Poetry

The Unseen

by Scott T. Starbuck

 

Years later, when you return to the fire lookout,

the woodgrain face in the floor speaks.

“It is good to see you again.

I missed you.

I hope you are happy.”

 

There is a glacial lake in the distance.

Somewhere below, a fascinated child

tracks a fawn and doe.

 

You stand over a windblown swell of evergreens

remembering meditative days,

breath in, breath out, sun warming your 19-year-old face.

 

There was a woven friendship bracelet on your ankle

that ended up in compost.

There was anger

and healing.

A photo torn and burned.

 

All those years there was never any smoke

to warn anybody

but, as a watcher, you understood

what slipped away

in years that followed.

Forget the houses, cars, and women.

 

Wild birds would continue to visit

but what you had when you closed your eyes

then

was all you had

or would ever have.

 

 

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

 

 

Scott T. Starbuck is a Creative Writing Coordinator at San Diego Mesa College < http://classroom.sdmesa.edu/sstarbuck2/ >. His recent poems are online at Scythe < http://scytheliteraryjournal.yolasite.com/scott-t-starbuck.php >, The Oregonian < http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2010/02/poetry_instant_novel.html >, rfishc.com < http://rfishc.com/rfc_01.asp >, Untitled Country Review < http://untitledcountry.blogspot.com/2011/10/issue-6-scott-t-starbuck.html >, NICHE < http://issuu.com/nichelit/docs/niche_no1?mode=window&pageNumber=25 >, cur*ren*cy < http://www.currencylit.com/scott-t-starbuck > and The Found Poetry Review < http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/ >, and will soon appear online at Atticus Review < http://atticusreview.org/category/poetry/ >, The Canary Literary Journal < http://www.hippocketpress.org/canary/index.php >, Otis Nebula < http://www.otisnebula.com/otisnebula/Home.html >, Carnival < http://www.carnivalitmag.com/ > and Two Thirds North < http://www.twothirdsnorth.com/stockholm-syndromes/ > at Stockholm University in Sweden. His next poetry chapbook, Riverwalker, is forthcoming from Mountains and Rivers Press in Eugene, Oregon.

 

Art by Judith Shaw

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Poetry

Hummingbird, First Thing, Birthday Morning and Spring Thaw

by Gillian Nevers

 

Hummingbird, First Thing, Birthday Morning

Before coffee.  Backlit by the mid-risen sun

blazing white over the gray sea, whirr

 

of beating wings hidden by surf pounding,

you appear,

 

Oh, little messenger

of the day to come.

 

Before the sun arcs high

in the late March sky, sending

 

splashes of light like shards of glass glinting

over the water, before the sea turns

 

three shades of  turquoise,  before

fishermen seine bait in the shallows, before

 

umbrellas scatter stripes of green and yellow and orange

across the sand and snorkel boats gather

 

at the reef, and before you drop

to suckle the pink bougainvillea,

 

my heart slows, knowing the nectar

this day will bring.

 

Spring Thaw

 

The cottonwood I lived in as a child was

filled with nests of sleeping snakes,

tangled together until spring thaw

when they’d unwind, separate themselves

from the puzzle of each other and slither

out from the hole in the trunk, glide

into fields and gardens and, if there was

a sudden cold spell, damp cellars, where they’d

coil around the base of hot water heaters

or under wash tubs, so, when the woman of the house

came down the stairs to throw a load of laundry

into the wringer washer, a wicker basket resting

against her left hip, she’d carry a large broom

in her right hand.  Not, because she was

afraid of snakes. They had a purpose, mind you.

Still, she didn’t like being surprised by them,

and always kept one ear open.

 

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

Gillian Nevers’ poems have appeared in Silk Road, Miller’s Pond, Wisconsin People and Ideas, Pearl, Pirenes Fountain, Verse Wisconsin, Oak Bend Review, Right Hand Pointing, Architrave Press, and several other print and online literary magazines.  She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011 and won second prize in the 2008 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters statewide poetry contest.   Gillian lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, Dan, and dog, San Rocco.  She spends two to three weeks in the Yucatan every March, and has done so for over twenty years.  She can usually be found in the quiet beachside community of Puerto Morelos, but, every so often will take a side trip to Valladolid and Merida.

Art by Judith Shaw

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Fiction

The Hunt

by Angela M. Campbell

 

Happy Hour was over but the bar was still crowded with hangers-on nursing half-priced drinks. I sat next to an over-dressed woman whose lipstick was a touch too bright. She had a martini with five olives. When she saw me looking, she said, “He makes these just for me.”

She looked at my ballet flats, so sensible next to her high heels. “I wish I could wear shoes like that, but I’m still ‘out there.’” She did air quotes with her fingers, then went back to her drink. “Married for a while?” she said. “I’ll bet you have a kid or two. This is a treat for you, being out. Not like it is for the rest of us.

“I’m waiting for my ‘date.’” She air-quoted again. “He’s late, as always. Never calls or texts; just…late. I put up with it. It’s someone, something to do. My sister says that I should settle down, but it’s not so easy. You don’t just wake up one day and give all this up.”

