Blue Five Notebook – (February 2012 / 12.3)
Artist, Leslie Marcus: Karen Lewis, Ojai Arts Commissioner, writes of Marcus’ technique: “This deft brushwork, and ease and fluidity of painting, and pushing for color, is never more evident that in Marcus’ series of small female figures and portraits painted directly from life.” Marcus was awarded First Place: “Best of Show” at the Juried Group Show, Art in the Park, Ojai, California, 2004. Visit her work at Fine Art America.
The Distance Home
School ends hanging on a daydream, with
his mind leaning into the lifeless space
that lay ahead, projecting the same dead
reel that has been repeated daily, this
time against a hard grey wall of black
snow. His steps cut paths, break foreign
trails, ice balls splattering against
telephone poles, explorers testing
the vast arctic plain, the surreptitious
stealing into the domain of others where,
above the white shake roof, a moon rises,
the house alights, shimmering inside with
the flush of a glowing caterpillar
inching into the night, children riding
its reflective hump happily, laughing
in laps, throwing grins that stick to the
windows like frost, squeals echoing
from room to room, bouncing first, then settling
like a fine morning mist. Dinner comes and
goes, books appear and life clusters
at the end of the evening in amber
light, absorbing every doubt that has
ever surfaced after dark. This house
has gutted him. Standing in the night,
school books left by the street, feet frozen
on the hard crust of another winter,
he turns from the window and chases
a stray dog with a stick from a dead tree.
George Korolog is an active member of the Stanford Writers Studio and has had his work published in numerous online and print magazines such as Rattle, Riverbabble, Poets / Artists, Red River Review, The Monarch Review, Stone Highway Review, Greensilk Journal, Contemporary Haibun, Willows Wept Review, The Recusant, and The Right Eyed Deer.
He goes to the standing stones by the sea, under the burnished, fever-yellow sky and clouds like black chimney smoke. The elongated granite shapes pierce the ground like crooked teeth in pale gums and are fondled by crusty, gray lichen. The sea hates the stones and rages blue-green against their cliff, while it foams at the mouth and froths on the waves. The hiss and rumble from the ocean and the shivering of the promontory is a constant song in his ears.
He is unfinished, like a sapling, but on an old man’s hunt for more. The blood-warm wind tugs his long, dark hair. He has heard about the standing stones and thinks they know what he wants to hear. The air smells of body fluids and pleasure. The sight of the stones makes his limbs slow and his eyes heavy. He lies down between them, lets them tower above him in all quarters of the sky. The wind screams as it throws itself against the stones. The fast-moving clouds try to obscure the stars, but the wind is too strong and rips them apart, like poorly made linen cloth or the weak resolve of an unfaithful lover. The stars, squinting and pale, peer out from behind their cover.
In their sleep the stones betray the secrets of the earth and the ocean and the clouds and the stars. He listens to the dreams and pieces them together like the small bones in a hand or pottery from a forgotten civilization. Their knowledge will make him timeless. But when the stones wake up and realize he has usurped their secrets, they curse him.
“Keep our dreams,” they say. “You will not die naturally, not even by your own hand. When you are tired of life and wish to rest, someone else must do it for you. Your head must be separated from your body and your heart and spleen and loins removed. This must happen while you are still alive, there’s no getting out early, and your organs must be burned or buried apart.”
“That’s no curse,” he laughs, “but a blessing” and leaves the stones to their anger.
For a long time he lives in the remnants of an old rockslide beneath a castle ruin, sleeps in the crevices and the moist moss and sphagnum there. He needs no light, no water, no food, no friends. He is almost self-sufficient. Only shrieking bats and shivering harvestmen and chewing snails keep him company in his quiet home and crawl over his
lips and wrists while he sleeps.
One night he leaves the shadow of the crumbled castle on a wild black horse, to trace the lines in the pale-faced moon. But he and the horse misstep and fall into a pit of briar. The horse whinnies and rolls over him and manages to leap out of the chasm. He is not so lucky. He tries to climb out of the depression, but the walls are too steep and smooth, his hands find no purchase, only thorns. He slips and he falls deeper into the bramble. The roses cut him with their barbs, slash into his belly and tear chunks from his back. He leaks red from his heart and white from his spine, but because of the promise of the standing stones, he does not fade and must acknowledge every scratch and rake and laceration.
