Prime Decimals 5.2

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There Stands the Rhombus

by John Berbrich

followed by Q&A

“Yeah, and go to hell, God damn you,” I shouted as I left, slamming the door behind me.

I jammed my fists deep into my pockets. This was it. I was never going back, never. Not this time. Everything was over, finished, done. I spit on Ideal Love. God damn her.

I strode along the sidewalk, turned the corner, and—

—nearly tumbled into a rhombus. I could not believe it. This was amazing, incredible.

There stood the rhombus, huge and rudely mute. There could be no doubt. It was as eternal and perfect as a Platonic Form, as inescapable as Kant’s Categorical Imperative, as arrogant as any assertion of Nietzsche’s.

There stood the rhombus, strange and fantastic beneath the glittering streetlight.

How do I handle this? What are the formulas?

My mind drifted back to high school math. I saw Mr. Snodgrass, dour face, long nose, thick black-framed glasses, pointing at the blackboard, saying, “This will be on the test. This will be on the test.”

I could see the rhombus on the blackboard, clear as a glass of clean water. And here I was, after all these years, confronting the beast again.

There stood the rhombus, terrible in its clarity.

Uncertainty gripped me like a cruel fist. What to do? How to react? It has been my experience that the pleasant verities of the schoolroom tremble and dissipate like pale ghosts when confronted by the bright light of coarse reality. In truth, the Ideal is no match for the Real.

Yet here before me stood a towering bit of schoolroom-verity, book-truth. There stood the rhombus, imperious and awesome beneath the coruscating streetlight.

Back in school I had never realized the practical applications of mathematics. Oh sure, everyone runs into a square or rectangle now and then, even a circle. I myself have several times faced a trapezoid, and, believe me, the memory of those encounters fills me with regret and despair.

Yet this was a thousand times worse. I could no longer avoid the glare of the monstrous eternality, and fear took me. I wished for a crucifix or cloves of garlic. My hands trembled.

I stepped back.

The rhombus took no notice of me. I was dust, I was an insect; I was nothing.

I was a temporal speck of organic matter, protoplasm—a squirming bit of mortality, an ephemeron.

I withdrew, shaken.

My hand went out to the reassuring brick of the building adjacent to the sidewalk. I felt the solid weight of real earth beneath my feet. Everything around me was imperfect, human in a way, incomprehensible yet friendly, unknown but familiar; everything around me was perfectly imperfect, precisely imprecise—everything, that is, except for the Thing before me.

I slunk away, my hand rubbing the rough wall, every brick a little different.

I knew she would take me back. I contemplated Love, both Real and Ideal, and I reflected upon Truth.

I decided that the world contains both the Ideal and the Real, and that Plato and Aristotle are both right. I could feel her in my arms right now, and I didn’t know whether one would call what we had Real Love or Ideal Love, but I knew what I would call it: Our Love.

 

 

John Berbrich was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and now lives in the town of Russell in far upstate New York, on the northwestern slopes of the Adirondack Mountains. Together with wife Nancy he edits and publishes the literary quarterly Barbaric Yawp and the many chapbooks of MuscleHead Press, all under the auspices of BoneWorld Publishing. He is the former bassist and lead singer of several defunct experimental rock bands.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

A: I guess this is the junction where emotion meets geometry.  A reminder that life isn’t always rectilinear.


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Sensible Things

by Tawnysha Greene

followed by Q&A

Thirty-seven stitches to sew your ear on, five more to close the skin above your eyebrow as nurses touch your ribs, shine light in your eyes, clean blood from your hands, face, shoulder, you telling how your bike flipped, straps of your purse caught in spokes and I watch you look from one nurse to the other, to Momma, to brother, me, hear you ask—will you tell Daddy?—while your helmet sits, unused in the garage, new since Christmas when we got the bike, the skateboard, the in-line skates, and when the nurses give you a bottle of medicine for your skin, Momma pays the lady behind the desk with a green card, and we drive home, you in the front seat, looking in the side view mirror and trying to touch your face when Momma tells you not to, tells you you’ll make it scar, and we see the driveway, that Daddy’s not home, then Momma says you were wearing the helmet—we all say you were—and you and Momma go inside and brother opens the garage, takes the helmet from Christmas, still white and shiny, and throws it down against the pavement until the plastic is cracked, paint chipped, then he picks it up and does it again.    

 

 

Tawnysha Greene received her M.A. from Auburn University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in fiction writing at the University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in various literary journals including The Foundling Review and Wigleaf and is forthcoming in The Southern Humanities Review. She can be found online at http://www.tawnyshagreene.com/.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: When I was young, my family lived above my cousins’ garage for a time and while we were there, my oldest cousin was in a biking accident very similar to the one mentioned in this story. 


The Dreamer's Workshop

by John Saller

followed by Q&A

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I think my earliest memory is from my father’s workshop. I remember the objects, inert and varied and incomprehensible, waiting to be combined, given purpose, or at least life, by hands that hardly had to touch them to make them hum or glide or be reborn as something greater than they once were. They were arrayed on the walls and the benches and the tables, lofty when I was so small, always looking up, familiar with every piece because I had committed them all to memory, even though most held no meaning for me aside from their place in the whole miraculous tumbling together of unrealized potential.

When he was in motion, he was quick and decisive, jerky, maybe even nervous. On his feet, he could convey an air of clumsiness, even as he flawlessly navigated the most treacherous corners of his space. When his hands moved, though, that was entirely different. They were thin and long, calloused, and dark with grease, and when they moved, flying back and forth between the tool box and the objects of his attention, it was with such precision that it should not have been possible for every touch to be a caress.

His other state, and he only had two, was a stillness so complete that I should have known, even though I was too young to imagine such things, let alone understand them. His stillness came when he was caught in the reverie of imagination, or when he was trying to unravel a problem complex enough to defy his initial pinpoint assault. Of course, there were problems that he was hopelessly ill-equipped to approach, even with endless hours of stillness. 

I remember some early birthday of mine, attended by an assortment of children that I did not choose, but whose parents lived nearby, or shopped at the same grocery store, or confided once in the parking lot that their little girl needed another friend. We waited restlessly while my father fidgeted with something in a box on a picnic table, too high for us to see, clearing his throat again and again. I do not remember my mother at that moment, but her irritation must have been electric. Focused as we were on the mysterious contents of the box, which were taking far too long to emerge, we wouldn’t have noticed their silent exchange, but, looking back on it, there was something oppressive in the background as he cleared his throat one last time, stood to face us, and straightened his glasses.

He gave no introduction. It would have been impossible for him to speak to such a collection of children, anyway. He took the box under one arm and came to us in turn, setting in each eager cupped palm a tiny bird, as light as the air itself, every one different, metal and clockwork covered in the softest down. The last one he kept for himself, but only after offering it to her with a glance and a slight movement of an outstretched hand. Of course she refused. I don’t know whether she refused with an averted eye, or a turn of shoulders, or a smile that had come to mean all the things that smiles should never mean, but she refused, and he knew she would, but that can’t have made it easier. It can’t have eased what had once been a sting, but had long since become a hopeless sinking, deeper and deeper, and deeper still because that’s what she wanted, because it was not carelessness or even disinterest, but loathing of him and especially when his dreaming might bring him joy.

But it was not his joy that was important that day, and so with a smile that I might have even believed at the time, he crouched ever so slightly and we all crouched with him. One, two, three, and we threw up our hands and the air was filled with color and motion and shrieks of delight as tiny perfect wings bore our prizes away from us, arcing and diving and spiraling farther and farther above us until they disappeared from sight and were gone.

I remember the wonder and the disappointment as those birds flew from us. As usual, he didn’t get it quite right. You can’t put something like that into the hands of a child, only to have it disappear a moment later. It is hard enough for us to love something fleeting and magical now, even after we have been taught so well that all we have are moments, and grasping for what’s gone will put you in your grave or worse. Maybe some of those children felt this for the first time that day, realizing that something they had known and treasured briefly could leave them forever. At what moment did each child understand that the birds were not coming back? Who was the last to admit what they could all plainly see? Maybe that night, long after the candles had been blown out, while my father was sitting perfectly still, a little girl was listening at her bedroom window, waiting to hear the beating of tiny wings. Maybe now, with just a touch of gray at her temples, and creases at the corners of her mouth and eyes, she still turns occasionally and looks up into the sky, and, if she does, does that make her more or less tragic than the rest of us?

 

 

John Saller mostly works on stories that never end. This is his first publication since high school. He pours beer for a living and spends his time plotting his escape from Normal, IL. He enjoys cooking and brewing, growing vegetables, playing softball badly, and singing the blues. He is currently working on a fantasy novel, a creepy/hilarious TV screenplay, and a memoir about opening a comically disastrous restaurant.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: "The Dreamer’s Workshop" is an excerpt from a novella of the same title. It was originally written for the 2006 Three Day Novel writing contest.


