Monday, February 12, 2018

#257: Two Poems by Jacqueline Jules

~This poem previously appeared in The Cape Rock (2014).

How Is Mom Holding Up?

When they heard the news in December,
Mom did not cancel their summer cruise.
The doctor said three rounds this time, if all goes well.
Besides, they bought insurance.

She hasn’t canceled yoga, either. Tuesdays 9 a.m.
are blocked off from January to June
to breathe deeply in class,
not at the hospital in chemo spouse position.

With no surgery scheduled, no bedside duty,
Mom plans to keep tutoring Wednesdays, too.

She’s already flipping through catalogs,
choosing seeds for the spring garden
unplanted last year in the storm
of a darker diagnosis.

And when I asked why she was gazing
through a frosted bay window
with dreamy gray eyes,
she said she was picturing
Sunday walks at the lake
hand in hand. Each day
growing longer and longer
until twelve hours of sun
and dinner for two on the patio
consumed the fear
of one plate on the kitchen table
and a six o’clock sunset outside.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

#256: "Far-Away Love" by Nahid Rachlin

~This story was previously published in Virginia Quarterly Review (1980).
~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, Assistant Editor, Fiction

                                    I am standing at this street corner,
                                    Where we used to meet
                                    But is it the same street?
                                    -- a Persian song

            Soosan sat in the Gelato Lab, eating her plum sorbet while her son, having finished his, stood by the fish tank in a corner of the cafe watching the fish tumbling in the water. They both needed rest. For hours, they had been going from shop to shop in the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar in the center of Tehran, with her doing some the last minute shopping for the party she was giving for Darien’s tenth birthday.
            The cafĂ© with the bright display of fruit and Cola bottles on a counter, green lights from tiny bulbs in the ceiling beaming, and its air fragrant with floral scents used in sorbets and gelatos was serene. But Soosan was far from relaxed. The closer it got to Darien’s birthday, the more she missed Bill, the American father of her child. How could she forget Bill, the stormy love between them that had come to an abrupt end ten years ago when he had to leave Iran, practically escaping, going back to America? Darien, looking so much like him, a son he had no idea existed, was a constant reminder of him. When the Revolution raged through Iran, with the Shah overthrown and a new Islamic regime about to take over, there was a wave of anti-American feeling that led to 52 Americans being taken hostage. Then the State Department had ordered all Americans residing in Iran to evacuate-- special planes had been sent for them. So she didn’t have a chance to even say good-bye to Bill. The Revolution and then the war with Iraq, which ended just a year ago, brought communication between Iran and other countries to zero. Phone lines were mostly disabled; post office didn’t deliver to other countries or received mail from them. The soap factory where she and Bill had both been working had closed soon after the American employees were forced to leave.
            She had kept hoping the relationship between Iran and America would resume and Bill would return. But everything got only worse. The hostages were held much longer than expected, over a year; the American embassy never opened, and a war, with Iraq attacking Iran kept going, making communication between Iran and other countries nearly impossible.
            She tried and tried to find a way to go to America and search for Bill but it became clear it was impossible for an Iranian to get a visa to go there.  Even if she could, how would she track him down in the vast country? She had no idea even what city he was living in.
            Her thoughts went to when she just met Bill. A young American man stopped by her at a bookstore where she was buying a novel in English. He began to talk switching back and forth from English to Farsi. They realized they both worked at the office of Parsa Soap Factory; she was a receptionist there, and he was an engineer consultant.     
             “I’m taking an English course in an evening class,” she had said to him.  “I see all the American movies shown in cinemas. I want to understand them in the original language.”
            “Maybe we can go to one of the movies together,” he said.
            She shook her head. He seemed to understand that she couldn’t accept the invitation, knew that it was forbidden in this culture for men and women to interact freely before they were married. They would have to see each other secretly.
            “Let’s go to dinner then, I know a good place outside of town.”
            She hesitated but then she agreed to that.

