Fiction

Karl Wallenda’s Watch

by Bill Meissner

 

 

Each step should be precise and tight and complete, he thinks,

the sides of the foot cupped around the wire as you walk the toward

the middle. Each step should be graceful and exact, and so

silent that you can hear the gasps of the crowd below, a sound

like fluttering wings.

 

The dream fades from Chance’s mind. He finds himself in a

circus museum, staring through a glass display case. Inside it is

the wrist watch Karl Wallenda wore when he fell to his death.

“Look,” he says to the woman he loves, who tours the museum with

him on their weekend getaway, “It’s Wallenda’s watch.” But

when he turns toward her, he sees that she has walked further down

the display and doesn’t hear him above the off-key circus music

piped through the overhead speakers. “Look,” he says again, but

she’s already turned the corner and entered another room of the

display. It bothers him lately that, he never seems to speak to

her at the right time, and that she never seems to hear him.

 

For the past couple of years, Chance has had the recurring

dream of walking a tightrope, a silver wire strung over a dark

canyon. In the dream, he’s standing on the brightly painted red and

yellow plywood platform, concentrating on the wire that’s perfectly motionless,

like a silver crack in the sky. He places his first shivering

bare foot on it and leans his weight forward. He knows the crowd

is down there, their upturned faces like pebbles at the bottom of a

clear stream, but he doesn’t look at them. He follows with his

left foot, and he lets go of the support ropes on the platform as

drops of sweat burn his eyes. Before he knows it, he’s halfway

across, staring straight ahead as he knows he must, the soles of

his feet finding the wire ahead of him. In the dream, he always

thinks how it’s easier than he thought it would be—this being

halfway. He’s an artist now, and it’s a slow, graceful float over

the canyon below, as if he were a bird, gliding. Before he

realizes it, he’s almost to the gray platform on the other side.

That’s when the wire begins to waver, as if there’s an earthquake,

as if the whole earth is shifting its weight left, then right, then

left.

 

At that moment the wire suddenly widens and flattens and

Chance wakes in a bed next to the woman he loves, and he feels the

sweat on his face, the adrenalin making his heart squeeze hard like

a fist grasping to hold on to something.

 

He always wakes at that moment when the wire wavers.

 

He never knows if he falls, or if he makes those final

steps onto the other platform, never has the chance to hear

the applause from the tense audience, gathered below at the edges

of the canyon. He sits up in a bed that’s still and solid and

unmoving. And when he leans over and kisses her, it finally brings

him back to pure, sweet consciousness.

 

* * *

 

One night, when he woke from his dream, his kiss woke her.

 

“Why did you kiss me?” Grace whispered.

 

“So I know I’m not falling,” he said.

 

“Falling?” she said, her sleepy voice becoming more practical.

 

“Why would you be falling?”

 

He never answered her question, didn’t really how to respond.

 

After all, he’s never told her about this recurring dream; he just

keeps the falling inside himself, where it belongs.

 

* * *

 

Today, in the museum, Chance stares through the glass case at the

pictures of The Flying Wallendas, sees them on bicycles on the wire, sees

the famous seven-person chair pyramid, a tight-rope act which they performed

without a net. The pyramid collapsed one day, dropping several

of the family members to their deaths. He cringes when he reads

the placard which describes the accident. Chance wonders a lot lately

about life’s straight lines that seem to lead you forward, and the

way you have to balance to stay on. He tries not to think about

falling off. He is always honest with himself except when it comes

to the falling.

 

The placard describes how Karl Wallenda—known as The

Great Wallenda—was injured in the incident and,

and, after recuperating, got back on the high wire again.

All the survivors stepped back on the wire again to perform

more circus shows. What must have been going through their minds

when they climbed back onto that wooden platform and touched their

toe to the wire again? Chance wonders. They couldn’t have allowed

their minds any image of that deadly fall. All they could possibly

think was toe to wire, next step, next step. That’s the only way

to approach it, he thought: one step after the other, shoulders

arched back proudly. Never a thought of the darkness below.

Confidence was their only net.

