Fiction

About Nevis

by Cher Bibler

 

“Nevis,” I said, “why do you think we’ve lasted this long? I mean, there were thousands of us when we were new. I remember being in a workroom and I was just one of a sea of faces that looked all alike, or pretty much so. Why aren’t there more of us?”

We had been drinking a bit. Normally, Nevis isn’t my chosen gossip companion. However, I’ve been drinking more than usual, myself, in these unsettled times.

He grunted a bit, put down his drink and looked at me. I don’t think he normally likes me much better than I do him. He thinks I am a shallow stuck up snob, and I think of him as a drunken ne’er do well who has wasted his life away. I know he’s intelligent, but what good is intelligence if you let it sit and sour?

“I’m not very well made,” he said, after a bit of thought. “I’m composition, and composition doesn’t hold up well. I was never made to last. I was made to be a plaything for boys, who are rough on their toys to begin with. I’m a wartime toy and boys blew us up with caps trying to be realistic about a war that was brutal and beyond their understanding. Boys were using us to act out what they thought the grownups were doing.

“You,” he added, “were a pretty thing from the beginning. Meant to be dolled up and looked at. Created to be treated gently.”

“But we weren’t,” I said. “I can’t tell you the last time I met one of my own family. Sure, bisque is more durable than pressed sawdust, but bisque breaks, doesn’t it? Crumbles into bits. My body is old leather, and it’s all dark and brittle. I don’t think we were meant to last this long. I feel awfully old! I’ve outlived so many friends, and I’ve had so many owners. I can’t help feeling this is all wrong.”

“Why worry?” he said. “What is is what is. Just accept it.”

“I want to understand it,” I said. “If there’s a reason why I’m alive out of hundreds and hundreds of my sisters, I want to know what it is. I feel as though I’m meant to be doing something. As if there is some greater meaning to my life and I can almost see it but not quite, and it really bothers me. I feel horribly ancient and I miss the old ways and people who are gone, and I really miss Amelia. She was my first owner. I guess not really the first, but the first who loved me and played with me.”

“I can’t believe you were owned by anyone who didn’t love you. You’re something rather special, and always were. You were no common dime store dolly,” he said.

“No,” I agreed, not being conceited or anything, just stating a fact.

“I was high priced to begin with,” I said, “but my first owner was a little girl who had so many dolls she didn’t know what to do with them. When I was given to her, I was just thrown upon the heap. I think she was really too old for dolls when she got me. She never cared about me. One day she gave me to a maid at the house and that’s when my life really began because I was given to the maid’s niece and that was Amelia. Amelia loved me with all her heart. I was pretty much her only doll. There was an old rag thing that barely had a face. Amelia loved her, too, and would never throw her out. We used to sit together on the shelf. Hattie Sue was her name. I can’t believe I still remember it. Hattie Sue. What a long time ago that was. I wonder whatever happened to poor old Hattie Sue. She was a fright but she was jolly and not a bit jealous when I came to live with them. I would’ve been jealous, but then I’ve never been a nice person. Not really.”

“Poor little rich girl,” Nevis said, and poured me another glass of wine. Like I needed it. Nevis used to write poetry and stories, though I never read one (wouldn’t he be shocked if he could see me? scribbling down my thoughts), and I think he was very sympathetic, since he spent his time trying to imagine how other dolls felt so he could write stories about them.

I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve had my share of hard times, like all of us. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve been unwanted and unloved plenty of times. My face saved me, I guess. If I weren’t so pretty I’d be out on the trash heap.”

“I was born during the war,” he said. “I belonged to a boy who grew up and became a soldier himself and died. Playing with me led him to his destiny, a grassy hill thousands of miles away from home when he was 20 years old. His sister kept me all her life to remember him by.”

We are talking World War I here. Nevis is a battered composition doll who still wears his uniform. I think it’s the only outfit he’s ever owned. He has a little tin hat and a bayonet. His uniform is a steely brown color and he has heavy boots. He is a poet who drinks to excess. My friend Tina has been in love with him for years.

Perhaps it was the wine. We were drowning in memories.

“Were you a dime store doll?” I asked. “What was your store like?”

It helps to know more about a doll’s store. We have such fond memories of our stores, perhaps because we were at our utmost beautiful, sitting there waiting to be bought and to be played with, sitting there untouched in all our glory with our hopes and dreams whole and untarnished. It’s like a golden memory. Some of us didn’t ever have much beyond the store. So many of us don’t last long. I don’t know why I get so maudlin sometimes.

“No, not a dime store, but not much of a step up. It was a wonderful store, though. A department store with anything anyone could want. A big warm friendly store with the greatest toy department. I was a Christmas doll. Under the tree and the whole bit.”

“A Christmas doll!” I exclaimed. “Oh, how lucky you are.”

He gave me a rare smile. “Lucky,” he said. “People don’t call me lucky.”

“Oh, but think of the joy you brought to your boy. I can tell he played with you. It’s written all over you.”

He laughed. “Oh yes. He certainly played with me. A soldier doll for a soldier boy. A doll to make the army and the fighting seem like a game, to lure him into death..

“Well you didn’t know that. You can’t help being a soldier doll, it’s how you were made. Did anyone ask you what you wanted to be? And you didn’t tell him to join the army, did you? He did that all on his own. And you made him happy while you had him, didn’t you? What was he like, your boy? What was his name?”

“I am named after him. He was the first Nevis. His sister gave me his name after he died. He called me Bertie the bombardier, even though I was no bombardier, I was a common foot soldier. You know how kids are. They never see you for what you are.”

“Oh yes,” I agreed. “Amelia had a wonderful imagination. What did he look like?”

“Brown hair,” said Nevis. “Brown eyes. Wonderfully warm brown eyes. Always laughing. Always thinking up mischief, and I was in it up to my neck whenever I could be. It’s a wonder I’m in as good shape as I am. The only time he was tidy was when he first got dressed, and then we were in and out of whatever there was to be into. Stables, woods, attic, cellar, soccer field. It was a marvelous lifetime of sticking plaster and stolen biscuits.”

