The Bicycle Review
Issue # 12
17 August, 2011
Original Artworks by John Coulter
Photography by Misti Rainwater-Lites
All works Copyright 2011 by Coulter/Rainwater-Lites
(Pay no more than ¥:0)
Bloom…Vroom…Who was Bloom?
Did he drink scalded tea? Did he drive on a Broom? Was he Black was he white? Was he wrong was ee’ Rite? Did he stand for all Men by refusing to fight?
Did he take his accursed existence in stride? Did he think for himself…Maybe as an aside? Was he stuck in one place where too many have died?
Where came he from? Was he gay, was ee’ domb? Did he gnow when he died Men invented A-Bomb? Did he eat of the swine as a sign of the times?
Did his star in the Easterly/Westerly rise?
Did the organs and innards resemble his life? Or were they his debt to his niggardly wife? Who bore him his Child in another Men’s Faith…Poor Prefixless-blum in his Exodus Tomb! …Whom now is no longer, now merely a Wraith.
Share the Road,
J de Salvo
PxSx: Thanks to Noisebridge Hacker Space, without whom this issue would not exist.
Ireland in Four Acts
Three brass pawnbroker’s balls hung above a shop door on Lower Clanbrassil Street.
Leopold Bloom lived at number fifty-two.
The junction of Patrick Street, Dean Street, New Street, and Kevin Street was known as the “four corners of hell” because a public house used stand on each corner.
There was a large white swastika emblazoned on the side of a brick chimney on the Shelbourne Road.
White swans floated serene on the waters of the Grand Canal at Portobello Bridge.
The street vendors cried, “App-ells, three a penny! Get yer lovely app-ells!”
Ould ladies pushed prams with polished fruit and paper-wrapped flowers to their spots on Moore Street.
The Premier Dairies Milk Trolley drove down our road every morning before 7 a.m.
The rattle of the glass bottles sometimes woke me before Mam’s voice called up the stairs.
An office with two chairs. A book red. A tray of animal crackers. Fracture no fracture. No voice. Vocal. Speak up, out, distressed. a cabin in Sligo, brass tub, the shining carapace of an old typewriter. Vote for meaning, tap the ampersand, allow the double-printed remains of a letter to flail on the page. Thin white paper never works. Keys cut “o”uts into the paper, a Holy mess. Stress the first syllable here, amalgamate the story with another, remove the ambiguous nature of the mystery character in chapter 4 and replace with terms of peace treaty. Sneaking away from the chaos of the everyday seems wise. Main square, tall plinth, hatted man. Does the brass shine enough to cast a glow? Talk about what matters, expose the beams and rafters of the soul and curl fetal on floor. Cry, cringe, Allow the wash to cover you. Laugh cry same time different moment no matter no how no shame no knowledge. See the long fur coat and the double bass in its case the strings frayed and rotted. A place where only you go to find comfort. Lie in the basement of the wardrobe covered with a hill of bear a fossilized child a frozen tableau. Doors shut shimmer windows catch tongues cook daggers in old pots and the switch on the kitchen wall echoed and reverberated shock when hands were wet thrown across room and float accusations at the family. Dry your hands in future. Wash my hands of the lot of you. A refrain from the Book of Common Prayer.
Nurse holds your arm steady, the stitched scar raised, swollen and angry, red tinges around the sutures. Mam’s worried face is about to melt, like a Dali clock, into misery and blame. You have to be a brave soldier, she says, putting a cold hand on your knee, feeling the knobby bones beneath the flannel material of your trousers.
Silver, pointed, aglint in the artificial lights of the clinic, the tip breaks the surface of the scar tissue. Forth from the welled area comes the bloody pus, soaked up with gauze the nurse gently wipes about the break. A cry breaks from your lips and mam’s eyes, behind cat’s eye glasses, well with salted pity for her little soldier.
Can I have the zoo animals, you ask later. You are walking along Liffey Street and Mam takes you into Hector Grey’s Emporium of Imported Goods to choose a toy for bravery. There’s hardly room in the small room to move. Tea chests “Made in China” block the aisles and cheap toy guitars hang from the ceiling.
You can have the zoo animals, Son. Mam forks over a quid to the blue-coated woman behind the register. You’re already deep in the jungles of Africa, being stalked by a lion: a lion whose razor-white teeth will tear the flesh on your forearm and accompany you in your play and dreams for night after night, as Jesus, bloody heart in hand, looks down from the bedroom wall.
—of an ancient monument in a garden, a stone flag with a monkey atop it.
—I’m imprisoned in my old school, in a large room with windows. Men are working outside. I know I’m going to get out and at some point I remember talking to two people inside the room and discussing who would write the book. Grimy windows, cleaning off the dust, seeing workers outside.
—I was dying, and the last gesture I made was to gather the brown earth with my two hands and grasp it to me. Then I became a being devoid of facial features, limbs, etc. There was a process of gathering together limbs and attempting to relive life as a shadow person of sorts. I ended up burning down the family compound and running around helping everyone escape.
—I am stuck on a ledge, like a giant kitchen out of doors. There’s a huge drop. I’m way above it and can’t quite get back to level ground. I start throwing things off the ledge—part of it even. I’m still not able to make it off. I have terrible fear of falling and there are two other people there who don’t really help me. At some point I throw off something into the air and when it lands in hits a big table and spills. I think it’s chicken stock. But it doesn’t overspill because there’s a large metal roasting pan (huge) under a table and it holds all the liquid. I am clinging by my fingertips and afraid of falling. I do get down, by half-stumbling, half-falling, without help.
Copyright 2011 by James Claffey
Results May Vary
the human eye explodes
after six pounds of it
oddly enough, the vocal chords
aren't connected to optic nerves
yet there were sounds emitted
proving once again, that
Copyright 2011 by David Parham
The Commonwealth of Chicken Livers vs Big Blue
Researchers are exploring unfathomable phenomenon even today. As a species
we may never entirely realize the whole of our existence. Fantastical things can and do
happen. Oft there exists defining moments, life-altering events that catapult we mere
mortals to a higher level of presence. In these transitory fragments of time it's possible
to catch a glimpse of providence. Ne plus ultra.
When I lost my virginity doesn't qualify as one of these moments.
* * *
By solemn oath, my story is a truthful account; I swear on a row of shiny
Schwinns. And further attest, I'm fully aware swaying belief with a jury of my peers
seems highly unlikely.
The exact year of this significant milestone is long forgotten. I can say with
some surety that I was in the middle years of grade school and enjoying summer
vacation. A two-week block was dedicated to Vacation Bible School and another two weeks were annually set aside for a trip to Great Uncle Earl and Aunt Marie Beard's
cabin on Eagle Lake in Decatur, Michigan – the beach area pristine and the water so
clear I could count minnows nibbling my tiny toes. The remainder of summer left we
Morrow girls beached in our own backyard and haplessly left to our own devices.
Our lives were ordinary as a rule, mapped out from breakfast to bedtime, birth to
bridal gowns. Not much changed from year to year, except for growth spurt clothing
and shoe shifting from oldest sister's closet to younger to younger to me. Mom scooted
we darlings out the door and out from underfoot with, “Go play outside. Get some fresh
air.” There was never a shortage of fresh air or hours in which to suck it in.
