Monday, March 20, 2017

#225: "All We Did" by Elise Levine


~This story previously appeared in Gargoyle (2009).


Any man with a ponytail, any man twice our age: this was our thinking way back when, what passed for thinking. Any man changing the marquee after hours as we rode the streetcar past the second-run movie palace. One of us swaggered off at the next stop, dirty slush up to her ankles but so what, her baby-fat body not yet a bulb she’d blown, winter white not yet her favorite color.
            In the aisle of the theater, rows of faded red velvet seats, rank and file, observing
like cattle. Forget-me-nots, in the carpet.
            Spring came. She tried all things. Which when we think about it now, how quaint.
            Pregnant once and never again. Cramped for weeks after.
            She went away. She came back. Everyone who’d stayed looked the same, terrific, inexhaustible. She left again, and when she returned everyone had vanished. She was in need but the buildings were mute. Mother dead. Father too. The sister she never had. Cinema Lumiere an expensive isolation.
Slowly the flowers release themselves from our fingers.

Monday, March 13, 2017

#224: Two Poems by W.T. Pfefferle

Gondola Hallways, Part 2

~This poem previously appeared in Signal Fire (1983).

Venice in the summertime.
The little girls play along the marble walked streets
and throw small red and blue balls
against storefronts.

And inside the buildings,
fashionable men and women sell
the finest linens from Paris and Grenoble.

In the waters of Venice a dead man
lies.

And down the waterway a few hundred feet
an old woman washes her apron and sings of the long ago,
as Monsieur Demarco floats past the houses
that face the Rue de Bijoutier.

*****

Monday, March 6, 2017

#223: "Dicot, Monocot" by Sejal Shah

~This story previously appeared in Pleiades (Spring 2002).


Do you remember the sixth grade, Margaret?  Blood and Foreign Language beginning the same year.  There was that line between all the girls then.  An extra bone, a horizontal spine—.  A keloid inch scripted onto my chest, a fossil, an unreadable note, the first of all the unanswerable signs.
We counted.  We all counted.  You know what I mean.  Even if we didn't talk about it all the time, you remember.  Even if we never talked about it, you know what I mean. 
Maybe you should have kept it, our book.  I still have it.  You would have tossed it—maybe by the seventh grade.  I still have it, our book.  What do you remember?  Remember, remember.  As if I could hold us at twelve.
Miss Merrill had all of us, every science class in the sixth grade.  Remember that day when all the boys had to leave the room?   (No one could hold us at twelve.)  I don't think they ever told us where they went.  Miss Merrill had the bluest eyes.  Did you ever wonder if they were real?  It was a long time ago.  Did Nick ever tell you I saw him with no underwear?  We were out back by the creek. 
I still have the book.  I know Nick probably threw his out.  Maybe your mom made him.  You don't take stuff like that to California.  Toothed monocot.   Do you know that the weeping willow is a toothed monocot?  We knew this once.  We had a page for the silver plants.  We snuck into the Jones' backyard, but I was afraid of Daisy. 
Dusty Miller:  Lobed dicot.  Lamb's Ear:  smooth.  We didn't know then:  the silver rubs off—.  The conifers are the next page.  Pitch smeared under the plastic covering.  We draw pictures of the leaves next to the leaves themselves.  You will not remember this.  We are only eleven.  No one counted at eleven.  Did I ever tell you about your brother?  It was a long time ago. 
You moved to California, Margaret (how could you?).  You didn't even take our book.  I still have the gingko we found at the end of my street (Monocot lobed).  A Japanese tree splitting itself into two—mitosis, mitosis—leaves like fans; pleated.  We thought they were special, but there were whole trees of them.  The tulip tree was one street over (Dicot lobed toothed).  By the end of November, we could have found our way there by counting rows of bark, the first language beneath our hands. 
Do you remember the most special one?  The one we went into Elm Lane for?  We weren't allowed, and we went anyway.  (No one could hold us at twelve—.)  We found a tree that had leaves like stars.  Sweet gum; we looked it up in the book (there must have been a book).  (Dicot lobed toothed).
I didn't put anything special on to save them.  We were only ten or eleven.  What did we know about fixatives?  I think we glued them to the paper.  I think it was probably Elmer’s.  I think we had to use my mother's sewing needles to open the bottle, you know how it always stops up. 
It had been so long when we stopped hearing from you.  We never found out who spray-painted “Ozzy Lives” near the creek.  You were going to be a ballerina.  Crimean Linden, Verbanica Magnolia, White Oak, Pussy Willow.  What did you become when you grew up?  Saucer Magnolia.  Star Magnolia.  No one could hold us at twelve. 
Did Nick ever tell you he saw me without underwear that one time?  We had a page for the silver plants.  It was out back by the creek.  And did you become a dancer?  A weeping willow is a toothed monocot.  Or did your bones get bigger?  It’s OK if your bones got bigger.  You know you can't help it, your bones. 
*****

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#222: "A Nameless Mound" by Tyrese L. Coleman

                                                                                         

~This essay first appeared in upstreet: literary magazine (2016).


My ancestors haunt a dirt road called Egypt. At the end of the road, my aunt’s bones rest beneath a rise of earth.  Her grave is unmarked, and it is my fault. A clearing in the woods, our family’s boneyard is full of other, older, nameless mounds and dead red leaves. We used to tiptoe through those woods, my aunt and I, my little hand inside her big one. We watched our steps — bad luck to walk on a grave, you know; means you’re next. Broomsticks in hand, we swept away leaves, whispering to her brothers and sisters: Pick, Pug, Fred, Bee.  She made me sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” told me about her mama when the swept-away leaves revealed “Bertha Coleman.” She let my hand go, I mushed my nose, inhaled the ghost of Jean Nate′. She’s right there beside them now. Their plotted arrangement: Great-grandma Bertha, Aunt Bee, then her— skeletons of matriarchs, a row of bones once covered by light-brown mole-pocked faces, relaxed hair still growing inside silk-lined boxes, cigarette-puckered cheekbones—high and arched cause you know we got Indian in us. But you wouldn’t know she was there unless you knew she was there. Unless you were there on the day we laid her down, touched my arm while I sat next to the casket in the woods, heard a rose thump her pearl coffin. Unless you were at the church and felt my shoulders heave behind the first pew, the pew reserved for daughters, for husbands, for grandchildren—she had none of those, only me, a great-niece of 28 no one trusted to get it right. And everyone spoke over me. And I forgot to give her grave a name. Her grave in the boneyard inside the hollowed space in the woods at the end of Egypt Road where some poor ancestor of ours decided to cut down some trees, dig a hole, and lay a body, then cut another tree, dig another hole, lay another body—cut, dig, lay, cut, dig, lay—till Colemans wandered Egypt-land like Isrealites.
But before I buried her, before she died, before the death rattle, before the hospice, before the phone call to come home, when we first admitted her to long-term care that turned out to be so short, I lay beside her crumbling body on the thin nursing home mattress and held her small hand inside my big one. Evening had come, but the sun wanted to stay. It pushed through the shades, white light not going to be stopped for nothing, flicking between cracked salmon blinds like through the trees on Egypt Road, and her skin had taken on the iridescent gray of fish.  I lay next to her, slipped a pearl ring off her finger, and placed it on my pinky.  I held her hand; put my head to her shoulder, and I remembered when my mom was a teen mom and my aunt had kept me after school. Off the bus, down Egypt, her trailer was tight: fat little boy figurines holding out arms saying I LOVE YOU THIS MUCH, Garbage Pail Kid cards over paneled walls because my cousin gave them to her, and she never said no, pictures—me, school photos of my cousins, me, family I didn’t know, family I’d just seen, me, her dead mother asleep in a casket, me—plants snaking the half wall between the kitchen and living room, Mahalia Jackson’s alto moan, and pork-n-beans with burnt hot dogs. She never forgot a thing. Holding her hand, head on shoulder, I cried because fuck cancer! Sunlight still fighting through the blinds, she would die in that nursing home. 65, only 65. The family we had left was there: her sister Patty, my mother, my soon-to-be-husband, my brother, me, me, me.
She never forgot me.
She breathed in, but not out, and the sun finally touched her.
Cut, dig, lay. Cut, dig, lay. The woods so tight spent too much time watching my step. For seven years: mortgages, bills, children, excuse, school, bills, excuse, excuse, excuse. And even if I do—when I do—I still never ordered the goddamn tombstone.
An army of ancestors—the Coleman clan, a dying breed—march through Egypt, searching for their names. In the middle of the clearing they all stop: here lies Elizabeth Anderson née Coleman with nothing but a dead red leaf stuck to her mound.