She held up an olive, displaying it, then popped it in her mouth. “My sister always wanted holidays to be perfect. The ‘Norman Rockwell’ Christmas, Thanksgiving with big turkeys. She would pretend it wasn’t just the three of us with a turkey breast and Styrofoam containers of mashed potatoes and gravy. At Christmas, sometimes she’d gift wrap empty boxes so it looked like we had more under the tree.

“We didn’t have Easter egg hunts. None of us liked hard-boiled eggs, and we couldn’t afford eggs no one would eat. We wanted to decorate eggs but Mom wouldn’t budge. My sister found an article about how you could blow out the insides of raw eggs and decorate those, and we promised to eat the scrambled eggs, so Mom let us do that. We made the holes too big, so they didn’t turn out as nice as the pictures. Then they were too delicate to hide, so we still didn’t get our Easter egg hunt. We didn’t get them completely cleaned out, and we had to throw them out when they started to stink.

“The next year, Mom bought us some plastic ones, so that my sister could have a proper Easter egg hunt. We couldn’t decorate them, but it was the best we could do. My sister wanted to put candy in them, but my mom only had two big, hollow chocolate bunnies, one for each of us. My sister insisted it wasn’t a real hunt with empty eggs. My mom grabbed olives from the refrigerator. ‘Put these in the eggs.’

“She thought my sister would get upset and abandon the whole idea, but my sister thought it was perfect. It was funny; she wanted this traditional Easter egg hunt, but she was thrilled with the olives. Then again, she loved olives. She’d eat them after school, one after the other, until my mom would stop her, telling her that she’d ruin her appetite.”

She popped another olive in her mouth. I wanted to leave, but she started again. She wasn’t telling me the story – she was just telling it.

“The olive juice ruined the plastic eggs, but my sister didn’t care. The next year we did it again, but we used sandwich bags to hold the olives. This became our tradition. My sister felt like she owned these olive hunts. When you’re the little sister, you don’t get a lot of things that are just yours.

“I don’t talk to her much these days. She’s in another state; she’s got her family, too busy to call.” She wiped at her eyes. “Doesn’t matter. I have places like this. I can get plenty of olives, whenever I want.”

I was about to make an excuse for her sister, maybe explain how she got busy, but before I did anything, she stood. “He’s here,” she said, with a nod toward the door.  She adjusted herself, getting ready for battle. She was gone.

 

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

 

Angela M. Campbell is a full-time writer. She grew up in Ohio and lived in the Philadelphia area for several years before moving to Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has been named as a finalist in the essay category and a semi-finalist in the novel-in-progress category in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (Faulkner House, New Orleans). This is her first published short story.    http://higgypiggie.blogspot.com

Art by Judith Shaw

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Poetry

The Zetas and the Ruins of Veracruz and other poems

by Matthew Dexter

 

The Zetas and the Ruins of Veracruz

Human heads hanging from a bridge

shake palm fronds splintered

during hurricane lightning

and further inquiry suggests

that bloggers shall be silenced

by the machetes of deaf reckoning

the corral of the tourism industry

cowers in the sculpture of neglect and rot.

 

 

Blueberry Haze

 

flag burning barmaids slamming shots and

men murdering marlins for sport

 

they smash the jewelry counter with machetes

masked men on Luxury Avenue

 

illiterate children sell trinkets on the streets

pregnant mothers breastfeed in cobblestoned alleys in front of Italian restaurants

 

fat women sell slender roses to potheads

to tourists whose children are attacked by baby tigers

 

to marina tortillas and tacos and broken sewer lines spewing cocaine

and soiling the sacred highways between glorious debaucheries

 

the sombrero fits as the tequila falls like stray moonlit bullets

vomit reflections upon puddles never lie.

 

 

High Season

 

They say they almost caught El Chapo in Cabo

that day when there were soldiers everywhere

machine guns on the beach

bulletproof vests

making drug deals more exotic as

trucks of armed men search for their prize

little different than a cruise ship tourist

looking for his blow and a captain being dismissed into the

depth of oblivion he did not know.

 

 

Medicine Drip

 

Should I buy a bottle?

Will the fifth day of hemorrhoids

make it impossible to walk the beach in order to buy weed

from venders and the three cruise ships beckon

with the splendor of the burning son

who needs love and

you cannot provide it because you are

concerned with your own illness?

 

 

Kidnap in Mexico

 

My sister has been missing

for more than three years,

but that doesn’t make any difference

since her pillow and sheets still smell of strawberry

shampoo and Mom still keeps everything

exactly

as

Zeta

left it.

 

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

Matthew Dexter lives in Cabo San  Lucas, Mexico. Like nomadic Pericú, he survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, and cold beer. His work has been published in dozens of anthologies, hundreds of literary journals; and he has written thousands of freelance articles for magazines and newspapers, including dozens of feature articles for international magazines. Matthew has written pieces for National Geographic Traveler and Canoe & Kayak, among others. Two of his stories were chosen as storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2010, and one piece was selected as a Notable Story of 2009. Matthew won the Writers’ Bloc paying fiction contest about sacrifice in 2010 for his short story, Jackson Pollock Moment.

