PASS/FAIL


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PASS/FAIL

Janice E. Rodríguez

When you’re a child, you’ll believe anything—that Santa Claus has a giant warehouse of wrapping paper so his gifts match the ones at your house, that parents are infallible, and even that school is a haven for clever students.

The mile between Rhonda’s home and school had grown longer as autumn progressed. The maples that stood like sentries along the grounds of the state hospital were bare now, and a fragrant detour into the crunchy windrows of leaves added five minutes to the daily journey. The less pleasant reason for dawdling appeared beyond the last maple—the swarming migration of students into squat, red-brick Lafayette Junior High.

Rhonda waited at the crosswalk, wishing the light would never change, knowing it would. She eyed the sign plastered to the lamppost, “Nixon, Now More than Ever,” and smoothed down a curled edge. The first bell rang; the light changed.

Time to run the gauntlet.

A purposeful jog was best even on those days she arrived with time to spare. It took her past the students who smoked behind the batting cages and the couples who lingered behind the plane tree. She spied Jake in his usual post next to the dumpster, stubby finger extending toward her, one side of his mouth hitched in a smirk. They both knew he could outrun her; he had been able to since elementary school. And he did again today, his hand on her back, searching, clawing.

“Holy nothingness, Batman!” he crowed, dashing past her and up the steps. “No strap, no snap.”

Patrice and Teresa lounged at the base of the steps.

“If you get a bra, he’ll leave you alone,” Teresa said. She drew a lock of hair between her fingertips, examining it for split ends. “Or a boyfriend. Do you have a boyfriend?”

“They don’t make bras for … that,” Patrice said, drawing a sideways figure eight in the air. “Or boyfriends, either.”

They rose, preened, tugged their bra straps into place, and sauntered into school.

Rhonda hoisted her book bag and silently disagreed; wearing a bra would, in fact, encourage Jake to greater displays of public humiliation. Second bell rang, and she ran up limestone steps whose sharp edges had been worn down by generations of students.

She was late to homeroom.

Again.

By world history class, she had caught her breath. Mr. Brant’s room was stifling, as it had been every day since the start of school. The windows were closed. The vent of the heating unit fluttered with torn strips of toilet paper.

“Take your seats, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Brant said. “Yes, it is hot in here. I have supplied you with a useful diversion.”
He pointed to the heater. Rhonda slid behind her desk and calculated how many square inches of toilet paper he had used. Then she estimated how long it would have taken him to affix the dozens of torn pieces to the vent.

“You cannot see air move, but you can see its effect. Behold its effect!” he said, brushing his fingers atop the waving field of white. “If you know that the air is moving, you will feel cooler.”

She was about to raise her hand to ask if the subconscious mind would be fooled if the conscious mind was aware of the gimmick when he unclipped the modish floral tie from his shirt, lifted it to his face, and blotted perspiration away with it. “My wife and daughters bought me this. But a necktie this wide is, in fact, simply a handkerchief. If anyone here knows who constitutes the committee of my surprise retirement party, please share that information with them.”

Patrice and Teresa entered the room and took their assigned seats on either side of Rhonda.

“Misses Schwartz and Pierotti, you are late,” he said. “Take out a sheet of paper and number it one to ten,” he said.

“Today’s quiz will be multiple choice.”

“I don’t have any paper.”

“How predictable, Mr. Barone,” Mr. Brant said. “Miss Brown, would you be so kind?”

Rhonda took a second sheet of paper from her notebook and passed it to the student in front of her, who whispered, “For every question he reads, give me the answer. One kick is A, two kicks is B, three kicks is C …”

“No,” Rhonda said.

“You have to.”

“No, I don’t.”

Mr. Brant cleared his throat. “Number one: The Fertile Crescent of ancient Mesopotamia lies between which rivers? A. The Schuylkill and the Delaware. B. The Mississippi and the Missouri. C. The Tigris and the Euphrates. D. The Simon and the Garfunkel.”

Rhonda watched the boy in front of her write an answer, erase it, and write again. She rolled her eyes. He was still changing answers when it was time to pass their papers forward.

After the quiz, Mr. Brant sent a half-dozen students to write homework on the board. Teresa made a hissing sound. She had a small, tightly folded triangle of paper.

“Pass it,” she said, indicating Patrice with her chin.

Heart racing, throat dry, Rhonda checked to be sure that Mr. Brant was engrossed in correcting one of the students at the board. She snatched the paper and furtively placed it on Patrice’s desk. Her cheeks burned, and she hoped Mr. Brant would call on Patrice before she could compose a response and ask Rhonda to pass it back. This was the détente the three of them had reached: Patrice and Teresa would limit their note-passing to times when Mr. Brant’s back was turned; Rhonda would pass the notes; and there would be no repeats of the day when Patrice and Teresa had tossed the paper triangles over Rhonda’s head.

When first period was over, Teresa asked, “So do you have a boyfriend or not?”

Patrice raised her eyebrows, waiting.

“Yes, I do,” Rhonda said.

“Who?”

“Glenn Rogers. Two n’s; no d. You don’t know him,” Rhonda said. “He goes to DeKalb.”

“Okay. That’s cool,” Teresa said.

Rhonda crossed her fingers behind her back and asked a silent pardon of her favorite cousin for deploying him as her makeshift admirer.

“Hick school,” Patrice said.

Protected by the lie, Rhonda relaxed. The rest of the morning would be easy; Patrice and Teresa didn’t take the same science class as she did, and they usually ditched chorus.
In the bustle of lunch, she and her friends had achieved happy anonymity. She sat with Holly, the gangly redhead with glasses and orthopedic oxfords, Deb, the heaviest girl in the seventh grade, and Sherry, who came from the poorest part of town. Rhonda and Holly chose cheese dreams. Deb had a chef’s salad. Sherry brought lunch from home. For dessert, Rhonda and Deb shared an ice cream bar—Rhonda slid crunchy chocolate shards from the outside and ate them, and Deb had the rest.

Rhonda always wondered why swimming class was scheduled right after lunch. So far, no one had succumbed to a postprandial cramp and drowned, but some of the parents must have believed in old wives’ tales, and it seemed wise for the school board to mollify their fears. Swimming was her only sport; school had made her loathe it. She entered the locker room as the bell sounded, chlorine and mildew tickling her nose. Sherry had beaten everyone there, arriving in time to choose one of blue bathing suits provided by the school. Everyone avoided the red ones at all cost; they were rendered see-through by contact with water. Deb wasn’t there. She had a permanent excuse from her doctor.

Holly and Rhonda took to a corner, shucking their clothes surreptitiously. Rhonda had not worn anything under the top her grandmother had sewn for her, had no need to. Her nipples had barely begun to stir and swell, and the breasts beneath them still slumbered.

She was ecstatic on her birthday when her mother handed her a box that, unwrapped, revealed a three-pack of garments labeled as training bras. Rhonda had rushed to her bedroom and torn back the plastic with trembling fingers. Her traitorous eyes fell on the reversed letters under the label—camisole. She tried one of them on, appraised herself in the mirror, and saw nothing more than a child in a cut-off undershirt. For her mother’s sake, she wore one on weekends, but she wouldn’t expose herself to the peril of wearing it to school.

Patrice, Teresa, and the other girls who were bounding through puberty always stripped in the center of the locker room, striking poses that displayed their blossoming breasts and interesting tufts of hair, lounging like odalisques before wriggling into their bathing suits.

Seated on a bench next to Sherry and Rhonda, Holly had tucked her right foot under to hide her most damning feature—her eleventh toe. She had let the other members of the lunch quartet see it, a small, bony protrusion next to the pinky toe of her right foot. But it would have been a delightful sweetmeat for the odalisques to feast on, so Rhonda, Deb, and Holly had sworn on their future grandchildren’s heads to go to their graves with her secret.
Teresa caught sight of the threesome on the bench.

“Yo, Rhonda,” she said, striding towards them. She stood there with one fist planted on her hip and cocked her head. Patrice followed.

“I talked to Lisa Martin at lunch. Glenn Rogers, two n’s, no d? Your boyfriend at DeKalb? Did you know he’s seeing someone else? She’s a friend of Lisa’s—Annemarie Angelucci. We’re calling Annemarie after school to tell her to break up with him. We think you should break up with him, too.”

Rhonda came to her feet. Sherry rose next and then Holly. Rhonda dropped a swim towel on her friend’s right foot.

“What a flake!” Patrice said.

“Even you deserve better than that,” Teresa said, turning to leave.

A faint noise squeaked up Rhonda’s throat. “Wait,” she said. Drops of water in the nearest shower stall measured the painful, hushed moments. “Glenn is my cousin. Please don’t get him in trouble with Annemarie.”

Teresa grunted.

“I wanted you to think I had a boyfriend.”

Patrice said, “See? Told you no one would be interested in that.”

They walked to the mirrors, caught the elbows of some other girls, and leaned in confidentially to talk to them. The others turned to look at Rhonda.

If she’d been a child, Rhonda reflected as she walked to the edge of the pool, she would have believed that her confession would assure her return to the ranks of the happily anonymous at Lafayette. But she knew better. She dove into the pool, swam to the middle of the deep end, and began treading water endlessly, waiting for the body of a girl to catch up with the mind of a young woman.

A Gypsy Melody

 

A Gypsy Melody

Christopher Conley

Buppy died on his 87th birthday. You could call the timing his final joke, but I can’t imagine anyone besides him was laughing. After Buppy (my grandfather) died, I wrote a story about him. I wrote it to keep the memory of him. But the result was a mishmash of memories splattered onto a blank canvas; there was nothing artistic about it. The story is like a key that didn’t fit in the lock it was supposed to open, and now I need to go back and fix it.

When he was still alive, I would usually find him in his kitchen sitting in a chair at the head of the table next to the “rubbish.” Or I would find him in his padded, blue rocking-chair in the living room. He wasn’t heavy-set, but rather, a grandfatherly weight — he definitely wasn’t thin. He had a long chin, white hair (that often sprung up in the air from the ocean breeze outside), and a tucked-in jaw. He always looked like he was sucking on his teeth, which might have just been the case. As a child, one of his eyes was blinded because it was hit by a baseball. The problem with his eyes was that you could never really tell which one was blind, so you could never tell if he was looking at you, someone else, or just nothing. Sometimes I would find him reading the newspaper, hunched over it like a scientist, using a curled up fist as a sort of binocular-type mechanism. But since he was only enhancing one eye, it would be more of a monocular-type mechanism. And in the end, he wasn’t actually enhancing anything. That’s how I remember him: a grandfatherly sized man who sucked on his teeth while thinking his hand could enhance his vision.
I only knew him when he was in his 70s and 80s. Sometimes he would walk around his house shouting, “Hoh Gyp-sy Mel-o-dy!” My mother figured out it was a misinterpretation of the song, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.” Buppy had that strange tic for as long as I can remember. Hoh Gyp-sy Mel-o-dy! It followed him like a bell on a cat’s collar.