Rent at the housing project where we lived included basic playground equipment:
swings, sliding board, teeter-totters, merry-go-round, small basketball court. When
those amenities failed to amuse, leaving us oh-so-bored, we sat on trashcans and did
zilch. Trashcan sitting evolved with the older kids when they outgrew the totsie stuff
and there weren't other similarly-bored older kids around to loiter with. It held no
significance (although did offer an unobstructed view of the courtyard) other than
providing an alternative to sitting on the tiniest of porch steps or on the ground. Not an
insect fan, I didn't sit on the ground unless compelled by shove or comparable
gravitational klutz. I don't remember us owning lawn furniture then, but it probably
wouldn't have been cool to sit on it anyway – a breach of coolness was a faux pas hard to
recoup from. Trashcan sitting, well, it was what is was.
If the thrill of can-sitting fell short, there awaited speedier forms of distraction.
Cause of skinned knees, elbows, and raw chins was always the fastest apparatus we
could find to climb onto. We owned a red metal scooter, two pairs of skates (the kind
requiring a key to tighten around cloth Keds), and I recall a blue girl's and a red boy's
bike. This boy's bike was a quandary wrapped in an enigma leaned against an exterior brick facade. But possession was nine-tenths of the law, for untold reason we had
acquired the bike, so we used it.
Since its debut as dominant recreational vehicle, learning to ride a bike was a
rite-of-passage. Learning to ride one four times your size was a whole 'nother
predicament. When other children were succeeding with kid-sized bikes their parents
somehow scrounged the cash to purchase, I was struggling to make contact with the seat
of an adult bike while simultaneously trying to reach peddles, balance, steer, and propel
the wobbly monstrosity forward. Stray dogs ran for cover.
Training wheels did not exist in our world, we had to really want it. The pressure
was on. The pressure was always on. Every child of the housing, mini and mighty,
aspired to ride a bike, as did I, and I believe early humiliation in tackling Big Blue under
the scrutiny of the neighborhood critics tainted my interest in sport participation
throughout my formative years. This, and suffering picked last for every game, every
time, every year. That disgrace burns in perpetuity.
Crux of the matter, there was one girl's bike, one boy's bike, and four of us girls.
Meaning, on any given day there could potentially be up to at least three girls piled on
with a fourth stomping a hissy at the curb. We could have cooked up a comedy act,
could have sold tickets, could have used the proceeds to buy a smaller bike. But not so
much as one of us entrepreneurially inclined at this juncture, none of the aforesaid
Multiple-girl bike acrobatics evolved as a true art form. Sidesaddle on the boy
bar accommodated short legs. Piggyback straddling front and back fenders doubled
cargo capacity (though this rough ride was not for the faint of heart). And a third option,
depending on how brave or gullible the passenger, was hugging the handlebar. Fate
disposing me the youngest, and smallest, often I was propped atop the handlebar – my unpadded patootie counterpoised to not restrict the sister steering – feet placed pigeon-toed on the slender fender. Certainly not cycling for sissies, she who hitchhiked the
handlebar was on this day not called a chicken-liver.
Having personally ridden many positions on a bike created and manufactured
specifically to safely carry just one person, and with looking back now as I chronicle this
event, and taking into account the consequence thereof, I highly advise against
recreation of any part thereto. And with airtight disclaimer made, I'm left with regaling
the facts from said fateful day. Let the accusations fall where they may.
Three girls rode the wind. My oldest sister was in control of the contraption in
question. Another sister occupied the back fender, gripping the seat edge, legs
aerodynamically splayed, and I sat on the handlebar. We were attired in summer
garments: shirts, shorts, bobby-socks, sneaks – these details mentioned to punctuate the
precious little buffer between ourselves and the two-wheeler.
At some point there occurred a mechanical malfunction. I blame no one. It
might have been driver error; result of overcrowding of the vehicle; possibly loose
pavement gravel; sun glare blinding the driver. I'll never know the particulars that
culminated at precisely the same instant as to have produced the inevitable, unfortunate
calamity and am only grateful no lives were lost.
I became dislodged from my precarious perch and my unmentionable place came
into direct contact with the edge of the metal fender – and possibly the spokes – as the
bicycle, myself, and my aforementioned summer-clad sisters bit the dirt. My sisters
were not hurt. I, alone, was injured to the point of bloodshed.
We weren't too far from home, no more than a block, because we weren't allowed
to venture beyond the housing on our own. Anderson Street circled into DeArbee Drive
and back was the lone permissible route. I can't remember if I limped home or was carried, the pain of the ordeal having left a permanent blank spot in my mortified
memory. We three did make it home, though, and with the evil bike in tow.
I can only guess my oldest sister destroyed all damning evidence. To these older
and wiser siblings it surely looked as though no real harm had been perpetrated. Telling
and getting into trouble was totally unnecessary. After all, it wasn't as if they had
terminal road-rash where they had to pee.
We were young.
We were clueless.
But on the plus side, we weren't chicken livers.
Copyright 2011 by Wanda Morrow-Clevenger
It was early on in life that I discovered my shadow would not stay in line with my body. It behaved independently and wound and wove smoke-like wherever it chose, destroying and crumbling as it pleased. It roamed and migrated. Initially the distance between the shadow and body distressed me so I attempted various methods of reconciliation, but found in the end the only solution (to seal the gap) was to do away with one of them. The shadow was immeasurably easier to discard and one day, it was done. I found the recoiling motion remarkably graceful and keep now only with the body.
Copyright 2011 by Mira Mattar
The first order of business for the neighborhood association was agreeing on the shape of the back room of the church where the meetings were held. I had been there earlier in the week for my Viking Attack Survivors group but this evening the room looked much less cheery. The place was lit like a stage play of Dracula.
I was waiting to present my proposal for a simple home improvement but there was a whole meeting to endure before my turn would come around. The Lieutenant from the police district gave a report on roving dirt bike gangs and transvestite prostitution activity along our main strip. “It’s always very active,” he said. “They are purchasing Segways, I’ve noticed.”
Animal Control reported on the “rodent situation” (several babies had gone missing) and dispelled rumors that a colony of vampire bats had moved into the attics of the vacants on 21st Street.
A representative from the Community Benefits District delivered a passionate PowerPoint presentation on the new, reduced days for recycling pick-up and the proper disposal of biological waste products such as needles, Band-Aids, colostomy bags, and feminine hygiene products. “Never in public trash cans or mailboxes,” she said.
The Association’s Events Committee was sad to announce that due to a lack of funding, the “Spring Live Music Festival” would this year be known as the “Fall Music Box Festival” and the lending of any music boxes or music box accessories would be greatly appreciated.
A lovely young couple, homesteaders from the county, passed around a petition to have the outside of all boarded up windows pasted over with scenes of softly lit and tastefully decorated interiors warming middle class, racially diverse families that read books and help each other with homework.
A woman from the City’s development office promoted the concept of a car sharing service and introduced a preliminary study to look into the potential long term economic development benefits of launching a neighborhood space program.
When an art student in striped leggings and a purple tutu stood up scratching herself and complained about bed bugs in her warehouse loft/performance venue, half the meeting rushed to the other side of the room as if they were trying to level a capsizing schooner. When someone on that side complained of head lice, they moved to the middle of the room and sat on each other’s laps, spreading germs.
Two rival street gangs were in attendance to discuss a property dispute. Each gang was led by a ten year old boy, although the rest of the members were young and old alike. At one point, tensions elevated. A taught break beat pulsed in the background. Blunderbusses came out and were pointed sideways. A plate of oatmeal cookies was passed around quickly to calm everyone’s nerves. I took two cookies. I needed them.
