I can coil a hundred feet of garden hose without kinking it because I went to Boat Smart class, where the instructor taught us how to coil a rope in such a way that it won’t tangle when you throw out a life preserver. I don’t own a boat, but my friend Dora does and since she is blind, she obviously needs someone to drive it. She insists that anyone who operates her fifteen-foot aluminum vessel take a boating safety course, so for six Monday nights Mark and I went to class and at the end, received certificates.
Two or three times between May and September, we put the boat in at Discovery Park or Rattlesnake Bar and enjoy the beauty of deep green rivers edged with yellow clay and granite and oak. From time to time, Dora checks her CB radio for weather alerts and hazards, and asks her dog if he’s okay. I sit out on the bow, watching for submerged boulders and driftwood, enjoying the heron nests and mallard ducklings that Dora will never see.
Dora was born in 1953, six weeks premature. A nurse rushed her to an incubator, where for three weeks, her tiny lungs received life-saving oxygen. The side effect, which opthalmologists wouldn’t acknowledge until 1954, is a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. With each breath of nearly pure oxygen, Dora’s lungs grew stronger, but the delicate arteries of her eyes shriveled and then disintegrated. Blood-starved tissues responded by sending out a rampant growth of abnormal vessels, which leaked blood into Dora’s retinas. She was one of 10,000 preemies who lost their sight before the practice of oxygen therapy was abandoned.
Whenever we go boating, I have to take something for motion sickness. Dora is immune. I once asked her—since she can’t drive her boat or see the water or the trees or the wildlife—what it is about boating that she enjoys so much. “Everything else,” she said. “I like the smells, you know? The air blowing in my face. I like the sound of the water.”
“Yeah, the water hitting the side of the boat.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“And I like to hear the engine run, you know? It goes up and down when the boat goes up and down.”
Of course, I thought. As the little craft cuts through the surface, rising and falling over the wakes of other boats, the engine’s deep gargle oscillates. I hadn’t noticed.
Susan Dunnaway writes and edits personal histories. Her recent work includes stories related by veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War. She lives in Northern California with her husband, Mark Dunnaway, son Lowell, and two excellent cats.
RESIDENT ROOM #243
Her stroke-impaired tongue
feels for cheek wells in the dark.
Chinese: He speaks eight languages
Japanese: but clicks at her foreign
(the tap of old stingers and shelled abdomens).
His ears filled with
the sound of her kneeling.
She is mantis.
Her bone-prayer wrists
raised in bent defense.
RESIDENT ROOM # 216
Her yellow horse painting
says it all.
Rear legs too short,
Raised by father
more like a hyena
on the side lines,
He crossed the lines of
overbite yelping with eager
Her little girl panties, their elastic waistband
Jackie Anne Morrill is a MFA graduate student of Sarah Lawrence College. She devotes her time thesis writing inspired by tales of sexual fetishism, pseudo-psychology and the feeding habits of forest animals. Hailing from Worcester, Massachusetts, Jackie has become a strong and welcomed voice in the Worcester poetry scene over the past few years. Her work can be seen in New Graffiti: Literature on the Streets, The Ballard Street Poetry Journal, and Amethyst Arsenic.
I had forgotten how it felt
to matter, to know
a grinding gear
in the military machine
with clear missions
the day’s tasks aligned
surmountable with much effort
The feeling had slipped away
until I set foot on deck again
the scents snaking into my nostrils
Sealing wax, jet fuel, non-skid, salt water
the feel of cyanide painted aluminum
the hydraulic bowls were still there
and the BLIN Computer,
recording catastrophe in code
but the gauges had been stripped
this bird wouldn’t fly without engines
I remember what it felt like to be relevant
LABORARE EST ARRARE
I work in prayerful labor
and venerate the spirits
engineers are gone to graves
but al-Jazari’s cam still lives
and I reflect in remembrance
focused as a Syracusan Heat Ray
on my stone-faced grandfather
who never smiled until he retired
but applied expert hands
skillfully blending turbine blades
and I hope this benediction
honours the ancestors well
so that my many weighty transgressions
might be lifted
from these weary shoulders
EVEN BOILERS HAVE HEARTS
flame hurricane spiraling out
but something has gone wrong
deep inside, welds burst
shaking, an unholy cacophony
vibration rattles tubes and cams
bringing obsolescent mercury switches
to their shattering threshold
even boilers have hearts
Vance Osterhout is a boiler mechanic and pseudo-scholar, former Marine and student of History. His works appear in all sorts of places; under rocks, on mountain tops and in caves.
