Saturday, January 4, 2014

Neil Ellman

Four Poems

The Ego and the I
(after the painting by Roberto Matta Echaurren)
I occupy the rift between
my ego and me
the one I know, the other I don’t
my ego is mine alone
the other I barely recognize
beyond the looking glass
of memories
or in my disconnected life
we are as inseparable
as opposites could be
while still like brothers
under the skin
the two of us are one—
we struggle for survival
in a war that will not end.

The Song of the Vowels
(after the painting by Joan MirĂ³)
My vowels sing bubble songs
hover within my words and float
from consonant to consonant
from sound to consequence
then splatter on my tongue
becoming mine and yours.

Mask of Fear
(after the painting by Paul Klee)
At the Mascarade de Mort
recognize the face of fear
disguised as someone else
but as your own.

Recognize the eyes
behind the mask
like shadows
on the ballroom floor—
and still your own.

Know the stranger
holding, spinning
in an allemande of life
before you die.

The Playful Ogre
(after the painting by Joan MirĂ³)
Even an ogre drifts off
from its hideous meal
to play with its food
like a child who won’t use
a knife, fork or spoon
but eats with its hands,
licks its lips , dribbles \
and spits out the marrow
It sucks from some bones

“This offal is awful ,” it jokes,
with a churlish grin,
then rips out the heart
of the man who was
his closest friend.

© Neil Ellman 2014

Neil Ellman has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Hundreds of his poems, many of which are ekphrastic and written in response to works of modern and contemporary art, appear in publications throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

John Grey

The Sounds of January

The furnace starts churning,
radiators kick and snort.
It's that insistent winter soundtrack,
the one that doubts our bodies
have the strength, the will,
to get by without its warmth.

Outside, snow begins to fall
and stick this time.
Soon enough, the landscape
will be white, packed high,
and it'll be the plows that add
the loud, ungainly inference ...
we can't walk, can't drive a lick,
without their blessed blades.

So here we have it,
Christmas behind us,
we're nothing but the inherent uselessness
of all this flesh, these bones.
If nothing makes a sound,
we're doomed.
And then you hug close,
whisper, "I love you."
So tell me are you plow or furnace?

© John Grey 2013

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Vallum and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Pennsylvania English and the Oyez Review.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nicole E. Hirschi


Memoir of CJT – Journalist (found)
There comes a time in every journalist’s career when you hope to have the chance of a lifetime—that one story that will change your fate. That’s why we do it, to make a world-renowned name for ourselves.
I’m no different from the rest.
Chances are funny things. They come and go at the whim of Karma—as if you deserve them. I’m not sure why I feel that way; it just is.
My chance, I think, came on a stormy night while my flight was delayed. With nothing better to do than wait out the tornadoes swirling around the Dallas area, my feet finally found a resting place at the airport cantina.
I ordered my usual Jack and Coke and glanced through my notes.
“Excuse me?” A craggily woman’s voice asked from next to me. I looked over at her. Her eyes, startlingly cloudy, held me to them.
“Oh, hey, um… hi.” I blurted out, realizing that I’d been staring.
“Is this seat open?” Her voice croaked above the music.
“Sure.” I offered her a hand which she ignored as she climbed into the chair. She set her gnarled cane down on the bar with a thud.
“You don’t know me.” She half whispered after taking my drink and finishing it off. I ordered two more.
“Well, my name’s CJ, if you tell me who you are, then I guess we’ll know each other.” I felt like a smartass.
“Just call me Karma,” she said, and I snorted Jack and Coke out my nose and blindly groped for a napkin.
“Ok, Karma, it’s nice to meet you.” I stretched out my hand, but slowly pulled it back when she didn’t take it.
“You don’t want me to touch you, I promise you that.” She let out a crackly laugh, “I’m a psychic, and have only one thing to share with you.”
Psychic, really? I’d only met one other psychic. Sure, I wrote her precious tear jerker story about a dead pioneer girl, but even that was followed up with research. Her fluff was just good talk for the tabloid I was writing for back then.
I rolled my eyes and took another sip of my drink.
“Don’t,” she harshly whispered thumping her cane on the bar again, “be skeptical. I’ve seen things you’ll never understand.”
“Um… okay.” I decided I’d play along for the moment.
“CJ, I know that’s not your real name, just as Karma’s not mine, but that’s neither here nor there.”
I cleared my throat, feeling uncomfortable. It was true, I had changed my name after getting divorced, but anyone could have guessed that.
“You want,” she hesitated, her milky eyes glancing at the ceiling, “no, need, your life changing story, yes?”
My God, was I such a fool? “Yes.” I spoke barely above a whisper and leaned towards her.
“I thought so. You’ll find your story, off the beaten path, across a bay by the beach in the East. Find the place, and you’ll find yourself.”
Before I could ask another word, she finished her drink and slid out of her chair.
Curious, I quickly paid the barkeep and turned in pursuit, but alas, she was already lost in the crowd.
The old woman’s words have stayed with me for years now. I’ve searched in earnest, looked up psychics, events by every bay, but never found a thing. That is, until last week.
I’ll admit that I’ve been at wit’s end for some time now. My publishers began telling me last year that my stories are outdated and no longer hold any interest for the younger crowd.
So, there I was, reading the paper last week when I came across an article about a series of mysterious deaths deemed suicides at an old house by the Chesapeake Bay. Within minutes, I found myself booking a flight and arranging a car. I stayed up through the night looking into the haunted house, intrigued about the people who’d died there. Each, like myself, was a forgotten writer. Fourteen deaths in all. I found a phone number for an agency who was advertising tours – I called to book a stay.
“I can’t let you stay in the house.” said a woman on the other end of the line.
“I’ll pay extra, my family and I are big into haunted places.” I lied.
Finally with enough cash, she acquiesced.
The GPS in my rental car buzzed with protest at trying to locate the address, and frustrated, I smacked the damn thing. The house eventually came into view, clearly neglected – they must have posted an old photo online. Weeds and vines were growing up the walls and the front porch was hanging. It almost looked like a haunted house. I entered through the front door and despite the dust and dead bugs, I instantly felt at home.
The old woman’s words came to mind again. Was this the place she spoke of?
I walked the beach two nights ago, feeling the sand between my toes, and I swore I could hear laughter in the wind.
I awoke yesterday morning to the smell of freshly made coffee, but found the pot empty. I spent all day searching the house from top to bottom, looking for signs of anything – anyone – and what they might have left behind. Fourteen people in ten years, after all, don’t just keel over without leaving some sort of trace behind.
I came across moth balls, creaky floors, a basement room filled with old furniture, miscellaneous clutter and old photos, one of which depicted a group on the beach at sunset. Each person was looking in a different direction than at the photographer. The date at the bottom was from almost twenty years ago. I found, carefully placed above a door, a set of cutout paper dolls, yellowed from age, ten in all, as if watching the people who may have come and gone over the years. I remember thinking ‘Did you watch over those who died?’
I sat on the musty couch last night in the living room with my notebook and heard the sound of thunder in the distance. When the lights flickered and went out, I imagined others like myself, maybe the group from the picture, writing by the mere light of the moon as rain poured just outside the French doors.
I slept in a different bed. There was sand in the sheets, but I didn’t care.
I dreamed of being a part of a group who called this place their “House of Writers” and saw myself amongst a variety of eclectic people writing as if their lives depended upon it – laughing, crying, amazed at each other’s creativity.
Today, I think I will swim in the bay, taste the salt in the water, drink in the sun, and pretend that last night’s dream was real.
* * *

