Cassandra Dunn - The Diplomacy of Marriage

  Theresa lay awake and listened. The drip of a faucet, maybe the one in the guest bathroom. The bark of a dog in the distance, possibly Misty chasing off raccoons. Abby fussing, then settling, next door, the poor thing still struggling with her cold. Theresa struggled to sleep, counting the minutes that ticked past on the grandfather clock in the hallway. She had almost relaxed enough to drift off when the baby kicked inside her, a sharp elbow or knee jab to her bladder. She went to the bathroom, then returned to bed, unable to get comfortable in any position. She watched Drake, sleeping peacefully, snoring softly. His apnea kicked in and he took a strangled breath, then didn’t exhale. She counted the seconds. After six seconds she elbowed him. He rolled languidly onto his side, his breathing returning to normal. The clock ticked on.

          Morning came slowly, the sun snaking its way over the hills, the pool of sunlight spreading until it touched every house in the valley. Theresa was jolted awake by the sound of Drake’s electric razor. She buried her head under the pillow, but it was no use.

          “Hey hon. Sleep well?” Drake’s lips found the back of her neck.

          “Mmm.”

          “Should we go out to breakfast?”

          Theresa struggled to sit up, her eyes refusing to open against the sunlight. Drake had opened the drapes and cracked the windows. A chilled breeze fluttered her hair. Abby began to cry, no doubt woken by the electric razor. At seventeen months, Abby was the lightest sleeper in the house. Theresa had learned to creep down hallways to avoid squeaky boards, carefully closing doors so the latch didn’t click, and worried about Drake’s snoring waking her. Drake lived life as if they had no baby to wake. But then again, when Abby woke in the night, it was Theresa who had to get up and soothe her back to sleep. Drake always got a full night’s rest. Abby had been up from 3-5am, congested and cranky, exhausted, but unable to sleep. Theresa had been up right along with her, trying all of the worthless home remedies: vapor rub, humidifier, saline spray. Eventually Abby had cried herself back to sleep, too exhausted to care that she couldn’t breathe.

          Theresa rubbed her round belly, hoping this next baby would be a more sound sleeper.

          “Hop in the shower. I’ll get Abby up.” Drake headed to the baby’s room, then downstairs. Theresa nodded but didn’t move. Morning people. She’d never understood them. She’d never been able to partake in their joy at seeing a new day dawn. Late, quiet nights were her refuge. Morning was an abrupt ending to her reverie. Sleepless nights made mornings even less bearable. Sleeping in was a long forgotten luxury, and the pregnancy made her crave rest. Just a few minutes would be heaven.

Downstairs, Abby started crying. Theresa heard Drake on the stairs, heading up to her for help. She lunged out of bed and into the bathroom, turning on the shower as she undressed. When he found her, she shrugged.

“You’ll have to keep her until I’m done.”

“I think the steam might help her sinuses.”

And so Abby was shut in the room with Theresa as she showered. Abby cried and  clung to the shower curtain, begging for Theresa to pick her up. Theresa rushed through the routine, forgetting to use conditioner. She had a hard time getting the comb through her hair as she perched Abby on one hip. Downstairs, she could hear Drake listening to music. She pictured him reading the paper and relaxing, untroubled by her and Abby’s needs, and sighed.

          Drake whistled as he drove. Whistled. Some show tune. Sinatra? Fly Me to the Moon. It was all a bit excessive, so early on a Saturday. Theresa fought the cobwebs and tried to find a lighter mood. She loved Drake’s simple pleasures. Adored his ability to see a sunny day after a rainy week as the most joyous of events. Well, most of the time. Once she’d had her morning coffee it was usually easier to appreciate him. These days, stuck on decaf, it was harder to pull out of the morning gloom. She glanced at Abby in the back seat, carefully shaking Cheerios out of her snack cup, filling her car seat with them.

          “Your mom called while you were in the shower,” Drake announced.

          “What did she want?”

          “Didn’t say.”

          “Did you tell her I’d call her back?”

          “Nope, just said you weren’t around.”

          “Thanks.”

          “You know, you can’t avoid her forever.”

          “Watch me.”

          Drake also had a normal family. They supported each other without question, had disagreements where nobody got excommunicated, and never avoided each other for weeks on end over…Theresa could barely even remember what. Some rude comment, comparing her to her sister. As usual, Jenny had come out on top. It wasn’t Jenny’s fault that every characteristic she had ranked on their mother’s list of perfect qualities. Theresa was careful never to blame Jenny for their mother’s preference. Jenny talked to their mom every Sunday without fail, and frequently emailed her during the week. If being perfect required that kind of devotion, Jenny could have it. Theresa preferred the freedom of being the black sheep.

          “What do you want to do today?” Drake settled into the booth and scoured the menu. Silly, since he always ordered the same thing. Theresa struggled to get Abby into her highchair. Unnecessary, since she wouldn’t be eating. Abby was the quintessential picky eater. She’d had milk and few bites of banana when she woke up, and had hopefully eaten some of those Cheerios in the car. Theresa knew Abby would refuse anything the restaurant had to offer.

          “We could take Abby to the Children’s Museum.”

          Drake gestured outside with an incredulous look. Right. The first sunny day in weeks. Not a day for an indoor activity.

          “Or take a hike somewhere,” she offered.

          “That sounds good. We can call Jerry and Louise, see if they want to join us. Pack a picnic lunch, make a day of it.”

          The waitress smiled when she saw them, or saw Drake anyway. She tucked her notepad into her pocket as she approached.

          “Coffee, OJ, ham scramble, wheat toast,” she said to Drake, then glanced at Theresa, “and decaf with blueberry pancakes?”

          “French toast,” Theresa corrected, “with strawberries.” She liked to keep them guessing.

          After breakfast they picked up sandwiches at a café next door and settled in the car. Theresa’s coffee sloshed in her stomach, giving her a sense of impending acid reflux, but the small dose of caffeine was finally kicking in, and she almost felt as happy as Drake looked. Drake unfolded a map of the area and searched for a new place to explore. Theresa, bolstered by a wave of delight at having such a sunny day in February, chose a rugged, hilly place where she knew the trails would be steep and they’d get a real workout. Drake left Jerry and Louise a message with their plans, and drove toward the wilderness area.

          They laced up their hiking boots, which had been living in the trunk of the car all winter, and selected a trail. Abby was loaded into the jogging stroller, refilled cup of Cheerios in one hand and a sippy cup of apple juice in the other. She had eaten one bite of French toast, two strawberry slices, and chewed up, then spat out, a bite of egg. Abby had a doctor’s appointment for a vaccine booster in a month, and weighing her was part of the exam. Theresa knew she had to get some weight on her before then, or she’d be resuming the monthly weight checks until Abby had finally put on enough weight to convince the pediatrician there was nothing wrong with her. Theresa had tried everything: cookies, donuts, French fries, milk shakes, but Abby just wasn’t interested in food with calories. She never touched meat, cheese, egg, yogurt, or sweets, and subsisted entirely on milk, fruit, Cheerios, and steamed broccoli. The pediatrician always praised Abby for eating vegetables, even as he requested another follow-up appointment to make sure she gained a little weight.

          A short way into the hike, Theresa panting heavily under the extra weight of the pregnancy, the baby inside her rocked to sleep by her steady step, they heard a low whistle, and turned to see Jerry and Louise behind them. Louise strode with her long legs, quickly closing the gap. Jerry alternately ran and walked slowly, distracted every few seconds by some plant just off the trail or a bird soaring overhead.

          “Hey mama, how are you?” Louise folded Theresa into her long, tanned arms, a souvenir from their recent trip to Hawaii. Louise, a mother of two grown children, took more enjoyment in Theresa’s pregnancies than anyone else. Louise rested her hands low on Theresa’s belly and smiled. “Lulled to sleep, huh?”

          Jerry made faces at Abby until he got the squeal he was seeking, then offered to take over pushing the jogger, his outstretched arms suddenly withdrawn as something caught his attention.

          “Are those morels?” Jerry wandered off the trail, slowly circling a pine tree, poking in the mat of needles beneath it.

          “I’ll push her. Jerry’ll drive her off into the woods on his search for mushrooms.” Louise nudged Drake aside and began pushing Abby with effortless strides up the gravel trail.

          Drake fell into step beside Theresa, his hand resting on her lower back. She was breathing hard, and he watched her a little too closely. She smiled to reassure him, and he grinned back, nodded, then took off. Drake was not a leisurely walker. He pulled ahead of Louise, then broke into a little trot until he’d crested the hill.

          Theresa made it up the hill, dragging up the rear behind everyone else, but proud of her accomplishment. Still able to hike, while five months pregnant. She was taking her body a little more seriously this time around, now that she’d experienced the post-baby slack skin and saggy belly once. She wanted to stay toned and firm in the hopes of bouncing back after this baby. She wasn’t getting any younger, after all, and she kept hearing from her mother how much harder it got to lose weight the older you got.

Drake set up the camera on Abby’s jogger, posed them all for a nice photo with the vast sweeping hills and bay behind them. Louise held Abby, Jerry held up a handful of morels, and Drake rested his arm around Theresa’s shoulders. All seemed at peace in their world, and they had the photo to prove it.

          It was just two days later that Theresa got the call from her OB, that there had been something on the last ultrasound, a shadow on the baby’s heart.

          “Nothing to worry about, yet. We’ll bring you in for a level two ultrasound. Check it out more thoroughly.”

          Yet? Why had she dropped that particular word into the conversation? Theresa tried to stay calm, to stay focused on caring for Abby, to trust Drake and his insistence that there was nothing to worry about. How he could be so nonchalant about the whole thing while she was a bundle of nerves was beyond her. But then again, he wasn’t the one pregnant, feeling the baby moving all day. To him, the baby didn’t really exist until it was born, but Theresa was already completely attached to this child, and needed everything to be fine.

