Monday, September 18, 2017

#244: "Go Back to Where You Came From" by Rita Ciresi


~This essay previously appeared in Divergent Voices (2014).

            Like everything else in our house that plugs into a (working) electrical socket, the record player comes on The Truck. My father knows a guy. Who knows a guy. Who knows a guy. You never know which guy will barrel The Truck up our steep asphalt driveway: Ugly. Shorty. The Schnozz. Big Willy.
            Whoever si chiama, the guy flings open the back of the truck and deposits the unsealed box on the back porch. No money changes hands, at least in front of my mother. 
            I don't ask no questions, Ma says.
            The record player comes in the swankiest color of 1967: avocado green. My three sisters and I haul it into the living room and drop to our knees to worship it—like it's the Archbishop's gold ring that contains a sliver of Christ's cross. 
            Sister Uno plugs it in. Sister Due puts the 45 on the turntable. Sister Tre pushes the lever that makes the record drop and the arm lurch over. 
            The speakers screech.
            I cover my ears. The record player is a piece-a-shit, like everything else in our house—the washing machine that doesn't wash, the dryer that doesn't dry, the baccaus that clogs so often I am terrified to cacca in it.
            Needs a needle, Sister Uno says.
            Ma heads for her sewing box. Sister Due digs through the Styrofoam and plucks out a silver stylus, thin as the slivers Ma yanks out of the bottom of our feet when we don't listen to her (you kids, you stunod kids, you don't listen to me, you never listen!), and walk barefoot on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. 
            The needle picks up every pop and scratch on the record. Then a deep, commanding voice enters our living room: Welcome to Italian One. Lesson One. Greetings. Listen and repeat. 
            We listen. But do not repeat. 
            Buon giorno, Signora Rossi, come stai? (Ding!)
            Bene, grazie, e Lei? (Ding!)

Monday, August 28, 2017

#243: Three Poems by Michael Morell

~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor, Poetry



~This poem was previously published in Paterson Literary Review (2004).


The Ghost of My Grandfather

I.

It was a summer night in August
when my grandfather came downstairs from his bedroom
wearing an undershirt, scarf, dress pants and hat,
and asked my father to call him a cab because he wanted to go home.
Gramps was eighty-two, I was ten, and he’d lived with us for seven years.
When my father questioned him, reminded him that he was home,
Gramps gave his boyhood address in Darby, two towns from where we lived,
close enough for a man to smell the ham and cabbage
his mother cooked for him on special occasions.
After hours attempting to convince him
he lived with us, fruitlessly showing him his bedroom,
my father called for a cab, slipped the driver extra cash
and asked him to drive Gramps around the block a few times
before bringing him home. Fifteen minutes later
he was sound asleep in his bed.
Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you, son, my dad said.
Three weeks later my grandfather died.

II.

I drive to my parents’ house for Friday night pizza
and my eighty year old father, who no longer looks like
he’ll live forever, calls to my mother like a crow
home home I want to go home. Later, I drive my father to Darby,
where he was born, where his father was born, past Fitzgerald
Mercy Hospital where I was born. He sees the pointed brown bricks
of his childhood, overlooks new storefront signs, falls back into
1940 and penny candy, today’s Soul Food Store once again
Waxman’s Shoes, smell of glue, rubber, and polish permeating the air.

III.

I have always wanted to go back in time and meet my parents
as children, eye them walking home from school or chasing fireflies
on a summer evening, begging their parents for one more minute
of playtime before surrendering to the darkness, and now, here
my father sits, man, boy, dad, son- a mixture of everything he is
and was, time stripped aside, years peeling away like old paint
to reveal bare, clean wood, a moment where the sea of consciousness
is parted by some invisible staff we cannot grasp.

*****

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#242: "Permanently Cool: A Tattoo of One’s Own" by Alice Lowe

~This essay previously appeared in Soundings Review (2014).


January: The idea worms its way into my head as I start anticipating—you might even say obsessing about—my October birthday. While I accept my senior status and its dubious benefits with appropriate aplomb and all the grace I can muster, damn it, I won’t go down without a fight. I want to do something symbolic, something tangible and visible, something out of character. A tattoo—that’s it!—I’ll get a tattoo. And I’ll write about it.

