Sa Belle-Soeur

IMG_2907Sa Belle-Soeur

Sivan Slapak

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll go find him.”

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

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

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

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

“But just a bite, Madame Bonhomme.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not yet. I’m sure he’ll come soon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd, the God

2014-08-22 14.13.21

Todd, the God

Michael C. Gebelein

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

Without an Address

IMG_0811 - Version 2Without an Address

Simon Perchik

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bravery Of A Stolen Heart

DSCN0409_2The Bravery Of A Stolen Heart

Ndaba Sibanda

 

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

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

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

Whoo whooo whooo whooo
Hoo hoo hoo hoo

Maybe the owls were hooting:
Who cooks for you?

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

Were the witches and wizards
Not stalking him too?

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

Sometimes he heard dogs bark
Sometimes there was some grunting

Jackals howled and snakes hissed
Lions roared but he was undeterred

At times the night`s darkness
Was blinding and confusing

But Bonani groped for the path
And rummaged through the bushes

Sometimes the rivers were flooded
Sometimes the rain pounded

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

His destination kept his heart
Beyond the hills and valleys

Beyond the streams and rivers
Someone had stolen his heart

Ember

IMG_0440Ember

Aileen Santos

 

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

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

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

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

The Bombardier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bombardier

John Repp

Twelve O’Clock High, 1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Cows

Understanding Cows

C.S. Lemprière

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I guess.”

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

“I guess.”

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

“I guess.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell happened here?” said Dad.

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

“What cow?” said Dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will, she’ll calm down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, it’s never going to work.”

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

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

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

“I can stay with Grampa,” I said.

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

“What’s the hurry?” said Grampa.

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

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

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

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

Grandmother

Burach and wife - Version 2Grandmother

Aileen Santos

 

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

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

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

dystopian fragments
of hard silver buckles

the balm on my bruises
the kiss on my temple.

But even Amazons fear their own mothers

IMG_2048

But even Amazons fear their own mothers

Gabriella Garofalo

 

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

Today was Embarrassing Enough

Today was Embarrassing Enough
Lori Ann Bloomfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rachel!” His voice went high with surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy looked so aghast that Rachel said yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Insurance, actually,” Rachel said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy stared down stonily at his fingernails.

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

“I already have one.”

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

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

“You don’t look alike,” Andy hissed.

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

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

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

The two men exchanged a wary look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We weren’t arguing,” Andy insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy watched Sully leave then took a sip of coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stuff of Fairy Dust

The Stuff of Fairy Dust

A Memoir by Karen Wright

I am utterly alone, in Taos, New Mexico, in a barren, dusty field off the back porch of a motel where I’ve stayed on previous trips. Alone, I am home, asleep and dreaming. The sun shines in a cloudless, transparent blue sky. Sagebrush dots the landscape. The land is dry, dusty, the dirt devoid of nutrients. This is typical southwestern soil. Take any paint of a bold, primary color, add enough dry, southwestern dirt, and the result is a muted color–cozy, warm, welcoming, safe, secure. These are the colors of Taos. These are the colors that summoned and inspired numerous artists, including Ernest Blumenschein, Andrew Dasburg, Nicolai Fechin, and Georgia O’Keeffe. These are the colors that keep me coming back in my waking life. These are the colors, thick with the stuff of antiquity and primal dust, that beckon me in this dream state.

Dreaming in Taos colors and drawn to its soil, glistening with energies felt and unseen, I think about my husband Alan, the love of my lifetimes. I etch memories of our time together in the dust, my impromptu canvas. When I finish, I kneel down and gently gather each stroke, each memory, placing the collection in a locked chest of golden memories, and tuck it away for another day. In waking life, Alan is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed nine months after we were married, six short years ago. It was the second marriage for both of us, but the glue uniting us has an other-worldly strength that cured the moment we met.

I have been Alan’s caregiver from the beginning, and I will be his caregiver to the end and beyond, if such a thing is possible. Still, watching this gentle, sweet man being robbed of his life, of our new life together, is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Holding his hand and whispering tales of love, surrender, and gratitude, watching him slip away, has taken its toll on me, has brought me to remember and cherish each shining jewel of our life together. I can do nothing to stop this transition, his passage. His remaining time here is short, and I am coming undone.

