Fall Issue – (Fall 2018 / 18.9)
Mark Reep is an artist, writer, and woodcutter. He lives and works in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Visit his webside: markreep.net
Mark’s dreamlike drawings blur natural and architectural elements, often in isolate, meditative context. Titles suggest narrative – small mysteries, abandonments and reclamations, new hopes built on ruins – but leave room for wonder. Mark says, “I draw found places. I’d call them imagined, but preconception doesn’t work for me. I value exploration, discovery at the drawing table, and enjoy refining detail and depth at an intimate scale – So my drawings offer viewers opportunity for close examination, further discovery as well.”
Drawing tools and materials include General charcoal pencils, Dixon Ticonderoga graphite pencils (Mark stipples a lot), Sakura Pigma Micron drawing pens (he sharpens those too). Strathmore Bristol board, dirty kneaded erasers, clean Q-Tips. A magnifier he forgets to use. Lately, bifocals.
Ann Neuser Lederer
Carding the Fleece
We’re back to the leaf piles, alternate weekdays, pined for.
Smoldering, darkness, Dad with his rake, stirring, on guard.
Simmer, the red sparks. Incense, lit. Lure of upheld arms.
The underside of moss, fine fibers gently lift, return.
Fingering the density of moss itself — how the push bounces back.
The fog horns, comforting, soft, an adequate substitute for trains.
But where are the tiny unseen tree frogs, late summer wonders, humid,
nebulous line between south and north. Who can ice skate, who cannot.
Unruly row of skateboarders zooms in the wrong direction on the one way lane.
How do we know if it’s one way (yes, another test).
Sometimes we just don’t know. Leave that for later.
But, the fleece. The almost stink of laden lanolin.
Stern tongs attached to wood. A woven band to strap on, palm facing down.
The stubborn burrs, the thistles. Did we try to wash them, after. Strands
transform to twisted knobby threads, threads to mathematics.
The actual sheep remain, like frogs, unseen.
Ann Neuser Lederer was born in Ohio and has also lived and worked in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Kentucky as a Registered Nurse. Her poetry and nonfiction appear in journals, anthologies, and in her chapbooks Approaching Freeze, The Undifferentiated, and Weaning the Babies. Additional information is available here.
The Earth is All Stones
The Edge of the World and Acacia Valley
Leave Riyadh by turning right at the King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital. (24° 41.751’N, 46° 38.126’E)
We climb to where cliffs drop. I photograph a sand gecko on the escarpment edge. Find the swirling shell of a sea snail embedded in rock. Turritellidae. Jurassic era. Overlook ancient caravan routes. Endless desert haze. Brush of sand.
The earth is all stones. There are camels in the distance. Ahmed and Hasan spread a carpet. Swirls of red and blue, with tasseled ends. We drink coffee from a Bedouin pot, dallah. Burnt gold with a long crescent spout. The coffee is black and smells of cardamom and cloves. Qahwa. When Ahmed pours he stands, holding the dallah high in his left hand. It curves through the air in a graceful arc, filling the small handleless cups in his other hand. Hasan passes us dates. Sukkary, Ajwa, Madjoul. They walk a few paces away. Stand and face Makkah. Afternoon salah.
Take the new Makkah Road West down the escarpment. (24°33.162’N, 46°14.179’E)
‘The old mud town was established in 1669. You cannot miss it, because the watchtower is visible from the road. Turn left when you spot the tower, and drive into the village from any place you see fit. It is one of the famous ruins of Najd. The tower has six parts of different heights. Small windows for light and ventilation. At the top the diameter is less than a metre. If Raghbah is on your itinerary, you should not miss a climb to the top of the tower.’
- Tumbling houses. Straggle of goats and darkling beetle. A blue door hangs askew, swings open, asking in no one. You say to take my abaya off before climbing. The spiral staircase narrows with each step. At the top we stand shoulder to shoulder and sense the tower swaying in the wind.
- Mess of mud bricks. There was too much rain Salwa said, and the tower fell, but perhaps one day they will build it again.
- Across the road, he hangs clothes on a line between two whitewashed walls. Wind catches the edge of his jalabiya. A good day for drying.
The King’s Forest
From Exit 13 on the North Ring Road take the well-posted tarmac road to Rawdhat Kuraym. (25°22.709’N, 47° 12.266’E)
We drive in convoy. Stop beside a roadside market. There is everything here for picnics. Neatly stacked firewood and fire pits. Large canisters of water, fruit, snacks. Chairs and rugs, a line-up of plastic toys. Two young men want to sell us a soccer ball. Yes, we do play, but no, we don’t want one today. Instead we buy a kite, rainbow colours, five riyals after bargaining. Ourania speaks Arabic, gets the best price.
At the King’s Forest I look for tall trees. T here is no Kahikatea canopy here, just a smattering of scrubby acacia. We gather wild flowers. Buttery mimosa, orange aloe and spires of milkweed. In the distance, Al Dahna sand dunes are stark red against the King’s green meadows. We picnic. Samara flies her kite. Later, when she gets home, it is broken, the structure too flimsy to last.
Ourania gives us plastic bags, tells us to shovel in handfuls of sand. She will use it in her garden. Later Amir will get cross and shout because the sand has gone everywhere. Ourania says that’s just what sand does and shouldn’t he know that anyway, because after all he’s from Sudan. She props up her wildflowers in the sand. Let’s the hose run. Dreams bright colours. The next day when I pass her house they are drooping.
Marjory Woodfield is a writer and teacher of literature. She has returned to New Zealand after living in Saudi Arabia. She has been published by the BBC, Nowhere, takahē, Shot Glass, and Raven Chronicles. Her short fiction has been published in Flash Frontier, and she is a Bath Ad Hoc Fiction winner and was long-listed for the Alpine Fellowship (Venice). Her writing inspiration often derives from travel within and around Saudi Arabia.
Little deer on the last day
that’s what gift giving is
and I call this laziness
but it might be complexity
plaid pants and black candles
the library non-light that fills me with dread.
In Georgia I kneel for forgiveness
in front of the Civil War wallpaper
or drag a red bone across clay
think fake swans are people on the brown lake
since we let her rot in a dark house last winter
or suffer in pink smoke and faux fur
and peppermint or say I’ll eat later.
I lucid dream six kids in snowpants
on the roof by the ocean in Boston or Russia.
I don’t own noir
and I have no strategy. I weep at meat
since everything I know
is an incoming pony corpse
and the sleigh in the town square
is covered in blood.
The deaf boy from the movie
is painting our graves
as I leave my mark in the dead mice
the fox light the lip pulp paper crowns
Every woman has a history of diaries
mine are nothing special
every woman has a velvet momentum
and I desire this scotch-drunk
sparkle forever this blue bottlebrush tree
this femme fatale blue in her bodysuit
this cold curve of her ass.
Jessie Janeshek’s second full-length collection is The Shaky Phase (Stalking Horse Press, 2017). Her chapbooks are Spanish Donkey/Pear of Anguish (Grey Book Press, 2016), Rah-Rah Nostalgia (dancing girl press, 2016), Supernoir (Grey Book Press, 2017), Hardscape (Reality Beach, forthcoming), and Auto-Harlow (Shirt Pocket Press, forthcoming). Invisible Mink (Iris Press, 2010) is her first full-length. Read more here.