February: It’s a dramatic undertaking for me. Once it might have been thought radical or subversive—foolish for an old broad, maybe—but not now. I read about the recent proliferation of tattoos on women in Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo, which traces the phenomenon from a Native American captive in 1858 with a chin tattoo to the explosion of popularity over the past 20 years. Until recently tattoos carried a stigma of tawdriness for most women, although they became a fad in late 19th-century European and American elite society (usually tucked away in places that could be covered by clothing). Winston Churchill’s mother—the infamous Jennie—had a snake eating its tail, the symbol of eternity, inked on her wrist. Janis Joplin was one of the first celebrities to display them—a bracelet on her wrist, a tiny heart on her chest. Now they’re a fashion statement across age and class, and in 2012, for the first time, women got more tattoos than men. A political statement too: Mifflin sees women’s tattoos as “badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why.” Right on, sisters!

Monday, August 14, 2017

#241: "House of the Ancients" by Clifford Garstang


~This story was previously published in REAL (Regarding Arts and Letters) (2008).

  
Nick—having learned from his Lonely Planet guide that the Mexico City subway is cheap, but infested with pickpockets—clutches his shoulder pack to his chest. He knows that the obvious anxiety marks him as an American or, at best, a Canadian, but right now, eyeing his fellow passengers, he doesn’t care. He’s been walking all day, like a zombie for the last hour. He’s worn out. The blister on his heel burns. He detects, via the low-pitched growl at the bottom of his gut, that he might soon be laid low with whatever it is that keeps Alexis tethered to their hotel room. And now he needs to know—it’s essential that he knows—that he is headed in the right direction. The guidebook falls open where he’s dog-eared the subway map. He boarded at Auditorio and the train has just left Constituyentes. Good. South, just as he wants, toward Barranca del Muerte. Ravine of Death.
As the train pulls into Tacubaya, a sprawling station where three lines meet, he slips the guidebook back into the bag. At least the flood of new passengers won’t identify him immediately. Unless the shiny Nikes give him away. Or his White Sox cap. Or his Levis and University of Chicago t-shirt.
When the doors hiss open, a family enters: a dark man with a guitar slung over his shoulder, a woman with a babe-in-arms, and two small boys. At the head of the subway car, the man unslings the guitar and hugs it close, plucking the strings tentatively as he sings in a piercing voice that rises above the train’s clatter. The lyrics don’t penetrate Nick’s meager Spanish, but the other riders, who nod appreciatively with the staccato beat, seem to recognize the song. The wife takes a seat with the baby and keeps her eyes low. The boys—Nick has assigned them names, Roberto for the older, and Pablo for the little one—the boys make their way through the car, Roberto down the left side, Pablo down the right, each with a grimy hand extended, stopping before every promising passenger, waiting for a coin or a head shake, or a scowl.
It is tiny Pablo, wearing green sweat pants and a tobacco-brown sweater, who stands before Nick, gazing up at him with wide, dark eyes. The father’s voice sails through the car, an arrow Nick thinks is meant for him, and Pablo bounces his open hand, a hand no larger than a cat’s paw, on Nick’s knee. When Nick presses a peso into Pablo’s palm, there is no smile, no acknowledgment. The boy breaks his gaze and moves on. At San Pedro de los Piños, the boys jostle through the rushing passengers to join their parents, and the family passes into the next car, to be replaced by a grim-faced young man selling DVDs of a rock concert that he displays on a portable player held above his head, sour chords blaring from the machine’s tiny speakers as the vendor maneuvers through the oblivious crowd.
The train hurtles through the tunnel, a passage in time for Nick, back to his Chicago commute, images of Alexis flickering on the black windows, their future together, healing the strain of faded newness, feeling their way toward something solid and lasting.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#240: Four Poems by Michael Hettich

~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry.


~This poem was previously published in The Great River Review (2015).


The Milky Way

If we could imagine that every word we speak
were an animal or insect, the last of a species
ever to be born, that the very act of speaking
brought extinction even before our words 
had been heard and replied to, we might get a feeling
for the vanishings we witness but don’t see. And if every
conversation were understood as a kind
of holocaust denuding whole landscapes, some people
would simply fall silent—as far as they could—
while most others would keep chattering on. Just imagine
the vast forests of lives, the near-infinity of forms 
brought to a halt with a simple conversation.
And I would be one of the talkers, despite
the fact that I knew what my talking destroyed.
And so I would mourn every word I said,
even while I argued passionately for silence
and for learning to honor the sacred diversity
of life. Just imagine watching the stars
go out on a dark night in the far north, a clear night,
one after the other until the sky was black.

