The Fox Chase Review – Winter 2014 Edition

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fcrWinter 2014 Edition
Oxford Trinity Church- Lawndale

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

Copyright @ The Fox Chase Review. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the Winter 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review, our 17th. We are pleased to present:

Poetry by: Jonal Abellanosa, Nathalie Anderson, Ashley Elizabeth-Best, Lauren Camp, Phillip Dacey, Dennis Daly, Joshua Gray, Lisa Lewis, Rodger Lowenthal, Tom Mallouck, Ellen Peckham, Russell Reece, Rebecca Schumedja, John Timpane and Frank Wilson.

Fiction by: Natalia Cherjovsky, Louise Halvardsson, Jen Michalski, Lester Mobley, Dawn Sperber, George Wyelsol and Chad Willenborg.

The Last Edition of The Fox Chase Review was published in Summer of 2015.

The Fox Chase Review

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 Jonel Abellanosa, Winter 2014

Demolition Job

Unless ruins put food on the table,

No one picks up the stone hammer.

Money buys brute force power protects

With truncheons.  Belligerence squats on.

 

The rickety waits like a house of cards.

Found tarps, plasterboards, corrugated

Discards boxing paucity, hand-to-mouth

Existence on the edge of collapse.

 

We share walls, living like canned sardines.

The day comes when money and power

Harness the workforce with constructive tools

Tearing down our ramshackle sense of security.

 

Helmets, shields hedging with clarity.

We back off with one foot.  The land is ours

To defend.  Stones of defiance fly, inciting

More of the homeless to escalate into

 

Confrontations.  We refuse to believe

Hunger strengthens swings bringing down

Walls.  On another day, demolishers they

Hire are still our brothers in poverty.

 

The Photographer

Squatting over the fallen, browned shirt,

Perhaps his father’s, like a mouth swallowing

His shins, found meal making him eat like a bird.

If his feet’s calluses have memorized the pavement’s

Unforgiving song, does his tongue know rice from

Cement dust?  Hunger loved him so much

It left skin to his bones.  To enlarge him is to lie

Flat on my stomach, soil my shirt, shorts, elbows,

Exclude the carpenter on the scaffolding,

His halved food.  Dry days have ways

Of focusing lens: residues of aimlessness,

Innocence chewable as gristle, hope.

The trickiest part: cornering the light and

Shadow capturing his disturbing smells.

Jonel Abellanosa resides in Cebu City, the Philippines. His poetry is forthcoming in Windhover, Anglican Theological Review, Mobius Journal of Social Change, Inwood Indiana Press, Anak Sastra: Stories for Southeast Asia, and has appeared in PEN Peace Mindanao anthology, Star*Line, Golden Lantern, Poetry Quarterly, New Verse News, Qarrtsiluni, Red River Review, Fox Chase Review, Burning Word, Barefoot Review, Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic. He is working on his first poetry collection entitled Multiverse.

 

Nathalie Anderson, Winter 2014

Beauty

To see her as I first saw her:  her hair

a dark cloud, her brow a dark echo, and

something about the eyes:  a freckling? Once

 

I thought her pregnant when she was not: that

rootedness, flat-footedness, air moving

around her, never disarranging her

 

and lit like a lantern from within she

took no offense:  slightly puzzled, slightly

amuse:  her smile bemused and generous.  If

 

beauty is the face that glows for us, why

crave so the aloof, the reserved, the eye

that refuses?  Yet she was both:  open, closed;

 

homely and exotic; unembroidered

yet elegant.  Something about the eyes:

a scintillation?  As she was dying, she –

 

skin stiffened to leather, hands clumsy gloves,

feet plasticky shoes – explained even that

calmly, kindly:  a mathematician’s

 

enumerations, a self-correcting

caution.  Don’t you think, she’d start to ask, and

you’d think yes.  When beauty walks through your life,

 

how do you talk with it, how do you speak

through its pregnant pauses?  A tree that moves

its branches slowly.  Why one face draws us

 

and another leaves us cold:  when do we

stumble into this discrimination?  The last time

I saw her blends into every other:

 

dark stroke of hair, dark stroke of brow, dark stroke

of mouth:  a chiaroscuro portrait.  Something

about the eyes:  a rimpling?  No one

 

whom crow’s feet so complimented.  The quick shock

of her laugh.  And me still in aw of her

beauty, so unselfconsciously she wore it.

 

Rough

After the sightings, the sea got rough,

got rough on us, shale fallen to scarp and

shoving down, shunting against itself,

scathing and carping, flints striking flakes

off each other, sparking white, black, white.

 

Did I say sightings?  I meant to say biting.

Nobody in beyond the ankle but

still that slash to the ankle bone, the sea

a susurrus of open-jawed serration,

strange voice at your ear.

 

Whatever we glimpsed out there hid itself

in potentia, flexing its muscle

under the water’s skin.  Head of a hawk,

head of a rottweiler.  And the seals

in their slickers, black-backed, menaced

 

as we were, too doggish to know it.  Her husband

lost like that, no longer the man she’d married,

but when were we ever?  Nail head.  Hammer head.

When will you admit you didn’t know your own mother?

Strange mouth at your ear.  Strange hand on your arm.

 

And did I say spiky?  I meant to say spiny.

We could feel it under foot, every step

from the shoreline to the car.  The sand

rough on us, the mind rougher.

Cross-cut saw.  Shredder.

 

Cold Hands

 

Midwinter’s not the best time for remembering you’re a female,

Socks thickening your ankles three-fold up and down the snowy driveway.

You used to swing those hips.  Now you can’t find them.

Coat over coat over coat over cardigan.

 

The girls flirt by along the sidewalk you’ve just shoveled,

Jackets flapped back purposely from rosy busts, from bellies bold as Barbados.

Even their boots show trim and dainty, skipping the icy patches delicate as antelope.

Their laughter lifts their filmy scarves fluttery as flamingo.

 

Out here,when you’re blushing, cold tweaks your nose red, pinches till it runs.

Where the hoop slides through your earlobe, the hole’s iced over.

Used to be hot-rods, fast cars, boys quick to get the top off.

Now it’s eiderdown, it’s wadded silk, it’s cotton batting.

 

All the lush and luscious ceremony of bedding?

Quilt over quilt, wool over flannel.

Jump in under fast with your five layers of clothes. You want

Hands mittening your hands.  You want to keep your socks on.

 

Concourse

“He ran,” she says, “ran the whole way, and me

in the wheelchair.”  Who’s she telling?  Her voice

carries, so it’s hard to say which of us

might talk back if she paused a sec: we’ve all

been running, but the wheelchair trumps us. “Ran,”

she says,“right up to the gate, and can’t see

no plane.  Thought they’d left,” she says,“without us.”

The van’s silent.  We’ve all been left like that,

left flightless.  “Five airports today,” she says,

“five carriers, pop prop out of Denver

and still can’t get to Philly.”  No one can.

The van shakes, packed tense with the ten of us,

shimmies as it corners.  We’ve hop-scotched, too,

airport to airport; jumped through loop-de-loops

to get here; we’ve pitched, dragged, and whip-stalled; but

not in a wheelchair.  “Used to be,” she says,

“I’d ride behind him on the Harley.”  He

has the jacket, has the grizzle – we all

marked him back at baggage.  He rides silent

up there by the driver, his bristles and

his shavings picked out in the headlights: shot-

gun, pistol.  “Now,” she says, “he pushes me

ahead.  Wherever we go,” she says, “I

get there first.”  In the snowy dark, he smoothes

his moustache.  Might or might not be smiling.

 

Lawn Boys

I swear it’s the mayhem that gets them going,

revving those little motors without the first

shred of a permit.  This latest one runs through

two gas cans easy, just tanking around, rearing

the housing up on its hind wheels, toeing its nose

smack down into the borders, throttling, choking –

yes, a carte blanche invitation to destroy.

Whatever gets them off the couch, it’s not the lawn

itself.  These guys aren’t gardeners, can’t read the line

dividing sod from shrub, grassplot from seedbed.

They’ll put the parrot-tulips to the blade, slice

right through violets and fern brakes, yet leave untouched

a pride of thistles, a bristle of dandelions –

“so pretty.”  And nor is it the money, else

they’d be here more often.  First of spring, I call

and call, while the grass thickens to pasture, then

to wildwood, then to spinney.  This latest one

has set his phone to seem he’s answered:  “Wait a sec!

My battery’s low!  I’ll just grab the extension – “

then a long pause, then some well-recorded fumbling, then

more mutters just before the razzy beep.  I leave him

long detailed messages I know he won’t play through.

That’s why – must be – that rise by the front walk’s

razed raw again, why the side-yard’s gone to briars.

“Take care,” I’ll tell the phone; “there’s deadwood fallen,”

but that won’t slow him: he won’t pick up sticks, grinds through

whatever’s in his way, shredding plastic bags and paper,

shattering branches – once even a brick

to see its splinters scatter and fly.  My daddy mowed

sedately, sober as a farmer guiding the plow

behind the plodding mule, methodical,

meticulous.  These guys are rough-riders,

lathering their broncs up San Juan Hill, and I

must like that better.  Mayhem.  What else

do I get?  What else do I pay them for?