This Is A Style, A Cadence
Now’s probably not the best time to tell you this, but I’m really into the Dune books now. Actually I’m not, but I’m about to be. This is something I’m considering, something I’m factoring. I’m weighing options, is what I’m doing, and these are how these stories start, all of them do. Every story I write sounds like this.
This is how they sound. I’ll start with a something, with any something doesn’t matter.
Dune, worms, spice.
Pick a thing.
A thing or another thing, doesn’t matter.
There’s a flow, a cadence, a rhythm. The words align up and line up and it doesn’t matter what they are, not even a little bit. The words don’t matter, never have, how could they? It is not about the words, never has been, so I can say this. I can say the that that I just said. I can say that about the Dune books, about how now’s probably the best time or not the best time to tell you something or not tell you something. It doesn’t matter, that doesn’t matter.
Dune doesn’t matter.
This what I’m saying. I get tired of this, tired of all of this. I am sad and tired and have been for a long time. I get tired of writing these stories. One time I tried to write a detective story. A crime story. I may have told you this already. There was a guy named John Wave in it. I was writing this with another guy, or trying to, anyway. We were going to write this story together.
This is what this sounds like, this is how this part goes.
We stopped writing John Wave because everything I wrote sounded like everything I write and everything he wrote sounded like everything he wrote. I wrote about a guy named Anthony and a purple woman. They both sounded like me, like I, both of these characters did. He wrote about characters that sounded like him. This is terrible and not the point. I am losing you, I know it. This is a part of it, though. Where I get you and then try to lose you, but only a little bit, and not really.
I’m not sure where to go from here and I wonder if I ever did. This is in the middle of this story, this right here is, but it could have just as easily come at the beginning. It could just have easily have been that, is what I’m saying.
This is what you’re hearing and this is what we are wanting, the both of us are. We are both wanting something else to happen. Something to bring us back to where we were. Back across all this to the beginning when this started, when this was new, something back then. Something interchangeable and indistinct
Here is what I look like right now. I am standing in a room, in the middle of a room. It is nondescript. Indistinct, like I just said about something else. It looks like nothing. It looks like rooms. I’m not just saying that because I have a hard time describing things, even though I do. I am terrible at it. I can’t describe how things look or how people act or feel. I don’t say things like sun-dappled or etched.
I don’t say flecks.
I don’t know what these words mean, what any of them mean, so I don’t say them. I don’t say them even when I do, even when I did. I don’t say them and it doesn’t matter because this is a style, a cadence. This is not worms or House Atreides or spice. This part is sound and cadence. This is the whole thing.
This part is the end, right here is, and it doesn’t matter. It could be the beginning, it could be the end. Same thing. Undifferentiated and indistinct. Usually what I would do is tie things up somehow. I’d say something or do something, some thing that references another thing from before.
A loop, a circle, a connection made, before or later.
Tenuously, probably, but still. But still, and even so. I would say something about Dune, maybe, some little thing about Dune that would call back to the Dune at the beginning of this story, this story that seems so short but that I started so long ago. This story that doesn’t make me feel any less sad. This story that I write and write, the one that sounds like this, like all of them, like each and every time, and I could say something about a desert. Here I could, right here at the very end. Something about Dune and dunes and crossing a desert. Something about the time between now and the beginning of this story, that could be something I could say, but now’s probably not the best time, so I’m not going to say it.
Ben Slotky’s first novel, Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy, was published by Chiasmus in 2010 and was re-released by Widow & Orphan in 2017. His work has appeared in The Santa Monica Review, Numero Cinq, Hobart, Golden Handcuffs Review, Barrelhouse, Atticus Review, Juked, and many other publications. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois, with his wife and six sons.
As with butterflies once the motion detector has been set off, the people we like to think of as kin, or related, somehow blood-bonded, or at least neighborly over the fence, are spread like electrons across the field of the screen. You cannot keep your kids in the same place as your grandparents, like a blackhole, they tend to fall in. What we do with each new generation of nervous energy is swim. But then someone was already there waiting. So circling like sharks, or turkey vultures, or, if you like, a frisbee in a hurricane, does not solve the problem. You have to come back to the place you were after you left, or connect somehow with others who have stayed away. For centuries, all of this was not Protestant or Catholic, but Huguenot and de le Montagne, or rather Manhattan and Lenape, and before that some other trans-migrational brotherhood (or sisters so) of mitochondrial red-shift, not exactly age fluid, that all says “this must be place,” may you rest in peace.
George Moore’s poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, Stand, Orion, North American Review, and the Colorado Review. A finalist for The National Poetry Series, The Brittingham Award, and the Anhinga Prize, and recently shortlisted for the Bailieborough Poetry Prize, his books include Saint Agnes Outside the Walls (FurureCycle Press 2016) and Children’s Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry 2015).
The Absence of Hands
A seagull dipped and dived in a patch of sky outside the meeting room window. Emily watched its silent glide, trying to ignore the rumbling in her belly while the Head of Department ‒ or Team Leader as he liked to be called since his Engage-and-Empower course ‒ talked about paradigm shifts and future proofing and target outcomes and growing their base. The words seeped into Emily’s bones, depleting her of the will to live. She looked at the faces of the other teachers feigning interest in the HOD’s PowerPoint presentation with its graphs and diagrams and strategies for incentivising the team to ensure core competencies in order to action best practice deliverables going forward. She wondered what would happen if the ‘team’ just stood up and walked out. Not that she blamed them for being glued to their seats. Despite the surreptitious watch-checking to see how much time was left of their lunch break before they could creep back to their desks to gulp down their sandwiches and coffee before afternoon class, no one wanted to be targeted in the next round of redundancies, especially the single mothers on part-time contracts.
But Emily had no dependants, and had a rare-as-hens-teeth full-time contract from the days when the institution had used rewards instead of threats. So what kept her glued to her seat listening to this drivel? The hope of tenure? Future promotion? She turned back to the window. Sunlight flashed on the seagull’s wings as it wheeled and turned and then vanished from her line of sight. The HOD turned back to the screen, deaf to muted sighs and called for blue-sky thinking from the team to co-create a synergy. Emily turned away from the blank window pane and empty patch of sky and slipped off the end of her row and out the door.
In the staff room she took her reports and essays from the filing cabinet and left them in neat piles on her desk. The one thing she hadn’t yet completed was her work plan for the following week. She dithered for two whole seconds. Leaving tasks undone didn’t come naturally, but she left the unfinished work plan beside the essays, picked up her bag, took out her keys, walked out the room, closed the door behind her and without a backward glance strode across the campus to her car. Some of her students waved as she passed. She waved back and felt a fleeting pang that she was letting them down.
Then she remembered the HOD’s opening remarks about impending future downsizing, or skill-mix adjustment as he preferred to call it, and the absolutely-vital-he couldn’t-emphasise-this-strongly-enough-importance-of-upskilling, though that would have to be undertaken in their own time as the budget wouldn’t stretch to employing relievers. Each department would be running their own professional development classes every weekend for six weeks, he said, and the CEO had particularly expressed the hope that all staff would participate. The HOD let his gaze rest briefly on those who were nearing retirement and added that the sessions would include IT staff mentoring teachers in the use of the new cutting-edge technology that the institution had just spent a small fortune on. He ignored the sudden fidgeting in handbags and pockets and said he would be asking for volunteers to coordinate the facilitators and to keep track of the documentation which included keeping records of when and how each staff member used the technology. And it would be really great if, at the end of the six weeks, everyone gave a presentation on how the sessions had incentivised them to incorporate the new technology into their course delivery.