I’m actually not sure if I can say I knew Buppy all too well. My cousin Jake knew him. He knew him because they both lived in Boston, because they went fishing together, because Buppy could go to Jake’s hockey games. My cousin Joe knew him too. Because they had dinner once a week, because Joe would make him laugh. I would see Buppy on holidays or birthday celebrations, but that was about the extent of our relationship. It was more of a, shake-his-hand-hard and look-him-in-the-eye (hopefully the good one), say you’re happy to see him, throw in a Merry Christmas or Happy 4th, then watch what he does kind of relationship. I probably knew him better when I was younger, if that’s even possible. When I finally started remembering memories, Buppy and I didn’t really talk much — it was mostly just formalities. He listened to me, and I listened to him, but we didn’t always hear each other the same way he and my other cousins heard each other.

His one blind eye and the gypsy melody have always stood out to me. Sort of like when he would bang the kitchen table with his fist, or when he would call my mother homely. I cringe when my mother asks, you don’t remember that time when we did such and such with Buppy and when she says of course you remember, even when I don’t.

When he turned 80, Buppy started writing down his life stories. My cousin Britney compiled, or rather, transcribed his narratives into a book when he died. She said it was difficult because Buppy’s handwriting wasn’t very good, and neither was his grammar. He wrote all of them down on loose leaf paper — then he stored them away in a box. Britney was eventually able to copy his stories; she just guessed words and phrases every once in a while. He wrote 38 stories, along with a song and a poem. The one story with me in it was about a New Hampshire fishing trip. My brother Kevin might remember the day in New Hampshire, but not me. I sort of remember. There was rain. Thunder and lightning. A tent. And catfish. Buppy remembered. Here’s what he wrote down, or at least, what Britney was able to salvage from this particular fascicle:

Another trip that I am going to tell you about is – by the way, when I say trip I mean fishing and camping trip – when I went camping (also fishing) with daughter #1 and her two sons which happen to be my grandsons. Things happened that could have spoiled everything but turned out okay in the end and a few of these things are as follows. The biggest thing was the tent, which was brand new. It rained (cats and dogs) that night. I never remembered it raining as hard as it did that night, or maybe it was because of the tent, leaking like a sieve, and I mean leaking. There wasn’t a dry spot anywhere. But no one was complaining and we got through the night.

We ended up fishing the next morning and the boys caught a lot of fish (trout I think). We played cards, and later on we played ball. Playing with the boys is fun because they caught onto the game real good. Poker is the best game that we play and Kevin is the luckiest so far. I tell him, if I had his luck, I’d move to Vegas and lately I’ve been asked by Christopher, “Hey Buppy want to play some cards?” So we end up playing a few hands. Thank God the summer is coming, as we get together more often. The winter, they have school and things, as you know.

I always thought it had been catfish and not trout, but maybe we caught both catfish and trout. Sometimes while reading his story I feel like I’m fishing for the concrete memory. It’s in the water somewhere swimming around, avoiding my fishing rod. I can’t remember the last time I actually caught a fish — probably the trout or catfish in New Hampshire — so I wonder if I’ll ever get this memory to bite.

* * *

In another one of his recorded stories, Buppy was going to the hospital to visit Uncle Joe, his brother-in-law and fishing buddy. Before he went to the hospital, Buppy bought frozen fish. He unthawed one outside, then grabbed a rod and stabbed the fish through the hook. Him and Nana walked into the hospital in this fashion; a small, old woman dressed in church clothes with a nice purse and high heels, and a large, old man wearing fishing gear, holding a rod with a fish attached. People gave them strange looks in the hospital’s elevator. Nana just told them, “Don’t ask.”

When they got to the right room, Buppy took the fishing rod, handed it to Uncle Joe, and told him to reel the line in. Uncle Joe, who was weak but still functional, did his best to rotate the fishing reel. Buppy recorded the moment in his collection of stories by simply saying, “in came the fish sliding across the floor and a smile across Uncle Joe’s face.” He never told me about this story, but I like this one the most. At the end he doesn’t give any grand conclusion. All he wrote down is, “I thought I did what I started out to do.”

My Uncle Pete presented Buppy’s eulogy at the funeral; he talked about how he was a jokester. He hid under the stairs and popped out to scare his children. He would sneak something disgusting in someone’s food. And after each joke, he would wink an eye — whether it was the blind one or not, we had no idea — and chuckle to himself with his arms crossed. Then, right on cue, he would sing, Hoh Gyp-sy Mel-o-dy!

I saw my cousin Jennifer crying when she walked outside of the church. I asked her if she was okay, and she nodded her head. Then she said, “When we were walking out of the church I lost my balance for a second and stumbled backwards. It must have been Grandpa’s fishing rod.” She wiped her eyes with a tissue, then smiled. “He got me hooked by the shirt and pulled me back. It’s like he was reeling me in like a fish.” She laughed and I laughed and I told her I’m sure it was him who yanked her back. Just like how it wasn’t just a coincidence that after he died, my mother would find coins in random nooks and crannies of the house. It was him, of course, keeping my mother on her toes.

I wish that I had almost tripped while walking out of the church. Or found a quarter. Or felt something out of the ordinary. But when I try to think of a conversation I’ve had with Buppy, or a story, there would always be someone else there.

Weeks after the funeral, we spread Buppy’s ashes on the Atlantic Ocean, his favorite fishing hole. We sailed out on the boat his kids bought him a few years before he died; they named it A Gypsy Melody.

My first time on A Gypsy Melody with Buppy was my last time. He sat near the back of the boat with his fishing rod, and I sat on the front with sunglasses on. My brother learned how to drive from Uncle Pete. My mother made too many sandwiches. Buppy didn’t catch a thing, and I don’t remember much after that. I have a picture of me on the front of the boat with my backwards Red Sox hat, a picture of my brother steering the boat with Uncle Pete, and a picture of Buppy sitting on a beach chair, fishing for water — a determined and yet stoic look plastered on his face.

The water was gentle when we spread his ashes. We reached an open space and the boat rocked back and forth— steadily, slowly — and for once my lively family was silent. I’m not too sure what Buppy would have thought of the scene. He probably would have found it too sentimental. I was waiting for the boat to capsize. Turn us over, I thought almost sarcastically. It felt like a dare. Everything was still — the wind and the waves, gentle. A small gust. Nothing. A seagull’s cry. Still nothing. A ripple in the water. Silence. Turn us over.

It was uncharacteristic of my family to share a moment without sound. No jokes or banter; reverence to the dead. Goosebumps covered my arms and legs either because of the wind or the hush. We released Buppy’s ashes in a box that floated a while, then sank as water made its way inside. We all watched. It bobbed up and down with each wave and grew smaller each fleeting second. I leaned over and stuck out my hand; a wave splashed against the side of the boat and water sprayed onto my face. Ha, good one.

Waves pummel the side of the boat, and I feel the water spraying rapidly onto my face. The water starts to envelop my body, plunging me downward. Immersed in the vast ocean, I let myself sink. Under the weight of the waves I hear another seagull cry. I fall deeper in stillness. I descend until I stroke the slimy floor, grazing the sand with my feet. I wriggle my toes in the cold sand. I shove them deeper, twisting and turning, left and right, up and down. I try to break through, even momentarily, to the other side — hoping there is another side. I want to know how it feels. I press against a harder layer that won’t budge. I twist my toes faster. The other side is locked, shielded from the dense surface. My toes can’t fit themselves through, and yet I twist in vain.

Turn us over, I think again. I jiggle and contort my toes left and right once more while A Gypsy Melody cruises peacefully, safely to the shore.

Off the Track

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Off the Track

 Mark Trechock

 

At Creel we paid the two pesos

to see the woman living in a cave

the way her ancestors did,

soot on the walls, darkness and wood smoke,

newborn in arms and the older boy

running and running in circles.

 

We caught the train west,

saw the chasm at Barranca del Cobre

through the charcoal smoke of taco vendors,

bought a basket made from branches,

as supple and fierce as human thighs.

 

Back on the rails, we stretched

our heads from the platform between cars,

the wind remaking our faces

into shapes we could only imagine.

We thought of the Tarahumara,

somehow immune to the heat

running barefoot through the desert,

scaling the hot clay inclines,

keeping up with the deer.

 

Approaching the trestle we slowed

as if coming upon an accident,

but below, among the pines,

near the bottom of a vertical world,

the coach cars had lain for years,

positioned like disjointed limbs,

undergrowth pushing through their frames.

The Sister Between

The Sister Between

Laurinda Lind
She is like a strong
breeze layered in
sheets over old shale
& even when free to
flow she’s still brittle
& though young she’s

strung between her
head in the sky & her
feet on a line drawn
in the middle of a
road laid over a land
not yet geologically

dead to make it real
she needs to feel she’s
more solid than air yet
lighter than secrets
she’s stashed deeper
down in the strata.

In the Beginning

In the Beginning

Will McMillan

I’m a 30 year old man, and for the first time in my life I’m going on a date with another man. His name’s Jason, and we’ve been chatting on OKCupid for almost a month. From his online profile I’ve learned the following things about him: he looks a little like Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch. He’s into fantasy, and his favorite movie of all time is The Never Ending Story. Aside from the Peter Brady similarity, it’s that last part that got me interested in reaching out to him, since The Never Ending Story is one of my favorites as well. I figure anyone willing to list that in their profile is probably someone that won’t terrify me.

From my online profile, Jason learns the following things about me: I love writing. I love science fiction and can fire off a Star Trek quote as easily as I can pull air into my lungs. And according to Jason, from the pictures that I’ve posted, he learns that I look like Egon from The Ghost Busters. I decide to take this as a compliment.

What Jason doesn’t learn from my profile is that just two months before our online introduction I was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. He doesn’t learn that the discovery of my gay oriented browsing history via a borrowed laptop lead to my subsequent disfellowhipping and expulsion from my congregation. He doesn’t learn that while in writing I say that I’ve been “out” since I was 21 that, as far as my public image is concerned, I’m still very much “in.” Jason doesn’t learn I’m desperate to find a way to replace the faith I’ve betrayed with what will hopefully become faith in myself.

I’ve asked Jason to meet me for lunch, and he’s agreed.
We meet on a frigid Wednesday afternoon and in person he looks less like Peter Brady than I thought. He’s wearing the sort of cap that I associate with train conductors, with a long black Pea coat and skinny fit jeans pegged at the cuff. When he says hello to me I’m caught off guard by the pitch of his voice, which is high and effeminate. We’ve only ever communicated through instant messages and texts, and until now his voice was my own invention. There’s no getting around it-Jason is full tilt gay. He’s gay and I’m shocked that rather than being self-conscious about it, than being like me, he’s self-assured and relaxed. As a Witness I’d trained myself to avoid people like him, well aware of my tendency to pay a little too much attention, to watch a little too closely. I can be as interested as I want to be now, but as Jason talks I can’t help but take sneaking glances, looking to see if anyone is staring at us. I notice Jason’s posture, which seems deliberately proper, and do the opposite. I slouch in my seat and widen my legs to appear visibly sloppy. The Witness within me, the straight man, demands that I set myself apart and my ingrained insecurity forces me to comply.

On those rare instances I actually went on a date with a witness girl, I would be the one to lead the conversation. With Jason I’m content to let him do the driving, and as we eat, we talk about movies, about tv shows, about songs we like. I can admit to liking Madonna outright, not just a few of her songs. I can mention how “Will and Grace” is only as good as the scenes that Karen appears in. I can admit that I watch “Will and Grace.” I can begin to be myself, if only in small doses. Listening to him, I can’t help but wonder if Jason would be he who he is now if he’d been raised a witness, if something within the fiber of his integrity would have rejected the church outright rather than allowing it to reject him. I wonder what that would feel like.

