The Fox Chase Review – Autumn 2014 Edition

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.Autum 2014 Cover

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“Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is.” – Poet Joseph Brodsky

Welcome to the Autumn 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review, our 19th. We are pleased to present:

Poetry by: Charles Carr, Bibhas Roy Chowdhury/Kiriti Sengupta, Noah Cutler, Emari DiGiorgio , James Guth, Ben Heins, David Livewell, Maria Massington, Laren McClung, Kelly McQuain, Robert Milby,  John Richard Smith, Changmin Yuan,  Jason Wright.

Fiction by: Dennis Lawson and Danny Johnson.

The Fox Chase Review

 

Charles Carr, Autumn 2014

I Saw A Photograph,

             After Ozier Muhammad’s photograph

in the newspaper today which I want to paint.

Show the perspective from the top of the head of the man at the bottom, leaning

over to pick up what he is starving for.

I want to make his arms strong.

 

Accentuate the thrust of the arms and hands

stretching over and around the heads of the others,  into the shape of river beds, crooked, dried up.

I want to express the anguish in the fainting eyes

 

of that lady crushed against the shoulder of the

man whose eye sockets are darkened valleys.

Make him appear restrained.

Soften the fist that

 

is pressing a finger against the

temple of the girl in the lower right

corner.

pushing her forward

in the line toward relief,

 

and the young guy stacked below her,

brush his face with a mirthless smile,

tinted with defiant history.

I want to mix the colors from the earth

 

into an ivory black intensity

for the young man who is behind that

old woman with white hair in the center.

and compose her lines as his, aged mother;

 

create a space between them,

let you feel that he is pushing her toward you

to daub her lips with water

relieve her thirst.

Charles Carr is a native Philadelphian. Charles was educated at LaSalle and Bryn Mawr College, where he earned a Masters in American History.  Charles has worked in social and community development services for 40 years.  Charles has also been active in raising funds for various missions and organizations serving the poorest of the poor In Haiti.   In 2009 Cradle Press of St. Louis published Charles’s first book of poetry: paradise, pennsylvania. In January of this year, Haitian Mud Pies And Other Poems published by The Moonstone Arts Center was released.  Charles’ poems have been published in various print and on-line local and national poetry journals.   Charles also hosts the Moonstone Poetry series at Fergie’s Pub in Center City Philadelphia once per month.

Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, Autumn 2014

পাগল

 

প্রতিটি জল ও সেতুর গল্পে এক স্তব্ধ চরাচর

নির্মাণের অপেক্ষায় থাকে।

 

হাহাকারের মতো তুই চরাচর,

তোকে আত্মবিলাপের মতো লাগে,

তোকে প্রবল স্পর্শের মতো মনে হয়,

যেন-বা প্রস্তুতির মতো নিরিবিলি স্বপ্ন

নিঃসাড়ে মাথার ভেতরে বেড়ে যায়…

আর যে-আমি দৃশ্যের সুরঙ্গে ঢুকিয়ে দিই নরম থাবা,

যে তখন আত্মরক্ষা শেখেনি,

যার আঙুলগুলো অদৃশ্য হয়ে গেছে স্রেফ কবিতার রহস্যকে

আরও জমিয়ে তুলতে,

সে ফেলে-আসা দিনের ভেতর খসিয়ে ফেলেছে তার ল্যাজ,

আর লক্ষ করেছে অন্ধকারেই তার শরীর স্বতঃস্ফূর্ত বাঁক নেয়

 

বাঁক ঘুরে সেই চরাচর…

বাঁক ঘুরতেই নির্মীয়মাণ নির্জন…

প্রতিটি জল ও সেতুর গল্পে এইখানে পৌঁছে

একবার সে মৃত্যুর ঝোঁক নেয়,

পাক-খেয়ে-ওঠা আর্তনাদ গোপন করে,

দু-চোখ বুজে বেঁচে থাকার কথা ভাবে,

আর তারপর বিস্ময়কর শরীর ঝাঁকিয়ে

তার জ্ঞান থেকে চরাচরের উদ্দেশে উগরে দেয়

অগুন্তি প্রানীদের,

 

দৌড়তে-দৌড়তে তারা দরকার মতো নখ হয়, দাঁত হয়,

কালো ডানা আর সেয়ানা চোখ হয়,

কিংবা তারাও নয়, দৌড়চ্ছে সে একা…

কিছু হিংস্র হয়ে,

কিছু আত্মোদ্ধারের আশায়,

একবার জলের দিকে,

একবার সেতুর দিকে…

 

তাকে সামলাতে না-পেরে প্রতিবার গল্পের এই মাঝপথে

আমি পালিয়ে যাই…

যাচ্ছি…

তার আঙুলের বিনিময়ে আমি তো তাকে আমার

আয়ুর দু-একটি ইঙ্গিত ছাড়া কিছুই দিতে পারব না…

 

কাব্যগ্রন্থঃ যখন ব্রিজ পেরোচ্ছে বনগাঁ লোকাল,

পৃষ্ঠাঃ ৪০

কবিঃ বিভাস রায়চৌধুরী

প্রকাশকঃ আনন্দ, প্রথম সংস্করণঃ জানুয়ারি, ২০০৮

Kiriti Sengupta, Autumn 2014

Translation to English

Lunatic

A quiet earth awaits formation

in every story of the water and the bridge.

 

You, the earth, moan aloud

like the lunatic talk with thy self,

I find you like the very touch,

or like the quiet dreams that resemble your preparation,

and these grow, inside your brain, silently…

I have extended my soft paws into the tunnel of scenes,

Although I was unaware of self-defence,

and to create some magic in the poetry

my fingers vanished, but I have shed my pride

among the days that passed by.

I have noticed

my figure took a spontaneous turn only in dark.

 

As I turned I reached the land…

As soon as I turned I felt the solitude under construction…

I tend to die;

I hide my grief as I enter into the story

of the water and the bridge.

I think of my livelihood

with my eyes closed, and a sudden jerk thereafter…

I give away numerous beings, from my acquired brain, to the earth.

With movement, as the situation demands,

they turn into nails, teeth, black wings, and cunning eyes…

They, perhaps, are not in motion…

I, may be … running alone…

Being desperate or I desire salvation…

At time towards the water,

and towards the bridge some other time…

As I failed to control myself I escaped…

From the middle of the story … I do escape…

In return of my fingers I could not give

myself much, except for a few hints of my lifeline…

Bibhas Roy Chowdhury was born in the year 1968, in the terminal town Bongaon of West Bengal, India. He was one of the distinguished poets of the ’90s and is now an established poet in contemporary Bengali literature. Bibhas has authored eight poetry-titles, and his poems bear the characteristic features of the language of love, turmoil of the life of a poet, Partition of Bengal, and resplendent light of the lost lives. Although he has received many awards, he prefers to remain private.

