Prime Decimals 3.2

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Parisian Rendezvous

by Daniel Hudon 

followed by Q&A

Had he been a little quicker, he would have met her on the steps on the way out of Père Lachaise, the famous cemetery in Paris. Compelled by a sense of nostalgia, he went with the sole intention of standing in front of the grave of Marcel Proust and thinking with affection of a time and place he had only read about. He had already lit a candle at Notre Dame for a recently deceased friend and watched it flicker for a good few minutes in the congregation of several dozen other candles until his eyes began to water, wondering if the dead had anything else to do besides oversee the lives of those who missed them; but this gesture was more significant in his mind because of all the nights he’d stayed up reading those poorly bound volumes with their fine print and pages that sometimes fell out; he had been too embarrassed to admit that it was the cause of his bleary-eyed fatigue at work that winter and instead told his coworkers that he was waging an epic battle with insomnia. No one at the office read books like that, if they read anything more than the newspaper, and he saw no reason to enlighten them. He enjoyed the secret—he had so few—and reveled in the respect he seemed to be getting over his private nocturnal struggle, occasionally letting on that it was possibly due to personal matters that were simply too complicated to go into.

Already he had paused in front of the bust of Balzac, brighter, prouder and less imposing than Rodin’s version, which he’d seen yesterday and had overheard with approval that it was more about Rodin than it was about Balzac, and into his mind swam the images of lively boarding house dinners and fathers who lay awake at night worrying over their daughters. In the afternoon sunshine, in the shadows of the trees, down the long rows of marble and stone, the phantasmagoric maze of paths and side-paths each with its

own participants in the history of France, among the potted flowers that bloomed and wilted, he felt he was in tune with some larger order in the world and was pleased to notice he had removed himself from the majority of map-carrying tourists and settled into an easy-going pace. Most came, he knew, to follow the graffiti and handwritten signs that led to the grave of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, a band he liked in his youth and had now all but forgotten. 

To his surprise, at the grave of Marcel Proust, he didn’t think of the drama and anxiety of bedtime in Combray, the steeple of Saint-Hilaire, the walks along the Guermantes way or the tender humiliations of a young heart not yet touched by experience. He had appeared in front of the stone before he’d expected to, and after stepping back to verify that the gold letters written along the side, with the last name capitalized, said what he expected, he solemnly looked upon the wide black marble slab, its reflection of the blue sky and the billowed clouds with a tinge of disappointment over arriving at his destination so soon. He stepped forward again, leaned forward, though not too close, to admire the smoothness of the marble and the perfection of the reflected sky, and leaned back again, once more to read the name and the dates of birth and death. Much as he would have liked to have summoned up any of the myriad, vivid images of those hefty volumes, instead, he found himself smelling the flowers that someone had left and wondering as he looked down into the marble sky when the last time was that he had bought flowers for anyone, even himself. 

Had he been a little quicker, he would have met her on her way there, perhaps on the Avenue de la Chapelle, trio of roses in hand, still cherishing the wink the shopkeeper had given her when she paid for them. 

She had arrived in Paris in the morning and booked herself into a cheap hotel in Montmartre, pleased that she was able to communicate to the old woman at the tiny desk that having the shower down the hall would be fine and to understand the time that breakfast was being served. Visiting the cemetery wasn’t the first thing on her mind when she walked out of the hotel; rather, she simply wanted to be there, in Paris, without any real plan besides eating pastry and drinking the rich coffee in a café, browsing the bookstalls along the Seine and pretending she was both French and sophisticated. Already she’d seen a man ride by on a bicycle with both a baguette and a briefcase strapped onto the back and she’d heard the characteristic police siren that sounded so much less urgent than those at home. She had slept a little on the plane and though she felt a sagging tiredness hanging on her eyelids and her shoulders, it was overcome by the euphoria of being in Paris. After wandering past several Metro entrances she decided to go somewhere at random, to have her own spontaneous tour of the different Parisian arrondissements and when, with her eyes closed, her finger pointed to Père Lachaise in her guidebook she couldn’t help but wonder if the fates were also at work. 

Had she lingered a little longer over the grave, and got straight in her mind whether her roses were something truly symbolic that acknowledged an unconscious desire within her or were merely a spontaneous act of affection, as much for herself as anything else, or had she been able to conjure up some lyrics more profound than, “Love me two times, baby,” or, “C’mon, baby, light my fire,” under the gaze of the security guard, then she might have met him for by this time he had paid his Proustian respects and come closer, via the Avenue de la Chapelle, to the section she was in, to find the grave of Auguste Comte and to let show a small but genuine smirk over the 19th Century

philosopher’s assertion that the chemical composition of the stars would always be beyond human understanding. 

She, like he, believed in the strange workings of coincidence and fate, but while waiting for a German couple to finish posing for photos in front of the grave, watching as they tried to cajole the humorless security guard into taking a photo of both of them before another tourist intervened on his behalf, she looked at the other tourists, the graffiti on the nearby graves and the handful of other bouquets, one still completely wrapped in its paper and left on top of the headstone, and when at last she had the opportunity to place her flowers, instead of putting them down, she clasped them ever so slightly tighter, turned, and left without looking back to see who was coming down the path. 

 

 

Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches natural science at Boston University. He has had recent work published in Swink, The Meadowland Review, The Antigonish Review and The Cream City Review. In 2009, his first nonfiction book, The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos, was published by Oval Books (UK) and this year he published a chapbook of prose and poetry, Evidence for Rainfall, with Pen and Anvil Press. He lives in Boston, MA, and some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: Though I had only read about half of Proust’s first volume of Remembrance of Things Past when I wrote this, I loved his long sentences and wanted to write a story set in Paris comprised mostly of long sentences as a sort of homage. 


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Cocasset Street

by Ray Scanlon

followed by Q&A

I was about six months old when my parents moved to Foxboro, a sleepy Boston suburb known outside of southeastern Massachusetts mainly for having a professional football stadium. Dad had just taken a job at the Foxboro Company, where—quaint notion—he worked until he retired. He and Mom rented, for a few months, a cottage on Chestnut Street, a short walk from the Company and Foxboro State Hospital, the looming late-nineteenth-century brick insane asylum, now shuttered. I do not remember Mom and Dad plinking with their Daisy Targeteer at the mice running through the kitchen, nor in summer hearing the shrieks of the afflicted through the open windows, but I’ve assimilated these stories and treat them as my own.

Soon we moved to a larger and nicer apartment on Cocasset Street in Foxboro. Though we were out of earshot of the State Hospital, the insanity evidently did not end. It took on a perhaps less intense, but more personal form: the landlord’s wife, who lived upstairs, heard voices from airplanes flying overhead, and believed Mom was trying to steal her husband—more purloined stories. But it was here that my own memory would take to its fledgling wings. 

Cocasset Street was my home until I was four years old, and from that place and time I remember exactly seven things. I remember finding a nearly waist-high dandelion. I remember Beverly, the landlord’s daughter, showing me an outboard motor clamped to a barrel in the back yard, filled with stagnant water in which the prop was immersed and on which floated crabapples. I remember walking down the sidewalk with my grandmother along a chest-high slab-topped stone wall, finding a marble someone had left in one of the quarry-drilled holes, and a brook that ran under the street. I remember a mountain of sturdy wooden storage boxes, discarded by the Foxboro Company, dumped in our driveway—I found a resistor in one of them. I remember sitting on the curb across the street with Paul Gegenheimer, hearing him explain how you could make some sort of lethal shooting weapon with a clothespin. I remember throwing a tantrum because I didn’t want to go to bed; I wanted to play all night—and my parents let me. I remember picking at the plastered wall, and verging on hysteria as Mom and Dad teamed up to extract a mote of plaster from my eye.

Aldous Huxley observed that “Every man’s memory is his private literature.” This list exemplifies for me the extraordinarily idiosyncratic nature of memory. Perhaps pointing out an early manifestation of self-centeredness, I don’t recollect my brother and sister at Cocasset Street, though they were born while we lived there. The objects I remember all seemed to have innate magic, marvelous properties that were mine to discover if only I bent my naive curiosity to their contemplation and study. Together, these memories feel like a mildly bizarre dream sequence, and although I have no sense of their chronology, I’m struck by how nicely some of the incidents have run, thread-like, through my life.

