Prime Number Decimals 2.7
Small But Plentiful
by Tiff Holland
followed by Q&A
The first time she told me the story, he was a pimp. I remember the word “pimp.” How could someone forget that? If my entire slate had been wiped clean, I would remember the word “pimp” the way I remember the word “orgasm,” the way she first said it to me, on the phone—probably so she wouldn’t have to look at me—the way she lowered her voice. “Tony” was his name, and I remember that, too. She and my father were separated, but it still felt like cheating to me, my father’s daughter, dark like him and book-smart the way Mom never was. She said she should have stayed with this Tony, although then I would never have been born. She said she thought he may have been her one true love.
But now, when I ask her about the other things she has said that she will not, should not tell me, I ask about Tony. We are driving down 620 to Walgreen’s. I am driving. Six months ago it was the other way around. I was sicker. She drove while I gave directions. Today, she is coughing in the passenger seat, occasionally spitting into a tissue she has pulled from inside her bra. Once again, she has refused to bring her portable oxygen.
“So, you said you didn’t want to tell me any more. That some of it is just too bad, and I’m wondering: what, what could be that bad?” I ask. Remembering the last bit, about my Aunt Leone, because I took notes, because I found the words: lesbian, tittie, and dentures on a receipt that I almost threw away. “I mean, you said Leone was a lesbian, big deal, and I know about Michael Todd and…” There was something else. That I forgot.
“Your father was mean to me. He was so mean.”
“Even his own mother said I should leave him.”
The floors of my childhood were covered in the ceramic shards of broken nick-nacks. Once, we crawled through a window to escape him pounding on a bedroom door. We shared secrets before she started telling me. I look out the window at a group of buzzards feasting on a small deer by the side of the road. In this part of Texas the deer are small but plentiful. I put on my turn signal.
“So,” I say, “Tony.”
“Oh, he was good to me. So, good to me. He was I-talian.” She always stretches out that word, elongates the vowel. I envision a dark skinned man dressed like the narc from Starsky and Hutch, chicken or rooster something. I wonder if this Tony wore a hat.
“He took me nice places. He gave me things.”
He didn’t break them, I think.
“Anyway, your father and I made up.”
I pull up near the door. Mom still hasn’t completed the paperwork for her handicapped placard, although I can see the top of it sticking out of her purse. Maybe, like me, she thinks if she holds out she’ll get better. I did.
“He was a pimp?”
“Oh, I don’t know. He always had lots of pretty girls around him. But then…Okay, I think he was Mafia.”
She pushes used tissues into the trash bag that hangs from the lighter nub, then grabs fresh tissues from a box on the floor and shoves them into her bra. I know for a fact that at any given moment the bra is home to several tissues, her asthma inhaler, roughly thirty dollars in cash and one or two hard candies. I imagine her loading it up in the mornings the way my husband loads his pockets.
“Mafia? Barberton Mafia? There’s Mafia in Barberton?”
My mother’s hometown is tiny, with a small, perfectly round man-made lake in the center of town. That’s really about it.
“I don’t know. Maybe Cleveland.”
She arranges her purse on her elbow, reaches for the door handle. I get out and walk around in case she needs help, but she’s good. Inside she makes sure I get a cart, so I can lean on it if I have to. She leans on hers. I abandon mine as soon as she’s out of sight. No one in Cleveland goes to Barberton, not for anything. I shove my hands in my pockets. I’m careful not to look at anything too carefully. The aisles, the rows of products and fluorescent lights are overwhelming. I get tired quickly and look for her in the candy aisle. She has a box of Russel Stover’s and sixteen candy bars. She frowns when she notices I’m cart-less.
“I didn’t want to buy anything,” I say.
She looks at the medic-alert bracelet on my wrist but keeps quiet.
“You done?” I ask.
“Yes. It’s time for my treatment.”
We stop at McDonald’s on the way back. Every day at three she has a cup of McDonald’s coffee.
