Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Writer: John Sheirer

One Bite

Back in his college days, partly on a dare, partly from fatigue, and partly for love, Tony ate an entire jelly-filled donut in one bite.
Tony and three friends had gone to an all-night donut shop to blow off steam during final exams week. For college students, they weren't terribly rebellious considering there were about a dozen bars in the area. But who needs alcohol when there are donuts to be consumed?
They were the only customers in the place at 2:30 a.m., each of them munching on about their fourth donut. The combination of study fatigue, suddenly full stomachs, and post-sugar buzz had set in hard, so they were in danger of falling asleep right there at the table. Something had to be done to liven them up before they drove back to the dorm to continue studying.
So Tony slammed both palms on the stained formica and announced, "I can eat an entire jelly-filled donut in one bite!"
His friends jumped about six inches out of their seats, swore at him, and then started protesting.
"No one can do that!" Sarah cried.
"I say bullcrap on your donut!" Mike ranted. Mike was pre-med. He had taken a biology final the previous day and a chemistry final that morning, and he was dreading a physics final the following afternoon. His head was stuffed with science, and he moved between anger and frustration, shouts and tears, more than a few times that week.
"If you can do it," Susan said with a smile, "I just might marry you."
"Why?" Sarah asked.
"Think about it," Susan replied.
"Oh," Sarah said.
Mike tried for a few seconds, but his brain didn't have room to work out what they meant. Tony himself had only a slight inkling, but that inkling certainly made him look at Susan in a new way.
Sarah smiled at Tony and pushed a blueberry-filled pastry toward him. Blueberry was his favorite. It was the last one left on the table.
"I've been saving this one," she said. "If you can eat it in one bite, I won't marry you, but I'll give you a dollar."
"Me too!" Mike and Sarah chimed. Three dollars--this was getting interesting. Tony was a poor college student who saw actual paper money about twice a month. Three whole dollars qualified as an academic scholarship.
The donut was about four inches in diameter and two inches thick. Powdered sugar covered the surface, and blueberry jelly oozed from a dime-sized navel on one side. The thing looked pretty darned big as Tony examined it. Under normal circumstances, he would have needed maybe seven or eight good bites to get it down. But then he'd probably think, "Wow, that was so small. How about another?"
He picked it up. It seemed to weigh a pound because, Tony assumed, jelly is heavy stuff. Three pairs of measuring eyes darted back and forth from his mouth to the donut. Tony turned the navel toward his mouth to prevent spillage and brought it to his lips.
On the first push, a third of the donut easily entered his mouth, but then he encountered resistance. Tony had to shove first the left side and then the right side to keep it advancing beyond the corners of his mouth.
This trundle method worked fine until the donut encountered his epiglottis, the little flap of flesh at the back of the throat. Tony started to gag. He mustered all his self-control to keep from yanking the thing out of his mouth. At this point, the first tear plopped out of his eye and trickled down his cheek.
Tony kept pushing
The donut crammed up against the back of his throat and started expanding upward into his pallet and downward under his tongue. By then, it had lost most of its structural integrity, becoming nothing more than a fused blob of pastry and jelly conforming to the inside of his mouth.
The tears began to flow freely now, and some sort of liquid threatened to spill from his nose as well. Tony sniffled as forcefully as he could, snorting up a big dose of powdered sugar in the process. Every force in his body urged him to expel the thing from his mouth.
But Tony kept pushing.
A few more tucks at each corner, and the donut was inside. He clasped his teeth together and sealed his lips.
"Jebus," Mike gasped.
"He did it," Sarah said.
"Not yet," Susan cut in. "I won't marry him unless he swallows."
The three of them began chanting, "swallow, swallow, swallow." They began in a whisper, then built to a low moan. "Swallow, swallow, swallow."
For human beings, chewing usually precedes swallowing. So Tony parted his teeth and closed them again, then repeated the movement a few times, being careful not to open his lips--not out of politeness, but to keep donut paste from spraying across the room.
Normally, the tongue is used to roll the food around the mouth so that it gets ground up by the teeth. But this takes lots of open space, something Tony had none of in his mouth, filled as it was with donut. His chewing efforts managed only to mush up the small fraction of pastry directly between his molars.
In short, the whole mess was stuck in Tony's mouth with no real way for him to chew it. In fact, it was actually expanding as it soaked up his saliva at an alarming rate. To keep his cheeks from bursting open, he had to do something fast.
"Swallow, swallow, swallow," they chanted.
Tony's gag reflex came to his rescue. As he involuntarily tightened the back of his throat, he could feel those muscles smashing a small portion of the donut back there. In desperation, he clamped down harder and found he could actually "chew" with his throat muscles.
After a few more contractions, the donut was soft enough to get some down. Tony swallowed a small portion, freeing up enough mouth space to guide more donut to the back of his throat where he muscle-chewed and swallowed a bit more.
"Swallow, swallow, swallow.
Tony then discovered that he had freed up just enough room to do a little traditional teeth chewing. This was tough going, but it began to work. Bit by bit, he managed to swallow more and more of the donut until the task didn't seem quite so impossible.
"Oh my God," Sarah muttered, breaking the chant. "I think he's going to do it."
It took another full minute, but Tony was able to get the rest of the thing swallowed. His throat burned. His face was streaked with tears. Sometime during the process, he had lost control of his nose. The results were not pretty.
Susan grabbed a handful of napkins and mopped Tony's face. "That was amazing!" she said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. When she pulled away, he saw tiny flecks of powdered sugar on her lips. He'd never really looked at Susan's lips before, but he was having trouble looking anywhere else at that moment. Her tongue slipped out to lick the sugar from her lower lip, the fuller of the two.
"I don't believe it," Mike said. "Make him open his mouth."
Susan gently grasped Tony's jaw and opened his mouth to display its lack of donut.
"Ugh," Sarah moaned. Apparently, there was still some donut residue in there. Tony took a swig of hot chocolate (now cold), rinsed it around his mouth, swallowed, and opened again.
"I'll be goose downed," Mike gasped.
"He did it!" Sarah cried.
The three of them broke into applause, nearly awakening the high school kid snoozing through his late-night shift behind the counter.
Susan gathered up the three one-dollar bills from the table and tucked them into her shirt pocket.
"I'll just hold onto these," she said. "My abnormal psych final is over at noon tomorrow. If you meet me at the student union, I'll buy you an ice cream cone." She winked at Tony. "I'm dying to see what you can do with that."
###


© John Sheirer 2011

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, MA, and teaches at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, CT. His most recent book is the memoir Loop Year: 365 Days on the Trail, winner of the Connecticut Green Circle Award. Forthcoming in 2011 are a collection of flash fiction (One Bite) and a creative writing guidebook What's the Story?. He can be found here: www.johnsheirer.com

