Tuesday, December 31, 2013

John Grey

The Sounds of January

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

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

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

© John Grey 2013

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gita Smith


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

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

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

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

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

“Look at the Rockefellers,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded, mouthing back, “I know.”

© Gita M. Smith 2013

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Paul de Denus

I Suspect...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul de Denus 2013

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

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bill Lapham


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

© William Lapham 2013

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

Sunday, December 1, 2013

John Grey

Two Poems


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

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

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


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

© John Grey 2013

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

April Salzano

Four Poems

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

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

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

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

© April Salzano 2013

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A.J. Huffman

3 Stages Past Basic

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

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

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

© A.J. Huffman 2013

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Donal Mahoney

That's Our Song Back When

Yes, indeedy, Mary Reedy,
tell me, please,
where did you go
50 years ago today?
You disappeared
and so did I.
Remember the prom?
Your neckline was
the talk of school
till graduation day.
The nuns had a fit.

The zit above
your Appalachian cleavage
shook everybody up.
You said it bloomed
the night before
without warning.
"A volcano popped,"
you said.

Yes, indeedy, Mary Reedy,
wherever you may be,
I tell you now
fifty years later
I see the zit clearly.
It pops like Vesuvius
whenever Stan, my neighbor,
soused beyond belief,
thinks he's Andy Williams
and sings "Moon River."
That's our song back when.

© Donal Mahoney 2013

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Theresa Vitale

Three Brief Poems

To stretch your legs
and arms completely,
extend each limb
as though the joints
are mere extensions
of the bones,
a piece of yarn
not knotted,
offers no relief.
Could they not
grow another inch?

I look away.
Each silver missile,
launched quicker than the last
will fail to break the surface
or ricochet, fall dully to the ground.

If I've tried what fills me up
can I forget the recipe,
lose it in one of my old coat pockets?
Sell it to the neighbor’s son.
His girlfriend will freeze
without layers.

© Theresa Vitale 2013

Once swept away by the beauties of the Tuscan countryside, Theresa spends a portion of each warm day in Los Angeles planning future trips around the world. When she isn't planning, she is writing, or working as a paralegal who helps families keep their homes. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley with degrees in English and Italian Studies and loves every inch of the California Coast.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harris Tobias


Outside my window, the trees have changed their
Long green gowns for slutty skirts
I swear I do not know what’s gotten into them
They were once so proper and refined
I shake my head and purse my lips
They leave me feeling outraged and unkind

Outside my window, the trees are throwing a party
I, of course, am not invited. Every tree gaudily attired.
They seem excited, excessive might be a better word
Tossing confetti, making a spectacle of themselves
Their vigorous behavior make me feel old and tired

Outside my window, the trees have gone on strike.
They are no doubt angered by the changing rules
Shorter hours and colder nights are not at all to their liking
They throw down their tools and quit, the fools
At least they stand for something, I wish I had their grit

Outside my window, the trees are on the move
Waving their bright flags of revolution, yellow and red
Already the streets are littered with their dead
There can be but one resolution to this fight
I close my window against the unconquerable night

Outside my window, the trees are bare.
Their arms raised in defeat, all hopes dashed.
The party ended, the rebellion smashed,
The strikers in full retreat. For another year the trees
Have tried. There’s something noble in their resistance
They may have surrendered but they have not died
I hide my eyes and weep for their persistence.

© Harris Tobias 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ah, the Sixties

One of the things I think of in remembering the Sixties is how I didn’t dwell too much back then on days gone by, most likely because at twelve years old by midpoint, I was anticipating my future, longing to be a teenager and be able to participate in all the off-color shenanigans I observed the older neighborhood kids doing. I believe I’ve already mentioned somewhere (several times) how I trailed after the slightly older Carol Reed, who, herself, seemed desperate to hook up with one of the merchant marines, chums of her sister Sylvia (affectionately known as Bunny)’s boyfriend. She also had a mad crush on George Harrison, and I was thrilled to be asked occasionally to accompany her to the candy store half a mile away from our block in order to rummage through the latest batch of what would later become Beatles memorabilia in hopes of snatching up pictures of her favorite moptop. South Brooklyn, even near the Redhook section where we lived, was a magical place back then and looms larger in my memory than it could possibly have been in life with all its Italian and Scandinavian immigrants and their enormous broods. There were kids everywhere, and I envied their rapid and somewhat exotic maturation being of plain old Irish extraction myself, and having to be seen and not heard and follow other arcane rules that lingered long after they had proved useful. The Sixties were not the best time of my life, but in retrospect, they don’t seem so bad, nor bring me down so much as recalling the turn of the century, when fifty was approaching and I was reminded, through unfortunate circumstances and a great need for companionship, that I had not remained on speaking terms with any of those childhood friends.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Stanley was happy to see Rodrigo had hired the one female who had applied for the position, believing prior to seeing her comfortably ensconced during their daily fifteen minute break at the coffee machine, that the fey head of Human Resources would surely have favored one of the several muscular young men whom, in passing, he had overheard adlibbing off the mark responses to rhetorical questions. “How’s it going?” he asked her, as she stood drinking from one of the institutional foam cups rather than sitting at the table in a plastic chair and using a mug brought from home as so many of his peers were wont to do. “I see you already know your way around the place,” a throwaway remark, meant to impress her with his awareness, and be taken as a compliment, for he, himself, was quite burnt out by insurance brokering. She smiled, and though he wanted to believe it was in agreement, being in the business, he was fully aware that it was one which meant absolutely nothing. After twelve years, and having experienced umpteen turnarounds, he could see she would shortly be supervising him and the nine younger brokers with whom they shared the back office, unless he finally held true to his word and opted out for his long planned retirement to a sunnier clime.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, October 12, 2013


