issue 5 · fall 2017
A Secret · Philip Nikolayev
The child is suddenly sad,
she says, “I feel bad
for the word ’sad’,
because it’s always sad.”
Behold, that’s poetry.
The child plucks an idea
from the imagination and
overreacts to it. So here’s
the secret then, of poetry:
the art of overreacting.
Neural Tones · Bill Yarrow
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude
Stein. I prefer Wanda LaFrond’s version:
“Eròs is eròs is eròs,” she said, sitting next to me
in the dark patisserie where we were listening
to a torch singer light the gloom of our recent
divorces. My divorce was two months older
than hers, but we were both still in the infancy
of our dissolutions, the infected flecks of sour
love still visible on both of our chins. “Who’s
your favorite poet?” I ask her during the lull.
I’m into the vegan poet To Fu, she says. What
about you? I reply, “I’m heavily invested in
Tao Jones, the Wall Street poet.” She tries to smile.
What do you most regret? “Regret? About Hora?
Not being kinder to her, I guess.” She quotes
Dr. Johnson to me: Kindness is in our power;
fondness is not. “That pretty much sums it up,”
I moan. She puts her hidden arms around me
and I reciprocate: it would’ve been rude not to.
Look at us, she murmurs. Tristan and Isolde
without the adultery. “Well, you can’t have
everything.” No? I heard otherwise. Then frozen
dawn waltzed into the bakery, and against
all good sense I arose and arose and arose.
Ozzie and Harriet and the Debutante of 1938 · Doug Holder
This poem is based on Dianne Arbus’ photo: "The Debutante of 1938"
from her clawed hand-
Her head tilted
in patrician amusement
her tortured eyelashes
flare out –
pricks of disdain.
Ozzie and Harriet
appear on the lawn
joined at the hip
blending into blandness
hollow posturing for the
And there is the girl
eleven years old
trapped in a crocheted
forced in a cage
of carnal contours.
has long since clicked
the many doors.
Giving Evidence · John Grey
to the banks of the river,
where many hands grabbed her
like they were hauling in a fishing net.
Did you see their faces?
Or what they were wearing?
No, she saw only eagle’s nests
and the tremor of the wind.
Now, I am afraid, she says,
of the current, of the ripples,
of the waxing moon
and any place damp and mossy.
And she can still feel their bodies
but thankfully not the provocation.
For if she were them,
she wouldn’t do what they did.
Gutted By Generational Reality · Meg Tuite
Let’s say Edwina finds a broken ceramic doll in the attic and takes it to the Antique Road Show. The expert looks it over and asks what she knows about it? Her great-grandmother was thrown off of a freight train during the war between Iowa and Iowa when she was five. The only thing she was clinging to was that doll. That’s why it’s been glued in a few places and lost one eye, just like her great-grandmother.
The expert goes into a synopsis of the war and some of the artisans in that area and asks, “How much do you think its worth?”
Ed’s eyebrows and shoulders rise together like a choir and she shakes her head. Inside she’s praying she’s sitting on a ceramic goldmine, the end to her suffering, a sedative with no side effects. The expert gives her that half-smile that means ‘Let’s peg you along a little longer, shan’t we?’
“Well, if it were in mint condition,” as he points to the gorilla glue Ed put on a week ago, “this would have been quite a gem. On the market you could have gotten at least 30, maybe 35k at auction. But, unfortunately, with the mold that has accumulated on the hem of her calico dress here, and the newly-glued ear, liver, and marble ovaries that might have been found in any dollar store, I’d have to say you’d be lucky to get a couple thousand.” The expert straightens his bowtie and draws his lips together in a smug handshake between himself and himself and turns his head slightly down to showcase his pain at having wrought this unfortunate news.
“Thank you,” he says. “I hope you’ll keep this in your family for a long time to come. Truly a keepsake.” Ed holds it together for the cameras and nods.
Later, she realizes no matter how many times she tries to reconstruct the family history, it will always be a farce. Mom barely gets out of bed. Dad has blasts of mania where his spankings are acoustic echoes of clapping skin with clenched teeth behind closed doors. His rage is a spectacle of muted ejaculations. They come from a nest of incestuous bodies leaking in and out of corners at night or some that orbit the light, changing diapers and giving enemas. Ed knows this.
She is in the back of a squad car just pulling up to the ER. Blurry visuals of smoking weed lined with angel dust in a park somewhere wedges between herself and denial. No angels piss in that dust. Ed sees herself running down streets screaming I can fly, tearing her scabby nails into someone’s face, who turns out to be a cop. “Where did my friends go?” The two policemen stare at her.
