Poetry

Seasonal Affair and Funeral Lines

by Judith Steele

 
Seasonal Affair

 
May Day in Darwin, dragonflies in squadrons
Posses of fire-hawks cruise the air
I open your letter – familiar joy –and doubt.
In June fiery sunsets, and you
on the midnight plane.
Dry Season air of July is champagne
Our kisses intoxicate, our laughter sparkles
as if we never wept.

 
Late August wind blows down dead branches
We resurrect old anger, throw it around.
September builds humidity. We always return
to this sensual desire, and desire to be more than this.

 
Still October, still no rain, still purple clouds
without a breath of wind. We are careful,
speak of the past, but not the future.
November thunder drops sheets of water,
twisted sheets on our bed are soaked with lust.

 
Troppo December, and luminous bat-splat
on the only road out of here. You go south
to visit your children, return in flooded January.
We watch with envy reckless adolescents jump
off Nightcliff Jetty into monsoon seas.

 
February stars of wilted frangippanni
fall on ants recycling eyeless bird
in a mess of rotting mangoes.
Again, you ask me to live down south.
Again, I will not go. Again, you will not stay.
March mornings fall into a late monsoon trough,
breathe threat of cyclone. Again I prepare for the worst.

 
April is calm. Long Toms float beneath Rapid Creek Bridge
like Chinese brush strokes on pale green silk.
Torres Strait Pigeons have flown home. You too.
For each migration, a yearly return.
For every reconciliation, a separation

 
And then?
Anticipation …

 
May Day, dragonflies in squadrons …

 

 
Funeral Lines

 
Ephemeral beauty
born, grown,
mated, created
ephemeral life

 
Ephemeral beauty, scrub and shine,
make haste, vacuum time,
produce consume bigger and better
mountains of dust

 
Ephemeral beauty, make mistakes,
break your heart break your life,
we can’t go back, can’t restore
ephemeral innocence

 
Ephemeral beauty bound for dust
Create. From whatever you can.
Drudge when you must, compete if you lust,
make mistakes, weep and ache
Then Still Always Turn
to what you have to how you can
Create ephemeral beauty.

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

Judith Steele is Australian. Her poetry has appeared in Northern Territory and South Australian publications including Northern Perspective, Northerly, Dymocks Northern Territory Literary Awards, Friendly Street Poets. Poetry or prose has appeared on websites including The Animist, Four and Twenty, Islet Online (as Dita West), In other Words:Merida .

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Kreso6

art by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Poetry, translation

Two poems on bullfighting by Jack Little

Two poems on bullfighting by Jack Little
with Spanish versions by Fer de la Cruz
(in the context of bullfighting being banned in a growing number Mexican states)

 

.
A Lament for Ponciano Díaz
after Federico García Lorca

In the ganadería de Atenco
Ponciano Díaz´s father fought bulls
with a cloth in one hand and his child in the other.

In the evenings, his brother would sit on the other side of the room
the semi-darkness of the setting sun would leave half shadows:
the day´s sandy footprints, the dry spittle at the side of the old man´s mouth.

Tonight proclaims his fate is preordained
under the breath of a thousand secret voices:
some of us dwell in our passions more than others.

But before the stain of crimsons spines, and viscera between his sequins
the sunrise will be another part-renewal, grown boastful with swollen pride

the fight is in his veins.

 

Lamento por Ponciano Díaz
A la manera de Lorca

.
En la ganadería de Atenco sucedió:
el padre de Ponciano lidiaba con los toros,
capota en una mano, el niño en otra.

Por las tardes, su hermano se sentaba al lado opuesto en la misma habitación
en tanto la semi penumbra del sol al ponerse dejaba medias sombras:
las arenosas huellas de ese día, las comisuras tiesas de su padre
con un reseco rastro de saliva.

Esta noche proclama su destino
al aliento de mil voces secretas:
algunos habitamos las pasiones mejor que algunos otros.

Pero antes de que el traje de luces sea opacado por las manchas de víscera escarlata,
el sol, renovador de amaneceres, engreído de su orgullosa pompa

será uno con la lidia fluyendo por sus venas.

 

1st poem

 

Poem 2

 

 

 

 From Jack Little´s Elsewhere (20/20 EYEWEAR PAMPLET SERIES, 2015)

 

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

Jack Little is a British poet who has lived in Mexico City since 2010 where he works as a primary school teacher. He won the Titchfield Shakespeare Poetry Competition in 2013 and is the founding editor of The Ofi Press. His work has been widely published in the UK and in Mexico.

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Kreso3

painting by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Poetry

Before I Was a Woman

by Elizabeth Gassimi

 
It happened long ago,
Before I was a woman.

Another woman,
Consecrated to God – she wore his ring
And hid her hair –
Was taken and thrown down
Like a forsaken rag doll.
Her face pressed onto the cold marble floor
By a dark, lost Beast who surprised her while she prayed alone.

Her life flashed before her
As she cried and pleaded
While behind her,
He plundered her soul forever,
Sweating and groaning from the effort.

She’d been a cloistered innocent:
A grandmother’s age,
But with a child’s experience.

It happened in, of all places, God’s house,
With smooth, carved wood pews and solemn statues the only witnesses.

Her sobs, her pleas,
Echoing just steps away from
The altar where she’d labored
And knelt in adoration for so many decades.

Did the Father and the Son
Hear The Beast shouting
That he’d kill her if she refused to kneel for him
And his hatred and shame?

Did the acrid stench
Of her fear overpower the
Sweet incense perfume?

Did those adorable
Carved cherubs cover their ears
With their tiny wings
When she gave up and wished a very un-Christian wish
For death
As a single, silent, hot tear fell?

No one but she,
The Beast who took her by force,
And her God
Know exactly what happened
In those excruciating moments.

And only she knows how
She was able to forgive The Beast,
Which she told us later she did.

And even though I wasn’t a witness,
I will never forget
What The Beast did to one who believed
That being
Untouchable would save her.

Long ago,
Before I’d learned what it meant
To be a woman.

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

New York City native Elizabeth Gassimi (“Liz”) left the United States in 2011, lived in Mexico City for almost a year, and has been enjoying the hot weather and fabulous food in Merida, Yucatan since 2012. Liz is a full-time teacher of English as a Foreign Language and holds a BA in English and Journalism from The City University of New York. She has always enjoyed writing and started keeping a journal at the age of ten. Several of her poems have been published in literary magazines.
She also loves gardening, photography, reading, and visiting art galleries. Sometimes on the weekends, you can spot Liz with her camera, walking around the Centro, looking for photographic opportunities.

 

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Kreso5art by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Fiction

Every Day is Sunday

by Peter Bracking

.
Ross groans almost inaudibly. He rolls on the hard bed and this causes the phlegm in the lungs to shift and out pops a single soft cough that cannot be stifled. Before he opens his eyes the door is being squeaked open allowing the forty five pound black and white mutt to jump on the bed ready to stick to Ross’ side, from the moment of entry the dog could always see his face. In the doorway is Pavel. He is rubbing a finger under his nose. His one good eye winks and he is gone leaving the door open. The pisote, ten pounds of terror, leaps into the room to ensure the dog has not given it the slip. The beginning of the morning ritual.

.
Ross ablutes. Leaves the room, squeaking the door closed and uselessly telling the dog to ‘stay’ outside he pushes his way into the Pole’s room. Pavel is in his forties, tight brown curls with a knife scar that runs from his eye to the edge of his chin. He is medium height. He weighs about four pounds if he is holding a small barracuda. He is sitting on the bones of his ass bouncing on the edge of his bed. He is a bit flushed and his blind eye always looks as if it is staring directly at Ross.

.
“Something to wake up with.” It is always a statement and always a necessity for him. Ross sits on the only chair as he does every morning knowing by afternoon he would search corners for mythical rocks. “Ja,” Pavel smiles for the first time.

.
The rooms are two of four on the floor. Only two rooms are ever occupied. The rooms are cubes 10×10 with one corner plumbed with a shower that works if you use a bucket and not the faucet and a toilet with a cistern that doubles as the room safe guarded internally by intricate spider webs that operates the same way. Two walls are windows. Floors, walls, and ceilings are unpainted, untreated concrete. The window is spiked shut, concrete gouged out below the frame in number of places where the long spikes were much stronger than the concrete the window was eventually anchored to. Grey, grey, grey is the décor. There is a ceiling fan with about a four foot wingspan that does work when there is electricity in town and a table to go with the chair that Ross occasionally wobbles on.