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Writer: T.R. Healy

Catch of the Day

Hunched over his handlebars, the chin strap of his helmet fastened as tightly as he could get it, Lanier hurtled along the wood chip path that wound through Powder Springs Park. Every couple of weeks, early Sunday morning, he rode his mountain bike on the bumpy trail. Sometimes he was joined by friends from work but usually he rode by himself, which he preferred because then he could go as fast as he liked and take more chances.
"You're delirious, Dennis," one of his friends remarked after riding with him one morning. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were possessed."
About a quarter of the way down the path, careening around a sharp turn, his back tire caught a tree root and he spilled off the bike and plunged into a hawthorn shrub. Its sharp points stung his hands and scratched the sleeves of his windbreaker.
"Damn it," he groaned, futilely trying to rub the sting from his hands. "Goddamn it."
He squeezed his eyes shut, as if hoping he had only imagined the crash, then opened them and saw his bike sprawled against a cedar tree. Slowly he got back on his feet and limped over to it, and as he did he noticed something lying behind the bike in the bushes. Still a little groggy from his spill, he thought for an instant it was a hand but then realized it was a baseball glove---a large one with a thumb the size of a cucumber. He picked it up and slipped his hand inside it, sure he could fit a couple of his fingers into one of its fingers it was so large. It was a pretty old glove, the pocket was very thin and a couple of loose threads hung from the web, so he assumed the owner wanted to get rid of it. He was not surprised. Lots of things were scattered along sections of the path that were adjacent to the lone road in the park. Still, the Rawlings glove appeared to have a few more catches left in it and he slipped it off and looked for some identification. And there under the strap, the same place where he used to put his name and address on his gloves as a youngster, he found the name Krumholz printed in black ink. There was no address or telephone number, however, so it was unlikely he could return it to the owner and started to toss it back in the bushes then hesitated.
Maybe some kid in his neighborhood might like it, he thought, strapping the glove over his handlebars, and if not, maybe he could locate the owner who might regret having got rid of it.

*

The three kids Lanier offered the glove to weren't interested because soccer was their game, not baseball, so he set it aside on a shelf in the kitchen. There it remained for nearly a week, collecting dust and the occasional paper clip, until one evening he decided to see if he could find its owner. Eighteen Krumholzes were listed in the telephone directory, three times the number he expected, but he was determined now to find out whose glove it was and proceeded to call one name after the other.
The sixth person he called was ecstatic when he told him he found a Rawlings glove with his name on it. Indeed, before he had a chance to ask, the guy described it in considerable detail, including some of its imperfections, to prove that it was definitely his glove.
"Someone swiped it last Saturday when I was at the park," he explained. "It was in my backpack, which I'd put under a bench for a couple of minutes while I helped some woman look for her dog. When I returned, it was not there."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I had a lot of valuable things in my pack, including my wallet and car keys, but what I missed most was my glove."
Lanier was surprised by the admission. "Is that so?"
"It belonged to my father, you see, and is one of the few personal items of his I have."
"Oh."
"And I was sure I'd never see it again."
"Well, then, I'd like to get it back in your hands as soon as possible," he said. "So is there some place where we can meet?"
Krumholz thought for a moment. "What about the park?"
"Sure, that'd be fine."
"Say, at noon, this Saturday."
"I'll be there."
"I'll see you then, sir, and again thank you for calling. You don't know what a relief it is to know that I haven't lost my father's glove, after all."

*

After dinner, Lanier took the scuffed glove from the shelf where he put it shortly after he brought it home and set it on the drainboard beside a bowl of hot soapy water. Then he picked up a sponge floating in the bowl, squeezed the water out, and slowly wiped it across the sweat-stained heel of the glove. Then across each finger and all around the web, determined to scour away every bit of dirt and grime. He wanted the glove to be as clean as possible, not the filthy rag it was when he found it in the bushes, figured that would show that he understood how much it meant to its owner. After he was through, he hung it on the clothesline on the back porch.
He never really had a father, not someone he knew anyway because his father left his mother when he was an infant. One of her brothers sometimes came by with his glove and they would play catch together but that only happened a couple of times in the summer. For as long as he could remember, he wished he had a father like Krumholz's who played catch with him all the time, someone who would pass his glove on to him one day.

*

He agreed to meet Krumholz at the east end of the Fly-Casting Pool, which was located almost in the middle of the park. He arrived a few minutes before twelve, not wanting to be late, and, according to the description Krumholz gave him on the phone, looked for a bearded man wearing a faded Dodger cap. Soon after he got there, he thought he spotted him, jogging from the direction of the tennis courts, but then realized the guy was wearing a Cubs cap so he continued to scan the park.
Some twenty minutes passed, and still there was no sign of the guy, so he was about ready to return to his car when he saw a Dodger cap bobbing above a swarm of children at the west end of the pool. At once, he held the glove above his head and waved it back and forth until the guy saw it and headed toward him.
"Lanier?"
"That's right," he said, handing him the glove. "And you must be Krumholz?"
The bearded man nodded. "First of all, I want to apologize for being late. My damn car wouldn't start and I had to wait for someone to charge the battery."
"No problem. There's probably not a better place to be than in a park on a day as warm as today."
"I can't disagree with that," he said, slipping on the glove and pounding his right fist into the pocket a couple of times.
A fisherman strolled by them, a scarlet rod poised on his left shoulder.
Again, he pounded his fist into the glove. "I never thought I'd ever see this again so I can't tell you how grateful I am to you."
"I'm glad I was able to return it to you."
"You know, I'd like to give you something for your trouble."
"Thanks, really, but that's not necessary."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded, jangling the change in his pocket.
"Most of the kids who come to the park couldn't be nicer but there are always a few who are troublemakers and I suspect they are the ones who stole my backpack."
"But you don't know for certain who took it?"
"No, but I've got a pretty good hunch," he said, tucking the glove under his arm.
"Well, maybe you should stay away from the park for a while."
"What?" he snapped, his green eyes flaring in anger.
"I mean, just until whoever took your glove is found and arrested."
"No one can keep me out of the park," he said defiantly. "Some people might think they can but they can't."
Lanier, startled by his sudden flash of temper, wished now he had kept his opinion to himself.
"I don't have any children of my own, you see, so I often come here with my glove and invite boys to play catch with me," he explained, almost in a whisper. "Maybe there are some people who don't like to see a grown man tossing a baseball with their kids but I don't mean any harm."
Lanier felt a little uncomfortable as he listened to Krumholz insist that he was not a threat to anyone. Not ever, not at anytime.
"You believe that, don't you?"
He glanced across the casting pool, not sure what to say.
"You do, don't you?"
Nodding weakly, he wondered now if some father stole his glove to keep him away from his child, wondered too if he was right in returning it to him.
In another minute, the guy spotted "one of his boys," as he called them, and thanked Lanier again and went over to ask the boy to play catch while Lanier walked away in confusion.


© Thomas R. Healy 2011

T.R. Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and his stories have appeared in such publications as Freight Train, Milk and Sugar, Rusty Truck, and Stymie.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Poet: Bill Lapham

Steady

For Darlene

I know you know
There's an icy harbor
In my heart for
Hallmark days.
But it melts when
I think of you.
Why do we get
Jostled like we do,
Find ways always
To remain steady
Through it all, and
Kiss at the end
Of the day, still
In love?