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Ninety-Four Winters

Paul Weidknecht

followed by Q&A

Every winter as a teenager she’d find herself standing at the pond. She remembered her fascination at how the shelves of wafer ice, more fragile than bulb glass, would grow and knit over the wilted pickerelweed, eventually thickening enough to support her father’s tractor. Though the years had bundled themselves into decades, she recalled with the clarity of someone much younger the last time she had been to that edge. Now her view came from the parlor chair, past mother’s yellowed lace curtains: a dozen children skating and sledding, laughing and shouting. 

She turned toward the phone. One call to the sheriff would end their trespass. His four-wheel drive would appear at the crest of a hill a quarter-mile away, bump over the cattle guard at the end of her frozen road, and come to rest near the dock. He’d talk a moment before gesturing vaguely for them to leave, probably half-embarrassed he was breaking up their fun. As the group slumped away, they’d glance at the house, knowing who had called: the bitter old woman who lived in stale shadows, whose youth was so ancient as to be alien.

And they’d be right, she thought. At least a little. Yet there would be no call today. They didn’t need to know that ice sometimes breaks, shattering lives and dreams with it. So she stood, pulling the chair close to the window, hoping the pond was solid and that they would never leave.

 

 

Paul Weidknecht’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, Pisgah Review, The Los Angeles Review, Yale Anglers’ Journal, The Raleigh Review, Potomac Review online, Outdoor Life, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. He is a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group and lives in northwest New Jersey where he is at work on a collection of short stories. When not writing, he throws flies to wild trout and gets thrown to judo mats, both with regularity.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I suppose the story began with the image of the children skating and sledding on the pond. I worked backwards for the conflict—young versus old—and in doing so the character of the elderly woman emerged to tell a story of time and tragedy.


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My Daughter's Keepsake Rock

Malaika King Albrecht

Followed by Q&A

Listen to the stone—its story

Of glacial rifts and tectonic shifts.

The many lessons of being broken,

Cleft clean from a solid source

To free fall into the sea.

The story of the sloughing down

To smooth essential by surf and sand.

How to go with the flow

Then inhabit stillness on a beach.

A simple roundness, the mountain’s center—

This weight in your open palm.

 

 

Malaika King Albrecht’s chapbook Lessons in Forgetting was recently published by Main Street Rag. Her poems have been published in many literary magazines and anthologies and have recently won awards at the North Carolina Poetry Council, Salem College, and Press 53. She’s the founding editor of Redheaded Stepchild, an online magazine that only accepts poems that have been rejected elsewhere. A former rape crisis counselor and substance abuse counselor, she has often facilitated Poetry Therapy Groups for her clients. She lives in Pinehurst, NC, with her family and is a therapeutic riding instructor.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: While attending a writer’s residency at Whidbey Island this past summer, I took my daughters to the rocky shore along Puget Sound. Like me, both daughters collect rocks, shells, and drift wood, and perhaps even prefer found objects over store-bought travel souvenirs. We just barely had enough room to pack this large rock that my youngest “had to have” along with the driftwood that looked like a whale fin.


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The History of the World

Matthew James Babcock

followed by Q&A

There is not a single History of the World

—Whitman

 

Even with thirteen years in The Bloody Tower,

how did Ralegh think he could

get it all down in

his History of the World? Somewhere 

between The Ice Age and William Langland

 

you’re bound to omit something.

Whether it’s King Cnut or Old Sarum,

you’ll drop the ball somewhere for sure.

Even the most astute historian runs the risk

of skipping trilobites or flint napping,

 

as thoughtful he rises from

his yellow borderware chamber pot

and returns to the incomplete treatise ablaze

under trembling canopies of pink candlelight

on an oak writing desk in the corner.

 

Retrieving his quill, he launches 

into tobacco trade routes and the bluestones

of Stonehenge, excluding in the moment of inclusion

a thumbnail sketch of the Flemish artisan whose

circuit-board tapestry adorns the stone cell’s north wall.

 

On closer scrutiny the whole prospect

is peppered with logistical snags.  

Consider the question of what’s versus why’s

For instance, your history might 

touch on The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

 

but not say why he looks so sublimely pleased

on the museum wall, a criss-cross salvo

of crossbow bolts shot through his torso.

Nor would it offer commentary on the Granny Smith

apple I finished after turning from St. Sebastian

 

and wandering away, the padded clank

of the chewed core in the trash can outside

the café in the National Gallery, the tart pendant

on the bare wall of my throat a ripe epilogue

to the moment. Nor would your history 

 

present a summary of these thoughts, the ones I’ve

scribbled here, which while trivial to some

still comprise a scrap of the world’s history. 

So no history can

be called the world’s history.  

 

Even if you tried, outright obsolescence would be 

the best you could achieve.

On the golden April afternoon

you snugged the kerning

and polished the margins and pagination

 

you’d be finished as a writer

in the same moment

you failed to include all the bright blue humdrum

events that happened on the day you boxed 

your manuscript and shipped it to your publisher’s

 

New York office with a cirrus cloud 

like a laughing Scottie dog easing across 

the slipstream of Tuesday,

two charcoal cats footloose in your untrimmed  

arbor vitae, the paper boy hiccupping past your study

 

window on his yellow moped.  After madness

drove you to your grave, 

a nagging infinity would ignite

and pursue time’s remnant where a morose 

semicircle of mourners and scholars on pilgrimage— 

 

pink and yellow blossoms looped in 

their hands like colors of rain— 

huddled in solemn conference on the muddy plot 

facing your tombstone in a local cemetery

in an obscure Montana mining town

 

where you listed onto the hard shoulder

in a rental car, trying to fathom

how to type faster in order to record events

before they happened—minutiae never

to be serried in any addendum or index.  

 

So here’s to the real history of the world:

excursus on skinned knees and foil gum wrappers

in pockets, the unwritten saga whose subtext

chronicles coughs in fifth-grade classrooms,

leaky Laotian fruit barges and forced apologies

 

on Wall Street subways, graham cracker crumbs,

the fables in blades of grass, the sound 

of regret slogging among sullen strangers 

on rainy days in foreign countries, 

the exact tally of ice water refills

 

performed in Italian restaurants,

and extravagant bouquets of old newspapers

blown with pigeons and McDonald’s milkshake cups

from benches across Picadilly Circus.

In the history of the world, volume eleven thousand

 

sixty-two, page four, right hand column,

middle of the second paragraph from the top, I’ll always

be leaning from a second-story window

over the traffic jam nocturne

that lazes like an electric centipede in the rain

 

down London’s Warwick Way, my shirt

collar unbuttoned, a gloss of cool sweat

swelling like dusk on my forehead, unable to name

the breed of songbird whose jubilant fanfare

ascends in buoyant strands and volleys

 

over the bent TV antennae and charred chimneys

atop the Surtees Hotel, the sound’s carved music

rising like the honed arrow shafts

of infant cries that will pierce

my wife across the Atlantic when our daughter

 

is born into the prison of the here and now,

where no iron-filing ink strikes calfskin vellum and no

devoted scribe’s hand with gold-leaf paint

starts chapter and verse where she’s scholar and saint.

 

 

Matthew James Babcock teaches English at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. He was a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award winner in 2008. In 2010, his novella, “He Wanted to be a Cartoonist for The New Yorker,” was chosen as the first prize winner in Press 53’s Open Awards. His book, Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis, will be published by the University of Delaware Press in 2011. His work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Anthology, BateauThe Rejected Quarterly, and Poetry for the Masses.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: I finished this on a tour bus about a half mile from Tintern Abbey. Hokey, I know. Still, it came close enough to the rhapsodic to put on paper. Thinking about little histories made me think of my wife, who was about to make history by giving birth to our third daughter, thousands of miles away. Result: lines composed.


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Helen's Postcard from Aspen

Nancy Carroll

followed by Q&A

Mapping every faint implausible dream.

David St. John, “Nocturnes and Aubades”

 

Not all things are lost

she whispers, licking oil off

 

pine cones, rubber tree leaves,

the hawthorn branches found next

 

to Paris’s body. Her own

body erect, numb, tethered to

 

the language of a thousand

men, their wives, their children,

 

their sunken ships. It is an art,

this deception that lines

 

the sides of my beer glass.  

Amber foam, amber air, amber lips.

 

Just beyond the aspen grove, his tail lights lie

veiled and shattered. Remnants of yes. 

 

There is always the story of trees

She picks one more leaf, all grease and blood, 

 

to smear across tongue, fingertips 

before an early frost. Then she will turn quiet, 

 

wrapped upside down, a locust 

in tender cords of snow. 

 

 

Nancy Carroll has published work in Borderlands: A Texas Poetry Review. She has received the 2008 Academy of American Poets George Dillion Memorial Award and the 2009 Rachel Sherwood Award for poetry. She holds an MA in English with a focus on creative writing from California State University, Northridge. Also a photographer, she lives and works in the San Fernando Valley. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Helene Cixous exhorts us to put “woman back in the text and history” and this poem exploring the Helen of Troy myth is one of my attempts at doing just that. 


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David Hopes

Seven Zen Preludes: Halloween Morning: Times Square

followed by Q&A

1

This is the corner where the tourists stand

to have their photo taken

before the greatest possible concentration

of bazillion kilowatt billboards.