LOVE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Skullduggery of rain
Washes another day away.
Amperes of light
Frolic on the couch
Like we shortly will.
Sadness and sorrow locked
In a cardboard box
Too heavy to move—
It can wait. Supper to jazz
On the radio, one white
Tulip one white vase
On the wooden table,
Our mouths welcoming
The casserole and the desire.
Tim Suermondt is the author of TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE ( The Backwaters Press, 2007) and JUST BEAUTIFUL from NYQ Books, 2010. He has published work in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review and Prairie Schooner, and he has poems forthcoming in Tygerburning Literary Journal and Stand Magazine (U.K.). He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
THROUGH A GLASS BRIGHTLY
The best music is inaudible,
a little boy pedaling his bicycle
after a delivery van.
to die young
and be pessimistic.
I myself prefer
to the present,
when we’re anointing
floating above me
like the pink
A farmer hid you from the Germans. You spent long, empty hours curled up inside a flower, resigned to headaches and insomnia. When you returned to Paris after the war, the people on the street were just shadows. You had finally discovered the color of the atmosphere. It’s dull yellow, almost pumpkin.
Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the new poetry collection, Dreaming in Red, from Right Hand Pointing. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to a crisis center, which you can read about here.
THE SHOT HEARD AROUND DETROIT
“It’s my turn to deal,” I said, pulling the loose cards on the kitchen table into the space in front of me. I was spending the night at my grandmother’s and Anne Marie’s apartment on Glenwood. I began flipping over the cards that were face-up, which were many, because we were playing super rummy, using two decks of cards.
“Hurry up, Michael,” said Anne Marie, impatiently. “We ain’t got all night.” Always the sense of urgency. Always the putting of me on the spot. Always the exerting of control.
“Alright, I’m going as fast as I can,” I said, nervously fumbling the cards. My grandmother started to help me. We turned all the cards face-down then I squeezed them into a tattered disk, clacked them against the table, and arranging them into a perfect stack. I was excited to debut the shuffling skills that she had been teaching me.
“I’m growing old here,” Anne Marie said. She huffed loudly to show her annoyance, to make me feel uncomfortable. Always the fear. Always the anxiety. Always the bullying. I reverted to drowning her out with my thoughts. I consciously focused on ignoring her. I’d become good at it. After eleven years of dealing with Anne Marie’s anger and watching my grandparents kill themselves with substances and hate, I’d become good at calmly blocking things out.
“Michael, COME ON,” she yelled, twitching her head and shoulders forward, making me flinch. She knew she’d put me into a position where I compromised my own sense of pride. My hands started shaking.
“I can do it,” I said. My voice cracked falsetto at the end of the sentence. I started crying.
“Anne, let him do it,” my grandmother said.
“He should fucking learn how to deal before he comes to the table!” Always the jealousy. Always the drive to defeat, to crush, to humiliate.
This is how things were. I was eleven. Anne Marie was almost fifteen. We’d grown up together. We’d lived our entire lives together. She was more like a sister to me than an aunt, more like a master than a friend. She did what she wanted. She was the baby of the family – her parents’ youngest child – but I was her oldest sister’s first son, her parents’ first grandchild, and the first boy born into the family in twenty years. After she and my grandmother left Gus, my grandfather, and moved into the house on Glenwood, Anne Marie constantly swore and screamed and bossed and nobody could do anything about it. Her mother put up with it. Her mother was usually on enough pills to tolerate anything; plus, she’d lived with Gus long enough to adopt his apathetic fuck-it-all-to-hell attitude.