One of the missing babies marched into the room and accused the community of group neglect. The association did all they could to help the baby until it was discovered that his address was two blocks west of the boundaries set forth in the articles of incorporation. “I’m sorry, baby,” said our Chairman. “But according to our charter, you are in the wrong neighborhood. I believe your community association meets third Tuesdays of each month in the VFW Hall down the street. On the bright side, I hear there are a lot of plans to turn that area around. It’s all very exciting.”
After several more announcements, it was finally my turn. I stood up and introduced myself to my neighbors, then carefully explained the renovations that I wanted – needed at that point, I was sure of it – and passed around a set of blueprints for their review. I was asked to stand outside in the hall while they discussed my proposal and took a vote. I read flyers on the church’s peg board: one was selling antique dishware; another was offering a reward for a missing burial urn. I was tearing off a number for Martian Folk Dancing when I was summoned back into the room by a member of the Executive Committee. “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that the Committee cannot support your plans,” the Chairman started. The Vice-Chair picked up where he left off, “To construct,” he said, pausing. “A protective moat around your place of residence.”
“It’s mainly because you live in a rowhouse,” the Secretary chimed in by way of explanation. I hung my head in defeat. “But, living in a close-knit urban community, we all certainly understand why you might desire one from time to time,” the Treasurer added with a wink, gesturing to the group. The whole neighborhood broke into hysterics. They laughed until the earth shook and blood came out their ears. The Treasurer is always the funniest guy in the room.
Copyright 2011 by Timmy Reed
ice crackles electric snaps
in hidden timbers
mimicking the bottle caps
he flicks against the wall
through window and door
from the witch outside
her sharp fingers etching
to join the bitch within
deaf to him
and his flick-clicking
hands astench of brass
small bills and coins
he takes one pull on the bottle
middle finger raised in salute
the living room is coldest
the couch beer-damp
the witch howls
the bitch snores
maybe a nailpop will wake him
and one of them
holding a gun
Copyright 2011 by R.L. Raymond
traveling makes me miss you less. sometimes,
you are nothing but the kitchen table
apples in a basket
a daughter, unborn
waiting for anyone
to come get her
from that place
in the stars. other times,
though, you are shark's teeth,
the sun, steel-plated and miniaturized
into models of the texas zephyr
making its rounds, pounding the tracks
of my body. the ribcage,
spine. when i'm running
from florida to california
to new mexico to new orleans
i miss you less. now
that i am home, on a mattress
in a garden of begonias, bells,
i have never felt more will
and the stars have never been so heavy,
Copyright 2011 by Ashley Inguanta
Rachel played the piano every Tuesday morning at the Silver Birches Retirement Community; a tired, tee-shaped rest home strategically located between the Thriftmart and the Forest Street Cemetery.
She’d discovered the Silver Birches quite accidently, on a Tuesday, after planting flowers at her sister’s grave. Leaving the cemetery, she’d started to cry, and had turned into the parking lot of the Birches. Feeling numb after her tears, she’d stared through the glass doors of the home for a long time, eyes coming to rest on a bulky shape at the far end of the building. It was a piano. A short time later, she found herself seated at the piano, the four women playing bridge at a nearby table halting their game to watch her curiously.
She rested her hands on the keys, but did not apply any pressure. The women soon lost interest, assuming she was a bored relative, and resumed their card game. They jumped when she suddenly hammered out the first few chords of Rachmaninoff’s moody Prelude in C sharp minor. They placed their cards on the table during the agitato. They shuffled over to the piano as she played the finale. And they applauded voraciously after she hit the final chord.
“I’ve never heard that piece at ten o’clock in the morning. I really don’t know if it’s proper to play Rachmaninoff in the morning. Especially the prelude—that’s more the type of piece that you play at midnight, during a thunderstorm, just after you’ve murdered your drunken, cheating letch of a husband.” This came from a woman named Sophie, the eighty-two year old former band conductor.
Her observations had made Rachel laugh, and that was how her Tuesday recitals had begun.
The four card-players—Madeline, Kate, Barbara, and Sophie—persuaded her to return and play for them the following week, claiming they were starved for quality entertainment. Rachel had been playing the piano since she was a young girl, and had always hated performing, but, against her better judgment, she promised to return. It was something to do—something to make her temporarily forget that a drunk driver had slammed into her sister’s Volkswagen Jetta three months ago, killing her beloved sibling.
“I see you’ve met the silver bitches of the Silver Birches,” a male voice said, as Rachel settled in at the piano the following Tuesday. The women tittered in response. She turned and saw a stocky man with wavy white hair and sterling eyes, settling into an easy chair.
“I hear you’re quite the pianist. I thought I’d listen in, if that’s all right by you.” He was strikingly handsome, and her first guess was that he was in his early seventies. She learned later that he was eighty-eight. His name was Caleb.
“Sure. That’d be fine,” she mumbled, suddenly feeling shy. “I was going to play Mendelssohn today, if that’s okay with everyone.”
“That would be wonderful!”
Her audience of five listened closely as she played several pieces from Songs Without Words. When she stopped, the women looked at her with soft eyes. Caleb was smiling.
“That was amazing, dear!”
“So, we’ll see you next week? Same time?”
“Sure,” Rachel said. “Why not?”
The following Tuesday she stopped at Cuppa Joe’s to pick up a latte. The beverages weren’t the only reason she favored this coffee shop--he worked there—the beautiful man with the dark curly hair and poet’s eyes. She’d had a crush on him for two years, ever since moving to the neighborhood with her sister. She could barely manage to order her latte when he waited on her—always forgetting some key detail. Ordering coffee was so damn complicated nowadays; throw a cute guy into the mix, and Rachel was a hopeless case.
Holly had tried to help her win over the dashing Barista-Poet. The sisters had practiced possible coffee-shop conversations to prepare her Rachel for the next encounter. Of course, the next time she spoke to him, the words never came out as she had practiced them with Holly, and she would invariably blush, and fumble through her latte order.
And now without her sister to help her practice, she was lost.
“Here you go,” he said, handing her a drink. “Have a great day.”
“Thank you,” she mumbled, looking at his chin. She turned and plodded out to her car. She would go play the piano for the old folks. They made her feel like a rock star.
There were about a dozen people in the rec room when she got there: Caleb, the silver bitches, and several residents she hadn’t seen before. She nodded to Caleb and the women, who smiled back at her. Sophie, in turn, nodded at the other residents, as if to say: Wait until you hear this!
Rachel seated herself at the piano and ran the tips of her fingers over the chipped keys. She had always loved the feel of piano keys—they were old friends.
She played Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu. The notes filled the sunny room, the piano badly out of tune, but the music still exquisite.
“Rachel, do you have a few minutes before you leave? I’d like to show you something,” Caleb asked, as he handed her an orange soda.
“I don’t know…I mean…I have things to do,” she lied. He didn’t buy it.
“It will just take a second.”
“Sure,” she said reluctantly.
She followed Caleb down the dingy corridor into the south wing of the home. He nodded to an empty room just before his own.
“That room belonged to my friend Bob,” he said. Rachel nodded, looking at the bare mattress and empty shelves.
She gasped when she saw Caleb’s room—it looked nothing like the other rooms in this generic place. Two tall walnut bookcases stood against the wall opposite his bed, filled with leather-bound books and colorful journals. Paintings and sketches—real art—hung from the walls. Notebooks were stacked on the windowsill, along with a few pieces of pottery. A colorful tapestry with a geometric print hung on the wall, and a hand-stitched quilt covered his bed. But all of these things aside, the most amazing thing was in the corner of his room. She heard a musical “Hello!” upon entering the room.