 

At the front of the display case is the watch worn by The

Great Wallenda at the time of his death. Chance can hardly get

himself to study it, but he forces himself: It’s a simple watch,

with a plain black leather wristband and a small, delicate silver

watchface. Chance is amazed that the crystal of the watch is not

cracked or broken. The placard tells that Karl, at age 73, walked between

two ten-story buildings in Puerto Rico when a sudden gust of wind

caused the wire to sway. He was holding his balance pole, but that

didn’t help—the pole suddenly tilted to one side, pulling him, and he fell.

Chance pictures the moment: Karl’s outstretched fingertips

reaching for a wire which might as well have been a thousand miles

away.

 

He wonders: What went through Karl’s mind as he fell to the

pavement 121 feet below? Did he close his eyes? Did he

concentrate with all his powers, trying to transform solid concrete

into a layer of sponge? Did he hear someone in the audience call out to him,

a soft voice, as if to break his fall? Or did he simply accept

that this was his fate: to be destroyed by what he loved most, and

to know that if he had the chance to live his life again, he would

climb back on that wire. He would climb back on it again and

again. He would do what he loved, no matter if his fragile bones

shattered a thousand times.

 

The hands of Wallenda’s watch read ten after twelve. As he stares

at it, Chance wonders: did the watch stop at ten after twelve, exactly

at the moment when the pavement rushed up to meet Karl? Or did it

keep running for a while, pulling Karl’s spirit into the future for

a few minutes or hours before it finally wound down?

 

Chance’s mind races—he wants to ask Grace these questions,

he wants to tell her his dream, but she’s already walked further

along the circus displays and has turned the corner into the next

room. As he walks down the narrow, picture-lined hallway to look

for her, he finds himself placing one foot in front of the other,

delicately, along a seam in the concrete floor.

 

When he turns the corner, she’s there, standing in front of a

brightly painted red and yellow circus wagon. She looks up at him,

her eyes large, blue, two pools of sky.

 

“What’s wrong, Chance?” she asks, her voice melodic. “You

look pale, like something terrible happened.”

 

“It did,” he says. “The Great Wallenda died. He fell from

the wire and was killed.”

 

A puzzled look washes across her face. She puts her hand on

his shoulder. “I know that,” she says. “But that was a long time

ago. You say it like it just happened.”

 

He looks down at his feet and sighs. “I feel like it just

did. ”

 

He looks into her eyes and he wants to say more. She’s always

so certain about her career in business, confident about her life, her

direction, thinks Chance. He wishes he could explain everything

to her, but just like the Great Wallenda couldn’t find the wire as

he fell, he can’t find the right words.

 

* * *

 

Back at the motel, he tosses in the bed for a long time,

unable to sleep. He looks at his wrist, notices that he forgot to

take his watch off before bed. He stares at the face of the watch,

its faintly glowing hands already past two a.m..

 

He knows he might have the dream again when he falls asleep,

knows he might be taking those steps across the middle of the tightrope,

that, even though it’s only a few yards long, will seem to stretch into

infinity. One foot in front of the other with exact gracefulness,

and, when he approaches the far platform, everything will begin to

waver. Knows that he’ll suddenly look clumsy up there, not an

artist at all—his whole body wobbling like a top that’s lost its

spin, knows that the darkness might rise up from the canyon to

swallow him and that he’ll feel no balance, no balance at all.

But right now that doesn’t matter. Right now what matters is

that he’s close to the woman he loves. He slides his arms around

her, and kisses her cheek. She jolts slightly, as if waking.

 

“I was dreaming…” she whispers, her voice sounding suddenly

frail.

 

“Dreaming what?”

 

“I dreamt I was in the middle of a tightrope wire. It must

have been the museum. And what you said about Wallenda.” She

pulls back from him a moment and he sees, for the first time, a

fear, a doubt behind the beautiful, unbreakable bones of her face.

He hates to see that look on her face, but he loves her for it, too.

She clicks on the lamp, sits up in bed and seems to shiver.

He notices, for the first time, a slight tint of gray on the side

of her hair.

 

“Don’t worry,” he tries to assure her. “It was just a dream.”