Nathalie Anderson teaches at Swarthmore College, where she is a Professor in the Department of English Literature and directs the Program in Creative Writing. She is the author of three books of poetry – Following Fred Astaire, Crawlers, and Quiver – and librettist for three operas, including most recently a version of the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

 

Ashley-Elizabeth Best, Winter 2014

Body Work

There are people you go to for the things you need,

the men you bestow the sense of dawn on,

the men you nurse into the sick of sleep,

the men that pay you to caress their steepled

necks, muscle through their earthly wave.

The word slut carries the cities of our bodies.

 

These are the raw materials, the tight stitches

of our fabric,

the revenge hit, the curved bruise:

my ghosts doomed metal.

 

I do not make demands,

endure the back of class kind of blurry,

when faith in the body gives out.

Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Cobourg. She was on the poetry shortlist for the 2011 and 2013 Matrix Litpop Awards and Prism’s Poetry Prize 2012. She has poetry appearing in the The Rusty Toque, Tampa Review, CV2, and Branch Magazine. She recently placed first for poetry in This Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2012 and was the poetry runner up for subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Literary Awards 2012. She has a chapbook published with Cactus Press called Slow States of Collapse. Currently she lives and writes in Kingston.

 

Lauren Camp, Winter 2014

The Congested Ear

I drove to town unbrushed.

Hello, I said to myself

in the mirror and wondered

if the words fell to my lap.

At dinner, I will salt to hear.

Pray popping unpressures

the bubble-glog and trapped phlegm.

Nothing you say gets through.

I’m not here or hear.

Every side-sifted sound

and susurration whittles and rattles.

The slosh and retraction: ringing blank sorrow.

What? What?

Your words must commute to my inside.

Everything happens in billow and blanket.

The pharmacist keeps counting pills

while I drift through the lights,

chasing a target, damp and transparent.

Lauren Camp is the author of This Business of Wisdom and a brand new collection, The Dailiness. She has been a juror for the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and guest editor for special sections in World Literature Today (on international jazz poetry) and Malpaís Review (on the poetry of Iraq). Her writing is forthcoming in Brilliant Corners, The Portland Review, Sweet, About Place, and Feminist Studies. Lauren is a radio producer and host on Santa Fe Public Radio, and an acclaimed visual artist. www.laurencamp.com.

 

Philip Dacey, Winter 2014

RONDEL: THE PIANIST

at Juilliard

She sits as if before the stillest lake.

Her lack of motion is a form of love.

It’s moving, how she takes her time to move.

We watch her thinking hard of what’s at stake–

 

hands in her lap know soon they have to break

the spell in such a way as to improve

upon the perfect silence of that lake.

Her lack of motion is a form of love,

 

a prayer that notes she casts like stones to take

the chance this moment offers, that she strove

years for, will charge the glassy surface of

the air and leave perfection in their wake.

She sits as if before the stillest lake.

Philip Dacey is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Gimme Five (2013), the winner of the Blue Light Press Book Award. The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, two NEA grants, and a Fulbrightlectureship for his poetry,  he has written entire collections of poems  about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas  Eakins, and New York City.  His work has appeared in the Hudson Review, Partisan Review, Poetry,Georgia Review, Southern Review, Esquire, Paris Review, The Nation, and The American Scholar.  In 2012 he moved from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to Minneapolis. To learn more about Philip Dacey please visit http://www.philipdacey.com/bio.html

 

 

Dennis Daly, Winter 2014

In This Hotel

I’ll have another ice cold beer.

The Glocks pulled out, the braggarts brag;

In this hotel there is no fear.

 

The veiled woman descends the stair,

Warily nods, hides her handbag.

I’ll have another ice cold beer.

 

Security is here, is here.

They question you; they push and drag.

In this hotel there is no fear.

 

We sit and talk, quite unaware

Of plot.  We laugh:  a showman’s gag?

I’ll have another ice cold beer.

 

These beefy men, they have no care

For God, or home, or even flag.

In this hotel, there is no fear.

 

The soldiers come, they warn, they blear

They ask us for our ID tag.

I’ll have another ice cold beer;

In this hotel there is no fear.

 

Martyr’s Day

 

God bless this gallery, everyone here

Gathered on this our final cloistered day

Of numbered beat and hitched, halting measure

Uttered in reverence like a prayer,

Like a congregation’s communion host

Placed on each longing tongue, promising life.

 

Outside the sodden air sags without life.

Trucks pull up. Our armed enemies are here.

I hear them issue orders—a foreign host

Of holy unhurried warriors. Today

Their bloody rites of hostage and prayer

Will question our real worth, seek our measure.

 

I stand to read these lines, these mere measures,

A flawed meditation on fragile life:

Its torments, its twists. Now offer a prayer

For our killers lately come. They’re here.

There is no escaping this fatal day.

Read on, read on, urges our earnest host.

 

Back door nailed shut as we prepare to host

The dread intruders. Another measure

That seals us in, holds us from light of day

And the pocked leer, the shine and under-life

Of rising moon. Through it all you sit here

Or there, nicely applaud, begin a prayer.

 

Enfolded in the text of your prayer

A doubt of connection. Our frantic host

Types a warning. Come soon, he says, come here.

But they won’t. Such dire moments we measure

Against the slothful punctuated life

Lived without direction until this day.

 

So on this our most memorious day

When neither poetry nor fervent prayer

Dissuade evil and art cowers to life,

We stand as we must, a resistant host

Turning back infection, taking full measure

Of betrayers, some perhaps sitting here.

 

As I speak to you on this, a martyr’s day

And hear the music of returning prayer

Still my poem pulses on, trembles life.

Dennis Daly has been published in numerous poetry journals and magazines and recently nominated for a Pushcart prize.  Ibbetson Street Press published The Custom House, his first full length book of poetry in June, 2012. His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012. His third book of poems entitles Night Walking with Nathaniel has been accepted for publication by Dos Madres Press. A fourth book is nearing completion.

 

Joshua Gray, Winter 2014

 

ANXIETY

Once, I went to work naked from the waist down

after misplacing my pants on the commuter train,

and feigned normality by answering phones.

When the time came, some cute kid wanted me

to own his father.

I came home to pet the snake

coiled in my head. It curls adventure whenever I die,

like when I frolicked in that field of wildflowers

before rolling down a hill like a rock

group. The snake uncoiled itself and slipped

down my spine,so dizzy it bit me when I landed

hard on my back. I swelled up and fell

short of breath, felt a flutter in the small of it all

as I rose to the dare from Death.

 

 

Originally from Washington DC, Joshua Gray is an internationally published poet currently lives in southern India with his wife and two sons.  His book Beowulf: A Verse Adaptation With Young Readers In Mind was published by Zouch Six Shilling Press in 2012. He is also the editor of Pot and Sticks: Collected Poems by Charles A, Poole. His Web site is www.joshuagray.com

 

Lisa Lewis, Winter 2014

What Could She Possibly Know

Small-town two-lane, North Carolina, slow-traffic mornings.

Sun rising—a burning lip.  You squint through shadows

Dragging paralytic torsos on elbows you only see

Until something tangerine bursts up and glides

Into white, brightening-blue background, like canvas—

As if an unschooled woman knew to paint—

 

Anything about art, anything about anything, face paint,

Maybe, optimistic girls making up for mornings

After, or a farm woman dressing for town, slinging canvas

Over the unswept pickup bed where tools scrape shadows

On scalded metal, blood-clay sand that glides

Like skating, you slide your face close and see

 

A new alphabet chiseled in, your cartoon frown the letter C

Mirrored in a scar on steel that used to answer in blue paint.

Someone said the ignorant have no right.  A fast car glides

Past, center line, late, probably, so many mornings

One more means punching out last time into shadows

That last through noon and light and the shaming canvass

 

Spare change?  We keep reasons to invent on canvas

Or whatever’s handy our lies, laws a lawful man can’t see.

The husk of brick wall factory’s staggered shadows

Where the sign that called the waking to their duty needs paint

And won’t get it.  The gates are chained weekend mornings

And now too—Monday and the distant future, which glides

 

Ahead on an old floor pronged in tacks and tetanus.  Time glides

To sickness for rich and poor, and she whose family canvas—

Mural in the hall, dreamed or otherwise—casts morning

As morality—early to bed, etc.—won’t show up late or see

Her face in the corner, the artist’s signature in paint

Of the only thickness that could deter the shadows

 

That gray us, gray the young woman, the “you,” shadow

Itself as it follows, stretches your legs waist-high and glides

Into the dance with real things, wood, iron, a can of paint,

That a day of life is, really—not fine art in tempera on canvas,

Not to be known that way of afternoons, talking.  Morning

Is for workers.  They lift light’s burden hard, and if they see

 

The end of knowing in the end of a bad job, one long morning

Before the shadows finish their work on rocks, they also see

What glides to canvas beneath a breath of paint.

