MR. FLINT’S POND

MR. FLINT’S POND

by

Marty Carlock

 

‘Mr. Flint turned him down.’

‘Justifiably so, I say. A pointless scheme it is, I say.’

‘Well. It’s good to see the boy with a worthy goal in mind, for a change.’

‘Boy! Twenty-eight years old! And no career. No vocation. Terms himself a surveyor, and works not one day out of thirty. Or a schoolmaster, and has no pupils.’ Her husband’s eyes began to bulge and his color grew high. ‘I’ve given him time enough and over, Lord knows, to get himself established. Help and advice. A year of college. Which he had not the self-discipline for. I have honest work awaiting him at the factory, but will he have it? No-o-o. And not as if I’d expect him to dirty his hands; a clerk’s job it is, but honest.’

She took an ear of corn, broke off the stem and yanked the green husk down, like stripping off a stocking. She pulled the pale silk from the other end and meticulously picked out a few remaining strands of it ‘It’s not as if he’s wasting himself in drink or chasing after women.’

‘Yes, and that’s another thing. It’s not normal. A man his age ought to be establishing himself, thinking about acquiring a wife, thinking about a family. Does he even look at a female?’ He glowered in silence for a moment. ‘But then, who’d have him, penniless as he is?’

‘Hush, here he comes.’

Out the window she watched his lanky, stooped figure shambling up the road, dressed in flannel shirt and canvas britches, a handkerchief knotted around his neck. He stopped unaccountably and stared into the bushes, stepped closer, slowly extended his cupped hands and with a graceful gesture trapped something between them, careful not to crush it. He put his eye to the gap between his thumbs and inspected his prey intently for a longer time than she thought necessary, then opened his hands and watched it fly. She could not see what it was. She finished husking the corn and slid the ears into a kettle on the black-iron stove.

She had to admit her second-born was not a man to turn a girl’s head. Face-on, comely enough; his intelligent eyes took your thoughts off the rest. But his profile, with its great beak of a French nose, was almost laughable. He had begun to affect a fringe of beard which counterbalanced the nose somewhat. She sighed. A good man, but impractical. Perhaps weak.

Continue reading MR. FLINT’S POND

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Moose Pond

Moose Pond

Steve Pinette 

 

John turned the truck into a turn-out and cut the engine.

“Well,” Suzy said. “Here I go.” 

“Wish I could’ve cancelled this meeting tonight and hiked in with you,” John said. 

“It’s okay, I can handle it.” Suzy eyed the two forest-green pickups with the Fisheries & Wildlife emblems parked along the five-foot snow bank. “I’ll look for you mid-afternoon tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll catch some trout to fry for dinner.”

 John gestured toward the trucks. “Probably state biologists checking bear dens. Maybe they’ve broken the trail to the pond.”

“That’d be my lucky day,” Suzy said as she stepped outside.

She stretched and looked around. John removed the red pack sled and two sections of aluminum tubing from the truck box.

“Hawk?” Suzy pointed to the brown bird sailing overhead. 

“More likely a juvenile bald eagle. The head turns white around four years.” John smiled at her. “You’ve been away too long.”

“I haven’t heard that in a while.” Suzy knew her mother and father had been proud of her. The first girl on either side to graduate from college. But her thirty-year foray into Africa and South America as a mining geologist and two failed marriages had diminished her family currency.

Continue reading Moose Pond

Wormwood

Wormwood

Ilona Martonfi

 

Black rain falling 

dust and ash

setting off down these village roads 

because there is no word for this colour, 

old newspapers from the day before 

26 April 1986, Chernobyl nuclear disaster

ninety kilometres northeast of Kiev,

as it spreads morning, there is no word for 

this every day and every morning and evening, 

now contained inside a birch forest

keening the loss, wondering if

coming here. I was lost. 

I couldn’t have been more lost

reinforcing the narratives told to me:

the ghost town of Pripyat

drifting from room to empty room trying 

to find what it is that I was after

marshes, peat bogs

at the insistence of loam and clay

radioactive cesium and strontium

a clock stopped at 1:23 am

loose words falling into a void, 

to this day I have no

notes and the space between the notes

going back into the exclusion zone.

Visiting babusya’s grave

its music, incantation in half-light. 

Urgent and elegiac 

foraging wild blueberries.

VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

by

Bonnie Lykes

 

The consignment shop is only a yard from vicious traffic. It doesn’t seem fair the sweetness of so many grandmothers and dear uncles suffers the exhaust. Flimsy tapestries, shaky wood shelves, a nickel cooktop, beaded wallet, a painting of post-modern ladies fanning fans all crammed up, orderless. I have an open wall that needs something.  

I shuffle, in neutral, and wish, for what I don’t know. A path winds through these mismatched histories. The owner wears army shorts and a thin white tank. His boney hands grab at the piles. He snatches at pleather, wood, and canvas cranked all around us. His skin is alive and peculiar. An intensely complicated tattoo covers his face, neck, ears, shins, and arms, and, I’m sure, sweeps down to his dark inches. The ink is delicate and crawls over his body like a fine red lace. No macho flowers or smiling snakes, no Sanskrit. No philosophical quotes, no irreversible ex-lovers—only dark, angel-hair lines. They look like the fragile twines of an antique doily stretched in all directions to cover him completely. Jesus, he’s stuck in a net! Whenever he turns, I avoid his eyes and look at his big black boots. He has no open flesh. Not an inch of real pigment. No shine of plain sweat to commiserate with. I can’t look straight on, but I feel his eyes beam, caged and frenetic.

I rest my hand on a table statue of a fisherman with a bent spine. I move on to a black ashtray with yellow lettering: Belle Of Baton Rouge Riverboat Card Room. I linger. He bleats out, “You want that one?” He hunches and lurks five feet away consistently. 

I answer to his boots, “No, no thanks.” 

He floats a fragile nightstand up and away from a throng of loveseats.

* * *

Continue reading VIOLENCE OFTEN HIDES

Tales He Told When I Was Ten

Õ

Tales He Told When I Was Ten

Steve Broidy

 

Standing tall behind his drug counter

Dad told his customers stories:

He’d speak of a man who knew better than taking

The pills that his doctor prescribed–and died;

stories concerning miraculous healings

of those who followed, religiously, regimens

Dad wrote out. Listening there,

behind the counter, I seemed to see 

those healthy faces grinning at him

in gratitude, for all of us 

believed him.

At bed times, Dad told me tales of the war:

how he traveled on ships across mountainous seas

making medicines, curing the soldiers and sailors 

the ship picked up all over the world.

He never spoke of being in battle;

but said instead that a shark ate his hair 

when he leaned too far over a railing

to wish that fish a good day. I

believed him.

