Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Gita M. Smith

THE TRACTOR THIEF’S JACKET

This place will swallow you up. One-syllable words describe it: plain, dull, gray, and dry. Add ‘harsh’ in winter. One of the ice ages wore everything here down to a nub. If the emptiness doesn't hollow you out, the lonesomeness will. As far as you can see in every direction, the only thing taller than a man is a grain elevator. All the rest is flat, like something bit down on the earth, sucked all the juice out and left the skin.
I killed a man the other day. He tried to steal my tractor. I shot a hole in his neck and let him bleed out next to the John Deere. I'm wearing his jacket inside out, right now, and his gloves. Something of the man lingers in his clothes -- a desperate courage, maybe. By March, his bones will be bleached; by August they'll be reduced to their components. Calcium and phosphorous are good for wheat.

Under the laws of the prairie, he had it coming. Prairie law spells it out clearly. The worse your surroundings, the meaner you are allowed to get. The meaner you get, the greater the likelihood you'll overreact in elemental ways. Scorpions will sting each other over nothing. Sparrow hawks that've gone a week without field mouse flesh will try to fly away with a farm cat twice their size. A man tries to steal your thresher and ends up deader than a hammer.
Come see our laws in action for yourself.

The town, now, it has a thin veneer of civility. It had been a remote outpost until a railroad spur came to it in the ‘50s to pick up cattle hides and grains, back when America was selling wheat to the Russkies, and every stalk counted.
Main Street is a dirty thread running east-west. Ten stores, five on each side, face each other like chess pawns. The buildings are rough field stone with painted wooden facades, store names stenciled on them in the same Ponderosa style letters you’d see in a western movie. There are no traffic lights. Those cost money.
A dentist set up shop here, a while back. If every man, woman and child visited him once a year for cleanings and a filling, he’d have no more than 100 appointments. The man didn’t move here to earn a living. I’ve been pondering that for a while.
If you want a doctor, undertaker, shoe store, bicycle repair, barber or hand job, you got to drive 90 miles to Barstow on the Kansas–Oklahoma line. If you want justice, well good luck with that. You could drive to the courthouse in Wichita, but what they dispense over there is neither just nor adequate. That court is designed to put men into the new, ‘outsourced’ prisons that the governor ordered built by his brother-in-law’s construction company with kickbacks a-plenty for all the county commissioners and grain inspectors in this great state.
We have a café, Tessa’s, for coffee and pie, and a roughneck bar, The Combine, for out-of-town cowboys and grain estimators. Now and then, an insurance adjuster wanders through because someone’s barn blew down or a prize bull got struck by lightning.
Someone musta made a deal with someone, at some point, to keep whores out of this town. Even though there’s call for them on Friday nights, we have to send the drunks down the road to Barstow and plenty of them never come back alive. It’s our way of thinning the herd: natural selection.
If a man is stupid enough to drive drunk at night with a wallet full of payday, there’s all kinds of folks who’ll help him run off the road. One time, this kid from Montana came through, brand new souped-up Dodge, horny enough for a whole city. He threw back three or four whiskeys at The Combine, and when he mentioned his pecker was a ticking time-bomb, an accommodating few guys slid off their barstools and offered to show him the way to titty city.
“Naw, you ain’t drivin,” they said, shouldering him to the curb. “Ride with us and we’ll bring you back.” He slid his happy butt into their back seat and was never seen again.
After a while, the sheriff impounded the car, and a while after that was seen driving it. Those off-duty deputies who took the young man to get laid, they get to drive it, too.

What does a truly innocent man look like? I don’t believe I’ve ever met one. I’ve only known men by their shades of criminality. Some people are outright thieves and murderers who will walk up to you and say, “I’m going to kill you,” as rote as a catechism. Some are criminals-in-waiting: They have larcenous hearts but have not yet acted. The greed is there, simmering and dormant. Others wear the garments of righteousness while wielding their small amount of power like a club: the border crossing guards, the priests, the jailers. They are not what they seem until – until – you learn to see beyond the brass button and the cross. Out here, people expect very little love from their neighbors. and they are never disappointed.

