by Mark Jones
of someone’s dad
lying on the sidewalk,
fallen maybe twenty feet
by Mark Jones
of someone’s dad
lying on the sidewalk,
fallen maybe twenty feet
by Beverly Cummings
Walking becomes deeper with the daffodils, crocuses, tulips and hyacinths. The magnolia tree in full blossom. A lost lover in front of the building. Realize it is an illusion.
Waking up in intensive care, clinging to life; a suicide case. My mother says we almost lost her a few times. My once upon a time husband tells me when he visited in hospital I was totally insane. The doctors said I might never recover. He left in tears. Recognizing psychotic thoughts is more than a pastime. I have been ill for years at a time. It is by a miracle I am sane again.
Flesh on the bone, is growing old the realization of how much time you waste and have wasted? The need for probity, yet wanting to atrophy. I am losing the generation that spawned me. Try for quiet but the mind rumbles. Am I winning or losing this battle? Things have changed. I don’t know where I’m going. Growth is like a tumour.
This week deranged; the unexpected careening up, full of turmoil and disorder. I watch the evening news and my psyche calms. The planet so crazy.
Even paper flowers wilt. The nacreous evening sky arcane. The downtown sirens. Keep it terse. Like pointillism the world is visible between the atoms. Swarms of red ants clot the sidewalk. Crazy touch, the way the moon moves in and out of your fingertips.
by Diana Smith Bolton
When the rain rolls in, fat and warm like a purring wet cat, I smell the same scent: my mother’s Scotchgarded trench, heavy drops beading up on the sleeves, and the orange and brown plaid lining, blanket-thick, sopping up the moisture. She was brand-loyal; some things were just the best, like London Fog for humid Mississippi rain drenching an October day when you didn’t want to go to the store but had six mouths to feed.
Even now, that warm-breath muddy wetness brings her to me, years after our last word. I see her, pulling grocery sacks out of the car through the rain and into the garage, brown paper sagging to hold cans of condensed soup.
I smell and see my sisters, too, our skinny bodies enveloped in little London Fogs. Our mother picked them up at Goodwill or yard sales, like new, just then outgrown by other little girls. We are warm in these sturdy coats as we wait for the carpool. Some Januaries, southern-cold in the spongy yard, we run and flap our coat-wings, huffing our lung-warm air out into the chill like we are dragons, like Puff, like Figment, all pink and purple and navy, our plaid linings flapping like underbellies. As the sedan pulls up, we turn to the window, and see her frosted hair, one hand lifted to it, one hand lifting to us.
by Jamie Paradise
While cleaning my mother’s yard, preparing for the sale, we discovered a dog carcass. It had been pounded into the road by cars for weeks, then washed up to lie in the thick untended grass. It was so old, so dry and stiff, and flat, that for a while, my five brothers and I wondered if it was even a dog.
Mike, the painter, always looking for a subject, took a photo. His previous work consisted of twisted bodies, rotten fruit, and windowsill flies. Soon, this petrified canine would appear on a canvas, purchase price $500. Like other art openings, the family would attend in support. We’d bring an appetizer from the grocery store, drink the free wine, roam the gallery, and whisper, “Who would put a painting of a dead dog in their house? But I do like the flower painting.”
Eventually, leaves were raked, sidewalks swept, and the tall grass cut. We rewarded ourselves with barbecued pork from the stone pit and drank plenty of beer.
After eating, the night got dark, fireflies flashed, and the fire more mesmerizing.
Somewhere in our inspired, inebriated brains, was a remembrance of unburied bodies and the problems that befall an improper farewell. Elpenor, soldier of the Trojan War and companion to Odysseus, who fell off a roof, broke his neck, was unmourned, and tottered restlessly in the underworld. Polynices, lying unburied in a dusty field, nibbled on by dogs, eventually bringing Antigone and Creon to dramatic ruin.
The meat was off the grill but the fire remained. With enough beer in us, it seemed fitting and proper that this neglected dog receive a respectful funeral.