Kiriti Sengupta is a bilingual poet and translator in both Bengali and English. He is the author of the bestselling title, My Glass Of Wine, a novelette based on autobiographic poetry. Kiriti’s other works include: My Dazzling Bards (literary critique), The Reciting Pens (interviews of three published Bengali poets along with translations of a few of their poems), The Unheard I (literary nonfiction), Desirous Water (poems by Sumita Nandy, contributed as the translator), and Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions (selected poems by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, contributed as the translator). He has co-edited three anthologies until now: Scaling Heights, Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge, and Epitaphs.

 

Noah D. Cutler, Autumn 2014

Musings on West Laurel Hill

The old beer barons sit at the top of the hill, ensconced in great stone temples, built by men who washed away the toil of their lives with pints of the very same brews that paid for their labors. Such enormous, ornate structures are more akin to cathedrals than to the graves of mere mortal men, but I suppose it’s only natural for men to crave the permanence of a stout masonry edifice, when their lives and fortunes were built on something as ephemeral as beer – always just passing through.  Scattered here and there a bit down from the great hill’s lofty crest, you may find the graves of the breweries’ managers, among legions of others of more modest wealth and far more modest egos; perhaps having greater concern for the impressions they would be making in the next world than in the world they were leaving behind. And nowhere in these aristocratic precincts of the dead will you find even a single one of the men who shoveled the grains, worked the vats or hauled the heavy barrels to the corner taps. No; not a one. These men and others of their class lie in far more humble venues, beneath simple slabs of softer stone, in plots that were purchased dearly in small, seemingly endless installment payments made from what little cash remained after the costs of food, clothing, rent and, of course, the daily pints of brew that lubricated the tedium of their burdened and uneventful lives. May they all rest in peace.

Noah D. Cutler is a retired commercial real estate lawyer living in St. Davids, PA. He writes poetry largely because it’s cheaper than psychotherapy. With very few exceptions, he has not previously permitted any of his poetry to be published, as he generally prefers to perform it.

 

Emari DiGiorgio, Autumn 2014 

Lady Liberty

If tits and ass are the new stars and stripes,

I’m plenty patriotic too. God bless you

 

and each of your French-tipped fingernails clicking

the stainless steel barrel of your Lady Remington

 

Automatic. Fashionable in your horn-rimmed glasses,

classy skirt suits, a thirty-aught-six smile as bright

 

as the brooch on your lapel. I’ve been that girl—

spit flawlessly through chain link, severed worms,

 

never cried Mercy. No matter if you can crush a beer can

on your forehead without mussing your mascara

 

or bludgeon a sea trout without bruising the meat

or cracking a bone, you’re a field of alpine forget-me-not

 

under the elephant’s feet. Alone in the campaign trailer,

putting down the seat, are you reminded

 

you’re in the men’s room? How you flaunt this privilege

like a Miss GOP sash. So what, if your running mate

 

wears you like the tie the Party’s picked for tonight’s speech,

you’re a woman with resolve. But Cleopatra might say:

 

It’s not the asp that kills. What makes us any different

from the call girls out back the DC country club?

 

All carrying some flag for the good of man. Lay down

your swords, ladies, let the eagle starve. Mercy. Mercy.

Emari DiGiorgio makes a mean arugula quesadilla and has split-boarded the Tasman Glacier. She teaches at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and is a Poet-in-the-Schools through the state arts council and the Dodge Poetry Foundation. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arsenic Lobster,Mead, the Raleigh Review, Smartish Pace, and Verse. 

James Guth, Autumn 2014

Elvis Presley’s Belt

It was Christmas time and Uncle Howard had been released from

the hospital for the day.

Twitchy, Nervous, finger tapping, nail biting Uncle Howard.

Always smiling Uncle Howard.

 

When he arrived he announced that he had a gift for me.  Then he

took the hand from behind his back and brought it out boldly in front

of himself. He presented me with the finest gift I have ever received.

It was a blue suede belt.

 

I knew immediately that it was important.

There was this Elvis guy on the radio that sang about a pair of blue

suede shoes he wore. He insisted that no one step on those shoes of his.

Now I had his belt.

 

Uncle Howard put the belt around my waist to see if it would hold up my pants.

It was to long for a tiny five year old Jewish boy. I had been given Elvis’s belt.

The one that matched his shoes! The belt was too big! It was for adults.

Like Elvis!

 

I couldn’t wear it to school to show my friends because it was Elvis size.

That never bothered me much as I played hooky often. School was no fun

at H A Brown in Kensington Philadelphia.

Several weeks after receiving Elvis’s belt I had spent the day on the railroad

tracks with Punky. Instead of going to school that day Punky took me flare

hunting. It was a very successful hunt.  We had found two flares that still

worked and a huge bag of peanuts on one of the open train cars.

Having had our fun we headed home.

 

We were very happy on that particular day. I remember waving hello to my

Aunt Helene as we walked past her part of the neighborhood. When I arrived

at home my mother was staring down from the second story window. Her

bottom lip was screwed up tightly in anger and spittle had formed at the edge

of her mouth. She had one arm hidden behind her back.

“Come up stairs right now Eddie she snapped!”

“I have a surprise for you!”  I knew I was going to get a beating.

Waving hello to my Aunt Helene in the middle of a traffic filled street

that was far from my school; in the middle of a school day was not such a great idea.

 

When I reached the top of the stairs my mother pulled my prized blue suede belt

from behind her back. First she pronounced the reason for the strike then she hit me.

 

I was bad.

I had played hooky.

I had embarrassed her.

 

Her anger produced endless reasons to hit me again, and again, and again. I curled up into a ball covered my head with my arms and hands, taking the strikes on my back. As she pronounced reasons to strike I thought my own thoughts.

I thought of Elvis and his shoes.  His blue suede shoes.

Well you can knock me down, step in my face, slandermy name all over the place.

Do anything that you want to do, but uh-uh honey, lay off of my

​SNAP!

Half of Elvis’s belt was in my mother’s right hand, the other half beneath my head.

I cannot remember the sting of the beatings.

I don’t remember my body’s response to each blow.

I don’t remember being sore the next day.

I don’t remember the next morning’s decision to cut school or attend class.

But I assure you…I remember owning Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Belt.

James Guth was born in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. and currently resides in in Southern New Jersey.

Ben Heins, Autumn 2014

THE LONG FALL OF VENICE GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB

            for my mother

I.

It was summer, always summer.