“So, did he have a gun?” I ask, waiting as the minivan moms in the vans ahead of us pass happy meal after happy meal back to children watching cartoons on built-in DVD players.
“Tony? I don’t know. I suppose.”
But that doesn’t tell me anything. Mafia, pimp—both would do well to have a gun.
“And you just went back to Dad?”
She is peering inside her bag, checking to make sure she has the requested four creams. She gives a nod, and I pull away from the window.
“I went back. He promised to be better, to stop drinking, and he did.”
“But you still wish you’d stayed with this Tony”
“I didn’t say that.”
It’s amazing how much progress the buzzards have made in such a short time. The deer’s ribs are clean and crows sit on the barbed wire, waiting for the big birds to finish, so they can have their turn.
Tiff Holland’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in over one hundred lit-mags, ezines and anthologies and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She teaches at Austin Community College.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I had a stroke two years ago and as a result have spent more time with my mother, who is also in poor health. This piece reflects the changing dynamic between us due to our individual illnesses. Also, during the worst of my illness, I spent a lot of time watching the buzzards which nest in a tree one hundred yards past my back fence. They became an inspiration in my work as well. For a while, they were the only company I had.
Don't You Want Some Sun?
by Meg Pokrass
followed by Q&A
When I asked Mike why he was always walking around the house naked, he told me he had too much to hide. That was the year his mother sat on the train tracks, and the same year his brother fell in love with small two-seater planes. The kind that break when they hit birds.
Also, Mike had lost his job and refused to send out resumes. He said there was only so much anyone could do, he was sick of worrying, and when someone wanted him—they would holler.
I’d gotten so used to Mike’s nudity that I’d stopped noticing his penis crouched like a worried squirrel. I’d started feeling nauseous about meat, and could no longer eat chicken. There was something about all of his skin, all at once—blending with the smell of olive oil on salad. Also, the scent of dope made it hard to notice anything good or warm about the house anymore. Always, there was a drawn shade.
“Don’t you want some sun?” I’d ask.
“No, goof,” he’d say. “I want some privacy, can’t you tell?”
“Sure,” I’d say.
Once, I said, “I bet if you wore clothes—sometimes you would be able to have really good privacy.”
A day later, he left. When I got back from the vegetable market, His note said, “Jim and I are testing his plane and I’ll be gone a few weeks. Take care.”
One of our dogs was blind, but very affectionate. She slept in the bed with me, right where Mike had. Moon was nicer than Mike had become, and she had silky hair. She’d gaze into my eyes and steal my resolve to keep things clean, hairless. I held her, imagining Mike and Jim skimming over the edges or else the tips of buildings, trying not to die. Laughing, and almost letting themselves crash. Looking into each others bursting, purple eyes.
I was not the kind of person who liked to go out—but now, all I wanted was to be free of the house. I drove from coffee house to coffee house. I tried out every customer bathroom. I learned the name of the guy who made the best lattes in town. Jerome. Girls lined up waiting for their lattes, and stuck their tits up. I had never seen so much tit thrusting, or hair swooshing. Jerome was sweet looking, with a curled upper lip and stubble. Dark curls, like a Caravaggio. Cute as a colt, young and easy going. The kind of guy you’d like to bring to a restaurant—and have people wonder if he is your young lover, your toy boy.
And yet, Jerome seemed to enjoy eye contact with me. Sometimes I thought it was my imagination. Other times I felt like his girl. I would stand in line and not stick my tits out. I left my tits just as they were. I would, however, apply cruelty-free lipstick before entering the coffee place. I was shy like a teenager again, with Mike gone, I felt like a kid. I blushed when he called my name.
“Latte for Jean Veevee!” I would not correct him. I couldn’t.
And then, one day, I did.
“Genevieve,” I said.
“Oh fuck,” he said. His face pinked like a cooked shrimp.
“No, no! It’s fine. I just, well, I come in here, a lot, and I thought I should tell you.”
