Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mike Finley

THREE POEMS

Toothbrush

My brother and I peed into the toilet,
our streams dueling one another,
the amazing hydraulics of a 7 and 9 year old.

Then we brushed our teeth and Pat bumped me
and my toothbrush sprang into the unflushed water.

If we flushed away the evidence it might
break our grandparents' pipes.
If they came upon it they would surely be annoyed,
and I had made up my mind
I was not going in after it.

Grandpa Lawrence, thin and diabetic,
stood in the doorway and without a word
knelt and retrieved the dripping toothbrush.

We'll get you a new one, he said quietly,
and rinsed his hands.
We didn't know he was a farmer and lived his life in piss.

But we gaped at each other, the way kids do,
realizing someone was wholly on our side.


Kansas & Arkansas

Spring flows all around us or ought to
each field of corn is taut
with arrows and bows
Our hands can't contain
the gifts we are given

We subsisted on shucks
and gathered in sheaves

Blind as corn and armed
to the eyes
Stethoscopes hang from every ear
Everyone craves
the combination

In all this flatness we
keep needing to jump


Dukkha
in Buddhism, the inevitability of suffering

Some folks have to live in shit
Others live next door to it

No escape and if there is
The 'suffering of no suffering' is his

The pain of unfeeling, not being at all
A cavity that swallows the soul

So do not envy the next guy's grass
Everyone gets it up the ass


© Mike Finley 2012

Mike Finley is a Pushcart winner -- not a nominee! And he lives in St. Paul, where he operates a small foundation helping Mpls punks in trouble

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Donal Mahoney

Raspberry Hives

The ancient man
with raspberry hives
on his cheeks
since childhood
will live alone
no longer.
He’ll marry, he says,
the first woman who’ll have him.
Till now
he has wanted
to die
as he’s lived,
alone in his room
with the radio playing,
the water in the bathtub
dripping.
The drone of hours,
however, has become
the drone of years
and the ancient man
with raspberry hives
on his cheeks
since childhood
fears death will convert
his hives into pocks,
take his body
but reject his soul.
For reasons
he can’t articulate,
he believes
if he weds
the first woman
who’ll have him,
death will have reason,
for the first time,
to do the job right.


© Donal Mahoney 2012

Donal Mahoney has had work published in MuDJob and other print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Some of his earliest work can be found at The Gravedigger's Son See also: Christmastime in America and In Memoriam

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Harris Tobias

OTTO & THE CLOTH BABY

OTTO and the Cloth Baby were just changing back into civilian dress after yet another astounding super caper involving an international crime cartel whose attempt to smuggle drugs in hollowed out cucumbers met with a stunning defeat. The two Department of Agriculture super heroes were going off duty and, hopefully, getting some much needed R & R.
They had changed into their secret identities: Otto as Clanston Mudridge, wealthy bachelor and gay man about town; and The Cloth Baby as his illegitimate son, Drone.
“You know I’m glad that caper’s over Dronie baby ‘cause I got a heavy date tonight with Troxine.”
“Don’t forget to to polish yer boots, Otto. We might be needed again any second and yours have cucumber all over them.” The way he said it made you want to push his face in. Yet it was just that pushy obnoxiousness that made him one of crime’s greatest foes.
Little did our heroes know as they parted company for an evening’s diversion that sinister forces half a world away were plotting a nefarious scheme involving avocados.

So they parted company and went to their separate perversions, Otto to his companion Troxine and the Cloth Baby to hang around the turnstiles in Queensboro Plaza.
They were about their diversions for less than two hours when the first call came in—a low humming in a poorly implanted device behind their left ears, the gizmo’s unsightly bulge poorly disguised to look like flesh. It took the Cloth baby only six minutes to retrieve his costume from his locker in Grand Central Station, don it and run panting up the nineteen flights of stairs to meet Otto in front of Delany’s office.
“You’re late, schmuck” said a scornful Otto. “What happened this time?” The sweating Cloth Baby still managed to look magnificent in his orange tights and matching cape. Otto stood in sorry contrast in his sagging blue uniform bunched and wrinkled.
“I’m late because I took the trouble to get the correct uniform, you stupid ox.” The Cloth Baby gave Otto a withering sneer. It made Otto want to pound his partner into something resembling strawberry jam. Instead, he just just gritted his teeth. The Baby was never wrong about the uniform. Otto had simply put his old one back on after a quick tumble with Troxine. It still reeked of cucumber and trans-gender sex.
Besides, there was no time to bicker, Delany was buzzing them in. Ralph Delany, chief of Agricultural Security for the Northeast Region, welcomed the legendary duo into his office. Delany’s desk was heaped high with produce—carrots, celery, cabbages, and leafy greens. In fact, there were mounds everywhere in Delany’s office. It looked like the produce section of a large supermarket.
“Come in quickly you two and close the door,” an obviously agitated Delany said. “Boy, am I glad to see you guys.
“What’s all this?” asked the Cloth baby gesturing around the room.
“They’re vegetables,” Delany replied, “and they’re all fakes.”

© Harris Tobias 2012

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers, and despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. He has published novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim, short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival, and is a favorite here on MuDJoB. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Donal Mahoney

PADDY MURPHY'S WAKE

THE PRIEST had been there earlier and the rosary was said and relatives and friends in single file were offering condolences. "Sorry for your troubles," they said one by one, bending over Maggie Murphy, the widow silent in her rocker, a foot or so from Paddy, resplendent in his casket, the two of them much closer now than they had ever been.
A silent guest of honor, Paddy now had nothing more to say, waked in aspic, if you will, in front of his gothic fireplace.
The moon was full this starless night and the hour was getting late and still the widow hadn't wept. Her eyes were swept Saharas and the mourners wanted tears. They had fields to plow come morning and they needed sleep, but the custom in County Kerry was that no one leaves a wake until the widow weeps.
Fair Maggie could have married any man in Kerry, according to her mother, who almost every day reminded her of that.
"Maggie," she would say, "You should have married Mickey. His limp was not that bad," but Maggie wouldn't listen. Instead, she married Paddy, "that pestilence out walking," as her mother often called him even on a Sunday but only after Mass.
Maggie married Paddy the day he scored the only goal the year that Kerry took the trophy back from Galway. That goal was no small thing for Ireland, Paddy would remind us all in pubs, night after night, year after year, until one of us would gag and buy him another drink.
That goal, he'd shout, was something historians in Ireland would one day note, even if they hadn't yet, and every time he'd mention it, which was almost daily, Maggie's mother would remind her daughter once again that she should have married Mickey and had a better life.
The final time her mother praised poor Mickey, a screaming match ensued, so loud it woke the rooster the very day her mother, feverish in bed, gurgled like a frog and died.
This evening, though, as the wake wore on, the mourners grew more weary waiting for the tears the widow hadn't shed. Restless in his folding chair, Mickey put his bottle down and rose to give the eulogy he had needed days to memorize.
"Folks," he said, "if all of us would holler down to Paddy now, I'm sure he'd holler back. Despite the flames and all that smoke, he'd tell us all once more that Kerry winning over Galway is all that ever mattered. We'll always have cold Paddy over there to thank for that. Ireland never had a better man. St. Patrick himself, I know, would vouch for that."
The Widow Murphy hadn't moved all evening, but after hearing Mickey speak, she began to rock with fury as she raised a purple fist, shook it to the heavens and then began to hum her favorite dirge. The mourners all joined in and hummed along until midnight struck on the mantel clock and then, as if released by God Himself, the mourners rose, one by one, from folding chairs and paraded out beneath the moon, freed by a deluge of the Widow Murphy's tears.