Once, when I was taking out the garbage, just walking
dully across my back yard, a huge bird—
as big as a vulture but glittering and sleek—
rose from the grass and flew into my body,
knocked the breath out of me, then flew up and away
with a powerful pull of its wings. I could hardly

see it in the darkness. And then it was just gone.


  
*****

Friday, July 28, 2017

#239: "Old Men Don't Need Much Sleep" by Richard LeBlond




~This essay was previously published in New Plains Review (2015), as “Higher Ground: Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep.”


 Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep

I set out from Broken Bow, Nebraska, on the last day of spring 2011 to visit Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was the third day of my annual trip west from North Carolina. I grew up in Oregon but had moved east nearly 50 years before. Most of my family remained in the Portland area, and I flew out every Christmas. But when Mom died in 2002, Christmas lost its cohesion, and I started driving out in summer. In addition to visiting family, I wanted to revisit places from my past and explore the unknown. Time had also become a factor. My bucket list had gotten more crowded without having to add new entries.
Wounded Knee is the site of an 1890 massacre of more than 150 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children. It is regarded by many historians as the final conflict for the West. The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but is not promoted for public visitation by U.S. or tribal authorities. There used to be a small village there with a trading post and museum, but these were destroyed in 1973 during an occupation by members of the American Indian Movement and consequent facedown with federal authorities.
In recent years I have been reading more about the removal of Native Americans from their homelands, the forced settlement onto reservations, and the causes of conditions that persist on those reservations today. Books are dangerous. They awaken curiosity. They prompt journeys.
Since I regarded my visit as something close to trespass, I decided to bypass the reservation town of Pine Ridge, pay my respects quietly at the Wounded Knee cemetery, and leave unnoticed. As usual, things did not go as I imagined they would.
It was raining when I woke up in Broken Bow, and it rained all morning as I followed Route 2 through the green sandhills of northwestern Nebraska, the largest region of dunes in the Western Hemisphere. The unrelenting drizzle was becoming a threat to the outdoor lunch I had packed. On the road I look for a natural setting for lunch, but if raining, I look for a restaurant. Skipping lunch was not an option. A life without lunch is a life without meaning.
By late morning, an indoor lunch appeared likely, and Pine Ridge was the only town around, about a dozen miles from the cemetery. It was still raining as I approached the reservation from Nebraska a little after eleven. I had been up since 5:30 and decided to have lunch before going to the cemetery. I was getting hungry, and it would give the rain another chance to realize it had made its point.

Monday, July 17, 2017

#238: Three Poems by Lori Lamothe




~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant poetry editor


~This poem previously appeared in New Madrid (2016).

Forecast


At the border between properties
a galvanized washtub collects falling
snow. Hours later, the white’s risen
so high it brims over emptiness.
I want to kneel down before it
and rinse my bare arms in its cold,
clean comfort. I want to let the idea of
an original, untouched world accumulate.
Because there are so many spaces inside me
waiting for renewal. The heart with its huge
barn doors thrown open in anticipation
of love’s galloping horses. The mind
and its attic of memories, or even the hands
held out for work, its solid, familiar tools.
Above me, the clouds open their trap doors
all at once and flakes sift down, blanketing
everything with a marvelous innocence
that will surely last long enough this time.



Monday, July 10, 2017

#237: "My House Wordship" by Richard Kostelanetz

~This piece was previously published in Home & Away (1991).

I sit here in this old house alone.
–Edmund Wilson, Upstate (1971)

My apartment became famous for a day, early in September 1985, when it appeared at the top of the front page of the widely read New York Times's Thursday "Home" section. Accompanying a feature article on "Living with Too Many Books" was a photograph of me sitting beneath towering shelves tightly filled with paperbacks. Whereas most features in the Times are forgotten a few days afterwards, this one is often remembered, mostly by those likewise crowded. The article said I had ten thousand books, which seems too high, for the only figure authorized by me was "956 running feet" of shelves containing books. Those more experienced insist that the count must now be closer to fifteen thousand, which is the result of reading roughly a book a day for forty adult years.
            What the size of this library mostly reflects–a point missed by the writer, specializing in interior design–is not that I "collect" books, because I don't, but that I've worked my way through several intellectual fields. After taking degrees in American civilization and American history, I became interested in literature and literary criticism; more recently, I've written about other arts. By contrast, no one pursuing a single discipline would need so many books at home. A second fact shaping the size of the library is professional independence. Whereas professors can rely upon a university library, I can use only the New York Public. However, not only is its stocking erratic, but even the famed research central at 42nd Street is missing many items listed in its catalog.
            A third, more personal fact is that my books are extensively annotated, not only with marks on their pages but also with sheets of paper filled with handwritten notes. When I want to find something that I remember being in any book of mine, I first consult these sheets. In a practical sense, these sheets and annotations are more valuable to me than the books; for unlike the books, they are irreplaceable.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#236: "When the Saints Go Marching Out" by Roland Goity

                                                                           

~This story originally appeared in Talking River Review (2006).