Art by Judith Shaw

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Poetry

Tynemouth Beach and Remains

by Jack Little

 

Tynemouth Beach

For dad

 

“Do you remember the jumpy beach son?”

My dad pointed to some large rocks, used

for protecting the sand from sea.

“You used to play there…”

And I remember the crab pools and cold

salt sea of my days of being four.

 

Mum would search for sea glass,

while I clambered over castle rocks

and seaweedbed shells

“You don’t see me!” I’d shout

and dad would take my hands and swing

me over continents and back

 

like Indiana Jones carried on a zephyr

and brought back down to earth with

a particularly crunchy, crash of a wave.

 

 

 Remains

 

A rumour swells up like stench,

Blood torn up and gutted

Red and smattered on crumble brick, slick

Bile rising false chords.

 

Invaded. Disfigured idols

A pulsing throng of brokendown flash cars

Scattered by gaping wounds, and maggot

Fed fat yes-men, businessmen with

 

Paralyzed, and eaten eyes

Knotted, buckled and annulled by

The smell of Earth scorched misery.

Abandoned rot. And lost.

 

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

Bio: 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 and most recently in Blue Pepper Poetry. He also has forthcoming publications with Kerouac’s Dog, Drey, Wasafiri and Bakwa Magazine. 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

 

Art by Judith Shaw

 

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Poetry

14 k gold and other poems

by Cher Bibler

14 k gold

I am losing you in the echo of

the black burnt elm

Your fever drains above me I

can hear the sigh of your

tangled lungs My kisses aren’t

effective anymore I want you

to stop it now but you can’t hear

me or if you can hear you

can’t shape the sounds into words

 

 

After Bach

  

We sit in the echo of your

unspoken words

A petal falls from the bougainvillea

a pale pink memory, a

paper party flower,

a moonclipped teardrop;

it is not what it seems.

We have too many secrets.

We are pressed under the

weight of the tears we don’t cry.

We fold this thought away

like too many others.

The threads of our secrets tangle in the glow

of our love, their edges unraveled,

their centers bound tight.

The leaves of the bougainvillea

tangle heartlike in our minds.

 

Caladium

  

I feel as though our love is hopeless,

ill timed. My desire peaking

before yours, served only by hapless

messengers, carrying

gossip from soul to soul, pollen

dusted on their feet. Your

lust too late, your reaction too

slow. This perfect world has

arranged this to protect itself

from our love, I guess, to keep

our young from overrunning the

planet, to keep our colors hot and

unfulfilled, to keep our hunger

unabated.

 

Fairy Dust

  

In this world, there is no

chance for us, we have to hold

in our feelings and pretend we

are just like the rest of them.

When my door is closed and

they can’t see me, they don’t

know what I do; they have no

idea what goes on in here.

If only I could get you here,

I could show you this

secret place; I could let

you live here a while until

their world washes out of

you and you’re clean and

whole again, but you’re afraid.

I can’t speak to you because

they’re all around, and when

I try to whisper, you back

away and pretend you’re busy.

Maybe I’ll abduct you

and prove to you there’s a better life.

Maybe I’ll capture you and

bring you home kicking and screaming.

 

(no title)

  

Certainly you didn’t intend to die;

your things were left in such disarray.

Words unspoken,

promises rumpled like an unmade bed,

truths hanging bare,

love still folded,

never taken out of the package,

unused.

 

Better in rags

  

I want Prince Charming, too,

you said and I stared at you,

surprised. Why do you always

get to be Cinderella? you

wanted to know. Because I

look best in a ball dress, I

said and you told me with

a sniff, Well I look

better in rags.

 

(no title)

  

I have it safe in my pocket;

you needn’t worry.

I’ve kept my secrets buried and

I can keep yours, too.

Winter may come and freeze my soul,

spring will thaw my heart,

but I won’t be careless and let it slip.

I love you too much for that.

 

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

 

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 Review and 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 last year’s (2011) Faulkner competition.  Her poem, Merida, Easter, is in the current issue of The Evergreen Review.

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

Art by Judith Shaw

judithshawart.com

 

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Poetry

Las Avenidas and Jetlag

by Cesar Love

 

Las Avenidas

(Inspired by Jonathan Harrington’s “Boulevard”)

 

I’m here again, walking at nightfall

On the streets of a foreign city

 

This bright night returns

Her lamps the color of chili peppers

Amber, red and green

 

Each street pulses like a musical string

Each corner a fret on life’s guitar

 

I’ve not walked this street before

I’ve walked these streets forever

 

Jetlag

 

The vertigo of the traveler’s hours

On lands foreign

Where the bells peel in ciphered counts

 

In the quadrant of the clock meant for dream

The bridle slips loose that separates

Late from early

 

When the hourglasses

Gambol like street mimes
Vices of observation occur:

A background pitch

Perhaps from the walls, perhaps from the sky

Quite likely the hum of the Watchmaker at labor

 

The Morning Star,

A flame luringly indifferent to any watchbearer’s labor,

Undrapes her beam of welcome

 

One shore could not be nearer to Venus

Yet one hidden hour in fealty with her

 

Soon the quiet orgy of dawn

 

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

 

César Love is a Latino poet influenced by the Asian masters. A resident of San Francisco’s Mission District and an editor of the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, he has worked as a reporter and taught creative writing to recipients of general assistance. His book While Bees Sleep will soon be published by CC. Marimbo Press. He first fell in love with Mérida when he was eleven years old. He had the great pleasure of staying there for three weeks of April.