© Donal Mahoney 2012

Donal Mahoney has had work published in MuDJoB and various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandra Davies

‘From battle and murder, and from sudden death’

   ‘YOU as good as murdered him, so don’t even think about coming to his funeral. We don’t want you there.’
   Des.
   Unaccustomed mid-morning coffee still hot on his breath, as was tobacco from a half-smoked cigarette, thrown down and swivel-killed under his toe as I emerged.
   The eldest of my four step-sons, newly succeeded, due to his father’s death, to the ownership of Burdock’s Farm. Entitled and impatient to occupy the family farmhouse. Waiting only for me to remove myself and my personal belongings, his failure to immediately expel me, in the shocked small hours of Sunday, still rankling: others, less vindictive, had overruled him.
   Now, contrary, he had parked his Land Rover so as to prevent my final leave-taking until he spoke his piece. Thinking, from my silence, that I’d not understood he repeated ‘We don’t want you there.’
   The sourness of his scowl had telegraphed hostility but his ultimatum had been delivered with unprecedented viciousness. It had taken more than a moment for me to recover the power of speech. Then, holding rigid the muscles in my jaw and throat so as to disguise any tremor, lifting my chin, fully meeting his barely-shamed eyes, I retaliated with precisely-enunciated scorn.
   ‘You are being unnecessarily melodramatic which does no credit to your father. Bearing in mind that I have spent the past thirty years as his wife, have born two, have brought up four, perhaps five of his sons (I don’t know how your brother feels about that) and in all that time he uttered not a single complaint about my behaviour, you may be sure that under no circumstances whatsoever will you prevent me both organising and attending his funeral.’
   I made no claim to having mothered him. Never had done since he, thirteen years old when I married Mike, had declared himself not to need it.
   And at the time I was but seventeen myself.
   Those extra four years, plus, thank god, a talent for quick-minded verbal self-defence (honed in dealing with my elder brothers) enabled me to manage him far more effectively than ever he learnt to deal with me. Even so it had been another dozen years before we reached any sort of equilibrium, during which time he moved from a confused hatred which oozed, pustulent, from his unadmitted (because thought ‘unmanly’) mourning for his first step-mother, to resentment at my too-speedy (and in his eyes unsuitable) substitution. Resentment had been shortly after intertwined with discomfort at his dawning perception of his father’s lust, and only superseded by a rampant need to satisfy his own, culminating in an attempted rape (which I never did inform his father of). Thereafter, guilt-spattered, threadbare tolerance ensued.
   And even now – especially now, despite him having reached his early forties – I had to maintain ascendancy because, in a complex confusion of anger and revulsion, Des still found it impossible to be dispassionate towards me. His nature contained too little in the way of moral certainty, a lack uncompensated for by his inheritance of better-than-average Burdock good looks and a deceptively easy-going smile.
   One he’d never used on me.
   Grief further aged him – he anyway looked older than I nowadays – and he barely listened as I said ‘We cannot even begin until after the post mortem. And then I shall tell you what arrangements have been made.’
   ‘No. You’ve forfeited the right. He was our father, and we will organise the funeral. You have no choice. We don’t want you there, you won’t come, it’s as simple as that.’
   I smiled.
   With apparent confidence and with pity. It cost me, and was wavering brittle, but I smiled.
   For all his bullying and his bluster Des was not a patch on his father. Mike was – had been – no saint, had a devil of a temper, was inclined to arrogance, was impatient, stubborn and could be unthinkingly cruel in some of the things he said, but he had many virtues too. Certainly he would have been incapable of the underhand disloyalty, would have roundly condemned anyone who displayed the moral weakness that I’d long known Des possessed. Even so, I was glad I had full-size ammunition with which to shoot him down.
   ‘No, Des, you have a choice, one that’s even simpler than you realise. Either you accept my right to organise Mike’s funeral and to be there to follow Mike’s coffin, in first place, as his wife. As his widow. Or I tell Alice about Natalie Brown.’
   I made sure to watch his face to see the twitch of shock before he swung guilt-blistered shutters into place.
   ‘Tell Alice …? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t know a Natalie.’
   ‘You’ve forgotten her already? When you were there on Friday afternoon? You’ve forgotten that she has a five year-old the spitting image of your Eddie? That she had an abortion, at your request, with your signature countersigning the permission form, at a clinic in Hertford a year ago? Don’t give me ‘don’t know’ Des, you may be a two-timing shit, but you’re not a stupid two-timing shit.’
   Unable to continue facing me he turned, walked away, saying ‘It’s grief, or guilt, gone to your head, anyone can see that …’
   ‘Then you’ll not mind if I go round and tell Alice? See if she thinks I’m deluded with grief …’
   Finally my words penetrated his hear-no-evil rant. He turned, grabbed my arm and brought his face close to mine. ‘You say anything of that, of those lies to Alice and you’ll be sorry!’
   Disliking having to stoop to this level of attack, I nevertheless demolished his threat. ‘But you’ll be sorrier won’t you? Because you need Alice’s money to …’
   ‘Shut the fuck up! How the fuck did you get hold of this stuff?’
   ‘Never mind how. Just accept that I did. Just accept that for something as important as this I am prepared to expose your dirty behaviour just as readily as tales were told about me. I’d prefer not to, but you do need to believe that I will if necessary.’
   And without waiting for him to reply I turned and walked away. Away from thirty years of family memories, from a centuries-old farmhouse, not especially beautiful except in the patina of its familiarity, but a place I’d been fulfilled and happy in. My destination now, temporary but more than welcome, a utilitarian red-brick and slate-roofed agricultural tied cottage, home of my eldest son, three villages away.
   This battle, unanticipated though it had been, I’d won.
   The next I would lose.
   Not necessarily on my arrival but before too long my son, as shocked and aching at his father’s death as Des, would question me.
   And he would very quickly force me to admit that it was witnessing the fleeting more-than-kiss between myself and the man with whom, for the past two years, I’d been having an affair that had caused the heart attack that killed his father.

© Sandra Davies 2012

More writer than printmaker these days, but still needing, and responding to, those wide horizons while juggling three novels. The blog is sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.co.uk

Monday, October 15, 2012

HoW - OFWC Winners: 2012

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest
2012 Winners

1st Place: You Shall Be My Brother by Bill Lapham
2nd Place: Obsolete Medium by Bill Floyd
3rd Place: Two Dishes of Very Nice Salad by Amy Hale Auker

Gita M. Smith:
I believe in rewards for good writing and wanted to do something for our little online writers' community. So I laid out the contest, found a few good prize ideas and roped a few friends into judging the stories. They had no idea whose stories they were reading, either. Ten people entered (I'd hoped for more, I will confess) and, as promised, we're now printing the winners here on MuDJoB. I'd like to do it every year, or as long as I am employed and able to buy prizes.

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 1st Place

YOU SHALL BE MY BROTHER
by Bill Lapham

FRANCIS CAME HOME from Vietnam a changed man. He claimed the orange shit they dropped on the jungle made guys crazy. It could have been that, I suppose, or a thousand other things. Who knows what changes a man?
   Francis, not Frank, was my brother. He showed me how to get along in the world. We had fathers, but Mother didn’t know who they were. She said she carried Francis and me to delivery because she was making decent money at the time and thought it would be fun to have little babies around. Other potential siblings weren’t so “lucky.”
   After we grew up some, we started acting like little boys. Francis suffered considerable pain at the belt of Mother’s frustration with us. He was the oldest. I had to watch, she said, to “learn something.” The lesson escaped me.
   Francis drank beer before he went to Vietnam, but nothing like when he came home. There was a Before Vietnam Francis and an After Vietnam Francis. BVF was more or less normal, except for the scars. AVF was not normal, and had more scars. I have never seen a man drink so much, so fast, and not puke. He said American beer was too weak, so he fortified it with shots of Jim Beam and an occasional hit of blotter acid. He bought pot by the pound and sold what we didn’t smoke to buy more of the same. A “non-profit” high, he called it.
   After the Marines discharged him, he moved into a trailer outside Detroit with his Marine buddy Max. Together we called them FM. I still lived with Mother. They set up a big fish tank in the living room. I would usually find Francis staring at the fish, drinking beer and smoking dope with Max, who would be cleaning his gun. I always asked if I could have a beer on the way to the refrigerator, but they never replied. They never knew who put beer in the refrigerator. They never knew what belonged to whom.
   “Fuck ownership and shit, man.”
   They lived on unemployment checks, VA disability payments, pot ‘profits’, ‘gook noodles’, and old potato chips. They had a TV, but they hardly ever watched it.
   Stuart Granger and his wife Mary Kate lived next door. She was young and blonde, and he was young and blonde. It seemed like they were always kissing. When they weren’t working or sleeping, they were at FM’s, partying.
   Stuart was riding his dirt bike one day when he climbed a steep hill in the woods and fell into a newly poured basement. Carpenters found him the next day face down in the dried concrete. They used jackhammers to get his body out.
   Three days of funeral shit took their toll on Mary Kate. She ended up moving in with FM a couple of weeks after the funeral. She said she couldn’t sleep with Stuart’s ghost pacing the trailer in his underwear at night. Somebody burnt her trailer to the ground a week later. Trailer park management hired a crew from Detroit to clean up the melted remains, and nobody was ever charged with the crime.
   One day I brought Mother out to visit. She had wanted to see how Francis had “grown up” during the war, but she hadn’t made it to the front steps before he yelled at me to take her home. I complained that he ought to give Mother a chance to make amends, but he wouldn’t have it.
   “Bitch never sent me a single letter when I was in the shit, man.”
   I saw him in the kitchen cracking a beer and lighting a joint as I pulled out of the driveway. Mother cried all the way home, but it was hard for me to sympathize. You reap what you sow, I figured.
   The next night, Francis, Max, Mary Kate and I did some blotter. Max, who had spent a little time in Germany, was the disk jockey. He started with Hawkwind’s Brain Ticket, a vinyl LP. Max danced with Mary Kate, who looked too young to be a widow. Max looked like he had just come out of the bush, scarred and muscular. He had taken his shirt off revealing a huge spread eagle tattoo on his back. From wingtip-to-wingtip, shoulder-to-shoulder, printed in flowing script, were the words: “Where Were You?” There was a list of his dead friends. Below the list, across the small of his back, it said: Dak Pec, Vietnam, February 1970. Below that, tucked in his jeans, was his gun. Max had been in the hospital in Da Nang having a boil lanced during the battle of Dak Pec. He told me about it once when he was very drunk, and never mentioned it again.
   The music forced me and Francis out of the house; that, and the walls seemed to be melting. Outside, the street lamps showered pixilated glitter bits on the ground. Piles grew into giant cones and erupted in slow flowing lemonade. Our footsteps glowed and never faded away. Everything moved leaving rainbow trails in their wake. When the scene outside drove us back inside, the music would force us to go back outside. The front door revolved. It was a harrowing night. I don’t remember how I got back home.
   Later that same day, sometime after sunup, I think, Francis phoned to tell me Max was dead. He said he woke around noon, toured the trailer. His car was parked in the driveway and Mary Kate was asleep in her room alone, but no Max. He said he walked down to the lake where he and Max sometimes liked to sit and watch the sun come up. He found Max hanging from a tree branch. His gun and a step ladder lay on the ground under his feet. He had shot himself in the head and used the rope for insurance. Francis said they had seen guys survive headshots all fucked up.
   What bothered me most was that Max’s death never seemed to faze Francis. “He’s just dead,” he said.
   The day after we buried Max, Mary Kate, Francis and I were watching General Hospital when the phone rang. I answered it. Mother was slurring, said she had read Max’s obituary and was calling Francis.
   Francis wouldn’t take her call. “I got nothin’ for her, man,” he said.
   “He’s puking in the toilet,” I said, and hung up.
   Mary Kate lit a joint and passed it to Francis. He took a hit and passed it to me. Joints went around for the rest of the afternoon and well into the night. Every so often one of us got up to get cold beers. We ate everything in the kitchen that was edible. We toasted the ghosts of Stuart Granger and Pvt. Maxwell Connelly, USMC, (deceased) with shots of chilled Jim Beam. When Mary Kate passed out on the sofa, I covered her with a blanket. I remember seeing Francis polishing Max’s gun with a soft rag humming along with the national anthem on TV, sipping whiskey. The flag was waving in the black-and-white breeze.
   The announcer said it was the end of the broadcast day.

