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Table of Contents. 2
Laura Garrison, Firefly.
Katherine Jamison, A Cama Cari単o.
Matthew Dexter, Swim Meet.
Rosanne Griffeth, The Storm in the Park.
Susan Krysiak Avedissian, Two Cats.
Marina Richards, Lena.
Dan Morgan, The Messenger.
Scott Shanley, Highlands, NJ.
Srinath Reddy, Tumbling.
Brian Agurkis, And I'll to Bed at Noon.
Marina Blokker, Summer Burn.
Joseph Meredith, Kissing Peter Pan.
Christina Weil, Never There.
Dennis Mahagin, Divertimento.
Courtney Schroeder, Tabula Rosa.
Stacey Balkun, From the Third Level.
Tom Fillion, Chrysalis.
firefly. by laura garrison.
Your luminous posterior silently proclaims the arrival of twilight. First there was darkness, and now there is you, and soon there will be dozens blinking out bulletins in the yew tree by the pool. Time passes. A wind ripples the water and stirs the branches. The tiny lights whirl and blur, becoming a carnival midway glimpsed from the carousel at midnight. I lift one hand from the brass pole that spears my painted horse (there are carved roses in his mane) and pluck something from my hair. You sit in my cupped palm, a slim black beetle with bright stripes, flickering fitfully as the world swirls around us.
a cama cariĂąo. by katherine jamison.
The lighter hued Christ stares back at me Smuggled in Absence the son of God appears at my bedside This isnâ€™t the Christ of my childhood: Curly haired, olive complexioned, bearded This clean shaven martyr seems off An imposter on the bedside cross Anglo Christ Purveyor of imperialism, poverty, and plastic rosaries Christ of the new church of waning White membership unhappy with brown faithful With deep poor faith Faith supplied the nunneries with women of my line
A Cama Cariño.
She ran crying Santa Maria Santa
Few can tell, Indio blood runs deep in my veins, Taino, a gift from my great-grandmother another half-breed
Few can tell, but those who can know the secrets of blood Would you like to know La oscuridad de Sangre La verdad?
No one can tell, but here’s a hint: the secrets of blood aren’t contained in skin, but in eyes Window to blood and soul Blood seeks blood Engrained memory to faith She ran crying Santa Maria Santa
swim meet. by matthew dexter.
changed into my Speedo in the bathroom stall, but waited to exit until the erection died down a little. This happens every now and then. I looked down at the green and white vertical stripes—the ugliest swimsuits in the league. I always felt like a peppermint candy cane; neck stretched over the pool, standing on the starting blocks, head and shoulders forward. I was always nervous waiting for that gun to blast, gazing at the ripples dancing on the surface of the water and the circular bubbles blowing horizontal from the jets in the corners a couple feet from the bottom. “Bang!” The gunshot startled me and knocked me into the wall with surprise. The boys’ 200-meter butterfly was underway, the first race of the day. I made one final uniform check and unhinged the rusty metal lock. As I moved forward the orange carpet with the purple club logo gradually grew darker and soggier beneath my bare feet as I came closer to the door. Being unfamiliar with this locker room I decided not to change in front of my nudist teammates or in one of those creepy three-wall closets—in case any wardrobe malfunctions transpired. When you’re twelve years old you never know what you’ll discover when you pull out that racing Speedo and put it on. Of course accidents can come with wearing any swimsuit, and if I had a stack
of pennies for every time I forgot to use the zipper of those less conspicuous swim trunks we usually wore—but Speedos were for swim meets. Parents and the bastard coach forced me to wear them as team captain to set a positive example because “all the boys looked up to me.” “Come on Chrissy, that’s it, come on baby, go girl!” Some mother was screaming. I was squeezing and struggling past her to get a closer look at the pool. The parents were crowded in an orbit three deep. “Go Belinda… faster, faster… that’s it—yeah!” This meet was going to be a disaster. It was always the first event of the season, a competition of relay races between every club in the league. Wealthy Republican parents from beautiful country clubs and field clubs in three states woke up early and showed up every second Saturday in June to drink lemonade and grapefruit juice disguised with vodka and smoke cigarettes to show that summer had begun. Somehow they all looked the same: manic and tanned and united in the exclusive bourgeois society that celebrates competitive athletics and living vicariously through the Speedos of their children. “Wooo-hoo!” I elbowed my way to the center of the pool area where the lifeguard chair rose like a throne to hold the man with the gun. Here the most vociferous parents were linked together elbow to elbow, scrutinizing every second of their beautiful pubescent daughters racing breaststroke; screaming at them with incredulous expressions—as if they were swimming naked—avid, attentive and apparently watching much more than simple reflections from the midmorning sun bounce like magic ping-pong balls off their expensive timepieces into
the turbulent surface of chlorine-infected water. “Bang!” This time I was expecting it. His hand was in the air and I saw the smoke rise from the blank. My middle-aged coach was standing beside the chair holding onto the white metal bar with one hand to safely lower his body out over the pool. As always he had a clipboard in his other hand. I’ve never seen him near a pool without that clipboard, and if you only came to watch the meets you might wonder whether that brown wet board with the yellow pencil connected by the rusty chain to the musty hole in the clip was attached to his appendage. An avid hunter, apparently he lost his entire hand in a chainsaw accident when he was younger and replaced it with a prosthetic one. He used special magnets to attach the clipboard, so even if he tried to throw it across the pool that thing would stick like semen. “Frog-kick, frog-kick, frog-kick!” Coach Bob was screaming and leaning over the pool so far it seemed he was threatening to pull the lifeguard chair off its steel hinges. The middle-aged man with the gun didn’t notice since he was busy smoking a cigarette and staring at the clouds. His job was done until the next relay was set to start and he was content just being bald and sitting under the umbrella. “Yeah baby!” Coach was waving the clipboard back and forth with steady maniacal spasms as if he was swinging a tennis racquet over the swimming pool, with topspin emphasis on his forehands toward the direction the breaststrokers were headed. “That’s an illegal kick goddamnit!” Behind Bob the crowd was a mob, mouths open and shouting at
the water like lunatics. It was impossible to decipher one shout from another unless you listened for specifics and stood in front of their faces with one ear tilted toward the tongue you were aiming at. The fifth race—my race—the boys’ 400-meter butterfly, was set to start in about five minutes. I had a vision of a bird landing on a telephone wire in the distance. He was beautiful with blueberry feathers and a tail that fluttered in the wind. I could almost hear him sing if I listened hard enough. “I have something to show you.” A voice came from over my shoulder. He was an Indian boy with orange hair and I had seen him many times at meets throughout the years. He was a fine swimmer, with long legs and strong muscled arms. He was a few years older and his father was a lumberjack-looking policeman tall as a ballplayer. He seemed to relish the fact that my Speedo was bulging as he pressed his arms up against mine to get a closer look at the water—as both of our clubs finished at the same time, first and second respectively—but yet too close to determine. “Please, it will only take a moment,” the boy said. “Bang!” That one made me jump forward on the balls of my feet. I clenched my toes and he laughed and grabbed my shoulder and tried to calm me. “Relax.” I told him I was and don’t even remember following him into the empty locker room where the home team changed. I was locked in a stall and wardrobe malfunctions were the least of my problems. All I could smell was chlorine and Clorox. I felt dizzy and intoxicated.
I didn’t know whether it was wonderful or criminal, but I kept my mouth shut and listened to the high-pitched chatter of cheering parents and children as the murmur merged with the rough engine of an airplane flying overhead and grew louder, rising each second until it reached the ultimate threshold and the walls of the stall seemed to be shaking softly, then deafening silence and conversations from outside. I faded into the ineffable words of the mothers with the highest voices. “Bang!” The words were meaningless and wooden doors were creaking and the beautiful music of the locker room was keeping our secret meeting a mystery. The screaming returned and the doors stopped creaking. Precious moments merged into minutes and golden silence was vibrant and the eyes of the flies on the wall the only witness. “Where’s Kyle?” Oh how sad when words can rip you apart with such worry while wasting a moment that should have lasted another eternity. “Damn,” he said. “This is it, stay here… come get you in a minute.” He slammed the door and I could hear him running down the steps outside. “There you are boy—didn’t you hear us? This is your race.” I could hear my mother screaming my name. This is not when you want to hear such a thing. “Where is Jackie?” I could hear my coach and male teammates screaming and doors creaking in the other locker rooms next door; I had no time to check
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for wardrobe malfunctions. “Where the hell is Jackie?” I opened the door and ran down the steps like a candy cane, nearly poking out the eye of a little child chasing a bouncing ping-pong ball on the pavement as I jumped down those final four steps and sprinted a few meters to the starting blocks. “Uh-oh…” I would have made it too, if I hadn’t slipped on the wet concrete connecting the plastic standing platform with the edge of the pool. I landed on my back and everybody saw it. The damp pavement was warm and it felt wonderful against my body. “Oh Jack.” I could hear girls giggling, grandfathers laughing, ladies whispering, and my mothering asking, “Why Jack, why Jack, why?” I got up as fast as I could and pulled the goggles down over my eyes so everything was blue, but now I was stuck and there was nothing I could do. I was only on that starting block for a few seconds but it felt endless and even the sun broke free from the clouds and began to shine upon me like a spotlight from heaven. The man had the gun in his hand raised at the air and I tried to hunch over best I could, like I often did in the morning when I had this problem but needed to urinate—except this time there was no wall to grip onto and I definitely didn’t want to false-start and do it again. This race starting position seemed it would never end and so it lasted an eternity for an adolescent boy yearning to be back in that bathroom closet with the toilet and the airplane drone and the Indian. “He was in there with that boy from the other team.”