“We all need to keep current,” he reminded them. “We need to maintain our cutting-edge.” He realised he’d made a joke and gave a little chuckle. “We need to remember that none of us is irreplaceable, especially if we keep churning out the same-old-same-old, boring our client-base witless.” He paused, waiting for a reaction. In case his audience hadn’t quite grasped what he was saying, he continued, “To give an example… we might think we are irreplaceable. For instance, I might believe I was essential to the smooth running of this department because I’ve done it for so long, but in fact, if I left my position tomorrow, the effect would be equivalent, say, to withdrawing my hand from a bucket of water.” Blank looks. A few sideways glances. “What I mean to say is, sure, there’d be a ripple or two at first, but then…” He shrugged and smiled.
Emily reflected that it was the most insightful remark she had ever heard him make, though she doubted he’d intended it that way. She turned the key in the ignition, drove home, packed a few essentials and headed for the highway. When the city lights dimmed behind her she saw shooting stars in the sky.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous international journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her third novel Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings(Retreat West Books, UK) will be published in 2019. She is a guest editor for Meniscus: The Australasian Association of Writing Programmes. www.sandraarnold.co.nz
I Want His Kiss
like a Mack truck wild up a runaway ramp,
like mountain rams cracking horns,
the buttery color of three o’clock light.
I want his kiss like the fall in waterfall,
heads of lilacs pulled east by gales,
river’s whitewater thrashing rocks.
I want his kiss like wet pavement wants
to take a hairpin turn on a Harley,
a brook trout fights the streamer’s hook.
His kiss the color of red-winged blackbirds,
of western bluebirds and tanagers.
I want his kiss like a sugar skull,
like peach juice running down my chin,
blue stones hurled in a lake,
the tattoo artist’s inked scar,
smell of saddle soap, leather, and reins,
a hairy armpit, I want his kiss,
footbridge over a hundred water lilies,
dirt trail to trek anew,
a poem sizzling my pillow after love.
Lindsey Royce received her Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. She also holds an M.A. from New York University and an M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Cutthroat: A Journal for the Arts; Poet Lore; and Washington Square Review. Her first poetry collection, Bare Hands, came out in September of 2016. Royce lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
There’s a screaming newborn across the street. The street is called rue de la Faisanderie, named to commemorate the fact that pheasants were once raised here so rich men could hunt and brutally kill them.
Yes, we live in the unconscionable sixteenth arrondissement of Paris.
And from this unfortunate location we can hear this unhappy human being. We’re positive our newborn can hear him, too. Sometimes, when one of them stops screaming, the other one starts.
Whenever this happens, I become jealous. I think: No one understands me so well.
No one I can hear, anyway.
And I’m listening.
Kevin Tosca’s stories have appeared in Bateau, The Frogmore Papers, Litro Magazine, The Interpreter’s House, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and elsewhere. After a decade in Europe, he now lives in Canada. Find him at kevintosca.com.
The body is mostly fists, knuckles
bruised on faces, plaintiffs, those asking
for a little longer with the rent
or a moment with a child, something
less Disney than smelling faintly
of alcohol, rum or disinfectant.
The body gets a good grip on the throat.
When it wakes it uncurls slowly,
picks up where it stopped last, doesn’t breathe
so much as ache all over, lonely.
The body bloats so the joints won’t bend.
I’ve seen it try and fail to lift
a cigarette to lips, elsewhere.
It eats until it can’t reach far enough,
sometimes paints its coldest ends to match
what lives where ideas ought to be.
The body has no problem with castles
or a great fiery pillar or mountain
resting atop a milky-skinned cloud.
Try to force its palm open flat
to press a diamond on its lips.
It will never let you go.
Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse Press) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Southern Humanities Review, Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. He currently resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.
Something Other Than the Truth
The search for my dad came to an end when my grandfather died. We last spoke a month before the funeral: “Seventy-four,” I shouted. It was his birthday, but in those waning days everything had to be shouted.
“That’s about enough,” he said. We rambled on and I lacked the wherewithal to know it would be our last conversation. I ended the call just like I ended the ones before, fully expecting there’d be another.
I traveled by train and settled into an empty compartment. One stop later, a young couple settled in next to me. They seemed poor by the looks of their clothes, but I’m not one to decipher current fashion. Sometimes we can’t see the truth because it’s easier to believe something other than the truth. They looked poor so I believed they were poor. “Where you headed?” I asked.
Neither answered my question and after an hour of silence, they were gone. Soon after, three men in suits sat down. I kept to myself until the same question I asked the kids was asked to me.
“I’m going home,” I answered, but the word home didn’t seem appropriate. I hadn’t told the truth and felt something, not guilt as guilt was far too strong, but still something moved me enough to amend my answer: “I’m going to the place where I grew up, the place that used to be my home.”
“I see,” said one. “But the word home, if defined as the place you grew up, would still apply.”
Many years had passed since I considered that place my home, but in that minute it became home again. “Yes, I believe it does apply. I’m going home.”
At the next stop, they rose together and filed out the compartment. A moment later, I saw them walking on the platform, one after the other.
My mother died when I was born and this saddened me, but at least I knew what happened. My father presented a different situation: of him, I knew nothing. I had been told only that within a week of my birth, he was gone. My entrance marked my mom’s exit, and he resented me, couldn’t possibly raise me, so he left. That was all I knew.
“Where do you think he is?” I’d sometimes ask. My grandfather always gave me a gaze that hinted deeper knowledge, and then he’d say: “Why do you care?”
“What was he like?”
“He was a good man.”
A good man wouldn’t have left.
The train eased into the station and from there I walked to his house. Memories flew when I opened the door: “Do you remember climbing that tree?” he asked during my last visit.
“I climbed that tree?”
“So high the branches bowed. I was sure you’d fall.”
“But I never fell.”
“No, you never fell.”
Later, I walked next door. “You’re all grown up,” said his neighbor, and her eyes filled with tears. “It’s so good to see you.” She pulled me inside. “You always came looking for candy.”
“Yes, and I always gave you some.”
“Whatever I had, you didn’t care. And if I didn’t have any, I’d give you a spoonful of sugar and you were just as happy.”
But I wasn’t there to talk about candy. “Can you tell me about my dad,” I asked.
Again, her eyes glazed over. “Before your grandfather died, he told me something. I guess he knew you’d find me and he knew what you’d ask. He said there’s a letter for you. It was written a long time ago, but it’s time you read it. He said it’s from your father.”
The sun had set by the time I left. At my grandfather’s I washed up and went to bed. The letter had waited all this time, and it could wait a little longer.
Sometimes we can’t see the truth because it’s easier to believe something other than the truth. I found the letter and finally held something from my dad. It began with “Dear Son,” and it surprised me someone I’d never met could call me that. Then it said, “If you’re reading this, I must be dead.” That was okay with me and I read on, but realized I recognized the handwriting. The letter had been written by my grandfather. I skipped to the bottom: “I hope you can understand and if not, at least forgive me.”
I found my dad. He’d been there all along, but chose to reveal himself only after he was gone. It was almost time for the funeral. I had never known him alive and had no desire to see him dead. I laid the letter on the table and walked to the station, where I boarded the next train home.
Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, and sometimes very short. Recent work has appeared in Spelk Fiction, New World Writing, and Star 82 Review. He lives in New Orleans.
from “The Girls / The Boys”
Sisters of Doom
Don’t start by asking about the mud. Don’t start by saying
we’re an unholy trio. We are not the three monkeys who
see, hear, or speak no evil. Closer maybe to the Fates. Yes—
sisters, dirty blondes, literally and figuratively. And we are
hated, you see. Truth-tellers are always shunned. You might
swear we came from the muddy pillow fight at Glen Ellen,
but that would be a damned lie. This mud has been flung
at us, at our faces and our naked girl bodies, wet,
gritty, punishing. They, the hooded ones, stripped off
our clothes. Turned us to dirt. Soon we, the violated, will
be violating. Clo will spin the rope. Latchie will measure it.
Then Atty will cut it and them. See our unblinking eyes,
grim, filthy faces, the new-moon shadows of our budding
breasts. Take care. Beware as we gaze out at you from
the photograph you snapped—we are watching.
In an Empty Classroom
A boy with a coxcomb of ruddy hair, white shirt,
tie, and hoodie. His crossed feet are up on
the teacher’s desk. Detention. Behind him
the blackboard is blank, a chalk eraser resting
out-of-reach on its ledge. Did he swipe it clean?
Or was he told to fill it with equations
or looping rows of I’m-so-sorrys? A boarding boy
in a tie-required kind of place, and what
was his sin? For what unlawful trespass has he
been nailed? Nothing racist or depraved
but mouthy, I suppose, immune to authority,
jealous of his unboarded friends who live
free from neck-noose-grade-grubbing.
Go on, kick me out, his face says, as he waves
a lit cigarette, blows a smoke halo above
his head, and watches as it rises and slowly
thins. So do me a favor, assholes. And yourselves.
Let me go. . . .
The Shut Door
In chalk on the black door, someone has drawn
the world yet to come. A child—androgynous,
with a tangle of ink-dark hair—is taking that
future, using both hands to smudge it, to blur
the clouds, the ascension. Now chalk in hand,
he/she, in Oshkosh overalls and Keds, short legs
splayed, is screeching out a new vision. Here,
there are gateless fences to trap and imprison,
angry scribbles and, below, lines that might be
grass but are, instead, fire, conflagration.
We can’t see the child’s face, but when someone
bullies through the shut door his/her face will
be licked and crazed by the silent white flames.
Editor’s note: These poems will be included in Familiar Tense (Marsh Hawk, 2019)
Susan Terris’ recent books are Familiar Tense (Marsh Hawk, 2019), Take Two: Film Studies (Omnidawn, 2017), Memos (Omnidawn, 2015), and Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk, 2012). She’s the author of 6 books of poetry, 16 chapbooks, 3 artist’s books, and one play. Journals include Denver Quarterly, The Southern Review, Georgia Review, and Ploughshares. Online publications include Blackbird and PoetryBay. A poem of hers appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. A poem from Memos was in Best American Poetry 2015. Ms. Terris is editor emerita of Spillway Magazine and a poetry editor at Pedestal. Read more here.
Anna Vangala Jones
The 69th Street Pier
The pier is long and was once made of old, damp wood. That wood now lies hidden beneath layers of green-tinged cement decking, gussied up by sporadic mosaic brick patterns. At its center, a plain and simple monument erupts into the night sky, around which pigeons pitter patter in steady rhythm, attracted to the sculpture’s pale light. Dark water stretches out underneath the 69th Street Pier and spills soundlessly out on either side of it, licking and lapping at the faraway base of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Alight with car-shaped marbles whizzing across it, the bridge disappears into the distance, its physical size and length far more impressive and significant than the peopled pier. The Statue of Liberty, a mirror image of her postcard self, remains cool and motionless in the face of the Hudson’s playful tickling at her heels. The chaotic call of the visible Manhattan is unheard here. The serenity of the scene is only interrupted by the occasional blast of a ship’s horn, its owner seeking the bridge’s shadow. The perpetrators, from the vantage point of the pier, resemble nothing more than bathtub boats, weaving and bobbing atop muted waves.
The moon is crescent-shaped and unimposing, a silent observer of the long pier. It sees old men grouped in triangles, fishing rods held loosely in wrinkled hands. A rare word or chuckle escapes the chapped lips of the pier’s loyal fishermen. Children rush past, some scooting along on wheels, others relying on only their tiny feet to carry them. They emit heavy, short breaths blended with shrieks of delight. Some cries are uttered rapidly in languages from foreign lands while others are familiar, drawn-out English syllables. Bicycles, lazy and aloof, circle benches while the jarring clatter of a skateboard crashing to the cement ground from a small height is repeated every so often. An old woman whose only home might be the pier, donning a winter hat and down jacket, leaves a trail of loose feathers floating out of her sleeves as she pushes a cart of used soda cans ahead of her. On a stained brown bench nearby, a young couple reads aloud to one another.
“The end.” The worn out, tattered cover of the book flutters in protest as the boy with the twinkle eyes snaps it shut.
“Don’t say the end – just let the story sit and linger in silence.” The girl with the knowing smile shifts, resting her head against his chest and feeling its subtle movements beneath her cheek. “Most of them don’t really end anyway, do they?”
“No, I guess they don’t.” He is stroking her exposed left earlobe with his thumb, rubbing and tugging, applying pressure and releasing.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t tell you how to do it.” Now her left leg, which is crossed over the right, begins to jiggle. Slowly at first and then faster, as her foot plays an upbeat jazz number in the cold night air. The toes of her maroon shoe catch the side of his pinstripe cloth covered shin.
“No, you shouldn’t. But you were right that time.” He jerks away from her. “Cut it out, you’re kicking me.”
She sits up, sucking the last of her cigarette’s goods in as deep as she can without coughing. She exhales, slow and smooth like. The grey cloud that billows from her mouth and poofs apart into nothing holds both of their attention for a quiet minute.
“It’s nice reading with you out here on the pier, you know,” he says, almost against his will, playing with her elbow like it’s a doorknob. She hides the unkind victory in her grin by closing her laughing lips once again around the cigarette’s damp filter tip.
The scene is fading and the crystal clear image of the couple blurs as the moon blinks offending stardust out of its fuzzy, tired eye. The moon is used to seeing couples, old and young, enjoy the act of being here more than each other. It resumes its harmless night gazing and zooms back out. The pier is still long and the fishermen remain seated and smoking amidst gruff throat clearings, their fishing rods propped carefully in specially designated grooves atop the pier’s railing. A child runs past them wheee! And trips splat! His chin bumps the cement as he lands with the grace and poise of an over-excited baby chimp. Before the shocked and embarrassed wail of pain can part company with his small, sprawled out body, he is swooped up into the warm arms of an older sister, magically conjured to arrive at his aid. A lean and trim cyclist rolls up to a spare bit of unoccupied railing and hops off his mobile throne to place his elbows on the windowsill of the pier.
Gentle swishing sounds of wind on water increase in volume now as the night air grows steadily colder. The chill causes the Statue of Liberty to shiver ever so slightly, the draping of her pale green dress left unruffled. The dim light of the now sleepy and less curious crescent moon reflects off of the pier’s mosaic brick patterns, causing them to twinkle and smile. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance glows less brilliantly now, with far fewer vehicles tap dancing across it in a frenzied reach for home. Now only a small number glide along in a relaxed imitation of ballet dancers, heading to nowhere. The city that never sleeps, across the Hudson, decides to tuck itself in for a quick power nap just this once. The orange lights on the water are no longer dancing the hula. They simply shimmy a casual shimmy before settling into a hypnotic sway. A blackened cigarette stub gracefully swan dives into the dark pool rippling below the once wooden 69th Street Pier as if to say, “And to all a good night.”