© William Lapham 2012

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

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 2nd Place

OBSOLETE MEDIUM
by Bill Floyd

THE KID means well, so she lets him make his pitch and then she politely declines.
   “But, I mean, people should have a chance to hear you,” this kid says, one arm draped over the back of a chair he’s pulled up beside her piano.
   “People do have that chance,” she points out, tracing the room around them with one finger, slightly swollen at the knuckle. “I’m at the bar in the Monument Avenue Sheraton on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays year round.”
   He doesn’t hear her. He’s too smitten with the serendipity of coming across the woman who recorded Fever Feet thirty-odd years ago, “one of my favorite albums, really unfairly overlooked,” as he’d rambled, obliviously, during his introduction. The kid is one of those hip young types, fashionably bearded, skinny jeans, porkpie hat cocked in a careful approximation of carelessness. His eyes say he’s at least one drink past his usual limit. Probably a tech guy, in town for a conference, or making a sales pitch, or troubleshooting at one of the countless local office parks. He’d been eyeing her from the bar for half-an-hour before he worked up the nerve to amble over and ask if she was the same Lori Trace who’d made Fever Feet. The album enjoys a popular resurgence every few years, and Lori’s daughter calls from Phoenix to read her articles from the web, but Lori never sees any money from reissues or anything. She’d made some bad business decisions back in the old days.
   And all this hipster kid sees is her bad decisions. He sees her playing nightly sets of standards in a hotel bar near the airport, a bar much like her tip jar: rarely more than a quarter-full. Her fingers are delicate on the keys of the slightly out-of-tune baby grand, her voice hushed by design. Every few weeks, one of the solitary sales reps killing time at the bar, frazzled from a daylong string of connecting flights, will look up from their drinks or their phones and their eyes will glaze over a little and Lori will know she’s been heard.
   “I’m only saying this because I really respect you,” the hipster insists now. His guileless introduction had expanded into a sprawling ramble, wherein he’d told her how much her voice and music had meant to him during a difficult period in his life. He hadn’t lingered on the details, choosing instead to pitch a booze-derived fantasy of trying to book her some studio time, a web broadcast or something. Says he manages a band back in Austin, where he’s from. “This could be a chance for you—”
   She smiles and nods as he justifies himself. Ricky, watchful from behind the bar in his vest and bow tie, gives her a look like: This guy a problem? and she shakes her head almost imperceptibly as the hipster tells her about her chances. All her life, people have told her about her chances. Mom, who gave Lori and her sisters a chance despite the worst Dad could dish out; Mr. Bloxam, her high school band teacher, talking about Lori’s talent and how she had real potential; the first dozen agents in those frigid early New York days, telling her on their authority that she had no chance; Douglas, naked beside her in a tangle of sheets in some cheap California rental, listening as she sung the song she’d written, his stoned eyes and the way he’d jumped right up and said, “We gotta get this out there, baby, this has the chance to go big.”
   “Big” turned out to be three, four years, tops, backed by Douglas’s band, performing for rooms of as many as five or six thousand kids. Appearances on local TV. People back home who heard her on the radio.
   And then progressively smaller rooms, and then no rooms at all. Playing her Casio at home, singing in the car. Puzzled rejection overcome by joy undiminished. The wonder of realizing she didn’t miss the scene, even though she did miss Douglas. Their marriage hadn’t outlasted the dive. Her second marriage endured nearly twenty years, with the kids and the houses and all the rest, but in her heart she’d always loved Douglas helplessly, loved him best.
   Does this hipster kid look a little like him? She doesn’t even know if Douglas is alive or dead. He’d dropped completely off the map. There was a time she wouldn’t have believed anything less possible.
   So now she puts a hand on the young man’s arm and says, “Thank you sweetie, no. But I do have some CDs for sale. Mostly cover songs, but there’s a few originals on there, too.”
   “CDs?” Drawing a blank.
   She reaches into the tasteful hinged box she keeps underneath her piano bench and shows him one of her CDRs. Lori’s daughter had helped to record the album on her laptop during one of her visits. There’s a silly photo scanned onto the insert, Lori with her head lying on her arm in a pose of guileless sentimentality. Her daughter’s idea, of course.
   “Five dollars,” she tells the hipster.
   He actually makes a face. After kissing her ass for ten straight minutes, indulging his fantasy of her triumphant comeback, he makes a face. “Most artists promote themselves with free songs on the internet,” he says, as if explaining a complex math problem to a slow-witted child.
   “And which do you listen to more?” she asks. “What you pay for or what you get for free?”
   His wallet is chained to a belt loop on his jeans. She is more certain than ever that he makes his living with computers, managing his band on the side. A hobby that no doubt puts him in contact with a lot of willowy young girls, not the kind Lori sees in the Sheraton bar, the ones doing the professional thing; sometimes they seem to be made completely of hems and heels, and no doubt they are good at what they do. But when they are alone in the bar, listening to her play, sometimes they seem so exhausted they can barely prop themselves up. Lori plays extra mellow, hoping for that glazed look.
   The hipster exchanges his cash for her disc. He says he looks forward to hearing it and how it’s been a real pleasure to meet her. He hands her a card with his email address, “just in case you change your mind.”
   “Won’t you stick around for a few more songs?”
   He smiles. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
   After she’s begun, midway through her second set, the hipster gets Ricky to send over a glass of expensive wine. She nods at him and plays a vamp-y arrangement of “Snakebit” from Fever Feet. The kid breaks into a grin. The creeping arthritis that sometimes makes this stretch of the night difficult is forgotten, as are the doctors’ evaluations of her chances, all of it fades. Her back is straight and her dress is cheap but her voice is elegant smoke, a silk sash unknotted, lipstick on a tumbler. Ricky glazes. The kid sings along, he knows every word.

© William Floyd 2012

Bill Floyd lives in North Carolina. He's written a dozen novels, one of which, The Killer's Wife, was commercially published in 2008. He knows that the world can be a very difficult place, but feels that as long as The Melvins are still touring, things can't be but so bad. His micro-fiction can be found at http://sixsentences.ning.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2d7yp9hmruccs.