“Just give me the cards,” Anne Marie said, not asked, and she grabbed them from out of my hands. Always the intimidation. Always the instilling of subordinance into me. Always the continual chipping away of my self-esteem.
“No,” I yelled. I grabbed the cards and pulled them away from her; cards flew in all directions and fell spinning onto the linoleum kitchen floor.
“You don’t talk back to me, god-damnit,” Anne Marie yelled. She stood up with an aggressive jerking motion that sent the chair beneath her screeching into the wall behind her. Her eyes gazed hard into mine, punctuated by that question-mark gesture on her face that asked, “What the fuck you gonna do about it? Huh? Huh?”
I didn’t look away. I looked straight into the black of her eyes, but all I could see was every detail of the rooms and the house around me. In the periphery of my vision, I could see the orange, 1970’s geometric mandalas on every square of linoleum tile covering the floor. I could see the fake mother-of-pearl covered table that my helpless grandmother clung to. I could see the horribly rusted metal legs of that table and next to it in the kitchen’s corner the steel-frame utility cart filled with Tupperware and spatulas and next to that a big yellow-green refrigerator. To my left, I could see the double-range stove facing the refrigerator. Behind me, I could see the wall of greenish cupboards and countertop and sink. Outside of the kitchen, through the closed door, I could see the tunnel of stairs going down to the empty apartment that my mother and new father and I had moved out of. I could see the basement. I could see the roof of the house. I could see the big yellow house where I’d grown up eight blocks away. I could see into its rooms at the crackheads who’d taken it over. I could see the bar where Gus was at, trying to find a place to stay, explaining to anybody who would listen that he’d gone home one night and thugs had moved in and kicked him out, but there was nothing he could do because the police wouldn’t care and he hadn’t paid mortgage in five years anyways. I could see every square inch of every place I’d ever been in my entire life, and I saw nothing that didn’t boast the shame of my cowardice and humiliation time and time and time and time again.
I punched Anne Marie in the face as hard as I could.
She fell against the wall behind her and slid into her chair. Her face registered shock. She moved her hands to her jaw. My knuckles tingled. My whole body tingled. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was still scared, but in a different way. The feeling was no longer terror. I recoiled my arm, ready to throw another punch, ready to protect myself and fully expecting her to charge, but she covered her eyes with her hands and started to wail. She ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.
By the time I could breathe normally again, my grandmother had shuffled the cards and dealt two hands. I don’t remember who won the game. I just remember the sweet silence that my grandmother and I enjoyed while we played. When the game ended, I went to bed.
“Good night, baby boy,” she said to me after she kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big, long hug. Then she got on the telephone until the wee hours of the morning, telling everybody in the family that the day they’d all been waiting for had finally arrived.
The following Easter, I found the naked bust of a chocolate woman in my basket, a gift that my grandmother reserved for the men in the family.
Michael Constantine McConnell‘s poems, palindromes, and short stories have been published or are forthcoming in such magazines and anthologies as Father Grimm’s Storybook and Electric Velocipede. His personal essay, “Alleys,” from the anthology Solace in So Many Words, has been nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize. A retired furniture mover and former Experimental Word Forms Editor for Farrago’s Wainscot, he currently teaches various levels of college writing and sings in raucous Scotch/Irish bands after sundown.
PALOMA NEGRA OR,
SAYING NO (MEANING YES)
What I remember—getting tapped
on the shoulder, eyes like invitations
to edge the lake, her nakedness
like a moon to my fingertips,
on my tongue, a glowing I could taste. Doors
that opened to the pennies of a field,
getting chased by lightning,
waking with blackened fingernails.
