the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

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Week #52 – Threesome

Lola, Salmon, Juneau by Michelle Elvy
The Sisters by Karla Valenti  
The three of them stood at the corner, the rain slowly melting their umbrellas. A red umbrella, a yellow umbrella and a green-and-white striped umbrella, drippity-dripping into a puddle at their feet. The littlest one poked the tip of her shoe into the swirl of colors dancing on the sidewalk before her and soon there was nothing left of their umbrellas. Then the rain started on their hooded jackets, three bright pink jackets all in a row drippety-dripping as the color puddle beneath them grew. Small rivulets of what used to be their umbrellas sped away towards the drain, its black mouth gaping wide at the end of the street. The streaks of pink jacket followed closely behind. Then, they were left standing in nothing but their summer dresses: one red dress, one yellow dress and one green-and-white striped dress. The rain soon washed those away and the drain greedily gobbled them up. And that was when the sun decided to make an appearance, turning its golden glory upon that threesome standing at the corner, strong, confident and beautiful in their naked skin.
Alignment by Nathan Alling Long  
They lived in the same neighborhood, biked the same streets, went to potlucks at the same collective houses. What they remember of summer nights is drinking beer on front porches as joints floated through the air like fireflies, kissing each person’s lips. Talking of Rilke and Descartes until dawn. Walking home in the rain.Then autumn came. They pulled out old gray sweaters from their closets. They biked with coats and scarves. Evenings became large bottles of wine and steaming kitchens. Fresh bread from the oven. Everyone sitting on the floor, mismatched plates in their laps, the house dog circling the crowd like a shark, looking for scraps.

One night, near solstice, a few stayed up, improvising an epic poem in rhyme. One by one, they fell asleep, on the sofa, curled up on the rug, against each others’ bodies. The candles burned out, the night grew dark.

Then the moon snuck in. It brushed across three faces, the way a moth might glide past your arm. Each woke to the light, and without a word, they began to kiss one another. They had never seen each other in this light before. They kissed and kissed, as the moon trailed across their faces. It was like drinking milk from a distant planet.

Then their portion of the room drew dark, they grew tired, and, with fingers interlocked, they fell asleep. Later, when the moonlight slid across the dog’s tail, it awoke and sighed, then fell back asleep.

Charley by Lou Freshwater  
My house is on a dirt road that drops off on both sides into deep ditches that always have at least an inch of water in them. I live here with my mama. She has a mess of black hair and she always smells like she’s been soakin’ in spring. She goes to work at night. She works at a bar where the soldiers come when they get leave. We’ve been here near four years now. Since I was nine. Our house is tight and slanty. Long time ago, someone painted the wood blue and I never have been able to figure out why, cause now it looks like the place where the sky got washed away. It has one bedroom so I sleep in the livin’ room cause mama is tired after work and she needs her bed. It’s also cause sometimes she brings the soldiers home with her. They sometimes need a dose of home she says. But I wish they could get their dose somewhere else. When they are here, it makes me feel like I’m the only person in the world, like nothin’ is real. One night, I heard one of them singing to Mama, and when we get behind closed doors, she lets her hair hang down, and he kept goin’ on an on, so I took my pillow and I crawled under the couch and all the sudden I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore, and in that darkness everything felt real again.
Gingerbread by Catherine Russell  
Grandma always let me mix the batter. I was at that age when boys were icky and the only males I liked were composed of gingerbread. Daddy didn’t count because he ranked above the others of his sex.Every so often Grandma would come over to hem and haw over the smoothness of the mixture until the consistency was just right. Then she showed me how to roll the dough onto wax paper with long, smooth strokes of the battered wooden rollingpin. Dented cookie cutters helped me to make shapes – Christmas trees, ornaments, candy canes, circles and stars – but my favorites were always the gingerbread men.

We’d shove them in the oven, and I’d pretend I was the wicked witch trying to bake Hansel and Gretel. When the sweets were done, I’d put them on paper to cool. Later that day, when Mom would get home, we’d sit around the table – three generations of women – and bite their heads off one by one.

Three Stories of You by John Riley  
There’s a story of you who says to go on, to walk the room, to pretend to contemplate. Promises that if you lift your hand your head will follow. Assures you when your bones reignite there will be day, there will be night, and you’ll know which is which. Don’t worry about the door, this story says.There’s a story of you who says big things wait outside the door. Let me give you a taste, he says, and lures a city into the vestibule. Streets spread throughout the house. Get on your knees, he says. Crawl the city limits. Don’t worry, you’ll be welcomed. It’s night in the city. All the streets end at a wall. The harbor laps the door.

There’s a story of you who says he wishes you weren’t here. There’s little left to negotiate, he says. It’s time to leave the false starts behind. He introduces you to his regrets, refuses to negotiate, walks you down the hall. At the door he shakes his head before you can beg, slips an arm around your shoulder. We both need a new direction, he says. Walking out the door you tell him he’s the story of you that you like best.

Redux by Claire King  
The first one convinced me that every vile thought I’d ever had about myself was true. The weight of his judgement crushed me slowly until I was so diminished I begged him to love me because I knew no-one else ever would.When I found him again I peeled his tongue, word by contemptuous word, until he had nothing left but a scrappy shred of muscle flapping in his empty head, his eyes gaping and bewildered.

The second one could not bear to share me. He locked me in my lonely room where I waited for him to come. When finally he appeared, though, he was angry and threw rocks at my face.

When I found him again I took a poker from the fireplace while he slept and smashed his bones to powder. I sank my dog-teeth into his greasy jowls, spitting out his dead skin as I left.

I told the third one I could never love again. He smiled a sagacious smile and told me that is not the way.

‘You must re-write the end that should have been,’ he said. ‘I will be here when you get back.’ Then he sent me down dark labyrinths to find them again.

Phantom Sister by Linda Simoni-Wastila  
Marlena comes to me on the cusp of sleep and wakefulness, when the world blurs grey. She soars through yellow-tinted waves, her bald shining skull pushing through water. Although she never speaks, she makes a gurgling sound, high-pitched like the bottle-nosed dolphins at the Aquarium. I look but never see her face. When I wake up, the bottoms of my feet sting as though I scissor-kicked through 100 laps. Those mornings I call in sick and sleep in the boat’s hold. The gentle rocking hugs me.My twin sister Maria lives halfway around the world in the Catoctin Mountains. She paints and writes poems about trees. We rarely see each other but the internet tethers us. Maria has the same dreams about Marlena — we think of them as visitations – but she feels the ache in her chest, the left side, a sharp pain like someone has plunged in an icy hand and wrested out her heart. Afterwards she also feels an uncommon, exhausting peace. We wonder if this is how we tangled in our mother’s womb: hands to feet to heart.

I find an old photo of the two of us, a college road trip to Baltimore. Our smiling faces squeezed together, the Washington monument towers behind us. I scan the picture, push send and the image zips to Maria’s mountaintop. Seconds later, she writes back. “There’s a hole between us.” I look closer at the photograph and my soles burn.

A Book of Three and the Farewell House by Michael Parker  
I.
Ours is a life of many selves, like chapters of a book. I’m living in my seventh skin, after surviving two pulmonary embolisms. I know life is tenuous. On some days, the future is a cloud, as if it is a territory I will never see.Pain and fear work in us that way, like I’m standing at the entrance of the farewell house: My soul has left me. It stands on the other side of the doorway, mingling with shadows and ghosts. It knows everything, even their silent language.II.
The willow will never complain that it has no feet and cannot dance. She makes her arms sway to the wind’s rhythm.“Do not pity me,” she says. “I’m grounded. See how I can bend and honor Earth. See how I can reach and caress the sky.”

And opening the folds of her raiment: “I am filled with robins, blackbirds, finches, and jays. When I’m not singing with the wind, my soul radiates from their joyous symphony.”

III.
In the beginning, one man carried the stories. After a time, a child grew up with stories in his mouth. The story-man was jealous and took the child into the mountain where he pushed him off a cliff. The mountain, fond of the innocent interpreter, was furious. He shook, causing the greedy storyteller to fall to his death. Afterword, the mountain, trees, winds, rivers, and sky promised to never cease singing or whispering the history of things. There shall always be a story.

Pebbles by Kelly Grotke  
He picked up the three pebbles that lay on the desk, cupping them in his hand and rattling them around like dice as he stared out the window.She’d accused him once of caring more about things than people. It was an argument. He thinks of this as he shakes the pebbles. But it wasn’t true, no. Why had it come to be about truth and right and wrong and would you just stop it, stop, stop it now or I’ll….and then you….and in his gut, even here and now, he could still feel the bends and distortions of time that had begun pulling at their words until language itself threatened to unravel, even now and how much later is that than before, he wonders, and have I been gutted.

He had cared about things. Not more than people, no, not more than her. But by then there’d been neither time nor will to explain, and in truth he only understood himself much later. Remember this, the things said to him, this will be the future and the good, forever and ever, and we will walk upon the beach and the sun shone bright and warm on your hair and the smell of your skin yes and I touch you and the happiness and let me in, please let me in and now my soul is shaking again like these pebbles from the shore of some distant ocean and everything falls from my hands.