 

He thinks maybe this is the time to tell her about his dream, about

the strange coincidence of common dreams, but then he decides that

maybe it would upset her more. So he keeps quiet about it. Maybe

he’ll tell her first thing in the morning, or on their long drive

home. The words will rush out, and he’ll tell her about Karl

Wallenda’s watch, and how far he fell, and how the crystal wasn’t

even shattered. And maybe she’ll tell him her worries, too, her

wavering. Maybe she’ll admit that her life, which always seemed

to stretch so far out in front of her when she was young, doesn’t

seem so endless any more. Maybe they’ll tell each other that

there’s no holding still, there’s no guarantee that, once they

reach the great middle, they won’t lose their balance and fall.

He clicks off the light, touches her hand and they embrace

across the canyon of the bed. He feels her breath on his sweating

neck, feels her thoughts intertwine with his like a strong, tight

cord, feels the tingle of static electricity in her skin.

He hears his voice, her voice calling out from a distance, as

if they were watching someone falling, or as if they themselves

were falling.

 

She sits up suddenly and says, “Talk to me.”

 

“About what?” he asks.

 

“Anything,” she sighs. “Just talk to me.”

 

For a few seconds, he doesn’t say a word, just closes his

eyes. It occurs to him that now, right now, is the time to talk

about everything. He pulls her tightly to him and feels her hands,

like nets, pulling him at the same moment. They balance there together,

as if it will always be this way between them: catching each other,

then falling, then catching each other again.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Bill Meissner’s first novel, SPIRITS IN THE GRASS, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of an ancient Native American burial ground on a baseball field, was published in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame Press and won the Midwest Book Award. The book is available as an ebook from the UND Press. Meissner’s two books of short stories are THE ROAD TO COSMOS, [University of Notre Dame Press, 2006] and HITTING INTO THE WIND [Random House/SMU Press, Dzanc Books ebook].

Meissner has also published four books of poems: AMERICAN COMPASS, [U. of Notre Dame Press], LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDERWATER and THE SLEEPWALKER’S SON [both from Ohio U. Press], and TWIN SONS OF DIFFERENT MIRRORS [Milkweed Editions].

“Karl Wallenda’s Watch” is included in Meissner’s newly-released chapbook of stories and poems, THE GLASS CARNIVAL, published by Paper Soul Press,  Pittsburgh, Pa.  [papersoulpress@gmail.com].

He is director of creative writing at St. CloudStateUniversity in Minnesota. His web page is: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner/

His Facebook author page is:
http://www.facebook.com/mobileprotection#!/pages/Bill-Meissner/174769532541232?sk=info

Three of Meissner’s poems and a trailer for SPIRITS IN THE GRASS are on youtube, accompanied by images and music.

 

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Samuel46detail from  Merida Daytime by Samuel Barrera

 

Standard
Poetry

A Lost Face and then Some & other poems

by Tom Sheehan

 

 

A Lost Face and then Some

 

When asked to read to celebrate my new book of memoirs,

I let the audience enter the cubicle from where the work came.

I told them: I’ll celebrate with you by telling you what I know,

how it is with me, what I am, what has made me this way;

a public posture of a private life near nine decades deep.

 

Just behind the retina, a small way back, is a little room.

with secret doors, passageways, key words beside Sesame.

If you’re lucky enough to get inside that room, at the right time,

there’s ignition, a flare, now and then pure incandescence,

a white phosphorous shell detonating ideas and imagery.

 

It’s the core room of memories, holding everything

I’ve ever known, seen, felt, spurting with energy.

Shadowy, intermittent presences we usually know

are microscope-beset, become most immediate.

For glorious moments, splendid people rush back

 

into our lives with their baggage, Silver Streak unloaded,

Boston’s old South Station alive, bursting seams.

At times I’ve been lucky, white phosphorescently lucky;

when I apprehend all, quadrangle of Camp Drake in Japan

in February of 1951, the touch and temperature of the breeze

 

on the back of my neck; I know a rifle’s weight on a web

strap on my shoulder, awed knowledge of a ponderous

steel helmet, tight lace on a boot, watch band on one wrist.

Behind me, John Salazer is a comrade with two brothers

not yet home from World War II, who the captain calls

 

and says, “You go home tomorrow. Be off the hill before dark.”

“No, sir, I’ll spend the night with Jack down in the listening post.”

At darkness a Chinese infiltrator hurls a grenade into their bunker.

The count begins again, eternal count, odds maker at work,

clash of destinies. On the ship heading home, on a troop train

 

rushing across America, in all rooms of sleep since then,

are spaces around me. Memory, fragile, becomes tenacious,

but honors me as a voice, and my will to spread their tenacity.