 

I’m surprised to feel so tenderhearted toward them.

 

They will think when they look at the picture later,

“My friend took this. 

That was the day we had raw salmon.

That was the day we got the last seats at the matinee.”

 

That it is Times Square is irrelevant.

It might as well be 

Iguazu Falls

or a stand of trees

weighed down with autumn. 

 

Oh. I wish I were taking somebody’s picture,

kneeling, ignoring the crowd

to get a better angle. 

2

The pigeons note my pigeon-disgusting chai, move on.

 

The brown sparrows come after,

perching on the rim of my table.

They’re sure I’ve something hidden,

something kept from the complacent pigeons,

but that may yield to them. The brown of their feathers

is more complicated than one expects.

I rise. Go to the Starbucks. Buy a bagel.

Crumble it to pieces and present it to the sparrows,

bit by bit. You can tell by the casualness of receipt

this is what they expected all along. 

3

A tiny Japanese girl with her face made up

to be a kitten offers me a plastic pumpkin

to put something into.

Her parents watch, beaming.

They have got the custom slightly wrong.

 

I have nothing. I have a plastic bottle of antacids.

I put that in.

The girl-kitten dances for joy.

The smiling parents bow, and bow.

4

The woman with the cigarette catches me

cleaning my glasses with a dollar bill.

“I learned that from my father,” I say.

 

Then tears course down the lenses,

and I have to take the dollar out again.

The domes I cover myself with

are the color of the air, therefore invisible.

But I know they rise above those towers 

and seal the square, the city, the gray Hudson 

flowing down, against whatever danger

I was sent here to prevent. 

 

Who knew that they took in so much?

6

The policeman and his horse

pose for photographs.

The horse is beautiful and allows

on his nose the caress of children.

 

Some life in this city will be saved

by a caress on the muzzle of a beautiful horse,

and the cop and the horse chant

from their quarter of the well of light

 

O come, O come

7

I am sitting here weeping in gratitude

for the gift of poetry.

Passers-by think I have lost someone

and the news had just come.

 

 

David Brendan Hopes is a poet, playwright, painter, living in Asheville, NC. Look for two of his short plays in the anthology, Short Plays to Long Remember.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: The poem was written, as the title suggests, sitting at one of the outdoor tables now on Times Square. The episodes in the poem were immediate and actual, and not how one usually approaches a poem.


Prime Decimals 5.3

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The Crow That Is Still Eating Chicago

by Alexander Lumans

followed by Q&A

They first hear him tapping on the thirteen gold domes of St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Church. He uncrooks his bent beak when the wind’s down. He tries better angles of eating through stone when there are none. Inside, the congregation waits for messages to appear along the vaulted ceiling. They are sure that the scrabbling up there is God hopping around on hooks for feet, excited about something. Within hours the crow tunnels through the iconostasis and nibbles on the pastor’s detachable collar and Swiss-cheeses the Byzantine frescoes. He finds the bells not filled with coins and caws at the boys’ choir. The congregation shakes its collective skull. Some of them say the city’s going to the birds, others that it’s going to pieces, but it cannot be both, or else what would be left to save, save us?

A Ukrainian boy used to keep the crow in a townhouse. He once brought it to St. Joseph’s for the Blessing of the Animals and never again because when the service bells rang, his crow snatched the collection plate and dumped the money on the ground. 

At home, he taught his crow to pick up pennies and drop them in a bowl but not to eat them, and when the crow ate them the boy threw pennies at the crow and locked him in the basement with the fresco-painted windows. It taught the crow that what was worth protecting was also worth taking. The boy put on a clown mask with a big red nose and played circus with a leash and threw pennies in the cage for the crow to catch, but the boy put on no grand finale, no last tethered swoop about the room for applause. The boy played circus, then forgot about the crow for days. And for days the crow went hungry, for days the crow had no food no water in his dish, only old change to pick up. Things were dark. Then the boy would return and flip on the light and say, “There you are.”

The boy came and went came and went and then did not come again. The crow paced. The crow was too hungry. The crow called for him: Boy!  Then the crow picked up pennies and threw them at the painted basement windows until one shattered. And when the crow was skinny enough he slipped through the cage bars, slipped out the broken window, and the city was his.

He hunts for pennies—that’s how it starts. He finds pennies and drops them into the homeless’ bowls. Mistakenly, he drops copper bolts into boys’ pockets. But he learns fast. People throw him arcade tokens and he throws them back. He nips ticks from children’s necks and gorges on rotten grapes at the zoo market and ties the shoestrings of petty thieves on their way out the jewelry store door. 

After all this, he waits for food and applause that do not come. So the crow eats. Eats elevator buttons and bottle caps. Headphones and life-rings. The O in Hard Rock. And when he is full, he rests, and then eats some more because no one invites a crow to dinner. Left off the songbird clock for his quirky obsessions—for being black and rawfooted and silkish—he’d file for loneliness if the office had a trapdoor his shape. 

When the El derails it’s the crow’s fault. He’s pecked for weeks at the tracks’ undercarriage that resembles cage bars. Seven die in the crash and no one has answers because everyone has theories. They call the bird Voodoo, Crowbot, Angel D. Someone made this bird out of magic mud and cursed this place we live in.

The tourists pelt him with cough lozenges and disposable razors. Some he catches mid-air, others knock him into twelve-story hotels. You do it, too. You levy your throwing arm against his dive and he remembers you.

There are plans of poisoning the bird. Vigilantes take to the streets with spyglasses and slingshots but it’s cold so you and they and everyone go home to your leftovers. Talk dies down until another train derails or the aquarium’s dolphins have new cracks in their tank. And still the Bears lose, the snow comes, street repairs fall behind and one hotel collapses into a towering ashen drift. Chicago crumbles.

To stave off the winter wind one night, the crow huddles on a high ledge. He is full, but he says, Things are still dark. Why? When he looks at his reflection in the office window, it’s not him there in the glass but a janitor who stares out while eating an orange. The crow caws Boy! There you are! but there’s no answer. The janitor’s nose is big and flat and red, and he looks very alone in that room. He looks like the boy but isn’t. The janitor offers an orange slice. He tries to open the window but it won’t. He picks up several pennies from the floor, pockets them, then looks again at the crow. What is worth saving, the janitor’s face seems to say, is worth pennies. Bells ring somewhere in the city. The crow turns toward the noise, fights the wind, is hungry again.

Now, when he finds pennies, he doesn’t eat them. He carries them by the beakfull back to St. Joseph’s. He slips in through his tunnel and makes deposits in the collection plate. The congregation goes wild. The choir sings. The pastor claps. And still the crow eats the city piecemeal. Slowly this place pits and scores much like it would without him or us. So go ahead, admire him. Say thank you. Thank you, Crow, who has the power to carve and shape and hollow out the lit city. If wind can, if rain can. He is no angel nor thunderbird but is hungry and a hunter and the wind itself is now in terror of him and the world cannot lose him.

 

 

Alexander Lumans graduated from the MFA Fiction Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Story Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, Greensboro Review, Brain Harvest, The Versus Anthology, and Surreal South ‘09, among other magazines and anthologies. He was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference and he recently won the 2011 Barry Hannah Fiction Prize from Yalobusha Review. He now lives, teaches, and eats in Boulder, CO.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I kept hearing how intelligent crows were. They get cars to crush nuts for them, they can be taught to pick up loose change, and they even remember facial features. For a bird that has this negative image as some harbinger of doom, one that highly intelligent is even more frightening.


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Searching for Nopales

by Kristine Crandall

followed by Q&A

I’m slow. It’s not always a good thing, as my older cousin found out—the one who knew Ed Abbey, the one who got squished into a crunchy pulp by bulldozers ripping and stripping the saguaros, palo verdes, and cholla near Wickenburg. There’s a whole moral to that story but I’m not going to delve into it here, except to say that a certain group of Eco-bangers managed to place themselves in the path of the bulldozers (whose drivers were happy about this development and went for a beer), but only for like ten hours (it was hot), then one of them secretly dialed 911 and the Federales came and chopped the padlocks chaining these peoples’ tattooed arms to mesquite trunks. I’m watching all this, shaking my little scaly head in disbelief as I actually thought the desert was gonna be saved. The Federales gave the activists water, put them in vans, and drove them away from the pastel sunset over the Rancho de los Caballeros and all the other hokey dude ranches along the Arizona-California highway, toward some fate that might have included the freakin’ chilly climate-controlled Florence penitentiary for all I know. 

What I really want to tell you about are the goddamned Lepus californicuses. They’re ridiculous with those gangly legs and airplane ears. Jeeesus, you’d think they got caught in one of those elongation machines, you know, the ones they promote in the 30-minute television advertisements—the shining abdominal muscles ripped tight from all that stretching and torquing. My buddy Ernesto Tortuga tells me about these advertisements sometimes when I meet him along the fence line of the compound he lives on together with the man with the ZZ Top beard and Clyde, the stupid cat that thinks he can catch roadrunners. 