From the footstep my body burned
into grass, I rose & remembered,
being told this is what you deserve,
a kiss that spiraled down a stairwell,
dripping in the dark.
That’s why Winter
never found me, why I keep a moth
in my wallet, & listen to branches
raking knots out of the wind’s hair.
THEORY OF ATLANTIS
A dead man desperate for a chance at life
finds the Devil’s grasp. On the graveled shoulder
of two roads that arrive into each other, their shoes
dig into a stalemate—they meet & discuss
nothing, but with paused language,
their eyes speak, bargain.
The wooden egg of an instrument case
gets stamped & sent out of the Devil’s office.
They unseal hands. Only the opposite
direction of their footsteps makes sound or sense.
The instrument takes a train to find itself
under the Mulberry where the man frets,
hearing its dome of leaves rattle
to the seeping wind. For days he steps in
& past the shade, one hand roofed
over his eyes. The other, looking out,
already playing the strings.
With a mind lit red like a moon and still
turning, he begins to see muted lights, wavering
horizons− a city so distant, he half-jokes,
it must be under water.
Mike Soto grew up in Dallas overhearing trains on the Santa Fe Railroad, and in a small town in Mexico, overhearing swallows. His chapbook, Beyond The Shadow’s Ink, was published by Jeanne Duval Editions and is available through his website: www.mikesoto.com
Your black carapace, gently striated,
opens into the dark,
into wings like ribs over a beating heart.
Hearken to the days when children hunted
jars for you,
and you for jars.
How alone you are now,
but for the lights of cars and planes.
Emily Iekel is a student at James Madison University, where she studies foreign languages, creative writing, and music. She’s had poems published in Gardy Loo, the literary magazine of James Madison University, Elfwood, Salome Magazine, and Troubadour21.
Bert delivered the bad news after lunch. He handed everyone on day shift a pink slip of paper informing them that they’d be laid off from the factory. They were not fired, not exactly, the paper assured them. They could be called back to work at any time.
“What’s this all about?” Daniel demanded of Bert.
“Just read the paper,” Bert said, scratching his stomach.
“I’ve read the damn paper,” Daniel said. ”I want to know what the hell this is all about.”
“I feel like shit, you know I do,” Bert said, still scratching. “Look at the bright side. At least you’re not fired.”
Daniel’s shift didn’t end until the evening, but he went home immediately after his conversation with Bert. He did not punch out at the time clock.
“What the hell’s the point?” he muttered as he slammed shut his car door and gunned the engine. Anyway he hated the job. The boredom. The mind-numbing tedium. But he knew he needed the paychecks.
Hours later he sat on the couch in his apartment, TV remote in hand, flipping from news network to news network. None of them said anything worth hearing. Now that he’d lost his job, he no longer felt the news applied to his life. Already he felt disconnected.
His wife Betty was surprised to see him when she arrived from her job at the restaurant. She walked in on him watching TV in the dark. In her greasy waitress apron she smelled of cigarettes and red meat.
“The factory laid us off. All of us, the whole shift,” he said before she could ask. It was easier to talk about if he dragged his coworkers into it.
“What will we do?” Betty said, her face ashen, her eyes huge. “How will we make rent?”
“Relax,” Daniel said. “I’ll find something in no time.”
And that’s how it went all night, with Betty in a mild panic and Daniel gently consoling her, reasoning with her. He told her they would be fine. They’d tighten their belts, stop eating out so much, maybe cancel cable TV until things turned around. They would be fine, he said, just fine.
The next day at breakfast he read the help wanted ads in his newspaper’s classifieds. Then he drove all over town to fill out applications. He felt like he wrote his name, address and phone number at least a thousand times. Back at home, he washed the dishes and swept the kitchen. He didn’t want Betty to think he was lazy.
That’s what his days were like. He busted his ass all afternoon to fill out applications at any place that needed labor. Then he came home and cleaned up. Betty acted fine at first. Supportive, even, for a while. But as the days turned to weeks she became increasingly distant, irritable. She wouldn’t let him touch her at night. She didn’t say much, but when she did she lost her temper. She accused him of not doing enough around the house. He’d made a good start, she said, but he did less and less every day.