Anna Vangala Jones is an Assistant Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket and an Editorial Assistant on the fiction team at Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in several print and online publications such as Catapult, Berkeley Fiction Review, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, The Brown Orient, Gravel, and The MacGuffin, among others. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of The Net Anthology, and selected as the Longform Fiction Pick of the Week. Find her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Distilling Fragrance from Ruin
Before the cold scent of loss swept across rooms
and walls cracked and buckled and white paint
wept with soot, before cats crept and mildew
crawled and floorboards creaked their timeworn
song and gnawing dwellers cellared midst
the musty offerings of an American Foursquare,
before mothballs and kerosene, dust and acrimony
owned the air, kindred combined, lilacs graced
the beige lace spread set for five, candles kindled
with vanilla’s solacing scent, and summertime
slid through the screen door with fragrances
that could warm even the coldest of losses, heal
the oldest of wounds, without notice, on any given
Jeannie E. Roberts has authored four poetry collections and one children’s book. Her most recent collection is The Wingspan of Things, a poetry chapbook (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). She is also the author of Romp and Ceremony, a full-length poetry collection (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and Beyond Bulrush, a full-length poetry collection (Lit Fest Press, 2015).
The Poet’s Grave
Neither girl was willing to get out of the car.
We had stopped at our destination, the old convent at Jerusalem – in Māori , Hiruharama – and found a space to park the car. It was a 66 kilometre journey alongside the Whanganui River to Hiruharama, and the road was narrow and winding. The younger daughter had complained of feeling sick.
I tried to persuade them: mentioned dormitories with single beds in curtained cubicles where the nuns would have slept, and a room full of long ago medicinal remedies made from plants. I said a famous poet was buried in the grounds. I’d seen him reading in a café once when I was young. I didn’t know why I said this. I should have known nothing would work.
We left them to it, and went into the two-storeyed wooden convent. I saw the dormitories upstairs.
Downstairs, I studied the information about the scientifically-minded French woman who had founded the religious order. She had arrived in this country with a knowledge of botany and chemistry. In Hiruharama she learned more about the medicinal properties of native plants from local tohunga rongoa or healing specialists. She would head out with Maori companions early in the morning to collect the parts of plants. I read the label on a bottle of Paramo, intended for dropsy, gout, rheumatic fever and bilious attacks.
But it was the poet’s grave I had come to see.
Outside, we met a nun and I asked where the famous poet was buried. She said she would take us to his grave. We went up a winding path into some wild and free gardens. The grave was simple. A cross with the word Hemi on it. I pulled out my camera. The nun caught my arm. “No photographs,” she said. I could see she meant it.
I thought of the time I had seen the poet, all those years ago. He was short and scruffy, with long tangled hair and a beard. He read his poems at the student hangout while three girls from my English literature class, each with long brown hair, one with a necklace of bells that jangled when she moved, sat on the floor beside his chair. His feet were bare – and dirty from so much walking on city pavements, someone in our group informed us; that night a couple of the boys from the veterinary school fought to offer to drive him back to where he was staying. I wasn’t aware of his fame so much then.
Later, I would read somewhere about the startling vision that shook him awake one night. The vision caused him to grab a Bible from a nearby shelf. The book fell open on a page and he found one word staring up at him: Jerusalem. That was how he knew he was meant to begin the commune at Hiruharama to which hundreds of young people would flock, seeking answers to their troubled lives.
I thanked the nun. We went back to the car. ‘’We saw the poet’s grave,’ I said, to myself as much as to our daughters. The girls didn’t care. They were squabbling over a book of stickers I’d bought to keep them entertained.
Kate Mahony’s short fiction has been published in international literary journals and print anthologies including: The Best New Zealand Fiction #6 (Random House, New Zealand), Landmarks UK, 2015, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), 2015, and Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, 2018.) She has a MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, Wellington. More here: http:// www.katemahonywriter.com
Four swans in a broken V,
early morning flight.
a witch’s curse upon them.
Cloaked in feathers,
shamans chanting dreamtime,
they rest upon a foreign shore
their story scattered
like breaking tide,
fractured folklore ebbing,
washed from memory.
Tony Bailie is the author of two chapbook collections, Coill and The Tranquillity of Stone published by Lapwing Publications, and poems have appeared in A New Ulster, Revival, Crannóg, Boyne Berries, and Books Ireland. Two novels, The Lost Chord and ecopunks, were published by Lagan Press. I work as a journalist in Belfast. More information on his writing here.
A Mysterious Visitor from God Knows Where
Blurry eyed I reach for my phone, which is lying on the seat beside my bed, to check the time: 6:49 a.m. I need to piss, but I half can’t be bothered. Forcing myself to act, I stumble out of bed and clumsily, drowsily open the creaky bedroom door, make my way out into the darkened hallway, then up a small set of stairs (three or four), through the dining room/kitchen to the bathroom. The bathroom is small and cramped consisting of a washing machine, sink, small bath/shower, and toilet, all in that order, from left to right, turning clockwise, as you enter.
I pee like a camel. Eyes half open, my lids keep shutting like automatic doors. It sounds like someone’s running a bath – this seemingly neverending stream of excess liquid leaving my body. With great relief, like finally arriving at your destination after a long arduous journey, the flow comes to a slow halt and I shake the last few drops into the toilet.
Turning back anti-clockwise to the sink to wash my hands, I spot a bird on the window sill in the early-morning twilight. This bird’s different from the usual ones found in this Polish village. Similar to a silvereye or pihipihi from back home. But different colours: a firey peachy-orange belly, a bluey-grey top, darker wings, black streak through its eyes below which a white face, a much smaller white streak, like an eyebrow, above its eye. A little mystery. I’ve never seen such a bird here. Who sent this bird to me on this hazy morning? She’s a messenger. Of that I’m sure. Just as she’s about to reveal her secret she flies off. Gone. Leaving me with this biting curiosity.
Outside, in my boxer shorts and pyjama T-shirt, I look around for the little godsend. The only birds I initially see are the swallows. They’re perched on the power line in a group against the dimly glowing, thinly clouded morning sky. They look like musical notes on a score. They’re raucous. Their mad chirping sounds anything but a song. More like petty village gossip – they’re probably talking about me and my search for my little messenger!
Although I can’t see them, I can hear the annoying ca-coo-coo ca-coo-coo of the pigeons: their constant complaining about being stuck in some place they shouldn’t (they’re better suited to a town square or a city park where children can chase them and the eccentric can feed and befriend them). Ca-coo-coo, kind of like the owl of daylight. Except the pigeons are not wise but stupid, not special but commonplace. As though the owl’s hooting is the original and their pigeon’s coo is the copy.
My sweet little visitor, my little messenger, has vanished. She’s nowhere to be seen.
The swallows flutter off the power lines as if they’re musical notes flying off sheet music. Like how good writers have the ability to make words fly off the page, they’re escaping their confines, coming to life. And what a racket they make in the process! I look north to see a couple of pigeons landing on the apex of the highest outbuilding – a big old farm shed. They’re acting strange and, before long, they attempt to fornicate. It’s a flapping, unsuccessful mess. They fly off in failure to God knows where … probably to try again. The crows caw, an unexpected addition to the frenzy so early in the morning, pierces through the din. There they are, over there, in the trees. Birds so black that they’re silhouetted whatever the background. Witchy and spooky, straight out of a Bergman film, they send out some sort of warning. Caw. Caw. The magpies, a similar bird, are here too, in the distance, but they’re not to be heard, as quiet as mouses, watchful, they defend their territory like they all have some paranoid disorder.