I heard about Lollapalooza the hippo,

who befriended him once in an African port:

how the hippo taught him to swim underwater—

(which I’d dreamed of doing, though afraid in the pool).

He told me that reading his books late in bed 

had exploded a light bulb and burned down his house;

and how sitting too close to his old TV

had gradually ruined his eyes.

I stopped doing both those things,

because I believed him.

Dad told me the story—confidentially, of course—

of how seeing my mother for the very first time

made him lose his balance and fall down the stairs;

how it never hurt one bit;

how the year they got married, late in Fall,

he moved (without telling her) all their belongings

from Oakland to Columbus, to be close to her family.

Scratching his shiny scalp, he admitted

she wasn’t happy at first—but he thought 

she’d forgiven him ages ago. I said

I believed him.                                          [more]

He told me the pills he took all day

made him smarter and stronger—he would live forever.

And I believed him.

The Travails of Hunger

The Travails of Hunger

John Grey

 

Hunger is well-traveled,

knows its way around the globe,

the cities, even the countryside.

And it’s sometimes selective, 

sometimes random – it’s

there for a famine 

but also for a family man

who’s just been fired from the job.

I don’t know whether or not

hunger ever feels guilty.

It leaves conscience to those

who know where the fat resides,

keep it apart from the lean.

Hunger just takes like 

something that’s hungry itself.

So biting and gnawing,

swallowing, devouring, 

it sates its deprivation.

But hunger is never satisfied.

It’s acquired a taste.

No question where it stole that from.

I LEFT PARIS FIRST

I LEFT PARIS FIRST

Anna Kapungu

 

Knew in my spirit we looked over the edge

The edge of love’s season

Season where May apples bloomed

Bloomed in the sunlight

Their natures essence filled our path

That was the mystery of us

The wonder of love

We stand at the edge of the oceans

Hear the bells toll in the lighthouse

Breathe in the viridescent seaweed

That floats above the oceans

Hear my heart beat

Face the moon

Know my truth

Love was true

In the smallness of my being

Against the currents of the oceans

Through the tumultuous days

The days of twilight

Like days of war

Gloom ridden, bleak and dreary

Love was like a painting

Covering the unhappiness of our affections

Paradise laboured to delight in passion

 

GHETTO CHILDREN

GHETTO CHILDREN

 John Grey

 

We had to stay in

perfect position

not only throughout

the class

but even as the bell rang.

 

We carried

pencils and paper

for note-taking.

We took no notes.

 

For we were

the paper.

Our instructor

was the pencil.

 

He wrote all

over us –

“Good children.”

 

Come the war,

the words were rubbed out,

replaced by

serial numbers.

 

Liberia, 1985

 

Liberia, 1985

John Edward Ellis

In our neighborhood, the electricity dies at night.  On those evenings—the blackouts—my father holds a flashlight, and he and I walk out the front door of our house, into the yard, to a shed—inside, a generator.  When I press the switch, the generator howls.  The house is floodlit again, and the silhouette of my mother, eight months pregnant, presses against the balcony window, her stomach reaching against electric light.  

Around the yard is a high wall and an iron gate; beyond, night collapses.  Mosquitos thread the humidity in the kind of space and time that gnaws on the imagination.  It is the end of April, and as my father and I sit in the yard, he tells me he’s going to have to leave soon, for work.  He tells me to help my mother while he’s gone. 

When I go to sleep that night, I see Liberia’s coasts, the beaches where my father takes Sarah, my older sister, and me, on Sundays.  I see dunes—round, full, expectant—as if something waits beneath the sand.  The beaches curl north, curl south, and both ends reach their respective horizons.

In May, my father leaves.  My mother will pick Sarah and me up from school.  The school is one room.  Inside, we sit at a table; Sarah draws and I write.  The afternoon passes without us seeing it go; as the sun steps behind the mangrove trees, our teacher takes us to my mother, waiting outside, in the car.  Sarah points to my mother’s stomach as it grasps the steering wheel.  She asks if our little sister kicks.  My mother says sometimes.  Feel.  She holds Sarah’s hand against her stomach.  

When will she be born, I ask.  

My mother says soon.    

We go to the market in Monrovia.  Women walk with pots balanced on their heads.  Naked children sit on their mother’s laps.  Men stand behind tables, holding up baskets of fruit.  

Sarah and I walk behind my mother.  We watch people yell at her, telling her to buy things.  She buys cassava and shoves it into a cloth bag.  We walk back to the car, and inside my mother breathes in, as if shivering.  She puts her hands on her stomach and her breathing softens.  Sarah and I don’t say anything.  My mother puts on her seatbelt.  Let’s go home, she says, frowning.  Hopefully, the electricity will stay on tonight.

I think then of walking next to my father, of holding the flashlight, of seeing the house lit like fire.  I look at my mother.  Mom, if the lights go out, can I go outside and turn on the generator.  My mother smiles.   

All week, after school, Sarah and I play in the yard.  Fruit has bloomed in the trees, and we throw rocks, trying to hit coconuts between the palms so that one will fall to the ground.  Musu, who works in the house, watches Sarah and me while my mother runs errands.  Musu tells us to be careful throwing rocks.  

Continue reading Liberia, 1985

August Bloom

August Bloom

William Doreski

 

The flaw begins in my left eye,
expands to warp skyscrapers
and streetlamp posts, then nestles
in the contours of her body,
having firmly established itself.

Now everything looks slightly off,
but I’m always delaminating,
shedding parts I no longer use
and reopening wounds that healed
in the dark moments of childhood.

The lies and evasions return
like army ants. Moonrise over
fly-speckled ponds in the forest.
Insincerities caught in amber.
Those trysts in glib summer dusk

when music sagged in the distance
and kisses as vacant as craters
shared themselves without shame.
The flaw expands to include
tobacco fields ripened in August

and hail peppering the long sheds
where we hung the toxins to cure.
It warps the memory of lightning
spearing the family elm tree
six months after my father died.

The general erasure of time
no longer applies. Warping
that distance, the flaw speaks for me
in pearly tones a healthy eye
would reject because unnatural.

Funereal blossoms close the season
with sighs I can’t replicate,
even though such emissions
would reduce the pressure in that eye
and save me from going blind.

