Winter Quarterly – Fire (February 2015 / 15.4)
Artist. Sheri L. Wright, a two-time Pushcart Prize and Kentucky Poet Laureate nominee, is the author of six books of poetry, including the most recent, The Feast of Erasure. Wright’s visual work has appeared in numerous journals, including Blood Orange Review, Prick of the Spindle, Blood Lotus Journal, and Subliminal Interiors. In 2012, Ms. Wright was a contributor to the Sister Cities Project Lvlds: Creatively Linking Leeds and Louisville. Her photography has been shown across the Ohio Valley region and abroad. Currently, she is working on her first documentary film, Tracking Fire.
the poem I want to write
stands outlined by dawn light
dreaming through the kitchen
glowing curls and face to flames
that beckon my lips, fingers
to touch and taste; the same
poem that slowly sashays
to the candle wavering
in the bedroom, shakes away
the glitter of white sparking words,
bends her face backwards to flicker
the smooth outline of her throat,
ridgeline to embrace my kiss,
that poem, the one who smiles
me awake, moves my hands
and mouth from sleep to caress
my name onto all her pages.
Richard Krawiec’s third book of poems, women who loved me despite, will be out in early 2015. His second book of poems, She Hands me the Razor, was one of 17 finalists for a SIBA Award. His work appears in Drunken Boat, Shenandoah, sou’wester, Dublin Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Spillway, ampersand, 2Rivers View, Witness, Cream City Review, Florida Review, West Branch, Connotation Press and more. In addition to poetry, he has published two novels, Time Sharing and Faith in What?, a story collection, And Fools of God, and four plays. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the NC Arts Council(twice), and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced online Fiction Writing for UNC Chapel Hill, for which he won their Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009. He is founder of Jacar Press, a Community Active publishing company.
“That girl’s been sitting out there on the wall all morning,” my mother says. “What does she want?”
“Nothing,” I say. Another one. It’s a blessing Mum’s so forgetful these days.
I could go and tell the girl she’s trespassing. But like the person who stole the donor profiles from the clinic and put them online, she probably won’t care about what’s legal or not. Instead, I watch her from a corner of the window, using my handkerchief to wipe away the icy fog of my breath on the cold glass.
She’s plump in her grey padded anorak. When she turns sideways to get something from her backpack – lunch? – I see she has yellow blonde hair scraped back in a ponytail and her cheeks are reddened from the wind.
I move away from the window. I have things to do in the house. I like to sort my papers and do my research when Mum’s watching her soap operas or napping, so I can avoid her interrupting me with requests for cups of tea. I replenish the fire with logs. It’s nearly 3pm when I come back to my spot at the window. The girl is still there, as if she’s waiting for someone to come out of the house.
I sigh as I take my own anorak from the peg. I head out to the front of the house, sneak up on her from the side.
“This is my wall,” I say. “You’ve been here all day. I’ve been watching you.”
“Pervert,” she says. Close up, she’s older than I’d guessed her to be.
I shrug. I’ve heard worse.
She sighs. “I’m waiting for someone.”
“That’s probably me.”
She regards me carefully. Then: “No, someone…”
Younger? Better looking? Less gross? Not so rotund? With more hair? I’ve heard it all before.
“Come inside.” I lead the way, not looking back.
While Mum snores in her bedroom down the hallway, I repeat to this girl what I’ve told the others – that there’s no point wanting anything from me. I might have got paid – expenses, they called it. Mainly cash or vouchers. It wasn’t much, not by today’s standards. Just take a look around this dump, I want to say to them. I live with my mother, for God’s sake. A mother who complains she’s never had grandchildren — but I don’t tell this to the girl in front of me now. I’ve got nothing to offer. No stories, no adventures. Nothing of interest. Nothing.
The girl folds her arms and listens, but she’s not like the others; there’s no tears or backing away slowly before scurrying to the gate. She waits patiently as if she expects there to be more, as if I have not told her the full story. I walk across to her and reach for her shoulders. As I did with the others who might have lingered, I push her firmly towards the door.