The storks, up there in the sky, fly into the frame. A striking contrast to the fluttering madness, the mad chirping, the chaotic choir closer to earth. They’ve arrived like missionaries from some far off land bringing some promise of a Saviour and an incomprehensible Paradise. Gliding up there, so elegantly and effortlessly, in silent, otherworldly, swooping beauty. Having no concern whatsoever for earthly affairs, they show us all there is a way. They are so white, so pure, so clean, so ethereal … so much so they become out-of-reach and unrelatable.
Where’s that strange little bird, who came just for me? Came to the ground, down to my level, through the glass pane of the window looked me in the eye and …
Nick Fairclough is a New Zealander currently living in Obra, Poland with his wife and two boys. His short works have appeared in print and digital publications in NZ, Ireland, England, and America. These stories make up his first collection of short fiction, The Tidal Island and Other Stories. Find out more at https://nickfairclough.wordpress.com/
Connie Jordan Green
How You Might Spend the Solstice
after Wendy Videlock
like a cicada
like a rowboat
like a checkered tablecloth
wakened as a wren
as a swallowtail
like your back
your hand a trowel
squash sprout on your head
in your backyard
Connie Jordan Green lives on a farm in Loudon County, Tennessee, where, when she isn’t gardening, she writes in a small attic study. She is the author of two novels for young people, two poetry chapbooks, and two full-length poetry collections. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She leads writing workshops for various groups.
I’m sitting on a metal patio chair on the back deck at my in-laws’ place in Mexico City. My ass sticks to the metal through my thin dress. My husband’s aunt lives on the ground floor. I can hear her singing loudly to the radio: Big Old Jet Airliner.
I have not exactly come outside to escape my husband and my in-laws. But there is nowhere to comfortably sit in their cramped apartment. The daybed is high up. I think my mother in law, a sinewy dyed blonde, sleeps there. And the leather couch is covered in fleece blankets, because the dogs sleep there. My father in law has recently discovered weed, and the whole place smells like Cheech and Chong’s van.
Inside, my husband and his mother are hunched over the computer, scanning ancestry websites. My father-in-law reclines in front of the fan in his room, hands curled around his bong. Adding a hair-raising occasional surprise are the parrots, Tito and Pupi, who are allowed to fly freely around the apartment. I believe Tito and Pupi are the reason for my father in law’s high blood pressure, although he blames his exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. I have barely slept since our arrival four days ago.
My husband’s aunt switches to Dirty Deeds Done Cheap, but her lusty voice is immediately obscured by the roar of a motorcycle entering the tiny parking lot behind the building. Another relative? No, it’s the Chinese food we have ordered. I hear my husband’s aunt saying we are all upstairs, and to my surprise, a skinny old guy in a white t shirt and black jeans ascends the back stairs to where I am sitting. I’d expected him to come around the front.
“Rosalba Murillo?” he asks, and I nod yes. It really is a shame I have lost all my Spanish. He sets two bulging plastic sacks down on the patio table and after I determine he already has the credit card number, I sign my mother-in-law’s name, adding a whopping tip.
Tia Diana is belting out Smoke on the Water. Inside Tito and Pupi are shrieking. My father-in-law has switched his television on and laughs boomingly at a variety show he watches every evening at this time.
I curve my hands in front of my chest, puppy style, then rotate them in imitation of a motorcycle throttling. The delivery man laughs, showing a crooked smile with gold at the back. He has turquoise paint spattering the front of his jeans. And he isn’t all that old. He extends a hand and I follow him barefoot in my sundress. I hop on the back of the bike.
The seat sears my flesh. Before we leave the city limits, my hair is dry.
Patricia Q. Bidar is a San Leandro, California-based reader and writer, and alum of the UC Davis Graduate Writing Program. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, The Citron Review, formercactus, Flash Flood Journal, Postcard Shorts, and Spillwords.
They can’t come soon enough,
the purple finch and black dove,
as light subsides and another day
slips into the books.
Then night will take over
as minister of beginnings
and ends, like a proud eagle
carrying a scythe in its beak
as it swoops through your imagination.
Soon dreams will burrow deeper
than Royal Gorge, and you’ll engage
fairies bathing in an amethyst fountain,
pixies with baskets of ripe fruit
and elves shoeing unicorns.
All of them jolly, all of them real
as the moon beneath your feet.
Inevitably without warning
space will turn inward
as specs of light
dart in and out of view,
Though time may pose a paradox
you won’t be concerned because
it will no longer be relevant.
And you of all people
not about to get sidetracked
by doubtable visions and visitations
that don’t add up to a pile of lightning.
Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly and Pushcart Prize nominee. His poetry and interviews have appeared in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Florida English Journal, Cream City Review, Mandala Journal, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Boston Poetry Magazine. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems.
Big Island Reunion
Our Christmas reunion photo shows how families morph. One by one, year by year, birth by marriage, ten new members have arrived since this century began, ten of the nineteen who are smiling at the camera.
We pose by a swimming pool on Hawai’i’s big Island, arranged in three rows. Three generations—the three youngest with their feet in the water, the middle eight standing on the deck, and the most aged eight (I among them) balanced oh so carefully atop a little stone wall. There’s not a sad face in the picture.
At top right: my brother Skip, now bald like his dad. At top left: my sister Leslie, who organized this trip. I’m in the middle, flanked by my wife, cousins, and in-laws. Is it a coincidence that Leslie, Skip, and I stand in birth order? Or that like our ages, the line of height slopes up, from left to right?
Next Christmas we’ll have four rows, but the step below Emma, Mila and Ian lies too deep in the water to support the baby. We’ll need steps that rise, like an escalator. But escalator steps go up only so far before they lose their human cargo and loop back to the bottom. One of those metal platforms discharged Stan, our patriarch, when he was ninety-six. Now it’s traveling down to pick up the next arrival.
I hope I don’t lose my balance too soon.
Anthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared in, among other places, DIAGRAM, Hippocampus Magazine, Superstition Review, War, Literature, and the Arts, Word Riot, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies, including California Prose Directory and Workers Write! His work is upcoming in, among other places, North Dakota Quarterly. A four time Pushcart Prize nominee, he received honorable mention in Sequestrum’s 2016 Editor’s Reprint Award.
Why I Love Fall
In January’s gray mist, the wind howls, ice crunches.
March brings raucous birds and bugs.
In summer it’s man alive and machine, too,
buzzing and banging all over everything.
Fall is the quiet time.
Every day you wake up waiting for something.
The September hush arrives with only the slightest rustle,
air hanging full of words
like tree branches lined with wrens.
Then poems start to stop by
lighting here for a rest as they migrate
to wherever they hibernate.
Since I was a child I knew
autumn’s gift was not just color,
coolness and the high blue canopy,
but knowledge of time passing,
quiet that hurts,
a slant of light that falls over the face like a veil
hot current of words coursing overhead
my limbs shedding leaves that carry poems.
What good has this wisdom brought me?
I will die in more pain than most.
Yet still I keep reaching and calling out,
lift an arm and whistle:
Come to me, here in the color and quiet.