 

Art by Judith Shaw

judithshawart.com

 

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Poetry

January and other poems

by Becky Mancuso

 

January

He told me I was beautiful the way you tell someone they’re beautiful when you want to let them go.

There is ice on the window.

 

You think you will put me out

But I am still a match head.

Though not burning I will light when I want.

 

April

 

I’m stirring a lonely soup with more

Deliberateness than before

Male voices, but from next door.

 

I go to buy a few things

Milk and eggs cheap

I have only my own dust to sweep

 

June

 

The crow is lining up

pieces of corn along

the wall.

 

She is writing

You are not the master of the universe.

 

I head for home

Where the mice are in the basement

Counting my rice

 

**********

 

Grapes

Like olives and dates

Are Divine

 

They spill across the table

Heading their own ways

Grapes bounce then roll with lush delight

Dates unhurried

Slowed by honey

 

Olives’ sourness speeds them

To Freedom over the edge

 

**********

 

This poem written but how many unwritten?

A streetlamp

One steaming breath

The moon

 

**********

 

Patriot Pastimes

 

Wear white with eyeholes.

Burn some books.

Ban them then burn them,

Don’t write them.

Write on walls.

Wear overalls.

Overreact

But only for a day or two.

Buy things

Keep these things from those people.

Eat.

Eat more than anyone else

in the whole world.

Eat food that shouldn’t be.

Talk loudly in restaurants.

Make a baby and spread a disease at the same time.

Be practical!

Forget the baby and keep the disease.

Stand on a corner and shout to everyone

of searing and gnashing.

Ask them for money.

Don’t eat anything at all.

Be perfect!

Read magazines with sinking eyeholes.

Get a therapist and a gun.

Get famous for no reason

but only for a day or two.

Steal some children

Fry chicken.

Fry children.

Eat it on the way home.

 

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

 

Becky Mancuso is a professor of history at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio. Her academic work deals mainly with immigration history to North America. She knows she has to do other things besides reading books, so she enjoys camping, dancing and crochet.

Her poetry is often inspired by her travels, including to Merida, Mexico.

 

Art by Judith Shaw

judithshawart.com 

 

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Fiction

The Descending God

by Bill Meissner

(an earlier version of this appeared in the Mid-American Review)

 

He will tell you his name is Hernandez, that he plays center field for the Playa del Carmen Municipales in Mexico.  He’ll tell you what he wants most is to run across the field in center, to make a diving catch, and to land in a center field filled with lush, deep grass.  But there are no green fields in the league where Hernandez plays.

Today, before the game, as he looks out over his outfield, he sees very little grass—only clumps of stubbly green scattered around the hard-packed tan dirt of the outfield.  The lonely, thick, bristly blades claw their way up into the one-hundred degree afternoon heat on Sundays as the Playa del Carmen Municipales host a neighboring team from Cancun or one of the smaller beach towns to the south like Acumal.  Still, Hernandez will try his best, as he does every day; along with the rest of the players, he’s heard the rumor that an American baseball scout is in the stands to watch today’s game.

Hernandez knows where the beautiful ball fields are—in El Norte, in America, like the field of the Nuevo York Yankees, where the grass grows to a rich, vivid color, a color that soothes your eyes just to look at it.  In El Norte, the ball fields have grass that’s watered by sprinklers each day.  It’s grass that would caress your toes as you walked through it barefoot, grass where you could lose yourself, grass where you could fall to your knees and roll, grass that’s so beautiful and succulent, you could almost die in it.

Not so here, on the Playa del Carmen municipal field—off Calle 20,  blocks away from the congestion of tourists in rented minivans headed for the beach or the resorts.  Here, the infield dirt—or el concreto, as his buddy Jorges Castillo once called it—seems to spread, as though it were a living, growing entity, farther and farther into the outfield each year.  Hernandez sometimes gazes at it and wonders if soon the whole field will be dust and pebbles, pebbles and dust.

As he plays baseball each Sunday during the summer, Hernandez believes there’s magic in his blood.  He believes in magic; it comes from his Mayan ancestors, centuries ago, who, before they passed from this earth, calculated the rise and fall of the sun, the rise and fall of seasons, invented the calendar.  His mostly Mayan ancestry—mixed with a little Spanish—makes him small, and tubby for an outfielder, with short arms and stubby fingers.  “El Gordo Chihuahua,” some of his teammates call him—the Chubby Chihuahua.  His Mayan ancestry gives him less agility as an outfielder than a taller, sleeker player, like some of the Cubanos or the players with African heritage, but he believes he makes up for it with the magic.

He can’t throw the ball fast, but he can throw it far, and accurately; the way lightning is accurate when it chooses a place to strike.  From the outfield, he can throw the ball right to the catcher’s glove, see it center there, as if in the middle of the Mayan calendar.  Hernandez does not sprint gracefully toward a ball that’s rolling toward the wall; he tracks the ball down diligently, getting there in due time, with no wasted motion.  He chose his number—00—for his tattered gray jersey because his Mayan ancestors invented the zero.