This was true, he admitted, but he was her husband, after all, not her butler. And he’d had a run of bad luck, and couldn’t she cut him some slack?
One morning, instead of going out to put in applications he sat at his computer and searched for jobs online. Then he spent the afternoon watching TV. The next day he skipped the computer and just watched TV. And he would have done the same the next day except he felt like if he spent another second in the apartment he would lose his goddamned mind.
The apartment complex had a pool. He had never used it because he hadn’t ever had the time, but now time was all he had.
At midday during the week the pool was nearly empty. Some kids splashed around in the shallow end, their parents nowhere to be found. Daniel dove into the deep end. The water felt cold, but he got used to it quickly. He hadn’t gone swimming in years, not since he was a child. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed it. Best of all he liked swimming underwater. It was like flying, only in slow motion. He could fly for as long as he held his breath.
Later, exhausted, he floated on his back. Waves rocked him gently. Chlorine stung his eyes, but it didn’t bother him much. In the midday sun the water looked impossibly blue, the poolside stark white. Overhead the contrail of a plane split the sky into hemispheres. As he floated between the water and August sunlight, Daniel felt like he was living at the end of time.
It wasn’t long before the blonde in the stars and stripes bikini showed up. She carried an inflatable raft under her arm. It was mostly blown up but not all the way. She kicked off her flip-flops, sat poolside with her long legs in the water and inflated it.
Daniel watched her from the deep end. He leaned back against the poolside, his arms outstretched on sun-warmed concrete, supporting his weight in the water. He watched her blow into a small plastic nozzle. He swam laps back and forth across the deep end, hoping he cut a fine figure.
The girl put the raft in the water and climbed aboard. She started out in the shallow end, but momentum carried her to deeper waters. As she came close, Daniel stopped swimming and rested against the side of the pool.
“I hope I’m not in your way,” the girl said from behind a large pair of sunglasses.
“You’re fine,” Daniel said, out of breath from swimming.
“If I’m in your way just tell me,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll swim underneath you.”
“Will you?” she asked, and even from behind the sunglasses he saw her arch an eyebrow.
“I’m working on my tan,” she said.
“I never tan. I can’t,” he said. He felt her eyes sweep over him, over his chest, ghost-white from days spent beneath the factory roof.
“You just need to work on it,” she said. “Come back tomorrow. Spend an hour or two out here everyday. You’ll get your tan. Anyone can do it. You’ll see.”
They talked awhile longer. He learned her name was Tanya and she attended college, a marketing major. She was recently single after escaping a relationship that should have ended in high school. When he told her he was laid off from work she appeared quite sympathetic–more so, he noted, than anyone else he’d confided in. When he said he was married she nodded and seemed disinterested. She didn’t ask about his wife.
He swam some more laps after that, diving underneath when she floated across his path. And wherever the raft carried her, he was aware of her eyes on him.
That night at dinner he stifled the urge to tell his wife about Tanya. She was all he wanted to talk about, all he could think of. But he knew better than to mention her.
“Laundry’s piling up in the hallway,” his wife said, sighing.
“I’ll get to it tomorrow,” he said.
“Did you put in any applications today?”
“Sure,” he lied. “Plenty.”
He spent the next day at the pool. He hadn’t been there long before Tanya showed up, lugging her raft. He waved, and when she stepped into the water he swam over, challenged her to a race.
Daniel and Tanya spent the day together, waging splash fights, practicing handstands on the bottom of the pool, playing in the sun and water like neither of them had since they were children. Daniel realized he had forgotten how to play. With Tanya’s help he remembered.
At dinner his wife remarked on his tan. Daniel admitted he’d spent some time at the pool.
“Must be nice,” she said.
“Losing a job is no picnic,” he said through a mouthful of meatloaf.