 

The Interview

when we met it was still daylight

and hot, the early evening sun

threatening our faces

 

through plate glass

and because it could reach me

without bending

she said I should move closer

the bar table a lozenge

to place beneath the tongue

 

no glasses yet

no ashtrays for the era

of health or pretense

 

small and white as basil flowers

I pinched from my garden

in a spring I no longer taste

 

anything I had to bear down

on every word like twisting open

a stuck lid from a cracked jar

 

I feared would shatter

in my hands I must’ve folded

my body enough

 

to rest my elbows on the washed

formica but it was not deliberate

in fact you might say I let down

 

that strict attention

we call guard for both its eye

and its armor

 

I must’ve glanced away from her face

but she was looking

to the place where my fists go

 

when I pose at a mirror

no danger of getting caught

because for once no one is home

 

no song no bicycle chain

 

no radio no announcement

and I spend my share

 

of solitude on futility,

once upon

a time a girl could believe

 

in who was staring

and why but to let go now

deep in the softened muscles

 

that promise the blood’s forge

never a dulled edge

was to give up on a secret

 

I have practiced

setting the edges of my teeth

as if with tweezers

 

I sometimes take up my hair

from my exhausted forehead

into the hemp rope

 

knotted in a tree not yet felled

because I could not conspire

with her look and her look found

 

something trying to burst

from me after the fashion of birds

that gather to sow oil

 

sunflower beneath a plastic

feeder, a cylinder

studded with cigarette

 

stalks and drilled with holes

you could press a marble

through you could shatter

 

glass to stop a fire or start one

press a matchhead to your tongue

there was no taking back my body

 

I had no one to spare

me  no gesture to coax

her away to look

 

away  nothing like a baby

nothing like a plate

of celery nothing like a ring

 

or interminable phone call

no woman should fear another

but who will drape

 

the mirrors along the corridor

and who will shush

the whisper we can’t believe

 

long before we give up

listening I am following you

home I would not follow you

 

no matter the trail or the risk

of rushing alone

into a city where I know no one

 

at least you are not there

at least I will not grow into you

by the time I arrive late or early

 

the lines on the highway

will be freshly painted

and the trees you planted

 

will have shriveled

and I will douse you with rain

and an odor like the stalk

 

of sugar cane

I paddle in my drink

and when the sun chalks

 

the sidewalk

with its orders the moon

defies I will find a crack

 

in the pavement so deep

you’ll be safe down there

I can part from you in the dim

 

and never have to look

at you again in that place

you are so ashamed of

 

that once you know I’ve seen

it soft as dry cloth

 

the washerwoman’s duty

 

you will only know

to fly at my very name

the stork the heron

 

the owl the loon

the parrot muttering

words I’m swallowing now

Lisa Lewis’s books include The Unbeliever (University of Wisconsin Press, Brittingham Prize), Silent Treatment (Penguin, National Poetry Series), Vivisect (New Issues Press), and Burned House with Swimming Pool, forthcoming from Dream Horse Press as the winner of the American Poetry Journal Prize. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review.

Rodger Lowenthal, Winter 2014

Smooth the way

there are no arguments worth winning

I succumb to your goodness

 

not because you are always right

but because I am usually wrong

 

I suffer in proportion to my errors

time to enter the depths of simplicity

 

still avoid the cut and dried

not to conclude we are

 

nourished by effortless cliché

and the cold smirk of indifference

 

after so many years I learn

to accept the truth of you

Here we are again

Thin face paint of marriage

hardens to non-smearability

 

Still it peels   drops flecks

Demands daily touch up

 

We dance around nuance

while others raise eyebrows

 

the years  a comfortable old sweater

make it easy to absolve sins

 

a punctured tunnel of selfishness

allows simple embrace

 

together we ignore glass house maxims

understand motive and the insignificance of perfection

 

Rodger Lowenthal is a poet from Eastern Montgomery County Pennsylvania who is known to frequent Ryerss Museum and Library  in Fox Chase. He is a regular contributor of book reviews to FCR and an occasional host at the reading series. He also hosts “Under the Stars”, a poetry and musical quarterly event. His poetic reviews of books have appeared on line in various literary blogs. He is known to pick up pieces of cigars and Hollywood whenever he can.

Tom Mallouk, Winter 2014

The Heart’s Migration

Like sex without love till the right line lances

and a path clears through the head-high September grasses

to the stream that has slowed to a trickle.

 

When I think of you, I come into a clearing.

Milkweed pods like the upturned mouths of birds outline

the distant hills, the distant sky.

 

I lie down in strawflower and take comfort

in the sound of leafstalk crumbling beneath me,

the scent of honeysuckle and thistle gone to seed,

 

and life teeming close to the ground,

the company of beetles, grasshoppers and bees.

Soon, the snows will make this way impassable.

 

In Stillness

The robin foraging in the grass draws near

and trout appear from beneath submerged rocks.

 

The stream goes on repeating and the breeze

shifts its tone, through aspen leaves the shimmer

 

of tiny tambourines, through pine needles

the whisper of insects. Wind weaves through

 

the Pecos Valley where the occasional car

amplifies as it passes before fading into silence.

Tom Mallouck’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including GW Review, The Pisgah Review, The Quercus Review, Red Rock Review, US 1 Worksheets, The Schuykyll Valley Journal and The Sun. His book, Nantucket Revisited, was published in May, 2013. He has been a psychotherapist for many years and resides in Doylestown Pennsylvania with his family.

Ellen Peckham, Winter 2014

Bandera

Should we sew a banner, love,

our historical iconography

to challenge death,

Chose fields

embroider pears, salamanders,

yellow roses?

 

Leave at least one empty

blue for the cold

long marriage brings.  But that the last.

Back the pears in crimson

purple behind the yellow roses

ochre where the silver salamander –

chill messenger to those vanquished by time –

 

signals victory.

Alas, silk and tinseled-metal threads

are far too fragile.

Let’s start again

and this time forge a shield.

 

Ashes

In the dream I am cleaning out a closet of old handbags and satchels

checking each for forgotten objects.

 

Now there’s a transparent image for this move:

selling the home we built, moving on alone!

 

I didn’t know, though, how far back “alone” goes.

In the dream I recognize

 

a pouch of ash (though this is not the fact – he’s buried)

as from my Father’s cremation saved for art.

 

And in the dream go from this closet –

which is in no appointed place –

 

to the studio I do not yet own, wet the ashes in matte medium

and draw his portrait, adding details in ink.

How obvious the train from past to this week’s chore:

I have arranged pre-need cremation for you

 

and now confound two loved grey men

drawn in ashes, though which is which?

 

And neither of them can I resurrect

from ashes and dust through my small art.

Ellen Peckham is an artist as well as a poet and work in both genres. Her poetry has been published in Rattapallax, Penumbra, C.S.M., Rattle, The Spoon River Poetry Review and many other literary magazines in the U.S. Great Britain and Japan. A book in Spanish/English which follows upon my solo exhibit and readings in translation at ICPNA in Lima, Peru will be out soon.  Her archives are collected at the Harry Ransom Center for the Humanities and other examples of her work are at www.ellenpeckham.com.

 

Russell Reece, Winter 2014

Spring at Dames Quarter

What is it about this land, this bog,

This scrape of earth inches above the salt marsh

That holds me and won’t let go?

 

Roads of crushed shells have faded to weeds.

Machinery, iron parts lie rusted and scattered.

Even the wooden buildings,

Seem strewn about

Like debris after a storm.

 

I should forget the sagging houses, the flooded lawns,

The nights of salt brine thick in the air.

Forget the skeletons of boats crumbling in the dirt,

The stacks of crab pots,

Those mountains of hope,

That rise each spring like the mosquitoes.

None of it matters.

 

But, it holds me, this bog, it holds me,

Like the porous ground, green and damp from storm tide

The heaved earth, the new stone,

The corner of the gray coffin glistening in the sun.

Russell Reece has had stories and essays published in Memoir(and), Crimespree Magazine, The Fox Chase Review and many other print and on-line journals. His work has appeared several anthologies most recently Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, released in 2012. All That Glitters, released in 2013 and Someone Wicked released in 2013. He has received two Best of the Net nominations and was a finalist in the 2012 William Faulkner/ William Wisdom Creative Writing Contest. Russ is a University of Delaware alumnus and a co-host of 2nd Saturday Poets in Wilmington, Delaware. He lives in Bethel, Delaware in rural Sussex County along the beautiful Broad Creek. You can learn more about Russ by visiting his website at www.russellreece.com.

 

Rebecca Schumejda, Winter 2014

 

Maggie

has eleven dollars and fifty-six cents

left in her bank account and more than

a dozen unpaid bills, a car with faulty breaks,

a boyfriend who changed the locks last night,

so her daughter couldn’t get in after curfew.

You would think this is a low point in her life,

 

but it is nothing more than another Tuesday

triple shift where she comes in at 5am

and leaves at 11pm. Nope, nothing more

than telling time through the changing of the

specials, nothing more than tapping the breaks

hoping to build up enough pressure to stop,

nothing more than serving Kitty over easy eggs

and dry wheat toast at 8:15am, grilled cheese

tomato soup at 12:15, pizza fries and coleslaw

at 5:15pm. You would think this monotony

 

would drive Maggie mad, but it is nothing

more than another Tuesday triple shift where

she comes in with ten tabs of her daughter’s

Ritalin and leaves with more energy than she

started with, nothing more than knowing

your place and the day of the week, how Tuesday

will give birth to Wednesday and Wednesday

to Thursday and so on and so on and on so.