.
Pavel and Ross are the outcasts of the white population of about twelve. They live in a hotel on the beach. In the Garifuna part of town, the black part of town, with the descendants of the failed slave revolt on St. Vincent Island off the coast of Venezuela. They are anathema to the upstanding white population that are there to stretch their civilized pension dollars. As if the two of them could ever give a shit.

.
The thin Pole has been there about a year and Ross has been dragged down the short corridor every morning for about six months now. Ross wondered why he ever complained about it to himself.

.
Pavel had told his story even if Ross would not break his own vow never to reveal his. Pavel told him that he had slummed in most of the capitols of Europe. In a whirlpool of drugs. That he preferred an Italian winter to a Scottish summer. Ross got the idea that the Pole knew how to get by on nothing everywhere he went. Pavel told him that he learned to speak English in prison in Morocco. His scar was born there too. He thought some Arab had been giving him the eye and so tried to give him a blow job in the shower one hot morning. He had lost his eye in the ensuing knife fight. He told Ross that he had simply fallen in love with the wrong big fucking Arab. Morocco was his third prison and after his release his family would not suffer him to return to Gdansk, they could not stand the idea that he was even on the same continent as they were. He got a fat monthly allowance to stay very far away. This thin strip of brown beach was very far away. Pavel was one of the many remittance men Ross had met. But that is another story.

.
He was an addict. If it could be liquified and sucked into a rocket that he could poke into a vein it was good by him. Pavel spent more money on syringes than Ross spent on food. Pavel’s problem was that it was impossible for him to get high alone. He did not just want company, someone to sit there and to talk but someone who was high as well. Hence every morning the door squeak and the finger under the nose.

.
It can’t be later than nine am as he has not heard: “Rosco, su desayuno!” shouted up from below. For some reason that he could never figure out it was impossible for his neighbours to call him by his single syllabled name, always adding the ‘co’. Ross always thought that Pavel could never wait until after breakfast and if Ross did not stir he would wake him. Ross, unfortunately, never could sleep that long to find out. There is small time element then as all that needs to be done must be done before the breakfast call. The first round anyway.

.
This particular stretch of beach was part of the cocaine trial from Columbia. Most of it came off the cargo ships that unloaded across the bay, a one- time training ground for the mercenaries that fought as Contras in the most recent American intervention in Nicaragua. A great deal of uncut cocaine moved through and around the tiny town that they lived in. Pavel is in heaven.

.
The first thing that he does is hand Ross a rather new copy of an Estonian/Spanish dictionary left by the only previous occupant of the grey room. Ross is the only person who uses it and he never opens the book. Pavel smiles more broadly now, his scar stretching his face into a grimace that actually looks like pain. Then it begins.

.
Pavel leans over and searches through the papers, empty match boxes, cigarette butts, the occasional bit of food, the general mess found on any junky’s table. He finds nothing. Then he searches in the drawer. More paper, useless junk, a tablespoon with the bowl blackened thick with carbonation that he sets aside, bottle caps, match boxes, even paper clips, but not what he seeks. His smile gets wider with frustration. The appearance of pain palpable. He moves his bones off the bed, gets on his sharp knees and looks under the bed where there is nothing and never has been anything. He walks over to his suitcase abandoned in a corner of the room throws it open, searching deep into the emptiness and finding nothing. Ross can hear the dog outside whine some communication to the pisote. Pavel stands in the middle of the room his head and good eye turning wildly around. Ross begins to wonder how long until the breakfast shout. Pavel is breathing heavily now, sweat is beading on his forehead. Ross says nothing. He knows better. Pavel finally has a brainstorm, looks over his shoulder to see if Ross is looking and when he assures himself that Ross is staring out of the window at the palms, reaches up to the ceiling fan and there, exactly where it always is, on one of the wings, is a very large bag of high grade coca which he plucks down with a heavy sigh of relief. Success. This takes about ten minutes from the beginning to the end. Every morning. If Ross is ever foolish enough to mention where the dope is Pavel gets paranoid, thinking that Ross is watching where it hides to steal it. Ross has nothing but time. This is Pavel’s ritual, not his. And who is Ross to say anything about it? Both waiting and the counting of time are meaningless when compared to the eternal rhythm of the ocean a few meters below and across the street.

.
By now there is at least one cantina blasting Bob Marley outside. Another will start up playing different Marley at a competitive volume within moments. Kids are shouting and will be playing. Young ones jumping a hank of frayed rope removed from an equally frayed, now useless net. Older boys rolling a dead tire through the dust with a stick. The bars on the corner are open and will be beginning to fill. Two bars, eleven posts at widely varying angles planted in the sand with a plywood seat nailed onto the tops is the total seating arrangement. Life trudges on. Outside.

.
Pavel’s eye is locked on the bag, quarter ounce or half ounce.

.
Back to the table and Pavel digs out a new rocket and places it precisely at the edge. He takes the four month old newspaper and opens it on his lap. He carefully opens the bulging bag. Now he takes back the dictionary. He picks up his tablespoon. He fills the tablespoon and dumps it onto the book. There is usually a gram or two of the yellowed grains in a little hillock. He covers the hillock with a matchbook, to stop it blowing off but the window is nailed shut and the only other possible source for moving air is the fan which is never turned on. He hands the book with it’s carefully covered hillock carefully back to Ross, Pavel’s partner in dreams. “This is for you.” Again, the same as every other morning.

.
He fills his spoon again with the yellow coca, looks at Ross who finds a reason to turn away, and immediately unfolds the few thin pounds around his bones standing to replace his precious bag on the always still wing of the fan. Then he adds a drip of water to the concoction while Ross lights a candle. Pavel hovers the spoon steadily over it and the dope and water begin to bubble immediately. He fills the rocket and looks at Ross. Ross must always be first so he cuts a big line out. Pavel smiles, reaches over and flips papers, with a blind hand, and passes over a crisp tightly rolled American hundred dollar bill. Ross honks back a good part of his hillock. As soon as Ross lifts his head Pavel pokes the rocket into his arm and plunges into his dream. Moments later after his head falls back onto his greasy pillow and Pavel is on another planet. He will remain, in his dream, on another planet or in another dimension for about ten or fifteen minutes. Pavel does not fuck around with his dope. His plan is to get fucked up so small doses are a waste of his life.

.
Ross has to piss to beat the band and now is the moment to make a move. He slips out as politely quietly as he can and zips down the three flights with both dog and pisote trying to trip him believing misguidedly as animals tend to do that they are off for a walk. Ross slows and smiles at the black family who adopted him and runs into the latrine across the street. Listens to the sound of his water falling, falling and ignoring the stink. Finally relieved
he opens the door almost tripping on the dog and the pisote standing eternal guard. Ross takes a minute to help pick out the daily fish from someone’s cousin that both the family and hotel guests will eat and then he has to beat it back up the stairs in a rag tag parade of three to be there when the Pole reenters this dimension. He takes only a moment to look at the glistening sea and to smell the mangoes growing within arms reach. He slips in and usually his timing is perfect. Pavel lifts his head, probably at the sound of the dog’s whine on being shut out, shut out, always shut out, and Pavel rejoins the mundane living just as Ross is cutting another line.

.
Now if Pavel is very serious he will now begin to fill another rocket. Ross waits, crisp bill halfway to his nostril. Pavel thinks for an instant and stands and he digs around on his piled table until he finds the baking soda and it is time to cook some rocks. Ross always holds out the pile on the dictionary to fill the spoon for rocks. “No, no, how many times, no. That is for you.” Pavel says this so many times he has almost lost his accent with the repetition.

.
And again, as always, Pavel begins the search for his comfort coca. Table, drawer, bed, suitcase, at which point Ross finds something interesting about his broken sandals, then the miraculous thought of the best hiding place, the wing of the ever still fan.

