Monday, July 25, 2016

#210: "Summer, 1983" by Michael Boccardo

~This poem was previously published in Cutthroat (2010).

Summer, 1983

On that last afternoon in June,
when the road still cracked
a dusty gravel whip beneath our feet
and no one could afford the luxury
of electric air, we crossed
over into our neighbor’s yard,
small bits of stone poking each
bare heel, already rubbed thick
and coarse as sandpaper. 
By the time we breathed
the perfumed thickets of dogwood
edging Bessie’s mailbox,
my mother’s toes glinted with mica,
ten shimmering minnows
wiggling in blades of sun-stroked grass. 
Back then she was proud of her legs,
and wore nothing but tee-shirts and cutoffs,
denim sheared by a dull kitchen knife,
the threads floating like spider silk
around her thighs.  My brother and I trailed
behind, arms spiraling, embroiled in a battle
of plastic sacks, heavy with squash  
and zucchini plucked from our father’s garden,
too busy being boys to notice
anything wrong until the hiss
of coiled newspapers, a week’s worth,
skidded towards opposite corners
of the front porch.  When mother vanished,
a blurred shape behind the rattle of a screen door, 
we knew better than to move,
our shadows like drawn umbrellas, rigid
as we stood in currents of clover ankle-deep.
I was too young to understand
death then, but learned the ways it fooled
the world into living, how
it carried us back to where the day
began, hands gloved in soil, the sun
thirsty against our backs as we loosened
vines of tomatoes, bright bulbs dangling
like tangles of strung lights.  That night,
no one slept.  Thermometers simmered
above eighty while stars gathered
in clusters of condensation, 
windows gaping like the hooded eyes
of insomniacs.  In the kitchen,
mother busied herself until dawn,
slicing and canning.  With every glass jar
she cradled onto a pantry shelf,
her dress flared, each leg
clinging to the dark fabric
then swinging in a slow arc,
like the dome of a bell tolling the hour.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#209: Eydie Gorme Was a Little Spanish Girl by Diane Lefer

~This story was previously published in Platte Valley Review (Spring 2010).

There was no more romance in LA and they’d kept her for hours and she’d never been a patient person–never! and her hands hurt, swelling in the plastic cuffs. Who were all these people? A man she couldn’t see somewhere in the back said, “They’re taking us to Guantánamo!” People laughed.
“I went to Havana,” she said, “back when everyone went,” but now it was different and no one answered and the bus was parked outside the police station and there she’d sat since they transferred her from the back seat of the black and white and left her with her bags on her lap.
A cop came up the steps.
 “Officer! What is this delay?”
“No room at the inn,” he said, “not till they process through some felonies.”
“Officer!” Helga usually spoke the plain, blunt, even vulgar English words, but in such official company, guns, uniforms and all, how could she put it? “I must make water,” she said. “Now.”
He ignored her but then the woman came, name on the badge--Ortiz and Ortiz said “I’m not supposed to,” then nosed clippers between the plastic and her skin and cut her free. Before Helga could say thank you, Ortiz did. “Thank you for what you’re doing.”
“You are most welcome,” Helga said.
 “Those people deserve a union,” said Ortiz. “They should have had one years ago,” and so Helga realized the thanks had not been meant for her.
“Leave your personal items,” said Ortiz like a flight attendant and led her inside the building and to a door and unlocked it. More than a dozen women there. The ladies room, always the same.
“What are you waiting for?” said Ortiz.
For the toilet was not in use. There it was, stainless steel, in the middle of the room. The indignity of it. But the birds make do with a fountain or a dirty puddle, she thought. So: Down with the panties, the first use of her freed hands. Then, no soap, no paper towels, just a sink.
“This is not sanitary!” she said and someone said “Careful!” but too late. She turned on the faucet and like a fire hose, a hydrant, cold water shot full force across the room. Helga was soaked.

Monday, July 11, 2016

#208: "The Paris Catacombs" by Adrienne Ross Scanlan

~This essay was originally published under “Adrienne Ross” in
 you are here: the journal of creative geography (2008).

