Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A.J. Huffman

Feathers and Dynamite

“there is a war between the mind And sky”
          -- Wallace Stevens

The moon looks diseased.
All blue
in its shining.
Like me.
Whenever you are near.
I feel your pull.
And I fear it.
And the conflict is often too much.
I am drained.
A crater
waiting to be filled.
But you are the tides.
Refusing to rise.
Until I crack.
And crawl.
Leaving you a trail
of blood and flesh.
You have no choice.
But to clean.

The Sense of the Serpent

Touch is the sin you cannot shed.
It claims in layers
thicker than any skin.
Building itself into and through
your every curve and corner.
It burns your senses.
Until you need its fire.
To breathe.
To bleed.
To be.
Anything
even close to alive.

Beaches of Isolation

Footprints grow from nothing.
Scarring random blankness.
Smooth
          and dissolving.
It all swallows
the salty water of memory.
Drowning.
So beautifully.
The sun has no choice.
But to turn its eyes.
Away.

© A.J. Huffman 2012

A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published four collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, Cognitive Distortion, and . . . And Other Such Nonsense. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000191382454 and https://twitter.com/#!/poetess222.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gita Smith

Diplomatic Relations

The truth about our marriage is not pretty. Hamilton took a lover after our second child was born. When I got my figure back, I initiated an affair with the Brazilian attaché and a year later, dropped him for the second-chair violinist in our city symphony. (He looked marvelous in tails and black tie.) And what quick strong fingers he had. They never tired.
Then Hamilton was transferred to Bogota and I dragged the children along behind him, but I resented every hour of our miserable three years there.
You might think the world of embassies and international relations is glamorous. Well, it’s not. It is a world of petty bickering, social climbing, secrets and second-rate wines poured from cut-glass decanters to make them sparkle like Grand Cru.
One is expected to make small talk, night after night, at dinner parties where one is seated next to flatulent perspiring foreigners who slide their hands below table to squeeze one’s thighs.
As if!
After Bogota, Ham was asked to take a small role in making friends with an Iranian business conglomerate, and so we were sent to Tehran. There, at least, one could eat well and shop with abandon. I spent many happy days in the rug bazaars in the company of an eager young translator with lovely muscled shoulders. Some afternoons, he would take me to drink tea in small cafes far from American eyes. We found a room – no more than four walls and a cot – and pleasured each other for hours under a slow-turning fan.
Then one morning, Hamilton called me to the breakfast room and asked for a divorce.
“Here? In Iran? Are you crazy?” I asked.
“You’ve been unfaithful,” was all he said.
“But I could be punished with stoning or imprisonment!” I said, panic rising.
“Then go back to America and we’ll get around to it later, in a year or two when my work is done here.”
“What about the children?” I asked.
“They will stay with me and continue here in school. I want them to learn Farsi and Arabic, It’s a changing world.”
I wasn’t ready to give up without a fight. “You’ve been unfaithful too, and I can name them all, your mistresses and whores!” I shouted.
“Not for YEARS! Not since my hiatus hernia operation,” he snarled. Hamilton snarled well, I’ll give him that. It was one of his successful negotiating tricks at world trade conferences. But I was having none of that.
“Please pour me a drink,” I said, adding quickly “but not the embassy wine.”
How, I wondered, does one end a marriage? It’s not as if there are classes one can take to prepare for exigencies like these. I imagine evening classes with names like, “Parting shots for beginners” and “Keeping a neutral expression when you are seething inside.”
Ham poured me a drink – Bombay gin and limes – and we sat civilly and listened to parrots chattering in the plum trees above our terrace.
“The buggers will have eaten all the fruit before cook gets his lazy bum out there with a basket,” Ham murmured.
I picked up a basket then, smiled at him conspiratorially, and dashed out to the garden to rescue what plums were left. Each one, pinkish-purple and soft, felt like a testicle in my hands. When I had picked a bowlful I went back inside, hoping to flirt with Ham about the resemblance to his own testicles. Instead, I found him weeping in his wing chair by the window.
“We’ve bollixed everything up, haven’t we?” he said. “It’s a bridge too far.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I sensed that he was on the cusp of reconciliation. I mean, weeping with remorse is better than open-mouthed shouting, isn’t it?
I maneuvered myself onto his lap and fed him bites of plums and made fingertip circles at the edges of his hairline (something the violinist had taught me).
“Darling,” I reminded him, “there are worse things than marriage to a slightly unfaithful spouse.”
“Like what?”
“Like being stuck with a bore. Or a wife who corrects you in public.”
“True,” he said. “True. We could be the Marchioness and Duchess of Lichtenstein who have two teeth between them and those dreadful Pomeranians.”
I could have corrected him and said Pekingese, but why spoil the moment?
We had reached détente, which is a term used in the diplomatic corps to mean both sides are fucking exhausted and ready to agree to anything just to get out of the conference room and away from their opponent.