Continue reading The Stuff of Fairy Dust

The Fisherman’s Life

The Fisherman’s Life

Andrew Scott

Out here living the Fisherman’s Life
watching the ever-changing tide
waiting for the full catch of the day

Daily I make this trip
to bring home money to run the home
I do not get as much as I used to
the fish are not as plentiful as years before
more boats trolling for the same find
different currents have taken a lot

the processors are not paying for our loads
they say the warehouses are overflowing
so we get half of what everything is worth
leads to longer hours just to face the family

I have to start before the sky is visible now
just to get enough to keep the beat
it is an old boat handed through generations
never know if it can withstand another nor’easter
every man’ s fear out in these unpredictable waters
not to be thrown to the bottom of the unforgiving current
like so many others have to never be found

So many thoughts out there
in the loneliness of the Fisherman’s Life

Tea and Symphony

 

Tea and Symphony

Marcia Goldberg

 

Give these poems a Third Symphony sound, Shostakovich.
I want a shrill whistle to shriek over a trestle
after the ending in each line with cargo of heavenly hooks
so majestic they’ll provide seduction for our Magic Kingdom family.
Call more folks to come right down, from Pakistan or India,
some city I’ve never seen, say Bombay, where the race for progeny
and feast of gluttony no less than the race for arms
has put us on the down-slide track Inside the seventh ring of an Inferno.
Shostakovich, here too, in the west, human traffic bleeds
all  over dreams we started at tea parties where we couldn’t guess
if nobody talks about limitations, sticks with banalities of short hauls,
pleasantries that connect lives envisioning no petroleum spills
blasting three hundred souls to a premature Eternity when unregulated
trains without night watchmen or brakes slam Into pubs after midnight.

Expose the hushed truths about battered women, sexually transmitted disease,
the psyche twisted by promiscuity, complicity in the talk talk arms race,
nuclear testing, dumping, stockpiling.  Wait!  That’s not even the short list.
Share first hand stories  of abortions, rape, incest, insanity, alcoholism,
indigenous people displaced, molested in their schools, and growing old,
turned away at the thrift store!  Mark drummed crescendos, clashing cymbals
to make a way to fix our world more energetic, and put a smile in here
because we have to laugh, want to think we’re rail hopping, tramp style,
Boxcar Berthas shrieking “It just ain’t good enough.”  Give us success

stories and dining cars, food stops, alternatives to beheadings, martial
evacuations, drone-driven air bombs and millions of refugees
helter-skelter starving, freezing, filthy without water.  Give us
our daily destinations to rejoice in what the Maker’s made
to avert stupid resentments—Shostakovich!—a better understanding
of the limits, generally, a better map before another train-full

gets that trapped feeling.  Let us hear the harrowing sounds of being stuck
in the chunnel under the English Channel and wake up!  Play asphyxiation
for our failure to recognize the sounds of false teas, illusionary teas,
mad tea parties forbidding travel to us, as indulgence for the rich.  We must go
if only in our heads! Bring back soft love!  Hard love like hard energy’s not
all that pays.  Bring the light clamoring lest we let misspent time bring us in cahoots
with terrorists out to finish us off with a dull thud.  Help us orchestrate
the truth in one woman’s Om to see her prayer to Mother Earth Mary Maimonides
is just another of the unnamed names of Hashem–What a girl! I’m thinking,
come down here, Girl, come look at us ride away on a bicycle
in the middle of a stronger challenge braced for such a situation, hoping
all the others who want to join may bring along the bison bone soup
and Turkey Tail Mushroom Tea to fight the cancer, shouting, “Freedom!
Freedom from catastrophe!”  as if the only breath we had left
after all-night arctic dancing that has steamed the lot of us, kettlelike,
might kick off a noisy protest against this learned, deliberate darkness.

I Call Your Name

I Call Your Name

Newton Smith

 

Before dawn I begin naming
the ten thousand things, one-
by-one, touching each with my mind
as they take their place in this world.
Orion, Cassiopeia, the moon hanging
like a scimitar over the horizon’s edge,
and the milky swoosh arching over,
all these find their places in the predawn sky.
Soon I call the crow out of the black nest
and the jay, blue against the rose light.
Then come the tall pines, needles and cones
and bark plates blackened from last year’s fire.
The soft whisper of the wind
rustling the dry oak leaves
and stirring the spiny holly
waken with the early light.
When the sun comes up, my words rush
to fill the land and space with forms,
lines, and shadows defining each thing
with its proper name and lineage.
Where are you in all these words?
I call your name to awake you
from the lures of the dark night.
I call your name. Come to me.