Landscape in Graphite on Paper, 3x3x3 by Sam Rasnake  
1. Clinch Mountain

He always wanted that long drive up Clinch Mountain
where the thick quilts of trees would bend to
hawk in cloud, the road, a hard gash of
stone and time to the wind, with its slow,
steady rumble of tires on asphalt, and far below,
the soft patchworks of farm, river, town – a twist

of the Norfolk Southern and 58, smaller than dream,
smaller than dust. This is my life, he would
say. The arriving – never as good as the going.
                                                                      – 1974

2. Outer Banks

After a night of winter rain, when the morning’s
deep voice of high tide booms the grey sea –
a relentless Bergman film – to wake the heavy, sunless

sky over stiff tangles of jagged shore with only
the occasional pelican or tern in a cold trough
of long wave to follow – and me, beside an

opened upstairs window, my cup steaming on the table –
one hand to the glass, and with the other
I write, “a view as wide as gifted song”…
                                                                      – 1999

3. Yamada Rōshi Says, “Even the sky must be beaten”

A blue without fracture, blue that is lost – like
the song playing – its rhythm of such blue ache
in her fingers’ rub of steel and wood to

darkness. Blue in this pen as I write, blue
on the cover of James Merrill’s Night and Day.
The poet is dead – still his words breathe when

I tongue them aloud in my truck, driving west –
but my truck is red. Everything falls away. I’d
thought the sky to be empty. I was wrong.
                                                                      – 2007

Back to Wk #51 – Unintended consequences

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Week #51 – Unintended consequences

Marr4 by Kim Pollard
Detritus by Zoe Karakikla-Mitsakou 
The house is dusty. Piles of small deaths lurking in the corners; sneering at cells that have trickled from my body and are forcibly suspended in rhythmic spasms before they land on the fragments of our lives. There are no arachnophobes among the blind. The visual representation of a spider triggers a primal part of our brains into action, an evolutionary reaction to a primordial threat; in the absence of the visual stimulus, fear is also absent.

My father’s bones were exhumed, thrown in a bone crusher and buried as dust and flakes in a mass grave with no names. I walk over the tomb in silence as my eyes flicker in horror between the priest who, after drowsily saying a prayer I know my communist father would have hated, holds his hand out in expectation of a monetary reward; and a small fleck of grime caught in the breeze, dancing its way to oblivion: is this a crumb of someone from that grave or me?

Isolation by Georgina Kamsika  
Yesterday, a stray dog had wandered through the aisle – everyone smiled. When I followed on its heels, people frowned and turned away. A little boy made a retching noise before his mother shook him to be quiet.

Today, the bodily contact was more physical contact than I’d had in weeks, months. Yet the guy leaned into the aisle as far away from me as possible, his mouth gaping in a rictus.

It’s not my fault, it’s not even communicable.

Unintended by Darryl Price  
The wash of something blue into the red of something
momentarily melting and beautiful but not for long. The promise
of a living blackness to come. Black that will darken
every doorstep, conceal but not restrict every attempt at dancing.

The movement of all living things rushing together towards another
chance to see another day through to its flashpoint. Forgotten
starfish crawling into each other’s history,making starfish history keep
with the times, with its arms, or are they all

legs? But not alone. Never alone. No. All things continue
to consume the universe and the universe continues to regenerate
itself through the daily cannIbalism like a coat of many
colors turned insideout. You can easily wear it either way

and it becomes the season you are in.Consequences happen
so fast that your reaction time seems like a joke
in comparison. You might die tonight. The notices will all
have mouths of their own, teeth stuck in your dreams.

Auto by John Riley  
Son?
Yeah.
You alone?
Yeah.
Shit.
Not my fault.
Where’s your mom?
Out.
Did you get the wallet I sent you?
The one with the cowboy on it?
I made it in the leather shop.
No one cares about cowboys.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Bow wow.
I got out last week.
You heading our way?
That was the plan.
What stopped you?
’57 Thunderbird. Creamy white. It was cherry.
Sounds yummy.
It should have been locked up.
People are fools.
It wasn’t my fault.
There you go.
It was cherry.
She tells me I am already gone by Lou Freshwater  
The new nurse wheels me into the theatre. It isn’t easy to navigate
the small space between the stage and the front row of seats. She
turns my chair until she’s able to fit me into place at the end of the
row. Sixty-years ago I was an actor. I controlled the emotions of
rooms like this. Now I cannot even control one hour of my life. I am
trapped in this body with hunched shoulders. Rusted wire hands covered
with skin that tears like nightmare rice paper. Watery eyes, washed
out eyes. Bones that never stop humming with ache. Muscles that hang
there, dying, saying no. A mouth that is always dry, choked with dry.

Without moving anything except my eyes, I am able to see a woman. She
is perfect. Her hair, straight and blond, like light. She tucks it
behind her ear, and I see the small pearl earring she has chosen. Her
sweater scoops just below her collarbone, that most beautiful part of
a woman. She looks at the man next to her. She smiles and looks down
at her fingers and she begins to move her fingertips around her thigh,
like she is tracing letters there. She looks towards me. But she does
not look at me. Then she looks at everything around me, but not at me.
Usually I get the small smiles women give old men, like we’re stuffed
animals, no longer predatory, not really alive. But she won’t even
give me that.

Dance Revolution by Mike DiChristina  
Z was President-for-Life, but inside his plump body he was a dancer. Sporting his trademark Napoleonic bicorn and gold lamé tunic, Z went viral on YouTube whenever he danced in public.

On La Fête Nationale, Z delivered an impassioned speech from the palace balcony and then tap-danced to the roar of his minions, helping them overlook the perpetual State of Emergency and the recent disappearance of a Nobel laureate.

At the following week’s UN conference in New York, Z stole the show by slipping out of his titanium-reinforced limo to breakdance with tattooed American youths on the sidewalk. The Daily News dubbed Z the “(Mentally) Ill Duce.”

Back in the Maghreb, when the French ambassador stopped in for a sanity check, Z leapt off his throne and executed thirty-two consecutive fouettés, matching Baryshnikov’s legendary Swan Lake performance at the Ballet Russe.

M. L’Ambassadeur pronounced Z a superb dancer before departing to Paris for “les consultations.”

At Z’s last cabinet meeting, as the citizens of his emirate rattled the palace’s gold-plated gates, Z hopped onto the table and performed a grand jeté that left his ministers speechless. When the crowd surged into the compound, Z and the Royal Dance Instructor were whisked away in a helicopter from the palace roof.

Z trained for months in his Alpine redoubt. Finally, the call came from America. Z jetted to Hollywood, where, dressed as a gaucho, he stuck his nose between the breasts of a fawn-eyed goddess and tangoed on Dancing With The Stars.

Back to Wk #50 – Home sweet home

Forward to Wk #52 – Threesome

Week #50 – Home sweet home

Hello Moon by Abby Braman
Ulysses Reconsidered by Aaron Robertson  
Just like Farnese’s birds, whose voices became caught
on an unchanging view of palaces in ruin,
you fell into a dream: one of rivers that ran
with sentimental ease before your family seat.
But left to choose, you changed the eternal for light,
where gifted canon’s robes allowed your mind to turn
from thoughts of chimney smoke and gardens seldom seen,
the limestone of your end betraying words of slate.
The Fleece still hangs unclaimed, yet slowly I’m pulled back
to forest-covered hills and hard volcanic rock,
unsure of how the tide has brought me to this shore.
Your counsel holds no truth for sailors who have come
to crave the open sea, when mesmorized by fame
you never knew the life you claimed to hold so dear.
Memories of Home by Susan Gibb  
When Mary Brevins died, she took the memory of the sun with her. It wasn’t as big a problem as the engineers had thought since light had been established in all but the most remote sections of the earth and even several light-lanes spanning the major oceans had been completed.

For Joyce Fields, however, it was a major event, for now it placed her in the position of having the last living memory of the sun. The officials came to pick her up before she could get away.

“What do you mean, grass and trees and even buildings change color during the day, or if there were what you call clouds to dissipate the light?”

“Why wouldn’t your sun prevent the snow?”

“Change the color of your skin? Impossible!”

“Okay, so show us which hill it hid behind at night.”

Finally they let her go. Convinced she was simply an old woman in the early stages of dementia. They laughed as they reread the things she claimed were true when she was young before all the technology took over simple functions.

Back home, Joyce Fields sat down in her favorite chair. She hadn’t known Mary Brevins but she felt the loss. She closed her eyes and as she always did, brought up her favorite memories. She recalled a morning when she went fishing with her dad and brother. The way the sun came up and colored the small pond like a paintbrush dipped in water.

Homies by Grant Farley  
I hop up the wooden steps, my summer feet too tough for splinters, and slip through the back porch and plop down next to Manny on the wicker. Somewhere beans simmer in cast iron. Abuelita‘s face is dark skin folds.

She is Manny’s grandma, not mine. But I’ve sort of adopted her. Her iced cinnamon coffee wobbles in her hand as she heads for us. She always wears a black dress and these thick black shoes that clunk on the hollow floor. She sits down facing us and eases the glass onto the ledge and lets out a sigh.

Then she pats her knees and leans back like she’s going to sing-song one of her tales about funny people, the earth and the sky, animals that talk, and even witches, brujas, as Manny squeezes the sounds into English for me. There is always a lesson for us.

