Fiction

Angel

by Cher Bibler

 

There was an angel standing in the parking lot. The edge of her white dress was dragging on the pavement, soaking up oil. She bent forward to see herself in a rearview mirror so she could fix her hair.

A couple of teenagers stood under the streetlight, arguing. It was late and the video store was closing, but the laundromat was still open and a woman with two little kids was unloading baskets of dirty clothes from the trunk of an old Mercury. The one kid was supposed to be watching the other to make sure he didn’t wander away, but instead was staring fascinated at the angel.

“Tory!” exclaimed the mother, exasperated. “Don’t you hear a word I say? Look at Jeffie; he could’ve got run over!” Jeffie was trying door handles of cars to see if any of them would open.

Tory realized she’d let her mother down again and looked at her with large eyes.

“Well, don’t just stand there. What are you staring at? We don’t have all night.”

But Tory had never seen an angel before and was reluctant to leave. She was afraid she would never see one again, that this was her only chance, that she should memorize everything about this moment so she could refer back to it whenever she needed to.

“God damn it,” said her mother as a flutter of pink hit the ground. “Could you get that sock, Tory, sweetie? Come on, pick up the sock. Right there by my foot.”

The teenagers under the streetlight had reached a crisis. The girl tried to hit the boy in the face but he grabbed her wrist and she kicked him instead.

“I hate you,” she said. “I hate you.”

He felt a wonderful power surge through him as he restrained her. He didn’t know why she got so mad sometimes. The madder she got, the more he wanted to hold her, to make love to her, to have her love him. It didn’t make any sense. Their arguments never got anywhere.

The angel glanced at the couple and watched them for a while. She fixed her lipstick and causally sauntered over to the pair. “Do you have a cigarette?” she asked.

“Uh, sure,” said the boy, when he had gathered his composure. Teenagers get used to being anonymous, no one takes them seriously, their privacy isn’t often interrupted. He reached into his car, on the dashboard, for his cigarettes.

“Thanks,” said the angel. “You don’t know how much I needed this.” She bestowed a dazzling smile upon the couple and they began to thaw a little toward her. To prolong the conversation, she asked if there were good pizza places around, pretended that she was a stranger so they could tell her about this part of town. Their argument was soon forgotten, their anger faded.

“Lottie and I,” said the boy, “go to Napoli’s Pizza because we like it. It’s not fancy, though. You don’t dress up to go there.” He wondered as he said it if angels could dress up, if they had different kinds of clothes or did they always wear the same white dresses, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask her. He was nearly sure he could, that she wouldn’t mind telling him, the words were at the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t ask.

Lottie saw a car that looked like her mother’s and ducked. Her mother thought she was spending the night with a friend and she hated to think what would happen if her mom caught her out with Steven again. Her mother thought that Steven had a bad influence on her. As the car turned the corner she saw that it wasn’t her mother’s, that it barely even resembled her mother’s car, and Lottie was surprised to discover how quickly her heart had been beating.

Tory liked to plunge her hands into the powder laundry detergent because it felt silky, but her mother never liked to see her doing it, so she sneaked her hand in the box when her mother wasn’t looking.

A man was reading a newspaper, watching her, waiting for his dryers to get done. Tory saw him looking and her face grew red, because she thought he would tell her mother she was playing in the soap, but he smiled at her instead. She looked away and pretended she’d never seen him. She was paying so little attention to her mother that she was nearly caught. Her mother turned toward her and Tory jerked her hand out of the detergent box and showered the floor with white powder. Her mother never noticed, never even saw the soap on the floor, and Tory stood feeling the grains under her fingernails and wondered why she liked to do it so much when it got her into so much trouble.

Jeffie had found an empty laundry cart and was pushing it around, pretending he was a train.

Their mother had found someone to talk to, was leaning over a table talking about things that had happened back in high school. Tory tried to push the spilled soap powder with her foot, tried to kick it away so her mother wouldn’t see it, and found that the soap made the floor slippery and that when you got both feet on the slippery part it was almost like roller skating.

There was a tv in the Laundromat and the attendant had it turned on to an old movie and was folding clothes up while she watched it. Some people had their clothes done for them and they paid for it by the pound. The light colored clothes had that tell tale dinginess from having been washed regularly at the laundromat.

Tory’s mother liked to come in late at night because she could be sure of finding empty washers. Other times of the day it got too crowded. She actually did lots of things late at night. She always liked to take a nap right when she got off work and revive some energy for later on. Tory and Jeffie were accustomed to her schedule; in fact, they had never known things any other way.

The man with a newspaper looked at his watch and compared it with the laundromat clock, then looked idly around at the other people waiting, before going back to his story.

Lottie and Steven were sitting in the back seat of Steven’s car, kissing. They had been doing that for long enough that the windows were starting to steam up. The angel sat in the front seat filing her fingernails. She had to sit sideways because her wings made it uncomfortable to sit any other way. Cars weren’t designed with angels in mind. She always filed her nails, never cut them, so that they wouldn’t break. Steven had promised they’d go for pizza later. All that talk about the best pizza in town had made them hungry.

She glanced in the back seat and realized that Lottie and Steven would probably be glad for some privacy. She told them she was going into the Laundromat for a can of pop.

The night air seemed cool outside of the car. Cool and somehow heavy and oily from car exhaust and from factories. Her white dress was beginning to fade.

Tory had commandeered Jeffie’s cart and had talked him into climbing up in it so she could push him around.

Once they had bumped into a woman folding clothes. The woman had yelled at them and their mother had gotten upset and yelled, too, but after a minute she went back to her conversation and forgot about them and they went back to pushing the cart. The laundromat made a good obstacle course.

The pop machine was in the corner by the tv and the angel made her way over to it quietly and stood considering the selection. The Laundromat attendant, who sold Avon products on the side, was showing a sales book to a customer.

Tory brought the cart to a halt when she saw the angel in the laundromat, but under the harsh indoor lighting the angel didn’t look as glamorous as she had outdoors, and as she popped off the top of her can so she could take a drink, Tory and Jeffie returned to their game.

The angel looked at the specimens in the laundromat, wondering which one she should turn to next. Old habits are hard to break. She dropped exhausted into a chair beside the man with a newspaper and said to him, “Anything interesting?”

He looked up, took her in, said, “Not THAT interesting.”

This is so easy, thought the angel to herself. She crossed her legs, lifting her skirt a little so he could get a hint of the shapely appendages underneath, and turned on her smile.

“I haven’t been in town very long,” she said. “Could you tell me if there are any good pizza places around here?”

Art by Mel Blossom

 

Standard
Fiction

LITTLE CAESAR’S MOTEL ROOM

by bart plantenga

 

The ad, announcing the arrival of a rep from “highly renowned publishing firm, WhetherVain Press,”  appeared between the obituaries and supermarket ads in the paper. But somehow it spoke to me as a “young author;” they wanted me, “needed” me.

