Categories
2014 Poetry

Daniel T. O’Brien

SONNET FOR MIKE WATERS
IN MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO

I am a fucked-up face you’ve never been to
before—: teething concrete to find my way
to you. I will sell myself for your sleep, hold
your head when you’re falling

paradoxical—: dream of me when I start
doing things for free, growing wings
to circumnavigate the road in your mouth
—: around, around. You said, “Normal.

Like a mom and a dad and a dog, and shit
like that. Normal. Normal… I feel like
I’m well adjusted.” I will adjust to your well-adjustment:

never had a dog or a normal dad, either. I do not feel sorry
for us. I will never leave you in Rome. I will never leave
you. I love you & you don’t have to pay me.

____________________

Daniel T. O’Brien is a writer and poet living in Mohegan Lake, NY. His poems have previously appeared in the Susquehanna Review and Gandy Dancer, and his poem “Daughter Nuclide,” was named honorable mention for the 2013 Red Hen Press Poetry Award. He has written articles for the New York Daily News and the Geneseo Scene magazine. He currently works for the Hudson Valley Writers Center and Slapering Hol Press in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and is a poetry intern for The Believer. He will be joining the MFA program at the Ohio State University in the fall.

Categories
2014 Fiction

Leah Griesmann

PACKING

Ron sits across from her at the elevated table at the Tokyo Grill, a Western-themed sushi bar near the corner of Jones and Flamingo. He gulps his white wine as if it was water, and punctuates every other sentence by twisting his torso as if trying to screw himself into a tight space. But it is the smile that unnerves her, long white teeth coming together in a tight point beneath his square nose. He grins as if they were on a boat that would sink if his mouth went slack for more time than it took her to swallow a spicy shrimp roll.

“Try the soft shell.” He uses chopsticks to break off the tempura-fried legs stretching out of his seaweed cone. “The best soft shell in Vegas.”

She had only agreed to meet with Ron after repeated entreaties on his part via the Internet date site she had been on for less than a month. She was put off by their age difference, (56, though in net dating parlance that could mean anywhere from 48 to 69), the fact that he was recently divorced, and his 8-year old son, referred to as the “CENTER OF MY LIFE!!!” in bold caps. But while the two other forty-something men she had been corresponding with stopped returning her e-mails, Ron persisted, even after she’d sent the site’s preprogrammed reply, “SMILE. I don’t think we’re right for each other.”

Now that she is actually sitting across from him, and not scanning his profile or pondering his three sport fishing photos, she categorizes their experience within the first five minutes: free dinner.

“I was married for nine years.” His spiky gray bangs spill over his desert-bronzed forehead, and he can talk with his mouth full without seeming rude. “My wife had an affair with the accountant who worked at her office. He’s an ugly little man. They just got married in June. What really gets me is when they come over and Dustin is calling him Daddy. I tell him, that’s not Daddy, I’m Daddy. Howard is stepdaddy. The only person you can call Daddy is me. He says, ‘I’m sorry, Daddy.’” He laughs. “You want to have kids?”

Some day.”

“You gotta.” He takes an emphatic bite of maki roll. “You gotta have kids. My wife couldn’t have kids naturally. I didn’t know that when we got married. We adopted Dustin. You can always adopt.”

She has to bend forward over the table to hear him. The restaurant, crowded and clamorous, combines Asian-Pacific and Country Western influences that would appear incongruous anywhere except Vegas. Beneath flags of Texas and Japan, servers in satin kimonos and black slippers tiptoe past bartenders in cowboy hats. Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, and other twangy crooners she has only heard in her car blend with the din of knives meeting cutting boards.

“What is it you do?” he asks.

“I teach high school.”

“Oh, yeah?” He feigns a curious grin. “That’s right, you mentioned that on your profile.”

In fact, she had purposefully left her “occupation” box vague. She finally settled on the open-ended moniker “education,” suspecting there was no greater turn-off for any male than a single above-thirty schoolteacher—it smacked too much of institutionalized spinsterhood.

“You know, teachers,” he says, pointing his index finger and nodding his head, “are underrated and underpaid. If it were up to me, schoolteachers would be the lawyers and doctors of this world and the lawyers and the accountants would all be the scum.”

“Thank you, Ron.”

“I’m serious. I feel very passionate about this. Dustin goes to private school. I won’t let him near those places.” He bites on a crab leg and chews.

“How long have you been using the service?” she asks, changing the subject.

He nods, chewing purposefully. “As long as I can remember. You’re my nineteenth.”