My book says, ‘For those who passed through Saugus, all towns,

comrades bravely walked away from home to fall elsewhere,

 

and the frailest one of all, frightened, glassy-eyed, knowing

he is hapless, one foot onto D-Day soil or South Pacific beach

and going down, but not to be forgotten, not ever here.”

I had their attention. We shared: The shells were cannonading

as one died in my arms, blood setting sun down. In darkness now

 

I cannot find his face again. I search for it, stumble, lose my way.

November’s rich again, exploding. Sixty-four Novembers burst

the air. I inhale anew, leaves bomb me, sap is still, muttering

of the Earth is mute. I remember all the Novembers; one tears

about me now, but his face is lost. How can I find his face again?

 

 

Burial for Horsemen

(For my father, blind too early.)

 

The night we listened to an Oglala life

on records, and shadows remembered

their routes up the railed stairway like

a prairie presence, I stood at your bed

 

counting the days you had conquered.

The bottlecap moon clattered into your

room in vagrant pieces…jagged blades

needing a strop or wheel for stabbing,

 

great spearhead chips pale in falling,

necks of smashed jars rasbora bright,

thin flaked edges tossing off the sun.

Under burden of the dread collection,

 

you sighed and turned in quilted repose

and rolled your hand in mine, searching

for lighting only found in your memory.

In moon’s toss I saw the network of your

 

brain struggling for my face the way you

last saw it, a piece of light falling under

the hooves of a thousand horse ponies,

night campsites riding upward in flames,

 

the skyline coming legendary.

 

 

 

Gandy Dancer of the Phoebe Snow

 

You began right in front of me today.

I don’t know where you came from,

patient muscles hanging loose in your

soil-painted, dark-blue suit coat,

one pocket ripped to a triangle,

one pocket stuffed oh so properly

with a coffee-filled paper-wrapped

pint bottle, your thin legs nailed down

into a pair of the saddest brown pants,

a long-handle spade extending your arms,

eyes folded over reaching for noon.

 

Off behind you, faded to gray,

jetted the rip of animate steam,

coal gases; railroad track arrowing

onto a lake top that still does not exist.

 

You said, “Manja,” and laughed at me,

your big teeth ripe of red meat and bread,

voice as loud as your hands slapping with music.

 

You untied the red bandanna at your neck,

a sun-bothered sail of red bandanna,

wiped the brow under a felt hat, sucked

at the papered bottle until I tasted iodine

at the bend of my throat, smelled coal dust

coming a talc over us, like a dry fog.

 

It was the same yesterday when I made

a v-grooved pole to hold the clothesline up,

and over the fence a visitor from the Maritimes

said, “You go back a long way. I haven’t seen

a pole like that in years and years.”

 

So I guess you came the way the pole did,

out of the roads I’ve traveled, down lanes

stuffed like chairs, past yard geographies,

a long view over trees, out of some

thing I was, an organic of memory,

celluloid flashing of wide spaces

I passed through, the odors I thought

I wore or was, cannons at the edge

of a distant war, colors banging

their permanence tightly against

the back of my eyes,

 

pieces of the circle I find myself on,

where you were a moment ago, just

out the window of my mind, bearing

the riddle of a melancholy whistle

from hollows among the Rockies.

 

 

Face of an Old Western Barn

 

The motley barn, like an old stain

gone haywire, is a dread easel.

Knots, carved into walls like old

promises, wait for campfires

or late hearths, warmth from Earth’s

beginning.

 

Only the darkness is inconclusive where

night points its finger. In the deep aches

knots have fallen from, stars fall in, fields

of them, with the evening leader digging

deepest, digging first after yesterday’s carcass

linking still in the eyes’ behavior.

 

Shadows, upstaging any moon, argue on

its surfaces laterally. I have seen more mandates

than dreams in the dim recesses where wood

envies time, chases after it a whole age of

transparent death; just sunken cedars

in the swamp, drowned black, live on longer,

scaled at new livelihood.

 

Against a thousand storms this barn has stood,

never folding inward, only down by faint degrees

of ant strokes, termite mandibles, the odd carpenter;

its shoulders going sideways, knees turning softly,

its breath slow and halting.

