Prime Decimals 7.2
That Bitter Scent
by Karin Davidson
followed by Q&A
Still upstate in Tonawanda, working the counter, wearing a pink apron and a pin with my name printed on it. Evangeline—all spelled out in fancy letters. Sure is different, Aunt Lillette, than with you and Uncle Auguste in Terrebonne, but the customers keep me going. The church next door gives us good business: seven dozen glazed, three dozen crullers, and several boxes of bear claws every Sunday. And the church ladies keep trying to get me saved, but I work the double shift on weekends. Funny how that goes.
The photos you sent show there’s a lot more oil up in the marsh grass than anyone’s letting on. The church ladies say they’re praying for all the fish. I didn’t say, “How ’bout praying for the fisherman while you’re at it?”
Give me a holler if the shrimp ever start coming in again. My days here go one after another, and I’d much rather my white rubber boots to this pink apron.
I’ve been thinking about this strange thing that happened a few weeks ago. I was clearing the counter and staring out the big front window and this bird came flying straight at the glass. Our regular, Mr. Wiley, he’d been reading the Buffalo News, but then he turned around to see what I was so wide-eyed about. The sight was something: enormous grey wings, a neck from here to there, legs tucked up. I just stood there and watched it coming—right at us. Mr. Wiley raised up off his stool, and news about the oil spill, the World Cup matches, and Jimmy Dean’s last moment on earth all drifted to the floor. We ran outside, and a few of the ladies coming out the church stopped and crossed themselves. Flight feathers and tufts of down lay scattered around the walkway. The bird had broken its neck. Can you imagine, Aunt Lillette? A heron doing a thing like that?
I remembered when I was just five, running around wild on the shore near Cocodrie where the herons nested. Maman waved her hands at me to quiet down. Like always, she had those pink rosary beads and they caught the sun just right, glinting and shining. I sunk into the cool sand by her feet. She had some shadow, you know? She leaned over me and said, “I told you once, chére. Don’t let me tell you twice.” Even now, Maman still scares me.
It’s strange that us Cajuns traveled all that way, from Canada to Louisiana, and now here I am, nearly back where our people came from. Mr. Wiley, who used to be an English teacher, remarked on my name and how Longfellow made it famous. Leaned over his coffee and sweet rolls and asked me if I knew any boys named Gabriel. I told him, “Sure, I knew Gabe. He was my steady boyfriend.” Gave me a funny look, so I said, “It’s the honest truth. Nearly got married straight out a high school. Gabe went to work as a rough neck ’cause that’s what we do, either fish or work the rigs, and the thought of one more second on his father’s fishing boat made him head out. That very first time, though, was his very last. Had a funeral ’stead of a wedding.” By the time I was done talking, the whole place had turned to look at me. Guess I have a way with people, na?
The ladies crowded into the shop this week, every one of them dressed in black. They drank half cups of coffee, and I learned they were waiting to pay their respects at Mr. Wiley’s funeral. I felt it, you know? I didn’t even know he’d died. I was getting off my shift then and wanted to go along. Somehow I ended up in Mrs. Wiley’s limo and sat next to her, holding her hand, still in my uniform. She said I smelled of sweet pastries, which seemed to comfort her.
We drove a little ways and it started to rain. It rained at Gabe’s funeral, too. You know, Gabe was a lot smarter than people thought. He read books I haven’t even read. Kind of like Mr. Wiley—real smart, but not showing off about it. Mr. Wiley, though, he had a lot more people than Gabe at his funeral.
I thought of the morning he looked at me over the top of his paper and asked if I’d seen the Falls. I told him no, so he took me across into Canada. Said the Canadians had the best view.
In the park there were tea roses just like at a wedding and honeymoon couples walking the paths. Maybe I should have thought of Gabe and of how Maman passed away so close to our wedding date and just before the rig blew. But Mr. Wiley, he kept me distracted, talking about poets and their stories and pretty soon there was that view, that wall of water. Bright white and unreal. I had to sit down on a bench and grab hold of the rough wooden slats. Mr. Wiley sat beside me and didn’t say anything for a while.
Around us were lantana flowers, yellow and orange, like yours, Aunt Lillette, with that bitter scent of citrus and metal. It was too much. In front of me were those falls, thundering away, but all I could see was the cloudless view of the Gulf from your porch and, up out of the grey-green waters, a thousand seabirds—terns, seagulls, hundreds of brown pelicans—rising into the air. And in amongst the birds I saw Maman in that flowered housedress she always wore, the one with the crab boil stains.