The motel: Autorama Motel, Ozone Park, near JFK. Not exactly rundown. Neither old nor made of enough certified building materials of any quality to ever arrive at a state of rundown. Because rundown assumes a point of grandeur; denouement implies a height to fall from. The pure profit-utilitarian nature of its construction, its no-nonsense pink cinderblocked L-shape wrapped around a horseshoe EZ-ON-EZ-OFF, precluded any involvement in the process of aesthetic dilapidation.

Its miracle mile rhinestone was a swimming pool in the shape of a gob of spit filled with urine-green water. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK. That was about right. Soot sat thick on the white chaise near the edge of the pool. Two cars nose-first, diagonally-aimed at rooms #6 and #17. Just two. That’s all. Like abandoned cars. Bald tires. Torn vinyl roofs. Midsummer midafternoon.

I knocked. The screen door wiggled. Like taffy. It’s the heat. Must be. That and structural deficiencies.

Inside the air conditioner was going fullblast. Rattling like there was a marble caught in its intestines somewhere. Slowly my eyes adjusted from total light to none. Two figures hovered there like two Hummels on a scratchy negative.

Polyester velveteen curtains covering the windows. Everything else in the room seemed too busy trying to convince us it was something else, from a better era, a better neighborhood. Plastic wood paneling was trying to act like wood and the gold spraypainted polystyrene Baroque ceiling molding was trying to convince us it was meticulously applied gold leaf. This connivance of view had been going on for so long now that simulation had gained its own reputation as a reality in its own right, trompe l’oeil as a way of life. I inhaled the musty odor of decades confined to this room.

She sat on the bed. Glass in one hand, flyswatter in the other. Like a leftover something, a tart perhaps – that used to be quite hot. But she had maybe not been re-heated for quite some time.

“Tis the season.” She declared, hoisting her glass and then doing something automatic to her hair that was supposed to fluff or prop it up. What season, I wondered.

“Lady Liberty I’m not.” She’d sensed, I guess, the ridiculousness of her pose. One sensed she’d cribbed some gestures from Carmen Miranda long ago but was still using them.

The man seemed much shorter than her – or her plus her beehive. And by the way his shoulders hid his ears. A stoop built by a lifetime of church pews carried from sin to sin.

He greeted me like a file clerk at unemployment might. Like he resented the notion that I was going to make him do something like an unnecessary surgical procedure. But then he found the groove and he suddenly climbed into an entirely new character.

He struggled over my name and got it all wrong. But I didn’t correct him for fear of adversely affecting my chances of getting published. “Take a seat.” I took a seat. He straightened his tie. A tie sometimes looks like a noose.

“Nicely typed, son. Very neat.”

“He likes that.” She interjected, fanning her face with the swatter.

“Course you know there’s no guarantees. Justified right margin too.”

“I know.” But I didn’t know. Someone had told me this type of publishing was about one thing – money. Or how money gets a desperate ego off the hook. But I didn’t want to hear that. “Youth” needs to believe in the notion that quality is justly rewarded. (How far out into time does youth go?) Depth, you hear from college profs, when properly rendered is rewarded the way a deep sea diver might be rewarded with a tresure chest if he goes deep enough.

“It’s like life.”

“LIFE he calls it. HUH. Drop the ‘F’ – as in ‘Fun life’ or ‘Full life’ – and you got it – one big ‘L-I-E’.” She pushed up her 60s Italian movie (big as knuckles) rhinestone-encrusted glasses, which made her look like a lobster. Or something else crustacean, out of water and into gin. Anyway, they weren’t her. “L.I.E. not the highway but the, uh, lie-way.”

HER dog – not THEIRS – was this gruesome arrogant mussed old periwig who periodically deigned to growl from the comfort of her lap whenever I threatened so much as a scratch of an ill-defined sideburn. It seemed to have never gone without a meal in its entire life. And this fact defined its attitude toward everything including my incursion into its realm. As if I were there to pilfer affection away from it.

“Cute. What’s’s name?”

“Yea, cute as a gangster. Little Caesar. As in Edward G. Robinson cute.”

The man, the editor, was – I later found out – also the publisher, co-owner, half of the board of directors (she being the other half) and the major stockholder of WhetherVain Press. Bruno Sammartino was his name as he re-introduced himself, reminding me of a faded cut-along-the-dotted-line ad in an old Popular Mechanics.

“It’s almost 1:30, BrUno.” She had had a long time to learn to turn his own name into a tool of derision. BrUno sounded like the well-aimed thrust of a knife.

“Dear, let’s give this boy a fair read, shall we. He made the effort. Riding his bike out here on this gawd-awful, humid day. Thank Gawd for air conditioning. Odysseus Was A Cabbie, interesting title. Good start.” He went on to read some random excerpts in earnest silence as he leaned toward the lamp on the nightstand. Glasses sliding down his long nose. Silence except for the wheezing ball of fur and the swish-swish of the swatter with “GOTCHA” in red letters emblazoned across a yellow bullseye. Bruno flipped further back into the manuscript.

“This is not some kinda epic pO-Em, I hope.”

“No, no, but it’s all true…It’s based on my…”

“Of COURSE it is. Of COURSE it is. But truth isn’t everything, son. Ah, ‘beech’, the tree, is with a double ‘e’ and ‘reckless’, as in the adjective, has no ‘w’.”

“Watch out, young boy. He knows his spelling. That he does. He don’t know litrachur from toilet paper but he sure knows spelling.”

“Spelling’s not everything but it’s a start, an indication, my boy. Hey, are these rhymes I see here?”

Um, could be. But they’re unintentional. Maybe subconscious or…”

“Gimmickry.” Bruno continued, voyaging forth with red pen drawn. Marking it up with flamboyant circles and arrows with all the enthusiasm of a mortician hunched over a corpse with gaping axe wound.

“‘As he parked at the isle; a cabstand we say, I cast my thoughts like an anchor away.’ Nice couplet. Real nice, boy. But you egregiously misspell ‘aweigh’. It’s A-W-E-I-G-H. And remember it’s “i” before “e”, except after “c”, unless sounded as “a”, as in neighbor, weigh – or reign or reindeer or veils or atheist or teeing…”

“Yea, ’at’s me alright, teeing, teeing off, gettin’ teed off. Right BrUUUno, dear?”

“…or heifer. Get me, dear? Get me, son? “

“There seem to be so many exceptions.”

“…or Einstein…reify…fallacies. Son, exceptions to a rule, no matter their number, do not obviate the need for that rule…”

“But it seems to only…take you away from what I’m…”

“Son, remember and don’ forget, a rule is your cudgel…”

“Don’ mind Bruno. He takes a red pen to a supermarket. He makes proofreading marks on signs, rails at public officials, bus drivers, grocers, storeowners when he spots flagrant violators of the laws of spelling or grammar. And don’t even think of taking him to a foreign picture. He’s liable to go right up on the screen and correct the subtitles; have you darting for the exit.”

“Someone has to grab the monster by the colon.”

“I would have to marry someone who’d reprimand the bet taker at the track if a horse in the 4th had his name misspelled!”

But suddenly his earnestness began to sound cramped, rehearsed. The knitted brows reminded me of little sawblades – in an abandoned sawmill.

