issue 11 · spring 2019
Jump Start · Jyl Ion
The professionals act like
the theft of half my life was
they didn’t mean to.
In a cloak of benevolence
under the guise of medicine
/ help / undercover
almost twenty years
no longer a symptom once
I left the reservation.
So, now what?
I challenge their ideas
me with my brain still just in tact enough
Me, with anger enlivening my eyes
while I sit in their waiting rooms
like a threat.
They try and calm me
they bill for and
take notes about
except I’m not in confession
I know this is
I’ve got to jump start my life
again like I’ve had to
Innocent April · Belinda Subraman
tickle transcendant neurons
to frothy spires of awe
in watercolor abandon
warm chime breezes
halos of green
renew the trees
sprouts push through
birds are coming home
Tuesday · Matthew Borczon
Nine First Fridays · Ed Meek
the nine First Fridays. My mother
coaxed me out of bed before school
with the promise of eternal life.
We braved the dark cold
of New England winter
for 7 am Mass at St. Agatha’s.
There we waltzed station to station
following the trail of Jesus
who bore the heavy wooden cross
the Romans would nail him to
before he rose triumphant to heaven.
I was already plagued like St. Peter
by doubt. My mother kept me
close in hand. An Irish Catholic
who loved to gamble —
Bingo every Monday,
chances are she’d find
the gates unlocked. I was
another story. We were both
hedging our bets.
Putnam Avenue, Spring · Lynne Viti
smothering the hill near the Protestant church.
But churches hung in our peripheral vision,
an annoyance, a reminder of what we rejected.
The public library was our church, the holy source where
we plunked down the ten-dollar deposit, carried home
projector and cans of classic films spooled onto reels.
On a white sheet tacked on our living room wall we gazed
at sepia images of the Little Tramp sauntering down the street
swinging his cane, smiling shyly at the girl of his dreams.
Scott Joplin rags hummed on our stereo, background sound.
We stretched out on the rug, throw pillows under our heads.
Too tired from the workday, too stoned to make love,
like orphaned siblings, a family unto ourselves, an island.
Before Hudson was Your Name · Daniel Pizappi
I woke on a vinyl armchair
from fitful dreams of an hour’s sleep
and, as if those dreams had never
ended, I saw your mother open
like a lotus and the wet brown curl
of your hair. A day had come
and gone, waiting, and in a moment
you were rushing to meet us.
I held your mother, shoulder and thigh,
and together we pressed into
each spasm of your birth, until you hung
limply from her body and she
lifted you to her chest. You
lay so shriveled and blue
that I nearly stopped breathing —
but you whimpered and I exhaled,
cut the cord that had fed you,
and they swept you away to be
measured, to be wrapped.
If I could, I’d wrap my memories in
butcher’s paper and give them to
you, so your feet would know
what it was to walk beside me.
I’d hold you there, in that quiet knowing,
and save you from my tired mistakes.
You were so quiet, that first afternoon
when we strapped you into the back seat.
Again and again, my eyes sought you
in the mirror, the way they used to when
your mother drove her car behind mine,
to calm a fear that, suddenly, she’d disappear.
I drove south, tracing the river,
then west, onto the bridge and over
the open water. Suddenly, in the noise
and silence of car wheels on suspended
concrete, you screamed with all
the joy and terror of being alive.
Your mother and I walked along the
Hudson before Hudson was your name.
Now we live far from there, and you
were so small that you’ll never remember
what it was to walk along the freight tracks
while sunset skirted the mountains
and gilded the open water. The first home
you’ll remember is here, in Tennessee.
But remember, your first home
was there, on the banks of the river,
with the sun shining golden on its tides.
Gramercy Park Farmers’ Market · Jennifer Martelli
I wouldn’t mind missing the fast train home. I’ll stay with the woman sitting by the baskets of Anjou & Bosc pears: she smudged her house with smoking sage to cleanse it, & yet, she still had to flee. Two Russian Blues play at her feet, eat from a can. She’s named them both Smokey: they are brothers. Gentle brother Smokey. Green-eyed Smokey. The produce here is gold, & there is lavender. Bins of gold winter fruit. Lavender, dried & sober. I want to stay here, folded, shameless.