© William Lapham 2011

Bill Lapham is a retired submarine Chief of the Boat and a recent graduate of the MLS program at U of M-Flint. He and Darlene live in Brighton, MI.

Guest Poet: Sandra Davies

A Stone for Effie

I know why
And could, therefore,
work out roughly when
but I cannot remember
where I collected this stone.

Seventy percent grey
(ninety when wet)
it was the heartbreaking
near-white markings
which spoke to me.

The qualities of line, stuttering,
the shapes, a trio converging
and circles not round but complete at last,
which echoed the one year wed,
three years awaited,
coming together,
in full hope of happy ever after.

I sought to duplicate the emotion,
to evoke by etching,
to commemorate the sad tragedy
of the fitting but unfitting death
in premature childbirth.
evidenced by the headstone
between two pines at Ymir.

© Sandra Davies 2011

Sandra Davies is an artist and printmaker and recently-emerged writer of fiction, with a long-established interest in family history. Born on the Essex coast, she now lives in Teesside in the north east of England, both places having the flat landscapes and sea-edged horizons considered essential for a sense of well-being.

Guest Poet: Ed Dean

The Dark Side of 14

One earth, one sky, one golden moon.
Thousands of separated hearts yearn across vast oceans.
Two nations, two armies, two leaders, one contested piece of land.
Many dreams, many wounds, many pieces of putrefying flesh.
Ancient soil drinks the blood of all unselfishly.
Prayers go unanswered to a contested god who is woefully silent.
There are no winners, only losers in death.
Tears run just as salty on all faces of next of kin.
Politicians and leaders exhort with the same rhetoric.
One story as old as civilization...
If you must call it that.

Vegas

It’s tax season and there is a reason, just outside of town, to be devious.
It’s not that I cheat but only to bleat with the innocence of a forlorn lamb.
There are so many gray areas in three hundred and sixty five
that offer comfort reductions and deductions, so why dismiss them?
But when the IRS wants to know why I slip about that trip I took as a write off,
I deflect their scorn and simply morn that it was a ‘learning experience’
But they vociferously refute and angrily dispute that that Vegas is not a University.
And then I try to tell them why it’s an education of the first magnitude.
My damned income was dependent on a ‘seven or eleven’ and snake eyes was a learning experience.
He smiled with his own beady ‘serpentine eyes’ and said;
“It truly is sad but it’s just too bad; just fess’ up and give us the money!”
I objected once more that the lady wasn’t a whore and it fell well within therapeutic medical expenses.
His last wry expression and telling lesson was; “We know you played and certainly got laid,
So before this gets contested and you’ll certainly be bested; just give us the frigging money!”
I sadly had to relent because I know I spent much more than was allowed.
But all was not lost because the bridge they never crossed was ‘research and development’! :)
The advertising pliers are all such liars to make us believe;
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”


© Ed Dean 2011

Edward Dean grew up in Dearborn and Highland Park, Michigan until being drafted into the army and subsequently into the N.S.A. Having been in sales and marketing most of his life, Mr. Dean is now semi-retired and spends much of his time writing. His own experiences in the military, traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, and as a wine enthusiast provided much of the background to his book. Mr. Dean has three books in the works, including a sequel to The Wine Thief.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guest Poet: Karyn Eisler

Kiddie Cocktail

Another dinner 'nother drink
from corner view of all who eat
together without her and
for her solitude she bows her
head in:

a) grief.
b) gratitude.
c) a Shirley Temple.
d) Mac 'n Cheese.





all inKlusive

flirtation games at
dinner leave her shy at
breakfast so

she drops her head
stares at her plate of
pancakes eggs
and sausage 'cause

she knows he'll offer
liquid, but
she doesn't want to
meet his smile yet

when he comes
in his own tongue
she says,

brow cocked, "Hello"

and asks:

"Beszélsz angolul?"

[Trans. from Hungarian:
"Do you speak English?"]


© Karyn Eisler 2011

Karyn Eisler's poetry has recently appeared in unFold, Leaf Press, and BluePrintReview. She is a born and bred Canadian who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Visit her at www.karyneisler.com. For links to her work, go here.

Guest Poet: Thomas Michael McDade

Rattle Wishes

When I got the measly unemployment checks rolling
off a Rhode Island lace mill job, life still failed
to go down like a gourmet dessert but at least
I could manage an occasional Hostess Cupcake fix.
My sixteen bucks a week room was a dandy retreat
after I screwed higher bare wattage into the ceiling.
My Italian portable typewriter often jammed
but it didn’t bother me like it would have Kerouac.
Around the corner was an A & P good for day old
bread, cheese and bologna ends.
A transistor radio supplied Jean Shepherd talk at night.
Hours at the library time traveling via old microfilm
occupied me until the short subject was shown
for the benefit of downtown brown-baggers.
Sherwood Anderson’s “I’m a Fool”
screened once instead of the usual travel fare.
I assured myself that title did not apply to me.
Hell, I did tend to some crucial matters along
that stretch, chased Dos Passo’s U.S.A and Hugo’s
Les Miserables off my reading list.
Part of my routine had me nursing cola at the Duchess
while listening to old guys discuss the daily number that would
arrive by runner one by one until three digits sealed fates.
Scribbling down their stories, I considered first hand
material, cozying up to one of them to bet a number
or two but I stuck with anonymity and the weekly State Lottery
that wasn’t much of a narrative except the twice it balked
at dropping me off on Easy Street by a crooked digit.
If I was too tired to walk to my room, there was a bus driver
who never questioned my transfers that did not apply.
The checks ran their course just as the landlady
who signed the rent receipt with an “X” offered me
an eighteen dollar room complete with easy chair.
I turned it down but found hope --
a three day Manpower job
at a corporate headquarters that was moving.
Muscles as mushy as fresh cupcakes,
desks and filing cabinets took their toll.
My bones recalled their days of ease,
wished I were dead so they could rattle
off “hack” and “fool” in skeleton time.


Highballs

Until ovarian cancer took out the lien,
Fran worked Accounts Payable
at a furniture factory where desks
and credenzas for kings
and sheiks were produced.
The costly woodwork was illusionary,
shrewdly veneered particle board.
She’d battled all the distractions from
the owner’s wife bitching
that computers were nothing but shit
to the son who ran marathons bragging
that “hitting the wall” was nonsense.
Sometimes Fran took refuge
staring out a window at the barely
visible Thunder Lounge sign
wishing for a liquid lunch unlike the one
pain and discomfort later would provide.
Boring her stepdaughter Lisa with aged
trial balances, computer check printing quirks
and death over highballs at the Thunder,
Fran suddenly announced mid-sentence
that she’d sworn off chemo and radiation.
Adjusting her burgundy scarf covered
with gold Eiffel Towers to better
hide her baldness, she insisted Lisa
drive her to the factory to inform
everyone she was ready to die.
Many were able to pretend
Fran was neither ghost nor zombie.
Some diverted themselves admiring her
Eiffel scarf and the marathoner nodded
when Lisa asked if it were true
there was a full-time nurse now.
She applied on the spot for a job
always begging due to injuries
and was hired glassy eyes and all.
Whisking Fran out past the noisy
saws and sanders to bear witness,
she was crazy to tell the manager
at McDonald’s to shove it.