“Now, this is who I wanted you to meet. Scarlet, this is Rachel. Rachel, Scarlet.” He opened the door of the cage and the African Grey parrot stepped onto his arm. Caleb held Scarlet up in front of Rachel. The bird examined her with cool silver eyes.
“Peanut?” Scarlet queried, extending a talon towards Rachel. She laughed. She couldn’t help it. The bird was so damn cute.
“There are peanuts on the top of the fridge.”
Rachel glanced around and saw a mini fridge near the birdcage. On top was a small bowl filled with peanuts in the shell. She reached down and selected a nut, causing the parrot to squawk happily in anticipation.
“Aren’t you a pretty girl,” Rachel said, as she offered the peanut on her open palm. She laughed again when the bird took the nut, cracking it easily with her strong beak.
Caleb watched them with a pensive smile.
Rachel ended up staying through lunch with Caleb and Scarlet. The Birches served chicken pot pie that tasted like paste and cardboard.
“What I wouldn’t do for a roast beef sub with all the fixings, and a Coke,” Caleb said, pushing the pale mush around on his plate.
They played Scrabble while they ate, a game that Rachel had always thought she was exceptional at, until today, when she played this man, a former professor of English Literature.
Scarlet was on a freestanding perch overlooking the table, preening her silver feathers. Every so often, the parrot would sing softly.
“My wife used to sing that song all the time,” Caleb mused. “Scarlet belonged to my Elizabeth. I had to jump through hoops to convince the home to allow the bird in here with me, but I wasn’t coming here without her. Luckily, the director of this place remembered me from his American Literature class years ago. Regretfully, I didn’t remember him, but I pretended that I did. Some people just don’t make an impression. They’ve got no spark. You, on the other hand, have spark, especially when you sit at that piano. It’s quite a thing to see.”
“Thank you,” Rachel blushed. She imagined her cheeks were as red as Scarlet’s tail. She hated compliments. She preferred to blend into the wallpaper.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, dear,” Caleb said gently. “Tell me something. Do you like to read? This old professor has a huge selection of classics collecting dust. Come take a look.”
Rachel left his room that day with an armful of Russians: Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, and a brilliant red feather from Scarlet to use as a bookmark.
Word had spread about the music, and when Rachel returned the following Tuesday, the rec room was packed. The residents brought in chairs from their rooms; others cruised down in their wheelchairs. A few members of the staff leaned against the wall or stood in the doorway.
A pattering of applause broke out when she walked into the room, and she felt her cheeks grow hot. Even Scarlet was there; Caleb had brought in her perch and placed it near the piano. He winked at Rachel when their eyes met, and she felt better. She had brought a tote bag with her, which she placed next to the piano.
“I hope the sound of the piano doesn’t bother Scarlet.” The parrot cocked her head to the side at the sound of Rachel’s voice.
“She’ll be fine. She loves piano music. Elizabeth used to play. As a matter of fact, the piano you’re playing belonged to her,” Caleb said proudly.
“Yeah, the bird will be fine,” Sophie echoed. “It’s the rest of us old-timers that you have to worry about. Don’t play anything too raucous, or the Silver Birches might be out of business.” The crowd laughed.
“Don’t listen to her, Rachel. Be as rowdy as you like.”
“Yeah, light those keys on fire!”
Rachel smiled. “Okay,” she thought for a moment. “How about a little Joplin today?”
The crowd murmured its approval, and Rachel started out with Peacherine Rag and, an hour later, ended with Maple Leaf Rag.
Joplin was a hit.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said, as Caleb set up the Scrabble board. He raised his bushy eyebrows, and laughed in delight when she pulled out two huge submarine sandwiches from her canvas tote, followed by two red cans of Coke.
“Roast beef with all the fixins, and some peanuts for Scarlet. And Coke, of course.”
“Well, aren’t you just a sweetheart!” He exclaimed.
“I brought you a twelve-pack, so you have more for later. I’ll put them in the fridge.”
“Well, I’ll be…”
She was smiling as she sat back at the table.
“Do you have family here in town,” Caleb stopped when he saw her smile evaporate. “I’m sorry, dear, did I say something wrong?”
“No,” she cleared her throat. “No, you didn’t.” She began to cry, unable to speak once the tears started.
Damn it Rachel! Get a grip! You’re making him feel bad. Stop crying! Stop it! STOP IT! But she couldn’t.
Caleb got up and reached into the top drawer of his dresser. He pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her. This made her cry harder. The hanky reminded her of her dad. Caleb stroked her hair.
“I don’t have anyone left,” she sputtered when the tears had passed. And she told him about her sister. And that her parents were gone. And that she was all alone.
“And I never knew my grandparents.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, the silence punctuated by the occasional sniffle from Rachel, or a soft whistle from Scarlet. Caleb seemed to be thinking hard about something. Finally, he spoke.
“I’ve discovered an interesting thing during the two hundred years that I’ve been alive,” he began. “I’ve found that when we lose someone we love, someone else always seems to come along to fill in. Whether it is the work of God, Allah, Buddha, or the Tooth Fairy, I really don’t know. It’s whatever you believe, I suppose. For example, I just lost my friend Bob, but then you go and show up sitting at our piano—an angel to all of us here,” he smiled, and his eyes disappeared in a nest of wrinkles. “So, my friend, you may have never known your grandparents, but it now appears that you have about sixty people willing to be your surrogate grandpersons, whether you want them to, or not. In my case, I volunteer myself as your great, great, great grandfather, with emphasis on great!” he clapped his hands together on the last ‘great’.
“There now, it’s good to see you smile,” he gently wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb. “Personally, I think the one that passed on gets to pick out someone new for us,” he smiled. “Someone not necessarily to take his or her place, but to ease the pain; to keep us moving forward. Does that make sense, or do I just sound like a crazy old man spouting nonsense?”
“No, it makes perfect sense,” Rachel said, and she meant it. She sighed. “Life is impossibly hard sometimes.”
“It is, but it just takes practice. We practice by letting others get close to us,” he lifted his Coke towards her. “Cheers.”
She stared at the coke can with puffy eyes. She lifted her own, clinking it against his. “Cheers, Caleb. I’m really glad I met you.”
Her good cry and the conversation with Caleb had left her feeling remarkably uplifted. Plus, she had actually beaten him at Scrabble, though she suspected he had let her win.
She stopped at Cuppa Joe’s on the way home. She wanted to sit in the window, sip a latte, watch the traffic go by, and think about her conversation with Caleb. The Barista-Poet was working the counter, and she ordered without stumbling. He smiled at her, his brow lifted slightly as he handed over her change. His hand was warm. She smiled back without blushing, and went to sit in the window. She sat at the table that she used to share with her sister.
She felt exhausted, but clean.
Tuesday mornings became a sacred ritual. She never missed a morning at the Silver Birches, and her audience grew to include family members of the residents, friends of the residents, most of the staff, and the UPS man. And she always had lunch with Caleb after her recital, and they played Scrabble while Scarlet watched over. Curiously, she hadn’t beaten him since her bad day.
“I love the man at the coffee shop, Caleb,” she admitted one day, as they lunched on chicken burritos. “I’ve pretty much been stalking him for two years. I can barely speak when I’m in front of him. My mouth gets all tied up, my brain shuts off, and I act like a dork.”
“You should play the piano for him, then it’s would be all over. He wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d fall in love with you right on the spot.”
“There’s no piano at the coffee shop,” she said, attempting to dismiss the idea.