“Why zero zero?” Jorges, the big first baseman with the wrap-around snake-eye sunglasses once asked him.

“Because I’m nothing yet,” Hernandez replied.  “I’m nada nada.   I’m still waiting to become something.”

“To become what?” Jorges questioned.  “What, Hernandez?”

“I don’t know yet,” Hernandez answered.  “A Major Leaguer, maybe.  A ballplayer with green grass beneath his feet.”

Jorges shook his head and mumbled, “Ay, Hernandez.  When will you ever learn?  When will you grow up?”

Hernandez just gives his rounded shoulders a sheepish shrug.

At 37, Hernandez is the oldest man on the team, the one who sweats the most when he runs, the one who hears the air wheezing from his lungs after a short sprint to first base.  But he’s also the one who smiles the most, the silver edges glistening at the bottoms of his big front teeth.  El Viejo—the Old One, as they sometimes refer to him—is the player with the most spirit, everyone on the team agrees, the player with the most hope.  Esperanza.  Hope for what? Hernandez sometimes ask himself.  For what?  For a green and succulent future?  To run and run through that future and never slow down?

Lately, time speeds up for Hermandez:  the older he is, the more quickly things seem to pass.  He knows that the Mayans knew time well, etched it in the hieroglyphs of their calendar; they calculated dates a thousand years before their existence and a thousand years after.  Hernandez knows time, too, day by day, year after year, its pace quickening.  An age spot here, on his forearm, another one there, on the back of his throwing hand.  He rubs a little dust on the spots so they blend in.

 

Today, before the game, the word spread quickly through the Municipales’ dugout:  a scout for an American minor league team, affiliated with the New York Yankees—is in the grandstands for the game.  He is a tall, thin man, with pale, sunburned skin, and he stands out clearly in the wooden grandstands—unlike the rest of the fans, he is wearing sporty beige shorts and a yellow knit shirt and a Calvin Klein cap with the letters NYC.  He does not shout out at the players through megaphones—fashioned of plastic quart bottles of Coca Cola that were cut in half—as some of the regular fans do.  The man has spoken to the Municipales’ manager, and though the players are buzzing and excited—especially Hernandez—the manager warns them that he’s not sure if the man is on a scouting mission or not.  He is staying at a fancy suite in the Hotel Continental in the Playacar complex.  The hotel has entry gates watched by guards in uniform, who let the tourists into the manicured tropical grounds.  The manager added that the scout doesn’t drink the local Cristal Agua, but only Perrier sparkling water prepared in the USA or else Corona Extra.  He did not help himself to the Sol or Superior beer bottles submerged with melting blocks of ice in the murky water cooler beneath the grandstands, as the manager suggested.  Cervesa es libre, the manager insisted.  “The beer is free.  On the house.”  The scout simply declined on the offer with a wave of his hand.

 

Sometimes, after the games, Hernandez sits on the top row of the bleachers with his back against the corrugated tin of the grandstand and pictures ancient priests, standing at the top of the pyramid, sacrificing something and praying to Chac, the patron god of rain and lightning, then turning their broad, flat faces toward the sky and hoping for rain.  Blood pools on the pale limestone altar, then Chac is appeased, and the rain falls down, watering the crops, and the corn grows tall.  Sometimes Hernandez shakes his head, wondering just how much had to be sacrificed to get the rain to fall.

Then he gazes out at the field, sees how much it needs rain this Julio, sees how dry and cracking the soil is.  If you scuff your toe on the outfield it sends up a little dry puff of tan dust.  Clouds of dust—not rain clouds—are all that floats over this outfield.  Yet he’s proud of the field, he loves it, in all its dryness, because it’s the only field he knows.  He loves it, despite the broken glass that litters the left field foul line—the shards of green and brown from Coke and Superior bottles.  Loves it, despite the tumbling clear and green plastic bottles of Coca Cola and Manzanita Sol apple juice and Sangria.  Despite the pieces of paper and the candy wrappers that circle crazily around themselves in the tiny whirlwinds at the corners of the park.  Loves it, despite the half-foot long chunks of concrete that always seem to appear near the cement outfield wall in left, not too far from where he plays.  He thinks road crews or kids might be throwing them over the outfield wall.  The uneven chunks keep appearing on his field each Sunday, as if some huge wall somewhere is crumbling, piece by piece, and each Sunday Hernandez totes them toward the foul line.

“What are you, grounds keeper today?” his third baseman might quip as he sees Hernandez cleaning up the outfield.

Hernandez might grumble as he tosses a shard from a beer bottle into the rusted tin drum near the dugout.

Hernandez knows well the stories of how his Mayan ancestors took rocks—huge limestone pieces—and carved them into blocks, then, even with their primitive technology, placed one on top of another to make amazing pyramids to honor the sun and moon and the rain god.  These pyramids survive in Chichen Itza, and even in the smaller ruins to the south of Playa like Coba.  Some pyramids stretch for the sky at a height of over one hundred sixty feet.  Tourists from American Express with spindly legs, trying to climb them too fast, get heat stroke.  The pale crème colored palaces rise high toward the sun, and sometimes there are tabernacles on their top platforms, and carvings of a menacing Chac, his half-closed warrior eyes glaring, a serpent in his hand to represent lightning.