 

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2008, New York City

Mother Tugboat’s Children

Mother Tugboat’s Children

a short story

Stephen Poleskie

To our great distress my wife and I had been summoned down to Florida for one of my mother-in-law’s frequent family affairs. Technically, she was my stepmother-in-law. After my wife’s mother died her father had remarried to the “Tugboat,” a massive figure who steamed along pulling everyone in her wake. My wife couldn’t stand the woman, so I had driven down here alone, to get away from the cold and snow for a few days and to “show the flag for our side.”
It was my first visit to their new apartment in a retirement compound, which Tugboat had berthed them in after convincing my father-in-law to sell the house he had lived in with my wife’s mother since they retired to Florida some twelve years ago.
“Ugh! You smell bad, John,” Tugboat grunted at me as a greeting when I arrived. “Go take a shower.”
My reminding Tugboat that I had just driven twelve hours to get here from my last motel stop, one of two overnights, cut me no slack. When Mother Tugboat speaks, you do what you are told.
I pushed open the bathroom door. The room was small, dirty and
crowded with ‘stuff,’ including my father-in-law standing there in his underwear.
“You can’t come in here yet, John,” father-in-law insisted. “I’m not finished shaving. Go sit out on the porch.”
As I had stripped down and only had on my boxer shorts, he handed me a white bathrobe and a pair of Tugboat’s pink bunny slippers, and pushed me out a side door, saying, “I’ll call you when I’m finished.” I stepped out onto the empty porch and sat down in one of the empty chairs.
“Can I get you something, sir?” a man, dressed as a waiter, who had suddenly appeared asked. “I’m sorry; I didn’t know anyone was sitting out here.”
“Sitting where?” I asked.
“Sitting on this porch, this is the porch for the hotel,” was his curt reply.
“What hotel?”
“The hotel you’re staying at.”
“I’m not staying at a hotel; I’m staying at an apartment . . . through that door.” I said pointing.
“But there is no apartment through that door,” he the waiter explained.
To prove the waiter wrong, I knocked on the door; “It’s me, John. . . .”
“I’m not finished shaving yet,” my father-in-law shouted out. “Very good, sir,” the waiter said politely and went away.
Several people passed along the sidewalk, some eying my costume of white bathrobe and pink bunny slippers with interest. Curious myself as to where I was, I walked around the corner of the porch to the front entrance.

“May I help you, sir?” a man behind a reception desk asked.
“Oh, not really, I was just trying to find out where I was.”
“You are in the lobby, sir.”
“The lobby? . . .”
“Yes. Would you like a room, sir? We have a special rate today, only $199 for a single.”
“No thank you, I am staying in the apartment around back,” I informed him.
“But there is no apartment around back, sir,” he assured me.
Not wanting to argue, and perhaps questioning my own credibility, I went and pounded on the door I had just come from.
“I’m not finished shaving yet,” my father-in-law shouted again.

I wondered what he was shaving that was taking so long—perhaps his whole body.

A couple came out from the hotel and hailed a taxi. The driver, who had been parked out front with the motor off, got out, handed them a length of white rope and got back in. The two tied the rope to the front bumper, and then, slinging it over their shoulders began to pull the taxi forward. When they got it up to enough speed, the taxi driver popped the clutch and the engine started. The couple untied the rope, returned it to the driver, and got in. The taxi drove off.
I sat there for some time wondering about this. Then another taxi drove up and parked and the process was repeated. All in all I saw this happen three times in approximately half an hour.

“The dining room is open now, sir,” a waiter announced, a different person than had come around before, a Hispanic. “We have a special today, the roast beef is only $22.”
I was tempted, being hungry, but I didn’t have $22 on me, and Tugboat had promised us a slap up dinner. “No, thank you,” I said. “I don’t believe I’m dressed for dinner.”
“It’s not a problem, sir; our dining room is very casual; a white bathrobe and pink bunny slippers would be completely acceptable.”
“No thank you,” I repeated. “I am having dinner in that apartment back there.” I pounded on the door.
“I’m not through shaving yet,” a familiar voice replied.
A short time later yet another waiter arrived. “Do you have a dinner reservation, sir?”
“No.”
“Are you waiting for a taxi?”
“No.”
“Are you a guest at the hotel?”
“No.”
“Then you can’t sit here in a white bathrobe and pink bunny slippers.”
“No?”
“No!”
“But just a while ago it was okay to go into the dining room in a white bathrobe and pink bunny slippers.”
“That was then, sir; the rules have changed.”
“I didn’t know,” I apologized.
“Haven’t you been listening to the public address announcements?”
“What announcements?”
Just then there was a squeal, and the blare of a loud speaker: “It is not allowed to sit on the porch wearing a white bathrobe and pink bunny slippers.”
“You have got to leave, sir.”
I pounded on the door. “Father-in-law! If you’re there you’ve got to let me in!”
“You’re in luck, I’ve just finished shaving,” was his welcome reply, “and dinner is just about ready.”
The small apartment was full of people, all wearing white bathrobes and pink bunny slippers. They must have arrived through some other door as I had not seen them come across the porch. Half of the men were male versions of the Tugboat, in various sizes and shapes, while half of the women were female tugboats. The rest of the crowd was made up of river barges, ferry boats, skiffs, and scows.

“I’ll make the salad,” said a little female tug.
“I’ll do the desert,” added a medium lady barge.
“My children are so wonderful,” beamed Mother Tugboat as her family backed and filled around her. And the sons were not idle either. ”
“I’ll convert the basement into a game room while dinners cooking,” said one.
“The roof looks a little ragged,” declared another,” I should be able to get a new one on before it’s time to eat.”
“I could put on a new overhead garage door and still have time to mow the lawn,” the littlest man tug volunteered.

The place was a flurry of activity as white bathrobes and pink
bunny slippers hurried to and fro.”And what are you going to do, John?” Mother Tugboat asked, staring at me in what I took to be a hostile manner.
“Oh, I thought I’d take a shower.”
“You were supposed to have done that earlier,” she glowered.
“But the bathroom was occupied,” I said, “So I sat out on the porch.”
“THE PORCH!” everyone said in unison, stopping their activities. “There is no porch,” Mother Tugboat said firmly.
“Yes there is . . . it belongs to the hotel,” I replied, “through that door; I sat there watching the taxis.”
“THE TAXIS!” everyone shouted, again in chorus.
“Yes, taxis would arrive, and the people who took them would have to pull the cabs a short way by a rope to get them started.”
“So?”
“So I thought it odd. . . .”
“Why?” Tugboat asked.
“Well … that’s not the way it’s usually done, at least not where I come from.”
“If you just get in you have to pay full fare,” Tugboat explained. “But if you pull the taxi to get the engine started you get to pay a much lower rate, it saves the battery.”
“Oh, I see, kind of like those ‘early bird dinners’ everyone eats down here,” I said. “I guess everyone living in Florida is out to save money.”
“But we’re not in Florida now, were in New Jersey,” Mother Tugboat declared with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“New Jersey!” I exclaimed.
“Yes . . . New Jersey.”
“How did we get to New Jersey? . . .”

The bustle in the kitchen had resumed; a clanging of pots and pans. And from the basement, garage, and roof came the sounds of male tugs hammering and sawing. I was lost at sea in a storm. My mind told me I was supposed to be feeling guilty, but I did not. I lifted up my armpit and sniffed; I did smell bad.