“Then why don’t you invite him here? I’m sure the silver bitches would make him feel right at home.”
“Very funny Caleb.”
“I’m serious. Remember that lecture I gave you about practicing life? This is an excellent example of that. Besides, what have you got to lose?”
“My favorite coffee shop for starters. I’ll never be able to go in there again if I ask him out, and he says no.”
“You’re right. You should just hang out here with the old folks. I think Charlie down the hall fancies you. He’s only ninety-three. You should go for it.” Rachel made a face and Caleb laughed. Scarlet mimicked the sound perfectly, making them both laugh harder.
It was spring. Today she decided to go to Cuppa Joe’s first, before heading over to the rest home. Barista-Poet was not working, which disappointed her. She thought he always worked on Tuesdays. She still hadn’t invited him to one of her recitals, and Caleb still nagged her about it. This made her smile. He was a persistent old man, her surrogate great, great, great granddad. She picked up her latte and headed to the home.
She’d been visiting the Silver Birches for over a year and a half. It was a perfect day outside, but when she walked in the building, she knew immediately that something was off. There was no one at the front desk, and when she poked her head in the rec room, it was empty. She ignored the twinge of alarm she felt in her gut and went to Sophie’s room, which was just two doors down from the front desk, and found a small gathering. As soon as Sophie saw her, she shuffled over and took her hands.
“Oh, my dear! We tried to call you. It’s Caleb...”
Rachel didn’t go to the funeral. She couldn’t. Instead, she sat by herself in Caleb’s room. Silver Birches was quiet, most of its residents and many of the staff attending the service. She took Scarlet out of her cage, and let her climb to her perch. She wondered what would happen to the bird now. She lay on the bed and watched the parrot. She fell asleep and dreamed about Caleb.
“Hello?” A voice said. It was strangely familiar. She turned and rubbed her eyes. Barista-Poet was standing over the bed. She sat up quickly. Had she fallen asleep in the coffee shop? But wait, she was in Caleb’s room, at the Silver Birches. What was the poet doing here?
“I’m Caleb,” he said, confusing her further. Was this some kind of sick joke?
“That’s not funny! Get out of here!” She yelled, causing him to step back in surprise.
“I’m sorry, I’ve startled you. My name is Caleb, the Caleb that lived here, in this room, was my granddad. You must be Rachel. He talked about you all the time,” he paused and stared at her closely. “Wait a minute, I know you! From the coffee shop. You’re the pretty-Tuesday-afternoon-girl. Sorry, I like to nickname the customers.” He looked at his shoes. “It’s been one hell of a shitty week.” He sounded defeated.
Rachel looked at him, stunned. He took a deep breath and looked back at her with his grandfather’s eyes. How had she not made the connection before? The eyes and nose were the same, the square jaw, and the wavy hair.
“Granddad has been trying to get me to come down here for months to hear you play the piano, but I usually work on Tuesdays.” He sat on the bed next to her and stared at Scarlet. “He said that when I met you, I needed to tell you to keep practicing. No matter what. He said that you would know what that meant. I assume he was referring to the piano.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “Yeah, the piano, among other things…”
“He was also always hounding me to get an old piano to put in the shop. He said that ‘you never knew who might stop by to play’.”
Rachel sighed and Caleb took her hand in his. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“I know,” she said. They sat there quietly. He did not release her hand.
“Do you like Bach?” She said, after a while.
“Yeah, my grandma used to play a lot of Bach.”
“Please come with me. I need to practice,” she held out her free arm out to Scarlet, who hopped on, and walked hand-in-hand with Caleb towards the rec room, where she played Bach for both him, and his granddad, her surrogate great, great, great grandfather.
Emphasis on great.
Copyright 2011 by Hall Jameson
Man throwing poetry off the roof of a six-story building
to look up
at the man
in his blissful
has made us
from being hit
This is the age
of the Brain
“Wars are fought
of a departed
Poets on the sidewalk
from a cart –
drives everyone away –
Red claws hang
out of every manuscript.
A fire brigade
Copyright 2011 by Craig Shay
Toddlers in Tiaras
writhe when spider wives
arrive to incubate fake eggs,
place porcelain babies
molds of adult teeth,
eye lids sparkling, metallic
imposed beauty, painted
on pallets, three and four years
old, and wonderful
dolls in the making
now, see how babies mimic
mothers, Barbies, live on TLC--
My mom does my makeup
because she wants me to look pretty
as they shake in the knees,
shrinking back from spray-on tans
and nagging hands that wag the can.
I’m just tired, I’m starving
little bellies growl, angry at the act.
They take the stage and walk the plank
crowns balanced in their curls,
walk until their legs give out
until the dresses’ frills unfurl.
Copyright 2011 by Nichole Rued
In March, as in February, Lazarus’s wife asked him to seek a solution to their problem of poverty. All their friends had the latest Chinese-made DVD, complete with loudspeakers. All Lazarus had was a second-hand CD that stopped working years ago and gathered dust on a battered table in the sitting room. Their friends went in cars to the monthly meeting of the Umuadiaka Town Development Union Lagos Branch, where Lazarus was assistant treasurer. She came to the same meeting riding on old okadas.
Lazarus's wife said her mates did not have to beat dust from their clothes or straighten them with their hands as soon as they entered the meeting room. People did not look at them with pity because dust did not stain their clothes and sweat was not on their faces after yet another okada ride. They raised up their heads high because they flaunted the latest Blackberry and iPod and would soon take delivery of the latest phones coming out of Cotonu. What did Lazarus's wife have? A second hand Nokia phone.
She told Lazarus he was lucky to have a nubile wife like herself concerned about his progress. Other women would have packed out of his ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment and found their fortune with men ready to take proper care of them. Or they would get a ‘sugar daddy’ ready to give them the money to buy the new phones coming out of Cotonu. Lazarus should do something so she could raise up her head in the April town union meeting or she would be forced to take a ‘drastic action’.
Lazarus told her she should be patient, wait unto the lord, and that desperation often pushed people to ruin, but his wife would not hear of this. Lazarus was reading the bible upside down; poverty always resulted from too much patience. Besides, only poor foolish men waited for God’s time. Lazarus grew angry and just fell short of telling her she should forget about DVDs and Blackberry and concentrate more on how they could raise money to cater for their two sons and three daughters. But he did not because he was afraid of the possible consequences.
Lazarus was a struggling carpenter and did not know where he could raise the money to buy a new DVD or the latest Blackberry coming out of Cotonu. His wife told him he could consult Abednego, who was the richest member of the town development union. Unlike Lazarus, Abednego flaunted the latest Blackberry, lived in a mighty mansion at Surulere, and drove a V-boot. Lazarus’s wife heard he would soon travel to Cotonu to buy the latest phone for his wife.
Lazarus, who got married seven years ago, was a good man and attended the Prosperity and Miracle Church of God without fail every Sunday. The church pastor preached on the need for husbands to listen to their wives so they did not go astray and fall into temptation. Lazarus loved his wife, listened to her, and did not want to push her into the hands of ‘sugar daddies’. He decided to visit Abednego for ideas about how to solve his problem of poverty.