“Angela,” I croak, my voice barely a wisp anymore, “Angela, read this to me.” I shakily hold out a rough feeling newspaper, my cloudy eyes too blind to read any longer.
“Woman missing, known journalist, no leads.” I can feel her staring at me. I hear her ragged breath as she tries not to sob with the vision. She shares my gift, we’re mediums, or psychics as others call us.
“Angela, please take me for one last trip.”
“But Grandma!”
“No buts.” I hack into my hand, “Just do as I say.”
It’s a long drive across the bridge to the police department in Cape Charles, but a necessary one. I knew the woman, I told her my story of Anna Marie, and years later, told her where she’d find herself if she looked.
“How can I help you Ma’am?” A man’s voice asks loudly. I’m blind not deaf, idiot. I thump my cane.
“I’m here to tell you where to find the missing journalist.” I wheeze.
“I’m sorry,” even louder, “I didn’t hear you.”
“She said,” Angela’s voice becomes louder and more despair filled with each word next to me, “that she knows where you can find the missing woman, you know, that journalist gal.”
The police station becomes deadly silent and I can feel the weight of everyone’s stares upon us.
“Who are you?”
“Call me Karma.” My voice shakes with age.
“And the woman?” He questions.
“You’ll find her body washed up on the beach at the old haunted house just outside town.” I’m straining to get all the words out before my voice is completely gone.
“You sure?” I can feel his breath.
I grab his face with my arthritic hands, my cane falls to the ground with a clatter.
“Do you think these eyes would lie?”
“I didn’t think so.”
I suddenly feel the urge to laugh and find myself doubled over hacking, tears in my eyes.
A voice fills the air around us, and I smile knowingly in response.
“I have finally found my story… my home… we all have.”

© Nicole E. Hirschi 2013

Nicole was our first guest writer back in April 2010 and has contributed other fiction and poetry to the site since then. She is currently involved in screenwriting and loves telling stories with a touch of the macabre. One of those paper dolls has her name on it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gita Smith


The year I turned 14, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed into the Long Island Sound, no more than a bike ride from our house. A dark horse named Sideways Glance ran past all the favorites to win the Triple Crown. The unexpected was happening all around us. That was the year when Mother said our luck ran out.