.
He dips the spoon back into the bag, judiciously adds soda, water and they watch the magic of chemistry. The mixture bubbles. Then slowly a slick, an oil forms on the water. This oil is skimmed off and as soon as the heat is gone it hardens. Crack. One spoonful yields a number of large rocks. One spoonful is never enough. They begin to smoke the first pile as the second is being made.

.
There is always a collection of ashes stored in any one of the many matchboxes. The pipe is a pop can with pin holes. Ash is mounded and the rocks placed on top and ignited melting down into an instant dream. When the ash is all sticky it is put aside and saved in another match box, to be smoked that later when Pavel is too stoned to see how much dope to mix with the soda. He is toking away and he nods at the book and the pile of cocaine under the matchbox and he stares at Ross with his piercing eye. Get higher is the indication. Pavel can’t even wait for Ross to decide his own pace. Pavel has a mission and Ross is merely the second in command. He has to keep up. After all what are friends for?

.
The dog whines outside the door. Someone is coming up the stairs. Pavel freezes with the can pressed to his face. Ross knows it is someone the dog is familiar with but he is still as well. A shadow passes the window. Emilio. Pavel’s lover.

.
The door opens and Emilio, very large Emilio, glowers at Ross reaching out and taking the pipe from Pavel. Leans down and kisses him, kicks the door shut. “Phosphero,” he says. Another ugly look is fired at Ross.

.
Nothing changes. In the past Emilio’s wife had been interested in every aspect of Ross several times before Ross was ever aware of Emilio who was now hatefully part of his every morning. Ross was now very aware that sweat was poring off the black man. The heat and closeness of the room was beginning to smell.

.
Pavel put another large rock on the ash and lights it for the love of his life. Emilio inhales and blows out a swirling acrid cloud of smoke. The can rattles as he puts it down spilling the coated ash onto the floor. Emilio wipes his hand over his dripping brow. Ross is sure the hand shakes.

.
Ross picks up a match box with ash to reload the pipe when the dog barks. This means someone is on the stairs that the dog does not know. This was never to happen without a call from below. Pavel paid a great deal of money to be informed. Ross’s hand froze. Pavel’s eyes close. Emilio stays very still.

.
The dog began to bark in earnest. The pisote chittered in support. The door is kicked open. The first and only thing that Ross could see was the gun. The small hole of a revolver pointing into the room. He sees the uniform next. Two cops burst in waving guns. Pavel starts to giggle. He cannot stop. Ross remains frozen, box of ash in one hand, the other stretching towards the crushed can next to a large pile of crack rocks. Emilio stands.

.
“Si senor,” one of the cops says. Emilio and the cop exchange hard looks.

.
The other waves his gun at Pavel, motioning him to stand. The gun waving in his face stopped Pavel giggling but left him short of breath. “What’s going on? You know I pay. I pay. What’s going on.”

.
The first cop, the one who had spoken, eyes still locked with Emilio tightened his jaws and said, “Asasinado.”

.
Ross looked at Pavel’s blank stare. He shook his head. “Murder,” he told the Pole.

.
“Vamanos.” The second cop had adenoidal problems.

.
The cops push Emilio and Pavel ahead of them. The second cop turns to Ross and rubs a finger under his nose and laughs. “What’s happening?” Pavel screeched. “What is happening to me?” Only when they had start down the steps back to the beach did the dog stop barking. Then Ross took a breath. His heart began to beat again.

.
Ross starts to move after a moment. He grabs the can, fills it with ash and selects a very large rock and places it on the grey mountain. He lights a match and as he begins to pull the chemical into his lungs; to initiate the dream.
Carried on a sea breeze he can hear:

.
“Rosco, su desayuno!”

 

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

Peter Bracking tells tall tales. Earth point: Vancouver, Canada.

Words have been published by more than a dozen presses in four countries on two continents including:

Maisonneuve; Black Heart Magazine; Lantern Magazine; Feather Tale Review; Thrice Fiction ; streetcake magazine; Existere

The only occupation he regrets leaving is beach bum. Peter is the artistic director of Utter Stories.

Self aggrandizement: http://utterstories.wordpress.com

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Kreso9

painting by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Poetry

Wisdom, Trumpet and other poems

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

 

Wisdom

.
Madame Armadillo has four children
North, South, East, West
The sun rises in the east
and sets in the west
on the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Holy Criminal
Nothing new

I lay in bed
my head to the North
feet to the South
Wisdom is easy
if you don’t add complications

I’m awoken by the sound of trumpets
coming in my glassless windows
A mosquito is sucking on my eyeball
I swat it
but make things worse
Wisdom is easy
if you don’t add complications

One of my wives calls me for coffee
My other wife is frying eggs
and drawing pictures on flour tortillas
with magic markers
One of the tortillas has
my name on it
written in Spanish
Miguel
She’s misspelled my middle name
like this: Crack-Malnick
It doesn’t matter how many times I tell her
I don’t smoke Crack anymore
she keeps tormenting me

Sometimes she writes: Meth-Malnick
I tell her I’ve never done Meth
and don’t intend to start
even though her brother is cooking it
out in the desert

My first wife tries to look severe at my second wife
but can’t keep up the pretense
They drink tequila from the bottle as they finish my breakfast
It takes two women to make my breakfast
Wisdom is easy
if you don’t add complications

.
Trumpet

.
Orgasm has coated me
like non-stick oil sprayed on a pan
like egg yolks
on a rare foggy morning
I cannot open my eyes
don’t want to either

even though it is the first day of
the Fiesta of the Sacred Cross
and I am the star trumpet player
in this village
The call me El Krochmalniko

When I was a child
my father beat me
because I refused to learn to play the accordion
his favorite instrument
He couldn’t play it anymore
because a drug cartel
chopped off one of his hands

I didn’t like it
It was too heavy
It hung from my shoulders
like the Titanic
threatening to take me down
to the bottom of the desert

He beat me for my obstinance
I picked up my trumpet
and sent a blast to his
cauliflower ear
then ran like hell
never stopped running
til I arrived in this town
with its sculptures of Los Muertos

My father is dead now
I did not go to his funeral
I am alive
I spit on his accordion
I raise the trumpet to my lips
and send a blast out my bedroom window
over the pigs
and chickens
into the village
an announcement
like those Arab mullahs in their towers

It is the Fiesta of the Sacred Cross
Everyone get out of bed!
Get up!
Join me for a drink
Then I’ll raise the horn to my lips
and won’t put it down
until my lips are bruised and bloody
and I can no longer play
and the village worships me
as a martyr

.
Metal Horn

.
My horn is made of metal
and comes from Chicago
How it got down here
I have no idea
How does anything get down here?
How did I get down here?
Life is not what we were taught
in the School of Rational Living

That school was a monster hoax
The Universe is irrational
and so am I
So are you
and so are the twisted words that
run between us
and so is the music that pours from my horn

but the irrationality is beautiful
so you light a joint and
kiss your woman
and sway to the smog
and crime and luck

.
With Nine Bands

.
Nine-Banded Armadillo
slipped over borders
during His Holy Migration

From South America
through the Isthmus
over peso’d avenidas
sidestepping Los Muertos
finally across the U.S. border
on His way to becoming sacred

The Supreme One
was never detained
never asked for documents

The Sacred Armadillo left
claw prints in the dust
as He made His silent
stealthy uninterrupted journey north
ever north and east

The last of the
New World armored mammals
to survive,
His survival was not a prerequisite
for sacredness
only a foundation

He bore a vague nostalgia for his extinct kin
the New World Sloths and Anteaters
an undefined sadness
the sadness of the planet
as another door closes
and a substitute
fails to open

The Sacred Armadillo
trekked across the Arizona desert
peered down into the Grand Canyon
and the mile wide crater created
by one angry meteor
stumbled mindlessly across huge tracks of Texas

skirted the bayous of Louisiana
had tribal pow-wows with the giant bayou rats
known as Nutria
with whom He developed spiritual and political confederacies
and crossed the sand hills and wiregrass
of Alabama

In the Florida panhandle He feasted on fire ants
whose spice complements peanuts
collard greens and other Southern delicacies
favored by both the possum and Himself

It was a Holy Feast
a last supper
the last performance
of a famous garage duo
this time with no audience
no groupies
no drugs
the last hurrah for the one who goes
and the one who’s left behind

The possum thrust out his snout
ever angry
and cursed his own lack of holiness
The Sacred Armadillo
quietly left the backyard
cut across a strip of woods
behind the used car dealership
and moved on

.
Not a Chair Misplaced

.
Not a crumb of bread anywhere
nor a misplaced grape nut
not a red grape escaped from
a still life
with apples and oranges

Everything is in its place
awaiting the death of the human
who lives in this mausoleum

The television is tuned
to CNN
in perpetuity

The news unspools,
the tragedies
the human interest
the same loop of platitudes
linked to different faces and different names
interspersed with commercials
for all the things you’re too old to buy

because that thread has also unspooled
You know none of it will
make you happy
Some famous person gives their name
and says: This is CNN
Another celebrity does the same
They line up to have CNN
tattooed on their wrists

I think I’m going to visit my ex-wife
She lives in an apartment building
not far from here
another Section 8 building
nothing we ever lusted after
but these places aren’t bad

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

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over six hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including IN OTHER WORDS: MERIDA. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for work published in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver.