August 24, 2005:  Ivan boasted a warm, alcohol-fueled grin from his window seat as he and Katrina descended upon Louis Armstrong Airport. It had already been a long day; they rose before sun-up to catch their flight from San Jose, and had a long layover in St Louis (two Lynchburg Lemonades) before catching their connection to The Big Easy, Crescent City, The City that Care Forgot, N’Awlins. Katrina napped beside him with her mouth open, and Ivan nudged her awake. “There it is, baby: a place with class, with history, with style,” he said. “Get out your beads and get ready to party!” 

August 29, 2005: Sheryl and her six-year-old daughter Markeesha sat on the lumpy, sunflower-patterned couch in their Garden District apartment and sang one song after another. By the time they got to When the Saints Go Marching In, they were on their feet and tapping beats on the hardwood floor. When they finished, Sheryl hugged Markeesha whose eyes pooled with tears. Torrential rainfall and triple-digit winds rapped at the boarded-up windows and Sheryl did her best to hide the sinking feeling she had. “You sure Nana’s okay?” Markeesha asked again. Sheryl nodded and sighed with relief. Through fate, her mother was spending the week with friends in Shreveport. 

August 25:  After a night of Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and making boisterous fools of themselves at Preservation Hall, Ivan and Katrina were at it again. They were on Day Two of their planned tour to hit every nook and cranny of New Orleans’ famed French Quarter. And Ivan could hardly believe it. Only two days before he was in Silicon Valley pushing e-commerce solutions to anyone who’d listen; now he was strolling about cobblestone pathways and wrought-iron gates on Royal Street, taking drunken horse-drawn carriage rides in the shadows of stately mansions on St. Charles Avenue.  Jazz music drifted along the street, from bars and clubs and sometimes the sidewalks themselves. The street musicians were so good, in fact, Ivan guessed they’d probably command top dollar in most cities. This was Ivan’s utopia; this was “Disneyland for adults.” Indeed, it wasn’t long until he and Katrina arrived at a bar on Bourbon Street and were coaxed onstage by the long beckoning finger of the bass player in a ZZ Top-style trio: a rangy black man with an old-style ‘fro and instrumental chops not unlike Stanley Clarke, the king of Ivan’s self-congratulatory musical hierarchy. As they danced alongside the band, it seemed somehow natural to Ivan that he and Katrina were now improv entertainers of the Old Absinthe House. Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory himself, often celebrated there back in the day, and at that moment Ivan felt he’d forged a spiritual bond with the great general and president. This marvelous southern city satiated his ego, and as he danced the “po’ fool white boy” before the lively crowd, Ivan wondered what might someday be his own claim to fame. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#235: "Hiking with Kierkegaard" by Mark Liebenow

~This essay previously appeared in Chautauqua (2014).



Hiking With Kierkegaard      
The Struggle Between the Idea and the Experience of Nature: A Debate Informed by Goethe, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, the Velveteen Rabbit, and a Hike to the Top of El Capitan.