Postcards from the Road · Gregg Shapiro
Motel 6s in Oklahoma City. Disenchantment and desert
in Albuquerque and Tucson. The hills and the Hillcrest
neighborhood, the heat and the homeless of San Diego.
A young movie star’s tattooed mother protecting her
Mercedes Benz in Woodland Hills, a dishy deli breakfast
in Sherman Oaks. Halloween on Fremont Street in Las
Vegas. Election night elation, followed by Wednesday’s
mixed blessing in San Francisco. The wet air of Astoria,
Oregon and waiting for the sun in Olympia. The individual
charms of Seattle and Bellingham. Hungry meth-heads
and retired Klansmen at a Denny’s in Boise. The twirling
propellers of turbines. The tainted barbed wire fences
and a cup of North African peanut soup at a vegetarian
café in Laramie, Wyoming. The freshly decimated corpses
of deer, coyotes, raccoons, and assorted road kill cluttering
the shoulder of the road. An unexpected and rewarding
reunion in Denver. A bicentennial Viewmaster in Salt Lake
City. Abandoned teenagers in Nebraska. And the only thing
standing between you and home, the rolling hills and
wintry, snow speckled winds of Iowa’s endless prairie.
At Padgett’s Place · John Dorsey
in the middle of the afternoon
is as good a use of my time as any
one day they might name a sandwich after me
some people name stars after dead lovers
& go to sleep hungry
you can’t swallow a comet
i’m better off here
where there is a sandwich made for hustlers
where paul newman’s ghost smiles
at the first pretty girl he sees
time is the true love of all worried men
chalk outlines on their lips
we are all skating on small ponds
the jukebox is the closest thing
to therapy there is
& it always seems
like a better idea
than going home.
Needlepoint Roses · Jason O'Toole
A fountain still shut off at winter’s end
To their homes underground
Rats fat on farmer’s market vegetables
& from the cafes
Golden haired and plump Poles
Already at their jobs
Serving blintzes and perogies
To ecstasy kids smeared in baby jane makeup
Punks with arms full of dope
The counterman has an arm full of numbers
Says “There’s a fifteen minute wait”
A boy in a disheveled wig tells a story
Of just how he got out of paying his fare
“Did you wash your hands after?”
Opting instead for a bagel from the place
On the corner which is not the best
Ask the cashier why there are for sale
In his glass case
Examination gloves, surgical jelly,
Steel wool, and baking soda
“People buy them”
His sensible reply
March sun peeks through the gangways
Children comb the sidewalk cracks
Gathering empty vials and colorful caps
To sell back to the dealers, their brothers
Not her again
She used to be pretty but that was last month
Abscesses, many mouths to feed
Undulate on exposed flesh
She doesn’t recognize me
Grimaces when I announce
“I do not come to slay unicorns
In this weedy hortus conclusus
Or pluck you
From among a thousand sick flowers
Drying on greying tendrils
We call streets”
(Might have chosen words less chivalrously)
Her folk curse stuttered through
Fails to land
I haven’t yet reached the curb
She is already boarding a station wagon
One like it will dump her cold body
Into the spikegrass, cattails and fleabane
In the Salt marshes out on Long Island
This is not a love letter
To a dead girl
Care of a fallen world
This is a loom knocked over by a drunk
See by the fuzzy warp threads on the underside
A city that was always a beast full of beasts
& ever in the background
Stitched deep in the tapestry
Of another junk sick morning
cape ann · Mark DeCarteret
the sea, never sure of its part,
& there is no water to speak of
shelf or shore to draw any perspective
little art to the salt on our lips
further thought to our flesh
only a sun, plush and shell-pink,
sewn into the sky with red thread
the clouds as white as where the waves
would be capped-off and doubtless
were there something
new to delve into
or wed ourselves
even in name
sure, I’ll risk jeweled, kissed or even be-dewed
the sickness that comes from our love-making
but never the gestures that kept your place
like the refulgent trail of some jellyfish
Iceland · Howard Faerstein
in a town crossed by the river Varmá, then wandered past
indelible angles of promontories iced in white fingers, tiny cracks
and jagged vents, a trail shaped by spirals and curves,
chaotic clusters and converging lines of buried sea stacks,
rippling, ropy lava layers shrouded by purple lupine, moss-covered
pyroclastic rock, ashes commingled with micro-organisms thriving
in hot springs, an island of smoke,
and understanding that everything breaks excepting night which falls,
we ate bananas in a greenhouse heated by volcanic steam,
fell asleep on a fumarole field fed by fountains of fire, awakening
in the midnight light of a sulfurous mist as if this hell were heaven.