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I could hear them all talking, a hundred different conversations all about me. It’s funny—when there was all that shouting it was a chorus of cries producing a symphony of silence and one distinct sound—but now I could hear every word whispering through the wind. I tried to find the bird but he was gone. Their words were burning into my mind. Mothers were giggling in unison, rival clubs united by the excitement of the spectacle I had created. Plastic multicolored banners were fluttering from electrical wires in the early summer wind. Trophies were lined up according to height on a table covered with an orange satin cloth embroidered with two purple eagles. I looked closely: bronze statues with a wood base. “He was there with that other boy… they didn’t even hear us—oh my—they were lost in that locker room… nobody could find them… look at his swimsuit… oh my…” It was awful and endless. Their voices all merged into one gossip and I could hear every sentence. “Bang!” I never dove off a platform so fast in my life. It didn’t hurt when I landed but I could hear them laughing in my head when I was kicking and swimming under the surface of the water. I resurfaced and eventually emerged from the pool after my two laps in second place. I knew the Indian came in first, but he was nowhere in sight. “That Indian says this peppermint cowboy tried to rape him,” said one of the coaches, approaching the lifeguard stand as if it were a tennis umpire chair and the designated place for arguments. Bob, shaking like a swaying piñata, pushed the man away with his clipboard.
[ 12 ]
“That’s crazy,” Bob said. “Jack would never do that. Jack’s straight as an arrow. But that Indian boy… knew he was gay the first time I laid eyes on him.” I was still the center of attention, but half the spectators seemed more interested in the race. The other half looked back and forth from the pool to my face every second, like it was a tennis match and the ball was my own, swinging back and forth from my Speedo to the pool. The next thing I know I’m walking toward the locker rooms when one of the doors swings open and I’m staring down the barrel of an orange Speedo holding a .44 Special. “Bang!”
[ 13 ]
the storm in the park. by rosanne griffeth.
Violet She woke to a tarnished silver sky, bleeding trails of gray with no Frenching, cool gray, no warmth, no hope. Opie the Dog jittered and whined, danced and placed a frigid nose where it didn’t belong. Yes, Violet said, I’ll take you out now and hope it doesn’t rain. She adopted the dog to meet people, giving up her nice apartment for this less nice one near Forsythe Park. Five years later it’s just her and the dog. She stuffs a strawberry Pop-Tart in her mouth and wraps the other one up in her anorak pocket, the one without the poop bags. She told herself she will feed the squirrels with the spare Pop-Tart, but somewhere halfway through the walk, she sank onto a bench, tears threatening as rain fell. She ate the squirrels’ Pop-Tart with angry bites, hoping the chewing and swallowing would make the tightening in her throat ease. Opie the Dog sat prettily and begged, whiteless dog eyes aping understanding, sympathy. On the edge of sobbing, Violet gave the dog half the Pop-Tart and said, “What the hell do you know. You’re a dog.” Trish Trish hid behind Jackie O. sunglasses, despite the increasing gloam of the storm. She wore winter white cashmere. Everything at home was white as well, white carpet, white furniture, a white Pomeranian
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The Storm in the Park.
and a white Persian cat (both matching the white Flokati and the rest of the décor). No one in the park would notice her, perched as she was on a bench near the public bathrooms away from the fountain. The man had asked her why they were meeting at this park, instead of Daffin Park, which was closer to her home. Cleanup was important to her, after all. Not that he gave a fuck, he shrugged. Trish didn’t have an answer, but it had nothing to do with her ex-husband’s habit of running here at this time of day. The man arrived, coming up behind her and placing a grimy hand on her shoulder. She stood, allowing him to drag her into the men’s side of the public restroom. He pinned her against the concrete blocks between the urinals, fucking her against the filthy wall until she was dirty, dirty, dirty. Like the dirty leaden sky. Stiles Stiles met him in the alley behind Taylor Street one Thursday after dropping his grandmother off at Forsythe Park. His Dondi eyes lied. Past the big blueness of them, something wounded whimpered behind the retinas. Sure, Stiles knew what he did after dark, he and his older brother—the corner on River Street where boy whores propped their backs against 18th century brick walls, their boots crunching palmetto bugs on the cobblestones. They met every Monday and Thursday after Stiles left his grandmother to her park bench dreams ducking into private gardens near the park—emerging later zipping trousers and wiping shirtsleeves against flushed lips. This time, in a moment of madness when he came, following a flash of lightning from the pewter sky, Stiles screamed out, I love you. The light flickered on both their faces, frozen in what Stiles was sure was mutual embarrass-
The Storm in the Park.
[ 15 ]
ment. As they let themselves out the back garden gate, Stiles grabbed his arm and asked if he would be there next Thursday. He smiled, stood on toetips to kiss Stiles and whispered—don’t worry. Everything will be okay. Julia Her grandson offered to take her to Bonaventure Cemetery where they used to walk, but she would be spending plenty of time there soon. He left her at her usual bench with a bag of peanuts for the pigeons. Julia didn’t get involved with the social scene at the seniors’ high-rise. Last week her best friend started a course of antibiotics for the clap. Gracie cried all the way home from the doctor. When Julia asked her who gave it to her, Gracie said Earnest or Charles. Or maybe Harold. All three gentlemen had made advances to Julia. But Julia wasn’t much interested. Truthfully, she had never lost her taste for young flesh. Her mind still housed that clever young thing, that merciless flirt, that woman known for a good time. Two days a week, she came to the park. She liked the runners with their wiry legs, cyclists with their voluptuous thighs and cheese-grater calves, though rollerbladers had the best asses. A drop of rain fell from the platinum sky. A runner scattered the crowd of pigeons in front of her, his tendons ropy and hard. Julia watched him, sighing, oh yes, that’s the stuff. David David took up running when he admitted the permanence of his spreading bald spot, just out of line of his vision, where he had to use a mirror to see it. So he shaved his head and bought a pair of nylon run-
[ 16 ]
The Storm in the Park.
ning shorts so insubstantial he could crumple them in his hand. When he ran, the push and pull of his breath, the stitch in his side, the slap of his shoes and the sweat trickling down the crack of his ass erased the nagging of time and the aftertaste, still bitter these ten years later, of things his ex-wife said as she walked out of his life. He stopped and bent over the water fountain, drinking the bleach-flavored water as the metallic sky darkened and thundered. Something cold, firm and damp poked him in his crotch from the rear. He cursed, whirling to find a scruffy shepherd mix grinning at him and a sad-eyed girl on a bench gasping, â€œOpie!â€? through a mouth full of food. She started to choke and David ran to her side, slapped her on the back. She smiled a messy, pastry smile and David sorta wanted to kiss her. And then came the downpour.
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two cats. by susan krysiak avedissian.
This cat likes jazz. He stares at the bed stand radio. Ears twitch — and not just on the downbeat. In syncopation. Feline elation. He’s king of emancipation. Dreaming of African plains. His purrin’s loud like tiger breath. His eyes flutter close, like the savannah flies, might right now, be buzzin’ around, ticklin’ his nose. No — it’s not cat nap 4/4 time. It’s reverie. So let him be. He’s Miles, or Coltrane —never those jive cats on Soul Train. This cat likes smoky bars and loud city rooms with a matte black stage and three hot lights. Taut nights. Where instruments sweat and eyes wander,
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(and that age old story plays out of, “His eyes were drawn to-her.”) The cat passes on that. He only drinks soda with a twist when he goes. No bros. No hos. He's there to twitch his ears to the sounds he likes and knows. This time it’s Gene Harris Trio Plus One, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.” Then, Announcer man comes on and stifles a cough. The lights pour on; the cat saunters off. Back to the ’burbs he bites that black cat — the one who knows, too, where it’s at, but doesn’t give a lick about jazz. He likes to lick those drips the faucet has. Eyes slit, ears flat, black crouch locks in the look. “I see. We’re back to this again? Come on, MOTHA FUCKA, let’s COOK.” [It is deep within the recesses of these household tigers who otherwise cuddle, and eat Purina canned food chicken flavors, and follow you around for 99 cent favors filled with catnip for play (kinda like foreplay, only all they want is more play) — where cellular memory recalls an ancient drum beat ...]
Two Cats. 1 2 3 … They EXPLODE. Rolling and rumbling crammed in — like a fur coat 'n hat, balled up and shot out of a cannon, or a wild two-cat gyroscope centrifugal force jet plane ran in, to a light speed rocket gun ray — down my hallway runway — engines screaming, fur flying, it’s a hot sun day! To Africa! It’s liftoff! At least that’s one way.