“His sister used to have a photo of the two of us together,” he added. “Had it framed and it sat on the shelf beside me. It helped me out a lot, remembering. I wish I still had that picture. It got lost somewhere along the way.”

“What got lost?” said Tina, who was just getting there and was about three drinks behind us. She had been washing her bits and pieces, she said.

“Nevis was telling me about his boy, and the picture of the two of them,” I told her. She hugged his shoulders and kissed the top of his head and settled into the stool beside him.

“Poor love,” she said.

“What about you, Tina? Where did you come from? What’s your story?” I said.

“We have been trading pasts,” said Nevis.

Tina downed one all in one gulp. She is an experienced drinker, being Nevis’s constant companion. Tina is a simple soul, following him around like a dog. He is her whole life, and she’s never wanted for anything more. I hope whatever happens to us, wherever we end up, they end up together, because I can’t picture one without the other.

She held out her empty glass towards the bartender. You perhaps cannot picture a bar in a doll’s life, and certainly it’s not anything we normally share with our human counterparts, but all sorts of establishments pop up in little unused corners of your houses. This little book of writings is an attempt to share what a doll’s life is like. Life would be quite dull if all we did was stand on shelves with metal contraptions holding us up. I may not be as reprobate as Nevis and Tina but I see nothing wrong with a drink from time to time and a sit with a good friend to get the gossip.

Perhaps this night I had drunk more than usual.

“You already know all about me,” said Tina. “I have no secrets. I was born a bed doll and never belonged to a child at all. I’ve smoked and drunk since I was born. I’ve danced and laughed and never had a care in the world. I’m no beauty and I was born with this cigarette hanging out of my mouth. My old wig fell off and my dress was so cheap it fell apart in shreds. This is new hair (not very new anymore, I guess) and this crazy polkadot dress is a remake. Even my face is painted over. I was born cynical. What can I say?”

She laughed her husky laugh and sipped at drink #2. I sat and thought of the infinite sadness of having never been loved by a child. I was glad I was me and that it was Tina who was Tina.

I am especially glad I wasn’t born with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

 

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

Cher Bibler is the author of one book of poetry, California, California. She has worked as editor of Amanda Blue, a poetry magazine, and co-editor of a literary magazine, the Wastelands Review. She was a fiction reader for the Mid American Reviewand worked as poetry editor for the Heartlands Review. She was a book reviewer for Literary Zoo. 

She was a founding member of the alternative band Tinfoil, as bass/rhythm guitarist, singer and songwriter. Over their career, they released 12 albums. One of their songs, People Don’t Know, will be featured in an indie film, Certainty, directed by Keith Mosher.

Her short story, Not Waving But Drowning, was a winner in the annual NOBS competition, and her current novel, Billie, was a finalist in this year’s (2011) Faulkner competition.  Her poetry has appeared in such publications as This Side of Paradise andThe Evergreen Review.

She resides in Mérida, Mexico, is in the process of forming a new band, and serves as the content editor of In Other Words: Merida.

Eleanor Bennett

 

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Poetry

Olympic Mentality and other poems

by Jack Little

Olympic Mentality

 

The Olympic Football Final – I don’t watch it, preferring

to observe Mexico City life where I pass vital moments,

a semi-welcomed guest among the bars, bordels of insecurity

(mine or someone else’s) and a sense of belonging

gotten lost, unworldly.

 

Auxiliary guards carry guns and watch on nonchalantly,

I catch a glimpse of the score and there’s been an early goal:

It has been a disappointing year. I rob red bricks

painted white from the high walls of surburbia, floating,

wishing for a glimpse of the old world I once knew

 

the dangerous and inviting. My favourite bookshops

are closed on Sundays and the nightclub got shut

down until the fine will be paid to a shadow. Drunken

buses pass, with huge unkempt flags, faster, faster, faster

 

with no where in particular to go, swaying and surfing

on the rotten wooden floor of a packed out combi heading

for war. Mexico won gold today and nothing will

stand in her way for now she has a “winning mentality”

 

quite unseen before. Dancing people at the station, cars honking

loudly and there is no water in the taps tonight and the light shall

most likely falter for these are difficult times, the nights ringing bells

of an uncertainty that befell this city not less than half a millenia ago

 

reassuring yet taxing to the senses, the winners declare

this day to be “a base upon which to build for the future”

 

 

On Finding Myself to be Rather Similar to a Cabbage

 

I read a book on hormones today

and it’s really quite remarkable

just how our bodies work

at attaching new atoms, and breaking them down,

signals passing too -and-fro millions of millimeters

from toe to head and back again.

 

And then, that got me thinking,

(which can be very dangerous)

where do I fit in, in this body of mine?

am I just the sum of this not quite so tall machine

and unfathomable passing of bodily fluids and electricity

between tubes and organs… A silly percentage made of water

and 47% the same DNA as a cabbage.

 

So, dear sir. Please do cut me open and find a Victoria sponge,

Placed meticulously in thin layers of cream, cake and jam.

 

 

Fourth Birthday

 

A photo from my back pocket,

a boy in his best black waist coat

like a 1990s snooker player – Don’t pot

the black too early lad – I whisper,

his forehead hasn’t been grown into yet

 

My best party outfit, my best friends

of turning four fill the foreground

of life passing in cycles, the passing of parcels

the stopping of music. Unpack these moments

and write them down – my teddy bear wears

that waistcoat now

 

 

Late August, 2012

 

the evening denies her promise

of rainfall, a day off

and the excitement of entrapment.

 

a man blames expectation as his cage

and asks for directions to somewhere beautiful.

 

the citizen smiles politely in silence,

the ripples of a thousand “I”, ‘I”, “I”s merge into one,

another year now over halfway done.