I have been watching the dentist. “Stent Wiley, D.D.S.” says the sign above his window. He is a well-spoken man, a bachelor with a slight stoop and blunt features. His flesh is loose on his frame in a way that reminds me of curds or clabbered milk. He attends the Episcopal Church in Barstow. He plays pinochle with the sheriff. He keeps his overhead low by foregoing a receptionist and taking phone calls himself. His waiting room looks out on a trailer park where the Indians live.
The good doctor locks up on many afternoons at 4:15, and carries a Polaroid camera down a rocky path, through Joe Pye-weed and sage, to the center of the trailer park. There he disappears, or so he thinks.
I have seen the look of resignation on the sad, cinnamon-colored face of an 11-year-old girl whose father pushes her inside the trailer where the dentist waits. She is on the upper age range of the dentist’s tastes. There are 9-year-old girls, as well, with bruises on their forearms where they resisted, where they struggled. The dentist pays these fathers well, in whiskey and in cash. Sometimes he carries a small black satchel with him to these airless trailers, these tin cans with dirty mattresses. I hear whispers that he anesthetizes the boys whose fathers offer them up to the rich, white D.D.S., and that he throws grim birthday parties for the Indian children and takes their pictures eating cake.

I have nothing else to do today, so I decide to go to the dentist. I arrive, walking casually, just at closing time. I am wearing the tractor thief’s jacket with its deep pockets and his gloves. I carry a simple tool: heavy-duty metal snips that cut through barbed wire. Every rancher carries a pair. In the pocket of the tractor thief’s jacket is a folding knife, a skinning knife, sharp enough to shave an eyelash. I pass through the empty waiting room and into the treatment area where Stent Wiley is bent over a sink, splashing water on his face. He stinks of medicinal soap and Listerine. I stand behind him for a moment admiring his dedication to hygiene. How do those little Indian children feel, in later years, when they smell Listerine, I wonder. If they smell it on a stranger, do they experience fear? Terror? A sickening helplessness? Will they always, for the rest of their lives?

I slip one hand inside the jacket for my knife and bring around the cutters with the other. My knife opens with a quiet snick. Oblivious, the dentist swishes the mouthwash around, hands braced on the sides of the sink, head down. Tick tock, I think. Enough foreplay.

My first slice comes from behind to his carotid artery, a deep curving slash. I take one giant step back to see which way his weight will shift. He goes straight down on his knees, gargling a little. It’s not an unpleasant sound.
My second slice carves across his forehead, just above his eyebrows, prodigious bleeders for some reason. In an instant his own warm blood-salt stings his eyes.
I step back again, to see where he will end up. Some people are crawlers. They haul themselves across the floor as far as they can go, pumping blood in spurts and streams all the while, until they are dry and their hearts stop. Stent Wiley manages to travel four feet before falling flat on his face.

I am quick as a bunny with the metal snips. This must be done while he is still alive.
“Stent,” I say, “would you like to hear a nursery rhyme?”
I pick up his left hand.
“I’ll sing it for you,” I say.
Taking hold of each finger in turn, applying the cutters to the second joint in time with the tune, I sing, “ONE little TWO little THREE little Indians. FOUR little FIVE little...”
I don’t think he heard me reach TEN. It doesn’t matter. I leave him there, the tractor thief’s jacket thrown over him. But I keep the gloves.

© Gita M. Smith 2012

Author’s Note to readers: This piece was put together from a few different ideas as my contribution to the short story reading circle at HoW3, the third annual gathering of internet writing friends. It will appear in the HoW3 collection book designed by Sandra Davies. Immense gratitude to all who attended HoW3 for their encouragement.

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 LiketheDew.com, a news site.

Monday, February 1, 2016

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.

.oOo.

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.
Definitely.
Her name, at least.

.oOo.

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.

.oOo.

