Brandon French

Fall 2013, Poetry

HEIGHT

For as long as she could remember, Tookie Basch wanted to be tall, like one of those willowy teenagers with legs and necks like giraffes in Vogue and Mademoiselle. And one Monday morning in April, after a long night of vodka martinis and shameless flirtation with the keyboard player in the band at her married sister’s 40th birthday party, Tookie woke up seven feet tall.

She was, admittedly, very hung over but that could not account for why the blond oak floor was two extra feet from her eyes when she looked down. Or that her feet would no longer fit into her Fuzzy Froggy bedroom slippers.

She walked barefoot to the full length mirror across from the bed but she could only see herself from the waist down. She had to move backwards, banging her head as she passed through the doorway into the hall, to get the whole picture and when she did, she cried out in shock.

“Oh, my God!”

Her husband Dan woke up long enough to shout, “What?” but when he saw through half-shut, myopic eyes that she was neither hanging from the ceiling fan nor lying naked and bloody from knife wounds, he promptly fell back to sleep.

This reassured Tookie until she remembered that her husband had stopped noticing anything about her a couple of years earlier.

Born Karen Basch thirty-six years ago, her mother called her Cookie, which her four-year-old sister Monica pronounced “Tookie,” and Tookie stuck. Monica was tall like her mother and father, five foot eight by the time she reached fourteen, but Tookie was a runt, stopping her climb toward stature at a diminutive five foot three.

Tookie sat back down on her side of the bed and began to cry, her enlarged hands laying palms up in her lap like halibut fillets.

“Oh my, oh my,” she said.

Dan mumbled something about coffee and then reached over to the night table, first for his glasses and then for the clock to see if he could steal a few more minutes of sleep. He didn’t have to be at Deloitte and Touche, where he was a Senior Accountant, until 9:20.

“Dan? Danny? Could you turn over and take a look at me?”

Her husband rolled over without curiosity and faced his wife’s hunched-over back.

“What?”

She stood up and turned around to face him, her pale green nightgown barely reaching her meatless thighs. Her arms had lengthened toward her knees, which now looked knobby, and her legs, once thick with muscle from thousands of miles on the treadmill, had stretched into slender ropes.

“Holy shit.”

2

They sat in Dr. Blechner’s waiting room without an appointment because this was an emergency, Dan insisted, and they damn well needed some answers.

Dr. Blechner didn’t have any.

“Good heavens,” he said when he saw this woman he’d known for more than a decade. Tookie was wearing a pair of her husband’s trousers that looked on her like capri pants and a red plaid flannel shirt with unbuttoned sleeves that barely surpassed her elbows. The doctor checked Tookie’s heart and lungs, took a urine sample, and then drew blood, shaking his head several times in the process as if shaking would jostle the situation into perspective.

“Have you ever seen anything like this before, Doctor?” Dan asked.

“Well . . .” Dr. Blechner said, pulling on one of his earlobes, “I’ve seen pictures of acromegaly in the textbooks. But I don’t think this is acromegaly.”

“Am I going to die?” Tookie asked, trying not to cry. She felt sure her condition was fatal.

“No, no,” Dr. Blechner said reassuringly, but in truth he didn’t have the slightest idea.

3

For the first time since their marriage six years earlier, Dan went clothes shopping with his wife.

“You can’t go around wearing my clothes,” he said. “They look ridiculous and they don’t even fit.”

“I’m sorry,” Tookie said as if she’d backed the car into their garbage cans or shrunk his favorite sweater.

He should have said it wasn’t her fault but he wasn’t convinced that was true. She must have done something wrong, he thought, but he just couldn’t imagine what.

4

After Dan dropped Tookie off at home, hurrying downtown to his office in the Chicago Loop, she floated around their Sheridan Road condo like a stranger who’d wandered into someone else’s life. Feeling a little dizzy, perhaps from the altitude, Tookie sat down in the breakfast nook with her coffee and peanut buttered bagel and stared at her iphone in the charger. She felt that she should call somebody but she could not think of what to say. Oh, hi, mom, guess what, I just grew two feet last night while I was sleeping. She knew better than to give an hysteric like her mother a reason to become hysterical, and this was a really good reason. Of course, she would eventually have to tell her family. But now that Monica’s 40th birthday had been put to rest, she didn’t expect to see them for a while, which was fine with her.