“Nice, son, ’s very nice, transMORTIFYIN’ the metaphor of Sirens into the wail of the police sirens…”

“I think you mean transMOGRIFYIN’, BrOOOn dear.”

“I’ve learned to ignore her like a cow ignores horseflies. Now, you make enough money drivin’ a taxi?”

“Enough?”

“Yea, ENOUGH. Like more’n pauper but less’n Rockefeller.”

“Well, yea, it’s all take home – 50% of the meter plus tips, no taxes.”

“Yea, but if all is not a lot then that’s not enough. “Where’s your cab now?”

“It’s not mine. I just drive somebody else’s at night. During the day the owner drives…”

“I take it you perused our brochure.”

“Bruno, honey, hate to break up your litrachur klatch here but we have a date with the horses. First race, 2 p.m. Trifecta, 2:45.”

“Dear, anyone ever tell you ’bout the perils of the beehive? Seems a lady had one she didn’t wash much – like YOU, dear. Seems some spiders, wolf spiders made a nest in there. Get me? Seems they started feeding on her brain little by little.”

“Tha’s my Bruno. Don’t you know that’s why I’m still with you? Honey, look, race time’s at 2. It’s one thirrrrrty eight. You’re TRYing my PAtience. Or what’s left of it after you’ve twittered it away over these…centuries.”

“You mean withered.”

“No. Twittered.”

“Dithered.”

“No. I know I mean twittered.”

“Maybe its frittered. Or whittled.”

“I know what I mean and I mean twittered.”

And with that – as if on cue – he grabbed a bottle from the side of the bed and poured gin into her waiting glass in one swift and graceful gesture. The choreography, the synchronization, every gear-bound detail of this motion was marvelous, the kind of timing dancers dream of, and that long-married couples perform daily without fanfare in kitchens and living rooms all over the map.

“Listen, you’re a serious writer. Perseverence is the major ingredient in a writer’s success. There’s some good lines. But the sex is too too…”

“Too foreign to HIM.”

“Don’ mind her. But clean up the language. Clean up the spelling and punctuation. Frankly, I don’t think there’s enough of a public. Bottom line is it has to be commercially viable.” She choked on a swallow of gin. And her poor knot of mangy mendacious wheezing fur and growl was roused rudely from its nap.

“Tha’s like saying; ‘that’s a horse wid t’ree legs. I don’ think it’ll run today. But maybe tomorrow.’“

“Dear, yer logic betrays any remnants of self-esteem you might have left. Son, I can’t EAT integrity. It’s not a question of integrity. You see, my bank don’ cash good intentions.”

I had no response. But what about…”I understand”? I didn’t, but I said it anyway. I put the manuscript back in the ratty folder and I heard his voice press on into the humid air like a dirty thumbnail inside a pantyhose. “Viability. You gotta get inside people’s headsets. You gotta write what people want to read. Just like GM’s gotta build a car that we wanna drive… And get a folder or something, get it bound in something to make it more – attractive. I mean, would you buy cornflakes if they came in a greasy old paper sack? Course not. Make others believe you believe in yourself. Give your Odysseus a facelift, a shave. Appearance, boy, appearance.”

“I got 2 novels…”

“‘Have’! ‘Have’, son! Get’m in tiptop shape…”

“…that develop ideas…”

“IDEAS! Huh! Son. Ideas’re like farts. Mere flatulence in the universe of feelings and emotion…”

“Rest assured he knows about gas

“Passion’s what people want. Ideas are the farts of the dying. And so, the less ideas, the less your story’ll stink of the dead.”

“Bruno once had an idea but the stench of it drove him crazy. Now Bruno just has schemes. Isn’t that right, Bruno? And what are schemes but ideas whittled down into sharp jabbing sticks…”

“Dear, button it! For your own good. Now, son, you also have to create believable characters, sympathetic characters that people can readily relate to. Product identification. Something that moves.”

“When he turns his brain on his bowels start to move.”

“…People of action. Ideas don’t move. Like still water. And still water stinks and harbors disease. You need a story that flows, like a river, like whitewater – adventure, soldiers, lawyers, police, athletes, you know, rags to riches! Inspiration!”

This made her cough. Which sent her wheezing furball tumbling rudely to the fake parquet floor. And was actually being called upon to stand on its own four paws. And it didn’t like that. And it whined. And she immediately fed into the whine. And picked it up with all the cloying gushy tenderness a devout dog lover is capable of.

“Sorry. Wrong pipe – cough – more like wrong TYPE!”

“She does these things to get under my skin, you hear me. But my skin’s gotten thick, marriage thick. Marriage makes your hide thick as a rhino’s.”

“If I was to die choking on a herringbone he’d think it was just to get on his nerves.”

“Luckily, boy, I’ve developed techniques. I KNOW hurt but no longer FEEL it. And that, my boy, is the secret to survival…well, lemme put it this way, I know talent. And so, despite my reservations, I have an innate trust…”

“Trust or lust…?”

“…Ignore the ignorant…trust in the human spirit…Fortunately I have a nose for smelling talent…”

“That’s not talent, that’s the rotten deal in yer…”

“But-ton-it-dah-ling…A seed sprouts to become a seedling, a seedling grows into a sapling…”

“Sap is about right…”

“…and I’ve got just the fertilizer…”

“Tha’s about right…” She held her glass of clear liquor up to the light. “Just like Little Caesar makes fertilizer…”

Bruno placed his leg across his right to make of his left leg a stand upon which to balance his valise. Like the tripod upon which W.C. Fields might open his carpetbag upon which to peddle his nostrums.

“We have the perfect remed-y for chronic obscurit-y, the perfect recip-e for an-o-nimit-y. Whadda yuh say, we let him in on our winning formula; join our team…?” As if he were making light satire of own his pitch to ease all qualms.

And the more elegant and elaborate the thread of his words twined into golden piping the more I began to notice his frayed shoelaces.

“If we work together…my practical sense…”

“Read his ability to spend…”

“My investment of time – time’s more valuable than any amount of uh capital…well, one can’t buy back time, youth…and then your small investment…” The hole in the sole of his shoe. In his sock. The skin on the bottom of the sole of his foot. Like some kind of stigmata, or sucking wound.

“After all, we must grease the printing presses. We will have your book…your press photo…a professional photographer…”

“Yer lookin’ at her. I aim, I shoot…”

“A press kit. Thomas Wolfe, the young Hemingway. We will display you…”

“Like raw hamburger on a paper plate…”

A button dangling.

“This is all just standard publishing jargon. You get more’n we do. The bottom line is trust and that line is…well, there are many ways to express both ability and permission: could I? Do you mind if I? Would you mind if I? And, please allow me…remember, it is I who will be in your employ. We will be…you DO have a checking accou

“No.”

“Your bike.”

“I can’t give…”

“No, no. The bank. It’s still open…or if you like we could drive…”

“Son, if you have any hide – made of wallet leather, well, I’d scra” – her eyes fell apart inside his – “I can drive you.” She had been slowly sliding off of the edge of the bed for who knows how long.