‘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.’

.oOo.

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
www.sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.com

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nicole E. Hirschi

HOME

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.
-CJ
* * *

“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?”
Silence.
“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, May 18, 2014

Donal Mahoney

The Bully, the Psychopath, Libby and Lorraine

Fred was a bully who always bothered Lenny on the way to school. Fred was four years older than Lenny. One day Lenny told him that when he grew up he would kill him. Fred laughed and probably didn't expect to see Lenny that night, twenty years later, when Lenny waited for him in the alley next to his garage.

As usual, Fred got home around midnight from his work on the second shift. He lived in a different neighborhood by then but Lenny kept track of him because he knew it was simply a matter of when for Fred.

When Fred got out of his car, Lenny said,

"Hey Fred, remember little Lenny, the kid from grammar school."

Fred said he didn't remember Lenny and that's when Lenny swung the machete his grandfather had brought home from the Pacific after World War II. Then he stood there and admired his work, smiled and watched Fred's head roll a few feet like a bowling ball.

In the morning a milkman found the head and the body and the story was in the papers for weeks as people wanted to know who did it but Lenny couldn't tell them. They wouldn't understand that it was simply a matter of a bully paying the price for what he had done years earlier to Lenny.

The only person Lenny ever told about the murder was a girl he had spent a lot of money on, Libby. It was their first date even though they had known each other for years. He didn't even get a kiss good night and that bothered him but he didn't say anything.

Libby really didn't think Lenny was telling the truth about killing some guy with a machete. He was always exaggerating about one thing or another and Libby thought this was just another one of his tall tales. He was probably just trying to act like a big shot.

Lenny knew that Libby had never enjoyed good health, living as she did with a congenital heart disease. But he was afraid that she might some day call the cops and tell them about Fred getting it with the machete. The cops keep good records about stuff like that.

Still concerned that Libby might tell the cops, Lenny asked her out for a second date and when she went to the powder room, he put a dose of strychnine in her coffee. When Libby complained about feeling sick, he took her right home and didn't even try this time to get a kiss good night.

Libby's mother found her dead in bed the following morning. The family was very upset but it was not an unexpected event what with Libby's history of poor health. The family buried her without much ceremony after the doctor signed the death certificate. The cause of death was listed as heart disease.

It was a year before Lenny dated anyone else. Then he met Lorraine, a waitress at a bowling alley. He liked her and asked her out and she said yes. After dinner and a movie and a few drinks at Lorraine's apartment, Lenny told her all about Fred and the machete and then about Libby and the strychnine. He loved the look in Lorraine's eyes as he rolled the stories out. Finally Lenny finished his fourth martini, leaned over and whispered to Lorraine,

"And now the question is, what should we do about you."

© Donal Mahoney 2014

Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/ and
some of his newer work at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.gpbT6XZy.dpbs

Monday, May 5, 2014

Neil Ellman

FOUR EKPHRASTIC POEMS


Ekphrasis or ecphrasis, from the Greek description of a work of art, possibly imaginary, produced as a rhetorical exercise, and is a graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times, it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. – Wikipedia

Exquisite Cadaver
(after the painting by Salvador Dali)

How exquisite your cadaver
how fine the space between your ribs
and emptiness within
how glorious the in-betweens
of your mind and skin
how perfect you seem in death
complete.

I love you now as then
when I loved you no less than more
and you were less than
than the sinews and bones
you have become—
how exquisite you seem in death
how perfect and sublime.

Blast I
(after the painting by Adolph Gottlieb)

Not a word
but a primal scream
not a syllable
but a particle of sound
echoing out across the void
it begins with an answer
and ends with the words
that question the reason
they ever were made
in a blast of infinity
from a fissure in the mind
comes the sound of infinity’s end
as inarticulate as the space
it is within.

Skull
(etching from The War by Otto Dix)

Nor memories
containing nothing
but its own disease
a patriot
condemned to die
without a cause.

glory comes to this
grey bone, dark animus
from convolutions
of the brain
the fire in its eyes
consumed by war.