In August, Auntie Gin showed a photo of a giant uncircumcised penis to a client at the Lady Grecian beauty salon and was shunned and fired from her job at Holiness Pentecostal Church. Then Howler, my younger brother (his real name is Howard, but we’ve called him Howler since he cut his baby teeth) suddenly took sick. He projectile-vomited all over the patrons in the waiting room of the Humane Society animal shelter and had to be rushed home before he got to choose his puppy.

In September, Father walked down the stairs to the Far Rockaway subway station while reading the financial Times and kept on walking straight onto the tracks. He was pulled back to safety before the train arrived, but the experience of having almost contacted the third rail exhilarated him unexpectedly.

He gibbered that day and for days after. When he regained his speech he repeated “I could have died. I could have DIED” to everyone he met. “What luck, eh? Everything happens for a reason, though. I must have been saved for some purpose.”

Mother believed that luck ran in families, like a gene for weak ankles or an overbite. It was something that could attach itself to a clan, lamprey-like, holding fast --- until it didn’t. On the one hand, she explained, luck could stick around for generations.

“Look at the Rockefellers,” she said.

Or, it could arrive and stay for only one day before fleeing. BUT, on that day you could win the lottery.

“You only need one day of really good luck to straighten out a whole family,” she reminded us.

After Auntie Gin revealed to the whole world that she had dementia and Howler shamed us at the animal shelter and Father walked into thin air, I began to question the solidity of my family life.

At age 14, I had come under the influence of rationalists like Carl Sagan and the difficult Noam Chomsky. I won’t pretend to you that I understood everything they wrote by any means, not by half. And Chomsky, not by a tenth. Yet I grasped the basic and important concept that we are not beset by a fickle, purposeful force called luck.

I believed that they were telling me, there is no “thing” that we have and lose, no external force that brings us joy one moment and sorrow the next with the draw of a card because luck – the entity my mother wanted so earnestly yet feared -- doesn’t exist. It was my view, because it seemed the rational view, that the universe and all events we can’t control are random. To my 14-year-old mind, we could not be unlucky or lucky any more than we could be Caesar’s ghost or in two places at one time.

My parents took turns debating me, sometimes with the cudgel of religion and sometimes with journalism.

MOTHER: Look at this story in the Herald. This family, the Borowitzes, all of them killed when a bus hit their car.

ME: The bus also hit a cement wall killing the driver and 14 passengers so it was not fate or luck singling out the Borowitzes. It was physics: the bus had bald tires, the asphalt was fresh and the road was wet.

FATHER: EXACTLY! It was the Borowitzes’ bad luck to be on that road at that exact moment when the bus swerved, not three seconds later!”

Frequently, Mother would be ready with the Powerball lottery report when I came home from school, a newspaper clipping laid out on the kitchen table beside some fruit and cookies.

“One hundred million dollars to a single woman!!” she keened triumphantly.

“Your point?” I said, separating an Oreo.

“Are you going to tell me that woman isn’t lucky?”

I examined the photo of a beaming Dorothy (Dot) Kilby, K-Mart cashier from Steubenville, Ohio, and her giant check. Apparently Miss Kilby had felt a sudden impulse to buy her first-ever ticket just 90 minutes before the drawing.

“Unh-hunh, Miss Atheist,” my mother said. “How do you explain that?”

“How I explain that, Mother, is it’s a lottery. Sooner or later someone will win. That is the nature of lotteries. Random numbers pop up in a tube. If enough people buy tickets, sooner or later six numbers will match the ones in the tube.”

In December, Auntie Gin drank some peach schnapps, fell in her bathtub and died. Mother and Father were called downtown to a lawyer’s office and came home happier than we had ever seen them. Christmas that year was an absolute blast. For the first time ever, we had real live tree, a Scotch Pine. Heaped under it were wrapped and beribboned boxes – multiple presents for everyone!

My father seemed to be lighted from the inside – not by a warm glow, but by a tractor beam shooting from his eyes. He talked fast and constantly with a forcefulness like the words had been backed up for years and only now allowed to spill out. Howler noticed it, too, and hid his presents out of fear that Father would snatch them back. I helped him shove an air hockey set behind a chest of drawers.

“Do you think it was the fall on the train tracks?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Howl. I think it’s the money.”

Howler went quiet. He looked too sad for Christmas. He said, “Remember that other time when Father was so excited and talked really fast, and we said it was scary, almost like he was dad but not really dad?”

I was surprised that Howler had noticed. He had been a little kid in a goofy Shrek t-shirt at the time. If we ever spoke about Father’s “bad” time, we spoke in secret.

Father barely slept from Xmas to New Year’s. He talked about everything and nothing, but mostly about his plans for an empire of video arcades. He told Mother she was in for a glorious new tomorrow. He rubbed his hands together when he spoke, like a man trying to start a fire by friction.

On the second of January, when the bank opened, Father took two thirds of Auntie Gin’s life insurance money and bought a video arcade in a shopping center that had seen better days.

“We got lucky to find a store at such a good price,” he said, oblivious to the fact that, one by one, the stores around him were shutting down and moving elsewhere. Nor did he know enough about video machines to know that most of the games in the arcade were outdated or broken.