When Sister Philip Neri asked us which saints’ names we wanted to take for Confirmation, I hesitated a bit in calling out Justin when all the other boys had chosen simply John or William or Stephen, but I had found the feast of Saint Justin on my birthday in our Catholic calendar, and it sounded mellifluous following Michael Dennis to my thirteen year old ears. Odd, how later my Lives of the Saints told me I was born on the day Little Bennet was celebrated, and that the great apologist was now to be remembered on June first, a month and a half later. So, a mistake, and another thing--we all thought the visiting bishop was going to smack our faces hard when he accepted us into the Army of Christ. We related tales of older brothers coming away with bruises, and in fact, Billy Monahan wet his pants during the pre-communion, but what a disappointment, after girding ourselves for the big one, when his Excellency merely tapped us on the cheek. Shortly afterward, I fell away from attendance at regular Sunday services perhaps because I had lost some of the fear. In relation to my faith, however, the scariest thing that occurred was years later, on the long lonely subway ride late at night, returning from visiting my mother in Brooklyn, when a born again, plain-faced little blond seated opposite, told me with great conviction, “Jesus saves, you know,” followed by a spiel that lasted forty-five minutes without a Word of lie, and I honestly believed he looked like his name might be Justin.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Loosestrife and Angle Shades

"What a setting," he thought, "so perfect for inspiration, with the cabin, the green woods, the early sunlight lingering until the late hours, the glorious food, and booze, and to be surrounded by so many hard-thinking friends."
Nothing and nobody to interrupt contemplation of a free spirited give and take, except for one, perhaps, whose sentiments, more deeply rooted, often provided a distraction, and brought to the fore a pressing need to make decisions and offer excuses. Sometimes reality is unavoidable.
During the day one might marvel at the abundance of purple and yellow loosestrife lining the path to the beach, while at night the way was overrun by small angle shades, odd to find them in this locale and bothersome to say the least, but probably to be expected, what with global warming and all. The moths were immune to flicking as they quickly returned to settle even on moving targets.
It was kind of like the too-real present intruding on a memory that might have provided an hour's escape.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pepper Dolls

While some of the writers were having a discussion after dinner, and the most fastidious were taking their plates to the kitchen, the devil within Mud set him to cutting up two tiny strips of paper dolls, five men astride and five women dancing. There had been eleven at the table, but one of the dancers had only come out by half, and so as not to appear lame, she was discarded. Certainly, a fragment of the observing souls of all who remained seated was immediately drawn into one of the figures. For those that were ambient or still on their way, well, they would have to share a doll’s eyes or take turns because these were special cutouts made to keep watch over this space long after the night in question. Attempting to find a spot that might not be cleaned frequently and noticing a thick layer of dust on crystal in the corner cabinets, Mud placed the tiny watchers on a door lintel where he hoped they would remain undisturbed for the foreseeable future. So, if you have the urge to return and observe, or if you just want to peep in on a magical space, fly there one night in a dream, and disregard those beige people watching the television we never turned on or who may be sleeping in our beds, but be careful not to disturb the karma in any way because remember the devil had a hand in this, and he’s an ornery cuss to mess with.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Zero Conditional

I have said it so many times, I think people have gotten tired of hearing it because they think I am procrastinating. I don't consider myself a whiner (did she just call me boring?) by nature, but sometimes the sound of what I've just said lingers round my ears long after it should have died away. I'm gonna be. Fuck that--I AM--hell, yeah! Ten minutes out the door, and feeling I've forgotten something, I return, and knock, but nobody comes to let me back in; Christ, they can't hear me for all the laughter going on, and I can't even hear myself think. I'm not complaining, mind you, just stating the fact: I am.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Excuse for Dreaming

It is becoming more and more difficult to wake feeling refreshed (and I sleep a great deal these days), though it is not a chore to be awake and doing once the weariness has been waylaid. A bit of the perception with which one invaded others’ lives with asperity has lately dampened, but apart from the physical clacking out of details in which they are deficient, there is still the spiritual affinity, the kinship of lacking-in-tandem, that has only recently faltered in making its way into the script. I have no time, really, for analyzing my defects (though I waste much doing so in some areas), and this is one of the reasons I must carry two sets of keys on separate rings, so as not to find myself fiddling overlong at familiar keyholes. Apparently, too, I had come to believe in my misconception that history began in the middle of the twentieth century when a curtain dropped closing off in obscurity all that went before, as if it were of no consequence, had no bearing on what is being hoisted upon us all under the banner of Current Events, and only lately have heard, through intentional listening, I must admit, the clamoring of voices of those ghostly actors offstage still wallowing in the results of their own misdeeds. My parents, heavenly angels though they may (or may not) be, are no saints, and now, in my knowing, can never be considered such, as I have inherited all their misgivings, all their foibles, and the proclivity to repeat their inappropriate actions. In dreaming, none of this matters a jot because in that realm everything is possible, and forthcoming, and that is why I linger within its boundaries, for, seen from that side, there are no frontiers at all.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, September 7, 2013

...the Great Escape looks feasible.

I am rifling through notes and false starts and contemplating extending stuff already considered finished. I am in pursuit of the last thing I did correctly, attempting to wring a little more solace from the successful completion of a job well done because even though it’s already provided a return on my investment, I am lately feeling that the the next last “i” dotting and “t” crossing won’t provide the same rush that one did. All my recent plans have had to be adapted in a way with which I am not comfortable leading to the throwing up of hands in a gesture of surrender I am unwilling to concede. I am acting like a diva as if my petty concerns were those of many, but am not hearing more than vocal dissatisfaction from any of my mates as they scurry and make enormous changes to be witness to the latest in a long line of paradigm shifts rather than relax at a beach or enjoy the gossip at a cousin’s wedding or just spend the days shopping. I have an opus to write without a fraction of an idea forthcoming. This fence-sitting is depressing the hell out of me, and I don’t give a good goddamn for paradigms shifting or remaining static since I cannot find an affordable escape ticket, but then...