Rolling Silverware

While rolling silverware,

I ask Maggie which came first

Kitty’s name or her obsession with cats.

Without looking up, Maggie tells me

how Kitty’s father, a farmer,

forced Kitty and her little sister

to watch him kill barn kittens.

Sometimes he’d drown them in buckets.

Other times he used them as target practice

or ran them over with the tractor.

Once he tried to make Kitty smash

their tiny skulls with a shovel

by holding his big hands

tight over top of hers and the shovel

then striking down at them as they mewed

blindly in search of their mother.

Figuring that the anecdote is the answer,

I place a spoon over a fork over a knife over

the center of a napkin—positioned like a diamond,

fold the bottom flap up, the left flap inward,

then roll, over and over again until

we run out of knives.

Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Falling Forward, a full-length collection of poems (sunnyoutside, 2009); The Map of Our Garden (verve bath, 2009); Dream Big Work Harder (sunnyoutside press 2006); The Tear Duct of the Storm (Green Bean Press,2001); Cadillac Men (NYQ Books 2013) and the poem “Logic” on a postcard (sunnyoutside). She received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and her BA in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York’s Hudson Valley

 

John Timpane, Winter 2014

 

Hum

Autumnal mists

Memory

The Marches

The Mays

The maybes;

Mothering sun

Melts the milky

Mornings, mellows

The meridian,

Makes a mantra

Of my demerits,

My dismissals,

My many

Misleadings.

 

Millennia

Immersed

In the midst

Merged

Maculate in the

Mad markets;

Americana;

Omissions of

Millions,

Men,

Women; among

Them am

I

Mistaken

Am

Ephemeral

Marginalium, am

Miracle, am

Human, I am

In autumn. Amen.

John Timpane is the Media Editor/Writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. His work has appeared in The Fox Chase Review, Fjords, Cleaver, Apiary, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Rathalla Review, Per Contra, Vocabula Review, and elsewhere. He is spouse to Maria-Christina Keller, and they live with son Conor and daughter Pilar in the belly of New Jersey.

 

Frank Wilson, Winter 2014

Alborada

Going with a feeling,

Whether sunlight or shadow,

Seeing where it leads,

Had always been his way.

Only this was different,

Not feeling, but its absence,

A gray and empty street,

Signless and silent.

 

Sleep was now a fitful respite,

A lightless tunnel opening

From time to time onto scenes

And faces from the past, always

Accusatory, whether sad or joyful,

Faded flowers, faded smiles,

Fading, he worried, eventually to black.

 

Later on, at Mass, tim veered

Into prophecy and gesture,

Ancient chants and vestments,

A pageant of millennia, the chalice

At its center, prompting him to sense

How being but once is also forever,

Each an indelible feature

In the everlasting tableau of all.

 

Outside, sun, sky, and clouds,

And the feeling beneath the foot,

Seemed to tell the same story, each

In its own way, the story of this day’s sun

And clouds, sky and earth. They pointed

The way, but were not the way —

The one you must find on your own.

Frank Wilson has been reviewing books professionally since October 1964. For most of the past decade he was Books Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He currently blogs at Books Inq. It is one of the most successful blogs in the literary blogosphere.

 

Natalia Cherjovsky, Winter 2014

A Spot of Jam

 

“George, is that you? What on earth was that racket, George?” Doris Jessup asked, straining her voice as her son’s heavy steps got closer to the top of the stairs.

If she was mildly perturbed her bridge game had been interrupted, she was at least glad the interruption might serve to show off just how attentive her son could be. She had heard the rumors in hushed tones. Waterloo was not as big a town as its residents thought. She was on a campaign to make everyone believe George had moved in for her benefit, not his.

When his balding head finally poked into the living room, George gave the four women sitting at the table a smile. “Mrs. Hettrich, Mrs. Long, Mrs. Klaus.” He acknowledged each with a nod, and then turned to his mother. “It’s the usual, Mother. The pipes will probably need refitting soon,” he said. “And of course…

“Yes, yes, of course.” She beamed. “I’m so lucky you agreed to move in with me, George. You are so good with your hands.” Doris interrupted, trying to read the emotions on the faces of her cohorts. “Oh, did I cut you off, George, dear?”

“I was just going to say that it certainly doesn’t help the situation that I have a live one down there, and she’s trying like heck to get those handcuffs off,” he heard himself say as if he were floating above, watching the scene unfold.

The silence that followed was enough to suck George back into his body, and he gasped. His mother pinned him with that look of disgust she had mastered years ago, the one he had seen on her when she had caught him masturbating in that same basement, and the one that had preceded most beatings.

“Oh, Geogie!” Mrs. Hettrich’s squeal cut through the stillness, as she hit the table with her open palm and gave in to a fit of laughter that made her face seem even more wrinkled than it really was. “You were always such a rascal. What an oddball sense of humor. Someone tied in the basement. You are such a kidder.”

George hated being called Gerogie, and he hated how Wilma Hettrich always tried to be overly familiar with him. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know him at all, in fact. Right now, however, he was grateful for her. Mrs. Hettrich was the most influential person in the room. She controlled the social calendar of the neighborhood, which was of the utmost importance to all the retired people who lived within three miles of his mother’s house. Despite the repugnance in their faces, the other women followed old Hettrich’s lead and laughed at his joke.

“George,” his mother called after she gave up on a reasonable attempt at faking laughter, “would you be a dear and bring over the raspberry turnovers you made.” This made her feel better. Even if he had embarrassed her, she could at least boast that the boy had some talent, not just as a handyman, but a cook.

George hesitated briefly at the top of the stairs before he nodded and made his way to the kitchen, where he located the turnovers his mother had made earlier that day. His mind was so busy fighting the memory of sitting in that kitchen, at the age of five, clad in a frilly pink dress as his mother whistled while making a batch of cookies, that he failed to see the reddish smudge on the inside of his forearm, just where his rolled up sleeves met his pasty skin.

“Here we go,” he said, eyeing the table for a place to set the tray down, but before he could maneuver effectively, Mrs. Hettrich reached out for a turnover.

“Thanks, Georgie,” she said. “Oh, it looks like some of the jam leaked on you,” she said, examining his arm. George looked down and blanched. So, this would be the mistake that would end him.  Before he could pull away, Wilma Hettrich swiped the pad of her bony finger across George’s forearm, collecting the red sludge, and she then licked it off her finger with a pale tongue. The minute the metallic taste hit her taste buds, there was what George thought might have been a second of recognition, and he was surprised to realize that what he felt was relief, and also elation that it would be her, the old bitch that had been the first of his mother’s friends to touch him that way when he was too young to know why it felt good, that would realize what she had contributed to in his life. And as he watched her run her tongue over her lips, the tongue on which there was now blood from the hooker he had picked up the night before, he thought there was an elegant symmetry to it all ending this way. Maybe now Mrs. Hettich would be the one with the nightmares, not him.

“A bit of a hint of something odd,” Mrs. Hetrich said, bringing George back to his mother’s living room. “I can’t place it. It’s not altogether unpleasant, though. But if you ever want me to teach you my secret turnover recipe, you can come over any time, Georgie.”

He nodded and set down the tray, excusing himself to return to the basement to finish what he had started.

Natalia Cherjovsky is an Argentinean-born writer whose work has been featured in CUNY’s The Word, The Gender Gazette, Front Porch Magazine, Verbatim, Aberrant Parade, and Open Wide Magazine. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Central Florida. She currently resides in Iowa City, Iowa and teaches communication at a college in Cedar Rapids. Her loves include horses, film, and photography.

Louise Halvardsson, Winter 2014

To be seen or to be felt

‘That’s my daughter,’ Dad said as I got off the train, shuffling towards him on the platform with my tent in one hand and my sleeping bag in the other. The straps of my rucksack were digging into my skin, and my black top hat was about to fall off. Dad looked at me as if I was a disease he had to cope with: here comes my cancer.

I was red like a boiled crayfish after two days camping by the seaside with my best friend Jen. She was lagging behind, panting with her sports bag flung over her shoulder. I’d told her she didn’t need to bring her hair-dryer and straightener, but she wouldn’t listen. Her Dad was also waiting.

‘Did you have a good time girls?’

‘Well, Louisa did.’ Jen said with her eyes on her pink toenails; she’d not talked to me since Rob had invited us to his caravan for a cider. I wanted to slap her: we were sixteen, and as far as I knew what we’d done was legal.

Dad took my tent and strode towards the exit, and I followed without saying bye to Jen. Some guys from school were smoking outside the station. Compared to Rob they looked very childish with their cigarettes dangling from their lips like straws, not brave enough to inhale the smoke into their lungs. They peered at me over their sunglasses.

‘Hey, Lou-Lou,’ one of them said. ‘It’s not Halloween yet.’

I gave him the finger and walked over to the car where Dad was loading my tent into the boot.