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[ 20 ]
lena. by marina richards.
ena decided to leave him on April Fool’s Day. It was raining gray as the pigeons pecking at the cigarette stubs on the sidewalk outside his building, which made her want to light up. It seemed so Dorian Gray, doing such a thing. He’d freak at the smoke rings poisoning his precious air space. Maybe he’d show some emotion by asking her to put it out or lose his temper altogether. How delicious. At least she’d know he was breathing. She wouldn’t tell him her decision right away, let him think she was still his needy patient and he, her demi-god therapist. She got up from the bench, brushed crumbs from her carrot cake off of her dress, re-applied her lipstick, then crossed Lexington. She recalled she’d never fucked him because he repulsed her. It wasn’t just because he reminded her of her father. That she could handle; had since was she was ten. And obviously she wasn’t so much into looks or she wouldn’t have married Jorge, not that Jorge looked anything like her stupid therapist or crazy-ass dad. No, in the past five years and over a half-dozen therapists later, she’d never found any worth the effort of sneaking around with, yet she had friends who’d become involved in all kinds of activities with their brain docs. This just grossed her out and made her wonder why they were so desperate.
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Anyway, he’d know she was gone forever when she walked, then talked—to those same friends, along with the woman who did her nails at Enchantress, and the doorman at his high-rise who was a collector of tenant “news.” After all, she had influence. People listened to Lena. She pushed the brass elevator button for UP, thinking he deserved her wrath. He deserved to lose her because all he ever did was bob his head and make faces while she unloaded. She needed understanding and advice, introspection and analysis, yet mute Ivy-league headbobbing was all she ever got. Once, she’d even mentioned the self-help books she’d read over the summer. How much she adored them. How kind these doctors with the glossy bestsellers seemed. “What do you think?” He peered over his glasses with reptilian chill. “Lena,”—he paused dramatically—“I don’t read those books.” She got off the elevator and stepped into his shrine. It smelled of old carpeting and antiseptic. Moments later, his latest receptionist said, “Doctor Henessy will see you now,” and into his cave Lena went. Shit. She’d forgotten to bring cigs. Forty minutes into the session, she raised the issue of the books again. He tugged on his wiry goatee and there it was—that distinct, smug sniff. Or was it a tisk? Didn’t matter. Lena grabbed her purse and steamed out of his office down to the misty streets. She headed for the bookshop and bought the latest “How to be Happy Even When You’re Not” bestseller. Of course, her former therapist would think of the
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books as beneath him. What a snob. They all were. Every last one. So she found a new therapist. He’d graduated Villanova, spent time in Italy and was very jovial. He talked in stories, told her how he had counseled couples in Rome and about his University teachings in the Alps. Even about advising Clooney on a boat in Lake Como. He talked so much that she couldn’t say anything without him waving his pen above his head like a victory flag and saying, “Bravissimo this!” and “Bravissimo that!” “Lena, you have had a breakthrough. Bravissimo!” Almost choking to death on her mother’s panini when she was eight was a breakthrough? Was that really all that was behind her troubles? She searched for another therapist. If only she could find someone like her favorite self-help author. At night she lay awake, talking things over with Jorge. “I pay them good money and they don’t offer any opinions, only yammer on about themselves.” “Mmm, I hear you, babe,” he mumbled, yanking the blankets over his shoulders. “Are you listening to me?” “Every word.” Lena was such a handful at times she made Jorge’s balls ache. Lately, the pain had risen to his heart, high-wattage zaps. Yet even while she complained, he reminded himself of the good times. Their love. Stuff they both liked to do. The little noises she made when he got it right. Some would say he was pussy-whipped. Yeah, and who wasn’t? They lived outside the city in a clapboard farmhouse set 1000 feet
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off the highway so when Lena was on one of her tirades at least no one heard her. No one but Jorge. He didn’t mind and went along, trying to make her happy, being the one who cleaned up the mess and picked up the pieces after the storm was over. It was easier than telling her he didn’t want to hear it any more. That she was driving him bananas—driving him away—yet he didn’t really want to believe that either. Always, after another Lena-rant, he would drift off, his arm around her doughy waist like a life preserver, and she would grow quiet and beautiful and kind again. The next day, Jorge decided to find a therapist of his own. He could use an ear, after all. He chose a random name from Lena’s list. A week later, a doctor with a fake Italian accent was saying, “Bravissimo, Jorge! You have had a breakthrough!” “Yeah? How?” All he’d done was talk about loving his wife. “But I can’t live with her. It’s like I’m losing myself.” The therapist smiled and poked the air with his pen. “Aah, see? You have discovered the universal language of self-love. You are free, Jorge.” On the subway home, Jorge’s mind raced. You are free. But he wasn’t free. He was pushed and yanked around by his cock each time Lena swayed her wild round hips and screamed her gypsy temper. Obviously, Doctor “Bravissimo” had never met anyone like his Lena. Maybe if he somehow showed her his plight she’d finally under-
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stand. He went to the card sellers and scanned the displays until he found just what he was looking for. The card would have to be on recycled paper because Lena liked that. “No more plastic grocery bags, Jorge.” Yes, there it was. It had a cartoon of a starving guy on an island in ripped pants, waving a white rag, his eyes, black gaping holes. On the card he wrote, Help me love you, Lena. Jorge. Feeling pretty hopeful about things, Jorge whistled as he walked to the subway station. His train screeched down the tracks and his cell phone rang. “WHERE ARE YOU?” Lena. His knees quaked. Why hadn’t he looked at the number on the read-out? He couldn’t tell her he’d gone into the city without her. She’d have his head. Now she’d hear the trains, so he raced down the walkway, weaving through the mobs of people while she grilled him. Finally, he found a closet of some psort and ducked inside. “WHY ARE YOU OUT OF BREATH? Oh, my god. Jorge, are you... are you fucking somebody?!” “God no, baby! No way!” She began to cry. “I don’t believe you, you pig!” A cleaning woman opened the door, shaking a mop at him. “Hey! Whatchya doing in here? Get out!” He held up his hands. “Whoa. No need for violence. I’m going, I’m going.” “Jorge, what’s going on? Is that the woman?” “Nothing’s going on, Lena, and you’re the only one for me. Don’t you know that by now?”
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“You’re a cheating, disgusting, useless hick.” She’d said hick before. Cheating before, and disgusting before. But never useless. Jorge’s heart froze. Stopped like a clock with a dead battery. “I want you home now,” she ordered. “I need a foot massage. We also need milk and seven, not six, seven cans of cat food.” “Hey, Lena, know what? I got my head shrunk today and my balls enlarged. They’re even bigger than your crazy-ass ego,” Jorge said. Now that felt great. “My god, you’re crude.” Jorge laughed and pitched the cell phone at the train tracks, where it was crushed beneath the steel monster. He climbed aboard, whistling, feeling free as a bird, just like the doctor said. Two days later, Jorge was basking under a Tuscan sun along the shores of a mountain lake when a woman walked up to him. Tall and boney, thirties, she reminded him of Angelina Jolie minus the overjuiced pout. She wore a bikini top and pareo around her hips, causing a stirring inside him. “You dropped this. Back on the docks.” She held something out to him. Left-hand. No ring. It was the card he almost gave Lena. Aah, hell. He shoulda ripped it up and tossed it in the ocean. The woman sat on the edge of his chaise lounge. “Is for me, yes?” “For you? Um, yeah, sure.” Jorge stared ahead. A rainbow of fishing boats bobbed in the harbor, and the sun was sliding behind the village on the hill, leaving streaks of tangerine and gold across the
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sky. “So what’s your name?” She made a face. Was he supposed to know this part? “Why, Lena, of course,” she said, laughing. “Doctor Lena Fraggionetti. I am—how you say in American slang? Shrunk?” He tore off his sunglasses. “A shrink? No shit?” “Si, certo, no sheet.” “Lena, the shrink? This is too goddamn weird.” “You do not care for therapists?” “Most give crap advice. Sorry.” “I hear this before,” said Doctor Lena Fraggionetti with the easy olive-green eyes and athletic body, yet all Jorge could see was a doughy waist and gypsy hips naked in a high-back leather chair, a slender hand reaching out to him and a harsh voice whispering into his ear about how pathetic he was. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lena.” He kissed her right cheek. “And, thank you.” He gathered his things and turned to go. “She must be very special,” she said. “Your lady.” Jorge looked over his shoulder and nodded. “She’s somethin’ all right.” He hurried to his hotel and packed his bags. He didn’t bother to shower. No time. The desk clerk said the last flight for the States was taking off in an hour. He paid the cab driver an extra wad of Euros to drive faster than normal. By dusk Jorge was sipping a Blue Moon and sailing across the skies, the card to his Lena, gritty from sand and blooming with the
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scent of lakes and oleander tucked into the left pocket of his shirt above his heart. He kept touching it to make sure it was there. He would get her a gift, too. Something shiny. He would listen to her rants and what ridiculous things the cats did that day. He would be her man. Because she deserved that much from him. She deserved a marriage without all the turbulence. Yet it seemed he couldn’t escape it, especially now that he was suspended in a smoky metal tube over the Atlantic and the plane was suddenly going wild. Bucking and shaking, refusing to take him anywhere but down. He didn’t hear the screams of the other passengers as he stared out the port-hole window at the dark ocean. He only crushed his fist around the card and sank into the deep blue. Crashing like a man waking from a dream. Under the water, he saw her swimming toward him. Lena. His beautiful Lena. She was dressed in a white dress and chunky silver sandals, her auburn hair flowing behind her like tentacles. “I didn’t know you could swim like that,” he said, holding her. She smiled, kissing him hard on the mouth, her lips salty and wet, bursting with life.