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 3rd Place

TWO DISHES OF VERY NICE SALAD
by Amy Hale Auker

CHRIS THOUGHT maybe he was an ungrateful wretch. Here he was, married to this girl, this beautiful girl whose kisses were never messy, but never spontaneous either. This smart woman who never asked him to balance the checkbook or take out the trash or chop carrots for the stew. Never asked him to do anything. Just went about her days, contained and self-sufficient. Who never gave a blow job, switched positions, or cried. Who worked. Who approached food and sex and life as a job. Sometimes, being with Cynda was the loneliest place Chris had ever been.
   But tonight, buzzing on three beers, he was glad to be riding along through the dark with her, and he dug expectantly into the bag of goodies from the community Christmas party.
   “What all’d we get?”
   “Don’t eat the sugar cookies.”
   Cynda wouldn’t listen to Christmas music even when the country station was playing it 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Years. Instead, as she drove home through the sleet-peppered night, she punched the button on the cd player and her beloved King George crooned out into the cab. Not Christmas George, but plain old, solid, 1980s Nashville George.
   Chris pulled a sticky Santa-shaped cookie from the bag. “These?”
   “Yeah. Don’t eat them.”
   “Why not?” Chris held it up to the dim lights of the dashboard.
   “Because. Brenna’s kids made them and they are probably infectious.”
   Chris dropped the cookie back in the bag and kept rummaging. “Infectious, huh?”
      “Yeah. That youngest one needs a shot of LA200, or Micotil, or something.”
   “Those are cute boys. Be fun to have a passel of ‘em running around.”
   Cynda rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Brenna looked like she was having a blast. Big belly and swollen ankles and a snotty kid on what lap she has left. Sure.”
   When they first got engaged Cynda and Chris had agreed that Chris was too old to think about having kids, but sometimes Chris wondered if it wasn’t Cynda who was dead set against the idea. After all, what did his age matter? He didn’t have to get pregnant. Besides, he didn’t know why the decision not to have children also meant they couldn’t have a puppy, but Cynda had gotten almost panicky when he suggested getting one in case his old heeler died in the next few years. He opened a jar of spiced nuts, poured out a handful. “Well, it was a fun party, anyway.”
   Cynda turned up the music, tapped her long fingers on the steering wheel.
   You look so good in love… you want him, that’s easy to see…
   Chris hated sad songs.
   Sometimes Chris wished Cynda would make a mess or stub her toe or get a hangnail. Wished she would drop a jar of pickles or back the truck into a corner post or leave her wet towel on the floor of the bathroom. He wished she’d fart in bed or pronounce a word wrong or cry, damnit, at least cry. Instead, two nights later, she sat calmly at the dinner table before a pot of potato soup, a neat plate of shredded cheese covered with a paper towel, and two dishes of very nice salad. Chris’s wife handed him the croutons, and he took it from her absently.
   “Poor Brenna. And Blake didn’t even make it to the hospital in time.”
   “Hmm…”
   “I mean, he missed the birth of his own daughter, first of all, and she’s premature, and then, she has Down’s Syndrome. I just don’t know how we should help them!”
   “I don’t think we can help them. No one can cure Down’s and we certainly can’t turn back the clock so he could make it there on time. He’s a bit irresponsible, anyway, don’t you think?”
   “I know that, Cynda. I know that. I just mean now. What we could do to help them now.”
   She shrugged and tasted her soup critically. “I don’t know. I’m no doctor. The Havershaw’s have kids the same age so the boys are better off staying with them. The church ladies are taking turns preparing meals and gathering donations. Besides. It really isn’t our problem, is it?”
   Chris got up from the table and walked out, walked out of the house that his wife made colder instead of warmer, walked away with his goddamned loneliness tucked in his back pocket, walked away from a beauty that he didn’t understand, away from a layer of indifference he couldn’t get past, away from sex that brought him to climax, always, but he never smelled himself under the covers, spilling from her, because she always washed immediately.
   Their lovemaking was always just over, never something more.
   But he walked back in, walked back in because that is the kind of person he was and because his anger made him hot, and he needed to be hot. He walked back in and later wondered if what happened that night was something he would always hate or something that had to happen. That night confused him for the rest of his life.
   Cynda was already in bed, reading, of course. He joined her quietly, snapping off the light without asking. The dark was a curious blend of his hot and her cold.
   No one had ever told him that sexual fantasy is a tricky trail to traverse in a marriage. He’d had his fantasies fulfilled before, as a younger man, by a variety of women who were happy to play in bed and with whom sex had been like a game. But marriage was different. The last few months had taught him that when the heart is involved, saying, “Hey, let’s try this!” becomes a minefield with the possibility of rejection. And when there is no connection, a messy bomb of implication. But tonight he was angry. Tonight he was lonely and disappointed and every “what the fuck” particle of him was gathered in his groin.
   When he reached for her, he didn't follow their polite practiced protocol, the connect-the-dots formula that sex had descended into--the gradual warming of her cold with his desire, the polite wait for her to use a bit of lube, the careful holding back that he had come to consider "making love."
   Instead he kissed her hard, stuck his tongue deep into her mouth with one hand behind her head to keep her from pulling back, straddled her and slid his cock up between her breasts on its way to her mouth, leaving no escape route while he jerked open the curtains above the bed so that the moon could see his fury that was somehow more akin to lust than anger.
   Then, ignoring her previously stated preferences, he turned her over on her stomach and lifted her hips--finally got to see her luscious upside-down heart-shape.
   A few quick thrusts into the curve of that heart, and his anger left him with a little death rush.
   And she left the next morning, of course.
   She wasn’t the kind to come right back.
   But that was ok with Chris. He needed a little time, too.

© Amy Hale Auker 2012

Amy Hale Auker writes and rides on a grazing allotment in Arizona. Her first book, Rightful Place, published spring 2011 by Texas Tech University Press, is the 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. She has written two novels that are currently seeking publication. Amy prefers the company of bats, lizards, zone-tailed hawks, and mama cows to most people, but has found a truly incredible group of writers on-line where she is finally at home. Her quirks include a fondness for fungi, an ardent love for poetic prose, and a new-found desire to hike to the dirt tank and catch blue gill (which she throws back). You can find out more at www.amyhaleauker.com.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Shelby Stephenson

"I rise because you sink"

I rise because you sink.
I smell the nests of birds I pass where we have walked before.
Give me your hand.

Everywhere I go I see your face.

“Talk to me!”

Let’s go camping: you can play your uke.
We’re a duo.
O I know others might want to see
how we borrow from the angels to keep our living strong.

When you seek out the roads, I’ll be there.
We need no more, now that the best is yet to come.
The selves we have been or become
lived centuries ago in others.

Your mother’s an expression of beauty.
And mine.
No mother or dad climbs above another for the ride.
I am trying to show our best character,
as the poet takes Depression out of its grave
and stands it up and says, “Run!”
And Garbage climbs into the truck.

Past, Present, and Future get up and race, too, looking for a warmer clime.
To be in the middle of something is to hear you say on a cold, February morning,
“You want to walk with me?”


"I say I'm always wanting you"

I say I’m always wanting you; having you makes it easier to face tomorrow,
even those times I can’t touch you,
like lovers in a fog over there in the Nimrod Stephenson Memorial Cemetery,
especially Martha Johnson and Greatgrandpap Manly Stephenson (died 1912),
Civil War Vet and lover, farmer, and friend to July, the slave girl.
Always loving you shuts me out and hurts me too.
So you walk with Cricket and I catch you later,
my intentions encouraging your style.
Behold, the sun itself, and on its visage, slating its breast on yours,
the balances and bends, right here, where the roots of my raising run deep.
See the frosted grass, the white and blue clouds.
Behold, in western Johnston County, far from western New York State,
or in Wisconsin, where we lived in the brittle cheer of ice-fisherman and sailors,
behold, on Lake Mendota, those sail-boats writing smoothly as on glass −
there in Pittsburgh, the trolley and the Cathedral of Learning,
the lake at Canonsburg where we camped and fished and cooked.

Your eyes float out of sweetgum, come to me through that buttermilk-sky
while you lean against the moon and cheese, your hair the breath of rye
tall under stars higher than I can stretch, though I reach for you
and our fingers almost touch dawn.
The sun squeezes light in my face.
An image sweeps before me, how Sunset must come with taste and as much grace.
The rock gathers us around and holds what splendor spins,
an iceberg in our dreams, melting, the sweat and panic, no button to push.
Tell me how you swish and set your body poised to frail and sing?

Could this be a dream?
I sit and look out − away from meanness and pain.
You are the castle of my dreams, my junior and senior highs, prep and graduate,
the in and out, history and varied trimming of discussions,
the balm and the fever.
You are intention set in sprung motion −
hail to rain, blushes in snow hushed −
you are this place, this South
come down from the winter of your birthplace.

I step back to see workings intricate and beautiful −
the thousands of farms we pass,
the surprise and the drama, the once-upon-a-time-ness
we met and came here,
quiet, certain.


"I want to hold your hand"

I want to hold your hand.
Exercise did nothing for me.
My eyes on the lilac in the hedge, I hurry back to you,
noting the lot-well, filled in.