I wait, staring out at a world gone soft through old screens. Under that cinnamon coffee breath she has this old lady purplish smell. But the way Abuelita’s mouth scrunches, I’m figuring our b.o. must be pretty funky after all we had just done. There is not tale.

Instead, she stares at her Manny and then back at me. She’s wondering, finally, whether she wants her mijo hanging out with this freckled bandito.

Saturday Afternoons by Meg Tuite  
Oh yeah, there were fabrications up and down our pristine block. A perversion of flawless green-as-Ireland lawns, pot-bellied monoliths to dadhood grunting and sweating, pushing lawnmowers like workdays, bald spots of ruddy, brick skin all the way down past plaid shorts, hairy, yellow-tinged legs into some kind of moccasins they got for Christmas one year and squeezed their veined feet in. Back and forth they strained like chronic arthritis, listening to the Cubs losing yet another one, swearing and yelling out to each other while the wives, old china tucked away behind glass, could be glimpsed running around in those sacks they called housedresses, dusting away years of oppressive silence, except to yell out for their kids in unseasoned squeaks, “get inside for dinner,” when six o’clock rolled around and the hodgepodge of beasts would stampede down both sides of the block with baseball bats, basketballs, jump ropes and roller skates babbling in one long wailing narration of summer.

While inside our living room the tick of the clock could be heard in our heartbeats, a cough or clearing of a throat as the four of us lay like kindling around mom with five new books we each got from the library stacked up beside us. Each of us lost in a landscape, family, history unmasking itself every Saturday afternoon. Mom giving us the same answer whenever one of us asked. “I’m not the damn dictionary. Find it yourself.” And then she’d return quietly again to her own private world.

Matron by Robert Vaughan  
Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley says, “Call me Peg.”

Has a lifetime supply of Aqua Net.
Swims naked in her sixty square foot fishtank.
Dances the lindy, sits under picnic tables.
Whistles a multitude of birdcalls.
Is batshit about Badger games.

“She was a bitch,” her maid, Opal recalls.

Daphne says, “A gem, a true-blue friend.”

jelly beans and gummie bears by Alexandra Pereira
Kylie loves jellybeans, the red and orange ones. Says they’re the sweetest. I prefer gummy bears, the green ones. I like the taste of green. Yesterday after school we spread out a tablecloth on the large table in the back porch and made houses with our goodies. For the first time, she borrowed some of my green gummies to finish her chimney and front door. She was really inspired and made the biggest house ever. “One day I’m gonna have a house like this one. I’m gonna call it The Rainbow Mansion!” And then she looked at my house and said, “You’re always makin’ green houses. Who wants to live in a green house? That is sooo ugly!” And she squeezed her eyes and wrinkled her nose so that she ended up making a face that was much uglier than the ugly she said my house was. I looked into her shriveled blue eyes. “My bears will eat your beans,” I whispered in my serious voice. And I must have had a scary face because that’s when she looked at me like she had just peed her pants.
Home by Karla Valenti
I watch them as they sleep, the three of them sprawled into each other, their limbs of varying sizes intertwined in the backseat of the car. The oldest rests his head against the window, his arm lays gently across his sister’s lap. The middle one holds her brother’s hand and has lent her other hand to the baby who, in his sleep, has wrapped his tiny dimpled fist around her fingers. Our tiny mess of a car shuttles them through the night, their moonlit sighs mingling with the warm breeze that spills in through the open window, while the road ahead holds steady in its course determined to get us home, seemingly unaware of the fact that we are already there.
Back to Wk #49 – Cold front
Forward to Wk #51 – Unintended consequences

Week #49 – Cold front

Near Nanaimo by Bernard Heise
C/old Front by Dorothee Lang  
Every day
h/our plan
of life –This stack
of b/oxed hopes,
of I th/inkG/rows
a little higher
a little edgierWhen win/ter
moves in
we w/ill leave,
we say,
surprised
by the hidden mean/ings
of our words -all those layers
we haven’t been
a/ware ofthis
c/age
of possibilitythis
s/low
c/lock
c/all
Hypnagogea by Eryk Wenziak  
The table’s pants are long. Too long. Leaving it unable to run far. Nor fast. I sew it a new pair. A shorter pair. A pair the length that when worn would prevent me from catching it. I approach the table from behind. Clap my hands. Warn of my presence. I give it the newly sewn pants. The first leg in. Then the second. Followed by the third and fourth. I pull a gift from my leather bag: a checkered, green and white flag. The table grabs it and runs off. Disappears into the horizon’s curvature. It will be waiting for me. Many years ahead. At a finish line drawn in fishbone powder. It will wave the checkered flag upon my arrival. Congratulate me on my endurance, while remembering to throw in a few lines of ‘appreciation’ for my generosity ‘all those years ago’—thanks ignored at the time. But I always understood the table’s intentions. It was young. (And the wood it was carved from was also young.) I will pick up the flag and trace a figure eight into the high sky. Like a child burning their name with a sparkler. The figure eight will fall on its side. Become infinity. But this time I’m sure I’ll never see another finish line. And my sense is the table will already know that, and will no longer wait. No longer draw a chalky line. No longer give me thanks.
To the Trees by Nicolette Wong  
Cold front is you on the morning I cut through mist. Around the park where old men wave their wooden swords in unison, blunt-edged glory boiling in their veins. I tread a path of oval stones to haunt the trees, reading their names & spirits to make them my allies.

I must reach my stop before the sun scorches my eyes.

Since you passed out from too much alcohol in my bed, I have turned it into an ummarked grave. I shoveled dirt over your blonde hair fused with grey, your blue eyes burnt by past phantoms while you ran up the tower you built around yourself, panting, holding onto me for lights from a distance. Every step of yours made me cringe; it made me run to that snowy landscape where a fox smiled & flitted past, a reminder of your false love.

Now I must run to the last tree I could find & wrap my arms around it. Only its embrace could save me.

Watch How the Slip Tips by Piet Nieuwland  
watch how the slip tips itself over and flies headlong into a dive that wings into an arrow riding on the force of the throw and the magnetism that large objects emit, following the curve of vectors and wind resistance, the shaft vibrating through hillsides of toetoe torched with lightning, the satin plumes splinting the blue horizon with fire stippled bursts and shards, trapezoidal crystals and zags.

in my mind is a wave, a surging crest of intelligence breaking upon an open sandy beach on the western coast, it rolls up into the shallows and foams into a long line of surf, tearing open the pent up energy of a large ocean crossing, pulling a net through the deepest passage of currents and tidal floors, enveloping the wisdom of fish and seabirds that plunge through masquerades of reflections, the wave it bursts and throws out incandescent showers of sparks and glowing particles in an effervescent mirage under a dome of mirrors repeating themselves thru infinity by factors of prime numbers and combinations of polygons and floating orbs that drift slowly like bubbles, and coalesce

Virus by Stephen Hastings-King  
Words write themselves on my walls. They creep into paintings and photographs, erase elements from image, replace with themselves.Words take shape in clouds of cigarette smoke. They fill up my ashtrays and pile up on tables.

Some days I trail them behind me like a smell.

When I get home in the evening, words are hanging in the air like dust. They stick to my glasses.

The cabinets in my kitchen are full of nouns. Stale verbs I never eat sit in boxes atop the refrigerator.

Words accumulate on my wardrobe like dandruff. There are fragments of stories in my sock drawer. They might be better than this.

Cold Front by Susan Tepper  
On the eastern border of Siberia they say nothing grows. Not even a cactus says Tootie. Oh will somebody shut that kid up. I want to kill him. I hate the way he eats. He slops his food like a little hog. I would like to take him to Siberia. Lose him in a big snow pile. My brother says Tootie is something we have to live with. Why? Why do we have to? I have seen other things go by the wayside. The turtle we named Fastie, for instance. It was put on Gramp’s old record turn table and spun off into space. We searched the whole room. Fastie was gone like a snow melt.
Back to Wk #48 – Tainted love
Forward to Wk #50 – Home sweet home

Week #48 – Tainted love

 
tainted love by David Ohlerking II
  TAINTED LOVE by Linda Simoni-Wastila    
 

Tainted love is stained love, a dirty jeans love, mucky
under nails and knees from garden dirt and worms
slippery, slickery things compost-heaped, grubs chewing love.

Tainted love is tinted love, a greyer pink love, edges purple
from necrosis, halitosis, the lack of osmosis, a hypoxia
of the heart hardened boundaries kind of love.

Tainted love is skinny love, skinned and thinned weak
broth love, fight veneered, resentment adhered, salty-teared
nicotine-laden cloud love, breathed in and cancerous.

 
  The Secret by Michael Webb    
 

“So, do you want to know my number?”

Her brown eyes flashed eagerly at me. Her bracelet shone in the dim light of the restaurant. I felt like she almost wanted to tell me. I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that she had asked me, I wanted to know. Some questions you knew could never be answered- what if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? But others you didn’t know could be asked, until they were. And once they were asked, the possibility existed they could be answered. I had told her my number. I thought about inflating the total before telling her, but I didn’t. My number seemed a little low. I didn’t expect her number to be zero- that seemed impossible. I didn’t know what number I wanted hers to be, either. Was 5 too many? 10? How many should she have? Would the thought of others who had come before make what we had different? Would knowing I wasn’t the only one imbue the act with some sense of corruption, some taint of ill repute? Would I compare? Wonder if I was better? Was there any difference between assuming the number wasn’t zero and knowing what the number was? It was stupid, but now that I knew I could know, I wanted to know.