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mess Age

“I see you,” I said softly and quickly in an effort not to make a big thing of it, and just to show my gratitude, but as ever, something like a spell was broken merely through the utterance. In other words, I fucked up today by attempting to place myself on top of the situation and stepping on marshy feelings that do not appreciate recognition. Everything that’s manifest around here, and I do mean pretty much everything, is meant to be understood through implication and inference; “it’s the words they don’t want to hear.” Does this make them smug, as if they were parading around with a superior sophistication, or am I just uncouth for wanting to call a shovel a spade and pretending it digs the same hole? In any case, I acknowledged my cohort’s presence, not seeing him as a doppelganger, but more in the way of supportive back-up, a soft container for my shadow, and for my indiscretion, he fled. I don’t know if I am alone now as I say this, though I feel as if I am, but I wish I could hear the air drifting by my ears as I once did, and ascertain my right to be righteous.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, August 24, 2013


We are like kids ourselves playing with kids, only trying to maintain a superior outlook. We have our jargon to discuss methodology, to be sure, but never resort to cant, except for the managing director. He uses cant all the time. The flavor of the month when I started teaching at this school was Collaborative Learning. Currently, there is a move backwards to something akin to Pragmatics, albeit with high technology thrown in to spice things up. Just the other day, the MD was telling us the age of the textbook was history, and so, I guess, is storytelling of any length longer than this.

© Michael D. Brown 2013

Originally posted at 6S Social Network

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How She Almost Brought Him Home

He did not appear happy she had found him here among the forgotten, in fact, quite the opposite. His rage became incendiary, reddening his neck and the skin on the back of his hands. An acrid odor wafted through the room, and she could not be sure if he had again taken up smoking, or if someone had removed a cheap pair of shoes after walking all over the factory town. She found herself apologizing for doing what she had thought was right. His head bobbed with a palsy she assumed was a recent development. Before she had a chance to say another word, he disappeared completely, so all that was left was a pile of his crumpled clothes lying on the floor beside the unmade bed on which he had been sitting.

© Michael D. Brown 2010

Originally published in 6S Vol.3 – Page 161

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Cassandra and Arthur Fulman argued all the time; the problem being Cassie’s projecting her own guilt onto Art, telling him he was always predicting negative and dire outcomes. She did not appreciate his spending entire nights cruising the Internet, stockpiling digital copies of the world’s classic literature, amassing tens of gigabytes of music files, photographs, and scanned sketches when she wanted to sit and have conversation after working all day in the hospital’s administration office. For months after he had suffered his fatal heart attack, she couldn’t turn on the computer at home without some reminder of Art, even after changing his wallpaper, and dumping his file links in an app folder and hiding it in another location. Then, to celebrate the anniversary of his passing, she cleaned house, deleting all the e-texts, erasing massive amounts of digital photos and songs, obliterating every electronic reminder of the former thorn in her side, and finally she began to feel free of his presence in her life. She called up old girlfriends she hadn’t seen in years, and went to lunch with some of them, bought some new clothes in a larger size, and even began eating chocolate again. However, Cassandra was willing to admit to herself something bad was in the wind when she opened her e-mail client at work a week later and read, in Arthur’s handwriting, a note saying, hey, where's all my stuff - cannot find anything over here.

© Michael D. Brown 2009

Originally posted at Six Sentences

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Chimpanzee Moko sat at a typewriter three hours a day every day except Sunday, when his trainer took him to church and he rested. After three years, Moko had finally tapped out a coherent short story. It was surreal in a way, what with misspellings and skewed syntax because after all chimps see things a little differently than humans do. His trainer, somewhat exasperated by all the clacking it took to produce such a short piece of work, set Moko to the task on a laptop with a silent keyboard, but the chimp became distracted by all the images flashing on the Internet, in fact, developed an addiction to surfing until the trainer darkened the screen. At first, seeming disheartened, Moko would not play anymore, but he must have liked pressing mushy keys because he soon took up typing again, and went at it for six months straight, tap-tap-tapping away, until one day in December when he stopped; just stopped and would not move a hairy digit. The trainer, in checking the printout that evening, found at the end, the words, “wot s tha meeening of it all....i m don heer.”

© Michael D. Brown 2009

Originally posted at Six Sentences

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Joseph Robert


A fetus perceives hot, warm dark.
A child perceives reality,
under the glare of a congenital optimism.
An adolescent perceives what should be.
A young adult perceives what could be.
A mature person perceives reality,
under the shadow of a congenital pessimism.
A robust elder perceives what should have been,
and what will likely be again.
A fading elder perceives what was, intercut with reality.
A dying mind perceives warm, darkening past.
A corpse is The Dead, is one yet are none,
and perceive nothing or everything,
Which of these?
Don’t hurry the day, friend, for we’ll both know soon.


For the swirl of my senses
Gels the simulacrums of my mind
Into a serving, that at present,
Makes me seek not endless sleep
Even though, I was . . .
Bought on supermarket clearance, half-price reduction
I’ve surpassed my Use By Expiry Danger of Death Date
With the refrigeration of philosophy
And the nitrates of romantic love
I’m happy
Because I’m not part of the next generation
Of botulism infection vectors


The Good is no gilded treasure best hoarded away
The Good is a gentle spark dependent on sheltering hands
And the sequential stewardship of those who search
But do not root in mud while planning on wallowing in slops

Giddy about charging seminar fees up the wazooo?
Back to the trough!
Pigs that gobble every snout-scented truffle
Are fit for bacon and tombstones of gelatinous goo.

Eager to share understanding?
Good on you.
But clean up that whole (fire = truffles??) noise;
It doesn’t pay to manufacture sense freelance on spec.


You cannot own the wind
But you can sell it
If your politico cronies
Give you a slice of tasty monopoly
And delegate the hiring of a sub-contracting consultant
To secure the day-to-day management of your own subsided
Wind Farm


Nervous Anxiety:
That Scab Of Years-In-The-Healing Fear
Squirts My Higher Brains Across The Toilet Bowl
Wipe Away and Flush It Round And Round, Never Down
So Hard To Move On When Hate Nests In The Breast Of Id
Wide-Awake, Weary, Wobbling and Weak
Out of spite, Convincing None I’m Out Of Their Sights
With Teeth Gritted, I Shamble To And fro,
Then Plunge Forward
Blood Up And Bent On Having A Really Nice Day
(Rx: Placate With Placebos, Dosing Sugar Pills And Smiles,
We’ll Write This Off As A Case Of A Qualified Cure, Dispensed.
When Life Gives You Bitter Oranges, Concentrate.)