“It was nice meeting you,” Jason says at the end of our lunch, and leans in for a hug.

“You, too,” I reply. Even the brothers in my congregation hugged from time to time I reason, so a hug doesn’t have to imply anything I don’t want it to. Jason tells me to enjoy the rest of my day and walks away, stopping for a moment to pry a frozen leaf off of the ground. I’m not ten minutes away from him when I get a text. Would I like to hang out again?
I let Jason make our plans for our second date. “CC’s. This Saturday. What do you think?” CC’s is a club. A gay one. Everybody, even Jehovah’s people, know this.

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“No maybes. It’s CC’s for us on Saturday.”

I meet up with Jason that Saturday night to discover that he’s brought a few of his friends along. Checking our ID’s at the door my anxiety is palpable, a scent lingering in the air, and one of Jason’s friends picks up on it. “Are you sure you aren’t a breeder?” he asks.

“No!”

I can’t see the look on my face, but judging by the tension in my jaw, I’m sure it’s not a good one. Less than a novice to gay terminology and slang, I assume nonetheless that my sexuality is being questioned. Lying about my sexuality is a language I speak fluidly, and I find myself grasping for words and phrases to use as I attempt, for the first time, to speak the truth.

“You sure seem like it,” Jason’s friend continues. “I think you’re a straight guy.”

“I’m not.”

“Straight guy. We have a straight guy here.”

Jason rolls his eyes, coming to my defense. “God, just shut up and leave him alone. Fucking queens.”

I drag my feet walking in, making a point to be the last one in the door. Being suspected of homosexuality was deadly within a congregation of Witnesses, and I wonder: within a congregation of gay men, were heterosexual suspicions just as deadly?

The music inside of the club is overwhelming to the point that, placing my hand on my chest, I can’t feel my heartbeat. The lighting is strobe like and it’s impossible to move without bumping into or being bumped by someone. Men are kissing and holding hands and I don’t last long enough to finish the drink Jason buys for me. As much as I want to, I can’t handle all of the freewheeling homosexuality, and I bolt outside. Jason follows, and is kind. “Too many fags trying to act fabulous can get to me, too,” he says, lighting a cigarette. I laugh, but it’s nervous. Was it an insult when gay men referred to each other as fag, or a term of endearment? And what does it mean that Jason feels comfortable saying that to me?

Over the next month we have several more lunches together, after which we either go to the movies or simply hang out, and it feels like friendship. Once I tap his leg to signal his attention, but aside from the hugs goodbye, it’s all the physical contact I permit. My inner Witness, though subdued, still insists that I keep things proper.

Jason is texting me after one of our lunches and it’s innocent enough. What am I up to? How’s my day going? I reply quickly until Jason sends me a text that stops me cold. Am I his boyfriend? “I’ve been calling you that to friends,” he texts. “Is that okay?”

I want to text no, that it’s not okay. We aren’t boyfriends. We haven’t even kissed. How are we boyfriends now? I stare at my phone, at the smiling emoticon he’s attached to that last message, my breath a prisoner in my lungs.

I tell him it’s okay.

Now, Jason holds my hand in public. If we’re alone I’m alright, but if people approach I find that I have to sneeze or scratch my head and wouldn’t you know? That always requires the hand that he’s holding. When he kisses me, I try to kiss back. Sometimes it makes me happy to kiss him. Mostly though, with my eyes closed and his lips on mine, I can’t help but wonder what the Elders in my congregation are thinking about me. I tear myself apart using the words I imagine they’d be using. Faggot. Sodomite. Monster.

“Your heart always races when we kiss,” Jason says. I’m flooded with guilt whenever we’re together now, certain that God has turned his back on me. I beg forgiveness from my creator and mercy from myself. A month after asking if we’re boyfriends, I call Jason and tell him I need to see him. “Please don’t hate me.” I say it again and again as we walk together, mustering all my strength to do something so weak.

“Please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me…”

“Don’t give me a reason to hate you and I won’t,” he answers.
And so I begin the “it’s not you, it’s me,” speech, and even though it is me, I’m too embarrassed to tell him why. Because I’m not used to being honest with myself I have no idea how to be honest with him. I offer little response when he asks for clarification, and rather than listening to me evade his questions, after 15 minutes of my rambling Jason leaves. I attempt to comfort myself by thinking that at least I’ve done what God would have wanted me to do, but the teeth of my conscience bite down on this thought as though it were made of metal. As he walks away from me I have a suspicion that Jason is crying, which only makes me cry harder, though neither one of us is feeling much pity for me at the moment.
I’m a 30 year old man who’s trying to repair the damage of a lifetime of self-loathing. I’m a 30 year old man who’s finally had the passport to cross into his true life granted to him but is too afraid to consider himself a citizen. I know that eventually I’ll cross over, slowly learning the customs as I go until, maybe, I’m indistinguishable from the natives, and where perhaps the God worshiped there will be kinder than my own.

Mammogram

MAMMOGRAM

Ruth Z. Deming

To please Dr Cynthia
I said I’d get a
mammogram, controversial
though it is.

The Mary Sachs Breast
Center right around the
corner fit me in
like a lost library book
assuming its rightful
place on the shelf.

Judy was my dark-haired
host. The all plastic
machine was a marvel
with Plexiglass shelves
that lovingly bore
down on each breast.

They seem to get bigger
with time, I said, making
polite conversation, to her
no reply

I helped her lay each
pliable fish-like
appendage on the
shelf, arm clasping
balance beam
and chin held high
like a Tolstoy princess

Then held my breath
one two three
one two three
until Judy, who
smelled like
Febreze, told me
to relax, like a
stiff soldier, and
finally bade me go
home.

Come round to my
house on the upward
slope of Cowbell Road.
No one feels my breasts
anymore. Let’s get
acquainted. What kind
of foods shall I
pleasure you with.
Perhaps later on
you’ll make me feel
like a college kid
on my first date.

So I’ve Heard

IMG_1832.JPG

So I’ve Heard

Barbara Ruth

It was fated that we meet
that we stop and speak in passing
that I reveal to you the softness
of my velvet wounds of sorrow
my mirror eyes.

And I came to dwell with you
and you showered me with jewels
you fed me what I did not know I hungered for
As you learned to dodge my mirrors, as you disciplined
your hooded eyes.

In return I showed my sign
then extracted vital essences from arteries unopened
taunted, haunted
finally caught you
in elaborate deception.

This is the way they say you’re telling it.

Between Detroit and Chi-town

2016-09-15 14.37.24.jpgBetween Detroit and Chi-town

Barbara Ruth

 

Dear Bob,

Happy birthday, son. I’m sure this email comes as a surprise.

I can’t really tell you much about where I am now Is it heaven? Hell? ‘m still trying to decide. I pay attention to the lives of my loved ones on earth, so when you’re happy, I’m in heaven.

I know you’ve been wondering about that story, my claim to fame. Why did Barb know about it and not you? How come you hadn’t heard that story every time a new person walked in the door who I could convince to sit down and listen? Why didn’t your mother mention it?

Barb only knows about it because she woke up when the phone rang. And that nosy girl stayed up to find out where I was going in the middle of the night.

Here’s the whole story: Ron the bartender called me around 10:00 at night. As you remember, Constantine was a very small town. Of course the bartender in the main bar on Main Street and the school’s only band director knew each other. We were the only Kells listed in the phone book. I knew if he called that late it was going to be important.

“Kell, you’ve got to come over.” My first thought was some former student of mine had gotten himself too drunk to drive home and Ron couldn’t think of anyone else to call. I was figuring out some response to that when Ron continued,

“There’s someone here you’ve got to meet. Come as soon as you can. If you don’t, you’re going to kick yourself for the rest of your life. And bring your horn.”

I told your mother what Ron had said to me. “Are you going out, at this hour? You have school tomorrow.”

The only excuse I had was my curiosity. “You don’t want me kicking myself the rest of my life,” I told her. “It’ll make it awfully hard for you to sleep in the same bed with me.”

She sighed and went back to her book in what I decided was a friendly way. “I’ll try not to make any noise coming or going, even though Barb won’t be asleep yet.”

“She’s a night owl, like her father. She’ll probably try to convince you to take her along.”

“And then Bobby will have to come. I think I’d better leave before I’m taking my whole family into a bar at 10:30 at night. Although that would keep the faculty lounge buzzing.”

“Good night, Dick.”

Sure enough Barb was still awake, standing in the hall in her polka dot pajamas. “What time is it? Who called so late?” Nine years old and she had her mother’s inflections down pat.

“Everything’s fine. Don’t talk so loud, you’ll wake your brother. You should be sleeping too.” She was in her foot-stomping, eye-rolling phase then. She stayed in that one quite a while, so you might be able to picture her dramatic return to her bedroom.

This was when we lived on Canaris Street, not so far from Ron’s Bar. I figured if I was going I might as well take my clarinet, as requested. When I parked the car I looked at it and hesitated. “What the hell?” I tucked the case under my arm and made my way into the bar.

Ron saw me right away. “Kell!” he shouted. “Over here.” He waved me over to one of the few booths and joined me there. Three Black men in expensive overcoats looked up from their drinks. “This is the guy I was telling you about,” Ron continued, turning to them. “Dick Kell, our local band director.” He looked back at me. “Didn’t you used to play in a band?”

I hadn’t even ordered a drink yet but I felt like I’d knocked back half a dozen. Louis Armstrong sitting in a booth in a bar in Constantine Michigan! I didn’t know who the other two gentlemen were, but there was no mistaking THAT face.
Turns out they were his driver and a guy who played trombone. I was embarrassed I didn’t recognize the trombonist’s name. “My guys – band and road crew – we’re traveling in three cars,” Satchmo said. “The others went on ahead, but the three of us decided to rest a spell. We figured if the whole crew stopped in here it might be too much of a good thing.” We all laughed.

I admit I was no stranger to Ron’s establishment. And I had never seen one of the local Black guys in the bar. “You’re probably right,” I said. “There’s a limit to how much jazz Constantine can take on a weeknight.”

All three of them looked beat. Their laughter was filled with fatigue. Maybe they liked my joke, but I think they were just being polite. They were nice enough to ask me about my music, so I told Louis Armstrong I played a little swing in college, no big deal.

“I know the barkeep told you to bring your horn. Let’s see what you got,” Satchmo said. Before I could answer he continued, “My baby’s right here beside me.” He lifted a cornet case, beat up worse than the one you had. I guess his had seen a lot more miles. From it he lifted a beautiful horn, a Selmer-Challenger cornet. “Go ‘head. You can hold it.” He reached it out to me and I took Louis Armstrong’s cornet in my hands, thinking back to my swing band days, being on the road, admiring some other cat’s horn.

Ron brought me a much needed drink and I took out my clarinet and we played a little, right there in the bar. Ron kept saying “Look! That’s Louis Armstrong! That’s Dick Kell playing with Louis Armstrong.”