“Wow.”

“I’ve had some doozies. There was this little blonde number, couldn’t have been more than what, twenty-two years old? Tells me we need to meet at this particular restaurant right next to this chapel. Tries to get me all liquored up, then says, come on, let’s get married. I had to push her off me with both hands. I met another lady, Donna. She’s divorced, three kids. She likes to go bowling. She’s a good friend of mine now. Not my type, but we have a good friendship.”

“That’s nice.”

“Then there was this other lady. Trixie. Hot, hot number. She sends me naked—I kid you not, naked photos of herself. I mean this lady looks like, I don’t know, Morgan Fairchild. She invites me to dinner. I go to the place and this lady taps me on the shoulder and I turn around and she says, “Are you Ron?” and I say, “Yeah,” and she says, “I’m Trixie.” I kid you not, this lady was four feet ten and must have weighed three-hundred pounds.”

“What did you do?”

“I ate dinner with her. Then afterwards, I said, “You know, you don’t look anything like your photos.” She says, “I know.” I said, “I don’t think I can have a relationship that’s not built on honesty.” I felt bad about it, but then I thought, hey lady, you did it to yourself.” He clamps a slice of pickled ginger between his chopsticks. “What about you?”

He says this lightly but she feels herself blush. The fact of her singleness would have been fine had it been a choice, as it was for so many of her freewheeling friends. But the fact was, she had dreamed of a husband, three kids, and a farm in the country since she was five. She didn’t quite know how it had happened that those things she wanted had never materialized and those things that she didn’t did. But she knew from casually chatting with people—in stores, in the post office, in bars, and in gas stations—that this was the punch line of life; that so many people became who they didn’t want to and didn’t become who they did.

“You’re my first date from the service.”

“Be careful. It’s different for women. You gotta watch out for the weirdoes.”

“You used to fly planes for the Air Force?” Men’s dating profiles tended to go into great detail with their professional history. His listed only his field, his rank, and several sports distinctions he’d won back in college.

“Yep. I work out at Nellis now. Special ops.”

“You hang out a lot in Iraq?”

She is joking, but his smile doesn’t waver as he swallows another half-glass of wine. “Three times in the past eight months.”

He tosses the comment off with embarassed modesty as if admitting he had been both valedictorian and star quarterback in high school. It is his conscious attempt to hide his apparent bravado that pokes at her. She looks at his thick fingers smashing roe between seaweed flaps and imagines his hands must be skilled with both planes and guns.

“What do you do over there?” She is surprised that she is not more appalled by his answer. She has sent emails to Congress protesting the war, and in the box on the dating profile where users described their political persuasion, had marked “Very liberal.” Now she finds herself looking at Ron with inquisitive eyes, a polite smile softening her face.

He waves his right hand in dismissal. “I can’t talk about what I do.”

She reaches for a salmon roll. “That must be hard.”

“Not really.” He scoops up wasabi with his open seaweed cone. “Not for the money they pay us.” He forces the entire roll into his mouth and after a moment of chewing, closes his eyes and covers his nose with his palm. She watches him fan his face and raise his eyebrows. “Oh, man,” he says when the disturbance has passed. “That stuff gets you.”

After dinner, Ron invites her outside to look at the sky. On their way through the back of the restaurant they pass a giant aquarium that separates the kitchen from the dining room. The fish, unattractive and large, were apparently chosen not for their beauty, but for their ability to suggest an exotic dinner. A gray one hides behind a fake tunnel, a red one darts in frenetic circles, and two yellow fish swim right towards her, faces pressed to the glass.

She follows Ron through the saloon to the side of the restaurant in front of a dumpster where, above them, the pockmarked moon was nearly full. “So what’s an attractive woman like you doing on an Internet date site?”

She knew he didn’t really expect her to tell him the story. How there was Bobby for five years in Tulsa, Evan for eight months in Tucson, and no one in Phoenix. How there were promises, fantasies, hopes and lies, and in between was the highway. And how, after four boyfriends and six jobs, two degrees, one abortion and one bankruptcy, she found herself 36, in Las Vegas, surfing the Internet date sites. And everything she had promised herself she would never be, at 22, at 24, and again, at 28, she had become, or rather, had become her and now she didn’t know where her revulsion ended and real life began.

“It’s a long story,” she says, but he has already moved on.

“That’s a desert moon,” he says proudly, as if showing her something he’d made. “In Iraq, it doesn’t really look like that. It looks more waxy. It has this sick yellow glow. But the sky, the night sky in the desert, it’s always perfectly clear, whether it’s Vegas or Basra.”