 

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

 

Jack Little (b. 1987) is a British poet living in Mexico City where he runs The Ofi Press, a bilingual online poetry magazine and publishing company which organises regular poetry events. His work has been published in 3:AM Magazine, Warwick Unbound, Calliope Nerve, The Bubble, Eunoia Review, Blue Pepper Poetry, Kerouac’s Dog,  and mostly recently in Bakwa Magazine (Cameroon). Forthcoming publications will appear soon in Drey, Wasafiri and Ink, Sweat and Tears. In March 2012, Jack read at the Linares International Literary Festival in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. As well as his literary related activities, he also manages the Mexico national cricket team.www.theofipress.webs.com

 

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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Poetry

Radio and other poems

by Andrew Taylor

Radio

 

studio apartment pianist

composes notates

the dinner is delivered

 

Love is the available transport

courtyard is thoughtful

 

loft ballet dancer gives

a low

warm laugh

 

the street is fogged in

radio brings silence

 

 

Smitten

 

From the cottage window wild deer

roamed paused took a look at the honeymoon couple

concerned with keeping warm

 

Isolation of the finest kind morning

leads to evening

slow paced      like the Lilac Time

spending summer playing tennis

 

rescued from routine excitement

loss purged

she appears fresh from Italy with desire

and the knack of making coffee

a rescue act    from the decimation of parted angels

 

she made him believe in the stars once more

 

city-centre hotel the turn of the millennium

the river slate coloured       tidal

 

she watches gardening programmes

and eats room service

 

a warm welcome after returning from

the hip party

through Mathew street’s madness

 

the room looks like a shoot from Vogue

 

 

The Rainbow

 

Wood takes two

and a half hours

 

Paper is product

 

small talk

over ravioli

 

battery holds its charge

 

I’ve seen how

she looks at you

 

It’s how I look at her

 

fingers leave marks

there will be DNA

 

should the rains fall

we will be protected

 

Don’t be afraid of

the good in this world

 

Midland corridor

calm window

motorway curve

split

track takes me to you

 

December visit my streets

become

your streets

 

I walk them to remember

and buy the music

 

to gift to connect

 

 

Cashpoint on Platform 7

 

nine lines carved

there is a message in that

 

return with whiskey

an hour tasting tears

 

Auto switch off

 

 

Swaling

 

Against the snow the scarf is spectacular it is frozen

 

Feed the ponies polos an afternoon walk

making own steps heels dance red

bitten fences worn down path

 

the goat is not in the garden the shed is locked

I’ll look for the first sign of flowers

metal has replaced the arching wood

 

I asked for a replica a photograph will do

 

 

Touch Tour

 

It makes you think differently about art

It makes you use your brain

and it keeps working even after you have left

 

cool evening power

clouds angle at odds

 

leaves fall like light snow

gather centre road

 

a crushed conker

investigated by sparrow

 

gloss from rain

reflective light

 

there is temperature change

a future of dust

 

to be washed away

on river’s tide

 

after hibernation

a return

 

 

Millers Bridge

 

Demolished churches warehouses empty

below the brow water calm

ship docked against sunset

Belfast bound with the tide

 

 

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

 

Andrew Taylor is a Liverpool poet and co-editor of erbacce and erbacce-press. He has a full collection of poems forthcoming from Shearsman. He supports Everton FC.

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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Fiction

Poseidon

by Julienne Eden Busic

“What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”  Matthew  8:27

The house was supposedly just off Bear Valley Road, about a hundred yards past where the white trash Coys lived.  You couldn’t miss them, because there were always at least half a dozen scabby kids in the yard wrestling with each other or chasing some mangy mutt around with a sharp stick as he yipped in terror, tail between his legs.  Sometimes dead snakes hung from the clothesline, trickles of blood still dripping from their mouths onto the parched dirt.

After the white trash, they were to keep an eye out for a cockeyed mailbox on a wooden pole:  no name, only two faded red letters, a “B” and an “L”, with an empty space in between.  There they needed to turn right and follow a narrow dirt road down to the house.

Katie had thought long and hard about what to wear.  Something 60s, to indicate she hadn’t changed all that much?  Was that really the impression she wanted to create, that she’d just gotten stuck in time?  She’d finally settled on a pair of jeans, not ripped or faded, which would have made too inaccurate a statement of her current world view.  A regular pair, and a black shirt with no slogan. The absurdity of walking around in a T-shirt that said “Nietzsche is Dead: God”, for example, or one that had somebody else’s name on it!  If she were going to have a name on her shirt, it would be her own, obviously, not some Italian’s she didn’t even know.

Sally probably hadn’t agonized over what to wear, mainly because she always wore the same thing.  A plain, long sleeved sweatshirt, jeans, and socks to match the sweatshirt.  Purple sweatshirt, purple socks, red sweatshirt, red socks.  Not patterned, solid, just like the sweatshirt.  Her hair was longer than it had been in high school, but she was getting ready to cut it again, she didn’t like the flat shape of her head when you looked at it in profile in the mirror, she said.  She needed height on top, impossible to achieve with a head of hair more like a mane than anything else.

The mailbox they found without a problem, and Katie wondered for a moment whether Bill had had any mail lately, and if so, from whom and whether he’d bothered to respond.  She considered peeking inside, but her respect for individual privacy rights prevented her, although she suspected inwardly she would have if she’d been alone.

Bill, golden surfer boy! Your skin burnished deep amber, hair so bright in the sun that it seemed sometimes it might simply blaze off your head at any moment and shoot upwards toward the stars.  You got hit on the mouth once by your board when it twisted away from you in a big swell, and that was why one of your front teeth was discolored a pale gray; you never bothered to get it fixed.  It didn’t detract from your allure; nothing could back then.  Because you were the only one who could achieve a perfect union with the sea!

You’d be on your board, paddling on your belly, looking like a sleek seal in the black, full body wetsuit.  Everyone would, hands flapping in the water, bobbing up and down, and then a wave would begin to build.  It was almost like you had eyes in the back of your head, or a sixth sense about the ocean, how it moved, when it surrendered, when it struck back.  You’d turn the board around to face the beach while all the others continued to paddle out, oblivious; you’d start paddling again, faster, to harmonize your speed and movements with those of the swelling wave.  You’d catch it then, get up, position your feet, and the wave, the board, and you would all glide into shore together as a single entity.

