Monday, September 18, 2017

#244: "Go Back to Where You Came From" by Rita Ciresi


~This essay previously appeared in Divergent Voices (2014).

            Like everything else in our house that plugs into a (working) electrical socket, the record player comes on The Truck. My father knows a guy. Who knows a guy. Who knows a guy. You never know which guy will barrel The Truck up our steep asphalt driveway: Ugly. Shorty. The Schnozz. Big Willy.
            Whoever si chiama, the guy flings open the back of the truck and deposits the unsealed box on the back porch. No money changes hands, at least in front of my mother. 
            I don't ask no questions, Ma says.
            The record player comes in the swankiest color of 1967: avocado green. My three sisters and I haul it into the living room and drop to our knees to worship it—like it's the Archbishop's gold ring that contains a sliver of Christ's cross. 
            Sister Uno plugs it in. Sister Due puts the 45 on the turntable. Sister Tre pushes the lever that makes the record drop and the arm lurch over. 
            The speakers screech.
            I cover my ears. The record player is a piece-a-shit, like everything else in our house—the washing machine that doesn't wash, the dryer that doesn't dry, the baccaus that clogs so often I am terrified to cacca in it.
            Needs a needle, Sister Uno says.
            Ma heads for her sewing box. Sister Due digs through the Styrofoam and plucks out a silver stylus, thin as the slivers Ma yanks out of the bottom of our feet when we don't listen to her (you kids, you stunod kids, you don't listen to me, you never listen!), and walk barefoot on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. 
            The needle picks up every pop and scratch on the record. Then a deep, commanding voice enters our living room: Welcome to Italian One. Lesson One. Greetings. Listen and repeat. 
            We listen. But do not repeat. 
            Buon giorno, Signora Rossi, come stai? (Ding!)
            Bene, grazie, e Lei? (Ding!)

Monday, August 28, 2017

#243: Three Poems by Michael Morell

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



~This poem was previously published in Paterson Literary Review (2004).


The Ghost of My Grandfather

I.

It was a summer night in August
when my grandfather came downstairs from his bedroom
wearing an undershirt, scarf, dress pants and hat,
and asked my father to call him a cab because he wanted to go home.
Gramps was eighty-two, I was ten, and he’d lived with us for seven years.
When my father questioned him, reminded him that he was home,
Gramps gave his boyhood address in Darby, two towns from where we lived,
close enough for a man to smell the ham and cabbage
his mother cooked for him on special occasions.
After hours attempting to convince him
he lived with us, fruitlessly showing him his bedroom,
my father called for a cab, slipped the driver extra cash
and asked him to drive Gramps around the block a few times
before bringing him home. Fifteen minutes later
he was sound asleep in his bed.
Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you, son, my dad said.
Three weeks later my grandfather died.

II.

I drive to my parents’ house for Friday night pizza
and my eighty year old father, who no longer looks like
he’ll live forever, calls to my mother like a crow
home home I want to go home. Later, I drive my father to Darby,
where he was born, where his father was born, past Fitzgerald
Mercy Hospital where I was born. He sees the pointed brown bricks
of his childhood, overlooks new storefront signs, falls back into
1940 and penny candy, today’s Soul Food Store once again
Waxman’s Shoes, smell of glue, rubber, and polish permeating the air.

III.

I have always wanted to go back in time and meet my parents
as children, eye them walking home from school or chasing fireflies
on a summer evening, begging their parents for one more minute
of playtime before surrendering to the darkness, and now, here
my father sits, man, boy, dad, son- a mixture of everything he is
and was, time stripped aside, years peeling away like old paint
to reveal bare, clean wood, a moment where the sea of consciousness
is parted by some invisible staff we cannot grasp.

*****

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#242: "Permanently Cool: A Tattoo of One’s Own" by Alice Lowe

~This essay previously appeared in Soundings Review (2014).