Seeing my gesture, a middle-sized female tug sailed up to me and announced: “I’m going to take a shower now.” Opening up her white robe, she flashed her naked body at my startled eyes. “Would you like to join me?” she said with a wink.
“Oh, are we still in New Jersey?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Does it make a difference where we are,” she replied with a smile.
“I think I’ll just go sit on the porch until dinner,” I said, pushing open the door to the porch, but there was no porch there, only a sidewalk and a parking lot.

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2016, Montreal, Quebec

THE CASTLE

THE CASTLE

Mary Street

 

Dublin, Ireland, 1978: The taxi pulled up to the curb on a narrow street, lined with identical brick houses side by side. Pushing past the metal gate that opened onto a tiny, bleak front yard, I knocked on the black enamel door.

Vera swung the door open, baby at her hip, her face betraying a slight panic when she saw me.

“Ah! Mary! What a surprise to see you!”

“But, didn’t you get my letter with my arrival date?”

“No, no, Mary. Don’t you know we’ve had a mail strike for the last month? But, come in, come in.”

And so began my short vacation to Ireland, a special get-away for a single woman about to get married back in San Francisco. My suitcase was packed with the bare minimum: a pair of jeans, a quilted green jacket I’d bought in Chinatown, a sort of peasant blue dress with a billowing skirt, a pair of high leather boots.

I stayed for a few days with my Dubliner friends, then planned to explore Galway on the west coast. Vera’s husband was a cameraman at the television station, so a highlight of my visit included tickets to a popular variety show, broadcast live.

Wearing my blue dress, I made myself comfortable in the audience. There were maybe 30 seats, situated in a small studio painted entirely black. A tacky velvet curtain served as backdrop for the moderator’s desk and chair, atop a small elevated stage. Very low budget, but the right ambiance for the first guest. It was a farmer who brought along his goat for the interview.

The moderator cracked jokes, and the audience leaned forward, enthralled. I shifted in my seat and wondered how long the interview would last. Then came three dancing girls, dressed in satin shorts and fishnet stockings, crammed onto the stage. They harmonized about the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

After a rousing finale, the goat, the farmer and the dancers marched off the stage. The audience followed them into an adjoining room for a cast and crew party. My friends and I found seats to relax and share a cup of tea. I was about to sip from my cup when a young man joined our group, kneeling beside me to fall into conversation.

“Ah, yer from San Francisco, miss, and where do you go from here?”

“Well, my friends have suggested I take the train tomorrow morning for Galway, to stay at the castle there.”

His eyes twinkled. “And what time does your train leave, may I ask?”

His eyes were very sweet, very playful. He seemed irresistible to me.

“Seven a.m. On the dot.” I swallowed hard.

He broke into a merry smile and said, “I’ll be there, and I’ll go to the castle with you.”

And then, he took a bowl of sugar cubes, held the bowl high while he met my eyes again, and silently spilled the sugar cubes onto my lap. He leaned over, took a cube delicately between his teeth, and dropped it gently into my tea cup.

As he slowly leaned away from my lap, he turned his face toward mine and grinned.

Did I blush? Did my heart race? Did we exchange another word? None of that remains in my memory. I can recall the weight of the sugar on my dress, the way his dark curls fell forward as he leaned to capture a cube from my lap.

Next morning, I left on the train for Galway. Alone. I felt disappointed that he hadn’t materialized, but it was a relief to keep traveling light without a stranger as extra baggage. Once I arrived at the castle converted into a hotel, a bellboy escorted me to my room in a tower overlooking a moat with white swans.

As we rode the elevator, I asked him, “Are you from Galway?”

“No, ma’am, I’m from Belfast, Northern Ireland.” He stared at his shoes, then looked up to see if his response made any connection with me. His ill-fitting beige bellboy uniform only made his poor complexion look more sallow. A ridiculous cap on his straw-colored hair made him look like a sad monkey.

That night, I wore the blue dress — my sugar cube dress — to dinner in the elegant hotel dining room. A gregarious couple from Texas invited me to join them, sharing a bottle of wine and a wonderful meal. Feeling well fed, content and tired, I nodded hello to the bellboy as I passed his station on the way to the elevator.

“Room 11, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Right,” I said. As the elevator door closed, I thought, “That’s odd.”

An hour later, I was locked away in my turret room, snuggled under a comfy quilt. Suddenly, I heard the distinct sound of metal to metal, as a key turned in the door lock. A slice of light from the hallway cut across the far wall as the door slowly opened.

Into the room slipped my prince charming monkey bellboy. He stood stock still facing my bed, his back against the wall. Wordless.

Reflexively, I pulled the covers up to my shoulders, as I sat up in bed.

“What is it?” I half-shouted.

“Electricity’s out.”

I switched on the bedside lamp.

“Well, this light’s working.”

A long silence ensued. I glared, my mind racing. He took a deep breath, eyes on the floor, then nodded.

“Yes, ma’am. Just checkin’.” And he left.

 

Image from British Library, original photo of Dublin Castle by Maurice O’Connor Morris, 1888. (Wikimedia Commons)   

My Suitcase Is Packed

My Suitcase Is Packed

Scott Laudati

i know you’re home somewhere out there
in colorado
where the desert flowers
wait all year to turn yellow
and horses with spanish blood
whip their manes under lightening
as the snows melt down to refill
the dried beds.
somewhere where enough was enough
and you had to put a continent between me
and new jersey.
i’ve seen that land and pulled over
to swim naked where the white crests shatter
and freedom is something more than a dream.
there are no dead ends on your streets,
the rain only falls straight down
and even stray cats
come when they’re called.
i bled for you once
when the war was still far from over
and the end hasn’t gotten any closer
so i guess
i’d do it again

 

image by Benbarka,2014. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Fortune Teller, Miami Beach, Fla.

The Fortune Teller, Miami Beach, Fla.

Michael C. Gebelein

I was on a beach in Miami with two beautiful girls.
they were both topless and, even though I wasn’t sleeping with either one,
I counted myself as the luckiest son of a bitch on that stretch of sand
and as we were laying there, joking and laughing,
an old woman, a fortune-teller, walked up to us.
she looked me in the eye and asked if I wanted my fortune told,
but before I could send her on her way she told me that
I looked happy but, really, I was very sad,
that something was broken inside of me.
I laughed, and said that it must be true for almost everyone.
and one of the girls touched my arm and
kissed me on the cheek and told me that
no, it’s not true for almost everyone,
that there are people in this world who are content,
easy-going, satisfied with the way things are,
but that there weren’t any of them on that stretch of beach that day.

 

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2008, Miami Beach, Florida.