Tookie decided to call her friend Wanda. Bizarre as it sounds, Wanda had been abducted by aliens from the Leda 25177 galaxy in the Hydra Supercluster when she was a pimply-faced teenager. They returned her to earth with clear skin and the formula for a spongy white mud that cured acne, which her parents subsequently sold to Merle Norman for a very large undisclosed amount. Tookie felt sure that Wanda, who thanks to the abduction was now independently wealthy, would know how to put Tookie’s transformation in perspective.

“When I woke up this morning, I was seven feet tall,” Tookie said when Wanda answered.

“Are you at work?”

“No. I called in sick.” Tookie usually called Wanda from her office at Leo Burnett, where she was an advertising media buyer.

“Are you sick?”

“No, but I’m seven feet tall, Wanda. Actually six foot eleven and a fourth. The doctor measured me.”

“You went to see the doctor?”

“Dan thought a doctor would know what was going on.”

“Did he know?”

“No, he wasn’t sure.”

“It’s God’s mysterious will,” Wanda said, which was what she always said when strange things happened.

“Dan had to buy me a bunch of new clothes. He went with me to Marshall Field’s.”

“Well, that’s good,” Wanda said. “They have a lot of nice things at Fields.”

5

For the rest of the day, Tookie explored the upper half of the condominium. She replaced the burned out bulbs in the dining room chandelier, the track lights in the living room, and the carriage lamp in the entryway. She dusted the tops of the bookcases, which had not been touched since she and Dan moved in. She pruned and watered the hanging plants on the balcony, and she tackled the floor to ceiling windows with vinegar and newspaper.

Then she went outside and took a walk. She touched the soft, moist leaf buds that were opening on the oak tree branches, peeked into a robin’s nest and counted three spotted blue eggs, and observed that most of the neighboring rain gutters were clogged with winter debris. She also discovered that she scared small dogs and startled old women, most of whom could only make eye contact with her navel. And every so often, if she stood on her toes, she caught a glimpse of the silver gray waters of Lake Michigan. Tookie began to think that short people were as tragically handicapped as the deaf and blind, and imagined organizing a fund raiser to promote compassion and understanding for the vertically challenged. Waking up tall, she thought, was certainly not the worst thing that could happen to a person.

6

That night, Tookie put on the new black extra-long Marshall Fields nightie that Dan had bought her and for the first time in six years tried to initiate their lovemaking.

“I’m a different woman now, Danny. Don’t you think we should re-consummate our marriage?”

“I don’t know,” Dan said, shying away from her. At five foot nine, he barely came to the top of her chest. “You feel like a stranger to me, Took, I can’t help it.”

“I thought men liked new women,” she said.

“Not this new,” Dan said.

“Well, it’s not new down there,” she said.

“How do you know?” he said. “Everything else is different.”

“Not my breasts,” she said.

“That’s true,” Dan agreed sadly.

“You’re such a shit,” Tookie said, surprising herself with the exclamation, and she wanted to say even more. But instead she just crawled into the bed, which was now a foot too short for her legs, and wept.

7

Tookie woke up very early the next morning and got into the office at 7:30. After Dan’s reaction the night before, she was determined to avoid attention. But when The Morning Show caterer went past her office in the hallway at 9:30, Tookie called to her, hoping that if she stayed seated, the girl wouldn’t notice her height. Tookie craved something sweet like a cinnamon bun or a maple bar and now that she was as tall as a Chicago Bulls shooting guard, she could eat anything she wanted without worrying about getting fat. It would have been great if only her height weren’t quite so extreme. Six feet would have been plenty, she thought, but her predicament was like Alice and the eat-me pills.

Almost the same thing had happened to Tookie when she was twelve and wished for breasts. She went from nothing to a C-cup practically overnight, and got teased for being “chesty.” Then she lost too much of it when she was on Weight Watchers in her twenties, and never got it back. You had to be careful what you wished for, she thought, making a mental note.

Fortunately, the lunch date she’d scheduled was with a new client, NaturalCat Organic Cat Food, so he wouldn’t look shocked when she met him at the restaurant. She spent all morning tweaking her media plan, carefully addressing the changes her boss Luther had requested to beef up the organic-only pubs. She stopped only long enough to learn that all her medical tests had come back normal and to respond to Wanda’s text message urging her to contact Oprah or Dr. Oz.

At noon, Tookie left the agency by a side door, feeling relieved that she’d survived the morning without being outed.