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Kreso12

art by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Poetry

When We Said Goodbye and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington

 

When We Said Goodbye

That morning
you stepped out
on the porch
with just your robe on.
You touched me
on the shoulder
and said: I’m sorry.

I got in my car
and drove
I don’t remember where.
Finally,
I headed out
into the country—
home.

At the foot
of the hill
in the pasture
behind the house
two roan horses
lay in the wet grass
beside each other.

Sunrise
set the field
on fire
and I saw them stir,
one nudging
the other
with her snout.

I had never seen
horses lying down.
And until that morning
when we said goodbye
I had always believed
that they slept
standing.

 

X

The hardest two-syllable word
you´ve ever had to say in life—
X-wife. The “X” choked out, mumbled,
whispered, but hard and clear on “wife.”
Eyes lowered, a scarlet “X”
of failure on your chest. Ashamed
to even spell it out—“X.”
You´re friends, a cliché for which you´re
grateful. Still, you dread the coming
time you won´t be able to just
pick up a phone and ask her what
her day was like because some truly
sane and decent guy has taken
her and closed the door. So when the
phone rings beside their bed she´ll sigh
and say: Probably my X, just
let it ring. And you´ll know why.

 
Traffic

Every morning
she stops beside you
at the same spot
in front of my newsstand
both of you rushing to work.
How perfectly timed your mornings must be
for your feet and hers
to touch the same crack in the sidewalk
as they always do just before nine
when I’m cutting open boxes of magazines.
She sometimes tries to catch
the look in your eyes as she hands me exact change.
But you always gaze down
as if something shameful
is happening between the three of us.
At night I lie awake
wondering who she is
as the light from the streetlamp outside my window
pours onto the frayed carpet
of my furnished room.
I wonder if you ever
lie awake at night, too,
somewhere across town
thinking of her.
In the morning while I stack the Daily News,
you get off the bus
as she comes up from the subway, briefcase in hand,
and you walk toward each other.
It is a ritual between us.
I hand her the Wall Street Journal,
and you the New York Times,
as your feet and hers almost touch
but then are lost in the traffic
of our separate lives.

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

Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda which he restored himself in rural Yucatan, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry. He was an invited reader at the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba in 2012. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review,Poetry Ireland Review and many other publications worldwide. He has published four chapbooks: The Traffic of Our Lives (winner of the :Ledge Press, 19th annual chapbook award), Handcuffed to the Jukebox, Aqui/Here (bilingual) and Yesterday, A Long Time Ago. His translation of the Maya poet Feliciano Sánchez Chan´s book, Seven Dreams, appeared this year from New Native Press. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories, authored a collection of essays, and has published five novels.

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Kreso10

art by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Poetry

poem for christian o’keeffe and other poems

by John Dorsey

 

poem for christian o’ keeffe

the sky is red
a sea of blood
the skin of stars
embarrassed that
we never met

still, i look for you
between railroad spikes
picking dandelions
with john henry
or jim carroll
in a race
against
time

finding only dented pennies
gravel fallen loose
from under the fingernails
of dead brakemen

no words
no more poems
scattered across the earth

no song
no whistle

the train has left the station
and there’s no
turning back.

 
Boyd

started drinking
in a crisp navy uniform
in the era of wall street
& ronald reagan
on beaches in california

waking up in toledo
in an altar of ashtrays
& month old pizza boxes

he worked thirds at the jeep plant
shooting photos of goth girls, furries
& weirdos who lived for the weekend

knights in white satin
& s&m bondage gear

he was their king
their bloated elvis
in disgraceland

trading portfolios
of runway rejects
for coffee, cheeseburgers
& a little taste
of the nicotine death machine

he just got drunk
complaining about how
he hadn’t had sex since 1994

& how he was just going
through the motions
waiting for love
& death
to stop
beating him
over the head
like a good
                           hangover.

 
Kid Brundage
once played the cello with yo-yo ma
on the streets of boston
in the gutters of toledo
where they still remember him

beaten to death
for a used bicycle
across the street
from where he once took flight
graduating this life
making beautiful music
drunk with compassion
changing a bulb
to replace
                           the moonlight.

 

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

John Dorsey is the author of several collections of poetry, including “Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer” (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), “Sodomy is a City in New Jersey” (American Mettle Books, 2010), “Tombstone Factory” (Epic Rites Press, 2013), and most recently, “Natural Selection: Early Poems” (Kilmog Press, 2014). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

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Kreso7

art by Kreso Cavlovic

Standard
Fiction

White Lilacs

by Grace Andreacchi

The first time I caught sight of him he was just a boy really, no more than twenty, the Church was crowded and hot, it was Easter Sunday and there were flowers everywhere lilies hawthorns and white lilacs. He sang one of the Bach cantatas, I had to crane my neck to see him, a fragile boy with a head of thick, curling bright hair combed carefully back out of his eyes, he sang so beautifully, a warm sweet boyish voice, high and pure almost as light as a child’s. I knew from that moment that I would always love him more than anyone else in the world. The first time I spoke to him he was coming out of the canteen, there was something tucked under his arm rather awkwardly, a brown paper parcel, he was walking quickly with his head down and so we collided in the doorway. ‘Excuse me, please’ he said and blushed, and smiled at me easily the best smile I have ever seen. I love you, I said. I am going to marry you… ‘You sing at the Nikolaikirche,’ I said. ‘I saw you on Sunday.’ He allowed that this might be true. The next time I saw him he was sitting at one of the bad tables way at the back at the Empire Café. He wore a shiny old evening suit that was probably older than he was, he wore a melancholy expression and was smoking a cigarette languorously, like a tough guy in the movies. He waved when he saw me and I sat down at his table but this time I couldn’t think of anything to say. ‘How did you like my singing?’ he said. He looked at me with enormous twilight eyes, it was an urgent question that must be answered with absolute honesty. I have been looking into those eyes all my life, I thought. ‘It was beautiful,’ I said, speaking with absolute honesty into those astonishing eyes. He had just finished a set, I had come to the Empire on purpose to hear him, he was beginning to get a name for this sort of thing. Tears rolled down my cheeks when he sang those sentimental songs. ‘Did you really think so?’ he said. Marry me, I said. Kiss me this minute before I die. ‘It was so beautiful you made me cry, indeed you did!’ I said. He made me cry, makes me cry, present tense. Will always be able to make me cry. ‘This isn’t what I want to do,’ he said. ‘I want to be an opera singer…’ ‘You will,’ I said. He asked me to a concert he was giving the following week at a church in Potsdam.