            Before dawn in late September, I stand on a bank of the Merced River, below black mountains in silhouette, and watch the river’s dark blue water flow out from the forest and surge quietly past. The undulating surface reflects glints of silver from the sky’s early light. Mist hovers in the chill above the autumn meadow. When there is enough light to see, I begin a ten-hour hike by going up the steep switchbacks on the canyon’s north wall to the top of Yosemite Falls.
            An hour and a half later, catching my breath on the canyon’s edge, I glance back at Half Dome across the valley, locate my trail, and head into the forest for El Capitan, anxious to see what it looks like from above. From the valley floor, El Cap is a smooth granite monolith that rises 3000 feet straight up. Rock climbers travel from around the world to spend days pulling their way up its vertical face; for them it’s a rite of passage. I prefer to hike over the mountains and explore the forest along the way.
            In a shaded grove near Eagle Peak, I pause for a quick drink of water, but as I look around the landscape at an elevation of 7400 feet, a strange sensation invites me to sit on a boulder. What’s confusing is that on a long hike I don’t usually stop for water because I want to get back to camp before dark. I just swing my backpack around, grab a bottle and drink without ever breaking my stride. Setting my drive to get to El Cap aside, I wait to discover what is causing this feeling.  It seems like something that I’ve forgotten or lost.
            The growing heat of the sun filters through the trees and balances the crisp, cool air of early morning. Chickadees are chirping, chipmunks are scuffling through the dirt and leaves looking for stray acorns, and the breeze hums as it twirls needles in the sugar pines towering above me. I am energized by the quiet sounds and scent of pine, and the moment feels perfect, although this doesn’t say it right. I feel physically connected to the land. This says more, but the words don’t say enough. I linger for twenty minutes letting the presence of the landscape deepen.
            I come into nature because of surprises like this, whether I’m hiking in Yosemite, canoeing among the moose in the Boundary Waters above Minnesota, walking the old prairies of Wisconsin, or poking around tide pools on Oregon’s serrated coast. Yosemite Valley is seven miles long and one mile wide, and by camping for a week I experience something of the rustic life of John Muir. Nature’s architecture has created a place both intimate and open where people can explore the boundary between self and the wilderness.
            This trip I’m also here because grief has morphed into Moby Dick at home and I’m locked in a battle like Ahab, unable to kill it or let it go. Five months after my wife’s sudden death in her forties, I’m stuck in anger, depression, and apathy, and I’m hoping that nature can help me with this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#234: Three Poems by Scott Dalgarno

~These poems were selected by assistant editor Clara Jane Hallar.



~This poem previously appeared in The Yale Review (2007).


JESUS TURNS UP IN VAN NUYS, BUT HIS NUMBER IS STILL UNLISTED

I was raptured, temporarily, then recalled
due to a clerical error. There was the office
generated apology, of course, with a cc to God.

Des Moines looks so different to me now. Not nearly
so plural. Apparently I wasn’t missed, but then,
I’ve always been the penguin in the red muffler.

Sure, I want you to notice me, but I still want you
to have to look. Like the rest of the half-wit
world, I beat my gong with a spent cucumber.

We’re all of us faking it, right? Only the young
don’t know that . . . . which makes them young.
Everything shifts over time. Now they’re saying

filthy is the new dirty. Don’t get me wrong,
I welcome the chance to come clean about my hiccup
with Jesus, but my people have always adored their

secrets, hording the unstutterable, holding their cards
under the table. My grandmother was a Shaker
all her life. She had teeth made from old mah

jongg tiles. Even her husband didn’t know. What
must Jesus think of the news that all these years
he’s been married; his wife, a rehabilitated Bible

whore? Hell, we don’t even know what he looked like.
Maybe dark short, with splayed feet and an eye that
wanders. Christus Domesticus. See them commuting. 

“Pick a lane,” he says, “Any lane, I don’t care”
(Mary likes to take her half out of the middle). Afraid
of being left behind, she’s forever offering

to drive, while Jesus leans into the tragic like some reckless
geek magician. Profiled in PEOPLE, they’re
like rock stars on holiday; see them walk, A-framed,

purling their way down Sepulveda, that Picasso body
of hers moving like a crab. He could fix that,
but likes her crooked, pink, & halting.

*****

Monday, June 12, 2017

#233: Three Poems by Ava C. Cipri

~Work selected by assistant poetry editor Clara Jane Hallar

 

~This poem previously appeared in Western Humanities Review (2008).

 

Queen of Swords


i.
you are the curator the loud custodian    one set of keys

one pass    single access

you stand guard at the gate

no other entrance no other may come

ii.
fast forward if you are looking for the protagonist
a woman of reticent character by this name [H.] you will not find her here

fast forward nor will you find her       Heath[er] . . .
no time

I write it down

rewind    I will not witness

iii.
the sky pinches back from its corners    fast forward

I know your window from the bus shelter & the hour
it crests the wall then the snow heaves the way I

watched the end from outside myself steeping
from that porch dismantled for three full seasons

iv.
it’s the photograph I continue to pick up the one my grandmother never
     displayed

too often    declared the futility of being a writer & want of spontaneity
photography at my command to have a camera around my neck
yesterday there was a tall blond amazon    her hair tightly pulled back in a
    leather-band

the season halts from November’s edge

v.
your door    and the season
it cuts the city the way a dancer
his partner clipped in the distance vanishes
into night into dreams too far
I return from your absence and limp into my life

knowing terror for the second time
overhearing the scream

vi.
for two Septembers I walk out into traffic

wonder the month it stopped—you finding my hair in the drain behind the
    stacks of books
under the suitcase which was our table

vii.
the walls of you the way you pulled me into those voice-filled fields until

no one could make you come as hard    fast with the trains extinguishing
    behind us