I’m an effective forager, although it can be tricky, especially in the subdivision when I get on a road and feel tremors. Then I have to move right along. You know I can get going surprisingly fast if necessary. Once during the day I ambled through the state park and onto the scenic byway, and the blacktop was so nice and warm I took a snooze. All of a sudden I hear this “eeeeerch,” followed by “Honey, look!” and my eyelids slam open and this guy and woman are running at me in their black and purple flip flops, camera banging against the woman’s protruding chest, and before I know it I’m airborne. The man is firmly gripping me with his fingers, taking me in the direction I was facing, not touching more of me than necessary—the woman shadowing us the whole time, making a video, and before I know it I’m in the desert sand. Holy Frijole! They must have read the “how to move tortoises from the roadside” sign at the park entrance. 

Crap, I lost my train of thought again. It must be all the prickly pear cactus pads I’ve been eating. Ernesto calls them “nopales.” The ZZ Top guy actually makes nopales and lettuce salads for Ernesto and that greedy rabbit that goes under the fence. 

I had a dream the other night where the jackrabbit floated for the longest time (most of the night). He would touch down, forelegs first then the monster rear legs overtaking them, ears poised like satellite dishes, moist nose quivering, and the next leap would begin. I thought he was going for the moon—pretty damned exciting and all the while I was tucked inside my low-riding carapace. 

 

 

Kristine Crandall resides within the red rock desert landscape of southwest Utah, where she ponders local details like the most recent piece of cholla cactus the packrat placed on its midden. She writes freelance articles on environmental topics and is a student in Naropa University’s MFA Creative Writing program. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: “Searching for Nopales” emerged from an idea to introduce characters of fable upon a landscape infused with a dose of modern-day environmentalism.


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High Rise

by Hobie Anthony

followed by Q&A

Marlene looked over the crowd. Casting agents, producers, writers, hangers on. Actresses like herself, eager and naïve, played coy in loose-fitting dresses. They were all showing more cleavage; their giggles lingered longer. That was how you got into the high rise party; that's how you made it out of Chicago in 1995. 

"It looks like a surgeon cut out part of the city with a scalpel."  Marlene pointed out the window, north on Chicago's grid, a swath of squares missing. She took a sip of her wine, balanced a plate of hors d'oeuvres. "Those ancient transformers couldn't handle the heat wave."

"Do you live in the blacked out part?" Alan was a casting agent. He had one blue eye and one so brown Marlene thought it was black. The music shifted, uptempo.

"Yeah, I guess we were the cancer." She set her glass down and took a bite of caviar. Cool, salty, nice.  

"You escaped."

"For now."

"Thank God the power stayed on here," Alan said. "LA gets hot, but this heat is unbearable. I always think of Chicago as cold and snowy."

"It's tough all the time." 

"You a dramatic actress?"

"Comedy, too," she said. "I like your eyes." Marlene cocked her head and looked at his forehead; she hated bi-colored eyes. She never knew which one was looking at her and they made her feel uneasy; she focused on the blue one.

The window was sweating at the edges. It was one hundred degrees at eleven o'clock at night. Marlene thought of the nights she'd spent tossing and turning, hoping her box fan would reanimate and cool the room by a single degree. Her brow would be soaked in sweat, her chest sticky with humidity. Tonight, like last night, the fan would be dead; the radio would be silent. It would just be her and the heat. 

Alan cupped her elbow with his hand and whispered into her ear. She wanted to escape. She giggled. 

She saw lights on the street below. She saw her home, where there were no lights. Here was cold caviar, ice, air conditioning. Hamburger rotted in her freezer. The transformers will always work here, she thought, there will always be power and things will keep getting better. 

 

 

Hobie Anthony writes prose and poetry in Portland, OR. A native of the South, adopted son of Chicago, and new NorthWesterner, he seeks to understand this America. He can be found or is forthcoming in such journals as The Los Angeles Review, Jersey Devil Press, R.kv.r.y., Wigleaf, Gloom Cupboard, and Prime Mincer, among others. He is now focused on putting together a new book.

 

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this story.

A: “High Rise” was inspired by characters and events from other parts of my linked-short novel. The book concerns the 1995 heat wave which ravaged Chicago. The book is currently seeking representation.


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Never Let Them Think You Don't

Mitzi McMahon

followed by Q&A

Teddy stands behind and to the right of her father, eyeing the assortment of brightly colored candy bars. Mentally arranging them in order of preference, she’s at number five when she senses trouble. She eases closer to the moving belt and looks up. The toothpick in the corner of her father’s mouth jerks up and down in quick bursts while he fumbles with the bills again.

He stops, directs his attention to the lady in line behind Teddy and says, “What are you looking at? You never seen a guy forget his money at home?”

Teddy turns her back to the candy. She feels heat creep up her neck.

“I got plenty of money. Plenty.” Her father’s voice trails away as he turns to the cart at his side. “Here,” he says, thrusting a bottle of dish soap into the cashier’s hand. “Didn’t want this anyway.” He reaches in again and produces a box of Frosted Flakes.

Teddy’s heart sinks; Frosted Flakes are her favorite. 

“And this,” he continues, dropping the cereal in front of the clerk. “That should be enough.”

The cashier completes the transaction and holds the receipt out. But her father is already gone. Teddy hesitates, her arms stiff at her sides. The space around her seems to simultaneously shrink and expand, and the sensation makes her grit her teeth. After half a beat, she extends her hand and takes the strip of paper, refusing to let her eyes travel beyond the cashier’s shoulder. The paper, slick and shiny, feels obvious in her hand, as though neon-colored and blinking, and she wishes her jumper had pockets. As she turns away Teddy thinks about Bess, her favorite Nancy-Drew-books character, thinks about how Bess would push through and then later laugh at the whole thing over a double scoop of mocha mint.

Eyes downcast, she walks past the other checkout lanes and through the soft swish of the automatic doors. She pauses inside the vestibule, searching for a garbage can. In the corner is a stack of hand-held baskets with a chipped metal sign posted on the wall above that says PLEASE TAKE ONE. On the wall to the right is a corkboard with flyers and business cards tacked to it. But no spot for trash. She opens her hand, eyes the crinkled paper, and sighs. She knows better than to litter.

She hurries to the car where she finds her father transferring the last bag from the cart.

“I’ll tell you what, Teddy,” he says, slamming the trunk shut, “money makes the world go ’round. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.”

Inside the car, Teddy buckles herself in and inches close to the door. She knows the routine, knows it’s best to steer clear. She uncurls her fingers and sees some of the register ink has transferred onto her palm. Some of the numbers are clear, but most are fuzzy. They’re all backward, which makes them look foreign, and Teddy thinks this must be what hieroglyphics look like. She lets her eyes drift to the window, watches as other shoppers come and go, and imagines she’s been transported to a bright, sunny, exotic land, that she’s with Bess and they’re solving a great mystery.

“You’re nothing without it, you know.”

Her father’s voice intrudes and Teddy’s vision dissolves. She eases her hand to the edge of her lap, lets her arm dangle, and slips the receipt into the door’s molded pocket at her side.

Her father is quiet for a few blocks and then suddenly pounds the steering wheel with his fist. “Gotta have money,” he says. Jaw set, teeth clenched, he stares straight ahead. “Never let them think you don’t.”

When the traffic light turns green, her father swings the car into the shopping mall. He finds a parking spot near the Sears’ entrance, shoves the car into park, and gets out. Teddy scrambles out her side and follows. 

Fifty minutes later, they are on their way home again, her father still muttering “no money, my ass” under his breath. Delivery of the new TV, stereo system, and recliner is scheduled for the following Thursday.

Teddy sits, hands folded in her lap, leaning against the door. She focuses on the bubblegum-pink laces of her tennis shoes, tracing the loops with her eyes. When they turn onto Spring Street, she looks up and sees the Home Depot sign looming. She remembers the orange truck backing into their driveway, remembers the two men who wore dirty blue jeans, remembers watching as they rolled first the riding mower and then the gas grill up into the truck. She’d told her friends that her family was getting back to nature: charcoal instead of gas; walking behind a push mower instead of riding one.

Her eyes drift to the receipt in the door. Its white edge is stark against the black plastic. She leans back against the seat, closes her eyes, and casts around for inspiration. She thinks about Bess, thinks about how she always preaches simplicity. Teddy sits with this for a minute and then dips her head in acknowledgement and opens her eyes. This time she’ll say the TV and stereo need fixing, and the recliner needs cleaning.

 

 

Mitzi McMahon lives in Racine, WI, a city famous for its Danish kringle. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Evansville Review, The Bitter Oleander, Night Train, Staccato Fiction, and elsewhere. She blogs at mitzimcmahon-lifeinwisconsin.blogspot.com.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece.

A: This story was originally part of a longer work first written back in 2004. I’ve since broken that story up into 3 separate pieces, all connected via Teddy. When I began revising this one, I added the Nancy Drew reference. I loved Nancy Drew as a young girl… didn’t everyone? In fact, when I was eight, I was given the privilege of naming our first family pet: a white-haired cat. I named her Nancy.