January: The idea worms its way into my head as I start anticipating—you might even say obsessing about—my October birthday. While I accept my senior status and its dubious benefits with appropriate aplomb and all the grace I can muster, damn it, I won’t go down without a fight. I want to do something symbolic, something tangible and visible, something out of character. A tattoo—that’s it!—I’ll get a tattoo. And I’ll write about it.

February: It’s a dramatic undertaking for me. Once it might have been thought radical or subversive—foolish for an old broad, maybe—but not now. I read about the recent proliferation of tattoos on women in Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo, which traces the phenomenon from a Native American captive in 1858 with a chin tattoo to the explosion of popularity over the past 20 years. Until recently tattoos carried a stigma of tawdriness for most women, although they became a fad in late 19th-century European and American elite society (usually tucked away in places that could be covered by clothing). Winston Churchill’s mother—the infamous Jennie—had a snake eating its tail, the symbol of eternity, inked on her wrist. Janis Joplin was one of the first celebrities to display them—a bracelet on her wrist, a tiny heart on her chest. Now they’re a fashion statement across age and class, and in 2012, for the first time, women got more tattoos than men. A political statement too: Mifflin sees women’s tattoos as “badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why.” Right on, sisters!

Monday, August 14, 2017

#241: "House of the Ancients" by Clifford Garstang


~This story was previously published in REAL (Regarding Arts and Letters) (2008).

  
Nick—having learned from his Lonely Planet guide that the Mexico City subway is cheap, but infested with pickpockets—clutches his shoulder pack to his chest. He knows that the obvious anxiety marks him as an American or, at best, a Canadian, but right now, eyeing his fellow passengers, he doesn’t care. He’s been walking all day, like a zombie for the last hour. He’s worn out. The blister on his heel burns. He detects, via the low-pitched growl at the bottom of his gut, that he might soon be laid low with whatever it is that keeps Alexis tethered to their hotel room. And now he needs to know—it’s essential that he knows—that he is headed in the right direction. The guidebook falls open where he’s dog-eared the subway map. He boarded at Auditorio and the train has just left Constituyentes. Good. South, just as he wants, toward Barranca del Muerte. Ravine of Death.
As the train pulls into Tacubaya, a sprawling station where three lines meet, he slips the guidebook back into the bag. At least the flood of new passengers won’t identify him immediately. Unless the shiny Nikes give him away. Or his White Sox cap. Or his Levis and University of Chicago t-shirt.
When the doors hiss open, a family enters: a dark man with a guitar slung over his shoulder, a woman with a babe-in-arms, and two small boys. At the head of the subway car, the man unslings the guitar and hugs it close, plucking the strings tentatively as he sings in a piercing voice that rises above the train’s clatter. The lyrics don’t penetrate Nick’s meager Spanish, but the other riders, who nod appreciatively with the staccato beat, seem to recognize the song. The wife takes a seat with the baby and keeps her eyes low. The boys—Nick has assigned them names, Roberto for the older, and Pablo for the little one—the boys make their way through the car, Roberto down the left side, Pablo down the right, each with a grimy hand extended, stopping before every promising passenger, waiting for a coin or a head shake, or a scowl.
It is tiny Pablo, wearing green sweat pants and a tobacco-brown sweater, who stands before Nick, gazing up at him with wide, dark eyes. The father’s voice sails through the car, an arrow Nick thinks is meant for him, and Pablo bounces his open hand, a hand no larger than a cat’s paw, on Nick’s knee. When Nick presses a peso into Pablo’s palm, there is no smile, no acknowledgment. The boy breaks his gaze and moves on. At San Pedro de los Piños, the boys jostle through the rushing passengers to join their parents, and the family passes into the next car, to be replaced by a grim-faced young man selling DVDs of a rock concert that he displays on a portable player held above his head, sour chords blaring from the machine’s tiny speakers as the vendor maneuvers through the oblivious crowd.
The train hurtles through the tunnel, a passage in time for Nick, back to his Chicago commute, images of Alexis flickering on the black windows, their future together, healing the strain of faded newness, feeling their way toward something solid and lasting.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#240: Four Poems by Michael Hettich

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


~This poem was previously published in The Great River Review (2015).