She spins back towards me, throws my hands off her.
“How many of us?” Curious rather than indignant.
She goes over to the fire and kicks at a log with her Doc Martens, setting off a fierce burst of sparks. She plonks one foot on the fire stool. She stands there, steadily gazing at me. Waiting. Expecting me to answer.
“I’ll have a glass of water while you’re thinking,” she says. “And don’t even think about lying. Because, believe me, I’ll know.”
I stare back at her for a long while before going into the kitchen and turning on the cold tap. I feel something unusual happening to the muscles in my face. I guess I don’t even know why I went back to the clinic all those times. I probably couldn’t say; I never gave any thought to the outcome. It’s as if it all happened so long ago, to a different person.
“Okay, then,” I say, handing her a glass of water. I realise what is going on with my face: I am smiling.
There’s a spark of my younger self in this one.
I could get to like her.
Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University, Wellington. Her fiction has been published in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol 6, Turbine, Takahē, International Literary Quarterly, Tales for Canterbury, Blackmail Press, Flash Frontier, The Island Review and 4th Floor Literary Journal. She was also recently included in Sweet As, Contemporary Short Stories by New Zealanders. Her story, ‘Freedom’, was awarded second place in the 2014 Takahē Short Story Competition.
Our first idiom is en feu,
which means, according to my seatmate
on Air France, “the late.”
As in “the late John Lennon.”
Late Saint Joan.
Or “on fire,”
like me & you,
like the wing
of a Boeing. Fish or chicken?
In the oven.
Ashes. As when
my sister asked
the Mendocino mortician
to explain cremation,
“It’s like a sauna,” he sighed.
Our next idiom,
“Pied de nez”
seems to be
“foot of nose.”
a long bugger, or
kick in the schnoz.
Hard to put
a foot in your nose,
though my baby sister
“Pied de nez”?
your nose at.”
How French waiters act
when you request
menu or a check.
Are they waiting
for us to be en feu?
We cannot know.
En feu or up the nose,
in the case of French waiters
in the rear
Marilyn Kallet is the author of 16 books including The Love That Moves Me, poetry by Black Widow Press. She has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems (Derniers poèmes d’amour), Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game (Le grand jeu), and with Darren Jackson and J. Bradford Anderson has co-translated Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (La Vie Désenchantée). Kallet directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, where she is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor of English. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France.
Fires of Faith
1 The Princess
When she woke up on that first day away from home she was scared all over again. Everyone was very nice of course: these people knew what it meant to travel long distances. They remembered living in mobile homes, yurts with fireplaces.
The people stared at the fire, whose smoke rose to a hole in the ceiling. The fire burnt slowly and as it burnt, stories were told that set spirits free so that women, children, animals, spirits and the ghosts of past women and children were crammed into the small space. Where were the warriors? They were bound to their horses and weapons.
When Gisela closed her eyes, now swollen from the long journey and much needless, pointless crying throughout, and started the engine of her still childlike, highly flammable imagination, she could almost smell and see them: huddled around the dancing fire dervish, the air above their heads thick with hope and wishes, singing songs, while the warrior ghosts outside and the women ghosts inside hummed the same eternal melody of becoming and fading. The heads of the men rested next to the heads of their horses. The union of axe and bow, horse’s head and man’s skull, appealed more to this young princess than the familiar gatherings of the women and children.
People no longer lived in yurts, of course. Houses were made of wood now, or clay, castles were built of stone, and the best stones would be used for the churches, which would outlast everything and everyone. The horses now slept in the stable. One world had all but disappeared, from sight at least, and another had replaced it. There was more space around the fireplaces in the new world. The sky above had opened up. God knows where the spirits had escaped to. The two worlds were, however, not placed right on top of one another. They were overlapping and anyone living in either of them could, with some goodwill, and some curiosity, still see the edges of the other world peeking out. It was, as Christ had foretold, like being born again, not without knowledge of one’s earlier existence, not without appreciation, not without regret perhaps, but with renewed hope.