When Ed wakes up she finds she is on her way to Bubbling Springs Healing Center, better known to its occupants as ‘Barfing, Spasming, Heaving, and Crawling.
Mom comes by and brings Ed’s clothes, toothbrush, and Noxema. It’s not her first time here and won’t be her last. Mom’s cheeks are bloated up like Macy parade balloons and tiny sprouting veins press against her thickly pored skin. She’s on her way to resupply her tiny keep-me-alive bottles of vodka after this at Walgreens. She’s been in institutions and is not one to linger in places that can lock you up.
“Wars come and go every day,” she says.
“Yeah, Mom. I get that.”
“It’s a constant in our family. Talk to your Aunt Eliza.”
“She’s dead, Mom.”
“Oh, when did you become so literal?” she asks. She opens and closes her purse with a snap every few minutes. She isn’t made for the outside. Her coat is rumpled and one sleeve is torn at the edge. Her shoes look like they’re on the wrong feet, but it’s just the way she holds herself as if every part of her is leaning to the right.
“Thanks for bringing my stuff.”
“You have every right to make a fuss. Outbursts are what keep us alive, if that’s what you’re going for.”
“I don’t know,” Ed says.
“It’s not like I have gaping wounds like a soldier, but I’m tortured every day, child.”
“I know, Mom.” She is a whole trench of misery.
“Well, let me know if you need anything else.” Her eyes penetrate a space just above Ed’s head.
“Cash. I need cash.”
Snap, says the purse. She hands Ed her wallet. “Just leave me enough for Walgreens.” Ed grabs a bunch of twenties and stuffs them in her pocket.
“Thanks, Mom. Time for ‘deep thoughts’ in group therapy.” The best drugs come from the old men who ask Ed to suck them off for a bag. They are frequent flyers. This is their home.
Mom snorts, snaps her purse shut. “If I had a dollar for every group I had to listen to, I’d own a goddamn island. Love you, Edlet, but you’re too much like your Mom.” She kisses Ed on the forehead. Her eyes veer down to the square patchwork sheen of tile. She staggers back down the corridor until Ed sees a blurry outline of her future.
Stripper’s Carnival · Kay Kinghammer
I never thought about strippers in my town.
I was a woman child, seventeen
Running away from the baby,
Running away from sadistic sailors,
Running away from welfare workers –
No job, no school, no money, no chance,
I dreamed and I ran.
I ran and I dreamed.
I hitchhiked to Hollywood.
I had sweaters.
I knew about Lana Turner.
(In 7th grade, twelve years old, blond hair – bleached by accident
It was Maria’s idea, but my mistake:
She wanted my chest.
I wanted her hair.
She bought falsies.
I bought black hair dye.
She looked pointy –
Had pouty lips and curly black hair.
I looked like Dracula’s adolescent concubine,
Skin too white for black hair,
Hair too straight.
We tried red lipstick.
Dracula would have loved me,
Built but ugly.
I decided I’d rather be blond
Like Marilyn Monroe.
I already had her body
36 – 24 – 36.)
At seventeen, I still had blond hair and her body,
Why not Hollywood?
So there I was
They weren’t looking for Lana
At that drugstore anymore.
The want-ad read “wanted –
Dancers and models –
No experience necessary”
I had a choice
How to earn a living –
Or standing up.
I made my choice,
Put my bathing suit on under my sweater
(they might want to see my figure
I wanted to be prepared.)
“Take your clothes off,” he said
“Ha, Ha,” he said.
“Ha, Ha, Ha,
Take that off too.”
He sent me to
(The carnival came later.)
I got drunk the first time
On Pink Ladies and Grasshoppers.
(I was a sweet kid.)
I walked around the stage
Took it off, down to panties and pasties.
Cops were backstage every show.
They were young and horny.
I was young and scared of jail –
They liked my show, they said.
Afterwards, we all went out
And got drunker.
Still drunk, much later,
No school, no chance,
Why not a carnival?
I was still standing up.
The barker is an asshole.
“Balley, Balley, Balley,”
He screams. Every twenty minutes,
Six of us in a one room trailer
Behind the tent, no toilet,
Twelve hours a day.
Put it on, take it off,
An ugly dwarf plays records.
For this they pay us
$150.00 a week.
People bring their kids in the tent.
The cops don’t like us.
The food is rotten.
And the goddam barker screams,
“Balley, Balley, Balley!”
What you saw, Mr. Critic,
Was a stag show.
That happens after carnivals,
At respectable, traditional
At the Elks, the Eagles, the Moose –
Old strippers do that.
Tired, slow moving strippers.