With your father, the lawyer, entrepreneur, marrying Linda Collens (four daughters)
your mother, Newton Center actress, daughter of Charles Collens, architect (Cloisters)
with the Letchworth connection, Mabel, your father’s mother living on Owasco Lake,
with our courtship there lapping and ebbing and camping in Letchworth Park,
with William Prior Letchworth giving the land to the State of New York,
with Letchworth your middle name,
with Glenwood Falls marveling beacon sparkling,
with the slave girl, July, bearing up to show us how to live,
with One The Angel in the grave working us to humanity’s steeple.
I’ve had nothing but pleasure since you’ve been well.
Every day’s a holiday, today, Valentine’s.
To your memory I’m true − including the three sleepless nights soon after our honeymoon,
the valium your dad gave you for sleeping, your yearning unfocused,
your body present though not returning the ritual we celebrated 30 July 66.
Rings of gold will not rust our 50th six years away.
O the magnetic flesh waiting.
Where the soul moves you turn to distant places, your walks along the old house
calling for the hearth to line up our flames, stars shining bright.

Of relatives in “important” positions, ceremonies, recognitions −
all endorsements arrive in spirit so that they appear
shiny and unaligned with expectations
bearing the dawn and the dusk,
the first and last the same ever changeless and changed,
points of view, the edge of the water,
the wonderfulness of bluebirds, feeding in the field, their flights down,
fluttering gracefully as maidens praying.
The delicate curve the moon peals promises prayer,
as you keep your eye on the page, wanting to understand.
Others may wonder; yet friends shall walk in and complete the picture.

My heart’s stripped today.
It’s bulging with push.
The stars twinkle around us.
My feeling unfolds without a goal,
embracing inimitable women of the world.

© Shelby Stephenson 2012

Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge. Find out more at www.shelbystephenson.com

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gary Carson

The Weather of Railroads
Nodding on a cockcrow Amtrak,
Lulled by the ticking of ties,
The sweep of a floodstage Missouri,
Birds wheeling the luminous oxbows.

Railclatter crossing bells.

Back in the diner,
Conductor blows rings at forms:
“John door’s broke, AC’s broke,
the train crew’s broke…”

Trackside junkyards flow:
Miles of loading docks,
Rustpiles, tank cars on sidings.
Cranes dangle hooks over
Wrecks heaped like husks:
A school bus full of mufflers,
Cracked foundry ladles
Like church bells on a flatbed.

Black grandma across the aisle:
“Jesus what makes you breathe..,”

But Heaven’s only a switchback
In this here to there stream
Of iron slang and rocking Pullmans,

And we are the weather of railroads,
Just blowing through.

Thunderstorm Seen As an Event of the Central Nervous System
Midnight,
41st & Walnut,
walking the dog in the rain,
neural nets lulled
with St. Pauli Girl Dark,
Missouri Gold.

Sidewalks stream
this side of the optics.
High beams flare.
Twig snags whirlpool gutters.

The cyclone night
flows through the cortex,
synaptic triggers
on currents of association,
retinas wandering
riffles and pools,
archipelagos of blacktop,
focusing rain in lamp light,
snails in rings of reflection.

Dog sniffs
old black roots
then signs his name.

Splashing across Walnut
in lightning and downpour,
we are neon fiber,
conscious filaments.
Ventral roots thunder.
Alpha waves wash cellular shores.

The city pulses,
nervous with sirens,
the weather for tonight:

thunderheads of the spine,
drumrolls
in the reptilian complex.

Leviticus
Am That I Am burns a bush,
Cold flame, shrub of veins;
Lamb with seven horns & eyes
Savors a bed of flesh coals,
Fretting leprosy in fire,
Incense of screams, sentient offering;
Laps bullock blood & dung,
Demanding carcasses for idols,
Rams for sin, kids of goats
Stripped to the spine for Trinity;
Host of Hosts down on His knees,
Slurping gristle, rump, fat of the innards.

How He loves the little children.

© Gary Carson 2012

Gary Carson is the author of the apocalyptic thrillers Hot Wire and Phase Four, both available from Amazon and BlastedHeath.com. His short stories have appeared in Hardluck Stories, Noir Originals, and the 2009 Thuglit anthology, "Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll." He edits and writes for The Ancient World Review (http://www.ancientworldreview.com) and Ominous Planet (http://www.ominousplanet.com), and his writer's site can be found at http://www.gacarson.com.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Donal Mahoney

BACK THEN AND WRITE NOW

When I began writing in 1960, there were no website "magazines." Print journals were the only place to have poems published. Writers used typewriters, carbon paper, a white potion to cover up mistakes and “snail mail” to prepare and submit poems for publication. Monday through Friday I'd work at my day job. Weekends I'd spend writing and revising poems. Revising poems took more time than writing them and that is still the case today, decades later.

On Monday morning on the way to work, I'd sometimes mail as many as 14 envelopes to university journals and "little magazines," as the latter were then called. Some university journals are still with us. Some are published in print only and others have begun the inevitable transformation by appearing in print and simultaneously on the web.

"Little magazines," especially those published in print without a presence on the web, are rare in 2012. One might say, however, that their format has been reincarnated in hundreds of website publications that vary in design, content and frequency of publication. Depending on the site, new poems can appear daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. For many writers, these websites are a godsend. Some "serious" writers, however, still feel that a poem has not been "published" until it has appeared on paper.

I can't remember what postage cost in the Sixties but it was very cheap. Nevertheless, it would often take six months or more to hear back from many editors of university journals and little magazines. Sometimes I would get no response despite my enclosing the mandatory stamped self-addressed envelope (SASE).

Submission etiquette at that time required that a writer send nothing other than the poems, usually a maximum of three, and the SASE. What's more, simultaneous submissions were universally forbidden. I don't remember any editor wanting a biographical note until the piece was accepted and sometimes not even then. All that mattered was the poem and how much the editor liked it.

Today, in contrast, some web editors want a letter from the author up front "introducing" the poems and/or some aspect of the author's life. I've never been comfortable providing that kind of information in front of poems I'm submitting. I can't imagine lobbying for poems that I hope speak for themselves.

In the Sixties, my average acceptance rate was roughly one poem out of 14 submissions of three poems each. Two or three poems accepted rarely happened but my hopes were always high.

The rejected poems I'd revise if I thought they needed it; then I'd send all of them out again to different publications. Often the poems would have to be retyped because the postal process or some editor's fondness for catsup or mustard would result in messy returned manuscripts. I followed this pattern of writing, revising and submitting for seven years. I loved it because I didn't know any other way. I had no idea that in 30 years there would be an easier way to submit poems, thanks to the personal computer. What a difference. No more carbon paper. No more catsup or mustard.

In 1971 I quit writing after having had a hundred or so poems accepted by some 80 print publications ranging from university journals to hand-assembled little magazines. I even made it into a few commercial magazines and received checks for as much as $25.00. I was on a roll or so I told myself.

The reason I quit writing poems is because I had accepted a much more difficult day job as an editor with a newspaper. Previous editorial jobs had not been that taxing. I still had enough energy to work on poems at night as well as on weekends. But the new job wore me out. The money was good and helped me deal with expenses that had increased as my responsibilities had increased. Other demanding jobs would follow in subsequent decades. As a result, I didn't return to writing poems until 2008 after I had retired.

I hadn't really thought about working on poems in retirement but my wife bought me a computer and showed me where I had stored--37 years earlier--several cardboard boxes full of unfinished poems. It took a month or more to enter drafts of the 200 to 300 poems in my new computer. It took longer to revise and polish them. Finally, I sent out the “finished” versions by email to both online and print publications.

It took a few weeks at the start but eventually lines for new poems began to pop into my noggin. Alleluia! I was ever so thankful to "hear" them because it answered an important question--namely, could I still write new poems after such a long hiatus?

I found submitting by email a joy. For a while I sent an occasional poem by snail mail to journals that did not take email submissions. But in six months I stopped doing that. I did not want to lick envelopes any longer. Looking back over the last four years, I'm thankful for the response my work has received from various editors in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Since I am an old-timer writing and submitting poems, I'm sometimes asked if I notice any difference in the "market" for poetry in 2012 compared with the Sixties. I'm also asked if I would I do anything differently if I were starting out today.

Yes, I notice a difference in the "market" today, and, yes, I would do some things differently if I were starting out now.

If I were starting out now, I would revise poems even more than I did when I was young. I revised a lot back then and I revise a lot today. I believe strongly in something Dylan Thomas once said—namely, that no poem is ever finished; it is simply abandoned.

It's taken four years for me to gain some sense of how the "market" for poetry has changed over the last 40 years. In preparing my own submissions, I have had a chance to read a lot poetry by young writers, some already established and many unknown. Sometimes I compare their work in my mind with the work of poets I remember from the Sixties.