Alas, poor warrior
we knew you well.
who died for the victory
that no side won

I Need Yellow
(after the lithograph by Helen Frankenthaler)

Yellow peonies
yellow earth
yellow suns released
like spreading spores
on ribbons of yellow wind
my life in yellow flame
the color of the end
then purity of death
in yellow waves of light
I mourn the yellowing
of my days
I crave the blush
of golden youth.

© Neil Ellman 2014

Neil Ellman, a poet from New Jersey, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Rhysling Award. Many hundreds of his poems appear in print and online journals, anthologies and chapbooks throughout the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

M. Krockmalnik Grabois

Five Poems

MAYTAG

My car
the Marvelous Maytag
churns like a washer in an unending cycle
agitating clothes from coast to coast

My girlfriend sits beside me
flexing her muscles
and tracing the lines of her tattoos

I regret breaking her out of prison
It wasn’t a big deal—minimum security
the same thing I get from her
That’s all I want
I don’t even want that much

People magazines
and empty cans of Red Bull
litter the back seat

I’m taking the Marvelous Maytag
demo derby
That’s the only foreseeable way
out of this life

TANGLE

I had to extricate myself
from the tangle of pathologies
that held my brother Allen to his wife

Their toxicity was contagious
like second hand smoke
or influenza

But when my sister-in-law broke
a decorative ceramic squirrel over Allen’s head
and stabbed him with a sharp shard
I found myself back in the fray

Allen showed up at my door
needing a place to “hang”
and I couldn’t say no

His wife followed him, of course
furious that he’d called 911
and she’d been arrested

It was a matter of survival, he told her
as she stood outside the door
It was a matter of survival for me too, she replied
Her psychology was infantile
and this was how she invariably handled conflict
by turning around what was dished to her
and feeding it back

I asked: Your survival depended
on him bringing home a six-pack?
He promised, she answered

It was cold that night
below freezing
and now that I’d dared challenge her
she felt justified in pushing her way in

They began battling again
My wife, Amy, got angry
Before we met she’d been an MP in the army
Allen’s wife had either forgotten that
or never knew it
Amy threw them out

We watched them skulk down the sidewalk together
heads down
plotting revenge

UPSTAIRS WINDOW

The girl sits in the upstairs window
holding a green balloon
green as grass green as money

Earlier in the day
the girl’s father jumped out this same window
and killed himself

No one believed he could kill himself by jumping out
the second floor window of an English country cottage
but he was a ballet dancer in his youth
and learned body positioning and control

He was melancholy
because his daughter’s balloon was green as grass
green as money
but he couldn’t afford to send her to private school
and believed that if she attended the village school
she would become a dolt

and marry a dolt
who chewed like a cow
and whose father was a pastor
but who had an impressive dick
(he once chanced to see it)
which caused his stupid daughter
to lose herself in distasteful fantasies

The roof line of the cottage
is an inverted ‘L’
and he felt it accused him of being a Loser

Every inanimate and animate thing
accused him thus
and he couldn’t take the truth
that he was a bad father
and a bad husband
which is why his wife had died
and left his daughter half an orphan

The girl has her own delusions:
that her father has not killed himself at all
but only pretended

and will come back and play chess with her again
and put shaving cream on her green balloon
and shave it

GEESE

The security of Target’s card-swipe machine
was compromised
and seventy million people clog the corporate phone lines
terrified that Christmas will be followed by
Identity Theft

Meanwhile, a phalanx of geese
who live across the street
at Slone’s Lake Park
make their determined way through the
Target parking lot

causing consternation among drivers
who are mostly drunk
or at least buzzed
They don’t want the soul of a goose
against them
in this sacred season

The geese head for the front door
The electric eye finds them
and the doors swish open

The geese pass the Customer Service Desk
without a look in that direction

Their sliding steps on the polished linoleum
reminds them of sliding across the ice
of Sloan’s Lake