Still, he plunged himself into the investment and the idea of earning enough from his first – his “seed” – store to build his empire. He loved the arcade’s flashing lights, the sounds of gunfire and bells, pinging and humming.

Father took Howler there one night to treat him to free games. Poor Howler wandered from game to game, overwhelmed by the hurdy-gurdy of the machinery and certain that Father had no clue how to run the store.

“Father can’t tell one game from another,” he said. “I heard this guy ask him if we have Star Vendetta 2, and Father didn’t know.” My smart, perceptive little brother began to worry about our father. He surfed the internet and read a business story about video arcades, so popular in the 1980s, now being dinosaurs.

“People don’t go places to play games,” he told me, his small forehead creased by adult worries. “They don’t have to. Everyone has X-Box or tablets. Father was gypped! It’s not FAIRRRR!” And with that he began to howl, his high, patented banshee curdling sound ripped from a winter wind.

I hugged Howler tightly, letting the noise die down, letting his thin shaking shoulders subside. “Don’t worry,” I murmured, only the hundred thousandth older sister to say it.

Eventually, all the stores in the Eastmont Shopping Center closed and Father’s with them. He found a collector who bought three of his 50 machines, and the rest he sold for scrap metal.

Mother did the math. In his mania to become a video emperor, Father had cost us the equivalent of a college education for Howler who, she believed, was destined for greatness.

Father plunged into a black mood, the same as he had done on previous occasions when a business scheme went south. He stayed under the bedcovers for weeks. We ate dinners without him. Father’s green days – the ones where the world seems new and all things are possible – were over, at least for a while.

Mother was quieter than usual. She stopped trying to bait me with newspaper stories. She left the laundry wet in the machine until it turned rank. I don’t know if Mother saw how his cycles had crept into her consciousness and how her highs and lows were driven by his.

Looking back, I wish that Mother could have seen that luck is the bipolar’s religion, both being based on up and down cycles. Plot them; both are sine waves.

We would have that conversation later. Now was the time for normal things – for pork chops and shoveling the driveway and Tuesday night Bingo at Sacred Heart. We kept it together, me and Howler: shopping for groceries and paying the gas bill and arranging the Ladies’ Home Journals in a fan shape on the coffee table.

We knew Mother had come around one evening when she fixed us chicken pot pies with extra peas and carrots. Howler set the table and tuned the radio to an all-music station. Mother’s chestnut brown hair was styled and she took an interest in our days at school.

“I have a chance to win an essay contest,” I told her, “We have to write a thousand words about our favorite period in history!”

“A thousand words, my, my,” Mother said. “What period did you choose?”

“I know! I know,” said Howler. “I bet it’s the Age of Reason.”

“My, my,” said Mother again. “How did I get such smart children? I’m just so lucky.”

I looked at Howler, who, miraculously had been paying attention all this time to my rants, who knew the topic of my yet-unwritten essay. He looked back at me mouthing, “There’s-no-such-thing-as-luck.”

I nodded, mouthing back, “I know.”

© Gita M. Smith 2013

Gita Smith is a career journalist, whose work has appeared on The Sphere, Fictionaut, Not From Here Are You (The NOT), and her reporting on the South appears at, a news site. Luck was read by the author at HoW4.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Paul de Denus

I Suspect...

Colonel Mustard
He is quite the confident one, the tall gentleman in uniform, preening like a rare exotic bird in front of the vestibule mirror. A white linen glove brushes lint from the left breast pocket, glides lightly over gold and silver medals. They sparkle flat dead weight on his chest. He’s appears to be reminiscing in an old memory - of the Academy perhaps - playing to the young cadets hovering about, listening to a sharp wit.
Sharp… yes.
I see how he pulls and twirls the right side of his thin mustache, shapes it into a fine black stiletto point, a dagger’s point… perhaps like the one concealed in the right breast pocket, right next to a cold-blooded heart. This isn’t a game, Colonel Mustard. You act as if nothing has happened to your dear friend Mr. Boddy in the other room who lies helpless to the neat and precise insert that has severed the top of his spine.

Mrs. Peacock
Mrs. Peacock, the woman in the living room, reminds me of the Singer Sargent painting, Madame X, a thin woman with alabaster skin set in a sleek black dress. The dress moves in a flowing rhythm on her wiry dancer’s body. She doesn’t appear particularly weak by any means.
Two young officers bob about and two-step around her, cough up irrelevant questions. There’s a seductive crinkle around her eyes when she smiles; it’s both charming and irresistible. Her eyes focus on the mouths of the young detectives when she speaks, leaving them flustered and tongue-tied.
Tied… yes, that’s the issue here, isn’t it?
Mr. Boddy was found with a thin rope encircling his mottled blue neck. Mrs. Peacock is from old money - New Hampshire, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve come to learn her investment portfolio is tied up with the victim’s investments and all of Mr. Boddy’s investments have mysteriously disappeared.