Although Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, among others, had their followers back in the Sixties, and still do today, I find that in 2012 "confessional" poetry has become even more prominent. Some of it strikes me as good, both in content and technique, but that is a subjective assessment. Much of it, however, strikes me as "raw," for want of a better word. In some cases I also find it difficult to distinguish certain poems from prose disguised in broken lines. I don't remember "prose poems" as a category unto itself when I started out. Today prose poems seem to be very well accepted in some circles but I suspect they would have been a hard sell in the Sixties.

I suppose as a stripling and now as a codger I have written what some might call "confessional" poetry, both good and bad. Nevertheless, I think a young writer does well to write about someone or something other than one's self. Observing other people carefully and writing about their mannerisms and aspects of their behavior can help to develop one's craft. This is important because as most writers know, writing poetry or fiction is as much a craft as it is an art and without craft, writing may never reach the level of art.

Perhaps it is my imagination but it seems that over the last couple of years there has been an increase in poems written about broken relationships or other distressful matters of the heart. The writers of these poems seem to be primarily women who sound very angry and no doubt with good cause.

Apparently male poets find it easier to move on from a break-up and seek love or companionship in all the right or wrong places. I don't think that's a new development, men being who they are. I hope it's not chauvinist of me to suggest that the power to motivate a man to behave better usually lies with the woman. I feel that a woman has a gift she should not unwrap too quickly no matter how eager a man may be to undo the ribbons. Not many ribbons were undone in the Fifties prior to vows. In that era, of course, women were old-fashioned by current standards. The ones who were not "old-fashioned" were called a lot of things but not "liberated."

There are other types of subject matter common in poetry today that didn't appear too frequently in the Sixties. Graphic sex, science fiction and horror seem to appeal to many male writers, although some females also like to write about these subjects today.

I've never been interested in horror and I doubt that I would have the imagination to handle it well. I never fantasize about anything that even borders on science fiction. Sex, on the other hand, is a different matter. But sex has always struck me as the easiest subject to write about. I could write about sex well, I believe, but why should I? Why should I make my wife angry? Even if I were single, I suspect I'd be restrained by a line from Emily Dickinson that I first read it in college. Ms. Dickinson wrote, "how public like a frog."

In contrast with my early years in writing, I am never satisfied today with a poem even when it has been published. If I go back and re-read a published poem a year later, I am certain to find something "wrong" with it and I feel obligated to fix it. Sometimes I can't fix it but in the process of trying, I occasionally find that I am suddenly in the middle of writing a different poem, an offshoot of the original piece or something entirely different. I've found benefits and problems in that.

Rodin's "The Thinker" is set in bronze and marble and not subject to revision but few if any of my poems acquire that status in my mind. And if one of them does, I eventually come to feel the poem could be improved, even if at that moment I might not know how to make it better. Maybe in six months I'll read it again and hear something errant in the lines that I will suddenly know how to fix. It doesn't hurt, I believe, for a writer to listen to a poem the way a mechanic listens to a motor. Both want to get everything right.

My purpose in writing this piece has been to record "for the ages" what it's been like writing and submitting poems in two distinct eras. I certainly like the ease with which technology today has enabled me to compose a poem. The "delete" key is wonderful. But there is something to be said for the anticipation caused by finding an envelope in the mailbox from an editor, the way a contributor might have done back in the Sixties. One knew immediately by the thickness of the envelope whether all three poems had been rejected or one or two of them had been accepted. That was a wonderful time for a young writer to cut his or her teeth.


© Donal Mahoney 2012

Note: MuDJoB Has not previously posted much in the way of non-fiction articles, but could not resist putting up this piece by Mr. Mahoney, and we think his insight into the "industry" may prove inspiring and perhaps helpful to other writers looking to get their stuff out there. Good writing will almost always find an appropriate venue. Thank you, Donal.

Donal Mahoney has had work published in MuDJob and various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Javed Baloch (Leviathan)

PERDITION

Colton stands among the leaves in the quiet motion of their own, and looks deep into the bleak woods, in silent understanding of the invitation at hand, his only means for escape. With three days of running in the wild, somewhere by the river he has left behind hordes of huntsmen hard at work; ambitious, wild and with eyes gone crazy, ravenous for all the stray souls of this world.
With their badges shining from a distance, God’s hunters and lawmen proliferate like rabid beasts in this neck of the woods.
They have managed to overcome three uniformed enemies confronted in the course of the last three days, the murder of three local police officials leading to a raised bounty on their heads and an intensified search. They are wanted: dead or alive. Now, going back, all Colton can recall is a blind state of panic and the dance of the trigger back and forth.
“Rain is comin’,” says the old man next to him, the fear in his voice pressing down on Colton, to convince him to take the way to the woods. “And it will be hard, it always is in the wild, and we will be nothin’ but a couple of wasted rags with all that downpour.”
“We go down them woods.” Colt mutters. “We might survive.” Pauses. “Or we might not”.
“But it ain’t the same if we stay. Ain’t the same back where we runnin’ from”. Old Man replies.“Stayin’ will do us no good, if you ask me”.
“But there ain’t no comin’ back once we are in that primate zone. If you get the hang of what I am sayin’ to you, Old Man. No God will whisper through those trees, no fallin’ to your knees, souls ravin’ and cryin’ out loud to Heaven.” He pauses. Then, adds, “You up for that?”
The old man was a preacher of some sort in the days before the chain and the sentence that came with it; the heavy laden metal on your conscience for that one moment of criminal intent punishable by life or noose.
The old man nods and says, “You askin’ too many questions then I can see to, Colton. I am done bein’ a preacher. I am done killin,’ and am sure as hell done savin’ souls.”
Colton nods, without words, understanding the significance of every word that he has uttered, knowing that in the end, given enough time, we all go down that lonely corner, to embrace the darkness, wishing to be cured of our sentiments.

          ****************

He looked deep into those fading eyes of the victims and wondered. Admitting little guilt to himself, or trying hard not to.
“So what happens now?” He asked the old man.
“When?”
“After you're dead.” Colton said. “Now that these proud men have bitten the bullet.” Not knowing where the question within him came from. Not caring to. Colton just felt that he needed to talk, if only to keep his hold on sanity.
“Don’t nothin’ happen.” Old Man said, giving him a deep thoughtful stare. “You're just dead I reckon.”
“You ain’t a believer no more, are you Old Man?” Colton asked, feeling the strength within his voice slowly leaving him.
“Maybe.” The old man shrugged. “Maybe I am, or maybe I ain’t. I just can’t put any part of myself together. Not anymore. And I just don’t believe I have an answer.” Paused. “Sorry to disappoint you, but that is the plain truth. I got no answer for nobody”.
“Any regrets?”
“Say again.” Old Man said.
“You got any regrets in your life.” Colton said. “You regret savin’ them souls.” Paused, his voice now a whisper. “Regret takin’ any of these men here.”
“None I can remember”. Old Man replied. “And I saved nothin’ worth takin’, or ever took nothin’ worth savin”. Paused. “Folks are either droppin’ down in graves or cradles these days. The times we live in, and I ain’t makin’ it any worse then it already is”.
“Is that so?”
“I’d like to believe that, yes.” Old Man said. “Just puttin’ in my two pence, that is all”.
“Do you now regret not killin’ that little nigga’ as I told you”. Colt squinted at him. “You old fool, what were you thinkin’ back there? Fuckin’ redemption?”
They ought to have killed that boy. Colton thought and felt miserable. Would have saved lives in the long run. And bullets too.
Back there, they left a shadow behind. The old man had made a mistake, letting that black kid go living the way he did.
Though Colton didn’t think that he himself would have done any better than the old fool when the moment arrived. Pulling a trigger didn’t come naturally to them, and least of all when it came down to blowing the brains of a twelve year old son of a whore, a bastard who was born special. A deaf and mute.
One act of righteousness. Colton thought bitterly to himself. Is all it takes. And their world was no longer defined by mere black and white.
All around them, God’s hunters and lawmen lay sprawled with their dust smacked boots against the horizon, the drowning sun, and the dying light of life’s fire prematurely fading in their eyes. Bodies slowly growing motionless and their minds perhaps drawing the last mental images of how different their lives could have been. Useless analogues of dying men’s hope.
In despair Colton and the old man had reached out for the only object of faith at their disposal, their .32 Winchesters. Turning ruthless against the shadowy lawmen chasing them down, shooting and killing men, men just like them and yet so different.
Neither of them ever had to kill before. Never was death so close, so personal in their lives. Till now, they were just couple of angry inmates wanting to escape the yard, and hopefully never look back.
The old man spoke, as if reading Colton’s mind. “I was afraid I was goin’ to die.” The smoke whirling off the gun hung in his hand, facing down. “I reckon I was… just ain't easy to be so sure". Paused. "I guess I was just afraid.”
Colton nodded gravely, trying to catch his breath, his finger pressed firmly still against the trigger. Realizing that if you keep the finger pressed for long, it doesn’t feel so cold anymore.