They built a brick altar in the midst of the rows
Bringing the polyunsaturated fat of the mind
To the polyunsaturated fat of the land
Kernels of wisdom or silage wastage?
Cook it for ethanol, drink it, pop it, burn it or pour it
And that’s what they do, make-believing it’s not corny,
They present the place as the laboratory of a workshop,
But it’s The Church of The Proud Selves Declaiming (Reformed),
And so they monk on, and nun on, and on and on,
Skimming specialist puff pieces,
For their cloister’s cohorts’ bylines, meanwhile
Scattering about the altar their own-sanctified writings:
Humanist orisons after rules-gelded diaries,
Altered to taste.

These scrips are so rarely read for their own merits,
But so often written about,
In Curriculum Vitae
Feel free to knock it,
It’s a career.

© Joseph Robert 2013

Joseph Robert was born and raised in the Midwest. However, he has always been partial to Hawaiian beaches. Nevertheless: Go Badgers! After living and working for several years in rural Japan, he now resides in London with his wife, writer and poet Leilanie Stewart. In his spare time, you can find him at the British Museum trying to teach himself how to read cuneiform. Don’t worry, yes, he has seen Evil Dead, so doesn’t read any of it out loud.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Leilanie Stewart


I do not wish to be
yet another rivet
painted into the cast iron girders
sealed for eternity
in a rusty, decrepit
railway fence

The train goes nowhere
but it is better to be on it
than a sleeper under it,
than a fence beside it

Look out the windows
along the way
The journey
is all that matters


Scoot over
for the corrugated iron roof
will ultimately fall

See those pigeons?
eating their fill-
it will not crash onto them
they will eat, oblivious

Nobody is immune
this is a disaster
that is imminent,
a concrete tsunami
that we may or may not
be able to surf

Prepare yourself
for when the tide turns
people will scatter,
flee in all directions
and what will you do?

Stand and stare?
Self preservation
is of utmost importance


The schoolboys
don’t stink of alcohol
they are not the ones
to be feared
they are decoys
from the bum
on the street
who staggers
and stinks
of carly specials

This is not
the kind of place
where you’d want
to fall, knowing
that passersby
would pass you by

You are alone
in a scary world,
little child,
so keep your wits


And now
I have a dead left leg
and my belly hurts
and my eyes sting
at the sight
of the see-through knickers
on the line

they’re made of net,
what a catch!

Isn’t this prison existence wonderful?


grey matter
this ball
of squishy,
saturated fat
is oversaturated
with puss and shit

holds so much
squishy, squashy
but the masses
wouldn’t comprehend

it ain’t
for if there weren’t sheep
the beauty of the shepherd
and the devilry of the wolves
couldn’t be appreciated

There hangs
the golden sheep
taunting us so readily
but they are unequipped
with a long enough rod
to reach it

Wield your shepherd’s staff!
All you abysmal sheep.
Reach the damn fleece
that you can’t see hanging
before your eyes
because of all the glinting gold

What you didn’t know
is that the fleece already fell,
cloaking your head
with a suffocating blanket

The blanket
ain’t made of wool-
it’s polyester,
ha ha!

I warned you
it was filled with puss and shit,
let me remind you-
the grey matter

The grey matter
has been skull-fucked
into a thousand fragments
of anterior cortex,
right hemisphere,
left hemisphere,
leaving only the reptilian brain

A reptilian brain
ain’t no good
in the skull of a ram
oozing rotting flesh


Will I ever grow up?
The vine says no
Which vine?
Not the grape vine-
the vine with spreading lianas
the vine delving into
the depths of a slumbering

Why bother growing up?
When the acrid clouds are waiting…

It is better to stay
young and unplucked
free of herbicide,
free of pesticide,

hanging on the vine.

© Leilanie Stewart 2013

Leilanie Stewart is one half of a writing couple - the other half is Joseph Robert. By day she runs a creative writing workshop for teenagers and by night she publishes her writing in print and online magazines in the US and UK, as well as reading her work at spoken word events. Her writing blog is at www.leilaniestewart.wordpress.com

Friday, June 21, 2013

Steve Klepetar


I keep it in a box under my bed,
the other face, scarred and broken

along cheekbones and nose, as if
a hundred bee stings worried the skin

or thorns tore at exposed flesh.
The one I wear, the mirror tells me,

smiles, and sometimes speaks too softly
to be heard. In photographs it almost

disappears behind a graying beard
and brown eyes revealing nothing:

no emptiness or cliffs or jagged edges
where crows might have pecked or cats

scratched or winter wind chaffed
the forehead raw. It’s an elastic face,

made for wondering or listening
to the droning drumbeat of another voice.

The other face will not keep still.
Awake it scuffles and rolls and bumps,

squeezing semi-human sounds through
lips and teeth and tongue, a little hurricane

of need beyond control – nest of hair,
puffy eyes, web of veins – wrestling

to break free, claim at last its lost body,
howling red syllables to the terrifying moon.


When windows melt and all light
becomes trapped and darkness
oozes, thick syrup on evening’s
rosebud lips. Then you might
wonder where solid walls have
gone, or stone floor and comforting
roof. Your eyes may tell you one
thing, a kind of cunning tale,
but skin will open to a bruised
and wilder truth
formed from scratches your fingers
can almost taste, musical notes
flaming into sound, new instruments
weaving a universe bound by strange
gravity, singing songs frozen in a different key.