Using a plastic bag and pinching what was once a leg of the dog, we threw the corpse on the fire. The fire crackled along the fur like leaves, but even a sun dried dog is difficult to burn. We gathered sticks and logs and expanded our funeral pyre. Because of the strong wind, we all sampled the downwind pungency only once, then huddled in a semi-circle, upwind.
Most of the time we stared at the flames. It was peaceful, noble, and fitting. With time, and fuel, the dog rose in smoke to the night stars, its spirit contented we believed. From the silent contemplation of our drinking, someone crushed his beer can and said of the stiff stray, “Yeah, she was a good dog.”
by Adriana Gonzalez
I met you when I fantasized about walking into the sea. I remember it was a time when I outgrew my funeral dress, a time when I collected rosaries out of anxiety and impulsion. I met you when I was falling into various cracks and disillusionment—attempting to sift through fog and glassy transpierces. And no one knew about my fascination with seaweed. No one knew that I slept all day after learning about rocks and wavelengths in my last semester of college. I didn’t tell anyone that sleeping was the only thing keeping me from tangling in the folding water. You have to understand why you creep in so soundlessly, how you made me aware of the crisscrossing cells that make up my skin, how you taught me about sage baths and how imperative it is that we love our mothers.
We were bred from a fire town, a dry splintered city tucked away in southern California and you taught me about watering dirt to reduce the heat that would soak in our soles. You told me so often, you have to hold things in your hands and really feel their edges, cup their form and burn it in you because what we hold in this life is all we have.
When I found myself in front of you again, you asked me, how did we get here?
I don’t have an answer for you. I can’t tell you how my sister getting married brought me back, how I sat in my green dress and thought about your t -shirts and your picture frames and your porch.
Will you promise me things? Can we carve out ledges in the Montana terrain and swell with the soil? I’ll make us an herb garden. I’ll only use vinegar to rinse out the sinks so the cats won’t be poisoned.
Let me tell you how I imagine your dusty hands melting on me, how I want your palms on my thighs, an engraved permanent burn where my children will ask, whose hands are those? I will turn to you in your boots, and you will smile down at the floorboards, your palms full of iceberg roses you’ve just pruned.
I’ll keep rosaries and follow the beads if it leads us to our own ocean or lake or a dirty dust where we tangle in our golden limbs. We will shake ourselves into various foundations where we chart up maps and have a home with our daughter who we named Barcelona, and we will put her to sleep with diamond skies and a wooden house—maybe some brick pasted to the walkway so her toes won’t splinter. And if they do, you will pick her up, hold her to your chest while I take her tiny feet in my hands and pull out what does not belong.
by Michael Estabrook
I step over a penny in the street
Dad you can’t leave it there
bring it home save it
it’s bad luck if you don’t
Okay honey I didn’t know
I pick it up promptly & drop it
through a sewer grate
she stops and stares
her hand over her mouth
Bring it on you bastard!
come and get me
I yell to whoever this vindictive
petty penny-pinching god might be
(but you already knew that)
When you get to be my age
95 degrees is dangerous
in front of the fan
Time for me to get up
on the ladder shirtless at mid-day
finish painting the gutter and overhang
I enjoy taunting the gods
they’ve been doing it to me
for 65 years already
the sons of bitches!
He doesn’t watch the news
because it’s awful, sad, frightful
and frightening, depressing
and mindlessly redundant
and most of the “anchors”
are clueless idiots
with their own celebrity
than reporting the news.
Although many of
the “newswomen” are pretty
some even have long legs
and cute bottoms.
as a traveling pharmaceutical sales rep
I managed to take care
of my customers
perfectly fine without
the urgent necessity of laptops
cellphones, iPads, tablets
email, voicemail, texting and tweeting
by frequenting an old-fashioned pay phone
in the Howard Johnson’s lobby
in the Cranford rest area off exit 136
of the Garden State Parkway.