“I am a clod,” he said. “That is such a rockin’ name!”
I smiled at him, and he smiled back. Maybe he liked older women. Cougars. Perhaps I met cougar standards. I did have nice hair, and my skin was nearly unwrinkled due to a lifelong struggle with agoraphobia. When one never goes anywhere, the sun can do little damage.
Mike called from Nevada. My guess was, Las Vegas. He said he was in a tiny town called Primm. I pictured his worried squirrel. I imagined he was finally warm.
“Oh, wow. So how is the plane doing?” I asked.
“Oh, good, really good. We are really really really doing good.”
“No plane crashes?”
“Nope, I’m good! I’m in one solid piece!”
Then I heard a sound which grew to fill up the holes inside the phone. Heated up metal. A woman’s laugh. A giggle, to be specific. “Piece?” the voice said, tittering.
My lips made sounds, while my body caved in like a paper airplane stabbing the wall, the floor.
Meg Pokrass is the author DAMN SURE RIGHT available Feb. 2011 by Press 53. Meg currently serves as Editor-at-Larger for the new Blip Magazine (formerly MississippiReview.com). She directs the Fictionaut Five interview series for Fictionaut. Meg's flash fiction was Selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 2009. She has published over 100 stories and poems, as well as original content animations.
Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?
A: This piece was inspired by my friend Len Kuntz, who gave me as a prompt, the idea to write a piece with the beginning of the first sentence being, "When I asked him why...". Often, when a writing friend (like Len) offers me an idea, it has a strength that my own prompts don't. I like being given an assignment. This piece just flew out. I wrote this piece fast, thinking about how relationships can so suddenly change.
Intersection (Dimension 2)
by Donna Hunt
followed by Q&A
We are a geometric theory. Theological
calculus. Holy Arithmetic.
We are katy-korner, kitty corner, cats calling
the point where lines meet.
A dot. Two lines. A point.
Two paths converge. Converse.
In plain sight. Slight. The point.
My head rests. Turned.
My fingers trace. Caress the edge, the line where we meet.
The Point. You lean. Inches.
Two directions. We are the illusion
we are angles we angle.
We elude, collude, collide. The point.
This point. Ours. We are
lines. We continue infinitely.
Our lives are boxes. Boxed.
Boxed in, ing, out.
We meet at the corner. Outside.
We cross lines but
not too much. We lean, learn,
yearn, long along but do
not bend do not break I smudge
the line. We do not cross.
We leave the box.
You enter. Another box. An illusion.
Yours. It is yours.
(I am parallel. I never touch.
I continue on. Indefinitely. Infinitesimal.)
Not a box. A circle.
we are angles, lines, points,
When we meet (a point) it seems
there are no edges (the point).
No one on edge
or at the edge. Two lines
meet. Two eyes. A point.
you also have a circle.
In the box, I can pretend you
are a line only, an angle an angel
when we meet. An edge.
Outside our point, line, angle, box is
your circle. There, you curve.
a circle is infinite.
Donna Hunt’s poems have appeared in Diagram as well as Caesura and Children, Churches, and Daddies. Her poems are under consideration for the Yale Younger Poets Anthology, and she was recently awarded a four-week full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. She received her MFA at Queens University of Charlotte, and is currently teaching at CUNY. You can listen to a podcast of her reading on itunes, or download from http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~huntd/feed.xml
Q: What’s the inspiration for this poem?
A: “Dimension 2: Intersection” is one part of a long sequence of poems inspired by string theory. As string theory begins to prove that everything we perceive as impossibly small is actually impossibly huge, how/where do people maneuver in such a universe?
by Harry Calhoun
followed by Q&A
The journey of time off is never traversed
without peril. Assemble the canoe, remembering
the purpose of the outrigger: to add stability
to the canoe as you steer the rough waters
To collect taro. Then navigate the Archipelago
of Twelve Days Off, sailing now into the Strait
of Nine Days Left, as your drowsy wife
no more a navigator than you reminds you
in the dark on this sleepy Saturday. Your dog
can’t tell time but his wet nose has tapped you
awake at 4 a.m. Outside it is the same temperature
as that nose, warm yet cool and somehow toasty,
not a bad combination if you have to be awake
at this time of night.