Sometimes you’d just sit on the beach in the wetsuit, gazing out into the horizon as the waves broke against the rocks.  You’d always have a shell or two in the palm of your hand, and you’d be rubbing them constantly between your thumb and fingers as though you were deciphering some message written in Colloquial Starfish.  Once in a while you’d minutely examine them, the conch, the mollusk, the abalone, or hold them to your ear so you could hear the ocean’s roar, even though it lay in splendor at your very feet.  Your knees and toe joints were sheathed in surfer’s knobs, from the many hours spent face down on the board, legs and feet pressed against the fiberglass surface.

Katie sighed.  Bill.  Golden Poseidon, King of the Sea!  Now that they had found the mailbox, all they needed to do was turn right and go to the end of the dirt road.   A dog was yelping in the distance, the yelp that meant someone was getting ready to throw him a stick to fetch or a big meaty bone.  She could picture his front paws welded to the ground, eyes lasered in on someone’s hand, poised.

Sally was rambling on nervously about how long it had been since they’d seen Bill.  How nobody seemed to know anything about him, except that he lived down the road where the old, smelly mink farm used to be, and had a house full of shells.  Katie couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him, but the part about the shells provided her with immediate literary inspiration:  “Sixties surfer boy gone insane”.  Or maybe “High school Adonis trades sea for shells”.   Both were catchy in their way.

They both kicked up dust as they made their way down the road.  The dog had stopped yipping.  A decrepit, gray shack came into view.  It was one of the old mink farm sheds, a sprawling, one-story affair with a rock path leading up to the screened front door, which was gaping open.  A black dog with a salt and pepper snout lay in front on the grass, a stringy, faded green tennis ball hanging from its clenched jaws.  It raised its head briefly, found nothing much of interest, and continued to gnaw.

“Bill!”, they called out simultaneously.  Their voices sounded shrill and calculated.

“Bill, it’s a blast from the past!” Katie sang out hopefully.

After a few seconds, Bill appeared from around the corner, naked from the waist up, in soiled khaki pants and bare feet.

“Well, what do you know.  It’s Kate and Sally”, he said, but it sounded as though he were reading from some sign above their heads with their names on it, written in huge block letters.

“Just a minute, let me go put on a shirt.”  He disappeared around the same corner and came back a few seconds later in what had once been a white T-shirt.

“Come on in!”  He stepped aside for them to pass, but then hurried ahead so that he could guide them through the doorway to the right, which led into a small room covered floor to ceiling with shells. There were all shapes and sizes, pale pink to dark turquoise, some whole and others with parts broken off.  Sand dollars, a four-legged starfish.  Several were in piles, apparently for no rhyme or reason, as they seemed to have nothing in common but the fact that they were shells.  There was a desk with makeshift shelves, all piled precariously with shells.  A small kitchen, the counters covered with a layer of shells or boxes of various sizes heaped with shells.  Cornucopias of pale rose, knobbed and fluted, smooth, agate-like mollusks from which dried, spooky claws protruded.

“So I’ll bet you’re here to see my collection, right?”

Katie stood to the side, leaning against the wall, while Sally buzzed around the room, lighting first on this, then that, cooing, expostulating.  Bill pulled up an empty cardboard box – the two chairs in the room were occupied by shells – turned it so the closed side faced up, and sat down on it carefully, not really waiting for an answer.

His hair was still long, but not so blonde now, and a bit thinner.  The discolored tooth, the long, slender, hard-muscled body, not bronzed, but not pasty, either.  He wore a beard now, and a moustache, but they sat there on his face like intruders he had decided weren’t worth the effort of driving off.

Katie had, of course, come primarily for the shell collection.  Fancying herself a writer, a thrill had traveled down her spine thinking of the possibilities it might present.  A short story, a psychological essay, something polemical.  Her eyes wandered around the room, filing away small details.  The petrified cat food in a dish on the kitchen floor.  Cats neglected, so consumed with shells that living beings were made to suffer. A few dishes in the right sink, a plate, a spoon, a cracked coffee cup.  In the left, bowls of shells piled one on top of the other.  A conscious decision to minimize the physical space in which he exists, to shrink his life, perhaps a reaction to his inability to bring larger spaces, e.g. the sea, under complete submission in his youth.  Suggestive.

“That’s a mollusk.  They evolved in the sea and have been adapting to its changing ecological niches for nearly 600 million years”, he told Sally, who was holding a large gray specimen in her hand.

“Mollusks have adopted an amazing array of life styles and habitats. Some groups are carnivores, some are strict vegetarians, others are scavengers or parasites; the bivalves, for the most part are sedentary filter feeders, but some are predacious”, he added.

She noticed Barbara Tuchman’s classic,  “Guns in August”, wedged between two layers of shells underneath a window, and filed that away as well.  A desperate attempt to inject an historical, and thus,”objective” justification for his fixation:  all living beings subject to the same universal rules of behavior and therefore worthy of detailed analysis.

Sally had moved on to something else, a rainbow-hued scallop with lacy frills and elongated spikes.

“Collecting and studying shells is one of the oldest natural history pursuits of man, dating back to the Romans and before. As a matter of fact, a shell collection was preserved in the ruins of Pompeii. Aristotle, and then Pliny the Elder were among the first to write about shells”, Bill continued.

“It’s so rare nowadays for anyone to feel passionately about anything” Katie said, wanting him to know she understood it all, and that although they might not be on the same side, could still share the same deep insights into human existence.

Bill looked through her.  “My daughter gives me a hard time about it.  She says I’m obsessed.  I was obsessed about surfing, too, but the thought of that never bothers her.”

Bill picked up another shell, one that resembled a cross between a dwarf cauliflower and a common slug. Katie quickly continued, lest he get sidetracked again.  “Great passion is often mistaken for insanity.  It happens all the time.  The great artists, writers, visionaries, most of them were considered lunatics, but look what magnificence they produced.”  It sounded so trite in her ears, so platitudinous.  She looked around, trying in vain to fit the piles and boxes of shells into her tidy theory.