“No,” I told her.

“Good,” she said. “I would have lied anyway.”

 
  Writer’s Block by Kevin Balance    
 

I love you. You don’t love back. I give you these verses. You put me on the rack.

You take my thoughts and spin them to all the wrong words. You take those words and order them in all the wrong sequences. I can’t to write a sentences saves my life. I list three actions and you spit back running, to love, parallels. I describe a scene, blushing red, and you spit out a dangling modifier. I give to you and one spits up disagreement.

Back to the masters I go. Read, reread, mimic, write. Oh Laura. Petrarch. Deep breath. Recompose.

 
  Tainted Love by Guy Yasko    
 

– Would you mind turning that down?

– In a minute. I’m listening.

– 80s pop was all about record company hegemony and falling microchip
prices.

– I don’t care. I like it. Try the broccoli.

– Broccoli, the easy-to-ship vegetable, the logistically-friendly
vegetable. You need something like that when you’re getting rid of local
producers.

– Do you enjoy anything?

– I enjoy you.

– Do you really?

 
  Traveling Mercies by Len Kuntz    
 

My daughter enters the room with unborn child showing inside sweater like a tub and I am think, This is all wrong, my baby having baby, one just sixteen years and the other creature floating in fluid, a strange alien astronaut, same as ones I have seen in American television programs when handsome actor doctor says it’s girl or boy, “Look, right here’s the evidence.”

My baby is pawing her baby, a basketball player dribbling wrong who will be called for traveling. I know American basketball rules. Holding ball too long inside palm is named traveling, a penalty. And who should pay this penalty? My daughter has no boyfriend. Some lewd man just shoots his seed in my poor baby. He holds knife to her throat and it leaves a mark like this > from the pressure of the tip, an etching of his crime. Abortion is fine, I say, it is legal in such cases, but my daughter says, no, life is life.

I am crying, weeping hard as my daughter comes across the room. I think she will slap me. I have told her how hard it’s been to make something of ourselves in this country, and now this. It is a bad sign. The child will be evil. That’s what I said, such a cruel bastard I can be.

But now my baby walks up. She takes my tear-soaked hand, places it on the mound that is moving and jerking inside my palm, and says, “See?”

 
Back to Wk #47 – Blind spot
Forward to Wk #49 – Cold front

Week #47 – Blind spot

She knows by aLnym (Aljoscha Lahner)
Not knowing what I know by Doug Bond  
The smiling parents turn their back, both at the same time, for just a
second to look at the high school boy who caught the Frisbee at the
very last moment and rolled over like a stuntman on the sand. That’s
when the toddler’s little legs get pulled under and I see it.

There’s a soundtrack playing in my head when it happens and it happens
this way all the time. Sun skitter, dogs, kites, laughter. Slow motion
pink pale splashing and the wave washing away from shore. It’s a
disease, this jolt I’ve grown close to and the wonderfully deep
screaming that looses inside.

LOOK NOW! HELP! PLEASE! Someone tell them. I can feel my mouth
opening. I’m about to…but the wave really only came calf high and she
runs giddy-scream backwards and mom and dad, still smiling, hold her
tightly, not knowing what I know, that someday, it will come to her,
in a place they know well and I won’t be there to make it not happen.

It could be a canoe, the one they will leave at the edge of their
pond, the rope swing, a rifle on the wall, an unlocked door or the
drunk man in the Buick down the street. Let me tear out my eyes,
beautiful girl, and place them where I know that you’ll need them,
like I should have know for my own little boy, who like you, was
staring straight ahead and couldn’t have seen anything other than
light.

The Line by Karla Valenti  
There is a place not far from here, a tiny spot of space where people like to go to forget. It’s always quite busy, as there are many with much to forget. Sometimes you have to wait for days before you get a turn but people don’t seem to mind because it gives them time to collect their memories. You can see them as they stare ahead, their eyes open to their past, trying to recall each moment so they can let go of it once and for all. As their turn approaches, they seem more desperate to remember and so they spend more time away. They seem to get heavier as they get closer to their turn, as if the weight of their memories was becoming unbearable. Sometimes they cry. When their turn is up, they step on the spot and close their eyes. For that one instance, they are blinded to their past, they have no memory of who they were or how or why, they only know to be. And then, the moment is over. They always look up surprised to be there and then they simply walk away. They never look back at the long line of people waiting behind them for their turn to forget.
Wife by Lou Freshwater  
On the day she died my mind was flooded with images of her, mixed up, no order, just chaos taking up space as if to hold back the absence which was beginning to take its own form and which over the next days and weeks would strike me down, not until I was on my knees but well after, grinding my curled up and hopeless body with the gravity it alone controlled until the pain and loss felt as if it was breaking my bones not by snaps, but by a slow ache and giving in to the pressure. In these days I wanted to escape the images, and there were so few ways to help me do this. Even drugs and alcohol only softened the edges, blurred the center, slowed the herky-jerky slides of her living a life she no longer had. We, no longer had. But years have passed now, and those images have changed or disappeared. What used to be a scene has broken into fragments and blips of her on a screen I can’t control or manipulate. I feel a crushing guilt about this. I wished her away. I begged her to stop coming. I could not take the pain I should have been able to endure. And now, as time unfolds in front of me, I wonder what will be left of her. Will I be able to see her when I need to, or will she completely retreat into an unbearable blind spot.
From The Balcony by Christina Murphy  
He liked to sit on his balcony and watch the people go in and out of “The Blind Spot” bar across the street. He felt he knew many of the regulars, who came a few hours after sunset when the bar’s sign flashed neon red letters that lit up the street.

He had worked in construction but was retired now. His knees began to give out after thirty years on the job, and when he could no longer climb ladders, he knew no one would hire him. It was a young man’s job, and he had too many years on his face to be the type of guy anyone wanted these days.

His hands were gnarled from his years on the job pounding nails and laying shingles and lifting heavy coils of copper in the hot sun or the cold of winter. Often the flashing red of the bar’s sign would show upon his hands and look like blood in the cracked skin of his knuckles. He’d swig down another beer and wonder what had happened to his life.

About 11:00 o’clock he’d call it a night. He’d fall asleep with the music still echoing from the bar and the red light flashing against his bedroom wall, forming bits of letters that took on odd shapes. He liked to believe the letters watched over him as he slept, filling his dreams with images as his mind surrendered to a darkness he’d accepted and no longer feared.

Back to Wk #46 – Another world
Forward to Wk #48 – Tainted love

Week #46 – Another world

the light by Jennifer L. Tomaloff
Grand Island by John Riley  
Chained to the steamboat’s smokestack, Emperor watches his son limp down the Texas Deck. The morning’s first light is clearing the mist off Grand Island’s deepest cove.Vanity had driven him to make his progeny from mud and sticks, Emperor thinks. Now we’ll both come asunder by noon.

“The engine is ready,” Corporeal says. “Tell me, father, are you up for a boat ride?”

Delighted by his own wit, Corporeal dances a jig until his legs collapse with a mushy crack. Falling forward, he grabs Emperor’s sturdy legs hanging above his head. His face smears a trail of mud across his father’s woolen trousers.

“I made your legs from dry cypress limbs,” Emperor says.

Corporeal squints up at him. “Shoddy workmanship,” he mutters, “is the death of us both,” and sinks to the deck. His neck’s dried mud and straw wattle sways as he begins to drag himself toward the steamboat’s ornate staircase.

“You were able to knock me out. To chain me to this chimney.”

“And I’ll be here to see you smolder.”

Emperor watches the cracked soles of Corporeal’s useless feet slip down the staircase.

The silhouette of Grand Island looms. He’d once been content, alone on his boat, in that island’s shadow. Throughout the night, as a loon cried for its mate, he’d struggled to think of what he should have done differently. Only when the loon fell silent, did he relax in his chains.

Fragments by Karla Valenti  
It is raining today, that unforgiving wall of water, the kind that washes away one world and leaves you gazing out at the possibility of another.***

You wake into your dream, opening your eyes to a site that otherwise lies dormant within your daytime mind. Before you, another world begins to form while the threads of all you know unravel behind you.

***

She gazed at the painting on the wall, its colors evoking a memory she’d once had, many lifetimes ago. She couldn’t quite place it, this other world spinning before her, and yet her heart mourned at the recollection of a fall and the death that enveloped her as she sank.

***

They say he stood in the same spot for ten hours, didn’t move an inch. They asked him what was wrong, if he needed help. He just stared back, his face a blank washed out shadow of the great
man he once was… in another time, in another world.

***

For months I carried him around with me, everywhere I went. I talked to him, I thought of him, I shared with him my every hope and dream. Throughout this time, he was mine, sharing my body and my world. And then one day, there he was staring up at me, no longer simply my own, bringing with him another world, for now and evermore.

