The Rain

IMG_0160The Rain
Shaharyaar Kamaal Siddiqui

The firmament splits asunder,
Limpid azure expanse engulfed by marching pellets of black.
As tortuous streaks of lightning rumble and thump,
Behold, as the heavenly chaos unfolds.
Under a divine decree, I descend and alight,
From the empyrean to the ground beneath!
I see,
Urchins swarming the streets like unfettered souls,
Gazing heavenwards with beseeching eyes,
Bashful bride frolicking in the courtyard,
Fresh from a morning connubial bliss.
Tenuous smile flickering across a coy vermillion face,
What unbridled joy I bring to thee…!

I see,
A hapless doting mother, a picture of misery,
Huddled in a corner, cursing her penury!
She scuttles and scurries, clasping the baby to her chest,
Drenched and distressed, collecting littered fragments of her nest.
Ravaged and wrecked, she laments amidst the debris of loss.
What unfathomable sorrow I bring to thee.

I am, but
A drop of tear from the lachrymose Observer,
One who said “Be”,and it was!
To see his creation riddled in strife,
Love lost in mankind’s giant strides!
Within flesh and blood a serpent resides.
Standing tall on the edifice of might,
Hallucinated by evil whisperers in the shadows of night!
Man beckons his doom, in an air of gloom.
Cometh His wrath, behold the creation charred into fumes.

Hope Chest

IMG_2895Hope Chest

Virginia Boudreau

A few gold apples cling to black branches
on a twisted tree I pass every day.
I walk and watch, filled with wonder:
how can you be dying?

My driveway seems steep, the house further away.
The weeping mulberry is a chandelier
balancing crystal tears, trembling and precarious.
I think of your eyes that rainy afternoon last summer.

It was the day we unpacked your hope chest
to make it lighter for the move to your new house.
“It’s heavy.” you’d said, “It needs to be
easier to carry.”

Your voice was soft as fingers stroking
the worn scrapbook, I remember
loose pages falling like leaves
when you picked it up.

It took us a long time: memories
lingered and snagged on fences
that seemed too hard to climb.
So many photographs,
a lifetime of greeting cards full
of words we’d never spoken…
you’d held on to them all.

Dried rose petals and newspaper clippings,
ticket stubs and school projects,
scraps of ribbon, your button jar.
We took everything out, loaded boxes
for moving day. It seemed easier to laugh then.

Your trunk is at the new house now.
You were wheezing yesterday when
you told me you hadn’t gotten around
to unpacking cartons yet; some things,
you said, you can only do yourself.

I understand, but help me not to cringe
when I picture your hope chest sitting empty
as each dusk steals the fading light from your room.

Birthday

Birthday

Virginia Boudreau

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Once, clover overflowed my pockets.
lambs cavorted upon shoulders draped in timothy,
and my breath was sweet with pollen.

When leaves blushed under the sun’s knowing,
orchards ripe with promise bore fruit
rich and crimson. I felt the weight of their bounty
pressed upon me and yearned for more.

Later, geese and the last delicate song
birds were blown southward, over deep
furrows and shallow stream beds.

 

The wind quilted my fields, clumsy fingers tied
squares of sepia, umber, burnt gold with brittle reeds
bowing to November rain and the glossy weight of crows.

Now, I am pristine, snugly tucked on all sides,
Briars at my head cushion blossoms of snow
I am deceptively soft, an invitation:
Come lie with me here. Let me remember.

And, promise when you leave, the footprints
on my cheeks will dry quick and silver as tears
beneath a benevolent moon with it’s face turned aside.

Prince

IMG_2894

PRINCE
By Brent Allen

His dad said it seemed warm, but it was spring and this would be a cool day in the fall. So James wore the jacket grandma O’Malley got him for Christmas, and his father wore the matching one she had bought for him. Grandma thought it was cute, but James thought it was dumb and his dad agreed, but they couldn’t tell grandma what they thought.

James held his father’s hand and thought about asking his dad to carry him, but he was too big now. That was what little kids did. He was still a kid, duh, but not a little kid.

Prince walked off the path sometimes, but he was older now and stayed closer to them than he had in the past. He loved the woods. James knew because Prince’s tail wagged like he was swatting flies.

James was huffing when they got to the clearing and the lake opened wide and far. His father let go of James’ hand and scrambled down the incline to the side of the lake. He put down the tackle and folding chairs, touched the water with his shoe, and turned back to James and opened his arms.

“I can do it,” James said.

“OK,” his father said, but James knew he was watching closely as he slid down the slope. He stopped at his father’s feet and let his father pull him up so he could brush off his pants. When his father told him they were clean enough and they were old jeans anyway, James stepped to the edge of the lake and touched the surface with his shoe.
“Maybe we could get a boat,” James said.
His father looked at Prince, and James said, “Oh.”
He didn’t do too well,” his father said.
“Remember how we lost some of the worms?”
“He almost tipped us over.”
James bent down and put his nose against Prince’s muzzle. His dog was panting after the climb down the slope.
“No boat,” James said. “It’s OK, Prince. We don’t need a boat.” When Prince tried to lick him, James fell backward and wiped his face with his sleeve.
“They’ll be biting today,” his father said. His father could always tell.
“I hope I get one this big,” James said, and he spread his arms wide.
“No whales in this lake,” his father said.
James laughed and wiped away Prince’s slobber some more.
He and his father prepared their hooks and his father reminded James how to toss the line. James held the button down and released it with a perfect, arcing, toss and his father said “Whoa, James, I can’t beat that,” and James was happy.

They talked about school and Miss Delacroix and how James liked being in her class. His father understood why James was pleased with his teacher and they laughed about that because James was old enough to understand when a woman was pretty. Miss Delacroix was very pretty.

Prince walked around them for a while, keeping close, sniffing the water and the bait, but he curled up next to the tackle boxes and fell asleep before they caught their first fish.

Prince was still sleeping when James felt the first nibble. His father had not noticed, and James jerked the line. It was too quick — he should have waited for more nibbles — but he set his hook.

“Nice job, son,” his father said. “That’s the way to do it. Reel it in slowly.”

“I know, dad,” James said. “Slowly. Slowly.” He wound the spool with the handle. “I think it’s big,” he said.

Prince had finally woken up and he watched James. For a second, James thought the fish had slipped the hook, but he felt it tug again and he reeled it in very slowly. His father got a nibble, too, but he lost the fish and reeled in his line. He slipped a nightcrawler on the hook and waited for James before he tossed the line.

“Got it under control?” his father said.

James nodded. “It’s close, but I don’t think it’s that big.”

His father tossed his line and let the bobber float while he watched James.

“I can see it,” James said. He reeled faster until the fish was out of water. It was a blue gill, and it was pretty big. Prince was interested and watched intently with his tail in a fierce wag.

“Let me take it off the hook,” his father said.

“I think I can do it.”

His father looked at him askew and nodded. It was a big moment. James held the fish tightly and slipped it off the hook without getting poked by the fins or the hook.

“You’re a regular pro, now,” his father said.

“James, one; Dad, zero,” James said, and they both laughed and Prince plopped down next to the tackle boxes and fell asleep again. James let his father slap the fish against a rock and gut it with the knife that had belonged to James’ grandfather.

“Someday, this will be yours,” his father said. James hoped it would be soon.

It was an hour before twilight before they were tired of fishing and talking. James had three to his father’s two and his father had promised a sundae on the way home for James’ victory. His father had caught a large bass and tried to change the rules to win by total weight, but James would not allow it, and his father conceded that it was number and not weight and he would have to correct that next time they came unless James caught a really big fish. They took four of the fish home to eat and Prince slept the whole way home.

II

It was the kind of hot that only the heart of summer can bring. James’ mother refused to cook inside, so his father grilled hamburgers in the back yard and drank a Pabst Blue Ribbon from a bottle. James’ mother held his baby sister Jessica and shuttled patties and cheese and buns to his father, who wore a big, dirty, apron that said “Please kiss the Grillmaster.”