“It’s beautiful,” she says. In the distance the casinos illuminate the ruddy mountains surrounding the city. The laser beam from the Luxor shoots up towards the stars, the lights from the Mirage wax and wane, the Paris’ Eiffel Tower twinkles. She never thought she’d like Las Vegas, the flat of the desert, the glittering lights, but she has been jarred by its beauty, the chiaroscuro of neon and glitz against rust-colored mountains.

“I want to show you something,” Ron says, putting his hand on the back of his pants and pulling a handgun from a holster under his jacket. He does it so quickly she doesn’t have time to be taken aback, and the smile on his face doesn’t waver. “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded. See?” He slides the barrel out to show her, and spends several minutes explaining its parts—the barrel, the bullets, how fast they travel, the impact upon what they hit. “Have you ever fired a gun?”

She shakes her head.

“You should. Everyone needs to know how to shoot. Especially a woman. Here in Vegas you can go to any shooting range on any corner and tell them you just want to practice. Then you can get a permit and get your own gun.”

“Why would I want to?”

“Once you start carrying a gun, you realize how many other people are carrying too. I was in the men’s room at Caesar’s this one time with these rich businessmen, corporate executives, fancy lawyers, bankers. We were all packing. Every one of us. It was like you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” He chuckled. “Sometimes when I’m walking down the street I’ll play this little game. He’s packing. He’s not. She’s definitely packing. She’s not. I’m telling you, it’s a whole other world.”

“I don’t like violence.”

“How do you know?” A smile curls his lips as if he has just told a joke. “Hold it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Hold it.” He grabs her arm and places the gun firmly in her palm. “Don’t aim it at me.”

The weight of the gun is solid and cold in her palm. Her three fingers coil. She bends her index finger and presses the arc of her thumb towards the trigger. She shudders and hands it back.

“You ought to think about it. For your own protection.” He returns the gun to its holster.

They go back into the restaurant where she gathers her purse. He gulps down the rest of the wine in his glass. “I’ll walk you to your car and then I’ll take care of the bill.”

As they leave the saloon he slides his arm around her, his palm warm on the small of her back. She pictures the cool sheets of his bed, the comfort of waking up in his big house. The thought occurs to her that for a home, a warm hand, a car that was paid for, perhaps, down the line, her own baby, she might even be willing to clean a few guns.

“See, I wasn’t so bad. Now you know what it’s about.” He gives her a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek. “You’ll always remember your first.”

“Thanks for a great dinner, Ron.”

He smiles his smile that could mean anything: I love you, I’m bored, that was great sushi, I’ve killed a few times.

“Take care, sweetie.” He hands her the box of leftover salmon rolls.

She gets in her car and watches him turn and walk through the night, one hand in his pocket; thick fingers pressed towards his hips.

She drives to the end of the parking lot and then stops, her cold fingers opening and closing around her steering wheel. Her one-bedroom apartment waited for her, in a gated subdivision of buildings so similar that she often found herself driving in circles before finding her door. She still had grading to do, which she would enter into her spreadsheet in the soft glow of the monitor.

She wondered how hard it was to get a gun permit in Las Vegas. Probably even easier than getting married. She could go to The Trigger, a twenty-four hour gun store and video poker club at the end of her block.

She drove towards the highway. In addition to the gun (did they come in a box or a case?) there would be ammo to buy, bullets, and maybe a holster. There would be paperwork to study and new terms to learn, just like getting a new car or pet.

She had known plenty of people who had changed, it seemed, over night. There was Evan’s sister who’d found Jesus after years spent strung out on meth. Her friend Avery, a freewheeling socialist in college who now ran a campaign for a leading Republican Congresswoman. Then there was her Aunt Sally who had worked for decades as a librarian in Indiana, then went back to school to become a nurse in Sierra Leone.

As she drove excitement coursed through her right foot. She rolled her window down slightly, welcoming in the night air. She imagined the curve of the barrel, the ridge of the bullet, the solid weight in her palm. She wondered if, holding her gun, she’d no longer feel naked, no longer feel so stripped down.

And then when that lump seared her insides—at school with the moms and their kids, in her room with the hope chest under the bed, alone on the Internet date site—she would just finger the trigger.

What are you looking at? I’m just like you. I got what I never wanted and didn’t get what I did.

