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Category Archive for 'Issue 1'

Mango

I bought a mango
from the market
in the Strip district
where the leaves
are half on the ground
and half in the trees
and the street is potholed and almost frozen

and I cut it
like you showed me
back in our Phoenix apartment
on Camelback Avenue

not quite in half

I slipped the blade
around the tough flesh seed
then scored the halves
and turned them inside out
like a juicy flower

heavy sweetness
dripped from its heart
and I tasted you:
salty summer skin and warm
monsoon rains in the early light evening
signposts
back home
where you cut the mangoes
and I ate from your hand

Honey Days

these are honey days
when amber words drip
and I suckle them off your fingertips

we are thick and viscous,
moving slowly to find
the center of gravity

my skin senses a rhythm
to your breathing, your voice,
to the steady hush of your finger on my lips

there is a resonance of pollen
on the tip of your tongue.
I taste it when you kiss me,

nectar of jasmine and cello,
only richer, deeper,
like the deepest dream in the deepest sleep,

like warm blossom evenings,
honey from some familiar river,
we glow in the afternoon sunlight.

-Jen McClung is a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She is currently attending Chatham University’s MFA program in Pittsburgh, PA, and is working towards a collection of poetry integrated with visual art. She is also a singer-songwriter and has independently produced and released one full-length album of original songs.

Negatives

How do you remember
childhood? I hesitated.
It was hard. She said,
I was hoping you would say
there were ups and downs.
There must have been. Maybe
we have spent all our time
in the darkroom. We went
paging, archivists. I said,
when you went to college
I was ten, helped you study.
I, the only fourth grader
who could talk about B.F. Skinner.
She said, you were good
to your brother. We kept looking.
I found a Christmas microscope.
She, nickel ice creams after trips
to the library. And more –
a pink castle cake with ice cream cone
turrets, sun suits, my friend
Stevie, a baseball mitt.
This is what my mom and I pulled
from jumbled files.
Sepia turns to sweet and summer
if you ignore what’s behind the door.

-Karen Schubert is a graduate student in creative writing at Cleveland State. While at Youngstown State, she served as editor of the Youngstown State University Penguin Review and was the recipient of YSU’s Hare Award for poetry. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Mid-America Poetry Review, DMQ, Angle, Primavera, Versal, Poetry Midwest, and others.

Just Outside the Diner Door

Love can’t be told; if so, would not be what was said:
instead is always slipping off, a mirage distinctly

shaped and shining in the desert just beyond the cactus,
then suddenly disappeared when you reach the restaurant

with the neon-orange sign, pink uniform waitress waiting
in the wings of the dimmed diner where she lives;

or was it a downpour turning ground to grass, hubris
pond florescent green as when pollywogs finally

make their appearance out of shore-line slime,
bobbling their heads or tails, depending on the call;

no, love is a drink, as water in a glass, transparent as
tubed neon, prickly as cacti, dubious as handsome frogs.

-Poems by Lynne Potts have appeared in Paris Review, Southern Humanities Review, Oxford Magazine, Cumberland Review, Art Times, River Oak Review, Green Hills Literary Review, Drumvoices, AGNI, and many other journals. She was Poetry Editor of the Columbia Journal of Literature and Art from 2003-2005 at Columbia University. The Virginia Colony for the Creative Arts awarded her a full fellowship for a one-month residency.

Cactus Flower

I never knew
that cacti flower
until the day
one arrived
in the mail,
its bloated, green body flattened
onto a postcard and
in the center
a single blossom.
My child hands held the union
of spike and petal,
green and pink.
I couldn’t believe it.
Perhaps the needles had pinned
the flower there?
It was a note
or a flag.
Maybe a wheel
turning
in the washed-out desert sky
then snagged
by the plant’s pointed-end.
But it couldn’t come from inside
the cactus’ strange hide,
from layers
of flesh and
watery veins,
held there until the cactus
confessed its secret:
I, too, can break into bloom.

-Meredith Stewart received an MFA in poetry from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2007. Her poetry is forthcoming in Rock & Sling.

From Emily, not at home

Say you
are a moth, low
flying and make
your escape
at night when
no one
sees you there.
Say it is December—
you, the snow
flake that will follow
one after another.
Or the corner,
torn, of a list
you wrote then lost,
or tossed deliberately
from a hurriedly
opened upstairs window.
Say you
are what
begins it,
and the word that follows
and the one after that and so
on until
you fill
the page, then fold
and send
it flying
on the dying
summer breeze. Where were you
rushing to find me?