It was on a day in spring. All the way to Potsdam the rain had been pelting down but just before the train pulled into the station it suddenly stopped, the sun came out and the whole world was now glittering as if a shower of jewels had just fallen from heaven. I stepped out onto the platform and immediately caught sight of him standing about a hundred feet away, his arms full of white lilacs. That fragile, somehow melancholy figure. Then he caught sight of me as well and waved as if from the deck of a ship and we walked towards one another slowly at first then faster and faster till we were actually running towards one another, smiling into one another’s eyes. I was only nineteen and did not bother to hide what I was feeling. Why should I? You are the One, I thought. I have found you, and I will never let you go. Once we were face to face he stood there smiling at me and holding those lilacs – they were just a bunch of wild lilacs he had cut in the fields, they grew in great abundance all along the railway sidings, and the air was thick with their scent. I love you! I said. ‘Are those for me?’ I said. He seemed to have forgotten he was holding the lilacs, he just stood there smiling at me, he hadn’t said a word. Then started as if he’d just woken up and handed them to me, still wordlessly. I put my face right down into them and the million tiny petals tickled my cheeks and kissed my lips and my forehead as I breathed in their overwhelming, sweetly melancholy scent. ‘Oh how beautiful!’ I said. ‘I love lilacs, they’re my favourite flowers…’ ‘They’re just wildflowers,’ he said, blushing slightly. He blushes like a girl, I thought, what a delicate boy he is. I love this delicate boy. I love him to distraction and we have only met – what – two weeks ago? Oh but I have known thee forever, from before the world began, my Prince… ‘I love anything wild,’ I said. ‘They’re much nicer than store-bought flowers, don’t you think? They have such a scent! Come, try for yourself…’ I held the lilacs out to him and he stooped a little, bent his head and buried his face as I had done in their white beauty. A lock of hair fell across his forehead and when he looked up at me again I saw a few of the tiny white petals clinging there. Gently I brushed them away with a white-gloved hand. While I did this he stood perfectly still, smiling like an angel. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘This way, Madame, if you please!’ He gave me his arm and we walked together not the streets but the air itself pure spring air made of nothing but sunlight raindrops lilacs we walked all the way to the church we saw nothing but each other.

‘Invite him for dinner,’ said Mama.

‘He’s shy,’ I said, ‘I don’t know if he’ll come.’

‘Of course he’ll come,’ said Papa, ‘What nonsense! Bring the young man round for a proper inspection. Does he have something to be ashamed of?’

‘Of course not,’ I said. ‘He’s simple, that’s all – you’ll frighten him, Papa…’

‘Oh my, if he frightens that easily I don’t think I’d have him if I were you!’ said Papa.

‘It’s not you he’s interested in,’ said Mama.

‘That’s just what I was afraid of! You’re already making fun…’ I said.

‘Nobody’s making fun, Matti, just invite the young man for dinner – what’s so complicated?’ said Mama.

‘You are,’ I said.

‘Nonsense,’ said Papa. ‘We’re simple people as well, theatre people. What’s wrong with that?’

Johannes came to dinner. He brought us a parcel of calves’ liver, something that was very hard to get, the blood had leaked through the paper and stained his hands and the gently frayed edge of his shirt cuff. He handed this bloody packet wordlessly to Mama, along with another enormous bunch of white lilacs. I took the flowers and arranged them in a vase, noticing that the bottom petals also were stained dark with blood. Mama called to Marthe, the cook, who marvelled at the liver. ‘My father’s a butcher,’ Johannes said. These were the first words he spoke to my family. ‘A useful profession these days more than ever,’ my father said. Johannes blushed. My little sister Lise went right up to him and gave him her hand, which he kissed solemnly. ‘Matti says you want to be an opera singer,’ she said. ‘My Mama’s an opera singer!’

‘I know,’ he said. He wouldn’t look at my mother, who was smiling at him, but he looked at Lise and smiled easily, that smile again.

‘I’m Lise,’ she said. ‘I’m going to be a famous pianist when I grow up.’

‘Of course you are,’ he said.

‘Matti plays the violin,’ she said. ‘Have you heard her? She can play all the Bach partitas and I can play the Preludes and Fugues. Are you going to sing for us? Mama wants to hear you sing.’ Johannes said nothing but continued to smile that ravishing sweet smile of his. Lise still had hold of his hand. ‘Are you Matti’s young man?’ she said. ‘Are you going to marry her?’ ‘Lise!’ I said. Johannes didn’t say anything, but he allowed Lise to lead him to the sofa where she sat down beside him and whispered something in his ear that made him smile even more if that were possible. Then she gave me one of her looks and said ‘If you don’t marry him, I will!’ ‘Lise!’ I said. Everyone was laughing. ‘It’s a promise,’ Johannes said. ‘If Matti won’t have me I will certainly marry you!’ ‘Wait a minute,’ she said. ‘I want to show you something…’ She disappeared off to her room. ‘It’s love at first sight…’ Papa said, smiling at Johannes. Lise came back with her beloved Struwwelpeter held flat against her chest. She sat down beside Johannes and opened the book. ‘Look here, he looks just like you!’ she said. She held up the book for all of us to see the picture of the boy with the full head of hair and melancholy expression. ‘But I did comb my hair!’ said Johannes, laughing as hard as any of us. ‘This is what it looks like combed. You should see it in the morning when I get up! I look like a wild animal!’ He growled like a beast and pretended he was going to eat Lise, who went mad with delight and beat him off with the Struwwelpeter.

Mama had the liver cooked with onions and we ate it along with a blood red burgundy Papa said was only right on a special occasion like this. After supper Mama sang an Italian song accompanied by Papa at the piano, then Lise played one of her beloved fugues with that serious self-critical air that always seemed comical to me in a child so young. ‘Please won’t you sing something for us?’ she said, turning those shining eyes of hers on Johannes. He didn’t make a fuss, but got up and looked through the music, quickly chose something and showed it to Papa, who nodded in agreement. It was a song from ‘die Schöne Müllerin’ and the whole time he was singing this song he looked directly into my eyes. My knees were trembling my heart was in my mouth I thought dear God let me die of happiness right this minute for I shall never again be as happy as I am now with this boy’s eyes shining into my eyes and his sweet urgent voice piercing my heart. ‘Dein ist mein Herz!’ That is what he sang. And gave to me, that Sunday afternoon in May, the raw and bleeding implacable gift of his heart. Mine forever.

Into the Woods

Johannes came for us in an old clattery wooden cart, it was the same they used to deliver the meat, he said, but not on Sundays, his father had allowed him the use of it for the entire day. At the front of the cart stood a gentle white horse, his coat carefully brushed. Lise went mad when she saw that horse. ‘His name is Falada,’ said Johannes. ‘Here, give him something to eat and he’ll give you a kiss.’ He reached into the cart and took an apple from an overflowing picnic basket. Lise held out the apple and Falada took it in one bite, munching thoughtfully while eyeing her sideways, then suddenly turned his great white head and nudged her shoulder. Lise stood very still, not sure whether to be afraid or not. The horse put out his large, thick tongue and licked the side of her face and neck. She gave a little scream and clung to Johannes, who was laughing softly.

‘He’s not going to bite me? Is he?’ she said.

‘Of course not, Schwesterlein. He likes you very much. Falada never bites anybody, do you old boy?’ And he patted the horse’s neck with that fine hand of his. Then lifted Lise into the cart, and turned towards me. ‘May I have the honour, Madame…’ he said, and bowed low as if he were inviting me into Cinderella’s carriage. There was a red and white checked woollen blanket spread across the wooden seat, I can still see that blanket, exactly the way it looked, with bits of hay clinging to it. He smoothed the blanket though it didn’t need smoothing and Lise and I sat down. Then he took hold of the reins and said a quick word to the horse and we were off, clattering through the streets of Berlin under the ever-changing greengold shadows of the morning.

Soon we had passed the outskirts of town and were out into the broad open country where the sky stretches all the way to the perfectly flat horizon. Not a cloud in sight, only blue sky and greengold fields of ripening grain, and the endless allées of apple trees whispering gently in our wake. We passed through village after village, each with its small, stalwart brick church pointing hopefully towards heaven, its cluster of houses, its animals and children dotting the fields. As we drove along the bumpy lanes we sang, just old songs that everybody knows about flowers and love and springtime. Lise was singing the loudest of all, I was afraid she’d sing herself hoarse. ‘Settle down,’ I said after a while. ‘You’ll tire yourself out like that.’

‘No I won’t!’ she said.

‘You want to save something for later,’ I said. ‘Don’t you want to go swimming? You quiet down and let Johannes sing something for us now.’ She crept up to where he was sitting and put her face round to look at him.

‘Will you sing one just for me, please?’ she said.

