Monday, July 25, 2016

#210: "Summer, 1983" by Michael Boccardo

~This poem was previously published in Cutthroat (2010).

Summer, 1983

On that last afternoon in June,
when the road still cracked
a dusty gravel whip beneath our feet
and no one could afford the luxury
of electric air, we crossed
over into our neighbor’s yard,
small bits of stone poking each
bare heel, already rubbed thick
and coarse as sandpaper. 
By the time we breathed
the perfumed thickets of dogwood
edging Bessie’s mailbox,
my mother’s toes glinted with mica,
ten shimmering minnows
wiggling in blades of sun-stroked grass. 
Back then she was proud of her legs,
and wore nothing but tee-shirts and cutoffs,
denim sheared by a dull kitchen knife,
the threads floating like spider silk
around her thighs.  My brother and I trailed
behind, arms spiraling, embroiled in a battle
of plastic sacks, heavy with squash  
and zucchini plucked from our father’s garden,
too busy being boys to notice
anything wrong until the hiss
of coiled newspapers, a week’s worth,
skidded towards opposite corners
of the front porch.  When mother vanished,
a blurred shape behind the rattle of a screen door, 
we knew better than to move,
our shadows like drawn umbrellas, rigid
as we stood in currents of clover ankle-deep.
I was too young to understand
death then, but learned the ways it fooled
the world into living, how
it carried us back to where the day
began, hands gloved in soil, the sun
thirsty against our backs as we loosened
vines of tomatoes, bright bulbs dangling
like tangles of strung lights.  That night,
no one slept.  Thermometers simmered
above eighty while stars gathered
in clusters of condensation, 
windows gaping like the hooded eyes
of insomniacs.  In the kitchen,
mother busied herself until dawn,
slicing and canning.  With every glass jar
she cradled onto a pantry shelf,
her dress flared, each leg
clinging to the dark fabric
then swinging in a slow arc,
like the dome of a bell tolling the hour.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#209: Eydie Gorme Was a Little Spanish Girl by Diane Lefer

~This story was previously published in Platte Valley Review (Spring 2010).

There was no more romance in LA and they’d kept her for hours and she’d never been a patient person–never! and her hands hurt, swelling in the plastic cuffs. Who were all these people? A man she couldn’t see somewhere in the back said, “They’re taking us to Guantánamo!” People laughed.
“I went to Havana,” she said, “back when everyone went,” but now it was different and no one answered and the bus was parked outside the police station and there she’d sat since they transferred her from the back seat of the black and white and left her with her bags on her lap.
A cop came up the steps.
 “Officer! What is this delay?”
“No room at the inn,” he said, “not till they process through some felonies.”
“Officer!” Helga usually spoke the plain, blunt, even vulgar English words, but in such official company, guns, uniforms and all, how could she put it? “I must make water,” she said. “Now.”
He ignored her but then the woman came, name on the badge--Ortiz and Ortiz said “I’m not supposed to,” then nosed clippers between the plastic and her skin and cut her free. Before Helga could say thank you, Ortiz did. “Thank you for what you’re doing.”
“You are most welcome,” Helga said.
 “Those people deserve a union,” said Ortiz. “They should have had one years ago,” and so Helga realized the thanks had not been meant for her.
“Leave your personal items,” said Ortiz like a flight attendant and led her inside the building and to a door and unlocked it. More than a dozen women there. The ladies room, always the same.
“What are you waiting for?” said Ortiz.
For the toilet was not in use. There it was, stainless steel, in the middle of the room. The indignity of it. But the birds make do with a fountain or a dirty puddle, she thought. So: Down with the panties, the first use of her freed hands. Then, no soap, no paper towels, just a sink.
“This is not sanitary!” she said and someone said “Careful!” but too late. She turned on the faucet and like a fire hose, a hydrant, cold water shot full force across the room. Helga was soaked.

Monday, July 11, 2016

#208: "The Paris Catacombs" by Adrienne Ross Scanlan

~This essay was originally published under “Adrienne Ross” in
 you are here: the journal of creative geography (2008).

1 Place Denfert-Rochereau’s doors are black. Printed there in block letters are the words: “Entrée Des Catacombes” (Entrance to the Catacombs.)  It is mid-day.  I am hungry.  I buy a chocolate croissant from the boulangerie across the street and nibble it as I enter the ossuary’s doors, pay 5 Euros, and take my place in the line of tourists walking past warning signs (“Le chiens ne sont pas admis” / Dogs are not allowed), past historical photographs of the centuries-old quarries being transformed into catacombs, past video cameras, and down the spiral staircase to the bone yard beneath the streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter.  I am far from home, alone in a city of stones and strange words. 
In the world above, years ago, I was searching for merlins, peregrines, eagles along western Washington’s Bow Edison Road when I found a dead deer in the knee-high, roadside grass.  Her nose was ebony, her tawny fur was coarse with dirt and gravel, her legs were arced for flight as she must have been before being hit by a car.  She was gutted open.  Rain pooled pink with blood.  Her ribs were intact: bone sentinels standing guard over heart, lungs, intestines long after the battle was lost.
We walk down a tight, curling staircase, down, down, down, its steps worn grey stone. For a time, we can hear the whistles and sirens from the street.  We are 20 or so meters underground.  Where are we? Where am I? Where is my lover or my friends, all half a world away?  We come to a dark and narrow, stone walled passageway.  Stones crunch under footsteps.  The electric hum of sparse light bulbs, the chitchat of tourists, a girl’s high-pitched “Daddy?” echo as we walk.  In the underground air is a smell too clean for death.  We walk. The passageway turns through darkness. We walk past cells barred by metal grates, past a half-eaten apple, past a fire extinguisher.  We walk into a gallery where there are shadows, stone columns, and a stone floor, a white plastic lawn chair with an open novel on its seat, and a guard wearing sneakers, a blue rain parka, and a red baseball cap.  Signs on columns read: “Arrete!  C’est ici l’empire de la morte.  Vous etes invite a ne rien toucher, et a ne pas fumer dans l’ossuarie.” (Stop! This is the empire of the dead.  You are asked to not touch and to not smoke in the ossuary.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#207: A Translation and a Poem by John Oliver Simon

~This poem was previously published in Cider Press Review (2010).


La joven
en la mesa se pregunta

Si la luz
de la vela es suficiente:

La sombra
de su vaso le responde

Con un sí
que se parece al viento.

—Alberto Blanco
(Mexico, 1951)


The girl
at the table asks herself

If the light
of the candle is enough:

The shadow
of her glass replies

With a yes
that resembles the wind.

—Translated by John Oliver Simon