Swaggering, shoulders swinging
thick-legged golfers clomp
into the clubhouse lobby
after their games are done
glaring this way and that
in their shorts and baseball caps
brash voices bellowing
their exploits on the links
so everyone within earshot
can enjoy their triumphs too
and notice them in their post-game splendor
big-baby boys really
still playing king of the hill
in the schoolyard at recess
trying to impress the little girls.
by Morgan Nikola-Wren
our gargantuan movie collections
into bigger apartments now
the previous tenants have left behind
a lifestyle that we are still
like a hand-me-down sweater
from an older cousin halfway across the country
a college drinking game
splays across a glass table
that we’ve only just
been able to afford
turned dinner parties
and the concept is as new
as this popping in our joints
crick like this
tick like this
we are time bombs
counting shitty drafts
and scathing reviews
until our dreams
reach their expiration date
and we sour
this silicon city
gives you an eternity
to grow up
but only a second
before you grow old
so i fight time
like some climactic battle scene
stifle the ticking inside me
soak the burning fuse
in fast-chugged beer
till my belly swells
round as a cartoon bomb
till all the stories i burn to tell
drown in questions
like how many
ten times as sharp as whiskey
in their throats
by my age?
and how the hell
my hair has begun to thin like this
before i’ve even
been to Europe?
by Jared Pearce
In the spirit of coming clean
I confess that, as a boy,
I played video games and
was never once very sorry
To be pirating seas
or slicing imaginary cosmos—
to fall so far into the dream
that I could be as wonderful
As I could make my avatar be.
But now such wasted
hours damage the fragile
years of youth, the experts
Explain, drawing a bead
with their laser pointers
on a three-dimensional graph
much like a maze I’d like
To solve on a rainy Sunday.
Still, since my priests say
I’ve got to realize my inner life,
my latent talent must
Be rendered to Jesus
(though I wonder if God plays
us like real-time),
who sees through all the screens
To the heart’s truth. Yeah,
I’m pretending to practice
my guitar (I stink); hallelujah,
I’m back in shape by running
The mile (I stink); Praise Him,
His Holy Word like cinnamon
erupts in crimson poems
off my tongue (that stink);
Love me Jesus, say
I’m holier as I drift
image to image to image,
from level to level to level
Of holiness—let my High
Score of Divine Grace
demolish that of the other guy
so the me you make
Is the token you played,
dragged through a dungeon,
resurrected to perfection, and,
frustrated by the puzzle, lost
When you crashed the whole
damned machine, angry
that a mere scene outwit you,
then hurrying back for a revision.
by Ann Clark
There’s a glob of perethrin ointment two inches thick cupped in the fingers of my hand, and it is the most ridiculous day-glow pink and smells like liquorice and pine-trees. The mare is edging away no matter how slowly I ease up on her. The ointment won’t help her heal faster, but it will keep bugs away from the wound. Flies especially have to be kept out because that thing about maggots only eating dead flesh is a myth. You definitely don’t want to see them in a live animal—you just don’t.
This mare is the ugliest horse on our place. She’s physically ugly, with an old-fashioned boxy quarter-horse build and a ridiculous ox-head, and she’s bad-tempered with the other horses, taking sly nips out of them when she gets a chance and bullying mares and geldings lower in the social order. She’s barn-sour and herd-bound, too, so she gets stubborn if she’s ridden out on the trails, adopting a machine-gun trot that leaves even experienced riders sore for days.
We brought the horses into the barn for vaccinations, and a five inch flap of skin was hanging open on the mare’s throat, blood clots dried down her chest. “Any further up or over, and you’d be calling the mink man,” the vet said. She was talking about the guy who farms mink for fur coats and takes slaughtered animals for feed.
The vet’s best guess was the mare had caught herself on a thorn apple tree and panicked, pulled up hard, and ripped half her throat out; we don’t use barbed wire because it can cause just these kinds of injuries. But, God, as I’m looking at the raw flap that couldn’t be stitched up, it’s as if the horse’s head is going to fall right off even now, two days later, and I think of the horse in the movie guy’s bed in The Godfather. It looks that bad.