*****

Friday, May 26, 2017

#232: "Blind Spot" by Roy Kesey

                                                                                                

~This story was previously published in Harpur Palate (2005).


  
            It’s early, just barely light, and driving to work I get the feeling again, a car hanging right in my blind spot. I whip around but the street is empty as far back as I can see. That’s always how it happens. Things go bad sometimes.
            A few minutes later the feeling comes again, and I check my mirrors, catch a glimpse of a dented grill. I’ve never gotten a good look at the car so I’m not sure how I know it’s a blue convertible. I’ve never seen the driver, no idea who he is, but he’s been showing up more and more often, cutting it closer and closer. I whip around again and the street is still empty and you don’t have to tell me how weird this is. I know how weird it is.
            I get to the warehouse, shut off the engine and just sit quiet until Goat pulls up alongside. Yesterday Old Red sent Goat and me to the docks to see about a crate. It went a little rough, and Goat got his arm broken, and now he’s wearing one of those fiberglass casts, only this one’s bright orange, so I hassle him a bit.
            We go inside and say hi to Vid and Marty. Nobody wants poker or rummy this early so we just sit there and smoke. Something’s happening, no question, but we never get told until it’s time to go, and for the moment we’re twitchy like spiders.
            We watch seagulls for a while. We watch tugs and scows. We tell stories and ask each other what about lunch, and then Old Red comes out of the office, waves me and Vid to the Cutlass, tells me to drive.
            - I got a thing in my eye, I say.
            - What kind of thing? says Vid.
            - I don’t know, maybe some sawdust.
            - You got a hankie, so use it, says Old Red.
            - Vid knows how to drive too, I say.
            - If I wanted Vid to drive, I’d have told him to drive.
            I take out my hankie and pretend for a second, get in and start the engine, and we’re not ten minutes out when that fucker in the blue convertible slides into my blind spot again.
            - Take a right at the light, says Old Red.
            I nod, signal, catch a glint off the convertible’s windshield, look back at the empty lane, look again fast and there’s still nothing there. I ease over, make the turn and speed up.
            - Since when do you drive like a hundred years old? says Vid.
            - Leave him alone, says Old Red.
            So he knows something’s wrong, which isn’t what either of us needs. Old Red always has things on his mind but lately it’s been worse. He points us down to a Chinese restaurant with dirty windows and peeling paint. In the back there’s fifty or sixty small boxes wrapped tight. Then there’s some kind of problem, and before things get cleared up I take a shot to the nose, gives me a real gusher, but it’s mostly stopped by the time we get back to the warehouse.
            - Nobody teach you to duck? says Goat.
            I look at him and he goes back to watching seagulls until Old Red comes and tells us to unload. He leaves with Marty and Vid, and it takes Goat and me almost an hour to put all the boxes away.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#231: "Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Pit Bull" by Reuben Jackson


  
~This poem was previously published in Clockworks (2011).




I.

Among twenty sleeping row houses,

The only restless thing

Was the voice of the Pit Bull


II.

I was of three headaches

Like a neighborhood in which there are as many

Pit Bulls.


III.

The Pit Bull paced in the dealer’s yard.

It was but a small part

Of my anxiety.


IV.

A man and his dog are one.

A hustler, his stash

And a loyal Pit Bull

Are frightening .


V.

I do not know which to prefer:

The disdain of neighbors

Or the disdain of neighbors.

The Pit Bull breeding-

Or the policeman rolling his eyes.

  

VI.

Rain covered the picture window

With a posse of tear drops.

The ghosts of battered Pit Bulls

Crossed it to and fro

The mood traced in the shadows

Followed me into sleep.


VII.

O longtime brothers of Brightwood-

Why do you secretly long for Chocolate Labs?

Do you not see how the Pit Bull

Sits at the feet of the players

Around you?


VIII.

I know quieter cities,

and black men with unconquered livers.