What I Want to Say Driving Home After My Mother’s Checkup · Christine Jones
It’s what we become;
a sepia tone same as the shadows
I’ve seen fall across Utah’s red rock,
its striations glowing, baring those layers
polished by grim and pitiless erosion.
I am your daughter it seems
more glaring every day; my words
slipping, too. That look,
glazed, wonders where they are.
They’re like the sleep that doesn’t come,
or the morning paper. I’m missing you,
and your affirmative singular dots, all the while
my own ellipses pile, weightless thoughts.
Dear words, (mom let’s pray):
Brave this mouth serrated, its grave
doubt. Scars are acceptable.
The audiologist adjusts her headphones,
tells her to repeat:
Say Talk Talk
Say Hard Hard
Say Dog Dog
Say Bite __
Say Call Call
Say Net Net
What we fear is travelling toward us.
But so is what we love; what is good,
and tender. You are my mother,
more palpable each day, you
reminisce, tell me again (dare I say)
of Mr. and Mrs. Honeybloom,
your first apartment, pushing the stroller
downtown, of when I was young in the backseat
hugging your shoulders, you driving, us
singing Take Me Home, Country Roads.
The fog persists.
I say is questionable.
Not my eyes, not my ears,
not the window. But the fog.
I’m rehearsing what to say
but the fog forges my lines.
How to be understood?
A rattled burst of air strews
a small hole, enough, so if hunched
with chin jutted, I can spot
the exit sign in time.
Disaster · Mike Nichols
Aurora Borealis Spawned, I pummel down
the earth to lash at leaning cabins containing
wool wrapped and frail old men who I
glimpse inside their glowing glass as I
through shadowed valleys fly. Split their posts.
Gel their seeping blue orbs. Fissure their fingers.
Malevolent I rush and rage, crash
into frames of hacked-down hardwood,
mud stuck and stacked, creaking in
icicle cold and strange in my sight.
See these creatures crystallized in pain,
agonized in frost. Blue stained and stilled.
She had it so hot sweat dripped
down to stain the accounts on my
blue-lined balance sheets.
She wanted the children to be warm.
She stoked the stove till it glowed
brimstone red in the darkened void.
By morning, tattered muslin that filled
the door’s gap to keep the frigid fingers back
had frozen to the plank-wood floor.
Six steers gathered near the door with
tails snaked and warped to frozen flanks
as if popped from life-sized plasticine molds.
My teeth always dented Sam’s coins.
He’d enter my bed like a knight
conquering new lands, in righteous fervor.
Tonight he creeps in, shuffles sheets
penetrates my cocoon of heat
his toes a jolt of thrilling cold.
My mother’s dead. Choking,
her red speckled rags stain my vision
of Him slipping into this four post bed.
Blinding wind and snow kept him in my
room all night. I couldn’t stand the stench
of his fetid breath or the glow of his eyes.
Daddy stepped off the back porch
in his mackinaw and muffler and
into a whirling white wall.
He took four steps, I counted his
foot prints, before they seeped
back into that tempting white world.
I wanted to lick the flakes like paper cut
outs we’d made in the schoolhouse
glowing red against the greyed-out foothills.
In blue morning light, daddy’s hands rigid
inside his cross stitch mittens gripped a split
corral post as if in submission to Northern Gods.
His frozen face tilted up to heaven.
His iced wide eyeballs pleading.
His offering frost and snot-sicles.