He understood why his wife was desperate. It was the season of pastors and bishops who preached about prosperity and miracles, forgetting the message of salvation. The Church of Miracle and Prophecy at Okota and God’s Miracle Mission in Isolo were the best known. They had been small churches but evolved and now wives of carpenters, bricklayers and mechanics, after hearing messages of prosperity and miracles, dreamed of owning Blackberry, iPod and new second-hand phones coming out of Cotonu. A wife would listen to a sermon from her pastor telling her she deserved the best the world had to offer. She would go home and think about it then wake her husband in the dead of the night and request for a Blackberry or iPod. The husband – who had not paid their children's school fees – would tell her he could not raise the money for the phones. The wife would get angry and secretly go for a ‘sugar daddy’ who could dole out the money she wanted. The husband would find out and throw her properties to the streets. A scene would occur and the marriage collapse. Pastors argued on the pulpits the devil was responsible for the crashing marriages and continued to preach about prosperity and miracles. Lazarus had no intention of blaming the devil if his wife left him, so he told himself he would find a solution to the problem. He did not want his home consumed by fire.
In February, Lazarus, egged on by his wife, went to the premises of the St George's Pool Betting International Company Limited. Lazarus’s best friend, Unoka, asked him to visit the company so he could learn how to 'stake' and find a solution to his poverty. The company was housed in a seedy two-story building emblazoned by signboards of all manner of offices. In front of it, a line of women placed tables and chairs on the ground and sold foodstuff. The patrons wore old shirts and jumpers and sat on the old benches placed on the corridors of the crumbling building. Since the women also sold ogogoro, akpetesie, cigarettes, and Indian Hemp, the men bought the items from them and smoked and drank. Lazarus recoiled from the smoke of cigarette when Unoka took him around.
”Can anything good come out of this place?” Lazarus asked his friend.
“Hundreds of thousands of naira are made here everyday,” Unoka said. "And anything can happen. We could hit millions this week, especially if the draws are good. My babalawo told me things will be good. That’s why I wanted you to come and tryCopyright 2011 By Adetokunbo Abiola your hands as a 'staker'.”
Lazarus stared at the entrances to the petty offices. Young men smoked marijuana and gulped from bottles of local gin. A man thrust a sheaf of food-stained pools papers into the face of a tall thin man standing ten meters from Lazarus, saying the numbers he had would enable them hit the jackpot. The man’s hair was uncombed, and the soles of his pair of shoes were bent. The tall thin man chewed on kola, and his teeth were yellow and unwashed.
Lazarus thought the place was not unlike a joint he found in the seedy areas of Ajegunle. Rain fell on the day, and Lazarus took refuge in one of the offices, hoping to continue his journey after the shower. He did not know when one of the marijuana-smoking man took his weekly wage from his trousers’ pocket. Lazarus knew when he wanted to pay his bus fare and found his pockets empty. He was bailed out by a Good Samaritan. He did not want the same situation to occur at St George's.
“Let’s go,” he told Unoka.
“Don’t look down on this place,” Unoka told him. “People come here from all over Lagos. Wait till it’s six o clock and you’ll know what I mean. If you want to make millions, this is the place you can get it.”
And then commotion broke out. The tall thin man yelled someone had picked his pocket, that he had one thousand naira in it a minute before, and that it was no longer there. Another man shouted he would break the head of the manager of St George's if he was not paid his winnings for the previous week, that the company promised to pay him but was reneging, and that its workers were thieves and robbers stealing money with pens and other means. Still another man shouted at the top of his voice, that he heard rumors the draws for the week would be rigged, and that many 'stakers' would be made to lose their hard-earned money.
Turning to Unoka, Lazarus told him he wanted to speak to him outside. Thinking Lazarus was a pools 'staker', one young man stood in front of him. "If you want to win this week, copy my draws," he said. "Arsenal and Man U are sure winners. The same thing for Tottenham and Wigan. But you'll pay me for the draws. Only two hundred naira."
When Lazarus did not reply, he continued, "Or you want more winners. I'll tell you everything. My pastor cannot lie to me. He has never lied before. You'll get my winners this week."
Lazarus dragged Unoka away, waving his hand against the thick cigarette and marijuana smoke.
"This place is not for me," Lazarus told his friend. "The people here are crooks and cheats."
"Not at all," Unoka replied. "You're only cheated if you're a fool."
"Then they'll easily cheat me."
"I'm here to make sure it doesn't happen."
Lazarus told him he would return and assess the place the following week. When he returned, he did not meet Unoka at the agreed meeting point. As he stood twenty meters from the entrance of the pools company, one young man passed by him, and Lazarus gave him the description of Unoka, asking for his whereabouts.
"Follow me," the young man said.
Lazarus followed him into one of the numerous rooms in the building and saw three men who sat in front and beside a wooden box. When Lazarus looked into the box, he saw white papers neatly cut into the sizes of dollar bills. The man who sat behind the box told Lazarus mercury was needed to turn the papers into dollar bills, and that his cut in the deal was two million naira. His share was more than enough for Lazarus to buy a brand-new Toyota Camry, but Lazarus was not to tell anybody about the deal. The man asked Lazarus to look behind him, and Lazarus saw a red cloth spread on the ground at the corner of the shadowy room. On top of it, Lazarus saw the skulls of goats, many cowries, native chalk, and other materials. Above the cloth, the shrine also consisted of long iron bars placed vertically against the wall and sprinkled with blood. It was an Ogun shrine, and one of the men told Lazarus to swear by it he would not divulge the secrets of the gang to the police or anybody. A cutlass placed against his neck, a bewildered Lazarus was forced to call for Ogun's vengeance if he betrayed the gang, made to lick the blood on the blade of the cutlass, and told to go and bring the money for the mercury needed to turn the blank papers into dollar bills. Lazarus ran out the room, went to his church to exorcise the oath, and never went back to the building again.
Abednego sat in his mighty sitting room at Surulere when Lazarus got there the day after his wife demanded for a better life. According to one or two members of the Umuadiaka Union Lazarus asked, Abednego started out as a car spare part dealer operating from one small room in Oshodi. One evening, while he sold a second-hand car engine, a beautiful woman, a 'mamiwota' came to his shop and asked him to take her to an outing at Bar Beach the following Saturday. As he listened to the voice of the mermaid during the outing, she changed into a white cat right before his eyes and told him he would become a dealer in brand-new car spare part for his goodness to her. From then on, Abednego sold spare parts from China and Taiwan rather than Aba, Umuahia and Onitsha.
Abednego had been going to Contonu to buy the latest phone for his wife when Lazarus came in, but he decided to suspend the trip for a few minutes while he listened to his union's assistant treasurer. After listening to Lazarus, he paused for a few seconds then began a strange tale about a man living in Benin City with powers to make people millionaires. The man's name was Alhaji 456. He had a long hair and always wore white garments. He made people rich by taking them late at night to a river. He brought them back rich and prosperous men. Abednego told Lazarus stories of friends Alhaji took to the river and who came back with boxes filled with crisp dollar bills. Some of the men had visited native divinersin search of solution to their poverty and been made to perform many rituals. A man slept with his mother's corpse and yet did not become rich. Another man was told he could become prosperous only if he slept with a blind mad woman. The babalawo chose a deranged woman sitting in the trashby the market at Ojota. The man was so desperate to become wealthy he made love to the woman and yet did not become rich. Now he drove a Jeep, a Mercedes, and a Toyota after Alhaji took him to the river. Another man's wife prevented him from touching her unless he bought her a Toyota. After he met Alhaji, the man bought the car and his marriage was saved.
Abednego told Lazarus yet another story of a man who had a spirit as girl friend. He made love to her and it made him run into a lot of money. But when he wanted to have sex with real women, his money would vanish and the women run away. But he fell in love with a woman because she resembled his mother and wanted to break the covenant with the spirit woman. She was very angry and made sure the man lost his job, became wretched, and broke. A friend brought him to Alhaji, and he was delivered of the powers of the spirit woman after a visit to the river. The man got back his old job, made a lot of money, and married his beloved girl friend.