A hedgeclipper nips the ribcage

of a bush-man mid-swing,

massive 9-iron skyward;

the main gate stays silent, shrouded in palms;

Mark Hostetter rots,

mouth slack, now one with his bed.

 

Sometimes, if you listened

to the sprinkler systems,

you fell into a rhythm

like a fisherman whose soul

stays locked in seawater

long after he’s docked his boat.

You fell. You missed Wisconsin

or Maine or Pennsylvania. On days like this,

when the Ladies’ League donned

fuzzy, pink sweaters, you thought,

Christ, it’s only 65

and put on longjohns.

 

II.

The night Dan canceled,

his cancer chewed

another chunk of his pancreas.

My stepfather, bothered,

said, Now we’ll have an extra filet.

How the hell’ll we seat for seven?

Mom shuffled, champagne in-hand.

Their other guests included Jeff,

whose new lungs began rejecting the owner

like a lover gone dry mid-thrust.

Stan shook hands with his friends,

yet remembered none of them,

and could no longer tell

his reflection from his skin.

Knees shattered, Edward entered

upon two pillars of bone,

which were propped, rigid, under the glass table.

When was the last time

you felt alone?

III.

Listen –

The wives are screaming.

It’s late December

and the wives are screaming.

Shells of husbands flood the street.

 

Elsewhere, on Sharky’s Pier,

calypso caresses all in attendance,

and the sea rolls. A cold night

is upon them, and some drunk

wants to make love to the water.

He’s out on the pier’s edge,

thinking of his grandchildren,

now teenagers, who give two shits

 

about fishing with him.

He doesn’t feel cold anymore.

 

When Jane Hostetter wakes,

a sonic quake hits Summerfield Way,

and yet, no ripple in the pond,

no sound of the heron

folded inside the alligator’s jaw.

It was summer, always summer

till frost fell on the palms,

cracked them like old hips

that thought they could run.

Ben Heins is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Cut Me Free (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2014) and Greatest Hits & B-Sides (Vagabondage Press, 2012). In addition to teaching first-year writing at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Rowan University, he is an active member of the South Jersey Poets Collective.

David Livewell, Autumn 2014

THE BRUENINGER MAN

On the bright kitchen sill, the blue-green bottles

glow with the morning sun, embossed with names

from torn-down factories.  I dug them up

from vacant lots in Philadelphia,

and know old milkmen’s bottles added to

the shapes’ allurement.  Rinsed returnables

stood guard each morning by the marble step.

When Bill retired, deliveries would end.

And so his half-and-half was a half-life

witnessed and deposited at doors.

He stood in a cap while driving the Brueninger’s truck,

the waist-high gearshift in his right hand,

the steering wheel’s metal knob in his left.

The driver door slid open on a track.

His uniform proclaimed his name in red,

embroidered in an oval on his chest.

Thanksgiving pies and eggs and juice were crammed

in back behind the insulated doors

where a cold fog billowed.  He hunkered there,

invisible for a time, appeared again

more balanced than before with both arms weighed

down by the steel containers in his hands,

both evenly filled with distant dairy treats.

I think of Bill when eating custard pies

or when my son pours Amish milk, or when

a truck goes by to wake us from our sleep

on bitter mornings.  Then, retired no more,

old Bill can rise like cream beneath a lid,

with the clink of drained returnables still clear.

 

THE THANKSGIVING TABLE

After the morning parade ended with Santa’s

triumphant return to Philadelphia,

she mustered up the things for one day’s feast,

things stowed away in the French Provincial hutch

for the past year.  The goblets (never filled

with wine) were wiped and placed beside the scripted

name cards.  I propped the candle Indians

with feather wicks, the plastic pilgrims dressed

in solemn black.  I made my fort beneath

the table.  They hunted through shag carpeting

for turkey, climbed the chairs to earn their meal.

More things were dusted off and spread

around a wicker cornucopia.

A tablecloth was draped across one giant

makeshift surface cobbled from a card

table and a folding metal one that rocked.

She had a fountain that rained beaded oil

drops on taut rows of fishing line

that caged a grotto with a naked lady

bathing beneath a bulb. She lit that too—

and even the chandelier she thought too bright.

The TV football games were brought to whispers,

and Dad was forced to wear his shoes and promise

to watch his mouth when quarterbacks were sacked.

And Grandmom couldn’t ask if Mom had packed

the turkey’s ass and neck for lunch on Friday.

We gasped appropriately when Mom processed

from the small kitchen with the basted bird,

garnished with sugared grapes and plastic gourds.

Each year she photographed the tabletop,

an instant Polaroid that slowly formed

and caught the elegance before our mouths

destroyed it.  A foil-covered orange

pierced with olive-stabbing toothpicks cast

a ghoulish globe of eyes that watched the glob

of cranberry sauce reflect the yearly glow.

My aunt the nun recited the grace we never said

the rest of the year, while Dad held back from coughing

over her prayer between his cigarettes.

With propriety and etiquette, she paraded

abundance and Thanksgiving before our eyes,

reaching a stratosphere where fables live.

David Livewell grew up in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.  He works as an editor in Philadelphia and has taught poetry courses at La Salle University.  In 2012 he won the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize for this book, Shackamaxon (Truman State University Press).  His poems have appeared in Poetry, Threepenny Review, Yale Review, Southwest Review, online at Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and in his book, Woven Light: Poems and Photographs from Andrew Wyeth’s Pennsylvania (www.blurb.com).  He lives with his wife and children in New Jersey.

 

Maria Masington, Autumn 2014

Hit and Run

We are a skeleton crew family,

who sleep as much as possible,

and exert Herculean effort to

bathe and eat.

 

We cry out in our sleep,

drag ourselves through the house,

and fear to venture from

the front door to the yard.

 

Our Irish Setter droops on the

couch like a giant plush toy

with its stuffing ripped out.

His one good eye now

paired with an empty socket,

his front legs are cast from

hip to paw.

 

He sags, and sighs, and howls,

loudly mourning his brother,

who was mangled and broken

when he was thrown from the curb.

 

When we can no longer bear

the drama of his grief, and

are incapable of processing any

more pain, we buy a puppy

who he plays with and protects.

 

If only I could fix our son too.

Go into his room, and say,

“Look, what Mommy got you!”

 

But I cannot replace his twin,

who was holding onto the leash,

when the sedan accelerated

into our world.

Maria Masington is a writer from Wilmington, Delaware.  Her poetry has been published in The News Journal, Damozel Literary Journal, The Red River Review, The Survivor’s Review, and WANDERINGS, which she co-edited. Her short story, Impasario was published in Some Wicked by Smart Rhino Publishing. Once a month, you’ll find Maria at the Newark Arts Alliance where she emcees an open mic night for writers of all genres.