To do but
A nose for my own · Matt Borczon
Instead of college she tends bar and gets mixed up with a volunteer fireman, real red neck type who spends his nights listing to his police scanner and dreams of being the fire chief some day. She tries to convince herself that she starts fires because he somehow wants her to, she says. She knows this by the books he leaves around the house and the voices she now hears inside her head when ever he leaves for the station. Now this should be a big red flag in my head. I was always attracted to but a little afraid of crazy women. I do not like drama and they are hard to get rid of when it’s all inevitably over, but my experiences in the year I have been home from Afghanistan have changed my understanding of crazy in ways I am still trying to process. I have seen ghosts and heard voices nightly since I got back. I know it was the voices that made me follow that college girl around until she had me picked up by the police. I also know I only drink until the ghosts leave that I decided to drive home after was a lapse in judgement I am still paying for. Busted DUI for the third time in a year I got an ankle monitor fines and would have done hard jail time at the county if they had not offered me an in with the veterans court system. I attend these groups at least 2 times a week in exchange for my freedom. Not too bad but I need to be careful what I say, I mostly talk about addiction but never mention the war. I never mention the voices.
Some small and still rational part of me knows that what I should do here is get some real help. Tell this therapist about my flashbacks and nightmares. Try to figure out how to get the demons in my head to not want to kill me. I know this the way a kids knows he should take an umbrella but leaves without it. I have been walking in this rain for almost eleven months now. Still, watching this girl unwind her life in front of complete strangers only convinces me that this is all a trap. She will be diagnoses and labeled here, maybe offered medication that she will take like wearing handcuffs. I think for a split second about the faint hope I had when I started this group last month, to finally feel better if not normal. To get my life together enough to maybe live on my own again. Instead I decide to listen yet again to the voices of dead soldiers wailing around inside of my head. They constantly point me towards the biggest head aches and poorest choices. They plan to do me in one day I just know it. Today in this room all I can hear is them promise me that this girl is all I ever wanted, and all we both need to really get strait, is love.
Serenade · Suchoon Mo
it was raining
there was a railroad station
long abandoned since
she stood there alone
wet and cold
the train left
I never saw her again
I am now old
and she was young
Fishing · Gene Barry
the ready to fly crows
above hollowing out
bunkers of the dead
while he recycles
cows vegetables sheep fruits
digs holes for traffic lights
becomes a life detective
from over the barrier
their memories get speeding fines
his broken head inking out
dead bodies decorating
and she barricaded
inside the curtained window
her harvested thoughts
gowned in his misery
the music of
useless half moons
Woman with Dog (Frau mit Hund) · Larry Dean
Katharina Fritsch (2004)
Caught mid-stroll along the promenade
in some strange underwater kingdom,
to this dry land periphery,
faithful companion by her side.
Not quite human or canine,
despite the lack of faces:
dog’s a dent of muzzle,
woman’s marginella sans gastropod.
A clamshell skirt
may be everyday
attire in Atlantis
but here it seems rather fusty.
Still, that hat would provide
serious shade from the sun,
or keep off kelp
and sundry sea debris.
Such a whimsical scene
makes onlookers chuckle
but shouldn’t someone
the stave in her hand is for?
Burning by One’s Body (or Watching The Last Kingdom While Reading Moby-Dick) · Devon Balwit
Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body. — Herman Melville
You will kneel and swear fealty, the King says
to the wilder and more handsome warrior, who
has no choice, for honor compels him. We sigh
as he sinks, wanting him to fight even if it means
death. We need him to do what we can’t dream of,
we peasants with fardels, at the mercy of any
with power. Unlike our champion, we can’t clench
jaws or flare nostrils with hurt pride, for we
are assumed without pride, consumable
like the straw we bundle. We want no attention
from our overlords, just to live out our time and
snatch what pleasure we can. If even the mighty
must kneel to the mightier, what hope have we?
If we must burn, better to feed ourselves to the flames
bit by bit, conserving our little for the bitter season.
Designs in Nature : Photo Essay · Paul Brookes
Designs in nature capture my eye. I frame its fractals. Take shots from unusual angles or landscapes with a macro lens. Bring out the colours of light on water or in the grain of decaying wood. Often the water and trees and shape are post industrial and manmade. I love to express how natural growth takes place in a managed environment. How it can surprise in a scene manufactured by landscapers.. At the lakeside I often found feathers. As if nature reoccupied the landscape with its throw away items. Odd Logs enticed me. Even when deliberately placed to give interest to an invented landscape, They decay naturally, are possessed by insects and sculpted by gust, rain, hail and ice. All this I like to look at in the wider view of water and sky.