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52, and graduated Boston College in 1956. His books are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans; Collection of Friends; From the Quickening; The Saugus Book; Ah, Devon Unbowed; Reflections from Vinegar Hill; This Rare Earth & Other Flights, and Vigilantes East.  eBooks include Korean Echoes (nominated for a Distinguished Military Award), The Westering, (nominated for National Book Award); from Danse Macabre are Murder at the Forum (NHL mystery), Death of a Lottery Foe, Death by Punishment, and An Accountable Death. Co-editor of A Gathering of Memories, and Of Time and the River, two collections about our home town of Saugus, Massachusetts, both 400+ pages, 4500 copies sold, all proceeds from $40.00 each cost destined for a memorial scholarship for my co-editor, John Burns, in the Saugus School system as director of the English Department at the High School for 45 years. After conception of the idea for the books, and John putting out the word for material to be included by former students, and with a proposal of actions and schedules I prepared for a local bank, ten of his former students signed a loan from the bank for $60,000 to print two books not yet written!!!!

And paid it off!!!!

 

* * * * * * * * * *

jane30

painting by Jane Gilday

Standard
Fiction

Afflictions, Michigan Winter & Failed Clowns

by Mitch Grabois

 

Afflictions

1.

He tried to cross a corrosive sea. His boat dissolved under him. His skin dissolved, his nerves his bones, his family members, but he’d had no choice. The rabid fundamentalists were after him. They would have raped his wife and daughter, beheaded his son and used his skull as a soccer ball and praised the name of Allah as they did.

He’d dipped his toe in the surf’s foam but didn’t feel the danger. It took some time before he began noticing the effects, but by that time they were under way and the boatless terrorists were on the beach, screaming curses and threats.

He didn’t understand that the oceans had filled with acid rain, that the clouds in the sky carried not water vapor, but sulphur fumes. He cursed his life, his powerlessness, his death , the death of his family.

His curses were mere whispers at the bottom of the sea.

2.

You may get Shingles because if, as a child, you had Chickenpox, the Shingles virus is in your body waiting for the right amount of stress to unleash it. You can get a vaccine for it but that doesn’t mean you won’t get it. No protection is 100%.

If you get it, you’ll think that you should have gotten the vaccine twice, but now it’s too late for anything but pain and regret.

3.

I hung out in the hot tubs with Mexicans, mean guys, heavily tattooed. My flesh was naked white. I decided to get a tattoo. I decided on a simple one: No Regrets, but the next time I went into the hot tub I discovered that the tattoo artist had left out the NO, so what I was left with was: REGRETS.

The Mexicans appreciated that—they nodded sagely in my direction.

You may feel that your Shingles is Karma—that it was the bad things you did that caused your suffering. You wish you could go back and undo the suffering you caused other people, but of course you can’t.

 

Michigan Winter

1.

I stood on these cold beaches at times of the year no one else would come here. My wife and I pulled out half-frozen sandwiches and sat at a picnic table covered with ice and there was no one there to say: Those people are crazy.

We wished we could climb the lighthouse stairs and grip the rails to keep from being blown off and flung into the frozen surf or against some rocks, but the lighthouses were closed for the season. We told ourselves we do this because we’re Michiganders and we believe there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, but we really do it because we were both laid off and don’t have anything better to do and after being out in the freezing cold, the inside of the tavern feels really good.

2.

The farmer’s black cow has escaped the field and is in the road. The farmer is my cousin Joe.

An Amish neighbor calls to tell me that one of Joe’s cows has gotten loose. Joe doesn’t like me much. I call him anyway. The phone rings and rings but he doesn’t answer. He may be passed out from too much drink. I’m not going over there. I’m not going out in this blizzard.

Joe once ran into my son’s trailer when it was parked in front of my barn, broke out a taillight, bent a strut, and then drove off as if nothing had happened, but both my son and I saw it. That white trash fucker, said my son.

Maybe he’s down the road at his mom’s house, I thought. His mother had recently had her legs cut off. It was a diabetes thing. She used to beat their milk cows. I helped with the milking and cringed when she hit them with her two-by-four. They were dumb, submissive animals, sometimes slow and stubborn. I called up his mother’s house but no one answered there either. She’s such a hoarder, I thought. Maybe Joe’s over there and can’t get to the phone. Maybe he tried for a while and just gave up, looking at the endless piles of junk in his way. I let the phone ring and ring.