Prince sauntered across the yard. He was older now and he coughed a lot and his dad said he would have to go to the vet soon if he didn’t get better. James watched as Prince toppled on his left side and James yelled “Dad!”

His father dropped a hamburger and the spatula on the grass and ran over to Prince and tried to get him up. James saw Prince cough up white froth tinged with red. The old dog whimpered. He had never done that before, and James was scared.

“Mary,” his father said. He motioned with his hands and James did not understand. But his mother returned with a bowl of water and his father took it and put it in front of Prince. When he did not move, James’ father poured some of the water on his teeth and Prince lapped at it a little. James’ father tried to help Prince up, but Prince whimpered again and started coughing.

“Oh, God, Mary,” his father said. “I’ve got to take him.”

“David —“

“Look at him.”

His father knelt down and picked Prince up. Prince whimpered at first, but he stopped by the time they got to the car and James’ mother opened the back door and James’ father put Prince on the seat. Jessica sucked on her bottle and watched. James got in the back seat with Prince and closed the door.

“Not today, buddy,” his father said. “You stay home with your mom and sister.”

“I want to go,” James said.

“No,” his father said.

“You don’t want me to see him…” James said. He could not bring himself to say “die.”

His father rested his head against the steering wheel.

“I don’t want you to see me,” he said.

Prince was leaking slobber on the back seat, but the red was gone. James did not move.

“He’s my dog,” James said. “I’m old enough.” James saw his mother looking at his father, and his father nodded and kissed her.

“I guess you are,” his father said, but his voice was weak and not like his father at all.

They were silent on the ride to the vet. Prince raised his head to sniff the wind, but he got too tired to keep it up. When the car hit a bump on the road, Prince whimpered, and then he fell asleep.

James’ dad pulled up in front of the vet’s office. It was an old white home with an addition where the vet operated on dogs. It needed a paint job and on the side by the surgery, flakes of dirty white paint littered the lawn.

“James, you go get us signed in.”

James kicked open the door and ran to the office. Kathy, his favorite attendant, was there and he spewed out a rush of words that made her face go sad.

“The doctor’s with someone, sweetie, but I’ll get him,” Kathy said. “Don’t you worry.”

James’ father arrived at the door and Kathy came from behind the desk and hugged James and went to get the doctor. His father was still holding Prince when Dr. Bob opened the door of the consultation room and motioned for James father to follow him to the surgery. An old woman with a cat in a cage watched them leave.

James’ father placed Prince on the floor because he couldn’t lift him on the observation table. He leaned against the wall and the doctor said it was OK, and that he should take a minute to catch his breath.

“We’ll just take a look right here,” he said.

James’ father nodded as his breathing slowed. He wiped sweat from his forehead and the top of his head. Dr. Bob looked in Prince’s eyes and his mouth and he tapped Prince’s swollen stomach. When he was done, he stood up and looked at James and his father said, “Go ahead.”

“There’s nothing I can do but put old Prince out of his pain,”

Dr. Bob said. “He’s had an incident.” He looked at James again and James’ father nodded his head.

“I’m surprised he made it this far,” Dr. Bob said.

“How long?” James’ father said.

“He’s in a lot of pain,” Dr. Bob said. “It’s time, David. It’s been coming and it’s here.”

“Let’s do it, then,” James’ father said. His voice that did not sound like him at all.

“Do you want James with you?”

“Yes,” his father said.

That’s when James cried. It was so stupid, but he stopped when the doctor came with the big needle and his father lay down next to Prince and stroked his head and told him it was all going to be all right. He was still wearing the apron that said “Please kiss the Grillmaster.” Dr. Bob sat down on the other side of Price and held his back leg and rubbed with his thumb until he found what he wanted. He put the needle in Prince, but Prince did not whimper.

“It will be quick,” Dr. Bob said. “A minute or so. He won’t feel a thing. He’ll go to sleep.”

“It’s all right, big guy,” James’ father said. James watched as Dr. Bob pressed his thumb to the back of the needle and pushed the contents into Prince’s leg until the needle was empty. Prince’s head moved slightly, and he rolled his eyes around and James was sure Prince was looking at him when his eyes stopped moving. James looked at his father, and sweat was running down his face, but when he looked at his dad again, the water came from his left eye and rolled down his cheek.

On the way out of the office, James held his father’s hand for the last time.

III

It was the kind of cold fall day that would be warm in the spring. James followed his father through the woods and they talked about Miss Delacroix and her upcoming marriage to Mr. Courtlen, a sixth-grade teacher. He had proposed in her class and James had been there and thought it all very stupid and even sad in a way he did not understand.

He did not tell his dad; there were some things he had to figure out on his own.

His dad let him scramble down the slope to the lake without offering to help. James brushed his pants off while his father bent down and touched the water’s edge. The lake was strangely placid for this time of the year and the waves were little ripples dying on the shore.

“We could get a boat,” his father said.

James touched the surface of the water, and then he and his father looked back into the woods for what seemed a long time, but it wasn’t. They prepared their lines and watched as the bobbers made little ripples on the water’s surface.

“Maybe next time, dad,” James said.

“Yeah,” his father said. “Maybe next time.”

Duel on the Strait

LeBlond story pic- IMG_4685_edited-1

Duel on the Strait

Richard LeBlond

During my visit to the island of Newfoundland in late summer 2011, remnants of two hurricanes struck, and a third came ashore just after I left. Newfoundlanders shrugged. The Cape Ray area near Port aux Basques often has winds in excess of 190 kilometers per hour, equivalent to category 3 hurricanes. Those winds used to blow the sarcastically named Newfie Bullet off its narrow-gauge tracks before it was permanently blown off by construction of the cross-island highway and freight-hauling trucks.

Nowadays, strong winds are mostly a bother to boats and laundry. Boatmen stay ashore, except for crews on the large ferries to and from Nova Scotia and Labrador. Those vessels are part of the commercial highway and must set against the wind – and sometimes it seems, against reason.

Winds were strong along the Strait of Belle Isle during the latter part of my detour to southern Labrador. A few days before I departed, the Labrador ferry, Apollo, had set out from St. Barbe, Newfoundland, for its two-hour crossing to Blanc Sablon, a small town in Quebec about two kilometers from the Labrador border. Aboard the Apollo were some high-ranking government officials, but the winds were too strong to dock on the Quebec/Labrador side of the strait. So the ferry loitered offshore, waiting for the gale to ebb. But the wind wouldn’t cooperate, and the vessel eventually had to return to Newfoundland, a wasted six hours of official lives.

(Those passengers got off easy. Two weeks later, the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland dawdled offshore for 36 hours before docking, thanks to the remnants of hurricane Maria.)

A big part of the docking problem at Blanc Sablon is that the Apollo has to back in. The ferry always noses in to St. Barbe on the Newfoundland side, so cars and trucks heading to Labrador drive on through the bow. The Apollo backs into the dock at Blanc Sablon and the vehicles drive off through the stern. Backing in is a much more difficult maneuver than nosing in, and requires more power. Wind just makes it worse.

The failed crossing with the high government officials was prominently noted by the region’s weekly newspaper, the Northern Pen (and the inspiration for the newspaper in Annie Proulx’s novel, Shipping News). The Pen reported the Apollo was in need of repair and had been operating all summer at only 65 percent of its power capacity. During my own later crossing from Labrador to Newfoundland, I was told by a crew member that the vessel had to shut down the kitchen, as well as all other non-essential power uses, to gather enough thrust to perform the backing-in maneuver. It is possible the journey of those high government officials was thwarted by an overlooked toaster.

My plans were to leave Labrador on a Monday, but I had become so enamored of the little outport of Red Bay that I decided to stay two more days. It is well I did, because the Monday crossing I had originally reserved was cancelled. Not just the crossing was cancelled, but most of the day for those with reservations, due to the particulars of the ferry operation. Had I tried to depart Monday, I would have left Red Bay about 10 in the morning to arrive at the terminal in Blanc Sablon by noon. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 1 p.m., and those with reservations have to check in at least an hour before departure. Arriving late not only forfeits the reservation, but incurs a $10 penalty euphemistically called a non-refundable deposit.