‘Very good, little Princess – I will if you promise to sit still and listen,’ he said. Lise crept back to her place at my side, a big smile on her face. He sang a song about a little bird that misses its mother, a funny old song that was also a little bit sad.

When we entered the woods it was like entering a great quiet church on a hot day, suddenly cold and still, and filled with strange echoes. I felt a shiver down my back. Water was glinting in the filtered sunlight – we came to a lake lined with reeds taller than a man. ‘This is the place,’ said Johannes. He drew the cart to a halt and we got out. A strange cry came to us across the water, it must have been some sort of water bird but it startled us. Among the reeds a number of swans, their white shapes drifting like clouds upon the dark green water. On the face of the lake golden chains of seeds and tiny broken leaves, above the lake bright insects whirring, the arms of the drooping willow, the wild roses in clusters and the golden pears, and in the depths of the lake the summer sky and the whispering treetops, the clusters of wild roses.

‘I want to show you something,’ said Johannes. He was speaking in a whisper now. ‘Come this way,’ he said, so we followed him, away from the lake into what looked like an impenetrable thicket. Something whirred in the dense foliage – a bird? an animal? Johannes pulled at a thickset pine branch and beneath was an old broken gate, half off its hinges. We passed through and found ourselves standing before a little tumbledown chapel. It wasn’t really much more than a heap of stones, a young oak had made its way through the floor, and the stone walls were barely visible beneath the quivering vines. But the small, square bell tower was still upright, and wore its pointed hat with a certain air of defiance.

‘It’s a church,’ said Lise. ‘A teeny tiny church in the woods…’

‘It’s what they used to call a Lady Chapel,’ said Johannes. ‘It was built a very long time ago, to honour the Mother of God.’

‘God doesn’t have a mother, that’s silly,’ said Lise.

‘Don’t mind her, she’s such a little heathen,’ I said.

‘Well Jesus definitely had a mother,’ he said. ‘Mary was Jesus’ mother, and this chapel is hers. Come, I’ll show you…’ He pushed at the door and as he did so there was a sudden flash of red and a little half-grown fox cub darted out and disappeared into the wood.
Inside all the green things were growing wild upon the walls, twining themselves over the altar and round the lovely bones of the old stone windows. The startled birds fled as we entered, leaving only the clatter of their wings behind them. The three of us stood quite still, as if under a spell. Behind the altar the whitewashed wall had been cleared of all the vines and debris. There was a small round window at the top of it and just below this, painted onto the wall, a Madonna in a faded blue dress with a baby on her lap was sitting on a slightly crooked throne. She did not look directly at us, but slightly off to one side, and the expression on her full, childish face was sad and serious. The baby Jesus, who was nearly as big as his Mother, held a little bird in his hand.

Johannes walked up to the painting and looked at it for a long minute, smiling a secret lover’s smile. ‘I found it,’ he said, turning around to smile at me now. ‘Nobody cares about it, nobody even knows it’s here. It was under all these vines, totally overgrown.’

‘You cleaned it up?’ He nodded.

‘Nobody knows about it. You won’t tell?’ We promised never to tell. I wondered who he thought would be interested in this old painting in the woods anyhow…

‘She’s my own,’ he said. ‘Like my own mother…’ I knew that his mother was dead, had died when he was still only a small boy.

‘So you’re taking me to meet your mother?’

‘Why not? Didn’t I meet your parents? I want you to marry me, so we have to meet all the relations. It’s normal.’

What did he just say? Did he say that?

‘Then let’s have a wedding,’ said Lise. ‘We can have one right here.’

‘What a good idea,’ he said. ‘Go and get the flowers for the bride and we’ll have it right now.’ Lise went running off to look for flowers. ‘You will marry me, won’t you?’ he said, smiling at me again. Those smiles of his! I never knew anyone to smile like that, only angels are supposed to smile like that, with all the heart in the eyes. I said yes.

Soon Lise was back with her arms full of wild roses. Johannes twisted them into two wreathes and put them on our heads. ‘Now you’re my Queen,’ he said to me, ‘and that makes you the little Princess.’ Lise stood solemnly while he placed the wreath upon her dark hair.

‘Who’ll be the minister?’ she said.

‘Our Lady will do it,’ he said. So we knelt down before the awkward little Madonna and said that we would be true to one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death alone should part us. But we were not thinking then about death, for at twenty nobody does. Lise said the words along with me, softly under her breath, pledging also to love him through every sort of calamity, till death should part them. I didn’t try to stop her, what would have been the point? She loved him too much to be stopped, she was all in earnest, she was only seven. When we had done with the vows she strewed more flowers across the broken pavement. ‘I claim the first dance!’ said Johannes, and began to waltz me round and around the little chapel, all the while humming at the top of his voice a waltz from Johann Strauß. Lise too was dancing, and soon we were laughing too hard to keep it up, but just collapsed in a heap all three together and then went running out into the sunshine.

‘Time for lunch!’ said Johannes, rubbing his hands together. We spread the blanket on the ground and unloaded the basket. There was so much lovely food – sausages that tasted of earth and applewood, a whole loaf of dark bread, even butter, and those fat golden pears from his father’s garden… I don’t believe anything has ever tasted as good since. While we ate the whole chorus of woodland birds sang for us gentle songs rippling above our heads in time to the swaying shadows. Mother had given us a bottle of wine and we drank it all, Lise too, though I knew I ought not to allow it, I hadn’t the heart to say no. Soon my head was spinning and the insects seemed to be talking much louder than before, though I couldn’t quite make out the meaning of their chatter. Johannes was lying on his back, the dappled light caught in his eyes. I rolled over onto my stomach and looked down into them.

‘You’re eyes have spots,’ I said. Dozens of bright golden flecks were floating on the surface of his deep grey eyes. For a moment I thought I saw the sky in there, the clouds and the birds, and the overhanging branches… He smiled and blinked a little. ‘You ate all the sausages,’ I said.

‘No I didn’t!’

‘You did! I saw you do it! Lise, didn’t he eat all the sausages?’

‘You ate as many as anybody,’ she said. ‘Don’t be stupid.’

‘You hear what our little sister says, don’t be stupid…’ said Johannes. He took hold of my hand and drew me close. He was wearing a white shirt open at the throat, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, I could see the smooth wall of his chest as he bent towards me, and his naked forearm strong and slender with a light down of gold upon the pale skin. Then he was kissing me, with kisses so soft, so deep, I thought – this is what I have been waiting for all my life, this is exactly what I have been longing for for my whole life long only I didn’t know it – how is it that I didn’t know… We lay on that blanket and kissed and kissed, it seems to me we must have been kissing for hours or days or even years, there was no time in it, for we kissed the way a dog eats, the way a bird flies, simply and correctly and without thought, and in our hearts was perfect joy.

You’re not supposed to watch people when they’re kissing. It’s boring anyway, all they do is lie there. I wouldn’t want to go on kissing all day like that, it’s stupid. I wonder if there might be any fairies living here in the forest? I wonder if I might find that fox cub again and make friends with it…