They don’t know why they’ve come
or what they’re looking for
but they’re confident they’ll find it

THE UnNIN

You cannot save people
you can only love them
--Anais Nin

Or you can hate them
for inflicting themselves on you
--Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

© M. Krockmalnik Grabois 2014

M. Krockmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including MUDJOB. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for 99 cents from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John Grey

Three Poems

THE STRUGGLE TO BE A LOVE POEM

Hold this thought... love...

is that a roach I see stepping out
for some clandestine relationship
with the grit beneath the stove

& have you seen this month's
electric bill
or the second gray hair in my head

&what about
the tiny missives the dog left
in the parlor
on the kitchen floor

yes Yorkies are adorable
but shit is historically
lacking in admirers

&from historic
to hysteric
over... what was it last time...
the air in the tire?

no, the visit from my mother
or was it your mother
or a stranger's mother
but who can tell the difference these days

&the roach is dancing and singing
a medley from "Top Hat" on the sideboard

&there's a crack in the wall
from one more failed picture hanging
&the picture we did hang right
we both hate anyway

are you still holding that thought?

& the meals
I undercook crap
you burn crap

& that may be your favorite song
but it's a dirge if you must know
&why can I never find the Zappa l.p.s
yes the scratchy ones I've owned for centuries

that's right centuries
you know what a century is?
it's a year living with somebody

& let's not forget the dirty laundry
with our nostrils
we don't have to

or the rumbled attempts at drunken sex
last night
or was it the night before

&the last time we ate out
lousy Italian
and sauce down my shirt

I hope you're holding that thought
because, if you're not...

anyway, if we ever recorded that roach
we could make a killing
if it doesn't spread enough disease
to kill us first

&what about morning breath
or the morning puffiness of eyes
or the morning pissed off about just about everything

but I have faith
faith that you can hold a thought
even if the roach
is doing the samba
on your toes

la cucaracha la cucaracha

in case you don't remember
the thought for today is love

BATTERED WOMAN

One day, you will know what men can do to women.
A female friend will call you, late at night,

pleading, "Come over. I need someone to talk to."
You'll sit with her in the kitchen, sipping coffee,

saying, for the fiftieth time, "Should I call an ambulance.
Should I call the cops." She'll say, "No. Please.

I don't want to make trouble. "Then what do you. do.
You're not a doctor. You're not the law. And you're

afraid your sympathies are not enough to soothe
one bruise, heal even the slightest of cuts.

And who says he won't do this to her again.
You're not a fortune teller. You don't even ask her

...if you should call one.

WINTER FLOWERS

Winter flowers I have to myself,
in a room kept hot, with my nose bent
into all their selfish splendor.
The snow outside can't sniff my pink carnations.
Bitter wind is not to know the jewels
of red and white and sun-like yellow.
Nor the people who trudge down the street,
all rugged up in their jackets and long-Johns.
Not even the ones who knock at my door,
want to read the meter, take a survey,
or sell me something.
At best, I'll sit them in the kitchen
where nothing is alive.
But I will never show what I have growing
when all else in the world is dead and buried.
Family have tried to see. So have strange men
with nothing better to do but think that love exists
beyond the hoary age of sixty.
Love is just what people thought they could grow
in frozen soil in the last days of December.
But beauty, I know all about beauty.
It blooms. It blossoms. Just don't expect me to share it with you.


© John Grey 2014

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in The Lyric, Stoneboat and US1 Worksheets with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge, Southern California Review and Soundings East.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Donal Mahoney

A Disgusting Thing

It's a disgusting thing but Paddy Gilhooley, who knew better as a child, had begun farting in church very early in life. He started in grammar school, many decades ago, long before the nuns selected him in fourth grade to be an altar boy to serve Mass.

The Mass was then said in Latin with the altar boys' responses also said in Latin. The nuns picked Paddy because he was tall and was able to memorize things rapidly. By training him in fourth grade, the nuns believed Paddy would be able to serve Mass for the next four years till he graduated from grammar school.