On that Monday, the winds again were too strong for docking, and the Apollo meandered to and fro just offshore before finally giving up about 5 p.m. and returning to Newfoundland. During that time, those who were booked for the 1 p.m. crossing had to sit there and wait until the decision to abort was made. I would have wasted a day that could have been – and actually was – happily spent in Red Bay.

So instead I left Red Bay for Blanc Sablon on Wednesday morning. The wind was mild and the forecast good. But by the time I got to the ferry terminal, the bluster had picked up again. Way up. The Apollo had not yet docked, and could not be seen, as the strait was clotted with a fog as thick as pease pudding. I checked in at the terminal office, where no one knew what was going to happen. I was assured the Apollo was just offshore, out there in the pease pudding. I prepared myself for a lost day, splitting time between reading a book in the pickup, and standing in the bluster on the edge of the wharf, looking for some sign of the ferry, some attempt by it to get close enough for us to cast our hope to one another.

And then, after an interminable and dismal wait, the Apollo slowly appeared out of the fog, an apparition in transit from phantom to matter, gathering detail real and imagined. At first it was the ghost ship of the Flying Dutchman, then a three-master 150 years late from a whaling voyage, and penultimately a World War II merchant vessel come in from its dance with a German submarine. The Apollo was all of these, beyond its allotted time, unable to dock, condemned to wander in sight of land as the wind and the captain stared each other down.

The afternoon wore on, and the wind actually strengthened, diminishing hope. But the captain did not blink. Instead, after two hours of posturing, he attempted to back in, despite what seemed a greater danger. Maybe it was the aftertaste of the failed crossing with the officials, or the subsequent bad press. Maybe it was a call from the owner, or a look from the first mate. Whatever it was, he did not blink. Heaving mightily against the wind, the captain swung Apollo’s stern to the Blanc Sablon dock.

After the ferry unloaded its Labrador-bound traffic, we boarded and set off through the frothing strait for St. Barbe. I bought a 5-ounce cup of black tea at the cafeteria for $1.81. A refill cost as much. The tea was already brewed and came out of a 30-gallon container. A chronic tightwad, I tried to regard it as another contribution to the needed repairs. Nonetheless, the ferry owner is walking a fine line when he risks our safety and charges $1.81 for each small cup of generic tea. “It’s the Apollo for cod’s sake,” I tell him in absentia, “not the Queen Elizabeth II. Most of your passengers are out of work for half the year.”

As soon as we were free of the Blanc Sablon harbour, the Apollo began to lurch from side to side. We were exactly perpendicular to the wind and its battering waves. At first, it was just my tea cup accelerating across the table. But soon the vessel began to roll violently. Some people, having spent years of their lives on boats, thought they could walk, but instead could only slam into bulkheads. Dishes and pots in the kitchen slid along counters and crashed to the deck. Doors banged open and shut. I threw life-preservers to the fears that kept bobbing up in my mind of ships lost at sea.

As we got closer to Newfoundland, the wind hardly let up, but a bit of sun made its way through the fog, and little rainbows sailed above the waves reeling off Apollo’s bow.

“That was one of our roughest rides,” a crewmember said as we approached St. Barbe. But the young woman sitting at the next table disagreed.

“This happens all the time,” she said. She worked for the school system and crossed over to Labrador every week. “It’s always windy on the strait.”

But rather than being a comfort, her words were a disappointment. I wanted it to be one of the worst rides ever. I had paid dearly for those fears, and she had reduced them to mere paranoia.

MISSING BLUEBERRIES

DSCN1397MISSING BLUEBERRIES

Ruth Deming

You wouldn’t happen to know
a Miss Regina Ziegler would you?
I’ve been studying her handwriting
to figure out her first name,
I’m no cryptographer so
can’t rightly tell if it’s Regina
or Rina, but it’s a mighty regal
“R” she writes, with the sureness
of a woman who loves poetry and
may indeed write some herself.

It was Miss Regina, as I’ll call her
who once owned my sole
book of poetry by Robert Frost,
the cover of which states
“The Pocket Book of
Robert Frost’s Poems.”

Leave it to me to check where
apostrophes go. They ought to
get it right, don’t you think,
the editors, all dead now, I’d imagine,
as is the poet himself.

Regina herself met a terrible end
and not meaning to keep you in
suspense, bear with me a little, while
I prattle on.

With a number two pencil
Miss Regina has lightly
underlined some phrases,
not many; like me, she probably
doesn’t believe in marring a book.

“Plain language and lack of
rhetoric” is where her pencil
first touched the book. Then a
lapse of fifty pages until
pencil, resting in her mouth,
dared come down again
“For to be social, is to be
forgiving.”

And there we have it. But
half a dozen phrases underlined,
Miss Regina, a spinster school marm who
taught in the one-room school house,
a converted barn with only eleven
children, from blue-eyed Mary nearing
pubescence, to tough Frankie who
begged his daddy let him come and
learn instead of mowing hay and
minding the cows.

These were the children she never had.
Did she read them Frost? You bet she
did. They loved the one about the blueberries
“as big as the end of your thumb, real sky-blue and
ready to drum in the cavernous pail of the first
one to come!”

And that goodly Miss Regina had brought silver buckets
of blueberries and passed them around after class with
another bucket of cold milk she brought from a neighboring
farm. There were farms in those days. More than
you can count. Just like there are shops today
teetering on what used to be farm fields.

She also read them a few poems about the stars up above
in Heaven. Where we would all go when life has had
enough of us. The eleven children made sure they
wished upon a star every night, their little heads
pointed upward, hands clasped together in prayer
as their eyes skipped merrily across the sky.

Were those owls they heard hooting in the distance?
And the so-dark sky, a different flavor indeed
from the gay one they saw in the morning.
She introduced them to the wonders
of the world. Would it ever leave them? On their
death beds would they think, “It’s been a wonderful
life?”

One winter it was too cold to walk the deep snow
to get to school. Miss Regina turned on her coal stove,
glanced at the glowing coals, black as the night sky,
warmed her shivering hands and went back to
bed to keep herself warm. She heard the explosion
first, a sound like a million church bells going off
at once.

Was that her last thought as she catapulted, quilts
nightgown and all, from her straw mattress, floating up
up up in the air
like a bread rising in the oven?
Oh, they would miss her all right.
And I will miss her most of all for it’s
time to mourn her once again,
to think of Miss Regina and
the spell she bound. In her memory,
I’ll eat some blueberry yogurt
the kind where the cream
rises to the top.

Anniversary of My Death

Anniversary of My Death
Revere Beach, Massachusetts

Kristen Hoggatt-Abader

Firm to foam to the water lapping Thank you on this beach,
to the storm that won’t die,
to the rain that grieves,
to the drops that cool my skin and age my scars,
to the drops that come now in summer’s reprieve.

Last night, Anubis rose from the dark East.
Last night, he treated my corpse and put my excised heart
on a plate as Amir Timur’s crude feast.
Last night, fear, cold-boned: the banshee’s late-night shriek,

when that bitter poison reminded me of my precious health,
when the doctor’s cage saved me from myself,
when I fell out the back, when I fell on the black,
when my friends like Icarus flying,
when I launched into stillness undisturbed by busy hands.

To Arizona, to the ICU,
to that tube coiling fury into my voice,
to the wreck that marred the open road,
to the interstate, to the milepost,
to the warlike whir of airlift propellers,
to the dimming of sirens,
to the dimming of light—hours that tick away the sun,
to the drip as the IV’s begun,
to my black pen,
I await its coming, and it will come again.

LOVE AND THE FINER THINGS

Rodin's lovers - Orangerie

LOVE AND THE FINER THINGS

John Grey

Love.
not a German bellarmine jug
but a real wheelchair
with his left hand
flopped over the side.