-Wendy Vardaman has a Ph.D. in English from University of Pennsylvania. Her poems, reviews, and interviews are forthcoming or have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Poet Lore, Main Street Rag, Nerve Cowboy, Free Verse, Pivot, Wisconsin People & Ideas, Womens Review of Books and Portland Review Literary Journal. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and was runner up in 2004 for the Council for Wisconsin Writers Lorine Niedecker Award.

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The Attic Closet

Stand on the rocker and pull
at the latch: inside this cedar closet,
there is another: behind black watch plaid skirts—
school uniforms you have grown out of—
there is a brass-latched door. Slide the lock.

Red-winged Blackbirds from the marsh
out to feed—the shiny, black bird,
red on his shoulders, yellow tinge,
and the female like a large, striped sparrow.
And landing on the hardwood floor,
hundreds of peepers—“X’s” on their backs,
road calls that made you believe the myth
frogs are born from spring rains.

Your arms and legs, your body
hasn’t grown so big it can’t still fit
through the wide hole. Pull yourself up into it.
Go out the door that opens from the back
of an accordion elevator that is no longer there,
behind the swinging doors that led to a kitchen
where you ate breakfast at the St. Elmo Hotel
whose long porches, loud bell at the check-in desk,
whose winding and secret hallways, and even the smell
of old women knitting in wicker rockers is gone.

And when you begin to hear the sound of nothing
in that drop down dark hole, wait just a minute
before you rush to pull yourself up. This is not
the adult sound of the clock when no one is home
but of afternoons when you knew your solitude
like the moon at dawn.

Unlock your blue Raleigh ten-speed
in the morning fog, warm steam and soap
wafting up from the hotel laundry. Ride out
to the Thunder Bridge where the echo
of your bike crossing the wooden planks
does not make you feel lost.

Ride over the creek where you caught crayfish
in big, yellow buckets, looked for fossils
on weekends. Go down the Boys Club Hill
to the lake and practice looking for the dead underwater,
practice blowing up your clothes and floating.
Listen underwater for what sounds like breathing
and for the long, deep breaths it took to fill your jeans.

Go back and back
where the hollow sound of the clock
is only as dangerous as your name.
And when you have drunk full of that Lake No One,
pull yourself up from Grandfather, back to the attic room.
Call that cedar door behind another “anti-matter” or “wholeness.”

And when you leave,
let the attic closet spill out—cover the walls,
the floors, flood past the door,
begin its long descent down the stairs.

The Palimpsest

Sparks fly in an old snapshot of my grandfather
hammering something on an anvil.
He wears a striped cap that makes me think of the railroad,
that the photograph is older than it is.
Chain hangs from the ceiling, and a poster I can’t make out
is tacked on the wall behind him.
A sharp splattering of light I should not have found
stuck behind a framed picture of my father as a child.

The mills are abandoned. Still, rusted out steps
line the river up to empty row houses, bridge after bridge—
everywhere a map of the way home. Pittsburgh:
vellum, a medieval manuscript—sheep hide
scraped away to start again, ink in the new,
but the ghost image remains, bleeds through,
will not be erased.

-Anna Catone received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University. She holds an MA from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She has published work in the Boston Review, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Caketrain, The Cortland Review, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Lumina, and Post Road. She lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches and helps to edit Coal Hill Review, associated with Autumn House Press.

The Widow Writes to the River

Indifferent to sticks and stones you bear
away what I’ve thrown as if you cared
nothing for bones. His lie scattered

to rapids. You and the cougar
taste more of him than I,
left with his fly rods, mayflies,

guidebooks and boots. Who needs
your sinuous skin, milky after weeks of rain?
Years when you die to a rumor

I might staunch by lying
across your rocky bed, I smother your body
with my own, as if I could quell

your pulse, hold at bay the approaching snow
and rain come to swell a body pregnant
with Cutthroat and Sockeye. I clean

what’s already washed,
Merino socks, frayed shirts, hang
prayers to dry between birch and pine,

watch each ply unwind from what remains,
fingerling rivers unraveling back
to laughter of a twisting lover.

-Ronda Broatch is the author of Some Other Eden (Finishing Line Press, 2005). Her work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Atlanta Review, Rattle, Poetry Southeast, Blackbird, and Rhino. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Ronda is the recipient of the 2005 Kay Snow Poetry Award, and 2006 WPA William Stafford Award.

