Monday, January 30, 2012

#18: "The Separation of Specialist Piatrowski" by Arthur McMaster

~This piece was originally published in Wisconsin Review  (2009)

Jerry Piatrowski got out of bed and put on his uniform. Today was the day he’d get out. What was to stop him? A man’s enlistment is a contract with the Army, right? A legal deal with the U.S. government, for pity’s sake. Today was here. He was gone.
Jerry opened his locker and took hold of a large package on the upper shelf. Let me out, he thought. Time’s up. He had his out-processing orders to prove it. His medical records spoke for themselves.
         If there had been anyone in the barracks just then to ask him if he was sure, sure he didn’t want to re-up, he’d ask: “What do you think? Like maybe I want one more tour in the damn desert?” Jerry had had more than enough of that.
        Had there been anyone there to answer him, and there was not a soul around, he’d ask it this way: “What am I going to do, go on more patrols? Shoot more Hajjis?” He tucked his dog tags under his shirt. “All I really need.”
        The hallway was quiet. 
        Specialist Piatrowski might have asked a friend to accompany him as he sought his exit to the rest of the world. Just who was or was not with him today, however, was unclear.
        The personnel building was right here. Let’s do it, he thought.

Monday, January 23, 2012

#17: "Recovery" by Kathy Fagan

~This poem previously appeared in TriQuarterly and in The Charm (Zoo Press, 2002)


            Remember. Resurrect. A river
Taken under the rain’s
            Right arm. Enter an R and everything rises,
Like cream, to the surface.

            It’s the ornamental nature of the peacock
Letter. From its azure
            Crest to its emerald
Throat to the Roman grandeur of its mirrored

            Train—iridescence runneth over!
Red rover, red rover. And look! Regarde!
            Our laureates rush over—
To write us a rhyme, a romance, or retraction,

            To write an Rx for our grieving
Hearts: Turn words every morning like a bride
            In your arms and repeat after me:
Resh. Ra. Roar. Rabbi. I am

            Wronged. I am wrong. Dark.
Sorrow. Rare. Miracle. Adorable. Reaper. Raison
            D’etre. We are
Irreparable. But what of it?

            Therefore shall we labor
In the service of the R.
            Therefore shall we practice
Such random acts of artifice as

            The topiary, curlicue of orange
Rind, and other ethereal arrangements of the sort
            Featured in Martha Stewart’s
Marathon pre-Christmas broadcast,

            “An Undecorated Life is Not Worth Living.”
Pre-recorded in the recently renovated
            Rooms of her rustic 18th century Vermont,
Paris, Prague, and Ozark farmhouses,

            She credits Ezra Pound and his celebrated Modern
Maxim, “Make It New,”
            For her own mantra: “Make It Yourself,
Make It Pretty, and Keep the Glue-gun Loaded.”

            Despair prepared for is despair
Averted. The R knows that. As do charm,
            Conjury, and all rarefied matters of inconsequence
I was formerly

            Forever railing against. No longer.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

#16: "Shelf Life of Love" by Virginia Pye

~This piece originally appeared in The Potomac Review (as “Shelf Life of Happiness”; 2010)

My brother calls from his rental car on the way home from the hospital while I consider lunch meats at the Stop ‘n Shop. He rarely calls, not until recently. My mother used to call all the time. She can’t get the hang of cell phones and besides, they don’t let you use them from in there, where you need them most. The walkie talkies we gave her and Dad a year ago spoon like lovers in a box under their bed. They were supposed to give her peace of mind when she shuffled out on errands and left him alone. But now she is the one in the hospital and there’s no one at the apartment. Still, the double bed, I imagine, is neatly made, the bedspread faded but clean. She would have wanted it nice for my brother when he got back from visiting her at the end of the day. So far, though, he insists on staying with her, sleeping in a recliner chair like the ones we sat in at the end with Dad. The report from my brother is brief, inconclusive. He’ll get back to me when he has more news. We hang up without saying good bye.
My friend Sarah calls as I’m deciding between organic bagged romaine and the regular kind. She wants to know if her husband Michael ruined our visit to them. We haven’t even unpacked. When I think of ruin, he doesn’t come to mind.
“He was fine,” I say, wondering why the organic lettuce is so heavy. Then, because it’s a friend’s duty, I egg her on: “with us.”
That sets her off.

Monday, January 9, 2012

#15: "Washing the Dead" by Michelle Brafman

~~This piece previously appeared in Gargoyle (2010)

No melodrama here, my grown daughter needs to know what I’ve done, and she needs to know now, today, this second, to save her from her genetically flawed impulses. Since there are no words for my shame, I dream up my biopic while I wait for her outside the Great Wolf Lodge, the premier waterpark of the Wisconsin Dells.
 I map out an establishing sequence for my movie. I’ll start with a simple exterior shot of the lodge; I’ve produced enough marketing videos to exploit the way winter light casts shadows in all the right places. I’ll build a montage of weary parents and children tumbling out of minivans, their fists buried in bags of Doritos, and the eager employees in fake park ranger outfits who greet them with invitations to decorate wolf-shaped sugar cookies.
It’s cold in Wisconsin in February, so I go inside and snag an overstuffed chair next to the fireplace, to the left of the concierge. I’m too preoccupied with casting my indie film to attempt to finish my copy of The New York Times crossword puzzle I began this morning (my husband buys two papers from the pharmacy every Sunday so we don’t have to share; such small kindnesses have cemented our twenty-five year marriage.)
I decide to cast Lili Taylor as my daughter. Think Lili in her mid-twenties (Mystic Pizza or Say Anything), before the fierce optimism cloaking her vulnerability shifted from determined to desperate. Barbara Hershey will play me — not the Barbara of Beaches, soft and introverted — the Babs of Lantana, overtly serene yet damaged, her snout distorted by too much plastic surgery. Barbara grabs hold of me, and I become her ghost or the camera or something in between.