‘Can you take that hat off, please?’

I adjusted the brim. I’d found the hat in a charity shop a short walk from the campsite, amazed that it was only a fiver.

‘You told me to get a hat, Dad. So I wouldn’t get a sunstroke.’

‘Just get in the car will you?’

The passenger seat was full of folders, files and envelopes; it smelled of Dad’s office: ink and warm paper from the photo-copier. I got in the back. My thighs rubbed against the seat, it felt like my insect bites were being massaged with sandpaper. The car engine hummed and we were off, creeping down the High Street. Dad glanced at me in the rear view mirror.

‘Who were those young men?’

‘Just some losers from school.’

Dad went through the cassettes in the side pocket of the door. There were only classical or Popular Hits From the 50s Volume 3 to choose from. Rob had introduced me to bands I’d never heard of, but now loved: Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden. Dad picked Bach. The violins abused my ears with their whining.

‘Can you turn it down please?’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Dad slammed on the brakes to let some people cross the street. I stared at his neck: his hair seemed greyer than it did two days ago. His eyes were still on me in the mirror.

‘That dress is like a swimming costume.’

‘We stayed in a field, Dad. Not in a hotel.’ I ran my hands over my short sleeveless black spandex dress. On the night I met Rob I had actually gone swimming in it.

‘It’s not very suitable for a train ride. Jen’s dad didn’t recognise you.’

Dad turned up the volume and the violins got more violent as if they wanted to play my ears off. I wished I’d stayed at the station. I could’ve bummed a cigarette from one of the guys, and then caught a train to somewhere, anywhere.

We didn’t speak until the car was parked outside the house. I wanted Mum to open the door and run towards me and hug me and ask me all about my trip, but she was visiting my gran and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. At least Mum was good at listening, and didn’t mind what clothes I wore. Dad took my stuff out of the boot.

‘I’ll put the tent in the garden so you can clean it.’

‘It’s not dirty.’

‘You need to shake it at least. There might be bugs and sand.’

I sighed. There was only dry grass where we had pitched the tent, and the only bug I saw was a ladybird that climbed my finger. When it flew off I had wished for something amazing to happen.

Dad slammed the boot lid and went round the back of the house with the tent. Our neighbours, an elderly couple, peeped through their curtains. I waved at them. They didn’t wave back. I sat down on the pavement, scratching my leg where something had bit me. Maybe there were insects so small you couldn’t see them. If there were, I wouldn’t want to be reincarnated as one, because if you can’t be seen, you don’t exist. However if you bite and cause itchiness you can be felt. I wondered what would leave the biggest impression: to be seen or to be felt.

My bum got sore from sitting on the tarmac. I stood up and walked round the house to the garden. Dad was shaking the tent as if he was waving a flag, sending out an emergency signal.

‘Give me a hand, will you?’

I grabbed one end of the tent and held it up.

‘What are you doing, Louisa? You need to grip it at both ends.’

Dad spoke to me as if I had a low IQ, but I didn’t know if IQ had anything to do with how good you were at shaking a tent. I couldn’t see any sand or bugs, even the invisible ones must be gone by now.

‘Mum and I will need it later this summer,’ Dad said. ‘That’s why I want it to be clean.’

‘It’s already clean!’ I dropped my end of the tent. ‘And you never go anywhere anyway!’

As I ran into the house, Dad shouted at me, telling me to come back and not be such a child. If he ever used the tent, I hoped he would get bitten by scorpion on the run from a zoo.

I kicked off my boots in the hallway and put my hat on the shelf by the mirror. My hair was greasy and flat, still smelling of salty water. I went into the bathroom and stepped into the shower cubicle, wearing my dress: it had clung to my body like a second skin for forty-eight hours. When Rob had touched me it felt as though I were naked.

I stripped off, turned the tap on and rinsed the dress in the lukewarm water. Grains of sand went down the drain. I let the water hit my sun-sore legs, arms, chest and neck. My breasts were white, like full moons. I squirted shower gel into the palms of my hands and rubbed my nipples; it felt nice, as if my hands belonged to someone else. The amazing thing I’d wished for had happened: I’d been kissed and touched.

I’d forgotten to bring a towel. Dad was probably still in the garden and wouldn’t hear me calling. I sneaked out of the bathroom and into my bedroom. A shadow passed the window. I pulled the curtains and smoothed my body with after-sun lotion, it felt like adding silk to my skin. My fingers touched all the places Rob had been. I’d almost forgotten what he looked like, but I remembered how he felt, how he made me feel.

It was only six o’clock, but I put my nightie on. The house was unusually quiet. I walked down the corridor and found Dad posing in front of the hallway mirror. He was wearing my hat.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked.

He started and his face went as red as my burnt skin. He looked younger, had that mischievous grin I’d seen in old photographs from when he first met Mum. He’d been alive for twenty-five years before I came into the picture and took up all the space in the family album.

‘I used to have a hat,’ he said. ‘But it was more like a cowboy hat. A brown one with a feather.’

‘Really?’ I couldn’t imagine Dad wearing any hat apart from a woolly one in winter that made him look like the biggest nerd in the neighbourhood.

‘I used to go camping too, you know. We sat round the fire singing songs, and this girl gave me the hat, but I’ve lost it now …’ Dad’s eyes were gone in a daydream. ‘Juniper her name was. She reminds me a bit of you, liked dressing up she did.’

I took my hat off Dad’s head. I didn’t want to look like some girl he’d once fancied, and I wasn’t dressing up: I just wanted to look different. My tummy rumbled under my nightie.

‘What’s for dinner?’

‘We could order pizza if you want.’

‘I thought you’d cook.’

After two days of chips and burgers, I craved something healthy, something that was easy to chew. Just putting things in my mouth made me feel Rob: his lips, his tongue, and it made me nauseous.

‘We’ve got potatoes, I could make mash,’ Dad said, as if he’d heard my wish. ‘But I’d like you to put on some more clothes before we eat. I hope you didn’t walk round the campsite like that.’

He looked at me in the same way he had when I got off the train. Gone was his mischievous grin and dreamy eyes. He looked old again, like someone who’d never worn a cowboy hat or known a girl called Juniper.

I retreated to my room. There was nothing sexy about my white nightie; it looked like a big grannies shirt. I’d worn it before, but something had shifted while I was away. I lowered my eyes. My nipples were shining through the fabric like the red bites on my legs. It was as if Dad could sense I had been touched, and therefore was not a child anymore.

Louise Halvardsson is a Swedish novelist and performance poet who spent 10 years in Brighton, UK. After her latest book Swenglish, a personal study of life in Sweden and England, she moved back to the country of her birth. See www.louisehalvardsson.com.

 

Jen Michalski, Winter 2014

Week in Review

Sunday

My grandfather bought me Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself at a thrift store many years ago, when I was a teenager. He bought me so many books, all for pocket change. He loved a bargain even more than he loved books. I always envisioned, in my grandfather’s head, books and bargains in a footrace and bargains always edging out, breaking the tape at the finish, books doubled over on the sideline, but with a smile on her face. I’m tickled to give this to you, he’d say to me when unearthing his latest purchase. I imagined the tickle in his heart when I read them. I’m still tickled when I pick up those books from my grandfather, although the tickle I feel, unlike his, seems to be somewhere in my throat.

Monday

Back when I met you, you referred to me as the writer. I’m going to dinner with the writer. I think I might like the writer. I think I might *really* like the writer. After awhile, I became Jen. But when we stopped dating, I became the writer again.

I hate being the writer.

Tuesday

I love watching strongman competitions on TV. From fourteen countries lumber men with arms like dimpled granite, carrying cars on their backs the way I carry lint on my shoulders, Atlases unsheathed courtesy of Met-Rx. How do I know with such certainty that, underneath the strata of their chests, their hearts are like birds? If caught, their wings flutter helplessly, tissue paper in a careless hand.

Wednesday

Everyone is laughing about the David Hasselhoff video on YouTube. In it, he is drunk eating a cheeseburger off the floor while his daughter Hayley begs him to sober up. I finally watched it and didn’t think it was funny at all, maybe because my father was an alcoholic and I heard my words coming out of Hayley’s mouth, her words coming out of mine. Hasselhoff promises he’ll stop, but his words are like mice you trap in the corner, that squirm in your hands while you walk them to the door, hoping once you’ll let them go outside, they’ll become someone else’s problem.

Thursday

My ex tells me that our dog, Celie, really likes Reddi Whip these days. When the can is opened, Celie will come running from wherever she is with her mouth open, at which point my ex will squirt whipped cream into Celie’s mouth. I’m not sure our vet will think lightly of Celie’s diet, but when I hear a story about a rescued Boston terrier like Celie who lost her nose because her owner had kicked it so many times, I squeeze Celie really hard and kiss her whipped cream-spotted one.

It tastes good enough to eat.

Friday

My mother cries on Christmas Eve for her dead father while I make French toast for the morning. I stir butter, sugar, and syrup together to make caramel, making sure not to let it bubble over on the stove while I slice bread.