It could never afford delftware,
though there were tunes
the fields, the fence, the firs,
were as dainty and detailed
as punchbowl decoration

It was willing to sacrifice
a Ming fish jar,
Spode earthenware hot-water plate
for slippers
and a kind of dance
when you lift him into bed.

Love
had in mind the Royal Doulton
and the green glazed tripod vessel
but settled on the weathered palm,
your fingers wrapped inside it,
like the roots of an ancient flower.

Love,
just an ordinary paperweight;
not St Louis crown.
A bare bulb,
no silver gilt figured candlestick.

Besides,
despite their worth,
the artisans are long dead.
And you are poor but breathing still.
Love takes that it into account.

Greenish Irony

DSCN0197Greenish Irony

Changming Yuan

 

You wish to be a Douglas fir
Tall, straight, almost immortal
But you stand like a Peking willow
Prone to cankers, full of twisted twigs

Worse still, you are not so resistant
As the authentic willow that can bend gracefully
Shake off all its unwanted leaves in autumn
When there is a wind blowing even from nowhere

No matter how much sunshine you receive
During the summer, you have nothing but scars
To show off against winter storms
The scars that you can never shake off

Strolling the Hudson’s East Bank

DSCN0837Strolling the Hudson’s East Bank

Christopher Suda

 

Today, each moment
turned to kindling; gaps
alongside our knees diverged
while the Hudson scratched into
each window. Your hair continues
to muse through my sideburn,
then collarbone, both nostrils.
Beneath us, the rails charmed

Tarrytown’s soil with delicate
sparks while your face endured
its collapse against a shoulder.
When awake, look at those eyes.
you’ll find two monuments
long asleep, dream watching,
as still as spoke wheels.

Sa Belle-Soeur

IMG_2907Sa Belle-Soeur

Sivan Slapak

 

“Est-ce que mon beau-frère est venu?” Justine asks. She’s one of the oldest at the senior’s residence. They are twenty ladies, at various levels of dementia. For today’s Christmas party, they’ve had their hair and makeup done, by the matronly Russian cosmetician who’s booked for such occasions. When she’s done primping them, the aides gently herd the ladies to the sitting room to listen to the volunteer guitarists, who stumble through electric versions of holiday classics. The room of freshly-coiffed grey heads nod, waiting in anticipation. Then drift. And then return with a pleased jolt to notice the morning’s festive atmosphere, to be told again that it’s Christmas and that there will soon be visitors.

Oh yes, people are coming, they remember. Deep and blurry affection rises up as relatives arrive, colouring the residents’ cheeks when grandchildren they don’t quite recall lean over to kiss them.

Justine never married. A slight woman who favours wool cardigans and pleated skirts, she retains the air of shy compliance cultivated by the nuns of her schooldays. She still wears a wispy pageboy, and recently took to petting a stuffed toy cat, Nitouche, that she carries in the bag of her walker.

Jean-Pierre, her brother-in-law, is her last remaining family member, and doesn’t visit often. When he does, the aides on duty point subtly, knowingly. Demure Justine became much more animated in his presence, almost coquettish.

With the Christian staff on holiday for the week, the Muslim workers jump in to organize the party. “Eid Sa’id!” They wink rakishly at each other under elf hats atop hijabs, rolling out the Christmas bûche and mistletoe for their mainly French-Canadian Catholic residents.

“Why is her dry cleaning bill so high?” Jean-Pierre approaches Fatma, head of the floor, waving Justine’s account record at her. “She always wears the same thing when I visit. The same thing every day.”

“That’s absolutely not true.” Fatma doesn’t add that he only comes a few times a year, so how could he know what she wears? “She cares very much about her appearance.” She gestures over to Justine, sitting daintily in a tan-coloured suit.

“She doesn’t know what she’s wearing. She has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t remember a thing!”

Fatma tsks, turns away. How to explain to this man that losing one’s memory doesn’t mean losing one’s sense of pride, of self. Not yet. The habits one gathers throughout a lifetime, of brushing one’s hair to a certain side, or a preferred colour. These things that together make up a personality. Or the desire to look pretty for one’s guests. And that Justine asked for her string of pearls when she was told Jean-Pierre would be visiting.

Justine and Jean-Pierre sit, shoulders touching, on the plastic-covered couch. Christmas rock now blares on the stereo, filling up the silence of the crowded room. Jean-Pierre in his loose jeans, Justine with legs crossed at the ankle like a schoolgirl. She smiles timidly and laughs when he leans in and makes a comment about the music. They’re surrounded by the other residents, their walkers and awkward family members. Jean-Pierre looks around, squeamish.

He pats Justine’s hand and she turns her head to him, their faces matching in paleness. Paper-thin translucent skin. He can see the pink rim of her eyelids behind her square glasses—the same style she’s worn since she was a teenager, when he’d met her as Agathe’s little sister. He squeezes her palm. Ma belle-soeur.

Fatma announces, at a senior-friendly decibel: “We want to thank our guests for coming today, and for bringing delicious food for our Christmas buffet! Everyone’s invited to partake!”

The aides begin to lead the ladies to the folding tables they’ve set with green plastic and red plates, poinsettias as centerpieces.

Justine takes a seat and glances around anxiously as the other ladies are maneuvered into chairs surrounding hers.

“Where is Jean-Pierre, my brother-in-law?”

Fatma sees him in the hallway, standing stiffly and gazing at the pictures of Christmas scenes the residents made in art class, cotton balls glued carefully to construction paper. Displayed on the bulletin board as though this is preschool, and not the railway station between home and death.

“He’s waiting till you finish eating, and then will rejoin you.”

Justine smiles in relief, raises her fork to pick at her salad.

Jean-Pierre takes in the room of seniors, wordlessly doddering over their Christmas lunch, while the guests hover over them. He can’t stand being here for another minute. He grabs his coat and quickly leaves, marching out into the chilly snowless afternoon.

Fatma doesn’t notice him go. She’s made bastillah, a Moroccan chicken dish, and is doling it out for the guests, who praise the fine pastry shell she decorated with cinnamon and almonds. She’s also brought her gold-embossed tea glasses, and fresh nana from home. It’s not my holiday, but this is my party too.

“Justine, would you like some tea?” She holds a smoky pink glass out to her.

“Non, merci. Ou est mon beau frère?” Justine asked, prying herself up from the table and leaning on her walker.

“I’ll go find him.”

Fatma hands the teapot to Hind and goes down the narrow hallway, peering into every room.

“Monsieur Fiquet? Jean-Pierre?” Perhaps he’s resting on the second floor, in Justine’s room?

Upstairs she finds Adel at a table with Madeleine, who’d become agitated and was led away from the party.

“No, I don’t want lunch. My husband is home waiting for me, and I need to eat with him. I don’t want to ruin my appetite, you know.”

“But just a bite, Madame Bonhomme.”

“No, he’ll be upset if we don’t eat together.” Madeleine gets up and stomps to her room.

Adel and Fatma exchange looks. Madeleine’s husband died three years earlier, a fact she often forgets.

“Adel,” Fatma switches to Arabic. “Where’s Jean-Pierre?”

“I saw him take his coat about twenty minutes ago. He left.”

Fatma’s eyes widen in dismay. She knows what Jean-Pierre would say if she called to confront him: ‘She won’t remember anyway, that I was there, or that I left.’

She feels his leaving settles something she’d suspected. He may be over ninety, but he still wears his clothes with casual finesse. Laugh lines etch his face in a way that affirmed his good looks from long ago, a knowledge he still carries. A man who was never careful with women’s emotions, she’s sure of it.

Justine sits on the plastic-draped couch again, her cardigan lank and her feet crossed. Her small face perks to attention every time someone enters the room.

“Who doesn’t know that expression?” Fatma thinks, putting a hand on her heart. I’ve known it, the hope and dread. I hate that man, she thinks, only vaguely acknowledging who she means.
“Est-ce que mon beau frère est revenu?” Justine asked Hind, who’s circling with homemade shortbread cookies, two per resident. Justine has pulled out Nitouche and perched him on her lap, strokes his ears lightly.