She noticed that, stuck in between some of the layers of shells, randomly it seemed, were small, yellow post-it stickers.  She walked over to one of them and peered more closely at the writing:  “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”

Perfect!  But how was she going to remember that without writing it down?  She tried to work out in her mind a formula to resurrect it later.  Sea, ships, work, wonders, Lord.  She repeated it several times in her head until she felt she’d got it down.  Sea, ships, works, wonders, Lord. Of course, she could render it approximately, writers did that all the time, but she preferred to have it word for word.

Sally had picked up another shell and Bill gave her a patient smile.  “The Pectinidae” he said.  “A scallop shell.  It’s been a pervasive symbol throughout history:  ancient family insignias, decorations of armorial ensigns, for example.  It’s a background image in many famous paintings by the great masters.”

Just below the niche where Sally had extricated the scallop was another yellow post-it. Katie pretended to inspect something that vaguely resembled a razor clam so that she could get a better look at what was written on it.

The slip, the yellow post-it:  “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.”

Storm, calm, haven, The sea again.  Man in control of, plus the storm. The Leitmotif.  She couldn’t possibly excuse herself and go outside to take written notes.  She’d just have to remember; after all, she considered herself a collector of tiny details that escaped the attention of others, only to be recycled later as integral parts of some universal parable, or a bold and unexpected deus ex machina.

Sally was happily burbling on about shells she’d seen, her rock polishing machine, how when she’d been in Hawaii, she’d found a tulip shell.

“Fasciolaria”, Bill corrected her.  “They’re carnivores, too.”

Katie tuned him out, feverishly filing away detail after detail.  The videocassette, lying on top of one of the piles of shells.  “Famous Battles of the Second World War”.   The historical angle again, everything part of a continuum, man, beast, animal, vegetable, mineral, shell.  The notion that nothing can exist in a vacuum, wrenched from its source, and Bill, part of the chain, his delusions sanctified by history.

Another multiple, yellow post-it this time, four of them stuck together, top to bottom.  Sally was blocking her view.

She pointed to a shell on a shelf directly in front of Sally.  “That actually looks like a tooth” she said, carefully maneuvering Sally to the side with her elbow, perhaps a bit too insistently, so that she could get a clear look at the post-it.  “See, this right here”.  Bill came over to examine her discovery.

“These are actually extended teeth that can function as pry bars to pop open the protective plates of their food, barnacles, and so forth.  The low, flattened shells of limpets are adapted to evenly distribute wave pressure.” Bill spoke calmly, lovingly, more to himself than Katie or Sally.

Katie read:

“…and behold there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

It was too much to remember, and Katie began to despair of ever being able to do anything with any of it.  The words began to swim together, storm, waves, sea, calm, men marveling, the manner of man …There had to be a system for remembering, perhaps by first letters, concepts, categories, man, body part, body of water, deity.  Her head began to ache.

“Plato said all learning has an emotional base”, Bill commented, but not as though he’d had a sudden epiphany.

He had surrendered to Sally a fossil-encrusted conch to take home with her.  She held it gently in the palm of her hand, as though it were a foetus.  “It’s called a frog shell.  The scientific term for all snails and slugs is gastropod”.

Katie suddenly had an image of gurgling digestive systems encased in giant peapods, attacking, coming out of the woods from all directions, wreaking havoc. To spite her somehow.  Bill was talking in the background, picking up shell after shell as Sally listened closely.

Pleurotomariidae, Triviidae, Haliotidae.

Engorged lungs with bad breath encircling her, cutting off her windpipe.

Harpidae, Cystiscidae.

A pustule playing the harp.  It bursts, covering her with sticky yellow slime.

She had to get out, get some fresh air.  Bill was holding out his hand, offering her an elongated, iridescent, barnacle-looking object tapered at each end.

“This one here is…” he began.

She brushed his hand away involuntarily, knocking the shell to the floor.  Instead of shattering, it merely bounced merrily from one end of the room to the other, coming finally to rest at Bill’s left foot.

“Part of the Ovulidae family”, he continued without pause, picking it up.  “An Aclyvolva nicolamassierae.  Part of its anal canal is irregularly curved to the right, see?”

A giant herd of marauding vulva bursting forth from the depths of the sea, sucking everything in like huge Hoovers on the rampage.

“I’ve got to, um…”, she mumbled to no one in particular, and careened out the door, down the short hallway, and out into the front yard.

Mr. Dog gave her a dour look.  He was still munching on the tattered tennis ball.  She breathed in deeply.  The sea air rushed into her lungs and then spread throughout her body.  She headed up the dirt road, towards the mailbox.  Something caught her attention at the corner of her eye, a slight fluttering.  She stopped, swiveled her head to the left, and was horrified to find a yellow post-it clinging to her shoulder.

She snatched it off furiously and read:  “The whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.”

She thought how well things had turned out.  This she would be able to reproduce word for word.

 

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

Julienne Busic is an author, translator, and essayist who lives in Rovanjska, Croatia.  She has studied in the United  States and Vienna, Austria, and holds a Master’s Degree in German and Linguistics.  Her short stories, essays, and columns have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers in America and Croatia (“The Barcelona Review”, “The Gobshite Quarterly” (contributing editor), “Verbatim: A Language Quarterly”,  “Inside”,  “The Bridge-Most”, “Outsider Fragments”, “Kolo”, “Aleph”, “Jutarnji List”, “Vjesnik”, “Vijenac” and  “Tema”).  She has published three books, “Lovers and Madmen” (Gray Sunshine Press, 2005), which won the Croatian Writer’s Society award in 1997 and is now in its seventh Croatian and second English printing, “Your Blood and Mine” (Ridgepath Press, 2008), and the just-released”Living Cells (Ridgepath Press, 2012), a novel based on the true story of a Croatian “comfort woman” during the Serb occupation of Vukovar in the early 1990s.