 

Dylan Thomas at the Whitehorse

IMG_0797Dylan Thomas at the Whitehorse

John Grey

We go there –
the Whitehorse –
to indulge ourselves
in the very same place
where Dylan Thomas claimed
to have knocked back
18 straight whiskies.

A lie of course.
In his shape,
half that amount
would have dropped him
like an uppercut.

But maybe
he scribbled some lines
on an napkin just like this one.
Or he farted and belched
and the stench hasn’t quite
removed itself from the cloistered air.

It’s romantic to suffer from
a fatty liver, swelling brain,
and gout and chest pains
and still summon up the bravado,
the fury, the fight,
to rouse, out of their
schoolmarm Keats and Wordsworth,
a couple of neophyte poets
who weren’t even born at the time.

We go there –
the Whitehorse –
celebrate the myth
as much as the reality –
a couple of beers each,
but so many more
to tell the folks back home.

Vic Vogel Jazz Stories

Vic Vogel Jazz Stories

Julie De Belle

A translation from the original work by Marie Desjardins

1

I have been playing with Vic Vogel for over thirty years, since 1979, started at the end of a tour with Offenbach. My training is classical: 15 years with Les Grands Ballets, 15 years with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra, and also as a member of the band La Bottine Souriante, so Vic taught me a lot. He is my musical father. The man has played alongside Miles Davis, Duke Ellington… knows the music of the 30’s and 50’s. His signature is his spontaneity, his astounding knowledge of repertoire and his talent for playing pieces in all 12 tones. Vic is astonishingly flexible. He is a legend in spite of the fact that he is not as well known outside of Montreal.

Bob Ellis, bass trombone

Nightlife was at its best in Montreal. It was an era born from prohibition in the United States, an era that would last half a century, from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. At the time, in every club, American and European stars were performing and having fun in what was then the very capital of music. The red light district was alive, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Women and men were elegantly dressed and every evening felt like a world premiere. Talent, love for music, rivalry and after-hour jam sessions shared the same banner, sparkling within the fireworks of guns, evening dresses and tailored suits that mingled in good faith in smoke-filled rooms, along with the wheeling and dealing, the sentimental intrigues. These were the surroundings that gave birth to Vic.

Vic Vogel, piano player.

Vic Vogel, a musician of Hungarian origin, but a Montrealer in his heart and soul.

This raging world was his home, his second skin, his amusement park where he navigated with great ease, from bar to bar, from cabarets to ballrooms, hotels and restaurants, in spite of his youth and a lingering shyness. Vic quickly learned to make his way – not without growling at times -in order to go beyond rejection or avoid the jealousy and pettiness in which rejection festered. He had quickly understood that all in all, one had to have self-confidence to survive an environment where a smile could foreshadow a sting and a sullen look, conceal admiration. He understood that the audience’s applause, the handshakes with bar owners and contract renewals were often worth more than some recognition written in some big name newspaper. Applause spoke louder than some compliment over the radio and certainly more than a slap on the back from a fellow pianist with whom one shared the fees, give or take some exceptions. In reality, there was enough work for everyone, the gifted and the less gifted, twenty-four-seven.

One Christmas Eve – he was then seventeen – Vic had managed to save up enough money, after all this time of piano playing in bars, he covered his parents’ bed with one dollar bills: a blanket of money. Having earned so much, at such a young age, and at night, was mindboggling. But for Mathias and Emilia, this was worrisome. Suddenly, they understood that all the day jobs in the world, at Birks or at the plant at Mitchell’s, and then Canadair, would rake in less money in a year than a few monthly shows on stage. However, Vic was proud and so happy to be able to counsel his parents to use the money to pay off the mortgage on their house. The Vogels had never seen so much money in their lives. And this was not a dream…

The sometime difficult prodigal child was profoundly loyal, generous, loving and discrete. One evening, while he was performing at the Montmartre Café on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, he recognized a familiar face in the room: his father’s. His father was dancing with another woman. Vic said nothing… because he was discreet. Clearly, Vic’s values were elsewhere, deeply-rooted values that would not change with success, because success can get to people, go to their heads. The night of the dollar bill bedspread had been a lesson in life. Emilia didn’t take a chance; she would not let the opportunity slip by. She had taken hold of her son’s arm and, while thanking him, begged him never to talk about the money. To no one. To avoid envy.