_________________________

Leah Griesmann‘s stories have recently appeared in Union Station, The Cortland Review, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, The Weekly Rumpus, and PEN Center USA’s The Rattling Wall. A 2010-2011 Steinbeck Fellow in Fiction, she is the recipient of a 2013 DAAD grant in fiction and a 2014 MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She is currently at work on a collection of stories.

 

Categories
2014 Blog Fiction

George Ovitt

DANCING LESSONS

Right around the third time my mother asked my father to move out, Mom decided that I needed to take dancing lessons. I was just twelve, it was summer, and I had been wasting a lot of time hanging around the house, working just three days a week as an umbrella boy at Loch Arbor Beach, and doing a little boxing on Saturdays at the Boys Club. My father had introduced me to the “sweet science,” and while I didn’t much care for getting hit, I did enjoy the adrenaline rush of sparring, dodging a punch, and occasionally landing a soft left (we wore twenty-ounce gloves) on the cloth helmet of one of my buddies from the neighborhood.

Pop had done some fighting while in the Army—flyweight—and he taught me footwork, how to jab, and a couple of basic combinations. He was a small man, five-five and maybe one-twenty, but he was tough—he drove a truck for the county road department—and, unfortunately, he was also tough at home. We’re an Irish-German family, my mother’s mother having been born in Munich; grandma was a large woman, loud and fond of vinegary cabbage, fatty meat, and ice tea. My father’s family was Irish, but I never knew his parents. Pop drank too much, but he wasn’t a violent drunk—in fact, he’d calm down after a whiskey or two, stretch out on the ratty old couch in our living room, and doze off. But Pop did like other women, and Mom was a tight-fisted, jealous person who was always accusing my father of “spending every last dime on some floozy,” which, who knows, he might have been, but now I suspect he didn’t do much more than smile at women he thought were attractive and maybe buy one or two a drink at Flanagan’s Bar, his favorite place right there on Ocean Avenue.

Our neighborhood was what came to be called “ethnic,” meaning all-white, all-Catholic, all-working class. Later on, in the late sixties, a black family moved into a bungalow down the block, and aside from some nasty comments from our next-door neighbor—a legless ex-Marine who hadn’t a good word to say about anybody—everyone felt fine about having the neighborhood “integrated.” We reserved our rancor for our “betters,” for the rich people who lived on the other side of town, whose lawns I cut in the summer, and onto whose doorsteps I tossed the Home News on Thursday afternoons all through my youth. Black people were fine because they were poor; what upset my father was that there were people in our town who had a lot of money but never worked a day in their lives. That was his term of disapproval; “working” meant sweating, being outside in bad weather, and not having soft hands. “That Bill Markel, I bet his hands are soft as a girl’s was something my father might say at dinner after having a disagreement with a guy at the motor vehicle division. Men in ties and jackets, even if they made a miserable two grand a year, which is what Pop made with the road department, were no good since they dressed like monkeys and sat around an office all day.

My father’s resentments were broad and simple, but I don’t know if they ran that deep. The truth was he got along with almost everybody—the guy at the bank who lent us the money to replace our roof, the Jewish man who ran the local pharmacy, heavyset Mr. Siliato at whose little pizzeria we ate every Friday night, and the folks in the neighborhood, mostly Irish and Italian, who he might refer to as “dopes” but with whom he would play bocce and drink Rheingold on summer evenings. People whose walks he’d help shovel on snowy days, whose kids attended the same public school as me, with whom I played baseball and basketball, the kids who boxed at the Boys’ Club of Asbury Park. This was the world I grew up in, blue collar and full of large passions. My mother didn’t like our street; she hoped I’d be different from my father, more sensitive maybe, capable of finding my way to an undefined, but somehow better life. It was these ill-defined hopes of my mother’s that led to my taking dancing lessons.

Mr. Musto was a professional dancer. That’s what Mom told me, though I had no idea what a professional dancer did, aside, of course, from dancing. Mr. Musto wore pastel-colored slacks and coppery Nehru jackets and always kept a hankie in his top front pocket. He had reddish-brown hair—lots of it—and he wore tap shoes, or at least shoes that made tapping sounds as he moved, quite gracefully, across the linoleum floor of our finished basement. He wasn’t the sort of man you would think my father would like, and yet my father adored Mr. Musto, adored him because he was affordable, a “snazzy dresser,” and “sophisticated,” meaning he was a good dancer who was willing to come to our run-down row house every Saturday afternoon to give lessons to half a dozen pre-teen boys for an insignificant amount of money.