But this isn’t a horse that would make me or my husband scream until the echoes chased around the farm buildings if we woke up at dawn and found her head in the bed. I mean, first, fat chance on sneaking into our house without getting your ass shot off. After that, this is the horse we could probably most spare. She’s the horse whose head we might leave in someone else’s bed, and I know I’m not the only one who is just a little bit admiring of that tactic in the movie.
I’m inching closer to the horse, who’s quivering and flinching at the flies landing on her. I do wonder if she could really have done that kind of damage to herself on a thorn bush because the tear seems very neat and straight, but then, we’re on the end of a dead-end road and nobody much knows about our place, and besides that, if I were the kind of person who wanted to hurt something beautiful, she really wouldn’t make the cut.
by Colleen Wells
Our screened-in porch is a cavernous space with a large wooden table and chairs. Lights are strung haphazardly around the perimeter. Candle holding fixtures and wind-chimes hang randomly on hooks left by the previous home-owner. In one corner sits a pile of wood for fires we rarely make. In another, a grill we only sometimes use. The bead-board ceiling is a burnt red. My hand painted birdhouses boast more whimsical colors like lime-green, teal, and lavender. Embellished with lost buttons, lids from bottles of Heineken, and beach glass, they sit on the ledge below the screen.
A small tree abuts the middle of the longest wall. Pressing against the screen, it holds an abandoned bird’s nest wedged in its branches. That Mama Cardinal who inhabited it recently, had taken such good care at feeding her three hungry chicks, then teaching them how to fly. My husband and I cheered her on, and yet one of the babies didn’t make it.
Birth and death occurring in a microcosm.
I take a sip of my now stale and cooling coffee, noting stuff piled and strewn on the slatted table in front of me. Mounds of books about writing, magazines, journals, notes from the kids’ schools and file folders filled with submission guidelines and looming deadlines surround my spot. My family is occupied, so I’m feeling both grateful and guilty about this alone time. While I sit, insects chatter.
Even though it’s humid, I can no longer smell the acrid, musky scent of dog urine. We put our incontinent blind and deaf Rat Terrier down last Monday. He had always been without sight, but when he lost his hearing he began circling. He’d circle fast, too, to the point I wondered if he was slowly going insane. The vet could not find a biological cause for his behavior. Rusty had always been a regal beast, holding his head high. But the circling was causing him to lose weight. Not having the ability to hear his unseen world proved too much, and yet he’d seem to go round and round with purpose, sometimes until he stumbled. As he declined and continued to circle, I wondered if it was his way of committing suicide.
A small table I am restoring sits at the opposite end of my workspace. It is only half-way painted. Like everything else, it begs for attention. I hear the sound of claws on glass, then the swooshing as Louie, our young, Rottweiler-Shepherd mix pushes the sliding doors open. He scampers over, nudging his nose into the crook of my arm.
At almost two he is still full of puppy. Because he is a large dog, it is unlikely he will live as long as Rusty did. Louie’s exuberance reminds me that life is fleeting, but full. As I pet him the swell of birds chirping to one another from the Oak and Sycamore trees fills the air.