You, writing this in the predawn darkness,
dot the eyes and cross your heart and then the tees.
And you sail off sleepily into what’s left
of that vacation,
navigating away from work
as long as you can, but relentlessly
sailing into the next day.
Harry Calhoun is a widely published poet, article and essay writer. Check out his trade paperback, I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf, the recently published The Black Dog and the Road and his chapbook, Something Real. He’s had recent publications in Chiron Review, Chiaroscuro, Orange Room Review, The Centrifugal Eye, Monongahela Review and many others. He is the editor of Pig in a Poke magazine. Find out more at http://harrycalhoun.net. This just in: Harry’s new chapbook, Near daybreak, with a nod to Frost, is now available from Propaganda Press!
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: I like my day job well enough, but I went to part time this year because I needed more time for my passion, my poetry. I love long stretches of time off, and this poem was written over Christmas vacation. I think you can feel the growing apprehension, almost a sense of dread, as the poet approaches his destination — that day job which is both sustenance and curse.
by Donna Vorreyer
followed by Q&A
your hip like
child, all needy
at your sweater
so hard that a
a hole that can’t
be fixed since
you can never
match a dye lot
exactly, no matter
what the tiny
codes on the
skeins of yarn
a math test
that the answer
is that there is
no answer, no
calls it, some
alone in the thick
woods of doubt
where it’s damn
cold and you with
a giant hole in
Donna Vorreyer’s poetry has appeared in many print and online journals including qarrtsiluni, Cider Press Review, New York Quarterly, Apt, Ghoti, DMQ Review, Apparatus, and The Mom Egg. Her chapbook Womb/Seed/Fruit debuted this year from Finishing Line Press, and her photography has also been published, most recently in The Furnace Review. She lives in the Chicago area where she teaches middle school; you can visit her on the Web at http://www.donnavorreyer.com
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: The poem started with a free write about futility, a word that implies endless unraveling, a journey with no fruition. The image of the sweater came quickly, but didn’t capture the emotion for me - that’s where the math came in.
Besame, Besame Mucho
by Donna Steiner
followed by Q&A
First grade. I’m on a seesaw with a boy named Irwin. He likes me but I don’t like him. Well, I
like him but I don’t like like him. We stop seesawing, he surprises me: kiss on the cheek. He
runs away. I wipe it off, but am secretly pleased.
In some regions of the American South,
a person who has never been kissed is referred
to as a fish.
Fourth grade. Joe Little, who plays the guitar and loves the Beatles, holds my hand as we walk
up Tallen Drive Hill. My father drives up behind us, slows the car to a near stop. “Get home,” he
hisses. “Right now.” The farthest we get after that is dancing to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and
“Can’t Buy Me Love” on a record player in Joe’s basement. We never kiss.
Arguably, the kiss is the smallest discrete unit of
romance. A potential contender: holding hands. But there’s
something about the intimacy of a kiss that intertwined fingers
My brother has a friend named Mike. I’m in sixth grade, he’s in fifth. He’s shorter than I am,
and we’re both skinny as twigs. We kiss leaning up against the garage door. His lips are thin and
tight. Our heads move self-consciously, steady and chaste as metronomes. When we’re done, he
says “don’t you ever use your tongue?” This is a revelation; no idea tongues were involved. “Um, sometimes,” I reply.
The French kiss has been succinctly described
as a “liaison between tongues.”
Dean, beautiful blonde Dean. I’m 14. He’s 17. He smells like beer and cigarettes, wears a
leather jacket. He calls me “babe.” We kiss—hours and hours of kissing—I want to be in his
skin. I buy see-through blouses for him. I push his hands to my waist, giving him permission to
roam. He roams. Decades later I still love the smell of cigarettes and beer, the creak of leather.