So, as I said, our marriage isn’t pretty, but we are staying together. I have my reasons, not the least of which is that a birdie told me Hamilton’s next posting will be in Manhattan at the United Nations. It will be spectacular all around with never, ever a dull moment.
In the end, I think the secret to a good marriage in the diplomatic corps all boils down to staying busy.
I’ve already arranged for season tickets at The Met, some quality spa time at Elizabeth Arden, and fittings at Prada. I am positively sure I won’t so much as LOOK at another man, I’ll be so fulfilled.
In fact, we are embarking on a whole new chapter. Those lovely Persian rugs from the bazaar will go down in the new apartment. And I fully intend to show Hamilton the delights of soft Oriental carpeting. And a delicious new position I learned not long ago. It involves a silk scarf, a leather strap and some aromatic herbs. I wish I could remember its name in Farsi. Roughly translated it means ' reaching your hoped-for destination.' Appropriate, wouldn't you say?

© Gita M. Smith 2012

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bill Lapham

An Homage to Trumbo

As combat operations go, this one sucked. On the morning of the third day, the squad inspected the weapons they had cleaned after the firefight the night before—M-4’s, 240’s, 203’s, the M-60. They ate chow then formed a huddle. Only the members of Weapons Squad—Baker, Brown, De Jesus, Callahan and Jakes—were in the huddle, no one else. They’d gather in a circle, wrap arms over each other’s shoulders and butt heads while an iPod sound system blasted Drowning Pool’s “Soldiers.” They’d shout the line: “On your feet/who’s with me,” leap into the air and body-slam. Then they’d shout the lines: “THIS is for the soldiers/THIS is for the soldiers” while punching each other in the chest with their hard-plastic knuckle gloved fists, usually at half power. Sometimes, when they were really jacked up on Red Bull and adderall, they’d switch to full power, and had to be stopped by the First Sergeant.
Those who observed the ritual thought the boys were crazy. But these five guys, who came from every corner of the United States, had been together for three combat tours, one in Iraq and now their second in Afghanistan. They had collected more medals for valor than any ten other guys in the division.
They thought leave to go back home was ‘soft shit’. It made warriors act like civilians, and they had no truck with civilians. Civilians had no clue what they did. That they might someday share their thoughts on the subject of war was unthinkable. Even embedded journalists had a hard time penetrating their thick exterior.
By the end of the song, the boys were dancing on a razor’s edge—they were combat ready.
Sergeant Baker led the squad on dismounted patrol that morning. They moved into the valley with their heads on swivels. Steep mountainsides stretched from the river to the sky like a giant V imprinted on the land. Each guy had a sector to scan for threats to the group. They were not waiting for somebody else to shoot first.
The patrol wore on and was relatively uneventful, boring even, until a flash of light illuminated the entirety of the space around them. For an instant, Baker didn’t think the sun could get that bright. It was as if what they had been walking in darkness, and this was suddenly daylight. In the next instant, Baker was smashed to the ground, the wind smashed from his lungs.
*
Sergeant Baker started feeling the pain three months later when he slow-woke in a hospital in Germany. He could hear noises, sounds like words from a language he hadn’t been taught, and doubted he could ever learn. The room looked like it had been submerged in a swimming pool recently violated by a fat boy doing a cannonball. He was cloaked in a bubble of ambiguity, and he would have panicked had he been aware enough to panic.
He and his boys had been known to guzzle a beer or two back in the world. Blackouts were not uncommon. But this was the blackout from hell—
When he woke, nothing remained still, everything moved. Objects seemed to float on unstable cushions of air. Nothing conformed to the nature of things he was accustomed to. A cacophony filled the room and irritated the tiny hairs in his ears, and on his arms and legs.
He wanted quiet, but all he got was noise.
He wanted to go back to sleep, but the air conditioner was blowing air; oxygen hissed; medical devices alarmed; word-sounds reverberated; an electronic voice spoke in a strange language outside his room. Something squeezed his arm, and then let go slowly. He felt a sharp, searing pain in his back and neck, like an enemy was still in the process of inflicting wounds with a bayonet, sticking and twisting.
He knew nothing: not where he was, or who he was, what he was looking at, or what he was hearing. His world was encrypted, staticky, and he had no key for the code. All he knew for sure was that he was hurt, and the pain was intense—
When he woke, someone was standing over him: an insubstantial, amorphous mass of humanness he could not bring into focus. The person-presence was speaking words, a name maybe, maybe his name, maybe not. He heard words, words he thought he knew, or knew a long time ago, a long time, a long—
When he woke, someone was standing over him yelling his name, or what he thought was his name. What he thought—
The rhythm of the sound had a familiar beat, like it was associated with him somehow. A body in a white lab coat was saying his name over and over again.
Why is he doing that? I’m right here, he thought. I can fucking hear you, man, he thought he said. Shut up or I’ll come off this bed and fucking ruin your day, whatever your name is.
Where are my guys?