          The morning of the ultrasound, Louise came over to watch Abby. Drake, it turned out, wouldn’t be coming to the appointment. Some meeting, he’d said, that he just couldn’t miss. Theresa tried not to hold it against him, but she disagreed that a business meeting trumped their baby’s health, and her need for him at her side. She called Jenny to come with her, and Jenny was happy for the chance to ditch work and join her. As soon as Theresa saw Jenny in the parking lot at the hospital, her bright green eyes flashing and strawberry blonde hair trailing behind her, she knew this was how it was supposed to be. There were some experiences that you just needed another woman’s support for.

          Jenny held Theresa’s hand as the tech guided the ultrasound wand across Theresa’s round belly, taking picture after picture, not just of the baby’s heart, but of everything. The technician wasn’t the chatty type, she was all business with her straight spine and high bun. Theresa disliked her instantly, so she focused instead on Jenny’s peaches and cream complexion, the faint array of freckles Jenny always tried to hide under foundation, her red hair now softening to blonde.

          “When are you going to have one of these?” Theresa asked.

          Jenny wrinkled her dainty nose. “Never. I’ll just enjoy yours.”

          “Really?” It was the first Theresa had heard of this. As children Jenny had always wanted to play with babies, while Theresa was busy climbing things, building things, destroying things.

          Jenny shrugged. “Mark’s not sure he wants kids.”

          “But what do you want?”

          “Mark.” Jenny smiled, as if that settled it, but Theresa suddenly felt uneasy for them. Mark was a ridiculously handsome man, the type Theresa avoided, too good looking to be relaxed with. He doted on Jenny, was respectful and chivalrous with her. But denying her a chance to have children. That was a serious spot on his record.

          “Okay,” the tech said, finishing her task. “You can go use the restroom now. We’ll send these to your doctor, and she’ll contact you with the results.”

          “When?” Theresa asked. She’d expected to get some clear answers on the spot. The tech just shrugged and glanced at the clock.

          “Can you print out a couple of pictures for us?” Jenny asked. Theresa had completely forgotten.

         After several failed attempts, the tech was able to print two pictures, profiles of the baby, one close up of its head, another of its full body. It looked like it was sucking its thumb.

          “Could you tell the sex?” Theresa asked. “They couldn’t see last time.”

          “A girl,” the tech said. She looked Theresa in the eye for the first time, smiled, and left.

          Theresa hurried to the restroom, now desperate to rid herself of the half-gallon of water they’d made her drink before the exam. A girl. Two sisters. Like her and Jenny. She drove home, trying to hold onto this, knowing the sex of her baby, cutting the baby name game in half, but the unsettled feeling of not having the information she needed rode along with her, clouding everything else.

          “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Drake said for the tenth time. And for the tenth time Theresa felt like hurling some hard, heavy object at him. It wasn’t reassuring, his dismissal of her feelings, if that’s what he was going for. Pregnancy hormones don’t mix with stress, she decided, and kept her mouth shut, and her hands off the paperweight beckoning to her on the end table.

          Two long, harrowing days later, the OB finally called.

          “A healthy baby girl with a perfect heart. Are you excited?”

          “Yes,” Theresa said, but having had the wind knocked out of her days ago, she couldn’t make her lungs fill with fresh air just yet.

          “See?” Drake said, smug and playful, when she told him. She scooped Abby up and headed out back, to get away from him.

          She thought of Jenny and Mark, the perfect Ken and Barbie couple, and wondered if maybe they were onto something. Having babies didn’t add to your marriage so much as it challenged everything you had going. She glanced inside, wondering if Drake would ever apologize for not being more sensitive, more supportive, during those frightening days of doubt. He was watching TV, beer in hand, feet on the coffee table. Probably not.

          She turned back to Abby, who was running a steady loop, down the slide, up the ladder, down the slide, up the ladder, stirring up the freshly mown grass, the scent of spring fighting for purchase on this cool March day.

          “Baby, did you know you’re going to have a sister?”

          Abby paused at the top of the slide, her rosebud lips parted, thinking this over. Theresa pointed to her belly.

          “This baby. It’s a girl. Like you.”

          “Becca?” Abby said. Her little playmate’s name, who had just moved away, leaving both her and Theresa short a friend.

          “You want to name her Becca?” Theresa asked, laughing.

          “Becca!” Abby shouted.

          Theresa rubbed her belly, felt her strong baby girl push against her palm. “Okay, for now we’ll call her Becca.”

          Abby resumed her loop of climbing and sliding, and Theresa resumed her musings on family, on the strength you get from women that you just can’t count on from men. She was glad Abby would have a sister to stand beside her during her own hard times in the future. There was something in particular about family women, about blood relatives. They are the ones who, no matter how crappy you treat them, always let you come back. They don’t require the politeness or diplomacy of marriage.

          Theresa slid open the back door, fetched the phone, settled back down to watch Abby, and dialed her mother’s number.

 

Cassandra Dunn received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her stories have appeared in All Things GirlMidwest Literary Magazine's Bearing NorthRead Short FictionLiterary House ReviewThe MacGuffin, 322 Review, and Fix it Broken. Her website is cassandradunn.com.

Posted on December 16, 2013 .

Susan Meyers - "Damage," "Lure," and "The Cellist."

Damage

I

The southern edge of the world is named for fire--
Tierra del Fuego--not for its flames, but a lack thereof.
Blue, hard enough, becomes insufferable as heat.

Damage is always blue. Blue in the bruises
from childhood. Blue music for people who've lost things.
Blue is the pen that leaks at your desk. Blue, the mateless earring

in your drawer. In a blue land, Magellen wept tears of ice,
having discovered, at last, the passageway
that connects us all. Two months later

he was dead. Only fourteen men
returned to Portugal, swearing that no one
would ever repeat their journey.

II

Oxygen demands blue. On a glacial tour,
I learn that the bluest segments--the ones
most pocketed with air--are readiest to fall.

I imagine deeper ice. Unfisured and red.
Carrying color like an invisible rose.
We drink whiskey with flecks of iceburg,

watch men spear it like tough whales.
The boat rocks in silt-heavy water: unnatural blue.
Everyone is taking snapshots:

that complicated azure of faceted ice. How it breaks
and learns to swim, leaning into wind
to sift across the painted cara of the lake.

At its end, the shore so filled with twisted forms of ice
we think a whale has died. Huge arcs of blue
in the shape of bones: strange vertebrea off the bluest shores.

 

Lure

On an island off of Africa
men tempt fish toward their boats
with a song. Their voices shifting
the currents a little. The vibration
like a string, tangling.

Later, the fish, their speckled bellies
splayed across the flames. Bones
narrow as needles, or the light
between fingers. Do they regret?
Do they remember the sound, the pulse
in the water, quick and powerful
as blood? Or the canoe,
that terrible throat above them,
trailing its wide, white nets
like a prayer—

 

The Cellist

The physician’s hands move slow
as a mapmaker's, careful,
tracing down the ridges of your spine:
the groove of you
the precision of his touch.

So you come home trembling
from hands that know you
so well. Know
how to isolate pain.

*

Your cello dips at the core
the way a back dips, smooth,
or an ocean wave.

The wordlessness of it:
strings slim with possibility
wood waxed bright as apple skin.

And here—
a wrist held loose
but firm as a cedar branch
cautious with snow,
locating each note by touch
by the slight vibration of a string.

Susan Meyers, a Seattle native, has lived and taught in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Her work has recently appeared in CALYX, Dogwood, Terra Incognita, and The Minnesota Review, and it has been the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship. She teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Theresa Welford - The Port Wentworth Swimming Pool

I was taking photographs of human beings because they were real life and they were there in front of me and that was the reality….
--Eudora Welty, 1989

          Even before I opened the squeaky screen door, the pungent chlorine smell hit me in the face. The glass counter where we paid to get into the pool was where we also bought candy. Beyond that, the shower room had aqua plywood doors, puddles on the wavy concrete floor, single lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes, my friends and I stood under a hot shower until we couldn’t stand it any longer. Then we dashed outside and leapt, Tarzan-yelling, into the deep end, exhilarated by the contrast between the steaming-hot shower and the ice-cold pool water.
The jukebox played “Mony, Mony,” “Daydream Believer,” “Come on Down to My Boat, Baby,” “Venus,” “Sugar, Sugar.” And “Come Together”: “Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly / He got joo-joo eyeball he one holy roller / He got hair down to his knees / Got to be a joker he just do what he please.” Once, Mrs. Lincoln, the owner of the pool, paused at the cash register and asked, “What on earth is that fellow saying?” Despite the humidity, she always had a perfectly molded helmet of beauty-parlor curls.

_________

          In a 1989 interview, Eudora Welty said, “Making pictures of people in all sorts of situations, I learned that every feeling waits upon its gesture; and I had to be prepared to recognize this moment when I saw it.” She also said she felt the “need to hold transient life in words.”
Yes. That’s it exactly. Waiting upon that gesture, recognizing the moment, holding transient life in words

_________

          In the shallow end, Ivy and Regina and I plunged our heads face-first into the water, then straightened up as fast as possible while tossing back our long, dripping-wet hair. The result was a goofy backwards flip on our foreheads. We thought we were hilarious.
One day, Ivy stood on the diving board, tested it, made it bounce up and down, and said, “Okay! I’ll dive in! First let me count to three!” But she didn’t dive. She walked back to the wrong end of the board. And then she went back to the business end, curled her toes around the edge, and said, “Now I’m ready! Just let me count to ten!” And then she did it again. And again. She kept trying, kept losing her nerve. Until, finally, everyone went back to what they were doing – paddling, sunbathing, horseplaying – and quit watching her.