The odd thing was, none of the customers seemed all that impressed. They glanced at us, then looked back in their shot glasses for the answers to the questions of their lives.
We played “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “String Of Pearls”. He let me pick the songs and we started in unison, then he harmonized, then improvized while I plugged on.
I tried a few adventurous turns and he took the melodic line, nodding encouragement. I was nervous he’d start scat singing and I’d forget what key we were in, but he didn’t and I didn’t either.

They’d played a club the night before in Detroit and had a recording date the next day in Chicago. “I love Chi-town,” Satchmo said. “Best ribs outside of N’awlins.”

Those guys were so polite. I think they would have closed the bar with me and Ron probably would have kicked out the other patrons and let us stay all night. But I felt sorry for the three of them, making chit chat with a high school band director in a one traffic light town, when all they wanted was to get some rest. There was no hotel in Constantine, at least not in 1955. I worried they’d ask me about a decent place they could stay the night, where there’d be no trouble. But they probably realized I wouldn’t know the answer to that question.

I told them the wife was probably waiting up for me.

Satchmo rolled those eyes of his. “Oh man, I know how that is. You best be getting on home.”

When I tiptoed into the house, Barb came running to the door. “What happened?” she asked, her own eyes wide.

“I just played with Louis Armstrong.”

“You did not. You just stayed out late on a school night and you’re trying to get away with it.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or shake her. “I’m the parent here, not you. Go on to bed now.” She gave a big sigh, just like her mother. I thought she went to her room, but she must have heard some of my conversation with Evie, who’d fallen asleep with her book on her lap, her glasses still on her nose.
She startled awake when I came in. “What happened?” she asked, like an echo. “What time is it anyway?”

“A little after midnight. What a night!” I started in, ready to relish the night again in the telling.

“What do you mean you played with him? You played music? You mean you went somewhere and played along with a record of Louis Armstrong?”

“I mean I went to Ron’s Bar and met the actual Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, and he invited me to play music with him.”

“How many songs did you play?”

“Two. They each lasted a long time.”

She didn’t seem all that impressed. I guess she just wanted to get back to sleep. One of the highlights of my musical life and I didn’t have anyone to appreciate it.

Neither your mother nor your sister said anything about it at breakfast the next morning. You were four at the time. I didn’t think you’d give me the reaction I wanted. I expected to hear about it in the faculty lounge or around town. Surely Ron would be telling the story for years.

Maybe he did. He certainly told me about it every time I went into his bar. But I already knew. And nobody else seemed to care. I did tell a few cornet students over the years. You remember Junior Bixby? I told him.But I didn’t want to face more disinterest or disbelief so aside from those few I knew the story to myself.

I should have told you when you were ten or twenty or maybe fifty. I realize you would have liked to hear about it, and from me. Well, now you have.

 

Love you always and happy birthday,

Dad

Secrets of the Boardwalk

img_1445Secrets of the Boardwalk

Ron Singer
Last week, Amy, a close friend of ours, told Joan, my wife, that she was worried about Bob, her husband. On two consecutive days, he had uncharacteristically wandered off on his own. The first morning, out of the blue, he had announced his intention of taking the subway out to Coney Island “for a walk on the boardwalk.” Since they normally go to C.I. in tandem, and since she had to work that day (Office Manager for a law firm), she urged him to wait for the weekend. But he refused.

The next day, he went again. That evening, as they were having dinner, his nose red from the spring sunshine and the depleted ozone layer, he made a speech that she interpreted as a semi-confession. Or, as she put it, “His sunburnt nose kept getting longer.”

Joan, who has a practically phonographic memory, quoted Amy’s account of the semi-confession: ‘’’ “ ‘Boy, you wouldn’t believe the characters you run into on the boardwalk these days –junkies, winos, Three Card Monte sharps, restaurant touts who practically mug you. I even saw a couple of teen-aged prostitutes pretending to be fortunetellers! They had a card table, costumes, the works. Can you beat that?’ “ ‘’’
For Amy, the last part had been the kicker: “ ‘The way he described those girls, the look on his face… furtive… I smelled a very big rat!’ ”

Bob is a CPA who owns a small business specializing in the personal income taxes of civil servants, including teachers. (He does ours.) Anything but “furtive,” he normally sounds like an accountant: precise, laconic, on the dry side. Since he had been extremely busy for the two or three months leading up to the end of tax season a few weeks ago, it was easy to see why he had wanted to stretch his legs and suck in some sea air and sunshine. But, obviously, Amy didn’t see it that way.

“I think she’s right,” was Joan’s verdict.

“No opinion.”

* * *

Yesterday, putting their heads together, the women hatched a scheme to find out whether there was fire behind the smoke– a scheme that involved me! As Joan explained at breakfast this morning, “See if you can draw him into a man-to-man confessional, Jerry. Think of it as a chance to make positive use of those world-class social skills you’re always bragging about. You know, have a few drinks…tell him about the time…”

Uh, oh, I thought, here it comes! She was going to bring up the passionate kiss I had admitted to having shared with a sexy young colleague at an office party shortly before my retirement four years ago. Well, she did bring it up, but thankfully, without the pain and rancor that had greeted the original confession. I’ll say this for Joan: she wields a mean wit, but she’s not like that Marx sister, Carpo. (Or is it Carpa?) Even better, I was relieved that the old kiss was all she brought up.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

As soon as she had bustled off to her job (Assistant Principal at a charter school), I called Bob. Although the four of us occasionally went out for brunch together, and although he and I sometimes took walks, we never met for drinks. To keep him from smelling a rat of his own, I would do this my way.

“Beautiful day, eh, Bob?”

“Good morning, Jerry! Yes, indeed! Spring has finally sprung.”

“You must be glad tax season is over.”

“And how!”

“How about a walk in the Gardens today? I hear the cherry blossoms are out. You available?”

“Sounds good,” he said, “Actually, I promised Joe I’d look over an audit notice he got from the IRS. But there’s no hurry, I’m not even going to charge him.”

“That’s very generous of you. Hey, I have a better idea! Let’s take the train out to Brighton. We can have lunch at that Bukharin place with the big Plaster-of-Paris pierogi outside, then walk over to Coney Island on the boardwalk.”

“Actually, I was just there last week, Jerr. Twice, in fact.”
It was time to cut to the chase. “Aha! So you don’t want to go again. I can certainly understand why, after what happened to you with those two prost…”

“ ‘After what happened’ to me’? Nothing happened, Jerry! Amy told Joan about that?”

“Yep. She said something about a pair of ho’s tricked out as fortune-tellers.”

“Well, yes.” There was a brief pause. “But so what? Sure, let’s go for a walk on the boardwalk.”

“Great!”

By now, I wanted to end this conversation, which was making me feel like the guilty party. Maybe, Joan and Amy were right: uncovering the truth about Bob’s boardwalk adventures would require more finesse than I had realized.

* * *

Since we live only a few blocks apart, we agreed to meet at a nearby subway entrance in half an hour. Twenty-nine minutes later, I arrived at the station to find him already waiting. Hurrying down the stairs, we caught a B.B.-bound train. Since the MTA was doing their usual massive infrastructure repairs, we sped past some half-renovated stations without stopping, which made the long trip somewhat shorter. Isn’t it always like that when you’re not in a hurry?

This line goes back and forth between underground and elevated. When it is elevated, it runs above neighborhoods of great variety, ranging from tree-lined streets with big, fancy, stand-alone homes, to commercial districts featuring discount this-and-that stores, to industrial parks full of rooftop graffiti and deserted-looking factories. In some places, every sign is in Chinese. Brooklyn is an exhilarating place to travel through –fast. Since neither of us had brought along a book, we shared Bob’s paper, which we then left on the train, so (as he put it) “some lucky stranger will save $2.50.”

A few minutes before noon, we reached Brighton Avenue and climbed down the long flight of stairs to 6th Street. I love going to B.B. I have never visited Odessa, but I imagine it could be the model for this bustling, vaguely nefarious commercial artery. It’s always a pleasure to be back in old New York, for here you can still find real commercial enterprises –good, cheap restaurants, greengrocers, naughty nightclubs, cavernous ethnic food stores, and exotic clothing emporia. God protect B.B. from gentrification!

Bob and I walked the four short blocks south to 2nd Street, and turned left toward the big pierogi. But when we got there, to our disappointment, we were assaulted through the window by what sounded like the soundtrack from a Central-Asian soft-core porn video. We could also see that all five tables were occupied.

“Let’s take the walk first,” I suggested. “We can grab a hot dog at Nathan’s.”

“Sounds good. Get a little exercise before our unhealthy lunch.”

Even on the side street, we could feel a stiff, chilly wind blowing in from the ocean. Although we were both sensibly dressed, I worried we would freeze our butts off. At the boardwalk, we turned right, toward C.I. Pushing against the crosswinds, we must have made a funny couple. Bob is about six-two, and stoops, trudging along with his hands clasped behind his back. Several inches shorter, I’m “squat” (i.e. big gut), and I take quick little steps, like a kid learning to roller skate. Joan says I look as if I’m running away from something. My shadow? My past?

I had last visited B.B. (with her) about two years ago, just before the city suffered the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. As Bob and I hurried along now, some of the differences I noticed may have been Sandy-related. The ocean side of the boardwalk was dotted with new, one-story, very solid-looking buildings on stout concrete poles. Although there were no signs or other indications of their purpose, I would have guessed they were hurricane-proof restrooms, the proverbial brick shit houses, except that there were other buildings marked as restrooms, on the landward side.
Down on the beach, in addition to a few walkers and joggers, there was a large gathering of seagulls, forming an amoeba in the sand. They looked as if they had flopped down from the sky.

“Birds of a feather flop together,” I quipped. “What are they doing there?”

“Enjoying the sunshine,” Bob opined. “ Just like us, Jerr.”

Since it was a weekday, and so early in the season, traffic on the boardwalk was thin. Thin, in two senses, in number and, I could have sworn, girth: there seemed to be fewer jumbo Russians and others than in summer. Nor was there as good a selection of the hilariously garish outfits I always enjoy at B.B. But there were still a few doozies, such as a middle-aged peroxide blonde wearing a blue fake-fur vest over a paisley kaftan.

The demographic that day seemed deceptively like the peaceable kingdom. On a basketball court in a playground on the landward side (BB at B.B.), I saw a pale, fat boy who, although hatless, looked Jewish. He was gesticulating, and I heard him shout, “Paco! Paco! Pass it to Mohammed! Shoot, Mohamed! Shoot!”

Mohamed, a gawky boy wearing big black-rimmed glasses, launched a clunker off the side of the backboard. These boys belonged to the Bricklayers’ Union. At sixty-seven, I could still have schooled them in the art of the jump shot.

About halfway to Coney Island, spotting an empty bench facing the ocean, we decided to ignore the wind and rest for a few moments. By this point, I must say, I was disappointed that we had not encountered the fortunetellers. I pictured two young cuties seated at a card table, wearing turbans and leather hot pants. As if we were oxygen-deprived, Bob and I sucked in the sea air.

Then, suddenly, there they were, bookending us on our bench, squeezing us together! Showtime! They must have been eighteen or nineteen. One was a faux-redhead, the other a faux-blonde. They were heavily made up, siliconized, and wearing enough perfume to Ralph Laurenify “the multitudinous seas” –i.e. I could no longer smell the salty air. They were dressed like models posing as professional athletes: spandex running-suits in shocking pastels, and day-glow, multi-colored running shoes. Instead of turbans, they sported bright orange baseball caps, worn backwards.