The last cowboy waits by the side of the road.
He waits for dust storms and elk.
He waits in the heat for smoke and dead clichés.
Sometimes he carries an armful of leaves, sometimes
his lips seem to curl, and then the moment passes.
He has sold his guns to a museum
that would rather have had his bowed legs
and hatchet chin.
His horse is a system of clean, white bones.
He can whistle like a lark or cry out in the language
of prairie hens. He has watched his angry friends
melt into hemlock and ash.
He has swung through the doors of the last saloon.
He is ready to swim to shore, to feast on salmon,
like some old bear deserting his winter cave.
His boots are nearly whitened by dust,
his pearl button shirt ridiculous and out of style.
His face, if you can call it that, is blurry with sweat.
He has no eyes. His nose has been burnt off
in the flame of the sun, his mouth, that organ
of broken teeth and lies, has passed into memory,
forgetful of whiskey and the delicate art of being cruel.

© Steve Klepetar 2013

Steve Klepetar's work has appeared widely and has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His book, Speaking to the Field Mice, was recently published by Sweatshoppe Publications.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Donal Mahoney


It may have been the devil himself who prompted the kids in my schoolyard back in 1947 to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."

At first, no one could remember who started the chant. Patsy, a sweet and ample child, was in the third grade. As happenstance would have it, I was in that same third grade, infamous already as the only boy wearing spectacles in our class. After I got the glasses, I had three schoolyard fights in three days to prove to Larry Moore, Billy Gallagher and Fred Ham that I hadn't changed a bit. You would think I would have forgotten their names by now. Not a chance. I didn't like being messed with in third grade.

Since the chant would often begin and gather volume during recess, the nuns who ran the school eventually heard it and did their best to put a stop to it. This was a time when nuns, God bless them, were empowered by parents to swat the butts of little miscreants if any of them interrupted the educational process. Despite their voluminous habits, the nuns were adept at administering discipline, let me tell you, as my butt, on more than one occasion, could attest.

Now, 65 years later, when the chant pops into my mind, I begin to wonder what prompted me to say it. Early on, I certainly loved to hear the sound of words bouncing off each other--as if words were pool balls scattered by a cue. Later on I would use words to earn a living. They were the only tools I was any good with.

As I remember it now, the chant started one day after a school practice in church involving Gregorian chant. Some of the other kids later alleged that they had heard me, of all people, on the way back to class, chanting "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."

I probably had some idea of the problem my chant might cause. But I loved the sound of it too much to stop.

If Dick Clark had been on American Bandstand back in 1947, he might have said the chant had "a nice beat" to it, but kids weren't dancing much in 1947. World War II had just ended and school was a serious matter. Even kids who didn't like books usually tried their best.

Since I was only in third grade, one might think that I might have had some emotional or mental problem that caused me to chant that phrase over and over. That could be. If a child did something like that today, he or she might be examined for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Maybe I had something like that. But in my mind the reason I chanted about Patsy Foley is that I liked the sound. It didn't hurt that my father was always saying things at home that had a bit of a turn to them. I remember how I used to enjoy the cadence of what he said and repeating it when he wasn't around. He used words differently than other fathers in the neighborhood and he delivered them in a melodic Irish brogue.

My mother, who was bereft of verbal rhythm, would sometimes ask my father a serious question when he was fresh home from a hard day's work, climbing alley poles as an electrician. Usually her question would pertain to some family matter that she had been fretting about all day. And my father, sitting on a chair in our little kitchen while stripping off his gear, might say in response, "And what would Mary Supple say to that?"

It's a shame that over the years my mother, sister and I never found out who Mary Supple was because her name was frequently invoked. Nor did we ever find out who John Godley was, either, even though my father would sometimes substitute John Godley for Mary Supple in that same response. He never said these things in anger, although he did have a terrific temper. He could erupt at any time and you didn't want to get in the way of the lava.

At other times, when my father was asked a question by my mother at an inconvenient time, he might look her in the eye and say, "Ten thousand Swedes ran through the weeds chased by one Norwegian," a line that did not originate with him but was one that he repeated with a special flair. The words certainly sounded good to me, whatever they meant. We didn't know any Swedes or Norwegians and had no idea if there might be some conflict going on between them. True, World War II had just ended but we didn't think the Swedes and Norwegians had been actively involved.

Sometimes my mother on a Sunday morning would ask my father if he was going to get dressed for church. He might have been taking a sip of his fifth cup of tea at the time. He wouldn't get angry but he sometimes would lean back and sonorously intone one of the many Burma Shave billboard slogans that dotted highways in that era: "Whiskers tough old Adam had 'em. Does your husband have whiskers like Adam, Madam?" I liked the sound of that slogan as well. Today, it still pops into my mind during arid moments. And as my wife will attest, she has heard it frequently over the years.

I think it's pretty easy to see, then, why I, as a third-grader, instead of concentrating on multiplication and division, preferred to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli." I am glad, however, that the nuns took it upon themselves to discipline me and did not call my parents instead. After all, my father was paying tuition to send me to that fine school to get a good education. He did not send me there to engage in tom-foolery, a pursuit that he, of course, would have known nothing about even if his legacy among relatives said otherwise.

Besides, in my mind, no nun, no matter how mountainous she may have been, was a match for my father. He had been a boxer after he had emigrated to America from Ireland, a relocation occasioned by the British army after they had imprisoned him as a young man for activities in the Irish Republican Army. My mother said he loved boxing and had won eight straight matches before "some big black guy" broke his nose. After that, he never boxed again, she said, because he "didn't want to lose his good looks." He was a handsome man indeed, despite a nose that looked as though at any moment it might call geese to fly lower.

Years later, some neighbor ladies at a block party made some nice comments to my mother about my father's appearance. When she came home, she told my sister what they had said and forewarned her that "handsome is as handsome does." In many ways, that's quite true, even though that line didn't originate with my mother. Come to think of it, though, I like the sound of that line as well and might have chanted it more than once had I heard it in third grade.