Maybe his mother died and he just discovered her and now he’s crying secret tears because he never let on that he liked his mother at all. It always seemed that he despised her, almost as much as he despised his younger brother.

I called Cowboy Rufus who lived next door to Joe but no one answered his phone either. I figured Rufus was at work up in Manistee at the salt mine down the road from the liquor store that every Autumn lettered their sign: Hello Darkness my old friend. Next to the liquor store the House of Flavors served ice cream all winter but it didn’t make anyone feel better. Even if they went to the casino and won, they didn’t feel any better.

Fuck, I said to myself, going to the closet and pulling on my coat. I walked out the back door and over to my old van, the one the mice had got in last summer and stripped some of the wiring so I had to rewire it.

It started. I drove down to my cousin’s house. I saw the cow, black against the snow. I knew that cow, always complaining. She was the biggest complainer of the herd and now she’d gotten out.

 

Failed Clowns

1.

Failed clowns from Brooklyn and Milwaukee pack their whiteface and red lip gloss and board airliners for Greece, where they plan to cheer refugees with their antics. In America they have been losers for decades, practicing arts no longer appreciated with talents inadequate for the task. But in Greece, the dispossessed from Iraq and Syria laugh uproariously, the one bright spot they’ve had for months, or years.

The clowns think again about quitting their day jobs.

2.

The poet (a type of failed clown) taps his teeth with his pointer finger, pulls at his ear lobe until it is as distended as an African tribesman’s, and makes everyone at the Thanksgiving table nervous to distraction. Yet they are thankful that he has not been a burden on them, has not demanded that they provide him with a place to live, or support him.

Sitting at the turkey table, he writes more poems in the soiled notebooks he carries with him everywhere. Behind his back his brother calls him Walt Whitman because he is bearded and disheveled and has leaves of grass in his long hair.

He’ll be famous after he’s dead, says his mother.

He’s a bum and he’ll always be a bum, says his father.

His niece says: Uncle, read me another poem.

His work, truth be told, is as humorous as that of Ogden Nash and the niece giggles until stuffing comes out of her mouth.

3.

And when it was his time, the Angel of Broken Legs lifted him up and carried him up to a cottony cloud, where she gently laid him down, whispering all the way about recklessness and caution. He just laughed at her, having no respect for angels or devils—his father had raised him to be a nonbeliever and he refused to believe anything he could not see and even what he could see, like the angel of broken legs.

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over a thousand of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The Best of the Net, and Queen’s Ferry Press’s Best Small Fictions for work published in 2011 through 2015. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.

 

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young emma in hats

Standard
Fiction

The Flock Unseen

by A.S. Coomer

 

The sirens woke me. I opened my eyes to the flashing red lights coming in through the closed blinds. My first conscious breath was painful, something spiked and bristled in my chest and I couldn’t complete it. I sputtered and coughed and tried to swing my feet over the side of the bed to sit up but couldn’t.

“Don’t.”

I looked over and my wife was standing there. Deep pockets of weary concern on her face.

How many times had this moment occurred?

Too many.

“They just got here,” she said, placing a cold hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move. Sit still.”

I tried to let myself fall back onto the bed but anything other than holding myself completely rigid sent the painbirds fluttering. They’re finicky creatures.

“Lie still.”

From somewhere below and off to the left, the front door opened. I didn’t hear it but I felt the change in the house’s pressure. It was new enough, still not really settled, that you could feel things like that.

She had her arms wrapped around herself now. Her frail hands, an old woman’s hands I could see now, were stroking her naked arms. Consoling herself. The hands and slight enfolding embrace an attempt to tell herself it was going to be ok.

I tried to find her eyes.

I opened my mouth to call her name.

Nothing came out.

Two women came through the bedroom door, official and stone-faced. I thought I recognized one of them from another time, another lesser visit.

There was a fresh fluttering of the wings in my chest and I couldn’t help but close my eyes. Tears snuck past the corners of my closed eyelids and streaked down both of my hot, fevered cheeks; icy slalom skiers making one last run.