“Investment…the Italians, bless’m…”

“Gotta be one to bless’m…”

“They, er, we have a saying, son, ‘It’s better to live one day like a lion, than your whole life as a lamb.’”

I held the pen, saw the button dangle, jiggle as he gesticulated. The bas relief of plastic mother of pearl. The likeness of Jesus, the halo twirling…

“She can drive…we’ll wait in the lot. She has good eyes – no glasses! – but she has NO vision son, no vision…20–20 but NO vi-sion…”

I saw the pamphlet of books they had published. Names like Agnes, Hortense, Aloisius…titles – I don’t know – like Adventures in the Alimentary Canal, Churches of the North Central Plains, Conversations With The Creator, The Spider’s Tangled Web, Hairdressers Wear Strange Tresses.

“Look’t how thick my lenses are – Coke bottles, but yuh know, I can see through things, walls, fog, doubt…sign here boy and we can push through walls, work miracles.”

“If the Nova’ll start.”

I held the pen and then suddenly I became for an instant a character in a story I had not yet written, was not yet capable of writing; I reached with my pen and swung at the button dangling from the frayed thread on his cuff.

The button broke loose, sailed to the formica floor where Little Caesar, the brute, pounced on it and – swallowed it.

“Sorry.”

“No worry…Fanny here’ll drive…”

“I should just go. I got my bike…”

“Nonsense. What kind of resolution would that be? Just to let the hero quit? Let the story peter out…I don’t get you…you…”

“This Chevy Nova’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to the stars he promised me, son … a Nova’s just another word for a bright but, let’s face it, dying star…”

“Where’d my button go to?”

“Little Caesar ate it. You’ll get it back tomorrow when Little Caesar fertilizes the sidewalk. What’s the..”

“You couldn’a stopped Caesar from…?”

“I just’ didn’ wanna…” She crushed the last slivers of ice between her teeth.

Bruno angrily closed his valise; the crisp snap of the one functioning clasp – TCK. Like a period at the end of a sentence, a sentence about dopamine, the chemical that helps transmit impulses from the brain to the nervous system to the muscles. Or a sentence about the crushed corner of the valise, the rip in the leatherette, the mysterious stains – its history – how Bruno had fished it from the trash of a recently deceased neuropathologist. Or another sentence about how the screen door wiggled. How it squeaked as I pushed my way through. How I heard him admonish her for “Playing the foil too-blasted-Bette-Davis convincing.” Something about the Academy Awards.

Another sentence about how the sun glared, reflected, bounced around; heat waves warping the boundaries and sanctity of objects – tangible things were no longer so…touchable – with glare bouncing off shiny surfaces and for a moment I couldn’t see my bike, couldn’t recall which direction was EZ-ON and which was EZ-OFF.

And as I turned over his business card to scribble some observation, I noticed his name “misspelled” as Bruno Sanbenito  –  Bruno will tomorrow take a dull cheap knife and fall to his knees and with the touch of a junior college dropout dissect Little Caesar’s feces with Fanny and Little Caesar looking on.

“Ain’t faith the funniest thing, Little Caesar?” She pinched his snout. Little Caesar licked the last vestiges of remorse from the corners of her mouth.

The mind is a pretty rugged piece of machinery. It withstands long waits, justifies anxieties out of existence, romanticizes traumas, kills time. So when I finally received the grease-stained envelope I’d been prepared for a long time.

 

Dear Vim [name misspelled],

I have with great interest gathered the proper occasion and resources to venture through your manuscript HOMER WAS A CAB DRIVER [not the title]. I must say that with a few fine tunings this book is ready for us, dare I say the rest of the world, the world that we have within our power to reach.

Being the insistent and thorough man that I am, I must tell you that for me to apprise you of the changes, slight as they may seem, I will have to ask you to send an additional fifty dollars ($50) IN CASH through the mails. Please wrap the $50 in a sheet of plain typing paper. This is a small expense you will I’m sure agree to, to ready your book for publication. I must also insist on a $15.95 handling fee. So for all of $65.95 we will be ready to negotiate the final cost to you to give the world your first of many masterpieces. The cost to you will of course be no greater than the cost to me. This is part of our pact, part of my show of trust in you as an author who is certainly ready to reap for us the just rewards of our labors.

As you know Whether Vane [new spelling] is always on the lookout for quality verse. So when your manuscript is ready the final product can be yours, dare I say OURS, in a mere matter of weeks. I look forward to the opportunity of seeing it into print. Naturally your payment of $65.95 via CASH (currently no credit card authorization) puts you under no obligation to take the next step, payment for the actual book production.

I look forward to hearing from you soon, hopefully with the arrival of your brave and innovative manuscript on my desk.

Keep up the good writing.

Cordially,

 

Bruno Sanbernito [third spelling]

After a painful decision, [an exaggeration, of course  –  I had all of $184.54 in my bank account at the time] I decided I did not have the additional $2795.95 to publish Odysseus and I was forced to admit as much in letter form. The response:

 

Dear Vern [name misspelled again],

I have with great sorrow had to part with your wonderful manuscript HOMER WAS MY CABBIE [?]. I reread it and I must say it left me with certain emotions of great power.

I was disappointed to read that you are financially unable to invest in the publication of your work at this time. But you should remember that if you want it badly enough you will eventually find a way. But you already know that I trust. Incidentally, our $2795.95 limited edition plan to which you referred, is now $2995.95 as the cruel result of inflation.

I have other bad news. I am afraid some pages of your manuscript have been damaged, dare I say eaten, by Little Caesar. I’m sure you are aware of the fact that I still expect your cash payment of the handling and analysis charges as laid down in the previous letter. I have been in some disrepair because alas, Little Caesar has passed away in the mean time. Although I would not worry too much, the tragedy was likely not precipitated by your manuscript. Although philosophically speaking, had you not written the manuscript, Little Caesar might still be with us of course. But this is mere bickering sophistry. I take full responsibility for Little Caesar’s passing and have to live with myself everyday, not to mention with a very distraught Fanny, my, dare I say, wife. I am thus reducing the cost of return of your manuscript by $3.56 you will be happy to learn because the total damaged number of pages was 10 of a total 185, or 5.4% and that divided into $65.95 comes to $3.56.

Cordially,

 

Bruno Surbanito [?]

A week or some time later I wrote about seeing or what I thought I was seeing or what my mind had convinced me I was seeing – glare, speed of bike, breaking up with girlfriend, rejection and loss of verifiable identity had all collaborated to make of certainty a kind of negotiable ambiguity.

In a store window I “saw” something I could not accept as real. This window withheld some of its characteristic transparency, glare wreaking havoc with clarity and certitude. It wasn’t even a store window per se, filled with hocked items, dusty Russian cameras, and musical instruments with yellowed tags tied to them, the ERMINAL PAWNSHOP [T missing from Terminal] off Cobb Street, near the county courthouse.