But I know, too,

That the Pit Bull is involved in

What I wish I didn’t know.


IX.

When the Pit Bull strode in the shadows-

It turned the asphalt into a pungent river.


X.

The sight of a Pit Bull charging down Madison

Would make even the most ardent dog lover

Surrender the sidewalk.

  
XI.

He traveled the city

In a quiet subway.

Once, a fear pierced him

In that he mistook a sister’s ringtone

For that of a Pit Bull.


XII.

The block is silent.

The Pit Bull and his owner

Must be away.


XIII.

It was evening all afternoon

And it was going to rain.

The folorn Pit Bull sat in his

Dog house.

  

*****

Monday, April 24, 2017

#230: "Growth" by Amy Yelin



~This essay was previously published in The Gettysburg Review (2005).


I bring my father a slice of pizza and an orange soda in a grease-stained paper bag.  He is the only person in the surgery waiting room this evening.  A ghost room. He looks smaller than usual, dwarfed by the oversized sofa, his head slumped toward his chest, as if he were sleeping. Or praying. He eats greedily, and then we make our usual small talk. “How is your car?” he asks. “Your job?” He tells me again what is wrong with the state of health care in America. There are awkward pauses. We go outside so he can smoke his pipe.
“Six hours we waited,” he says, striking match after match as the wind taunts and blows them out. Finally one catches. He holds it to the rim of the pipe, and I see that familiar orange glow of fire. “The surgeon didn’t even call to update us. Six hours after we were scheduled, he just showed up. No explanation or anything.” My father sucks on his pipe as though it were a pacifier; the sound is like fish talking. We sit in silence for a while, on a stone ledge in front of the hospital.  The trees appear sinister, their branches reaching out, pointing at us, like skeleton fingers. I pretend I am cold so we can go inside.
When the surgeons finally come out, they look tired. The one my father and I think resembles Harry Potter assures us the prognosis is good.
“I think we got most of the growth,” he says. “There are just a few little dots left. Nothing that the chemo won’t take care of.”  He tells us he expects a full remission. Such confidence.
For the next six months, we are all obsessed with the word remission. It is our promised land, our mirage in the distance, our savior.

Monday, April 17, 2017

#229: "Like Everyone Else" by Tara Laskowski

~This story was previously published in Fiction Weekly (2009).  



It was after the teenage girl died that Samantha Wolewski finally agreed to go out on a date with Harry, the cops reporter who worked night shift. Up until then she’d been dodging him—she was the new obit clerk, her first job out of college, and she wanted to be professional, make a good impression.
But then the girl died. It was a car accident—she had been on her way home from the hairdresser to get ready for her prom that night. Before that, Samantha had only had to write obituaries for old people. There was something about this girl’s picture— a dark-haired young girl looking over her shoulder, smiling brightly, hopefully into the camera. Sam wondered if the girl had hated the picture, if she’d hated the one lock of hair that had separated from the rest and trailed along her red sweater like a snake.
She tried to tell Harry about it on their way to the casino. What happened to the young woman’s date for the prom, her friends? “Would they still even have the prom after that?” she wondered aloud, to which Harry replied with a long, drawn-out story about his senior prom and how wasted they’d gotten afterwards on the second floor of the Red Roof Inn off of I-81.
“How romantic,” Sam murmured, already regretting her moment of weakness that had gotten her here in the car with the only guy in the newsroom who didn’t sing karaoke at happy hour on Friday nights. It bothered her that Harry incessantly cracked his gum. It bothered her he had yet to ask her a question about herself. It bothered her she couldn’t remember the girl’s name.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#228: "Stewards of the Dead" by Susan E. Gunter

~This poem previously appeared in Atlanta Review (2015).

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor for poetry



                                   
I watch them circle above me, wings
like open pages curving slightly
from the spine, a kettle of royalty
attended by a page, a lone hawk
hoping for scraps from their carrion,
a bit of flesh or shredded muscle.

A wake of them undertakes to clean
the world of waste, their wings caressing
leaf mold as they feast on the fallen,
leaving a heap of knackered bones,
odd tufts of fur for the devil’s cloak.

In Brazilian myth, vultures’ wings
blocked the light until the hero captured
their king. Man and bird compromised:
divide the world in two, sun and moon.

Gods of darkness, death, and terror, take pity.
Spare me another hour, a jeweled sunrise—
keep me from the tower of silence,
for I have not yet finished with words.




*****