 

Laren McClung, Autumn 2014

THE PIANO TUNER

There at the bass strings, treble

strings, he bends each note to key.

I hear the hammers on the pins,

an interval tempered ‘til it beats

perfect fifths. Is it God’s ear

or mathematics? I almost ask.

What gift has brought you here?

Listen how he strikes the G5

over & over, ivory slipping soft

then sharp, the sleeves of his gray

Charvet button-down rolled up.

Did you know an almost-note

forte can work the backbone

into an arch, or a secret given freely

to this mediator tuning other worlds.

& there it is, the G turned sweet,

the flat, the sharp, a seventh, ninth,

his mouth unhinged, the left ear

tilting to the baby grand’s open top.

How I love him more having heard

him work, his two-handedness,

one scale lifting, falling into another,

the low end, the high end, striking

up a swell that brings the body into sync

where in the pause of a night we hear

the fugue, the refrain, crescendo of the dead.

Laren McClung is the author of Between Here and Monkey Mountain (Sheep Meadow Press). She received a BA and MA from Arcadia University and an MFA from New York University. Her work has appeared in reviews including The Massachusetts Review, Cerise Press, The American Reader, PN Review, and War, Literature and the Arts. She has led writing workshops to residents at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island and to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  She lives in Philadelphia and currently teaches at New York University.

 

Kelly McQuain, Autumn 2014

​Ritual

My mother and I find a bat

reeling above our heads the evening we arrive

with light bulbs

to screw into the ceiling sockets of the half-

finished home

my father began building before he died:

the bat startled

by our flung door and blithe conversation,

my mother and I frozen

among dusty paint rollers and push brooms,

equally shaken

at the veering path of such sudden

unexpected flight—like a black scarf

let loose in a stiff, chill wind.

Hearts calming,

we follow the bat. We formulate a plan:

a plastic bowl and a small piece

of cardboard to use as a makeshift lid

so I can trap the tiny body

when, exhausted, it finally alights

against the ceiling

in the recess of another lightless

light.  A stepladder,

a careful climb. The bat no longer nimble

but trembling

and looking not so terrible: dustbin fur;

a faint twitch

among his folded wings’ leathery creases—

strange architecture

I bury beneath my white plastic bowl.

I slip in

my cardboard lid, press it tight,

carry the bones and skin

I could break so easily apart

to the open door my mother holds

and release him. Our bat disappears

into a sky embroidered

with the first faint stitches

of the coming night.

My bag’s already packed

and in the car; my mother

will have to finish building

this house herself.

In these ways, we rescue ourselves.

 

Two Street, After the Parade

The rattle of empties beneath your feet

is drowned by banjo strums and saxophone strains,

hoots and shouts, a glockenspiel’s refrain

of “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers”—a string band mumming

with a group of feathered Fancies

dancing in a riot of orange, purple and red. Alive,

this flash of sequins and Day-Glo parasols,

the bright grime of greasepaint that insulates skin

against the day’s cold drizzling plunge

into the coming night’s gloaming. All around you,

kids hoisted atop shoulders, sticky-fingered,

cotton candy glowing like blue beehive hair-dos bobbing above

the crush of paraders and spectators

all jostling so tightly onto narrow Two Street they merge.

Your breath specters the freezing air.

Today, you take your pleasure in random friends: an invitation

back to someone’s cousin’s house

for homemade meatball hoagies: the lot of you,

the lost of you, threading through tossed kettle corn,

bleating plastic horns, pink webs of Silly String

that knit people together only to come

instantly undone. Back slaps, laughter, a spilled beer

disaster narrowly averted by a frantic gulp.

Maybe next year there won’t be fistfights

at Thanksgiving. Maybe next year

no skipped visits come Christmas. Today, a New Year

pours like whiskey into all the unforgiven

pockets of the old—the lost chances, the missed-outs,

what never was—suddenly brushed aside

by an opening door, a welcome warmth, a stranger’s

unexpected joyful kiss hello:

a talisman of possibilities

 

 

Kelly McQuain’s writing has appeared in such venues as Painted Bride Quarterly, Kestrel, The Pinch, Assaracus, The Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, and American Writing, as well as in numerous anthologies, including Best American Erotica, Men on Men, Between: New Gay Poetry, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, The Queer South and Skin & Ink. His chapbook, Velvet Rodeo, recently won BLOOM magazine’s poetry prize. His book reviews and essays on city life appear in The Philadelphia Inquirer. McQuain has twice received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Visit him at www.kellymcquain.wordpress.com.

 

Robert Milby, Autumn 2014

The Buttonwood Farm

The Buttonwood Farm, leaning into ruin.  Where an elderly woman once swept the long driveway, only a decade ago, now curtains are pulled by an angry windfrom an open window on the darkened second floor.  Early Spring, Hawk atop the barn.

Geese in the shrinking pond, floating above its dark enigma.  Starlings in the feral field. Crow lectures from the lichen-grown rooftop—his talons tap the tin,like a maestro at his music stand.  Abandoned farms are bird sanctuaries.

The farmhouse is a museum of lost memories; mice and squirrels, unwelcome squatters are chased at night, as moonlight illumines ghost farmers, born before electricity feeds.

Abandoned farms are wildlife sanctuaries. Leafless trees and ice-crowned gables, slept through a winter of wild disposition. No passerby recognized that once a working farm breathed and grew crops, tended cows,and tapped Maples.   Abandoned farms are tree sanctuaries.

Now under April’s Seed Moon, a new tale of work emerges. Ghosts have invited birds to tenant the farm, and this haven, where Daffodils worship quiet Sunrise,has a rhythm of private poetry, unknown to the busy village, wherein a volume of local history sits unattended in a tiny library.

A photo of a handsome couple—members of the long-extinct dairy farm sit forever in a boat on the pond.   The young master’s tophat; his smart frock coat, Victorian neckcloth and beard. He stares through the centuries—his light eyes pierce.  A lovely mistress sits with parasol; long dress of intricate design, round face—dark tresses.  She too is young, betrothed or married, sweetheart or sister—it is unknown, for they are lost to bones and forgotten cemetery; wind voice whispers through tired Sycamores. Abandoned farms are ghost sanctuaries.

 

Beethoven’s 9th Sonata

The piano sonata is Autumn leaves,

dyed in sound, chasing each other

like giddy schoolchildren

down a blustery country lane.

 

The leaves dislodge from the keyboard tree,

headlong to a path of afternoon windplay.

Orange and ruddy rustics carry softer yellows along,

coaxing those still younger greens with red freckles and wild opinions.

