Monday, November 28, 2011

#11: "Nomen oblitum / Forgotten Name" by Jessica Handler

~This piece previously appeared in New South, 2011

My habit is to watch for small things. In gentle green grass I spy a single earth-caught feather, arced and crenellated, its knife-edge up. On inspection I see it’s a contour feather, and three inches longer than my hand. The leading edge is rippled and split from use.
A tool, lost, discarded, this single feather, ex-crow. One puzzle-piece of a carapace, densely black. Collectively: a murder of crows. Raven made the world says the Haida legend, but I am no northwest Indian, I have no claim to what some people self-consciously call “first nation.” I am southeastern, urban, and white, third-generation American. My taxonomy is built of flights not my own, but the ground on which I have been placed. In my hand now, this single feather from a crow’s right wing. My own non-hollow, flightless bones are right-dominant; do I feel the sympathetic pluck and plummet here on my own right wing?
This feather, pick it up – lice, vermin silenced by flight, return. This feather pocketed, earth-placed by a window, my own closest place to flight.  


Monday, November 21, 2011

#10: Three Poems by Tony Barnstone

~This poem previously appeared in The Northridge Review (1997).

Express Train Boogie-oogie
(Read left to right, and also verticality down indentations)

As the station recedes its lights blister
Into raindrop halfglobes
Wet tracks shuttle the eye
From path to path
Now the whole city is revealed gleaming
Fishnet of light pulling in lives
Along the avenue painted numbers
And panting engines flash into mind
Little balls of light the wind pulls
Across the glass like taffy
And now the train slides out of town
Into a flowering darkness
Here's the warehouse district and Club 333
A dark industrial geometry
Dragging trails of signs and coinage
Across billboards
Yellow fireflies packed in a jar
Burst their bulbs
Black trees and leaves in a black sea shivering
Before they drown
People make random gestures
A ragged man pasted on a bench
Where money mates with anatomy
Through the panting interiors
The windowsquares of well‑lit lives
Peer through orchids and seaweed
Greenlit pines lining an empty block
Of grey concrete parking lot
The thousand faces of a movie crowd
Burst through the borders of my body
Of triple‑X theaters
And out the red velvet EXIT
Here are plunging lovers behind half‑drawn curtains
And a woman's silent O as her mouth yawns open
A rainwet warehouse redslicked with rust
Long streets climb a hill and spill
Where metal streamlines clash and overlap
Against a canvas sky painted black
Someone looking up from his written pad
Windows like the slow frames of a film
Through my reflected body
Shining like the tines of a fork
As carload after carload of light
Flickers and is eaten whole

Monday, November 14, 2011

#9: "Driving in Snow" by Joseph M. Schuster

~This piece previously appeared in New Virginia Review (1993)

        When Byrne's brother arrives, Byrne doesn't recognize him. At first, watching the passengers emerge from the gate, he wonders if Thomas missed the bus, or decided not to get on board.  But not even Thomas is that irresponsible.  Byrne must have overlooked him.  Thomas is, after all, not a large man, and the station is in turmoil.  An early spring blizzard has moved in, making buses late.  Byrne has been waiting for an hour and a half in the midst of the lines of angry passengers, the masses of people planted on upturned luggage because there aren't enough benches.
        He is shoving toward the ticket counter to ask if a second bus is due from St. Louis when he spots Thomas, standing a few feet inside the gate.  He was one of the first passengers off the bus, Byrne realizes, but it's no wonder he didn't recognize him.  In his uniform, Thomas looks like a different person, with the starched creases in his trousers and the black necktie just visible at the collar of his coat.  Byrne is amazed at the transformation.  His brother seems innocent and young, like someone playing soldier.  It's the short hair, he realizes.  The long hair Thomas had before he enlisted hid his face, as did the blond wisps of the beard he tried to grow.  Now that face seems exposed, naked.  Byrne is reminded of the schoolboy in the pictures his mother had on her bureau at the nursing home.  Thomas in the second and third grades; Thomas before he turned bad.
        Byrne raises his hand to wave but sees that his brother isn't alone.  A woman cradling an infant is talking to him, her mouth close to Thomas's ear.  Byrne lets his hand fall.  Thomas hasn't said anything about a woman, and the circumstance of the visit -- their mother's funeral -- is hardly social.

Monday, November 7, 2011

#8: "Autumn Harvest" by Jane Delury

~This piece previously appeared in StoryQuarterly (2001)

     Jacques crouches in his father’s garden, coaxing leeks from the hard November ground.  Six rows of cabbages away, the old man is digging up bouquets of mâche with a grit-encrusted knife.  Jacques grabs a shoot of leaves and pulls out a stem, slick with saliva-like bubbles.  The leek slaps into the basket and his father looks over, his glasses steamed by plant breath into two opaque circles.
     “Getting them all?  And the roots?”
     “Fine, Father,” Jacques says, “I’m doing just fine.”
     He waits for the slice of the knife to resume, and then clutches another cold jumble of leaves.  The earth buckles and splits, belching a sweet, rotten smell.  With the leek in one hand, he uses the other to pull up the socks that have bunched around his ankles, exposing his heels to the bite of the air.  A hollow eye stares up at him from the plank where his loafers balance, precious and inappropriate against the warped wood.  “For your city shoes,” his father said when he handed him the plank at the gate.  Jacques wonders again what is really being protected his shoes from the soil or the soil from his shoes.
     The old man has finished the last row of mâche.  His gray gardening coat ripples over the emptied soil as he heads toward the main path.  Reaching down for the last two leeks, Jacques notices his father’s misbuttoned collar, which rises high on one side and lies flat on the other.  The collar is like the napkin the old man could not find the previous morningsitting under his forkor the letter he set out to mail twice or the reading glasses he misplaced on the top of his head.  Jacques’s mistake was to point out the glasses.  At the time, his father said nothing, simply lowering them to his eyes and flattening the newspaper against the table.  But that afternoon, he called Alexis and Emmanuel to the garden and they came running by Jacques, who was on his knees, mending a hole in the chicken wire.
     “Don’t yank, son.  Pull.”