Julienne Busic has also translated and edited several Croatian authors for publication in the United States:  “Survival League” by Gordan Nuhanovic, “Zagreb-Exit South” by Edo Popovic, and “American Scream” by Dubravka Oraic Tolic (Ooligan Press, Portland, Oregon), and “The Tiger is the World”, (Xenos Books, 2012).

She is currently working on a screenplay from her new book, “Living Cells”, about the “comfort women” of Vukovar, Croatia.

 

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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Poetry

Million Air’s Roe and other poems

by Jane Gilday

MILLION AIR’S ROE

Not the words they specify, instead
call it a zone, a territory or call
it home, a dwelling, a community,
a church, anything but an ice
cave, a glacier, a cathedral
stolen from the seasons unbound.
Paint yourself green then blue then
both and that’s getting close.
Down where the water turns to
more water and nobody has to
water it, down where liberty is
standing forever, down where
gulls cry all day long in swooping
joy for their wings, there is
where all is found and all is never lost

 

T-SHIRTS

T-shirts with slogans
with faces, with pictures
with numbers on bodies.
Bodies with tattoos
with baggage with both
with wrinkles with shadows
withholding thought.

 

AND THEY DO

I have met the 1,873 people I met
in heaven and like them all. Most
of them are always here but a few
move away–nobody knows where
to now and then. All the rest know
a good thing when they see it. And they do.

We can’t recall or feel the endings
too much to pay, know, too much.
So we recall a moving van, a transfer.
We recall smooth life goes on instead

Nobody here feels small or shamed, no
sorrow, no guilt. Instead spirits, joy,
delight like a garden. Sparkle of the
open halo and icons that aren’t just
decorations. The place just right.

Weary of all the who you are’s, you
recast the dimensions, being and
becoming the other who else you
are’s, a process of refinement.

Side to side, happy bottom, sway and
sway and sway. Shaking in wonder.
There are internal smiles, absolute no-clause
joys, ecstasy with no fine print or payback.
This is luck as a manifest state of states.
This is where light embraces you, when
all the baggage, burdens and boulders
have gone, flown away with rancor,
fear, shames, chains and regret. You
have won a triumph of this life.
And you are blessed.

You came out of that sad sunday
dream face of sleeping, free
of apology, free of subservience.
Wear the morning dress of a
dove and the wings of an angel.

Oh spinning orbits of desire,
of longing, of cinderella’s
sleeping beauty now unbound.

To not understand any of this. free
upon the fens, laughing in the
estuarial winds, feet wet in some
forever springtide, could you
conceive or dreams of more? No.
Who rides these sands, rides
upon centuries, in familiar arms
loving in all directions. Never can
I ever hope to be thankful enough
and never again do I wish to
forget any lessons, any graces,
any merit, beauty, worth or treasure.

This is all unmeasurable. Rightly so.

There is nothing to be done about it,
any of it, the past beyond redress
or alteration, the now always too swift,
too difficult, too demanding. The future
ever more likely to further remove hopes,
dreams, possibilities, gladdenings.

Some kind of two edge deal. All these gifts
but all these shipwrecks. A stormy night
on a perfect morning. I wanted to soak
under the downpouring and just weep.

 

TESS RIVERS

O, were we the same–in age in
inclination, in desire, drive, temperment.
You are the plaid girl, Wilkes-Barres,
1961, the greatest puzzle. Some gate
opened for one tiny moment between
vast dimensions, then decades ahead
knowing that lostness, that beyond all
reach, that empty question mark,
unsettle, unreal, lept from nowhere.

Kept from any attainment, ever.

 

BE BORN

You say no
but I say sure
I’m always bathing
in the water cure.
You see danger
I see oceans,
you see hazards,
I see motions.
You see darkness,
I see day glo
and I loved everyone
not long ago.

 

SATAN

satan created picture show
all them false dreams
down below

beezelbub made a motor car
everybody driving
to whiskey bars

 

HEXED

I been hexed by plenty witches
some close by, some long-distance.
Vexing yes but what care me,
having spell immunity.

 

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

Jane Gilday is a visual artist, musician and writer who lives in the New Hope PA area. Jane is eight years old, kinda, who likes to color, sing imaginary songs and dream up stories. Water is her favorite molecule.

 

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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theater

Mask of the Jaguar

by Graham Thatcher
(an excerpt)
Graham Thatcher came to the Yucatan to do research for the play and wrote much of it while staying in Merida.The play centers around the actions of the Franciscan monk, Fray Diego Landa, who arrived in the Yucatan in 1549 and is most remembered for destroying all available written records of the Mayan people and torturing and killing about 160 for heresy while holding his own inquisition.  

Real-life historical character, Gonzalo Guerrero, appears in the play.  If you’re not familiar with him he was a Spanish sailor shipwrecked along the east shore of the Yucatan in 1511 who went on to become a warlord for a Maya chief, and taught the Maya tactics and strategies that helped repel the Spanish invaders for some twenty years.  He married the chief’s daughter and fathered the first mestizos in the new world. 

 

DE LANDA

[Concluding the reading]

Therefore, any deaths or harm that shall come your way will be by your own fault and not that of his Majesty, the Church, or any of us. You will be to blame.” So forth and so on – sign here as testimonial.

 

CAPTAIN

How do you know our language?

 

OLD WOMAN

My husband was one of you. I forgave him for it. He used to say that was the declaration that makes us guilty for all the crimes and sins you will commit on us.

[Beat] Are you sure? About the fruit I mean. I don’t know what you call these things in Spanish but they’re real juicy and sweet.

 

DE LANDA

Where is your husband?

 

OLD WOMAN

Dead. He was killed by you, . . . your people. It’s a long story and I get tired of telling it. He held you off for a long time, but now he’s dead and you people keep coming and claiming this land for God who already owns it in the first place and all I want to know is do you want a little fruit?

 

CAPTAIN

What are you called Madam?