Siblings Songs Of Transformations · Edward Mycue
Cell Damage (1)
Fury injustice abyss ashes
All the animals
Wild horses wild water
Splash flesh tackle
I drag land
Terrible beings from below
Get rid of the bones
Pests is what our worth is
Weight and curses
Such are the birth tales
as we rose, we changed — birthslug, toddler,
kiddo, preteen brainiac out through serious
awkwardness, bootielateral-liciously present
into some normatively developed willfullness
termed “transom,” “conduit” — symbols for such
flowering forms transversing to any seedy end.
the who we were and are will swell, seek, range,
swim within the scale our mature notions permit
wading through them conducting translucent lives.
Slap My Eyes (3)
i know you are supposed to say you thought it would be easier than this (given all strived and labored for), and where is the sweet leisured payoff. (it is still “in the mail” and “the sun will come out tomorrow/ tomorrow/bet your bottom dollar…come what may”).
that’s life: when you come up for air you find you are underwater.
there’s no retreating back up the birth canal.
amid all the plod ’n grovel there has to be a secret santa.
well enough soon enough then enough. enough?
the where’s and the when’s keep turning.
we are like that teenager in the gulf of aden clinging to the airbuss wreckage.
hang in there, help is on the way. or maybe sometimes help is in the way.
keep the hope light on.
love is what the clouds send your way
living today yesterday.
Valleys of Departure (4)
As in November when we plant
tulip, hyacinth and daffodil
as old bonds grown dull
like those meiotic moments
in dreamed carts of hay)
those things remembered
The torpor brought
from the soft thocking
has gone and left us only us.
It is time and nothing waits.
It is soon and nothing waits.
It is late and nothing waits.
The Great Wave (5)
This is bitter
Life is brief
Time’s the thief
Life is bitter
This is brief
Surpassed by grief
Time is liquid
Each sun sets
Our floating leaf
Mood Is (6)
mood is a mind-map as if the mind covered
the whole body and its feeling and emotions. the state of the world
and our u.s.a. contribution
of messing it up has me brooding.
those wasp galls sometimes
ping pong ball size
(and sometimes more tiny than a pea)
on numerous kinds of oak trees
mirror me to myself the way that
“power of ten” idea of out-of-the-body
visualizations re-imagines me to me.
zooming in/out from insignificance
and responsibility to not even
the painted face of a clown.
Knowledge of a Single Rose (7)
The five-petaled regular corolla rose
has sorghum fingers that play with your nose
from the inner envelope. This is not
the Rose of Sharon: that spindling hollyhock
is as near to a rose as a hemlock.The rosary is a Roman Catholic devotion
that has five sacred “mysteries” and five
sets of ten “decades” of Ave Maria prayers
and each begins with an Our Father prayer,
and each decade ends with the Glory Be one.
It’s all repeated like the rose, like some
magical-mystical charm or enchantment “OM.”
It’s meant as more a path than a pastime:
each rose a single step pilgrimage, window,
colored hope, and compass pleasingly rote. I know you now, rose; I know you not, rose.
We Remember Magnolia (8)
Trip down memory lane.
In deed. Last year’s magnolia.
Time machines march on.
View the past. Only.
Scanning for answers.
If any are disclosed or uncovered.
The machine never talks “future.”
Only scans backward.
Without any updates.
And the time machine memory
only blurs the velvet picture
in any future re-scan backward
because the most recent past
is the foggiest of what was
(having no historical certainty
validated by memory because
those mists seem more real
than today’s blindered confusions
we stumble in right now).
Magnolia once white darkens.
But we remember how it was.
Yesterdreams—Star Light (9)
— bronzed pair of booties holding down a sagging telephone line,
— picture from a gone time but one that is still just out my window
here on fulton and octavia streets next to olive trees with plastic bags caught in them
— “witches cowls” — filled with passing breezes
amid caws of crows & occasions when sea birds escape east from ocean storms & west
to California from the Sierras when calmer, settling in our parking lots deciding maybe east or west again, birds moving, passing,
pausing; only flitting hummingbirds silent so far
bronzed booties imaged there from pairs of tennis shoes often caught on
lines where drug runners marked territories;
my San Francisco mind marked with long densely-textured decades written, cared-for, polished, discarded, & somehow are written again
because the mind wasn’t finished with them & i was unable to find a step-down program
to get free from voices, visions. where when i’m
dead will those booties go? will there be telephone lines & poles?
will it all sink as sediment under risen shores scraped, lathered by
empowered tides with only birds on their ways in their days that alone continue while
below fish swim above our yesterday silt
in fogs, rain, wind & sun without anyone until “time” arrives as
earth itself fractures into “space” that collides beyond my deeming.