 

Yet, when grey brushes brood into later tones of day—

colder hues call the leaves over frost-dressed stone walls,

beyond harvest-abandoned fields,

and shadowed wells, quieting pliant faces to discs of ice.

 

Now Winter’s recital intones solitude,

 

notes hung like breath garlands above the gloom,

 

speaking in rustled pages; keys of frost, and snow

outside the desolate hall.

Robert Milby, of Florida, NY has been reading his poetry in public since March, 1995.   He is the author of 6 chapbooks, most recently: Dickens’ Pet Raven (Fierce Grace Press, Wilmington, DE, 2014).  His first book of poetry is Ophelia’s Offspring (Foothills Publishing, Kanona, NY, 2007).  Second book: Victorian House:  Ghosts and Gothic Poems will be published by Black Bed Sheet Books, Antelope, CA in 2014.   Robert hosts 3 Hudson Valley, NY poetry readings and has read his work in NY, NYC, NJ, PA and New England.  He is a listed poet with Poets & Writers, Inc. of NYC.  He writes for the arts magazine, Heyday Magazine and the arts newspaper, The Delaware and Hudson CANVAS.    www.robertmilby.com

 

John Smith, Autumn 2014

The Match

I have been lighting a wooden match

on a gas stove in my grandmother’s kitchen

and running across her black and white checkered floor

to step on the garbage can petal, pop the lid,

and toss fire inside for most of my life.

It’s like a used match I can re-strike

and it still lights, though the slightest breeze

makes the flame flicker, shift shape.

That the garbage can stuck open, the match

stayed lit,  that the curtains were made of flames, I

am certain.

And my screaming.  Though I can’t hear it;

And that I  could not move,  that I cried

until my aunt ran upstairs, ripped the fire

from the wall– rod and all–threw it out

the window.

Black smoke still rises from the sidewalk

stories below.

Then  a hammer.  A piggy bank.

The price of fire, eight dollars in change.

Later that night as I watched shadows

dance like black flames on the bedroom ceiling

and felt bad about my grandmothers curtains,

mad at my parents, sad for my lost savings,

my grandmother snuck into the room,

pressed eight dollar bills in my hands,

said, “Don’t tell anyone,”

then kissed my forehead.

According to Haim Ginot, “The reason

grandparents and grandchildren get along so well

is that they have a common enemy.”

But it’s not kinship and conspiracy

that I rekindle inside me when I need it most,

and it isn’t anger toward my parents or shame

anymore than the money, but the spark

of forgiveness my grandmother pressed

into my hands, her gift to me.

John Smith’s poetry has appeared NJ Audubon since the 1980s and in numerous literary magazines. His work has also been anthologized in Under a Gull’s Wing: Poems and Photographs of the Jersey Shore and Liberty’s Vigil: The Occupy Anthology. His poem, “Lived Like a Saint,” which appeared in The Journal of New Jersey Poets, was set to music by Philadelphian composer, Tina Davidson, as part of a choral work, Listening to the Earth, commissioned by the New Jersey Parks Commission. Another poem, “Birding,” was commissioned by New Jersey Audubon for their centennial and “Red Moon,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by US1. His book, Even That Indigo, was published was published by Hip Pocket Press in 2012.

Changming Yuan, Autumn 2014

Open Opera

april

this solo performance

of sweet cherry trees

 

white clusters of vowels

pink chorus of assonance

 

there is no accompany

of leafy consonance

 

except bold internal rhymes

between heartbeats and footsteps

Changming Yuan grew up in rural China, holds a PhD in English, and currently tutors in Vancouver, where he co-edits Poetry Pacific with his poet teenage son Allen Qing Yuan. Since mid-2005, Changming’s poetry has appeared in 839 literary publications worldwide, including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline and Threepenny Review.

 

Jason Wright, Autumn 2014

The Last Angry Poet on the Planet

Come one, Come all, and watch as I fall

Over my words, over religion,

Over denial, over nutrition,

Over imagination, over hatred

And the realization— that all this that I wrestle with

all these thoughts are paper villages.

All these loose-leaf poems are tombs where my life lives

This is my womb.

This is a crumb of a piece of a pie

One that gets smaller each time I try,

One that gets larger as my belly empties out.

This is my handle, this is my spout.

This is a fight over normal and not.

This is a thought one that still walks, talks and like a moving clock,

Ticks and talks till time stops on my watch.

Tattoo 3:30 on my forearm,

That’s when I know to take my medicine.

A red bull, and a licorice stick, perphenazine,

And lamotrogine, 100 and 25,

Benzotropine to keep the side effect down

To keep the laugh track skipping, in my mind, in time.

An ativan, (lorazepam), abilify in the morning

A quick regiment of meds that keeps the calm storm

in storage,

And then immerges from my dark dark circle

A man so mean, he turns himself purple

presses record, strums the first words,

And out from the warmth, I become Man The Storm.

Jason Wright is the editor and founder of Oddball Magazine, a Boston based online lit/art magazine.  His column Jagged Thoughts appears every Tuesday.  The selections here are from his manuscript “Train of Thought-Poems written on the Red Line from Quincy to Davis.”

 

Dennis Lawson, Autumn 2014

WHISKEY SOUR

Jake’s estranged wife was mixing a drink for me in the kitchen of her new apartment when Jake called me on my cell.  I answered but didn’t tell him where I was.

“I need to borrow some money,” he said.

He was a good friend and my conscience was guilty, so my first question was,

“How much?”

“Could we talk about it in person?  I’m at McGlynn’s.”

I hung up and watched Linda slice a fresh lemon for my whiskey sour.  Then she added a cherry.  She was wearing her office clothes—black pants and a flowered blouse, plus heels—and the workday had left her beauty wilted but still readily apparent.  It was a sunny Friday afternoon, the start of a holiday weekend, and Linda had gotten out of work early.  My schedule is irregular, so I was free as well. There was no romance between us, but I had encouraged her to move on from Jake.  The guy was on a losing streak.  Linda handed me the drink.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Jake wants to borrow some money.”

She drank from her large glass of red wine while watching me.  “What are you going to do?”

I had a sip of my drink.  A little too sweet, but overall, I couldn’t believe Jake had blown it with this woman.  “I’m going to enjoy this drink, and then I’m probably going to do something stupid.”

She shook her head.  “Weren’t you paying attention when you were lecturing me all those times?” I tipped my glass back and took down several swallows.  Linda walked over, her heels clicking on the linoleum floor, and took the glass out of my hand.

“Chugging is so undignified.”  She tossed the rest of the whiskey sour in the sink.

“Come back when you have more time.”

