Tuesday, February 23, 2016

#194: Three Poems by Kerri French


Shelton Laurel

In January 1863, 13 accused Union sympathizers were executed by a Confederate regiment in the Shelton Laurel Valley of Madison County, North Carolina.  Having followed the Confederate soldiers to learn the fate of the men and boys who were taken, the women of the valley were caught and stripped of their clothing, tied and beaten, and hung by their necks until they were nearly dead.   

The birds spoke slower, then,
the eyes of each bound girl unstoppable.  
What became of us was a field,
roads submerged under a tale
of blue, the trees calling each starry
point a lion or a liar, a man pouring
water over heads.  Across miles,
we counted leaves gripped low
beneath the storm, orange clouds
shaking the pulse of our throats.  
When the last girl lost her center,
the music churning through the fall,
we retraced her steps until the hours
bled into snow, each backward glance
a moan unrecognized, the weather
a ceiling displaying the scene
of what happened, girl after girl
of seasons circling beyond return.  


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#193: "May or May Not" by Sandra Gail Lambert

~This essay was previously published in New Letters (2013).
~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, Assistant Editor.

I remember always seeing the underneath of things.  I'm sitting on a bath rug, and black and white tiles spread away from me and foreshorten into corners.  Summer sunlight illuminates the soap smears and family hairs around the claw feet of the tub.  It's Norwegian sunlight and has no humidity to blur the edges.  Each small hair throws a shadow.  The tub is deep, which means high over my head.  I don't remember how I get into the tub any more than anyone who hasn't left her braces and crutches in the bedroom and crawled to the bathroom remembers how she got in a tub.  But perhaps I pull myself onto a close-by toilet and then swing over to the rounded edge.  It's nineteen sixty-six, and at fourteen I'm strong and agile from a life of crutch walking.
I have probably balanced the beers on the back of toilet.  Or maybe there's a table beside the tub.  Yes, a table.  It wavers into view—a marble square set on turned dowels of pale wood.  Is this the same table that came to me when my mother died and now sits beside my bed supporting a water glass, body lotion, and always a stack of books?  I do remember the black plug on a chain.  And the swaths of precious summer light through the window—glinting on faucets, creamy over the porcelain, slicking the tiles.  It must have been a Sunday afternoon.  Afternoon because of the slant of light.  Sunday because of how my mouth stank with thirst.  On Saturday I would have passed for eighteen in my madras skirt from the Montgomery Ward Catalog and gone to bars.  I don't remember that Saturday night, but mostly, on a Sunday morning, I never quite remembered the night before.  Although I would have caught the last before-curfew bus out of the city and not missed my stop.  Sometimes I remember a sloppy groping with a stranger in the back seat.  Had I met him at the bar?  On the bus?  Perhaps on this Sunday my lips feel bruised. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#192: "All She Knew She Learned at the Movies" by Lois Roma-Deeley

~This poem was previously published in Sow’s Ear (1991). 


Paper Covers Stone

Some flicker of morning
light breezes through the blind

of my kitchen window
strikes the wall white. A drum

stick from last night’s dinner
lies alone on top the bed

of baby peas. Close up
I’d say my lines

around the mouth
are much too fine

to see. In fact I’m often told
by perfect strangers on the street

I look like Bette Davis
in Dark Victory. Only the eyes

go soft when I
bite my lip: a thousand times I said no

don’t buy me a solitary
pearl set in gold.

He married
poorly, and when they took off—

all the way to God
knows where—I swear

I was relieved.


Scissor Cuts Paper

Time has two hands
around my throat
and you’re urging

him to squeeze me
harder. Aren’t you

satisfied? Look
in your wildest dreams

is the enemy

who points a finger
at your wrist, watches
the tantrum of blue veins
blister thin skin, then smiles—
                   spitting in your ear:

he should have married me.


Stone Smashes Scissor

No one in the world
cares to hear the story
of how it all began or
if in fact they were
a perfect looking pair.
No one in the world knows that

when she bites her lip
she needs to be alone;
when she speaks of love, she only
talks of him—how much
he cost her: cruelty
is a shock for those who feel

no one in the world
leaves a light on at home
without locking every door
twice, without closing
all the windows tight.
She hears a knock downstairs and sure,

she gets up to answer, but
no one in the world
is there. The winter
wind, trapped deep within
a wall, comforts her,
that’s all. She knows the roar,

once a sea-rose of pink sound,
carried him far out
to the shallows of her
well-lit house. There, wading in
the pools, she made love
feel like a world
where no one ever goes.


Monday, February 1, 2016

#191: "The Cumulative Effect" by Jon Chopan

~This story was previously published in Post Road (2010).

~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, assistant editor of Redux.

The Cumulative Effect

In April, one month after my father went off to war, leaving my mother and me behind, my mother made me dress in a button up shirt and one of my father’s ties and she took me out on a date.  That’s what she said: “We’re going on a date, mother and son.”  I was seventeen.  The invasion of Iraq came and went and then the hunt for Saddam Hussein began.  I imagined my father hunting him, hiding in remote locations or marching for days through the desert.  We lived in Rochester, New York in a house on the east side.  My mother worked part time as a waitress at a little diner around the corner from our house called, The East Ridge.  My father would never have allowed us to eat at a fancy restaurant.  In fact I couldn’t remember ever eating out before that night, so I was shocked when we went to a swanky restaurant in the arena district.
            I pressed my mother about that. “How can we afford this meal?” I asked. 
            “Combat pay,” she said between bites of her 16oz steak.  “It’s the one good thing your father ever did for us.”
            “Does Dad know about this?”
            My mother set her fork down and wiped her mouth on the cloth napkin.  She rubbed her chin like she was thinking about something and then she picked up her fork again, waving it in front of her while she spoke.
            “What he doesn’t know won’t kill him.”
            I wasn’t comfortable being in a restaurant.  Mainly because I had only been in them on our infrequent visits to my mother’s parents.  I wasn’t really sure how to act.  But also I felt like we were betraying my father’s wishes.  I picked at the steak my mother insisted I order.  
            “Do you think he’s coming back?”  I asked.
            My mother put her fork down again, this time making eye contact.
“Honey, we aren’t that lucky.  He’ll be back.”