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the messenger. by dan morgan. I am hope. I am fear. I am the light at the end of the tunnel. I am dangerous and terrible. I am to save lives, And I am to take them. I Am A Messenger From The Skies. I Am A Harbinger Of Peace. I Am A Bringer Of Fire And Death. Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud.Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. I Cloud. I Am Cloud. Am A Cloud. A Last resort, Cloud. Device of An act of desperation. Fire.Fire.Fire.Fire.Fire Men, to destroy Man.
[ 29 ]
highlands, nj. by scott shanley.
Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown, died on Monday, September 22, at the Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank. You don’t know Karen. In fact, you never knew Karen. And now, quite frankly, you never will. You know no details of Karen’s life. And whatever it was that happened to her, it happened last Monday in Red Bank. She was from Middletown, as many of them sometimes are. And she died in Red Bank, as many of them sometimes do. Now why the fuck can’t they be from Keansburg, or Hazlet, or even worse, Highlands, you think to yourself, but this is only for the briefest, most abbreviated moment time has to offer. You dread Highlands a bit more so than the other towns in northern Monmouth County, but only because of what the grapevine has been able to tell you in the briefest, most abbreviated few weeks that you’ve been around. Inbreds. All of them. Fucking inbreds. Well, most of them. Maybe about half of them. Out of the whole town. 5,100 exemplary beings of what just might be society’s most impressive brain fart condensed into a 1.3-square-mile radius sandwiched between the Navesink River and the Sandy Hook Bay. If Jon Bon Jovi ever spit from his backyard, it would probably land in Highlands. Kevin Smith—fuck yeah—Kevin Smith. You know, the filmmaker. Clerks. Mallrats. Clerks II. Yeah, that one. Portly gentleman; kin-
[ 30 ]
da quiet. He’ll tell you he’s from Red Bank, over on the far side of the river, but it’s all a cover—Highlands, born and raised. So what do the man that gives love a bad name and Silent Bob have in common? Not much, but you’ll bet your first paycheck that neither of them ever felt the need to fuck all their sisters and wash down the guilt with a half bushel of freshly shucked clams and a piss-warm Keystone Light out in the front yard. And look where the both of them wound up. You’re utterly convinced that the day the world decides to pound one too many of those piss-warm Keystone Lights, get behind the wheel and have a chance encounter with a telephone pole, it would be because of a family reunion somewhere in Highlands (And while you’re on the topic, it’s pronounced HighLYNDS. God-for-fucking-bid you call it HighLANDS). Highlands, fuck Highlands. Karen A. Parsells, 51, was (thankfully) not from Highlands, and for this you probably owe her one. At this point, a clean obit is really all you can offer her for sparing you the utter misfortune of having to press the tips of your fingers to the H on the keypad, then the I, the G, and then all the rest, until they aligned single file and sequentially in the 12-point, boldface Times New Roman font that so delicately adorned each Thursday’s edition. But Karen died last Monday in Red Bank, so her dead ass wouldn’t know the difference if it jumped in the casket with her over at John F. Pfleger’s Funeral Home on Tindall Road next to High School North (where the only thing they average is at least one fiery car wreck of shit-faced seniors every May) anytime between 2 and 4 p.m. or 7 and 9 p.m. and say a prayer, crack a joke, or whatever it is that people do at those things lately. The shitty part about this first and only favor that you’ll ever grant Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown, was that your editor would
[ 31 ]
only grant you roughly 250 words to play with. 250 words. For a fucking obit. To sum up someone’s life. Karen’s life. In Middletown. All 51 years of it. The one that came to an end at the Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank on Monday, September 22. In 250 words. And that’s including all the bullshit words like a, if, an, the, to, etc. 2-5-0. What the hell are you supposed to do with that? On the page, the space could fit inside a business card without even meeting the edges. So what do you do? This is clearly a swift, finite, open-handed slap to the dome before it’s anything else. The kind of slap that drops like a weight from a fixed point in the sky, dispatching ripples throughout the small, stubbled partition of your face that’s sandwiched between your earlobe and the miniscule point where your upper and lower lips converge. The kind of ripples that, as if a pendulum, dare the other side of your face to mimic them. The kind of slap you’ve felt before. And if this were to be a favor, quite frankly, it’d be last kind of favor you’d ever want to receive from the likes of a Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown, if you just so happened to be the one taking a dirt nap over at John F. Pfleger’s Funeral over on Tindall Road instead of her. So you go to your editor, and tell him just the above. Almost word for word—sass mouth and all—without even considering the omission of a single fuck, shit, piss, hell, damn, assholecocksuckersonofabitchandbastard. Whatever. What else could you say? The man had a solid sense of humor before he had anything else, and legitimately admired the creative use of expletives among his fleet of young journalists. Shit, when he was in a really good mood, he’d tell you to take any story from last week’s paper and—as a writing exercise—
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re-write it with “language scalding enough to burn the bush clean off the Virgin Mary.” Too far? Probably. But he said it, not you. And the man damn near shat his corduroys when you went back to him about an hour later with an awe-inspiring new take on a feature one of the other interns slopped together about. You guessed it, the Virgin Mary. Well, a statue of the thing. The one right in Mount Olivet Cemetery just up the road. The one that Weird NJ claims reportedly “dances” when you flash your high beams on it around midnight. So what this place gets, essentially, is moonlight visits from cars packed with shit-faced seniors from High School North waiting for this thing to more or less start a conga line down a row of headstones. And when it stonewalls them, they’ll say Americana is for pussies, pound a few more Keystone Lights and hightail it down Route 36 until they too have a chance meeting with a telephone pole right along the border of town. Just outside of—you guessed it—HighLYNDS, NJ, Population: 5,100. If Jon Bon Jovi ever spit from his front yard, you’d go double-for-nothing and say he’s got a half-way decent shot at extinguishing the wreckage. So this editor, right, he tells you to fuck off with a diction about as unforgiving as wiping your ass with a Brillo Pad. Turns out his hands are tied. See, old man Pfleger took out a quarter-page ad to run on that very same page, that very same edition. Pfleger’s been advertising since he opened up shop right on Tindall Road back in the midto-late 60s; since he befriended the editor at the time (and every editor thereafter). Since he made his first small fortune on Vietnam vets that found their way back to their parents’ doorsteps in black plastic bags. Since he retired and left the business to his grandson. John F. Pfleger was a smart dude. Still is. And you can go all in and say that
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he taught his grandson well. So well, in fact, that when Middletown lost 37 of its own on 9/11, the 9/11, first thing his chapped ass did was call the editor, now your editor, and upgraded to a full-page, fourcolor ad for the next four months. Pfleger’s business paid the salaries of about half of the staff that year. Christmas bonuses and all. You’d ask about Pfleger’s shop often. So often, in fact, that you could almost mimic your editor’s reply—word for word—if you hadn’t been forcibly preoccupied refuting his accusations of your necrophilic aspirations time after time. You just wanna romance a dead chick? Don’t you? He’d taunt, before turning serious. It’s the business of death, Scotty, he’d continue, with miniscule bits of chewing tobacco still clinging to his face. Your guess was as good as any, but they were probably avoiding the coffee stain trailing from the corner of his lips almost down to the jawline. And the worst part was, according to him, there wasn’t shit anyone could do about it, that’s just the way it was. And with a second, much more intuitive glance, the man stood corrected. Sonofabitch, he’d say. Scratch that. Keep it down to 200 tops. Space is looking tighter than a fly’s ass this week. 200 words. 50 less than usual. And that was that. Turns out that Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown, who died last Monday at the Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank would merely be granted a box of 200 words to pack her life into. 200 words. And when the surviving members of Karen’s family—her husband Bruce; stepson Robert; cousins Mary Anne and Olivia; her several nieces and nephews; the people that perhaps mattered most to her in this world—opened their front doors Thursday morning to find the paper found its way to their doorstep, they’ll do as any other valued subscriber. They’ll pick it up. They’ll glance at the front page,