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How to Ride a Tiger

Craig Fishbane

Followed by Q&A

—Ho Chi Minh City, 2007

Never look one in the eye. Do not expose

your intentions. Go about it in secret: 

conceal your approach in camouflage—

dry leaves, broken sticks, 

the shards of a blown-up building. A mask 

of newspaper clippings and video tape.

Track the tiger with such skill

that, in the end, it will not be clear

who is stalking who. Make it seem inevitable 

when you drop from a tree 

or parachute out of a phantom jet 

and lower yourself, gently, onto a heaving back.  

Caress black stripes with confident fingers,

fingers that can disarm a landmine or detonate 

a booby trap with the same swift motion. 

Dig your nails beneath orange fur:

know the ways of its flesh. Learn to never be denied 

a target of opportunity. Maneuver 

through the wreckage of crashed helicopters, 

overturned jeeps and abandoned foxholes.

Put yourself in position to admire 

long, sloping necks bowing in the reeds 

at the edge of the watering hole. Fix your eyes 

on the soldier with the dry canteen

 

who shudders at the sight of you.

 

 

Craig Fishbane has been published in the New York Quarterly, Night Train, Flashquake, the Barbaric Yawp and Opium.  He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2008.  His chapbook, Dengue Fever, is scheduled for publication by BoneWorld Press in 2011.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the genesis of this poem?

A: The genesis of this poem is the famous (and sadly unheeded) warning by George Ball, a key U.S. foreign policy advisor during the Vietnam War: “Once on the tiger’s back we cannot be sure of picking the place to dismount.” Although the tiger in this poem took on a life of his own, he was born out my reflections on the Vietnam War as I was preparing for a trip to Southeast Asia.


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Undone

Cynthia Neely

followed by Q&A

Beads slowly roll, fall

from the tumbler, the cracked cubes

prismatic in the afternoon sun.

 

And I’m motionless,

the glass to my lips,

mid-sip.

 

Minnows waltz about my feet

in careful choreography

and I wait.

 

Waiting is what I’m good at.

 

I imagine myself the mink,

or that I’m Great and Blue,

and patient and true and you

will come to me.

 

Come to me.

 

Let me show you all I know:

how the skin shines with a touch

and spittle glistens on a lip,

 

how fingers form a perfect fit

in the hollow of a back,

when night eclipses noon.

 

Come to me.

 

Make me believe

the loon has cried

for me, at night,

 

forlorn, dark form.

I’m undone by the sun.

I wait.

 

Come.

 

 

Cynthia Neely’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review (Honorable Mention for the Marica and Jan Vilcek Poetry Prize for 2011), Floating Bridge Review, Raven Chronicles, Quiddity, San Pedro River Review, Autumn Sky, Loch Raven Review and New Millennium Writings.  Her work was included in the anthologies, Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, from the US Library of Congress, compiled by Kay Ryan, and Filled with Breath from EXOT Books. Cynthia was a textile artist before turning to painting and poetry. The natural world, and her place in it, has always been an important subject in her work.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: “Undone” was written in the heat of a summer day while watching a great blue heron fishing for minnows.


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No Telling

Allan Peterson

followed by Q&A

These words have changed so often

there is no telling

what was said or how it came to this

I remember mentioning bees

the efficiencies of lightning   language trying

to say what the brain looked like

convoluted with a sunset at one end

I remember time passing and hearing

little ticks of it all over the house

occasionally a faint bell

the touch of a brushstroke to transfix the hills

hints of a small hoof on flagstone

 

 

Allan Peterson’s Omnivore won the 2009 chapbook prize from Bateau Press. All the Lavish in Common, his last full-length collection, won the 2005 Juniper Prize, and Salmon Poetry, Ireland, will publish his next, As Much As, in 2011. Recent print and online appearances include Gulf Coast, Northwest Review, Blue Fifth, Oranges & Sardines, The Harvard Advocate. Work is forthcoming in Shenandoah, Denver Quarterly, Paris Review. His website is www.allanpeterson.net

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: I found telling in the face of “no telling” a satisfying paradox and revealing of the nature of process.


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Susanne von Rennenkampff

Playing Favors

followed by Q&A

Last week, pulling weeds

and wilting plants, attempting

to clean up the garden

before winter, I hesitated:

bumble bees were embracing

the pale blue stars of borage blossoms, 

feeding from their white center, 

their beautiful black pelts shiny

in the early autumn sun.

Knowing that there was not much left

for them to eat, how could I close my hands                                                                                      around the hairy stem

and pull, no matter 

how unsightly it had become?

 

Today, the first hard frost looming, 

three green grasshoppers, black eyes

like polished slate, move on ahead of me

to the stringy green stem

of the next potato plant. 

Should I not do for them

what I did for the bumble bees?

Yet I have fed them all summer, 

those grasshoppers, standing by,

unable to quench their voracious appetite,

watching lettuce and radishes, spinach

and fuchsias reduced to shreds.

 

I cannot be their keeper.

 

By what right, then

am I the keeper

of the bumble bees?      

 

 

Born and raised in Germany, Susanne von Rennenkampff has lived on a farm in Alberta,

Canada, since the early eighties. Her writing—poetry and creative nonfiction—often deals with the interaction between humans and nature. Two of her poems recently appeared in Blue Skies Magazine.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: Many of my poems originate in my surroundings, the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of my

garden and country life in general. It gives much opportunity for close observation and

contemplation—even of the big questions in life.


Stace Budzko

Perfect: A Baseball Story

followed by Q&A

Stace Budzko is published or forthcoming in Versal, Hint Fiction: Norton Anthology of Stories, Press 53, PANK, Hobart, elimae, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, The Collagist, Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, Brevity & Echo, Quick Fiction, Southeast Review and elsewhere.  The screen adaptation of his story, "How to Set a House on Fire," was recently awarded Best in Show/Best Overall/Best Drama at Spotlight Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Westport Film Festival, respectively.  At present, he is a writing instructor at Emmanuel College as well as writer-in-residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: “Perfect: A Baseball Story” was inspired by the individuals who make up the game’s mythology, as well as the role of chance, luck, and fate in telling any complete story.


Prime Decimals 5.5

Stories in Which the Narrator Withholds Information

by M. V. Montgomery

“My partner and I were lured by that bane of mankind, gold. We were foolish enough to attempt the Sierras in January without packing any more provisions than what we could carry ourselves. Then a landslide sealed our fate—how I rue the day that icy cavern became our prison! What days of raw misery, of untold suffering and horror! Not until the Spring thaw did God send my bold rescuers, Captain Jack and his scout ranger team.  Alas, too late for my partner, who had passed away in that cruel cave.”

“Yes, matter of fact I did know O’Leary, one of my lifelong parishioners. He came to confess to me on a wintry night much like tonight, after pulling off his most celebrated heist. He spared me no detail of the crime. And I understand he was shot down only hours later. Therefore, though he had at hand a heavy penance, we may assume the man did not die in a state of sin. Indeed, he is still well spoken of throughout these parts. Our new cathedral could not have been built without his beneficence.”         

“I sleep in a box by day and come out only at night. I have no real will of my own; the Master keeps me tight in his grasp and never lets go. At times, to appease me, he will say   we are a team. Ah, but if that were the case, why does he earn the silent respect, and even the awe of crowds, while I am never spared their raucous laughter? I nervously chatter like a monkey in my attempt to win their approval, and never succeed, yet they sit in quiet attention while the Master never even moves his lips.”      

“Pap always said, ‘Champ, you know I’m there if ever you need me.’ And when the fightin’ got real bad and I just couldn’t take it, I recollected those words and suddenly knew what I must do. I changed course and flew that jet clear back to Wichita! Out of fuel, I landed in a cornfield and started the fall harvest early by skidding along those neat furrows. If my copilot Mike could’ve seen it, he’d like to have had a heart attack! Of course, he’d put up resistance to the idea of a visit in the first place.”    

“My break-up with Angelica occurred on Valentine’s Day, which made it all the more painful. I had pursued her for what seemed like weeks, but it must’ve been months. I was always so eager to catch whatever glimpse I could of her on the street or at her apartment building. My buddies on the force said, ‘Dude, you really must stop all this, that girl has gotten to your head.’ I ignored them, of course, and kept up my wooing. Then finally they said, ‘Dude, no we mean it, you really must stop.’”   

 

M.V Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Georgia.  His most recent collection of fiction, Antigravitas, is available as a free e-book at http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/antigravitas.

It contains many examples of story experiments and “chained” flash fiction such as this one.


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Couple Busting

by Meg Tuite

followed by Q&A

They were the kind of couple you met and then wished to hell you could get a reimbursement for, or at least a rebate on, after you got to know them. You could have kept your oversized mouth shut when you spied them sandwiched together on the curb. They were a volcanic abyss of unrestrained love with their hands every which way and you had to actually cross a damn street, vacate your brain, and say, “you two hellions are going to combust from all this torrid public defilement.” Then you all laughed, of course, and you had to ask for their names, which even rankled of notoriety. Shale and Arist-e (short for Aristotle). You have got to be kidding? You should have run at that point, but no, instead you talked up and down and all around until you were the life of their party and they just couldn’t live without you. 