There I was, then, making up my mind to get back home. I’m tired, Lillette. Not as tired as you. I know that. But tired of smelling like sugar and burnt coffee. You know?
Karin C. Davidson is a graduate of Lesley University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Her stories have appeared in New Delta Review, Filigree, Bananafish, and Precipitate, and have been shortlisted in several writing contests, including the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition and the Bridport Prize. Originally from the Gulf Coast, she now lives with her family in the Ohio River Valley, where she is at work on stories and a novel. Her writing can be found at thunderonathursday.blogspot.com.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: Last June when the Gulf coast was inundated with BP’s oil, Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup, and Jimmy Dean met his maker, I found myself holding a blank postcard. How to say so much in so little space? From this came Evangeline and her longing to be back home in Louisiana. Out of large events come small cries that hopefully travel far.
My thanks to Nancy Zafris for that postcard.
An Un-chronological Timeline for Grief
by Deanna Larsen
followed by Q&A
One year after her death
There’s nothing remarkable about our neighborhood, except the house across the street is where my sister’s killer lived.
Two months before her death
He’s on the football team. I’m thirteen with crooked teeth and no breasts. He’s cute with a cowlick in the back of his hair and a half-smile that shucks responsibility. He gives me his jacket with Dayton stitched on the back and I’m propelled into eighth grade infamy. My sister sings under her breath and Mom slips Planned Parenthood pamphlets under her bedroom door.
Three weeks after her death
After I go back to school, a kid says to me, “At least she didn’t die a virgin.”
Four years after her death
Mom keeps everything in her room the same. When I turn seventeen, the age my sister is—the age she will always be—I go into her room. The paint looks washed out, old, out of time like this room isn’t a part of this house, or even this life. Her clothes feel starchy and cold. I listen to the PJ Harvey album she left in the CD player. It sounds hollow and tinny like I can hear the actual gears of the machine running.
Five months after her death
We still get mail addressed to her. I wear black because that’s what they do in movies. I visit her gravesite to plant flowers but the ground is frozen. I stop wearing black. I wear red, I wear blue, I wear Band-Aids on my arms to cover up the scratches. I question God, I hate God, I doubt God, I assassinate God. And my God the flowers people send, people you’ve never even heard of; the flowers die and what are you supposed to do with all the vases. Mom hasn’t left the house since September because the last time she did, she clawed apart the freezer section at the local grocery store and when the police found her in a heap of frozen peas they said, “Can we help you, ma’am?”
Three months after her death
Before Laurie died, Dad didn’t bother. But after she’s gone, I embody two daughters- double duty for his indifferent fatherhood. He even tries to get back with Mom, who laughs a freaky Can You Believe This Shit? laugh, and finishes watching Days of Our Lives.
Five years after her death
I’m older than my older sister. I start talking to her imaginary twenty-two year-old self. I’ll visit her in Seattle as soon as I can, I’ll take pictures of the Space Needle, we’ll eat at that new Korean place.
Three years after her death
Since Mom was never going to move, Mrs. Dayton finally does. The two houses face each other. If Mrs. Dayton was washing dishes at her kitchen sink, she could see my mother peeling potatoes and Mom would fix her gaze forward until Mrs. Dayton drew the shades. I heard she moved to Pennsylvania, opened a greenhouse and hung herself from the rafters above the wisteria.
Six years after her death
The house across the street bursts into flames. Mom stands on the porch and watches the fire devour the cheap siding. The shingles smoke and Mom says, “I hope Laurie can see this.”
Deanna Larsen is a Spanish tutor is Minneapolis, MN. She enjoys history, languages, sci fi, and world travel. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Dirty Napkin, Euphony and elsewhere. Beginning in the fall of 2011, she will be an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Q: What was the genesis of this piece?
A: I rarely plan to write a piece, instead a phrase or image pops into my head. For this story, I suddenly imagined a woman sobbing in a pile of frozen peas at the grocery store and thought, “Hmm, I wonder what that’s about. Let’s find out.”