Rita Quillen’s new full-length poetry collection, The Mad Farmer’s Wife, was published in 2016 by Texas Review Press, a Texas A & M affiliation and was a finalist for the prestigious Weatherford Award in Appalachian Literature from Berea College. Rita Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra, released by Little Creek Books, was a finalist for the 2005 DANA Awards, and a chapter of the novel is included in Talking Appalachian, a scholarly study of Appalachian dialect published by the University of Kentucky Press in 2014. She also published a new poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press in 2014 titled Something Solid To Anchor To. One of six semi-finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she received a Pushcart nomination in 2012 and 2015, and a Best of the Net nomination in 2012.
Matthew Roy Davey
Dad is trying to tune the new colour TV in the living room and I am outside the back door playing with the old black and white set which for some reason no longer contains it’s insides which allows me to look through the screen and pretend to be John Craven reading the news, only there is no one there to watch me. Through the imitation teak, the rectangular view with curved corners shows our narrow strip of lawn, garden path and concrete drive with carport. Earlier that morning Dad had swept the carport and tidied his tool, hanging them on hooks drilled into the wall. It is never used for the car, an Austin 1100 which stays out on the road. Midway through announcing the birth of a panda in Bristol Zoo a movement draws my eye to a point in the carport where the concrete meets the upright. I freeze as though someone had pressed pause on one of the new videorecorders that no one I know will own for another ten years.
Scuttling along the right angle is the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life, as big as my father’s huge hands, black and thick-legged. It is moving fast, nightmare fast, and is headed in my direction. The play button is pushed and John Craven lets rip a shriek of terror which in turn mutes the cursing coming from the living room. Dad is fast but not fast enough, by the time he arrives John Craven has legged it from the studio and dived back into the kitchen. I try to show him the spider but it too has made a swift exit and when I show him how big it was he only laughs no matter how much I insist. Why do people trust John Craven so much more than me?
Matthew Roy Davey was winner of The Observer short story competition 2003 and winner of the Dark Tales competition (August 2013). He has been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award (Spring and Autumn 2017) and Reflex Flash Fiction competition (Spring 2017). His story ‘Waving at Trains’ has been translated into Mandarin and Slovenian and been published in anthologies by Vintage and Cambridge University Press. Recent work appears in Everyday Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Odd Magazine, and Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine. Matthew has also been recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
My sea sisters float
off the South Florida coast,
beg me to join them, to rise,
like Lazarus, from my sack cloth and ash.
You hold me, remind me not to toss salt,
stare into old mirrors or walk backwards
when sea winds blow through.
Feathers litter the floor
from my attempts to grow wings
on limbs too weakened by illness
to hoist white against blue
or hold steady against the rush
of an angry wave.
My cat cries to go out.
The radio blares.
My bottlebrush tree bleeds
all over my trembling windowpanes.
The poems of Pris Campbell have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Nominated six times for a Pushcart, nine books/chapbooks of her poetry have been published. My Southern Childhood, from Nixes Mate is her most recent book. A former Clinical Psychologist, sailor and bicyclist until sidelined by ME/CFS in 1990, she makes her home in the Greater West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Goldwater!” my friend Steve spat. “He’s crazy! He’ll start a war with Russia! He voted against the Civil Rights Act!”
We were on our way home after school, tossing a football back and forth that brisk late October afternoon, when we saw the bumpersticker on the back of Mr. Ellis’ Ford Galaxie, the symbols from the Periodic Table. We knew his son Gary from Mrs. Potts’ seventh grade English class, but we hadn’t known the family’s politics, only that Mr. Ellis was a big wheel at the Elks Club and the Rotary.
Suddenly the elements of the owner of the best clothing store in Potawatomi Rapids were stark as a chemical equation: a Republican warmonger, a bigot, a conservative. Ourparents were voting for Johnson. LBJ All the Way! our car stickers proclaimed.
How could we ever buy our shirts again at Ellis’ Men’s Clothing? But wouldn’t that be like refusing to drink water, breathe air, like giving up on sleep?
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, has just been published by FutureCycle Press.
On my daily lunch break,
I hug to the shade begrudged
by ornamental plums and
houses, trying to move
slowly enough to stay
cool while at the same
time going as far I can
from what awaits me
at my point of origin, but
not so far that I can’t make
it back at the end of my
allotted half hour. When
sudden vibrations radiate
out from an epicenter in
my chest, as always, I
jump as if I’ve been shot
between the shoulder blades
by a sniper or am suffering
a heart attack. It takes me an
flight moment to remember
that it is, yet again, just a
call coming through on the
cell phone in the pocket of
my sweat-soaked, white
Arrow dress shirt. Perhaps
the Communication folks
have set it up so that I’ll be
automatically warned that
I’m straying too far, in much
the same way as dogs are
that wear collars capable of
administering electric shocks.
Kyle Heger, former managing editor of Communication World magazine, lives in Albany, CA. His writing has won a number of awards and been accepted by 50 publications, including London Journal of Fiction, Nerve Cowboy, and U.S. 1 Worksheets.
North of Otaki the traffic slows. An accident, maybe.
“Can you pass me some peas?” Mark holds his hand out.
They had stopped at a vegetable stall a couple of kilometres north of the crawling traffic. Molly, Mark’s daughter, had chosen them especially. Felicity leans forward to get the plastic bag of peas at her feet, tears open the plastic and hands Mark a few pods.
He tugs off the stem and pulls the fine thread down the length of the pod, easing his thumb along to open it. He steers with his knees while balancing the clutch with the accelerator to keep up with the traffic. He goes too close to the next car’s bumper.
He throws the pod onto the dashboard.
“Can I have some?” Molly asks.
Felicity passes back a few pods.
Mark’s son is sitting in the back seat with Molly. He has been quiet all the way home. When Felicity looks in the side mirror all she sees is the navy of the hoodie over his head.
They had driven up to Palmerston North so Sammy could view some flats but before they even got there, the rooms had been filled.
Sammy didn’t get out of the car at the fruit and vegetable place, preferring to sit in the hot car with his phone.
Around every bend of the road they think the reason for the snarl up will be revealed, but the traffic continues south around another bend, and another. A cyclist speeds by the car on the inside and they laugh.
* * * * *
Sammy’s leaving early in the morning. He’s found a flat and paid the bond. It happened as suddenly as the traffic cleared south of Otaki on their road trip – there was no accident, just congestion. Sammy’s mum is coming around to collect Mark’s old desk that he’s kept in the shed. It just fits in the back of the station wagon.
From the bedroom window Felicity can see the four of them – Mark and his ex with their two children – standing out the front talking. Sammy looking pale after a summer spent playing computer games but sounding the most animated she’s ever heard him.
Felicity can’t hear what they’re saying, but she looks at Mark standing opposite his ex, and how his ex holds Molly close, while Sammy stands off the path on the grass. The ex releases Molly and goes to the car and comes back with a camera – one where you look down into a box and twist lenses to focus. The ex takes a picture of Sammy, and then Sammy with Mark, and then Molly joins in. Then Mark takes the camera and snaps the ex with Sammy and Molly sitting on the front steps.
Felicity watches their family photos on the porch. Sammy’s never lived here. And this is her house, not the ex’s, and yet she feels out of place.
Felicity opens the bedroom window and taps on it to get their attention. “Do you want me to take one of you all together?”
“Yes, that would be great,” the ex replies.
Felicity hadn’t expected her to sound so enthusiastic. She hurries down the stairs.
“So, you look though here, and focus with this,” the ex turns the dial for the lens, “and then draw this back as far as it will go, and push this button.”
It’s a lot more complicated than Felicity expected. Felicity tries to line up the family in the lens.