 

OLD WOMAN

I am Lady Wak-Kan-Ahaw. You can call me “Lady 6 Sky” or “Old Woman”… if you say it with respect.

 

CAPTAIN

I’ll take one of the bananas please, Lady Wak-Kan-Ahaw.

 

DE LANDA

Captain! Resist this evil! This temptress is seducing you into sin to your eternal damnation.

 

CAPTAIN

Take it easy Padre. She’s a lady and it’s just a banana.

 

DE LANDA

Seize her!

[He falls to his knees in fervent prayer as the CHILD runs off stage for help]

 

CAPTAIN

Seize her yourself.

[To the OLD WOMAN] I’ll take a banana.


OLD WOMAN

[Indicating the Franciscans]

Are all the “grey dresses” like that?


CAPTAIN

They don’t get out much.


DE LANDA

[Seething]

Seize her! [One of the MONKs grabs the OLD WOMAN from behind]


CAPTAIN

[Sighing deeply]

Let her go Brother.


BRO I

[Zealously officious]

On whose authority? You have no authority over us. I obey Fray De Landa in all things.


CAPTAIN

[To DE LANDA who is still deep in prayer]

Padre, don’t do this. There may be a thousand of them watching us . . .


DE LANDA

[Eyes rolled back in fervor]

God will protect us in His Holy work.


CAPTAIN

God and whose army? I’m not making my stand on this beach over a banana.


[BARBARA the OLD WOMAN’S daughter comes running in with the CHILD]


BARBARA

[Sees the Spaniards and stops in her tracks]

Oh no! Not again! [She charges the Monk holding her mother]

Take your hands off my Mother you grubby little pig.


BRO I

[Shrinking back from being defiled by this young woman]

Faaather!?


[DELANDA snaps out of it but stays on his knees as the MONK releases the OLD WOMAN and falls to his knees in prayer. The OLD WOMAN and the CHILD cling to each other.]


BARBARA

Is there no end to it? Cowards!


CAPTAIN

Madam. I’m sorry. This is not what it seems.


BARBARA

No? What is it then? My mother is the daughter of a Lord. She is the widow of one of your own. Is it not enough that you have reduced her to this existence. She is defiled by having this filthy little priest with his hands all over her.


DE LANDA

He is not a priest daughter. He is a brother of our Order.


BARBARA

Oh good. I feel so much better.


DE LANDA

He meant no harm. We have not come to harm you. We have come in love to bring you Christ and salvation. I have dispatches for your King . . . your Chief . . . your Head Man.


BARBARA

There is no one left. Some old priests, some lesser Lords and their sons. For thirty years you come and go and we die by the thousands. Montejo killed everything in his way then left for somewhere else. Then they came back and killed some more and then left again. All the time we were dying of great sickness. The babies, the old ones. One in four is left. We’ve seen it all, we’ve heard it all before.


DE LANDA

Yes daughter, then you understand.


CAPTAIN

Padre!


DELANDA

No, no, I mean we will not desert you. We have come to release your souls from the torment of ignorance into the Blessed light of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ so that you may enter the bliss of Eternal Life. We are here to stay daughter. We are here forever. We will not leave.


BARBARA

[To CAPTAIN]

How do you even talk to these people?


CAPTAIN

Your mother is free to go. Please accept my personal apologies. [BARBARA, the OLD WOMAN and the CHILD, exit together. To DELANDA and the MONK]  Nice start Padre!

 

C 2012 by Graham Thatcher – all rights reserved

 

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

 

Graham Thatcher is the Artistic Director and primary performer for Periaktos Productions. Since appearing in his first acting role at five years of age, Graham has performed in or directed over 150 community, university and professional theatre productions. He is the co-author and solo performer in Clarence Darrow: Crimes, Causes and the Courtroom, Maxims, Monarchy and Sir Thomas More and Impeach Justice Douglas! toured by Periaktos Productions. He is the co-author and director of Thurgood Marshall’s Coming!, and The Women Lawyers Club. Graham has authored several other theatrical plays, including commissioned works and The Mask of the Jaguar, about the cultural clash between the Maya and Europeans during the Spanish Conquest.

Over the past thirty-five years Graham has engaged students of all ages in university classrooms, business board rooms and convention meeting spaces. He serves as a communications consultant to businesses and individuals and is the co-creator and presenter of Periaktos Productions’ CLE programs, “Word of Mouth: A Workshop in the Art and Ethics of Oral Communication for Lawyers.” He holds a B.A. from San Francisco State University, an M.A. in Theatre from the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota. He has been listed in Who’s Who in American Education and Outstanding American Educators, and is a recipient of the Governor’s Award from the Minnesota Council on Quality.

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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Fiction