Copyright 2011 By Adetokunbo Abiola
THE LITTLE PUNKS
Shelby made by Mustang made by Ford circa 1967
Assembly line well-lubed robotic romance
Zeppelin made by Hindenburg circa 1933 coined by Keith Moon
The Tramp in London over several chemical wet dreams
The names of cat burglars bank tellers and philosophers
The names of street urchins weaned on acts of vitriol
We coveted the Mustang II most as kids and our art
Was not defacement but the cunning removal of trophies
That striding stallion reminiscent of Paul Revere
Or the peace sign of Mercedes ripped off the hood
We needed some special coupon for existence
As we dashed off into the giggling pubescent fortitude
Schwinn and Peugeot and Nishiki bicycles speeding
In the breach between near-darkness and night
As many of us graduated to more sinister bends
We lost contact, as if abducted by the very forces
We abhorred, smoking reefer, skipping stones
Out on the shells of a city built on landfill
To a boom-box soundtrack, bands with names
Amply illustrating our milieu
Fear, DOA, No Means No, Dead Moon
Those who survived grew up to drive newer models
Of the same cars
The same substances only with superior packaging and AMA approval
The same ill wind and candy-striped emotionality
Our parents were all the rage back in the day
Copyright 2011 by Jay Passer
An Ode to my City-Delhi
On maimed corners
varnished with virginal waste
one can hear the drunkard's declaim
under a burdened bridge,
when the chief minister's cavalcade
chokes the bypass and circuits
an ailing sufferer susurrates
his last, limiting his life span.
Barriers barricade the dusty driveway
and flyovers flourish and flutter
brightened by beacons burning brilliantly
barbaric blue lines replaced
by sleek red and green buses
haven't satisfied the needs
of the people on the run
and even with meandering streams
of metros, the public floats finless
on a typical working day.
And only when complaints
fall on deafened ears
one can see architectural prominence
polishing the province
schools, colleges and institutions
illuminating the civilization
with the walled city dwelling
along side the glitzy malls.
A shopper's sanctuary
and a food fairy land
the city doesn't sleep
by bombarding bombs
hidden in hibernating dustbins
many times by
like the CWG scam
despite the merciless misery
mutilating its marrow
it has a corner for everyone
who comes here
that is why Ghalib once said
The world is the body
and Delhi its soul.
Copyright 2011 by Rinzu Rajan
See You With The Sun
I hated my funeral. Everyone was all sad and quiet. Dad was like a statue. Mom was the opposite. She wouldn’t stop moving and there were tissues everywhere. She had on a dress with no sleeves so she couldn’t stick Kleenex up her sleeves like she usually does. And it was hot. I’m dead and even I was sweaty.
Sarah didn’t look up the whole time. But that was normal for her. It was either that or her giant brown eyes staring at me all evil-like. That’s the only way she looked at me when I was alive. I kind of deserved it though. I liked to pick on her a lot. One time I threw all her stuffed animals out the window. She walked in after I threw the last one down.
“What are you doing in my room?” She had just gotten a haircut and had huge bangs on her forehead. She looked stupid.
“You look stupid.”
She smoothed her hair down over and over. “You’re stupid.” Then she noticed what was missing. “Where are my stuffed animals?”
I stuck my hands in my pockets. “I dunno.”
She ran to the window and looked down and screamed. I laughed so hard, but then she hit me right in the face and made me cry. Mom ran into the room then and yelled at Sarah, which made me feel better. But then she found out what I did.
“Daniel, you’re getting too old for these games. This isn’t how seven year olds act, is it?”
She made me go down and pick up all the animals. I was so mad I hid one of them in the bushes. I didn’t hide her favorite one though. The stupid pink rabbit. She would have hit me really hard if I did. She hasn’t even found the hidden one yet. I wonder if she even notices it’s gone. I wonder if she even notices I’m gone.
Benny said it’s the law to pick on your big sister. He’s my best friend. Or I guess he was. He’ll probably get a new one now.
Benny has two big sisters. That’s two times worse than having just one. All of them were at my funeral. One of them is really pretty though. Maria. Even her name is pretty in my mouth: Maria Morgan. She had black stuff running down her face at my funeral. I felt bad for making her cry.
Benny said boys are never ever supposed to cry. But I saw him break that rule a couple days ago. He doesn’t know though. He’ll never know. I was being James Bond. That’s what I call my spying since I’m dead and can’t ever be caught.
It was the night after we went swimming. He was eating dinner with his family but none of them really touched their food at all. Maria wasn’t at dinner cause I would’ve spied on her instead. I don’t know where she was. Probably with the boy Benny and I caught her all tangled up with one time. She’d screamed like someone cut her.
Benny’s parents were talking to him real slowly. But I couldn’t hear what they were saying cause there weren’t any windows open. I pressed my ear so hard against the glass it hurt. I wanted to punch it like they do in the movies. But then the next thing I knew I was in the Morgan’s kitchen. That was the night I found out I didn’t have to use doors anymore.
Mr. and Mrs. Morgan are real funny. Mr. Morgan acts like a clown all the time. He told me he was one in College. I think that’s the next town over. Mrs. Morgan is always real smiley and jumps around a lot. Mom said she is a walking fiesta, but not in a nice way.
That night they weren’t acting funny and smiley though. They were telling Benny how lucky he was to be sitting there right then. I wouldn’t say that though cause their chairs are so hard and straight. They told him that it could have been him instead of me. But he went swimming too so I guess they meant dying. I wish Benny were here. He would love spying all the time.
I left after that. I got sad cause spying without a partner in crime is not real fun at all. James Bond must have been real lonely.
Benny didn’t cry at my funeral too much. I thought I saw some tears fall but he wiped them real quick. His other sister Claudia kept taking her glasses off and blowing her nose. I don’t even know why she was so sad. I never talked to her cause one time she tried to kiss me on the mouth and I ran away so fast. I wished Benny had timed me cause it would have broken my record but he didn’t even know. I never told him or anybody. I don’t really like to talk about it. Except now sometimes I wish I’d let her cause I died without ever being kissed by a girl.
I came really close one time with Heather Waters. We got locked in the coat closet at school. Heather has the longest hair I ever saw and it’s the color of squirrels.
“You can touch it if you want.” She pulled it around so it fell over her arm like the curtains at our Thanksgiving play. I ran my hand over it. It was so soft.
“I got this new shampoo that makes it soft as silk.”
“Why don’t you cut it and make it a blanket or something?” She pulled her hair back so hard.
“I will never ever cut my hair, Daniel Thompson, and don’t you ever ask me that again.” I liked how she had said that. It was like her very own Superman cape. Then I just plain asked her if I could kiss her.
“Can I kiss you?”
She didn’t answer for a real long time. But then she nodded, and as soon as I took a step toward her Ms. Aarons unlocked the door.
I’m going to miss Ms. Aarons. She looked like happiness. She had bright yellow hair and bright white teeth. I liked her so much it almost hurt to be near her. I was the only one in the first grade who hated leaving when school ended. She didn’t look happy at my funeral though. Her hair looked like Ms. Frizzle’s from the Magic School Bus. And she was with some guy who kept his arm around her. I didn’t like the looks of him, so I stayed away.
There were some people I didn’t even know there. Some were dad’s friends from work that I met like one time in my whole life. They must have really liked me, I guess.