“Hello there, Mr. Bob, baby!” said the blonde, who had plopped down on his end. Her accent combined Russian with Brooklyn-ese. Phonetically, the greeting sounded like, “Alloo there, Meezterr Pob, pay-bee.” You get the idea.

“And, also, hello to you, also, Meezter Zexie,” said the redhead, a contralto, flashing a high-wattage smile and poking me with an elbow.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend?” asked the blonde. Not waiting for him to reply, she added, “How about going under the boardwalk again, Bobby? I think you loved that big kiss I gave you last week, didn’t you, you naughty boy! Or this time, maybe something a beet more … serious?”

“Perhaps, you would also like, also, to go under the boardwalk, with me, Mr. Bob’s Nice Friend,” suggested the redhead. “A wonderful soul kiss for only ten dollars, if you’re too scary to do anything else.” She winked at me.

“Or too chip! ” added the blonde. They laughed uproariously.

“ ‘Oh, when the sub goess dowwwn…,’ ” they sang, in unison, dissolving in more laughter.

Bob blushed vermilion. “Not today, girls. I’m still dizzy from last time,” he said, in a weak attempt at levity. Wearing what can only be called a shit-eating half grin, he turned and winked at me.
 Well, that cat had finally sprung from the bag! Joan had been right, after all –sort of. Poor Bob! All he had done was buy a kiss, just like we boys used to do at those carnival booths in the innocent old days. Except, back then, it had cost a nickel.

To make the rest of this long story short, I extricated us from the girls by tossing them a few compliments and ten bucks apiece, “for lunch money.” We left them on the bench, shouting lewd suggestions and blowing kisses as we hurried off. By the time I looked back, they were both texting away furiously.

The rest of the “outing” went pretty much as could be expected. We ate under an umbrella at Nathan’s (the smaller one, on the boardwalk), trying to warm our hands with hot coffee, which we did not drink for fear of being unable to sleep that night. (They didn’t have decaf.) I enjoyed my hot dog, but Bob did not look as if he enjoyed his, at all. ***
Thus concludes the day’s adventures of Bob and Jerry, two typical middle-aged men. All that remains to be said is that, on the way home, I easily persuaded him to confess his peccadillo to Amy. You may be able to guess how I did it. After swearing him to secrecy, I told him about the hottie I was seeing in the Bronx.

For fairness’ sake, the end of this story will be told from the wives’ point of view. The next day, Amy and Joan are in their respective offices, talking on their cell phones. As Amy recounts Bob’s spluttered confession, employing elaborate, hilarious mimicry, the women almost die of laughter. When she finishes, there is a pause. Neither of them wants to get back to work. This is too much fun!

“You know, Joan,” Amy remarks, “your Jerry is so clever and persuasive … cute, too. Quite a guy! In fact, I’d be surprised if he never…”

Joan clears her throat. “Now, now, that’s not nice, dear! Let’s not go there.”

And, closing their phones, they leave it at that.

The Chronicle

The Chronicle

Chris Macalino

 

I’m going to start with the grape… This note took a while because I was afraid that I’d be wrong about The Chronicle. I knew the produce this year would yield the sweetest fruit and so I tested this theory. The nearest fruit I had available was at home and yes, they were just right. When I took that piece from my kitchen fruit bowl, I whispered in excitement, “It’s possible…”

Maybe I just felt drawn to the possibility of The Chronicle, knowing something not everybody would, a newsworthy story just popping up. So I brushed off what hesitation kept holding me back and jumped at the chance to learn something: The only thing to fear was agoraphobia. This realization motivated me to liquid courage.

The next grapes I caught were at my nephews Christening, it was summer in The Children’s Museum at The Forks. I worked up a thirst and the fruit took me; they were marvelous. I became certain that The Chronicle was a miracle with size and grandeur. I nearly hogged all the berries! Thinking back, it really wasn’t even summer, it was actually before or after beach season. It sure felt like summer because they were so damn’ good.  I got a little intoxicated by their flavor.

My cousins and uncle were there too, we found our way at about two minutes beyond the parking lot. The location held a discovery, an out of sight nursery of fruit trees. I guess a chapter of growers had a roll to show everyone an orchard of a new friendly variety. I promised myself that when these trees began to bear fruit, I’d let them be and then there will be enough for an entire party.

 

(A great art critic can literally predict how a painting would taste, simply by the colors of the materials used on a panel surface. This dates back to the alchemical presence of organic and mineral parts for making paints. Egg-yolk was always used for yellow and egg-whites were saved for other colors. Egg-shells made amazing blues and flowers were quite remarkable for hot and warm colors like orange or redZests, saps, nectars, and mosses were also used for bases when creating a whole palette.)

The color of grapes varies with its exposure to the sun; similar to apples, peaches, and pears. One cheek of the fruit may appear darker or lighter compared to another side of the fruit. The skin of the grape is also very different from its flesh / the inside of the fruit / some refer to these very sweet parts as “treasure”.

The different parts of a berry (which includes the skin, the treasures, and seeds) are made to take in the elements: We have’ natural sources like water moisture, rain, and wind. We also have the periodic elements from beneath the soil which tend to rise-up chemically and affect the berries. Then there is The Sun and its rays, shining down these grapes for our vintage… The best wine just feels brilliant, to think they’ll be remembering all of this year each and every time we have this kind of Chronicle. It might last an eternity.

 

Some of us are new beginners in The Chronicle – the slang term for a new beginner is newbie. Speaking of winemaking, I like to think of that as related to “new berries”.

I can’t tell the name of the first wine that I had for 2015 but I remember it was white. There was a new section at the grocery store, the addition of a Liquor Mart. The clerk had mentioned the reds would arrive during November. So I went to the next Liquor Mart just to see if there was more I could learn. She was right! All the 2015s were white.

My University training came in handy that day… I was dreaming of cellars, body mechanics, and how a lot of adolescents would spend their time learning subjects in these kinds of places. They would bend their knees with enough balance to sustain minutes, holding a stance to read the right wine. I imagined Picasso must have started his career in cellars, then when he completed training, became the best in the world. I’d like a bottle from that period.

This Christmas, I found the first red wine I could afford. It’s from Australia with the name of a marsupial on the label. The clerk said I had to wait three years for the 2015s to come in… That was the good news, it’s true that it will be awhile. (3+ years is just enough time to heal.) It almost feels like everyone who might know about The Chronicle is like a friend or a drinking buddy from another galaxy far from my perch at The Inn.

An article on the topic did post statistics that most of the vintage would be consumed in the year it’s produced: This proves one year is preceded and followed by many years of skill and soul searching.

 

I wouldn’t call it a perversion but I believe that all bottles should literally have a ship inside of them. One could drink the bottle then keep it as a work of art! They could do all sorts of fantastic things with bottles and modern technology like make them bigger and fancier. This ship-in-a-bottle-wine could be made entirely out of glass… shipbuilders could retire at vineyards. Truly, I believe physics makes anything possible like sharing as an option.

I once thought that opening an old bottle and pouring it down the ground through a filter was a neat way to free a genie. Enjoying a drink was supposed to be a wish come true but all I’ve ever wished was to be is a great artist* There are different kinds of artists and I just want to be one of them. I’ve tried everything from helping to working and teaching but alas, it never continues for very long. Something always cripples my brain or breaks my heart. As I write this, part of me worries about being a “Fish” like the inspiration for Moby Dick or Old Man and the Sea.

I’m scared to think that people around would learn about my drinking and perversely novelize me as some kind of vampire. The great writers stopped doing that ever since Romanticism and Herman Melville’s period and also Ernest Hemingway’s adventures. I suppose Jung said it best – that fear comes from a psychological instinct -where wine has a cognitive irrational association with blood – and the oxymoron of wine as blood gets mythologized into vampirism – then subversively through the universal insight of The Surrealists we get to their point of wine good, “Ahoy!” We’re saved for it takes a good man to feel drunk off wine.

 

I’m just an uncle which means I’m not responsible for anyone but myself… and of course I know this is not true in light of individuality. Even in my failure, I still know there is a responsibility large enough for me to care about, to keep up with, and fulfill any promise of talent in my family.

I’m partly-responsible for my nieces, nephews, godchildren and those I take under my wing. I’m supposed to be the guy who teaches them how to control their drinking, and be careful of over-eating, or at least figure out a way to explain why life is a dream! I always have to be around to tell them that their problems can be solved. “Whatever vices they have must be lead to virtue.” Kind of like sex: It’s a biological need to make love but it’s also a matter of ecology to refrain from being The One.

There has to be somebody out there who could do the math… (One row field at the country vineyard could amount to one bottle. Then all those grapes are used to make wine, and after a period of time, wine is mixed in with other wines to produce a vintage. Soon, it will be bottled up and ready for logistics.) There’s still an opportunity to go to those fields and sunbathe, feel the ecstasy of being free then years later remember the brightness of those summer days. Count the rows their length and width with height, show yourself the theorem for The Chronicle. It’s an event for the ages, there’s a party and everyone is invited! It’s re-materialization as in “Remat” which is the belief that heaven can be described: like how particles or light waves and magnetic fields can make electrons into photons that can form into beings who are similar to our shape… It’s closing time?

 

 

On the Crossing of Streets

On the Crossing of Streets

Katarina Boudreaux

“Now you know that’s no way to be” Minnie says.

A.J. closes his eyes.

“Why can’t you just get a job?” Minnie continues. “We aren’t made of money.”

A.J.’s eyes stay closed. For a moment, he feels he is a saint, but only for a moment.

“Now come on, baby,” he starts, but Minnie is already in full tirade mode.

A.J. stays at the kitchen table for another few minutes, half listening, half thinking about some tropical paradise, then he gets up and walks toward the front door.

Minnie follows him “…and now you’re just gonna sit out there and talk to those good for nothing’s you call friends, and I’m supposed to be cooking your food that I get with two quarters and a piece of tin foil…”

A.J. closes the door behind him and arches his back. He doesn’t blame Minnie. She’s a good woman just trying to get a little more out of him then what he’s giving.

“Nothing wrong with wanting” he says to the empty street, then sits down in his fold-up chair. “Nothing wrong with it at all.”

A.J. knows about wanting, and there was a time A.J. would have done anything for Minnie. He remembers how it was, and how hard he had worked for those years. He had worked on the waterfront; back-breaking labor, men pushing men just to see how hard a man could be pushed.

A.J. had decided it didn’t suit him and spits to the left of the porch rail: not the work, not the powerful men, not the money.

“Damn” he says out loud. Usually his outdoor chair is a place of comfort, like his own personal Balm in Gilead. But out here by himself, he feels an ache inside. It’s something painful, like a fist holding his heart too tight.

“Now it comes” he says to the birds, and decides he is having a heart attack.

He gets up from the lawn chair, but then Smokey comes out his front door guffawing about how bright it is this time of day, and A.J. sits back down.

“Hell, thought I was having a heart attack before you appeared. I’m thinking now I was just having a panic attack” A.J. says good-naturedly. “I thought you might be dead in that house of yours.”