That dandelion was the first wildflower I could identify and name, and to this day it is my favorite. It’s the prototypical gorgeous sun-yellow composite, living signal that we’ve endured another winter and that spring is well and truly here. They and the violets deserve all the space they want in my yard, and I’m happy to give it to them, and to all their cousins—never-ending life forms to identify, name, classify, and study.

The resistor was a seed that sprouted while I was in sixth grade, when I built an audio oscillator—because I could, that’s why. I assembled Heathkits (getting a shock from one that sent me to the floor), learned to etch printed circuit boards, and built other projects: amplifiers, a regulated power supply, a small transmitter. I spent inordinate time listening for distant AM radio stations, perhaps a harbinger of the vast time-wasting potential of the Internet. I read Popular Electronics and QST magazines; the Radio Amateur’s Handbook and the GE Transistor Manual were my scripture. I was poised to make something useful of my life, but when I was in high school a vagabond mathematician changed everything. He spoke to the assembled student body about doing math (a unique, serendipitous event; there was no formal program to bring people in to talk about their work). He demonstrated that rotating a cube had certain correspondences with modular arithmetic. It was a revelation, a veritable epiphany, totally useless in the real world, and I was hooked. From that moment I was destined to be a math major. It was way too late when I realized I didn’t have the talent to be a real mathematician.

Letting me attempt an all-nighter was a classic parenting stratagem. It worked exactly as planned, as sometimes happens. Knowing I would soon tire of playing alone, Mom and Dad readily agreed to let me stay up all night and left the room, stifling snickers behind their hands. The technique had lost its charm by the time I decided to bicycle a moonlit twenty miles to make an unexpected party appearance—and this was before alcohol. By then I had a much more mature understanding of my powers, and rode successfully. And I had also pulled a true all-nighter.

Character forms early. I find it interesting to reflect how curiosity about the natural and scientific worlds and our place therein, plus a reckless laissez-faire attitude toward behavior, have guided my life for as long as I remember. Further, contemplating the balance of nurture and genetics in the development of these long threads of memory, it’s no stretch for me to see their qualities extend into generations before and after my own. That’s a matter for gratitude.

 

Ray Scanlon lives in Massachusetts. He's paid attention for about fifteen minutes during the last 60 years. His web site is Read Old Man Scanlon.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I had to write about this in grade school. I decided to do it again, and try to get it right this time.


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Blackberry Speaks/Txts

by Alan King

followed by Q&A

so u got it bad, huh?

think u know hard times

w/ ur recession –

 

u w/o a job & time

2 smell da fresh air,

time 2 pick up a hobby

 

da way idle hands 

pick me up & start

stabbing me w/ thumbs.

 

talk abt violated. 

don't know how i feel

abt having my ball

 

fiddled w/. wat u 

take me for, that iFreak? 

da next hot thing 

 

w/ an iBody so “touch-

friendly” u can pinch her 

lush apps like – well, u get 

 

da pic. dis life ain’t e-z. 

a crack on da screen 

or anything else

 

& u get discriminated 

against, u get labeled 

harsh things. know where 

 

gadgets like me end up

after da hoopla, wen 

da next hot item appears

 

like a pop-up on ur screen? 

well, it ain’t da afterlife.

no bon voyage of tears,

 

no luv-bots beaming

& txting abt what a device

it was, or how its features 

 

were a one of a kind. 

it’ll just be pieces of wat 

i once was in a pile 

 

of other pieces of wat once 

had a helluva run in its heyday.

still think u got it bad?

 

 

Alan King’s poems have appeared in Alehouse, Audience, Boxcar Poetry Review, Indiana Review, MiPoesias and RATTLE, among others. A Cave Canem fellow and VONA alum, he’s been nominated for both a Best of the Net selection and Pushcart Prize. When he’s not writing about art and domestic issues on his blog (http://alanwking.wordpress.com) or sending poems to journals, you can find Alan chasing the muse through Washington, D.C. — people watching with his boys and laughing at the crazy things strangers say to get close to one another.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem came out of the NaPoWriMo agreement to write a poem a day for the month of April. I’m fascinated by the persona poem, and I was still coping with being laid off from my job as reporter with a newspaper in Baltimore. I saw how beat up my old BlackBerry was and imagined if it could talk or text me what wisdom would it drop on me. Then I realized that people have been through worse, and considered my situation a blessing. 


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Otherology

J. P. Dancing Bear

followed by Q&A

for Gerry LaFemina

one does not look directly at: while one will stare straight into: the photographic eye: one can spot distance: recited in numbers: while one gets a sense of what is in the frame: and not: one is meticulous as a stop watch: counting out the distance of thunder from lightning: while one is capturing the mood of light: the multifaceted clouds: one is measuring the space between breaths in the sweetgrass: while one is certain of prairie ghosts living in the tall grass: one is going back over the equations: while one is saying a prayer to the setting sun: one will not refer to his friend as something he is not: while one believes his companion is missing a shot

 

 

J.P. Dancing Bear is the author nine collections of poetry, most recently, Inner Cities of Gulls and Conflicted Light (Salmon Poetry, 2010 and 2008). His poems have been published in DIAGRAM, Copper Nickel, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, Verse Daily and many other publications. He is editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press. Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, “Out of Our Minds,” on public station, KKUP. His next book, Family of Marsupial Centaurs, will be out by Iris Publications in late 2010.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem is about the reflected self and acceptance. The metaphor built with numbers uses the old scale used in elementary school when learning positive and negative numbers.


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Subject: Please Be Sympathetic to My Cry

Samuel Day Wharton

It comes from here. & here

is where it will go. I am

 

starting it up again like an engine,

& it will take me

 

hours of sorting through

books on dream analysis

 

to remember: the face of the arm-

less child was my face.

*

It’s harmless, really, the thrum

of the solar flare. Today

 

is the first anniversary of my drunk-

en elder brother’s silly plunge

 

into the warm waters of Playa

del Carmen. If it was a rip-

 

tide that took him, no one saw.

I hear him now in my vocabulary.

 

I hear the dumb electric stupor

of the ionosphere. It wakes

 

me. I am breathing. 

I am begging without begging.

 

Turn my lemon groves

into marmalade. Take pity

 

on my voice. It cracks across

a broader spectrum than light,

 

the octaves stacking, stacking

until the face of the moon

 

can hear it. 

*

          It comes from

the vast wasted space

 

of my throat. It leads me

to a place of saintly radios & 

 

staticky edges. It is warm here, 

like a lemon grove. Like a presidio 

 

surrounded in sunshine. 

Please be simple & in love, 

 

like yesterday. & yet

I mistook yesterday for the day

 

I remember as an anniversary,

the aftershock of light behind the eyes. 

 

& the sound of it disguised 

as a forest, lost beneath the sky.

*

Please be sympathetic to my cry

 

(I am starting to think of it as the drunken 

hum of ions sneaking shots 

 

of solar flare beneath the dumb 

stare of the sky). Once I had

 

an older brother, I didn’t know

what to do with him, so I put him

 

here to rest. Then I tossed him in the water. 

I dreamt of an armless boy 

 

with my face. He was thrumming

like an engine, cycling

 

& cycling & then I remembered

that he sped away with the rip-

 

tide. No one saw. He spoke

with my older brother's voice.

*

I’m awake. I’m breathing.

After hours of sorting through

 

the notes I left myself,

I remember today is the anniversary

 

of the planet’s perihelion.

We will party in Playa del Carmen

 

until my vocabulary is ripped

away from me on the tide,

 

then head inland. I swear

I heard my drunken

 

elder brother’s cry riding in

on the wind between the howler

 

monkeys’ screams. I put him there, 

atop the highest pyramid

 

at Chichen Itza, the Mayan

etchings purpling

 

his feet.

*

                It took him 

most of an afternoon to find himself 

 

back in my memory.

He was snacking on plantains

 

& black beans, skittering across the sky

like ions from a solar flare.

 

His eyes were bluer

than the sky, & twice as wide.

 

There are many reasons to forget

a face – but none of them

 

are right. He drove a truck

across the country,

 

full of moving parts, full on

the thrum of engine, full to bursting

 

of the cry of the road. Its load

must’ve shifted under the glare

 

of the sun. For a second,

it was all just dumb clouds,

 

light. The rolling plains.

*

I am serious about this poem.

 

I am stalling on saying

anything of value.

 

I never had a brother; he never

died. I don’t remember

 

my dreams. 

*

                      It comes

from here, a vacant space.