When I could open my eyes again, she was talking to them. She had stepped further away from the bed, back against the wall, another enclosure giving her a sense of herself alone, confined and self-contained, her lips moving and eyes bright with anxiety, with uselessness, with time.

I tried to say her name again but couldn’t. A soft avian chitter in the night followed by the flock unseen’s full response. The birds were really singing now.

They came and threw back the sheets. I felt a wave of chill thrill across my wasted legs, my half-exposed stomach poking out from under the ruffled pajama shirt, the folds of my weather-beaten neck pulling back a bit, just a fraction tighter.

The understanding that the cold slowly sucked you back in time dawned on me like the first glimpse of clear-skied December sunrise. Seconds began to flash backwards, abandoning their forward march as if it had all just been another training exercise, a fire drill, a cursory, fretless, feckless thing.

I tried to look toward my wife but my eyes were not the eyes I closed the late April night before. They were not even the eyes of my seventy-sixth year.

I saw her through eyes ten years younger, misting around the edges; all slightly out of focus but in a very nice Coppola sort of way. She was smiling in earnest–not realizing I was watching–at the rising Minnesotan sun, her first poured cup of sugary black coffee steaming up in swirls around her chin, giving her the appearance of some beautifully aged, asiatic sage.

“What is it?”

I must’ve blinked because then I saw her through eyes at least twenty-five years younger, sepia-toned and warmly hazy. She was coming in through the door of the old house we used to live in downtown, her arms laden with plastic grocery bags, her face flushed from the summer heat. Little hairs were stuck to her forehead and her dark hair looked frizzled and wild. Her smooth face was florid but content. She unloaded herself onto the kitchen table and wiped her forehead with her forearm then saw me. The smile streaked across her face like heat lightning, late evenings in early August.

My stomach dropped. The birds sang louder.

I saw her, again, through eyes I’ve had at least fifty years since. She was sitting across from me in a little booth for two at a Mexican restaurant somewhere in the flaxen wastes of Kansas, ballcap on her head, tinted lipbalm colored in slightly outside the lines of her mouth, beautiful and famished after a long day in the car. Her large eyes, anchored wonderfully in her smooth, sun kissed cheeks, were scanning the sticky, plastic shrouded menu. I watched them bloom as they lighted on what she wanted.

“Ma’am, I need you to step back.”

“What’s happening.”

“Ma’am.”

“Do something.”

The birds sang another note, it surrounded me, and I felt the feathers ruffle against my chest. I opened my eyes but everything was dark. They nestled closer and I, too, began to sing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

A.S. Coomer is a writer. He likes cats, tacos, books & comics. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in issues of Red Fez, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Literary Orphans Journal, The Quill, Blotterature, Flash Fiction Magazine, Oxford Magazine, The Poets Without Limits, The Broadkill Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Thirteen Myna Birds, 101 Words, Intrinsick Magazine and Serving House Journal, to name a few. You can find him at http://www.ascoomer.wordpress.com. He also runs a “record label” for poetry that can be found here: http://www.lostlonggoneforgottenrecords.wordpress.com.

 

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young Eva

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Poetry

Black Molasses and other poems

by Cesar Love
Black Molasses

Light cannot pass through me
I swallow every spark
I put out each candle
I smother the streetlamp
I douse the lighthouse

The moon, the sun, and the day
Down they go in my distillery.
Everything bright milled by my night.
There I make them black like me
There I make them pure like me

When I am ready, I make the world sweet
Give me flour, I make gingerbread
Give me water, I become rum
Give me an audience, I become music

I am black molasses
I go the speed that I choose
They say I move slow, but really I move free
In this sugar, you meet freedom
In this, sugar, you become four-alarm cool.
The bongo of minutes, the gong of the hours,
Simple flickers on the still of your soul.

 

The Garbage Men

They come while you sleep
And they wake you,
Clanking their truck,
Rattling their giant cans
They take what you leave for them
Torn clothes
Worthless paper
Broken toys

They return in your dreams
And ignore you
They cruise right by
In their noisy truck
And don’t pick up a thing

But if you learn their language
If you trade shoes with them
And follow their dance
They free you
They take everything
You want to be rid of

 

Flavor of Lemon

Bake your pie of lemon
Invite the forbidden one over
There is no time
For plates and silverware
Eat it with her
As fast as you can
Destroy the evidence
Before she leaves
Lick every crumb
From her face

Cupid’s dark twin
Hands you
The handsome fruit.
He tells you, smell it.
Isn’t this exquisite?
I dare you to taste it.
But if you like it,
If you want more,
Laws will be passed
Against you.

