Artist, Cheryl Dodds: Dodds was co-editor/publisher for Urban Spaghetti, a literary arts journal. Her art work has taken the form of mixed media, graphite drawings, photography, painting, woodcuts and multimedia as well as a few conceptual art projects. More of her work is online at AbsoluteArts.
I was a robber baron once and nobody would have believed it because I looked like a sweet boy with dark blond wavy hair and eyes set in blue marble.
I lived in Hamburg then. That’s a city in Germany, by a large river, the water not blue but business-grey-green, inhabited by people who’ve always looked to England for how to behave, because the town was run by patricians, by merchants, who admired the British, a deal-making nation of most successful traders.
There were many stories about brave pirates and there was a famous red light district by the harbor, which then, in times altogether more manual, inspired young men (and women). I went there one day myself to search in the face of a hooker for the face of my young robber baron self. The women were used to being made fun of by nasty boys. They started to throw me ugly looks and opened their mouths for some of the best swearing that you’ll ever hear – but then they realized I wasn’t a foul-spoken boy at all but a young robber baron and they fed me sugary sweets from golden spoons.
They really did, I’m not making it up.
Around that time I also discovered that music was something unlike the weather, something you could make and shape and twist around your ears like the curl of a beautiful girl, and you could get wet doing it and be in the presence of greatness with your eyes closed.
Music made me lose my taste for the robber baron self and for some other identities that I’d tried on, too: to be an archeologist like the great Schliemann who’d dug out Troy with his bare hands, cheered on by his Greek wife; to be a microbiologist like Paul Ehrlich, who’d cured syphilis that had killed or deformed so many weak-willed great minds. But for the robber baron, for the pirate, who was both strong and delicate, I cried the most tears while I was writing my first piece, cursing the semiquavers. It was short, I was young and I wasn’t a musical genius, but I was infected and feverish from sounds. Music, and piano music above all, altered me like a disease from within. I felt like a brigand now but I had no hero yet, no guidance on the path of sonic sunshine.
One autumn afternoon, weather like this, wet, cold and unpredictable so that you needed a good long coat, I walked down a street near the University where my mom worked then and suddenly stood in front of a giant man who wore a viking helmet and was humming something that sounded strangely attractive and was unlike anything I had heard before. I was a fearless kid always interested in eccentrics and street performers and we chatted for a long time.
A group of people with long hair came and wanted to take him away but he insisted “we have to finish talking” and he meant us! He was very easy to chat with and he invited me to a concert some time that week. I didn’t go though I’d have liked to, like the boy in Last Action Hero, who leaves home at night to immerse himself in fantastic adventures. I had never met a musician like him before. When we parted I asked his name and he said it was Moondog and laughed a beautiful belly laugh that I can still hear when I listen to his tunes. He seemed to see more than others.
For the rest of the year, I fought with my father who felt that a piano was an otiose flamboyance of the upper classes. Though my mother always took credit for bringing him round, I believe Moondog cast a spell over me that day which helped me find my true voice on a keyboard.
I dreamt of Moondog for many, many years until I made my own music again.
I battled with my memories of the stews and the sugar down by the harbor for a long time until I understood that love was free.
I grew out of the boy and the hair and the robber baron days but I still keep a rainbow belt covered with moss by my bed and I touch it at night before I go to sleep.
Marcus Speh lives in Berlin, Germany. He grew up in Hamburg where he met Moondog, the pseudonym of the blind musician Louis Harding. Marcus blogs at Nothing to Flawnt , curates the 1000 Shipwrecked Penguins project and serves as maitre d’ at kaffe in katmandu.
Lara S. Williams
Mere and Lovely Illusionary
You are a size I can cut but tricky enough to shortchange me
and I like that. I ask you, because you know me, if my
legs are on fire, if my soles would melt to the floor
and I’d be left walking barefoot like that first night
we shared a cushion and I woke with someone else’s tonsils torqued
bloody on my throat. And you drawing messages
with gore to read in a mirror, only I couldn’t find one;
we didn’t stay at my house (mine has stairs)
and I’d never been to yours so it can’t have been your toilet.
There were seven open cans of Mountain Dew in the fridge.
I don’t remember drinking them but I‘m sure I
was wearing the exact shade of lipstick sliding
from their mouths. You bought them for margaritas and promised
they were tasty; how could you lie?
And take my wallet for food? Slip away like boiled skein
from fish while I watched, lower body stuck out
(whoever’s) lounge room window. Spend my money and put
the pickle from your burger between my hanging toes.
I don’t trust you but your deal is fine, sugar like snow.
There seems to be more than when we first started – I have
powder on the back of my knee, my knee! You saw it as I
pissed in the shower and I was more embarrassed about that
than my yellow swill around the drain. You stared
like you were in love but there were red strands under your fingernails
and my hair, shampoo pressed to the tiled wall,
was blonde. Maybe I was wrong and you
grabbed by accident another’s head.