by John E. Simonds
A woman who cared about flowers and music died in pain near 90 in a place that boasts gentle endings as part of its pitch. Ambulance calls and morphine pumps made close family want to forget. From a distance we rallied a ceremonial time of good-bye. Our plans troubled those by her side at the end, a sibling too shaken by symptoms he saw and a father, 92, still stunned. From Hawai’i we sent flowers. From California people made plans. From New York we organized photos. In Connecticut we phoned the obit to papers in towns where she’d lived. Bereaved local family grumbled: Not a good time for all this…No problem,the Hawai’i side answered. We average a funeral a month. We chose the mortuary, phoned time and place to the widower’s list of her friends. The undertaker knew the drill, maybe too well. You’re planning to have a reception here? As in food and drinks? He shook his head. It’s against the law to serve food at a funeral…We told him we’d shipped flowers but would add some pink blooms from her yard. They aren’t laurels, are they? he asked. That’s the state flower, he said,against the law to pick…An organ’s available if we hire someone to play. We suggested light songs, but the regular player only did standards and wasn’t sure she could be there. The retired minister the old couple liked was a peripheral friend but would serve. I have a good voice, he added. I can lead the hymns without an organ …One box of flowers arrived from Hawai’i. Another was sent to an hour’s drive away. A third was an off-radar missile in twilight, anthuriums missing somewhere… Neighbors had questions on how the old man was doing. Fine, thanks. (if you’d only stop asking.)… Obits appeared. Friends saw them and drove… Morning of the service, the organist said she’d be there but church music only. Worried sibling agreed to escort father outside if the old man found it too much … Here in this urn was a shrewd, careful woman who led garden and music clubs, raised three sons, kept a good home, dabbled in school boards and party campaigns, sang, danced and smiled her way through shows, concerts, hospital drives and rummage sales in a small Hudson town of the ’40s and ’50s… Three grandchildren shared in readings. Minister thundered “A Mighty Fortress.” Organist played softer hits from the hymnal. In a group of 80, the old man sat with eyes calmly open, not a tear or missed breath… Cousins distant for decades joined in food and drinks later at his place. This was a wonderful day, he said, in his blazer, blue shirt, tie and gray slacks. Laurels still bloomed in his yard. Altar flowers all came from Hawai’i. Only we islanders noticed. Next day a truck left the box of anthuriums—an encore bouquet for a player of roles, her curtain down and the audience gone.
by Zoe Bossiere
No response: like the electrical impulses of a harvested organ, a heart that was only days ago beating now lying sallow and white on ice like oysters on the half-shell, which are alive when you eat them. Next time you swallow an oyster, know that it has a beating heart with three chambers, which circulates colorless blood through thin vessels. It has two functioning kidneys, a mouth, stomach, anus. It poops. The oyster is a lot like you. Can the oyster sense its own demise as its shell is shucked, scalped like the slain enemies of Scythia? Does the oyster feel the sting of lemon, the mignonette sauce, then the warm throat of its consumer as it slides into dark, gastric hell? The oyster doesn’t have a brain. No, an oyster responds to pain most like, as one animal ethics blogger strangely put it, “a disembodied finger.” That is, an oyster cannot feel and, without a brain, likely doesn’t experience any final thoughts or regrets as it is digested. An oyster cannot think, and therefore is not. Is no-thing. Of course the oyster knows nothing about rage or heartbreak, just as the disembodied heart freshly ripped from its cavity, now on ice, has forgotten its old electricities. Or, more like an oyster, more likely, the heart never knew and was innocently beating, present though not in-the-moment, just as an oyster is only present in body on the table, unaware of you holding a lemon wedge over its naked mantle, poised to squeeze.
by Bill Vernon
John and I were afraid our blades would hit bare spots and throw us so I pounded the ice with a brick and saw it was over half an inch thick. We took off confidently then, right down the middle of the street, uphill to the dead end, halfway back down, around a corner, then around the whole block. I felt like an eagle soaring above my usual life.
“Wow!” John yelled.
Sheer ice covered everything large and small, every blade of grass, the two or three clotheslines in every backyard, every twig of every tree. In the pale light, each bare lilac bush seemed to glow. Everything looked like it was made out of glass. It was like a miracle, really.
We stopped in front of our house the second time around. The sprinkling was over, but the air was colder, way below freezing. The thick gray clouds were black with night, and the ice-encased streetlamps gleamed weakly. No motors revved, no tires churned over pavement. There was silence, a hush only our panting broke.
John said, “Let’s get the other guys out here.”
“Yeah, a skating party.”
We swooped over sidewalks to every front door that had a child behind it. We rang bells, puffed our frozen breath at our friends, and a stream of kids on skates emerged behind us. I didn’t know so many people owned them. We circled the neighborhood again, and every kid we knew was out along with a few adults. There was no silence now. We skaters raced around shouting yahoos and yippees, and that seemed to empty all of the houses. Everybody wore the heavy wraps of winter, but we were no longer cooped up.