 

& where it will go is up to you.

It is thrumming like an engine.

 

It is flaring from the sun.

It is echoing through the lemon groves

 

under the dumb sky. There are

no such things as good and evil.

 

Please be sympathetic to my cry.

 

Samuel Day Wharton’s poems have appeared recently in anti-, Leveler, No Tell Motel, Pinstripe Fedora, Thirteen Myna Birds and Versal. He is the editor of the online poetry journal Sawbuck.


Prime Decimals 3.3

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Some ass-hat kid, a track team leg-shaver, reads his essay first. He doesn’t stand—this isn’t grade school—but he may as well. “What wouldn’t you give up even if you could have it back tomorrow?” That’s just the opening line and I can’t take it, want to smack his smirky pimple-pie face when he tells the class, “My legs, because they carry me across the finish line, they make me strong. They make me who I am.” 

Fuck your legs, I’m thinking—but we all are, I’m no one special—fuck your legs and your shorty short shorts and the shadow of stubble that creeps inside your nightmares.

The instructor, Ms. Holt, wants us to express our deep withins in a way that “slides across the ears like,” I kid you not, “ice cream on the tongue.” Huh. 

I’ve got a wife so I keep my deep withins to myself, but that picture of ice cream and Ass-hat’s legs sends me gagging out of the room. Not like a dog with a chicken bone breached at the back of the throat—I’m forty-two for god’s sake—I just get up nice and quiet and go. I’m taking the class pass/fail, so what’s it matter, I’ve got some leeway, right? 

There’s no moon tonight, which suits my mood, but the parking lot’s got new halogen lights because someone died and this open enrollment college got lucky.

I don’t expect I’ll go back in, but I don’t leave either. What I do is get a yellow pack of M&Ms from the machine and take a seat on the curb, crunching candy and not going home. 

I’ve finished the pack and made friends with a crispy worm in the gutter by the time kids start finding their cars. Doesn’t even occur to me til he’s standing here that this means my class is done, too.

“Did you get a call?”

“What?” I ask him, though playing stupid won’t make him go away.

“Is everything all right at home?” He still hasn’t sat, which is a good thing.

“Sure. Yeah,” I say. I suck in my gut and hide the wrapper in my jacket pocket, hoping not to crinkle it in the process. “Just needed some air, you know?”

“Oh yeah, I get like that all the time. I sit still for, like, ten minutes and I can feel, literally feel, my metabolism slow down.” His knees are in front of me and they’re sort of up and down bouncing like, what, I don’t know—like this dipshit right here pretending he knows anything.

“Right,” I say. “Just like that.”

But that was the wrong thing and now he sits down next to me on the curb, and without him blocking the lamps and slow crawl of taillights what I see is the miniscule bristling of golden hairs sprouting up on his thigh. 

“Let me ask you something,” I say, pointing.

“Yeah, man.”

“Do girls like that? I mean girls your age, they go for that?” 

“Well sure,” he says. “They can’t get enough. Why do you think I wear the shorts, man? I’m not even training right now.”

“Right,” I say. 

My hand finds the wrapper in my pocket again, lets it make noise—who cares? I wad it up then toss it to the trashcan back by the machine. 

He stands up to go. “Well, see ya.”

“I just couldn’t take the bullshit in that room anymore,” I say. “Guess I’ve had it for now. For a while.”

“It’s just an elective.”

“Sure,” I say.

“Then, man, fuck it. Fuck the bullshit!”

“You’re not married, kid.”

He kind of jiggles his knees again, bounces up and down with his feet together that way runners do, like he’s bound and gagged and hopping away from the crime scene.

“Were you gonna kiss me back there?”

“What?” He stops bouncing and I’m glad to have said it if just for that reason.

“I’m not that old, you know. I mean I’m aware that things are a bit more open now and I’ve been out of school so long I didn’t know if you were sending me signals or I was sending them to you and I don’t want—”

“Chill, man. Jesus.” 

“Well.”

“So is that your scene?” he asks.

“I don’t have a scene.”

“Is that why you never volunteer to read your stuff?”

“I wouldn’t be afraid of that,” I tell him. “I’ve been with a man, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You’re married.”

“Right,” I say. “Guess it’s some of that deep within stuff. You’d be surprised,” I tell him, “what you can live without, what you can live with.”

“So when Ms. Holt had us bring in our talismans and secretly leave them in a box for someone else, yours was the postcard one, the Pride float. That’s cool, man, whatever.”

“I was the number. The long number.”

He doesn’t get it, which is fine. I don’t need this stubble-kneed kid’s permission to have taken it up the ass and liked it enough that now I can’t talk to my wife, her mother, or the dog she got while I was locked up.

Now I stand, look down at this ass-hat and picture his dick and balls shaved. “I bet regrowth’s a bitch, huh,” I say, then walk away. 

I won’t go back for the deep withins Shelly wants me to read aloud to her in bed. I won’t talk, I won’t feed that dog, I won’t walk it. But when she’s asleep, I’ll climb on top of her, wake her with my hand around one boob, my lips sucking her twat and maybe that long number will just slide across my tongue into her deep withins. Maybe then she’ll hear me.

 

 

Nicole Louise Reid is the author of the novel In the Breeze of Passing Things (MacAdam/Cage, 2003) and fiction chapbook Girls (RockSaw Press, 2009). Her stories have appeared in journals including Sweet, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, Meridian, Black Warrior Review, Confrontation, turnrow, Crab Orchard Review, and Grain Magazine. Recipient of the Willamette Award in Fiction, she teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana, where she is fiction editor of Southern Indiana Review and editor of RopeWalk Press, and directs the RopeWalk Visiting Writers Reading Series. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: One day when a fairly annoying student in my creative writing class was absent, the rest of the students turned on him with such fury I didn’t understand it. I tried to find the point to his counterpoint in this piece’s narrator and contextualize them both with the sort of teacher that’s all fluff and hand-holding.


The Guile Project

by T.M. De Vos

followed by Q&A

In those days, when I wore tights under torn shorts and had a hard drive named “My Stormy Soul,” I expended a great deal of energy in demonstrating what a rare and revolutionary person I was. It was terrifically important to maintain the general impression that I was quite mad and original so, when I had an idea, like taping soy-sauce packets to my door or shrink-wrapping someone’s furniture, I acted on it immediately, even frantically, as if I was racing another inventor to the patent office. The difficulty, with time, was of course finding something ever more outrageous or ironic to do. I broke bottles and bullied my friends into scoring their arms, after my example; I masturbated a boy with a powdered doughnut; I lit on fire anything left in my reach and left it smoldering for someone else to stub out.

My roommates and I hosted porn parties where we smoked idly while hare-ribbed women were palpated from behind, held up by the scruffs like pelts on hooks. We would comment on their hair, or some oddity of their bodies, comfortably superior to anyone who actually got off on the stuff. Every now and then, two members of our group would begin sneaking off together, but that sort of thing began as a response to each other’s dominance or wit, a tribute, even, to the most ironic. The fact that we had certain parts we could use on each other was almost secondary. 

They were pleasant in a way, these liaisons with friends: more like artistic contracts than romances. The couples who were quiet, who seemed not to spur each other—whether by resentment or libido—to heights of Dada, were said to be wasting their time. The wastes were always people from outside, mostly girls who bought their clothes new and liked to be phoned regularly. We would show real hostility toward the conventional one, convinced that she would poison the entire group with housewiferies and banality. Sooner or later, our program would succeed, and we were once again left to each other. 

Of course, we were rather good at ending our own romances, all being gifted with some unique complex, like a troupe of superheroes. Mine was that I couldn’t lose myself in anything, could never shake loose the narrator in my head who said, and she paused, biting her lip, making it impossible for me not to pause, not to bite my lip. I would try to do something else entirely, like clasp my hands behind me, but that gesture, too, would feel like something the shy girl in the movie would do—the one who hasn’t been revealed yet as pretty and stands with her hair over her face and her sleeves over her hands. Then my mind would tic on that phrase—her sleeves over her hands—and I would find the cuffs of my shirt between my knuckles.

I enjoyed it at times, being the kind of girl who bandaged herself in her clothes and had a kind of awkward charm: She had a kind of awkward charm, I heard, evenly but insistently. And I would hear myself speaking in a halting, unsure way, playing with my hair or rubbing the edge of a counter the way some quirky girl character had done in a movie. As if I weren’t the kind of person who would argue someone down in class, firing off page numbers to prove that the author had intended this and not that, that a character was Oedipal and not oral. But even the ways I had of talking myself out of the scene became part of the voice-overs: As if she wouldn’t argue someone down in class... 