8

Evan Collier was waiting for her at the bar when she arrived at The Gage, one of the trendy new downtown lunch venues. She was relieved to see that his cocktail was a Perrier with lime, because her last Cat client had been a raging alcoholic. Better still, Collier was tall, over six feet two, she estimated, although he only came up to her chin.

“Delighted to meet you,” he said, grasping her hand and looking her over like she was a brand new Maserati. He had the kind of man’s face that usually came with a dusty Stetson and a big open sky. Tookie had been stooping a little when she approached him, but his smile made her stand up straight.

9

How she ended up at the Hotel Sofitel Water Tower that afternoon, wrapped in Evan Collier’s burly arms, she could not explain — although the two apple martinis she downed probably smoothed the way. She had not only betrayed her husband, she had violated a cardinal rule of business. Of course, she knew that plenty of people, including her boss Luther, violated that rule, but it was so unlike Tookie. What was it about being tall that had changed her so profoundly? And the worst of it was that she wasn’t even sorry. She hadn’t let herself realize until today how neglected she’d felt, how unnoticed and unappreciated by Dan. This man, Evan Collier, had made love to her like she was a gorgeous, sensual gazelle, delighting in her long limbs and soft skin and sweet taste. No, she definitely was not sorry. And if he asked her to join him for another romantic rendezvous, or even a runaway weekend in Belize, she just might say yes, and yes, and yes.

10

When Tookie returned to Leo Burnett late that afternoon, she no longer tried to hide. She strode through the lobby with a big smile on her face and laughed with enjoyment when the receptionist gaped at her. Get used to it, she thought.

“What the hell happened to you?” her boss Luther said when she came into his office. “You look like a goddam flamingo!”

“I had a growth spurt,” she said, and sat down in his love seat, crossing her legs in the becoming manner that only tall, skinny women execute properly. “By the way, the lunch went well. Evan signed off on the media plan without any changes.”

“Really? I heard he was a sonovabitch,” Luther said, holding his stubbly jowls in the cup of his hand.

“Not to me,” Tookie said, smiling provocatively. She knew Luther wouldn’t believe what she’d been up to that afternoon even if she showed him a videotape, but it was fun to tease him a little.

“What the hell happened to you?” he said again with a low, soft whistle.

11

That night, after Tookie slid under the covers with her husband, she said, “we’ll have to get a bigger bed, honey.”

“Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and be short again,” Dan said, continuing to read the latest Alex Cross mystery. He seemed to have lost interest in his wife’s predicament once Dr. Blechner couldn’t diagnose it.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tookie said, although the thought made her a little anxious.

“Well, we’ll just have to make the best of it,” he said, which was Dan’s way of telling her he had stopped listening.

12

Later that night, Tookie’s cold toes woke her up and she went into the kitchen to make herself a cup of herbal tea. She augmented it with a slice of red velvet birthday cake left over from her sister Monica’s party, scraping the remnants of cream cheese frosting off the plate with her fork.

In the soft light of the kitchen dimmers, she examined her legs and arms, stretching them out to their full lengths and taking deep, relaxing breaths. Goddam flamingo! she thought, smiling at the recollection. She realized that this bizarre transformation had given her more than height. It had given her perspective, enabled  her to — what was that expression? — to see the forest for the trees. And she knew that even if she woke up five foot three again tomorrow morning, she would not be the same woman she used to be. She intended to ask more of Dan, to insist that he rise to her occasion. She would no longer mouse around like a timid housemaid, or let him treat her like a footstool he only noticed when he tripped over it.

The stove clock said 2:10, but she did not feel pressured to return to bed. She savored all the tiny sounds that punctuated the night’s silence, the refrigerator motor, the ice maker, a window’s hoarse rattle as a car sped past outside, even the soft click of the clock hand to 2:11.

Tookie decided that her friend Wanda was right. Whatever happened, it was God’s mysterious will. Somebody’s mysterious will at any rate, she thought, embracing the mystery without fear. And while it meant that some poor soul in Prague might wake up one morning as a cockroach, on a different morning a hundred years later, a short woman in Chicago could just as well wake up tall.

____________________________________________________

Brandon French is the only daughter of an opera singer and a Spanish dancer, born in Chicago at the end of the Second World War. She has been (variously) assistant editor of Modern Teen Magazine, a topless Pink Pussycat cocktail waitress (that’s another story!),  an assistant professor of English at Yale,  a published film scholar,  a  playwright and screenwriter,  director of development at Columbia Pictures Television,  an award-winning  advertising copywriter and creative director,  a psychoanalyst  in private practice and a mother. Seven of her stories have been accepted for publication by literary journals and she was nominated for the Kirkwood Prize in Fiction at UCLA.