Everything Is Bending (10)
Paths lead up, down. Day’s not east. All’s traffic.
In these necessary hours, a man lifts his arms,
stretching a ready, signaling crimson. A long
shadow adds you. The you adds with. And all
night, love. Bending everything. So, if numbers
inquire, tell them we are the ones, they are ones,
I am one: awe-filled not a turned-brain knob.
If the numbers inquire, tell me you are a one, I
am your one, we truckle, burnished, roan now, in
submarine confusion, swollen, last guest, happy
proclaiming life is the insult. Even when it’s not.
If the numbers inquire, you can say how differing
drummers relive, repeat lessons of pilgrimage,
malaise, the hungering decline of allegiances,
how to fill a numb center, to reshape the line.
Night is a dream and I am dreamt by trees. Trees
are like words. Words are veils. In the forests,
the stones are moss-covered. The trees sign to the stones.
Between two there are lichens. Between things, words.
Words are the things. But we don’t grow wise. Last
night, trees dreampt me, you took me into your arms.
The chill on the night is a path. We don’t grow wise.
Hold me. Night is a dream. Permission varies, a person
changes, no fiction’s real. The lovers, joined, were
separable. Indistinguishable. Not to themselves: so
neither could extirpate the memory? How could they
be true to their natures? It made them like numbers.
In the jail of San Francisco a gardener’s more beautiful
than his roses. That odor of decay in tender flesh.
In the Johnny Neptune Bar where the Sunset guys shout
“lemme have a Bud, I need a bud” a man is fucked.
“Queer” is a family where since they spoke the same
language all the people understood each other as they
wandered looking for a land to like. When they found
it, they began to change it into a great decorated city.
With decorated walls, courtyards and a tower to make
them famous as Babel because that beckons a proud
people who although overweened and confounded with
a curse of voices were one family of bending numbers.
Here cross-dressing is transpersonal. The drag’s hero.
Here the mix and match malebox is full. Check it out
You can’t order tools for living. Cross-dressing for
counterfeiters, ersatz, fake, actors, novices, postulants.
Pass. Received, recommended. Each an encore. Awe-
some is not the word. Try another body, try clone, truly
because here has been the songs of transformations
“over beyond my aunt’s where the deep waters flow”
yours, try genetic position, try engineering (impotent
mission) try to change anything. Change your whistle!
Divent, divest, invent, invest, enter the second journey
moving through to dis-embody, trans-body, cross over.
Try to change your lord: memory. Go to another planet.
Drag-queen’s hero, transpersonal. Check it out. Try.
We Leave Nothing Behind (11)
What we experience we are
Much passes through us
But we leave nothing behind
What we are we are
What we have been is us
What is left is nothing
We leave nothing behind
An earthworm caught in time
Much passes through us
What we have been we were
What is left is nothing
We leave nothing behind
CODA: Lost In The last rites before surgery (12)
Oaf – use your loaf (your head) – Volumes:
Is it foggy – can you see the top of Lone Mountain
It’s about time, Little boy Eddie hasn’t been seen in years
Is it elegant, should it need to be to be remembered
When the fog covers your mountain no reshaping a line
Rhythm and Rhyme weaving on, winding a dicey return
From white through green to black – sunrises, sunsets
A rose poem of orange and blue, green, yellow and red
Poem, not philosophy nor instruction, or points of view
Something observed, not asserted, but wondered at.
from A Song Of Transformations that begins Katharine Butler Hathaway’s 1942, 1943 THE LITTLE LOCKSMITH (Coward-McCann, Inc., New York)(simultaneously in the Dominion of Canada by Longmans, Green & Company, Toronto) and having been published in parts serially in the Atlantic Monthly.
Like a Clyfford Still Painting · William Doreski
Tattered like a Clyfford Still painting, my birthday unfolds on a snowdrift and settles there. I could use a glass of wine the color of starlight, but the murmur of competing voices keeps me sober. Maybe later in front of the TV I’ll cough up the stone in my throat. Maybe when I’m old and bankrupt I’ll find a stick of driftwood the color of bone and adopt it. When a friendly museum offers to frame and hang my birthday in a gallery I’ll blush with the honor and accept a handshake or two. Until then I’ll try to keep a straight face while women repulsed by my wrinkles and sour expression insist I resemble Richard Gere. I don’t know Richard Gere well enough to spot him on the street, and have never sat through any of his movies. But I’m sure his birthday also resembles a Clyfford Still painting, maybe one of the white on white ones from the early Fifties. Mine looks darker, more like the orange on black ones of the same era. Regardless, it’s the irregular forms, like rags after a bomb blast, that define me. Maybe every artist feels this tearing and ripping on their birthday. Maybe not. Maybe just the convergence of color and form excites and incites them to excel.