Professor Plum
The dimly lit library reveals Professor Plum. His name underscores the short round silhouette that shadows against a large stained glass window. I understand he and Mr. Boddy attended high school together, stayed in touch over the years. The guise of melancholy cloaks the professor; his distant gaze betrays something perhaps deeper than disbelief over the death of a friend. I observe his movements about the room, the gentle trace of fingertips over the books lining the shelves, his hand caressing a decorative artifact, an exotic pipe of some sort. As I pass, he draws his hand quickly away. A blow to the head most certainly influenced the demise of Mr. Boddy though a specific weapon has yet to be determined. Be careful Professor. You might just give yourself away.

Mr. Green
Hmm… the chauffeur did it; it was Mr. Green. The chauffeur is always the guilty one in the movies. Easy if it were true but it’s not that simple.
I’ve noticed he has a slight twitch. It’s a triple blink of his eyes and accentuates when asked if the garage can be examined. The blow to Mr. Boddy’s head was made with a blunt instrument - a wrench perhaps… or a pipe. Mr. Green said the garage was broken into last week; equipment is missing, several expensive tools taken. Strangely, no police report was taken. Mr. Green didn’t think it was worth causing a stir. Wouldn’t want Mr. Boddy finding out now would we… or did he find out? I know money is an issue for Mr. Green with back alimony payments and a knack for slow-footed ponies. It’s best to keep an eye on Mr. Green.

Miss Scarlet
Miss Scarlet, Mr. Boddy’s personal assistant, is at her writing desk drawing on a cigarette. She appears to be cool and calm, hiding her emotions behind a veil of smoke but she is rather transparent and I can see why; all her assets sit upfront, on full display. I’m sure Mr. Boddy took full advantage, fooled her with false intentions, and then shot down any hope for a future by cruelly and publicly taking up with Mrs. Peacock.
There’s a small hole below Mr. Boddy’s left armpit, a bullet hole from a small caliber pistol, a direct hit to the heart to match a broken one I’d say.

Mrs. White
The police mill about and try to keep everyone separated so as not to contaminate the crime scene. There are too many suspects, too many wounds; they haven’t a clue. I’ve been eavesdropping on the various conversations. A policeman told the detective in charge something about the guests: not one has asked how Mr. Boddy died.
Only I know that.
Jerome Boddy was a vicious and uncaring man. He destroyed many people on his way to his ill-earned success – hurt many of those here at the dinner party with that devouring nature and sad to say, I believe he enjoyed it.
It appears some of those he hurt stumbled upon him in the billiard room, and each - in their own way - took the opportunity to privately express their contempt. I mean, what was the harm; Jerome Boddy was already dead.

I am the only one here who is not a suspect. My name is Harriet White. I was Mr. Boddy’s housekeeper several years back. After rejecting his advances, he decided to hurt me too, and in the worst way. I suppose it was too much for his cold heart to take, to see me again standing there in the billiard room, in the very room where he murdered me.

© Paul de Denus 2013

Paul de Denus is a graphic artist by day, writer by night. He has been published at Six Sentences (The Love Book, Word of Mouth, and 6S Vol 3), Smith Magazine, Fictionaut, and Espresso Stories.
Paul's writings and self published books appear at his blog: Me, the Other Twin.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bill Lapham