Evacuation · Lauren Scharhag
out of the path of the storm.
85 a parking lot, thousands of evacuees
funneled into a single northbound route,
lined with barren gas pumps and
outside Mobile, another gridlock,
the sweet relief of hills,
the pecan orchards.
Contradiction Express · Cindy Veach
by love notes. Post-its
left in pockets, duffels, shoes.
I went along,
could not resist
One for me. One for him.
A three-decade quid pro quo.
I wish there were a bibliography
that cited every fight.
First a ripe tomato.
Then a fist. Both hit
the wall, split.
I rode that coaster.
Hung on for dear life.
Love note. Bloodlust.
Love note. Bloodlust.
Life Mask, John Keats · Eileen Cleary
breathing through straws. The plaster
making your lips heavy, four
years before your lungs’ cave
opened to swallow you. As for now,
this image becomes you. I want to graft
your face to mine on purpose, cell
to cell. This gesture, not arbitrary
like suffering. But intimacy I can achieve.
Death Mask, John Keats · Eileen Cleary
your face gives way to wax, preserves
a thousand hairs on the ridge above your eyes,
this thinning that made you feel
already posthumous. It doesn’t show
your gasping at the first clot you coughed,
not the salt of a single anchovy,
not three bites of bread, not
the sweet melody honeyed and unheard.
KC · J.D. Scrimgeour
Sometimes I think you’re Revere’s imagination.
You talk like you’re from around the block,
But perfectly, too. You know when to shut up.
After this long evening of your students’ films,
You’ll fly to New York to meet your son.
Tell me, will we really never play one-on-one?
Why didn’t we meet before our knees retired?
JM · J.D. Scrimgeour
And wrote about Jane Kenyon being brave.
Even then, male poets annoyed her.
She chewed gum and laughed nervously.
In the years since, she gave up smoking.
Kitty Genovese texted her from the grave.
Lucky Jenn, I thought, as she wrote and wrote.
She has someone who talks to her.
Things That Happened Once · Scott Silsbe
that my father sang Tina Turner’s
“What’s Love Got To Do With It”
at Nico’s Recovery Room karaoke.
He sang it so quietly into the mic,
I had to run up there to help him,
making the song a father-son duet.
I turned to look over my shoulder · Richard D. Houff
you notice a rail near the reeds
He isn’t skittish with your presence
and trust is such a good thing
A group of snipes flush from
the bank in search of fresh snails
When your line tightens
and the bobber disappears
You put some shoulder
to the rod
And lift a fat bluegill
from the water
Unhooked and in the bucket;
the waiting is over
The bite is steady, and there
will be enough for dinner
You smile and light your pipe,
focusing on the solitude
And you just want to hold the moment,
to soak up all that space
You want to take it with you,
without letting go
And in this leave-taking,
there are no words
The murderous streets and city
await your return
i met tom hanks · James Croal Jackson
or the idea of
one, without water, just
in the face of earth, potential
a pool waited to fill, like
charisma, that energy could
spark a room full of
doubt, a many-roomed doubt
full of one, such a hole
where say i live
Group Portrait with Bullet Wounds · Alan Catlin
Photo Poem after New York Magazine portfolio 11-17-18 by Michael Avedon
Your first and
”Why would anyone
Braganzas · Mitchell Grabois
I was going to need my collection of Bertita Harding novels
They had power —
the stories of these heroes would keep me alive:
Karl and Zita of Hungary
Austria’s Franz Joseph and Elizabeth
the Mexicans Maximillian and Carlotta
Duse and Da, whose tale age cannot wither
and the glowing story of Clara Shumann
but my wife, a Lithuanian
whose hands were strong
from decades of milking cows
tore them from my grasp
and shoved them into the Fat Boy stove
where I heard them crackling in anguish
as she held me away
I would have burned my hands retrieving them
and not cared at all
All I could save was my favorite
the story of the Braganzas of Brazil
who created independence
from the Empire of Portugal
which I had hidden
in my patterned brocade vest
which I wore over my cummerbund
The hell with you all
I was never cut out to be a farmer
When they release me I’ll take Bertita
on the open road
and together we’ll find a green paradise
something like Ireland
We Don’t Look at Each Other · Tim Staley
We came to the edge of the forest
to practice the raising of our spirits.