Bridget Clifford

Fall 2013, NonFiction

TETHERED

Steve is not happy that I am living in Kansas City. I suppose “not happy” is not entirely accurate. The exact sentiment is more like resentment, poorly masked in silence. He won’t talk to me. At least, not about the move. Instead he will help me by single-handedly hoisting my sofa up three flights of narrow stairs, sweating like he’s sprung a leak in the heat of the late July evening. Scraping up knuckles, forcing furniture through awkwardly angled doorways.

He is always there. He will always help.

But he won’t say a thing about it.

I am excited, invigorated by the newness and possibility of being somewhere different. He is not happy. I don’t care, not really. I probably take him for granted, but I’m my main priority.  I won’t wake up one day wondering where it all went and why I didn’t do it. There is, after all, so much that I want to do and see. It’s is not like I’m taking off for Spain. I did that last year.

I am always leaving.  I rarely need help.

So I say nothing.

We are both silent as we drive down Shawnee Mission Parkway, approaching the small suburb of Fairway where the busy thoroughfare begins to wind through enormous trees and homes that look like they belong in New England, not Kansas. The back of Steve’s van, which we call The Dustbuster is littered with shopping bags. Our stomachs are full of Chinese food.

The van stops at a light.

“That’ got to be illegal,” I say, motioning to the small pick-up in front of us.  Two dogs pace around the bed of the truck, their tongues long, lolling out of their mouths.  “You really shouldn’t be able to drive around with a dog in the bed of your truck.”

“I don’t think it is,” Steve responds, releasing his hands from the steering wheel. “But it does seem pretty stupid, especially in this kind of traffic.”

We talk about getting dog a lot these days. We share a soft spot for canines, having even gone so far as to visit various shelters. But since we are no longer living together, such conversations take on that “maybe one day” tone.

“The one looks kind of like a cattle dog,” I tell Steve.  The other has the body of a bird dog – lean and lanky– but the coloring of Golden Retriever. He smiles.

“We’ve got to get a dog,” says Steve.

The dogs pass quickly back and forth in front of each other erratically, like wind-up toys. They hoist themselves up onto the ledge and lick the air.

When the light turns green, the truck accelerates, and one of the two dogs, the golden one with the silly grin, loses balance and falls onto the road.

“Oh, God!” I scream.

“Holy shit!” Steve says.

The situation is bad.

No. No. Beyond bad.

Nightmarish.

No. No.

It’s even worse.

A five-foot long lead is attached to the dog.

He’s tethered to the truck.

“Oh, God!” I shriek, shaking.  “What do we do? What do we do?”

The truck continues forward, unaware of the dog dragging behind it.  Steve follows as close as he can. The dog rolls and finds footing. Steve honks the horn. Holds the horn.  The horn blares.  The dog slides on its paws. Its legs push forward as if to resist the road.  The truck keeps going, weaving through the the four lanes. The dog slides from left to right.

I feel powerless.

Steve remains calm, watching carefully, deftly maneuvering the minivan in attempt to keep the dog from being hit by other cars on the road.  He maintains a safe distance, but he is always close.

We’re in the left lane. Traffic moves past but I don’t see it.  My eyes follow the dog.  I plead for the truck to stop.  Please, please, please.

Steve continues to hold the horn and swerves into oncoming traffic, alongside the truck.

I open my window.  “You’re dragging your dog!  You’re dragging your dog behind you!” I yell, my torso hanging out of the van.

I see the driver. He’s talking to someone in the passenger seat. The radio is loud. The cars are loud.   I am screaming and nothing is happening, like I’m screaming into a storm, or the sea, my voice swallowed by something immense and unyielding.

A car approaches us and Steve weaves back into the lane behind the truck. He sees another break in the traffic and swiftly catches up to its window.

“You are dragging you dog behind you!” I yell to the driver.  “How the fuck can you not see me?”

And then, he does.  But he can’t understand what I’m saying.  He turns down his radio. I repeat my message twice.  He looks in his rearview mirror.  A wave of horror crosses his face.  His face disappears once he pulls over. Steve follows.