Vic would never forget his mother’s advice.

Whether he followed it or not.

Translated from VIC VOGEL HISTOIRES DE JAZZ, Marie Desjardins, Éditions du Cram, collection Portrait, 2013.

Excavation

Õ
Õ

Excavation

Sophia Wolkowicz

 

At the bus stop where I wait, is a fenced off construction site
of what was once, an old age home.
Feel free to use the euphemism of your choice, however
wrecking balls and bulldozers are oblivious
to names given to brick structures.
In its place, a billboard advertisement gives promise to
‘sophisticated’ housing units going up
in prompt completion.
Feel free to name the development as you wish-
not that the previous building was worth saving:
Its darkened lobby was flanked with a caged parakeet, plastic hyacinths,
a paneled trough filled with dollar store tinsel, and, color marker displays heralding
upcoming festivities.
The residents who were still fortunate to totter by
my glass shielded bus shelter, would extend courtly greetings
in my direction.
They were mostly women, wearing print shift dresses and
the wispy curls of their hair, were hedged by parts.
For an assigned time, I had occasion to make acquaintance with them
in a designated basement craft room where
sunbeams and athletic shoes stole past the window view.
These participants had once been secretaries and engineers,
homemakers and teachers and by decades they
had arrived to this place to knead clay, grasp paintbrushes,
string beads and paste cut up images from magazines
to create forms that were remnants of what they did,
who they were or wished they would become.
It is said that artifacts can teach us about humanity.
Feel free to refer to a parallel existence as you wish, nonetheless
amidst the rubble of excavation, accidental discoveries
are sometimes made that converge with a valued culture.
Pools of water now collect in the crater landscape behind my stop.
The ripples reflect fast moving clouds and for a moment
I can see the previous dwellers gazing at the ponds with genuine delight.
Where I wait, there is no spot to record how it all looked beforehand-
about gentler souls and places that stand for home.

Charity Case

Charity Case

Howie Good

1

Swallowing a handful of pills solves every problem, although I didn’t necessarily want it that way. Nearby is another me that I can’t see but that sees me. It’s impossible when looking around not to imagine some prior tragedy, all the deserted cities the jungle overgrew. Whatever happened to the right to be lazy? I try to tell myself that if less is more, then nothing must be even more. A woman outside the Stop & Shop is collecting money in a can, her eyes like rusted bullet holes.

2

You look up from what you’re doing, interrupted by a chain of thunderstorms moving through the region, something that might mean something, broken people and animals, and the way they stand, and the trouble they get in. The wallpaper pattern repeats the image of a body hanging from a lamp post. It sounds horrifying, but that’s the idea. You and everyone else have begun to suffer the effects. Often eyes become red. So I press my eyes shut. This is wrong, I say and keep saying until my voice gives out.

3

A farmer and his wife, after their horse dies, want to carry machine guns so they can intimidate passing motorists. They go immediately to a lawyer. No skin off my ass. In the United States we have a curious relationship to death – a very crazy old man, unanchored by horizons, riding on a cloud beyond the beyond, where simple words look like galaxies.

4

Some years are bright and funky – and even reportedly saved a man’s life once. But she had a sad little funeral. It was rainy. It was all wrong. And I was thinking, God, she loved life so much, everything in the world, including the air. Like the Sufis say, “Life is a dream, and death is waking up.” Not that anyone will.

Source for #4: Allison Meier, “The Funeral of Artists” at <http://hyperallergic.com/179082/the-funerals-of-artists&gt;

Giuseppa’s wedding

Giuseppa’s wedding

Ilona Martonfi

It is said these are ancestors who come
during nissuin
– ceremony under a huppa
veiling of the bride

Hebrew blessing
recited for Giuseppa Mulè

here in this manor,
Baglio di Baarìa, Sicilia
gate of the winds –
slopes of Mount Catalfamo.