We drove here in reliable vehicles.
We lined them up behind us.
A stealth bomber slides
across the sky. I imagine
how thermals feel up
its matte black wings.
I don’t tell the others.
One lady raises her open hands
to the damp particles
pumping towards us
from the forest.
She feels the spirit. It’s easy to see.
She jams her hands
back in her pockets
like the rest of us.
We’re strangers unkenneled
by irritable attention spans,
and a swirling boredom
with the modern world.
Soon we’ll be splashing
gas on the skirt
of this great forest.
Each person will pour
all they’ve got.
There’s no sense hurrying
The timer’s set.
The headlights at our backs
make it look
like a movie.
twitch on the silver
screen of the forest.
It’s this last bit of waiting
that burnishes our fear.
new nursing home LPN · Luke Kuzmish
week old son
a fresh LPN
wearing a Mickey Mouse
“the hardest part —
— it's not dead bodies
that bother me
it's going from
caring for the person
washing them up”
she opened the window
his spirit out
Leave it Running · Phil Huffy
it expedient to create a first floor powder
by piping an unconditioned crawlspace beneath the kitchen.
Access to these underpinnings, required when
freezing conditions pertained, was accomplished through a trapdoor
under the clothes dryer and if leakage had occurred,
it was a wet, cold, dark, and otherwise unpleasant encounter.
The eminent firm of Geist and Geist, local plumbers,
sent a different workman every time, as one by one
each refused to go back down there.
The sole exception to this obstinance was one nimble
fellow had been a tailgunner in a B-29.
The entire problem was fortuitously resolved when,
in the late 60’s, the old place caught fire and had to be demolished.
Four One Hit Wonders · Andrew S. Guthrie
It was an old, old song, buried in history, emanating from that most reliable of sources: anonymous. At least that’s how it got started. It was one of those tunes that popped up in the ancient backwoods, or in lower-class taverns, a melody that was added to and amended due to its precise lack of ownership. Only a foolish hermit who needed to bolster his self-worth, who claimed inspiration from the Virgin Mary, would claim that the song had been stolen from him. It was everybody’s and nobody’s. It was underground, below the radar, and all those modern descriptions that would have made no sense to the acoustic bards. It was clandestine, as verses were added and dropped that skewered the clergy, the burgermeister, the gentry, or those same dirty whore-mongering faces that sat directly under the sway of the lute playing laureate. The tune would occasionally come close to expiration, but some desperate or savvy entertainer would take note of the charwoman whistling the catchy melody as she collected last night’s crumbs and revive the thing for the next generation until finally a composer supported by royal stipend would incorporate it into an opera. At that point, it had become five or six distinct songs, depending on when and where it was played and the size and skill of the orchestra. One could now only speculate as to how old the song actually was — a few hundred years or as primeval as Adam and Eve? The next big jump, as the song had been jumping from town to town, from country to country by foot or horse drawn cart, was to jump continents via an ocean liner, in crammed and festering third class compartments where it was most basically played to allay natural and man made discomfort. The song, or pieces of the song, then made the rounds of the new world ghetto and soon after, boarded a train for the coal mines, for the scrappy farms, ending up in a moonshiner’s cottage and on a cowboy’s saddle. It constituted culture in a society bereft of cultural pursuits, where the song and/or a plate of beans were equally incorporated into the everyday, a song to match the rhythm of digging a hole or darning a sock. It was at this point that the modern musical conveyance came on the scene, a machine that trumped the live, the actual, and reproduced, without variation, any particular song. Material was collected, songs were recorded, product was promoted, markets were carved out. Men and women who previously had relied on picking seasonal fruit or hauling a bucket of water suddenly realized they could make a stab at the hit record. That’s when the song was finally stolen, relegated to the specifics of ownership, a song that had previously been the common property of serf and landlord, of hardscrabble Negro and disbelieving Jew, a song that had landed on the plate of the perpetually famished as well as permeating the gilded confines of the palace. The song was committed to shellac and claimed by an agent. It became a regional hit, a modest enough investment that diverted money from the performers’ pockets into corporate accounts. After this outing, it was placed in a vault along