Beyond (Within) by Maude Larke  
In a gray land a magenta wall rose and traversed the waste and the gray folk lived away from it in fear: “Beyond that wall the wind lurks; it will sweep you through the crack between the sky and the earth,” they told their dappled children. One day a yellow boy was entranced by the color and dared to climb the magenta wall and stand against the sky. Beyond the wall were gardens of flowers and butterflies and trees that sprouted color and he knew that those who crossed the wall were swept into smiling rainbows for them to use as hammocks. He brought some of the beauties back to show the gray folk; but all they could see were wilted buds, a dead butterfly and an eccentric boy.
The Assistant by Stephen Hastings-King  
She walks quickly past the same series of four buildings again and again like there is in this place a single series of four buildings copied and pasted end to end.A Voiceover accompanies her:

The Assistant is lost again in a grid city. Again she feels disconnected from the world. Where she is the sound has been switched off.

She walks quickly arms folded around her midsection.

She likes being an assistant. She admires her employers for their belief in continuity. She seeks direction through imitating them. To be an assistant is to be a disciple.

Q. I want to believe but I cannot believe. What should I do?
A. Act like you believe: eventually you will forget you don’t.
It is knowing that gets in the way. She wishes she had never read that.

There is in this place a single series of four buildings.

She works with a mirror on the Employer’s comportments. She reflects on her new expressions in windows. She practices acquired speech while walking The Employer’s dog. With time, they will feel natural.

But as the months pass things begin to change. She realizes that the Employer has also been adapting to the Assistant. The comportments that were to guide her are imitations of her own.
Again, she feels betrayed.

1 2 3 4

One day she came home from school to find her father hanging in the kitchen. She would not want me to tell you. But specimens cannot hear.

This is not a Story by Martin Brick  
…because a story has conflict. David Mamet asks, Who wants what from Whom?Here our protagonist simply noticed a Facebook post. She commented on a friend’s status. An old mutual friend. One he never tried to find, because he knows it all. Distant city. Married. Kids. The mutual friend fills him in periodically.

Years ago they had a little thing. A thing that never blossomed. Back in college, where all things that make good memories come from.

If this were a story there would be conflict now. Her picture would lead him to dwell on some complicated drama that kept them apart. But in actuality, the story is dull. He was with a different girl for a while. And when they broke up, she was with someone. Kind of back and forth like that. The time was never right.

Or better, seeing her would lead him to dwell on the current state of his life. He’d be alone. Or with some shrew. The tiny profile picture would lead him to imagine another world, some immensely better parallel existence in which they lived like those sepia-toned couples who inhabit picture frames when you buy them.

But it didn’t. Our protagonist is fairly happy with his life. Sure he misses the girl. Sure he even pours a little whiskey after telling his own wife, I won’t be up too late. Lying. Sure, he does imagine the parallel world. He’s curious. A little melancholy. But not angry. Not really enough for a story.

Back to Wk #45 – Broken shells
Forward to Wk #47 – Blind spot

Week #45 – Broken shells

Staten Island Ferry Terminal by W. Bjorkman
Latecomber by Chelsea Biondolillo  
She sure is wailing; shrill as a gull over the surf.

This little girl, maybe six, just fell on the sidewalk and skinned the holy hell outta her knees. The little caps—I can see them from here—are slicked bright red.

She was running like crazy up the wooden steps from the beach after her grandpa had hollered at her. Her grandma was taking pictures from the railing. You can see the humped black rocks, majestic with that poetic looking surf around them just fine from up here, so most folks never even go down the stairs. They snap one, two, three shots and pile back into their cars and head south for the Trees of Mystery or something.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not staring: I come to watch the waves. The girl was just in my line of sight, poking around the tide pools. She gathered pieces of shells, sea-smoothed wood, pebbles. All the good stuff got snatched by beachcombers at sunup, but she didn’t seem to care: picked up the shards just like they were whole. It was them shells caused her so much agony. She caught her toe at the landing, and didn’t want to let any of her handfuls go. She had to drop hard on her knees to catch herself. Even now, while her grandma fixes her up, I can see her little fists, closed tight around them. She’s looking over that railing, like she’d go back down and do it again.

Shell by Catherine Russell
The girl ran inside, the rain drops spattering her coat where they missed her bright red umbrella. She retracted the canvas, shaking off the excess, before placing it in the stand near the door. Approaching the tiny window, she signed her name and took her seat.

Within minutes, she was called and shown to her room, a lone cubicle of bare white walls. Soon only a thin sheet of paper shielded her from the cool vinyl bed of the exam table. Upon the doctor’s appearance, she bared her body and soul, her tears falling like the rain outside the window.

The probing instruments and cold steel exposed her, transported her to a different place, a different time. The thin shell of her life shattered with the memory.

The exam over, she covered herself with cotton garments, dried her face, and walked outside.

As she walked, the sun played upon her flushed face and swollen eyes. A passing motorist noticed and thought her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Keepsakes by Martin Brick  
“Mommy, shells!” the girl called with elation, bringing them forth for viewing.

“Those are pretty.”

“I want to take them home.”

The girl’s older brother moped several paces behind, still upset that they took lunch at some seaside crab joint instead of McDonald’s. Just because of Mom’s childhood memories of the place.

The father lagged still further behind, upset that the son didn’t even touch his lunch, just picked at bread. Upset at his wife, who refused the doggy bag. “Where will we put it? It’ll just stink up the car.”

The son threw stones, aiming for innocent seagulls.

“These shells are broken,” the mother told her daughter. “Let’s look around and find whole ones.”

“But I like these.”

“You’ll like the others too. Start looking.” She tossed the broken ones into the sand and the daughter all but dove for them.

“Just let her keep the broken shells,” the father interjected.

“But they’re not pretty. I want her to have nice keepsakes.”

“She’ll put them in a drawer and they’ll get broken anyhow.”

“No, I’ll put them in a shadowbox or something. You saw the ones I have from when I was a girl.”

A gull squawked and lifted angrily after suffering a direct hit.

“I guess I just thought you bought those, or they were gift.”

“No. Those are mine.”

Through the Looking Glass: Humpty Dumpty 2011 
by Kim Hutchinson  
Humpty Dumpty sat on a fault.
Humpty Dumpty had a great shock.
All of the king’s men
Now have to take stock.“I don’t know what you mean by ‘safe,’ ” Alice said.Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘safe’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’!”

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all. Words have a temper, some of them—particularly verbs—adjectives you can do anything with—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability!”

“Would you tell me, please, what that means?

“Now you talk like a reasonable child. I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject.”

“But does ‘safe’ mean free from harm?”

“It means that it’s generally regarded as meeting the legal standard of safety by the current panel of experts upon evidence published and compiled by the industry in question, but the standard changes depending on conditions and the ability of said industry to meet it.”

“That’s an awful lot for one word to mean,” Alice began, but she didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence, for a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end.

Back to Wk #44 – Crowd
Forward to Wk #46 – Another world

Week #44 – Crowd

A Lime Crowd by Rick Daddario
13b by Mike DiChristina  
“I shit you not,” says the guy who looks like a St. Bernard in 13A. He folds his tattooed arms over his chest and looks out the window at the Jersey Shore, far below.

St. Bernard’s sweaty arm sticks to mine. I hunch my shoulders and twist away from him.

The pug-faced guy wearing a wife-beater in 13C says, “That’s un-fucking believable.” He slips a toothpick into his mouth. A sleek, longhaired flight attendant swooshes by like a best-of-breed Afghan Hound gliding down Park Avenue. Pug’s nostrils flare as he breathes in her scent.

St. Bernard cracks his knuckles. “Nothing surprises me any more,” he says. He coughs, his jowls quivering with each wheeze.

The lady in 12B slams her recliner back into my knees, her white poodle hairdo peeking over the top of the chair.

“What’s he gonna do now?” says Pug. He twirls the toothpick in his open mouth, making it do little backward flips with his tongue.

St. Bernard laughs. “Nothing. He’s fucked.” He pounds his fist on the armrest between us.

I scooch further away from St. Bernard.

“Hey buddy,” says Pug.

Pug taps me hard on the shoulder, his fingernail a black smile.

“I’m talking to you,” he says.

I turn, our noses just inches apart.

“Move over,” snarls Pug. “You’re in my personal space, Scooby-fucking-do.”

array, cloud, set by Dorothee Lang  
She dials the number carefully. Voices surround her. A telephone box would be handy now, a space with a door, she thinks while she listens to the ringing of the phone on the other side of the line. Which, of course, isn’t a real line anymore, but a conglomerate of computers, transmitter and satellites. A black box of communication without answer.

She tries again, just in case.“Hello,” she finally whispers into the phone, as if it would make a difference. “Hello, are you there.”
It’s not even a question any more.

She waits another two rings before she pushes the disconnect button. The she turns away, takes some steps into the crowd, becomes part of it again. A minute later, she is gone, while you still stand there, waiting for your phone to ring.

Speech by Solveig Mardon  
She digs her heel in the dirt, her boot sends swirls of thick red dust vacuuming up tiny corridors between sweaty torsos. The whole population of this cowless cowtown gathered at the feet of the politician to hear it all come together or just as damn likely fall apart, like the groaning metal of weekend rattle-trucks built by little brothers and ripped around the edges of town. Neck muscles all around her flex and crumple, everybody squinting at the stage. Handkerchiefs whip over shoulders, slap dust out of brows.

She feels him reach down, pinch his fingers around the loose skin of her kneecap, Goddamn, his arms are long. In the smack of the midday heat, rickety fan shaking its noisy head no, he had snuck around her body with that mouth of his, her elbows, knees, backs of her hands, taking skin between teeth and tugging like a gentle dog.