I got to McGlynn’s just after four o’clock.  There weren’t many cars there, so it was easy to notice the guy staring at me as I crossed the parking lot.  He was in a sky-blue Cutlass Supreme.

He flicked a cigarette outside his window.  “You Jake’s friend?” he asked.

“What’s it to you?”

“He’s inside, tough guy.  Waiting for you.”

He looked familiar, like someone I had seen at a party or something.  I couldn’t quite place him.  I kept walking. Inside, the pretty blonde hostess greeted me.  I told her I was meeting a friend and continued past her.  I spotted Jake at a lonely table along the far wall, drinking a tall glass of beer.  Most other customers seemed to be at the bar, with a few scattered at booths here and there.  I got a Guinness to bury Linda’s whiskey sour and joined him.

“So spill,” I said.

He gave me a weak smile. “I’m trying to get back on my feet, you know that.  Well, I got some magic cooking at the poker table a few weeks ago.  Up at the Trump in A.C.  I fell in with a group of guys who seemed to be on their way down while I was on my way up.  I got invited to their private game.  You know how it goes.”

My Guinness was curdling in my stomach.  “I think I know the rest of this story.”

“I’m sure you do.  I should’ve walked away.  Pretty soon I could barely stay in the game.

I needed cash from somewhere.”

“That’s when you should’ve called me.  So who’d you call instead?”

“There was a guy from Spinelli’s crew around.  He helped me out.”

“And now?”

“They’re waiting on five grand.  I need half of it today to keep my legs in working

order.”  He tried to drink some of his beer and he choked on it.

I looked away, at anything at all to keep my eyes off him.  My friend from the parking lot was in the bar now.  He was on his cell, talking loudly, being important for everybody to see.

I turned back to Jake.  “I have to think about it.”

His eyes widened with surprise, enough surprise that I was annoyed.

“This is my life,” he whispered.

I looked at my watch.  “I’m going for a drive,” I said.  “I’ll come back with my answer.”

He grabbed my arm as I stood up.  “I don’t have anyone else I can ask,” he said.

The tough guy in the bar watched me go, and the hostess gave me her professional smile.

I called Linda from my Impala.  “Do you believe him?” she asked.

“Yes and no.  I feel like I’m getting forced into something, so that makes me suspicious.

But Jake does seem scared.”

“Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” she said.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.  “Unless it comes back to you,” I said.

“I can take care of myself,” she said.  She was quiet for a moment.  I could hear her moving around.  “I’m looking out my window,” she said.  “I see a guy parked out there.  He’s looking up at me.”

That made up my mind for me.  I got the cash from home, went back to McGlynn’s. Jake was waiting for me in the tough guy’s car.  I pulled into a space, and Jake came over  and got in beside me.  I handed him the envelope.

“I could kiss you, buddy,” he said.

“Save it.  It’s just a loan between friends.  With a flat ten-percent interest rate.”

“If you think that’s all you’re getting back, you’re crazy.”  He opened the car door.

“So where are you off to now?”

“Making settlement.  What about you?”

“I’m going in for another drink.  But next time around, you’re buying.”

He gave me a big smile.  “You know it.”

Inside, the hostess wasn’t at her station.  I went straight for the bartender, a guy in his sixties with glasses and a large belly.  I asked him if he remembered the obnoxious guy talking on his phone, and whether he said where he was going that night.  No dice. As I was leaving, the hostess was back at her station.  I gave her a wave.

“Wait,” she said.  “I heard you asking about that guy.”

“That’s right.  You hear anything?”

“Yeah.  He told me he’d be at Delaware Park tonight in case I wanted to have some fun.”

I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face.  “I think you just ruined his night.”

“I’m happy to hear it.”

I called Linda again.  She told me the car had driven away.  I told her not to let anyone in.

“No duh,” she said.

I headed for Delaware Park around eight.  I went up to the bar that sits in the middle of the third floor and had a gin and tonic.  Then I found a poker table.  It’s not really my game, but I hadn’t spotted the Spinelli soldier yet and wanted to blend in.  I was down around a buck-fifty when I stood up and returned to the bar. I saw him before he saw me.  From that bar, you can watch a row of table games in action.  One of them is this roulette variation where the wheel is upright and the croupier stands between the wheel and the green felt table.  A crowd of guys, including the one I wanted, were tossing their chips on the table.  The croupier was a tall, gorgeous Asian woman.

I sat down and ordered another gin and tonic and watched.  The croupier spun the wheel. When it stopped, my guy yelled and pumped a fist in the air. Then things got interesting.  The croupier didn’t react to him at all.  She collected thechips off the table like they were all losers and called for a new round of bets.  Either she completely whiffed on his bet, or she just didn’t like him and didn’t mind aggravating her bosses. A floor-staffer joined them and I could tell he was radioing to a manager.  They were going to have to check the cameras to verify the bet.  This was going to take a while.

“One of you bastards should buy me a drink,” the guy said.

“I’ll buy you a drink,” I said.

He had that ugly mop of sweat that comes when you’re having too much fun on too much booze.  He hesitated, confused.  “Yeah, sure,” he said, recovering his inner tough-guy. “Jameson.”  He came around to my side while the bartender went to work finding the right bottle.  “Nice move today.” Before he could get on the seat next to me, I grabbed his balls and squeezed hard.  He tried his best to keep the pain off his face.  Some of the people by the roulette table were talking and looking at him.  The last thing he wanted was a scene. I didn’t want one either.  I let go.

“Are you out of your God-damn mind?” he wheezed.

“I don’t like seeing my friends pushed around, that’s one.  I don’t like getting pushed around myself.  That’s two.”

The Jameson came.  He ignored it.

“Yeah?” he said.  “Some friend.  I was just helping him B.S. you so he had the funds for some action coming his way.  You’re a dead man now on account of that good friend of yours.” I made a motion like I was reaching down again as I stood up.  He flinched away from me and upset the glass of Jameson.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Small-Time.”  I went on my way.  The Spinellis are punks and they know it.  They don’t rate with me. I drove out of there and called Jake from Route 4, heading toward Linda’s place.

“Hey, there,” he said.  “No broken bones.”

“How was the action tonight?”

He let out an ugly, drunken laugh.  “It treated me real nice.  So I guess you know.  How’s that?”

“I ran into your friend at Delaware Park.  I don’t think he was happy to see me.”

“There’s no need to make trouble.”

“No?  I don’t like getting cheated.  I don’t like cars with Spinellis showing up at

Linda’s.”

“You’ve gotten pretty chummy with my wife, haven’t you?  That’s what made taking your money so much fun.  I’ll be on my way.  I’m just going to get a goodbye-kiss before I go.”