There upon a dingy satin pillow, fixed stiff in impudent repose, a bit of pink-teated belly showing, slab of tongue poking out from overbite, was Little Caesar, stuffed with whatever animals are stuffed with. Rigid to lend memory an aesthetic aspect and prevent him from becoming that formless mass of perceived fragments, torments dashed against the world, dog years lived in an instant, unfinished bowls of Masters Choice brand dogfood, immense indignities embraced in a single glance …

Next to Little Caesar, in front of a pewter bowl, next to a chipped Hummel and a tarnished clarinet stood a Tibetan Buddhist tchotchka. At the feet of this garden gnome in Buddhist robes, a dusty file card:

“enlightenment achieved by extreme humility and sensory deprivation until full recognition of hallucinatory nature of external world. When hallucinations become convincing and solid, person ventures back into life with hallucinatory figure accompanying him even casting a shadow – external world is hallucinatory and product of own mind: this realization = enlightenment.”

A dog’s reflection barked in the window as I pulled away. The marble eyes of Little Caesar followed me, vigilant to the end.

 

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

 

bart plantenga is also the author of Beer Mystic, which can be read online in the world’s longest pub crawl. He co-authored “Lydia Tomkiw: Glowing Bright as Nirvana,” which appears in Merida #1. Also the short fiction collection Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete and a new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air on WFMU [NY], Radio Libertaire [Paris], Radio 100 and currently Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam] since 1986. He lives in Amsterdam.

 

Painting by Mel Blossom

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Poetry

EnTrance and other poems

by Sheila Lanham

EnTrance

 

sitting alone

a simple Modigliani

woman in a red hat

staring out

of the pyramid

straight-back chair

stars rotating

halo silence

feet stamping

dust quakes

hands shaping the air

into a perfect form

vessel man

pouring prayer

shaking hollow space

leading eyes around

like bats swarming

the temple at night

shivering possession

your sacred entrance

spinning spiral spitfire

lifting off the ground

shooting off the walls

hat in place

angelic face

shoulders simmering

humble flight

of love surrounds

the mystical sounds

your breathing

as you walk

through the door

 

 

Your Southern Drawl

 

no more melodramas

drawn darkly as the curtains,

dismayed sunlight,

shy though abundant,

slumping shadows

more narrow than your legs,

standing at attention

with feet to chandelier,

crystal charm of your toes

embedded in the pink sheets,

a sheltering tent for lovers and posers,

knees knobby as four posters,

sky walking up to the clouds,

waking up to a slur of syllables

and a silver breakfast tray

at your shoulders,

chubby flesh of cherubs with arrows

so mischievous with their fleshy folds,

rosy Boucher ceiling soothsayers,

entangled in a languorous sprawl

looking down at your soles,

a tireless duo that have traversed the world

in search of lips more rouge

and hips more lewd

chairs more plush

and door with a simple sign

that demands a hush,

too limp to move, too strong to run

and too determined to not wallow

in the pastel pastures of a hotel morning,

the city, finally quiet,

after the rain and before November,

while your legs are yawning

and there is nowhere to be

and no one to see at any certain time,

sweet sinful laziness

and your Southern drawl

that you hide from everyone but me

 

 

for John Frusciante’s 31 st Birthday

 

ethereal chant

floating overhead

spinning a sad moan

wailing a shy circle

you feel too much

accept the blame

sing away

 

baby face

growing rough

hear the spiraling

call of the wild

it ties you up

and comes on again

 

innocent choir

of your many souls

you submerge

and then reverberate

 

visions come

visions go

endless deliberate

splatter of love

exploding silently

without a trace

 

a lyrical chime

a mysterious sight

hypnotic spirit

laid back

yet you fly

 

 

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

 

Sheila Lanham is a poet and artist. She was born in Baltimore and has resided in New York City since 1974.   She was a close friend of artist Larry Rivers for over 30 years. She has visited Merida six times. In 2008, she formed U.S. Poets in Mexico and brought the program to Merida in 2009 and 2010 with readings held at the Merida English Language Library.  USPiM is a non-profit organization that brings established and emerging American and Mexican poets together in Mexico each January. The program offers writing and translation workshops as well as free public readings in an effort to further literary cultural awareness between the U.S. and Mexico.  She is currently editing her first documentary film which focuses on the process of translation, featuring poets Alfonso D’Aquino (Morelos) and Forrest Gander (Rhode Island) who participated in a USPiM sponsored translation residency in Coatepec in 2010.  USPiM will return to Merida in January 2013, bringing 25+ poets.  Sheila is the author of a chapbook, Baltimore Blues &Greens and  is included in A Gathering Voices: An Anthologyof Baltimore Poets, Dolphin Moon Press. In the 1980s she co-edited ThePearl, A Baltimore Literary Journal. She loves Merida dearly.

Art by Mel Blossom

 

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Fiction

I am never sure when

by Cher Bibler

 

My poetry has slept around, you may not want to soil your hands. You may want to keep your distance.

The first time I saw my poetry out in public, I felt weird like people were reading my diary and knew my innermost thoughts, but people don’t seem to connect me with it. It takes on a life of its own. That’s hard to get used to, but pretty much of a relief.

I am not sociable. I don’t seem to have any social skills at all. I keep aloof and nurse a passion for a married man. This passion keeps me safe from all the jerks out there. My man is so perfect they are just dust under my feet compared to him. I keep myself pure for him, but my poetry isn’t like that.

I can sit in a bar with my food and a drink and watch a poem (my poem) across the room, clinging to unknown lips. It’s very interesting to watch. I know how I intended my poems to be, but they are perceived in many different ways.

Sometimes I get jealous watching, but I console myself with the thought of my married man, who is home watching tv with his wife, where he should be, reading the newspaper with his shoes off and his feet up, maybe a dog laying beside him on the floor. Yes, a dog would work very well with him. If I were with him instead of her, I’d want a dog with us.

The poetry can always come home and tell me what it did on its night out. That way I can keep up.

The waitress and I are good friends. We both read books and we talk about that. She reads sensational steamy best seller type things. I encourage her to tell me about her books. I don’t tell her what I read. I let her think I probably read about the same stuff. She loves those books. She gets animated when she talks about them. You’re never quite sure what color her hair will be. When she wants a new look, she changes it.

The bartender doesn’t seem to approve of me, so I never talk to him.

There is a man at the pinball machine who buys and sells souls for a living. I’ve tried to keep my poetry away from him, but he pretends he doesn’t want anything to do with it, which drives my poems crazy. I am sure they are heading for a fall. My poetry is so much more vulnerable than me. They are always out looking for someone to love them.

I don’t need to do that, because I have someone.

The man at the pinball machine is talking to the waitress. She is white blonde tonight and she’s laughing at whatever he says. The bartender calls to her that her order is ready and waiting and getting cold, and when she is gone, the man gets into the rhythm of the game, his hips swaying with the movements of the machine.

During the day, he hangs around the music store, hitting on young kids who come in with guitars. They always seem to think they can trust him, which is why he’s so successful in his line of work. He is a broker for the devil and he does quite well.

The waitress has been married three times. She’s going to be a grandmother, but no one would ever suspect it. She must be only 35 or so. I told her I wouldn’t tell people, but she laughed and said she would tell them herself. She doesn’t care.