So, next thing you know you were all having dinners and going out to clubs together, and you and your boyfriend, Bob, were now a real foursome with Shale and Arist-e. What the hell were you thinking? It’s not like you and Bob weren’t having a good enough time on your own, going to movies and having sporadic sex, but all that had freakishly changed. Whatever you had in your so-called relationship could never hold a fucking lit match to this sultry twosome. They called each other baby and pumpkin and were always holding hands and the heat that smoked out of them was drowning whatever fire you thought you once knew. You knew nothing, apparently. 

Now, you and Bob were this frumpy, panicked couple that sat with plastered, sickened smiles on your faces across from these lavish lovers slathering each other with compliments and stories about all of the exotic places they’ve been and laughing at each other’s jokes, when you and Bob could barely look at them, finding yourselves staring at spots above their exuberant hair and platinum smiles because you secretly despised their feverish overdose. You wanted them to wrinkle and lose a few teeth right before your eyes. You called them hedonistic vermin and imagined their love blasting up into an inferno of hate. Maybe Shale found out that Arist-e was gay or he was having an affair with Shale’s mother, because you were sure her mother was hot too. You’d have to comfort the two of them through their separation and the inevitable break-up without any possibility of a hideous, libidinous make-up. 

And just when you thought it was time to move to another city, you and Bob discovered that your steaming, monstrous thoughts toward this radiant couple were exploding simultaneously. You and Bob, overnight, became the sublime couple that had an outrageous secret, smacking each other under the table while listening to the bubbling couple bubble. After dinners with the soul mates you and Bob were racing home, slamming each other against the walls, making raucous love like you hadn’t done in years. It was a lust-filled period for the two of you as you rolled around and basked in the underhanded refuge of your coupled adrenaline rush.

Unfortunately, fortune based on another couple’s atrocious fortune couldn’t last.  Soon enough, Shale and Arist-e figured out that they were the brunt of your happiness, which immediately dampened theirs, and so they assuredly moved on to another unhappy couple that didn’t know they were unhappy, until they met Shale and Arist-e. You and Bob went back to movie nights and popcorn and the sex became less brutish, more sparse and more routine. 

Until that one day you spotted another couple stargazing into each other eyes and kissing from across the street. 

 

 

Meg Tuite's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 magazines, journals and presses including 34th Parallel, One, the Journal, Hawaii Review and Boston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. Her novel Domestic Apparition is forthcoming in March 2011 through San Francisco Bay Press. She writes a column, “Exquisite Quartet,” for Used Furniture Review. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.

 

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: I have a friend who runs out on the street whenever she spots a couple who look somewhat content and proceeds to inundate them with her charm. Her marriage is not ideal, to say the least, and so imagined this interaction of two couples out to somehow change each other’s relationship, for better or for worse.


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Already

by Steve Mitchell

followed by Q&A

In the kitchen, I’m solid. I gather weight. In the kitchen, I know where I am. Stirring the peas, feet planted before the stove. And even if my brain flies in a hundred directions and voices rattle my head with the echo of decisions already made, I know my feet are below me, resting on the new tile we put in last year to replace the hideous green linoleum. I check the lasagna in the oven, I slice the bread. I don’t think about last night. It’s there but I don’t think about it. I stir the peas, watching intently as the butter loses its shape and spreads. Last night, when the phone trembled on the table, I slipped out of bed, already awake to him.

It was only a glance but it was enough to get the whole thing started. Enough to churn up a whole new possible history from the murk of who I am. Or think I am, or want to be, or can’t imagine. It was only a glance but it was the kind of glance that’s felt as a touch. He across the counter from me, eyes shifting from the groceries and up toward mine. It's the kind of glance that connects in my body, sending off sparks in all directions, making me remember my arms and legs and breasts. 

And when he followed me to the door, leaving the register behind and the old man open-mouthed, that’s when I turned to him, meeting his eyes for the first time. Maybe I was blushing, I don’t know, but I gave him my number. Stood there catching my breath as he poked it into his phone. Forced myself not to look down when he looked up and smiled. I’ll call you, he said, and he did a few hours later and I’ve carried his glance and his voice for a week now and like a small child with her secret treasures, I make excuses to be alone and unveil those things again, spreading them in my lap, turning them in my fingers.

When I was pregnant with my first child, there were moments of terror. I was twenty two, just out of college, married for a year or so. There were times I’d become paralyzed with fear at the reality and responsibility of a new life and I could not recover whatever beautiful dreams Mark and I had when we’d decided to become parents. I’d talk to my mom and she’d attempt to soothe me.

I remember one day: it’s April and we’re sitting in a restaurant. We’re finishing our coffee. I’m squirming, aware of this alien thing growing inside me, aware of the plea in my voice when I speak. I remember closing my eyes, across the table from her; flattening my palms on the table with my eyes closed.

Last night, the phone woke me, shaking on the table near my head. I grabbed at it, my hands hot, and slipped from the room and into the hall to read his text, his text which told me I was loved and wanted, which made me a real person somehow with a body someone might hold in a flash of desire. I held the phone in front of me, squatting in the hallway outside the bedroom door, bathed in blue from the tiny screen. 

“What in the world are you doing?” Mark asked, looming in the doorway behind me, absently rubbing his chin with one hand, “it’s three in the morning.” I snapped the phone closed. “It rang. I thought it might be an emergency but it was just a wrong number.” I stood up beside him. “Come back to bed,” he said, and he vanished, leaving me alone in this dark hallway, this dark house. 

This house which smells like us. The kids when they were young, in diapers toddling chair to chair. Mark and I, growing up, figuring ourselves out. The sleepovers, the forts built under the dining room table, the stupid fights about stupid things. The dirty clothes and the clean.  Soccer uniforms, gym tights, and secret diaries with a key. We’re embedded in the carpet and the sheetrock. Move everything out tomorrow and we’ll still be here as shadows or ghosts. 

This house which is quiet now, in the moments before the kids come home, while I fuss with dinner, waiting for noise and news, the slap of books on the counter and coats dropping to the floor, remembering my mother, always somewhere in the kitchen when I would burst through the back door fresh with the glow of my schoolday. 

My mother who would listen and smile, the sort of smile I realize now all mothers reserve only for their children, the sort of smile she gives me at the restaurant when I rub my tightening stomach and ask her, “Why? Why did I decide to do this? It’s just too much.” 

Her hand slips across the table to cover mine. “Darling,” she says, “With the really important things, all we can do is say yes, and figure it out from there.”

I think I’m going to cry: “Did I say yes?’

Mom nods gently. “You said yes.”

 

 

Steve Mitchell has been a construction worker, cowboy, substitute teacher, chef. He's developed and managed a mental health program for the Chronic Mentally Ill. He's worked in theatre, film and multi-voice poetry. He's published in Contrary and The North Carolina Literary Review, among others, and was nominated three times for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom can inhabit very bad movies. He has an ambivalent relationship with his cat, Mr. Zip. Sometimes, he just doesn't know. And that's all right. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: “Already” formed quietly around the last line in a way that doesn't happen very often but makes the usual tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth more than bearable. For me, it has something to do with faith, both the story and the story about the story.


Back to the Beginning

Dan Alter

Followed by Q&A

i: The house we were supposed to have supper in

My mother keeps forgetting where

she left me—underpass, 

in her purse with the stale lipsticks, 

by her perforated heart from which memories

spring out like sprinkler jets—or floating 

in the fountain with a line of ducks?

 

On the door’s other side, my pulse

knocks and knocks, with her 

at her sewing machine

stitching the girls’ ripped dresses 

and then with iron-ons she will patch 

the boys’ torn knees. 

And she has forgotten which house 

we were supposed to have supper in, and now

the neighborhood dogs have also forgotten

their dog names, and they are chasing every 

passing car, with no care for their own lives.

 

Now even the house gives up and goes, 

is carried by a conveyor of fences into a night

where no-one needs to sleep, their dreams sink 

on ropes going down through the water

to keep our boats from drifting away 

in the night, when boats will try to set sail

for any other country.

 

But if we got in the car, and the car was tiny, 

and if we were riding it into the stereo,

going over a waterfall of voices, then 

we would slip through the sieve of the speaker

and paddle the song down to the ocean, 

settle into its fathoms, going back 

to the beginning of sleep.

 

 

ii: Hearing Yonah

Slipped into the story: forgotten 

in a tunnel from her purse into early 

morning, the squeeze down warm walls 

and out into a long tray of night

with rubber handles of day. Onto 

outstretched cotton and commanded 

to move air through, in blank holding 

tank of nursery, waiting for

what, a sun, or to be

replaced in soft, drawn off dry

land and surrounded.

 

Now I understand: yes, 

if this was my fate then run from it, down

to the wet, call for crimson, 

the slick of mucous, to be swallowed 

into saline tides.

 

Yonah, you didn’t argue with the blue 

above storm-clouds, or deny the fish 

violets, bright yellows prisming past your face—

you just wanted to work backwards. And now I know 

you were happy as they threw you over, relieved 

from the rattle of their lotteries, the strain 

to translate. Smiling on your balloon ride below, 

insulated with mattresses of fat, eyes eased

closed in your rib-arch vault.