You washed hands I have never seen
and left my towel wet cold
on the toilet seat.
If I fall asleep I’ll die, a lesson to be learned by
those you haven’t met. At best
I will turn red dwarf, trailing sweet
plasma through every hospital big enough to
house your shining face.
Maybe you’d visit.
Maybe you’d hold my hand but you sure as fuck
wouldn’t kiss it.
Lara S. Williams has been published in Voiceworks, Red River Review, AustralianReader, Snakeskin, Blue Crow, Writer’s Eye, Rose and Thorn, and page seventeen. After creating the blog The Great Affairs, she regularly self-publishes travel articles and is currently the copy editor of Open Radio North Korea in Seoul. She completed her double degree in literature and creative writing at Wollongong and Sheffield Universities.
Children of the Cloud
We shrugged off the grim joke of Duck and Cover.
That some adults believed the drill would save
us from the blast of fusioned hydrogen
amused us as we quietly curled along
the corridors, the girls on one side, boys
the other. Urgent bells elicited
collective, silent chuckles, broke the dull
routines of long division, sentences
diagrammed in chalk; or brought reprieves
to those unskilled in dodge-ball, rhythm blocks.
We knew mortality early, knew the term
“Ground Zero” well from grainy black-and-whites
of what had been Hiroshima. For us,
the Cuban stand-off was a farcical
morality play we laughed at up our sleeves.
Annihilation seemed inevitable
as greasers with switchblades rumbling in the dark.
Our summers were bright. We knew the worst, and played.
A native Texan, Gary Hardaway lives on the flatlands of North Texas with his wife, writer JP Reese, three cats, and a very old dog. He has placed poetry at Divine Dirt Quarterly and has been published in Manifold, Gumball Poetry, at the IBPC, and at Connotation Press. Hardaway’s chapbook NOT FOR PROFIT was published by Silkworms Ink in 2010, and his poem “Gulf War” is at Poets for Living Waters.
She paints something she calls Blue shoes. It is a piece with no blue at all. It is a piece with no shoes. It is a piece without feet.
She remembers the first time a man sucked her toes. She was on a rush-hour CDTA bus, stuck on the bridge leaving Albany. He wore a uniform. He was the driver. She thought, Couldn’t someone else take the wheel? I’d like to be home by six. She hears the 9 & 20 bridge looks like a frown if you step back from it.
When she tries, she falls toward the river and she sees it: steel and concrete grimace as she hits the water hard. Never having learned proper strokes, she perfects underwater swimming, holds her breath longer than all other eight-year-old girls combined. Stupid cows! She scoffs. They surface for air. I’m never coming back up.
While she’s away, she talks to God, who is the famed 20-pound walleye every generation of anglers pursues. When He says, Look at what you’ve done, He means it. He has no pity. His eyes flash like other creatures that hunt at night. Dozens of sharp teeth line His jaws. She swims straight down His throat. He nibbles her toes last.
In the painting, there is a brown riverbank. There is a white sheet. You cannot see the woman beneath it. You cannot see how the fall bruised her body. She must have gone in feet first, the port authority worker who finds her will say. When I first saw her, it looked like she was wearing a pair of blue shoes.
Carolee Sherwood is a painter, mixed-media artist and poet. Her poetry has been published in a number of print and online journals, most recently appearing in Goblin Fruit, Scythe, Wicked Alice and The Centrifugal Eye. She co-manages the online poetry project “Big Tent Poetry” and contributes to “Voice Alpha,” an online forum on reading poetry for an audience.
I am unfinished.
Mother said I was a million to one. She said trout in Antarctica have better odds of making it, so what am I complaining about.
At school the kids enjoyed kicking me. I was human taffy they’d pull or bite, but no one would ever swallow. My stutter tripped me up and made me another game altogether until the principal intervened.
Here, inside my room, it is a dull playground, a planet unto itself. Mother brings meals and slips them through a slit in the bottom of the door. She says I should think about what I’m going to do when she lets me out.
The old television hasn’t worked since Dad was still around. I turn it on and watch the black and white confetti storm, the charcoal-colored bugs bumping into each other, a million of them so active and industrious.
People say I am a dwarf, a midget, a little person with a lisp. The shrink Mom sent me to kept a safe distance and took notes but wouldn’t ever reveal her findings.
When I am bored of watching the TV haze, I draw self-portraits. This one’s a ventriloquist’s dummy. His head has a backdoor where coils loop out. Inside the brain box is circuitry that makes the doll function. It’s easy to see which wires connect where, but in the drawing the dummy’s face is also visible from the side. He wears a clever smirk, similar to mine, so that the viewer doesn’t if the broken puppet wants to be fixed, or not.