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but only for the briefest, most abbreviated moment time has to offer. There’s more corruption on the township committee, but that’s news to no one. Page Three. Four. State Assembly races heating up in the 13th District. They’ll navigate the bold-face headlines—still Times New Roman, but size 36—and absorb the black-and-white stills of children laughing from the sides of Kings Highway during the annual Labor Day parade. The one you had to wake up at the ass crack of dawn on your day off to go cover. The one where your only pen ran out of ink as you were taking notes and had to write most of the goddamn story from memory. Page Nine. 10. Some dipshit from Highlands with parents that are likely first cousins before they’re anything else threatened his neighbor with a live hand grenade. A live hand grenade. Doesn’t really matter why. Turns out the bomb squad bribed the kid to turn it over for 100 bucks. And it wasn’t included in the story, but then they blindsided his ass with a small, black baton and word has it no one’s heard from him in a while. Never saw it coming. You know this because you were there. And you certainly did see it coming. And then there’s page 12. Obits. Their pupils anchor until the words at last materialize into focus. Did those jerkoffs finally run it this week? First, there was Martin V. Lawlor, 95, of Port Monmouth, a World War II vet and a P.O.W. during the Battle of the Bulge. They gave him a Purple Heart when he returned to his parents’ doorstep in one pulsating, fully functioning piece. Before his life ended at Riverview a few Thursdays ago, he belonged to a shit ton of associations and charity groups. Good for him. Joseph Richard Gotti, Jr., 78, also of Middletown. “Big Joe,” he liked to be called. Well, Big Joe stood out from the bunch in that he had moved to Newburn, North Carolina, about a decade ago. He
[ 35 ]
sold pharmaceutical supplies after a U.S. Army run that probably had him castrating gooks before fucking all their wives during the Korean War. Better them than blood relatives, you guess. All these dudes are vets these days, they’ll think. Or at least you think they will. But Big Joe graduated college, lived his life, and spent his golden years drinking cheap beer and watching the Panthers shit the bed fall after disappointing fall over at the local Knights of Columbus. Then his ass got shipped back up to M’town. Does any of this make him a better man than Marty? And there’s Karen. Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown. They actually ran it. It’s about goddamn time. Karen died on Monday, September 22, at the Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank. And it mentioned Bruce; and Robert; and Mary Ann; and Olivia and even the several cousins and nieces and nephews—the people that perhaps mattered most to her in this world. And then it mentioned Pfleger was handling the arrangements. Just like he was handling Marty Lawlor’s and Big Joe’s and everyone else in the world that grabbed their chests and ceased to exist anywhere within arm’s reach of Monmouth County. And that was it. Nothing else. But what the hell happened to the rest? Couldn’t have been more than 100 words. 150 tops. Karen’s life. Summed up in the briefest, most abbreviated space that the page had to offer. All 51 years of it. At least that’s what Bruce said when he called your extension later that morning. Just the above. Almost word for word—sass mouth and all—without even considering the omission of a single fuck, shit, piss, hell, damn, assholecocksuckersonofawhatever. What else could the man say that morning upon the discovery that his wife’s time in this world had been processed, regurgitated and delivered back to his
[ 36 ]
doorstep in a box smaller than the boundaries of a business card? The morning you woke up, and like the dawn of any other day, went to work. The morning you picked up the paper on your way into the office and, for some reason, turned straight to page 12. The morning Karen’s 250-word life was cut short by at least 100 at the last minute to make more room for Pfleger’s ad. The morning you realized the business of death just wasn’t yours; the morning you quit your job. This ad. It was fucking beautiful, you thought. Fucking brilliant. There was an image of a lighthouse, with a radiant glare serene enough to leave anyone at rest; and a backdrop just dull enough to illuminate the text as you’re pulled in toward it, as if an inescapable undertow far out in the Atlantic. John F. Pfleger’s Funeral Home, 51 Tindall Road, Middletown, NJ, 07583. This ad—it was fucking beautiful—you thought. It was color in a monochrome world. It was music before there was sound. It was life on a page of death. But Bruce, unfortunately, did not share this sentiment, so you put him on hold for the briefest, most abbreviated moment time has to offer before transferring him to your editor. The one that had the solid sense of humor before he had anything else and admired the creative use of expletives among drunk and disorderly widows and widowers alike. Shit, like they’re the only ones that ever lost something, he’d say, with a diction as unforgiving as—you guessed it—the Brillo Pad. By this time the tobacco bits will have eroded from the outskirts of his lips, treading toward the remnant coffee stain and inadvertently creating a dastardly concoction of caffeine and carcinogens when coalesced. And you couldn’t help but listen from a short distance as he’d proceed to let loose a carefully orchestrated arrangement of vowels
[ 37 ]
and syllables scalding enough to make the Virgin Mary wish she had invested in some sort of flame-retardant Fruit of the Looms. It was almost as if he’d had this conversation before. Maybe not with Bruce, but someone else. A reader? Or an advertiser? The people that perhaps mattered most to him in this world. Certainly not a Karen A. Parsells, 51, of Middletown, who died on Monday, September 22, at the Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank. You don’t know Karen. All you know is that her life was cut short by about 100 words this morning. Or was it last Monday in Red Bank? And now, quite frankly, that’s all anyone will ever know about her. But at least you’ve gotten to know Bruce, even if only for the briefest, most abbreviated moment time inevitably has to offer. They were still going at it. Bruce and your editor. Right before you left. And they were probably going to be doing so for quite some time. But with a second, much more intuitive glance, you’d stand corrected. Your editor, he’d ask Bruce where he was originally from. Son-of-a-bitch, you’d say. Figures.
[ 38 ]
tumbling. by srinath reddy.
I swear itâ€™s the pictures, doctored into the affectations of old times, vintage sentiments that are adored, lusted, and cast into that oblivion reserved for things we will never relish. This is the arcade of broken hearts, of men, of women, of players with unsung parts, who in the vicinity of one million lights are all marooned alone. But sepia comes only in that many shades and someday we shall forget Chuck Palahniuk, and live a little. But till then, I will watch the dance of purple dandelions only in imaginary winds, and gaze into that golden horizon, where deep beyond the nuclear sunset, transience shares borders with what must surely be forever
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and i'll to bed at noon. by brian agurkis.
hrough it all I was all over was and am and could be again. That’s the rub I guess being just being. Being annihilating was and will and leaving only is and does. Take these they will help you take one in the morning and one at night before you sleep even though you don’t sleep can’t sleep I know. That’s the rub. I was awake for three days three days three days waking walking gazing upon a cooler death before stumbling numbly slipping into bed sliding into oblivion. Take these they should help even though they don’t they won’t let me breathe they can’t let me drown my lungs with Carboniferous air oxygen rich and clean just so clean the plants that made it that way formed the coal we can’t stop burning coal we can’t stop choking ourselves with that coal. I’ll take these but they will not help will not let my tongue taste water as it was as it was in Gondwana can not let me smell or see the flowers of those phantom plants they’re gone those plants that grew along every nameless rivers bank gone and nameless like we all will be. No one ever said that life was fair no one ever said but I don’t want fair I’m not asking for fair I just want was and will reconciled with is to hell with be bury it somewhere out of sight trade or give it away. I remember there were days days where I remember certainty in the sunlight like calcium in milk days when I could gaze upon an ocean of time dissecting ripples and swells of a life to come with sat-
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And I'll to Bed at Noon.
isfaction that couldn’t be matched that still can’t be. You see greatness is a myth we purchase when our integrity burns down when all that’s left is but a whisper our memories will fade snuffed out in the end muffled by the distant beats of an unseen drummer keeping time inventing time all the time saying don’t forget the tinder for your pyre cup your hands together gather ashes build a monument to all the gods that failed before you go please don’t forget before you go. It was dry that summer there was so little rain I told her God wasn’t up there wasn’t anywhere else either just wasn’t. That summer she didn’t believe me she couldn’t but she’s married now she’ll find out soon enough but it doesn’t matter if there is a big picture it doesn’t or can’t so I’ll just fold my hands and be that summer I remember that last party it was such a long time since I had smelled charcoal that smell of Calamites teasing me teasing we had it all now behold our noxious second coming that smell filled the tiny patch of grass she called her backyard masked the scent of garbage when it gets hot enough outside the whole city stinks like a landfill it was hot enough outside on that day I remember. I remember noticing how the houses never looked cheery no matter the weather always dingy and morose the people too I knew even the glinting winter snow white and terrible could not save them. I tried to tell her once tried to get her to come back I told her that her roommates were bitches over coffee I told her that her new boyfriend was a jerk how he had stolen things from the suite at the Flyers game the way he just put them into his backpack looked up laughed smiled and said don’t tell Sarah. I said it is funny I can’t stand your religion but I am probably a better Christian than you and your friends I said hypocrisy I said I said Sarah how can you possibly reconcile the choices you make with what
And I'll to Bed at Noon.