The driver get out of his truck. He’s young, no more than twenty-five, in a baseball cap and torn jeans.  He looks like a child.

Steve gets out of the van and stands beside the driver, who is kneeling, cradling the dog, examining its paws, calling its name over and over.  A name I don’t hear.

I can’t leave the van.  My screams echo in my head. I don’t remember being so loud, so determined to be heard.

“Oh, Jesus,” the driver mumbles, cradling the dog in his arms.

There is blood.

Steve walks back to the van and slides open the door.

“I need something,” Steve says.  “A towel or something.”  His composure astounds me.  This is what he does.  He grabs an old t-shirt from the floor and races to the man and his dog.  He rips it into large strips and swaddles each of the dog’s paws.  The man holds the dog tightly, his face in it’s fur.

The man thanks Steve.

When Steve’s back in the driver’s seat, we wait, watching the man carry the dog into the cab of his truck.

And they’re gone.

We drive back onto the road.

“The dog is ok,” Steve says. “He’s going to be all right. His paws are pretty scraped up but he didn’t break anything.”

He pauses, looks at me.

“It’s going to be alright,” he says, like this happens all the time.

_________________________________________________

Bridget Clifford received her MA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University and lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her best friend/ball and chain, Steve. She now has two dogs and likes to post pictures of them at: therhinoface.com.

Alan King

Fall 2013, Poetry

SURVIVAL

Don’t go for your back pocket right away,
your dad’s friend once told you.
Let him see you unarmed and harmless.
The percussion in your chest
booming through you.

It started when you brushed by the brotha
before he checked his leather sleeve for scratches
and spotted a loose thread—barely half an inch.

Your fuse was just as short at 12,
when you almost ripped the bathroom door
to smack your cousin, who unplugged
the Nintendo just before you beat
his score in Contra.

But time tempered your attitude
until that moment on Rhode Island Avenue
where, earlier, the lullaby of a woman’s name
chimed your head.

The woman, whose number you got.
Keisha at the bus stop, with those jeans
snug as peach skin hugging lush bright flesh.
She laughed when you told her,
I can die today ‘cause I just lived a lifetime 
lookin’ at you.

In your mind’s horizon, you saw yourself
with her cozy in a straw-roofed villa, surrounded
by scented votive candles, tuning each other
to primitive key signatures.

You’d rather be there, eating roasted duck
and sipping an expensive Shiraz,
than standing outside Good Times Liquor,
holding your Coke and Hot Fries.

You’d just as soon dap the brotha and say,
My bad, than be the animal the local TV news
cycles through its horror Cinema.

But this guy wants to rattle your world
and make you a cricket in a monsoon. His knife,
a row of alligator teeth, is anxious to scissor your guts
and crumble you on the sidewalk.

Too bad nothing’ll shake his determination.
So, you let him think he’s a rattlesnake, and you
a frightened hamster. You don’t squander the chance
to put him at the bottom of the food chain.

You say, You can go out like a punk
or we can duke it out. When he billows
toward you—all knuckle and fury—
that’s when you grab your blade.

SLIPPERY

The need for change bulldozed a road down the center
of my mind.

—Maya Angelou

Hey man, I know I did some triflin‘ stuff back in the day.
I’m not that cat anymore.

—Rahim

That Facebook message pops up
after a decade of silence. It’s Rahim Clayton.
Most folks called him “Droopy” because
every time he blazed blunts
his eyes were shade-drawn windows.

Others called him Shadow—
the emcee assassin, collecting
microphone casualties.

I knew him as Rahim, the poet
who called every brotha “king”
and greeted their women, “Peace queen!”

Let a guy get distracted,
Fah was Nagchampa smoke
in that woman’s afro, her black dashiki
and tight jeans.

He was Terrance to his mom
before he joined the army.

I made him mad once, joking
he had more aliases than witness protection.
Who you owe money?  I snapped. Whatchu‘ hiding?

He’s married now and wants to know
if we can hang out again.

Just the other day,
working a metal cart through
the baking aisle, I spotted a woman
who put icicles in my blood.

She was standing near the spices
and herbs, wearing jeans
and a cayenne-color blouse.

But she wasn’t who I thought she was.
Her paprika-bright lips and adobo tan skin
brought back a moment nearly a decade ago.

She resembled that woman
Rah hooked me up with
at a bar in Manhattan.

Her name was Catalonia
like the itch on Spain’s head
that holds Barcelona’s sapphire sunsets.
Cat’s eyes were that blue.