A hope from which animals and their spirits, ghosts and ghouls, devils and demons, were excluded. It had been written in the desert sand on which the nomads had once built their yurts, that houses of wood and stone would tie them down. The price exacted from them was the freedom to roam with the spirits. Their prize was a new kind of love, a different type of warmth, another form of fire.
2 The Warrior
Smoke-tongues are rising from burnt houses. They lick the darker Eastern sky. The eyes of warriors are bloodshot, their gait is unsteady when they stagger into the hall after 10 hours of fighting in the saddle. They throw themselves on the ground, hero next to hero, every one light as a feather and heavy as iron, sharing women, drinking beer, gnawing bones.
After wading through blood puddles they dance like children. Why must there be so much dying, so much slaughter on the path to victory? Why is it so difficult to just live together? I pray for them and I pray for myself.
Later, after the celebrations, many will return to wife and child and when they close their eyes, the battle will begin all over again behind their lids. They may pound away at their mistress or make gentle love but their first duty is to war.
They never ask the reason, not out loud anyway. They might hope that a thousand years hence their fight will be remembered. They might not care. Time stretches out like a red ribbon, full of holes, into the far future. We make the holes ourselves, ripping the fabric of the world apart again and again. Whenever the end of the world feels near, we shy away from it and ask for another millennium. How can we be so full of hope and so full of fear at the same time?
Does Christ really want us to wield the sword, the cross we warriors bear? Whose will are we executing? For a 1000 years we’ve traveled away from Him, from the true king in whose shadow I look pale, small, a man of borrowed glory!
3 The Horse
In a stable by the sea stands an old horse carved from the wood of a 1000-year old cedar tree. It stands by the window and looks out over the ocean, waiting. Gengis Khan had ridden it from the steppes of Siberia to the Black Sea. It had been a hero in its day, a talking horse even, a descendant of the Great Bucephalus, who would plan battles and win them.
Now it gathers dust behind a dirty pane and listens to the wind, waiting for the day when the things that time has frozen will stir, walk and speak up again.
The horse’s flanks quiver. The salty air bites its eyes in their wooden sockets. On its back, the stallion still feels the strong grip of a rider and wants to leap forward to freedom.
Then the flames engulf it, the roof collapses and the fire fuses cedar and oak and pine, turning history into a hot breath.
Outside, the people are pointing and gasping: it seems to them as if one ghost had pulled another, shaped like a horse, from the burning house and was making off with it straight into the sky.
Marcus Speh is a German writer. He lives in Berlin and blogs at marcusspeh.com. The three flashes in “Fires of Faith” are excerpts from his historical novel Gisela, to be published by Folded Word Press in 2015. Gisela is a medieval mosaic centered on Gisela of Bavaria who lived 1000 years ago. At age 10, she was sent to the wild Magyars in the East to become the first queen of Hungary and christianize the pagan country. She was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1975.
Mark J. Mitchell
Her compassion can burn you. The cool night
stands back and her eyes—dark as any flame—
swear sorrow away. She tries but can’t reach
anyone’s skin. Her withered hands can’t stretch
across that small gap she never explains,
but shields like a cold candle for its light.
So you turn away. Her looks pierce your back
and you suffer in her place. Her desire
is balm, tracing your nerves. She molds your cruel
smile into a prayer. Nothing you can do
will change it back. Move closer to her fire,
as if it were the moon fading to black.
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as anthologies, and has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. Two full length collections are in the works: Lent 1999 is coming soon from Leaf Garden Press and This Twilight World will be published by Popcorn Press. His chapbook Three Visitors has recently been published by Negative Capability Press. Artifacts and Relics, another chapbook, is forthcoming from Folded Word. His novel, Knight Prisoner, was recently published by Vagabondage Press and a another novel, A Book of Lost Songs is coming soon from Wild Child Publishing. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster.
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