The wet-pitted city man onstage is waving his arms around and she can tell the top of his baldy skull is changing color, it’s frying. He finishes his speech. Dusty hands smack together around her, and what do you know, nothing’s changed. She still has sweat in her hair and the hands of an edge-town, hock-spit boy sliding up her leg.

Rollercoaster by Lauri Martin  
“There’s no rush,” Luke said.But Linda pretended not to hear him, careening their Chrysler Le Baron through traffic like a greased pinball.

Luke’s fingers clamped onto the seat cushion and his shoulders tensed to keep from ramming into his mom whenever they made a sudden swerve to the left.Since there was nothing he could do to slow her down, Luke decided to close his eyes and pretend his mother was not in a manic phase and driving north on the interstate at rush hour. Instead he sat next to her on a rickety rollercoaster at the state fair.

Luke pictured himself in a bucket seat attached to a long train of cars riding a narrow gauge track through wild curves and up a trellis one hundred feet in the air. Somewhere along the track a skinny man with bad teeth held the levers that controlled their speed, their direction, their destiny, and this made Luke sigh with relief.

They hit a pothole. Luke screamed.

His mom yelled, “Wooooo,” and laughed.

She swirved to the right.

He heard metal scrape metal, the blare of horns.

Luke squeezed his eyes tighter. He pictured the carnie working the levers, struggling to trip the brakes, but instead of slowing they went faster jerking through curves until they sailed, twisting on a corkscrew and landing with a slam and a splash.

Luke was shaking. “What a ride,” he said when he found his voice.

Linda just stared out the windshield at the cattails.

ANT FARM by Linda Simoni-Wastila 
My daughter gnawed on her honeyed toast, dropping bits into the top of the ant farm. The workers scurried to gather the crumbs. I sipped my coffee slow, to avoid the cup’s bottom, to prolong the moment when I left for work. Sarah and I watched the insects crawl through tunnels and burrows, hauling beige globs bigger than themselves to the queen. The sun warmed the kitchen. A sort of hypnotic peace settled over us.A bargain, my husband had declared, holding the farm in his arms. He smiled, sweaty from a summer morning spent yard-saling. Sarah will learn about community, he had said. She’ll learn about hard work. What about you? I had thought.

But I let him assemble the structure after he promised to release the insects when Sarah entered kindergarten. A year later and the ants still thrived, unlike the goldfish that went belly-up when Sarah sprinkled in too much Tetra. The farm occupied an entire counter. Somehow the ants escaped and found their way into the sugar bowl and the plastic-sheathed bread. Every time I squished an ant with my finger, I felt a piece of me loosen and chisel off.

My husband bounded down the stairs, his happy noisiness preceding him. Sarah ran to him, they hugged, chattering, behind me. Pressure welled from my gut to my chest. The room clouded. Outside daffodils poked through snow and the air shimmered blue. I drained my cup, picked up my keys, the morning unbearable.

The Only Baby a Man Needs by Michelle McEwen 
First, there was one baby in the tub and by the time my man got home, there’d be a sweet smellin’ baby ready for bed. It was easy then— I’d close the door to the baby’s room and me and my man would go to our room. Then there was two babies in the tub and by the time my man got home, one baby would be sleeping and one baby would be fighting sleep. It wasn’t easy then— my man would go to our room slam shutting the door like the wide woke baby was my fault. Once, shaking his head, he told me how his aunt put whiskey in her babies’ formula to help them sleep. I don’t want drunk babies I told him. That night, I slept in the babies’ room. Then there was three babies in need of washin’. My man didn’t come home then— he’d just call to see if the babies was asleep. If they wasn’t, he’d stay out ’til they was. Once I lied just to get him home. But when he got home, there was a baby in the hall, one on the stairs, and one, hollering and hungry, on my hip. My man split for sure then— didn’t call ’til he was up north, outside of Cincinnati, talking about how me and the babies don’ took over his house, talking about how babies is women stuff, talking about how the only baby a man needs in his life is his woman.
Message by Marcus Speh 
We are fortunate to live in times of great tenderness. To describe the intimate touch between two of God’s mad children whom we encountered today in the crowd, on the railway, we must use a metaphor lest someone presumes we want to poke fun at the less able as they’re called by well-meaning magistrates of human diversity. The normal people, as they call themselves, looked with suspicion at the crazies hugging in the train. They cannot figure out why the bozos, as they secretly call them, caress each other so eagerly. “You don’t need to hang on to one other”, says their minder, “just hold on to that pole”. His voice sounds practical but not dispassionate. “Okay”, says crazy Jim and as he grabs the pole, another one of the group with dark eyes puts her head on Jim’s shoulder, smiles and sighs deeply. Jim smiles, too. He doesn’t think he’s stupid. Neither do we. Before the train disappears in a dark underpass, I read a feverish message on the tunnel walls: “If everyone hunts the offender who stays with the victim?”
Back to Wk #43 – To the core
Forward to Wk #45 – Broken shells

Week #43 – To the core

totem plate by Peter Schwartz
Attempt Number 24 by Talya Jankovits 
Lying still and naked like a gutted fish, I feel his hands hold mine tightly, sweat prickling up between us in little round, shining beads. He whispers in my ear I love you, but all I can think of is a piñata, the way they stuffed me up with eggs – small, ugly and little, nothing like the decorative Easter eggs with pink and purple and polka dots – all of them fertilized in little dishes with his sperm; a sad and desperate little garden. Feeling broken now, torn up and hanging from a tree, as if its all going to spill out of me like the Red Nile. I know their names; taste them on my lips as he kisses me. His hand reaches to my thighs, speckled with needle punctures, then to my buttocks bruised from deep injections. It will be the same this month: hollowed and empty – the core of me dried up and shriveled like a prune. His breath tickles my ear lobe and I think don’t touch me.
Slow Thaw by Solveig Mardon  
My car windshield was cracked. Rain slipped in and tapped time on the dashboard while you drove. Stereo cymbals crashed and made kilometres into atmospheres, made our autumn road-trip grand and unruly. We stopped at beach, one famous on this coast. Determined plinking notes on a piano made of sugar. The flat grey sand, bookended by mammoth cliffs that ached towards the Pacific, was ours. Your boots were soaked anyway so you waded in up to your waist, hands white with cold, flapping like seagulls for me to follow. The wind spun flecks of salty sting. We checked into a motel, a scratched key with a disco-ball keychain. You loved this kind of chintz. You slid it onto a chain and bowed your head, slipping it over my neck, a bestowal. The smell of our damp socks on the motel heater reminded you of skiing, of salty-sweet hot chocolate from a machine. It reminded me of a slow thaw, from the outside slipping in, like rain.
Juicy Sticky by Michelle McEwen 
This is how we eat fruit down here: smacking loudly and to the core— with juice all over, with sticky hands. That is if it’s a juicy sticky fruit and most times, down here, it is. Daddy says people up north don’t know how to eat fruit and that they eat the wrong fruit, too. He says the peaches they got up there ain’t real peaches and especially the watermelon. He says they eat their fruit too neat up there— with napkins and tossing it before they even see the seed. Once, when he was fresh outta school, he went to visit an aunt up there; he said she brought home a paper bag of supermarket peaches for him. “These ain’t peaches,” he had said to himself, but he ate them anyhow. He had been intending to move up there for work, but after tasting those up north supermarket peaches he changed his mind. Had it not been for that aunt bringing home those nasty peaches, daddy probably woulda stayed up there and never woulda bumped into mama down here who was sitting, one Saturday, on daddy’s granddaddy’s porch. She was eating a peach, smacking loudly, while waiting for daddy’s granddaddy to finish baking the apple pies she had come for. “That was the sweetest sight I ever seen,” daddy says often and smiles great big when he says it, too, ’cause to him a woman getting down and dirty with juicy sticky fruit is the kind you keep.
Coniferous by Derek Ivan Webster 
The pinecone fell at the edge of the lawn. It landed in that confused region neither manicured enough for grass nor wild enough for weed. It was smooth and dark like a single piece of aged leather. Seen through my window it might have been a dropped billfold, a shoehorn or a ruffian’s pocket sap.

I noticed nothing of it then, which is to say it signified little at the time. My thoughts were elsewhere that morning. There was an open letter on my desk; beside it a dry pen waited. The pen would not be dipped that day. The note found its way to the fireplace. The pinecone played no part in this reticence.

A week passed and the afternoon shadows deepened the edge of the lawn. It was the anger of the squirrels that finally brought me outside. They were attacking something, tearing at one another to go after their prize. My dress flattened the grass as I ran, leaving no trace of footsteps. Vermin skittered away as I approached the remains. The pinecone was open now, broken into sections with the interior exposed. I chose a piece; it was singular. It might have been a wooden tooth, a scale of armor or half of a child’s toy heart.

At my desk the last of the pinecone lay atop the fresh letter. I would send it to him, though he would not understand. The lawn was all flame now as a lamp blinded my side of the window.