_________

          I got a new bathing suit every summer. The flowered bikini with the ruffle-edged apron is the one I remember most vividly. Every time I dove into the pool, the bottoms slipped down, pretty much to my knees. All of my bikini bottoms, all of them, failed me like that. And every time, I stayed beneath the water long enough to cover myself up, then kicked my way to the surface, climbed out, and got back in line for the diving board.
That board, with its firm spring and its sandpaper surface, mottled with years of mold and dirt, was my favorite place, back in those summer days, days so hot and humid that waves shimmered in the air. Leaving the wet-dog heat and acrid air of that South Georgia factory town and plunging into icy-cold water: nothing will ever be more refreshing.
If my mom was there, and if I had a new trick – or even if I didn’t – I called out, “Mama! Mama! Look! Look at me!” Again and again, I tried not to arch my back too much, not to let my feet splay apart, not to make a big splash. But I also cut some mean belly-flops, complete with gigantic splashes that made bystanders gasp and retreat. Belly-busters. Those hurt like crazy, when you did them right. And the can opener. Streak down the board, leap into vacant space, grab one knee, hover like a dragonfly, then vanish into the cold blue. Or clasp both knees, fly through the air, and yell “Cannonball!” until the water swallows up your voice.

_________

          I loved that place: the jukebox, the candy counter, the coke machine with red paper cups, the popcorn popper, the sun-warmed puddles dotting the concrete, the vents where fresh water whooshed into the pool, the swaggering lifeguards showing off their authority, their tans, their whistles, their shark’s-tooth or puka-shell necklaces. I loved doing the sidestroke, floating on my back, getting pale blond sun-streaks in my hair, scoffing at the parental warnings about staying out of the water until an hour after eating. I loved hearing the giggly shrieks and squeals above the water, and I loved submerging myself and listening to nothing but quiet, swishing, keeping time with my pulse. I loved the excitement of Lightning! Get out of the pool! Now!
For me, that place was summer.
But the people swimming, the people hurling themselves off the diving board, the people smearing their bodies with Coppertone and rotating every ten minutes like chickens on a rotisserie: all of them were white. The kids splashing and squealing and dog-paddling and thwacking each other with wet towels: they were white. The parents leaping to their feet, yanking off their sunglasses, and yelling, “Be careful! Don’t run! No rough-housing! Didn’t I tell you not to do that?!” were white. The teenagers strutting the slippery concrete boardwalk and, oh God, making out beneath the surface of the water: they were white.
I never noticed that the squeaky screen door to the Port Wentworth Public Pool wasn’t open to everyone. And if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. Not then. I was, as people often say, a product of my times. And, rather than open the door to everyone, the owners of the pool closed up shop in the early 1970s. By the time someone bought the pool and reopened it, the whites with money had long since moved to the country club.

_________

          I wish I’d been one of the brave girls, the ones who counted to three or to ten and plunged into forbidden waters, the ones who marched and carried signs, the ones who insisted that all doors be flung open wide to everyone, the ones who yelled for justice and fairness until their voices were gone, the ones who kept pushing, defying the taunts, the firehoses, the attack dogs, the nightsticks.
I wish I’d been Eudora Welty. She saw. Everywhere she looked, she saw human beings. She saw all of them. They were real life and they were there in front of her and that was the reality.
But I wasn’t one of the brave girls, and I wasn’t Eudora Welty.
My memories of those summers are still there, still sparkling, still joyous. Now, though, I see: the happiness I felt back then was no more pure than the pee-tainted water where I learned to swim, where I learned to flirt, where I sang along with Tommy James & the Shondells, where I roughhoused with my friends, where I sank like a submarine and watched all the scissor-kicking legs, white-green and distorted. Where I would have drowned one afternoon if my brother hadn’t reached in and pulled me out by my ponytail.
Day after day, summer after summer, I stayed in the pool so long that, when I finally flopped out onto the concrete, picked up my soggy towel, and headed grudgingly toward the exit, my eyes were bloodshot and my fingers and toes were salty, puckered, like boiled peanuts.
I added my own pee to that already tainted water. I took that water into my mouth and spewed it out like a whale. I swallowed it.
On occasion, I breathed the pool water into my windpipe and came up gasping, coughing, sucking in air, the same air that worked its way into the factories nearby, then billowed back out through the smokestacks, drifted down, landed gently. It was there in the mornings, coating everything, like powdered sugar or tiny snowflakes. It ate the paint off cars and trucks. It was the only air I knew.

_________

          I often took a big breath, pushed off from the wall of the shallow end, and swam the entire length of the pool, underwater, without surfacing.
I’d heard horror stories about the drain. It grabbed people and pulled them down, and they stayed there, trapped, in the pulsing silence at the bottom of the pool, until they drowned. Then they lay there, undiscovered and alone, until the next morning.
Stay away from that drain, people said. It’ll suck your guts out.
I didn’t listen. Something pulled me down into that water, and I skimmed along the bottom of the pool. In my mind, I was a manta ray, sleek and strong and mysterious. Of course, I was only myself. I just didn’t know who or what I would be when I surfaced at the other end.

_________

i Quoted in “Eudora Welty as Photographer,” by T. A. Frail. Smithsonian, April 2009. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Writers-Eye.html#.
ii  Quoted in “Portraits Taken by the Writer as a Young Woman (in Hard Times),” by Karen Rosenberg. New York Times, January 8, 2009.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/09/arts/design/09welt.html.

_________

Dr. Theresa Welford has published twenty-plus poems, two articles, and two book chapters. She has also published one edited poetry collection and has another one in press (both with Red Hen Press). She has several manuscripts under consideration by publishers right now: an essay about her relationship with her father; a poetry collection, a storybook, and the opening sections of a chapter book, all for young readers; and a book on the connections between the Movement writers in England and the New Formalists in the United States. Dr. Welford teaches in the Writing and Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Laura Milner - PROMISES–for Peter Christopher

Promises

             for Peter Christopher, April 2008

 

News of your late stage 4

lingers in my chest

burns in my gut

like years ago, when you doubled

over, arm across belly, speechless

in response to my How are you?

after a breakup.

 

What lifts me is hearing

your voice on the phone, reading

your words in a get-well card today.

You call our conditions

a strange and painful and beautiful adventure,

but one bound to make us more compassionate

and loving.

 

What comforts me is receiving

your question, echoing across a decade:

Are you writing?

Only two haiku in eight months.

Good, you say, isn’t poetry perfect right now?

Aren’t you learning so much from your illness?

 

Brain fog and low energy

pain and despair disable

my hand, my voice---

but your inquiry

resurrects me. See?

 

We won’t lose you.

 

You’re still you.

 

What you’ve taught—are teaching—thrives. Survives.

Exercise. Vitamins. Play. Work. Grin. Jazz. Revise.  

Wild mind.  Goldberg.  Allison. Miles.   

When you’re stuck, describe

an object.

I reach for the familiar one-inch

square, half-inch thick

red foil covered

chocolate. I unwrap it and read

as it dissolves down my throat, delivering

its promise: Smile at yourself in the mirror.

 

Your bowls filled with Doves deliver camaraderie

in creative writing committee meetings

in your second floor suite

bursts of anti-oxidant bliss

but not enough to save

you

or any of us.

 

Except in spirit.  

All we have anyway.

Enough, especially yours.

 

More important than perfecting this poem

is placing it in your hands in time

that you might savor your legacy

            how you reached into and beyond the bowl of chocolate bites

            and piles of graded or ungraded papers

            how you praised my creative evolution at countless open mics

            how you spoke from your heart at our student’s funeral

how you and Carolyn sat solidly at Eric’s table

            the night we lost David.

 

The journey continues.

We walk together.

 

 

Laura Milner teaches Writing and Healing, Writing Spiritual Autobiography, and first-year composition at Georgia Southern University. She is associate professor in the Dept. of Writing and Linguistics.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Eric Nelson - LISTEN: REMEMBERING PETER CHRISTOPHER

Before I met Peter in person, I met him on paper.

 

In the spring of 1998 I was chairing a search committee to hire a fiction writer for our newly created Department of Writing and Linguistics. Peter was a semi-finalist; the committee was impressed with his credentials – strong publications and awards, recent MFA from the University of Florida, glowing student evaluations and recommendation letters. But other applicants were similarly impressive, and we were in the process of reading writing samples to help us decide who to invite for a campus interview. As I read Peter’s stories, I grew increasingly riveted by the originality and music of his writing.  The rhythm of his sentences, the lyricism of his phrasing, the density of his language –  all were truly distinctive and invigorating.  As his students can attest, he believed that writing should “go for the jugular,” and his did. There was an intensity to his writing that was like a slap in the face – the kind that says “wake up, the world’s on fire.”

 

This was art that was not afraid to be Art, and not afraid to cut close to the bone.  The forgotten and the lost were his subjects – a homeless dumpster diver, a subway panhandler, a death-row inmate – and their lives were described unflinchingly.  In these specific characters he revealed all of us – our worst loneliness and darkest impulses, but also our highest, most selfless aspirations and our deep capacity for love.

 

When I finished reading his stories, my only thought was, “I’ve got to meet this guy.”

 

I’m not sure what I expected him to be or look like. But based on the ferocity of his writing, I was pretty sure that he would be at least a little scary, possibly with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles. After all, at Florida he had studied with Harry Crews, the original bad boy writer.

 

So when Peter came for the interview, I could barely reconcile the person I met with the writing I’d read. He might have been applying for a job as a bank manager. Sport jacket, white button down shirt, subtle tie, pleated trousers, briefcase. Courteous, soft-spoken. Was this really the same person who wrote those stories forged in fire and hammered into razor-edged steel?  

 

It was one of many paradoxes about Peter that somehow, ultimately, made him the person that so many of us loved. Here are some others: Peter always seemed in control, self-possessed, comfortable. But in fact he was shy, really painfully shy – it took great effort for him to be the model of self assurance that he appeared to be.

  

He was deft at drawing other people out, learning about you, helping you. But it was difficult to get him to tell you how he was feeling, what he wanted.

 

He was a fiction writer who loved poetry, whose writing was as lyrical and as compressed as poetry. But he didn’t think he could write poetry.