“It’s just like looking in a mirror,” the ex encourages.
Felicity moves her body rather than the camera to get everyone in the frame. She turns the dial, draws back.
She finds the family through the lens and brings them into focus, pushes the button, and realises the camera is not like a mirror at all.
In a mirror she would see herself.
Rebecca Styles has completed a PhD in creative writing at Massey University, where she wrote a novel based on an ancestor’s experience of mental illness at Seacliff Asylum. She’s had short stories published in New Zealand journals and anthologies, and teaches short story writing at Wellington High School Community Education Centre.
Through no fault of my own
I begin to heal him,
tenderly smooth his brows,
describe their limits, my power between them.
I close all doors and call my body Safety,
brush soft feathers on his chest.
First the Virgin Bride
then the feisty whore –
soon I cannot tell apart the scent of lust
and love’s sweet perspiration.
His base notes shudder
as I sing the hymn he plays,
the chorus softer now,
as when a bird retreats to the woods.
I begin the old business.
All the time at prayer.
Lee Nash lives in France and freelances as an editor and proofreader. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals including Acorn, Ambit, Angle, Magma, Mezzo Cammin, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Heron’s Nest, and The Lake. Her first poetry chapbook, Ash Keys, has just been released from Flutter Press.
They got on at Avenue X, two sturdy women in plain black dresses, a boy a couple of years younger than me trailing behind them. They settled on the blue plastic bench directly across from us, the boy wedged between the two women. I remember my mother dragging me around like that when I was a kid, but I had put a stop to that.
The boy was was frail and chalky, thick Woody Allen glasses, straight dark hair that fell off his forehead and across his eyebrows. He rocked a brown paper shopping bag between his knees, one of his hands clasped around each handle. When I caught him staring at Cindy, he quickly turned away.
Summer vacation had just begun and Cindy and I had spent the afternoon at the beach. We lounged in the sun on our towels, played skeeball in the arcade, took a long walk along the edge of the water where the wet sand squeezed between our toes, smooth and spongy. Her face was hot and pink, brown freckles sweating on the bridge of her nose. The wind blew strands of her pale yellow hair across my shoulder.
The train’s air conditioning was blasting. I felt Cindy shiver. Her bathing suit was soaking through the cotton blouse tied in a knot at her midriff. A thin film of sand glistened on her thighs. She looked much older than fifteen. I couldn’t blame the kid for looking.
Cindy had moved to Brooklyn that April from some small town in Tennessee. I could never remember the name. She had just this little bit of a southern accent, a twangy rise in her voice that turned every sentence into a question. She sat in front of me in Chemistry class her first day at school. I introduced myself and latched on before anyone else could move in.
The women talked loudly in a guttural foreign language – maybe German, or Yiddish – their hands crossing in front of the boy’s face to punctuate their conversation. His eyes kept darting over to steal a glance at Cindy. She winked at him and he quickly craned his head toward the ceiling. She dug her elbow into my ribs and tucked herself tighter under my arm. He couldn’t help himself: a minute or two later his eyes wandered back. Cindy turned and planted her tongue in my ear. It was hot and wet and sent a shudder down the length of my body.
The boy’s mouth opened in disbelief.
As we approached Ditmas Avenue, one of the women got up and kissed the boy lightly on the top of his head.
“Be a good boy and carry your mother’s bundles home for her.” She patted the mother on her arm. “Be well,” she said.
The mother straightened her dress and looked our way briefly as we lumbered into the Church Avenue station and jolted to a stop. She got up and took the boy by the arm, leading him toward the door, crimping her face as she passed. The boy lingered at the threshold. Then the mother yanked him out onto the platform as the doors began to roll shut.
I felt kinda sorry for the kid, being dragged around by his mother like that.
Then Cindy threw her head back, laughing, extending her legs out in front of her, waggling her feet up and down with delight. She squeezed my leg, just above the knee, and I forgot all about the kid, dreaming instead about what lay ahead of me, a whole summer filled with endless possibilities.
Ralph Uttaro was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York where he developed a fascination with the city’s subway system and its diverse and colorful cast of riders. Previous stories with subway settings have appeared in this journal and in decomP magazine and Apeiron Review. He currently lives and works in the suburbs of Rochester, New York where he commutes to work daily in the quiet, solitary confines of his car.
Just off the highway in Leroy Township
exit ramp ending at a stop sign and ruins
an abandoned Phillips 66
the cracked concrete yielding ironweed
scattered glass cement block diner wall sign FRESH PIE
I used to stop, open my wrist, hold my up-turned palm out,
let her come, the shy one, the Indian pony.
She let me stroke her along her neck,
I could feel her breath run in small rushing waves
on my skin until my arm ached.
I have seen you, daughter, on a jittery, weirded-out horse,
collect yourself then gather its fear into your calmness,
your hands loosening its stride, and I have listened in wonder
to your voice sing the soft strong origin song
that weaves you, rider and horse, horse and rider, into each other’s listening.
Once, in the sun on a road one summer way back in Wyoming,
when a brilliance in the light from the world from before you were born
burned, hurting our eyes as it sharpened itself like the blade of a knife,
lifting an edge onto the scarps and dry washes
where coyotes slid, threading us in with the secret needles of their gazes,
your mother and I, barely married, were running, on and on
I think now to find you—as far as we dared each other—the car in a clump of trees
like a speck in an ocean of distance falling out of sight behind us,
until storm clouds rushing down the face of the Snowy Mountains
lifted our skin into gooseflesh, and we had to turn around.
Hope smells like horses, daughter, and like ozone in the air.
That your mother heard, when you were inside her,
the sound of your heartbeat, a cantering horse,
I do not make up. As though somewhere far and near you galloped,
heat in the rim rock wilderness shimmering the first few faint stars.
Ted Lardner’s writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming from Arsenic Lobster, birds piled loosely, Bird’s Thumb, One,
Gone Lawn, and Moon City Review. He teaches at Cleveland State University.
Michelangelo kissed my brother
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni kissed my brother in the Sistine Chapel in the year 1510.
Michelangelo was painting the ceiling standing up, not as some claim lying on his back, when he asked water bearer Sebastian to rub his tired, aching shoulders. As the famed artist said in his poem about the work – “Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow”.
In The Great Flood section of the ceiling painting you can see my brother depicted with a woman on his back fleeing the devastation.
My brother observed Michelangelo during the first two years of the four-year commission and he noted that the ‘great one’ tended to be rough and uncouth but when he kissed him he was “gentle as a summer breeze”.
All those who came through the chapel during those years admired his terribilità—his ability to instill a sense of awe.
After the brief but passionate kiss Sebastian said he was ushered out by a foreman at the site whereupon my brother wet his pants climbing down the scaffolding.
He was told not to return to the chapel and found work elsewhere.
Of the kiss, Sebastian said Michelangelo turned his head to his right as my brother massaged his manly shoulders and calmly pulled my brother’s head toward him and their lips met.
“I was of course shocked so my eyes stayed open in bewilderment as he held and kissed me,” my brother told me. “Michelangelo’s eyes were closed.”
Keith Nunes lives in tiny Pahiatua, New Zealand. He won the 2017 Flash Frontier Short Fiction Writing Award, has been published around the globe, placed in competitions and been a Pushcart Prize nominee. His Foto-Poetry digital images have appeared in a number of literary journals. His book of poetry/short fiction, catching a ride on a paradox, is sold around NZ.