          ****************

“Them braggin’ fools who follow the law”. Colton whispered, shaking his head slowly, as they walked away from the scene. “To stink in servitude and smell coiffeur and wormwood on their death. There ain’t no sense in that, if you ask me”.
The old man looked at him, in quiet before replying. “There ain’t no answers. Colton, like I said. We all expect to be told some mystery. And there ain’t none to speak of.”
“I don’t care, Old Man.” Colton replied. “Men like me can’t afford mystery. I ain’t justifying nothin’ because there ain’t nothin’ to justify.” Paused. “Them folks back there had it comin’.”
The Old Man remained quiet.
Colton continued. “And I ain’t goin’ down that easy. Nay, not me Old Man. Ain’t nobody to decide what happens to a man except the man himself. Let them call it the Law all they want, its tyranny pure and simple. I ain’t lettin’ myself be chained up for the next ten years of my life because some expensive lookin’ God in a high chair says so. I say let no man be the judge of another. How can they judge a man like me, from so high up there? There is a context missin’. How can they accuse me of any wrong doin,’ wearin those shiny glasses and a fancy cloak, and then call it justice? Show me the justice in that, and then you dare take me down that hole.”
“I killed them folks to stay alive, Colton”. Old Man replied. “Don’t be fooled by the white hairs on an old head. I ain’t ready for anythin’ else except to go on livin’ yet.” Paused. “And you are too much of a fool tryin’ to justify killin’ and all. It needs none of your reasonin’. It never did”.
The old man and Colton had quietly walked into the woods sometime back, having finally divested themselves of that little thing called hope; the loneliest thing that a man can do, to no longer believe in the supernatural for help.
Deep in the woods they sensed a mystery, a humming of the universe, a private habitation filtered with dancing gray lights and surrounded by the absolute truth of the woods. The inner darkness impeachable for thousands of years of the earthly womb, and the blind trees masquerading the great god sun, paving way for a black vacuum, a miniature universe preserving life older than Colton, than the old man in constant fear of death, or the crazy huntsmen with shiny badges and dead eyes.
With each step they gave up the world they had learned to live in and understand, and entered the plain--not constrained by any human conception, with slowly dawning knowledge deep in their hearts that something within the woods knew of their existence. Something that could neither be escaped nor destroyed.

© Javed Baloch 2012

Though a software engineer by profession, Javed tries to spend most of his free time reading and writing down whatever comes to mind. He enjoys brooding over and seek inspiration from the works of Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, John Steinbeck and Stephen King.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Townsend Walker

Prose Poems

What He Knows
     George is lying in a pool of water.
     When he regains consciousness he will not feel his right foot. He will wriggle his toes, but he will not know if they moved.
     He will see rocks and sprouts of green. He will not know he is on a deserted cobbled street.
     His skin will feel numb because the water is cold. He will not know the water has a pinkish hue.
     His mouth will have a coppery taste. He will not know what is in it.
     His nose will be assaulted by an acrid rotting smell. He will not know he is responsible for the odor.
     He will hear an irregular lapping sound above him. He will not be able to raise his head to see the mongrel dog drinking the water.
     He will be able to turn to see another dog approaching.

A Life?
     Charlie was a mean lad. Charlie was a mad lad. Charlie was rad bad.
     Charlie clubbed a buddy, then his aunt.
     The judge said, “Jail or Army, lad?”
     Charlie got to go to war. Charlie got to kill. Charlie saw lots of things.
     Charlie got a medal. Charlie got to come home. Charlie is the man.
     Charlie’s on the street now. Scuffed boots falling off his feet now.
     In the throat, Night Train. Up the nose, cocaine.
     Charlie was the man.

Facing Down Danger
     Danger hung around O’Neil’s florid face. Like it wanted to be invited in. “Come on,” O’Neil said. He wanted it, wanted to look it straight in the eye. That’s the kind of man O’Neil was. Adrenaline, fist on flesh. Pounding out his heart’s despair, abandoning mind to body.
     It wasn’t clear to those in McSorley’s why O’Neil didn’t notice that danger had half a foot on him, was twice as wide and was holding a knife.

© Townsend Walker 2012

Townsend Walker is a writer living in San Francisco. His stories have been published in over forty literary journals and included in five anthologies. Two of his stories were nominated for the PEN/O.Henry Award. His website is www.townsendwalker.com.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bill Lapham

THE POWER OF HER WORDS

   She got into my head with the power of her words and twisted my thoughts in pretzelnovel ways. The Samizdat of Mid-Twentieth Century Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: An Analysis of Popular Dissident Literature in a Modern Communist State moved me. It forced me out of my seat to walk in nervous circles, twitching. I felt anxious, like in that moment before delivering a speech when you come to realize there will be no substitutions.
   The power of her words came from the library. From their distribution and consumption, from the inspiration they fomented. I had stumbled on the title while binder-browsing with my head bent. From the moment I received her words inside me I understood them. It was then that knew I was fucked.
   I pictured the words flowing from her brain to her fingertips, across the electronic divide, and into the wide world with no defined destination. The blackness of the print blotted out the light and their shadows found comfort in my eyes. They got converted into signals my brain could understand, and produced meaning. She got one shot at making herself clear or leaving me behind forever, and she had gotten it right, at least for me. Ambiguity is an unstable state where meanings are lost. She made me think and I think she meant to.
   She flung my thoughts in diverse directions. Ideas were like her discarded lace clothing floating through the air and falling on lampshades in her bedroom. Her words have spanned time to take up residence in my head. Did she sit in her room to write during a summer morning thunderstorm in her pajamas? Did she sip piping hot Colombian coffee and breathe in the supercharged Leningrad air?
   She and I had been intimate, I knew. She shared her thoughts with me and I had agreed to go along. But it had been years since she had written them; could her meaning have been warped by war or her intentions perverted by the pause between them?
   Or maybe the breeze was just a breeze.
   She transmogrified herself, entered my head, influence me, persuaded me. Once she got inside, her words changed me, fucked with me, made me think about things I would not have considered in the absence of her agency. Her words wielded power and transformed me forever. I cannot undo this thing she has done. Now I know and I have no way of not knowing it.
   I am a gentle human being, impressionable and willing. She could do great harm or great good in the matter that was me.
   And that’s what made her a target for tyrants, the builders and keepers of gulags and starvation camps. To kill her words – their power and grace – they had to cancel her voice. To counter the danger of her immortality they shredded her books and burnt the shreds. They spilled their powdered ashes across the black northern sea.
   They thought they had to stop the flow of thoughts from her mind to mine. The greatest danger that they might be spread. But they couldn’t do that; the splendor had already been wrought between the teacher and the taught.
   A skeletal tree with rough bark armor, standing mindless and alone, snow drifting in its lee. They chained her to a place where bars set in stone guarded her uneasy sleep. A barren place of bare cells, crowded graves and flat gray light.
   But she had gotten in my head with the power of her words. She was in me. The damage had been done.

© William Lapham 2012

Bill Lapham is a student in the Goddard College low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program. His flash fiction and short stories have been featured here and at MudSpots, and at Six Sentences, Thinking Ten—A Writer’s Playground, and the Molotov Cocktail. His work has also appeared in several Six Sentences and Thinking Ten print anthologies, as well as Goddard College’s own peer-reviewed literary journal, the Pitkin Review. He lives in Brighton, Michigan.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mitch Grabois

He’d Never Met a Skinhead Hater

Thirty years ago
gentle Singh opened a jewelry box
to reveal eight kinds of pot
Sikhs are not too different from Rastafarians, he said
He grinned, and his long hair fell from his turban
He took a long toke
and reminded us that he was from a warrior class
With great pleasure he described ancient hand weapons
and their gristly uses
He’d never met a skinhead hater
with an automatic weapon


Tossing the I Ching

Careaga visits the same fountain
every five years on his birthday
It’s like tossing the I Ching
or asking God to write his name in the
Book of Life on Yom Kippur
Will he finally be recognized as the genius he is
and be hoisted in a chair above everyone’s head
like a Jewish groom,
or will he have to go back to the mailroom
and schlep mail?