© Thomas Michael McDade 2011

Thomas Michael McDade graduated from Fairfield University. He and his wife live in Monroe, CT. He served two hitches in the U.S. Navy, and is a computer programmer. Some of his work has appeared in Zouch Magazine, Angelic Dynamo, Sunken Lines, and Leaf Garden among other venues, including The Web Poetry Corner.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Guest Poet: Ricky Garni

Appled

it’s what we do to trees, to carts,
to jack, to blossoms,
to pies, to annies,

the fleshy pome of my pome
cultivated in numberless varieties
in temperate zones

sometimes my finger is restless
and immature. it goes
too far.

**

Roast

Just because I like to say “herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast” I added sage to the usual herb, rosemary. And then I cooked my herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast and then I ate my herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast and you know what? It didn’t taste like rosemary anymore. It tasted like rosemary and something else. “This tastes funny” my son said. “Where’s the rosemary?” “It’s still there, “ I said, “it is just below the other thing.”

The other thing. You can see where this is going.

I realized that you can still say “herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast” with just one herb. And that one herb should be rosemary. When you are eating, it is important not to fight, whether you are a person, or an herb, an herb like the kind that you tend to find in herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast. Like rosemary. Definitely. Or, if you prefer, sage. Although I don’t know why. We never get along, do we? Anyway,

Next time you are going to make an herb-encrusted eye-of-round roast, remember this tip that I picked up from going to the movies:

1) Rosemary is like Mia Farrow at 19 with a little pixie haircut and a little boy’s voice.

2) Sage is like James Coburn in In Like Flint and he is smoking a cigar and his hair
is silver-grey and he is sitting on a leather couch with a cabal of women, all pretty
and in bikinis on a couch with the suave James Coburn.

His teeth are really big! They are TOO big!

Remember this the next time you decide to make eye of round roast with herbs encrusted.

**

It's Hard

IT'S SO HARD TO WRITE A STORY. Especially when you are trying to be and think and do everything as someone else. That's why I have decided to write a story from the standpoint of a cymbal. It might be more difficult than writing a story from the viewpoint of someone, say, for example, Joey, a Joey with heart and feelings and foibles and complex emotions, but I think that most people will permit a writer a greater latitude when it comes to a character that is made of tin and copper. I mean, bronze. Especially if I can delve into his heart and feelings and foibles and complex emotions. Being naturally insecure, I have always felt that anything is better than nothing. And I enjoy raising the bar a little so that, even if I do not succeed fully, people will see me as daring and valiant. Also, my skin is sometimes bronze.

A FEW PRE-WRITING QUESTIONS TO ANSWER REGARDING THE PROTAGONIST:

1) WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN HE IS IN A ROOM ALL BY HIMSELF AND THE LIGHTS ARE TURNED OFF? Answer: he is probably very scared. Reason: the lights never come on unless someone is going to walk up to him and beat the svenshine out of him with two sticks. Two wooden sticks that are hard. From out of the darkness and you are asleep and having dreams and the next thing you know it's terrible.

2) DOES HE PREFER ONE PERSON TO BEAT HIM WITH STICKS TO ANOTHER? Answer: Yes. Reason: cymbals are no different from anybody else, or anything else. Everyone has preferences when it comes to the people they would choose to hit them with sticks. For you it might be someone named, for example again, Joey. For a cymbal, it would probably be somebody named Ringo.

3) WHY NOT BUDDY RICH? Answer: No please. Reason: just look at him. You have answered your own question by just looking at him. If you can't find a picture of him, you will answer your own question just by looking at him once you find a picture of him unless you forget about it, in which case music is not one of your guiding passions. Nor photography. Which isn't bad–we can't all be passionate about music and photography and things like that. In a way, thank God we aren't, don't you think? You might be interested in something else. I am thinking, now, whale kebabs. Whale kebabs like the ones that you can find in Reykjavík. Reykjavík is in Iceland. I like the idea of eating one someday in Iceland. Wouldn't that be fun? We should do it sometime. I'm sorry, we haven't been properly introduced. My name is Skarphéinn Guríur.

4) WHEN THE LIGHTS COME ON, AND HE HEARS FOOTSTEPS, WHAT DOES HE SAY? Good question. Answer: it could be one of many things. Possible responses include: "Mommy?," or "Uh oh" or, possibly, "Ringo?" or "Skarphéinn Guríur, is that you? I am so hungry" or "Is it morning already? Can you see the fjords in the light of this winter dawn?" And last but not least, there is always: "My God! Buddy???" and then, again, "Mommy."

**

Reading George Eliot Today

I watch with joy as she describes Fred, the cuddly reprobate, as “3 and 20.”

Lydgate, new to Middlemarch and eager to make his mark as a progressive practioner of medicine, is “7 and 20.”

And so I thought I would try it out on myself. Is George Eliot in the room? No, she’s not in the room. The coast is clear.

OK, then: I am 1 and 50. The man seated uncomfortably in aisle seat 15-C on American Airlines flight 2189 to Panama is talking

to a woman in seat 15-F who is from Africa en route to Panama on American Airlines flight 2189 about duty-free shops and he

Appears to be healthy and bonny, more so than me, in fact, and he is 8 and 60, if he is a day, with small amounts of grey

Chest hair eluding the top button his his shirt as they shilly shally here and there, somehow, surprisingly adding a youthful lustre to his appearance when suddenly he says

“That was, of course, a while ago, when the euro was much stronger”

And she laughs, and strokes his knee, surprisingly, really, I mean, after all, she couldn’t be more than 3 and 30.


© Ricky Garni 2011

Ricky Garni is a graphic designer living in Carrboro, North Carolina. His work can be found in EVERGREEN REVIEW, CAMEL SALOON, USED FURNITURE REVIEW, ORION HEADLESS and other places. His latest work, LANA CANTRELL, is an internet hit. He didn’t know that many people knew her, but now he knows that many people do or would like to.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Poet: Howie Good

Imaginary Crimes

1
He was a man who liked to appear in public with a red face and drooping black moustache. What’s my last name? he’d ask strangers. His satchel was the only clue. It didn’t seem big enough to contain so much darkness.

2
I followed the sound of champagne music. The door was open and the radio on, and then the room spun like the cylinder of a revolver.

3
Most came dressed as who they were – stickup men in black ski masks, burnouts with gray ponytails. Those who didn’t were ordered to stand on the rain-snow line. The last time I saw Fat Nancy her double chin was trembling. If we can’t be honest, I told her, we can still be truthful.

© Howard Good 2011

Howie Good is the author of the full-length poetry collections Lovesick (Press Americana, 2009), Heart With a Dirty Windshield (BeWrite Books, 2010), and Everything Reminds Me of Me (Desperanto, 2011), as well as 26 print and digital poetry chapbooks, including the most recent Disaster Mode from Medulla Publishing and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre from Gold Wake Press.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guest Poet: Steve Klepetar

Embassy

Here in the leaden world, all bets are off.
Cancel the juggler, let the clowns go home.