At the top of several pyramids is the carving of the Descending God—Hernandez’s favorite Mayan image.  The Descending God leaps from the tops of the pyramids toward the earth, his hands clasped in front of his face like a diver.  His grandfather told him that the Descending God is diving to the spiritual world.  “In the ancient days,” his Grandfather said, “a man would dive from the top of the pyramid in a ritual sacrifice. Sometimes he took with him an offering of a lamb or a chicken.”

 

When Hernandez goes for a baseball in the outfield, he has to time it just right.  He has to stretch as far as he can, and to time it so the ball will land gently in the palm of his old thick-fingered leather glove, has to make sure it sinks deep into the pocket, his bare hand clapping on top of it so the ball isn’t jarred loose when his stocky body hits the hard ground and rolls once or twice.  Any good ballplayer must learn to do this, he tells himself, any ballplayer worth the salt of his sweat.

But once, just once, Hernandez would like to rise up from the ground without the bloody scrapes, without the grains of sand and grit imbedded in his skin.  He smiles as he rises, yet he feels himself weaken each time the blood drips from his skin.  Each time it drips from his body, he loses something.  Just once, Hernandez would like to leap for a ball in the outfield  and then rise up stained with green, and whole, and perfect.

 

The high priests were like spirits, his grandfather once told him—they could walk right through walls.  It was amazing, how much his ancestors could do with so little—they could build huge limestone cities in the middle of the jungle flatlands where there were no indigenous stones, they could invent the zero and devise complex mathematical structures.  They were great astrologers and could calculate—to the minute—when the sun would appear on the horizon on the solstice, and when Venus would rise.  “The Mayans were fantastico,”  his grandfather exclaimed.  They were proud and regal and built a great civilization, with cities of a hundred thousand that rose from the jungle.  Then there are those beautiful, proud Mayan words, the lost language Hernandez no longer remembers.  His grandfather—a Shaman in a village—taught him when he was a small boy.   Learn these words, his Grandfather said.  Learn them, remember them, use them.   Kukulkan.  K’ich’ean.  Quetzalcoatl.  Ix Chel.  They will make you invincible, no matter what happens.   A few years after his grandfather died, the language was lost to Hernandez, its strange, musical sounds with its Xs an Zs and Chs, each word sizzling like cicadas hiding in the undergrowth at dusk.  The words told of histories, prophesies, songs, science, astronomy:  words filled with magic, words filled with fire, with lightning.  Hernandez always wanted to be that good at his game, as good as the Mayan words that described the world.

 

Today’s game does not go well for the Municipales.  The team from the neighboring resort town of Akumal beats them by the score of six to one.  The Municipales get only two hits off a long-armed fireballing Akumal pitcher named Ruben Cortez, who everyone suspects is not just part Spanish, but also part Cuban, like El Duque, the great Cuban pitcher for the American big leagues.  To add to their insult, they make four errors in the infield.   Hernandez suffers a nondescript game, going 0 for 4 at the plate and fielding only three easy fly balls.

After the game, Hernandez, thirsty and soaked with sweat, unbuttons the top three buttons of his jersey, exposing a cheap gold-plated chain and a pale barrel chest, and drinks greedily from the bottles of Sol, pulled from the cooler where they float, clinking against blocks of ice.  The entryway of the grandstands is crowded with laughing and drinking ballplayers from both teams.

“I am the center fielder,” Hernandez says in Spanish to Jorges Castillo and some of the other players gathered in a group.  He taps his chest with his stubby index finger.  “I am not the best you’ve seen, but I’m not the worst, either.  Si?”

The players chuckle.

Then Hernandez turns and tips his head toward the sky.  “Praise the sun god,” he says, bowing his hands extended, “and praise the rain god.”

“You and your Mayan rantings,” says Jorges.  “You and your crazy Mayan magic.  You learn that from your grandfather?”

“Of course.  Where the hell else?”

Jorges shakes his head at his friend.  “Soon, after too many Sols, you’ll claim you are the Descending God.  You say that after every game.”

Just then they see the American scout, making his way through the crowd, his shoulders high above the short ballplayers.  The scout nods politely to the players who talk loudly and brag and laugh, their tipped-back ball caps sporting the names of local merchants.  When Hernandez sees the man coming, he rushes up to him.

“You did not see my best fielding,” Hernandez says to him in Spanish, and when the scout squints at him, Hernandez tugs on Jorges’ sleeve.  He knows Jorges speaks a little English and will help him translate.  “You did not see my fielding skills,” he says again in Spanish, then elbows Jorges.  “Tell him, amigo.”

Jorges translates for Hernandez with his thick accent, and the scout shakes his head.  “I’m only here on vacation,” the man says, rubbing the back of his neck, which is red with sunburn.  “I’m not scouting.”

“Solimente una tourista,” Jorges says.