© Donal Mahoney 2013

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had poetry and fiction appear in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found at Eye on Life Magazine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Harris Tobias


After the three bears caught Goldilocks trespassing, they reverted to type and tore her apart. They ate what they could and scattered what was left of her into the woods. They then went on about their bearish business.

Several hours later, a family of buzzards, sensing carrion, landed on her decomposing corpse. Father vulture dipped his bald head deep into Goldilocks’s chest cavity and pulled out her lungs. After eating a few bites he announced, “These lungs are too fresh.” He then flew into the nearest tree and waited.

Mother vulture tore out an eyeball and swallowed it down. She hesitated for a moment before tearing out the other one. She licked her beak and declared, “These eyeballs are too old.” She then flew into the same tree and waited.

Baby vulture ripped into the rotting remains and tore off a sizeable strip of flesh. He gulped it down and ripped off another. “Mmmm mmm,” he said at last, “I think this carrion is just right.”

Mother and father vulture, unwilling to leave the entire feast to their offspring, reconsidered their hasty opinions and joined him in the meal. After a while the vulture family flew off leaving behind nothing but a young girl’s bones.

© Harris Tobias 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

A. J. Kirby


Every morning, Mark Nipple was up before the alarm. A quick shower and then a hurried breakfast. A tall glass of juice. A couple slices of dry toast. He no longer took an egg, fried or otherwise. Cholesterol.
Before he left, he’d shout up to his son, Aubrey, and he wouldn’t step out the door until Aube responded. Aube was nineteen: pretty much a vampire. Mark had an irresistible urge to force the kid to encounter daylight. Which was some kind of ironic because it was exactly what Mark’s dad had wanted for him, when Mark was the nineteen year old with dreams of making it as a musician, burning the candle low at one end in the low-rent bars and back-street clubs of Maine. Only, his dad hadn’t made do with a simple shout. No, he’d thundered up to Mark’s room and physically dragged him out his pit.
Why he cut loose from Maine in the end.
These days Mark was always on the road in time to hear the headlines at six. And he always reached the city before any of the rush hour traffic snarled-up the roads. He always called for a Starbucks on Rowlands, and he always eyed the cakes hungrily, but settled for a cap and a copy of the Tribune-Review from the news-stand. Then back to the Chevy.
It was now Mark’s course deviated. The way the seasons were in Pittsburgh pretty much dictated what he did next. A few weeks back, he’d have driven to PNC Park. Slugged down his cap and then taken a constitutional. Maybe picked a bench, a book, and whiled away the morning reading. Now the city was entering its usual downhill spiral into winter. He’d have the ice scraper out for the windshield in a few days. He’d whack on the winter tyres in a couple weeks. He just hoped it would never get as bad as ’93, and the Blizzard of. Because if they got weather like that, he’d literally have nowhere to go.
Today, he headed in the general direction of the Monongahela river. Yesterday, he’d found a nice, quiet spot he could sit and contemplate the way his hair was rapidly being deforested – an area the size of Allegany State Park receding away on a daily basis – in the rear-view mirror. There was a picnic area – at the car park, not on his head – and public conveniences. A little trail he could take if he could brave the cold.
Mark’s hair was, he’d decided, symbolic. At n-n-n-nineteen, he’d been complacent with his thick, luscious locks. Never bothered washing it; head-banged it into submission on a nightly basis. Then, when he’d given up on his rock star dreams, he’d shorn those locks, like some latterday Samson, in order to prove he was up to the job – what job? Any job. And in his forties, when, amazingly, the job Anita had for so long sneered at, had become serious, when graphic artistry had finally threatened to do more than just pay the bills, but actually provide them with a little nest egg, he’d allowed it to grow over his collar once more, just a tad, because artists were a law unto themselves. They weren’t just white-collar drones. Now he used three different bottles hair potion during his quick morning shower; some forlorn ritual, he knew.
Book he was reading last week seemed to contain a lot of stuff about hair, and it had posited the theory that people reach a certain stage in their lives when they settle on their coffin-cut. They just go in the barbers and slam their cards, their youth, on the counter, and say, I don’t care what I look like any more. In women, this phenomenon is more pronounced. Men go bald, after all. But still, yesterday, Mark had realised, with that same horror he’d had when he was nineteen and he’d crammed his fingers into his nostrils, and cocked his head in the mirror until he could see his own skull, that his own mortality stalked him. He would look like this when he died.
Yesterday, he’d been thinking of that old Rod Stewart number went I wish that I knew what I knew now, when I was younger. And hell, Mark did wish that. He wished he’d have got out his goddamn pit and seized the day. And hell, the fact he was even prepared to reference Rod Stewart now showed how different he was. Back in the day, he’d sworn by the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks.
Another book he’d read told him pretty much every cell in his body would have died and been replaced since he was nineteen so maybe he was a different person. Maybe the nineteen year old Mark Nipple who made a brand – at least on the low-grade punk scene in Maine – out of his name had already died.
The Nipple runneth dry.
Mark parked up by the sludgy brown drag of the river, between two skeletal trees, and felt like he was already dead. When he was younger he’d thought the government made people get jobs to keep them off the streets so they couldn’t kick up fuss and rail against how the world was. Now he saw people were complicit in this too. Because without a job how did one while away the hours which yawned ahead of him; the crashing boredom of weekday mornings; the monotony of the afternoons. His dad had died soon as the ink was dry on his retirement papers. Old, stubborn bastard had probably made his own heart go bang because he couldn’t stand the thought of the alternative.
But Mark’s dad had been sixty-five. Had worked a hard, menial job. Mark was still, just, right side of fifty, and yet all his days had in store for him was the reality of trying to hold back on eating the sandwiches Anita had made for him until reasonable lunch time, and then, maybe, reclining the seat and having a snooze in the afternoon. Those few moments of brain-taxing enjoyment when he attempted the Tribune crossword. Those few moments after he’d scrawled two, maybe three answers into the white squares, and he understood his brain was numb, constricted by his coffin cut and by these days of tedium, so that he’d forgotten everything he once held true.
Mark sat, watching the clock on the dash and rationing switching on the heaters. Ducking down when the occasional passerby passed by. Pretending like he was on an important call when a couple joggers wearing lumpen Duquesne University hoodies rolled past, as though he feared they’d rap on the window and ask him what he was doing there. Wondering whether he had it in him – and already deciding he didn’t – to tell them he was a private dick on a secret spying mission. When you already had your coffin cut, the creativity to lie convincingly deserted you.
But still, his one true lie, the one he told to Anita and Aube every morning when he left for work, held firm. He hadn’t worked now for six long months, ever since the cutbacks. And though he’d applied for hundreds of jobs, he’d not even scored a single interview. Despite the fact he’d now cut the photo of himself, as well as his DOB, out his CV.
Still, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. The mortgage payments were okay for now, as were the repayments on the Chevy. His daughter Samantha though. She seemed to think she deserved a monthly living allowance which would practically allow her to streak past the Kardashians, never mind keep up with them. She was a student at UCLA, majoring in living the West Coast high life. Only rarely letting her Pittsburgh roots show through, with minor slips of the tongue like, in her most recent text message: “Send money pls. The car needs washed.”
And then there was Aube. Nineteen and a wannabe musician now. What happened when he realised nineteen was already too old and that he needed college, qualifications just to buy his way into a life like everybody else. Mark’d be expected to pay his son’s way too.
Ten fifteen and Mark was already removing his sandwiches from the bag Anita had packed them in. Ten twenty and Mark had tossed the only-nibbled sandwiches out the window. He’d eaten bread, in some form, every day of his life, he realised, and he was sick of it.
What would it be like to simply drive off? Simply head on down to ol’ Mehico, like he’d once dreamed of doing after the band bit dust. Leave all this behind: cut loose, make a new life like he’d done when he left Maine.
He caught his own eye in the rear-view and saw he could not even fool himself he was the same person now. Too many cells had died. Too much hair lost.
In the car, it was cold as a coffin.