Christmas morning, we exchange gifts and eat the toast. My grandmother has three pieces. She asks me for the recipe. I have made her simple leftovers since I’ve been here, cutting everything into small bites, making sure it’s not too hot. Her fingers are wishbones pinching at the meat.

I wonder whether my grandmother is scared to die. I think about making more toast, cutting peppers, smoking, about planting seeds. I think about having a child.

Saturday

This is our first Christmas without my grandfather. It’s funny how the older you become, you’re more thankful about what you still have rather than what you will get. My memories turn into the most treasured presents, hidden in the house like Easter eggs full of pennies. An old photograph I discovered in a drawer shows my thirty-year-old grandmother on the steps of her house with my mother and aunt. When she looks into the camera, she does not see her face age, does not wonder how many years she will have left, about being eighty and afraid. She only sees my grandfather on the other side, pointing, waving with his free hand. Say cheese.

 

Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize. She is the author of two collections of fiction, From Here and Close Encounters, and a collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now. In 2013 she was named one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and won a “Best of Baltimore” for Best Writer from Baltimore Magazine. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and host of The 510 Readings and the biannual Lit Show. She lives in Baltimore, MD.

 

Lester Mobley

Bit my tongue… eating beef jerky:

(notes from a conceited and grumpy middle-aged man)

Ever do that?

I was at the bar with four pieces of the spiciest of all beef jerkies that you could ever imagine. They were warm, freshly made and placed in front of me on a small white plate, along with a shot of Old Crow and a 12 oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, which I always liked with a glass of ice.

It was just four days after Christmas as I gazed upon the meaty treats with pleasing satisfaction. Without guilt or a notion of retribution from above, I said to myself.    ‘Geez… thank God, glad this torturous Christmas holiday season’s over with.’

Almost immediately as the words tumbled away from their thoughts, while simultaneously tearing into the tasty reddish-brown bits; that’s when I did it. I bit my tongue with one of two of the healthiest incisors you could ever imagine. Both evenly and equally tapered into fine points and sharp as tacks, especially the one on the right side that did the damage.

‘Aaaaaah…. damn you Les’, I said under my breath. ‘You clumsy son-of-a-bitch!’

Twenty minutes earlier was when I had actually strolled into the Trestle Inn, a revitalized neighborhood bar in an old but trendy section of Philadelphia, located on the south east corner of 11th and Callowhill Streets. Before I sat down the young barkeep paid me what he thought was a compliment, saying. ‘Hey Les I like your look, it’s so cool, especially with that stubble of white beneath your chin and all. Gives you an air of all knowing.’

Whatever, I thought. I did not at that time feel a need to respond.

That being said I proceeded to select a seat at the far end of the bar. I was wearing my signature short brimmed black fedora, cocked at a right angle in the way that I’m most accustomed; a two toned salmon colored silk shirt, beneath a mid length black leather jacket made of the finest of softest leathers; a pair of relaxed fit, smartly pressed and moderately priced designer jeans, along with a set of black and highly polished Doc Martens. I must admit I did look rather cool as I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror behind the bar. Not bad I thought due the fact that it wasn’t a conscious effort to do so; that is to look fashionably cool.

And then at this precise moment out of nowhere came a feeling of irritable dread. Almost like an incoming heavily laden anxiety attack. It hit me like a swirling vortex, ostensibly wanting to overtake the whole of my entire consciousness.

These attacks are not new. They tend to come in what seems to me to be unfounded and over-blown, self-imposed pressure situations that I’ve at times found myself caught up in and unable to find a way

out. This was one such scenario.

So now, suddenly not knowing how to handle the barkeep’s perceived compliment, I said to him unexpectedly and rather belligerently. ‘You said to me “look”? What look? This ain’t no look, son. It’s just me being me damn-it. C’mon big guy, give me a f*ckin’ break, will ya!’

Don’t ask from where this reaction suddenly emanated, cause I haven’t a clue as to from where myself. Oft times in the past such verbal outbursts as these have gotten me into trouble. Good thing the barkeep knew of my oddly timed quirks and proclivities. He’s had experiences with them in the past. If it were anyone else working the bar, these emotionally charged verbal tirades could’ve easily become confrontational. How could they have not?

Thinking back and hindsight being what it is, it’s as if he was waiting for me to respond to what I thought were compliments drenched in insincerity and embarrassingly ingratiating. Needless to say my apparent discomfort was ramped up even more so with his seemingly impatient and misleadingly deceptive gaze. Ehhhhh the phoniness and pretentiousness of it all, as if he honestly gave a flying sh*t about what I truly thought.

Anyway, it seems as though outbursts such as these would rear their ugly heads more so during the holiday season and become more animated by what seems to me a media blitz, that’s forced down the throats of many of us, several weeks prior to Christmas.

Certain situations have a tendency to provoke and set off certain emotions at certain times. This being one of them. Seasonally, it’s always here; dreadfully, it’s always reoccurring. Maybe one day I’ll come to grips, but certainly not during the two days remaining in this year.

But I should have kept the bartender’s weak attempt at flattery inside and left it as it was. But on second thought I now ask myself, how should I’ve responded?

Knowing me lessons would not have been learned. I can imagine with little fore-thought, or in a futile attempt at humor, awkwardly and impulsively blurting out. ‘Yeah my man, I’m just rockin’ that Philadelphia Rocky Balboa thang right now, haha… Adrianne!’

Huh? Would you believe I’d say something as ridiculous as that? If I did I would’ve immediately had to plead a case and ask. ‘Young man, I didn’t really mean to say that… ahh, can I please have that one back?’

The barkeep with a look of sheepishness I’m sure, would have undoubtedly responded by saying. ‘Errrr-ruhhh… nah, you’ve already put it out there dude. Sorry, can’t push the paste back inside the tube.’

I surely would’ve deserved and would’ve gone down at least three degrees on the cool meter that was deeply imbedded inside his skull. I can only envision him smirking and walking away after leaving behind the beef jerky, shot of Old Crow and can of Pabst Blue Ribbon with a glass of ice; cause that’s just how I like it.

But this is all a fantasy. Let’s come back to reality and simply write off my unfortunate exuberance as me being me, being irritable and grumpy without asking why, ok?

You know I guess what I’m really trying to say with all the bullsh*t aside is, even the great philosopher, instructor and psychoanalyst, Dr. Sigmund Freud: PhD himself, would have had a field day trying to sort it all out. Me? What do you expect? Not that I’m being on the defensive or anything like that, but I’m jus’ your average Joe Blow, blue collar common working stiff, ya’ know? Can you not recognize this? C’mon on big guy, give me a f*ckin’ break, will ya!

Anyway, bit my tongue, as if The Good Lord came down from the heavens in all His glory and said. ‘Lester my boy, don’t entertain such thoughts, especially when it concerns the weeks before and the day of the birth of my only begotten Son… what’s wrong with you?’, as I ignoringly and ignorantly pretend not to listen, while continuing to savagely tear into the savory tidbits.

The Voice sensing that I was neither fully engaged nor paying attention to its warnings, mercifully concluded. ‘I’ll let you alone for now, but in the future be careful of what you think and say. But in the meantime, you can enjoy your meal… bon-apatité.’

‘Aaaaaah… damn you Les!’; there-in lied the moment when I bit my tongue. Coincidence? I don’t think so. But it could have been worse I thought, as I immediately began the healing process of flipping and rolling the tongue along the front, sides and corner of my mouth in an attempt to alleviate the bleeding and the pain; it soon subsided.

Meanwhile, with a minimal perception of being as to where I was in this cheerless environment, I ravenously scarf’d what was left of the bits of beef, in anticipation of floating it all down the gullet, with my shot of Old Crow and can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, in the way I enjoyed it most; with ice.

Speaking of ice, to some it seems this habit of mine is a little odd. They’d say. ‘Les, why do you drink beer with ice?’

I could never understand that question in all the years that I’ve partaken in the consumption of beer. The reason why should be obvious. My question is why would they care if I chose to drink beer in such a manner and why would they find it to be so unusual?

I… now feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, pressured and put upon, by now having to justify and explain myself as to why I prefer to drink beer in such a way, would only nervously laugh and say. ‘Haha, I just like beer to be really cold, as cold as I could possibly get it… haha.’

But I wouldn’t let them off the hook that easy. How does the old saying go, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” So in return I would then ask. ‘Why is it the way in which I consume beer, that it seems so strange that you would ask such an idiotic question?’

They… now feeling uncomfortable, with a degree of self guilt that they’ve unwittingly intruded themselves upon me, easily cop-out and conveniently elect not to answer. This non-response only leaves me with a foreboding sense of hanging frustration.  ‘Gutless cowards’, I say to myself.

But still there I was, as I continue to I sit inside the Trestle Inn four days after Christmas, feeling another sense of dread coming to hover over me, accompanied only this time with an overwhelming feeling for a need to get the hell out of there.

So I simply paid my tab with an inaudible grunt, left the young barkeep a modest tip and proceeded towards the exit. I carried out with me a freshly punctured tongue, a different out-look on the birthday of the Son of God and thoughts of the remaining three days ahead. Two of which I will use to contemplate what I may or may not do to bring in The New Year.