Paddy was less than thrilled to be singled out for this honor. He had nothing against God or the Mass but he knew that fourth-grade altar boys were always assigned to serve the Mass at 6:30 a.m., way too early in the day for Paddy.

Being selected to be an altar boy, however, helped Paddy's grades even if more than once the nuns had to summon his father to the school about some aspect of his behavior that did not live up to the code at St. Nicholas of Tolentine School.

St. Nick's was a fine school whose mission was to educate the children of immigrants whose fathers had jobs good enough to buy small bungalows in the neighborhood known as Chicago Lawn. This was back in the 1940s when food was cheap, houses were cheap and salaries were commensurately low.

Most of the immigrants were from European countries--Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Italy and Ireland. Parents were interested in their children getting an education good enough for them to pass the entrance exam at one of the parochial high schools in Chicago. These high schools were renowned for offering college preparatory curricula. Tuition was around $250 a year. That was a big sum in those days but Paddy Gilhooley's father, an electrician, and a non-drinking Irishman, had already saved the $1,000 required for Paddy's four years of high school. Now Mr. Gilhooley was saving to send Paddy to college.

Paddy's father wanted the best for his son. Once he had enough money put aside for Paddy's college education, he planned to save more money to put him through law school. Mr. Gilhooley didn't emigrate from Ireland to have his son work with his hands. No sir, his son would go to law school and work with his mind. That much was settled.

Paddy, however, was a bit of a scamp when no one was looking. He discovered early on, for example, that one way to square the score with the nuns who required good behavior at all times was to fart in church, preferably in serial fashion, one missile after another, silent but, as his classmates aways said, deadly.

He started doing this in first grade when he had to sit with his classmates in one of the first three rows in church. These were the pews reserved for the first-graders at the Children's Mass. Right behind the first graders were three rows of second graders. And behind them, three rows of third graders--and so on. The procession continued, three rows at a time, all the way back to the eighth graders who occupied their own three rows in the rear.

The eighth graders were monitored carefully by the nuns. One false move and any miscreant child would be led by the ear out into the foyer of the church, where he--and it was always a boy--was dealt with summarily by the principal, usually the toughest nun in the convent at the time and always an immigrant from Ireland. In fact, the whole convent consisted of 16 nuns imported from Ireland to deal with these children of immigrants who were not, by any means, a refined group. Quite the contrary.

Paddy realized the nuns were only doing their job--trying to maintain order in God's House. But he enjoyed getting involved in devilment and looked forward to being in eighth grade when he'd be able to sit in the rear of the church where the nuns kept a close eye on boys like Paddy, most of them feisty to a fault, ready to do anything at times to create a little commotion.

In first grade Wally learned early on that farting in church was especially troublesome to his classmates, especially the girls who seldom if ever misbehaved. It took awhile for the nuns to identify which child was stinking up the first three pews at the Children's Mass. But when several little girls sitting behind Paddy began pointing at him, the jig, so to speak, was up. Sister Mary Lorraine led Paddy down the aisle by the ear and placed him in the custody of the principal, Sister Marie Patrick, a stout bullet of a woman who did not suffer misbehavior happily.

"Why did you do that, Paddy, at Mass, especially? Surely, you must know better. Your parents will not be happy when I tell them."

Paddy, though only seven years old, had learned to keep a straight face and deny anything he was accused of. But it didn't help that despite great efforts by his mother, there was no way to comb his hair since it featured seven cowlicks--the barber had counted them for his curious mother. She had tried gobs of the most popular hair tonic of the day, Wildroot Creme Oil, but the cowlicks always popped up, often in the middle of Mass and just about the time Paddy would let the first of several farts fly.

"Sister, I didn't do nothin' at all," Paddy finally said. "I think it must have been Stanley. He eats Polish sausage and sauerkraut. Ask him."