© Andrew J. Kirby 2013

The only time AJ Kirby speaks in the third person is in biographies. He's the award-winning author of five published novels (Sharkways, 2012; Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, which was released August 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), three novellas (The Haunting of Annie Nicol, 2012; The Black Book, 2011; Call of the Sea, 2010), and over fifty published short stories, which can be found widely in print anthologies, magazines and journals and across the web in zines, writing sites and more.

Twitter - @ajkirbyauthor
Wordpress - http://paintthistownred.wordpress.com/
Website - www.andykirbythewriter.20m.com

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Best Short Story on the Web

The winner of the 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web is...


Congratulations winner! You deserve it more than anyone I know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Donal Mahoney

Mike Fitzgibbons and His Morning Paper

For 35 years, Mike Fitzgibbons had never missed a day driving off at 4 a.m. to buy the newspaper at his local convenience store. Snow, sleet, hail or rain couldn't stop him. There was only one paper being published in St. Louis at the time but Mike was addicted to newspapers. He had spent his early years reading four papers a day in Chicago--two in the morning and two in the evening. He worked for one of them and enjoyed every minute of it. However, an opportunity to earn more money as an editor for a defense contractor required his large family's relocation to St. Louis. Mike needed more money to feed a wife and seven children.

"Words are words," Mike said at the time. "Being paid more money to arrange words for someone else seems like the right thing to do."

Writing and editing were the two things in life Mike could do well enough to draw a salary. It broke his heart to retire many years later at the age of 68 but it seemed like the best thing to do. His doctor had told him he might have early Alzheimer's disease and that he should prepare for the future since the disease would only grow worse. Mike never told his wife or any of the children about the problem. His wife was the excitable type, and all of the children had grown up and moved away, many of them back to Chicago where all of them had been born. Each of them had acquired a college degree or two and had found a good job. Most of them were married. Mike and his wife now had 12 grandchildren and were looking forward to more.

"You can never have too many heirs," he told his wife one time. "Whatever we leave, it will give them something to argue about after we're gone. They won't forget us."

After the doctor had mentioned the strong possibility that he had Alzheimer's disease, Mike decided to have the daily paper delivered to the house instead of driving to the store every morning to buy one. And on most days that seemed like a good decision. But not on the infrequent days when the deliveryman soared by Mike's house without tossing a paper on the lawn.

The first time it happened Mike called the circulation department and received a credit on his bill. He did the same thing the second time, managing to keep his temper under control. But the third time occurred on the morning after the Super Bowl. For Mike this was the last straw. Three times he told the kind old lady in the circulation department to tell the driver Mike was from Chicago originally and in that fine city errors of this magnitude did not go unanswered. A credit on Mike's bill, while necessary, would not suffice.

When his wife Dolly got up, he asked her, "How the hell can I check the stats on the game without my newspaper?" She was only half awake. Mike was a very early riser and Dolly, according to Mike, was a "sack hound."

A kind woman, Dolly had always tried to be helpful throughout the many years of their marriage, so Mike understood why she eventually suggested he drive to the QuikTrip and buy a paper. Then he could read about the game and check the stats, she said.

"That's not the point, Dolly," Mike said. "I have a verbal contract with that paper for delivery and they are not keeping their side of the bargain. A credit on my bill is not adequate recompense." Mike loved the sound of that last sentence as it rolled off his tongue. He always loved the sound of words whether they were floating in the air alone or jailed in a sentence or paragraph.

What made matters worse, Mike told Dolly, is that without his newspaper he would have no way to check on the obituaries of the day. The obituaries were Mike's favorite part of the paper. Back in his old ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, the obituaries were known as the Irishman's Racing Form.

Back then, many retired Irish immigrants would spend the day reviewing the obituaries in the city's four different newspapers. Finding a good obituary primed them for conversation at the local tap after supper. The tap was run by the legendary Rosie McCarthy, a humongous widow who did not suffer any nonsense in her establishment. But she did offer free hard-boiled eggs to customers who ordered at least three foaming steins of Guinness. Eggs were cheap in those days. It was rumored that Rosie had to buy 10 dozen eggs a week just to keep her customers happy.