Lise wandered off to look for the fairies. First she looked in the mossy nooks under the great old oak trees, but she found no fairies there. Then she looked among the pale, curling ferns, parting them carefully with her fingers – she found many small wildflowers, pink and white, some of which she picked, but alas, she found no fairies there either. She headed for the lake, slipping and sliding on the muddy bank, for she wore her city shoes, which are not made for this sort of thing at all. Quickly she grasped at the branches of an overhanging willow and slid to a halt. Before her was the lake, covered in water lilies, thick and darkly green. The reeds reached right over her head, shutting her into a bright watery palace. The swans took no notice of her, for they were very busy, dipping their long heads continually among the water lilies. A dragonfly settled on her arm, and she watched it without moving. His wings are glass. He is made all of glass like a Christmas angel. The dragon fly flew away. No fairies here either. Lise was sure they must be somewhere nearby. Here was something – a small, overgrown path. She began to follow it, deeper and deeper into the forest. Soon she could no longer see the place under the oak tree where they had spread the blanket. Sunlight poured down through the treetops, covering the path in greengold light. This must be the way to the fairies’ castle. I’ll bring them these flowers as a gift. Those fairies are so tiny, they can use them for umbrellas when it rains… The path twisted and turned and sometimes it was so narrow she could barely pass along it at all. After a while she noticed the day was no longer bright and sunny but had begun to grow cold and dark. Ahead of her there rose a tall, round stone tower, it cast a long dark shadow over the path. Lise stood very still, looking up at the tower. A witch must live there. From the tower came a strange and terrible sound, like the scream of a great bird, but there was no bird anywhere to be seen. Then she saw a face at the window, high up in the tower someone was waving to her. A woman in a blue dress with a face like a witch, pale and terrible but also beautiful – the woman was beckoning to her, begging her to come closer, and still closer… When she was right at the foot of the tower the woman suddenly smiled, showing her terrible teeth and a terrible mouth big enough to swallow Lise whole. The mouth opened wider and wider and just when it seemed certain the witch would swallow her Lise suddenly found herself inside the room at the top of the tower. The woman was gone, but a man was standing there, at least she supposed he must be a man, but he had a dog’s head on his body. He was dressed all in black, soldier’s black, and on his dog’s head was an officer’s black cap with a shiny silver skull that glittered at her in the dark. The inside of the room was very dark, and many small lights were winking and twinkling from different places on the walls, the lights were blue, or else they were white, moving and changing in circles around her, or were these only the stars turning round in the sky… There was a strange smell, a very bad smell, something was burning, and then a loud noise, a very loud noise, and it was coming from outside the tower just above their heads. There was a noise like the biggest thunder in the world and the tower shook and shook and then began to break apart. All this time the man with the dog’s head stood perfectly still, watching her with his nasty black dog’s eyes. He had a whip in his hand as well, but he didn’t say a word, only watched silently as the floor opened up beneath their feet… and now she heard the witch’s terrible screams, wordless and shrill, like the cries of a great bird.

We must have fallen asleep in one another’s arms, for when we sat up it was beginning to grow dark and Lise was nowhere to be seen. ‘Oh my God! Lise! Where can she be? Lise! Lise!

‘She can’t have gone far,’ Johannes said, but he looked worried too.

‘What if she’s fallen into the lake?’ We rushed towards the lake but found no small white body floating among the indifferent swans. ‘Where could she have gone? Lise! Lise!’ We called and called, stumbling among the trees, calling, shouting, no Lise anywhere.

‘She’s lost! What if we never find her?’ Johannes was bent over, pulling reeds from the bank and twisting them together; he looked up, and I felt my heart turn over at the look in his eyes. How is it that he only has to look at me for me to feel safe?

‘We’ll find her,’ he said. ‘Don’t get so hysterical. People get lost in the woods sometimes, but they also get found. She hasn’t been carried off by the fairies you know.’ He had made a torch from the reeds and lit it, a great smoky flare went up. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Let’s use our heads. Where would she go? Look, here’s a little path – she probably went that way.’ We followed the path but it soon split in several directions, each time it split he would look carefully at the ground and then say ‘this way’. It grew completely dark and the moon rose and began to shine through the trees, covering the path in silvery light. We found her at last, sitting on an old overturned boat beside a stream, huddled together, shivering and crying. ‘I’m sorry!’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry!’ Her eyes were enormous with fear, I had never seen her like that before.
‘Lise, what happened? Are you hurt?’

‘There was a witch…’ she said, and began to sob very hard. ‘A blue witch, and a man with a… a man with a head like a d-dog…!’

‘A witch? Lise, at your age…’ But Johannes put his hand on my arm, motioning me to be silent, then knelt down and took her up in his arms.

‘Never mind, little Princess, you’re safe now,’ he said. We both of us believed him. We believed in him completely. He was just that sort of boy.

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

Grace Andreacchi is a novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Berlin Elegies. Her work appears in Horizon Review, The Literateur, Cabinet des Fées and many other fine places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.
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Kreso15
Painting by Kreso Cavlovic
Standard
Poetry

qi and high: two poems

by Peter Bracking

 

qi
if it wasn’t so hard
to have and to hold
so intangible and so necessary
breath/air/breath
could be superfluous
to listening to
haunting honking alto
outside the atrium
in the moist air
used twice
first for life
second for music
or
are they equal

 

high
high above the Pearl River
close to the laughing
afternoon moon
you watch a single boat
ply the thick black water

and sip
you sip bai zho and it burns
each sip burns
equally

distant tinkles and musical crushes and crashes
in the aural and ocular depths
indicate local industry
glass re-transformed
dust to dust
close the window quickly

and sip
and hope for another boat
and sip
to gauge the burn

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Peter Bracking tells tall tales. Earth point: Vancouver, Canada. Words have been published by more than a dozen presses in four countries on two continents including: Maisonneuve; Ascent Aspirations; streetcake magazine; thrice fiction; Existere. The only occupation he regrets leaving is beach bum. Peter is the artistic director of Utter Stories. Self aggrandizement: http://utterstories.wordpress.com

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Kreso4

art by Kreso Cavlovic

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Fiction

Lifeguard

by John Gorman

I was ten when my parents decided to let the Doyles raise me. Mom and Dad weren’t throwing in the towel, but preparing themselves. God forbid, they both died together.

We saw the Doyles a few times each summer. Their place was in Breezy Point, a blue-collar Irish and Italian-American community. There were plenty of boys my age to play with, but I liked spending time with the Doyles because, for the most part, they treated me like a grown-up.

Phil was painting the coffee table when we arrived, a newspaper tucked under his knees as he added the last brush strokes. He waved a big hello. He’d held me in greater deference since I caught him smoking an American Spirit last summer after his wife Maggie had yammered on and on about his willpower. I got ten bucks for discovering the bitter truth.

I knew him as the happy-go-lucky handyman, the king of gutter-stripping, refrigeration, and Chinese Checkers. If you cropped his image at the chin, had no inkling of the tool clutched in his hand, then you’d suspect a philosopher hidden within his pensive nut brown eyes, grappling for the critical thread to save the universe from sputtering into chaos.

Maggie thrust the screen door open with her elbow and greeted us, her silvery hair poking through the sides of her navy bandana. The table had already been set with white ceramic bowls and red paper napkins choked through blue wooden holders. A tray of finger sandwiches sat in the middle next to a jar of Gulden’s mustard and a small dish of chopped tomato and cucumber.

Maggie gave me a firm handshake. She excused herself and went back into the kitchen to fetch a pitcher of lemonade. Dad eyed the chairs to see which one had the most shade and frowned when he noticed the director’s chair by the head of the table. The tree threw off a Brobdingnagian shadow, but Dad’s back wouldn’t last pressed up to stretchy fabric. He plopped into the wicker seat nearest the screen door.

Even while we lounged on the deck sipping lemonade and breezing through the cursory formalities of catch-up, Phil tended to chores, a pair of pliers dangling from the belt loop of his denim shorts. He sat for a minute then jumped up to open the screen door so Maggie could set down a piping hot pan of quiche surprise.

“Look what the chef of the future whipped up,” Phil said.

I helped myself to two heaping wedges. Of course, I burned my tongue. I let the quiche cool on my plate and attacked the potato chips.

“Looks like feeding time at the zoo,” Dad said.

“Who wants to adopt this kid?” Mom said.

Maggie smiled, pouring me a tall one. Ice-cubes with lemon pulp floated to the top of my glass. “Sure, we’ll take him for a month,” Maggie said.

I didn’t think anything of it then. Mom joshed. She had that way about her. After lunch, I excused myself to change into my swim trunks. Maggie got up and walked me inside. She wiped her feet before entering and I did the same. She pointed to Phil’s room and I grabbed my swim trunks out of Mom’s tote bag. The window was opened a crack and a warm breeze rustled in, spreading the smell of fresh-washed sheets and ocean mist. I tweaked the blinds until the room faded into a charcoal gray. When my eyes adjusted to the grainy darkness, I caught a glimpse of Rocky Marciano’s boxing gloves pinched within their eight-by-ten frame. A while back, Phil had told me he got the champ’s autograph when he was waiting in line for his meatball hero at a Hell’s Kitchen pizzeria.

I heard Maggie and Mom talking by the back porch. I moved to the corner to hear them clearer.

“Oh my God,” Maggie said. “You weren’t kidding.”