Looking back , I realize that Mr. Musto was probably one of those down-on-the-heels types who orbited our lives back then—the man who came around with a little cart and sharpened our knives, the black men who came each autumn to the back door to ask my mother if they might, please, rake our leaves for a dollar (she always said yes and gave them two); the grown men who shoveled sidewalks at the houses of the war widows, the tattered house painters and Italian ice salesmen, and a real junkman who bought and sold anything metal from a hand-cart. We lived, my mother and father and sister and I, on the margins—on the edge of town, on the edge of the neighborhood, right where the oldest houses gave way to the woods and the lake, where better-off people might dump tires and batteries and rusted-out appliances; the kind of place where feral dogs chased (and once caught) my mother’s cats and then burrowed in our trash for dessert. Mr. Musto seemed to my mother the intimation of something better or at least something less run-down and hopeless than what she had come to expect.

 

My mother and father had loved to dance. In their better days, before the war, they would take the bus downtown to the Berkeley-Carteret and dance to Tommy Tucker’s Orchestra, to Benny Goodman when he came to the Convention Hall, to Duke Ellington’s great ensemble at the Casino—a night my mother spoke of with longing. Ellington’s big band had been there in Asbury Park, one night only, and my father had borrowed five dollars from his aunt to get in and paid fifty cents—fifty cents!—for two ginger ales to go along with four hours of the Lindy and Foxtrot and Jitterbug. My father was a fine dancer—a nice-looking man, athletic and slender—and my mother was the prettiest woman in the neighborhood. All my friends said so. And yet, by the time I was old enough to pay attention to my mother’s appearance, she and my father had grown apart, had come, at last, to despise one another.

Or did they? They fought, certainly, but what did they say to one another late at night in their narrow bed when my sister and I were asleep? When he would leave, the routine was always the same: he appeared in the living room with his small cardboard suitcase; he would tell me and my sister Margaret that he was going away for a while and that we should be good to one another and to your mother. He’d look contrite, pathetic with his satchel of clothes, an ever-present cigarette perched in the corner of his mouth. He would come over to the couch and give me and my sister a peck on the cheek, a tousle of the hair, and then he was gone. He had to leave the car for Mom, so I don’t know what he did, where he stayed, or who took him to work. I know he worked because we never went hungry, even when he was in exile for months at a time. He always took care of us, and I have no idea at what cost to his own happiness.

Even when Pop was gone we’d have our dancing lessons. Mr. Musto came on the bus, which would drop him down the hill from our house. I dreaded dancing, so I’d sit in the window and pray that he wouldn’t show up—but he always did, week after week, for almost a full year. When I saw him, I had to run next door to get Billy, whose mother was a war widow and whose son, my best friend, was a sad, bookish boy, my opposite in most ways, but good in just the way my mother wanted me to be, in a way I could never dream of being. And then the two of us walked across the narrow lane to get Stuart, a blind kid who loved music and dancing, and Kenny, a kid we didn’t hang out with but whose mom had persuaded my Mom to let him come over to learn the cha-cha and tango and waltz.

We were the only people on the block who had a finished basement—knotty pine walls, drop ceiling, linoleum floors, and a wet bar—and thus the dance lessons were at my house, which was a great burden for my mother and a source of embarrassment for me, especially since I had to explain to my friends that my father was “away on business.” I often lied about my parents, saying that my father was in the hospital or visiting his (dead) father in Buffalo. Divorce was unheard of in the Catholic neighborhoods where I grew up, and Mom told me never to lie, but seemed not to want me to tell the truth either. So I lied. Lying was at first painful, then routine, and at last, after years of spinning fables about my father’s long absences, lying became a part of my nature, to the extent that I would lie about my father even on those occasions when he was at home.

 

So each Saturday afternoon, Mr. Musto would walk up the hill and ring the doorbell. I would let him in, take his coat, and ask if he wanted a Coke or a glass of water. He always said no, and then he would follow me downstairs into the dampness of the basement and greet Kenny, Billy, and Stuart. Mr. Musto was especially kind to Stuart. He would shake our hands, one after another, and then give Stuart a hug. Mom said this was because Mr. Musto knew that blind people like a lot of physical contact—how she knew this, or how Mr. Musto came to have insights into Stuart’s needs and desires, was beyond me. Stuart was a quiet and polite boy, whose face was always turned upward and who clicked his tongue constantly, as if were a bat using vibrations to locate himself in the immense and hostile world he lived in.