We were always hearing that young people were on the brink of being carried away by their urges; that, at any moment, they could overwhelm us like a noxious gas. But with someone’s mouth on my neck or hand under my hem, I would think suddenly of how funny we must look in this slow-fought battle into my dress, as I rationed the centimeters of my flesh to him like wartime bacon. Did he think it made me sentimental, that I saw the point? I could already see him taking my picture out of a shoebox, years from now, saying, And my first love was… in tender, rueful narration. Our acts together were already archived, mostly in sepia, like the coffee-table books on the World Wars. 

So I would laugh, and interrupt, and he would look up from my body, annoyed. 

 

 

T. M. De Vos completed her MFA at New York University in 2004. She received a fellowship for the Summer Literary Seminars Lithuania 2011 session and a Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared most recently, or is forthcoming, in Hawaii Pacific Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tidal Basin Review, Caper Journal, Gloom Cupboard, HOBART, Dossier Journal, Sakura Review, The Whistling Fire, Shady Side Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and the Los Angeles Review. She is a staff member of Many Mountains Moving, a performer with The Poetry Brothel, and a contributor to Fiction Writers Review.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This is a kind of ode in prose to the energy we expend in our attempts to be memorable. Our highly ironic friends and the snide remarks we share with them are invariably less interesting than the uncool, compulsive internal monologues we try to snuff.


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Marriage Song

by Mary Elizabeth Parker

followed by Q&A

A man is building a house in a cool climate gradually

warming, with walls as straight as his spine, as level 

 

as his gaze across the tangled meadow

to where marsh runs black beneath small flowers

 

subsiding to mulch. The scent is strong,

of things that bloom low but riotous,

 

adequate to keep the white spark jumping

through the roots. The light wood beneath his hands

 

makes a shape the height of him

and the width of him, and now wider, to fit

 

a woman pausing with him, standing before the wide windows

to watch what birds might fly in. 

 

When cold comes down neat like the lid of a box,

when ice shapes itself lacy as wedding cake frosting

 

and their faces look out of the rimed windows,

caught like smiles in a dark fairy tale,

 

it helps to keep singing, to keep the face mobile,

to dream wisteria and lilac and marble columns rising

 

through a muddle of vines in full summer—

to dream the motion of blood, that faith

 

in alchemical change.

 

 

Mary Elizabeth Parker’s poetry collections include The Sex Girl, Urthona Press, and two chapbooks, Breathing in a Foreign Country, Paradise Press, and That Stumbling Ritual, Coraddi Publications (University of North Carolina, Greensboro). Her poems have appeared in journals including Notre Dame Review, Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Arts & Letters, Confrontation, Madison Review, Phoebe, Comstock Review, Birmingham Review, Kalliope, Passages North, New Millenium Writings, and the Greensboro Review (nominated for a Pushcart Prize); and in Earth and Soul, an anthology published in English and Russian in the Kostroma region of Russia.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: “Marriage Song” was written for my brother and his bride years ago. Because it’s an occasional poem specific to them, I sent it out seldom, and then stopped when their love story became too sad:  She died in early 2008 after a long fight with lung cancer (diagnosed too late in a young woman), leaving my brother to raise their small daughters. So, the poem is bittersweet.


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2 Poems

Terry Lucas

followed by Q&A

Addicted

I grew up with diesel in my mouth,

aroma of hobo coffee boiling on the stove,

poured into my father’s Stanley thermos— 

I was addicted by age six, stealing 

slurpy sips, testing the temp after pleating the surface 

with forced breath, passing the chrome cup 

across the doghouse, riding shotgun 

in the Freightliner cab-over—my father’s eyes 

always tending to the road, left 

hand on the wheel, the right flicking 

twin stick-shifts, as he ran 

the 250 Cummins through the gears,

before taking a swallow of steaming brew,

then passing it back and resting his palm on the knob 

ticking to the rhythm of the toothed transmission—all one song

that lifted like a carnival ride, then decelerated 

with mechanical whine entering town 

after façade town, fiction after fiction.

 

 

The Spell

And he shall separate them one from another,

As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.

—Matthew 25: 32b

 

By age seven, I was already smitten

with God, seducing sinners, turning them

into His sheep. It only took a few requests 

 

at Wednesday night prayer meetings—

for Brother Valley’s missing arm to stop 

aching, or the doctors giving Sister Katherine

 

shock treatments in the asylum to be filled 

with Holy Ghost healing power—

and the entire congregation would come around

 

after the benediction, hugging and kissing me

on the mouth, wanting a taste of the red coal

that Brother Swinford said God had touched

 

to my lips as He had to Isaiah’s. It was true,

the spell was good enough for me to preach

my first sermon at eleven, earn an advanced degree

 

in religion, spend half a lifetime in fumbling

foreplay with God, trying so hard in the dark

to feel some bulge under all those layers, straining

 

for release from bituminous desire, tongue

glowing just below the flash point 

of faith’s flame. And later I understood 

 

the white ash in the corners of my mouth, the cooling, 

the slake of thirst. But now I really don’t know

what to make of that spell, how it entered me

 

like an abusive shepherd who all along must have known 

that there would come a day of judgment, and a night before, 

when the first tufts of wolf fur showed through the wool.   

 

 

Terry Lucas grew up in New Mexico, and has resided in the San Francisco bay area for more than a decade.  He has recent or forthcoming work in Green Mountains Review, Alehouse, Ocho, OVS and Tygerburning Literary Journal. Three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, he received his MFA in poetry from New England College in 2008, and is currently an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal.  Terry is the founder of the online community for poetry MFA graduates at http://postpoetrymfa.ning.com/

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?

A: The narratives in “Addicted” and “The Spell” have roots in my actual childhood.  The window into “Addicted” was a reworked first line from Gerald Stern’s “Winter Thirst.” “The Spell” owes a debt to my church ministry background and growing up to be a recovering Southern Baptist.


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New Years, Hopkins

Jeremy B. Jones

followed by Q&A

An old woman sweeps in from nowhere at all. Suddenly, she’s here, right in the middle of everything, the center of this misshaped circle of drumming Garifuna boys. Behind us, the sand pulls the ocean up like a bedtime blanket, and older bony boys in the dirt street sling fireworks on long strings around their bodies like blurred comets in reckless orbit. I’m drifting off. 

But this eighty-year-old woman immediately is dancing, and so I’m sitting up straight. The boys that had been thumping along shyly now drum with booms and sing from the gut as an old skinny woman in a round white hat thrusts her hips in ways that would’ve made Elvis blush.  

The boys’ hands move fast enough to disappear. The youngest sings with head back and eyes closed. The words are impenetrable, but they’re clearly right. The old woman slides her feet and shakes her waist left to right, right to left, quickly with the beat. Something’s happening. I’m the foreigner, the outsider, and I can feel this but can’t quite hold it.

The rhythm works itself to a stop every few moments. It throbs and thumps and pounds until everything hangs in the night air like a bead of sweat before splashing on the floor. The woman shakes and shakes until this pause. Then she pushes her pelvis forward and up, throws her arms in the air. Her waist sticks out, her torso leans back, and her hands hang like the lingering sounds in the perpetually dark night. And the drums restart as if they never stopped: her arms again by her side, her hips moving, left to right, right to left.

She is drunk. But that’s irrelevant because the moment is hers. She claimed it when she broke through this circle on the coast of Belize. When she entered as the elder in a land of displaced histories—a people bred somewhere out in that crashing Caribbean and then pushed from corner to corner before finally landing on this coast. She swarms through the room holding a past no one understands but still feels in every pulsing beat and breathing break. Everyone but me. 

But then I know I’ve got it all wrong. This moment isn’t the old woman’s at all. 

Down around her knees shuffles a girl, barely three, who has been moving in a way and to a rhythm that can’t be taught since the woman entered this tightly wound hut. The girl will be circling, barefoot, dipping low, swinging her arms long after the old woman leaves the floor four songs later, perspired with her hips still shaking and fiery orange circles blearing the dark.  The young dancer will be moving long after the sea has again begun its retreat and we’re all gone.