I Think of Him Fucking You and I Want to Die
by Thomas Kearnes
followed by Q&A
The board of the community theatre wants to cancel our production of “The Laramie Project,” so we’re lined up on the pavement across the boulevard from the lobby, EAST TEXAS GAYS signs and LARAMIE OR BUST posters held high. Just minutes after I arrive, shake hands with the media-whore head of our gay group, Paula calls my name and motions me to follow her back into the parking lot. Timothy promised me online he’d attend this shithole rally. I’m worried this big bother with the angel bullshit will keep me from spotting him when he arrives. In the lot, Paula hauls out a crude harness comprised of connected plastic pipes. Sprouting from the harness are two straight lengths of pipe angled high and wide. As I suit up, the crowd twenty yards away begins to sing “Amazing Grace.” No fucking lie. After I slip into the gear, Paula and a pert little lesbian slide brilliant white bolts of fabric over the outstretched piping. Hanging from these pipes, the sheets resemble wings.
Find a spot, Paula instructs me. Before I can ask where I should go, she saddles up some other bastard from the cast. My scrawny shoulders already aching from the pipe harness, I settle on the outskirts of the sprawling mass of people collected on the sidewalk. Still no sign of Timothy. I wonder what he’ll think of me in this fucking get-up. The protestors cut me a wide berth. Every time I so much as twitch a shoulder, a whole wing sweeps the few feet of free air beside me. I keep apologizing to any poor bastard protestor who can’t watch his step. My shoulders now throbbing, I finally hoist up one side of the harness with my fist and hold it aloft. Some Mexican chick zips out in front of me and clicks my picture. Shit, now I’ll be on Facebook.
After a few minutes of trying to stand still, I blurt a warning to those gathered near me, and I slowly march back to the parking lot. Still there, Paula and the lesbian fit the last angel costume on some slim-chested kid I’ve never met. She asks me if I need anything. Yeah, I say, my shoulders are killing me. She promises to find someone else and I remind her to make sure the guy has broad enough shoulders. Because I do not. While I wait for her to return, I finally see Timothy drive that clunky old Cherokee into the lot. I used to suck his cock from the passenger seat as he drove us around town. He’s still fucking hot, a few days’ whiskers on his face, an impish smile, a quick and high voice that sounds so merry even when he’s talking dirty shit.
He parks not far from where that angel shit got started, and that’s when I notice a boy I’ve never met in the passenger seat. I know right then that I hate his bony ass. He’s no older than Timothy, and Timothy himself is still in junior college. Still obscured by my sad, sad mondo-wings, I shout out his name until he spins around and finds me. The new guy hasn’t left Timothy’s side. They stand close, too close to be just friends. The new guy keeps gazing at Timothy, as if waiting for fucking God to speak. I knew this would happen, from the moment Timothy stopped fucking around with me after his choir practice. I goddamn knew he’d find someone his own age. I’ve been chasing dick since I was fourteen. Some days, I just can’t run anymore. Timothy says hello, asks me what I’m wearing. I give him the short answer. And finally, Paula returns with a stocky guy with hair all spiked and white-blonde. He and Paula assist me out of the contraption. In the time it takes me to shed that nonsense, Timothy and the new guy settle on the lawn, not far from the sidewalk. The new guy leans over as Timothy whispers in his ear. The intimacy between them that makes me sick, makes me recall the times Timothy stopped by my apartment and teased me into the bedroom, our clothes shucked off as we fell atop the mattress.
The crowd, there’s at least one hundred of the bastards now, starts another chant: Laramie or Bust! It’s a direct quote from one of the faggots in the cast. He’s young like Timothy, like the new guy. I’m too goddamn old to feel this way. I wander away from Paula’s angel depot, drift toward the chanting crowd. As I pass them, Timothy and his little pal are still deep in chat. Fuck these assholes with their signs and their songs, I just wanna watch Timothy blow this new kid against a brick wall while I webcam the whole fucking thing. I’d watch that shit again and again, I’d carry a homemade sign demanding my right to torture myself with footage of gorgeous Timothy getting fucked by a man who isn’t me.
Silent, I watch the protestors whip themselves into a deeper frenzy. I’m fucking embarrassed for them. It’s just a goddamn play. Who really cares? Just then, I hear Timothy call my name. He asks me, with that killer high voice, if I’m in the cast. You bet your ass, I tell him. I’m the goddamn star. We stare at each other. There’s nothing to fucking say. It’s goddamn over, whatever it was, and I know it. So the crowd shouts hallelujah and we shout hallelujah, and then they start over with that “Amazing Grace” bullshit. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m singing. God saved a wretch like me and all that. My God, he’s beautiful. I keep singing and soon Timothy and his new friend join in. The three of us are singing—we’re singing our fucking hearts out.