side deeds to property, stock market bonds and cold cash, where it was eventually retrieved by yet another legal entity, someone who was looking for material for one of his properties, in this case a long haired, naïve beauty in black tights and turtleneck sweater who sat under a spotlight with a guitar resting in her lap. The agent was looking for “authentic” material, something to match the inherent talent and implied sincerity of his contracted performer. This entity bought the rights to the song, rewrote the lyrics, and hired an arranger who added melancholic French horn and piquant percussion to complement the languid vocals and de rigueur acoustic guitar of the agent’s designated performer. The agent then pitched the song to a major label, who after seeing the performer sing the song in a smoky, dank, basement coffee house, immediately signed her to a five year, three album contract. The song, as has been noted, now constituted five or six songs, given its different lyrics or breaks that had been added or dropped, and was variously known as, “The Woodman’s Complaint”, “New Boxford Reel”, “Boxford Rebels”, “The Death of Johnny Saint”, and “Saintlike Blues”. However, the title of the hit record that used the original melody and pieces of various lyrics was “Why Keep Me Down When I Rise In The Morning”. This was the only song (discounting the B side, a listless version of “House of the Rising Sun”) ever released under the performer’s name, and while the song took off into the stratosphere, heralding an unforeseen but highly lucrative tangent in pop music history, the performer, shortly thereafter, became a Born Again Christian and defaulted on her contract.
The Subjects first release was a double-platinum selling single that stayed in the top ten for nineteen weeks. The album sales remained flat, but the single showed no signs of falling out of the top forty even into the next year. The members of The Subjects were typical, white, working class young adults, residents of a satellite city that sat near a major American metropolis. They sported layered shag haircuts, crisp blue jeans and shirts that mimicked the jerseys of local sports franchises. They were all reasonably good looking, especially, as might be expected, the lead singer. The band had formed in the last year of High School, built around the vocal harmonies of the lead singer, rhythm guitarist and bass player. The song in question, the hit song, was predictably enough named after a former girlfriend, Kathy, changed to the catchy “Katy K”, whose story was extrapolated into the biography of a waitress at the local Holiday Inn, a single mother who many of the band members had slept with. The self same bar at the Holiday Inn was where The Subjects had honed their set list and, amazingly, been scouted by an A&R man from the subsidiary of a major label. The song, “Katy K”, was built around a canny, upbeat keyboard line followed by a nonsensical chorus of random, rhyming syllables completed by the entire band yelling, “Oh yeah!” When The Subjects entered the studio to record their follow-up, they had left behind the casual but well applied discipline of the previous session. They arrived with a handful of old songs that hadn’t made it onto the first album. The label had allotted 40 hours of studio time for the delivery of a full album. The producer was instructed to not tweak the sound too much but to make sure The Subjects pulled off another hit. The problem was that the left-overs were just that, songs that had been stuck in the back of the refrigerator in plastic containers that were reheated even though they had begun to collect mold. The producer tried combining one song with another, taking bits and pieces of two songs and combining it with a third, and finally, endlessly applying the ear-addicting chorus from “Katy K” (or parts of the chorus) to whatever song was at hand. To add to this dearth of inspiration, the band members had begun to feel the negative pull of fame, which soured the usual High School camaraderie. One or the other of the integral members would show up late or not at all. The second album was eventually completed, but far beyond the studio’s allotted time. It was immediately shelved, never to be released; soon after, their contract was terminated. One still comes across the insidious hook of “Katy K” being regurgitated over the sound systems of supermarkets, hotel lobbies, sports bars or even on the beaches of Acapulco. After their contract had been terminated, The Subjects toured the United States for a few years and then settled back into the Holiday Inn lounge where it had all begun, finally quitting music for good after a slow two year descent into oblivion. The small percentage that they had retained on the rights to “Katy K” provided the three songwriters with a modest income for the rest of their lives.