 

He was Peter, but he was also Pete. Peter the quiet, thoughtful, reserved. And Pete the playful, the funny, the self-deprecating. Giver of nicknames.

 

But of course all these paradoxes really aren’t. All of his complexities were bridged by his most important, most defining qualities: his true and deep compassion, his generosity, his profound commitment to the well-being of others, his absolute belief in the saving power of writing. 

 

Because of these qualities, it didn’t take long for Peter to earn a reputation as an inspiring teacher. A great teacher. The kind who changes lives. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that he was responsible for recruiting more students to become Writing majors than any other faculty member.  Possibly more than the rest of us put together. Three years after he came to Georgia Southern, he won the Writing and Linguistics Department’s Dorothy Smith Golden Excellence in Teaching Award.Peter’s personnel file is filled with unsolicited letters from his former students who are now either working or in graduate school.  The letters usually begin with “Dear Professor Christopher, I don’t know if you remember me …” (of course he did remember) and all of them go on to thank him – not only for what he taught them about writing but also for what he taught them about dedication, hard work, and commitment.

 

And here is another paradox. Peter didn’t read a lot of pedagogical theory, and he didn’t use new technology to enhance his teaching – not WebCT, smart classrooms, podcasting. I don’t think he ever used a television set, video recorder, or an overhead projector. Not because he was opposed to those things, but because he was completely inept at using anything mechanical! And yet he was a great teacher, a cutting-edge teacher. The old-fashioned way. He connected with students face-to-face, individual by individual. He required students to conference with him at least once in the semester, but after the first time, students didn’t or couldn’t stay away from his office. He offered them his time, his complete attention, his encouragement. He valued them and inspired them to value themselves.

 

He had that effect on everyone who knew him. My most vivid memory of Peter is from a day in Baltimore at the Associated Writing Programs Conference. It was early Saturday morning, and we decided to take a walk through Little Italy, not far from the conference hotel near the Inner Harbor. It was quiet, few people were out. We walked block after block of row houses, narrow streets, small grocery stores and restaurants, everything still closed.

 

Finally we saw a bakery on a corner.  In contrast to the sameness of the blocks we’d been walking, the bakery was magical. The cases were crammed with cookies, breads, pastries of every imaginable color and shape. And of course the whole place smelled like we’d just stepped inside a yeast roll. All the people we hadn’t seen on the streets were in there

ordering and eating. At the half dozen tables, customers sat with coffee and pastry and small talk. Silverware rang like chimes.

 

We hadn’t been looking for this, but we looked at each other, knowing that this was exactly what we’d been looking for. We took a table and a menu with all the Italian pastries listed, none of which – except cannoli – I knew or could pronounce. But Peter knew and he ordered a sample tray for us. Soon a platter large enough to hold a Thanksgiving turkey sat between us sparkling with sugary things; oozing with gooey things; tilting with powdered and sprinkled things. We laughed like kids. And then we ate like kids. We stuffed ourselves. We gorged. At some point Peter stopped but he urged me to keep eating, egged me on, telling me I had to try this one, and this one, and you can’t stop until you’ve eaten one of these.

 

We stumbled out of that dream world feeling sick but triumphant; we felt like we ourselves had become two giant pastries.  We walked and groaned and talked and laughed. We were happy and we talked about being happy. I said that the happiest time in my life was the five years that Stephanie and I lived in Blacksburg, when I had my first full-time teaching job, Ben and Claire were born, and I was beginning to publish poems. I asked him what was the happiest time of his life. And he said, without much hesitation, “Now.”

 

As wonderful as I like to think I am, I knew that he wasn’t referring specifically to this moment with me, but that he meant “now” as a philosophy -- of living fully, with gratitude, in the present. Which is much easier said than practiced. Peter was the only person I’ve known who actually did it. He had the ability to focus entirely on the moment and person at hand without becoming distracted, without seeming bored, without giving any sign that there was somewhere he’d rather be. When you were talking to him, he made you feel that you were the only person alive, that he was grateful for your presence.  He filled the air around you with his compassion, concern, and gentleness.

 

He was the best listener I’ve ever known, with the possible exception of my dog Belle. Interestingly, he and Belle often had the same suggestion: let’s get something to eat and talk about this some more. Peter listened intently to everything: to what you said, and to what you didn’t say; to the music he loved; to the stories his students wrote as they read them aloud in his office and in class.

 

In “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman says “if you want me again, look for me under your bootsoles.”   I believe that Peter would say, “if you want me again, listen for me -- in the music of Miles and Mozart and Bird and Trane; in the rhythms of well-made sentences, in the cadences of poetry, in the clear, true voice within yourself.”

 

“I’m here,” he’ll say, “Listen.”

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Kate Beasley - "Watermelon," "Coosawhatchie," and "Lizard."

Watermelon

 

I hugged against my body

a just-picked watermelon when I was six,

and prayed to reach the end of the row

without dropping it. 

The melon was all curves, I remember,

no easy clutch, and sweat slipped

from my slick fingertips to loosen

my grip.  Though I squeezed tighter, I felt it sliding

away.   My melon, with a thrumming whack, hit

the dirt and sulled between the vines.  I pushed on its head,

but it would not budge, so I slapped it like a drum

and then sat upon it, to scratch at my mosquito bait legs.

 

I’ve never relished the wet pink flesh

within those fat green Zeppelins. 

I merely enjoy the idea

of watermelon.  My dandelion wine I eat to

become drunk on memories of

watermelon.  Now I am sure

that even then I knew

what a boondoggler I was.

__________

 

Coosawhatchie

 

We won’t stop in Coosawhatchie

we’re passing through today. 

A host of Baptist churches rise and flex

Their toes, threat to walk away.

Curls spill around me, screaming

To tear and fly away.   The sky,

 a glass sheet, a hiss

away from breaking. 

And the horse in the cloak

won’t tell where we’re going.

Potholes lift their skirts

and scuttle to block

our way to Coosawhatchie. 

__________

Lizard

 

Next time you’ll notice it.

 

Night and the house a

fire in the black,

allures winged

things to windows

He skulks in the sill

Pointed snout tilts

Eyes like tiny black marbles

Fixed upon the prey

A clever way to use your light.  His bait

Waits. Waits. Waits.

A blur – chomp: Rough, lur chin g swallows

 

Day and he watches

you dash

from house to car

Cool body

lazy still in the sun. 

Gazes later when you

plod from car to house.

Scales your homewalls

like an acrobat thief

Spies you sunk into

your couch,

 

Remember he loathes

your kind

because of summers

 when boys squeeze the slim stomach

in fingers, lift the flailing body

To the edge

Of a wide face.

Squeeze and shake

Run to their kitchen

Yell, “Look, Ma”

Point to the flopping green

creature suspended

jaws clamped to a

fat earlobe. 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Eric Devenney - "Driving to a Funeral on a Sunday," "After 100 Days of Prayer," and "Tunnel Rats."

Driving to a Funeral on a Sunday

My car broke down last Sunday,
on the way to a funeral.

And down the road, just by the shoulder,
there was a boy with sunspot eyes
and a head like a black hole

Who told me he could
make it pour on a dime,
flood the streets for a quarter, and
end the world for just one dollar.

I told him I had no money,
was on my way to a funeral.
 

He said he knew I'd come, said
because two days earlier, a man
with red eyes and rope-burn
scars on his neck,
had given up just one dollar
to see the world end.

I thought back to my father,
who'd tried to teach me the value
of a dollar when I was a child.

And knew, that if he were still alive,
I could teach him something now. 

 

After 100 Days of Prayer

The man kneeling before me is dripping
with indulgence, a sort of cathartic thievery.
He is drained until he is nothing more than a gutted
fish, insides painted across the floor.

After praying for 100 days, I am aghast
I am ashore.
I have become nothing more than
a gutted fish, insides painted across the floor.

 

Tunnel Rats

They said we'd be loud like thunder,
But here underground we are as silent
As the waning moon of the 
Land that seems lifetimes above us

And when they dig up our bones centuries from now,
they'll find a certain quiet in our marrows -
chambers of suppressed thunder, locked in
by a lifetime of moonless existence

 

Eric Devenney is an undergraduate at Clark University. His work has appeared in the Kenyon Review Young Writers edition, 2008. He was a finalist in the Robert Creeley Poetry Prize Competition. 

 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

William Doreski - "Dreams That Govern the World," "Your Frilly White Frock," and "No Such Things as Vampires."

Dreams that Govern the World

 

On my mother’s birthday a crow

grates in the pale August dawn.

Five thousand miles to the east

after wreaking general havoc

Russia withdraws troops and armor

from Georgia. I ought to visit

my mother, but I’d rather see

the Caucasus this morning, peaks

snow-tipped, the gray rock stoic

against a sky faintly soiled

by the stink of burning villages.

 

My mother is ninety-four. Nurses

prowl around her like cubs. Breakfast

will elevate her blood sugar

so an insulin shot will follow.

Then a morning group discussion

will engage her. She forgets me

between visits. Her mind is good,

better than mine, but even

in my childhood she forgot me,

leaving me wandering in stores,

letting me run away without

bothering to call the police.

 

The crow reiterates. I’ve never

learned to speak crow properly

or I’d respond by pursing

a cry into the treetops where

everything worth saying has long

ago been said. Russia’s quarrel

with Georgia won’t go away.

So often empires have collapsed

over trivia. My mother

will ride out the next war in ease,

sitting in front of her TV

and dozing so gently no ripples

will escape to trouble her own dreams

or those that govern the world.

 

 

Your Frilly White Frock

 

In your frilly white frock you look

as dainty as a showroom full

of Cadillacs. You’ve brought along

your latest boyfriend—curly, pale,

pleased with himself, but longing

for a single glimpse of you naked.

Not in this public place, you say,

but even after he departs

in tears you prefer to remain

in the museum, in this gallery

where van Gogh’s Starry Night rages

against the browsers pouting

from painting to painting in search

of the image that will solve them.