Smokey grabs a lawn chair from his porch, opens the gate, and walks the four or five steps to A.J.’s place.

“Nah. Just stretching out the day. Stretching it on out” Smokey says and reaches in his front shirt pocket for a cigar and lights it.

A.J. and Smokey sit in silence and watch more four-wheeled and some two-wheeled people roll by.

“I wonder if Sloppy Joe is going to make it out this morning” Smokey says.

Sloppy Joe had been drinking a bit more each day, and A.J. knows the signs. His own father had pickled himself from the inside out with the liquor, and although Sloppy Joe is a friend, A.J. doesn’t know how to tell him to cut back.

“Well, we’ll see; nothing to do but just wait and see” A.J. says.

“We could have an intervention” Smokey says.

“We could” A.J. says and settles more comfortably in his chair and changes the subject to dominoes.

After the sun is really up and moving across the sky, A.J. feels his stomach begin a rumble dance. The conversation has died down to guffaws and snorts, so A.J. cracks the front door and calls to Minnie. “Do you have some lunch, Minnie? Smokey’s out here, so maybe some lunch for him too?”

A.J. knows Minnie has lunch; she always has lunch. Sure enough, Minnie throws the window open and passes a plate through it. She doesn’t say anything, and she doesn’t have to; A.J. knows what she’s said a thousand times for a thousand days, and he also knows she’ll say it a thousand more times before it’s all over.

“Now that’s nice of you, Minnie” Smokey says in appreciation and sniffs the two nice po-boys on the plate. “Overstuffed, and just the way they should be.”

Minnie has already shut the window, but A.J. calls out “earning your wings here, honey” then focuses on the plate.

After the first few bites, he looks over at Sloppy Joe’s. “Should be up and out by now” he says to Smokey.

“”Reckon so” Smokey says.

They chew in silence, both now looking at Sloppy Joe’s across the street.

“She didn’t give us napkins” Smokey says.

“Don’t have any” A.J. says and decides that Sloppy Joe’s house doesn’t look so bad. It’s worn like the rest of the homes in A.J.’s neighborhood, but you can still see the fineness in how the house was built. The yard is overrun, and the car has one wheel off, and if there was a dog it’s long gone by now, or else a skeleton still chained to the tree.

“I can’t remember the last time Sloppy took that car out” Smokey says.

A.J. nods and chews his bite of po-boy. “That wheel has been off for a few years now.”

They eat in silence a few more minutes. “Well, I guess we could cross the street” Smokey says. “Take a look.”

“What you’re talking is nonsense to me” A.J. says stiffly. Since the big happening, A.J. hadn’t walked further than the street corner one way, and two blocks the other way. And he hand’t wanted to walk the two blocks.

Minnie had made him go and get milk.

“It’s not nonsense. That all happened what — twenty, thirty years ago?” Smokey relights his cigar and sits further back in his lawn chair.

A.J. doesn’t answer. He knows that Smokey knows it’s exactly twenty-six years ago since the big happening. He had come home from the waterfront and his son was dead in his front yard, and Minnie was sitting on the curb crying.

Sometimes he still hears Minnie say “Bubba T. ran my boy over, ran him down” like she is trying to convince herself that it happened.

Sirens still bother him, and though Bubba T. had tried for years to talk to him, and A.J. knew Minnie had forgiven him long ago, A.J. had not, would not, speak to him or around him.

Bubba T.”s wheel had blown out right when Minnie was waving to him, and she had their little boy right beside her waiting to cross the street. Bubba T had lost control for an instant, and A.J.’s little boy was hit by the side view mirror. Killed on impact the medical professionals had told him, and Minnie had just cried and cried there in the street.

“I’m not crossing the street” A.J. mumbles and reaches behind him and knocks on the window. “Po-boys were great, Minnie honey. Can you pick up the plates so the flies don’t get on them?”

Minnie surprises A.J. by coming out the front door. She stands in front of him on the porch. A.J. hands her his plate, and Smokey starts to say something but she holds up her free hand and points to Sloppy Joe’s.

“Where’s he at? I see two po-boys gone, and the normal number I make, well that’s three. So I’m asking” she says.

“He forgot to come out” A.J. says right over Smokey saying “we were just talking about how maybe we should go on and cross the street and be neighborly and check in on him.”

Minnie looks at A.J., then at Smokey. “Thinking about it?”

“We are considering it” Smokey says politely.

“You two are sitting here being fed like house cats and your friend may not even be breathing, that’s what” Minnie says and picks up Smokey’s plate. “I’m going to have to clean these plates then go check on a fool of a man…”

Minnie moves off the porch and through the front door and slams the door behind her with her foot. A.J. knows it’s her foot, and has often wondered how she stays balanced when she throws it out to close the door.

“Pay her no mind. She’s on a tear today” A.J. says and reaches for the cooler.

Smokey grabs A.J.’s hand. “I’m thinking we should pay her mind. She just gave us a beat down right here on our own porch. Well your porch, but close enough to mine to be mine.”

A.J. snatches his hand from Smokey. “Are you holding my hand on my own front porch Smokey?”

“Seems like I’ll have to hold it for you to cross the street” Smokey retorts and takes a long pull on his cigar.

“Damn cigar. Why do you have to smoke that on my porch?” A.J. fans the air about his head. It’s suddenly thick and clammy and he feels like a smoked cigar, all spent out and smelly.

“You never said not to” Smokey says.

They sit in an uneasy silence for a moment, then Smokey says “I’m gonna have to hold both your hands or what?”

A.J. doesn’t say anything because he is thinking about Sloppy Joe. He does about twenty years of thinking, and then he says “I’m not going to cross…”

The door flies open and Minnie yells “CROSS THE DAMN STREET, A.J., OR GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS HOUSE.” Minnie stomps her foot, then slams the door shut behind her and…locks it.

A.J. is stunned. He looks at the door, then looks at Smokey.

Smokey clears his throat. “I don’t think she’s going to open it.”

A.J. swivels to face Smokey. “I’m not a violent man, but I’m thinking you need to be leaving or I’m going to do some violence right here on my porch. There’s no reason to disrespect a man on his own porch.”

“All right” Smokey replies, then clears his throat. “I’ll leave with you. It’s about napping time, so best get this thing done if it’s going to be done.”

A.J. sees his boy’s face in his mind, and it is shaped like Minnie’s, but has his eyes. A.J. can’t move. “My boy…” he starts then stops.

“Has been dead a long time now, A.J.” Smokey says and looks across the street. “We’ve got someone else to care about now. Time to cross this street.”

Smokey puts his feet side by side and hoists himself up from the lawn chair. “We’re friends, A.J.”

A.J. nods and his mind goes into a time warp. He sees Sloppy coming across the street to tell them Beth left him; sees Sloppy helping him clean up after the last hurricane, drunk as he was; sees Sloppy bringing Minnie some old weeds he calls flowers to thank her for lunch.

A.J. tries to picture his boy; but he can’t get past the face shape and the eyes.

“I guess it’s time to go across the street” A.J. whispers. He licks his lips and stands up with intent.

The first three steps are just off the porch. When they come to the street edge, he looks back at his house, and he sees the curtains move in the front window. He knows Minnie is watching and waiting.

A.J. suddenly remembers how cool the water was when he dove off the big rock one summer long, long ago in Sister Lake. He was airborne and free and then he was in the water, his eyes wide, then he was back up to the surface and he was covered in sunshine.

His foot hits the street pavement and it is like Minnie’s eyes propel him on. Smokey is beside him, hanging back a little, maybe in case he starts to fall, or starts to run, or starts to cry.

“I don’t need a nursemaid, Smokey, I’m not a little girl” A.J. says gruffly and crosses the center line.

Two, three, four more steps and he is over the curb. He stops in front of Sloppy Joe’s house and the world is a loud buzz.

Smokey is saying something, and he turns to open Sloppy’s gate. A.J. follows though he isn’t hearing, isn’t listening, isn’t breathing.

His mind keeps saying that he has crossed the street in broad daylight on a Monday afternoon.

They are up to the front door, and Smokey knocks. The door swings open, unlocked, and A.J. hears Smokey say something like “only a damn fool would sleep with his door unlocked in this neighborhood.”

Smokey steps into the front room. A.J. takes a deep breath and follows.

Bottles are knee-high, and Smokey starts wading toward the back room. All the houses in the neighborhood are shotguns, and A.J. vaguely remembers being in Sloppy Joe’s house when another family lived in it, another family with a little boy the same age as A.J. Jr.

A.J. sinks to his knees in the bottles and something breaks inside his chest. There’s a hardness, then a lightness, and he feels the world spin a little, turn dark then white, until he finally opens his eyes.

Something is under his right knee.

“Sloppy?” A.J. croaks.

Standing up, A.J. looks at Sloppy’s left shoe and then realizes Smokey is right behind him. Smokey kneels down, digs for Sloppy’s head, and then hoists the whole body over so he is face up.

“Hell, what could make a man bury himself in bottles, vomit, and piss on himself?” Smokey asks and puts his hand over Sloppy Joe’s nose.

“Some things” A.J. replies and touches Smokey’s wrist.

Smokey puts a hand on A.J.’s shoulder. “Is your phone working? He’s breathing, but I think we need an ambulance out here.”

A.J. nods, and waves Smokey to the door.

Smokey moves to it, then turns and asks “you’re staying with Sloppy?”

A.J. nods again, and moves to put a plastic bottle under Sloppy’s head.

“Damn fool’s lucky he didn’t drown himself in his own vomit” Smokey says and walks through the front door and runs across the street.

A.J. can see Minnie in their front yard. Her hands are at her side and she is crying. He knows she is crying; he doesn’t have to be close enough to see it.

Smokey puts his hand on her shoulder and turns her, and A.J. watches as they go into his house.

“Sloppy man. We’re going to be fine now” A.J. whispers. “I crossed this street and if you quit breathing it won’t be worth anything. And I won’t pay for your funeral either, so I’d breathe if I were you. Pauper’s graves aren’t nice.”

Sloppy doesn’t answer, but A.J. doesn’t need him to.

A.J. looks down at his pants. Dry.

SISTER

IMG_0005 2
SISTER

Anne Lévesque

Perhaps she should have been
an actor – shyness not
uncommon in that profession,
so expressive is her beauty:
Wistfulness
Disappointment
That sober furrow between her brows
And then
A coy wink,
Fireworks of joy.

But never self-pity
Not even when she told me
“I guess we were too happy” he said
Words still solace then
He could summon none
That day I called
After the treatments had begun
She upstairs in the dollhouse cabin
The girl and boy playing some quiet game
At the table
Beside their empty soup bowls

And never on those Friday nights
Her face bleached tight
The week of chemo in Halifax,
The four hours in the car,
And still ahead, that long hill home

Only once did I see her cry
Her hair was as thick gold again
As long, as straight
As the perfect rows of her garden
Shiny as the pale scar
Below her neck

Our house was cold that day the floors muddy
The furniture in the truck
We were leaving her and she was late
Almost too late
To say goodbye

artwork by Adrienne Carrier

new tourist

new tourist

milt montague

 

manhattan
new york city
a hot summer day

people galore
crowding the streets
museums shops restaurants

all the sidewalks
bulging with tourists
cameras always at ready
logging their future memories

on this day
I play the visitor
in a very cool coach
gliding down fifth avenue
gawking at the store windows

disdaining
muggy sidewalks
bursting with sightseers
jostling for breathing spaces
expropriating my stomping grounds
my gilded carriage an air conditioned city bus

ALEXANDRA IN ISTANBUL

ALEXANDRA IN ISTANBUL

Carl Boon

New to the city,
she spends afternoons
rehearsing the shapes of clouds.