We had moored USS TENNESSEE (SSBN 734) in the explosives handling wharf (think of a pole barn over two football fields long, one wide). I was strolling along the missile deck one day, taking in the sights, when I looked down into an open missile tube. The weapons technicians had taken off the tube closure and nose cone from one of our 24 Trident II missiles. I could see the warheads, three sinister beasts arranged in an equilateral triangle. They were conical, coming to a slender, pointy tip. The tips looked like they could draw blood from a finger for sugar-levels testing. The vehicles reminded me of dogs on a chain, straining for permission to attack.
We could assign targets for each of them, unalterable destinations once we shot them. They were the proverbial "fire and forget" type of weapon. I smiled at them, called them derogatory names, slurs spoken under my breath. I hated the gray demons. I reminded them that they were doomed to live a dark, isolated life. We would not release them. They would live in leashed misery in a cold cell of solitude.
We were letting them out this time so we could replace them with telemetry-heads. We were going to shoot this missile just to see if it worked. Two weeks hence, we would be back in Kings Bay to reload these warheads on a new bird, and they would resume their sentence, confined to their cell, buried in the tube. An officer of the Russian Rocket Forces would verify we had safely locked them away in their tomb, and match their vehicle identification numbers with the ones he had on his "top-secret" list.
We do not call our warheads "warheads;" we call them "re-entry vehicles." The term "re-entry vehicles" sounds rather harmless, like bringing John Glenn back from orbit. "And we have splashdown!" They come down through the atmosphere at something like 3,000 miles per hour, in hot, straight lines. At night, they look like super cosmic electron beams of destruction shot from a UFO positioned somewhere above the clouds. They come down together to form a 'footprint'.
Funny thing about the START Treaty verification protocol, it lets the Russians know exactly what, and how many, warheads will have hit them, if we were ever crazy enough to shoot the things. (It would take crazy-reasoning – not cool calculation.) Chances are, however, if we do shoot them, the strike will not be against the Russians. We seem to have accepted their presence in the same sandbox with the other boys and girls of the global neighborhood. No, some other country that has not learned to behave as well will be our target. One might place North Korea first on that list, with Iran a close second. (However, Iran seems to be negotiating their way out of the crosshairs lately.)
The distinctive cloud that forms over the site of a nuclear detonation looks like a giant mushroom, hence its popular name, a mushroom cloud. Though they are most often associated with atomic/nuclear explosions, conventional weapons and volcanic eruptions can cause a similar effect in the atmosphere. The intense shock, heat and light created at the core of an atomic or nuclear explosion pulverizes the ground below it, vaporizes the air above it, and rapidly ascends tens of thousands of feet in a column. As it lifts, it cools, and as the atmospheric pressure declines, the cloud of vapor condenses and expands, hence, the mushrooming effect. Debris from the ground, which rises with the cloud and becomes ionized by the source of the explosion, falls back to Earth in a pattern determined by the wind, or is blown around the world until it loses speed and falls out, like silt at the bottom of a river. Fallout is the cause of much of the radiation poisoning and cancers found in the unfortunate survivors of the initial blast. They continue to increase the bomb's death toll for years after the event.
If atomic mushroom clouds did not hide their sinister intent, lethal effect, and a terrifying promise, they would be beautiful. Instead, they conjure fear and loathing. Indeed, the weapons that produce such an effect are the products of vast amounts of human ingenuity, creativity and innovation. Imagine the other things that could have benefitted from the time wasted on these behemoths. Crop production to feed the world's hungry, mosquito eradication to protect against malaria, water production in the deserts, paper production that requires the sacrifice of no trees, locomotion without pollution, extended battery life, solar panel electrical production, education for the children of the world, and the list goes on. Instead, we employed all that genius toward the development of weapons of mass destruction. Our solution to our problems was to work on weapons to annihilate each other.
Nevertheless, we will not shoot our nuclear weapons. We cannot. The United States is the only country ever to shoot/drop/explode atomic weapons in war. To do it again would be to turn the whole world against us, more than it already has, that is. We would become the biggest bully on the block rather than the global police force, the boy who cannot control his temper, the diplomats who always have a default position: war, nuclear war, if need be. In other words, we are not diplomats; we are arm twisters, the poker players sitting smugly behind iridium sunglasses, secure in the knowledge that we always have at least three aces in our hand, the re-entry vehicles I was looking at today. Slim, conical tips pointed right at the other guy's forehead.
This is bomb math. Three warheads (minimum) x 24 (missiles) = 72 (warheads/boat). Seventy-two warheads at a minimum of 350 Kilotons each = 25.2 Megatons total, minimum. One Trident II fleet ballistic missile submarine armed with 24 missiles outfitted for war cost roughly $2 billion when the U.S. purchased them in the 1980's. The United States had 18 of them built, but only 14 of them carry nuclear missiles today. The other four are loaded with over a hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles each, and are capable of delivering highly trained SEAL teams to any ocean beach in the world.
There must be a way to negotiate these things out of existence. Left to me to decide, I would do away with them by decree, unilaterally, if need be. What are we afraid of, an unprovoked nuclear attack? Here is an idea: Let us not provoke anybody. Then the threat evaporates. Are we afraid of an invasion from the east or west, across the two greatest oceans on the planet? By show of hands: which country has built a naval amphibious force of such immensity? Are we afraid of an invasion from the north or south, across vast stretches of tundra and desert? None of the above is likely. Who would mount an attack against a country armed as we are? It's not even safe to go to school here. We cannot un-create the weapons of nuclear devastation; we can only destroy them and promise each other to never build them again. We were smart enough to figure out how to build the damnable devices, we ought to be able to eliminate them, too.

© William Lapham 2013

Bill Lapham studied creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont. He teaches and tutors undergraduate writing at Davenport University. He lives in Brighton, Michigan.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

John Grey

Two Poems


Well, life has the soul
at least.
What spirits the trees?

And to what end the shopping mall not made?
Some constructions jobs gone AWOL?
A developer's empty wallet?
So the choice:
pine or parking,
purse or protoplast.
And for me, this scarred sense
of living in the industrial world.
Already, the bulldozers, earthmovers.
Can two for one sales be far behind?
For trees, resistance is sickeningly thin.
Some are ripped out by the routes.
Others go through fire.

Soon enough, business is business.
People are born and soon
they'll be needing stuff.
Eventually, there's just
a few who know which stores were stones,
what fast food chain
squats atop the ghosts of ridges.
They remember, these were woods
once, years before.
The few who predate
remember predation.


A forest among us,
becomes a weeping
in white heat,
green-leafed bereavement
to us city folk.
Today we wake
to dying evergreen,
creation's core
deep in mire,
dendrite reduced to its
gritty elements,
no forest scene but
dust imbedded in these eyes,
no bed but a cradle of fury,
grief, no relief in sight ...
and there's the infant,
just itself,
looking about
as if it's all its kingdom ...
look at this, mother,
millions of years of creation,
and my screams so morbidly
moving civilization
one step closer
to no longer.