Last night I tumbled down a hole, swam
gurgling out the other side, breathing

through iridescent gills. My fingerprints
turned purple-black as Concord grapes.

I spoke the language of rapid turns –
glittering verbs, nouns floating in vast

green patches beneath sharp screeching gulls.
Now I recall sinuous shape of green vines,

how memory blames in rocket flares.
Light a fire and pledge your time to every

breath, palms pressed hard against your
bench of oak. Be the door you storm through,

lace your fiery eyes to bristling bandoliers.
Who will ride with you, breaking clumps

of earth along jagged trails? Here on this desert
highway, with nothing in the air but wind-swept
sand and shimmering silence of heat, what fool
would drag your embassy to the empty-handed sun?


It's No Surprise

It’s no surprise that you can
hear subtle shades of sound

in the quiet between
words
or that the simplest

glass spends vibrations
that glow in golden waves.

You knew that even
when your hair was black

and you lived in tangled
roots beneath the garden

wall. When frogs rise
from muddy
graves, even the sun

knows where fruit
trees bloom, where

carpenters whisper soft
as saws barely touching
the flesh of wood.


I have melted the gold

in my pockets, those coins acrid
with the sweat of palms and gathered
bulging class rings
and whatever I could find of long, spidery
chains, piled them in heaps, pitched
each gleaming ingot deep down in the furnace’s white heart.

Honey-bright rivulets flow
into the mold where, for safety’s sake
I keep your face
and where your hands have blossomed
into leaves above lithe and outstretched arms.

I have listened to the roar of your father’s
storm-wild song, his mournful ode to roots
and rough bark, and light green golden leaves
rustling forever in the wind of his cold and dying breath.


© Steve Klepetar 2011

Steve Klepetar’s work has received several Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. His chapbook, Thirty-six Crows, was published last summer by erbacce press.
Here is a link to his web page: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/sfklepetar/

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Writer: Farida Samekhanova

Three Flash Fictions

Wrong Place Wrong Time

My past has a striped black and white pattern. I am a Zebra. Whites are my youth, my children’s birthdays, career ups and immigration. Blacks stand for my bad luck and definitely for my being here.

My head is a gorgeous tender flower, still up in the air. I would be flawless but black balls of terrible headache spoil the picture. Doctors say it will soon go away, but I don’t believe them.

Two of my Zebra legs have roots. One leg belongs to Canada, where my home is. The other belongs to my native country. It is a beautiful land, lost on the map. By now it has been a Russian territory for almost five hundred years. My front legs have no roots and I can move them. I try to avoid the black balls, but it’s hard: they are everywhere.

Yesterday I came to Moscow after 11 years of not visiting. I have a plane ticket for my home city, but I am not going: three hours ago I got blasted in the subway. I don’t know much, but I overheard that two women did it. They lost their husbands in war. People call them black widows. They were from a small republic, like my own.

I don’t feel my body. My sick brain replays my life. Three patients from my ward have already passed away. I know I am the fourth. Other sixteen patients watch me. They still have a chance to survive.


Like Father Like Son?

My father was a truck driver. He worked hard to support his family. He delivered milk to stores. He usually left home late at night and returned next afternoon. He had lunch, slept a few hours and was back to work.

Boxes full of milk-bags in, empty boxes out. When he finished unloading at one store, he drove to the next one. Boxes in and out. In and out. Night after night. Year after year.

He was persistently moving forward in his effort to create a better life for my mother and me. When I was five my father planted a tree in the backyard. By now it has grown big and strong. I was his only son. He gave me the best education possible. After he passed away I stayed in his house. It was fully paid off.

They say that during his lifetime a man should raise a child, plant a tree and build a house. By my age he had fulfilled everything. I haven’t. I am thirty-five, healthy, well-to-do, good looking, single and useless.


Stupid Money

They replay “The Holiday” on and on. It’s a good movie: beautiful faces, nice homes, pools, restaurants. Kate Winslet cries a lot. Even Jude Law cries. I wish I had their problems. They take days off, buy airline tickets, cancel flights and do other things that involve spending or losing money with easy grace.

A crazy woman in China wants to look like Jessica Alba to attract her boyfriend. She goes for plastic surgery. I wonder how much it costs. I think that could pay my credit card debts. I work long hours, but I cannot make both ends meet. Too many mouths to feed. Too many rip-offs. For the rich money is not an issue. Because they have it. The rich are obsessed with fancy things, like buying velvet coats for their pets.

I go to the washroom. The toothpaste tube is empty. I also need to buy soap and toilet paper. I look in the mirror. My grey hair betrays my age. A hair colour kit is fifteen bucks plus tax. I cannot afford it. I need to buy food and pay bills.

Robin Williams loses a six million dollar lawsuit. Six million! I need six dollars for a hot dog, coffee and my bus ticket. Besides, I would like to donate a couple of bucks for Haiti victims. Is God watching us? I think he does, because yesterday my next door neighbour offered me a ride and I also found a two-dollar coin in the elevator.


© Farida Samekhanova 2011

Farida Samekhanova lives in Canada. She graduated from a University in Russia. English is her third language after Tatarian and Russian. She plays chess, collects coins and skates.
In 2007-2011 her work was published in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada, USA, Russia, United Kingdom and Turkey. She is participating in a documentary film titled “Her Choice – Hijab and Beyond the Dress Code,” which is currently in production.

Guest Poet: Gary Beck

Songs of a Clerk

Decay

While I am eroding at my job
the aging secretary glares at me
from her perch behind forever desk,
where she faithfully guards the time
of her oppressive employer.
She is another conspirator
to the assault on my senses
in this office degradation.

Toil

Unsweet change of jobs,
the same dull shuffle
of senseless papers.
Sixty stories high
I watch the birds
circling Central Park,
a stolen moment
staring hungrily, yearning.
Then the droning voice,
the overseer of dreary clerks
sends me back
to endless piles of paper.

On the Wheel

Another office day,
somehow more human.
Is it from a woman
passioning me happy?
Is it from contentment,
a good night of writing?
I do not know.
But it is Friday
and the day does not go fast enough.
If I can only last.
Soon a weekend’s freedom,
time to renew my strength
and hope to endure
another week at work.

Regret

I sing of a woman
a stranger no longer,
known to my flesh,
touched by my feelings.
Our time so short
I fear she will not come again
and I weave a dark strand
from the tangle of her hair.
I awakened in the morning,
but she was not there.
Her yesterday smell, faint on the pillow
hungered my remembrance.
When last we parted,
I intent on office prison,
held her, not close enough.
Now I punish my neglect.

Harnessed

Beasts of burden
for exploiting bosses,
impatient of our arrival,
filled with urgency
more imminent than hate,
until our work is done,
coincidental with other workers,
whose only thought is home.

