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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

#251: Two Poems by Anita Sullivan

~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry.

~This poem was previously published in Nimrod International Journal (2011).

A Broken Abecedarius of How Things Might Be if the World Were Saved

Achoo! at the beginning of a tale.
Beasts wandering in daylight, unafraid of being shot, even
Centaurs, who would not be drunk any more if invited to your wedding.
A dragon or a dinosaur named
Flies who would go to the front screen door on command so you could
            let them out.
Galumphing as the normal gait of soldiers.
Hazelnuts that fall one by one into the mouth of the Salmon of Wisdom who swims
            beneath, until the time comes for her to be caught by a wizard’s
            apprentice and cooked over a slow fire until she has rendered up all the
            wisdom remaining in her unsung parts. But
I digress. . . .

Intoxication once a day by the scent from white
Jasmine flowers tumbling over a garden wall, except for the
Keepers of Butterflies, who would need to remain sober.
Loping as an alternate choice (see G above).
More respect for Dame Love, who has thoughtfully abolished Reason.
Nearly all the children reaching the house in the middle of the forest, where they will be
            temporarily changed into birds, and introduced to their hearts’ desire by a very
Old bear, who knows all the tales with caves in them.
Pearls of music rolling around between the warm, uneven bricks, under the chairs.           
Regales of yellow leaves, and the musk of grapes.
Sisyphus released from duty but staying on as a volunteer on weekends when he has
Time off from being a taxi driver in New York, something he has always wanted to
An upset
Victory by
Whim, who has finally convinced Steven Hawking that she is indeed the final black hole
            into-which-and-from-which comes
Xanadu with its plazas and feasts, its gardens of endless endings for which we have all
Yearned—and to which we have spent the last million years
Zigging and Zagging (see G above) and where we will arrive this very

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#250: " Where the Highway Ends: Sketches of Denise Levertov & Mitchell Goodman" by Mark Pawlak

~This essay was previously published in Hanging Loose (2007).

“Life and memory of it so compressed they’ve turned into each other.
Which is which?”—Elizabeth Bishop
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”—Cesare Pavese

I came to MIT in 1966, on a scholarship, from a Buffalo, New York, working class family, a family where books were suspect and my decision to go to MIT instead of a local college surprising. I was majoring in physics when, during my senior year, I took a poetry writing class with Denise Levertov. In Denise, and her husband, Mitch Goodman, I found the intellectual family, and the wider world, that I had been searching for. Over the years, I continued to live and work in the Boston area, mostly in Somerville and Cambridge. My relationship with Denise continued as she became my confidante, my poetry mentor, my guide to a life of the mind broader than just physics and mathematics. I was soon admitted into her large but intimate circle of friends, social activists, and writers. This included becoming an invited guest at her country house in western Maine. At some time in the early 60s, Denise and Mitch had bought a farmhouse in the township of Temple—literally where the highway ends. It served them for years as an escape from the summer heat of their Greenwich Village apartment. After they moved to Boston, as it was closer to the farmhouse, they took off to Temple more frequently and in all seasons, as indicated in the following sketches from memory. As you read them, imagine the effect on a young mind of this couple, poet and novelist, well-read intellectuals, and political activists.

I remember flying with Denise in a small prop plane from Boston to Farmington. The twin engines thrummed as we skimmed the green treetops of Maine’s endless woods. It was my first visit, August. Mitch was there to greet and drive us in his Volvo to their Temple farmhouse.

There was always at least one other Volvo parked on the front lawn. Over the years, with each visit, I would find the collection had grown. Mitch bought them for spare parts to keep one aging Volvo running. His answer to inquiries was always “You can imagine how common a Volvo dealer is in rural Maine.”

The kitchen window looked out on a lone apple tree beside a fieldstone fence a short distance behind the house; beyond the fence was a broad, grassy field. It sloped up from the farmhouse to a tree-lined ridge; to the right of the house the field descended sharply in the direction of Temple Stream. A granite slab served as the front-door step. Denise and I sat there one morning as she read me the poem she’d just written: “night lies down/in the field. . . .”

Monday, November 6, 2017

#249: Three Poems by Bruce Robinson

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor, poetry

~This poem was previously published in Spoon River Quarterly (1991).

Dialing and Dolor
                                    la vida es sueƱo

            Selena’s on the telephone. Richard
is in conference. Philip’s on hold.
Rosalie is calling. Kevin
is dialing. Mark is listening.

            At the front desk Pat is decding
whether to be masculine or feminine.
Most of us have already made this decision,
some have lived to regret it.

            And where is Caroline?  Philip calls Selena,
there’s no answer. He calls Bob, but
Caroline’s not there.  He calls me,
I’m holding for an open line. “Mark, is Caroline there.”

            She is not. She is in the conference room,
speaking to herself, practicing eye contact,
practicing doing without cigarettes
for an hour and a half, studying inflections, weighing nuance.

            Through the skylight the sun lights
without connection or warmth; it’s working on a
concept, it’s on to something big. The sun is so much
like light it’s almost uncanny,

            As if masculine were feminine,
or dialing listening, sometimes there’s just
the warm contours of the telephone
when you’ve been on hold.