 

Van Gogh solves nothing. Your frock

solves nothing. A showroom full

of Cadillacs solves nothing.

The boyfriend returns with a fifth

of Scotch in a brown paper bag,

a peace offering. We occupy

one of those long upholstered benches

placed before a massive Rothko

in various shades of orange

and share the fifth back and forth

and coo, all three of us, and smirk

as though we liked each other.

 

If only you hadn’t worn that

silly frock like Veronica

in Le Petit Soldat. No wonder

fear of torture overtakes me

and I rise and leave the gallery,

leave your frock for your boyfriend

to fondle, leave you inside it

to suffer the indignities

that properly belong to it,        

and find myself on my knees

before a famous Picasso,

a crowd of school kids milling past,

their innocence only slightly

more alert to art than mine

 

 

No Such Thing as Vampires

 

You ask if I carry a gun.

Three: one with silver bullets,

one with blanks, one unloaded

to wave when I’m drunk. You laugh

because you don’t believe vampires

a greater threat than muggers.

 

But on steamy August evenings

the soft ground yields, and lovers

naked among the flowers learn

how easily they bleed. Shadows

that only vaguely resemble men

drape over the vulnerable parts

of the body, and the smell of blood

astonishes vacationers crouched

in lakeside cottages where pine logs

crackle on the fieldstone hearths.

 

You’ve heard these stores before:

the one-armed man who attacks

teenagers parked in the woods;

fiends who knife elderly couples

and scrawl messages in their blood;

dead gangsters who reappear

in the rearview mirrors of cars

in which they took their fatal rides.

Yet you don’t believe that vampires

lurch through moonlit scenery

with a living, insatiable thirst.

 

OK, I don’t carry guns.

I refuse to arm myself

against belief or disbelief

and never get drunk anymore.

No such thing as vampires, of course.

But if we get close in the night

and a shadow falls over us,

will you accept the bloodletting

or will you blame me for entering

the dark so frankly disarmed?

 

William Doreski’s work has appeared in numerous journals and several collections, most recently Another Ice Age (AA Publications, 2007)  His critical essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many academic and literary journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Yale Review, African American Review, and Natural Bridge.  Bill Doreski is professor of English at Keene College, New Hampshire.  

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Laura Ross - "On This Night of Stranded Women," "Taming the River," and "Dogs Barking in the Night."

On this Night of Stranded Women

          Sorrento, Florida

In front of the mower repair shop,

a woman holds up a sign

letting those of us in traffic know

she is homeless. Laborers

from the orchards and greenhouses

pause in their trucks to read

her face, resolute in the sharp

evening light of summer.

 

Her long, white dress floating

above the oily pavement,

is a mist by the time I pass

the nurseries. Orchids, gardenias,

lilies, African violets coved

in a filmy, humid sky. I wonder

 

later if anyone stopped for her

when two girls at a gas station

in the city ask me to drive them home,

their baby blue eyes petaled in black

mascara. On this night of stranded women,

 

the moon is pursed like a pale mouth.

The blooms in the nurseries on my way

home still parted in fragrant softness

to receive the shadows. I meant

to whisper a prayer for those at the edge

of the road but I am distracted

 

with gravel and diesel and orchids,

and all the cruel possibilities weighed

between the roaring stars of headlights,

until I see a mother dog lolling

in the weeds at the shoulder of the road

with her baby, her soft, wild baby.

 

 

Taming the River

for my mother on her birthday

She came from a place

where four rivers meet—

Ouachita, Little, Tensas and Black.

 

A rare confluence of current—

water, spirit, breath and wanderlust,

merging the way the endless thicket

of stars would condense to a quivering

on a stem point of Queen Ann’s Lace,

a single dark red flower at the center.

 

When the main artery had formed,

the salamanders were jettisoned

in their slick, jeweled skins.

Ribbon snakes, mud turtles rocked

from watery, fossil beds. Pine flats

and tidal marshes became dowsed

in sweet silt, while the cypress pushed

their knees up to pant for breath,

 

and the baby first wailed on a Monday,

after her mama had cooked breakfast

and served it hot to her farmer husband,

who left early for the cotton fields.

Petals in his pear orchard breaking

that morning into pale pink shivers,

the river raw at its humid brim.

 

It was a cold May and with no heat

in the house, the baby girl trembled

in her bathwater, was lulled only by the flow

of warmth from beneath her mama’s skin,

the shush-shush of streamlets in her veins.

 

The baby’s own circadian rhythm,

a meandering path, welling into a thirst

that would grow deep enough to pull at her,

like a bend in the course of a tide without

any eventuality, but a need to travel it.

Nothing in that small town but current,

rising over the flat, flood etched horizon,

and a yearning to find her way back in.

 

 

Dogs Barking in the Night

It is an ancient sound, almost

as familiar as the smell of smoke

to the marrow of bone.

 

I think I can recall it

back to the cradle, where it felt

heavier than the dry weight of kisses

across damp eyelids and more

dispossessed than the emptied hollows

of hunger or whispered lullabies.

 

It will always be night-speak,

the weight of stars in a dark blue window,

the yearning of earthbound souls

across darkness—

 

all rhythmic breath and walls

kicked away like warm blankets

in this language of our dreaming—

one to another, back and forth,

 

and beyond solemn rooftops,

dark quivering leaves,

and territories that cannot be claimed

by fences, instinct, or buried bones.

 

Laura Sobbott Ross was nominated for a Pushcart Prize both this year and last, and has poetry forthcoming or published in The Columbia Review, Tar River Poetry, Slow Trains, Natural Bridge and The Caribbean Writer, among many others. She was named a finalist for the 2008 Creekwalker Poetry Prize.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Ruth Foley - "Ghazal for Papa," "Sevenling (I Need to Find)," and "Shower Scene."

Ghazal for Papa

How difficult for you to be Papa.
Death at least should have been easy, Papa.

Given three months, you took almost three years.
You were never one to hurry, Papa.

You went hard, a thousand nights of cancer.
I despised your practiced ennui, Papa.

Your wife grew frail while you stripped yourself lean.
Did you mean to steal her from me, Papa?

She clears refuse from the beach, brings it home.
We're laden with bags of debris, Papa.

She’s brittle now. Her bones crack in my arms,
As fragile as thin ivory, Papa.

I surprised myself by wishing you dead
But could not watch you die. Could she, Papa?

I never knew you to touch the ocean.
The ash you’ve become knows the sea, Papa.

I've come unmoored, grown ruthless without you.
I can't forgive you. Forgive me, Papa.

 

Sevenling (I need to find)

I need to find a place to hold the tired
tatters of your fingers, the ligaments and tendons,
everything that bound you reduced to ashes.

I cannot raise you, cannot tell you what is gone,
cannot number your pieces. They will not
slot together until I build a speaking mouth.

I cannot put my hand on your disembodied shoulder.

 

Shower Scene for Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Maybe it is my fault for remembering
just then that Hitchcock used chocolate syrup
for the blood, or that Janet Leigh was
a thief who thought she was on the road
to ruin but decided to come clean instead.
Everyone forgets these things.

I stood in the bathtub three days after
the latest excision, my fingers
delicately probing the underside of
my breast, the ridge of tissue
hardened from four earlier, smaller
invasions, one every other year
for the first eight years of my marriage,
as the cyst returned, filled, burned
with infection, was removed.

A cautious fingertip walk over
repeated violations until I found the fraying
edge of gauze. Three days without
a shower, three days of my husband's
wincing as he swabbed and re-dressed
a wound I couldn't see, had left me
ready to have it out, have it gone.
I pulled.

Maybe it was my fault—I knew
the gauze would be ugly, dark with
clots. I knew there would be blood
on the white porcelain between my feet,
knew it would dilute and swirl.

I didn't know how tired it would be,
how brown, how thin, or how
it would lighten to sepia as it snaked
towards the drain, but still be so clearly
blood, my blood, still in a solid stream,
my blood slipping straight down the pipe
and out below the street. I didn't know
there would be little bubbles of fat
—my breast! I thought—traveling with
it, bobbing cheerfully in the wash.

I don't remember taking the curtain
down, the rings popping open, or spilling
half out of the tub while the water
began to run clear. I don't know if my cheek
held onto a single droplet like a tear
or if my eyes were closed or open
as the room spun and pulled away.
All I remember is how much that blood
looked like chocolate syrup stirred
into some milk, and later, the nurse,
her hair pulled up and back
into a loose, gray granny knot.

 

Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her recent work is appearing or forthcoming in River Styx, Measure, The Ghazal Page, and Umbrella, which just nominated one of her poems for a Pushcart Prize. She also serves as Associate Poetry Editor for Cider Press Review.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Vanessa Blakeslee - "Have You Forgotten?" "Girl From Illinois," and "Escape, Revenge."

Have You Forgotten

Have you forgotten me?

you guess that I’m a star in space,

light years away from you,

but what if I’m right here,

sitting on your shoulder as you

stir your sugar-filled spoon

through the coffee?

What if I am the steam and

the piping heat of the water and

the floating dark granules themselves?

 

Have you forgotten me?

You have.

You don’t love me anymore.

Only I appear when you least suspect:

in the face of the Hindu girl

peering out on-screen,

through the darkened movie theatre,

straight through you,

waking up your shuttered heart,

rapping on the windowpanes of

your soul.

 

You have forgotten me

only until I remind you.

Is this a haunting?

You will not allow yourself

to be haunted.

You aren’t fickle enough.

 

But watch as you forget,

if you keep choosing to forget.

Who knows when and where

I might show up—

in the aside of an email twenty-questions,

or in your mother’s determined datebook

with its graveyard of anniversaries,

in the black eyes of my sister’s newborn son,

or in the frozen branches

hovering over the road you traverse

only at Christmastime.

 

Because I live, only not as you think.

I live, and I am free,

more free than you imagine

your forgetfulness to enliven you.