© Gary Beck 2011

Gary Beck has been a tennis pro, ditch digger, salvage diver, and art dealer, but has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. His chapbook 'Remembrance' was published by Origami Condom Press, 'The Conquest of Somalia' by Cervena Barva Press, 'The Dance of Hate' by Calliope Nerve Media, 'Material Questions' by Silkworms Ink, 'Dispossessed' by Medulla Press and 'Mutilated Girls is being published by Heavy Hands Ink. A collection of poetry 'Days of Destruction' was published by Skive Press, and 'Expectations' by Rogue Scholars Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway and toured colleges and outdoor performance venues. He currently lives in New York City.
Poems from 'Songs of a Clerk' have appeared in: Istanbul Literary Review, Agency Magazine, Fiction Press, Kyoto Journal, Poetry Life and Times, Rattlesnake Review, Written Word Literary Magazine, Pegasus Magazine, MadSwirl, YaSou!, Words Words Words, Juice Magazine, Struggle Magazine, Flutter Poetry Journal, Iddie, Strange Road, Halfway Down the Stairs, Poetry Monthly, Calliope Nerve and many more.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Poet: Kenneth P. Gurney

Surrender

I feel quite incapable of declaring war on a small country
let alone a large country governed by a dictator.

In fact, all I seem to be able to accomplish is to rip the pages out
of a prize winning poetry book that I think is academic nonsense.

In their hunger, the pigeons mistake the torn bits of paper
as daily bread from a sad person on a park bench.

Though my description is close enough for that confusion
I take exception to my one coat pocket that is turned inside out.

Through a defect in my heart, malice leaks and the stray cat that laps it up
soon kills three birds and leaves them on the bench as bribes

to someone, anyone, who might remove the word stray
from its description and discard the cat’s sense of abandonment.

Upon reflection, declaring war would be an easy enough task.
It is winning the war that boggles my mind so much so

it becomes an end I cannot quite envision
through all the dense pages of self-help books I’ve read.

Now that I possess a book cover that covers nothing
except little bits of glue that once made the word binding relevant

I think a walk to the picture frame shop is in order,
but, mostly, because it is adjacent to the chocolatier

who creates such beautifully tempting window displays
that my fight to keep my waistline in check is for nought.


Half-Past Middle Age

I was up from midnight to three
reading a friend’s poetry manuscript—
which I love to do,
as I love puppies figuring out the world.

You know; the fall-on-their-face
kind of adorable that inhabits the overwhelmed
as they keep processing
the kaleidoscopic pentad of sensory input.

Since I am not young anymore,
I will miss that three hours of sleep—
especially as one p.m. nudges toward one-thirty
and the afternoon crashes into a nap.

My next-morning-lack-of-sleep grumpiness
is nothing to be afraid of
as long as you great me with a cup of Earl Grey
and some sympathy.

Which reminds me of a Janis Ian song
we listened to back in our college days
when music was served on vinyl platters
and the needle of our addiction grooved a turn table.


Grief

It was the crows blotting out the sun
that finally got the tears
roiling the floor of my breath
and I tried to measure the effluent
damage I’d done to my history
by holding on tight,
but calipers do not measure liquids
or the light they bend
or the depth of shadows.
I should have held
black irises to my nose sooner
and let sleep foreshadow
what is to come, but there is
no way I know to tame anxiety
or domesticate pain
into a beast of burden
that would help me
carry you to the moon
and, there, say goodbye,
as you left to take your place
under Valhalla’s wooden beams.

© Kenneth P. Gurney 2011

Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, USA. He edits the NM poetry anthology Adobe Walls. To view his full biography, publishing credits and available books visit http://www.kpgurney.me/Poet/Welcome.html

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guest Poet: Paul de Denus

This Old House

in need of attention
these aged timbers lean
worn and stressed
a weathered exterior stained
standing on unstable ground,
long exposed to unkind elements and words
until your touch,
as smooth as simple silk
bares the framework and exposes an interior
broken but salvageable
and lovingly rebuilt
restored with such surety
leaving no trace of ever being condemned.


On Blue Paper

wrens
drawn to bare branches,
dark and inky silhouettes
against the new morning sky.

the branches fork and fissure
in a thousand directions
like a sketchy rural roadmap
on blue paper.

and between circumstance, truth
and the great divide,
we wait to fly
to a different drift of senses,
bare feet at an easy pace,
warm sand and the glass ocean.

© Paul de Denus 2011

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.
Other writings and self published books appear at his blogspot: metheothertwin.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Guest Poet: Donal Mahoney

Crackling Again

   Rogers Park, Chicago

This brilliant winter morning finds
waves of snow on every lawn
and red graffiti dripping
from the walls
of Temple Mizpah
once again
as down the street
stroll ancient men
who every morning
shuffle here for prayer.

As usual, they're lost
inside old overcoats,
their collars up,
their scarves too long,
their yarmulkes,
as always,
in diffidence
askew.

This morning, though,
they don't go in.
They shuffle near the curb
like quail.
They can't believe
the goose-step scrawl
on every wall.
They know their world's
awry again, an encore
of the chaos left behind
when they were young.

The good thing is,
Chicago's better now
than was Berlin back then
even though the temple walls
make clear this morning that
someone's struck another match
and the ovens of Auschwitz
are crackling again.


In Memphis On Business

this belle like a feather
floats table to table
bearing menus and water,

stunning this Yankee
in Memphis on business
whose host swears the South

has many more like her.
Up North, the Yank says,
young ladies like her bump tables,

slop coffee in saucers.
No wonder this Yankee
in Memphis on business

smiles when again
this belle like a feather
floats table to table

bearing menus and water
as if she were certain
the earth isn’t there

and the sky and the air
are highway enough for a belle
bearing menus and water.


© Donal Mahoney 2011

Donal Mahoney has had poems appear in variety of print and online publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Beatnik (U.K.), Revival (Ireland), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey), Calliope Nerve and other publications.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guest Poet: A.J. Huffman

A Different Kind of Angel

She rests
her wings of red satin
against the wall
in the dark
that matches
the links of her gown
and the stars in her hair.

They say her beauty
holds
its own dominion.
A perfect salvation.
Immune
to every kind of touch.

But the glare
around her ankle
is fake.
Smaller than it looks.
And flawed

by the blue
flaking from her fingers.


Learning to Choose Exile

The road to hell
is paved.
In good.
In gold.
And every stone I touch
runs wild.
A molten river
between my toes.
Moving me closer
to the edge.
As I slowly sink
through the floor.


Into the Locked Box of Unbeing

He opens the cage.
And finds her
waiting.
Wearing only what is left
of her skin.
Like diamonds
burning for his touch.
Knowing
that if he looks up
she is smiling.
Behind the shadow
of those eyes
he has trained.
To watch
as the hinges snap them,
once again,
into place.


© Amy J. Huffman 2011

A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published her work in literary journals, in the U.K. as well as America, such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Eastern Rainbow, Medicinal Purposes Literary Review, The Intercultural Writer's Review, Icon, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Guest Poet: Joseph Farley

Chinatown to Chinatown

The Ghost Dragons went to war
with rival gangs
to control the lucrative traffic
in people between cities
on the knock off buses
that rivaled the big names
like Greyhound and Trailways.