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you so strongly profess to believe you see she was very much involved with youth groups and bible studies quick to assert her beliefs with words more often than actions. That last party I remember that last party and how before the party I guess you could call it the pre-party but I didn’t find it very festive we sat but I stood in the living room on the floor around this big guy with long hair and a beard I said to myself that he looked like Santa Claus if Santa Claus was in the Hells Angels and we sat in that circle but I stood Sarah and her roommates and I around this guy who sat in a chair so he was higher off the ground I remember they talked about oh what would Jesus do. Well I just held my tongue and stood a little way off still listening still awfully curious wanting to know to know if I was right about a lot of things now I’m pretty sure I was but then maybe I wasn’t. I remember that guy the guy in the middle up on his chair he was genuinely excited by what he perceived to be impending Armageddon all the girls were excited too he said he wanted to go buy guns turn his house into a fortress protect the whole neighborhood because that’s what Christ should have done should have gone down fighting when Sarah looked back at me to see if I was bathed in passionate glory too I just looked at her for a long time and I kept saying I hate you with my eyes first to her eyes then just endlessly to the back of her head. People kept filing through the kitchen door out and in forth and back they looked like they were lost but there was fiery certitude in their eyes that said no we’re not lost we’re saved so I didn’t ask if they needed directions. Everyone was drinking except me I didn’t drink until my twenty-first birthday can you believe that you probably shouldn’t but it’s true. Sarah’s roommates entertained us with a story
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And I'll to Bed at Noon.
about the previous night there was some exclusive party at a well-todo place they got dressed up went there they got in they actually got in and flirted with guys so they would buy them drinks they didn’t have to pay but they got kind of sick came home and got real sick it was OK though the drinks were free it wasn’t their money they were throwing up and flushing down the toilet while the city slept the sun was baking another hemisphere and I looked at Sarah again to say I hate you but I didn’t I figured it was pointless. The night sky marched on even though I couldn’t see it beneath that horrible tinge those damn refracted city lights my art class in first grade I painted with water colors when I was done the dirty water in my cup would be that color I hated it hated that I made it but that was the only way to keep the brushes clean I wasn’t tall enough to reach the sink. The dark continued creeping Sarah kept introducing me to creepy people I didn’t want to meet wolves in secondhand threads barking that they were sheep and I couldn’t see a point in any of it I couldn’t understand I just sat beneath where stars should have been wondering was it all worthwhile I couldn’t decide I still can't. I remember in the morning I said to Sarah I hope I didn’t accidently become a member of a cult by attending the party I said I thought they were following in the footsteps of the Manson family or the lunatics in Strong City that I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t on their mailing list or anything like that. I said last night Sarah I wanted to tell you so many things last night I did but the meanings all began to change Sarah there are so many things I know you drank yourself under the table trying to drown me out that’s fine I guess I’m feeling a touch queasy myself now I remember that feeling in my stomach the taste in my mouth repeating the end I remember tasting
And I'll to Bed at Noon.
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that ending that taste of an end so well. Now that’s all over was and gone and it seems like ages ago but time is a funny thing now I’m here barred from there and I can’t see anything wrong with me was I wrong weren’t they worse do I really need to take these you said they won’t help not in the way I want them to not in the way I need books have been my medicine how many side effects do you think they have the books I mean I doubt capsules are capable of telling me all that has transpired since the beginning I know that you can’t do that that nothing ever can but that’s okay I don’t blame you like I said I just want was and is and will to coalesce I just want to sleep again I hope that’s not too much to ask is it.
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summer burn. by marina blokker.
blueberries plink time in a galvanized pail fireweed lean in heat grasshopper flicks a dry arc heavy air lake mirror winds shift up valleys up mountainsides a glint in the distance barbecue plunking piano warm at dusk flint of lightning strikes parched trees each a rod giant roman candles torches fling out in the dark the land is burning again but this is different this is global warming this is an emergency now a conflagration the mountains are Hades flames lick roar explosions cracks limbs fall anguish men in heavy outfits insignificant trolls in burning infernos cones burst their seeds naturesâ€™ rebirth human equipment water bombers helicopters deployed supplies exhausted percentage controlled increasing earth destroying herself
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season of fire a yearly rhythm ground hides roots still burning beware soft ash filled holes some see profit burning evaporating into the blue burning to end what has been burning to begin something new hidden seedlings rising later photos show all shades of grey
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kissing peter pan. by joseph meredith.
Camden, June 2000 A young woman scales the Peter Pan statue In the park. Peter’s really up there; He’s at the pinnacle of a twelve-foot Mountain of bronze mice and faeries, Rats and squirrels, right on Cooper Street By the Whitman Center, that looks back at you With a Greek Revival, gap-toothed grin. She’s a real red head, with blue eyes and lashes So fair she looks like a little girl, robust And pink-cheeked under her freckles; light washes Through her hair like surf. The way a gust Of wind catches your breath, crams it back in Your lungs, that’s the effect she has on me today. She’s ill-equipped for climbing, thick-soled mules Instead of Nikes, a baggy shirt both revealing And concealing her shape (She will make fools Of men with that shape). Meanwhile, her boyfriend, feeling His way around a bronze goat never sees the way
Kissing Peter Pan.
She maneuvers under young Peterâ€™s armâ€” A precarious move, full of daring and graceâ€” To plant a kiss on his brazen cheek. Though I am old Enough to be her father, something in that lovely face, That gesture, moves me in ways that can scarce be told: I am a boy again for now and will never come to harm.
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[ 48 ]
never there. by christina weil.
ornings were always the same. Jack and I dressed for school and joined each other at the table for breakfast. We launched soggy marshmallows at the glossy china cabinet with our spoons, watching the streaks form as our competitors raced to the finish line. Mom was never there. I remember convulsing with laughter as I studied his every move, making them my own. I wondered if he really knew how much I loved him. We ventured the four blocks to school, most of which I spent alone. I watched as he took off with his friends, too embarrassed to walk beside his little sister. After school and behind closed doors, we were family again. He taught me different ways of moving about the house without touching the floor, using pillows and furniture to make the journey. I learned to trace the picture before shading it in. When I was stricken with pneumonia, he sat by my side for two weeks. Mom was never there. She spent the days in bed, heading off to work as we slept. She never played the part of room mother or soccer mom. The other parents never met her. Our friends never saw the inside of this house. Jack and I avoided her as much as possible, but there were chores to be done. Her words cut like knives. It felt as though they burrowed under my skin for years, now rising painfully to the surface. She used them against us until they bashed our beautiful innocence to pieces.
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From then on we lived in fear, tiptoeing through the halls as not to wake her. It seemed as though our childhood came to a screeching halt, the days cut short by her selfish rants. Daddy spent the nights on the couch until he found a new place to sleep. Our new daddy moved in shortly after, insisting we call him “Dad.” I hated him for taking over. Only, he turned out to be the better father. He cared for us deeply, and we grew incredibly close. With his free time, he coached the sports teams, attended meetings, and took us to the park. Since both of us lacked a parental figure, he stepped in to repair the damage. Caitlin was born shortly after my tenth birthday. I was no longer the baby. It felt as if I turned thirty overnight. Mom slept and Dad went to work. Between feedings and dirty diapers, I watched the kids play outside from an open window. Jack refused to lend a hand, and we grew further and further apart. He ignored her commands and instead, played the rebel. I was left behind, my words trapped inside. I released them only at night under the covers. The pages of my diary glistened beneath the flashlight as the tears streamed down my face. I opened up about losing my best friend to adolescence and other changes that took place so quickly. Childhood slipped through my fingers like water, forcing me to accept this harsh, new reality. The years rolled by with little change. My mother received frequent phone calls from the principal regarding Jack’s behavior. I assumed my typical responsibilities. Mom was never there. I barely experienced a taste of adolescence before I was sent straight to motherhood. Even my favorite time of year seemed dreadful. With school out of the picture and warm, summer days ahead, I had more free
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time to care for my baby sister. It was any mother’s dream come true, a permanent babysitter without pay. Of course I was granted short periods of freedom, during which I caught up with my friends or even spent a day at my favorite place— the beach. My dad and stepmom took me to the beach for a week every summer. It was the ultimate escape; it was just as I pictured it all year long—the cool sand beneath me, the blazing summer rays upon my teenaged skin. I remember pointing my face toward the sky and squinting until my eyelids grew weak. Nothing could top these moments. I felt as if in a trance, moved by the serenity of this place. But every day comes to an end. These days have since become few and far between. Unruly days gave way to peaceful nights, marked by thoughts of warm, salty winds. Often, such dreams left me longing to go back. Instead, I awoke to the sound of a screaming child in the crib beside me. As time grew colder, the seasons did as well. I was back to the same routine. Mom was never there. Jack had been hospitalized several times with injuries resulting from senseless acts of idiocy. Before we knew it, he was dropping out of high school and making desperate phone calls from jail. He surrounded himself with other delinquents, none of which had any plans for the future. It all fell apart from there. Soon he was stealing from family, using drugs and expressing his rage through violent outbursts. We were the victims of his darkest hours. At that point, it felt as if I was residing in a house full of strangers, all of which lived in fear of one another. My mother tucked away in her room as usual, leaving her husband and daughter to sift through the wreckage. Although it was never discussed, I knew he preferred things this way, as did I. She handled matters poorly, screaming and
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throwing objects to get her point across. After several years, Jackâ€™s behavior worsened. I was entering my first year of college, located three hours from home. Unfortunately, distance could not cure my pain, and I found myself longing to return home. I received word that Jack was spending six months in a rehab facility. He left a few days after Thanksgiving, and it broke my heart to see his empty room on Christmas. Weâ€™d written letters back and forth, expressing everything that had gone unsaid for nearly a decade. Our words were often emotional, and I knew this was the best friend I lost many years ago. After a full year at college, I transferred back home. Jack came home as well, and for once our home was peaceful. His destructive habits remained in the past, allowing us to reestablish our broken relationship. We learned to confide in one another by sharing our honest feelings and deepest troubles. Our freedom had somehow been granted. And although the two of us had changed, a family is seldom perfect. Mom was never there.