 

Forget my body as I have forgotten it:

a shrugged off sweater, stained.

 

Girl from Illinois

-for Nam on her 90th birthday

Time for a walk, she sings,

and we are out the door.

Watch for cars. We keep

to the side of the road

where the dandelions poke

their furry heads. Careful,

don’t slip in the mud!

It’s April, that means rain.

Find the opening in the woods,

our secret door,

past fallen trees, bare naked,

like spines of giant fish

caught in the patches of sun.

We climb the moss-covered log

and mind our bottoms

because of the wet, and listen—

water chiming over rocks,

there’s the creek up ahead.

So cold it nips fingers, toes.

Don’t get your sneakers wet!

Choose your stones, throw them in,

and make a wish.

 

Moody sky over prairie,

a different April day.

Muddy, but still good for

walking dogs or pausing

at the pond to hear the frogs.

Pinch a fuzzy pussy willow,

Watch the daffodils grow.

All these things and more

you taught me, that I know.

 

Escape, Revenge 

Her brothers welcomed the creature

as if it were one of their own:

at full length, it draped along

the spine of the living room couch

like a flattened out rubber tire.

But while the boys wore the thing

across their shoulders and paraded with smirks,

the snake’s head peered back at her

from against the thin white ribbing

of the muscle shirt

which served as its royal carpet,

and she felt the eyes drink her in,

escape or revenge.

 

The boys neglected to name it,

and she imagined that the creature

mulled over this namelessness

as one brother first unwound the

lower half of the serpent

and then grasped its neck

and slung the body off his shoulders,

like girls on a playground

might hand off a jump rope.

The receiving brother took more care

in rewinding the serpent,

but continued without a gap in breath.

Only the girl noticed

the creature’s flicker of tongue—

escape or revenge.

 

Then one day,

her eldest brother suggested they bring

the snake to show his biology class, a quick A.

By “they,” he meant her, too.

He draped the creature across her upper back,

but the thing, seven feet too long,

ended up curled in her arms like a baby.

She held her breath

outside the chugging truck,

the warm muscle of the snake a strange shawl.

Its neck craned, tongue flickered,

and the two slit eyes considered her:

escape, revenge.

 

But in the car, on the way to school,

her brother rested the snake in a nest at her feet.

Up cranked the radio, the Animals,

and every once in awhile,

she glanced down to beware of

the bite which might strike.

But when they parked, the creature had snaked off,

its tail the flicker of a flag as it wriggled up,

underneath the dash.

 

Oh, shit, said her brother.

From the payphone, he dialed the mechanic

who said, Snake? and hung up.

Suicide by dashboard asphyxiation, she said,

and kicked a tire. She smiled.

Escape, revenge.

 

Vanessa Blakeslee’s work has been published in The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Green Mountains Review, among many others, and her short story “Shadow Boxes” won the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, and was a finalist for the 2011 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University. An alumnus of both the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ conferences, she also earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Jordan Sanderson - "Rabbit Ears," "Not That We Wanted to Leave So Much," and "Arrangement #6."

Rabbit Ears

Tonight I love only water more

than you.  And you’re so close to being

no more for this world, this world of digits

and liquid crystals and HD.  World-wise

and slender.  Two legs stretched skyward.

I long for fuzzier days and more darkness.

The industrial days that conceived you,

the rural days that demanded you, the nights

you taught me to be alone.  You’re no hood

ornament, no cake topper, no hands washing

the face of a clock.  You’re a metal peace

sign, a fork tuned to turn faces into flickers. 

You’re the last divining rod, pulling

pictures out of a pool of clouds. 

 

 

Not That We Wanted To Leave So Much

The third trip around the fields failed

to convert rows to streets, did not dim

the moon and blot out stars with bulbs on timers,

framed no panel of doors for our entry.

Before that, spinning in circles, calling

“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” in a dark

bathroom at the skating rink in town did not

produce the gushing, gashed face we wanted to see

in the mirror.  Holding our breath for long

as we could did, however, trip the trapdoor

in the knees and let us believe, however temporarily,

that we had smacked our faces on the tiles

of another world, that its guardians had given

us shiners.  In the light outside, we tilted

our heads to the sun, tried to memorize

the maps streaming on eyelids, wondered

what weather waited in the low, red clouds.

 

Arrangement #6

I want to talk about healing,

which implies the presence

of a vague wound.  I do not

know where this wound exists,

only that dogs nurse themselves

with tongues.

 

Jordan Sanderson earned a PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi and is currently an instructor at Auburn University.  His work has appeared in several journals, including Red Rock Review, Red River Review, and

Jabberwock Review.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Patrick Carrington - "Smoky Mountain Symphony," "Grazing the Southwest," and "Honest Days."

Smokey Mountain Symphony

He sings from ancient mountains

where I carried his flakes

to paradise to rest beneath

the turquoise plumage of buntings

and sky, the night cries of red wolves.

 

He was small on my lap,

but when I opened the urn

the wind lifted the ashes

and his throat, sprinkled him

across the wilderness, and

he was god again,

 

resurrected in his first and final home,

the place of blue smoke where

he walks young once more, barefoot

with salamanders, bleeds red

into the roots of spruces.

 

I hear you, my father,

 

in the aria of fir trees and flame azaleas

as they bend in breezes, in ballads

of Carolina mud and moonshine,

in the steel of railroads and hard rain,

in carols from campfires. I feel you,

 

in the cutting strings of your Gibson

as they purple and callous my fingertips,

in dark clogs of blackberries

that stained your boy lips blue

and block the paths of your wide grave,

in the flurry of wildflowers, picked

for her pretty eyes, that garnished

my mother’s hair. I can sense

your tongue, your breath,

 

in the vapor that glazes the breathing

peaks, licks the oily residue of forest air

that coats this valley of the Cherokees,

in the integrity of red men who walked

in your aching words and in these woods

where you sing and sleep.

 

 

Grazing the Southwest

Night in the desert is cold enough

to make a sleeping man reach

for a woman who isn’t there.

And wake, arms

around his own moans.

 

Day vanished when I wasn’t looking.

It brushed by like the wind

of me, without tickling

the windchimes she’d hung

on the windows as tells.

 

I pull a flask from the hip pocket

I might as well stitch to my chest.

 

There’s a certain romance in being

warmed by whiskey, and suffering

in the dust like a cowboy—no time

to think of women you’ve deserted

with longhorn to move.

 

I show defiance in a four-day beard,

a carefree lilt of hip and accent,

like I know the way to Montana.

 

I’ll sleep when I find the feeding

veins of the Colorado,

 

where dreams bring them back

like April brings rivers.

 

 

Honest Days

I know the whistle of wind

curling through corn

on its winding way, have seen

it flutter and tease the husks

and say goodbye, have heard

the hidden yellow call

its rain to return, needing

one more touching.

 

I know the contact of thumb

on tobacco leaf, the tender rub

of nurture on its heavy green,

have felt that fatherly flick of skin

before sunbeams sat

on the eyes of men who do

their weighty work in cool shade.

 

I have cut the hickory for barn fires

that turn that grass hue brown

with smoke, have lit the match

that fosters change, snapped

the stems that feed a nation

and run for pails to moat their base

with drink. The source of life

 

is in those toils and touchings

and pourings, the incorruptible

probe of dirt and the knowing

that your fibrous sons and daughters

who you care for in the dark,

boots crusted and hands cracked,

will rise through mud

toward the light of other children.

 

Patrick Carrington is the author of Hard Blessings (MSR Publishing, 2008), Thirst (Codhill, 2007), and Rise, Fall and Acceptance (MSR Publishing, 2006), and recipient of the 2008 Matt Clark Prize in poetry from LSU's New Delta Review. He has also been a finalist in 2007/2008 for the Black Warrior, Yellowwood, Paumanok, Briar Cliff Review, and New Millenniums Poetry Prizes. Recent poems appear in The Bellingham Review, Tar River Poetry, Sycamore Review, The Connecticut ReviewAmerican Literary Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing in New Jersey, and has deep southern roots in Tennessee. He serves as the poetry editor of Mannequin Envy (www.mannequinenvy.com).

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Marianne Worthington - "Minor Detour Through an Old Knoxville Neighborhood," "Snapshot," and "Summit."

Minor Detour Through an Old Knoxville Neighborhood

 

The apartment complex

at Arbor Place where I shared

 

a one-bedroom with my cousin

bears the derelict face of abuse.

 

Doors and windows missing
or kicked in reveal the shadowed

 

faces of a few squatters, their wary

eyes are abandoned rooms.

 

The fear of ruin stings

my throat.  What happened

 

to my old neighborhood where half

a block away the bungalows root

 

in the manicured lawns like oaks

and in one of those houses

 

I studied piano with a gentle

man who stood behind me

 

and pushed my shoulders down

and said breathe here and

 

pianissimo and rubato, rubato,

as I played the Raindrop Prelude?

 

 

Snapshot

 

Outside

on the porch, black

oaks shade the heads of two

women, look-alikes in paisley

shirtwaist

 

dresses.

Spider-veined legs

plump into boxy shoes,

clodhopping leftovers of farm

girls who

 

once shared

a bed.  Their men

drank, diddled, and died young.

Their hands are liver-spotted, gnarled,

entwined.

 

Summit

 

Every couple of weeks

she buys a 25-pound sack

of Dollar Store dog food,

stops on the ridgetop road

between her house and town,

slits the bag open with her

pearl-handled pocketknife,

gleaming sharp in morning light,

leaves the food for all the stray dogs

she sees on this daily journey.

They are dropped off like litter

in a town without a pound.

She can’t bring home any more

than the half-dozen she’s saved

already, can’t bear for them to starve.

Their somber eyes know her,

their reflections chasing

her in the rear-view mirror.