Be Kind, Rewind · Neil Silberblatt
that cloudless Tuesday,
with its Chartres-blue sky,
I could not watch the news.
Instead, I taped the broadcasts
for later watching.
that quiet night
marred only by the ululation of widows,
I re-wound the tape and watched in reverse
as towers rose from toxic dust
as windows formed from shards of glass and
micrograms of mercury oxide
as confettied papers re-assembled themselves into
binders and file cabinets
and as young men
spread eagled like Icarus
in casual business attire,
ascended on plumes of ash
against the Chartres-blue sky
and reached their offices,
just in time
for that all
10:15 conference call.
Return to Lom-Ling · Adrian Slonaker
unusually quiet street –
just the snarling of a dog inside a vehicle
and the summertime chatter of a couple of schoolgirls.
So many closed doors and darkened windows-
hours of rest or hours of bankruptcy?
I know the blocks.
Do they know me?
I walked them in far different days
when I was a far different me.
Names on storefronts,
others new invaders,
Yet the faces ring no bells.
When an angel looks homeward,
sometimes he confronts nothing but
a strange concoction of the terribly familiar and terribly strange,
with the aftertaste of egg rolls
Answering the Crumbs · Donald Zirilli
not the ocean but the ocean’s reply,
in its stillness more similar to the sky.
Later, she will bark at a toaster.
Driving Home from Your Wake · Donald Zirilli
I see a fawn lying on the side of the road
in perfect sleep, and I remember the grandchildren
not knowing what to feel, looking around.
It’s quite a while before I think of you,
almost Elizabethan in that high collar,
forever unflappable, full of the last word,
not that I got too close,
and when finally I’m in the backyard with a beer,
the fireflies are like a procession of headlights
performing maneuvers I can’t know,
not stars at all.
Arithmetic · Philip Nikolayev
it eventually surpasses the number of
remaining friends. Right before that
is the moment where the number
of one’s former friends either
exactly equals the number
of one’s remaining
friends or is off
Stung · Kenneth Pobo
on top of an underground hornet’s nest.
Out they come, stinging him
three times. He screams as he runs
to the house – the air conditioner runs
and an open can of fizzy water
(black cherry) goes flat on the counter.
A painting of a hummingbird could use
dusting above the TV
which is now off but later Jeff
will want to watch that Mary Tyler Moore
marathon which they will do since
they both love Mary. Last Christmas’s
advent calendar, all days open, still
rests on the mantle beside a red vase
that Jeff got in the hospital thrift shop.
That nice older lady, Harriet Something,
sometimes talks to him about
the Yankees if she’s not busy. Jerry
flings open the overstuffed medicine cabinet,
pops a Benadryl, wraps ice
from the ice maker in a towel.
Jeff presses it on his wounds
as Jerry rapidly explains what happened
and he didn’t get enough dirt
around the base of the datura
so will it grow strong and bloom
or wither away like that sad
white hollyhock behind the shed.
Out of the Closet / Into the Tomato Patch · Kenneth Holt
“I have no idea. I swear, none.” was the answer she received.
“Communal living, Corinne? What about your VO5? I can’t imagine you without your tube of VO5!” she burst out, laughing, chuckling away.
“Alright, K, I get it. Okay, that’s very funny. I’m glad you find this so amusing but I didn’t know what he had in mind. I thought we were going to visit his family’s cabin in the mountains. His story changed on the way up there. It got weird, kind of scary. There was something familiar about the idea I couldn’t shake. It’s hard to put a finger on.”
“Well, Jesus Christ, don’t let Hollis find out. Whatever you do, C. Don’t let him know. He hates that little shit already. If it ever gets out that Ocean is trying to relocate you, and in with a bunch of hippies, it’s over. As in a doornail.” she then paused briefly and continued in a throwaway manner. “The old man just might drown him before the big day anyhow.”
They’d already had this discussion. So why hit on it all over again? Just because of the anomaly in the woods? Corinne was only gone one week and came back no worse for wear. Not much, considering. The sisters weren’t likely to agree on this matter anytime soon.
Kay switched ears while waiting for C’s response, despite the odds of getting one. It took a few moments to untangle the curly cord by candlelight. She arranged a few items on the table before her.
“K, I need your support on this.” Corinne said after the break. She picked up her coffee cup only to set it back down in earnest anticipation.
“I think you’re really honestly nuts, but … okay.”
“Do you? Do you, K?”
There was silence. An itsy crinkle came from Corinne who removed the cellophane wrapper from her pack of cigarettes. She fished one out, got it going and exhaled.