The Milky Way

If we could imagine that every word we speak
were an animal or insect, the last of a species
ever to be born, that the very act of speaking
brought extinction even before our words 
had been heard and replied to, we might get a feeling
for the vanishings we witness but don’t see. And if every
conversation were understood as a kind
of holocaust denuding whole landscapes, some people
would simply fall silent—as far as they could—
while most others would keep chattering on. Just imagine
the vast forests of lives, the near-infinity of forms 
brought to a halt with a simple conversation.
And I would be one of the talkers, despite
the fact that I knew what my talking destroyed.
And so I would mourn every word I said,
even while I argued passionately for silence
and for learning to honor the sacred diversity
of life. Just imagine watching the stars
go out on a dark night in the far north, a clear night,
one after the other until the sky was black.

Once, when I was taking out the garbage, just walking
dully across my back yard, a huge bird—
as big as a vulture but glittering and sleek—
rose from the grass and flew into my body,
knocked the breath out of me, then flew up and away
with a powerful pull of its wings. I could hardly

see it in the darkness. And then it was just gone.


  
*****

Friday, July 28, 2017

#239: "Old Men Don't Need Much Sleep" by Richard LeBlond




~This essay was previously published in New Plains Review (2015), as “Higher Ground: Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep.”


 Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep

I set out from Broken Bow, Nebraska, on the last day of spring 2011 to visit Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was the third day of my annual trip west from North Carolina. I grew up in Oregon but had moved east nearly 50 years before. Most of my family remained in the Portland area, and I flew out every Christmas. But when Mom died in 2002, Christmas lost its cohesion, and I started driving out in summer. In addition to visiting family, I wanted to revisit places from my past and explore the unknown. Time had also become a factor. My bucket list had gotten more crowded without having to add new entries.
Wounded Knee is the site of an 1890 massacre of more than 150 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children. It is regarded by many historians as the final conflict for the West. The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but is not promoted for public visitation by U.S. or tribal authorities. There used to be a small village there with a trading post and museum, but these were destroyed in 1973 during an occupation by members of the American Indian Movement and consequent facedown with federal authorities.
In recent years I have been reading more about the removal of Native Americans from their homelands, the forced settlement onto reservations, and the causes of conditions that persist on those reservations today. Books are dangerous. They awaken curiosity. They prompt journeys.
Since I regarded my visit as something close to trespass, I decided to bypass the reservation town of Pine Ridge, pay my respects quietly at the Wounded Knee cemetery, and leave unnoticed. As usual, things did not go as I imagined they would.
It was raining when I woke up in Broken Bow, and it rained all morning as I followed Route 2 through the green sandhills of northwestern Nebraska, the largest region of dunes in the Western Hemisphere. The unrelenting drizzle was becoming a threat to the outdoor lunch I had packed. On the road I look for a natural setting for lunch, but if raining, I look for a restaurant. Skipping lunch was not an option. A life without lunch is a life without meaning.
By late morning, an indoor lunch appeared likely, and Pine Ridge was the only town around, about a dozen miles from the cemetery. It was still raining as I approached the reservation from Nebraska a little after eleven. I had been up since 5:30 and decided to have lunch before going to the cemetery. I was getting hungry, and it would give the rain another chance to realize it had made its point.

Monday, July 17, 2017

#238: Three Poems by Lori Lamothe




~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant poetry editor


~This poem previously appeared in New Madrid (2016).

Forecast


At the border between properties
a galvanized washtub collects falling
snow. Hours later, the white’s risen
so high it brims over emptiness.
I want to kneel down before it
and rinse my bare arms in its cold,
clean comfort. I want to let the idea of
an original, untouched world accumulate.
Because there are so many spaces inside me
waiting for renewal. The heart with its huge
barn doors thrown open in anticipation
of love’s galloping horses. The mind
and its attic of memories, or even the hands
held out for work, its solid, familiar tools.
Above me, the clouds open their trap doors
all at once and flakes sift down, blanketing
everything with a marvelous innocence
that will surely last long enough this time.