You think I’m a lawyer

the first time I see you
again, in twenty years

at your brother’s retirement party.
You smile like Grandma always did

when I introduce myself.
I thank you for the Hungry-Hungry Hippos

you gave me the last time I sat on your lap,
my parents then the age I am now, so too

were you. Sad you didn’t have
children? You were the one

buying me stickers and
sending Snoopy storybooks

via brown boxes with California
postmarks stamped, a heart you drew

next to my name. No.
I tell you, I’m a writer,

I’m a teacher of students,
almost children, really,

children like you never had, but I don’t
either. Neither of us marveling

at the womb’s gate shut, you
have your husband, I have my books,

these words that make me wonder,
were you sorry

I wasn’t that attorney,
you weren’t a mother?

-Melanie Faith holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and educates young minds at a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. Her poems and photography recently appeared in The Binnacle (University of Maine), Six Little Things, Arabesques, Siren, The Long Islander, and Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Cook With Me and Be My Love

They say you can feel the unraveling
of a marriage as surely as a blind man reads Braille.
You will see it coming in the way your fingertips
no longer brush, hear how even your knives
and spoons refuse to clash in the sink, smell
how one pair of underwear accepts
the fresh breeze of fabric softener,
one, still clinging, embraces
static, denies scent altogether.

A cooling union makes no sound.
The end will be soft and raw,
surprising, like a fork sliding into a risen muffin,
pulling roughly out, covered in batter.

In your white dress, in your black
tails and tie, stinking of new love, clean
kisses, you have no idea how sense
will betray you. It will not be so obvious
as apple pie without sugar,
macaroni and cheese with no elbows.
No. The spoiling of a marriage tastes
more like meatloaf without the bread
crumbs holding it together.
The egg, beaten, is there. The meat, mashed
into shape, is there. It is the loaf crumbling
off your fork, falling all over your plate,
missing your mouth completely
that lets you know you’re hungry.

Domestic Dispute

Once, in the midst of all the recklessness
I took the tiny clothes off all the Barbies
and lined them up along the window sill
for all the neighbors to see.

The man with the pugs wanted to know
when the garage sale started.
The man with the young daughter wondered
how much for the blond on the far left,
his daughter wants a doll.

My husband came home after leaving for milk.
He was really just running away. A woman with a gun,
even a glue gun, even a camera, or a handful
of miniature miniskirts can scare a man.
So here he comes with the milk and a Snickers bar,
but he is not snickering because he knows better
and I say, Which Barbie do I look like?

My husband has not come home in three days.
The milk soaked into the carpet has turned
to crust and odor. The Barbies are fading into
the white sill, the babies are hungry.
We are all losing our hair, blonde tufts
falling out in fistfuls, when we remember
to reach up, to pull.

The sun is pale in the sky,
the peonies have lost their pink.
In the midst of all the recklessness,
I wish I had not told my husband to go to hell.

-Jill Crammond Wickham is a poet, artist, teacher and mother living in upstate New York. Her poetry has been published in a variety of journals; most recently, Blueline, Peer Glass, and Literary Mama. The ‘poet-mom’ attributes poetry and collage as the glue holding the disparate pieces of her together.

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ISO

Daniel had kept the ad with him for weeks—at first figuratively. He chanted it like a mantra on the bus as he gripped the aluminum bar, pretending not to notice the BO of the blonde who was always on the 6, and who consumed enough coffee that it leaked from her pores. ISO ARTIST IN NEED OF INSPIRATION. RACE, AGE, SEX NOT IMPORTANT. It had been a lonely little ad nestled among the abstruse acronyms that had become the new personals lingo over the last few years: Bi-c-F iso LBTQ F, C or P acceptable, prefer J. He didn’t even know what they meant anymore.

It was his morning ritual to wake up with a bloody Mary and the Personals section. This way, he was waking up with hundreds of losers all at once, a feat that otherwise would have taken him years to accomplish. He’d never been tempted to answer an ad before this one; reading them had just been his morning amusement, his grown-up version of the funny pages. It was the very openness of the ad that intrigued him, the impossibility of rejection. The desperate outcry of all capital letters.

Later, he kept the ad with him literally. He picked up the thin strip from his dresser each morning and placed it in his breast pocket. After he almost put it through the washer, he moved it to his wallet and took it out several times each day, reading it at his desk, at the bus stop. He took to using it as a bookmark until it was too crumpled to read. He did this with fortunes from fortune cookies, too, until they were too pilled to read, or until they came true. Whichever happened first. Like the one he was sure had been about Veronica.