S.W.A.K. Sealed with a kiss. Does anybody lick
envelopes any more? Will kissing meet the same fate
as sending hand-written love letters?
Back seat of a car. Jimmy something. He’s my crush. There are three couples in the car. This
becomes an emblematic scenario of high school: multiple couples, a locale. Making out.
Hickeys. It keeps us off the streets.
Spin the Bottle. Truth or Dare. The great kissing games
of youth. Hickey: a kiss that evolves into a suck.
College. I kissed a girl. I liked it. Vowed to kiss more girls. Started smoking pot. Kissed girls
while loopily high. Good combination.
One can throw a kiss, blow a kiss, give a
kiss, steal a kiss.
Camping with a lover in Canada. Lover’s best friend is with us. Friend says “will you walk to
the bathroom with me?” In the woods, in the dark darkness, she says “where are you going to
kiss me?” I am shy and high and lustful. “Where on your body,” I begin, kicking at a stick,
“or where in the woods?” Probably the only time I’ve ever successfully flirted.
The symbol x denotes a kiss. But ii also means
“unknown quantity” in algebra, and can allude to an
unknown person in, for example, a police report. A
rated X movie is obscene. It is the most simple of
symbols, but its meanings are not simple.
I’m a grown-up. Meet the love of my life. Doomed, of course. We break other hearts, leave
other lovers. We steal an afternoon. Kissing on a futon. Clapton, guitar solo, wailing. The futon
tips. We roll onto the floor, still kissing. Bewildered, flustered, disoriented, destabilized, giddy.
“Wow.” A decade-defining kiss.
The Inuit “kuni,”— what many refer to as an
“Eskimo kiss”—is more like a simultaneous rub and
sniff than a kiss. It’s a sign of affection—a grandmother
might press her nose and upper lip to a child’s cheek—
rub, breathe in.
She’s having an affair. I tell my best friend. We linger over lunch, laughing, rueful, oddly happy.
“I just want someone to kiss,” I say. We’re in Arizona. The sun is shining. My friend’s wearing
a dress and carrying a bicycle helmet. “Really?” she says, smiling. “Really,” I say. We kiss. We decide to have a kissing affair. Probably not my best idea.
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
I have a lover who has survived serious trauma. Romance, sex, all of it is difficult. We discover
that she likes when I whisper filthy phrases in her ear. We kiss, I whisper, we kiss, I whisper. I
become a virtuoso at this. I will do anything, say anything for her.
Beso: Spanish for kiss. Kysse is Dutch and kyss
Swedish. It’s bacio in Italian; beijo in Portugese. In
England they might slangily call it snogging, in
Scotland pulling or nipping, in Ireland shifting. If
you’re over 50 in the U.S., you might ask for a smooch.
In the south, you’d want some sugar. Be careful… like a
kiss, words are interpretive.
I’m a teacher. A student joins the class late. No, it’s not that story. The student is older than I
am. She’s 50-something, I’m 40-something. My best friend dares me to ask her out. I do. She
touches my thigh under the table; I levitate. The woman is straight. Her orientation doesn’t
appear to be an impediment. Sometimes when I think about her, I realize I’m gently touching my
A woman with a honey-sweet accent and a nice house in the woods writes to me. Flatters me.
Makes me laugh. Says she’s a fan. I look her up—she’s famous. I fly east to meet her. We kiss
in the garage. It’s like starting over, from when I was a kid—the kissing, the garage, the slender
eager body. I know how to use my tongue now. I know how to laugh when the kiss is finished.
Besame, besame mucho. Kiss me, kiss me a lot…
Donna Steiner’s work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, South Loop Review, and Center. She teaches at the State University of New York in Oswego.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I’ve been trying to write short, lyrical pieces that incorporate small clips of research – so this was, in effect, an experiment. The writing process consisted of revisiting fond memories and working on form.