Bit my tongue…

Jesus!

At the very tip

even;

where nerve endings

seem

to bind together

and congregate.

Hurt like hell…

damn-it!

the taste of blood n’

jerky;

not what I

wanted.

certainly not

what I expected.

 

 

A poet/publisher who was born and raised on Long Island, not far from the birth place of Walt Whitman. Lived most his life in Philadelphia where he resides in Center City, just over a bridge not far from the final resting place of Walt Whitman, whose background is that of a blue-collar tradesman, as was Walt Whitman.  He writes short stories and poems of God, nature, love, jazz, and the socio-political aspects of humanity. They are exemplified in his current book Chapbook, The First Three: Poems by Lester Mobley (Mobley Publishing 2013).  He has been a featured reader throughout the Philadelphia/South Jersey area and participates in open mics whenever the opportunity presents itself.

 

Dawn Sperber, Winter 2014

Pirate’s Handkerchief

I used to be a small, dirty handkerchief in a pirate’s back pocket, sailing the salty seas.  He didn’t only use me to dab his sunburned snout, but also to wipe dust from bejeweled neckli and gold bars.

Once, I was flicked across a water-warped bench in effort to make it a throne fit for a hostage pre-queen.  The bench was mostly as foul as it had been, but the gesture was impressive enough to make the princess smile her dimples and offer her oft-kissed cheek for the pirate’s dirty maw.  And that affection was ‘cause of me, so I smiled, but with the modesty of a napkin, because don’t nobody like to witness vanity, not even in a pirate’s handkerchief.  That was before I became a sail.

It took the love of a pretty paper boat, made from an illuminated manuscript’s torn-out page.  I didn’t think anything could’ve pulled me from my profession in the pirate’s back pocket, till I got caught up in her curlicues and pretty i’s.

One of her folds shifted, and its paper whisper spoke of a one-day sea adventure; she entreated me for quicker travel.  I blushed when she scoped my dimensions.  Geometrically, we were a perfect fit, and she was just the boat to show how square me could become a diamond.  So I shifted for her, tilted, and a shishkabob skewer gave me a stake in her.

We’ve been sailing the seas ever since, and like all love, it seems, our paper boat journey’s become timeless and strange.  At some point, the seawater changed to black crumpled silk.  The stars sway when the wind blows and might be circling fireflies.  What do I care?  My girl loves me, so I swell and sail us on, toward morning and that scrawled horizon-line.

 

Dawn Sperber’s fiction has appeared in PANK, Hunger Mountain, Gargoyle, Annalemma, flashquake, Moon Milk Review and elsewhere.  She lives in New Mexico where she writes and pursues dreams, with her trusty shapeshifting goals at her side.

 

Chad Willingborg, Winter 2014

 

YOUR GIBES, YOUR GAMBOLS, YOUR SONGS

We had scrambled up the slope, grabbing at trees and ivy, and were crouching above East River Drive, a pair of gargoyles in the cold. A fence had stopped us. Below the ridge, the two cars were smashed. “Stay low,” Connor hissed. Already new headlights were bearing down from the north, slowing quickly as they came upon the wreck. “And, goddamn it, Kris, stay here.”

We gripped the fence to steady ourselves in the dead leaves and schist. It was three o’clock in the morning. He was quivering.

“Are you cold?” I said. “Or is that just affective memory?”

“Shut up.”

Along the roadway, hazard lights flashed in a daisy chain.

A driver shot out onto the pavement, his phone at his ear. Leather coat and silver bracelet, he bent to peer into the Honda. He did not speak into the car. He marched to my Oldsmobile’s crumpled hood.

“My father gave me that car,” I said.

“Shut up.”

“So he wouldn’t have to drive me to college, I think.”

The man in the road shouted to the others emerging, their breath visible in the cold. “No one’s in this one.” He pointed at it, backing away. “Nobody.”

“Shit,” Connor said.

“Look around,” the guy commanded. “Look.” Then he was talking with 911.

Three others went to crouch beside the upset vehicle just as the first guy had. They reached carefully through the broken glass. Car lights piled up in either direction, despite the hour, red and white beads on an abacus wire. Some newcomer honked at the rear.

But how this first guy on the scene was adrenalized, phone up and elbow jutting, having his woman stay in the car. He barked to the other sleepless people come out to look halfheartedly for Connor and me, along the edges of the road, up and down the empty bike path, over the short rock wall which dropped to the Schuylkill. None yet looked up the dark east slope where Connor was picking his way along the ridge. I followed him.

And how the road had been entirely empty as we sped beneath its measuring lamps, Connor pleading with me, be reasonable. Be patient. And how then the white car appeared, the one I had been waiting for, had made myself ready for hours ago. My reaction flew on impulse. My ears were still ringing.

He found a gap where the fence met a rock retaining wall and hoisted himself around a spray of barbed wire. I shadowed him, some ghost already. My head was bleeding. My right hand felt broken below the ring finger. “You’re hurt,” I said to him.

The grounds of Laurel Hill were darker, quieter than the road below. Towering limestone shone through the branches like shards plummeted from the moon. He dragged himself behind a plinth, blew out a deep breath, and began to pee. “Could you see anything?” he asked quietly.

“Anything like what?”

He didn’t look at me. “The driver.”

“No,” I said.

He moaned. “Got to deal with you first. They’re down there, and we’ll worry about him later.”

“Her,” I said.

His eyes went warily to me. He scowled at the cemetery’s winding lane. “We’ve got to talk. You know you do, Kris. Talk to me. Let’s stay here awhile. Settle it down.”

“Why are we even running?” I asked.

“I’m thinking.” He couldn’t stand still. He hauled his left leg like it was chained to a cinderblock. We went slowly like that through the cemetery’s stones and bare shrubs until he reached a low sarcophagus where he could sit. He rubbed his knee and lay back. “I want to hear some things from you first, before we deal with them. I suppose you want me to say I’m sorry.”

There wasn’t a cloud up where he was looking. The stars saw us. We saw the stars. They never said anything.

“You’re going to have to do something,” I said. “Aren’t you?”

“We are,” he said. “Quit smiling.”

“Great,” I said. “See? I don’t even know when I’m smiling anymore.” My voice was as it had been all evening. “I’m done, Connor.” Even the thought didn’t seem worth the breath. I tried again, just to see if I could make it sound any different. “Done.”

“Stop it. Not yet. You’re still someplace else. Get with me.”

I shook my head for him. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter, you ass. It matters to me. Your head’s bleeding.”

I touched it. “It’s alright. This hand’s broken, though.” I held it out in the moonlight.

“They can fix hands. We’ll get that fixed.” He sat up. “It’s going to be okay.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Goddamn it. No more of this whatever bullshit. That’s a serious mess down there, and you’re still up here singing goodbye cruel world crap. Come off it.” He pushed my chest.

He touched me.

He pushed me again.

I made a fist in one pocket. In the other, my right hand was tender and swelling. “How’s your leg?” I asked.

“It hurts. Like you care.”

“Broken hurts?”

“I don’t know.” He winced. It wasn’t an act. “It’s alright. We need to get some basics straight, okay? With you. So we can get to dealing with other stuff like bones and cops.”

I listened for sirens in the wings.

“I insist you stay alive, and I insist you start talking to me about how you’re going to. Seriously.” He went on.

And he went on.

And, good god, the whole evening had already been filled with talk. Talking wasn’t what I needed, nor what he wanted. What he wanted was for me to cut to the part where I’d say what he hoped to hear, and then at least it could be over for him, for tonight, at least. I had been through all this before. With him before, and with his wife, when he insisted. I had talked and listened to people, in earnestness and oblivion, to where even in their variety they all returned to the same chorus, before. Had cried on the shoulders of fellow actors, had sought counsel, had tried the prescribed reuptake inhibitors. Had gone to church, had bought running shoes, had read the recommended self-help publications, secular and non. Had volunteered, pressed shirt and clipboard in Rittenhouse Square and a summer with the children’s drama camp. I had borrowed a neighbor’s dog for a week, while she went away. Had invested poorly in a series of romances. Count the ways. I had found some comfort in alcohol. I would never get what I needed.

“So, come on,” he said. “Come on. Help me.” He held out a hand. “Kris, help me.”

I recognized it as some dare, a salesman’s gambit, but I gave him my good hand and tugged him to his feet. Our noses were inches apart before he turned. I stood there as he trudged through the frost toward the cemetery’s south section, his limp like that when we met at audition, eight years ago, competing for Richard III. “How dost thou feel thyself now?” My voice carried.

Center City’s skyline popped over the trees, an electrified version of the obelisks around us.

“Um,” he paused. “Faith, some certain dregs of conscience are yet within me.”

“Where are you going?”

He stopped but didn’t turn around. “It’s just a waste pleading with you, isn’t it? What do you care where I’m going? You tried to kill both of us down there, Kris. Not just yourself, but me. And at least a third person. Do you feel anything about that at all?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

The cemetery lane twisted up and down knolls, and he struggled, sidling, when he had to climb one. I trailed him slowly, feeling a moment like the gunfighter watching his wounded enemy—his betrayer or former captor, someone—claw pathetically across the desert.