from Living Cells

by Julienne Busic

Her rapist came nearly every day. It made no
sense to resist. There were too many stories
about the women who did and ended up
stabbed, mutilated, gang-raped, and then shot
in the head. She often made lists in her head
during the early days of her captivity, the pros
and cons of resistance, the forms of resistance,
how far she was willing to go, how much
suffering she could endure, whether she was
willing to pay the final price, death, and, if so,
was she willing if it was slow and painful or only
if it was quick? She had few means at her
disposal, however, and since the other women
were not inclined to resist, she couldn’t count on
their participation or support. In fact, who
knows, they might even side with Dusan-Dule,
who brought them food and toiletries and
chatted with them as though they were his
equals. Of course, she could simply refuse to go
with him, kick and spit, scratch his eyes, use
some kind of tool to poke at them, blind him in
an instant, before he even understood what she
was doing. It was an effective self defense
technique for women, the eye poke, with the
end of a comb, say, or a finger, just stick it in as
though it were a knife, tear through that
membrane into the retina, if that is even
possible, or simply pop the eye out, she’d heard
it was fairly simple, leave it hanging there like a
ripe fig. And then go for the other while he was
in a state of shock and surprise, just pop it out
and leave him there helpless, crying, probably,
like a great, sniveling baby. There was also the
groin kick, a swift, unexpected kick right to the
crotch. He would double over in intense pain,
totally incapacitated for several minutes. She
could wait and, as he lay there groaning, deliver
several more kicks, keep him in a continual
state of powerlessness. And tie up his hands,
too, and his feet, rip up her blouse or pants or
whatever she could find, tie him up like a
squealing pig as his penis and testicles swelled
and threatened to burst, to bleed out. No more
rapes, buddy, no more rapes. No consensual
sex, either! It would be a justice perfectly fitting
the crime, a rare achievement in today’s world.
She could easily do the groin kicks, although
she doubted she was capable of blinding
someone with her finger, it gave her the shivers
just to imagine the glutinous sensation, the
voluptuous roundness of the eyeball as her
finger circled around in the cavity trying to get a
grip, pop it out. Say she was able to resist, in
any number of ways, have him temporarily
under her control, what then? Other Chetniks
would come, or from the JNA, see what she had
done and take revenge, teach her a lesson, do
to her what had been done to others, she’d
heard scores of stories already, stick a bottle up
her rectum, break it off inside her, cut off a
breast, pretend to shoot her with an empty gun,
over and over until she’d wet her pants in fear
and then really shoot her, but limb by limb, from
toe to head until the final bullet in the mouth, or
force her to satisfy dozens of them orally, drunk
and dirty, sadists, perverted, day after day, and
then kill her. She was grateful, although she
hated to admit it since it made her feel
ashamed or guilty, but it was true, she was
grateful that her rapist was not sexually violent
or perverted, that he did his business and then
left her alone. All she really had to do was lie
there with her legs spread, hold her breath,
control her loathing, and think of a cool, trickling
stream somewhere in the mountains, a setting
sun over the Velebit mountains, anything but
that. So why not?

The worst part, really, was at the end.
the sound he made when he achieved orgasm, that
scream he made, like a horse
whinnying…

After the first rape, she’d returned crying and
screaming, but her fellow prisoners had ordered
her to be quiet or they would all be taken out, or
beaten or killed, so the next time it happened
she simply kept silent. After all, she had been
forced to choose, in front of the other women,
so there was no need to share with them what
was happening. They already knew, all too well.
The walls have ears. She loved that phrase, at
least in a less deadly context; it was brilliant,
the concept of a flat expanse of stone or mortar
having sensual organs sprouting from it, fleshy,
pale eruptions of various shapes and sizes
which could hear a whisper in Morocco, a sigh in
Tibet. A rape in Vukovar.

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

“Living Cells” is a novel based on the true story, including actual tapes, of a young Croatian woman  who was held hostage as a sex slave, or “comfort woman”, for over two months by Serbian paramilitary forcesa during the occupation of the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991.

Interview with Eve Ensler, activist and author of
“The Vagina Monologues”on the Vukovar women, from the Croatian daily newspaper, Vecernji List, March 8.2012

Eve Ensler, renowned American playwright and screenwriter, and author of the best-selling “The Vagina Monologues”, spoke recently in Vukovar, Croatia, about sexual violence in wartime.  Ensler is widely known in the world as an activist engaged in areas that have, in the recent as well as distant past, recorded cases of rape; thus far in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatian, the Philippines, Congo, Sierra Leone…  She is the initiator of V-day, when activists for human rights stage readings of “The Vagina Monologues” in order to protest violence.

Where do you get the energy for your activism and work with female victims of rape and violence?

I was abused myself as a child.  Back then I had a choice, to either oppose it and fight for myself and others, or to die.  I chose to fight.  Now that I have also survived cancer, I’ll fight even more.  I’ve gotten a second chance at life and I don’t plan on wasting it.  Every woman who has been raped has gotten a second chance at life.  So we have to support them so that they become strong.

As an activist, you’ve been in the Congo, the Philippines, and other places where crimes against women have been committed.  Were you successful there in accomplishing your goals?

Those are countries where horrific crimes were committed against women, abuse, rape.  In the Philippines, there are women who were raped in the Second World War by Japanese soldiers and are fighting today for their rights and compensation.  Some are over 80 years old, but they’re not giving up.  And terrible things also happened in the Congo, women had nightmares about everything they experienced, they were aggressive, they didn’t love their children.  So we organized a City of Joy and I am happy to say the results were fantastic.

Can the rape victims suppress and forget their traumas?

Of course they can.  The best proof of that is the women in the Congo, and me myself.  I too was raped, but I don’t live with it anymore.  In the past six months, the women in the Congo have been talking, attending workshops, undergoing psychotherapy, various trainings, learning about their rights…the results have been great.  After six months, they are different women.  They don’t have nightmares anymore, they aren’t aggressive, and are able to love their children.   We need to work with these women, show them they have support and love.

You’ve heard the statements of the women from Vukovar and Croatia who were raped during the war.  How do you see the women of Vukovar?

I believe that the women of Vukovar have been completely forgotten. They have waited twenty years for understanding, justice, love, but they haven’t received anything.  I hope this will start to change and that people will support these women.  In this way, the entire community will be changed.  I think there is a lot of anger, pain, and sadness here that needs to come out so that healing can take place.  The women have a right to healing and justice.  This is important for Vukovar, so that it can move forward.

Is there a difference between the women of Vukovar and the Congo?

What happened here, in the Congo, and in other places has a common denominator:  patriarchy.  It’s all the same or very similar.  But there are wonderful women and men who want to change things.  We have to work harder, be more open, more revolutionary, and change these conditions.

What repercussions in society can occur if it does not begin to address the issue of the raped women, if everything remains status quo?

I just saw this in Manila, where the women have been waiting since the Second World War for justice.  If there is no justice, the cruelty and fear continue.  When we look at these women and see that nobody has been held responsible, then we know it could happen again and that nobody is really safe.  If there is no justice, the women are not respected.  If there is no justice, they fear they could be raped again because they believe they’ll be treated the same way.  These women live continually with this fear.  That is why there is no peace without justice.

(Interviewed by Branimir Bradaric for Vecernji List daily newspaper, Croatia)

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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