One day, they’ll reappear
in a notebook
with names of friends

she’ll have forgotten.
She swears the city
won’t swallow her, leave her

paralyzed, strangers
unconcerned if she’s the will
to get up, go home. I was

Alexandra, and walked
through Taksim Square
in the rain in November.

They sold me poison sandwiches,
seats for movies
that never played.

I am waiting to go home.
But the tangerines this fall
on Ergenekon Street

have just begun to sweeten,
and the bonito for sale
on the Bostanci sea-road

glisten in the morning.
Alexandra will put these away
for later, images of a lost world

when the calm of Gdansk
grinds her and the Long Market
on the Baltic becomes shadow.

-photo from creative commons zero

Whale Gate

Whale Gate

Casey FitzSimons

Cowell Ranch State Beach,
south of Half Moon Bay, California

Once an entrance to Aldo Giusti’s
many-acred field of brussel sprouts. Now
the twelve-foot metal gate’s chained shut, holds
back the headland fennel, canes
clawing damp air, rising lumpy with snails
climbing in slow, mute panic.

It couldn’t open anyway, without the chain:
bumpy ox-tongue thistle
and frilly poison hemlock clog
the gate’s swing-arc. On its face, wrought
in iron, a huge blue whale painted white, not blue
—rusted iron spoiling through,
flaking. From his blowhole he spews
an iron fountain, dribbling rust, raises
his curly fluke high into stylized waves
that surge along the upper rail, his tiny
dorsal fin submerged below them.

His throat grooves are
what I like best, rendered by the welder
like a Caddy Eldorado’s grille—rods of iron
parallel, criss-crossed by plowed crop rows
you see between them. Like me,
the whale heads seaward, ocean
half a mile out the gravel track.
An information plaque, pulpit-wide, erupts
right there in hemlock, pedestal flecked
with delicate wild-radish flowers.
It tells, though, about agriculture, how Italians
brought the artichokes, how brussel sprouts
began in 1909, now the coast’s
most lucrative crop.

What I wanted, of course,
was a whale story, perhaps a story
of a particular whale who liked
to breach, whose lobtailing fluke
inspired the gate, how he filtered krill
through his comb-like baleen and didn’t
need teeth, how he was warm-blooded
and had a four-chambered heart.

-photo http://www.everythingcoastal.com/2010/12/december-exploring-on-california-coast.html

To Orayvi

To Orayvi

Michael Anthony

Like most Hopi, my great-grandfather, Wilson Pentiwa, expected to spend his entire life on Third Mesa near Orayvi, but a doctor from Jersey City who would visit the reservation each summer, offered to repair the failing heart of his infant son, the man I now call grandfather. That was how Wilson, his wife Elizabeth, and their boy, Alban, came to live on Dudley Street where the old Morris Canal met the Hudson River.

Although thousands of miles lie between our family home in the shadow of Manhattan and the land of his birth, great-grandfather made sure each generation learned, and more importantly never forgot, our Hopi heritage. As I sat with him beneath the grape arbor he had built in the small yard behind the three-story brick tenement, he turned to me and whispered, “It is my time to return to Orayvi.” When I told my father, his face lost all color.

My father and grandfather gathered the family around the kitchen table and prepared us for the old ones’ departure. Grandfather asked which of the young ones would travel with him to Orayvi. My brother and cousins were more interested in baseball and the girls of St. Aloysius School, so he turned to me and said, “Would you honor my father?”
I agreed and it was set.

Grandfather steered the old Ford van out onto the New Jersey Turnpike, but long before we reached the Delaware River, he exited and followed what he called a blue highway.

When I asked why he left the faster road, he smiled. “This journey is not about speed, but passage.”

I sat in the front, holding frayed maps and watching gas stations, diners and billboards slip past my window. In the back, great-grandfather sat silently next to his wife of seventy-four years. With the river that separates New Jersey and Pennsylvania just beyond trees that lined the steep bank, great-grandfather asked his son to stop. Once we were parked on the gravel shoulder, great-grandfather stepped slowly from the van and stood with his arms outstretched and palms upturned.

“What is he doing, grandfather?”
“He is thanking the spirits who inhabit the land through which we travel for their generosity.”

Never having been west of Philadelphia, I was taken by the breadth of America and the varied landscapes that filled the windshield: forested mountains, grassy mounds followed by endless wheat fields, then wide prairies, and finally red rock spires. Somehow, great-grandfather knew just when to pay homage to the spirits of each; the Lenape in New Jersey, the Monongahela in Pennsylvania, the Miami in Ohio, the Osage in Oklahoma, the Cheyenne in Texas, and then, the Comanche in New Mexico. But, with each stop he seemed to weaken until we neared Shungopavi, where he could barely leave the van.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of those flat top mesas rising from the desert floor like great tables on which massive white clouds perched. Though unable to describe it, I felt a primal connection that at once was completely new, yet strangely familiar.

We arrived at Orayvi late in the afternoon as the sun sat low in a western sky that stretched from horizon to horizon. Great-grandfather led the way to a small adobe just beyond the others. “That is the place of my birth,” he said in a weary voice.
Though it looked abandoned, the old building had been swept free of cobwebs and dust. Shelves had been stocked with fresh cornmeal and lard and eggs. Neatly folded blankets and laundered sheets lay atop the wood frame beds.

“Grandfather, did you tell them we were coming?” I asked.
“They knew.”

Great-grandmother prepared a meal of mutton and black beans. Afterwards we sat on a wooden bench along the outer wall of the adobe and, while bathed in gold, watched the sun slowly fall behind Howell Mesa. We said nothing, but became a single unit in that aurulent glow.

A final glimmer of sunlight reflected in the tired eyes of great-grandfather who, to save the life of his son, walked away from everything he held sacred, including his standing as a leader of his clan. Not once did I hear him utter a word of regret.
Indigo shadows climbed the mesa and shrouded us in their dark grip. Great-grandfather reached out and took hold of great-grandmother’s hand. Then, he turned to me and said,

“We are again part of this place. You, grandson of my son, will come here and take my place.”

Knowing nothing but the streets of Paulus Hook, I dismissed his words as the addled ramblings of an old one. But, I did not sleep well that night. My eyes would blink open when there was only silence. Then, the rhythm of great-grandfather’s shallow breathing from across the darkened room soothed me. In the soft gray of early morning, I heard stirring about the small adobe; then, “Edward, get up.”

I leapt from the bed, afraid of what had happened during the night. There was great-grandmother standing by an old black cast iron woodstove, making a breakfast of speckled eggs, blue corn pancakes and fry bread. Great-grandfather sat at the table smiling and motioning for me to join him. We ate in silence. The melancholy of the previous night was gone; replaced by a new serenity.

With the meal finished and the dishes cleaned, we walked outside and made our way to the eastern edge of the mesa where we sat on mother earth. The evening before, we bid farewell to the setting sun; but this day we welcomed the warmth of another as it lit the wide plateau beneath First Mesa. Long morning shadows shrank as the sun climbed high into a cloudless turquoise sky.

Great-grandfather spoke softly, “Son, today take Edward to Kykotsmovi. Tell the council he will assume my place. They will know what to do. Go now, before the rain.”

Though I spun in every direction, I saw no clouds overhead, only two distant puffs sitting like dandelion blossoms on the southern horizon.

Grandfather rose, signaling for me to accompany him. I wanted to stay; to have more time with the old ones. Great-grandfather asked me to kneel beside him. “Edward, you make me proud. You will be wise like few men. Embrace your great-grandmother; then, go with your grandfather. Remember, let the eagle guide you.”

Great-grandfather coiled his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. I felt his hot breath on my neck, his leathered skin against my own and recognized the scent of sage in his shirt. I held him tightly until grandfather called again.

Great-grandmother looked at me, smiled; and whispered, “Your time is nearly here.”

Then, she pressed into my hand a small silver disk bejeweled with cabochons of turquoise, obsidian and jasper. It was the medallion great-grandfather had made and given her the day they married. I stroked her downy hair one more time. On my way to the van, I stopped. “Wait, grandfather, please.”

“Edward, don’t make this harder than it is,” he cautioned.

I ran back to the small rock ledge on which they sat. Crouching between them, I gathered both in my arms and forced out what had burned in my throat since the day we left Dudley Street, “I love you, my teachers.”

Our barter was now complete: they had given me wisdom for my journey, and I, my love for theirs.

Grandfather and I rode to Kykotsmovi and met with the tribal elders. They shared stories of my great-grandparent’s marriage ceremony in Orayvi; the birth of their first child, my grandfather; and, what they had done to help the Eagle Clan. Even though two thousand miles separated my great-grandparents from the people of the village, they somehow knew all that had transpired in their lives back east. We remained with the elders until midafternoon and my head swam with the tales they told. Then, in a sacred ceremony, I was welcomed as Wilson Pentiwa’s heir to his position in the clan. We returned to the adobe, but finding it empty we walked around back.

Great-grandfather and great-grandmother still sat where we had left them that morning; but now they leaned against one another, like a young couple planning their future. Grandfather circled around them; knelt; and, gently placed his hand first on great-grandfather’s eyes, then on great-grandmother’s. He called, “Edward, please help me. Hold great-grandfather.”

I cradled his cool body in my arms as grandfather eased his mother down next to sagebrush nearly as tall as I. Great-grandfather fell back into my arms and I rested him alongside his wife. Grandfather prayed aloud for them in the language they had taught him.

I peered across the plateau below us to see an eagle and its mate soaring on an updraft along the mesa cliff. No more than thirty feet from us, they arced to the right and climbed high in the sky, disappearing into the glare of the white-hot sun.

Two menacing dark clouds approached from the south. Large raindrops began hurtling to earth and exploded in bursts of dust at our feet. In minutes, the rain fell steady and hard.

Grandfather said the old ones’ earthly bodies were being cleansed while their spirits were being lifted on the wings of those eagles.

Seven years later I left Jersey City for good and made my way back to the village. A pair of eagles circled high overhead as I drove the final mile up the gravel road to Orayvi.

-photo Creative Commons Zero

Graying in My Life

IMG_2393 - Version 2Graying in My Life

Michael Lee Johnson

Graying in
my life
growing old
like a stagnant
bucket of
rain water with moss
floating on top-
Oh, it’s not such
a bad deal,
except when
loneliness
catches you
chilled in the
middle of a sentence
by yourself-
ticking away
like an old grandfather clock,
hands stretched straight in the air
striking midnight
like a final
prayer.

-photo Harry Rajchgot

When a night is named

When a night is named

Arlyn LaBelle

This is how I will keep you,
wrapped in Christmas lights.
Above me, you shiver like kite skin.
My young body is vanity
I thought I could be a home for anyone

But you, like light, are swelling
in a place I can’t touch,
you are rolling like the shadow
of a cloud.