There were the sirens now.

He folded himself at the waist to catch his breath.

“Is it the asthma? You’re exhausting yourself. You need to get to a hospital.” Or I was like those statuary people at the dog park. The watchful parent at the playground’s edge. “Get a cab,” I said. “Leave me here. No one will know you were in the car.”

He made it to the stone bridgeway which crossed the canal-like stretch of Hunting Park Avenue, where it sinks through the divided cemetery toward the river. He peered back in the darkness. I don’t think he could see me.

“I wasn’t trying to kill you,” I said.

“Mm. You just forgot I was in the car. And the oth-”

“It doesn’t matter.”

We studied the space between each other. He looked afraid. Traffic flashed beneath the bridge, detouring around our crash by the river. He considered it a moment, considered the railing, then turned back to me, even more frightened. “Let me help you across this thing.”

“Help me?” I knew what he meant. I came to him, and he threw his left arm over my shoulder, almost a headlock. His coat smelled like cigarettes and his fingers were cold at my neck. We hobbled like that to the other side of the bridge, neither of us looking over the edge out of some deference to the other. We passed the mausoleum there. “Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean it, I wasn’t trying to kill you.”

“Of course, I was just incidental. Jesus, that’s your apology? That other person could be dead.”

“We’ll get you a cab,” I said.

We went up the next rise. He was leaning against me, the longest we’d ever touched, and I thought of the first time I held a man’s hand, the soft tapping of his fingers on my knuckles beneath the tablecloth, wrapping set-ups in an empty restaurant. At each step I could feel Connor trying to think of what else to say, and part of me wanted to help him, feed him lines, but I suppose not part enough. He had nothing of his own to give me. When we got to the southernmost edge of the cemetery and the path began to circle back to the middle, I suspected he would, out of obligation, just keep us walking like this for hours, monks worrying our beads, until some new encouragement or ultimatum struck him, or he felt enough time had passed to ply me with the old ones, or the sun simply came up and everything played itself out as it must.

But he didn’t turn us back.

He stepped into the frozen grass and went through the path gate at the corner. He paused a moment, then beckoned me.

“I should stay here.”

“You come with me.”

We stepped into an overgrown parking lot, shielded from Ridge Avenue by large trees. The ice puddles shone blackly.

“What’s this place?” Connor said. “I’ve never been here.”

“Robin Hood Dell.” I pointed to the small sign.

It was Fairmount Park’s old amphitheater, the one built before the Mann opened on the river’s other side. Its turnstiles had been poorly barricaded, and the place had clearly seen some demolition. Gnarled rebar sprung from broken concrete. But even in the dark we could see how the frosted grounds sloped down to the proscenium. If there had been seats, they had been ripped out. The dirt was staked and graded and covered with straw, planted for spring. This was renovation coming. Or renovation halted.

He passed me and began the descent. “Looks like some place.”

I thought I heard him whistle.

One weathered row of hard plastic seats was left down near the front. I sat. Connor clapped his hands once and pulled himself onto the stage. He turned to face me, drew a breath, cleared his throat. He extended an arm at me, palm up. “This same skull, sir, was his, sir, the jester’s.”

“We were made for the other part, Connor.”

His stiff arm did not tremble. “Alas, poor Yorick.”

“Alas,” I agreed. “Those lips I have kissed I know not how oft.”

He flung it to the crowd. He tried another. “There are those with guns, hombre, and those who dig.”

“You dig,” I answered.

“I knew that you could…”

A quick tour of our old barroom riffs, for us, always, more chorus than limelight. Two players who never got their break. Two men growing old. We weren’t even meant for each other. How would he tell it to his wife now?

He was singing the opening to the Bee Gees’ song in falsetto, which made me smile. The wind sent leaves across my shoes. I watched them scratch along, stiff and curled, cicada husks which fell from the trees by the lake back home.

“You still sing very well,” I told him. The unhitched seats wobbled as I nestled in my coat. I crossed my legs together tightly. The white Honda had swerved away when I swerved toward it. It caromed off the concrete barrier protecting the bike path and back into us.

“It’s such a good feeling,” Connor sang. “Such a wonderful feeling…”

Decades of performers must have brought their show to this Robin Hood Dell, and as Connor played the fool (for me? for himself?), I deliberated the unknown lot of them, my mind tripping through seasons, ratcheting like a trading card pinned in a bike wheel. He slowed the tempo with snapping fingers and began “On Broadway.” If it’s how he wanted to while our last hour, so be it. He sang with gusto, did a bouncy one-legged dance. He swept his arm over us, played to a phantom crowd rather than meet my eye. He sang into his fist like he was Neil Diamond. “Thank you. Thank you. My leg feels better,” he assured us. “Oh, it feels better. It’s a beautiful night, folks, and I feel good…”

He quit. He looked at me.

Performances here were held in warm weather, of course, not this bitter air. Summertimes. And the people in their summer clothes must have pressed through the turnstiles up there, where the orange hurricane fence was stretched, as the sun set over the river, and there was probably a haze of cigarette smoke as the orchestra tuned up. Mosquitoes maybe. News of wars and wars’ ends. Smells of food from baskets or vendors. When I was a kid, there was a sundae and shake stand on the highway at the outskirts of town, where the handsome boy whose name I can’t remember sold toaster oven sandwiches¬ we’d carry home in white paper bags over our handlebars. My father and my sister and I would eat them at the flaking picnic table, in the backyard, where he parked his backhoe. Penny with the burns on her arms. Listening to FM stereo through the kitchen window screen, the stereo my mother had saved for months to buy herself, for Christmas. And the bugs would start chirping in the cornfield. And so she would turn up the music, rebroadcasts of metropolitan pops she had promised me, beamed from another world entire, as she wiped the counters and folded our socks, as she tied the trash bag and counted her pills. And when we wadded up the foils, my father hollered, hey, come on, Annette, the game’s on, switch it to the baseball, this boy needs to hear some baseball, where’s his cards? And she lowered her head to the window and spoke to the yard something better for her he didn’t hear.

The helicopter’s spot beat the night like a cane.

Connor, overwhelmed by the rotors’ thud, had stopped pleading and sat down right where he was, center stage, in the cold, his hands covering his face. The chopper dropped closer. He pulled his good knee to his chest and put his head down. His shoulders tugged. Twenty yards apart, swallowed by sound, we were very still. It came loud and throbbing over the fence, and the pale straw began to flurry.

Chad Willenborg has been nominated for Best American Short Stories and is three-time finalist for Philadelphia City Paper’s Fiction Contest. He won the cover story in 2012 with a piece called “Blackout,” an excerpt from his newly completed novel, Suit of Lights. Other work has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, Fugue, Waccamaw, and First City Review.

 

George Wylesol, Winter 2014

Sleeping on the Couch

We woke up on the floor on Monday morning. We had been drinking all night and we felt like shit. She picked me up and we crawled into bed. I called out of work and got fired. I didn’t care.

We woke up for real on Monday night. She made a bunch of scrambled eggs and we ate on her little table in the kitchen. It was already dark out. Now our sleep schedules would be fucked up. We’d have to go almost a full day without sleeping.

“You got fired.” She said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What are you gonna do now,” She asked.

“Get a new job,” I said.

“Where,” She said.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I don’t know.” She ate her eggs.

“Do you want coffee?” I asked. She said yes. I made the coffee and stood there watching it brew. It smelled nice and it made me hungry again.

“Are there any eggs left?” I asked.

“You ate them all,” She said. The coffee finished brewing and I poured her some. We sat at the table drinking it.

“Our sleeping schedule is gonna be all fucked up,” I told her. “We’re gonna have to stay up for a whole day”

“You need to get a new job,” She said.

“I know,” I said.

She said, “The rent is due in two weeks.”

“I know,” I told her. “I’ll get it.”

“From where?” She asked. “You spent all your money last night.”

“You weren’t complaining,” I said.

“I was drunk,” She said.

“So was I,” I said.

“You got me drunk on purpose,” She said. I rubbed my thumb over the handle of my coffee mug. “I hate it when you get me drunk like that,” She said.

“Sorry,” I said. I went into the living room. I lay down on the couch.

“What are you doing?” She asked.

“Looking for a job,” I said.

“You’re not gonna find one there,” She said. I put my head under the cushions. “Get out,” She said. She was getting angry at me. I crawled in further.

“Get out.” She said. I crawled all the way under the cushions. There is a secret tunnel inside the couch that only I know about. It takes me wherever I want to go. A few years ago it took me to her apartment. A few years before that it took me to a dump in Staten Island. Before that it took me to a nice house on a farm. I can’t remember where I went before that. She pulled all the cushions off and threw them across the room but I was already behind an apartment building on Mascher Street in Olney. I stretched out on the couch and looked at the stars in the sky. I fell asleep right there, already forgetting my job, and her name, and how our sleep schedules would have been all fucked up.

George Wylesol is a janitor and TV repairman from Northeast Philly who writes and draws in his free time. He graduated from the University of the Arts in 2012 with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Creative Writing. His work is simple, dark, and clean and can be viewed at http://www.wylesol.com./

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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