One time I asked mom if dad liked me. She was making me waffles, which is my favorite food ever, and got all sad and concerned. She crouched down next to me like she was putting a band-aid on my knee or something.
“Why would you ask something like that, Daniel?”
“I dunno. When someone likes you they talk to you and play with you. He doesn’t do that. Are my waffles ready?”
“Daniel, your father loves you. He’s just has a different way of showing it. Sarah loves you, and she shows you by letting you use the bathroom first in the morning right?”
“I guess so. But you show me the most so you must love me the most right?” She hugged me real big then.
“Your daddy and I love you the exact same. Always remember that, okay?”
“Okay. But my waffles are burning.” She had to make me another batch.
Dad acted different after that. He used to always be real quiet. Everything around him was quiet too. It was like something would break if you made a noise. But then he started asking me to play catch all the time and threw me like a torpedo in our pool. It was the best week ever. But then I died.
Benny and I just wanted to go swimming. We have a pool in our backyard and we swum in it all the time during the day. But we had never swum in it at night before and we wanted to know what it was like, that’s all. I knew it would make mom mad cause she hates it when I scare her. I used to do it all the time when I was real little. I would run inside screaming, “There’s a wolf in the backyard, there’s a wolf in the backyard!” Cause Benny had just told me the story about the boy who cried wolf. But I knew I wouldn’t get eaten like the boy cause there aren’t any wolves in South Carolina.
The first time I yelled it, they fell for it. Dad jumped out of his chair so fast it flew behind him like he farted. Mom screamed. I laughed so hard but then mom put soap in my mouth. I shut up after that. Soap is gross. It’s like giving your mouth a bath.
When Benny and I went swimming, I just thought that if mom found out she’d put soap in my mouth again. I could live through another mouth washing. I definitely didn’t think it would be my last swim ever.
Benny and I tried so hard not to laugh when we were taking off our pajamas. I remember I got goose bumps real bad when the wind blew. I should have known right then not to go swimming. It was a bad omen. Like dad says when the sky’s red in the morning or when I walked under a ladder that one time. I never really got that though cause it sounds like what we say at church after a prayer, and prayers are good things.
I was usually a real good swimmer. But my leg started hurting and got all tight when I was in the deep end. I remember looking up at the moon through my goggles. It was so big that night. It looked like a giant white pancake. All I kept thinking when I started swallowing water was that I really wanted some waffles.
Mom probably won’t miss making them for me though. I would ask for them every morning. Dad and Sarah never ate them. Dad just drank coffee. Now that I’m gone that’s the only thing I’ve seen go into his belly.
Another weird thing that’s happened since I’ve gone is that he sleeps on the couch now. Dad always said couches were for sitting not for sleeping. He should get soap in his mouth for breaking a rule.
Mom is the weirdest though. She barely even talks. I almost forget what her voice sounds like. And her laugh. I loved making her laugh. It always reminded me of Christmas morning. At least she says good night to me still even though she sounds different. Her voice is all heavy. But every night wherever I am I can hear her whisper: “Good night, Daniel. See you with the sun.”
She’s said that to me every night since I can remember. It was the only way I’d stay in bed when I was real little. She would tell me that I couldn’t get up without the sun. I used to stare at the moon so hard with my death ray vision but it never moved or exploded. That would have been real cool. But mom said it only moved when I had my eyes closed. She was right too cause the next time I opened my eyes the moon would always be gone.
After I died, the first thing I did was run up to my parent’s room. Mom opened her eyes as soon as I walked in. I thought for a second she could see me. She got out of bed real slow. Her blankets hardly moved and the dent in her pillow didn’t even rise. Everything was so still and quiet. I felt like we were in a snow globe that had never been shook before. Then she heard Benny yelling my name.
Mom sprinted downstairs. I could barely keep up with her. Her feet slapped against the floors so loud, it sounded like someone was clapping.
She threw open the back door and was at the pool in three giant leaps and kept running right into the water. She pulled my old body out onto the edge of the pool and started pushing real hard on my chest. Then she listened to it. I put my hand on my new chest. Nothing.
Mom kept pushing on my chest. I felt bad cause she was soaking wet in her pajamas. And also cause Benny was making noises and rocking with his face in his knees on the other side of the pool.
I opened my mouth to tell them both to stop, but then mom made the worst noise I ever heard in my life. It sounded like a wolf was eating her. The wolf I used to tease her about. That sound was worse than dying.
It’s a month after my funeral now. Mom’s still in bed when there is a knock on the door. Dad pops his head in.
Mom’s eyes are closed and she doesn’t move. Dad comes in and kisses her forehead real soft like a whisper. Then he goes in the bathroom for a shower.
I lie down next to mom and prop myself up on my elbow. I look at her face a long time. Sunlight starts coming in through the windows. She opens her eyes.
I whisper, “Good morning, mom. I’m here with the sun.”
She goes downstairs and makes waffles.
Copyright 2011 by Meghan McDonald
hey there, dizzy girl.
hey there, dizzy girl. harvest
some iron, your blood
is a mess. to you, dizzy girl
the world is nothing
but a tornado, the spin
of your dress, the curl
of hair around fingers. the world
is nothing but power, dark
nourishment in veins, leafy
and green. harvest
it all from the root. the will
to stand without faltering
is the root, dizzy girl. clutch
your basket tight, tighter. grip
the green. tug root from earth, watch
your body spin
in its shadow. watch closely, girl.
breathe in, and release.
Copyright 2011 by Ashley Inguanta
I met a man
rumply and pale,
sticky hair, scratched
he flashed his watch,
he made me smell his
I stumble past him
on his balcony
and he calls down
that make my skin tingle,
like "listen for the line breaks"
Copyright 2011 by Sandra Ketcham
In America 1971
When I was a child I too,
Knew the tang of potato mould in a pantry.
A diffused hemorrhage of scent,
With dust motes glimmering in winged resignation
Within paltry shafts of our poor Irish sunlight.
Sitting cross legged at the bottom of wooden shelving,
My father had made by hand, slowly sipping evaporated milk on the sly
The metal can-opener slipping through my five year old fingers
I had brought the potatoes to my nose and closed my eyes
As I inhaled the mildewed sweetness.
But I was never told,
“this is who we are. It is from here that we hail”
The words were never given over in language
Or combed through a consciousness
As blank as mine had been.
In our bloods vicinity, only the seasons were palpable,
With the joined sacraments of each Holy day
Cementing our straying feet
In purgatorial commitment.
The alluring milk-white thorn of our God-head,
Malignant-eyed and tenebrous
As any frame in Wormwood
Was as constant as the potatoes
We gratefully consumed each day.
I was instructed in customs of instinct and tradition,
Whose origins would remain as mysterious and unknowable to me
As the hidden walls of Salamanca.
Copyright 2011 by Therresa Griffin-Kennedy
Fire Island. I climb the lighthouse’s spiral stairs. Seashell echo, light-up high-top stampede. Brick walls, voices of children. I want to speak with them, but my words come out stale. I wish the shoe stampede would turn into a chorus of wings, flapping and cradling the wind, shoving it aside.
Nowhere left to step. I stand, the railing in front of me. Blue ahead. I imagine my shoulder blades are wings and lean forward, stomach on the metal bars. A chaperone grabs me by my shirt and says what are you trying to do, Corina, kill yourself? I stare at her and scream inside. There are chickens growing in my mouth. Not made to fly, but to jump.
Copyright 2011 by Ashley Inguanta