Hernandez pulls Jorges aside.  “I caught nothing but routine fly balls today,” he says insistently.  “I want to show the scout what I can do.  I want to show him the real me.”

The scout tries to brush past the two men and toward the exit gate.

“You will watch me a few minutes, no?” Hernandez says, following.  “I am the best center fielder in the Yucatan.”

Jorges translates, and the scout gives him a tight-lipped smile, then shrugs, as if he doesn’t really understand Jorges’ translation.

“Tell him I am the Descending God,” Hernandez says to Jorges,  almost pleading.  “Tell him that.”

“You are loco, Hernandez.”

“Tell him, Jorges.  Just tell him that.”

Jorges, too embarrassed to say something so silly to the American, but still trying to help out his old friend, says instead “He is a god among outfielders.”

“Okay, okay, what the hell,” the American says reluctantly, holding up his big hand with the slender fingers.  “But I’ve only got a minute.”

Hernandez turns and runs toward the sheet metal dugout where the scuffed wooden bats lean next to a cluster of baseballs.

“Hit me some, Jorges,” Hernandez says, pulling his glove onto his thick fingers.  The glove looks too small for him, like a child’s, but it fits.

Hernandez jogs toward center, his rotund belly jostling.

Jorges shakes his head in resignation, sets his bottle of Superior on a warped bleacher, and picks up a 34-inch bat that suits his stocky frame.  “Go ahead. Make a fool of yourself.”

“Senor scout,” Jorges says with a laugh, sweeping his hand toward Hernandez.  “Let me present to you Hernandez, best outfielder we have ever seen in Playa del Carmen.”  The other players cluster around Jorges and the scout.

“Mira!  Look!” one of the men who speaks English jokes.  “He can run half as fast as the great base stealer Ricky Henderson.  He can throw the ball at almost fifty miles an hour!”

Hernandez reaches a cleat-marked spot in center, about thirty yards from the concrete chunk that’s lying in the dirt near the wall.  He puts his hands on his knees, feet balanced apart, and nods at Jorges.  Murmuring to each other, the men from both teams circle around Jorges to watch the spectacle, and one of them picks up a catcher’s mitt.

Jorges tosses the ball high in front of his face, sweeps the bat around, and hits a high pop up that begins to fall between second base and center.  Hernandez gets a late break on the ball, runs in, and straightens up as the ball lands in front of him and bounces over his head on the hard-packed dirt.  The men laugh as he runs the ball down, throws it weakly, but accurately, back in.  “He is old,” one of the men mutters to the scout in broken English.  “Thirty seven anos.  He is the oldest man on the team, but he is trying to prove himself.  All his life he believes he will play for the American leagues.  But he has few talents.”

The scout raises one eyebrow skeptically, takes a slow sip of his agua pura.

Jorges hits a fly ball, and Hernandez gets another slow jump, then runs in too far, and the ball sails over his head.

“Ayyyyy,” some of the men groan with disgust and embarrassment.

“Forget it!” Jorges shouts out to Hernandez, waving him in, trying to protect his friend from further humiliation.  “Forget it and come in.”

“No,” Hernandez shouts, straightening his back.  “No.  Hit me another one.  Not so easy this time.  Hit me a tough one this time!”

“I said forget it!” Jorges bellows, thumping the bat’s barrel on the caked dirt.  “Come in and have a beer, Hernandez.  The game’s over.  It’s not a time for playing ball.”

Una mas!” Hernandez demands.  “One more!”

“Damn him,” Jorges mutters.  “He’s a stubborn old son of a bitch,” he says, apologizing to the scout, who has already taken a step or two toward the entrance gate.  Then Jorges lifts the bat one more time, looks at Hernandez, tosses the ball in the air and takes a big swing.

In left field, Hernandez sees the ball rise up into the air from the circle of men, a tiny silhouette in the orange glow of the low sun.  He turns and begins to run backwards, and for a moment, he seems to lose the ball in the sun’s glare.  But he keeps running anyway, not seeing it, still somehow seeing it at the same time.  The ball seems to be hit right at him but deep, deep.  He knows he must run a long ways to catch this ball; he must run across centuries, across continents, across time in order to reach this one.  He is neither old nor young any more.  As he runs, he hears is the raspy sound of his own panting breath, hears the hush of his dulled steel cleats in the soil, the pounding of blood in his arteries.  He hears the cheers of his teammates by the grandstand, and beyond that, faintly, he thinks he hears the chanting of his ancestors—the high priests—at the altar of the pyramid.

He keeps running and running until he wonders if maybe he’s passed right through the wall—like a spirit—and is still running, beyond the petty, rusty, wind-swept, crumbling stadium, beyond his homeland, beyond El Norte and all its wealth, even, and onto another field.

The ball seems to be just out of reach.  Just out of reach:  like everything else in this world.  Jorge and the onlookers watch, shaking their heads.

It’s then that the ball begins to drop from the circle of the sun.  It’s then that Hernandez squints and recognizes it again:  a leather sphere, a beautiful, symmetrical planet, a world he has to catch before it falls and touches the ordinary, petty, pebbled dirt, a world he has to catch before it self-destructs, leaving only a scuff mark, a puff of dust on the dry plain of the universe.  So he gathers all his strength and leaps, and the leap takes him farther than he ever jumped.  The leap feels good and fine, swift and sure as lightning.  He leaps into his future, and descends to the earth, and as he does, he takes something with him.

