Monday, January 28, 2013

#66: "A Gospel of the Human Condition" by Jennifer Militello

~This poem previously appeared in The North American Review (2010)

A Gospel of the Human Condition

And we are left on the cold sills of a world.
Years come and loiter in the bottles
we discard, years come and stir
with the wind, years singe like cigarettes
as they burn past their filters, the papers
of winter as they ladder to the ground.

Even here, in this mechanical hour,
dying becomes a hundred armored lords.
A grain of sand wears a volt of thought
more soft than the green of torture.
An asymmetry of irises.
The stars, that bed of nails.

It is the howl we make instead of love,
while the pigeons stir their ragged sleep
and sleep their dirty rivers, while
the evening is a crier of wounds.
Hewn, we are the minnows. Shallows
hold us in the bare of our shadows.

Alone, we are mourned by
our own ruined shrines, and the voyages
mine through our waking. What takes, what
makes scalpels of each of the eyes, each
a called mile, each a spun-sharp waiting.
We are faithless, fainting, praying.

The hair shirt is not enough. The fish hook
is not enough. We kiss in the corners
of subway stations. We undress in public.
We are cruel to animals. When we sing,
we sing poorly. Some mechanism in our hearts
fails and this causes a tinkering of happiness.

The old laws take hold. The single hoof
of each of our hearts remains unshod.
Our half-starved dogs are beaten, their ribs
listen to the darkened apartments within,
our voices trim the windows. We are

sure to be forgiven. We are sure to
feast. We oxidize in several winds.
There is shrapnel in the rain. We fade
like several finches. Ourselves
at the periphery. Begotten, not made.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

#65: "Midrash" by Sandell Morse

~This story was previously published in the New England Review (1997).

             Bessie Feldman parks her car in front of Hebrew College in one of those spaces marked with the symbol of a wheelchair. She does and she doesn't like this privilege. Her hip replacement is healing slowly, and even now, months after the operation she feels pain and walks tilted, will probably always walk tilted, the doctor says. Now, he says this. Not before. But that's the way life goes. It happened with Erv, her husband, the year before. A "routine" operation, gall bladder, and then, his heart stops, and they take her to the meditation room. A small room with quiet walls, quiet chairs and a closed door, and Erv's regular doctor isn't there. Some emergency. And she's standing with a thin young man, who has somehow been singled out, and Bessie wonders what he's done to get this job. "Mrs. Feldman... I'm sorry." Later, Sally, her daughter, says that in ancient Greece, they killed those messengers, the ones who carried bad news.
            Bessie reaches for her purse, a small leather shoulder bag. She lifts the strap over her head. "Carry it this way," Sally has told her. "It frees you." Frees me. Sally worries about her hip. She calls every day. She wants Bessie to sell her house, to move to one of those retirement places. Aaron, her son, wants this too, but not as fiercely as Sally.
            Bessie eases her body out of the car and reaches back for her cane. She slams the door. Then, she sees her canvas bag still inside on the seat. Her lunch, her pad, and her pen. She steps off the curb and leaning hard on her cane, she opens the door and takes her bag. She sighs, deeply, and slams the door a second time.
            Bessie is short, and she's heavy, too heavy for this new hip. She tries to lose weight, to exercise. To do what the doctor tells her to do, and in the supermarket, she buys low-fat milk and tasteless no-fat cottage cheese. Then she throws a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream into her cart. Alone, at night, she opens the carton and without even scooping the ice cream into a bowl, she spoons the cold sweet treat into her mouth  This she does for company. Ice cream is company.

Monday, January 14, 2013

#64: "The Summer of Ham" by M.E. Parker

~This story previously appeared in The Briar Cliff Review (2006).
          Fried chicken, cantaloupe, fresh squash, the moment she smelled her grandma’s kitchen marked the official start of summer. Since her mom never cooked anything that didn’t come from a box, bag, or frozen tray, Diane spent the two months at her grandma’s house every year as a bear, fattening in the weeks before hibernation.
          Even the old standbys, bacon and eggs, a simple slice of toast, tasted better there, but it was more than just flavor, it was the experience, doughnuts and pancakes for dinner, steaks for breakfast. The memory of every summer was a food--a feeling that set it apart from every other time in her life. Watermelon, between the second and third grades, invoked the smell of chlorine and musty towels, fried okra, the cracks in the ground on the back end of a two-year drought the following year. After sixth grade it was ham, a ham on Sundays and any succulent variation of leftovers in between. 
          If the summer she turned twelve were a ham sandwich, it would taste the way leather smells, licorice and wet grass, cigarette smoke and thunderstorms, and to wash it down, a tall glass of root beer, which would always be the wind outside her grandma’s window, the soothing howl of a gust of air skimming across the glass.
          It wasn’t the summer of her first boyfriend. That happened the year before, asparagus and cobbler, when she and Bobby kissed in the abandoned shack on the other side of County Road 80. It wasn’t the summer she became a woman either. That was four years later, and not during a visit to her grandma’s house. Ham hadn’t pulled her hair out of its ponytail or swapped out her boots for a pair of espadrilles. Ham had taken her to California.