"Rosie knows how to hard boil an egg, Dolly," Mike had told his wife many times over the years. And his wife always wondered what secret Rosie could possibly have when it came to boiling eggs.

One reason the obituaries were of such great interest in Mike's old neighborhood involved the retirees wanting to see if any of their old bosses had finally died. Some of those bosses had been nasty men, so petulant and abrasive they'd have given even a good worker a rash. There was also the possibility that over in Ireland, the Irish Republican Army might finally blow up a bridge with the Queen of England on it. The IRA had been trying to do that for years. Many bridges had been blown to smithereens but not one of them had "Herself" on it.

"The IRA keeps blowing up bridges, Dolly," Mike would remind his wife. "You would think one of these times they'd get it right. They know what she looks like."

In addition to reading four newspapers a day as a young man, Mike had had other hobbies during his long and tumultuous life. He had bred rare Australian finches for decades and had won prizes with them at bird shows. However, after his last son had graduated from college and moved away, Mike sold more than 200 finches and 40 cages because he no longer had a son available to clean the cages. Five sons had earned allowances over the years cleaning the cages at least once a week. All of them ended up hating anything with wings. One son had even bought a BB gun and would sit out in the yard all day while Mike was at work. That boy was a pretty good shot. No one knows how many woodpeckers and chickadees he managed to pick off.

After Mike sold his birds, he took the considerable proceeds and plowed all of the money into rare coins. For the next ten years he collected many rare coins but when he retired he figured he may as well sell them because none of his children had any numismatic interest. Not only that, none of them would have known the value of the coins if Mike died. Some of them were very valuable--the 1943 Irish Florin, for example, in Extra Fine condition would have brought more than $15,000 at the right auction. Mike loved that coin and kept it, along with all the others, in a large safe in the basement. Guarding the safe was a large if somewhat addled and ancient bloodhound. Mike had bought the dog from a fellow bird breeder when it was a pup. The bloodhound wasn't toothless but he may as well have been. He wouldn't bite anyone no matter how menacing a robber might be.

"I love that dog, Dolly," Mike would tell his wife every time she suggested that euthanasia might be the best thing. "That dog, Dolly, is as Catholic as we are and Catholics don't abort or euthanize anything," Mike said.

When Mike finally sold all of his coins, he had a great deal of money that he viewed as disposable income. Dolly, however, viewed it as an insurance policy in case Mike died first. Mike had a couple of pensions but he had never made Dolly a co-beneficiary. In fact he convinced her to sign waivers so the payout to him would be larger. Dolly didn't want to do it but signing was easier than reasoning with Mike. His temper seldom surfaced but when it did, things weren't good for weeks around the house.

"I get mad once in awhile, Dolly, but I always apologize," Mike would remind her.

Mike finally decided to put the coin money into guns--big guns--although he had never shot a gun in his life. He refused to go hunting because he saw no sense in killing animals when meat was available at the butcher store. The kids used to joke that maybe deer and pheasant were Catholic, too.

Some of the guns Mike bought were the kind you would see in action movies. Mike always liked action movies. The more the gore, the happier Mike was. But he had to go to action movies alone because his wife hated gore but she liked musicals. No musicals for Mike, although he would always dig into his pocket to give her the money for admission, complaining occasionally that the cost of seeing musicals kept going up.

"I don't want to spend good money to see a bunch of people in costumes and wigs singing songs together when Frank Sinatra, all by himself, sings better than any of them." Sinatra had a good voice, the kids thought, and it probably didn't hurt that he was Catholic. One of them once suggested to Mike that it might be nice if they played a recording of Sinatra's "Moonlight in Vermont" at church. Mike didn't agree or disagree because he thought some sacrilege might be involved.

Mike remembered his gun collection on the day the deliveryman had failed to throw his newspaper on the lawn. He decided that the next morning he would sit out on his front porch at 3 a.m. with a big mug of coffee and the biggest rifle he owned. When the delivery van drove down his street, he planned to walk out to the curb, rifle in hand, to make sure he got his paper and to advise the driver of the inconvenience his mistake of the previous day had caused.

"There's no way this guy's a Catholic," Mike said to himself. "Three times now he has skipped my house with my paper."

The next morning things went exactly as planned--at the start. Mike was out on his porch with his rifle and coffee at 3 a.m. when the van came rolling down the street. Mike got up and strolled down the walk toward the van, his rifle resting like a child in his arms. Mike couldn't have known, however, that the van driver had been robbed several times over the years and that he carried a pistol in case someone decide to rob him again. When he saw Mike coming toward him down the middle of the street carrying a rifle, the driver decided to take no chances. He rolled down the window and put a bullet in Mike's forehead.

One shot, dead center, was all it took, and Mike, still a big strapping man, fell like a tree.

The next day the story about the death of Mike Fitzgibbons made the front page of his beloved paper and Mike himself was listed in the obituary section. The obit advised that friends of the family could come to the wake at Eagan's Funeral Home on Friday. It also pointed out that a Solemn High Funeral Mass would be said for Mike on Saturday at St. Aloysius Church, where Mike had been a faithful member and stalwart usher for decades.

Two days after the funeral, a neighbor was shoveling snow for Mike's widow. He happened to look up and saw the missing newspaper stuck in the branch of one of Mike's Weeping Willow trees. Mike had an interest in Weeping Willows and had planted a number of them over the years, too many some of the neighbors thought for the size of his property. This was the first time a newspaper had gotten stuck in one of the trees, his wife said. And it would be the last time because she had canceled the subscription to the paper the day Mike died. Like her husband, Dolly was a woman of principle and she thought canceling the paper was the least she could do in his memory. She had never read the damn thing anyway.

© Donal Mahoney 2013

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had work published in MudJob and various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html

MDJB at GoodReads

Michael D. Brown's books on Goodreads Bastille Day reviews: 2 ratings: 3 (avg rating 5.00...