Sarah’s voice wasn’t what he had expected. It was sprightly. Bright. It reminded him of the NPR report about the Elton John song “Tiny Dancer.” He wondered if she would look like the girls in L.A. who had inspired Bernie Taupin to write the song. Or if she just sounded like them and would look like someone entirely different. A few times he wanted to ask the blonde on the 6, “Are you her? Are you?” but he just smiled down at her, and she smiled back. He’d never realized before that she had freckles.

He’d called twice and hung up before he worked up the nerve to say something. Both times from payphones, though they’d been harder to find with the advent of cell phones. Everything around him was changing—payphones, the personals columns. Where would it all end? He was only thirty-three, yet some days he felt like an old man. Like it was all going by too fast.

The first time, in front of the Amoco, his nerves had gotten the better of him. He’d realized that he couldn’t make a serious phone call with a mohawked teenager staring him down, waiting for the phone. The second time, a train had gone by, and he hadn’t been able to hear if the phone was still ringing or if someone had picked up. When the train had passed, he was standing with the receiver to his ear, and a recorded message was asking him to hang up and redial. He hung up and walked home, not wanting to chance another train. He’d talked to her the first time from the library. He’d gone to pick up his reserved copy of The Sheltering Sky and had seen the payphone on his way out, and it seemed right.

When they met, he wondered if he was on some sort of hidden camera dating show. It was all just too absurd. She was dying. That was her part of the deal. She didn’t even have to try to fulfill it. It was just happening. She was alone. That was the part he could fill. He would get attached. She would die. He’d have something to write about—he was a writer, wasn’t he? So far, she’d met with a painter and a playwright, neither of whom had taken her up on it. They’d said it was ridiculous. He wondered if the waiter was part of the set-up, but he was sure he’d seen the guy at Cuppagiano’s before.

She’d picked Cuppagiano’s because it was equidistant from their apartments. “I would have done it over ice cream,” she said, “but that’s how my dad told me about my mom’s cancer. Ice cream sure as Hell doesn’t make everything better. Maybe coffee will.”

He’d been stunned. She stabbed a plastic fork through a slice of apple and a walnut meat in one stroke. A single v-shaped blue vein throbbed above her left eyebrow as she chewed. He knew then that there was no turning back.

He isn’t even sure how it’s happened, but he’s moved in. One day she just said, “My place is twice as big as yours and it’s rent-controlled. I don’t want to think of someone trawling the obits for an apartment in this building. It’s right next to the South Town line. You know they will.”

Now he is here and she is everywhere. There are books on shelves and in stacks on the floor, some of them opened to her favorite passages or points where she’d been interrupted, spine up, tented over other books. “That’s so I’ll remember my place when I get back to them someday,” she snapped her gum.

Occasionally he would find a pair of her panties in between books as he moved them to make his way through the rooms.

“Laundry’s not a major priority now,” she would say whenever she saw him picking them up from the floor.

She’d stopped wearing bras last month.

“I’m not spending my last moments corseted,” she wrote in orange dry erase marker on the bathroom mirror. She’d gotten the idea after watching Braveheart, when they both yelled “Freedom!” along with William Wallace. Daniel had shouted, pumping his fists in the air, and she had jumped onto the arm of the couch and whipped her bra off from under her T-shirt. Since then, two pink bras and a black one remained eternally drying over the shower curtain rod. Some days he had the urge to fit the delicate cups over his nose and mouth like an oxygen mask. To breathe all of her in as if he could save her that way. He never did it because he didn’t want to think of his face in her demi-cups if he was there when they hooked her up to a ventilator, but he started collecting her hair from the drain catcher on days when she showered before him. He pressed them in the center of a folded pair of his boxer briefs and kept them in his top drawer. Something about the copper strands seemed permanent. Like something with so much color shouldn’t be ephemeral.

It was working. Just knowing that she was dying got him writing. Two stories in journals this month. And a poem. A goddamn poem. He’d never written poetry. He’d asked for it, though, hadn’t he? He’d agreed to take on the burden in exchange for art. He was sure worse things had been done for art—the entire patronage system, for instance. And shouldn’t this be ideal for him, the commitment-phobe? This was a relationship that was guaranteed not to outlast his attention span. He knew. He’d started going with her to treatments.

They weren’t even treatments anymore. They were talks. Discussions. Philosophizing about the nature of God. Of the afterlife. Or what if there wasn’t a God or an afterlife? How would she feel then? She winked at him a lot during these sessions. Winked and snapped her gum.

“You’re the one who’s dying,” he’d say to her in the car on the way home. “I’d think if you can’t take these seriously, you’d stop going.”

“Who’s to say this behavior isn’t fear giving rise to comic relief?” she’d say.