 

 

Jeremy B. Jones’s essays appear in Crab Orchard Review, Quarterly West, and Defunct, among others. His work has been named Notable in Best American Essays 2009 and awarded the Emma Bell Miles Essay Prize. Originally from western North Carolina, Jeremy lives and teaches in Charleston, SC, where he is at work on a book about the confused identity of his native Blue Ridge Mountains. 

 

Q&A

Q: What is the inspiration for this piece?

A: The history of the Garifuna people has always astounded me, and during a trip through Belize, I witnessed their enchanting and often doleful present. This drum circle, and the town of Hopkins, shone with promising inklings of their future.


Prime Decimals 3.5

Prime Decimals 3.5

Terry+DeHart.jpg

Outcome #31

by Terry DeHart 

followed by Q&A

He often dreamed about winning, but in his deep-down he was all Eeyore and shit. Hailing from Gloomtown, USA, weighing in at slightly too much, he scraped the moss and lichen and nettles from his skin and exited, stage south. Then he met her and she liked him, god help her. He didn’t know why she was crushy on him, but maybe she was all about Eeyore, too. And they hooked and made another and another and another, all girls, and they loved each other very much, even when ducking incoming I-Hate-Yous and You-Sucks and I-can’t-wait-to-leave-this-shit-holes, and one by one their others did leave. He didn’t believe it would ever work, his career, but he had love and health and just enough success to fill the fridge, and still he dreamt and still the walls and trees and clouds said No, buddy, you don’t fit our needs at this time. But he kept working, cold and muddy, and he emptied his word packets into mailboxes and electron streams. He cluttered the world with evidence of his passing, but no one read it, until they did begin to read it, and then he got an agent to sell his weird goodies and the agent did sell them. The feeling was good but he didn’t believe it. He was still half-in-Portland, his middling-poor neighborhood where nothing ever improved. Not really. People came home with slightly newer old cars and roofs were repaired but never replaced while the firs grew taller and more ragged as it drizzle-pissed for nine months of the year and the summers felt like passing lies. It was in him, still, that patient despair, even though he’d hauled ass to California with its own no-thank-yous and we’ll-keep-your-resume-on-files and its highways fisted with get-the-fuck-out-of-my-ways. But he loved his wife, all healthy from Los Altos sun-running, and his precious girls, and they still loved him, god knows why, and then success came and it screwed with his head. He could afford to live without unenjoyment insurance and COBRA charming, but he sat in his corner and he couldn’t work because his dreams were never meant to come true. All he could do was sit, sit, sit, sit, but then something went bump in his head and he played the game of hey-everyone-look-at-me and he rode his memoirs bareback and his wife still loved him and he still loved her back and front, and his girls phoned from their cozy get-the-fuck-outs, and he lived long enough to survive the No of his upbringing as he floated all sun-spotted above his deathbed, coughing up the last of the drizzle-gloom as he rose above it.

 

 

Terry DeHart’s first novel, The Unit, was published by Orbit Books in July 2010. His short stories have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Zoetrope All-Story Extra, Night Train, Vestal Review, Opium, and other literary magazines. He is currently writing a sequel to The Unit.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This work was inspired by the wonderful “do-over” possibilities provided by the theory of multiple, and perhaps infinite, universes.


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2 Stories

by Buzz Mauro

followed by Q&A

Actuarial

I was running some dismemberments at my desk, incidence of above versus below the knee. No easy task when you have a brother over there at the moment, but you have a job to do and you do it.

Some of this must have been showing on my face, because Sheila started coming by and leaving things for me when I wasn’t there. The first was a printout of a cartoon that I discovered pushpinned to my bulletin board when I got back from lunch. One of those Far Side rip-offs, this stereotype of a Native American woman standing at a blackboard inside a tipi with a bunch of little braves sitting Indian style at her feet, and she’s pointing to a right triangle on the board, and it’s called The Squaw of the Hypotenuse.

Just as if that meant something.

I knew it had to be Sheila. Her mother was only fifty-two when she died of liver cancer, and the day Sheila got back from the funeral, I could tell she was still in a state over it so I told her how sorry I was, but she only smiled at me and said, “Chebyshev said it but I’ll say it again: There’s always a prime between n and 2n.” I always felt like I was missing something with her.

About an hour after I noticed the cartoon, I came back from the bathroom and there was a slip of paper on my keyboard that said, “Find the volume of a pizza of thickness a and radius z.” I threw it away, a little pissed. But it’s hard to keep a thing like that out of your head when you’re doing bell curves on pedal amputations. 

So eventually the significance of π z2 a      dawned on me. It spells pizza. But who the fuck cares? 

A little later she came by and stood there leaning into my cubicle until I looked up. Her face was flushed and a little acne-scarred, but beautiful to me, as it always had been. 

She was holding up an equation, like a sign:  .∫ex = f (un )

I wasn’t sure how much she meant by it, but it opened up possibilities, the way equations sometimes do. 

 

 

The Paradox Paradox

She finished the hooks on the low-cut burgundy while he pulled on the pants to the light gray pinstripe.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” she asked him. 

“Apparently,” he said.

“Apparently?”

“This would seem to be what I’m wearing.”

“You mean you’re wearing that?” It was old. People were starting to know how old it was.

“Of course. What I’m wearing is what I’m wearing. It’s called a tautology. Everything is equal to itself.”

“It is, is it?” He’d been reading odd things lately. Science. Books about people reading books by Proust.

“A truism,” he said. “So true it couldn’t not be true. I’m wearing what I’m wearing. How could I be wearing something I’m not wearing?” He did the eyebrow-smirk, his nailing-one-shut-on-her.

“I see what you mean. As in, I’m wearing a dress.”

She handed him a tie, the opalescent she bought him for Christmas, but he pointed to one already laid out on the bed. The paisley.

“But no,” he said.

“Look over here. Dress.”

“Yes. You’re wearing a dress. That’s true, but not so true it could never not be true. Sometimes you wear pants.”

“That’s true. Though rarely to such a formal dinner.”

“But it wouldn’t always be true. If you were somebody else, who never wore pants, for example.”

“But I’m not, am I?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“You could be wearing something else, too, you know.”

“But: I could never be someone who’s not wearing what they’re wearing.” He looped the tie in the mirror, and looped it again. “And neither could you.”

“So, the opposite of a paradox, you mean.”

He did his thinking-for-a-moment, the I’m-so-reasonable. “Sure. I guess.”

“Like, I’m lying right now. One of those.”

“Exactly. If you’re lying, you’re not lying. So it’s never true.”

“And never false.”

“That, too.”

“I’m here with you and yet I’m somewhere else. With someone else.”

“Well.”

“What?”

“Except that you’re not. You’re only here, with me. That one’s just false.”

“Ah.”

“So it’s not a paradox.” He bent for the usual shoes. She was wearing the double-strapped, thinking of not wearing them. Maybe the gold, something dazzling.

“But that would be a good one, wouldn’t it?” she said.

“What would?”

“A paradox that was not a paradox.”

He finished the tie and wagged the tip of it at her, half touché, half don’t-start-with-me. That one always made her laugh a little, and she laughed a little.

“Now that would be a paradox,” she said.

 

 

Buzz Mauro has published poems and stories in River Styx, Tar River Poetry, Tampa Review, Poet Lore, New Orleans Review and other places. He lives in Annapolis and works as an actor and acting teacher in Washington, DC.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for these pieces?

A: I love math and I love stories. Years ago I took a fiction class with Rick Moody and he said I should write a book of math stories, because no one was doing that. I decided he was right, and I’m having a great time working on it.


Frankie+Drayus.jpg

Persuasion

by Frankie Drayus

followed by Q&A

Any muscle—

it’s my strengthmy lease on life

My agreement now official though only relatively binding

(lease being a temporary thing) 

every agreement temporary

time being the thing which is always running

out

diaphanous

~

--breathing in

~

Not every organ is also a muscle.

Honeycombed stomach, ciliated lung— 

Not all agents.  Affected.  Effect.

But heart is binarymuscle/organapplied not abstract:  

Heart not love but strengthdeterminationthe resolve to keep

contracting, releasing, ignoring the futility

of the lease’s finer print

~

Where you decide to stop your telling of any story is

arbitrary

~

Breathing out—

~

I have no use for weakness.