But Sister Marie Patrick knew better so she led Paddy into the little office in the back of the church until Mass was over. Then she waited by the doorway to see Paddy's parents after Mass so she could discuss the problem with them. She really didn't know what to say to them but she figured it out by the time Mass was over.

Upon hearing of the charge against Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley, in his best suit and tie, was outraged. How could anyone, especially a nun from Ireland, say a thing like that about Paddy, who was going to law school in a few years.

Paddy himself, standing off to the side and watching the proceedings, enjoyed everything immensely but kept a stoic face. Even at this age, with his spectacles always slightly askew, he looked a little like a very young James Joyce or maybe George Bernard Shaw.

He never smiled or laughed when he was in the vicinity of people of authority, especially his father or the nuns. His mother had seen him smile several times and had told his father that Paddy was not as serious a child as his father thought a lawyer-to-be should be.

Finally, however, Sr. Marie Patrick, after mentioning to Mr. Gilhooley that she was from the same county in Ireland that he was, convinced him that indeed Paddy had been stinking up the front of the church during Mass.

"Where did he learn such behavior," Sister asked Mr. Gilhooley, who said he had no idea and looked at Mrs. Gilhooley, who knew full well that young Paddy had grown up in a home where his father not only farted with bravado but also used to sing, after each fart, an old ditty that was famous in the neighborhood:

"Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot."

Mr. Gilhooley was especially apt to fart and sing on Saturday afternoons while listening to the radio as Notre Dame stomped on some lesser foe in a football game. The more points Notre Dame would score, the more Mr. Gihooley would fart and sing.

And when Paddy's mother would complain that her husband was setting a bad example for Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley would explain once again how many farting matches he had won as a young man in Ireland. As the story would have it, Mr. Gilhooley would show up at the pub for the matches held late on a Saturday night. His presence was frowned upon because he didn't drink anything stronger than ginger ale.

Finally, Mr. Gilhooley decided to agree with Sr. Marie Patrick that young Paddy was guilty of what might not be a mortal sin but certainly qualified as a venial sin at the very least. He was also afraid his wife, an innocent woman if ever there was one, might pipe up and say Paddy had learned to fart from his father while they listened to Notre Dame games on the big console radio in the living room.

"Sister, I tell you this," Mr. Gihooley said. "If Paddy ever farts in church again, you smack him with that ruler of yours right across his keister and don't stop till the little bugger starts crying. Then you call me about it and when he gets home, I'll wallop him again. You and I will put a stop to this once and for all. Paddy is going to be a lawyer and no Irish lawyer farts in church."

Sr. Marie Patrick appeared mollified and released Paddy to his parents. His father led him out of the church by the ear for the long walk home. Paddy knew what he was in for once they got there. His father would take him to the attic door and open it and show him the big black belt that hung drooping from a hook. Mr. Gilhooley had even spliced the end of the belt so it would look like a serpent's tongue.

Whenever Paddy acted up around the house, Mr. Gilhooley would take the belt off the hook, wrap it around his fist and smack the tongue of the belt against his palm while telling Paddy if he ever did it again--whatever it was the boy had done on that occasion--the belt would be applied to his keister till he couldn't sit for a month. Paddy would immediately show sheer terror and say that he would never do whatever it was again.

Year later, Paddy, now a retired attorney, could laugh about all this as he told the story to his grandchildren. It was especially funny to Paddy because his father never hit him with the belt even though Sr. Marie Patrick had called his father several times to report that Paddy had continued to fart, albeit in the classroom and not in church.

Notre Dame in those years won several national football championships. As a result, Mr. Gilhooley continued to fart proudly and sing his heart out on many Saturday afternoons in autumn.

In eighth grade, Paddy was allowed to join in the farting himself but he would never join in the singing. His mother would never have allowed it. The poor woman couldn't tell one fart from another so she knew nothing about Paddy's participation at that level. But she always told neighbors that when you compared Paddy and his father, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.


© Donal Mahoney 2014

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had poetry and fiction published in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/

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 Miró)
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 Miró)
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.