1 Place Denfert-Rochereau’s doors are black. Printed there in block letters are the words: “Entrée Des Catacombes” (Entrance to the Catacombs.)  It is mid-day.  I am hungry.  I buy a chocolate croissant from the boulangerie across the street and nibble it as I enter the ossuary’s doors, pay 5 Euros, and take my place in the line of tourists walking past warning signs (“Le chiens ne sont pas admis” / Dogs are not allowed), past historical photographs of the centuries-old quarries being transformed into catacombs, past video cameras, and down the spiral staircase to the bone yard beneath the streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter.  I am far from home, alone in a city of stones and strange words. 
In the world above, years ago, I was searching for merlins, peregrines, eagles along western Washington’s Bow Edison Road when I found a dead deer in the knee-high, roadside grass.  Her nose was ebony, her tawny fur was coarse with dirt and gravel, her legs were arced for flight as she must have been before being hit by a car.  She was gutted open.  Rain pooled pink with blood.  Her ribs were intact: bone sentinels standing guard over heart, lungs, intestines long after the battle was lost.
We walk down a tight, curling staircase, down, down, down, its steps worn grey stone. For a time, we can hear the whistles and sirens from the street.  We are 20 or so meters underground.  Where are we? Where am I? Where is my lover or my friends, all half a world away?  We come to a dark and narrow, stone walled passageway.  Stones crunch under footsteps.  The electric hum of sparse light bulbs, the chitchat of tourists, a girl’s high-pitched “Daddy?” echo as we walk.  In the underground air is a smell too clean for death.  We walk. The passageway turns through darkness. We walk past cells barred by metal grates, past a half-eaten apple, past a fire extinguisher.  We walk into a gallery where there are shadows, stone columns, and a stone floor, a white plastic lawn chair with an open novel on its seat, and a guard wearing sneakers, a blue rain parka, and a red baseball cap.  Signs on columns read: “Arrete!  C’est ici l’empire de la morte.  Vous etes invite a ne rien toucher, et a ne pas fumer dans l’ossuarie.” (Stop! This is the empire of the dead.  You are asked to not touch and to not smoke in the ossuary.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#207: A Translation and a Poem by John Oliver Simon

~This poem was previously published in Cider Press Review (2010).


La joven
en la mesa se pregunta

Si la luz
de la vela es suficiente:

La sombra
de su vaso le responde

Con un sí
que se parece al viento.

—Alberto Blanco
(Mexico, 1951)


The girl
at the table asks herself

If the light
of the candle is enough:

The shadow
of her glass replies

With a yes
that resembles the wind.

—Translated by John Oliver Simon


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#206: "Stroller" by Nancy Geyer

~ This essay was first published in Alaska Quarterly Review (2007).

            She’s standing on the bridge that spans Six Mile Creek, where the flats on the city’s south side begin. I see her from a block’s distance, milling about the steel guardrail, hands free of the baby stroller a few feet away. The stroller looks skeletal from behind, thinly padded and with few embellishments or conveniences. Its thin canopy is stretched forward against an absent sun.
You probably can’t buy those new anymore, I think to myself, to the extent I’m thinking about it at all.
It’s well into November, and after having coffee in town I’m walking home along Cayuga Street—past Sam’s Wine & Spirits, past the public library and the APlus, where you can refuel with gas or candy, past the Holiday Inn and its faint piped-out music. The Inn faces the new municipal parking garage where once, from the sidewalk, I mistook a security camera pointed down the glass-enclosed stairwell for a telescope aimed at the hills. For this is where my mind begins to loosen up, where purpose yields to possibility now that the errands are done and my civic persona has receded a bit—sensing, without being conscious of it, that I’m no longer likely to run into anyone I know, if there's anyone to run into.
            “It certainly is cold this morning!” the woman says, turning toward me when I reach the bridge. She’s wearing a white quilted ski jacket that makes her seem bold.
            “It certainly is,” I respond, passing briskly by because of it. I dip my head toward the carriage, though, the corners of my mouth beginning to pull up.
            Nothing, not even a doll.
            “Where’s the baby,” I almost blurt before I catch myself. The question is almost pure reflex, but I’m afraid it will come out sounding meddlesome—or, worse, accusatory. And so I continue silently on, barely breaking my stride.