Monday, January 29, 2018

#255: Three Poems by Gregory Luce

~This poem was first published in Logical Reader (1997).

“Better git it in your soul”
(for Jim)

Better embrace it like Mingus’
bass, stroke it, caress it, pull it in,
draw it like smoke, drink it
like old bourbon burning
all the way down.
Then give it back.


Monday, January 22, 2018

#254: "N.O.M.E." by Hildie Block

~This story was previously published in The First Line (2005).

"That was the best game we've ever had!"  Her eyes were shining as the setting sun glinted off her long dark hair with the pink streaks.  She looked like a little girl instead.  Instead of the 25 year-old with a wasted B.A. in English, suffocating as an administrative assistant that she was.
He dumped the Scrabble tiles into the box without another thought.  She suddenly looked like she'd been stabbed. 
            "What are you doing!"  She was standing and looked agitated.  She was digging her nails into her palms.  The blood started to drip again.  He wondered, not for the first time, why she filed her nails to a point.
He looked shocked.  "Wha' "
"The perfect game!  The perfect game!  It's gone!"
She sat down and looked about to sob.  He looked around the park to make sure no one was looking.  "Look," he said covering her hand with his, "we know we played the perfect game.  We know we did it, finally, we used every tile, and we know the score was exactly even."  The wind stirred the leaves at his feet.  He put his hand in his pocket, fingering the blue velvet box that he kept there like a talisman – the box that would come so close to making a public appearance and then disappear again-- and instead grabbed a clean napkin from lunch.  "Here," he said, handing it to her so she could dry her hands.  She stood, wiped her hands, shook her head, as if to shake a thought out of it and then smiled -- off they went for coffee at the new place around the corner, as planned.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

#253: Two Poems by Esteban Colon

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor for poetry

Before the Storm

~This poem was previously published in After Hours (2014).

polka dot dress traced love on
Japanese streets
saying what cards never could,
            for a mother she never met,
foster parents dragged her inside
drowning in the downpour
erased in the rain


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

#252: "The Departure" by Rebecca Gummere

~This essay was first published in The Gettysburg Review (2012).

Early one morning in mid-May, my ninety-two-year-old father swallows three pills--two for his heart and one for anxiety brought on by his declining condition. He insists on taking the pills all at once, so my mother places them in his large, outstretched hand. In his other hand a glass of water trembles, the surface as troubled as if a small storm is brewing. He tosses the pills back, pouring the water after, then he gasps, inhales, and aspirates one, two, or perhaps all three into his lungs. We will never know for certain, and in the end it matters little. The sparse bedroom in their senior-citizen apartment already feels like a small stage, the tall rhododendrons outside the window a shadowy green backdrop.

Agitato--in an agitated manner
Within minutes my father shouts that his chest is on fire. “Call someone!” he tells my mother.
            Taped to the kitchen wall is a large sign: Do Not Resuscitate.  My father has signed the papers assuring the State of North Carolina that he wishes to forego any heroic measures. His body is worn; his mind wanders distant corridors. His heart malfunctions. Basic daily activities, like getting out of his chair to go to the bathroom, thoroughly exhaust him. A hospice nurse has been visiting for the past three months, providing support for my mother and comfort and pain relief for my father.

Cesura--break; stop
Several months ago as my mother was helping my father get ready for bed, he asked her, “Will I always be like this?”
            In my family we veer down the nearest side road when such questions loom. My mother smiled and patted his arm. “Let’s get those teeth brushed,” she replied.
            Another evening during their bedtime preparations, he stopped her to ask, “Will it be Wednesday?”
            “What?” she asked, confused.
            “When I die.  Will it be on a Wednesday?” 
            She kissed his forehead and went back to helping him out of his T-shirt and into his pajama top. 
            He held his arms up for her like a compliant five-year-old.  “I love you, you know,” he told her as she hooked up his oxygen and buttoned him in for the night.