“I know it’s a huge responsibility. But you like Dennis,” Mom said.

“Sure we do, but there’s so much to consider. What about your sister?”

“She’s got three kids. Where’s Dennis going to fit in?”

“They’re family though.”

“We want Dennis to get all the attention he deserves.”

“Phil never wanted to have a baby.”

“He’s practically a teenager.”

“That’s when the shit hits the fan.”

I then had the fierce desire to steal a glimpse of Maggie’s face. I wanted to see the rejection. I slipped out the side door. Mom stood with her back to the house, both elbows propped by the wooden rail, peering off to the bay. Maggie faced away, her fingers twitching for a cigarette— a taste of her past, but her youth had blown away like so much sand in the wind and when I’ d crept up on her she grinned like a toothless fortune teller.

“That’s some bathing suit,” Maggie said.

“Swim trunks,” I said.

I’d been dying to go for a dip the whole muggy ride over. I stood there instead as if waiting for a beating. I heard footsteps clopping around the bend.

“Aren’t you coming?” Phil said, cracking open a fresh Coors.

Some of the foam sprayed onto his knuckles and he licked it clean.

He led me to the front deck where Dad was rubbing suntan lotion on his face. He left two dabs on either side of his nose and let his towel hang off his shoulders like Superman. Phil downed the last of his beer and parked it on the table. He snapped his fingers and we followed him out the gate. We didn’t take the concrete walkway on Kildare, but Juno’s sandy path to the ocean where the houses gave way to huts. He waved to a dozen or so residents camped on their decks sipping beers, chatting with friends. I tapped a wind chime made of mussel shells and watched it rattle in a creepy hula dance.

By the tail end of the beach, we cut through the dunes swaying with wild, wiry strands of grass. Pipers prowled for coffee crumbs and other goodies left behind by day-trippers. The sun hid behind a gauzy veil of clouds as if it hadn’t made its mind whether or not to show its face on Breezy Point’s listless shore. Two teenage girls lay facedown on their royal blue beach towel. The skinnier one dipped her feet to her butt and gazed into a thick paperback the cover of which was chewed off. Her friend twisted to snag a bunch of grapes from a grocery bag. I turned my head afraid she might catch me staring.

Phil and I were already topless and in our swim gear while Dad was still wearing his khakis. He shed them on the beach revealing his white, almost albino legs. They were hairless too, though he didn’t shave them.

“You could win a beauty pageant with those babies,” Phil said.

I laughed, but really it bothered me. Mainly, I was angry with my dad for not landing his own jab. He smiled wanly and brushed it off. It must have upset him because he went to such great lengths to hide his legs. The only time I saw them exposed were those few fleeting moments in the summer before he dipped into the cold shimmering mouth of the ocean. Dad tossed his towel on the sand, sat, and then oiled his legs.

Phil pulled the beak of my baseball cap over my eyes momentarily blinding me.

“How about a quick run?” he asked.

“Think you can take me?” I said, in a cocky voice.

Phil turned the knob on his radio then clamped his headset to his ears. I gave him a thumbs’ up. Where the tide’s creamy foam swished onto the shore we broke into trot. Seagulls scattered. I dashed into an early lead, pumping my arms into a metronome. Every so often I turned to see Phil’s progression, but he hung back a good twenty yards. I felt invincible, my lungs lighter than clouds. A soft breeze filtered through the back of my fishnet cap.

By the time I reached the first red flag and an empty lifeguard’s chair, my calves had gotten tight. Blood rushed into my neck. I spit to the side and the salty seawater sprayed my lips. The moist sand clumps left under my toes packed into their own islands.

Phil faded to a dream. I couldn’t tell if he’d given up or if he’d slowed into a stroll. I stayed my course. Coney Island’s Cyclone grew with each step. I’d heard you could wrap around the Rockaways and into Brooklyn’s great beach. The crisp tingle of rollercoaster metal lured me on and when a warm gust of wind tossed my cap into the sea I staggered toward it. The beaming sun toyed with me. I retrieved my cap two-handed and put it on backwards with the adjustable flap pulled to its last snap.

Twenty some-odd yards later, I crossed a patch of sun-baked kelp and my legs almost buckled. I eased into a walk. Nothing brisk about it. I wanted to tumble into the sand and cover myself ankle to nose.

When Phil finally cruised past me, I kicked sand at him as if I were Billy Martin soiling an umpire. He didn’t even turn his head and kept his same stupid old man’s pace. Before his stride fused to a blur my stomach began to swirl. The bitter taste of acid rising up my throat till something like spoiled pineapple chunks slithered down my chin. I pushed my knuckles to my mouth and added sand to my mess. Then I rinsed off in the ocean. The sharp chill sent a jagged arc of goose pimples across my pinkish arms.

I walked it off.

Dad swam in the distance, drifting with the speedboats, and I followed his path. I stayed close to the water, letting it splash over my ankles. Tiny bubbles swilled into the mud when the tide washed back out. Dad swam facedown, his kicks perfectly synchronized with his rising and splashing arms. He dove down for awhile, never for too long, and he rose like Poseidon, his wet stringy hair dripping onto the skin of the sea.

This time he stayed under for too long and I worried. Not a single lifeguard in sight. I ran again toward where I had last seen him surface. A bright ray beamed off the water making it shine like a sea of jewels. A clam shell crunched underfoot. “Dad,” I yelled. “Dad.” The waves rose into a higher shelf and roared when they crashed. I treaded currents waist high. Then put my arms into it. My kicking sucked and I had to set my mouth to the side to breathe. I’d swallow if I put my head under.

“Where’s your pop?” Phil shouted, startling me.

He came in at the knees and clapped his hands into the water.

“He must have been a dolphin in his past life,” Phil said.

“Shut up,” I said.

“What’s the matter with you?”

I bit my lip. I wouldn’t let him see me crying, but he trailed me out. So there was no other choice, but to go under. I threw my arms wildly. One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand then I slid my ear to the surface and listened for Dad’s heartbeat. I heard the drone of a million conch shells and saw the papery sway of seaweed. A huge green wave smashed over me, spun me around, and plunged to floor. Then I saw Phil’s hairy legs dithering in the currents. I lost my orientation, but floundered to the green glow, hoping to escape. I kicked and flailed until I touched bottom and then I rose from the knee-high water. My right ear still clogged and my feet sank into the mushy sand. My nerves soared.

From my helpless vantage point, I watched the maddening swill of water spit up an arm. I couldn’t tell who it belonged to and then I saw that Phil had wrapped his arms around my dad like he was hanging onto a life preserver except it was Phil who was making sure my dad stayed fastened to him. They carried on this drunken dance, Phil hauling my dad to the shore and dumped him onto the shell-crushed sand. He didn’t need CPR or anything like that. My dad, beached on his back, was already spitting up seawater and I felt my stomach churning again. I kept a horse fly’s distance, my head buzzing, and a malicious wind whipped behind my ears. The weird thing about seeing somebody you love so close to death is in that splintering instance everything pulls into focus— watertight— infinity squeezed into a single drop.

I couldn’t help being a little angry at Phil for jumping in and grabbing my dad. He didn’t give him a chance to surface on his own. I wanted to believe he would’ve made it up just fine, didn’t want to consider for a moment that my dad could ever depend on somebody else the way I depended on him.

When my dad had seemed to have shaken off this terrible thing, he turned to me with will-o’-wispy eyes and said, “Don’t you never go into those riptides.”

I nodded and wiped the snot from my nose.

We loped back, not together, but as a discombobulated crew. The beads of sea had completely dried on my back. My hair was still dripping. When we hit the walkway, I still couldn’t shake the jittery pulse of emotions that made me feel both bolder and more brittle.

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Before his stories made it into print John Gorman snapped the Eyesore of the week for the Queens Ledger. Now he spits wine for a living. He also enjoys a goof game of Mancala (preferably in the sand). His fiction and essays have appeared in Monkeybicycle, Apt, Hunger Mountain, The Summerset Review and Writer’s Digest. His debut novel Shades of Luz is published by All Things That Matter Press. He earned my MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. He blogs @ http://jgpapercut.blogspot.com/

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Kreso2

painting by Kreso Cavlovic

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