calluses. But this education— walking on cement, indoor plumbing, the boom of jets thrusting upward, the incessant speed of everything—pulls
me toward the man on the bridge who, like my kin, dangles live worms from a string. I want for us both to intimately know knots, not nominalizations, academia, the broad empty spaces between celestial bodies. The break will not last long; soon there will be more lectures. I tap the man on his shoulder, compelled to ask the obvious: “You fishin’?” “Sure am,” he says. “What runs in this? Didn’t think there were fish here.” “Trout, mostly,” he says, neither terse nor eager for conversation. He tilts his head. His eyes follow the translucent fishing line though the pole’s guides and his quick fingers deftly tie on more bait. The worm looks like flesh against the high afternoon sun. But for the fact of the bridge, I may not have seen this crick, covered as it is by willow branches stretching bank to bank. The water eddies underneath, cold and clear. “You look straight down, you’ll see ‘im there,” he says. But everything under the flow is a single bronze mudscape. My eyes have forgotten how to see, to differentiate the pebbles, silt, life—the tentacles of grass sliming into the current. I peer hard into the water and a memory flashes: I’m dangling my bare feet from the railroad trestle back home, watching fish jump from the murky green lake. The water smelled minerally, like blood or coins, subtle but strong enough to distinguish from the tar of the railroad ties or the forest hemming the lakeshore where I learned to fish. I smell it now, as distinct in my
e 30 f
memory as bread or bacon. “I just don’t see it. I mean, I just can’t see—“ “It’s right there,” he says, eyes flitting to the water. “Why can’t I see it?” I ask, feeling I have lost something important. A tin can rests on the wooden rail. Inside the bait coils and writhes. The man pulls out a worm, and it pushes its ends against the air, pushes because that is what a worm does with or without the earth hugging against it. “Right there,” he said. “Just look.” He tosses the worm into the stream. “You see that yet?” I don’t. “You watch this now. Look here.” Another worm drops into the stream. And there he is—a small grey fella, maybe four inches. All around him worms drop like rainbows, like pennies, like winged things. “Catch and release?” I ask. “Oh yeah. Too small to keep,” he says. On the other side of the bridge a sidewalk forks in two directions. One split leads from the university to the parking lot, the road, and every place I ever escaped. The other path dips into the woods, hugs the crick for a while, swims in and out of the campus structures, the hospital, extending west to the city. In my dreams, this bridge will merge with a trestle, and the crick will become a hundred other lakes and streams. On good nights I will dangle my feet and look to the sky, where the big empty spaces above the earth roil with everything we’ve forgotten.
Blooming Vine Leaves The poetry and prose on the following pages are by writers who are 17 years old or younger.
I believe in computer code as a space for boundless creativity. How the simplicity of binary can birth the complexity of super computers.
by Grace Lam
In iPhone apps that can save heart attack victims.
Mix fuel and oxygen, and it will devour with splendor.
In explaining to kids how magnetism makes magic tricks and Magna Doodles work. And that the excitement of going to restaurants can be more about the puzzles and mazes on the menu, than the anticipation of dessert.
A fever that gives life. Find it in your heart and achieve anything.
I believe in my mother. In becoming her â€œhands and feet,â€? helping her dress, pushing her around on a chair, and using toy hockey sticks to grab things for her.
by Grace Lam
I believe in her miraculous recovery.
I believe in the means and not the end. the journey, the adventure, friendships, risk-taking, mistakes.
I believe in waking up at 5:30 in the morning to set up for a blood drive. In dedicating countless hours to make it a success. I believe we saved 159 lives.
I believe in using my camera lens to see the world through different angles. In the physics that comes to life in the refracted light. I believe in creating mathematical equations to represent ideas in the Declaration of Independence. Sentences made of words morphing to equations composed of variables.
I believe in spending 30 minutes chasing a bird out of the blood donation area, and that the bird knew exactly what he was doing. I believe in the deviousness of birds, in a perfectly set volleyball and the purity of the moment it reaches its apex. I believe in laughter.
I believe in the elegance of science, its ability to stand for what is beautiful and true. e 31 f
“Hi! It’s Daisha. I’m probably shopping right now, but I’ll call you back ASAP!” “Hey guys, you know what to do!” “Yo, why’s you calling me? Don’t you know I only text?” The fourth is no better, so you look to the wall, then to the other wall; suddenly you have never felt more alone than now.
by Irene Vazquez Write a poem. Get rejected. Slash your palm. Forget to breathe. Call the muse. Cry like a baby. When he hangs up, fall to your knees.
IV. It is a heavy, constant struggle. Of course, you have already mastered the techniques of the impassive façade. You try not to let it bother you, but when everyone else laughs, you suddenly feel like an intruder. It’s as if they are sharing an inside joke, and you aren’t even invited; yet here you are peering in. You lick your lips, racking your brain for some string of content, any sort of vestige of thought to put forth, but your search yields unsuccessful. The only thing you find is a laugh, false at that, and still a second too late.
Write a poem. Call it “Metastasis.” Pretend that this isn’t a thinly veiled metaphor for his leaving. Or his staying. You’re still not quite sure. Write a poem. Call it “Plath.” Confess and confess and confess. Remember the poem cannot confess back. Forget that this is a good thing; it wouldn’t have nice things to say.
by Farah Ghafoor
Write a poem. Screw the muse. Make some art. Chunk it out. Fall asleep. Cling to dreaming.
blushing satin in the shadows, ghosts under stage lights with their starched skin stretched over each other like strips of moonlight under the cherry tree, blossoms eternal.
Write a poem. Deconstruct it. Kiss a boy. Call him yours. Fill the void with your secrets. Write a poem. Set it free.
Thoughts of a Lonely Girl
by Angela Luo
by Grace Montgomery
I. Though it’s many hours before your normal bedtime, you feel like you’ve had enough Internet for the night, but the clamp of your laptop as it shuts closed does nothing to calm your feelings inside. Because you have already seen your best friend’s lunch date with her other friends, and your enemy’s new tennis trophy, and that boy in your class with his girlfriend—you grab your night bear and pull him close; you hope those images will diffuse out of your mind and into his. They don’t, and you’re stuck drowning in a puddle of pity for the night. II. Negative parabolas fascinate you to the greatest extent: they’re everywhere at school. There, in the girl with the yellow pom-poms. There, in that jock with the varsity letter jacket. They push past you like you are merely a point on the graph, but you understand better. They may be rising now, but you think that soon they’ll hit their maximums and it will only be concave down from then. Furthermore, you take their first derivatives and see that underneath their facades, they will always be on a downward slope. You make a mental note to thank your math teacher later.
Kissing him was trying to wash clean in a chlorine pool
by Grace Montgomery In the middle of the hallway, before hours, he says, That game was a wreck last night, speaking of Sunday night’s football extravaganza. The other man smiles and shrugs, knowing eyes laughing at the thought.
III. It’s not too late at night, at least you don’t think it is. Barely midnight, surely that is not too late? You’ve a sudden urge, this little something that makes your heart and mind feel heavy. You have already tried three different people: e 32 f
Vine Leaves Literary Journal