Inmate Trout

Inmate Trout

By Dr. Patrick Dobson

 

Fishing the North Platte River under crystalline sky, I cast a Royal Coachman on a number-eight hook behind a large rock midstream. Immediately, a big trout pulled my rod over, silencing the wind on the sagebrush hills and rocky outcrops where the night before I had heard mountain lions. The trout fought up and back downstream, narrowing my vision to the width of the line as it telegraphed messages to my hands. Reading code, I could tell when its fear turned into determination, and I lowered my rod tip to keep the fish from jumping and getting a good look at me.

I played that trout several minutes before it tired and moved in fits toward me. It was a healthy rainbow, twelve inches long, not fat but not skinny. It was picture book. The silver of its belly blended like sunset into blue and red on its sides. Black flecks started at the pectoral fins, gathered momentum along the sides and melted into themselves along its back. Had the trout been human, I would have just caught the perfect physical specimen, ideally proportioned, with wiry arms and shoulders to gather fruit and carry babies, and legs made to walk.

I held the trout up from the water, and in the clear depth of its black eye, I saw a couple I met three years before. Standing there with a trout inches from my nose, the sun stopped and the North Platte turned into a flowing mirror of memory.

The couple seemed old beyond their years as they moved around the gourmet coffee and cheese shop. They lightly touched packages of chocolate covered espresso beans and tiny packets of saffron with their callused fingers. The racks of wines packed between shelves of ceramic cups and specialty mustards intrigued them for a moment. Then, they shook their heads and moved on. As they walked the narrow aisles, they stopped now and then before bins of tea leaves. They whispered to each other, shifting in their worn shoes and adjusting their dusty spectacles.

Years of work bowed the backs of the man and the woman. His tall frame dropped like a waterfall about to dry up in a curve from beneath his ball cap into his loose jeans. She wore a fading pink button-up sweater and a translucent polyester scarf over her gray mane. In their eyes flashed dreams like rays of sun through pines reflected off dark, blue trout pools.
The other store clerks ignored them, and customers for the boutique restaurant and coffee bar in the back of the crowded shop shuffled past them as if they did not exist. After packaging up some Stilton cheese and a jar of Devonshire cream for a blustery and parsimonious real estate agent, I came from behind the counter of glass bins full of coffee beans.

“Can I help you find something?” I asked the old people.

“We’d like something special for our son,” the man said quietly, his wife nodding as she stood close to him, love of decades binding them into one. “He is far away. We need something nice.”

“Any idea what he would like?”

“We think he might like some sausage,” he said, “the kind you have in the case there, and some cheese. He would probably like some crackers to go with it. We will have to send it to him, so it can’t be anything that spoils easy.”

The three of us walked over to the deli case. Tins of caviar, glass jars of marinated sardines and anchovies lined the shelves. Wheels and odd pieces of cheese were laid out on decorative mats and surrounded with plastic grape leaves. The man pointed to some hard salami from Italy, some pepperoni and wheels of Swiss cheese.

I took the things out of the case and sliced a hefty length of sausage from a long moldy link. I gathered some pepperoni and cut and wrapped a piece of aged Swiss cheese. I folded it all among wafts of tissue paper in a box on the counter. The woman placed a small jar of mustard and some expensive crackers gently, but firmly, into the box, like she might assemble a jigsaw puzzle. I closed the box, taped it, began to fill out a form for the parcel delivery service. They handed me their son’s name and address on a small piece of paper.
Their son’s name was written in tight, neat script. I recognized it. The story of the murder and his trial had appeared on the front-pages of the newspaper. The stories recounted his terrible mistake, a murder. But it seemed to me he was not the murderous maniac the news made him out to be. His lawyer was a drunken, dottering sot. His parents attended court every day of the trial. They were in pictures in the papers, holding each other as they did in the food shop.

They thanked me quietly after paying their bill for $29.46 and $7 post. I had no idea what prison regulations were for packages to inmates. The couple disappeared through the door, still holding on to each other, as I finished the form and attached it to the box. I never saw them again—until I looked into that trout’s eye.

I think about that couple frequently now. I know the sausage and cheese never made it past the door of the Kansas State Maximum Security Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas. Prisons don’t take food delivered in the mail. Their son never knew the moment his mother placed the mustard and crackers into that box.

Sometimes, that couple comes to me late at night, when I am not sleeping well, and I dream I deliver that package to their son. I swim past wires and bars, walls and guards on rays of light flowing from his cell window. I see him open the box while he sits on his bunk staring into forty years-to-life. He pulls one of the carton flaps back, and the ice-blue sky over the North Platte streams from the folds of tissue paper and fills his cell. The river itself flows through the holes in the Swiss cheese, spilling over riffles of crackers and falls of salami. He peers into the pool behind the mustard jar and finds his parents with their arms open to him.
And there are trout. Lots of trout.

 

image by Rhododendrites, 2016, Old Police Headquarters in San Diego’s Seaport Village/Marina district, California. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

RETIRING

RETIRING

Kim Suttell

Lob wedge left at the bunker—dammit. Was
already mad for being there. Anger
ratchets to lawn sprinkler pressure when the club
is unreturned to the clubhouse. Trek back
to the trap. Re-skulk the whole damn course. Scour
the locker room. Guest relations is getting
condescending.
Glower over gimlets
to the end of afternoon, emitting patio
umbrella suspicion on every
felonious-looking foursome until
the gin, the nettlesome sun, drones of distant
trimmers, the steady sooth of polos all
soporific hues, pull the cumbersome
head down, down, aslump on the diamond-grid
tabletop mesh.
Ice settles. Men called Dude
bravado beers in the twilight. Spotlights
sputter on above the putting green. Balloon
bouquets are brought to the banquet hall where
groups collect like bagged clubs around tiny
crab cakes and lollypop drumsticks caddied
on trays. With genuine affection,
the honoree is presented with a
lob wedge. Applause lofts clean across the green.