I think what a life she must have, always searching for something she never finds, some sort of dream, or a man maybe. I don’t have this problem since I have found mine.

In my room, I have a poster on the wall, torn from a magazine, of a man who looks like the man I love. Really, they could be brothers. It is an ad for a movie. His hair is a little longer, shaggier. My man is so respectable. I like that in him. Whenever I think about falling out of love or moving on, I realize that even his failings are good qualities and I can’t hate him for it. It’s better to love a perfect man who is deserving of your love, even though you will never be together, than to waste it on someone who’s not worth it. I am not that desperate for affection.

Besides, I kind of figure my man must know about my adoration (how can he not know?) and he must respect me for knowing to keep my distance. He must love me for letting his wife and family have him and not interfering with that.

I think it’s a very commendable quality.

I’m not sure why the bartender doesn’t like the look of me. Perhaps he knows about my affair with a married man and doesn’t approve. Some people are so judgmental. He seems to like my poetry just fine, however. He laughs at it. He gives it free drinks on the house.

Because of my secret, I am always humble, always know my place. I think this is a good thing. Some people are always putting on airs, they’re so difficult to be around. As soon as you get around someone who acts like the queen of sheba, you start feeling inadequate.

I have no reason to feel inadequate. I am very fulfilled. I have my poetry. I have a place of my own, and a job. I am debt free. And I have found the perfect man.

Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like to have found him when he was unmarried. You can’t tell. Since we fought off the attraction for so long, it was a sweet slow period of gradual growth. Our love is solid because we took it so slowly. Had we met when he was single, we might have exploited our instant attraction and not been careful enough. Love needs to be cautiously nurtured, protected, respected.

I am very lucky to have met a man who cares so much about my feelings. Not many women can boast of this.

The waitress is sitting beside a man at the bar who is telling her about his fishing trip.

The bartender is glowering at the uncleaned tables.

Two young women are sitting with one of my poems. They are studying the second stanza. The poem sits preening, soaking up the attention. I would cringe with embarrassment if anyone knew it was mine.

The man at the pinball machine orders another drink, a beer. My poem watches him out of the corner of its eye, but he ignores it. This is driving it crazy. My poetry doesn’t like to be ignored. It’s used to turning heads, to getting attention.

I am watching all this. I can see it getting drawn in farther and farther by this man’s disdain, and I’m sure it’s all an act, that he’s doing it on purpose. It won’t do any good, my trying to warn it. My poetry never listens to me. Sometimes I wonder why I ever call it mine, I forget that I am there at the inception, that it is wholly my own creation. After it’s out, it doesn’t seem like mine anymore. It leaves me far behind.

I spend so much time alone, sometimes I find myself talking to the walls. Life can be like that. I was always very shy, and I even have a job where I don’t have to deal with people. This is a mixed blessing.

I am very habitual. I come here to the same bar most every night. The only person I talk to is the waitress. I sit alone with my passion for the man I love.

You are probably thinking he may not be as great as I think, that I have created a wonderful vision in my head, that he’s only perfect because I don’t know him well enough to be aware of his faults.  That if I ever really have a chance to get close to him, reality would slap me on the face in a hurry. In a way I think this, too, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t stop loving him. Rational thought doesn’t sway my heart.

Besides, the world I live in isn’t so bad. Many people would look at me and call me crazy, but I think that’s just because the way I live is so different from theirs. I’ve never met anyone yet who’s perfect.

A person who writes poetry isn’t going to be “normal”. What do you think happens to you when you write out your most private dreams and desires and they look you in the face and then go flouncing out to show themselves off to the world? Who can be normal after that?

You have no control over it then. It goes out with people you wouldn’t go near. I just sit and watch.

I sit in my private world in a bar that seems to exist in spite of me. The man is tiring of the pinball machine. He turns and gives me a long slow knowing look like he has esp or like someone’s been telling him my secrets.

This is unusual. People don’t usually look me in the eye. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t know how to react.

He picks up his half glass of beer and walks over to where I sit. I think about this and decide I can use it to my advantage. I can keep him away from my poetry.

He leans toward me and says in a beer stained voice, “You’re the only one in this room who really matters.”

My poetry watches us anxiously. The waitress is emptying ash trays.

After I think about it for a minute, I decide it’s just what I needed to hear.

 

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

 

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 a film, Certainty, directed by Keith Mosher, due for a fall 2011 release.

Her short story, Not Waving But Drowning, was a winner in the annual NOBS competition, and her current novel, Billie, was a finalist in this year’s (2011) Faulkner competition.  Her poem, Merida, Easter, will be included in an upcoming Evergreen Review.

She now resides in Mérida, is in the process of forming a new band, and serves as editor of this publication.

detail from a painting by Mel Blossom

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Fiction

The Antiques Roadshow: a study on human behavior

by Joseph D. Reich

 

Usually when i climb up on my treadmill at night i like to turn on something
exciting like antiques roadshow but recently the way i been feeling around
the holidays and hit with a mild case of the melancholia couldn’t care less
about other people’s corny family histories or their sweet and innocent and
sentimental memories and being something of a trained therapist will instantly
and naturally be able to gauge and access their affect and expressions and
body language and how genuine and if they get a good estimation see how
they suddenly seem to really love that relative and get all reflective but interesting
how quick that emotion turns to a motive and become self-interested and those
memories don’t really seem to mean or matter so much and got that look like
where and when can i cash in and everything must go with that simple and
see-through glow or if they are disappointed or devastated or disrespected and
brought back down to their baseline of functioning only triggering that much
more being let down and cursed by this cruel and brutal fucked-up existence
like i never really ever liked them or cared much for them anyway in the first
place dirty and filthy rotten disgrace and by both reactions interestingly and
ironically with that selfsame great solemn pall of silence before and after they
provide the assessment either don’t seem to really care so much anymore about
those warm and heartfelt sentimental memories but more so can you tell me if
you got a check cashing place around here or fuck it am gonna just get a couple
cases of beer and think you more so would prefer some dude who was far
more genuine perhaps wasn’t so goddamn predictable and phony baloney
maybe even with a bit of the minor case of tourette’s disorder with features
of paranoia spouting out paroxysms like you’re so full of shit motherfucker!
you’re a freaken rip-off artist! swindler! a pillow biter! rat bastard! i should
knock out your fronts! staple your nuts together! be so much more a breath
of fresh air and not holding it all in pretending to be all charming and shit
and so much more real and down-to-earth and instinctive and them having
to do a physical restraint on him while as a distraction the wobbly t.v. camera
will pan in and do a close-up of the beautiful bronzed statue fountain of that
turn-of-the-century seductive siren smiling and simultaneously hearing in the
background i’m gonna kill you! i’m gonna kill you if it’s the last thing i do! kind
of the way i been feeling a little bit recently around this joyous time of gift giving.