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divertimento. by dennis mahagin.
A silver chain, what’s come between us, pulled for egress makes a tin ping on a Tri Met bus, 82nd and Foster in front of the jewelry store that mocks the poor... Christ, those chains that drape the clavicle of a scantily clad mannequin, topaz, sapphire and plaid, — from inside the store she beckons like Daytona shill with checkered flag as a still life, like a Flintstones wife on land line phone as this empty bus roars by… I’d have gotten off miles back, but my druthers cut no mustard here; it’s down to a bum chain on a Sellwood-bound bus, histrionics and innuendo, the stuff what’s always come between us and a driver wears grape fez, snakeskin cummerbund, iPod and hearing aid, with pooka shells in his dread-locked braids painted brightest silver. He’s bobbing madly, nodding
Divertimento. his head to a back beat might be Nine Inch Nails, War or Tommy James and the Shondells. Once more I make me a megaphone with cupped palms like solipsistic mime playing carnival barker an earthly driver can’t hear, this here’s no garden variety vanity in rear view mirror, crisp 56 degrees on the tarmac but hot as sin in this non stop bus, my mien so like these windows, tinted pale green and meaningless, impossible to get off… A busted light bulb chain — what’s come between us, static cling like mannequin’s lacquer and black licorice on the tip of my tongue… Shhhhhh… can’t tell a soul, it’s no damned use, I’m an obtuse troll in rapid translation, abject object of the laughter of the young.
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tabula rosa. by courtney schroeder.
The paint is chipping away to reveal an earlier painting, flaking to another and then another until one day we find our way back to the beginning. My sister and I walk against farm-backdrop as stroke of sky falls away to expose the underlying sunset. The whole world barn to barn bathes in October-sunset, and the shadow of corn stalks strike into the blazing horizon. My sister painted this farm in the third grade and just now it has broken through the layers. Days peel back to moonlight, moonlight to days, each scene bringing us closer to the first, done in fresh primaries. But even if we get back there, a blankness has yet to be uncovered and even if we find a white curtain, still the actors will be lurking behind the empty, practicing their lines.
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from the third level. by stacey balkun. after William Blake's Proverbs of Hell And the caterpillar lays her eggs on the greenest leaves, I can see her from my window and I think of small babies with small baby teeth. If my children ate plants, I’d climb the tallest trees and pick each meal off only the finest branches. But I’ll never do that because I’m human and we’re all sinners, anyway. We choose only the best branches to break, set fire to the greenest leaves and let the offering of fruit ferment before we drink. This kingdom rots for our pleasure and, inebriated, we accept it, choosing wicked pleasures of life over simplicity, like reaching out a window to touch a sycamore tree.
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chrysalis. by tom fillion.
t was Bootleg who trained me for the parking booth. To sit there on a four-legged stool for hours behind smoky gray Plexiglas while an old air conditioner drooled on the hot asphalt and recycled exhaust fumes and body sweat. He was an old guy, the kind you see around the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores. Part rummy, part soothsayer. Bootleg was short and skinny with an archaic, chiseled and hollowed-out Appalachian face. He had long legs for his short stature, but not long enough to outrun the Revenue agents who caught him when he was young, running moonshine in the Tennessee hills. He spent most of the Depression in Atlanta Federal prison, and, according to him, he was darn glad to do it too. Three meals a day and a place to sleep was his take on it. He didnâ€™t want to leave when his time came, and they gave him just enough bus money to clear out. Things were tough, he said. He bought a one way ticket to Florida where he had people he could stay with. Mostly, he worked odd jobs from then until this time of his life. Truth be told, working the ticket booth was the culmination of his career of odd jobs and probation officers that he still had to visit for various reasons he hinted at with a toothless smile but would never explain or elaborate. I assumed he was still doing pissant stuff to get himself arrested. Traffic offenses, drunkenness, maybe some stealing
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and burglary. He was small enough to get in and out of places easy so burglary and losing his teeth were part and parcel of his being. Deep down, I think, being in trouble was his connection to the only place he had ever felt safe and secure in his life and that was Atlanta Federal Prison. It was his rock of Gibraltar. Three meals a day and place to sleep. We didn’t hit it off right away. Like I was saying, the parking lot booth was Bootleg’s highest achievement in the outside world, the world beyond his backwoods upbringing and radiator coil drippings that left such a heavy imprint on him. For me the ticket booth was not exactly a low point, but maybe a starting point. I figured if I worked my cards right, kept my nose clean, I could become a building engineer or the building manager there at the Barnett Bank building someday. The building engineer changed light bulbs. The building manager told the engineer which bulbs to change. I could do that. Not so for Bootleg. The parking booth in the middle of all those white-striped parking slots was his Buckingham Palace. The parking lot was his fiefdom and, despite the sour, recycled air in the booth it was a sanctuary for him. When he was in the booth he controlled who came in and who went out of the lot, bigshots and pissants included. Everyone that nosed their cars up to the gates knew that he was a force to contend with despite his small stature and pink gums that he exposed when he told them how much they owed for trespassing in his kingdom. That leaked over into our relationship too. He was dead serious about the comings and goings of cars, parking tickets, and cash, and I didn’t meet his expectations because it didn’t seem all that important to me, a young guy that didn’t give a shit about much. He lit into me a few times because I didn’t respect the ticket booth
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enough, and therefore him, to sort the tickets into different piles, those that had stamps from those that didn’t, and then separate those further by all the different companies including the bank, financial and insurance firms, doctors’ offices, etc. in the twelve story building. I would always find him writing arcane scribbles in pencil on the stacks of tickets he rubber-banded together. I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was writing, or if he could write, but by his intensity, it was something important to him, as important as three square meals a day and a place to sleep. After I’d been there for a while, and hadn’t done my Johnny Paycheck “Take This Job and Shove It” routine and taken off like I had done on the last few jobs, because Brenda the slinky blonde gypsy with a slightly hooked nose I married, who wore these big hoola hoop earrings — well Brenda lost her slinky when she/we got pregnant. That’s when I decided it was high time to put my guitar down that I brought to the ticket booth early in the morning to strum after I picked up the trash the bums that congregated by the fountain early in the morning had left, that’s when I decided to put my name into the hat for building manager. The old manager got transferred to another building downtown. With a baby coming I decided I had to grow up real fast, and I didn’t want a baby of mine having to say their Daddy sat on his ass in a parking booth all day long plucking tickets, and was second in command to an old jailbird who gummed his food. I filled out the application and gave it to Missy, the secretary on the fifth floor, who must have passed it on to the big boys on the twelfth floor. That’s where the tenth largest insurance company in the U.S. had their offices, and where they quietly used all that premium money they gouged out of people to buy buildings all over God and creation
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because they owned the Barnett Bank building, lock, stock, barrel, and parking lot ticket booth. A couple weeks after I turned in the application, my big break came. The new sedan eased up to the booth, and I recognized the driver as a monthly customer so I pressed the button to raise the wooden gate that impatient customers sometimes snapped off. Bootleg had trained me to be efficient and courteous to these high rollers because when Christmas came around they gave us some tremendous tips. Hundreds of dollars like they were passing out lollipops. That would go a long way with a baby coming and Brenda having all her cravings. Instead of speeding off to God knows where on some big deal, he stopped and rolled down the window. He was an older man dressed in a white shirt with a blue tie. That’s all I usually saw of people when they drove through, the top part, and then not for very long, but that’s the way I liked it with the hardheaded life and the one-way streets I’ve been on. The only one, besides Brenda and the little baby on the sonogram she stopped drinking for, that I talked much to was old Bootleg. Like I said before, he was small enough to crawl into places that other people couldn’t, and one of the places he crawled into after a while was my broken toy of a life. “I’ve got something I need to discuss with you,” the man said after rolling down the window of the late model Buick. I could see the heavy creases in his long-sleeve white shirt that matched the creases and wrinkles in his square-jawed face. I could tell from the folds in the shirt it had more starch in it than a bag of Idaho potatoes. His blue tie with white sprinkles was pinned to the shirt with a shiny gold clasp that went with the cufflinks.
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He reached out and passed me something that I thought was a parking ticket which was unusual because he was a monthly customer. I didn’t look at it directly because I was trying to make eye contact like Bootleg got on to me about and which he liked doing because he enjoyed what he was doing, letting people in and out and laughing with no teeth. It didn’t feel like a cheap parking ticket. It had rises, fissures, and monograms all over it like a cloth napkin at a fancy restaurant. “I’ve made time for you tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M. to come up to my office on the twelfth floor and discuss your future with our company,” he said. My heart started pounding when I heard that. Whatever I had put on my job application for building manager must have turned some heads upstairs, maybe they liked to hire standouts from within the company, and this was the result. “I’ll be there,” I said. I showed the fancy, embossed card to Bootleg later that day when he took over for me while I went up to the bank lobby to push the oiled dust mop across the tiled floor and run the vacuum cleaner near the elevators. I wasn’t exactly gloating about it, but that was kick-ass, if you ask me, moving from the parking lot to the building manager’s office in such a short time with the company. There was something new about Bootleg too. I noticed it when I showed him the man’s business card. Reading glasses, his Abraham Lincoln chinstrap beard and his hair had all been darkened, his new thick-soled shoes elevated him a couple inches, and when he went to laugh there was no longer a gaping hole in his mouth because he had a new set of teeth.