He takes with him a wish.  It’s a wish that— instead of the hard-packed soil and the chunk of concrete rock rising to meet the side of his head—the  field was made of something softer, something green and flowing, something that would embrace him after all these years.  And as he comes back to earth one last time, his ancestors are there, waiting for him, smiling from among the lush blades of grass and the tall, tall corn.

 

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 Bill Meissner’s first novel, Spirits in the Grass, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of a Native American burial ground on a baseball field, won the Midwest book award. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including PEN/NEA Syndicated Fiction Awards. He is the author of two previous books of fiction, Hitting into the Wind and The Road to Cosmos (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006) and four books of poetry, including American Compass (University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). He is director of Creative Writing at St. Cloud State University.  He loves traveling in Mexico–including San Miguel de Allende–and has visited Merida on two occasions. The Descending God was inspired by a Playa Del Carmen Municipales baseball game at their home stadium, which is now demolished.  To learn more about Bill Meissner and his books, please visit his website at http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner.

 

Art by Judith Shaw

judithshawart.com

 

 

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Fiction

Second Law of Thermodynamics

by Alex Pruteanu

 

Something is weird.
I wake up sitting at a table outside. In a courtyard. There is a glass of water, a coffee, a pack of menthols, and a book. I know this book. I have read it. Some other time.
It’s written by that guy who got eviscerated on national television by that talk show host after she found out the book was fiction. They murdered him. All of them got their turn. Hung before millions of angry viewers.
Readers.
They cut him up savagely and made him crawl on his knees and lick the floor. I like that guy. He came back later and blew them all out of the water. Even the New York Times kissed his feet. Second acts can sometimes redeem you. Sometimes sink you even further. Final acts always play out the same way, though.
Twenty or thirty feet away from my table there is a little girl. She’s maybe 6. Cute with long hair. She’s standing in the middle of this courtyard and does the splits. Over and over, she does the splits. She gets up. Does the splits. Gets up. Does the splits.
Hey buddy.
A man with tattoos and a grey goatee. A large, grotesque man who is morphing and shape shifting and oozing bile from his porous, leather skin.
Buddy?
I don’t say anything. The girl does the splits. Gets up. Splits. She smiles.
Hey buddy.
I don’t say anything.
Slick! You’re sitting at my table.
Splits. And up. And splits.
You’re at my table chief.
I don’t say anything. The little girl does her move over and over. There is smooth jazz on the speakers. Outside, in this courtyard.
Are you deaf? You’re sitting at my table.
I feel unstable. I can’t talk to him. Can’t get up. The book on the table has a frayed cover. In the corner, I have written my full name in sloppy penmanship. Kilroy was here!
YOU’RE AT MY GODDAMN TABLE!
In information theory, entropy represents the potential for disorder in a system. When a system has more degrees of freedom and more constituents, there are more possible states for it to occupy.
Splits. Smiles.
I feel myself being lifted under the arms by the tattoos. He ejects me from the chair onto the slate tile. I can’t move. Can’t get up. I hear him light a cigarette. Thumbs through the book.
The child laughs. Splits. Pages turn with impunity.
Then he explodes in phlegmatic boffola. Convulsions. Followed by coughs.
You’re lucky. I could’ve kicked your sorry ass.
On the tiny speakers, in the courtyard: Najee. Kenny-G. David Sanborn, all in succession. Only the sound is muffled and warped—a savage genre of musak.
Kicked it from here to China.
Nine minutes and fifty-six seconds pass.
I am still face down on the slate rock breathing in ferrous-tasting blood. I choke on it as it drips into the windpipe. Tattoos is inhaling tobacco. Bronchial tubes are contracting. The little girl does her trick. Over and over. And over.
Something is weird.

 

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Since immigrating from Romania in 1979, I’ve worked as a day laborer, a film projectionist, a music store clerk, a journalist/news writer for the U.S. Information Agency (Voice of America English Broadcasts), a TV Director for MSNBC and CNBC, and a freelance writer. Currently I am the Managing Editor of an education assessment software system at North Carolina State University. I am also a staff writer for The Lit Pub. Around all of that I manage to swing some hard bop jazz from time to time on an old Premier 5-piece kit.

I’ve published fiction in Pank, BRICKrhetoric, Camroc Press Review, Short, Fast, and Deadly, Trainwrite, Airplane Reading, The Legendary, Subtle Fiction, Girls With Insurance, Trick With a Knife, Amphibi.us, Slingshot Litareview, Specter Literary Magazine, Thunderclap Press, The Monarch Review, Connotation Press, F Magazine, and Merida Magazine. I am the author of the novella “Short Lean Cuts,” available as an e-book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The paperback version is now available from Amazon Publishers on Amazon

Currently working on a novel tentatively called “Tramby Quirke.” I am the author of the novella “Short Lean Cuts.” Ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, paperback at Amazon.

 

Art by Judith Shaw

judithshawart.com

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