Thomas Kearnes is a 34-year-old author and essayist from East Texas. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Storyglossia, Eclectica, Word Riot, Night Train, 3 AM Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, JMWW Journal, The Pedestal, Bound Off and other publications. He has also published widely in gay venues. He has no interest in writing a novel. You can find him on Facebook.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I was indeed cast in a local production of “The Laramie Project” last summer. When the theatre threatened to cancel it, all the queers in Tyler protested. While I was dressed as an angel, I saw my friend Greg arrive with an equally young man whom I wagered was more than a friend. Greg and I had fooled around a few months back. (How do I still land men in their early ‘20s when I’m nearly 35? Baby, I’m aging WAY behind schedule!) I did feel a surge of jealousy—followed by bitterness about my age. It passed quickly, but it struck me that my reaction seemed wildly inappropriate considering what I was allegedly there to do. I knew even then there was a story to be told…
Followed by Q&A
Loud wind and rain—the cold night bloody
with maple leaves torn from their branches.
Children’s sweet songs linger long after
their small bodies have been carried away.
One poet dared to refuse to mourn
the death by fire of a child in London.
Nor will I lament. The moon shines silver—
curved sword, a luminous pendulous breast.
In the tents a veiled woman cradles her infant,
bares a teat to nurse, her milk thick as stars.
B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools programs throughout the West for over 30 years. Her prizes and awards include a Wyoming Arts Council Literature Fellowship; The Cumberland Poetry Review’s Robert Penn Warren Narrative Poetry Prize; the New York based Poets & Writers “Writers Exchange Award” in Poetry; the Rita Dove Poetry Prize from the Center for Women Writers at Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC; and the Joy Harjo Prize from CutThroat: A Journal of Arts and Literature. She has been awarded residencies at The Ucross Foundation and Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared widely in both print and on-line journals.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: This poem was written during flare-ups in the Palestinian and Afghan conflicts, as an expression of hope for renewal out of the chaos of war, and the belief that life and love would eventually triumph. I was at the Vermont Studio Center, and had just taken a walk in the autumn storm, after watching a news report of multiple civilian deaths, including many children.
Aunt Caroline' Nose
followed by Q&A
Because you were born
with Aunt Caroline’s nose
like lilacs to you
and wet paint diffuses
the scent of pears
Your aunt was raised
in the countryside
with crude wooden fences
and mud holes in spring
On good days nothing
There were many
in those days
Now you rely
on doorways and awnings
Your aunt never used
was a canvas
for the elements
She would stand
in a pasture
inhaling the wind
of the fragrance
When trash is burned
you imbibe the aroma
of cinnamon buns
When the pet
of your neighbor
you discern a trace
The world to you is no
So what have you done
with this great advantage
and Uncle Timothy’s eyes
Alan Elyshevitz is a poet and short story writer from East Norriton, PA. His poems have appeared most recently in Orion headless, Serving House Journal, and Poets for Living Waters. In addition, he has published two poetry chapbooks: The Splinter in Passion’s Paw (New Spirit) and Theory of Everything (Pudding House). Currently he teaches writing at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Q: What was the inspiration fo this poem?
A: The original inspiration for “Aunt Caroline’s Nose” was a comment made by a neighbor of mine about her daughter. From there, I elaborated, in a hyperbolic way, on the onerous responsibility of inheriting a family member’s physical characteristics.
followed by Q&A
There’s a star caught in the cedar,
bright as a shiver of moon.
Venus, I think, the evening star,
my late-night companion. Her lustrous
light illumines the spine of the tree.
It’s what they’ll do to you—tomorrow—
a storm of radiant waves making
plain the beautiful symmetry
of each sweeping bone of you.
Let the beams tip like fireflies
tracing crowns through dogwood,
diminutive hidden furies,
blue stars and bright flicks
threading like jewels. Let light
check & mend like the electro-magnetic
fields summoning birds, pole to pole.
Pure marvel; witness the Arctic warbler
just an ounce or two flying blind,
weeks at a time, come snow or shower
he bears on, as do you, my sturdy brother—
oh, wind-tossed, buoyant rider.
Sheep and Angels
It was early yet, the sun low
when the three-rail fence cast
its crazy shadow, rangy phantasmagoria,
crooked and impossibly long.
Hundreds of days can pass, one thing
Repeating. Rounding the corner
by the old schoolhouse, it’s the craggy
sheep—four-square, sturdy and alert.
