Monday, July 28, 2014

#136: Two Poems by Paul Shepherd

~This poem previously appeared in Pacific Review (1994).

 She knew, she tried to hold me, she said—

If you go from this place as you are,
breaking our walls and windows
with your hard, dangling heart,
an undone mobile hung awkwardly close
to that corner you've turned to take,
            then, no—a child,
            you will tighten quick with life
            and we will cry for you long,
            long after you leave here,
a broken ornament the years glue down.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

#135: "What the End Is For" by Rasma Haidri

~This essay was previously published in in Fourth Genre: Explorations in Non-Fiction (1999).

Today I will throw out the two-inch toy Coke glass. The two halves of it fit perfectly together and could have been glued, but I’m done with gluing. It is late spring and the glass has been here since November. I remember how my mother gasped, Oh what have I done now, with unusual vulnerability as she heard the clamorous crack. I heard it too and saw her lifting her foot, afraid of further destruction. I was afraid of her falling. It’s nothing, I said. Just that little Coke glass.
That’s from Detroit, she answered, meaning from the green-lawn days I set up my toy trademark Coke dispenser on Hawthorne Avenue and waited for business. The four miniature glasses, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, had Coca-Cola in script on the sides. With careful fingers I filled the glasses, lined them up in a row, then lifted and drank each one. Perhaps I sat on my striped canvas director’s chair, my hair pulled into the popular Alice in Wonderland look. I don’t know, but my mother would have a clear memory of watching me do this through the window of our house, as she clutched my baby brother in her thin arms.
What a shame, she said. I lifted the broken toy off the kitchen floor and told her not to worry. I would glue it. At the time I intended to. Not for the sake of my own daughter. She didn't prize the little glass, had probably not noticed the authentic logo of the world’s most popular drink. I would put it back together for the memory, my debt of preserving the past and keeping track. And to assure my mother that all damage done under her foot could be undone. I showed her how easily the two halves fit, then placed them in the corner of the kitchen window.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#134: "Navigating Change" by Linda Dyer

                                        ~~This story originally appeared in The Fourth River (2006)

            Squatting at the end of Aisle One, Henry Pruitt is setting up a display of crabgrass killer at his hardware store on Dewitt Street.  He fondles each green and white box as he takes it from the carton, drinking in the familiar chemical smell as he stacks them on the shelf.  As surely as July follows June, crabgrass killer always follows rose dust at the end of Aisle One.  Henry finds great comfort in the seasonal repetition of his business.
           As he stands back to admire the tidy arrangement of box on box, Captain Thomas J. Smith is passing under the State Street bridge, the prow of his aged wooden boat pointed westward on the New York State Barge Canal.  A cluster of three women stare at his approach from the door of The Quilting Bee, while customers on the Canalside Café’s dining deck squint at the sun-glared water until the old man, rope in hand, leaps from his boat onto the towpath, stopping at the landing below the restaurant deck.  From the time he is first spotted, his advance is steady, unhurried, almost dreamy, yet his arrival will always be described as coming like a bolt out of the blue.
            By rights, Henry’s daughter Eunice should have been the first to spot the captain.  Eunice is the self-appointed guardian of the canal, pacing its bank even in the gray chill of winter when the canal is empty or in the dampness of early spring when the canal re-opens.  She’s been there since ten o’clock this morning, alone as usual, sitting in dappled shade on the south bank of the canal, west of the Main Street bridge.  With her full cotton skirt tucked carefully around her legs, she presides over a private world fenced in by a circle of books and notebooks.
            At the moment of Captain Smith’s arrival she is looking in the opposite direction, watching a group of scum dunkers, exuberant boys of eleven, twelve or thirteen, as they jump from the railroad bridge into the murky water of the canal, then scramble back to repeat their act of daring.  The scene is like a snapshot.  The air is still, the water placid; flat-bottomed cumulus clouds hang motionless.  Yet it is not a snapshot.  A breeze picks up.  A boy leaps from the bridge, disturbing the water of the canal.  Updrafts and downdrafts wander the cloud’s interior, changing its size and shape.

Monday, July 7, 2014

#133: "Shift" by Sheila Squillante

~~This essay was previously published as “Love, Loss and Another Day at Work” in Glamour Magazine (2003)