We were always arguing about whose band it was. The bass player had come up with the original name, had provided the initial riff for at least half the songs, but had been sidelined years ago by one or another asshole lead singer. The first was arrested for underage sex and the second stole all our material and started his own band, backed by members of yet another usurped band, in fact he had the clever idea of calling the band, “The Usurped”, sort of a new wave kind of thing. After going through three rhythm guitarists, the fourth one decided he was a lead guitarist, which entailed him having a fist fight on stage with the designated lead guitarist. We had to lay low for a while after that and all that time the designated lead guitarist kept insisting, “. . . it was my band anyway”. The only reason we didn’t break up was that the drummer provided a free practice space in one of the garages on his stepfather’s extensive compound. At least the rhythm section was relatively stable, which included myself on a slew of homemade percussion instruments. Even though I made it through every permutation of the band, I was basically considered expendable, a rinky-dink part of the ensemble. It was the guys upfront who were supposed to get all the glory. Anyhow, one day when the steadiest members of the band had been waiting at the practice space for a few hours, noodling on one riff or another, telling off color jokes about other band members or otherwise wasting time seeing as we had nothing else to do, we got a phone call from the current lead guitarist who told us he wasn’t showing up “because you suck”. We called the other absentee members who begged off, telling us they didn’t know we were supposed to practice. Of course the obvious question was, “Is this even a band anymore?” a phrase we began jamming on. We really didn’t consider it anything worth writing down, remembering, or continuing with. We were just playfully venting. But when the drummer’s stepdad, quite obviously blasted, burst in looking for a replacement part for one of his golf carts, muttering something about “e-z-go t-x-t 36 volt piece of shit”, his cadence, if not the actual words, provided the perfect break for our lackadaisical jam. We went home thinking nothing of it, but started working it up at the next full-fledged practice session. But here’s the kicker. The current lead singer, who decided, right then and there, to change the name of the band to a combination of his own and his girlfriend’s last name, and who insisted we go heavy metal due to its commercial potential, added the most bombastic, over the top lyrics about romantic anguish and how he was yet to receive his due. This was the only 45rpm we ever released and it didn’t go anywhere. It was only after a full decade, after we had all given up, gone straight or ODed, become diehard loners or members of an extended family, become reasonably successful or continued living from check to check, that the B side, an instrumental version produced and arranged by myself, became the holy grail of crate diggers everywhere. But really what put it over the top was when a TV network used it as the theme song for one of its late night talk shows. By then, the network’s lawyers, though legal back channels, had swept up the song and copyrighted it under the talk show host’s name. They did retain the original title, “E-Z-a-go-go”.
Motherfucker was one of the biggest pains in the ass in the neighborhood. Always stirring up shit. Once you saw his face in the crowd you’d be best advised to find another place to sit. A two-year prison stint didn’t do anything to cool him down, it wound him even tighter. His last couple of years on the street saw him ducking and diving, running out back doors, jumping out of cars to avoid the police or anyone who looked like the police. He had multiple warrants on his ass, parole violations and all that. But he still managed to stir up shit, shot some guy in the foot, got on the wrong side of the wrong people, crashed a couple of cars. Only way you’d want to be in the same room with him was when he was deep into the cough syrup, not seriously deep, but in that soft, velvety phase before he’d start yelling at the TV like it was someone who was passing judgment on his ass. In that velvety phase, dude was almost lovable, he couldn’t get a hard on. Bad boys like that do have a certain kind of vibe, a negative charm or something, otherwise he’d have been hung out to dry a long time ago. But most of them are dumb as shit, practically illiterate, couldn’t tell you the difference between A and B or right and left. But the story was, after the fact, that he had begun to read in prison, and read, of all things, poetry, and I’m not talking about commercial ditties or sentimental crap but that old classical shit, stuff from way over there, you know, about as far away from his turf as you could get. Story was, after the fact, that reading all that built up his rhymes more than actually making any kind of sense to him. He could only get bits and pieces of the thing but he picked up the flow, the rhythm. Some people boasted that his hit song was based on one particular poem by one of those geniuses who were all fucked up over the world, who walked around the countryside dressed in a cape versifying and then died of the flu or something. Well, his story, or the story they told about him, the story that made the rounds, was that he was holed up somewhere for weeks, squeezed between cops and criminals, and he wrote his hit song, well, the words to a song on the back of a Micky D take-out bag. He called it “The Rude Wind Is Slanging” and it told the story of his life. You wouldn’t have believed that the same person who wrote that masterpiece was the same asshole who forgot to turn the safety off his Glock before he pulled it out and pointed it at the local kingpin who’d been searching for him for weeks. I think you know the rest of that story . . . point is, the lyrics were passed from hand to poor ass hand until they landed at the feet of one of the biggest motherfuckers in music. And the rest is history.
The Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael · Vera Kroms
herself, renounce the halo
and the theologians in their little
rooms, join a chorus
of the washed-up, the zoo
of damage off stage,
where mercy is microscopic
and imperfection is always
She can be forgiven
goodness and the flattened
repertoire of her calm face.
Among the bilious
and the foreign, she will feed
a lioness uncurling
in her spine and start
collecting scars the way
she will bring the unbeloved
to the child.
Soft Music · Heidi Blakeslee
is a guitar and a soft voice
the paucity of noise
softens the edges
and shunts it away
dance in organized frenetic
The First of December · Francine Witte
All I did was blink, and he was gone.
It went like this: wedding, introduce him to my friend Cheryl, never see him again.
And now, it will be part of the holiday season. When I bite into a cookie, or hang a needle-y wreath.
My other best friend, Lil, the one who didn’t steal my Harry, says I should have followed the advice of her psychic.
“I didn’t know your psychic,” I say.
“Yes,” Lil says, “but she knew you. And she told me this was coming.”
I ask Lil why she didn’t tell me. I can’t follow advice I know nothing about.
She says a secret is like a holiday gift. All wrapped in shiny paper and do I really want to know what’s inside?
I want to say yes. I think of what would have happened if I knew in time. I want to say all this, but Lil is looking at her watch. “Time for cider!” she says, and do I want her to add some cinnamon?
I think about Harry, and Cheryl, and psychics and Lil, and everyone knowing everything. Except for me.
I take a sniff of the piney air around me. “Surprise me.” is all I say.
Rothko Panel Two · Jonathan B. Aibel
in the dumbstruck clouds,
wretched graces holding hands,
menhirs, almost animals, blood
puddled, skin and egg, inside-out
gateways, lying face-up
arms outstretched in the black
not black. Ultramarine shifts
to Lithol red, an ocean to fall into,
in this darkness I want
to see lucifers sparking.
At the end there isn't a single star.
Hartwill Paradise · Matt Dennison
from some soldier graveyard enscribed:
B. February 14, 1899
D. July 4, 1918, Le Hamel, Framce
on its short, weathered, angel-draped face.
It looked great on the floor beneath my bookshelf
and of course was fun to point out and discuss
after the drinks had filled the people and the room.
And I carried the sarccophagal momento from house
to shrinking house until I lost it somewhere
in the night and I wonder:
Whose will, whose paradise?
White Lies · Jeanette Powers
to saying certain things
without meaning it:
I’ll be home soon.
I love you.
Chimera · Lauren Scharhag
This need to look out into the darkness, inveterate.
Am I vestigial, like an appendix or a tail bone?
Leftover from crueler times,
When watchers on the wall were required.
Now, wingless, purposeless, bladeless, I circle,
Trapped in these lamp-lit streets,
With no sleep to vouchsafe, not even my own.
I tuck my claws in my pockets and keep
To the dark corners of parking lots.
Men doubt my existence.
Set a second alarm clock, they say,
Have an extra cup of coffee.
The world is governed by the tyrannical sun.
The beasts of my nature constantly at war with each other:
One hissing, one snarling and one meekly
Trying to crop at the grass.
I am a cauldron of monsters,
One lone herbivore trying to sweeten us,
Trying to teach us to swallow something
Other than blood.