I was still ten minutes from Linda’s.  I didn’t know how close Jake was.  I called her and gave her the details.  “You can call the police if you want,” I said.

“And miss out on the fun?  I’ll see you when you get here.” She hung up.

She was renting a two-story townhouse in Federal Estates.  I passed Jake’s rusty Ford Taurus, which he’d parked askew of the curb, and parked myself.  I called from the front walkway and she let me in.  She was wearing black satin pajamas and holding a taser. Jake was lying on the floor, unconscious.  Drool was dripping from his mouth.

“I forgot to lock the door,” she said.  “Whoops.”

“Did you search him?”

She shook her head.

“He should have cash. Did you want me to take care of him?”

She rolled her eyes.  “I’m going to let the police handle this one.  I want to tell them that he attacked me.  I just need to get some marks on me.  I don’t suppose you’d be willing to punch me in the eye?”

I sighed.  “I will if I have to.” She kissed my cheek. “You’re always so sweet.  That’s okay, though.  I’ll just plow my face into the refrigerator or something.  Get out of here so I can work things out.  I’ll have you over for a drink tomorrow, if you’re interested.”

“Very.”  I headed for the door.

“Wait,” she said.  I turned around.  “My whiskey sour,” she said.  “Did you really like it?”

I noticed she was still holding the taser.  Not that my answer would’ve been different.

 

Dennis Lawson received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Division ofthe Arts as the 2014 Emerging Artist in Fiction.  His short story “Fair Warning” appeared in the collection Rehoboth Beach Reads:  The Beach House, published by Cat & Mouse Press.  He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Camden, and he splits his writing time between short literary fiction and crime stories.  He is currently the Executive Director of the Newark Arts Alliance, a nonprofit art center and gallery located in Newark, Delaware.

 

Danny Johnson, Autumn 2014

The Absence of Color

In the south if you’re born the illegitimate son of a high-yellow whore and a sorry-ass white man you’re pretty much fucked from the start. It happened to me in a back woods shack during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 in North Carolina. The old midwife down the road wouldn’t come during the storm, so momma squatted on the floor and pushed me out. Daddy cut the cord with his pocketknife, and neither had much hope I’d live out the night. Destined to a life looking like someugly clown with weird off-white skin, pale blue eyes and the nose and lips of a colored, I wish I hadn’t. To make it worse, Momma named me Cotton.

In the early years Daddy tried, but couldn’t make a crop grow in dirt where nothing came up but rocks, weeds, and worms. Eventually the longness of the prospect got to be more than he could deal with, so he started making rotgut moonshine in the woods next to the creek. Nobody would buy any, so he drank it himself. We survived on hot water cornbread, collards, and potatoes Daddy stolefrom other farms. The constant hunger made a memory I kept the rest of my life. The law caught up to him one day, and the judge gave him a year at hard labor.

Momma took to whoring while he was gone; she needed money and it was the only skill she had. After Daddy got out of jail and found out, he beat her near to death. But when nobody would give him a job, he started renting her out himself to get liquor money. He got knee-walking drunk one night and stumbled off down the road. We hadn’t heard from him for a week, then some old white Sheriff came to tell us they’d found him hanging in the woods, said it was a suicide. Momma went to see about it; said Daddy was blue with rot and buzzards had pecked off most of his flesh, but she could tell it was him by the overalls. They never did explain why both his leg bones was broke.

We packed our belongings in two bed sheets and walked the fifteen miles to Durham. Across the tracks in a Black-town called Hayti, Momma found a woman called Mrs. C who ran a cathouse and was willing to take us in. I was thirteen at the time, and soon discovered a half-breed didn’t belong to one side or the other. All the kids made fun of my looks and tried to kick my ass, but once I learned to fight, I never took shit from any person, Black or White. Mrs. C let me use a little room in the back of the whorehouse. It wasn’t much more than a good-sized closet, but she fixed me a cot and put some nails in the walls for me to hang what few clothes I owned. It was the first space I’d ever had to myself.

Sometimes I went to school, but the streets were more fun. On weekends the bars stayed open all night, crowded with men who had a Friday paycheck and women happy to help them spend ; eventually got a reputation in the community as a kid who could be trusted, and earned cash doing odd jobs for thugs and running number slips for the Policy bank every Friday. Each time I made some cash, I’d eat until I was sick.

——

Many days I’d walk by this old man sitting on a bench in front of the bus stop. He was black as old leather, had a wrinkled faced, was baldheaded, and wore a brown Pork Pie hat with a long chicken feather sticking out of the band. He always eyed me like I was stealing something, hiding his paper-sacked wine bottle between his legs. One April morning I had my mind on something, not paying attention, and when I passed him, he reached out to grab my arm.

I jerked back my fist. “Don’t fuck with me.”

“Oh come here, boy, just want to look at you.” He smelled like a juke joint shithouse on

Saturday morning, was short-necked, and his eyes was yellow like clap piss. “I ain’t going to hurt you.”

“I know you ain’t unless you want them last two teeth you got knocked out.”

“Bad ass, huh? What’s yo name?”

“Cotton.”

“Well don’t that fit. Sit down here and talk to ole Dooby for a minute. Want a drink?” He offered the bottle.​

I refused, not wanting my lips touching something he’d been gumming, but he seemed harmless, so I sat down. Dooby leaned toward me, “You is weird looking, like a nigga somebody done white washed.”​

I gave him the once over back, “And you look like somebody done stuck they foot so far up your ass it squashed your neck.”

He grinned at my sass. “What you doing running around down here? Where you stay at?”

“With my Momma up at Mrs. C’s house.”

“Yo momma a ho? How long she been up there? Hellfire, I might’a fucked yo momma sometime.”

“Don’t be talking shit about my momma.”

“Ain’t talking bad about her, jus don’t remember but one white ho ever working for ChaCha.”

“She ain’t white. Daddy was.”

“Well sumbitch. Y’all must’a been some country Niggas, white boy fucking a black gal.” He laughed like he thought it was funny. “No offense, just trying to help you; hate to see you git killed  messing around somewhere you ain’t supposed to be. Somebody gits after you though, you tell ‘em you friends with ole Dooby. Muthafuckas round here got respect for me.”

“Most folks like me all right. How come you sit out here every day?”

He waived at the sky. “Boy, I’m retired, just enjoying life. Used to fight for a living. See this nose, the way it’s flat and pushed over?” He turned his face so I could see from the side. “Got that from Jersey Joe Walcott in 1951; held my own before I hurt my hand on his head. Then he beat me like a dog’s ass.”

I looked at his normal ears. “You’re full of shit, you probably got that from somebody you owed money too.”