He thought he was awake, finally, but not for long—
When he woke, the bodies in the room bore a resemblance to forms he had seen before he joined the Army. These people seemed different from the others, the ones in the white coats. These people seemed to know him better; and he seemed to know them. The sounds of the words they used were closer to the set he understood. They followed familiar patterns and their voices were friendlier. They had soft voices, like civilians use. Mom?
Though he felt safe in their midst, he also felt exposed, like his junk was showing.
He didn’t have a weapon—
Where is my weapon?
When he woke, it was by the sound of an alarm. It was coming from one of the machines. One of the people in white coats responded to it, a woman. He was embarrassed he didn’t know her name, though she seemed to know his. Sounds were getting clearer: not as many echoes. His vision was stabilizing, scenes held their firmness. People moved because they had a means of locomotion, not because they floated like ghosts. He could see causes producing effects he could predict. The machines stayed in place, solid, heavy, full of purpose and commitment and knowledge—
When he woke, he heard his name but he couldn’t respond to it. Someone noticed tears in his eyes. They called his name again, and he blinked his eyes. There were more people now, all hovering over him, blocking the light, yelling his name.
Shut the fuck up, I can hear you just fine.
He blinked rapidly, and often, trying to clear his vision. It made his head hurt.
“Brian, can you hear me?” one of them said. “Sergeant Baker. Can you hear me? Blink once for ‘yes,’ twice for ‘no.’
Baker blinked twice. He had lost none of his wit. The guy in the white coat was pissing him off. He wondered if he’d get the joke.
Brian Baker didn’t give a fuck what these people wanted; he wanted to know where his boys were. Were they all right? Was anybody wounded? Were they receiving the care they needed? But he couldn’t form words with his mouth. There was some sort of communications breakdown in his head.
He knew the words; he just couldn’t speak them.
Baker heard the guy in the white coat say to someone else in the room that based on the results of an MRI, they didn’t think he had suffered any cognitive impairment. He had, however, suffered a significant brain injury, and it would take time, maybe a long time, to determine to what extent he would recover.
“No,” the guy continued, as if he was responding to a question Baker couldn’t hear, “he won’t be going back to his old unit. No way.”
Baker’s first thought upon hearing that was:
Bullshit.

© 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.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Liz Haigh

Sliding

Strange days have found me. I live in a house full of people; I'm all alone and have been for some time. I'm not sure when it started, but I now find my brain runs at a different frequency. Not just to the people around me, but to the whole world. I can just about understand the others, the things they talk about. But I can't really see the point to anything they say. I shouldn't complain, because no one is remotely interested in anything I have to say. Daily, I feel myself sliding.

It wasn't always like this. I was young once - not that I'm old now. Age is insignificant, or at least it should be.

Part of me relishes the solitude, the hours I can spend alone in my head. The world I create in there is so much better than the world outside. At times, it can even be exciting. God is not the only one who can create life. My dreams are as real to me now as reality ever was.

For in the end, what is the difference between a dream and a memory?

© Liz Haigh 2012

Liz Haigh lives in the Northwest of England, where it used to rain a lot but not so much lately. She has one husband, a horse, two children, two guinea pigs, a job. When she’s not busy doing one hundred and one other things, she is working on a novel for young adults, which she hopes will change her life and the lives of the people who read it. She likes to shoot for the stars and all that stuff.
http://theshadowsaremoving.blogspot.co.uk/

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