A mother-in-law’s secret family history
passed down over 500 years
the groom will present a gold ring

break a glass under his foot
left together alone in this chamber

skeletons around a bride
on a raised chair
the hóra circle folk dance

i morti –the dead
act out scenes from their lives:
weavers, potters, and dyers
blacksmiths and silver smiths

paint carob wood boxes,
boxes with two hinged gates:
duality of Crypto-Jewish life
on the inside a skeletal family
light a menorah on Friday night.

Sit shiva on a low stool
say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer

Giuseppa’s eldest daughter
died of fever aged one.

Out of Place

Seurat Sunday on the LakeOut of Place

Kenneth P. Gurney

She kissed me a little less enthusiastically
than I wished for a Saturday night,
but her kiss’s voracity
would have been perfect for a Sunday
afternoon in a Seurat painting,
though her little black dress
would have been out of place
among the parasols
and the boats on the lake.

A Day in Three Parts

A Day in Three Parts

Jill Talbot

A Night in the McDonald’sIMG_0238

Half expecting to be kicked out, I wrote this out expecting to be drained, forgiven, but all that came was more of the same, until I’m sorry for being sorry and have forgotten why. For whatever I did, I apologize, profusely, out of the flesh of seedy bars. I have become one of those people who talks to themselves in McDonald’s and goes to church in the bathroom. The taste of regret, smell of fat and Barbie Girl playing, that hugely sexist pop song of the nineties we all hated to love and loved to hate, like McDonald’s at midnight.

Sort of like being in a fishbowl—the decorations—obviously for the people looking in and not its inhabitants and incredibly unnatural; so unnatural one does not know any longer how to behave. I could try suing McDonald’s for coffee that is too hot as that woman did down south. Sue the mechanic, the zoo, sue BC ferries. Find the missing parts in McDonald’s parking lots. Except the coffee isn’t hot at all—it tastes like charcoal and lukewarm soup. Everything is greasy in the ghetto.

The McDonald’s has been closed for an hour, if I leave I won’t be able to return. For the third time my life was saved by the cost of missed ferries and cell phone chargers. I’m going back to the mechanic.

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A Day at Horseshoe Bay

What do you get if you write, “I’m sorry” a million times over? Would it mean more had you written it once? Does it make a difference if it’s hand-written, typed individually or copy pasted? Am I sorry the way Bill Clinton was or am I sorry the way his Hillary was? Am I sorry the way the caught robber was or the way the maker of the Titanic was? Stuck in a long lineup the damn truck held us all back.

A man once jumped off a Horseshoe Bay bound ferry, said that he wanted to get to a basketball game on time, they kept him in the psych ward only overnight. Sometimes I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Might call it a death drive but—perhaps—he just wanted to swim. Perhaps he time travelled and thought he was on the Titanic. Perhaps he was a physicist who could prove it’s possible to be in two places at once.

Maybe he was tired of BC ferries announcements or the smell of White Spot. Maybe he was a polar bear in disguise. Maybe he needed an alibi. Maybe he wanted to be written about by people like me who have nothing to do but wonder why people don’t jump and why they do. Maybe he wanted to visit a psych ward. Which are, by the way, overrated. I jumped once, too.

A Morning with the Mechanic

Snooze. “The fucking fuck is fucking fucked.” I’ve heard two people quote a mechanic that way. One was a famous poet, the other, something less noble, which is really more noble, don’t you think? Both were from saw mills where being fucking fucked was a daily occurrence. I wonder if it was the same mechanic or if this is just a new language.

This is the language I use for my alarm clock—amongst other things, such as Canada Post and feral turkeys. The clock replies with something similar so we both begin our day in such a way. No wonder the truck is fucking fucked. Karma’s a bitch.

Gay Christians

Gay Christians

William Miller

 

Gay Christians parade
up Dauphine Street.

It’s a rainbow double
line: black, white, Cajun
with Indian blood.

A marching band,
bass drum and wild horns,
leads them all.

They mix gospel
with Cher and Lady Ga-Ga,
play their own
funky jazz.

Church people threaten
them with hell fire,
unless they repent
right here, right now …

They ignore their critics
as more people, far more,
clap and whistle for them.

A young guy shouts out.
“Was Jesus gay?”

His lover wraps his
arm around his neck,
kisses the boy
on top of his head.

But the question lingers
in the air …

The Bible never says
if Jesus was gay or straight.