At the corner by the Carsons’ house, some mothers set up card tables and piled on food and drink: ham, meat loaf, bread, cookies, pies, cakes, steaming thermoses. Most of the men were absent, trapped at work. My father was downtown, only two miles away but unable to get home. Herbert the drunkard was there, two older retired men and Tony, who’d come home from painting the interior of a house across town before the rain started freezing. He and Herbert were sharing some wine.
My mother appeared, cutting through backyards, carrying something and laughing. I ran to help her. “This is so crazy,” she said. The ground wasn’t frozen underneath so it gave with our weight, but the grass crunched underfoot as if we were walking on crystals. My blades sank into the dirt like knives, then sliced a hole pulling out.
I gulped down two ham sandwiches with mustard and drank some hot chocolate. Then coasted off into the night, locked inside my coat, scarf, ski mask and gloves, warm and happy, moving on top of a world gone hard and smooth and entertaining like the big colored globe on our table at home, doing something I’d probably never do again.
by Andrew Baker
We smoked pine needle cigarettes and coughed up syrup. Ronnie and I were ten and wanted to be grownups. I’d been sneaking half-smoked butts from the ashtray for a few months, but he couldn’t bring himself to taste nicotine. With kid logic, we figured that pine needles would smoke the same. We emptied out some of the butts and crushed the spines inside. The brown tips that jutted out were burned down so they looked like the real deal.
Lollipop pines lined the clearing where we’d play army. It was tucked away back on top of one of the knobs. Hidden from my parents, we searched for the brownest and crunchiest needles. We found that the green ones took forever to light. We’d climb one of the hemlocks at the edge and take turns passing the knock-off Marlboros.
Each toke burned my lungs and made me think I was drowning in Pine-Sol. It rolled across my tongue like cough syrup and dripped from my mouth like molasses. Out of everything, pine needles cause the worst cough. It’s terrifying to open your hand and see that you’ve coughed up something resembling half-eaten pancakes. We didn’t know that dried needles still hold sap, or that we’d been filling our lungs with the stuff. It didn’t stop us. I figured it was better than the cigarettes I stole from mom. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?
by Robert Vivian
Cold wind touching my face at night close to the woods as if to say goodbye and I dream grandfather by the banks of the river, I dream fish under skein of ice waiting for nymphs to emerge, I dream the chance to wade again in April and I dream listening woods waiting for winter dawn and winter light empty as a windswept and barren room with all the windows open and moon, river, snow, one word in three becoming me and wanting to shine and one word in the clean hush you bring to the birth and death of every star and every clean becoming and how dear you are to me, so near and far away and intimate as breathing and simple prayer that whispers clean, clean, let go, let go, that whispers already leaving, already spendthrift and gone and cold clear water that wears away pebble and stone to give them glow and each of you a reverie all your threadbare own and almost full moon above whiter than dove tugging at river and blood do you stare because of chasm, do you stare because endless drifting stream of universal dust is all you know in star struck motes holding everything and how river is drawn to you, how it moves to gather your spirit like a lover who wants to please and snow are you glad to be here, are you truly bride worshiping in the temple of hush and snow what is it like to cover things, rake, fence, hoe, and apple cart, and moon tell me what to do with this yearning, and river tell me why I think of you as dear someone who died long ago come back in the shape of winding water flowing to the north, flowing evenly with the whole earth to cover, of gravity and remembering and new dawns breaking yolk of sun and the subtle sighing of leaves that whisper every season and withered stalk of corn, and moon, river, snow and all the elements, fire, ice, wind, and wave, lead me beyond every false and fleeting thing to that place I keep forgetting and wanting to get back to, open mouth under the stars and empty hands in the woods listening and watching for you, moon, river, snow in the hush that is winter and winter listening, winter waiting and breath made of briefest steam that shows how quick I am to pass into cloud and this breathing the writ and proof of it and unrolling scroll so soon to disappear, this breathing reaching out to you, moon, river, snow so that I may become a part of you again, ancient fathers and mothers in the ageless work of staring, carrying, and falling without a sound as you blanket the rose bushes and the watering can and the overturned wheelbarrow like someone who is on his knees after a great bout of sadness or because he has stumbled and can’t get up again.