Her hair made me think
of a magic fountain—
its cascade of curls lit by
pink, blue, and green laser lights.

Three months later, we were bobbing
our heads to Talib Kweli and Dead Prez
at a live show in Central Park.

I was planning another trip up there
before Rah swooped on her
when his other plans fell through.

He boasted about his fling
with her—how her mouth played over
his tender parts, how she was a bright horn
whose notes he jazzed out.

He was the Trojan horse.
His bad intentions overran
the lives of those trusted him
before they ran him out of the city.

He was a used Lifestyle
lying on a sidewalk, a drooping Magnum
in a stairwell, lubricant oozing
from its wrapper.

I could hate him
if time wasn’t a bulldozer,
if forgiveness wasn’t a road paved
down the center of my mind.

And yet my mouse lingers
over his message, wondering
whether to respond
or close him out.

_____________________________________________________

Alan King is an author, poet, and journalist.He is currently the Creative Writing teacher for the Literary Media and Communications Department (LMC) at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. His poems and essays appear internationally in more than 160 anthologies, journals and magazines. He’s a Cave Canem Fellow, and an alumnus of the VONA Workshops sponsored by Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. He’s a two-time Best of the Net nominee and was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Drift (Willow Books/Aquarius Press, 2012) is his first book.

Eric Schwerer

Fall 2013, Poetry

 IF

If by Eric Schwerer

_________________________________________________

After working as a carpenter in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Ohio,  Eric Schwerer taught poetry to people recovering from mental illness
He now teaches in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh­Johnstown. Schwerer is the author of two books of poetry,
The Saint of Withdrawal (2006) and Whittling Lessons (a chapbook, 2005, nominated for an Ohioana Book Award). His poems have been published in many literary journals, including Prairie Schooner, NOR, Paper Street, Fence, The Journal, and Third Coast.

Dale Ritterbausch

Fall 2013, Poetry

TIPPING POINT

Dale Ritterbausch
CIPHER

At dusk along a sparsely travelled road, a flock of sparrow hawks alights
from a hedgerow, rises, curves, forms a perfect question mark in the
last light of day. The flock turns to another sign or cipher or diacritical
mark, then disappears into a blend of shadows and leaves. Down the
road a picture of Christ on the cross is being hung in a child’s bedroom.
The furniture is spare and the blood runs down the wound in his side.
Someday the child will wonder why we do this to our gods, and he’ll have
such a revulsion for the furniture of his childhood that he vows never to
possess anything that mimics the early years of his life. He will live on a
well-traveled street where pilgrims envy the blood loss to get there

___________________________________________________

Dale Ritterbusch is the author of two collections of poetry, Lessons Learned (1995) and Far From the Temple of Heaven (2005). He is a Professor of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where he teaches creative writing and literature. Currently he is the Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of English & Fine Arts at the United States Air Force Academy.

Jennifer Mccauley

Fall 2013, Poetry

LA VIDA ES UN CARNIVAL CELIA CRUZ SINGS AT THE UNDERGROUND MALL jennifer mccauley

AT NIGHT, YOU ARE LIKE LOIZA BIRTHING  
 

[Mornings]

are not for memories. Mornings should be simple and soft: tug back your curtain and God will tumble through the window. Watch Him warm up the room. Mornings are for present, moving. Move.

[On Most Nights]

I set my sleep to past. When my brain is brave, I’ll think of you. You’ll become a flash of ancient feeling. I’ll remember the sun shadows on your cheekbones, the blue-violet smudges beneath your eyes. The tight spaces between your fencepost teeth.

My night unveils you to naked bones. My favorite ghost, I’ll have full access to you.

[Today]

is a beast. I open the door to growling light. On the way to the post office, I see a man with tire grease on his fingers squeezing a dirt-smudged, shirtless baby. The man purses his mouth, blinks at me and tucks his chin down. I don’t know if he ashamed or thinking of something dreary. He reminds me of a story I told you last year. The story: When I was a child, my mother and I were lost in Loiza for a night. We passed by a row of palm trees, bent at the waist, their dewy, verdant hair brushing the roof of a yellow-brick flat. All of the windows in the flat were open, all lamps were on. The flat blazed with light, shivered with sound. We heard several screams, a mewl, a low whine. We peered through the first window and saw a woman on a couch, surrounded by nodding elders. Her legs were spread wide. Her crotch was a nightmare of hands and skin, weird blood and shadow. That crotch spurted half a head. Mami cried out and slapped her hand across my eyes. That was it, the story I told you. You said, “Sounds like a spectacle. You saw a spectacle.” I said, “What do you mean?” You said, “They wanted to be seen. They wanted all of their dirty business to be seen. Or you are remembering things. Didn’t you see that at night?” I thought, what do I remember? What was terrible and what was beautiful? What should I have seen?