In a ball of innocent yellow
A flavor that strips
Your varnish
This is the taste
Of Love’s confusion.
This is the taste
Of Love’s certainty.
His nakedness
That begs for sugar clothes

The sky will rain sour
No umbrella
No lifeboat
The lifeguards laugh
You must drown

Then bake your pie
Save her the last slice
Savor the last slice

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César Love writes under the influence of Pablo Neruda, Lanston Hughes and the Asian Masters. He is a native of California with roots in Mexico. He recites his poems at open mics in the San Francisco Bay Area.
These poems will appear in César Love’s soon-to-be-published book, Birthright.

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Donald Helton

Standard
Poetry

A Road is Just a Trail Made Dangerous Through Improvement & Sunshine

by Crawdad Nelson

 

A Road is Just a Trail Made Dangerous Through Improvement

The strip joint sits on a low rise
about a mile away

from the useless but ominous cone,
from the piles cooling,
gradually, a thousand years at a time,
lethal rods bathed in clear pools,
men keeping the eternal valve open
smoking only where allowed,
preventing disaster,

looking across mud and waters,
near whizzing highway. Enormous trucks
howl off to appointments, head toward unknown scales,
unpredictable ordinances, secret restrictions,

while the strippers give it all, sometimes
pleasantly authentic, almost real,
pretending to care about the truckers
drinking watery beer in the front row,
the mill hands looking so deep
they see themselves,
bare skin, big hair,
thighs on the pole, high heels,
wobbling a bit,
showing, but not showing,

when someone stops in
two and a half days later, explicitly pale
and emaciated, all there is after the money
is lost is the way it feels in your hand,
you can always tell,
once the road is traveled,
the highway crossed,
it is clear:

A road is just a trail the governor discovered
on a map and drew lines over
until it was gone, until engineers had
measured and figured the precise amount of earth
and degree of difficulty; it started out safe,
in the morning with a packed lunch going fishing,
but got worse with time: someone dug in, hardened,
and simplified the hill itself, a long curve now
cuts it in half, and the trees at the bottom are scarred
after decades of intercepting lives,
providing closure, closing deals.

A road is a place you can’t walk;
you’ll get run down;
someone will chuck a half-full beer at your head
from a moving automobile,
someone won’t see you,
someone will plow into the shoulder at seventy
miles an hour and destroy a hundred yards
of white picket fence hung
with nasturtium; you can’t relax,
you may have to suddenly leap
into wild tangled weeds and vines,
beer cans and cinder block fragments,
granite, glass, toxicity
squalor and risky behavior
cuddled in roadside weeds;

a road is just a trail
with safety removed, a tunnel through timber,
surface upon muck, flat spot, wide spot,
spot with nothing left to give, a dangerous ribbon of
pressed layers, of death underfoot,
anonymous and pointless.

Three days later they pass once more,
hundred miles an hour,
middle of the road.

 
Sunshine

The sun rises and falls over the continuous moment; the moon rolls through the sky and plunges into the sea just after breakfast each day, the size of a gull’s egg, on a secret nest; the sky reveals its broken wings, a stroke of light across the infinite, a stone in the sea; the bones of the pioneer dead lie gathered and counted. Most of what occurs is a kind of mud capturing the repetitive tasks of life. Let’s see if you can figure this one out. Someone with a knife is at the door. Go on down to the personnel office and ask the right questions. After a few drinks people soften into slightly less intimidating postures and the tobacco smell darkens. We sit there alone staring at each other. Standing in line to eat. Standing in line to take a shit. Standing in line at the gate. The door swings. The door swings inward. You go in. The sun comes over the ridge and punctures the soft moon, lying invalid on the water, the sun rises to an unlikely height, the moon is a soft white blossom.

 

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Crawdad Nelson has published poems, stories, essays and articles in the small press for over twenty years. He has been editor, pasteup man and photographer as well. He currently works at a community college helping people understand what they think about things they read and write.

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Roy & car

Standard