Abstract

Theoretical

where is the texturetincturethe sound

~

“Unique” means I cannot duplicate this

in a lab

means “unsafe”

philosophy, not science

If there is no proof

~

If has no clicking

Sounds likebreath

~

To what exactly have we agreed

Each moment being agreement, a negotiation

Accept or rejectaccept or reject

~

These days my body’s in the business of 

rejection

Does not believe / has no “faith” / is all 

action

which has a clicking sound

which can be trusted

acceptance / rejection

that is if a body could believe

At any rate does not cotton to it

~

My esophagus—

the way it opens—

this is something I adore

~

Polarity reverses every 500,000 years

But the heart keeps working exactly the same

A little engine travelingin the same direction

What you want to know is whether this universe is

closed

or open

~

I don’t remember

I don’t remember signing anything

~

If—--ifif—

~

The squeezing the squeezing is an argument

for which I’m ill-prepared

yes in this caseis what is forcedis the disagreement

The muscle saysgo with your heart

This is not an articulate argument

but rather one of feelingof brute force

Force does not care for the fine printforce says yesyes

~

I strength you.

 

 

 

Poems and short fiction by Frankie Drayus have appeared in Ninth Letter, diode, Per Contra, Third Coast, and Boxcar Poetry Review. Her manuscript has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series, May Swenson Poetry Prize, and a semifinalist for the Walt Whitman Prize. She graduated from the MFA program in Creative Writing at NYU where she was poetry editor for Washington Square. Recently she was Poet in Residence at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Since 2008, she co-curates The Third Area, a reading series at an art gallery in Bergamot Station.  

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?

A: The shapes of words in the mouth, how they taste and feel, and the breath they require— these are as much of interest to me in this poem as the subject matter. Just like in music, I think it is important to leave enough space for the reader or listener to move about and reach her own conclusion.  Sometimes that even means being silent— quiet places have a shape, too. As for what inspired this poem, I’m always thinking about mortality and the matter of what stays and what disappears. In this case there was a particular life-or-death crisis. This crisis found a voice which bothered me at inconvenient times until I wrote something down. 


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2 Poems

Timothy Black

followed by Q&A

Slave River

Be careful when you cross. Those bodies

just might tumble and spill you into the river.

Those bodies don’t make too gooda

stepping stones, do they? They’re like logs

in deep water. They’ll spin on you.

 

Be careful when trying to span Slave River.

Be careful of the things flushed there:

sewage

shame

old ID badges.

 

Be careful of the thick-lipped nigger, 

black Poseidon. He can breathe the water 

and has strong hands that will grab your hair, 

grab your nose and pinch.

 

 

Elegy for the Moon

The sky, it seems,

has begun to decant the moon.

To make it purer, to attempt

purity. Hear the Snowy Owl’s lament:

 

fish scale moon, thumbnail moon,

butter moon. Your forehead

was the moon, and this

is my way of saying Good-bye

 

to you and your forehead

and the moon. Witness the face

on the face of the moon:

howldog face, preacher face

 

crater face. How can I say Good-bye

to you? How can I say

Down to the dogs, Heel to the dogs?

I will use the moon:

 

Good-bye, moon. Sorry to see

the sun swallow you, moon.

I’m sorry I wasn’t awake

early enough, aware enough

 

to wave ‘So Long’ to you, moon.

I’ll miss your hair, moon.

The way I brushed detritus            

of day from your hair, moon.

 

 

 

Timothy Black’s first poetic novella, Connecticut Shade, is in its second printing through WSC Press. He teaches poetry at Wayne State College, and is a Cave Canem Fellow. He lives in Nebraska with his wife and two sons. Timothy’s work appeared in The Logan House Anthology of 21st Century American Poetry, Great American Roadshow, and Words Like Rain. His poem, “How to Finally Cry,” won the Maravillosa Contest from Caper Literary Journal. He’s published in Platte Valley Review, has poems forthcoming in Breadcrumb Scabs and Decanto Poetry, and won an Academy of American Poets prize for his poem “Heavy Freight.”

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?

A: “Slave River” is part of a series of poems on slavery I was inspired to write after my inaugural Cave Canem retreat. “Elegy for the Moon” was written as a love poem for my wife, author Cynthia Black.


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Triptych of the Eternally Equidistant Variable

Dennis Mahagin

followed by Q&A

A parallelogram 

shimmies when you squint, 

wags its hips, reticulated 

as any chromium 

crucifix 

for catching 

sun glint. A Pixar

desperate to fit 

in, rather than 

admit  

 

to loneliness.

 

And poor Isosceles, 

only one quarter 

of a man. Sadly, 

endlessly horny

as a right 

 

freaking angle:

 

... dreams all day 

of a hot sexy Rhombus 

with curves from here

to infinity... yet 

she always gets

 

away.

 

~ % ~

 

So I washed out 

of my MFA 

 

at UCLA. Sue me?  

 

So often, in my final 

semester, sequestered

in a study carrel with

this hot trapezoid 

named Bonnie 

on my lap, I kept 

trying to say 

to her 

 

what the square 

root of key lime pie 

did for Dorothy 

Parker ... what 

William Tell 

meant to Sigmund 

Freud... She understood 

a little yet never let on. 

She had a way 

of whispering entropy 

in the ear, her art 

of avoidance, apple 

for an arrow, split

infinity, citrus 

mist cools 

the callow 

downward

spiral, oooh

baby baby

 

ooooh.

 

A policy runner

in the making, 

even then 

was I, by 

the numbers, 

a collaborator for X - Y 

continuums they never 

talked about in advanced 

Calculus. I packed my 

bags for an oddsmaker’s

gig in Laughlin 

Nevada. Crossing 

myself, I waved 

to all 

 

goodbye.

 

~ % ~

 

Try 

instead, good old 

fashioned visualization

of a control group, canted 

axis makes the world over

 

equator by 

equator, one half

Theory, the other

 

Practice.

Pentacles, 

perfect rods and higher

arcana, the sound of high heels 

clicking across a pink

marble foyer, 

man moans

for an autumn

romance, bucking 

hedge trends, slim

chance, slim 

chance distilled 

by an April 

gimlet maker 

at Pimlico.

 

Make no 

mistake, hearts

must continue to 

sub-divide,

 

break

 

from tectonic

to atomic, 

the only 

common

denominator, 

 

tending

to repeat, 

tending  

toward 

 

baleen 

and saline,

sunshine paddlewheels 

in a Time of Gabriel, 

 

of Cholera.

 

An ocean 

of proofs

-- what I 

mean

 

curve, nothing   

we ain’t seen,

and solved 

already

 

or later.

 

 

 

Dennis Mahagin’s poems and stories have appeared in publications such as 

Exquisite Corpse, Stirring, 42opus, 3 A.M., Pank, Night Train, Thieves Jargon,

Juked, Slow Trains, Clean Sheets, and Underground Voices. He's also an editor 

of fiction and poetry at FRiGG Magazine. Dennis lives in Washington state. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem was spawned from the memory of a doomed love affair between an English major and a physics major. I wrote a draft, and set it aside. Then, I happened upon the film version of  “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and was struck by the paddlewheel images which I remembered from the novel. I wanted to see if I could get those paddlewheels into my poem. The triptych format seemed a fine means toward this end. Shortly a voice of Javier Bardem, as Ariza, called a title, it was on.


Prime Decimals 3.7

Prime Decimals 3.7

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The House on Eastern Avenue

by Darrin Doyle

followed by Q&A

Jack arrived with a seven-inch Bowie knife and offered it to his mother. “There,” he said. “Now you have protection.” His mother didn’t answer, but she put the knife in the drawer beside the silverware. Her husband, Jack’s father, had died. Only yesterday they had watched him being lowered into the ground. 

Later, she told Jack, “I don’t need protection. I’ve got Dilbert.”

Dilbert was a basset hound with a skin disorder. “Dilbert can barely stand, he’s so fat,” Jack said.

“Still.” His mother turned to her computer to search for electronic thank-you cards.

“You don’t thank people for coming to funerals,” Jack said. “It’s not a birthday party.”

Jack began doing repairs at the house. His father hadn’t been handy. His father had no vision in the ways of interior design or craftsmanship and had spent his life accounting for mid-sized paper companies. His father had lived 516,840 hours. Jack paid to have this figure engraved on the tombstone, a tribute to the numbers his father loved.

Using his own tools, Jack fixed the baseboards, the ceiling fan, and the bathroom faucet. He decided to build the buffet his mother always wanted. He bought wood, drew up plans, and worked in the attached garage.