He could have had
a boyfriend who went
with him to raise
the dead, heal
a passing leper …

They are dancing now,
joyful, silly, and saved
for all time.

Near Canal, the parade
starts to break up,
but one last bigot shouts:

“Jesus died for my sins
but not yours!”

Laughter is the reply,
though some wave as
if they knew the man—
the same God
made them all.

Danielle’s Dog Tags

Danielle’s Dog Tags

Ruth Z. Deming

 

A good postal team at the
19040 post office in
Hatboro, Pennsylvania, so-named
for the hats they made
in the American revolution
thousands perished but are
forgotten in this little town
no one’s ever heard of.

How quickly we forgive
the Brits, we slurp their
tea in fine Royal Albert
China, pinkies lifted

Danielle of the page boy
shining black hair I have
never seen at the post office
her short sleeved blue blouse
reveals a pair of jangling
dog tags upon her breast
A loved one, I am certain,
has died in one of our wars
most likely in the Afghan or Iraq
where we send our black men
to die instead of cherishing
these descendents of our
“peculiar institution” and
helping them become
architects or doctors or wealthy
entrepreneurs, it’s
only right

Danielle tells me
with a shy smile
her gleaming
teeth white as a
pearl necklace
that he is a victim
of another one of
America’s peculiar atrocities.
Her black brother was
shot
shot dead
by a sniper’s fire
not overseas
but here in Philadelphia
in what we call a
drive-by shooting
black turning on black,
cannibalization

“The worst day in my
mother’s life,” she smiles
her eyes brimming
like a river overflowing
Thirty-five. His whole life
before him. Danielle’s dog tags
clink together
a Hail Mary full of
grace, or
chimes on the old
clock tower tolling
twelve times
lest we forget
lest we forget.

A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

Larry Lefkowitz

coelacanth-blue-990x366

I prefer my Tel Aviv from the vintage days – before the upper crust skyscrapers disturbed the eyes and the hype the ears, and most of all, before the arrival of the glitzy marina. I berth my skiff wherever I find a bit of sand on the shore that hasn’t yet been taken for private development. Nobody disturbs the boat — it’s been around so long they know it’s mine — vintage, like me. I make it a point to fish with my back to the skyscrapers, facing the horizon.

Usually it takes me a while to catch the first fish. But that day as I sat in the skiff on the sea, they simply weren’t biting. Changing bait, changing fishing spots – gornisht. “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook?” asks Job. I would settle for a fish far smaller than leviathan, I mused — and then the fish jumped into the boat. I pounced on him before he could jump out of the boat. “Wait long enough and they come to you,” I shouted triumphantly the old fisherman’s wisdom.

He turned out to be a disappointingly small fish, though a pretty one – a type I had never seen before — with gold scales that put those of your aquarium goldfish in the shade. I picked him up to toss him back. He was too small for frying.

“Don’t do that,” the fish pleaded. “Not before using your three wishes.”

A talking fish. Trouble. If you tell people a talking fish jumped into your boat, even bait-sellers will give you the fish eye.

Continue reading A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

Said July to an August Afternoon

Said July to an August Afternoon

Joy Carter

“Did you know
You’re pretty?”
Said July to an
August afternoon,
Burnt umber in its skies
Bite in its air
Holding in autumn
Clinging to summer sun
No expectations
Of a flawless fourth of July
Or sweat mixed
With chlorine on your skin
Dandelions burned in those days
In Pentwater, Michigan
As the skies, the lakes
Dried away
Along with my skin
Still too white
From long winters
Whiteness turning to pink, to red
A flaming sun spot, dotted
With constellations
Across nose and cheekbones.

Fishing in the Belly of the Whale

Humpback_whale_jumpingFishing in the Belly of the Whale

Joy Carter

I went fishing inside
the belly of a whale
just to see if I could find the bones
of a man one old book called Jonah
or the wreckage of the ship Ishmael sailed,
if he swallowed my religion,
if I could force him to vomit
his secrets of tomorrow, or yesterday
his sea stained eyes \\
so wise, so sad.
he held up the world and smiled so slow
I called him God,
he told me he saw the beginning,
the end too, and who was I
to call him Liar
while he lay beached, mouth wide
so I could fish in his belly,
old chair perched on his tongue
while he tasted the sand between my toes.