 

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

He has been published in a wide variety of eclectic literary journals both here and abroad and his most recent books include, A Different Sort Of Distance (Skive Magazine Press), If I Told You To Jump Off The Brooklyn Bridge (Flutter Press), Obscure Aphorisms On A Fine Overcast Day (Lummox Press), The Derivation Of Cowboys & Indians (Poet Works Press), and Drugstore Sushi (Thunderclap Press).

Art by Mel Blossom


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Poetry

Picture This and other poems

by Cynthia Atkins

Picture This

 

Three sisters just from swimming,

bathing caps, fresh cut bangs—

sitting at the pool’s edge. This safe notch

in time hailed like a taxicab in the rain,

and memory makes it sedate

as a lawn chair, quelled

and awash in Technicolor.

Think picket fences. Think polka-dot sundresses.

Smiles and lemonade implied

for later the same day. Imagine the mother

in tortoise-shell glasses. She never gets wet

above the waist, keeps her petite figure

like a secret thing at the back

of the drawer—for future reference.

Imagine the lens, one pupil behind

the lens. At home, two muddy shoes

depressed or manic at the back door?

Life offers possibilities—a kiss with

a fist or a salesman’s pitch? Now tinctured,

with time, bereft of manners.

Viewer, if we knew then what

we know now, would we have kept a safe

distance, nulled time and space?

Would we have considered the mood,

lighting, TV channels, sofa positions?

Aperture, pathos and frame.

The automatic pairing of depth and perception.

The shadows are able to steal

a moment and lie, easy to snap

as Tupperware. Viewer, as long as

you’re here, recall the ride home,

hot vinyl sticking to thighs, a fly buzzing

around the silence

between the noise. Viewer, it’s uncanny,

how illness can be unseen, unnoticed

as a snag in the upholstery. Later the same day,

in matching sundresses, imagine

these sisters winching

the knots into tightly

woven nests of macramé.

 

 

 

Crickets

 

Risking everything, they awaken you to

to the night’s unfinished business—Ear-worming

the dew with a quiet fury. Weary hitch-hikers snubbing

a ride to your hit-and-run childhood.

Teeth grinding tin-cans,

or like a lone harp plucked, we were shirtless

and naughty in the back of his Mustang—Jailbait

is a word in a song that will haunt you

at lunch-time. Static radio of love gone wrong.

The natal waiting room

was a loud jiggling of keys—then silent

as a kibbutz of prayers.

All the necessary evils were there.

A cough in another room, a nascent noise lifting

the fog like scraped paint from a door.

Your empty bed gone dark

and cold, a winter potluck. The trees make no apology.

Only the sympathy of wind-chimes, a child crying

on a swing. That dog you want to hold is hiding

in the cushions of memory—

Restless dog, still not housebroken.

(Someone impaling the upholstery.)

Wave it now as your passport

to the old country— (the way home by heart,

the broken bracelet left on the dresser

of your girlhood)—Loss and ache like the rain

falling from a pen and ink drawing you found,

someone else had crinkled

into sound and tossed away.

 

 

 

 Vacation

 

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

—Martin Luther King

 

Suitcases packed, the dog carted off —We piled in the paneled Station Wagon holding tight toourdream pillows.  A week-long life-style.  The open road stretched out, warm as comfort food. Rid us our ruts, our tangled roots—A whole system concocted for consoling our wounds.  No seat-belts, giddy with candy wrappers, car games.  Then  wishes were hushed on stars.  Miles of roads, gas stations, Vacancy signs—all pin-pointing the emptiness we left at home.  It’s hot. The singing has stopped. The Wonder bread sandwiches sweat in the Frigidaire cooler. Tomorrow, my sisters and I will rummage seashells to find the hidden secrets inside something so small. O Technicolor, O Camera, please give us back our posed snapshots of happiness and calm. We came to this inosculate horizon to find smiles frozen in time—water lapping at our ankles, like the dogs we left behind.

 

On the way home, a girl in pig-tails shows her tan line on a billboard. (It’s 1968, no seat-belts, no pedophiles?).  The smudge of soot on her buff cheek, like a scorch left on an ironed shirt. Tonight at the Holiday Inn, we will be doodling on the bed when the flickering black and white TV wallows in muted grains of eidos: “Martin Luther King was shot on a balcony at 6:01 pm, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.”  We will pack our souvenirs of grief for a sound older than dinner—At home, the dog bellows a long, bluesy howl, the ache springing forth like cotton balls from the bottle.

 

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

CYNTHIA ATKINS received an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her first collection of poems, “Psyche’s Weathers” (Wordtech, 2007) was recently featured on Verse Daily. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Letters & Commentary, BigCityLit, BOMB,  Caketrain, Cold Mountain Review, Del Sol Review, Denver Quarterly,Harpur Palate, Inertia, The Journal, North American Review, Sou’wester, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily,. She holds residencies from the VCCA and Breadloaf Writer’s Conference and currently teaches creative writing at Roanoke College, and lives in Rockbridge County, VA on the Maury River with her family.

 

Art by Mel Blossom

Standard
Poetry

the Night Heron

by Brenda Roper

 

You move slow dragging the broom across

19th century cobblestones dark as death.

Solid.  Quietly the framed photographs back

in their place on the chest where they do not sing

softly, the lovely oak grains dull until you dust them

carefully, dust those images that do not reflect.

You move slow as grief, lazily, like mist in morning.

 

A missive whispers ink stained stories –a woman

between two men, a helicopter that did not crash

a mother and her daughter sharing wine in summer

their glasses glow, faces glow bigger for the camera.

Friends lost and found, lovers gathered and grown.

A moment.  Chickens and children of the depression,

a doll loved to death.  Red velvet cake with candles

make a wish. No dust gathers at the kitchen sink.

 

You do not wish to wake your daughter’s dream

if still sleeping Sunday morning.  A long winter’s nap

not undone when light returns too slowly for some.

Too quickly for others.  You wait.  Grief is not consistent.

Not a calendar nor moon nor star visible in a sober sky

no answers, only wind—a gentle tale, a soft caress,

the furies of the devil roar no mercy, hot as sin

or a ripple as silent a fly on the water —

 

a night heron all day for hours stalking the high tide line.

 

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

Brenda Roper spent over 20 years in Alaska before moving to the oldest artist colony on Canyon Road in Santa Fe.  She indulges her creative life by crossing borders, painting large, writing small and taking photos to mark her path.  Her work is published in Cirque, A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim and Calyx, A Journal of Art & Literature by Women. Visit her recent Art & Musings blog at www.contemporaryartinsantafe.com.

 

Art by Mel Blossom

Standard
Poetry

The Death of Me and Underworld

by Howie Good

THE DEATH OF ME

1
Shut up – please! The dog continues barking. I go to the window. It’s only some neighborhood kids and what looks from here like the long, vicious contrail of a marauding angel.

2
I wait toward the front of the line of mourners for my turn. This is the last kindness any of us will ever do her. I try to be careful. My shovelful of earth still explodes when it hits the lid of the coffin.

3
The flag outside the town post office is flying at half-mast. I wonder as we drive by who has died. You don’t know either.

4
I tell myself sometimes that it’s not death I fear, but the sensation of dying – a foot coming down and not finding ground.