 

Then you could sing back a name to the big 

pulse of sky, solar, lunar, down 

under a mountain of water your breath lapped in

like lazy waves, and your mind’s constellations 

wheeled open as your voice unlocked floated 

up towards us, through two thousand layers of ocean, chanting 

God is my rescuer, receive this my hymn.

 

 

Dan Alter has poems published recently or forthcoming in Saint Anne’s Review, Poetica, Assembly,  and  Zeek. In 1992 he was an Arad Arts Project Fellow. He lives in Berkeley with his wife Jess and daughter Hadas, where he makes his living as an electrician and makes his unemployment changing diapers.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: The first section of the poem began with the first line and took its own course. At some point I realized uneasily what was welling up from my subconscious. Then one morning with a flash the biblical story of Jonah opened itself into the end of the first section (and its underlying image), and the second section unfolded.


Knife Thrower

Kristine Ong Muslim

He splits open those women 

made of leaves and twigs, 

and he sometimes discovers 

their roots. He receives applause

for that little carnage, that little

carelessness with a knife.

 

But the glint of a knife 

thrown mid-air dazzles 

no one. Even if the motion

cuts sea and sky with one

horizontal line. Even if it

gives birth to a generation 

of imaginary horizons.

 

 

Kristine Ong Muslim has poetry and prose appearing in hundreds of publications, including Contrary Magazine, Hobart, Moon Milk Review, Narrative Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, and Southword. She authored the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing). Kristine Ong Muslim has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award. Her publication credits are listed here.


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Still Life with Women, Artists, and Platonic Forms

Rimas Uzgiris

followed by Q&A

at the “Gallery Girls” drawing event, Armory Show, 2010

 

The sculpted pose of quickly drawn bodies, 

under blue light yellowed skin, sings youth 

and aging death, while the cabaret DJ pulses 

a waltzing Wiemar dissolution across 

our couch of eyes. 

                              Artists flick their chalk,  

pencils, pens—coaxing dim tools 

to caress white paper. Squirming blonds 

in mini-skirts stumble by with legs 

that stretch beyond our sight and back. 

Who can take us lift us through these

snagging thorns without lust or blood?

 

At center stage, one model’s feather bobs 

a lure in turbulent air—one false wing 

in a feathered night of quills kissing ink 

onto pages of idolaters. 

                                      They seek

the forms inherent in flesh and bone, 

harder to grasp than a smile, somewhere in 

the leathered bellies, buttocks, breasts and thighs.  

 

The true form of things lies behind the dim cave 

wall on which, like a Hollywood film, our shadowed 

images play. 

                     This game could reach the end 

of our desire—connecting us now—happy

enough to do this dance in the variegated 

flock of flirtatious art. 

                                     Our dreams are caught 

and crowned with pencils, breasts, and eyes. 

Tonight there is only one elevator out. 

 

 

Rimas Uzgiris’s poetry has been published in Bridges, 322 Review, and Lituanus. His translation has appeared in The Massachusetts Review. Currently, he is enrolled at Rutgers-Newark University in the MFA program in creative writing. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and taught philosophy at Brooklyn College and St. John's University. His book Desire, Meaning, and Virtue: The Socratic Account of Poetry was published in 2009. He resides in Brooklyn. 

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: This poem came out of my experience at the “Gallery Girls” drawing event during the New York Armory Show in April, 2010. As artists sketched models to Weimar-era music spun by a DJ, I sketched my own impressions of the scene. These impressions were then connected to the Platonic notion of Forms inherent in the things of the world, and our pursuit of the good. (Platonic Forms are the real natures of things, e.g., the real nature of human beings, of cats, of hydrogen, of goodness and beauty—and so abstract objects—not, as is erroneously believed by some, ideal objects in some non-earthly place.)


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Nicholas Wong

Self-Portrait

followed by Q&A

I draw what I can on paper–an oval body in the centre,

adjacent to a circle, which becomes the head after I put

down two dots to grant it sight. Then I add

four tiny straight lines and call them feet.

This is how I draw a dog, a fox or an ox.

When it comes to humans, I do worse–

the hangman figure represents the mankind,

ageless, genderless, raceless.

So lacking varieties, and yet so utopian,

at least everyone is equal by looking alike.

This is also how I draw myself, whose body

is made of a narrow unsupportive line,

a body of no space, no volume, therefore no need

to think about the size of my heart.

 

 

Nicholas YB Wong is the winner of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition and a nominee for Best of the Net 2010 and Best of the Web 2011 Anthology. His poetry has appeared in Saltwater Press and is forthcoming in Assaracus  (July 2011) and the Sentinel Champion Series (May 2011). He is currently an MFA candidate at the City University of Hong Kong.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: I was inspired to write this by a poem written by Louise Glück. The pauses in her works have drawn my attention to reading them more carefully, especially on her use of various sorts of nouns. The first line is half-borrowed from her “Portrait,” so is the idea of the ending. Yet, I have taken “my portrait” further to a larger issue that concerns all of us: difference. It is a poem about conceptual sameness and difference, be it of writing or drawing (and yes, I am a bad drawer).


Prime Decimals 5.7

7 Twictions

by Susanne Stahley

followed by Q&A

Fever

Squat electric fan the shape of a cat. For a while, in her fog, it comforted. Sadly, as she got better, the cruel truth.

Dear Alice

Dear Alice, this was R first American B&B. The singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was marvelous. We hope the swan finds a mate!  Jon & Tim

Raven Red

Raven Red 721. She's painting her toenails, been years. Blonde enough to be her sun. What the hell, life’s a beach again. 

Relativity

School parking lot.  Watch: 3:06; cell: 3:07; car: 3:12 (fake late). Time so relative!  Space?  Daughter with my genes out door. Yes, indeed.

Addiction

panting harsh. stop it. rattle throat. push away. collapsing black. hiss panic. snake coils. chest can’t. taste blood. crushhhhh. cigarette plz.

Meatless

He’s not bringing a salad again. Takes too long to eat at his desk, alone. Sandwich is better. Like him, stuck between two dry toasts.

Ghosts

Night walk, two shadows: lamp & moon. Natural & not. Why... only 2? So many shadow selves, my reverse ghosts.

 

Susanne Stahley’s Biotweet:  I’m another Incurable Romantic “foreverseekingthemoment.” So flash fiction is a sip of perfectly distilled wine.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for these pieces?

A: Twiction: fictiony haiku with saturated crimson currant, vanilla and espresso balanced with apricot and tannins. Sharp acidic finish.


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All Undressed and Nowhere to Go

by Lee Upton

followed by Q&A

My friend liked to say things everyone else says, but he always got at least one word wrong. He’d say: Hope jumps eternal. Or: You can’t say that again. Or: No restaurants for the wicked. Or: Two rights don’t make a wrong. And once, after surgery when I’d lost a lot of weight, he tried to get me to eat by saying: You look so hungry you could eat a horse’s ass.

At my friend’s funeral the minister mixed him up in the eulogy with someone else and gave him a wife and two little boys, although he never married, never had children. There was a time when I thought my friend and I would marry, but that fizzled out—mostly on his part, I guess.

After the service, I got lost and had to make a U-turn in a parking lot behind a restaurant. Hulking near the dumpster was an ice sculpture, evidently a leftover from a celebration. An icicle hung from the swan’s beak.

It didn’t take me long to load the ice swan into the backseat. As soon as I got to my apartment I carried the swan into the shower and opened the window to let the air circulate. 

Heavy snow fell during the night.

The next morning I took a shower with my feet stinging. Then I put the plug in the drain in case the swan melted while I was at work. 

Everyone who carves ice says the same thing: it’s alive. Because ice moves. And move it did—like those time-lapse photographs. Except in reverse, traveling backward until some portions looked like a duck, then a frog, then a blastoderm. But the neck looked almost the same, like a question mark.

Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. My friend might have said: Tell me lies and I’ll ask you no questions. 

Or: I’ll tell you to ask me lies. Questions? 

Or: Questions lie so you might as well tell me.

Or: I’ll tell you a lie if you ask me a question.

Or: Ask questions and you’ll tell lies.

When I got home from work the next night I made myself take another shower in what was left of the swan, which slid around wildly in chunks—except for the neck. The neck was still shaped like a question mark, a brittle one.

You’re thin on walking ice.

 

Lee Upton’s Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition, Boredom, Purity, & Secrecy, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2012.  Her most recent book is The Guide to the Flying Island, a winner of the Miami University Press Novella Award. Her poetry and fiction appear widely.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: “All Undressed and Nowhere to Go” derives in part from my abiding interest in errors and how we must forgive ourselves for them—and, sometimes, cherish them.


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Car Talk

by Christopher Lowe

followed by Q&A

When his son was a little boy, they’d drive in the car and sing along with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. His boy’s a teenager now. Things change.

Buckle up, buddy, the dad says. How was practice?

The son responds with a noise, guttural and prehistoric. He looks at the car radio, what’s this, opera?