 

Marianne Worthington is a poet and educator living in Williamsburg, Kentucky.  Her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine (Finishing Line Press, 2006), won the 2007 Appalachian Book of the Year in Poetry Award.  Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Natural Bridge, Louisville Review, Wind, Arts Across Kentucky, Kaleidoscope, Appalachian Heritage, and in several anthologies including Knoxville Bound, A Kentucky Christmas, and Women.Period.  She is editor of Motif: Writing by Ear, an anthology of writings related to music, forthcoming in 2008 from MotesBooks. 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Louis Gallo - "Pornstars," "The Years," and "Verbena Bakery."

PORN STARS

 

They have achieved the Freudian zion

of polymorphous perversity beyond the crib,

evolved into pure genital, young mostly,

supple, tattooed and be-ringed to the point

of disfigurement - though some, pruned with age,

hormonal Abes and Sarahs, those venerables,

vericosed laughing stocks, hungry for a last twitch . . .

 

as I think of Gross National Product, the Dow,

lawyers in vulture suits, foundations, think tanks,

R&D, actuarial tables, ashen Swiss bankers,

I turn to these innocents with relief and admiration,

they, willing to risk everything - name, future,

disease, their lives - for ecstasy;

they defy rendezvous with manifest destiny,

would jack off the president; they, untouchables

who live for touch, who stroke, probe, knead, lick

the flesh of the Other as strobes blast,

cameras whir; they drown in a glandular soup,

die for joy and a little cash to get by.

 

And later, the seedy biographies of some

who achieved a speck of notoriety,

overdosed, suicidal, abused, found battered

and comatose in an alley . . . the moral,

obviously, pious and solemn

 

 

THE YEARS

I’ll carry this hovel on my shoulders

for only so long.  It’s not the buckled,

ripped tin roof that distresses me,

nor the broken glass and rotten studs

or a floor soft as wedding cake.

I don’t mind the flaking lead paint,

the shredded asbestos, the frozen, rusted

hinges.  Everyone is welcome,

though nobody ever comes.

And yes, of course, rubbery vines

squeeze through each crack

in the siding, tendrils of defeat.

Truth is, I kind of like the place,

maintenance free by default.

And it whispers bony, ancient secrets

as you sleep. Taxes are minimal,

robbery out of the question,

no squatter would look twice.

Behold time’s handiwork, friend,

but remember if you dare

another roof, pristine, gleaming in the sun,

ivy plaited decorously from pot to pot,

glossy oak floors, the reddest door

you’ve ever seen, with its brass lock

and a key that worked

still dangling from the string

around your neck.

My shoulders just aren’t what

they used to be.

And the hammer’s long gone.

 

 

VERBENA BAKERY

New Orleans, circa 1960

When we were just about old enough to drive

we’d make a run to the Verbena Bakery every night.

Verbena Street.  No commercial district this–

just an old New Orleans duplex (we call them shotguns),

one half converted for business.  Regular houses

on all sides.  The place dim, smoky and sweltering inside–

and you’d look in vain for any official licenses.

In the middle of the room stood the biggest wooden table

I’ve ever seen, coated with flour, dough, bowls of butter

and lard, vats of jelly, cutting tools–once I even saw a cat licking itself

in the middle of it all.  The baker was this lanky black man

who never said a word.  He did everything,

from sliding the raw dough on platters

into a long wall oven, then pulling them out when time.

He set the platters on the table and went at them

with his tools, and, before you could blink, out popped

wet glazed, chocolate, jelly, cream and powdered donuts.

The two helpers, a one-armed galoot, blue with smudged tattoos,

and a tiny old lady with leaking bandages cinched around her wrists,

took orders, dumped the donuts into white bags, and worked the register.

Best damned donuts in the world, we thought–so hot they steamed,

so greasy they moaned, so undercooked it was like eating paste.

We bought them by the bagful and drove out to the lakefront

where we parked and feasted.  Once Jimmy ate two dozen

jellies at one sitting.  He started to puke later, but at fifteen

puking is no big deal.  That same time I turned a little green.

This went on and on until one night we made the usual trek

only to find the place boarded up.  A sign from the Board of Health

dangled from a sole nail.  We didn’t bother to read it.

We understood.  Nothing so good can last for long.

The roaches didn’t bother us, or the cat hair

that occasionally wound up in our mouths . . . even Miss Penny’s

gauze (though dad told us it was probably diabetes).

Something was happening to the world –

it become cleaner, healthier, more official. Older.

And decades later we’d realize those donuts

were the most foul concoctions a quarter could buy.

But that’s not the way we choose to remember them.

Best damned donuts in the world.  Ever.

 

Louis Gallo’s work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Orleans Review, Missouri Review, Portland Review, Texas Review and many others. He is on faculty at Radford University, Virginia.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Judson Simmons - "Cathedral of Dust," "The Night Waits for Nothing," and "Comfort Conditions."

Cathedral of Dust

For K.B.

1.

 

I’ve been making excuses

for the reasons

I’m not sleeping.

 

Last night, I sat adrift

in a wash of moonlight

as it slipped through my blinds—

eyes turned bloodshot and weary. 

 

I keep inventory of the sounds I hear,

scribble them down in the dark,

 

taking notes of those noises created

after dusk has settled and dawn

is still hours away:

 

The neighbor’s dog

howling in false alarm,

the rumble of a diesel engine, and

alley cats shrieking as they fight.

 

 

2. 

 

By 3 a.m. I’ve exhausted

all the channels on the television:

the home shopping networks,

80’s sitcom reruns and soft-core porn.

 

The television hums:

“God Bless America.”

The television fills

with a snowstorm of static—

an insomniacs only companion

 

 

3.

 

Once upon an hour,

in the moment between darkness

and a crow’s breathe,

the earth filled with chatter—

something like children

playing down a distant hallway.

 

Above the moon hangs

solemnly against a darkened backdrop,

while the stars litter the sky.

 

Clouds gather, clouds disperse—

we close our eyes

and ponder sleep

and a good nights’ rest.

 

Those nights I sit alone,

I sometimes wish I was like the moon—

voyeur in the night,

peering down on the world.

 

 

4.

 

Hours until morning

and I been awake

for a while.  I’m tired,

yet my eyes can rest
no more.  It seems

that every night is an eternal loop,

an album left on repeat

playing to an empty room.

 

Stolen from my dreams

I sit inside this darkness

draped across my room.

Next to me, you are sleeping. 

Lost in a somewhere

far away from here;

you don’t notice as I slip

from beneath the covers

to my feet—the floor

is cold to the touch, the floorboards

creak with each step.

 

The night must understand

how I feel, the anxiety

of never being at rest—

something, car or creature,

always moving.  The earth

keeps moving.

 

Outside, the early fog

begins to settle on our lawn.

I know I’m not alone,

you are just a room away

and outside things still scurry—

but for some reason I can’t help

believing that tomorrow

is just a story,

smaller than a whisper.

 

I long to hold the sky

like the sky holds the darkness.

 

 

5.

 

The beauty of sleep

is that moment when you first wake,

eyes ready to see

a new day fall gently

on your lap.

 

But it’s two a.m.

and tomorrow is still hours away,

sitting offshore

in some distant country.

 

I look towards your shadow,

nothing more than knot of shadows—

in the silence of the night

I wait to hold you.  In the silence

of the night

I’m blown away

like a cathedral of dust.

 

 

 

The Night Waits For Nothing

 

I.

 

My brother whispers

beneath the glow

of our nightlight.

          “I hate the dark.”

 

I will never hear him

confess such fear again…

 

II.

 

From the fire escape

hangs a metal pit—

ablaze in crackling flames.

 

Unattended, we watch

as the basket swings

by the whim of the evening’s sway.

 

Its coals burn, throwing

flecks of searing ash

towards Harlem below—

 

a meteor shower

kindled by the hand of man.

 

III.

 

At night, I’ve grown used to watching

the lamp in my neighbor’s

living room.  Yet nothing moves.

 

And each night I fall asleep

staring at their empty apartment—

tracing lines of shadow creatures,

following the movements

that are never there…

 

IV.

 

That day the lights

turned out

 

across the east coast,

neighbors waited


outside their apartment buildings,

on front stoops:

 

little tribes surrounding

battery powered radios.

 

From the third floor

an old woman hangs

 

outside her window:

“Is it the terrorist,

     is it them?”

 

V.

 

Even waking has become a burden.

 

I sit for hours, eyes

sealed, yet seeing everything.

 

I hear my brother

attempt to sneak in for the night—

a drunken stalk

fueled by ravenous breath.

 

Mother pretends to sleep

through this sad one act play;

 

I hear her waiting

‘til he’s passed out—

 

a sentry for his drunken ways.

 

 

Comfort Conditions

 

The parking lot is jammed

with Mexican workers; there,

without fail, each morning

at sunup.  As I pass them,

they’re set apart in groups—

probably split-up by location:

the cities and towns left behind.

             

They wait for a truck to pull up;

a white guy gives instructions

then they pour into the bed.

There is no arguing, just work. 

Labor, sweat, the sun

at high noon—and only a dirty shirt

wrapped around their heads

like an old, ragged bandana. 

 

On the highway, the traffic

staggers to a stop during rush hour:

slows then pauses, the a complete

halt.  Construction on I-10—

we call it an inconvenience

as we curse from inside the comfort

of our cars.  I would be lying

 

if I told you:

I understand their situation.

I have barely lifted a hand

beneath a rugged sun, hardly

earned my keep.  Still, there’re buildings 

 

to be built, yards to be cut

nice and neat, fences

to be erected, roofs to be fixed;

countless days beneath a sun

that never seems to end.

 

Judson Simmons is a graduate of the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Program and holds a BA in Writing from the University of Houston.  He currently resides in Houston and works at the University of Houston.  His work has appeared/forthcoming in Evergreen Review, Pebble Lake Review, Folio, Concho River Review—plus other journals.

 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Kristin Berkey-Abbott - "Progress," "Middle Passage of Marriage," and "Lessons of the Rocking Chair."