[All Days, All Nights]

I stand behind you and watch you morph in the light, change colors in the steel-cold dark.

What should I be seeing?

 

_________________________________________________

Jennifer Mccauley is a freelance writer and graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. Presently she resides in Miami, Florida and is working toward her MFA as a Knight Fellow at Florida International University. She is recipient of FIU’s Literary Award for creative non-fiction (2012), and FIU’s Literary Award for Fiction (2013) and earned honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Contest for New Writers. Currently, she conduct interviews and reads submissions for Gulf Stream Magazine and interns at The Florida Center for the Literary Arts. Recent work appears in upcoming editions of First Inkling, The Blue Lyra Review, The Florida Book Review, Miami’s WLRN.org, Gulf Stream Magazine and Daily Love.com amongst other journals.

Jake Levine

Fall 2013, Poetry

KIM JONG IL LOOKS AT THINGS*

In the end all pigs get roasted
in bearskin hats between the green lapels of women
the Spring fish in styrofoam containers
remind me of Summer wind
when I inspect women’s lingerie
to make sure it functions properly

through sunglasses beauty products do appear
suddenly and this packet is a sample
and this bottle is simply shampoo
and through the white columns of the market gate
several men tucked in the fridge
ask me to sign the guestbook

retreading factories, sweaty women
shaping ceramic bowls
counting berries in their red plastic bowls
all my life I have grown old
holding juice boxes, inspecting glass shapes
and I admit, in my white gloves, I have sweat

I have said this is a ballot box
and I have said these cookies are just snacks
and sometimes I have a concerned expression
tedium in my hand runs over piles of silk sheets
before sitting down on the upholstered couch
in a family’s house and saying Hey.

________________________________________

Jake Levine is a poetry editor at Spork. His work has appeared in Bodega, EOAGH, Handsome, H_NGM_N, inter|rupture, Paragraphiti andLituanus. He has translations of the Korean poet Kim Kyung Ju forthcoming or already in Boston Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Guernica, Asian Literary Review and Asymptote. His body lives in Korea where he is a KGSP scholar pursing a PhD in comparative literature, but his heart is buried in Tucson in the Burk shack.

*This is an ekphrastic poem based on pictures from the tumblr blog Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things

Sandra Kohler

Fall 2013, Poetry

RECAPITULATION

A little incest in the family keeps the children
off the street. You loved this line – did you
make it up or was it really the ed prof’s slip
you claimed? The bourgeois you flouted were
petits – mother dead by then, father gentle and
ineffective, yet suspicious of how far wildness
would take you, reluctant to let me spend
nights alone with you on your new boat.

I never told you how I hated your French
kissing me all those years, from my thirteen
to your death fifty years later. And I never
told anyone that our father also kissed me
that way once after mother died, holding me
on his lap like a younger child. I knew none
of it mattered. Like the unfunny jokes you
insisted on, all was a sad kind of play.

Now your illness, your death haunt my
body. I mourn you in my fashion. Nights
I wake with my left shoulder, arm, wrist
throbbing. It is a skeletal bond, the death
grip of your arthritic incestuous hand.
Which one of us can’t let go?


GREEN

This morning I put on green suede pumps,
acid green earrings, everything else black,
dressing as the woman I saw last night in
a coffeehouse, reflected in the windowed
wall at which I sat drinking coffee, writing,
stopping, looking out into the dark street.

Observer, wanderer, flaneur, the figure in
those windows writes down the name she’s
just remembered, White Shoulders, writes
how once, turning a white shoulder away
from a lover’s hand, she tore off the peridot
earrings he gave her, tossed away her green
pumps, started wearing black old lady shoes.

This morning my white shoulders, hidden
beneath black wool garments, seem bleached
monuments, memorial to what I thought
forgotten, misplaced, lost: green earrings,
an abandoned self, a man, green suede
shoes buried at the back of the closet.

_______________________________________

Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press.  Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Natural Bridge, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and The Colorado Review.