“Oh, I don’t know. It sounds okay to me. I wait tables all day. You hang out at the pool. You watch TV. It sounds pretty goddamned okay to me.”
“It’s not like that,” he said.
“Did you apply anywhere today?”
“Look, I’ve applied all over the city. Something is bound to turn up. It just takes time, is all.”
“I thought you said you’d take care of the laundry.”
“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll do the laundry tomorrow.”
The sun was shining when he arrived at the pool. Tanya was already there, floating on her raft. Quietly, he slipped into the water and swam to her beneath the surface, holding his breath until he burst out and dunked her. She squealed as she went under, then resurfaced in a tangle of wet hair.
“You bitch,” she said, laughing and gasping for air. She slugged him playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll get you for that.”
She lunged at him, and he dove out of the way, took off swimming. When he let her catch him, the contact of her skin thrilled him as she pulled him down.
They played in the pool for hours until they were exhausted. They floated in the sun, she on her raft, he on his back.
“What do you want out of life?” he asked, staring up at the empty sky.
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you majoring in marketing? What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t care. I just want a job that pays decent. Something that isn’t miserable, you know?”
She rolled off the raft, her thin body making hardly a splash. She swam to him. They regarded each other, face to face. A wet lock of hair curled down her forehead. Her eyes were so blue they glowed.
“Let’s race,” she said.
Daniel reached for her, placed a hand on the curve of her back, tugged her close. The kiss was electric and made Daniel feel something leap inside his chest. Her lips moved in time with his as he and Tanya treaded water, their legs churning through the cool, blue expanse.
Tanya pulled away.
“I should go,” she said, swimming for the ladder.
“I’m sorry.” Daniel paddled slowly behind her. He clung to the ladder after she climbed out, all strength fled from his body.
Tanya toweled herself dry, then walked back to the edge of the pool. She towered over him, cloaked him in her shadow.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
She knelt by the ladder and kissed him quickly and lightly on his lips. After that she fished her raft out of the pool and walked away.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” he called out to her.
“Take a wild guess,” she said.
That night in the apartment he could hardly sit still. He swallowed dinner without tasting it. He flipped TV channels haphazardly, didn’t take anything in.
“You didn’t wash the clothes today,” Betty said, arms folded, sitting away from him in the recliner in the corner.
“Fuck,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re always sorry,” she said. “You don’t work. You don’t help around the house. I can’t take much more of you being sorry.”
“We already had this argument.”
“Then get a job.”
“I’m trying,” he said.
“Try harder. Take a job at a gas station, a grocery store, a fast-food place. Do something. Do anything.”
“I can’t live like that,” he said.
“Well I can’t live like this,” she said, standing up and storming out, maneuvering around piles of unwashed laundry in the hallway before slamming the bedroom door behind her.
Daniel slept on the couch that night. He considered doing the laundry, then he just didn’t. He dreamed about his old job at the factory, the gray walls, the noise from the conveyor belt, the boredom. In the morning he was awoken by the sound of his wife getting ready for work. After she left he fell asleep again. A few hours later the phone rang. He answered it, groggily, while lying on the couch. Immediately he recognized Bert’s voice.
“Good news, boy-o,” Bert said. “The layoff is over.”
Daniel sat up.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re going back to work. The factory took an order, a big one. Everybody’s being recalled.”
“That’s … that’s great,” Daniel said.
“I need you back on Monday,” Bert said. “Can I count on you?”
“Sure,” Daniel said. “I guess … I mean … sure. Sure you can count on me.”
Daniel hung up the phone. He sat on the couch for a time, staring at nothing. The news would make Betty happy, of course. It had been hard, recently, between them. The news would make it easier.
Daniel thought about the factory, about the long gray walls. He lay down again and tried to sleep.
Alex Miller edits newspapers in Hawaii. He wonders why people live anywhere else. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Dogzplot, Thunderclap and The Dead Mule.