 

image by George Jackman, Queensland, Australia, 1940. (Wikimedia Commons)

War and the Compassion of Cows

War and the Compassion of Cows

R. Newell Searle

In general, a dairyman and his cows know each other intimately. He identifies each one by her name, appearance, personality and habits. Cows are sensitive and recognize their owner’s voice, look and touch. They won’t easily let down their milk to a stranger because a dairyman is married to his herd. That kind of marriage didn’t suit 18-year-old Henry Gershon in 1942.
When the war came, he was happy to leave his father’s drafty dairy barn and enlist in the 101st Airborne. The heady months of paratrooper training in Kentucky and England remained a romantic memory of uniforms and badges; demanding drills and unsupervised pleasures. Completing jump school put him in the ranks of elite—a proud parachutist with corporal’s stripes. When his unit based in England, he dank in the pubs, dated the ‘birds’ and took in the sights! He was, as the Brits griped, over-paid, over-sexed and over there. No matter. He believed he was about to do something more important than pulling tits and shoveling shit. It was a fool’s prelude to horror.
That was 50 years ago! Why couldn’t he forget the war? Why couldn’t he wash it out of his mind and memories? When he jumped into France he landed in an eternity of mud, fatigue, misery, destruction and death. He still shuddered at the memories of fighting across pastures littered with the bloated carcasses of cows among the corpses of dead GIs and Germans. Dead GIs and Germans—he expected that—but why did cows have to die? Many times, he looked carefully to be certain his target was a soldier and not a cow. During this fitful year of combat, he expected a bullet to find him but it didn’t. Instead, bullets killed the men on his right and on his left.
In the decades after the war, he held at bay the horrific memories of his decimated company slogging from one brutal fight to another. His youthful delusion of heroic action darkened to a grim determination to stay alive. If he survived, he wanted to marry and settle down with his own herd of Guernsey’s. Nothing seemed as peaceful as a dairy. All he had to do was survive.
When the peace came at last, he returned home and used his savings and veteran’s points to buy a herd. Then he married Shirley, his high school sweetheart, and they raised two daughters and a son. For half a century, Shirley’s bubbling laughter, the children and the grandchildren kept him from talking about the war. Then Shirley died and he had nothing to keep the dark memories from returning at night and staying all day. Without Shirley, he had only the cows for companions. He talked to them, confided in them and apologized to them for the boys who didn’t return home. The cows didn’t speak but they listened without comment.
“I’m sorry Dickey. I’m sorry I got you killed,” he whispered as he attached the suction cups to the cow’s teats. “My fault … all my fault,” he muttered. “I should of known …” As he moved from cow to cow, he called each of the dead squad members by name and apologized for their deaths. “Danny, your chest! Oh my God, your chest …” he said, except it was a lumpy sack of oats that resembled a corpse. He avoided looking at window panes because he sometimes saw their pallid features, like portraits, each as boyish as they were in 1944. We thought we were immortal. But we weren’t. Now they’re dead and I’m not. The cows’ tails swished away the flies but not his memories.
Daily, he hoped for consolation and forgiveness but the cows offered no solace or comfort or release. Little by little, the war and dairy became inextricably entwined until he dreaded rising in predawn darkness to milk the herd. The memories were the worst in the morning twilight when Germans attacked out of the darkness and nothing was as it seemed.
The sounds of zipping coveralls and buckling goulashes took him back to the night of June 5th, 1944, when he jumped into hell. Lately, his small milking galley seemed as confined as the C-47 transport that took him over France. He snapped on the radio because the polka music banished his thoughts and calmed the cows. Then he let in the herd and each cow went to her stanchion. One by one, he hooked the suction cups to the udders and turned on the milking machine. Its compressor hummed but the vacuum pump pulsed and, in its two-count beat, he heard the jumpmaster’s order: “Stand-up, hook-up—stand-up, hook-up” as the troopers leapt from the plane and floated downward through the fog of war to a life or death landing in the drop zone.
The 101st Airborne suffered heavy casualties from German snipers and machine-gunners among the dense French hedgerows or bocage. The company’s ranks thinned quickly and captains replaced colonels, lieutenants became captains and sergeants were promoted to lieutenants. As green as he was, they jumped him from corporal to staff sergeant in charge of a platoon. At 20, his responsibilities weighed more than a loft full of hay. He thought he was too young for the rank but the other boys were younger and someone had to do it. Men died fast in Carentan, Bastogne and Floy. They died but he didn’t.
Danger and misery welded them together but bullets and mortars ripped them apart. In the woods near Bastogne, they huddled in foxholes without winter coats and shivered as snow drifted around them. Then he got orders to attack a German outpost. He sent four men to flank their machine guns while he and the rest rushed straight in. All the flankers died silencing the guns and three more comrades went down in the frontal assault. He knew men died in wars. That’s what war was. It wasn’t heroic. Just death and misery.
Just before Shirley died, he received an invitation to the 50th reunion of his Airborne unit. For years, she urged him to attend the once-every-five-year reunions but he resisted. No, he couldn’t do it. He feared a meeting with his old comrades would remind him of the boys who died carrying out his orders. Now, as memories of the war closed in, its chaos and terrors lurked in the guise of familiar things. He saw danger where the paddock fence was weakest. I’ve got to reinforce the line. Can’t let them break through and flank me. Digging a post hole brought back to the mucky smell of foxholes. On another day, he heard the rumble of a diesel engine. My God a panzer tank headed this way! He took cover before he realized it was his neighbor plowing an adjacent field. The worst was the day he ran toward squeals behind the barn, yelling “Medic! Medic!” and came upon two hogs fighting over an ear of corn.
He could never erase the faces of the young men who died following his orders. At the age of 20, he couldn’t know what lay ahead. Now, at 70, he knew and still feared the recurrent terror of killing and the anguish without surcease. So, he talked to the cows, apologized to them and said he was sorry that one trooper or another would never get home. He apologized for all the Thanksgiving dinners they would never eat, the girls they would never marry, the children and grandchildren who would never carry a bit of them into the future. His squad had come from all over—Michigan, Nevada, Alabama, Connecticut and other states and they died all over. Those who didn’t make it home slept in France, Belgium and Germany. Far away. Forgotten.
His war ended on the day he rose in the dark and the house felt cold although it was June. He dressed with care, zipping his coveralls over his clothes and buckling the galoshes over his boots. Then he went to the barn and put the things he would need later on a bale of hay. As usual, he set out feed and let the cows into the barn. Mocha, the herd’s leader, found her stanchion and stood patiently waiting for him to close it around her neck. They seemed nervous this morning. He didn’t turn on the radio or talk to them as he hooked the cups to their udders. The machine pulsed its one-two rhythm and the milk flowed warm and white from the udders to stainless steel cans. When he finished the milking, he unhooked the cups and opened the stanchions so the cows could go to the paddock.
Mocha didn’t move but stood in her stanchion and looked at him as he removed the goulashes and coveralls. Henry stood before them in his Army uniform with the eagle patch and chevrons on its shoulder and the paratrooper’s badge and bronze star on his chest. The sergeant went to the bale and pulled a .45 pistol from its canvas holster Then he opened a bottle, swigged some whiskey and saluted the herd with “Cheers.” Surely, a drink would make his war end more easily. Henry jacked a bullet into the pistol’s chamber, gripped it in both hands and tipped the muzzle under his chin.
Mocha craned her brown neck and looked back at him with dark, moist eyes. Then all the cows turned to watch him. He looked at Mocha, knowing cows could pick up on emotions and sense when things weren’t right. They always differently when he and Shirley were angry at each other. Was it possible Mocha and the others sensed he was up to something?
Why haven’t they left the barn? What are they thinking? What do they know? Their somber eyes carried no hint of judgment or anger or recrimination. Only a question—why? Shirley had large, dark eyes like theirs and often asked that silent question. The cows stood, ears out, square muzzles down, their lower jaws chewing with a sideways rotation. They waited for what he might do next.
In a flash of clarity, he realized no one would find his body until the creamery truck arrived, four days hence. Who was going to milk the cows between now and then? If they weren’t milked twice daily, their udders would swell painfully and they would come down with mastitis. He remembered all the dead cows she saw needlessly killed on the battlefields of France. I can’t leave them this way.
The cows watched with wet eyes. Looking from one to another, he saw the same patient expression his men gave him while awaiting his orders. Whatever you say … We signed up to live or die. And we did that. That war wasn’t about me. It was about us. So, what is this about?
Henry lowered the .45 and slipped on the safety. I gave the orders but my men died for each other. Who am I dying for? Myself? He dropped the pistol onto the bale and Mocha tossed her head. Maybe she understood. He felt she did. It was important to be understood.
Then, still chewing, Mocha turned toward the barn door and the others followed her outside to the paddock.
He watched them go and slumped against the door jamb as the sun cleared the horizon. Morning light flowed across the rolling fields of new corn. A breeze carried the promise of warmth and lifted the scents of dewy alfalfa. Crows waged their ancient war against an owl perched in the windbreak. He picked up the stainless-steel cans and poured the fresh milk into the holding tank. For the first time since Shirley died, the sounds of war ceased pounding in his head. He felt clean, cleaner than from any shower or bath; the feeling of purity. Whiskey bottle in hand, he stood in the doorway and poured it on the ground. The herd stood in the paddock’s corner, their heads together, and gazed at him.
“Thank you,” he said, swelling with gratitude for their compassion. I’ll go to the reunion. The war is over.