I wake at 5:25 in the morning. It's winter and New Haven is dark and crystalline. Not with snow--it's too cold for snow, but a showy hoarfrost coats the slick black pavement of Whitney Avenue, the shivering ivy and sneering granite gargoyles of Yale University, and the clear-paned window of the brick-faced coffeehouse I work at downtown. I rise slowly but shower and dress quickly, my feet bare against the tile floor of my basement apartment. By 6AM, I will have taken the five-minute drive, traffic lights still blinking yellow, parked my car against the curb outside the café and lurched my key inside the freezing lock. By eight o'clock, when my shift partner arrives and the business crowd--the lawyers, city planners and professors--stretch their yawning, expectant line from register to door, I will have been working for two full hours.
And I do mean full hours. By our seven o'clock opening, I will have dragged the filthy, heavy black industrial mats onto the floor. I will have turned on the espresso machine, filled the hopper with oily, pungent, dark beans and ground a bit of decaf espresso for the odd customer. I will have measured out and brewed only six ounces of "Flavor”--hazelnut or French vanilla (remembering that Mike-the-architect hates coconut-macadamia)--and six ounces of "Special"-Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Kenya AA-because these are the least popular with my morning crowd, which wants a no-frills cup. I will have made umpteen trips down the stairs to the kitchen for crates of milk: two half gallons of whole, two of half-and-half, six each of one percent and skim, because the lower the milk fat, the higher the froth, and so, the prettier the cappuccino. I will have shouldered full trays of food up the stairs as well: banana-walnut and pumpkin bread; blueberry, lemon-poppy seed and cappuccino muffins; chocolate-chip, oatmeal-raisin and peanut butter cookies. I will have begun brewing sharp-strong Sumatra Mandheling and sturdy-mellow Colombian Mocha Java, our house blend. I will have accepted the day's delivery of bagels--still warm-in brown, hip-high paper sacks. I will have taken the chairs down from the mismatched dining room tabletops and arranged the chenille pillows on the couch, angling them over the accumulated stains. I will have stocked the service bar with napkins, "Java Jackets," wooden stirring sticks and to-go lids. I will have reached beneath the counter to choose a CD. Anything classical is allowed in the morning, and I likely will have chosen the bright, open pulse of Bach's Concerto No.1 in A Minor to rise like warm bakery steam above the first cappuccino order of the day. It's Emily's: double skinny decaf to go--what we call a "double why bother?"--with more milk than foam and steamed to 150 degrees.
 "Good morning!" she says. ''What's your story today?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

#132: "The Burning Bus Club" by Leonard Kress


~~This story previously appeared in Passages North (2007)

                        Leah, a grad student in psychology, was telling Kuncewicz that his daughter was a survivor, moreover a victim of posttraumatic stress disorder.

            “She’s only five and half,” he told her, “she’s a perfectly normal kid.”

            “Age has nothing to do with it," she responded.

            He knew Leah was right. What else could explain this burning-bus obsession his daughter had? She was on the yellow school bus when the fire started. Bus 18. The modern flat-faced bus, now out-of-commission, that transported her to kindergarten. She insisted it was a diesel and was probably right. She had already befriended most of the drivers.

            Most of what Kuncewicz knew about the fire came from the local weekly. A photo, too, with caption, though the bus looked undamaged to him. His daughter, whom he and his soon-to-be ex-wife called Jiffy, made him read it to her every night for three weeks straight. The details were sketchy, but this is what they knew:  The bus was en route to the high school and it was early in the morning, still dark. To add to the confusion, a thick fog had rolled in from Lake Erie and refused to burn off. The driver smelled something and quickly evacuated the bus. There were only about twelve high schoolers (Jiffy was the only kindergartner that day--a significant detail the reporter missed), and most of them had to be shaken out of their slumber and dragged out. They didn’t use the emergency exit because no one could locate it in the dark. Actual flames only appeared after they were all lined up on the soft shoulder. The fact that no one could see anyone else because of the fog kept the students in line. Only one student, a senior girl who left her backpack full of homework assignments on the bus, cried. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

#131: Two Poems by Cheryl Stiles

The Shrimper’s New Wife

~This poem previously appeared in Poet Lore (2002).

For months I’d go to the docks after work
to see the shrimp boats come in at low tide,
their outriggers balancing and diesel engines humming.
On the Southern Sylkie there was one
particular man, a striker.
He was redheaded and red-chested.
I’d watch him hold the door ropes taut,
the sugarline still out. One day I felt my legs stiffen.
Something in my heart, too long underwater,
began to soften.

I watched the solid curve of his shoulders
as he loosened the bag knots and spooled
in the nets. Flecks of fin and scale
refracted light onto his face.
He sifted the catch, then shoveled
back the rest. The gulls, pelicans, and terns
spun in their ravenous dance.

Now each day he comes home at dusk,
tosses gear and deck boots on the floor.
I open my dress to his rough hands.
He pulls me toward him, to the wave
he carries within his body,
through that other ocean and toward that other dock—
the one I’ve been missing.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

#130: "Knot and Pull" by Kimberly Groninga

~This essay first appeared in North American Review (2008).

            Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. When the tiny metal tapping grew louder than Lydia’s voice, I knew I needed to pull back to my larger surroundings, settle into my whole self. My eyes moved beyond the metallic needles to Lydia’s hands—bumpy and aged, busy—then to the red garment growing in her lap, a gift for the bishop’s grandchild, she’d said. Looking, finally, to Lydia’s face, I realized two things: One, her lips were moving. And two, it was a good thing I was taping this interview.
            I swallowed hard and darkened my eyes with their lids. The bishop’s wife offered coffee. Today I sipped water, instead, recording stray words—rice, classes, pray—while checking off bullets on my list of prepared questions.
            Lydia spoke of her home in Jerusalem—of daily checkpoints, poverty, and blindness. But Lydia herself drew my attention more than her words. Especially her hands. The way they could knot and pull and click and twist and tie one long string into a continued set of loops that was something. They did this independent of her retelling of the string of events that looped her life. While her mind and speech relived a past kindness, her hands created a physical object with an actual purpose. While retelling the childhood story of her own fading sight, two inches of fabric emerged from the machine of her hands. Clearly her fingertips could see the yarn. Pointed index fingers trapped and released its red body, pinned it to the metal, and then let it go. In rhythm. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. “Our cupboard was empty (click click) and I brought from home my rice (click click) but I was not needed (click click) to cook my rice, for neighbors (click click) brought us enough rice and sugar (click click) for all the girls.”