At night he’d think maybe her self-analysis was right because she’d ask him to hold her.

He didn’t know how to deal with having an erection over her. He knew he didn’t want to sleep with her. A few months before he couldn’t have imagined being so close to a woman and not wanting to sleep with her. Something seemed wrong about putting a part of his anatomy inside someone who was in some ways to him already dead. It seemed even more wrong to know that he’d then go on to put it inside of other girls who would someday be dead, too. All of this death. He would wonder if he was causing it. He had gone with her to price coffins because she hadn’t wanted to go alone.

Veronica, in high school, hadn’t wanted to go alone to the low-cost clinic the next county over. His brother had been in the Navy, shipped out somewhere he’d never heard of at sixteen and couldn’t remember now, and she begged Daniel to drive her. She just knew she’d be too nervous to drive. She made him promise not even to tell Sam. She’d kissed him quickly on the lips when he’d agreed and then whispered, “Our little secret.” She was a senior and had seemed so sophisticated to him with her new Mustang and trademark coral lipstick. At the time, he’d gone mostly for the thrill of being alone with his brother’s girlfriend and driving a sports car. It was only in the past year that he realized she’d been a scared girl, trying to act tough. He wondered how many actions in his life had been influenced by women who didn’t want to be alone.

The coffin salesman had thought they were a couple of kids yanking his chain at first. “Death is a serious business,” he’d punctuated by pounding the table. Daniel burst into tears. The man tried to recover, to say anything, but got up slowly and left them alone at the desk of his own business. They sat together in his office for a half hour then realized he wasn’t coming back from the rose garden across the way. He was on a bench, dabbing his brow with a handkerchief, waiting them out. Finally, Sarah decided to leave. She took his hand and slipped him a tissue, then drove them home. “Maybe I should just be cremated. Don’t you think I’d rise from the ashes faster that way? A firebird?” She rolled down the window and let her red hair whip about her head. Sometimes he hated her that she was the strong one.

Once, he saw a car in front of him hit a cat. It had lain twitching in the road and though he’d always been told never to touch a hurt or frightened animal, he’d gotten out of his car and stroked the soft, striped grey fur until it stilled. This, perhaps, had been the most formative experience of his writing life. He’d written about all kinds of deaths from this experience. From the point of view of the dead, the dying, the killing, old people, babies not yet born. Later he’d wondered if he should have kept on and driven over the animal, too. Maybe he had wished for this after all.

Maybe he had caused it by wanting so deeply something to write about. Something profound. Some experience that would make him feel shrunken and old inside of his thirty-three year-old body. The way he’d felt inside of his sixteen year-old body when he heard that Veronica’s uterus had ruptured an hour after he dropped her home from the clinic, and her parents had found her dead on the kitchen floor. The way his brother must have felt when he came home paralyzed from the Gulf War at twenty-two, and realized that the only child he would have had had been aborted four years earlier. When he visited Veronica’s parents years later, he’d imagined small vestiges of his brother’s future floating in a pool of blood between the kitchen island and the water cooler.

Sarah didn’t want to see his work. She felt that that would be an unfair influence. “The muse should never read, just inspire,” she’d uttered levelly the first time he handed her a journal with his name printed boldly on the back cover, under the heading New Fiction by . She did, however, ask that he bury her with copies of them the way that Rossetti buried Lizzie Sidell with all of the poems he’d written for her. Of course, Rossetti later had the body exhumed to get his writings back, but nearly everyone gave two contributor’s copies. And who else did he have?

He knew that these new writings were not yet him but that he would grow into them and that they would fill him the way heat fills one’s fingers under a hot faucet in winter, growing and stretching its way up through the body until it reaches the heart. He felt grateful to have realized early that we are not defined by what we have but by what we have lost. He knew that when he was an old man, in his mind, she would still be twenty-four and fragile. And he would love her, looking back on a friend who could then be his grandchild. This made him unsure of his place in time. In the universe. And he wondered if this was the nature of death. The forever floating between past and present.

He pictured years of bending to touch her grave in disbelief when the cherry petals plastered the headstone in spring rain and brushing the crackling leaves away in fall. He knew he would not visit her in winter. He knew, somehow, already, that he would be consumed with worry for her in the winter. She felt so cold to him sometimes now that he couldn’t bear the thought of her under the snow-covered ground. In winter he would take long walks and hum Stravinsky.

-Shaindel Beers is a Professor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, OR. Her poetry, fiction, and social commentary have appeared in numerous journals and publications. She was compelled to send work to damselfly because her boyfriend has a damselfly tattoo. She is Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine.

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