“Not yet. I’m sure he’ll come soon.”

Fatma remains in the kitchen, tsking, hoping Justine will soon forget he’d been there.

Jean-Pierre strides outside. It’s frigid but not slippery, thank goodness. Little Justine, now at that place. He’d married Agathe and loved her, enough anyway. Together for almost fifty years. They never had children, but the house was full of family.

Justine, la petite. He doesn’t know why she never married. Her primness, perhaps. Maybe she should have taken the veil after all, like they all used to joke.

But that one Christmas Eve, when he’d had too much wine at dinner and come into the kitchen to see her washing dishes at the sink. He’d wrapped his arms around her from the back, kissed her neck and then dropped his empty glass into the soapy water. He left the kitchen and never mentioned it again, nor did she. Warmed by the wine it was a passing urge, seemed the right response to the sight of her delicate nape, her hair bobbed neatly in the middle. Like Agathe’s.

And now Agathe is gone and Justine is tucked away, her mind fading fast. Perhaps a blessing. His own senility is seeping in like fog, but he still has enough lucidity to see what a ruin lies ahead for him too. The shuffling seniors, the forced revelry, the ammonia-scented floors.

No, he would rather preserve that recollection as long as he can. When he’d strayed into the kitchen looking for his wife, and found her apron tied around her sister’s slender back. The sweet longing, the heated adoration of those sealed seconds.

With the fear that his own memory is crumbling quickly into rubble, he doesn’t want to impose sad new images on this fragile wistfulness, doesn’t yet want to say goodbye to that lovely young girl. His belle-soeur.

Justine lifts her hand to smooth her hair, touch her pearls. Jean-Pierre is coming to the Christmas party today. She turns her head to the side, hiding a trembling smile.

Todd, the God

2014-08-22 14.13.21

Todd, the God

Michael C. Gebelein

like the homeless guy with the shopping cart
full of broken speakers and plastic grocery bags
who, rumor has it, is actually loaded,
lives in a big house and
drags that cart with three busted wheels into downtown each day.
he’s got something to hide like the rest of us.
his secrets won’t tear down any walls
but I remember it was a cigarette of his
that the chief said set the DSS building on fire.
he’s just like the rest of us. I call bullshit on the
hobo with a huge bank account story.
that’d be too nice, too convenient.
I’ve seen him in the alleys,
squatted down and taking a shit.
people don’t choose to do things like that.

Without an Address

IMG_0811 - Version 2Without an Address

Simon Perchik

 

Without an address your hands
lean across –another crease
making the final correction

though this note still opens out
windblown, fingerprints
everywhere on her lips

on her breasts, on the bed sheet
folded and over, warmed
for its nakedness and side by side

–every word is already lost
and there at the bottom
where little blossoms should grow

there’s nothing but silence
and the long line for a stamp
to cling when it leaves your hands

as if even without the flowers
the corners will arrive as evenings
covered with dirt and her forehead.

*

What you open leans against wood
that is not a door you can muffle
put your arm around the only sound

when you knock on this kitchen table
whose corners were broken off
straight down, still lit, letting you in

circle her mouth not yet the room
left over and listen for the smoke
around the hush from small fires.

*

Just died and its rain
is already snow, comforts
the obituary page

with moonlight pieces
slowly circling down
as that star-shaped lullaby

small stones still look for
–it’s this morning’s
though over your head the deaths

are hidden in silence
begging for water
that doesn’t break apart

the way each sky
is hollowed out for another
–you make a sea

for these dead, each name
a boat, sails, the spray
midair and out loud.

*

This tree abandoned at last
flows past as ravines and riverbeds
and can’t fall any more

–it’s used to dirt and those initials
you carried along inch by inch
not in some stone letting you stop

for water –you were buried
in the afternoon, late so the light
could close the lid with leftover kisses

become an ocean, still burning
and between each wave the glint
from a clear silence you took for yes.

*

To survive you disguise each log
as the aromatic sun the mornings
can’t resist –even when naked

you hide some kindling close by
let it give birth in the smoke
that leaves with nothing, becomes

the emptiness though your eyes
never look up or warm –a fire
is feeling its way to your mouth

with lullabies and the small stone
falling asleep on the stove
–you feed it wood as if your lips

still smell from milk and salt
–an ancient, gentle art now lost
somewhere in those nightmares

set off by an empty dress
and along your forehead the light
begins to melt, wants to stay, keep going.

The Bravery Of A Stolen Heart

DSCN0409_2The Bravery Of A Stolen Heart

Ndaba Sibanda

 

Bonani traversed beyond the small and big hills
Beyond the singing mountains and valleys

The bushes were full of thorns and roots
And were a well-known refuge for snakes

He braved windy or chilly nights
And the frightening sounds of owls

Whoo whooo whooo whooo
Hoo hoo hoo hoo

Maybe the owls were hooting:
Who cooks for you?

Who cooks for you-all?
Who cooks for you?

Were the witches and wizards
Not stalking him too?

What about the infamous ghost
Over Nkanyezi bridge?
Was it not said to be stubborn?
Was it not said to be talkative and slippery?

Sometimes he heard dogs bark
Sometimes there was some grunting

Jackals howled and snakes hissed
Lions roared but he was undeterred

At times the night`s darkness
Was blinding and confusing

But Bonani groped for the path
And rummaged through the bushes

Sometimes the rivers were flooded
Sometimes the rain pounded

For Bonani it was just a delay
He usually reached his destination

His destination kept his heart
Beyond the hills and valleys

Beyond the streams and rivers
Someone had stolen his heart

Ember

IMG_0440Ember

Aileen Santos

 

The ring that’s not yours
that belongs on his finger
no longer looks shiny
just dull and encumbered.

Melted snow in early spring
sudden and surprising
you’re black ice
slippery slopes
red light flashing.

Addictive, obsessive
Flushed smears of lipstick
tangled sheets stained
in a knot of deceit.

Your cologne plays on my skin
like a fedora on a phat cat
Buddhist prayer beads on a mantra
or a song I like to scream.

The Bombardier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bombardier

John Repp

Twelve O’Clock High, 1965

Late to the briefing as usual, Peter Fonda fumbles
the last folding chair into place, General Savage
staring darts from the podium, a map of France
huge behind him. Fonda plays Lathrup, a born
bombardier who no doubt pondered snail darters
from the creek bank behind the cabin he eulogizes
in Act Two as he falls in love with Mary, the pub girl

who’ll say with dewy eyes & shy smile in Act Three
yes, yes she’ll marry him & live after the war
in Tennessee where it’s spring the year round.
Fonda frets, broods, fails to drop a load,
goes AWOL, careens a Jeep down Mary’s street
as the Luftwaffe turns London into rubble

where the girl lies crushed in a cellar now open
to the sky. Lathrup finds her, kneels, strokes her hair
& as Savage scrabbles up beside him, sublimely condemns
the price of a duty no longer his. How many dead
beneath clouds he’d thought beautiful? Savage knows

the boy’s pain—“Lieutenant” his dead love called him,
the British “f” in “Lieu” heartbreaking now—
but those bombs they drop on the Ruhr Valley
each night mean the quicker end of pain.

They hold one another’s gaze through the fade.
As the epilogue opens, Lathrup lopes in late & rattles
a chair into place as Savage bestows a fatherly smile

from the podium, the air group’s best bombardier
having chosen necessity & recovered his Tennessee

charm so we could take a last sip of milk & sleep.

Understanding Cows

Understanding Cows

C.S. Lemprière

It was the end of October, hunting season. Grampa told everybody he was going up to the cabin with Uncle John to do some deer hunting. Nothing unusual about that because they did that every year. But then Uncle John phoned wanting to talk to Grampa and Dad said, “I thought he was up at the cabin with you?” Dad and my uncles went looking for Grampa and found him dead up at the cabin. Turns out Grampa had gone up to the cabin a week early. By himself.

The doctor was sure Grampa died of organ failure. He hadn’t taken any food or water up to the cabin, or lit a fire to keep himself warm. My Aunt Jess got suspicious and looked at the pill bottles on his bedside table ‒ turns out he had way more than he was supposed to because he wasn’t taking them.