Dooby first gave me a stern look, then belly laughed until he had to hack up spit. “Boy, you sumthin’, no wonder ain’t nobody killed you.” He punched me on the shoulder. “You all right, even if you is a white-nappy-headed little muh‘fucka.”​

Dooby and me got to be friends after that. I’d always try to stop when I saw him on the bench. He’d give me advice about how to live on the streets, and whenever I had a little extra, I’d bring him a barbeque sandwich and we’d eat and tell lies.

 

——-

The fifteenth of October was my birthday and I got up early. Last year, Momma’d had a little extra and took me to eat breakfast at the diner on Fayetteville Street. I put on my cleanest clothes and went upstairs to her room, looking forward to spending my day with her. I listened to make sure she didn’t have any company, then pushed open the door.  Momma was sitting on the edge of her bed. Empty bags of dope, a rubber strap, a burned spoon, and a needle still dripping blood lay on the bedside table. Her eyes were runny and dull. It made my heart hurt. “Hey, Momma.”

“Cotton? Come here, baby, give Momma a hug.”

I put my arm around her neck. “Come to see if you wanted to go eat breakfast since it’s my birthday.” I held tight, sad for her, sad for me.

She pulled back, “It’s your birthday?” She started to sing the song, “Happy Birthday….”, but couldn’t remember the words and gave up. “Momma’s can’t go today, sweet boy, I’m mighty tired.”

She lay back, and when she pulled up the sheet the sharp stink of stale piss floated out. “We’ll do it next year, okay?” She pointed. “I think there’s five dollars in my purse. Buy yourself something nice.” Sunlight stole through the blinds of the dim gray room, and like fingers of evil they strapped Momma to the bed. I considered I should just go ahead and put the pillow over her face now. A five-dollar-bill and two bags of dope were in her pocketbook. I left the dope. Fuck it. Iwent outside and started walking, heading somewhere but I didn’t know where and didn’t give a shit.I almost didn’t see Dooby sitting on his bench. “Well if it ain’t my little Albino Hoodrat. What you doing out this early, boy?”

I sat down. “Nothing.”

Dooby put his hand on my shoulder. “What’s a matter, somebody messing with you? Tell ole

Dooby who it is and I’ll go kick his ass.”

I shook my head and looked at the ground.

“Having a hard day, huh?”

I nodded. He didn’t push; let me just sit quiet for a bit. “Dooby, I got five dollars. You want to go eat some breakfast?  It’s my birthday.”

“Git the hell outa’ here. It’s yo birthday? Hell yeah, we can go eat. And you won’t have to spend yo five dollars.” He pulled me up; we walked across the tracks and down a few blocks to the Rescue Mission. “They got good food in here.”

The big hall was full of folks eating at fold-out tables. People called to Dooby. “I see you back at the Ritz,” one guy said, laughing. “That yo boyfriend,” said another. It felt like a place a person was welcome.

 

We filled our plates and sat by ourselves. “This IS good food, Dooby,” I said between mouthfuls of egg and bacon.

“Anytime you git hungry, Cotton, you come down here and eat. Most of these is good folks, but be careful messing around until you know who you is messing with.” He put his fork aside.

“Now what’s got you down in the dumps?”

I put in another forkful of eggs and swallowed hard. “Momma’s gone die soon.” Everything just spilled out of me. Dooby waited until I finished before he leaned across and spoke to me so nobody else could hear. His tone was hard.  “Cotton, I’m gone give you some advice, and I want you to listen. This here life is all about disappointment, so deal with it and get over it. Everybody’s got they own road to walk and there ain’t one got-damn thing you can do to change it. Life’s got hard lessons, son, and you best go ahead and git to learning them now.”

He sipped his coffee. “Understand something, this community’s full of meanness; life’s rough down here, and ain’t worth a plug nickel a lot of times. But, they good people here too. I call ‘em the faceless folk, the ones that git up every morning, go to work and spend their days wiping the nasty asses of old white people in nursing homes, or cleaning toilets, or cooking food at schools where none of they own young’uns will ever have any hope of going. They faceless because they gotno value to nobody, except maybe some preacher man promising a better life will come if they just put their money in the plate. Or to White folks who try to work them to death, and couldn’t tell you they names on a bet. You learn how to make do for yourself, Cotton. Do whatever it takes for you to keep on keeping on.  Listen to ole Dooby, now. I’d never steer you wrong.”

On the third of November I watched shadows of bare oak tree limbs spread the Devil’s hand across Momma’s fresh piled dirt. Dooby recited a Bible verse he knew. “Thanks, Dooby, you the only one I got now.” I heard his silence and wondered if I’d made a mistake, if he took what I said as a responsibility, something he lived trying to avoid.

That gray winter turned bitter cold, and the hawk’s icy breath cut like a knife down streets deserted by everybody but those who had no choice. In late February, I couldn’t find Dooby for four days. Somebody at the Mission said they heard he was in the hospital, so I walked to Lincoln Community. I was too late. The people at the morgue said they buried him in the black side of the city cemetery. They gave me a paper sack with his few belongings, and his marker number. I found the digits 836 painted on a wooden slab, no name, no dates. I thought about Dooby’s faceless life. With my knife I scratched in the flat frozen dirt: “Dooby, A Good Man.” I stood and shivered as streaks of sunlight cut across his grave, then pulled his Pork Pie hat low on my head and started out for the Mission.

Danny Johnson is a writer of fiction novels and short stories whose characters tend to  represent the disenfranchised in our culture, examining their struggles to overcome in  a society that does not acknowledge them to be of value. Quote from Sally Drumm,  Director of MilSpeak Books: Not since Breece D’J Pancake has a writer the likes of Danny Johnson emerged from the South with all the glory and hell of life attached and intact in his fiction.  Add a measure of Tim O’Brien’s stylization of military life and you still have only a glimmer of the storytelling you’ll love in his writing. Mr. Johnson is an active member of The North Carolina Writer’s Network. He has  work-shopped with such authors as Ron Rash, Lynn York, Nancy Bartholomew, and Jill McCorkle, among others. In the spring of 2014, he served as fiction judge for the  Weymouth Center for Arts and Humanities Writing Contest. His stories have appeared in Remembrances of Wars Past Anthology, South Writ Large, Sheepshead Review, A Southern Journal, The Camel Saloon, and MainStreet Rag’s Best of Raleigh Reading  Series, among others. He has been nominated for a Push Cart Prize in short fiction,  and his short story Dancing With My Shadow was judged by Writer’s Digest as one of the 100 best in 2012. His story collection Harry and Bo and Other Stories was published by MilSpeak Books, and his novel, Fireflies was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest in 2013. Mr. Johnson is a Vietnam Veteran and recipient of the USAF Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

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