No, this song’s just like that. It’s KLH, classic rock.

Who’s the band? The son turns his head and glares into the side of his dad’s face.

The dad glances into the side view mirror. Queen, he utters.

Oh yeah, Queen, the son says. Their lead singer, who’s he again?

Freddie Mercury, the dad says.

Oh yeah, now I remember. He’s dead, right? Drugs, plane crash?

The dad braces himself and says, AIDS.

Oh…figures.

The dad doesn’t mind waiting in his car. He’s listening to Terry Gross interview Stephen Sondheim. The grass needs cutting and the shrubs are ragged, but that’s none of his business anymore. The son trudges out the front door wearing jeans three sizes too big and dragging an overnight bag like a two year old dragging his blanket.

How’s it going, buddy? Rays of sunlight ripple from the dad’s eyes.

Mom says you gotta get me something to eat.

Well, why doesn’t your mother come out and tell me that herself?

Oh, I don’t know, I guess maybe because she’s in the bathroom with the fan on, crying. The son flicks his chin toward the radio. Who’s this? 

Terry Gross. She’s interviewing Stephen Sondheim. He writes musicals.

Homo?

I wouldn’t know one way or the other.

Isn’t there some kind of code, you know, a secret Homo code?

That’s a derogatory term, it’s insensitive and it’s rude.

Oh, excuse me. How ’bout queer or fag? Or buttstabber?—the guys on the hockey team like that one a lot. Or maybe just the H-word, that’ll be politically correct.

The dad reaches forward and turns the radio off. So, what’re you hungry for?

The son looks out the side window and watches his home fade into the distance, his view blurred by the moisture in his eyes. He shakes his head and says, Qdoba.

Qdoba it is, the dad says, affecting his sunshiny persona.

On the ride back from the mall, the son turns the radio dial to KISS FM. Rap music blares. The dad gnaws his lower lip, but forces himself to concentrate on the lyrics. Slapping the off button, he asks if his son realizes that the rap song glorifies domestic violence.

Not all violence is physical, the son explains. 

The dad considers the afterglow of the radio dial. I didn’t choose this, he says.

So it just happened? Poof, just like that?

Well, no, it’s just the way I am.

So, it’s genetic?

Well, sort of, in a way, the dad says. He looks at his son, sees his son staring back at him with flared eyes, and says again, it’s just the way I am.

 

 

Christopher Lowe is a lawyer in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and three children.  This is his first published work of fiction.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This piece was inspired by conversations with my teenage children about what some of the kids at their schools, and their families, have been through. I originally wrote this work as an exercise for the Writer’s Studio online writing program.


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Naked

Erica Dawson

Followed by Q&A

Who else is really trying to fuck

With Hollywood endings, the clipped

Finish sealed with a kiss and dipped

In dark chocolate ganache? I’ve stuck

My hand into the bonbon box

Too many times. The Juliet

Costume won’t fit with my body, yet

Romeo is like a pair of socks:

One size fits most; and, every rose

Is a rose is a rose although those star-

crossed lovers and two households are

The stuff of tragedy: stage, shows,

Pose, marks, and graceful suicides

Alike in dignity, no sound-

track, just a magic moment bound

By death, the March’s Ides

In full-on high step. Cowards die

Many times before their deaths

In their orgasmic bated breaths,

Clipped. Death, take off your shoes, stretch, sigh,

Then take me from behind and check

The paw prints on my back that climb

Away from you while bound in time

And space. Then clip my open neck

With your grim reaper teeth and mouth

Beneath your hood. We’ll have to doff

Our costumes now, take it all off,

Look us over and go down south

Until we’re not embarrassed. Luck?

We’re both cold bone with no Ave

Maria hope. You know what they 

Say when it just looks like a duck.

It quacks just like a duck. We’ve made

The neighbors worry with our noise.

Skeletons have the greatest poise.

You got that scythe? A spade’s a spade.

Every bit of you is pivot.

I’m finished. Need a cigarette?

I don’t smoke. I don’t hedge a bet.

Now, go on, tell me how you love it.

 

 

Erica Dawson’s first collection, Big-Eyed Afraid, won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and was named Best Debut of 2007 by Contemporary Poetry Review. Her poems have appeared in VQR, Barrow Street, Best American Poetry 2008, the newest edition of Poetry: A Pocket Anthology, as well as other journals and anthologies. She lives in Tampa, FL with her puppy, Stella, and is assistant professor of English and Writing at The University of Tampa.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the genesis of this poem?

A: True story: I asked my students to write a “love poem.” They returned the challenge and this poem was the result. What this means for me as a teacher or a person, I don’t know.


D.+E.+Oprava.jpg

Precipitation

D. E. Oprava

It’s hard not to take it personally, the weather, the incessant wet that

dishevels my mood and eggs on the grass to new heights laughing derisive

in my direction, because it knows, it knows I can’t touch it while it bathes

and just gets more unruly, rowdy, Friday night crazy in the garden till I

can’t let the kids out for fear of unwanted advances by eager, drunk blades

hiding in their chlorophyll faceless numbers.

mower, gas power

horses coursing loose reined whilst

the beer hand drives on

Yet, what revenge can we wreak on the clouds as they silly fluff flow in the

winds intractable: lying in puddles one-beer-too-many-sudsy-mud looking

up shaking a meaty fist at air yelling, GO you grey bastards, go!

daddy on plush lawn

again, son too wet behind

the ears to know lush

Sombre sober wife writhing with thunder swings into sight, holy shit, it’s

night when the damp cool sloshing of sodden clothes and wetted brows

wake to stars and lightning shouts of get up you son of a bitch bastard

useless lump, get up, dry out and, wishing I were with the worms, be a man!

So much easier wanted than done, as no one cares to be the storm that

scrubs away other’s wishes, and yet.

 

 

D.E. Oprava is an American writer who has been published in over one hundred journals online and in print. He has three full-length collections of poetry: VS. with Erbacce Press 2008, American Means with American, Mettle Books 2009, and his third, sole, with Blackheath Books 2010. When he isn’t writing he is trying to live up to the high expectations of husbandhood, fatherhood, and humanhood, not necessarily in that order and occasionally succeeding. He lives in the UK with his wife and two small children. You can find him at www.deoprava.com


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Ironweed Summer

Sally Rosen Kindred

followed by Q&A

If we had to be their girls,

then there had to be ironweeds

around that house, needling up

through the pine shreds where 

treelight divided one hard season

from the next. And there had to be  

iron afternoons we lay our red 

bodies down on the asphalt 

for the smelting, waiting for sun

to hammer the bloom. And our mother 

had to be hours at the iron,

where steam rose to meet her skin 

from creases of our father’s 

soft shirts and she bent into 

the work, not knowing we were a house

under siege, that the ironweeds

were our battlements, 

their purple spikes bright crenels 

and merlons, that the crooked 

walls of vernonia sheeted 

our bodies with uneven shade 

and guarded us from patches 

of history and bloodshed, 

from time to come. We could not know 

that we would open here despite 

the mean heat, that we would close 

like the bristle of bruised threads. 

We had to be hard as those stems

to withstand autumn, her face

pink and wet in the wind,

the dry ironweeds swinging low  

and all those shirts

coming down off the line.

 

 

Sally Rosen Kindred’s first full-length poetry collection, No Eden, has just been released by Mayapple Press. Her poems have appeared in The Journal, Best New Poets 2009, and Waccamaw, and are forthcoming in the North Carolina Literary Review and Cave Wall.

 

Q&A

Q. What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: “Ironweed Summer” is one of a series of poems I’ve been writing about members of the botanical family asteraceae, or aster family. Returning to these flowers in fields, field guides, and memory, I’ve been visited by their fierce, familiar strength: the strength of mothers and children, the ghosts of my Carolina childhood.


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Barry Spacks

Long Gone

followed by Q&A

None of our beautiful words will live on:

“ruminant potato,” “ineluctable flux.”

 

No way around it, the world refreshes,

even the mountains move, they do,

 

and Jordan Rome, my poetry-pal, 

will end up like me and Scranton, PA, 

 

on the junk heap. Take for example this grain 

of sand that once tipped the Sphinx's nose,

 

best safely stored in a reliquary

but oopse, watch out, it swirled away

 

on a lilt of the wind to join the sparse 

vegetation of the Simi Valley

 

though wordy blurts like “the sparse vegetation 

of the Simi Valley” are also bound 

 

for oblivion, along with all gorgeous 

sunsets, lyrics, gone, all gone, 

 

even the small and appealing word “gone” 

long gone.

 

 

Known mainly as a poet/teacher, Barry Spacks has brought out various novels, stories, three poetry-reading CDs and ten poetry collections while teaching literature and writing at M.I.T. & UC Santa Barbara. His most recent book of poems, Food for the Journey, appeared from Cherry Grove in August, 2008. Over the years his poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review and hundreds of other journals.

 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?

A: The affection so many feel for the intimate details of ordinary life is made even more poignant by the consciousness of universal loss. Language seems to transcend the doom of its disappearance (along with everything else) by the act of talking about it.