© John Grey 2013

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Vallum and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Pennsylvania English and the Oyez Review.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sandra Davies

Return to Porthfeddon

Unlike his contemporaries the older he got the more he sought the flash and vivacity of the urban. Its haste, the potential for action, reaction; for meeting, separating, for hate and for love. For violence.
He’d long ago ceased to be interested in the rural, the coastal, though God knows there was more than enough violence to be found here. Perhaps it was just that death had coloured what had once been idyllic, had brought sickness; the sickness and the customary guilt of over-indulgence.
But coming here had been a mistake. All those negotiations, preceded by research, ending with expenditure, might well end with his death. Death from fright if not as a result of miscalculation by one of the still-learning pilots. He’d hoped to find a different inspiration, but landing lights, from this viewpoint at least, was not going to provide it.


Thin, with more than a trace of aristocratic hauteur – breeding – about her, her ankles especially, resembling those of an elegantly-posed greyhound, she stood in front of the painting, silently contemplating.
Its muted tones matched hers: pale creams of once-, twice- and thrice-primed canvas, aligned and delineated by several shades of grey. These ranged from the merest smudge of dampened graphite to the devil-drawn noir of compressed charcoal, shiny from the addition of linseed oil. The same could be said of her hair. The subtleties of shape and line were augmented by butterfly-blue squares that matched her eyes, as well as being sparked here and – precisely – there, with the briefest touch of slightly scorched vermilion which echoed and exchanged Morse code messages with the tips of her fingers and her toes.
This was the third consecutive morning she’d come to the gallery. Sebastian had seen her stepping from a chauffeured car, her nod of thanks to the driver, and his reappearance in the street precisely one hour later. At which point she invariably murmured her thanks and left.
Today he’d ask her.
Her name, at least.


But fright was not as ... frighteningly final as death. You could recover from fright. Compared to the pain of dying, fright was little more than stomach cramps following a dodgy curry.
And, in truth – and typically – yesterday’s terror had been converted into visual form. An unanticipated direction, true, ‘twas ever thus, and he doubted his mad, two in the morning idea of using neon light to create what he had in mind would go down well.
Come the dawn, and sanity, he’d sketched out some ideas to take to the gallery tomorrow. They excited him, at least, and while Crispin was – had to be, given the gallery overheads – as profit-driven as anyone in this business, they had a good enough relationship for Crispin to allow him a little freedom to experiment.
Although he could hear, in Crispin’s voice, the delicately-put (but potentially negative) doubt that returning to his roots might, just might, not be an entirely ... wise decision.


‘K-Kensington, milady?’ His Lordship was within earshot, watching her settle herself on the generous width of the back seat of the car.
Remembering the uses this self-same leather upholstery had so recently been put to, John made an extra effort to school his face to servile blankness. Waited for the automatic words of farewell to her, the usual admonition to him to ‘Drive carefully’, full knowing that his Lordship was more concerned for the vehicle's paintwork than the soft flesh of his wife.
Once upon a time he’d thought her as cold a fish as her blue-blood, half-dead husband. Until he heard the complicity in her voice as she told him of a change of destination and to drive instead to Cork Street. Watching her face in the rear-view mirror as they left the gallery and headed homewards, told him that the blood which flowed through her veins was red as his, was hot as her face when she asked him to stop when they reached the cool of the forest.
Later he’d made her laugh: ‘So his prick really is a bloater?’
‘Yes,’ she’d said, ‘But a baby one, and frozen solid.’


She arrived ten minutes earlier than usual. Usual calm cream clothing, her smile of acknowledgement several degrees warmer than yesterday’s merely polite, as she positioned herself once again in front of ‘Porthfeddon: line and circle’.
As was Sebastian’s. He knew the artist was due to arrive in half an hour’s time; knew that she usually stayed for at least that long. Debated with himself whether or not to tell her. Decided to keep it a surprise (while acknowledging that it was nervousness on his part that prevented him. Even though she did look less forbidding today.)
Crispin arrived, letting himself in the back door; called Sebastian through to give him instructions for the day. When Sebastian returned to the gallery he saw through the plate glass window the black bulk of the car draw up outside.
Fifteen minutes early.
Saw the man they were expecting pause on the pavement outside to look at the painting in the window.
Fifteen minutes early.
Saw her glance outside, her smile suddenly more glorious than ever before. Whew! There’d been no need to tell her about the artist’s arrival.
Saw her turn and walk to the door, watched the artist open it for her. Continued to watch as the artist stood aside, saw that his smile echoed what must have been merely her polite acknowledgement as she passed him. Saw that it was the chauffeur, already on the pavement, car door open, who smiled more warmly than usual. Watched her slide elegantly in before the chauffeur closed the door, walked round to the driver's side, still smiling, got in and drove away.
The artist, entering the gallery, paused in front of ‘Porthfeddon: line and circle’.
Smiled at Sebastian, ‘You’d better take that down – I’m about to tell Crispin I want it shipped back to Porthfeddon. I don't suppose anyone's looked at it in months.’