When he finally stops falling, he finds parts of his body hanging from the thorns around him, like petals shed into the vines. Trembling, he stretches for the glistening red organs with his remaining hand, like a boy on his first scrump in the neighbor’s orchard, cuts more tendons, rips more muscle, before he can unhook the pulsing flesh-fruits from the contrary barbs. He stuffs the organs back inside and covers them with flaps of skin, licks the moist surfaces of his stumps to grow the limbs out anew. The last fleshy piece he retrieves and pushes back into place are his vocal cords, so he can scream again.
He cries out in the briar, suspended from the vines like a tattered suit of clothes, or a flesh-and-blood scarecrow. A pale owl hoots and rolls its eyes at him, demanding that he show the silence more decorum. He continues to scream, but quietly, he doesn’t want to insult the owl again. Winter passes, spring passes, summer and fall and winter again, and he is still there, shivering and leaking.
After countless years, the briar has nourished itself on his never-ending flesh enough to rise above the rim of the pit. He pulls himself up on the loop of a vine and rises unsteadily to his feet. Gravity and wind threaten to push him back into the chasm for another hundred years of cuts and growth, but he quells his desire, regains his balance, and leaps back onto the smooth and whispering grass.
His wild steed comes running to him from the silver darkness. With the bramble scars on its flanks and back it looks like a patchwork horse that has been poorly stitched together, but it whinnies and says it’s happy to see him. He closes his eyes and hugs the horse on the soft whorl in the middle of its forehead. The thorns that are still left in his flesh push themselves out of his body and fall into the grass at his feet, as heavily and warmly as tears.
Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose work has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, most recently or forthcoming in Bluestem, Asian Cha, Thunderclap, SmokeLong Quarterly, Metazen, and decomP. Ellingsen’s debut novel, THE EMPTY CITY, is a story about silence. For more information about the novel, search here.
Last Saturday I had to work the banquet at Turkey Town. The room was crammed with oversized people stuffed into tuxedos. The shouts of drunken frat boys doing jello shots echoed through the December hall like it was an after-hours party. Who gets married in December? Shot guns. That’s who. We ran out of the beef bourguignon, and people were not happy with our clams casino. They smelled like Aunt Ethyl’s room at the home. Some lady grabbed me, her hand a hundred years old. Hey can you get me another one of these?Five sheets to the wind. Sure, I grabbed her glass. She’d never remember which penguin she spoke to. We weren’t supposed to touch the food, but it’s a long corridor from the kitchen to the serving trays. I had a whole plate stashed behind the bread trays in the pantry. Old man Mertz nearly caught me chowing. I pretended I was messing with my braces. He didn’t care. Get back on the floor, son. When they announced the father-of-the-bride dance, I snuck out back. Didn’t want to watch that crap. Not knowing where my Dad even is. The cold hurt my lungs, made it hard to breathe. A kerjillion stars. My breath billowed, like a cartoon.
Vaughan’s plays have been produced in N.Y.C., L.A., S.F., and Milwaukee, where he resides. He leads two writing roundtables for RedBird-RedOak Studio. His works of prose and poetry have been published in over 125 literary journals such as Elimae, BlazeVOX, and A-Minor. He is a fiction editor for JMWW and Thunderclap! Press. He also hosts Flash Fiction Fridays for WUWM’s Lake Effect.
I Could Have Told You
I lived in someplace exotic like New Jersey or Cincinnati. I trapped muskrats for a living. They’re amazingly adaptable creatures and I love them dearly, especially the skinning part. It surprised me when I discovered they’d been living on paper moths. I didn’t think their digestive systems were that advanced. Paper moths were like burgeoning in those days in the wetlands of the older suburbs.
My world was altered. I couldn’t live anymore as I had been living, and I
couldn’t tolerate change. I found myself questioning how much birthday cake I was invitating into my inner sanctum. I tried to reduce my intake of celebratory parking meter residue. I used to enjoy things like that, but I was diligent, I tell you. When I think of what I sacrificed, I almost release my dusty tears.
Limp as the fog-soaked morning, I wanted to stick my umbrella in a soft spot. I was drinking coffee at the time and had slightly less than two hands left to use. I painted the soft spot with tenderness first because I too had a soft spot, and it was bright red and did not remind me of fire stations, which can be very helpful in certain circumstances.