Watermelon-Size Love by Melissa McEwen  
Everything’s all warm
sunshine and clear skies because we are
back together. Never mind that it’s the dead
of winter and the streets are covered in ice. Nothing
can touch our hot-radiator love. We warm
the bed up electric blanket style, kick
back quilts, sheets, the comforter. No need
to turn on the heat. We open windows
all the way to cool off. This
is no half-ass love
he’s giving
me. He’s loving
me like I’m his only
girl. Right now
his love is so real it leaves
tall shadows on walls. His love is
so whole and so heavy
like an uncut watermelon the size
of the one Mr. Lumpkin grew two summers ago,
so big it made the paper. And I want
to eat the sweet
red core—all of it
until only the rind is left.
The Matter by Helen Vitoria  
I avoid everything. If it has potential to cut me in half, spread me thin or red, like a million wandering seeds of a pomegranate, I avoid it. I keep quiet. Hands in pockets, at all times. Not touching is the best way to avoid things. Do Not Touch. But, I do touch the things in my pockets. The halter top I wore when I went drinking with mad boys that I did not know well. The books I never read but should have. The promises I made and knew at that moment I would never keep. The knives that he used to sever the apples. All the sticks I used to kill yellow snakes. I avoid the myth itself. Never the desire.
To the Core by Guy Yasko  
Crumbs of sand fall into the footprint. The wind pushes streams of sun
dried grains through its crenels. She can still read it as her
own. Tomorrow it will be only ‘footprint’. No matter. There will be
today’s prints and the next days.

She turns to the empty sea to absorb the sun, then walks along water’s
edge, past dunes, over bleached trees.

At the black rocks she finds an apple core, white in the sea water. A
crow cries from the forest.

Back to Wk #42 – Under wraps
Forward to Wk #44 – Crowd

Week #42 – Under wraps

A Friend in Her by Angelique Moselle Price
Animal by Roberta Lawson 
Not the skin or the hair; not nails, teeth; no gentle touch. It must be the gut. The only way that any of them will find what they’re looking for is to go for the gut, and reach inside. To begin: a list of secrets. Let’s say the secrets are a shadow. The lights are out, and now they’re ready. To reach this place they’ll take a journey. Down through the mind, through the channel of the neck, down, down, until the body opens like the belly of the earth. Down until they’re sunk through rock and soil, blood and sinew, until they’re bathed in magma. A mouth opens. Speech begins to come.
What Happened to All the Readers by Len Kuntz  
They’d become such a minority that the world’s remaining readers were set up in communes on a crumb of land the size of Delaware.

This being the future, space was at a premium, and as their numbers continued to diminish, the readers were relocated to an abandoned estate belonging to someone’s deceased, millionaire aunt.

In less than a few years, weary governmental officials shuttled the dwindling bibliophiles to a split level home in Hackensack, where angry neighborhood dogs nipped at cyclone fencing and nightly air raid drills produced unmanageable migraines.

Months later, the further shrinking squad was shipped off to a one bedroom utility that doubled as a pantry for discarded, but well-used, kitty litter.

After a short shedding of weeks, the few readers that remained were dropped into a root cellar which had once hid Prohibition rumrunners.

But even this earthy hole was a waste of space, too roomy, with its hollow nooks left unfilled.

So, alas, the final surviving readers were stuffed inside a box.

Years later a young child stumbled upon the box by accident. Finding a smattering of bones at the bottom and, thinking them exotic drumsticks, the child began to beat the sides of the crate, until, tuckered out from so much physical activity, she went back to her multiscreen lap pad, playing video games, exchanging Facebook gossip while texting, streaming reality television and using Skype, busy but bored all at once.

Joe’s Plan by Mike DiChristina 
Joe called his son Tom on All Souls Day to confirm Thanksgiving.

Sure you’re up for it?” said Tom.

“No problem,” said Joe.

That night, Joe sat at the kitchen table with a calendar opened to November, a clean sheet of notepaper, and a pencil stub. Licking his pencil as he wrote, Joe made two columns on the notepaper: one for food, the other for chores. Then, he transferred each item to his calendar, making a neat entry on the day he would perform the given task.

The next day, Joe started upstairs with each of the bedrooms, washing the linens and cleaning the floors. When each room was in order, Joe closed the door.

Early in the month, Joe acquired non-perishable items, such as canned squash or frozen corn. He bought corn muffin mix and cranberry sauce.

Later, he focused on downstairs. He placed a pillow on the kitchen floor to protect his knees and waxed the linoleum. He disinfected the downstairs bathroom and left the window open to keep it fresh, though the seat was cold.

On Monday of Thanksgiving week, Joe purchased perishables – eggs, milk, bread.

Joe set the table on Tuesday. There were six places. He put chocolates at the kids’ seats. He laid Saran wrap over the table to keep the dust off.

On Wednesday, the store manager walked the turkey over.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Joe was ready. He sat in the dusk at the head of the table and practiced his talking.

Grey Skies by Stella Pierides 
Ever since the militia thrust a Kalashnikov into Gamal’s hands, he stays indoors.

“Use it,” the men had shouted at him.

After their car sped away, Gamal fell on his knees wanting to cry and pray at the same time.

At seventeen, he is no stranger to guns. His old father keeps three well-oiled specimens under the carpet-covered divan. These Persian carpets with boteh paisley motifs, hide three weapons against the enemies of the state.

“May God forgive you, Father,” Gamal repeats to himself. But he himself cannot forgive his father.

“He knows our leader personally,” mother explains to him, as if she feared he’d forget. “It is tribal loyalty.”

That’s no excuse for supporting a killer, he says to himself. Deep down Gamal knows it is not out of loyalty his father supports the regime. It is out of fear.

Now Gamal is expected to fight on the same side. The thought of the dictator makes him sweat. So he stays indoors and watches the sky from the inner courtyard: normally a beautiful square of blue, fringed with overhanging cherry blossom, it now tells him the news of the city.

The last few days, the sky has turned grey. Black billowing clouds carry an oily smell to Gamal. Ash snows on jasmine, geranium, and on his mother’s beloved cacti. He is hiding ‘his’ gun under his mattress. He dreads his friends coming for his father. He knows he’ll have to act, then; he’ll have to choose sides.

Garden Tombs by Martin Porter  
“When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”

– Martin F Shaw (Oxford Book of Carols, 1928)

lamina thin
the green leaves of freesia
are already risen
hidden in the trowel deep trenches
are the baby-corpse
and the congealed lump
of the deathly unborn
waiting for the passing of winter

in this land of no winter
life springs at seeming random
spontaneous from the ground
enriched by dung
the coloured frocked bells ring out
the heaving seasons

autumnal Easter
or the occasional july frost,
the hope of a sultry christmas
in this a foreigner land

here is an alien
digging trowel deep
placing corms and
layered bulbs
embryonic folded adult
in a different soil
waiting for the everyday
to return resurrected

Little Fire by Michelle McEwen  
When mama made me, she say her and daddy went at it all winter long just like two skinny forest sticks rubbin’ together to make a fire. “We made a fire alright,” she says, “you!” I like when she says this ’cause I like thinking of myself as a fire. Mama says when she told daddy that their winter foolin’ was gonna bring them an autumn baby, daddy just shrugged and told her autumn wasn’t no time for baby havin’ what with all them leaves to rake and him getting ready to start college. “Can’t be mindin’ a baby and studying at the same time,” daddy said and closed the door on mama’s face. Mama didn’t pay daddy no mind, though. She said daddy could go off to college, but she was gonna have me anyway— her little fire that’s what she called me. And she hid me well, hushed up her growing belly with layers of winter clothes and kept out of her folks’ way ’cause she knew her mama and aunts would drag her to some place in an alleyway where they did away with babies. So there I was, quiet, inside of mama. There I was— a fire burning under mama’s winter school clothes, then burning under her spring blouses, then under her loose summer dresses, then under her autumn jacket ’til the time came. And no one found out either ’til mama was hunched over the kitchen sink— hollering from the little fire in her belly.
The Ties that Bind by Catherine Russell  
The love of Pharaoh’s daughter demanded a heavy price. He struggled to breathe, but the tight wrappings constrained his chest, sealed shut his eyes, and stopped his mouth – the scream from deep within his soul would never escape.Her name echoed in his mind. She had condemned him – as she had her other lovers. The daughter of Pharaoh preyed on men, lured them with her charms, and bound them with her beauty. Those foolish enough to love her always paid with their lives.

If he could have moved his lips, he would have smiled. Even now, he suspected his lover planned her father’s demise. With marriage and the Pharoah’s death, she would have all she desired. The loose ends of her past would be tidied away, under wraps, where they could not rise to haunt her bright new future.

Back to Wk #41 – Coincidence
Forward to Wk #43 – To the core

Week #41 – Coincidence

Panel 3.7 by Al McDermid
(coin)cidences by Dorothee Lang  
are tossed tangents
of chance,
flocks of relativity
touching the ground
right in front of
your feet
in the shape
of an invisible coin
pick it up and
live, nowor leave it

while you halt + read
live, now
backwards

while the heads
turn to tails

in this velo(city)
called our
life

which is
Leben
in German
and, in any mirror, turns to
Nebel:

fog.