“And never breathe a single word to Mom!” Corinne chimed in, knowing this would give her big sister another start.
Kay jumped right on with a reply because she did indeed know what Corinne was getting at. It’d remained somewhat unresolved even though more than 18 months had passed, making it an ongoing irritation between them.
“I promise! I won’t! How was I to know those weren’t tomato plants growing in your backyard? How was I supposed to know THAT?”
“Gosh-all, K. Couldn’t you have come to me first? Remember, ‘Mums to Mom’.”
“How was I to know? I thought they were the biggest goddamn tomato plants in the whole world. I was excited! I pictured you winning the agricultural prize at County Fair ‘68!”
“Well, they sure as hell weren’t tomato plants and Mom couldn’t wait to ask ‘Harrowing Hollis’ what Gerald had going on back there. She just couldn’t WAIT.”
“HaHa! Oh, god! I imagined she might die that day. I really did, C.”
“I know. And that’s what finally broke Gerry and me. There wasn’t any way he could handle Mom’s disapproval of him.” Corinne then dreamt back to a different time, wondering why Stepfather always needed to go so far. “You know, when I think about it? I kind of died a little that day, too.”
“Hollis had to do it. Right, C? You know he did. Gerry couldn’t be around the kids, not while smoking that stuff.”
“I used to believe that too, K. I’d been convinced of it. But it doesn’t seem to be the real problem. Not at all.”
She followed with a drag off her cigarette and continued.
“I could always tell, you know? When he’d come in from the garage with that skunk all around him, he had a look. He went a little cross-eyed. His one eye drifted around. Zany!”
“Oooh! How he made me laugh, C, and Mom, too! She loves Gerry. She really does love him.”
“I know she does. What’s not to love? That guy. He almost won over the old man. He’s the only one who’s even come close.”
“Yeah, C. I think you might be right.”
“It would be nice to be right about something.”
There was another long pause and then a sound of rattling and muffled curses came to Corinne through the receiver. She heard something drop and make a noise like it was being dragged across the floor. Corinne pulled the phone away from her ear and looked into the end of it as if she could see right through it into what was happening.
“Phew, I’m okay! I thought I locked myself in the closet again.” said K.
“K, are you hiding in the closet, again? Corinne asked.
“I have to! Well, I guess I do? It never does any good. Never did. David knows I’m in here. I don’t know why I do it!”
“Just out of harm’s way?”
“A delay at best … old habits.”
Corinne took a moment as an image slipped beyond reach.
“Tell me you don’t have the card table set up in there?”
“Well, yes. Of course, I do. That’s where I put all of my stuff while I talk to you.”
“I can’t believe they think I’m the crazy one.”
“You know what? David caught me smoking in here again the other day, but he didn’t just catch me, he heard me scratching at the door and pressed his ear right against it. I could see the shadow of his feet at the bottom crack and he was sniffing all around. He knew I had locked myself in even though I went completely still and pretended I wasn’t there. Then he just left me in here for a full hour before opening up! He says he’s going to divorce me over it! Can you believe that? He’s trying to get me into juicing carrots and says he knows a manicurist who can start a yogic trance to cure me. I honestly
don’t know what to say about THAT?”
“Maybe we should introduce him to Gerry’s prize winning tomato plants?”
“Ha! He could use a stiff drink!”
“… and then leave HIM scratching at the closet door!”
There was a new pause, one without a whit of tension.
“Hey listen, C. Maybe we’ll go out later? Just us.”
“Call me back in awhile. And listen, seriously, never a word to Mom.”
“Not even if Jesus commanded it, C.”
“What’s with all this Jesus talk?”
“I don’t know. It’s suppose to help, right?
“Never. It never once helped.” Corinne released as the shards of memory assembled into their childhood mantra.
Never-Never – never a word
“C, what is it? You okay?”
“It’s just. I suddenly recall why I’m frightened. We had our trips to the woods. Am I wrong, K?”
“The old man always did for his girls.”
“Only we would know.”
“Hey. At least you escaped the commune.”
“K, were you born this hysterical?”
“Of course not, every bit of it was earned.”
“Yeah, every lousy bit.”
“Hang on, sister.”
“You, too. Hang on, sister.”