Stories of knifings in bathrooms
at rest stops
along the New Jersey Turnpike
scared the locals into using
yet another knock off
as they journeyed
from Philadelphia to NYC.

Somehow differences were settled.
The FBI stopped following the buses,
and restaurant workers and shoppers
returned to crammed seats
and unsafe vehicles
spewing blue smoke
as they made the two hour ride
from Chinatown to Chinatown
unconcerned about anything
and thankful for
the cut rate fare.


Working in the Crematorium

It is a simple life.
Check the flame,
Check the fuel,
Put the body in
And let it cook
To ash,
Then turn off
The fire,
Sweep out
The white powder
And maybe a tooth,
Empty the dustpan
Into an urn.
It's a day's pay,
And makes you conscience
Rest easier,
Robbed of
Any fear of hell.
Good, bad, indifferent
All ending in flames.
The beer after work
Is cold
And goes down fine
While eyes study
The dancers
Before opening
Your wallet
For a five.


In the Dark Hours

The sun is plunging
But I’m not there.
People are walking
without a care,
but I’m where you are,
in sunlight or shade,
I’m there beside you
Chasing clouds away.
When it rains
I’m your umbrella.
When it snows
I keep you warm,
And when the sun glows
Hot on your skin
I’ll be your cool water
And everything.
I won’t let the dark dream
Take you away,
Cause with me here
I want you to stay.
I’ll be your sunshine.
I’ll be your shade.
I’ll keep you happy
On the cloudiest day.


© Joseph Farley 2011

Joseph Farley edited Axe Factory for 24 years. His books include Suckers, For the Birds, and Longing for the Mother Tongue (March Street Press).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Guest Poet: Mike Berger

Cutting

Blood oozes out; she smiles. Her
demon depression retreats. She
knows just how to cut; long and
vertical, and not too deep. Slice
just enough to make the blood flow.

She hides her bloodletting behind
long sleeves as she hides from
the darkness inside with a knife.

She sharpens the knife so it won't
bruise or tear. She stops the bleeding
with a rag. She puts the bloody rag in
a plastic bag and throws it in a dumpster
on the way to school.

She tells herself she is worthless. She's
done it so many times she's come to
believe it. The cutting stops the pain, but
too soon it returns.

She struggles each day through school
and can't wait to get home for another
blood letting.


Run Away

My old man was mean as hell...
He wanted to run my life.
At sixteen I ran away to fly
like a wild bird. I hit the streets
and soon discovered it was
an ugly place. There were no
pleasant melodies. The only
birds were vultures waiting
to pounce.

I fell into an ugly world. It was
called “A bed for a bang.”
Occasionally one of the vultures
would share a dobby and for
several hours my tears would be
gone. I hated being mauled
drooled upon and screwed just
for a place to sleep.

I stayed with Brad for three weeks;
things were looking up. Then came
the time I couldn't perform and he
threw me out. I don't know what I'll
do when winter comes. I don't have
a coat I guess I'll have to find a
pimp. At least I’ll get paid for what
I’m doing...

© Mike Berger 2011

A member of the Academy of American Poets, Mike Berger, Ph.D. is the author of two books of short stories. Three of his humor pieces have won awards. His work has appeared or will appear in sixty-five journals, including AIM, Still Crazy, First Edition, Stray Branch, Mid West Quarterly, Evergreen and Westward Quarterly. His work has appeared internationally in Australia, Portugal, Mozambique, England, Canada, and India. He has been writing poetry for two years, and is a winner of several poetry contests. He has published three chapbooks, Raw, and Lighten Up by CC&D Press, and Smart Assed World by Writing Raw. A fourth chap is due out.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Guest Writer: Paul Beckman