What is it he sensed? Last
of the night coyotes, peeling off
in pairs, the here-now-gone
damp edging a new cut of hay?
Daylight is skeptical as the rest
of the flock. You tap your chest
with the gesture of our grandfather,
just this, here and here, that worries you.
A phantom prick of something
where the dark mass gathered
before the chemicals blasted
you free and clear.
But here you are before me, handsomely
present: delicate light lines of hair,
eyebrow, and beard growing in, here
in the Italian place with the good
bread and oil, talking about our children.
The winter sunlight munificent
as the turn, Broadway to Madison,
the clean, clear lines of the park trees.
On the way home I see these long faced
beauties rising from the pedestal
on Farragut’s statue, out from the waves
they rise—what solemn promises—
things they know, things they won’t say.
Guardians, I’d like to think, sweet
knowing angels who might be sworn
to keep you safe.
Catherine Staples teaches in the Honors program at Villanova University. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, The Southern Review, Third Coast, Commonweal, Michigan Quarterly and others. Honors include the University of Pennsylvania’s William Carlos Williams Award and The New England Poetry Club’s Boyle/ Farber. Recently, her manuscript was named a finalist for the May Swenson award; it’s also been a finalist at Ohio State University, Lost Horse Press, and Eastern Washington University. Betsy Sholl selected her chapbook, Never a Note Forfeit, for Seven Kitchens Press’ 2010 Keystone Prize.
Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?
A: When my brother Paul was diagnosed with late stage lymphoma, I wrote night and day; the poems were like prayers cast to the natural world, to the divine, even the St. Gauden’s angel-like figures in Madison Square Park around the corner from where he worked. Both “Sheep and Angels” and “Godspeed” are from my chapbook, Never a Note Forfeit, due out May 21st from Seven Kitchens Press.
followed by Q&A
My son recounts the plot of a Zombie film
from France. He forgets exactly why,
but one day the dead rise up and shake off
the dust—not ghouls, staggering with stiff arms,
but as themselves, almost good as new.
They head back into the world willing
to do the usual stuff—eat, buy shoes—
but everything’s out of synch. They can’t fit in
with those who’ve never died. At the end
they run away to form a Zombie commune,
finding comfort in each other.
And I cry to think of seeing all my dear ones,
and then losing them again. Realizing
that, after all this time, I have nothing
I can offer to make them feel at home. They sit,
like dutiful guests, nervously checking
their watches, then grab the first chance
to slip out the door. I chase after them
through street after street of memory,
calling their names long after they have
disappeared. Then stumble my way back
to a strangely empty house.
Dream: My Father Returns to the Latin Quarter
Someone sold my father lousy shoes,
mismatched, ill-used. The heels aslant,
the leather cracked. I begged him to demand
his money back, but he refused, maintaining,
now he’s dead, he might as well
get used to shoddy merchandise.
But isn’t he a salesman too,
a charmer, a schmoozer, making his living
hawking sundries from a hole-in-the-wall
in the long-gone Jersey ferry terminal,
and surely no one’s fool.
On his feet all day he needs something
sturdy—wingtips that can also see him through
the night, when he goes quickstepping like a pro
at the shuttered clubs uptown.
He says, dolly, if it means that much to you
I’ll get them fixed at the Italian’s.
Though the place went out of business years ago,
we sit, side by side, on high-back chairs
in narrow booths, waiting as they’re made
almost good as new.
Then all that’s left for him to do
is dash up Broadway, find the right door.
The crowd parts as he eases his way
to the front of the floor—
tall, poised, arms just so,
a sedate hop and off he goes.
Finessing all the latest moves.
Sells it with his attitude.
The one to watch in cobbled shoes.
Avra Wing is the winner of the 2011 Pecan Grove Press chapbook competition. Her poetry has appeared in Hanging Loose, Michigan Quarterly Review, Apple Valley Review (which nominated her poem for the Pushcart Prize), qarrtsiluni, and Silk Road, among other places. Avra’s novel, Angie, I Says, a New York Times notable book, was made into the film Angie starring Geena Davis and James Gandolfini. She is a workshop leader for the New York Writers Coalition, and an adjunct professor of English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where she lives.
Q: What can you tell us about these poems?
A: I sometimes think of myself as the poet of loss. “Horror” expresses a longing for all those loved ones who are gone. “Dream: My Father Returns to the Latin Quarter” is a tribute to my late father. I hope it gives some idea of his charm.