He's Hardly a Robin

A bleached robin pulls a worm
from a brown spot on my lawn
I’ve applied Revive three times
but the blazing sun has its way
Drought has its way
I’m no tender green blade


© Mitch Grabois 2012

Mitch Grabois’ poetry and short fiction has appeared in over seventy literary magazines, most recently The Examined Life, Memoir Journal, Marco Polo Arts Mag, and Haggard and Halloo, all published this Spring and Summer. His novel, Two-Headed Dog was published in April by Dirt e-books, founded by NY agent Gary Heidt. He was born in the Bronx and now lives in Denver.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brian Barbeito

NASCENT TALK WITH THE GYPSY

She was having a laugh, but I didn’t know what about. We were sitting in a big house that was on the top of a large incline. All these books were scattered around, and the walls and the kitchen, the doors and the quarter round and every other thing, was old and betrayed. But I liked it. There was this subdued intense energy there, and maybe it was the energy of the past, fading out, but still making a signature on the present. I was glad to be speaking to her because she was fat and homely looking. Some of the others of her large group, one especially, were thin and beautiful and mysterious. But they were sketchy in their own ways with a type of stain of unleavened self importance. This one laughing was on the level, and we just talked about a few things with no ulterior motives or vested interest on either side.
“What is the funny thing?” I asked her.
“The radio yesterday. The man drove us in the car. They were playing a song that you have about a Gypsy woman. We were all laughing.”
“That is not a song I have. That is an old song.”
“Gypsy woman, gypsy woman, gypsy woman...”
She looked out the window and laughed some more. I said that some people said her group was supposed to be called Roma. She brushed her hand down across her side like she was discarding something and the movement said, ‘Please, don’t patronize me. Such things are silly...’
“What makes a gypsy....a gypsy,” I asked.
To this she held up her arm and pinched her skin, to denote that the skin contained her blood, and said in seriousness,” Gypsy is in the blood. Gypsy is the best blood.”
I asked if it had been hard where she had been.
“They killed my brother. And then they killed my cousin,” she said.
“Why?”
“Because Gypsy.”
“Who killed them?”
“Skinheads. At nightclub. After nightclub. One year ago only. Don’t like gypsy. Much trouble for gypsy people.”
We looked out the window. The house seemed to be able to hold any emotion, as if its joints and stucco and brick were now transformed into a strong person, a present person yet one whose face we could not see. The hydro lines and telephone lines stretched through rural hills outside like elastics that never broke, and if one did break, there were others that kept up the work of going along and along and along. In a moment a group of about two or three entered the room and broke the energy, the almost sacred place that a conversation can be with the wind going outside and the night coming. She winked at me, as if to say it was alright and not to take her too seriously, and she called to the others because it was their joke of that week, ‘Gypsy woman, gypsy woman, gypsy woman!’ I shot a glance outside. Tops of septic tanks were overgrown with wild bushes, and the alarm panels rose up and up affixed to metal poles, a series of mechanical and industrial sprouts that received the splashes of sun in the days and heard from the windows the stories relayed at nights from the house.
The other women laughed back while the old books and quarter round absorbed and took the collective noise in stride.


© Brian Barbeito 2012

Brian Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. His short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming at various venues such as character i, MuDJoB, MudSpots, and Thrice Fiction.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

John Grey

SUDDEN DUST STORM

In the particles of dust, some of the face
gathers filthy pink and grubby-blue-eyed.
The day is willful. Human flesh is on trial.
A tempest hums inside this fog of dirt. Shards
of petal, waxy and green, surrender to the
imposition of some distant desert. In dead of
lake, water cries out to be saved. Wind whips
up the haze. Skin croaks froglike. The
earth crouches back inside its hovel of oxygen,
refuses to remember the better days. A solitary house
disappears in a powdery flood. !f only it would rain
but moisture has been warned off. The sun is cruel,
joins the rampage, rides roughshod over shutter
blinking air. What happened to paradise? Eden fights
for breath, its lungs clogged. Sorry, it says. I never
meant for this to happen. The map just laughs. You never know
what's coming when you live next door to the devil.

Inside, you frantically shut blinds, tape windows,
as if the weather's coming for you. A bad dream
finds itself with feather duster in one hand.
The determined gray splatters the bedroom,
screams underneath the kitchen door. It knows
no human laws. Brows knit with grit. Appetites
cower before the mighty horde. The artificial
perfect lawn is the first to go. Roses die, praised,
at the end, for their shriveled candor. 'The world
convenes as an army of whips. Drunken ash grows wings.


ON THE DEATH OF LUELLA

Something huge and luminous fell out of the sky,
The earth surrendered, somewhere in its oceans.
Lower depths ran for their lives.
The sea-bed rose like a sudden heaven-bound tide.
You sat on your veranda, watched the bleak horizon
fire hoses at the stars.
The harsh red of the following day flung itself backward
against the bars of night's dark dungeon,
exploded in a scream of strontium and blood.
The moon dripped like a wax candle.
Orpheus gathered everything he could
from the crumbling underworld,
streaked across the wretched firmament. .
And a great tsunami headed your way.
You were on your third rum.
Your chestnut hair did nothing to discourage
your throat from sighing softly.
It was that night when it happened.
Your lips lay like a lovely child
in the cradle of your mouth.
Your eyes were at the height of their ascendancy.
And your skin announced to all and sundry pearlers:
dive here.
But your dog licked your fingers
like no man could.
And you laughed at the belligerent burst of water.
The sound of your voice did nothing but tree you.
Long after you were swept away,
you poured yourself another rum,


THE DRUMMING OF THE ETERNAL

Eternity lacked blue eyes and long blonde hair
despite what the nuns had told me.
Sure, it stretched farther than any time had a right to

but it was missing the touch of a soft hand on my wrist bone,
the attentive breath inches from my ear.
And if feeling couldn't see reason, then what could reason feel?

First Communion threw up its hands at all physical law.
Gravity? What is that? Evolution? Who invited it to the ritual?
It was wafer and wine or nothing. And there I knelt,

all body and blood and, despite the priest's exhortations,
unable to taste the likeness.
And there was eternity, the ultimate reward,

the payback for the childhood bullies, the dud romances,
the lousy jobs, the pain in the gut.
But what of those who lived among equals,

who loved the here and now, who wrote for a living,
whose health ticked blindly on.
Heaven, for all its scrubbed walls and floors,

its blissed out angels, was more nursing home than shining apogee.
I still had a life to lead, a good one. It would be nothing compared to all of time.
But something sure could learn from nothing.


© John Grey 2012

John Grey is an Australian-born poet, who works as a financial systems analyst. Recently published in Poem, Spindrift, Prism International and the horror anthology, "What Fears Become" with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Pinyon.
http://www.carcinogenicpoetry.com/search/label/John%20Grey

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Callan

THE CROW AND THE EYEBALL

I woke up in the wrong bed. My skin was tight and dry. My head ached.
I longed for an eye patch.
Outside in the mists of the morning I could hear the neighbors engaging in calisthenics, their smug grunts rang out over the hills.

I sighed and rolled over, pressing my lugubrious frame flush with the mattress.
My mother came in the room and began to iron. As she ironed she lectured me about the bed I was in. She had many valid points.
I understood her. But she took my silence as moodiness and was unhappy.
I said to her, “I agree, with you. It’s just that my right eye hurts so much, my head aches. All though the night I tossed and turned in my own bed, till the sheets became tangled and moist with my suffering. Please forgive me, for seeking relief in the cool fresh sheets of the guest bed. Could you open the window, please, let the cool air in.”
She was placated and eagerly flung the heavy leaden window open. Fresh cool morning air poured into the room.
She returned to her ironing and a deep peace set into the guest bedroom. It was not to last.
“Mom, can I borrow an eye-patch,” I asked casually.

“Why would I have an eye-patch? What do you need an eye-patch for?
A dark expression lit my mother’s features as she narrowed her focus to a single stubborn pleat.
I rolled over to face the window. Soon this bed would be as tangled and as damp as the one I had passed the night in.
A large black crow landed on the window seal. My mother yelped,. gathered up her linens and scampered out of the room. She had no fondness for birds.
There are no screens on the windows of this house.
The crow flew in the room and landed softly on the bed. It made its way slowly towards me grasping and tearing the sheets with its claws.
I did not drive it away.
It pounced upon my chest and dug its claws into my flesh.
Blood rushed to the surface of my skin: it ran in rivers between my ribs.
Deep dark splats of blood spread out from me. It stained the sheets.
More to clean. More to scrub.

I attempted to sit up and swat at the bird. Success was not my friend. The crow dug its talons deeper into my chest.
What was the point of further struggle? All was waste, ruin, and, work.
In a fast and fluid motion the crow leaned forward and plucked out my right eye.
My eyeball was so firmly in the crows grip, so clearly at home crushed between its wood colored claws that I did not attempt to recover it. The crow rose on the current of its wings, and, quicker than a thought it was gone.
From the vantage point of the crow’s claw I could see many things I had not seen before. From above I saw the broad wind swept streets of my tiny village. I saw my neighbors engaged in calisthenics.
The content of my immediate world shifted and was replaced by endless miles of blue sky. The endless sky was enhanced by the endless miles of deep blue ocean below.
The rush of flight, of constant motion bubbled up with in me, and the vast insignificance of myself, of the crow, of my dear mother and her ironing, swelled within me. The random careless beauty of all life lifted me and the crow still higher.
My headache was gone. The pain was gone. My vision, my depth of knowledge was expanded.
I set to work scrubbing the sheets clean of my blood.


© Callan 2012

Callan's work is featured at Six Sentences and her blog: theworksofjanecallan.

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