Argyle Nights

“If you loved me, you would fight with me – you would at least argue with me – you wouldn’t just sit and stare,” my late wife Vanessa would say. “Don’t you care enough to argue – to raise your voice? What kind of man doesn’t have a strong point of view? Or any point of view? I’ll tell you,” she would say. “A man with no love in his soul. A man with no soul. That’s who. That’s who you are.”
Before that period of our life Vanessa would say to me, “Stop fighting with me all the time. Can’t you ever go along? Why does everything have to be a debate with you? If you loved me, really loved me, you would let me have my way once in a while instead of fighting me at every turn.”
Neither approach worked with Vanessa. I tried to change – I did change; but what good did it do? I was wrong no matter which way I turned and on August fourteenth everything began to change. Once the change began to happen it couldn’t be undone. I didn’t know it then, nor did Vanessa. On August fourteenth I began building my fence.
I was sitting in our living room on my lounger being berated by Vanessa for whatever, when off in the distance, through the living room window I saw a stack of white pickets piled high in large neat piles. As her voice droned on I visualized myself walking across the yard to the pile taking a picket and returning it to the living room. Vanessa was continuing her harangue when I came back, and just before I sat down in my lounger I looked at Vanessa, picked up a hammer that happened to be lying on the floor, and hammered in my first picket between us. And all of a sudden her voice was not quite as grating.
The next time Vanessa got on my case was in the supermarket. I walked away and found the pickets section, selected another and turned to face Vanessa. I hammered it in next to the first picket.
I had not planned it this way, but somehow I knew that once the picket fence was complete, our marriage would be over. Oddly enough, I never thought about the picket fence or visualized it unless Vanessa was bothering me. And then on a two picket day I could see the pickets in the horizon of my peripheral vision taking shape as a fence from my right. The pickets proceeded from right to left like the Kaddish. One day there were a few lonesome pickets and then they became the makings of a fence. I was fencing Vanessa out of my life or vice versa.
We had our ups and downs and at one point we went through a very rough period that brought the fence midway. This was followed by a long, quiet, loving time when no pickets were added; but make no mistake about it – I never considered removing any. These good times were just temporary – I knew.
Even though I never thought about the fence at other times, whenever I saw Vanessa, the white picket fence was between us in some stage of construction.
For a while I feared that I was turning into my brother. He was keeping a loose-leaf notebook on stupid, irritating, and annoying things that his wife did. Once the notebook was filled he planned to leave her. “A man should only have to take so much in his life,” my brother said, “and I have decided that my allotment is this loose-leaf”.
He carried with him at all times a small pocket sized spiral and each evening he would sit in his lounger with a glass of Old Overholt and transfer his daily notes into the loose-leaf. Often his wife was right in the room with him, knitting or watching TV, and if she happened to say something stupid, irritating, or annoying my brother would shake his head and add it to his list. Sometimes he only wrote a sentence and at other times he wrote pages. He often offered to let me read his loose-leaf so as to gain my sympathy for his plight, but I told him I’d wait for the end and read it as a novel.
My brother’s wife – she was stupid. She should have let him finish the book and divorce her so she could get on with a more normal life. She would sneak into his desk and add blank pages to the loose-leaf every so often. She should have been ripping them out instead.
My brother was critical and compulsive and very vindictive and I tried to relate his Loose-leaf Notebook to my White Picket Fence. I came to the conclusion that there was no association whatsoever. My brother was off the wall. And I, like his wife, was the victim.
Incredible as it may seem, my brother made no secret of his journal. He told anyone and everyone who would listen, never understanding what a bad light it shed on him. I told no one of my fence.
One day I came home late from work, bursting with good news about business, but Vanessa would hear none of it. She was irate and from the top of the stairs threw my clothes over the railing and into the hallway. With each toss a picket went up.
And that night I finished my fence.
The next day Vanessa was dead.
I moved all of my belongings into the den and guest room and did what any good Jew would do for the dead. I stayed home from work and sat Shiva – mourning for a week. I tore my shirt, didn’t shave, wore a black arm band, and covered the mirrors with sheets. I took the pillows off the chairs so I would not be comfortable and I said the Kaddish morning and evening.
The next week, a widower, I went back to work. Nothing else changed in my life except that now when I came home from work and Vanessa talked to me I didn’t have to pay any attention because she was dead. Period. Oh, Vanessa carried on for a while – even refused to make my meals and do my laundry, but I held my ground and said nothing. After all, what good does it do to argue with the dead – especially if you couldn’t argue with them when they were alive.
Vanessa came around. It took about six months but she finally realized that I was never going to speak to her again and for me she was no longer living. She went back to cooking and cleaning for the two of us. We even went to some family functions together and never spoke. Vanessa never liked me that much anyway and was probably just sore that she hadn’t thought of it first. Divorce? Don’t ask. Divorce was out of the question.
Of course the only one in my family that said anything to me at all was my brother. “Are you nuts?” he asked. “You just can’t declare someone dead and go on living with them.” “Why not?” I asked him.
My brother looked up and asked, “Do you plan to date?”
Vanessa and I had been married for eighteen years and we, like many other couples, had fallen into a regular routine. She would lay out my clothes for me every morning while I was in the bathroom and I would wear whatever she selected. Both of us agreed that her taste was superior to mine in the world of fashion. Early on in our marriage, strictly by coincidence, she had put out argyle socks for me on a day that we had made love. Argyles had become our signal and it was always Vanessa who initiated the schedule. I had not given much thought to lovemaking since her death, so finding the argyles set out one morning kind of threw me off kilter. I didn’t know how to react or what to expect.
It wasn’t just argyles and jump in the sack night. There was a ritual – even for us. A nice meal with a glass of wine and then I would pour two glasses of wine and Vanessa would bring them to our respective nightstands while I showered. She would sip half of hers and then while she showered I would sip half of mine. After we made love we would lie next to each other, bodies touching, holding hands and sip the rest of our wine and go to sleep.
I didn’t know what to expect this argyle night. At first I thought that Vanessa had put out the argyles by mistake but Vanessa doesn’t make those kind of mistakes. I came home from work and could tell by the smells when I entered the house that it was an argyle night. Brisket and potatoes air met me at the door, and for dessert Vanessa had made her apple strudel. We drank a couple of extra glasses of wine with dinner, but even that didn’t loosen my tongue enough to talk to a dead woman. I lingered longer than usual because of my uncertainty on how to end the evening.
Force of habit had me pouring two glasses of wine afterwards and I didn’t know if they were going to her room, my room, one in each or what. Vanessa, not surprisingly, took control.
She carried the glasses to my room, formerly the guest quarters, and ran my shower. I soaped with anticipation and not wanting to seem too eager I took my time in the shower. When I came out I saw only my glass of wine on the nightstand.
Vanessa was not there. I lay on the bed for quite a while sipping my half glass of wine figuring that she was showering and getting ready. I waited for her return but after a while it became apparent that she wouldn’t be coming back. I finished my wine, fell asleep and dreamt of Vanessa and the argyles.
In the morning I dressed with the clothes that Vanessa had laid out for me. For breakfast she made corned beef hash and poached eggs, my favorites, just as she always had after an ARGYLE NIGHT. And she never even looked at me as she sipped her coffee, nor said a word.

© Paul Beckman 2011

Paul Beckman is a real estate salesman, a writer, snorkeler, traveler and photographer. Sometimes his fiction writing sneaks into his real estate ads.
Some publishing credits: THE CONNECTICUT REVIEW, ONTHEBUS, SHORT STORY LIBRARY, 5 TROPE, THE SCRUFFY DOG REVIEW, FICTION WAREHOUSE, WEB DEL SOL, LONG STORY SHORT, PITTSBURGH FLASH FICTION GAZETTE, RIVERBABBLE, EXQUISITE CORPSE, COLLECTEDSTORIES.COM, and POSTCARD SHORTS.

Guest Poet: Hal O'Leary

Happiness

Since time began
The search has been for happiness.
Philosophers and seers,
Psychologists and bards,
Consensus cannot find.
And we are left to fend and find our own.

Our own!
And there-in lies the clue.
For each of us is born unique,
With different tastes and preferences
With different possibilities
So if we're to find our happiness,
We must discover what they are.
I'm minded of Saroyan's thought
It takes a lot of practice
For a man to get to be himself.
So look to that to make a start
Discover what your talents are.
And in the exercise there-of,
You're sure to find a happiness
That truly is your own.

It's Do and Be, but first,
To Do, you've got to know yourself.
Then do what you were meant to do.
Do whatever's right for you,
Then make the effort to become
The very best at being you
The very best that you can be,

One last note
The sources of our happiness.
There are no more than two,
Anticipation is the first,
The other's recollection
The first takes precedence in youth
Replaced with recall as you age.

© Hal O'Leary 2011

Hal O'Leary is an eighty-five year old veteran of WWII. Having spent a life time in the theatre and as a Secular Humanist, He believes that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. Hal is the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guest Poet: Gita M. Smith

Tonton Macoute

Baby Doc Duvalier, round-faced and syphilitic,
   rode into Port-Au-Prince in a Cadillac Escalade
   with two inches of expensive shirt cuff showing.

He waved to the throngs, his soft hands making semicircles,
   his hair pomaded, looking like money.
From inside the armored car, one starving sugar cane worker
   looked just like the next.
My little people, he said, my little ones. They still love me.
My country needs me, he told reporters who had gathered
   in the rain at the Palace of Justice
   where he stood in shined shoes and bespoke suit.

In the streets, people shouted his name and burned fires.
A distant drumbeat rolled towards the capitol. Was that thunder,
   a gathering army, or the dead rising from their shallow graves
   to demand their pound of flesh, at last,
   from the robber son of robber barons?

Once upon a time, the people cowered at the mention of the Tonton Macoute.
But after floods, earthquakes and hurricanes,
   what could the Haitians possibly have left to fear?
Baby Doc, who once ate blood oranges while standing over
   the corpses of his enemies, smirked for the cameras.
The world shuddered.


© Gita M. Smith 2011

Gita Smith is a career journalist, whose work has appeared on The Sphere, Fictionaut, Pen10, Not From Here Are You (The NOT), and her reporting on the South appears at LiketheDew.com, a news site.

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