© Sandra Davies 2013

Sandra Davies is a recently-emerged writer of fiction and printmaker, both of which combine in the recently published ‘The Blacksmith’s Wife’. In production are books 1 and 2 of what will probably be a trilogy of romance-with-murderous-undertones, as well as the fourth in the Bridie and Sean family saga. Details of all those so far published can be found at

Sunday, November 17, 2013

April Salzano

Four Poems

The Road to Back Road
is a bumpy bitch, a stretch
of dirt, unmarked. Speed is determined
by ability to maneuver. A place to pull
over and finish the argument
that was keeping your hands busy
at 10 and 2. No one will see
you get out, pace the car, hurl
the ring from your finger into rows
of waiting corn, stalks that grab and keep.
You burn out and leave
your passenger, gawking behind.
He knows you will be back.
No one can be that cold.

Incoming Freshmen
We rely heavily
on autocorrect and spell check.
We don’t write, we blog.
We don’t discuss, we tweet.
We don’t research, we google it. We consider
wikipedia a credible source. The dog doesn’t
eat our homework, our hard drives crash,
and our printers are always out of ink. We would
rather text than call and we don’t care
what time it is; manners are as irrelevant as
punctuation. We will attempt to
address you by your first name, and when you
correct us, we will roll our eyes and say, whatever.
We won’t speak in class unless you call on us.
We won’t take notes, but will expect you to
post the powerpoint online later. We need
an A, but will always be late
coming in (what syllabus?) because 7:40 is too early
for any class (I know, right?). We don’t work
well in groups, and hate working
alone (or at all). We will cringe
at red pen in our margins and will expect
our drafts back by tomorrow. We will all look
alike in our AE jeans and tight T’s,
our flat ironed hair. The boys aren’t gay,
they’re metro (duh). We will all be too tired
and we will ask if we can get out early today.
Everyday. We hate MLA format. We hate this class
and will probably write something
about your hair or your clothes on the course evaluation
if this semester even ends. We will
hate your favorite novel
because it’s random, and will miss
most of the major themes and all
of the poetic language and will misspell
the author’s name as Norton instead of Nordan,
and we won’t even notice. And besides, the civil
rights movement was last century
and we are so over it.

Dinner with Freud
He says I am projecting, in love
with my father. Hysterical. Pass
the salt and your ego, but hold the transference.
I know the right thing to do, but cannot
because I am all id, defiant, intent
on self-sabotage. Imp of the perverse
has joined us at the table. He’s hard
at work. Freud orders steak, medium-rare.
I am served without recalling having ordered
at all, a whole plate of nothing
recognizable. His knife, which is not just a knife,
slides through meat like a paralyzed arm.
I envy his fork, the stabbing motion.
My cutlery rests useless beside the dish, my mouth
wide open, no sound coming out. Classic.

Riding a Dead Horse
I beat it to death, lame,
mangy animal full of fleas. Glue
factory, dog food destination, bastard
of daylight, abandoned. Until me.
I saddle the carcass and click my tongue,
making galloping noises while I fly
toward a monster moon. All the things I have
said that have gone ignored are here
in the midnight of this ride. At dawn
my words, dark and riderless
will find homes in the heads
of the simplest of men.

© April Salzano 2013

April Salzano teaches college writing in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in Poetry Salzburg, Convergence, Ascent Aspirations, The Camel Saloon, Blue Stem, and Rattle, as well as other online and print journals. She serves as co-editor at Kind of a Hurricane Press.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A.J. Huffman

3 Stages Past Basic

Seeing Dolphins
dancing beyond the shore, I regret
my landlocked life, drown in desire
to ride waves like wind, to speak
in chittering tones only my own
kind can understand, to keep pace
with seagulls flying over my head.
I wish on the last star as it fades into morning,
wait for fins and gills to blossom from pallid
skin, mourn all the more when they do not.

Because Flying
monkeys took my ruby slippers,
I cannot sleep with both my eyes closed.
They were my secret escape, my compass,
always pointing home, my land-
marks in the desert of a jaded reality, green
as the sky in the city that haunts my dreams.
Now I am condemned to lie here in the half-
dark shadows of an empty room. The corners
are singing some mocking tune about candy
kids, while I am trying to focus on the distant
dripping of a faucet, imagine it
washing me away.

I Am Bedpost
Stoic sentinel, I am the frame
supporting your sexual proclivities.
My form was constructed to endure
years of over-aggressive thrusting.
I can take your frustration, rage, desperate
desire. I am cold
steel beneath your grip.
I am not bending or breaking,
just waiting for inevitable
exhaustion to calm you into coma
and give me almost eight
hours of peace.

© A.J. Huffman 2013

A.J. Huffman has published six solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and the winner of the 2012 Promise of Light Haiku Contest. Her poetry, fiction, and haiku have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press.