St. Agnes Hospital Final Tableau

St. Agnes Hospital Final Tableau

Gerard Sarnat

“When I am laid, am laid in earth,
May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”
— aria from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas

My conference with Dad’s oncologist and infectious disease doc
goes as expected: Nothing suggests the sepsis which declared itself

is resolving. We reconcile not to further biopsy his medicalized life,

what to stop, what to begin to diminish pain, make breathing easier.
Brother-in-law inserted next to my wife — we shapeshift, share roles

seeing Poppy through. At the helm of the bed, I channel how to lean in,

lay on hands, where to kiss, when to cry, back off, exhort, forgive, let go.
MD finger on MD wrist, his pulse slowing, I guide Daddy’s journey

then posit everyone but my sister head out. She says to me,

“Gerry, you’re the overpriced doctor, so remove his nasal prongs.”
Just wanting to be a Father’s dutiful son, fingering

the room’s wondrous but alien crucifix, I try to hedge,

“Why don’t you check at the nursing station first?” Unmoved,
Sis counters, “Let’s take off the oxygen together.” We strip tape

from Pa’s mottled forehead. Other tasks fall to me — cut off

DNR bracelets. Shave. Change his gown. Detach paraphernalia,
daub his cheek. Wheel Mother in for last time alone. Regather.

The Christians Arrived

The Christians Arrived

Michael Lee Johnson

Salvation Army and
the Christians arrived today,
Christmas, like every other Sunday morning
feed the homeless, chasing the rats from the bathroom,
basement, kicking the dead flies out of the corner spots
where the cat used to lounge-
clean the toilet bowl, a form of revival and resurrection.
I privately pastor to these desires though I myself am homeless.
I forgot what it’s like to be a poet of the cloth,
savior in street clothing with a warm home to blend into.
I watch them clamp the New Testament in one hand,
And pull a cancer stick out of the pocket with the other.
It’s all a matter of praising the Lord.
Everything is nonsense when you’re in a place where you don’t belong.
Even praying to Jesus from a dirty dusted pillow seems strange and bewildering.
Someday I will walk from this place and offer spare meals by myself to others;
feed the party in between the theology, the bingo of sins and salvation.
I forgot the taste of a Stromboli Sandwich with a six pack of Budweiser
with or without the Chicago Bears – it would make every Sunday a Salvation
Army holiday.
Today is a fairy creating miracles from the dust of the floor
multiplying fish and chips, baked ham, ribs with sauce Chi-Town type,
dark color of greens and veggies tip me to the Christian
clock on the wall peeking down on lost and unsaved.
I feel like a fragment.
A birth date the way again to begin, fragmented.
Pinto beans mixed with graffiti fingers,
Christians arrived on Christmas day-
they always do every Sunday morning.
I pastor to these desires.
It’s all a matter of praising the Lord.
The Christians arrived today.

Breakup Haiku

Breakup Haiku

Virginie Colline

the intimate words
they should or shouldn’t have heard
the lessons they learn

nothing specific
a minor change in the air
her phantom has left

yet another tear
cracking the rosy façade
demolition ball

suitcase on the mat
his own tabula rasa
in the nascent sun

Girl in “hygge” refugee hut

Crackling_Fire

Girl in “hygge” refugee hut

Ilona Martonfi

In the mountains on the
other side of a fjord
winter solstice, 60 degrees north,
where the sun sets before four
one room timber cabin, attic loft
Magyar refugee family from Budapest

what’s hygge about grandmother’s
homemade lingonberry compote?

hygge at Yuletime
it sounds like “hYOOguh
–it’s even harder to translate
now that we have a name for it
–warmth, togetherness, family
and in the Nordic darkness unaware
five children, four girls and one boy
we’re hygge’ing right now
around an oak table for a meal:
spiced meatballs. Potatoes, carrots and cabbage.
For all of you to cuddle around the woodstove
on a December evening.
Ah, så koselig –so cozy.

Laced ankle boots, wool mittens
tobogganing on a snowy hill

tucked under sheepskin,
sipping tin cup of hot cocoa,
hygge by curling up on a bench
with a fairy tale book
mother brought from the old country,

teddy bear, a rocking horse
the glow of a log fire

spruce bright with white candles.

 

 

writing from the soul and the mind

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