I was so sad I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. At his funeral, my little niece Joy kept staring at Grampa’s hands like they were suddenly going to shoot up and go for her nose, like when he played that oops, I got your nose game with her. Then she wanted to climb up into the coffin beside him and would have if my sister Angela hadn’t dragged her away. That’s exactly what I felt like doing.

My mom and all my aunts blamed themselves: We should have got somebody in to look after him, we shouldn’t have left him alone in his house like that, not with his mind going, we should’ve paid more attention, made sure he was taking his pills properly…

But what could we have done, short of locking him up in his own house? Standing guard to make sure he ate his vegetables and took his pills? He didn’t want to come and live with any of us. He always said he was perfectly capable of looking after himself. And he was, basically. It’s true that his mind was playing tricks on him. I remember once when he was making Kraft dinner for us and couldn’t find the strainer for the macaroni. When he went to ask me, he forgot the word “strainer”. “You know what I mean, Rose, goddamn it! That thing like a net but made of metal, you know, for pasta!” I laughed thinking about a strainer being called a net, but Grampa didn’t think it was so funny. Now, thinking about it, I can see why. Imagine opening your mouth and the word not coming out. And sometimes he’d get mixed up too. He’d forget how to get a DVD to play, or how to set the washing machine, or where he put his slippers. We’d be having Sunday dinner and Aunt Lizzie would ask him to pass the potatoes. Grampa would turn and look at her, puzzled like. You could tell he was coming back from far away.

We all noticed that Grampa was getting quieter too. Grampa was someone who always had something to say about everything, sometimes too much, said my Granma when she was alive. Or as my Aunt Jess put it, Grampa could talk the ear off a pig. I remember going with Grampa to see Uncle Larry’s grave in the cemetery up the road. Larry was Grampa’s oldest boy but he died in a motorcycle accident when he was seventeen. I knew that Grampa was trying to illustrate what would happen to me if I got the motorcycle I wanted when I turned sixteen. When we walked along between the rows of graves, Grampa stopped to tell me the life story of every single person buried there. “Look, there’s old Mr. Maclean, he married Sally Fisher from over on the 4th. They had six kids, the oldest was Johnnie, he bought the turkey farm up the 5th. The next, now that would’ve been Eric, never seen such a good-for-nothing! Couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. God knows what he’s doing now, probably not much. Then there was Sally, I went to school with Sally, she was a tough one, played baseball with the boys, the only girl that ever got the strap, too bad she ended marrying that Arnold, a guy more crooked than a dog’s hind leg. Then there was Jill….”

Then last Easter Grampa tripped going up the cellar stairs. He went to the hospital for X-rays, and they said his hip was all smashed and needed surgery to fix it. But when they did all the tests to see if hip surgery was even possible, they discovered he had a bad heart. So he ended up having two surgeries, the first to clear the arteries in his heart with little balloons, and the second to put a new metal joint in his hip.

Then, just when they were about to let him come home, he got a bad infection that gave him the runs. He had to wear a diaper because he couldn’t get to the bathroom on time. He kept trying to make it so he wouldn’t have to call the nurse. The doctors got worried that he was going to fall again and so they sent a social worker round to talk to him, to try and persuade him to be more reasonable. “Cooperative” was the word they used. Don’t think it worked.

So in the end Grampa was in the hospital for over a month. I went on weekends with Mom to visit but I never knew what to say. He looked so tiny lying there in the white sheets, the bright light from the window shining down on his fluffy white hair. The yellow walls, the antiseptic smell, the blinking machines, the cheerful nurses coming in and out all the time ‒ it all sucked the words right out of my mouth. So I just sat on the bed and held his hand.

One time I bought him a bouquet of flowers that I had picked in our garden. It seemed like a good idea because I saw lots of flowers on bedside tables in the other rooms. But then I regretted it because Grampa sniffed them and said how beautiful they were about fifty times. Which showed he was just trying to be nice and didn’t know what else to say. Now I know what I should have brought him: a bag of jujubes, his favourite candy. Or Smarties, his second favourite.

When Grampa came home he was so skinny it looked like a breeze would blow him over and he had to take a dozen pills. He was tired a lot of the time too. But he was so happy! He said he would never, ever go back to the hospital, not in a million years.

Every day after school I went along the road to his house. I made us each a cup of coffee and two pieces of raisin toast. Then we watched TV together until suppertime. Sometimes I’d skip supper at home and make us Kraft dinner. We watched a lot of Seinfeld reruns. He loved the one when George goes out to save a whale that got its breathing hole blocked by Kramer’s golf ball. George tells his friends the story in a big dramatic way: The sea was angry that day, my friends,like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. Grampa loved that line. He kept saying things like, The cat was angry that day (when one of the barn cats scratched my littlest niece), or The washing machine was angry that day (when one of his socks disappeared).

Then my Dad got Grampa cable so he’d have something to do now that he couldn’t help out around the farm. So we started watching movies together. He hadn’t watched a lot of movies because he’d been so busy on the farm his whole life. We watched super long ones like Gone with the Wind and Titanic. And funny ones like Men in Black. Now I remember that he really liked one called The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow. It was a documentary about an autistic woman named Temple Grandin. I remember thinking: of course a dairy farmer would like this!

“Wasn’t that something how she got down on the ground to see the world like cows do?” said Grampa.

“Dunno. Seems pretty obvious to me.” I said.

“How? How is that obvious, smarty pants?”

“I dunno. Like that cows don’t want to go in a dark barn. Nobody likes going in a dark barn.”

“Well, if it’s so obvious why didn’t those experts figure it out? Before they hired Temple, they were ready to tear down that barn and build a new one. Would have cost them a fortune.”

“I guess.”

“See how she figured out that the main emotion of cows is fear, just like humans? That they were panicking out of fear?”

“I guess.”

“Just like that cow that got out of the barn last summer. She was scared like that. She wasn’t crazy, just scared.”

“I guess.”

“You know I’m right, said Grampa, sighing.

I just didn’t want to talk about that cow. But now I do.

I remember that it was August and that it felt like the hottest day of the summer. The cicadas were buzzing like wood saws and the dogs were panting so hard they couldn’t sleep, even in the shade of the giant maple trees beside our house. It was so hot that my brothers Tyler and Travis had been sent home by the landscaping company at noon. I was thinking of calling my best friend Lily and seeing if she wanted to go to the air-conditioned mall.

I was in the kitchen making Dad and me a sandwich when the telephone rang. It was Uncle Dave, who was up at the barn helping Uncle Ronnie move some heifers into pens. From the sounds of it, something bad had happened to Uncle Ronnie.

When we got to the barn, Uncle Ronnie was curled up on the floor, moaning and clutching his side.

“What the hell happened here?” said Dad.

But Uncle Dave hadn’t seen what happened and Uncle Ronnie could barely talk. He whispered what sounded like “cow…hit…me”, which I thought was funny but impossible, because how could a cow hit a man?

“What cow?” said Dad.

Uncle Ronnie couldn’t elaborate because he was turning grey like he was going to pass out. We looked around and Uncle Dave saw that a cow was missing, then that the back door of the barn was wide open.

“Jesus, one of the cows must’ve charged him and taken off,” said Dad.

Dad tried to help Uncle Ronnie up but he screamed in pain and his eyes started rolling back into his head.

“Go call the ambulance, Rose.” said Dad.

So I went off to the farmhouse to phone. Grampa was sitting watching the news and heard my conversation with the 911 guy. When the two of us got to the barn, we headed out into the field with Dad to find the runaway cow.

The cow was standing in the ditch that runs across the field. We could see the top part of her above the tall phragmites growing in the ditch. It wasn’t very deep, only about five feet. When she saw us coming, she started snorting and waving her head. She tried to get up the bank but kept slipping. She was panicking so much her eyes were big like saucers. Finally, she got so tired she flopped down on her knees and stopped trying.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“I dunno know.” said Dad, “Maybe we’ll have to get more people, get some rope and try to pull her out.”

“I could go get Mom or Tyler, they’re home.”

“No,” said Grampa. “She doesn’t need more people around. Best to leave her alone so she can calm down. Then she’ll get herself out.”

“We don’t have all day,” said Dad. “We’ve got to get her back in the barn. I have to start milking in a few hours.”

“Just leave her with me. I can get her back in. Rose can help me.” said Grampa.

“No, you’ll never get her back in, not when she’s like this.”

“I will, she’ll calm down.”

“Not so sure about that. Rose, you stay here with your Grampa while I go and check on Ronnie.”

So Grampa and I sat down on the edge of the ditch. The angelica was blooming up and down the sides of the ditch, the bees were buzzing all over them, and the sky was a huge blue dome over our heads. We watched a shiny silver airplane crawl across the sky like a tiny bug, leaving a long white line in the blueness. I felt little like that bug, except down here on earth. At first we talked but then the sun made us sleepy and we just sat there and watched the cow and the bees and the sky. It felt like we had all the time in the world. Even the poor cow closed her eyes for a nap.

We heard the ambulance come screaming down our road. It pulled into the barnyard and two paramedics jumped out and rushed into the barn with Dad. A few minutes later they came back out, pushed the stretcher with Uncle Ronnie into the back of the ambulance and sped off.

Then Dad came back out with Uncle Dave. Dad and then Uncle Dave got down in the ditch and pushed on the cow’s hind end. We tried nice words, we tried shouting, we tried pulling on a rope tied around her neck. We tried everything. But the cow kept falling all over the place, snorting and mooing like we were trying to kill her. She looked confused, scared and exhausted.

“We’re going have to shoot the thing, can’t see any other way,” Dad said.

“Let’s leave her for a bit, let her calm down and get her energy back,” said Grampa.

“No, it’s never going to work.”

“Sure it is. Let’s just leave her for a bit.”

“And then what? Say we do leave her for a couple of hours, even all night, a week? And then say by some miracle we do manage to get her out and back in the barn. Then what? This cow’s been nothing but trouble since the day we got her. Always been unpredictable, a bit crazy. Look what she did to Ronnie ‒ gave him a concussion and probably a few broken ribs too. Could have killed him!

“And how do you know that? Nobody knows that.” said Grampa. “Let’s wait a bit. I can stay out here ‘til she calms down. I got nothing better to do. You go on back in and do the milking.”

“I can stay with Grampa,” I said.

“No, I want it settled now,” said Dad.

“What’s the hurry?” said Grampa.

Dad could see that Grampa was really wanting to save that cow. He turned to Grampa and said, kind of sad like: “There’s no hurry. It’s just something that’s got to be done. You know that, Dad. You know we can’t have a cow like that around.”

Grampa didn’t say anything. He just looked down at his feet and then out into the big blue sky.

Dad told me and Grampa to go back to the farmhouse, that he would take care of it. Grampa took my hand as we walked back to his house. In my head, I could see my Dad getting the shotgun out of the closet.

I was in Grampa’s kitchen, making us a cup of coffee, when the gun went off. I starting crying and Grampa put his arms around me.

Grandmother

Burach and wife - Version 2Grandmother

Aileen Santos

 

I remember talcum powder and tiger balm
the raised mole on her left hand.

I remember wrinkles
and long withered fingers
a soothsayer
secret keeper
comforting dissonance.

I remember my face
in her soap scented hair
pinched purple skin
when she was not there

dystopian fragments
of hard silver buckles

the balm on my bruises
the kiss on my temple.

But even Amazons fear their own mothers

IMG_2048

But even Amazons fear their own mothers

Gabriella Garofalo

 

But even Amazons fear their own mothers –
I’m not saying it happens all the time, mind:
Now and again a mourning woman
Set on building up her grief as a private temple:
The highest gold leaf ceilings,
Blue candles scattered here and there,
The many pics of sweetest memories,
Enormous pillars of rage, tears, salt –
No need for brickies or marble cutters,
She builds it by herself in the white silent chaos
That won’t upset the neighbours –
Once the building’s over many options she’s got,
Prayers, deep thoughts, sobs, to throw a tantrum,
To rest her head on a pew, even to smash it
If she feels to, albeit tactless mirrors,
The dim lights of suburbia
And the neon of big cities give her a healthy blue funk –
Well, just for the record I’m of a different ilk:
Can talk to everything if need be,
Can talk to everyone if a crisis crops up,
To the living and the dead,
To  three-year-old brats, to blue friends,
To candles and needles, to queens and to dreams,
Which is nice but no use, as she’s sitting unfazed,
A sharp ‘no’ to my pleas, she won’t show up
And I’d better desist lest I be banned to exile –
Stop it green wildness,
I’ll grab you by the hair in a dash,
I’ll fling you to the ground, then I’ll meet in the end
All the children romping and frisking on the grass,
I’ll wave hello with a smile, they’re my life,
Yes, I’ll wave hello to my life with a smile
Instead of the usual stern nod, I’ll even say ‘thanks’ –
I know, it’s a gritted-teeth smile, so what?
Children will thank me for getting rid
Of a green witch in disguise.

Today was Embarrassing Enough

Today was Embarrassing Enough
Lori Ann Bloomfield

Rachel sat on the red sofa and considered the blue sofa. Then she moved to the blue sofa and considered the red sofa. She tried, but failed, to imagine either of them in her living room, in the empty space where, until two weeks ago, the white sofa had been. Andy had taken the white sofa with him when he’d moved out. This hadn’t bothered Rachel as much as it should have. She’d worried so much about keeping it clean she had never been able to relax on it. She wanted a sofa she could sink in to. One she could drink tea on, or red wine, if she became the sort of person who drank red wine.

It was Saturday afternoon and Rachel was alone at Ikea. When she and Andy had first moved in together they had come to Ikea almost every weekend. Andy had jokingly described Rachel’s decorating style as, “Zen, except without the calm or the style.”

It was true that Rachel’s apartment had been pretty empty when Andy moved in. She could never decide what to buy. One thing that had impressed her about Andy was how he could gaze out over a showroom filled with fifty armchairs, his blue eyes narrowed like a gunslinger’s, and know instantly which would look best in the corner beside the window.

Frustrated and filled with indecision, Rachel stood up and limped away. The heel of her right foot felt hot and sore. It was these new black leather boots she’d let Angela talk her into buying when they went therapy shopping after Andy left.

The usual crowd of Saturday shoppers was at Ikea: the young couples, the frazzled mothers, the reluctant men allowing themselves to be dragged along in order to keep the peace. And Andy.

Rachel spotted him as he was staring intently at a throw cushion on a black leather sofa. He had a look on his face Rachel recognized. It meant that Andy almost, but not quite, liked the object he was crushing with his gaze. This particular cushion had a fault. It would be perfect to Andy if only it were a different colour, or material, or plumpness. As Rachel watched, Andy dismissed the cushion and turned to a slim blonde man in an expensive overcoat. The look Andy gave him was as warm and gooey as a caramel left in the summer sun. Rachel did not recognize this look.

Rachel ducked down and sat on the nearest sofa. How could she have not known Andy was gay? They had lived together for almost three years. All she could think about was how many pastel-coloured shirts he owned. She’d even bought him a few.

Rachel scrunched down even further. She wanted to call Angela but was afraid Andy would hear her voice. She had to get out of here before he saw her. She’d wait for him to thread his way through the living room department then when he was safely in the kitchen section she’d backtrack and make a dash for the parking lot.

“Look at that print! It looks like something Elton John would vomit,” she heard Andy say.

Rachel wanted to close her eyes the way she’d done when she was a child playing hide and seek, but they were still open when Andy and his boyfriend came around the edge of the sofa she was sitting on and stood with their backs to her. They were laughing at a sofa with a neon pink flower print. It reminded Rachel of a pair of rubber boots she’d had as a child. She’d loved those boots.

Just as she was about to sneak away, Andy turned.