 

image by Bleron Çaka,  2011, Boge-Rugove, Kosovo (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Last Streetlight In Heaven

 

The Last Streetlight In Heaven

Scott Laudati

heaven’s filling up with diplomas from a youth
waiting single file on the will call line
listening to crows that learned a verse
when they sat above the schools,
“it doesn’t look like verona anymore” they say,
“there’s a dirt pit where the swimming pool was.”

i hope the boys can use their track marks
as road maps
and hold the hands of girls
who sold their final sacrament
on the newark streets,
where spring feels like december
where glass clogs the gutter
and no price is too high
for a whole generation to erase
some of its hunger.

these towns flood now
but the rains never come.
there are enough mother’s tears
to water the lawns.
and in every man’s poverty we
can see the origin of night.
the first syringe.
the abscene of god.
we were a town once
but nothing is left,
and there’s no sky clear enough
for the lucky ones to reckon under

a whole history of past sins
built above indian bones.
the interest keeps rising on americas crimes.
our parents lined up to vote
and hoped it would always stay the same
but the hurricane comes and the
shattered glass gets washed away
and they keep signing up fresh faces
to take its place

 

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2015, Cote saint Luc, Quebec

MANHATTANS

MANHATTANS

Kim Suttell

The sidewalk slips a little. I’m not worried
about it. Anybody could be my friend.
I totter forward, giddy and ravenous, gums
numb, teeth shrill. I must have onions.

Like a lurching sun I’m expansive and hot
and swirl in the distance of everything close.
Only blessed cold holds me up as curbs
loom. This is what is meant by bracing.

 

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2015, Montreal, Quebec

Jerusalem Upon the Plain

Jerusalem Upon the Plain

Barbara A Meier

The radiancy is of wheatfields
fed to the craw of a John Deere combine.
The green against the gold
honeyed fields and milky blue skies.
The hills outside my car window roll westward,
flattening to shorn stubbled fields
and shaggy carpets of bluestem, buffalo, and switchgrass.
The tedium of our wheels on Interstate 70-
Sylvan Grove, Ellsworth, Russell, Victoria,Riga, Ellis, Hays.
My eyes sink, fade to my cheek, resting against the hot glass:

I contemplate ….
What bliss can be found in the plainness of the high prairie?
What pastures of the sick shine with a glorious sheen?

The halls of Zion in the basement of Hadley hospital
where martyrs sleep in hospital beds,
and sticky peanut butter girls behind urine green bathroom stalls
belt angelsongs- funneling through heating ducts
conjubilant with song
a feast to shout among the ailing throng.
It is: A blessed country sweet in death, a home to the elect.
Our song of triumph resounds
‘round floors, ‘neath beds, through IVs,
in comas, and last breaths.
It is: Jerusalem upon the Plains-
a throne of golden wheat, and milk and honeyed earth,
The conquerors, faithfully brought to rest upon the Armo plains.
Blood of earth and heaven pumping through our veins.
We are little girls clothed in robes of white.

 

image by Harry Rajchgot, 2016, Montreal, Quebec

Pickup

Pickup

Hannah Ford

He’s been driving trail shuttle for nine years, ever since his wife took her kitchen appliances and smoking habit and left. Their dog had howled after her for a week or so, then he’d forgotten about her, curling up on her rocking chair like it’d always been vacant.

His sons check in once in a while, but it’s mostly just him and the dog now. It’s not a bad life, maintaining the trail during the day, picking up hikers when need be, getting home in time to watch the sun set over Lake Jocassee.

The couple called three days ago, having found his number on the Trail Angels website. The boy asked about getting picked up at the end of the hike. I mapped it out, the boy said, and we should get to the end seven days after starting. But Trip has been around the Foothills for a while and so he says no to that plan, because nobody finishes when they think they will, and many don’t even finish.

He picks the couple up at the trail’s end, where they’re standing next to their car and holding paper coffee cups, the girl leaning her head against the boy’s arm. The boy is skinny with a wide frame that he’ll eventually grow into. The girl is small, barely to his shoulder, her hair brushed neatly into a ponytail and her hiking boots stiff and new. She’s wearing makeup. Just looking at her, Trip knows she won’t make it. Continue reading Pickup

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

Kate Henderson

 

Dickie’s teeth click when he eats. I have known for years they are false, but I can remember when I was a little girl and thought they’d come loose with age. Only his chewing interrupts the questions. What are you going to do now? Why don’t you finish university? His eyes are earnest. They bulge from his head, his head bobs up and down. It is hard to pay attention to the words, so I shrug at what I think are appropriate intervals.

“I guess you just have itchy feet.” He sighs, shakes his head, scoops up another spoonful of ice cream.