We are both, so completely
lost to me.Winter window view

-photo Harry Rajchgot

Leaving Your Bed

Leaving Your Bed

Miguel Eichelberger

IMG_0102_2

When the quiet is silenced by sunlight
Stretching itself languidly over your skin
I see morning, unmasked.
A murderer! A criminal who sneak
On pointed toe into this bedroom to take last night.

Last night,
When I fell to sleep upon your lips.
Morning was loud of envy. Morning, the inevitable nuisance
Policing laze and comfort. Calls me aside
And pats me down. Morning bathes us in false heat, false
Light and heralds the interruption of day. The fiend is unrelenting.
He comes with the sun and swears to be a soldier of
Good. Know, lover, that the badge he presents is
Fake.

Morning is a jealous thief. Me from You, You from Me.
You are taken from me upon the contract of day.
Taken away, your blush, your smile draped like silk upon your lips.
Taken away, the arm resting above your
Hair. Fingers telling me to move forward. Too hot for covers,
Your body is embraced by lecherous Morning.
The bastard winking at me as he touches you.

What is Morning
But a thief in the day, masquerading as a new beginning
When it is but an end.
For I must leave your bed.

Babi Yar

Babi Yar

Ilona Martonfi

 

I have been to Babi Yar
a silent, sad earth
leafless chestnut trees, poplars, roses
inscribed in the sand of skulls
Symphony No 13 adagio
I couldn’t even ask:
Who is the bass soloist?
Baritone of speech song.
Fenced in with barbed wire
on the outskirts of Kiev
between Melnikova
and Dokhturova Street
beyond the Jewish cemetery.
A male chorus.
Cellist on this recording
cordoned off by SS soldiers
Nazi-occupied Ukraine

you couldn’t hear the shooting
September 29 1941
in a ravine at Babi Yar and there, I don’t know
a child. I touched her face.

Morning Nocturne

Scan10018Morning Nocturne

Howie Good

Siri refuses to speak certain words above a whisper (measure, cleave, silver). I’m reminded, oddly, of Dali’s love child teetering on the edge of a precipice. Getting to work has come to seem more and more like work itself. There are no clocks anywhere, though there are carcasses in various stages of decay, and I very well might encounter a man who has worn the black uniform with the skull-and-crossbones insignia. You should be able to guess what happens next – the permanently forgotten people in old photos open their mouths to scream.

-photo pre-WWII Poland

Changes

Changes

Sophia Wolkowicz

 

Reservations are suggested with changes
except most of us are unaware
that we have travelled on a
one way journey until
we have reached its destination.
And whether suddenly or,
through insipid pace,
no desired accommodation
awaits our arrival.

It would be best to book in advance
a fortress to steel oneself against
any damages, loss or theft
and then affix a DO NOT DISTURB sign on
its entrance.

Seeds encased in jack pine cones
require fire to release their kernels
and spur new growth to an aging forest.
But restoration has no confirmed date.
Hovering branches
tangle against each other
and in successive days,
block out more light.

Changes can betray you.
They have a life of their own,
that intersect our itinerary
and shove us against time.
We grasp past moments
to regain balance,
but remain all the while,
the startled tourist.

Still point

Still point

Michelle McLean

 

“The only journey is the one within.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

To know what it is

to be cracked open
wide as the world –
Heart open as the sky,

and part the path for
that kind of space.

To uncover the buried blessings
of your pain;
To know that you will never again
be the same –
Your borders, boundless.

To feel the earth collapse
under your feet
and discover
your ability to fall,
to float.

To no longer run
from the wounds
of your past.

To descend
into the darkness
and mine the gems.

To arrive, again
and again
to further journeying,
returning.

To face unafraid
the plans that you’ve made
and to know
your plans are traced
in sand.

To make peace with this.

To slide back
into your story,
become its hero.

To celebrate the pulse of Life
here, now, this –
Arriving home gently
to yourself

with loving welcome.

The Monopoly of Marriage

The Monopoly of MarriageDSCN1012 2

Marlena “Zen” Johns

Glass shards fall.
Like the leaves of an autumn tree,
Baubles cover the ground.
Hands deflect a shower of
Splintering, slicing slivers,
Like threads of insulation.
My tiny paper cut scars
Seep blood,
Staining maroon seat covers.
My husband continues,
Smashing car windows with fist and club.
Bloody marriage knows no laws.
Vows protect heinous crimes.
Degradation follows destruction,
And police watch, bystanding pedestrians
As a stream of broken lives pass Go,
And no one sits in Jail,
The community chest’s gift-
Get out of jail, scot-free.

Sojourn

Sojourn

Lawrence William Berggoetz

I have arrived from an ancient city named for a nomad, bruised with black blood. I have not followed a star, my journey moves me in arcs, not in lines, as I study how sunlight changes once it reaches the shelter of June leaves in a young tree.

I would travel on roads, but I seek the echoes and mystery of caves, none of which are found along worn paths or marked by stone trails.

I stir when song arrives like dawn emblazoned in the blossom of the twilight world that is slipping away just as it appears. At night, I alight like a small bird upon its favorite branch as soon as rainfall ends.

I close my eyes and enter a field of wildflowers and clover, filling the air like breeze willing to carry the fragrance of summer across the lake to children who still see their guides, and know that inside each tree is a heartbeat’s vibration.

In silence, I see a child sitting as perfectly as a stone Buddha. I can observe my life from behind his folded body, in communion with the universe; I can see my back, my head quietly observant as my other body dances to each sound. Suddenly, I understand why I long to speak in colors, not in words, while my dreams bleed without the cost of wet blood, fallen like waves that cleanse the beach in the night.

Stepping toward a window, I peer beyond the North Star wondering how the dark side of the moon would appear to a comet thrown into a sudden orbit around the sun.

Mothering a Member of an Endangered Species

Mothering a Member of an Endangered Species

Marlena “Zen” Jones

I remember the night that my sons made the transition, completed this rite of passage that catapulted them from the, “Isn’t he cute?” comments to stares of suspicion. They were 12. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for them to go on dates, or take their first drive or get a job. I absolutely wasn’t ready for them to be stopped by the cops.

It was October 31st, 2008, and we had just returned from hours of face painting, pizza eating, bobbing for apples, sliding down huge inflated slides, and boxing with inflated gloves at a church about 30 minutes away. It was still early, around 7:30, and my kids wanted more candy- although they each had a bulging basket, so I let them out in front of our house, told them we’d make a quick round around the neighborhood and call it a night. They began walking to the next door neighbor’s house, and I began to turn the key to open my front door. We’d won a cake that night in a game of musical chairs, and I planned to drop it off in the kitchen and join them. But before I could even do that, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw flashing lights, and the cops were jumping out of a squad car yelling, “Hold it right there young man. What are you doing?” I sat the cake on my porch steps and began walking towards the scene, not believing that my sons- in full Halloween finery and clutching baskets full of candy- were being questioned by the police who assured me that they were only stopping them because someone reported that it looked like some young men were “casing a house”. How unlikely that excuse sounded to me since the hood of my car was still warm, and I hadn’t even had time to open my front door.

We returned home soon after, and my kids gave all their candy away to the next group that knocked on the door. No one had much of an appetite.

That was my baptism into the life of a black teenager in America. My sons weren’t wearing hoodies or gang colors; their pants weren’t sagging; they weren’t out late at night, when all “good kids” are home in bed. They were 12 and trying to trick or treat on their own street, in a neighborhood they’d lived in for five years. The neighborhood they went to school in. They were knocking on doors of their neighbors trying to get candy. They were trying to be kids.

Over the next seven years, my perception of law enforcement took a real beating. Maybe it was because my kids were harassed sitting at playground swings after school in the neighborhood playground adjacent to their school. Maybe it was because on their first double date at a local mall, I got a call halfway through the movie that I needed to come quickly. Security had escorted two drunken adults multiple times to the exit of the mall, and these adults, who happened to be white, had decided to taunt my sons and their friends. An argument ensued, and when security called the police, the adults – who had cars -all left the scene while the teens were left waiting for me. I walked up to hear officers threatening my son with jail time for disorderly conduct because of a request to pull the video footage to see what really happened since the whole altercation was caught on film. Maybe it was because the first time they rode in a car with a friend who’d just gotten his driver’s license, they happened to see two female classmates, who happened to be white, walking home. They innocently offered them a ride. A few minutes later, the new driver was explaining that he wasn’t trying to kidnap the girls, check his student id officer. We go to school together. We all live in the same neighborhood. Maybe it’s because my son was caught on camera walking by the door of a locked classroom at his school, and when a phone ended up missing at the end of the day, he was the one being questioned by the police. Who was he, Casper, able to float through walls at will? Maybe it was because both my sons and my husband at the time, had guns pulled on them while doing yard work in our backyard because a suspect was fleeing police custody, and it looked like he came that way.

Maybe because the time of my sons’ lives that was supposed to be the most carefree- their teenage years, when they were supposed to make memories that they laugh about, that last them the rest of their lives, was filled with the number 33. Thirty –three, that’s the amount of times that my sons were collectively detained in the span of 8 years. An average of four times each year. I know that’s a lot less than some articles I’ve read where young men say numbers like 100 or 200. But I can’t mentally process 33. Once a season, on average. They can’t look back at a single milestone- their last time trick-or-treating, their first date, their first ride in a car driven by their friend- without there being a memory of fear, a sense of being a target. And as a mother, who wants the best for her sons, who wants them to be happy and healthy and whole, their childhood or lack thereof, angers me.

And the other things that happened around them, terrify me. See, no kid grows up in a vacuum. And my sons were popular, and involved. Football, basketball, track, band, debate team, lyricist society, Black student union, mock trial team, choir- keeping up with their schedule was a huge addition to my full time job. And by the time they hit ninth grade, they had a local pack of companions, ten in fact, a few a little older, a few a little younger. As parents we had cookouts and sleepovers, car pools and birthday parties with this dozen in attendance. They pictured graduating together, going to college together, doing the same things they were doing now as friends, with their kids. When graduation came, of that dozen, two were dead- one stabbed by a Hispanic classmate at a high school my kids no longer attended, and one killed in a home invasion. Four were in jail. Six walked the stage- four friends and my two sons. So 40% of my sons’ friends made it to 18. Six in all, including my sons, were alive and un-incarcerated. So, even graduation was bittersweet.

I’ve heard it said that more black boys are born than black girls, 8 boys to every 7 girls, but by the age of 18, there’s one boy left for those seven girls. The other 7 are dead or in jail. I heard a comedian once say, people say black men are an endangered species. No they’re not, if they were, they’d be protected by law. I’ve posted statistics about police profiling, about Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and been called a racist for pointing out what happened to them. That and the fact that American society tends to blame the victim, thinking there must be a reason why “these things” happen to “those people” led me to not want to put my name on this piece. After all, I work in a conservative field where people are quick to judge. So for seven years, I’ve stayed mostly silently, posting here and there when the pain got too deep. But now, I’m writing to America. As a mother, as a neighbor, as a friend, as a church and community member and begging, pleading for each of you to see the bull’s eyes on my sons’ backs. Pleading for you to see the targets on my students’ backs, on the back of every Trayvon Martin who is still walking around carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, minding his own business.  And take them off.

-photo U.S. Marshall Service (public domain)

writing from the soul and the mind

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