Progress

 

The statue, a tribute to Confederate

Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed

on the statehouse, while her metal

children clutch her skirts.  Inside,

women throng into the chambers, this once male

bastion of legislative power.

The current law states a husband

cannot be charged with the rape of his wife;

a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases.

Females of all ages bear witness, testify

to the violated sanctity of home and hearth.

Only one senator remains unswayed

by their pleas for a twentieth century view.

He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.

 

 

 

Middle Passage of Marriage

 

Our younger selves—those feckless

European adventurers—fettered

us together.  Marriage, a brilliant capitalist

scheme to make money

or at least to collect presents,

and we are left to cope

with the decisions of our younger selves,

decisions made with callous

disregard for the human flesh involved.

 

Shackled below the decks, we make our perilous

way across the Atlantic of our lives together.

We have spent most of our days

on this journey staring at each other’s skin,

knowing the other’s every habit.

We have kept each other alive and sane,

in part because the alternative is so grisly.

 

If I let you go, watched you slide

into the abyss, I still wouldn’t be free.

It would be worse to be chained

to your corpse, so I settle

into this Middle Passage.

 

I yearn for the freedom of our youth,

those carefree days when we didn’t know

the boredom of these watery vistas,

the endless irritations in the hold of this ship.

 

Ignorant of the horrors

that await us, the indignities we shall suffer

as we slave on the plantation

of aging, I hold tight to the hope

of a New World, a continent to call my own.

 

 

Lessons of the Rocking Chair

 

Don’t always rush forward.

Don’t turn your face to the past.

Rock on your heels as you consider your options.

You can’t even think for moving so fast.

 

Let the ones you love hold you.

Enjoy the sheen of well-loved skin.

Remember the thrill of rocking a baby.

Keep connections to your kith and kin.

 

Recollect your roots; the women who endured.

Celebrate your wood; I was made of pine,

a tree that some dismiss as trash.

But look around:  the countryside is mine.

 

I’m a collection of replacement parts.

Likewise, let go of what needs to leave.

Embrace the new, make yourself whole.

Sometimes the kindest cut is the cleave.

 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott earned a Ph.D. in British Literature from the University of South Carolina.  She has published in many journals, like The Beloit Poetry Journal, The North American Review, and The South Carolina Review.  She was one of the top ten finalists in the National Looking Glass Poetry Chapbook Competition.  Pudding House Publications published her chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard, in 2004.  Currently, she teaches English and Creative Writing at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and serves as Assistant Chair of the General Education department.  Her website, which has connections to the blogs that she keeps, is www.kristinberkey-abbott.com.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

John Sibley Williams - "Baptismal," "Variations of a New Dam," and "Railyard at Rest."

Baptismal

 

The sloping trees overhead wear black vultures

lamenting that some men don’t kill as often as others,

their act of being freed translating differently

in the seconds after a river’s submersion,

pristine white robes fanning across the surface

as in a river the sun reflects abnormally pure,

some saint’s ridiculously glamorous shield.

 

The cold water rushes like a dream of God

over face after face, that appear dead

until plucked as olives might in Peloponnesian fields.

Branches pass.  Branches fallen by storm and axe.

Branches tortoises recline upon, eyes closed,

adopting not breaking the current.

 

And stones pass.  And sediment mucked from movement.

And the gunshots of newly awoken hunting season

volley through the valley-heightened winds.

And I witnessing these varied salvations

from a dry perch just between

know which sound enraptures the vultures

but must crane my ear to water’s surface

to pray that second command emerges.

 

 

Variations of a New Dam

 

Old enough to remember like silt

how water permeated the valley,

the maples shedding orange upon a surface

that never knew itself temporary

so never counted the swimmers, canoes,

never waited as we do our breath

that pair of feet sunk cold and deep

that would be its last.

 

I try to imagine

how different the angels’ deeds

if motivated by desperation,

if racing backwards from death,

if they saw in their statues and hymns

an evolutionary replacement, like politicians

sensing their demise in the need for stone.

 

But there is a need to remember

and to quarrel and forget: stone.

And a lake be no different

than the boy, that distant year in my youth,

who vanished in its perfect blue,

but that water wasn’t expecting

one day to drown,

and the boy in death

never brought power to our town.

 

 

 

Railyard at Rest

 

I.

 

Miles of boxcars yawning back at winter,

saggy-bough pine breathed, blood of an upended turtle.

Doors frozen open, lacquered in rust and time,

so bored from only hearing their own stories

echoing back, night upon night,

giving their lives over to the myth

that objects in motion remain so eternally,

unconvincingly masquerading the distant lightning’s rumble

as a scorching, jostling Chicago-bound rail

and the static winter horizon

the onrush of another gray city.

 

II.

 

I will give her only what can so easily be recanted

and feed her artichoke hearts and wine and words

visibly smoky and solvent, spoken side-mouthed

as I eye a vast, inert desert of exposed metal.

Half the promises made them

swallowed before quite reaching their ears.

Half their lives already spent

like half this shared March night,

and I can reclaim one, my love, as unerringly as the other.

 

III.

 

I remember aerial photographs

of great Eastern cities like Pittsburgh

striped by dead trains perfectly aligned head-to-foot

like the paused moment before a calamitous highway wreck

or a timeless orgy of motley dragonflies.

I remember quivering even then,

anticipating the theme would be rubble.

Red fires.  Blue fires.  Yellow fires.

Each staking their claims in some great toxic feast.

And even by declining that grotesque invitation

to leap instead headlong into a river from childhood

and stroke upstream toward the narcotic of fairytales and heavens,

still all rivers flowed toward a cliff

and at some point soon I would eat from its table.

 

Feasting like candles do darkness,

I would carve a long circle back

and rub my chapped hands over a vision

I once feared Apocalypse and now I dream of,

as a timeworn boxcar might-

the vivacious, unfaltering colors of plastic flowers.

 

IV.

 

For cedar and books and eagles and home

all approach and teeter unbalanced upon the cliff

but never quite plummet.

 

They’ve banned us from traversing this graveyard,

in case dead metal might envy our breath.

So unbalanced, separated from smell and taste,

I must watch from a nearby outcrop

to see the completion of a circle

that they taught would wind on forever.

 

Miles of boxcars, corpses lining the city edges.

Forbidden to enter its limits.  Fanning out and out

into the country.  Hillocks flattened.

Marshes paved gray.  So our collections,

famed for their dust and consumptive rigor mortis,

can propagate like wisdoms

continually transformed through each mouth spoken,

lest we consider what we horde human

and bury them moments after passing

and forget.

 

John Sibley Williams  has an MA in Writing and lives in Boston, where he frequently performs his poetry.  Some of his over thirty publications include: The Evansville Review, Flint Hills Review, Cadillac Cicatrix, Juked, The Journal, Barnwood International Poetry, Phantasmagoria, The Alembic, Language and CultureRaving Dove, and Ghoti.

 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Ellen Birkett Morris - "Blind Weaver" and "Back Street/New Orleans."

Blind Weaver

It’s the feel, you see.
The feel of the yarn,
light and fine or
coarse and heavy.
The feel of the yarn
as I pull it through
the frame, gently for a
Summer sweater, tightly
for a woolen scarf.
I see all I need to
by the feel,
don’t you see?

Back Street/New Orleans

Our patch, our patch, our patch of grass
The muddy part that never dried
We threw the ball to the blank sky
There we stood and played our games
We fought and schemed and rode the range
The clothes that flapped above our heads
Washed so often they turned to threads
One for all and all for one
Our wild play was never done
Our patch, our patch, our patch of grass
Paid no heed to social class

 

Ellen Birkett Morris’ work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2006 and has been published in numerous journals including Juked, The Pedestal Magazine Political Anthology, Alimentum, and The University of Iowa's Daily Palette.  Her work is forthcoming in Gastronomica and Inscape. 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .

Douglas Cole - "Ashbery House," "Erskine Station," and "Father."

Ashbery House

It doesn't quite work,
the way the stairway dominates
and cuts the bottom floor down
to an awkward space of little scope.
It tries for light, to maximize the view
with ornate decks and nautical glass,
yet the owner, a rich man,
flood-lights the lawn in fear,
frets about the zoning laws,
and when the children climb
his alluring front yard wall
he quickly shouts them off.

 

Erskine Station

Ring once, a ghost will answer.
I see it all: stacks of tires, oil drums,
bumper embedded in the grass,
gas pumps locked at forties prices,
and the life I lived through
decades as reserves dropped,
and the war evacuated homes.

It goes on, even as rafters molder
onto tables made of cable spool,
with ring on ring of whiskey glass,
everything eaten away by termites
and replaced by the vigorous weeds,
while the elm takes seed inside
the old garage, unfurls its black
limbs exploding through the doors.

The elder forest reclaims its own
territory of green magic. Inside
each trunk find embedded bones:
here, this line, the one where
fourth of July burned out
the second pump, and fire
rose a fountain in the street.

I cruise by now in a swift wind,
the slow motion rise and fall
of homes that could never last,
memory trucks that haul it all away,
shadows that won't evaporate,
roots embedded in the deep
dream places seem to hold
indelible as we drive on.

 

Father

What father had I to turn to?
None, really—
rather, a face behind cigarette smoke—
a maker of easels who left
a basement full of sawdust fine as ash—
a pair of headlights backing down the driveway—
the memory of another self I tried to act out
but failed as the mask fell free—
slowly, a distant echo of a time,
like a buoy bell in the night—
and finally a ship I was never meant
to board, pulling out of sight.

 

Douglas Cole has had work in The Connecticut River Review, Louisiana Literature, Cumberland Poetry Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He has work available online as well in The Adirondack Review, Salt River Review, Cortland Review, and Underground Voices. He won the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry for a selection of work called, “The Open Ward.” He currently lives in Seattle, Washington and teaches writing and literature at Seattle Central College, where he is also the advisor for the literary journal, Corridors.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .