We are pleased to announce that our twentieth issue due out July 15th will be dedicated to MFA graduates and students. We ask submitters who haven’t gone through a Masters of Fine Arts program to understand their pieces will be held in consideration for our twenty-first issue due October 15th, 2012.
Category Archive for 'Issue 19'
You never forget what was lost:
a favorite pendant dropped
down a vent shaft,
the last breaths of the first family dog.
Gradually, you learn to let these things
keep their shapes in your life
even after they’ve become shadows.
Even your own child slips from your life,
first day of school.
Her old clothes, too small now,
take up space in the basement,
sealed into bins, saved for no other reason
than a look back.
– Julie Brooks Barbour’s chapbook, Come To Me and Drink, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in UCity Review, Waccamaw, Kestrel, and Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems.
Home Movie – Flying a Kite in Palmer Park – 1962
We are in our winter coats, light snow falling, still Fall, trees
not fully abandoned by leaves, Detroit
not fully abandoned by the leaving. My father
is tethering string to kite.
This is where I learn the power of pulling away,
of drag force and flight.
My nine-year-old sister is jumping up and down, untethered,
her knit cap tied with two stringy balls under her chin, the wings of her
coat flapping. She is suspended and plaid. She can’t wait for the kite
to leave my father’s hand.
My mother’s hands are in her pockets. She is trying
to stay warm. She wants to return home, talk on the phone,
tell secrets in Yiddish. She speaks a language we can’t understand.
My brother is seven, he wants to hold the string, wants my father
to let him hold the string, wants my father to make the kite go higher,
my sister to stop dancing, wants my father to let him hold the string,
wants me to stay away from the kite; from everyone.
My sister’s arms are kite tails. She is twirling in circles. She is
bobbing up and down, she is caught in some braided turbulence.
I am five. I am standing quiet, hands in my pockets.
I admire the balconies off the porches, the pitched roofs
the old trees, the swing sets in the back yards. I admire the picnic tables
and already know that there are ghosts of families there. There are families
not like ours. I know, there are families not like ours.
My mother is shuffling foot to foot, her mouth is saying
come-on, hurry up, it is snowing. We are in the city.
We are in Palmer Park. The kite is trying to leave.
– Joy Gaines-Friedler’s work is widely published in journals including RATTLE, Margie, The New York Quarterly and others. Her book Like Vapor was published by Mayapple Press (2008). Joy teaches creative writing for non-profits in the Detroit area.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A HOMELESS YOUTH COUNSELOR
You are a part of a machine. The machine has no feelings. Too many feelings makes the machine rust. A rusty machine leaves marks. You cannot leave marks.
There are walls between you and your coworkers when you laugh about psychosis, between you and the fourteen year old with a story that’s only half as bad as her roommate’s but still beyond your pale, pale bones, between you and a lover that grows queasy at the stories that make you laugh the hardest. The wall is made of smiles and carefully crafted tones. The wall is made of nods and carefully reflective statements. The wall is made of good boundaries, and leaving work at work, even when work is the life someone else has to go home to.
Behind the wall are your two good arms. There is no use for them here.
You are part of a machine. If you are white, if you are woman, if you are educated or queer, you will find other cogs like you. Someone has to run the machine. Don’t tell yourself it’s the big boys in the spotless suits upstairs, it’s you. You in the organization logo t-shirt and the jeans you’ve worn for three days and the food stamps and the sneakers, you make this run. The suit boys will say they can’t do this without you, and they’re right.
You are part of a machine. If you break, they will replace you. Try to hug a crying person; they’ll replace you. Trust a seventeen year old who swears she needs more pain meds; they’ll replace you. Let your wall grow weak with attachments and they’ll replace you. Don’t care too much. Don’t work too much, but give up your weekends, your evenings, keep your cell phone on for emergencies. Stay late when they need you, get your papers filed on time, remember: you are replaceable. The unions won’t touch you. They don’t trust the two year turnover rate and wonder why you do.
You are part of a machine, and you will be hated for it. The young and angry will spit contempt on your shoes, try to jam the machine with their messy, messy lives. You will learn that a quiet threat to call the cops works better than all the yelling. You run the machine. You have the power. There is no need to be rude or cruel. I have learned how to turn youth back to the streets in the nicest voice, to send a person back to jail in my most honeyed tongue.
I am part of a machine. My machine is part safety net, part cattle prod. My machine does not understand. It does not heal. It does not save. I run the machine. Keep my walls chinked. Keep my voice well oiled.
– Dane Kuttler is a Seattle poet who used to be a Massachusetts poet, but has always been a Jewish poet, a bit of a cranky poet, and a pretty good cook. Her work is generally influenced by her fellow performance poets and has been published in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal Press 2010) and Learn Then Burn: A Classroom Anthology (Write Bloody Press 2010).
I turn on the shower tap and soap myself and watch this little bubble and that little bubble grow and into the bathroom comes my great grandfather. Holding up his rabbi’s robe, he climbs into the tub with me. I am not afraid. This is like a dream. I gently wash him, making sure to clean behind his ears with their sprouting white hairs.
Then his wife shows up, my great grandmother, and lumbers in. She takes off her wig and I see her snowy hair cascade down her back. My great grandfather soaps her and soundlessly I proffer a towel. I can’t understand a word they say for they are speaking in Yiddish and Russian. It strikes me that they are dead souls, that Gogol was right, they are “as juicy as ripe nuts.”
Next, their daughter and her three brothers walk in, my grandmother and my grand uncles. There’s hardly any room for so many souls in the little bathroom, but they immediately start an argument. Who gets to wear the black wool socks and who gets to deliver the single battered textbook to G-d. They use their fists and kick and scratch and it’s all I can do to stay out of the way, standing on the glistening toilet seat cover.
Finally, my mother and father come in, resplendent in white sailor suits, and ask who forgot the canapes. They’ve no intention of letting a little thing like mortality impede their great catering business, at which they’re “making money hand over fist.” My mother passes around vodka glasses and my father gives everyone a generous dollop of pickled herring on a cracker.
The bathroom now is so packed nobody can move but still we are eating and drinking. They say souls that are disturbed never rest but flit to and fro, making trouble, and I believe it. My great grandfather talks with his mouth full of herring about the Pogrom of Kishniev while my great grandmother chatters on about how to make Kasha Varnishkes so the noodles are just right.
My grandfather shows up and all hell breaks loose. “Why are you always late?” my grandmother shouts shrilly, and her brothers join in. As you can see they don’t like my grandfather one bit. “Too lazy, too dreamy, writing verse instead of working in the butcher shop,” my grandmother says. For these things I love my grandfather all the more. We hung out together when he was alive, and read Milton.
From my perch on the toilet, I try to call them to order. They are busy enjoying the gefilte fish loaves my father and mother smuggled in past the gatekeeper. The shower is still on and a fine mist has covered them all. They link arms, all except my grandfather, and dance in a circle, crushing the vodka glasses underfoot and sloshing water over the floor. My mother wears the gefilte fish serving tray on her head. Quietly, I open the bathroom door and slip out.
– Alison Carb Sussman’s poetry has appeared in Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Willows Wept Review, the Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Eclipse, Slipstream, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.
Hey Dad, Listen to This
My father was a kid from Brooklyn’s mean streets, or so I thought. He played stickball and nicked bubble gum from the corner candy store. He never finished high school. He pronounced diner like “dinah” and tuna like “tuner.” My mother fell in love with him because he was a good dancer. Rippled with muscles, my father worked on his hands and knees laying carpets, carried a gun for protection, and changed his name informally from Dave to Tony so people would take him for a mob-connected Italian, not a Jew. He wasn’t one to tell many stories about his childhood except for tales of his German Shepherd, Rex. His sage-green eyes watered when he reminisced about that dog.
When I was in my mid-twenties my father mentioned he spent the first seven years of his life living on a farm in Colchester, Connecticut, before moving to Brooklyn. “No, you didn’t!” I protested, thinking he was yanking my chain, as he often did. “You’re a Brooklyn kid,” I insisted.
“Well, not really,” he said with a straight face. When he was a toddler, his mother, a swarthy Russian who couldn’t speak English, took him, her youngest child, to a farm where she snapped chickens’ necks in exchange for room and board. There was no money to feed another mouth in Brooklyn. Her husband, a tailor, and six older children remained behind in a two-room apartment.
He and his mother were ill-treated migrant farmers. Still, catching frogs and skipping stones was not the worst way to wile away a day as a Depression-era child.
When I asked my father why he had never mentioned this before, he shrugged and said, “Didn’t think you’d be interested.”
I begged him to share memories about growing up on that farm. The stories began to tumble forward like pre-schoolers on a gym mat. First, he talked about a boy drowning in the local swimming hole. Then, recollections of fresh baked bread at the bakery on the green. “Did I tell you about the haystack where I napped on summer afternoons?”
When my father was around an animal, like the dogs in our Brooklyn neighborhood, he’d animate in a way that he never did around people. He was at liberty to show affection, never missing a chance for a slobber and a head pat. He knew exactly how to touch a dog, even the meanest junkyard mutt.
My mother was afraid of animals but dad always wanted a dog. Eventually she gave in. We bought a pedigree Llasa Apso. He was a golden mop with a squashed-in face, a protruding bottom jaw that made his lower set of teeth look like a shovel on an earth-mover, and a tea-cup tail. We named him Chin-Chin. My sister and I competed for his attention but he was my father’s dog from the moment my father lifted his wriggly body out of a straw-filled carrier, put him to his lips, breathed in deeply, and told him how delicious he was. The dog followed my father everywhere he went, even to the bathroom. All day he waited for my father at the front door. He snarled at strangers who came too close. My mother blamed the dog’s churlish nature on my father. “You’re turning him into a German shepherd every time you say ‘go get em.” My incorrigible father kept urging the dog to “go get em” when the doorbell rang. “That’s my boy,” he’d add, as though he were teaching a son to catch a baseball.
When my father came through the door at night, sweaty and grimy from tacking carpets onto wood floors and driving airless vans around the city, he would pause at the foot of small staircase, press his muscular arms against the landing and give Chin-Chin his face to lick. In the kitchen, he’d squeeze himself into a corner around the table where my sister, mother, grandmother and I were already eating.
“Boy,” my mother would moan under her breath. “I wish he’d kiss me like that when he comes home.”
Leaving home at 17 opened my world to new relationships. Being my father’s daughter, I had learned I could get a man’s attention if I was charming, breezy, and ethereal. From being my mother’s daughter, I knew how to pick distant, unavailable men who perpetually disappointed me. I married such a man when I was 26. When the marriage collapsed seven years later, I looked to my mother for comfort and came up empty. She couldn’t understand why I was unhappy with a man who was just like my father.
For the first time in my life I consciously yearned for my father’s attention. Somewhere in his quiet fortress were the secrets of my choice in men and in the demise of my awful marriage.
My father worked six days a week. He was tied up with my mother and her constantly-filled date book of social arrangements. I would have loved for him to walk with me in Central Park, but he wasn’t available. So I tried something else. I started to tell him stories. Stories about animals. Animals had become my retreat from human hurt.
I’d call my father and say, “Hey Dad. You’ll never guess what story I covered today for the newspaper. A goose was found with an arrow through its wing. I rode with the animal control guy down to a hawk rehabilitator, where they performed surgery. I think the goose will survive.”
“Good for you,” he’d say. “How can people be so cruel to animals? Did they catch the sons-of-bitches who did this?”
Every animal story became an opportunity to inch closer to my father. Like a parent reading to a child—- only in reverse. My stories – our conversations – were catch-up.
I told him about the Osprey. “They’re making a big comeback along the Hudson River,” I said. “Yup,” he said. “It’s because the water’s cleaner.” I accompanied wildlife officials to the top of the George Washington Bridge via an elevator shaft inside the steel girder. They took me to a hidden perch where they’d been tracking Osprey chicks. “Here,” the wildlife official had said, “hold this one.” Then he noticed how distended the bird’s belly was. “Um, doesn’t look too good.” Five minutes later, the bird died in my hands.
I paused to regain my composure. I heard my father snuffle too.
One night I got a hysterical call from my mother. My father was ashen and bent over in pain. When I got to the hospital, my mother was patiently waiting in the emergency room, knitting. My father sat next to her, tears in his eyes. I flew to the front desk and made a fuss. Two men in scrubs put my father on a stretcher. About 30 minutes later, he was lying on a bed, an IV plugged into his arm. He was still pale as elementary school chalk but the morphine was kicking in. I sat down next to him and held his hand.
“Hey Dad,” I said. “Did I ever tell you about the time I stopped traffic on Route 80 so I could shoo a great white Egret off the road?” He urged me on with a nod. “Oh, Dad you should have seen me. It was crazy. I was on my way to hike in the Delaware Gap. All of a sudden I see this enormous white thing standing on the highway. At first I thought it was a piece of furniture but as we got closer I realized it was a bird. A great white Egret. I realized it had lost its way. It was disorientated. I got out of the car, stopped traffic with my hand and got as close to the bird as I could to shoo it off the highway. Eventually it took flight.”
My father squeezed my hand. He was in-and-out of consciousness. He looked shrunken in that paper robe.
Not long after that, there was something he had to tell me. In the presence of a psychologist and my mother, my father told me he was sexually abused as a child. I don’t remember what else he said because the room spun like a grotesque amusement ride. In later conversations he told me the psychologist believed his early trauma explained his distance from people. He had learned people can be very unsafe. I now understood why my father loved animals so much. Animals never intentionally hurt us.
In 2005, at 43, I left city life. I moved with my second husband, young daughter and thus-far two rescued cats (we now have five cats and six chickens) to an old farmhouse in the suburbs. It has a wildness that belies its proximity to the city. Dad begged for stories about the wild turkeys, fox, raccoon, coyotes.
Not long ago he and my mother were at our house for my vegetarian Thanksgiving. We were sitting around with bloated bellies, a lull before pie.
“Hey Dad,” I said. “You’ll never guess what happened.”
“You’ve rescued a sixth cat?” he asked, his green eyes flickering with humor.
“No, much nuttier. You know, I feed the deer crab apples,” I said. “I worry they’re not going to make it through winter.” I’d been buying crates of rotten apples from an orchard.
“One day I was at the window and noticed a deer in distress,” I said. “It was jerking its head back and forth, and its mouth was foaming.”
For a moment I thought about telling my father I administered the Heimlich maneuver to the deer. Who can blame me for wanting to embellish the story? His rapt attention had become an elixir.
“I ran outside. Just then the deer spit up a piece of apple and pranced into the woods.”
“Well, maybe it’s better to leave the deer to fend for themselves,” he said.
“Or maybe I should cut up the apples in smaller bite sizes?” I offered.
“You’re crazy,” he said.
“Thanks to you,” I said.
On his way out that night, he hobbled down the steps of my porch slowly, dragging his left leg, which has lost most of its nerve endings. Then he glanced back and noticed a half-filled crate of apples. With a little smirk, he doddered back up the steps, swept his hand into the crate and grabbed an apple. “Here you go, Bambi,” he hollered and hauled that apple into the woods like the first pitch of an opening round at Yankee Stadium.
“Like father, like daughter,” I said to my husband and daughter.
“Goodnight,” my father said and blew me a kiss before he ambled down the stone path.
– Tina Traster is the author of Burb Appeal: The Collection, which is based on her New York Post column. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals and on NPR. Her essays have appeared in Living Lessons and Mammas and Pappas. She is working on a memoir about adopting a Russian child.
We are now accepting submissions for our twentieth issue, due out in July, 2012. Please note the issue will be completely devoted to MFA graduates and students.
As always, thank you to all of our submitters.