Monday, June 20, 2016

#205: "Transit Info" by James Reed

~This story previously appeared in Apalachee Quarterly (1996).

The passenger in back bothers no one.  He is quiet and polite.  “Good evening,” he says as his ticket slides down the chute.  “Thank you,” as the door hisses open.  The driver notices him only because he favors two separate stops some eighteen blocks apart and because often he walks.  She sees him forty or fifty feet from his destination, the steak house corner with the big Cadillacs and Lincolns and the vans unloading families in the lot.  This is a total of thirty-six blocks from his point of origin, undoubtedly his job.  It must take him half or three-quarters of an hour.  She herself would never travel such a distance on foot, but she is portly and given to short breaths after two flights of steps.  A sixteen would fit her except through the hips.  A seamstress friend, whose girl she watches between shifts when the child gets home from school, alters her dresses and is discreet enough to cut out the labels.  She knows the styles the driver likes and buys them on sale and then is reimbursed.  The rest is considered an exchange.
Arlis is a pure-bred genius with a Singer machine, and handwork doesn’t trouble her in the least, but she is unable to curb the driver’s appetite for sweets.  Any bonbon proves irresistible.  It’s not as if she craves candy or schemes for it.  A large refillable of diet lasts the whole day’s driving, and she only nibbles at some fruit or has a small sandwich with Venetia in the afternoons, but let her see a Hershey bar or a Whitman Sampler box, and her money practically flies out of her billfold.  She’ll have part of it unwrapped and in her mouth before she starts the car.  And once opened, it will not last the night.  “Its life expectancy is nil,” she tells Arlis.  Just last night she watched Jimmy Stewart fly across the ocean in some rickety tent-flap plane, and as the screaming Frenchmen carried him away on their shoulders, she wiped her fingers of their last trace of chocolate.  It’s not the wanting it that infects her, but the having it.  That’s why she could not take a job like Candy Boy’s, which is not his real name but what she calls him.  When she sees him the words just appear in her head.  Candy Boy.  They’re there before she can say, “Hello.”
He rides that last run, usually sits behind Manny, and is a touch overweight but hardly so you’d notice.  Really he’s just soft.  Outside his job, she doubts he does much.  She suspects he lives with his mother and is not the type to’ve moved back in despite the grey in his hair she’d bet money his mother cuts.  Every couple of weeks, it just looks lopsided, usually on Wednesdays.  That makes it Tuesday nights that he comes home in his black pants and red knit shirt, both wrinkled, baggy, and ready for the wash, and sits in the chair dead center in the kitchen.  She ties a sheet around his neck and clips and buzzes until her squint through the humid air steaming with pots of boiling cabbage tells her, this will do.  Then she sweeps up the lank curls while he washes for dinner.  And changes.  She cannot abide the stink of sour ball flavorings on his clothes.  And he showers to take it off his skin.  It must be good and hot or she will not serve him at her table.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#204: "Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers" by Chauna Craig


~This essay was previously published in Calyx (2003).


Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers

based on many true stories

            Once upon a time there was a little girl named Pluma.  Pluma Piluma, a name given her for the pure sound of it.  In those vowels you could hear the purr of a motor, something smooth and sleek readying itself for faster days, liquid fuel like molten lava and not a harsh consonant on the rolling horizon of those letters.  Nothing to signal stop.
            That’s how a little girl’s life should start.  Purring possibility.  Horizons.  The pure sound of it.

            Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons described sound like this:  “Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.”  A sentence I love for how it curls and creeps and cruises from my tongue to my ear.  Sound.  Reckless reckless rats, this is this.

            I used to drive.  All-American pasttime.  In Montana the roads are infinity signs stretched , long, sloping to the endless horizon, empty like the beginning and the end.  Once upon a time, speed on those roads was limited only by words:  “reasonable and prudent.”  I liked the sound of it.  And then, as always happens, someone realized that words carried meaning and meanings carried people and people carried themselves way too fast.  So stop.  Replace the sounds.  Follow the numbers. 
I used to drive.  I sometimes still do.
* * *