“Sometimes I hear that hammer in my sleep,” his mother said one morning.

“Phantom hammer,” joked Jack, but he got no reaction.

His mother’s friends came every afternoon to play bridge. The four women drank Limoncellos and drowned out Jack’s noise with their laughter. Regina leaned on Jack as he searched the kitchen drawer for a bottle opener. Her face was drawn, the skin tight around her lips and eyes. Her hair was crimson. She squeezed Jack’s bicep. “Poor baby. No boy ever gets over the loss of his daddy.” 

The Bowie knife was gone from the drawer the next day. Jack heard commotion in the backyard. His mother and her friends were playing mumblety-peg on the lawn.

“You ladies ought to be careful,” he said from the door.

“And I swear, right hand raised, Frank could go all night,” Regina said. The others tittered. Regina turned and flashed her teeth. “Oh, sweetie, does it embarrass you to think of a mature woman having sex?” 

Jack left the women to their game. Dilbert snored on the sofa. He stunk like wet leaves. The upholstery was dusted with dog skin. Jack gagged.

He fell asleep in his childhood bed that night after getting drunk on Light beer. He hadn’t eaten dinner. His mother wasn’t thinking about food these days. He didn’t want to pressure her. 

At 3 a.m., he awoke in darkness. His past loomed on each side: mounted metal shelves with books like A Spell for Chameleon and In Conquest Born; on his dresser, a stack of 1976 Olympics puzzles and the miniature flag collection; the Detroit Lions wastebasket. 

On the door, a life-sized Jim Morrison in leather pants gripped a microphone as if he planned to break things with it. Above the dresser, Jimi Hendrix knelt beside a flaming guitar. The rock stars looked like kids. Why the hell had he ever admired them? And how had the posters held on for thirty years? 

Jack finished the buffet a few days later. He covered it with a top sheet he found in the linen closet. He brought his mother into the garage to see. It was Sunday, and she’d been watching Dilbert roll on the grass.  

“Keep them closed,” he said, leading her by the hand. Her bones were prominent—phalanges, metacarpals. “Are you ready? Open!”

“Is that one of my good sheets?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Her hand petted the sheet. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “One set is all I need now. I was planning to give this set to a young family.” She left in a hurry through the door to the kitchen.

Jack called after her: “It can be washed.” He thought of his father—a healthy guy, attacked by his own heart while watering a plant. Jake wondered if his father had suspected his death before it happened. A premonition? A vision? Even a hankering. But then again, it wouldn’t have mattered if he did. Unless it would have.

His mother returned to the garage with the Bowie knife. The blade glinted. She bunched the sheet in her fist and stabbed the tent of fabric. She sawed. Her tongue peeked from between her lips. Her movements were awkward. She frowned. She dropped the knife with a clatter and began ripping. 

“Let me,” Jack said. 

They tore strips that were neither pretty nor symmetrical. Gleeful shredding noises echoed in the empty garage. Within seconds, their fingers were rosy and puffed. The sheet lay in streamers on the cement. 

Jack and his mother, seated on the concrete and staring in opposite directions, breathed as if they had just escaped something. 

 

 

Darrin Doyle is the author of the novels Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo. His short fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cottonwood, Night Train, Puerto del Sol, Harpur Palate, The Long Story, and other journals.  He has received fellowships and scholarships from the Sewanee Writers Conference and the NY Summer Writers Institute. He teaches at Central Michigan University.  

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This story was inspired by Donald Barthelme’s “110 West Sixty-First Street.”  Like Barthelme’s, my story uses a nondescript residence as a title and opens with the recent death of a loved one and an unusual gift being bestowed upon one of the mourners.  With these elements in place, my story took on a life of its own and became, I hope, a comic meditation on identity, grief, and adulthood.


Wounds

by Timothy Raymond

followed by Q&A

We have wounds. Jesse’s is on his shin. It’s a big gash, stitched up now, but still oozing from time to time, that he got while walking in the river near my house. 

Frank’s wound is on his arm, up near his shoulder. This one is black, a bruise that his sister gave him when she threw a small dollhouse in his direction. The wound is a problem, because one thing we do around here is greet each other in a friendly way. For many of us boys, this means grabbing a friend’s shoulder as we shake hands. Frank, now, can no longer greet like this. The bruise hurts simply too much. 

But Sean’s wound is a little different, because it no longer hurts him. The scar is still there, though, right on his chest, right there in the middle, between his heart and whatever is on the other side of his chest, where his heart would be if it were on the other side. This wound Sean got from a bike accident. He was riding in the field next to Frank’s house, up and down the trail that was once flat, but now has, thanks to us, a big dirt hill where kids can jump their bikes. What happened was, Sean rode too fast, on a bike not quite strong enough. And when he came down from the jump, he leaned too far forward, and the handlebars gave way, so that he flipped over and landed on his back. It was a surprise, having the wound show up on his chest, since he landed on his back. But apparently he landed so hard that something ruptured, just a tiny bit, inside of his body. The chest was the place to operate.

***

There are different wounds too. The wound that Frank got from his sister was brought about by another kind of wound, one experienced by the sister, when Frank told her that she was ugly. This wound is not so very different from the wound that Sean and Jesse, and also Frank, had. It’s just that the pain is felt in a different place. 

I have both kinds of wounds, so that the pain, when it comes, comes all around my body. I can never plan ahead with where the pain will be. 

For instance, last year, I fell down the stairs in my house. I just rolled backward, all the way down eight steps, and hurt my neck. When it happened, my parents came running. 

How? How? they kept saying.

For a month, I wore a brace around my neck, to heal the wound, and also to hide it.

***

Another: on a car trip to Arizona, years ago, with my parents driving, I had to use the bathroom. It was dark, though, and we were nowhere near a place to stop. There wasn’t a town for miles. 

I have to pee, I kept telling my parents.

Hold it, said my father.

But I have to go, I said.

Hold it, please, said my mother.

I was lying in the van, on the middle seat folded out like a bed. I began to get nervous about having to go. And, for a little while, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get to use the bathroom. 

So to relieve my mind, more than my body, I just let myself use the bathroom, right there, on the seat, in the van. 

What’s that noise? asked my father.

There are, of course, other wounds too.

***

But I was the one to go with Jesse when he visited the clinic to get cheap stitches on his leg. I remember that he asked the doctor whether he was in trouble because it happened in a river.

I don’t want it to get infected, he said.

Oh, said the doctor. 

He looked at the wound.

You’re fine, said the doctor. 

Good, said Jesse.

Actually, said the doctor. You’re lucky, because injuries like these are the most likely to get infected.

What’s the least likely? I asked.

Head injuries, he said. 

No, I said.

Head wounds just never, ever get infected, he said. 

That’s a surprise, I said.

***

I remember best the way that Roger complained about his own wound, a lost finger, right after getting it. He’d lost the finger at school, in shop class, while he was making a gumball machine out of little blocks of wood. The teacher was supposed to do all the cutting, but was busy when Roger needed his cut, so Roger did it himself. 

The cut was immediate.

Roger screamed.

But he complained differently after the finger was gone, and healed over, right at the knuckle farthest from the palm. He no longer just screamed. Instead he would say things like, I can’t open this soda bottle. Or, I need help tying my shoe. 

God, he said once, I can’t believe I’m out a damn finger.

I don’t know, though. You ask me, there’s always something that sets us apart from everyone else. Maybe a finger isn’t so bad. Roger can’t shake hands like he used to, but he’s always got a story to tell, right away, right up front, right when he meets someone for the first time. 

***

When I rolled down the stairs that time, I remember lying there, right there at the bottom of the steps, looking up at the ceiling. The whole house went a little lighter then, like in summer, and everything began to quiver.

For weeks after, the neighbors brought dinners to my family. Some brought meals every day. Others just stopped by to see how our family was.

But mine is not the only one. There are always other wounds around here. This is what I’m saying. 

My grandfather, for instance, died last year, from cancer. My mother now has cancer herself, though a different kind. 

And George, his wound’s a broken ankle.

Jeff, a torn ACL. 

Mary, a cold.

Lucy, a bad haircut.

Ada, a lost child. 