The conversation takes on a more general tone. The kids he teaches at school. Other grandchildren. Unemployment is terrible. Why don’t the kids take trades? I listen, but not closely. I let my eyes wander to familiar objects in the room I know so well. I remember Christmas dinners, when the Virgin Mary smiling down from above the cutlery box seemed less peculiar, when the table, filled with family, seemed less long. My eyes come back to Dickie; he is still talking. He is greyer now, his hearing even worse than I recall. He is retired, and teaches a class in Introductory Engineering at the community college. He is concerned for his students who are reluctant to settle down and work for a union. Instead they collect unemployment. He calls it “the dole.”

GrandEm fidgets at the other end of the table. We call her GrandEm because her name is Emma, and she says she was too young for Grandma when we were born. Her breathing is audible.

“You were far too young, Anne,” she interrupts suddenly. Continue reading The Whirlpool

Trans-Canadian Train

Trans-Canadian Train

William Cass

I met a young woman many years ago during an August evening of soft light and liquid shadows. It was during a short stopover heading west on the Trans-Canadian train that ran across the country’s southern portion. I’d boarded in Montreal following a visit with my grandmother in Vermont after a summer travelling the hostel circuit through Europe. I was on my way back for a second year of teaching in a bush village in the upper corner of the southeastern Alaska panhandle. I was twenty-four years old.

Passengers were permitted to disembark for a few minutes while the train was changing tracks in that town above the Boundary Waters separating Ontario from Minnesota. I was stretching on the platform while new and current passengers waited for the train to be ready to board again. The young woman was among those new passengers and stood reading a large book with a satchel at her feet. I guessed I was a little older than her. She held the book with both hands just below her chest that rose and fell slowly with her even breathing. She wore a mauve blouse under a light cardigan sweater, jeans, and sandals. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders in a mass of curls, and when she looked up to regard the track-changing progress, I could see that her eyes were pale blue. Against that hair and those eyes, her skin reminded me of bleached driftwood. In the muffled light, she was so lovely that I found myself holding my breath. Continue reading Trans-Canadian Train

CACTUS

CACTUS

John Grey

I wouldn’t recommend the roadside.
And not on such a desert straightaway
where every passing car
kicks up a cloud of dust.

In a ditch of all places
and so small,
your roots get by
on water memory,
your fruit’s
a sun-scorched pebble.

But plants – not even cactus –
ask me the best place to prosper.
Seeds nestle down where they are blown
and try to make the best of it.

Besides, why else would an Australian be
on this highway in New Mexico?
A seed – an adaptation –
you have to believe
you can bear fruit anywhere.

 

photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2010

Jazz Notes

Jazz Notes

Renee Butner

This chaotic jazz suits my mood
after the frenetic day I had

Heavy on the drums
Brassy cymbals clashing
Piano pounding and lively
Scaling up and down
trying to keep up
with the beat

A lone horn sings out
Edgy and soulful
Leading the session several
golden shimmering moments
before backing off
To allow a bebop
walking bass line solo

Notes wrap around one another
Entwined in a dance
for the auditory sense

Jazz beat lines up with heart beat
I relinquish myself to
the new pulse

 

photo by Harry Rajchgot, Montreal Jazz Festival, 2016

Oświęcim

Oświęcim

Ilona Martonfi

 

Sown from the teeth of a birch tree
lashed together she

lives in a graveyard
paints a poem after Auschwitz

using Zyklon B gas
medical experiments

with a bundle under her arms
never took that photograph

the ghost plaint: here
remember the crematoria

living inside barbed wire
armed SS guards.

“Where are we going?”

Those feared as the other.
Those who rode in cattle cars.

Those whose voices silenced
fifty kilometres west of Kraków

Rajiya in the work camp.
Her only possession

a red knitted cardigan,
made by her Bubbe.


photo credit: Dr. Fred Leitner, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, 2012

Iris observes a sparrow at the apex and remembers

Iris observes a sparrow at the apex and remembers

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

 

Today, cold December sun streamingly rushes –
bright radiant light downpours the stone wall,
where a sparrow clings in the mist and Iris
wonders what it is holding onto. A flat wall?

No, not entirely, there is a high raised relief
an embossed concrete line which it clings to
in mourning light – much like a Mycenaean
stele marking the borderline between the
world of the living and the world of the dead.

******
Dark-cloud eyes flashed thunder; and lightning
must have struck open her chest because a sparrow
was pecking through the bloodworms of death.

Humble print of the Pietà hung and from
Madonna’s eyes tear-shaped garnets fell like
a broken string of pearls spreading hopelessness
all over the Carrara marble corridor.

Over-stretched leather covering of her heart
drummed out a faint death-beat march. Not shaking
of a rattler’s tail, but a dull-weakening beat.

The line on the monitor’s screen flattening.
And there was nothing for Iris to hold onto.

One large lethal tear slid dangerously down
rode over the high horseshoe cliff of her chin
the way a black and white movie once shown

a man inside a barrel riding over Niagara’s rushing
white waters shattering into the sudsy
foaming jaws of splintering death.

The shivering sparrow pressed against stone – Gone

 

photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2017

James

James

Robert Boucheron

 

James Pettigrew was the bell ringer of St. Giles Episcopal Church for as long as anyone could remember. Longer, in fact. The oldest members of the congregation remembered him from early childhood.

Clinging to their parents’ hands, they had trooped through the narthex on Sunday morning, glanced to the side, and there he was in the shadows. He stood there silent, straight as a stick, hard to make out in his black suit and dark brown skin. They were afraid of him and curious. Was a bell ringer like anyone, or was he a special kind of person?

James rang the church bell in an alcove off the vestibule. A short, slight man, he pulled down the rope with all his might. Then he flew directly up, hoisted five feet in the air on the bell’s return swing.

“He looks like a monkey,” people said, though they never saw a monkey do any such thing. James’s antique manners and grave demeanor stifled ridicule. Nevertheless, the title of “sexton” seemed overly dignified for a black man. Continue reading James

Love Lessons

Love Lessons

Sue Granzella

In third grade, I learned that the Irish nuns of Saint Apollinaris School were married to Jesus. It was true; each Sister of Mercy, in her heavy black habit that brushed the toes of her sensible black shoes, wore a gleaming band on her left ring finger as very shiny proof.

“But are you all married to him, Sister?” Katie Bickle voiced the question that most of us were thinking. It was 1968, and Sister Mary de Chantal was teaching us about love.

After Sister explained the mystical marriage to us, we learned another confusing truth: the sisters loved each other and Jesus so much that all possessions were owned in common. In their convent, no one could accumulate earthly treasures, as all belongings were shared.

“But what about your glasses, Sister? Aren’t those just yours?” I was certain that I’d never seen Sister Mary de Chantal’s black-rimmed, cat-eye glasses on any of the other nuns. Continue reading Love Lessons

writing from the soul and the mind

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