Naturally, I considered the alternatives. “Oh my, oh my,” I said, and I meant it. I couldn’t understand why I no longer had a cane, and the wrong red was trying to make me remember something like an older fire station, which can be helpful when you need to remember, but lacks subtlety. I pointed at it with my cane and dropped the hand that I had left to my side where it waited like a careless dropped hand. What would you do if you’d been abandoned by a useless umbrella?
* * *
The church had not yet offered itself, bald and low, as it did in its later years. Why don’t we lie on our backs now and discuss the possible permutations of ceiling adornment? I can’t seem to get enough distance from the difficulty now, and I’m feeling a bit spiritual, so I swallow a little water and try to flow more naturally, which the water does, but I don’t, standing stiff and far too carefully above the proper receptacle. I feel like crying now, and I don’t want to.
You’re here after all, and I clear my throat to tell you what I think, but I don’t know what I think. I know what I do. I skin some more muskrats, and I offer you one. I’ve been meaning to do that. A pelt I mean. You can’t let them sit around too long after you trap them or it ruins the fur. The rest I give to the attentive little pig farmer next door. He doesn’t seem to care, but the pigs do. I think that’s just the way it is in New Jersey or Cincinnati, where I live and prosper.
* * *
Okay, so you’re not here now, but I’ll tell you what I think anyway, pelt or no pelt, and what comes out may be stumbling and beautiful. I’ve learned that every person you know is a different lever, and I’ve learned to use myself to get out from under myself. I’ve learned to arrive before the guilt does, and I’ve learned there aren’t any regrets that amount to a hill of beans when you can’t give the gift you meant to give. I had been writing you for years, but the great empty sky between letters was not part of what I lost that night, nor was New Jersey or Cincinnati the marsh I once thought would save me from myself. I felt a tenderness for the trap, which had brought you to me. Though the trap had no intelligence, I had anchored my dreams in it. There was something disproportionate about it, but not the emotion I had for its objectivity. I felt affection for it in a well-chosen, inappropriate manner, which pleased me and brought me feelings of misplaced accomplishment.
“I’m still learning to love you,” I said to the machine derived from the trap. It was not an apology, but an intention, and you were inside it, where the machine had found you waiting for me. In the park there was a public monument to a similar understanding, which I had not noticed until you were inside it.
* * *
The truth is it’s funnier when it hurts, but if I think that I’m avoiding it, that means I’m not avoiding it, so maybe I am avoiding it.
The torments of that yesterday are not sufficient. Their glow is innocent enough but attracts further malingering. They become transparent when sucked through a small enough tube.
The man I had once been was holding me in his robes like he wanted to be judgeful. A suspension. Once he forgot to stop looking, and his one eye followed the other eye. One of them might have been the moon, but we have to be reasonable. This is the result, then, of swollen intentions, because my debts are all imaginary, which means they’re endless.
Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander contains a feature including an interview and 18 of his hybrid works.
- Believe it or not, the ancient Chinese 5-Agent Principle accounts for us all.
1 Metal (born in a year ending in 0 or 1)
-helps water but hinders wood; helped by earth but hindered by fire
he used to be totally dull-colored
because he came from the earth’s inside
now he has become a super-conductor
for cold words, hot pictures and light itself
all being transmitted through his throat
2 Water (born in a year ending in 2 or 3)
-helps wood but hinders fire; helped by metal but hindered by earth
with her transparent tenderness
coded with colorless violence
she is always ready to support
or sink the powerful boat
3 Wood (born in a year ending 4 or 5)
-helps fire but hinders earth; helped by water but hindered by metal
rings in rings have been opened or broken
like echoes that roll from home to home
each containing fragments of green
trying to tell their tales
from the forest’s depths
4 Fire (born in a year ending 6 or 7)
-helps earth but hinders metal; helped by wood but hindered by water
your soft power bursting from your ribcage
as enthusiastic as a phoenix is supposed to be
when you fly your lipless kisses
you reach out your hearts
until they are all broken
5 Earth (born in a year ending in 8 or 9)
-helps metal but hinders water; helped by fire but hindered by wood
i think not; therefore, I am not
what I am, but I have a color
the skin my heart wears inside out
with footprints of history