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“I’ve got to see this honcho tomorrow,” I said, “so it looks like you might be breaking in someone new out here before too long.” I felt a pang of guilt leaving him there, but Bootleg took it all in stride like everything he did. “I’ll hate to see you go,” he said without gumming it like he used to, “but you gotta do what you gotta do with a baby coming.” That’s the truth too. I couldn’t wait to tell Brenda about our good fortune and me moving up in the company to the fifth floor building manager’s office. When I did, she got on her slinky enough to celebrate that night as best she could being about six months pregnant. We went at it pretty good too. The next day I had a change of new clothes in my car that was parked in one of the far-off spots. I didn’t want to go up to the twelfth floor in my sweaty work uniform because I was trying not to be a caterpillar anymore, all slow, clumsy, getting in my own way as I wobbled around, and really didn’t go very far. For the baby’s sake, I wanted to be a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly and saw the wonder and beauty in life. Being a building manager would sure help do that as far as I could tell. I didn’t have a fancy white cotton dress shirt like Bentley Smith, Vice President of North American Insurance Company, had. Brenda and I weren’t into ironing clothes, and we couldn’t afford a dry cleaner with me working in a ticket booth, but I did have a slick, permanent pressed blue dress shirt that I wore up to the twelfth floor for the 3pm meeting. I had never been that high in the building until then and had never seen two doors as solid and heavy as the ones leading into North American Insurance Company, not to mention the intricate overlay
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work and the gold door handles. A receptionist sat at a desk in front of a back-lit wall. I handed her the business card. “I have an appointment with Mr. Smith about the building management position,” I said. “I’ll see if he’s in,” she replied, looking me over like I was in the wrong place, then motioned to a waiting area with chairs that had carved, wooden backs. A few minutes later Bentley Smith walked out of another set of interior doors. It was the first time I had seen both the top and bottom of one of the parking lot customers and from his build and stride he looked like he had been a high school football player, maybe a halfback, or maybe played linebacker, and was one of the guys who dated cheerleaders. I was one of the students who took a year to make a wooden bowl in shop class. He had some papers in his hand, most likely the job application I had filled out and given to Missy. “Eddie. Thanks for coming up to discuss this with me,” he said extending a warm handshake in my direction. “Come on back to my office.” I followed him down a hallway, ready to get into the nitty-gritty of the building manager’s job. He had a great view from his window and down below I could see a faint outline of Bootleg, who had done his best in his life to turn himself from a caterpillar into a butterfly. The afternoon sun sparkled off the side of the ticket booth. “Eddie, you can call me Ben,” Mr. Smith said. “Okay, Ben.” I figured right then I’d be reporting to him about the building and the tenants so being on a first name basis was crucial.
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“Eddie, I hear you and your wife are going to have a baby,” Ben said. I didn’t remember putting that on my job application because the baby hadn’t been born yet, and I was trying to be truthful. I did have a name for the baby if it was a boy. Even Brenda agreed with me on the name. One thing’s for sure, we weren’t going to call the baby Bootleg, but we were going to call him Albert after Albert McDougal from Tennessee who everyone called Bootleg after he’d been in Atlanta Federal Prison for a bunch of years. “Yeah, the baby’s due in a couple months, Ben.” “Eddie, that’s why I called you up here,” he said. “The baby? It’s not about the building manager’s job?” “We filled that position weeks ago. The new guy should be on board in the next couple of days.” “What?” “Eddie, with the baby due, now’s a good time to think about getting life insurance for yourself, your wife, and the new arrival.” “What?” After telling Ben I’d think about his offer, yeah, about as much time as it took me to walk from his office to the elevator where I pounded the L for Lobby. My life as a butterfly was short-lived. I was back to being a caterpillar. When I got outside, there was the ticket booth shiny and hard like a chrysalis. Bootleg had a smile on his face like he already knew what happened. “You git the job?” he asked, his bright white teeth gleaming. “Wasn’t for me,” I said. “I told him to take that job and shove it.” He laughed like everything was right with his world again. Three meals a day and a place to sleep.
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About the Authors. an abecedarian guide. Brian Agurkis hopes to graduate from Rutgersâ€“Camden with an English degree some time this century. His hobbies include napping in the library, haunting classroom corners, and reading Heart of Darkness every damn semester. Oh, and he saw a unicorn once. Susan Krysiak Avedissian has worked as a journalist for 10 years in New Jersey, as a writer, reporter, photographer, editor, and assistant managing editor. She has won awards from the New Jersey Press Association for her writing, illustration, and layout. Prior to her career in journalism, she enjoyed a satisfying stint in the law, as an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia. She lives at the Jersey Shore in North Cape May with her dog, Petey, and two cats, Lucky and Smuttynose. Stacey Balkun is a New Jersey poet whose work has appeared in the Edison Literary Review, U.S. 1 Worksheets, and Spindrift. She has worked with Middlesex Countyâ€™s Arts High School and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Marina Blokker's work has been published or is forthcoming in Yellow Medicine Review, Samsara Magazine, indefinite space, Prairie Journal, and the Irish journal Crannog. Her peace poems are in the John Lennon Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. She has a degree from the University of British Columbia and lives with her family on the west coast of Canada, where the environment continues to inspire her work.
About the Authors.
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Matthew Dexter is an American anomaly living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He writes novels, memoirs, poetry, journalism articles, short stories of literary fiction, short stories of narrative fiction, and everything else in between. When Matthew is not writing he enjoys life by the ocean; beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, reading, and being inspired. But never candlelit dinners on the beach. Heâ€™s afraid of pirates. Tom Fillion is a graduate of the University of South Florida. He teaches mathematics and coaches golf and tennis at a Tampa public high school. His short stories have appeared in many online publications, a complete list of which can be found at dreammechanic. blogspot.com. He has stories forthcoming at Eskimo Pie, Danse Macabre, SubtleTea, Read This (Montana State University), Cantaraville, and Rose & Thorn. Laura Garrison grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and currently lives in Maryland with her husband, Justin, and attends graduate school in Washington, DC. She loves chickadees, Roquefort, and old cemeteries. She hates subways and beets. Rosanne Griffeth lives on the verge of the Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing, raising goats and documenting Appalachian culture. Her work has been published or accepted by Mslexia, The Potomac, PANK, Night Train, Keyhole Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly and Six Little Things among other places. Katherine Jamison is a Rutgers College student majoring in English. She hails from Edison, NJ, and can usually be found somewhere in the New York City metro area.
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About the Authors.
Dennis Mahagin’s poems and stories have appeared in magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, 3 A.M., FRiGG, Thieves Jargon, Keyhole, and Storyglossia. He lives on the east side of Washington State, where he’s currently at work on a novel about the future of reality TV. Joseph Meredith has been poetry editor at Four Quarters, Poet-inResidence at La Salle University, and Writer-in-Residence at Camden County College. Since 1994 he has taught as an adjunct in the English Department at Rutgers–Camden. His next book, Inclinations of the Heart, is due out in 2010 from Time Being Books in Saint Louis, Missouri. Dan Morgan is an English major at Rutgers–Camden who is still working on his bio. So we have provided him with one from our computerized Bio-Machine™: Dan Morgan has a pet chipmunk named Herr Göering, whom he feeds bits of old romance novels. He enjoys short walks on the beach, blowing out dinner candles, and carrying horses on his back. Dan is the drama editor for Writers’ Bloc. Srinath Reddy is a seventeen year old living on the not-so-quaint island of Singapore. He plans to study English and economics in college (part of his quest to find truth in a vast, fast and confusing world). Marina Richards wanted to be a goat farmer, then realized someone would have to clean up the mess. So she has four cats instead and a very patient husand. Her fiction and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Blood Lotus, Up The Staircase, Scalped, Greatest Uncommon Denominator, The Hawaii Pacific Review, The Legendary, Pear Noir!, and Six Sentences, among others. She lives in a suburb of Boston.
About the Authors.
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Courtney Schroeder graduated from Dickinson College in 2002 with a degree in creative writing. Her work has been published in the Dickinson Review. Scott Shanley is a Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences graduate who majored in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in cinema studies. As a former award-winning journalist and freelance writer, Shanley has penned articles for a variety of local print and web-based publications. He resides in Woodbridge, NJ. Christina Weil is a recent graduate from Rowan University with a Bachelor's Degree in Writing Arts and a journalism minor. Her piece â€œNever Thereâ€? received Honorable Mention for Rowan University's Award for Creative Nonfiction. Christina resides in South Jersey and is currently pursuing a career in broadcast news writing.
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