 

 

Timothy Raymond is a first-year MFA student at the University of Wyoming, where he helps edit The Owen Wister Review. His fiction appears or will appear at FRiGGBLIP MagazineJMWW, and others. He is at work on a novel.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

A: This story came from a few places. There was a teacher’s joke about head injuries. I hurt myself in a river once. And so on. Really, I was reading a lot of Lydia Davis when I wrote this, and became interested in list-making. This story is a list, in my mind. It’s simply about what people do, which to me is more interesting than studying why people do what they do. It’s about how what people do affects what other people do.


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August Wanes

by Ray Scanlon

followed by Q&A

In the road near my house lie the bloated, stinking corpses of two possums who failed to comprehend the danger behind bright headlights. With no obvious warning the big pignut tree has died and shed a major limb into my yard. Old friend Cav brings his chainsaw over to dismember it. He cuts faster than I can heave pieces off into the edge of the woods, and angina does not speed me up. It grips my shoulder, hard bony fingers probing for my lungs. It's a stone's throw until September, and mortality is in the air.

But mortality is always in the air. We just pay no attention, defy it, or deny it: all viable options. As a teenager I knew we all die, but despite obvious evidence to the contrary, I also knew I would never become flabby, get a second chin, turn grey. I still do not grasp exactly how distorted our time sense is. If it's in the future, it's for all practical purposes infinitely far away. Expected or not, death is always a surprise.

We are victims, as it were, of a natural world in which the functions describing much of what we see or sense are sinusoidal. The length-of-daylight curve has intervals over which its rate of change is negligible. We are seduced into believing that summer is endless. Then, as day nearly equals night, the rate of change becomes so gross that even the oblivious notice how early the sun sets.

The rump of August deserves better than unremitting mortality-gloom, but there's nothing wrong with being a little low-key as we rebalance and acclimate to change. It's a good time for a cemetery walk. Summer is even sweeter, now that its stifling heat is largely broken. Green still predominates, though a nearby bellwether maple is already starting to turn. Hay's been mowed. Morning glories flourish. Goldenrods and asters are ubiquitous, no longer novel.

At the ball field where I walk the dogs, sun-blasted grass around its unirrigated periphery crunches underfoot. Panicky-sounding killdeer have superseded assertive barn swallows. Cicadas stridulate in the treetops, their high buzzing drone attracting mates or dooming them to be the paralyzed breakfast of digger wasp larvae. Handfuls of friable earth, its beachy color contrasting with the darker ground upon which it lies, mark the digger wasp tunnels, well-worn runways leading to the holes down which they drag their prey. 

As August wanes, the accelerated shortening of days and early hints of autumnal decay inevitably heighten awareness of mortality. Once again I'm feeling betrayed as summer proves to be finite. But solace is at hand: one of the beauties of the sine function is that it's periodic. I'll get to redo all of this next year—God willing.

 

 

Ray Scanlon lives in Massachusetts. He's paid attention for about fifteen minutes during the last 60 years. His web site is http://read.oldmanscanlon.com/.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

A: I was just whistling in the dark here, trying to psych myself for the slide into winter.


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Grackle

Joanna Robinson

followed by Q&A

In Austin I went to the garden. Not my garden, my tenant’s garden, so yes my garden.   

But before I knelt in the dirt of the garden I watered the lawn. Not the lawn, I sprayed upwards first to trace designs and watch the shimmer of sunlit drops make treble clefs that flashed in the sky and dissolved into silvery glitter onto the lawn, so yes the lawn. 

Then came the birds: oily, ebony grackles. At least twenty landed to spear the grubs wriggling up from water-logged soil. We do this a lot: I soak the ground, grackles blacken the yard, worms speckle the grass to draw their final lungless breaths. I don’t call the grackles tame. They don’t mind me at distance, but flap and caw if I get too close. I don’t mind them either, unlike my father, who’s dead by the way, and was no grackle fan in his time.

As grackles pecked their vermicular bits I gave them my back. Time to kneel in the dirt of the garden. Then—it was like one of those things you read about—I suddenly felt my father at hand. Now some of my siblings and I believe he came to us during those first fatherless months. He settled upon us as we, forlorn adult children of Phil, convened to sing and stomp to his favorite music and toast him with copious fruit of the vine and recount the lore of the paterfamilias and do impersonations of him-who-begat-us which tended to get louder and more hyperbolic as the evening unrolled. Of course volume is to be expected; he was no milquetoast our father. One of a kind, a real piece of work, larger than life. So big in fact that we wonder if he could take all of himself with him at death.  Not likely, but then who can doubt the finality of fire, so yes unfortunately likely.  

I sensed him behind me off to the left. I’ll turn and see him, dressed in—what? In my first postmortem dream of him he stood quite pleased with himself in black Speedo racing briefs, bronzed, chiseled, one muscled mass, a lifeguard at the edge of the pool. I gasped.  Awe. Relief. He never looked that good when he was healthy, much less in his sickness, grayish white, sagging skin on the crumbling bones, cancer hole in the face.       

Before I turned I called out, “Dad?” The sensation of my father surged. I jolted and whirled. Grackle, it was a damn grackle. Five feet away and peering at me with head atilt.  “Dad?” I felt like an idiot. My father hated grackles. He would never make his visual metaphysical debut as a grackle. He would materialize as an eagle or peacock, macaw or heron the size of a pterodactyl. But all I saw was a grackle. A grackle far from birds of a feather and close to me and continuing to stare. Carbon bird of paradox, what are you gawking at? Not your nestling, unless you have something to say, then yes your nestling.   

 

 

Joanna Robinson, a musician, seeks sound as well as meaning in text. Thus she finds a home in lyric essay and prose poetry. Her work has appeared in Acorn, Voices in Italian Americana, River Teeth, The Southern Review, and Tampa Review. Joanna used to practice law and still enjoys analytical writing, which she teaches part-time at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

A: “Grackle” belongs to a series of creative nonfiction pieces exploring the theme of dissolving borders—borders geographical, psychological, linguistic, physiological, metaphysical, etc. Quotidian events supply the subject and zest for words does the rest.


Mike+Berger.jpg

Higher Math

Mike Berger

My old hammer didn’t fit

my hand anymore. A new 

hammer costs $5.37. I paid

with a ten. The computerized

cash register was on the fritz;

the clerk didn’t have the foggiest

about making change.

 

Trying to figure it out, she 

scribbled numbers on a scrap

of paper. I hooted when she 

said that I had $17.95 coming

back. This higher math was

obviously beyond her.

 

She worked the figures again,

coming up with $2.17. I shook

my head; she tried it again.

She tried a dozen more times.

It took Einstein less time to

develop his famous equation.

 

In utter desperation, she

handed me a fiver. We both

agreed fair was fair. Now if

a hardware store loses $.37

on every sale, that isn’t much,

and they can make it up in volume.

 

 

Mike Berger is a PhD, MFA. He is bright, articulate, handsome, and humble.


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One Plus One

Jason Teeple

followed by Q&A

Why did 1 + 1 fail to compute?

I think we were speaking different languages, 

She asked if I C,

I learned it academically, but prefer my Python

when I want to get things done

No polymorphism intended.

And I’m not sure it really was C, sometimes seemed sharp to me.

I don’t think she knew what it was.

We tried going back to basic, but still got 

Divide by zero errors.

 

I think we are both using modern programming languages

We’re both object oriented,

Believe in inheritance, type-safety,

When to use next statements and

If to use goto (never, I bet that threw you for a loop)

 

I also know women in engineering are distinct, 

and her parent was in the second wave

and spun off this single child thread

But in her API

Although 1 is equal(1) should evaluate to true

the result is always negative.

 

Her argument, though undeclared

Is that what she expects is really not a programming language,

Where you do it yourself, you build a solution from scratch

She wants simplified mark-up

Someone <bold>

or at least <normal>

Someone who will be able to resume after each break.

 

Now maybe you think this little program clever

But I’m sad to tell you the end is near.

No looping structure or while 

to rescue the inevitable termination

in the final line, I simply 

return()

 

Dedicated to Stanislaw Lem

 

 

A former programmer and sometimes poet, Jason Teeple received a B.A. in English Literature and two master’s degrees in Information Science and Computer Science. His programming career was cut short because of brain and spinal tumors. He is now federally disabled, and has time and opportunity to write again.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

A: In college I first read the work of Stanislaw Lem. Fifteen years later when my fiancée and I separated, the poem I was writing about the experience took on a similarity to Lem’s poem “Love and Tensor Algebra,” combining technical concepts with matters of the heart.