 

 

UNDERWORLD

1
Traveling through streets of winos, we held hands the whole time, the driver taking us wherever he had been paid to go. I lowered my eyes when you spoke of home, the curious blue fog, a funeral attended by only four mourners. I wanted to say something, too, but it was now night and rainy, and I had just enough body to keep a soul in.

2
I went to bed sick and woke up no better – worse, in fact – a solar system being built from cannibalized parts. The daily bullshit had an odd but not unpleasant odor. I had only recently realized that when I turned to write something on the board, the students vanished – some momentarily, but others forever. I had wept about it until my eyes swelled shut. And though there was no wind, the puddles shivered.

 

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

 

Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the new poetry collection, Dreaming in Red, from Right Hand Pointing. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to a crisis center, which you can read about here: https://sites.google.com/site/rhplanding/howie-good-dreaming-in-red. He is also the author of numerous chapbooks, including most recently The Devil’s Fuzzy Slippers from Flutter Press. He has two more chapbooks forthcoming, Personal Myths from Writing Knights Press and Fog Area from Dog on a Chain Press.

 

Art by Mel Blossom

Standard
Poetry

Merida, my Love

by Daniel Torres

 “Merida, my Love”

I want to memorize the bench on Montejo

where I brushed against your knee,

the downtown street where I saw you go by

and that first dreamy glance.

The kiss you stole from me at Itzimna Park

one night full of words

without any caress nor bed…

The destiny that resolved itself

between Santa Lucia and Santa Ana,

 that night when we separated near the bus station:

I was leaving in a taxi

and your back was disappearing little by little

around the corner.

That’s why I need to memorize

the certainty of your embrace,

the stillness of your eyes

and also all the letters that form “Carlos.”

 MÉRIDA, MON AMOUR

Quiero memorizar el banco de Montejo
donde rocé tu rodilla,
la calle del Centro donde te vi pasar
a mi lado
y esa primera mirada de ensueño.

 El beso que me robaste en la plaza de Itzimná
una noche llena todita de palabras
sin caricias ni cama…

El destino que se decidió entre Santa Lucía y Santa Ana
y la noche en que nos separamos cerca del ADO:
yo en un taxi me alejaba
y tu espalda se fue desdibujando de a poco
hasta borrarse al doblar una esquina.

Es por eso que necesito memorizar
la certeza de tu abrazo,
el sosiego de mirarme en tus ojos
y también todas las letras que forman Carlos.

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

Daniel Torres was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico. He lives in Merida winters and summers. During the winter quarter (January-March) he co-directs the Ohio University Study Abroad Program in Merida. His publications include literary criticism, poetry, novel, and short story. The rest of the year he teaches Latin American Studies at Ohio University (Athens).

Art by Mel Blossom

 

Standard
Fiction

I Am Not Family Entertainment

by Geoff Schutt

(an excerpt from the novel, The Girl Behind The Glass)

 

Eleanor says: I am not family entertainment. I watched my mother leave. I watched my father act like everything was normal. I waited for something big to happen and nothing did. When I was little, my father told me fairytales. When I was little, my mother taught me how to be a good actor, how to pretend I didn’t feel what I really did, no matter what the situation. I miss pretending. I miss the fairytales.

Eleanor says: Today, earlier today, I took a walk, as far as I could go. I went way past anything that looked familiar. I am really surprised I’m back here to tell you this, because I should still be lost. I walked so far I thought I would end up in China or something like that — somewhere across the world, and nobody would speak the same language I spoke but we’d smile and we’d nod our heads and we wouldn’t be rude or anything like that. We would grow to understand each other without talking. We would learn to communicate without our voices. I was hoping I would walk this far, past the fairytales and past the pretending, because at some point along my walk, I stopped missing them. Just like that. It was kind of amazing, or a revelation. The fairytales and the pretending — I stopped missing everything old. And that’s maybe when I had the real revelation, that I was serious about this. I mean, I wanted everything new, everything I could not understand, everything I would never be able to fully understand and yet — well, I could still be part of something without understanding it fully, you know? I think that’s possible, at least. Don’t you?

Eleanor says: I walked until my feet were sore. I walked until I had blisters. I walked until I was so thirsty I thought I was going to fall over, and then, when they found me, anyone at all, they’d just shake their head and say, Well, I guess she was so thirsty she just fell over. Too bad, they’d say, because there’s this park right around the corner, with drinking fountains and swing sets and lots of grass and people just hanging out enjoying themselves and some of them even playing the guitar and singing songs and any one of these people would have been happy to help her, if only she didn’t have to fall over from thirst so soon. Pity.

Eleanor says: I think there comes a time when you realize that you can’t walk from one end of the world to the other. You can fly there, but that would just be cheating. Those people who walk around the world, those adventurer types or the people trying to make money for their causes and everything, they’re not the same either. The average person, as in me, well, I can’t walk far enough past what’s familiar, even if it’s not my particular, specific familiar, close as it might seem. I still speak the same language you know, is what I am saying I guess. But I am not family entertainment. I am not the lost girl somebody found who didn’t fall over from thirst but kept going, blisters on her feet and everything.

Eleanor says: But the thing is, that did not happen. I wasn’t found by the people who look for strangers like me. They want to spread their good karma, these people. They say, pass it on, we just want to pass it on, but they try so damn hard to pass it on, I think the good karma gets diluted along the way. Really — you can’t spend your days waiting for some lost and tired and thirsty girl to walk into your neighborhood. You can’t. That would be just wrong — waiting to be good, when you don’t have to wait to be good, I mean. You just might hit the jackpot, you good karma hunters. You just might find that she actually wants to tell you all about her family. But you would be the first person to say, this girl is not family entertainment. You would be the first person to say, is there something I can do? Yes. You would be the first person to say, is there anything you need, right now, because even though it’s out of my way and I’m on this tight schedule, you know, I want to help you. I want to be here for you. Yes, you would say this in your own words of course. That’s good karma. Good karma happens when it is not convenient, and you can quote me on this. Go ahead — quote me.

Eleanor says: Well, I walked back. I sat on the front steps. I waited for my father to come home from work. I looked a mess, I’m sure of it. But because I was sitting on our own front steps, I suppose it all seemed so normal. My father didn’t see what a mess I was because he was used to seeing me one way, and that’s the way he always saw me. The funny thing was, I smiled back. I smiled, but I said to him, I am not family entertainment, and he stood there for a second or two — you know, thinking about what just I said, this sort of nonsense, really — along with whatever other thoughts he had going around in his head — and then he finally ended up not saying a word, but he held out his hand.  I started crying. I just could not stop crying. I just could not stop myself from holding up my hand, reaching for him, wanting to feel his fingers, wanting to be right where I was, which was home.

 

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Biographical Note:

Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in The Quarterly (edited by Gordon Lish for Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others.  He has received three artist grants for his fiction-as-performance art from The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. After living in Ohio for many years, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area, where he has completed his first novel, which is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City.   More about Geoff Schutt is available at his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at http://geoffschutt.blogspot.com

Art by Mel Blossom

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