She just happened by Darryl Price  
to be playing the hell out of
her guitar out of tune and wonky sounding
perfect for the blues at the same
time as this car was pulling out of
the driveway next door to the rosebushes
that only bloomed to one side. And the

telephone pole was sputtering uptop from being
pecked at by a huge black crow when
all of a sudden there was an
enormous pressure drop in the wind outside the
house and her cell rang twice but
no more than that. After which it remained
silent.As she finished her pleating the

rains came and the door banged open and
the porchswing was yanked from its chains
and rolled into the swingset like a jagged
pumpkin- mouthed scarecrow head. She giggled nervously,
the baby wailed and the lights went
out.I was just driving my car

off the bridge when she lit the last
candle and sat down and pressed her
breast into the baby’s face and hummed more
lyrics into its perfect ears. It all
cleared a few minutes later like the same
dream. I floated down the river looking
for a ladder. Or a tunnel to home.

Life, the Universe, and Henry Miller by Al McDermid 
At one point I had gotten it my head to move to Los Angeles and so picked up a copy of the LA Weekly, a magazine I had never before read. The cover story of this particular issue was about Henry Miller, in which Miller is quoted as saying, “If the floodgates of the psyche should open and destroy our society, what harm could there be in that?” I then knew I needed to read Miller, and wanted to do so at the moment, but I didn’t have any of his books. I could have gone to the bookstore, but that seemed, at that moment, like too much trouble. Besides, I had plans to meet some friends and was running late. I forget about Miller and head down the hill. Literature matters, but life matters more. Living it matters most of all. I later learned that Henry would have probably agreed.

There were two ways up the hill where I lived at the time, a straight steep shot, or a very long switch back. I seldom took the switch back, but that night I couldn’t face the climb. In front of one house along the way, stacked on top of the waiting garbage can, was a bundle of books, among them a ninety-five cent Black Cat edition of Tropic of Cancer.

It’s a simple process. I decide that I need to read Henry Miller and the universe provides Henry Miller.

Reasons by Helen Vitoria  
As if the universe was an assault. We end up at the same place, at the same time, in the same ghost town after four years. How fast those four years must have gone for you. You spend time laying out the odds, gambling on the interior of a cloud collapsing. I heard you became a magician. Your life must have been a hell of a tabletop trick. I heard you learned how to tuck people in the cuff of your sleeve, that your mouth became a bleeding martyrdom. My four years were different. I changed the seasons around, kept it winter year round. I would have sent you pictures, but I knew you could not bear it. I quit taking risks that did not involve lightening. I learned to study wings. There were feathery wings, translucent wings, wings in a graveyard, and iridescent wings that turned to dust in my hands. I later thought it was best to study magic tricks. You know, the inner workings of salvation. I learned how to wait.
A Fair Opportunity by Catherine Davis 
“Step on up! Get your CO-incidence Plan, OR: your FOR-tay’un MYS-ter-ies! A ONCE in a lifetime OP-portunity!”

Miranda’s friends had taken off: no bialys or bracelets here. But the silver-haired man, his musical voice, his conjuring hands – this electric air had captured Miranda.

“Invest in your OWN beliefs, LAY-dies and Gentle-MEN!”

Suddenly it’s her turn. The silver-haired man and his partner rush her: Birthday? Right-handed; left? Favorite color? Now, THE question.

“My mom says there are no coincidences.”

“And your dad says – nothing but.” Miranda frowns. “Lucky guess,” he shrugs.

“Still, I don’t know what ‘fortayun’ means!”

“Sure y’ do, hon, otherwise you wouldn’ta come. Your Fortean Mystery is exactly the opposite of coincidence, see? How much you got?” Man Two talks fast.

Coincidence: one quarter; Fortean: five bucks. Miranda shifts foot to foot.

Man One sighs. “Coincidence is cheap. Popular. Makes people comfortable. But you seem a young woman of… ? Ah, you get what you pay for. Then, Fortean is… complex.”

“No guarantees!” interrupts Two. “You got the opportunity to make life easy.”

Miranda studies the piggy-bank money cupped in her hands. “One of each?”

“Noooo,” they chime. “Gotta be one way or the other,” Two adds, arms folded.

She starts– but they shush: “Whisper into my ear,” says One.

Pocketing her money, they flourish a fancy certificate: gold seal and all.

“Keep it to yourself,” they say, rolling it up.

Miranda hurries through the crowd, past cotton-candy vapors, clutching her prize – eyes wild with worry and wonder.

Back to Wk #40 – The money’s all gone
Forward to Wk #42 – Under wraps

Week #40 – The money’s all gone

Houston Street 6 PM by Catherine Davis
Stone story by Stella Pierides 
Although Kareem is eight, he looks more like twelve. This is neither due to his hairstyle, nor to the long trousers and T-shirt he is wearing; rather the serious expression on his face, and the way he looks at you, straight in the eye. He sells stones.He picked them himself carefully: not too big, for they will not travel far; not too small, for they will impress no one. He arranged them on his wooden tray and priced them accordingly: regular, one piastra; medium, two.

By the time the protesters wake up, he is standing in the furthest corner of the square, holding his tray for them to buy his stones. He pockets the notes and coins, and by the end of the first day of business he has enough money to buy his mother flatbread and tahina; and to pay off the loan to Aziz for the trip on the felucca he didn’t want his mother to know about.

On the second day though, the protest turns violent and few buy his stones; many grab them and run. Kareem ties his money in his handkerchief, puts it in his trouser pocket and starts for home.

Hours later, when he comes to, long after the van that knocked him unconscious sped away, he feels for his bundle. It is no longer there. His strength gone, he falls back to the ground and closes his eyes. He now looks the boy of eight he is.

Paralysis by Nicolette Wong 
They say she is the wild card but the playground is empty. In the starlight I cannot see, cannot hear the voices coming from the sanctuary, a riot searing the night’s veil, ashes falling into her veins where she is turning into a statue, all grey and stone.Her grief is green and mine is blue.The playground stays empty every night.

Since she went missing I have burnt my world down: clothes, records, books and all documentary proof to my existence. Today I peel bank notes off my wallet and leave them all over the streets. If her flesh is gone, what else do I have to hold onto?

She is a young thing. So am I. Only I lost my soul early and saw it in time.

Everywhere, but forgotten by Randal Houle 
The money’s gone. She left in 1971 at the stroke of a pen and then tattooed on specially designed paper.They spent it, lent it, stacked it, and taxed it.

Until it was gone.

Then they altered, bartered, and simply made more, lots more. With the stroke of a pen they printed billions, hundreds of billions, and then we all learned a new word: a trillion.

One thousand billion, that’s what that is.

They gave it away, threw it around, and told everyone to do the same. And the money rained, because money reigns.

Until it’s gone and someone says, what about gold? With the stroke of a pen they write articles, advertisements, and essays on the subject.

They mail it in, melt it down, stamp it into ingots. It’s a sad joke like a school house bully taking a kid’s lunch and leaving a scrap of paper worth less than the ink that prints it.

And now, I must end this little tirade, for the money’s gone. Like the stroke of a pen with a dry inkwell, a figment. Maybe it never really existed at all.

A Grand New Day by Doug Bond 
Earlier that night, hungry and tired, the man split his last $50 between a bucket of chicken and the copay for a new mega-tranquilizer. Lying awake, burping, and more anxious than ever, he begins to think he’s been had. When sleep finally comes it is a compromised somnolence marked by bad dreams, swallowing seas and great cracks in the earth opening under his feet.At first light he feels it immediately, a change in the air, the lifting of a great many pounds. He hurries out the front door. A bustle and buzz attends everything he sees. Stepping up to the landing, a golden haired youth hands him a paper.“But I don’t subscribe to this paper.”

“Don’t worry, no one does anymore. Not that way. Not the old way.”

The man’s never seen this many people in his neighborhood, all of them, frankly, as jaunty and free floating as quicksilver.

A choir of street barkers and pin-striped bondsmen stroll arm-in-arm down the cobbles singing:

We let go at the very first hint,
Broke the bank and the dusty old Mint.
No quid pro quo for your nickel and dime,
For now we know we’ve got plenty of time.

Foresake the Dow!
Stop your shilling!
Trust not in Trust!
We know you’re willing!

The man calls out to the paper bearer who has yet to turn back into the fray. “What’s happened?”

“The money’s gone, that’s what. We’re free. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

The Way the Wind Slices by Catherine Davis 
Beneath your frozen boots a butt in every seam of the sidewalk, so quit counting. Quit veering towards the curb where cab after cab sprays the pooling slush, while honking at god knows what. Think back to the warehouse, those thousand pounds of womanflesh glaring at you one more time-card long. Shit, so it’s uncool to notice the spare tires on those five, six bitches, how they waddle –they are going to keep at it forever ‘cause you eat French fries at lunch. Right on past tomorrow’s snow day without pay, and how the fuck can below-freezing still be wet? Across the street, a homeless guy goes down on the black ice. Sure you’d like to help, or to think that you’d like, but it’s bitter and your fingers are freezing too. Yank the hat against the bite, hunker faster and tighter.

Still, the way the wind slices, you gotta admire. Wind knows its business.

At last inside with your frostbroken feet, it’s colder than it oughta be. Only when the light switch mocks you in the indifferent dark, do you snap to the disconnect notice fallen on the threshold. Today the power company came calling. How you’re supposed to pay, it’s no use to ask. Shut the door, dump your shit, light a joint. Gather the blankets and coats in the whole place on top of you. Reckon whether your feet will be colder with the soggy boots on or off. Contemplate your breath, fogging in the gloom.

Forward to Wk #41 – Coincidence