Some Dare Call It Treason · William Doreski
Sneaking through the world without paying. Short cuts through expensive office buildings. Coffee and snacks put out for deserving employees. A swim in a hotel pool. Handshake of a bright young lawyer eager for clients. A book taken from a public library. Piped music in a shopping mall. The sunset ringed with errant proteins. A taste of decayed wood and weathered marble. A sparrow blowing a kiss. The night filling pails with dark that anyone could spill in the street. A church bell of the richest bronze ringing up the hours. A priest whispering last rites to a stone-cold carcass in an alley. An ambulance snoring through the wee hours. The voices of strangers clapping like erasers. Dawn staggering in a drowsy, dewy park. A tough old man snoozing on a bench. A stink of unwashed human. The aroma of unsolved crime. A doughnut tossed half-eaten into a trash can. The cry of a disappointed schoolchild. The tremor of old hands wringing in doubt. Four empty pockets, no ID, not even a lint ball. A wisp of sour breath drifting away on the cusp of a word.
Before · Ryan Quinn Flanagan
the night terrors
were always there
and I would
wake up oil tanker slick
having sweat yellow
through the mattress
all the way to the
with a relived fear
more real than any
moment you have
ever spent awake
and the way I would
curl up and tremble
as though I were
the drummer in a
who could not stay
still even though
I wanted to
as the black mass
in the corner
held more terror
then 10 000 lived streamed
beheadings with a
and half a dozen drums
of fuel so the carnage
never ran out.
Dousing our Genoa · Gene Barry
and let us walk that umbilical road,
where we will cast those parental nets,
trawl through our mom and dad’s unspoken
and drift through seas of understanding.
Come tune these heartstrings Dad
and sing my favourite childhood songs,
minuet me with little feet so light that
we can swing into arms we long for,
dress me in the colours of happiness.
Douse our family Genoa Dad
and ease the tiller from mother’s hand
and please become that night watchman
who will track a peaceful childhood course
we drifted from in times of parental fogs.
Do not leave me now Dad,
but bed yourself into my heart,
I have rooms there for you to
decorate and furnish, so many volumes of
misunderstandings for you to read and write.
A Continuing Response to Walter Savage Landor On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday · Kay Kinghammer
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart. – Walter Savage Landor
On Her Thirty-Fourth Year
I strove with none, not an aggressive sort.
Men I loved, and next to them, sex and food.
I toasted my backside; the front was hot to start.
Time cools the flame, and also, the mood.
On Her Thirty-Ninth Year
I’ve spent my life in constant contention.
I lose a few and win a few each day.
God and the Devil compete for my attention.
Don’t want to die and so I think I’ll stay.
On Her Fiftieth Year
It’s a battle just to stay alive this year.
It seems I should have come to life a boy.
It’s more than just the aging that I fear;
I fear that I have lost my greatest joy.
On Her Fifty-Second Year
Moping Shirley’s got up and gone away.
Silly Sally’s boppin’, got the beat.
The words still dance and they still want to play.
Life is fine and rhyming’s still a treat!
On Her Fifty-Fifth Year
Moping Shirley’s gone away this year.
Comfortable in my body, I enjoy
Memories of pleasures once so dear.
Pain’s forgot. No longer Nature’s toy!
On Her Sixty-Seventh Year
Responsible Rachel and Resentful Rita live here
Along with Silly Sally and little old me.
We’ve fought for sole possession all this year.
No one has won. I guess we’ll wait and see.
On Her Sixty-Ninth Year
This is the part about my father. –
Without you I wouldn’t be here.
So thanks for that much, no further,
Not big on forgiveness, I fear.
On Her Seventieth Year
I’ve spent my life in constant contention.
I lose a few and win a few each day.
God and the Devil compete for my attention.
Don’t want to die and so I think I’ll stay.
On her deathbed, she said · Lisa DeSiro
Bring me one of Victor’s belts so I can use it to stretch my legs
That clock isn’t right, the hands should be going the other direction
Take those cards off the bulletin board, I don’t like the shapes they’re making
Why can’t anyone fucking understand me
What if it’s all a lie
This is about as exciting as watching paint dry
nothing, wagging her finger at me, her eyes sunken and wide
Psycho · Doug Holder
a threatening rustling of curtains
through the torrents of rain.
I still expect
of the archetypal dagger
the noise outside the deluge
muddled, but with implicit danger
I grip the soap
it slips nefariously
from my hands
I bend over
such blind trust.
Executing The Trade · Bill Yarrow
He drowns his books, I’m drowning in mine.
He exercises his power – I’m powerless to exercise.
The indigenous world is just not for us.
The oil dog barks at a wall of dried primer.
A stuck baffle in the duct. Escuche, joven:
do not accept the dry inevitability of
detachment or the ripe futility of lust.
Summer to the rescue. Summer will save us.
Prospero smiles at the bulwarks, foreign
and domestic. He sees enchanted beings
benignly dance. I see a black lighthouse
at the end of a chocolate pier. Be an
architect, an architect, my son. Death says,
“No, this time only the brides will survive.”