“Rachel!” His voice went high with surprise.

“Hi, Andy.” She tried to sound casual as if it were the most natural thing in the world to meet your ex-boyfriend at Ikea with his new boyfriend.

“You’re not thinking of buying that sofa, are you? It would look hideous in the apartment,” Andy said.

Rachel looked down. She was not even aware of what the sofa she was sitting on looked like. It was burgundy leather.

“No. Definitely not.” Rachel sprang to her feet. “I’m thinking of going vegan.”

She had no idea where that idea had come from. But if Andy could go gay, she could go vegan, she figured.

The man with Andy said, “Don’t tell her what she can and can’t buy. It’s her apartment. She can get whatever sofa she wants. She could even buy that one.” He turned to point at the Elton John vomit over his shoulder. “Though I wouldn’t advise it. I’m Sully, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.

Andy squirmed as they shook hands. Sully, however, seemed to be enjoying himself.

“We were just on our way to the cafeteria for a coffee. Care to join us?” Sully said.

Andy looked so aghast that Rachel said yes.

Sully positioned Rachel in the middle and together the three of them walked to the cafeteria. Rachel and Andy had never gone to the cafeteria when they were together. Andy had always made fun of the cheap breakfasts and meatball specials. They’d sounded good to Rachel, but she’d never admitted that.

But here he was, dutifully following her and Sully through the cafeteria line-up. She glanced back, wondering if he wore the same look as the men who were trailing along behind their wives. Andy met her gaze with a look somewhere between fury and fear. It reminded her of the time she’d gotten up during the night to pee and had surprised him masturbating in the bathroom.

Sully filled a paper cup with coffee and added a splash of milk. His hand wavered over the sugar then fell back to his side. “I prefer honey,” she said to Rachel.

At the cash registrar they each paid for their own coffee. Rachel wondered how gay men decided who paid. Maybe they always just paid for their own. Then she wondered why she was thinking about such stupid stuff.

They sat at a table beside the window. Sully and Andy on one side, Rachel on the other, across from Sully. There was an awkward silence after the scraping of chairs and the settling down into their seats. Rachel had a history of saying embarrassing things to fill silences like this one so she forced herself to stare quietly out the window at the parking lot below. Today was embarrassing enough without adding words to it.

The sky was grey overcast, the cars mostly black or white. But inside, Ikea was a riot of colour. Rachel knew that whatever most people bought here today they would take home and squash the vibrancy out of it. Rachel knew she did it too, but didn’t want to. She wanted to learn the trick of keeping the vibrancy in things.

“Andy told me you work in advertising,” Sully was the first to break the silence, unsurprisingly.

“Insurance, actually,” Rachel said.

Sully nodded, already bored. He was probably regretting inviting her to coffee. If this was going to be fun he was going to have to work harder than he’d anticipated. “I’m a massage therapist,” he volunteered. “I rent a small room in a yoga studio downtown. If you ever need a massage…” He smiled brightly at Rachel.

Andy shot Sully a look which made Sully laugh. He tilted his head way back so that Rachel could see the edge of his straight white teeth and the pink at the back of his throat. To appease Andy he slipped a hand under the table. The two men’s eyes met and they exchanged a secret smile.

Rachel looked at the tabletop. She knew she shouldn’t be here, but she didn’t know where she should be.

A stout woman with tight grey curls stopped at their table. She wore a sweatshirt with a kitten on the front. Her glasses hung on a necklace made of pink plastic beads that bounced softly against her considerable bustline.

“You’re twins, right?” She wagged a finger between Sully and Rachel. “My brother, Gus and I were fraternal twins. He died just last year. I miss him more than my husband. It’s funny, when you start looking for twins you see them everywhere.”

Sully tilted his head and considered Rachel. Then he turned to the woman and smiled brightly. “I think I would miss my sister more than my husband, too.”

A look of confusion clouded the woman’s face then cleared. It was like watching a gust of wind blow across a pond on an otherwise still day.

“You’re both gorgeous. Enjoy your day,” she said before tottering off.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Sully called after her.

Andy stared down stonily at his fingernails.

Sully ran a hand expertly down his back and said, “You should loosen up. Relax or else you’re going to give yourself one of your headaches and then you won’t be any fun.”

“I already have one.”

Mostly from habit, though from a bit of sympathy too, Rachel opened her purse and found some aspirin. She handed the small bottle across the table. Wordlessly Andy shook two, then three, pills into his palm. He washed them down with a gulp of coffee. “Thanks,” he said, handing the now empty bottle back. He didn’t meet Rachel’s eye.

“If we are going to be mistaken for brother and sister I think you should get a better haircut,” Sully said to Rachel.

“You don’t look alike,” Andy hissed.

Sully winked at Rachel as though they really did have a familial bond, as if they did share a secret language.

Rachel could see that she and Sully were both slightly built. They shared long, willowy limbs and fine features. They were both fair-haired and blue-eyed, though Sully’s eyes were brighter. They each had small ears that sat tight to their heads and Rachel imagined that inside his shoes Sully had long, thin white feet like her own. She did not let her imagination go any further. They looked alike, though the idea of twins was pushing it.

“How come you guys are at Ikea?” Rachel asked. She wished she hadn’t said guys. It sounded weird.

The two men exchanged a wary look.

“Because he doesn’t like my place and wants to change it,” Sully said.

“That’s not true,” Andy burst out. “It’s need cohesion, that’s all.” He turned to Rachel. “It’s hodge podge, but all it needs is the right few pieces to pull it together.”

Rachel looked at Sully. “He did the same thing when he moved into my place. Changed everything to suit him.”

“Maybe he should get his own place,” Sully said. Then he tried to soften it with a smile.

“Maybe he should be an interior decorator instead of a financial advisor, then he could do this all day long and get paid for it,” Rachel said.

“That’s too gay for Andy. Isn’t it Andy?” said Sully.

“If I wanted to be an interior decorator, I’d be one. I only like designing my own space. I don’t care about anyone else’s,” Andy said. Rachel could tell he was straining to keep his voice calm.

“We were arguing about this over by the sofas,” Sully said.

“We weren’t arguing,” Andy insisted.

“I think Andy is ashamed to be gay,” Sully said.

Andy massaged his left temple and stared down at his coffee. Rachel could tell the aspirins had been wasted on him. She should have kept them.

“Andy didn’t say he was leaving you for a man, did he?” Sully demanded. Rachel suspected that Sully was not as angry as he sounded. He just liked to fight.

“What Andy and I talk about is between Andy and me,” Rachel said.

Sully looked surprised, like a spoiled child that was finally reprimanded.

“Then I’ll leave you two alone to chat.” Sully stood up like he were on a stage, not in the Ikea cafeteria. He stormed off, his coat swaying dramatically behind him. Rachel had the feeling that was why he had bought it.

Andy watched Sully leave then took a sip of coffee.

“You’d better go after him,” Rachel said. She was surprised how calm her voice sounded. She was even more surprised by how calm she felt.

For the first time that day Andy smiled at Rachel. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Holding them up like they were a prize he said, “Sully has forgotten that I drove.”

They laughed but not from happiness or even malice. It was simply a release of tension. Then it was over and the awkwardness snuck back in. Rachel drained her coffee cup and stood up. “Still, you should go after him. Make sure he’s alright.”

“What are you going to do?” Andy asked.

“I’m going to buy a sofa. But don’t even ask which one because I’m not telling you. I’m buying the one I want and I refuse to be talked out of it.”

Andy raised one eyebrow and smiled wryly. Then he gave a small shrug and held up both hands.

Rachel waved good-bye. A lump was forming in her throat and she didn’t trust her voice. She could feel Andy watching her as she left the cafeteria but didn’t know what he was thinking. Probably she never had.

As she threaded her way through the Saturday shoppers she thought again of those long forgotten rubber boots from childhood. She remembered twirling in them on the sidewalk in front of her house and feeling pretty. She had not worried then how she looked, or whether anyone was watching, or what they were thinking if they were.