We never talked about his being blind. I never asked Stuart how he felt about it—he’d gone blind as a baby after a bout of measles—and I never wondered for a moment what it was like for him to navigate the five square blocks of our neighborhood. I wasn’t insensitive, but it was impossible for me to allow the thought of blindness to cross my mind. This was in the days before handicapped parking, braille numbers in the elevators, or any other kind of consideration for blindness, or for those who had been crippled by polio. Each summer my mother would warn me in the most solemn terms never to go swimming in the lake for fear that I would “grow up a cripple.” Even the word “disabled” was nonexistent. Anyway, I always did swim in the lake—we all did—and many summer nights I would lie in bed feeling my legs grow numb as the disease worked its way up toward my spine. I feared polio and going blind more than ghosts, nuclear bombs, or even communists.

 

But my legs never grew numb enough so that I couldn’t learn the cha-cha with Mr. Musto. He brought his own records in a black leather case—it looked like a handbag, and Kenny giggled about Mr. Musto having a purse, but what could he do? My parents had a Victrola—a big, white maple box with one small speaker that played 78s and 45s and 33s, but we only owned six records, including the soundtrack to South Pacific. Two Glenn Millers, a Tommy Tucker, and a Guy Lombardo rounded out the collection—no cha-chas or tangos or even a decent waltz—so Mr. Musto would unpack his Tito Puente and Ernesto Duarte and Facundo Rivera discs and drop the needle and we’d be off. First, he’d show us the steps on his own—“one, two, cha-cha-cha”—and he’d swing his hips and smile and put his right hand on his stomach and hold his left hand up in the air as if Chiquita Rivera were right there dancing with him.

Mr. Musto would take my hand and pull me out into the middle of the room and have me count aloud as I shuffled through the steps like Bela Lugosi—to my mortification—and then Mr. Musto would take my hips in his hands and rock them back and forth all the while counting and saying, “Feel it, Bobby, feel it in your body!” My buddies would be smiling ruefully, but their turn would come and pretty soon the four or five of us would be moving around the black, slippery floor, ignoring the music entirely, half enjoying ourselves, half embarrassed by the attention Mr. Musto was paying to our awkward movements, wondering perhaps why we were spending a sunny Saturday pretending to dance when we could have been playing basketball up at the Hurley’s or, if it were dead winter, skating on the lake. Mr. Musto never took the time to explain the point of dancing, or to defend what must have appeared even to him to be such a pointless waste of an afternoon. He just danced.

After a half hour or so, the upstairs door would open and my mother, dressed as always in high heels and stockings and a nice house dress, would descend the stairs with a tray full of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade. Her hair was burnished red-brown and she wore just a hint of lipstick. She would smile at Mr. Musto and ask if the boys had worked up an appetite, and we would say that, yes, we had, and be grateful for the opportunity to eat and clown around for a few minutes before the ordeal of the tango began.

 

One quiet Saturday afternoon in the middle of February, a day or week after my father had once again left us, my mother arrived in the midst of Tito’s El Cayuco without the tray of cookies or the big, blue ceramic pitcher of hand-squeezed lemonade. Instead, she stood at the base of the stairs, one hand on the railing, one hand smoothing back her hair, and watched as Stuart and I moved in half twirls and, to the best of our twelve-year-old ability, swaying our hips in time to the conga drum. She watched and she smiled at me, and then she turned her smile—it was a lovely smile—at Kenny and Billy as they followed behind us, the four of us moving almost in time with the music—one, two, cha-cha-cha—and then, from Tito’s horn section, a blast of trumpets and his voice rising behind the brass in a staccato cadence, cha-cha-cha, the sound, as I imagined it, of warm sun and a white beach like the one on Key West I had visited with my mother and father before Margaret was born. Just then I did feel the music; I closed my eyes and put my arm on Stuart’s waist—it was odd, but at that moment everything felt right. I was dancing.

When I opened my eyes, I saw my mother dancing with Mr. Musto, not the cha-cha, but some slower dance, one that required Mr. Musto to have his arm around my mother’s slender waist in a way, I thought, that looked calm and natural. Mr. Musto was leading my mother, as graceful as ever, in small circles around the edge of our finished basement. The song ended, the needle swung across the empty vinyl and rose with a mechanical whirl back to its resting place. But Mr. Musto and my mother kept moving—dancing—and the only sound was the light tapping of Mr. Musto’s shoes and the rustle of my mother’s dress.

_________________

George Ovitt is the author of a collection of stories, The Snowman. He lives in Albuquerque.

Categories
2014 Blog Poetry

M. Shahid Alam

APRIL

Again, the dogwoods, silver bells, magnolias and cherries
dash to life and light in a florid swirl of colors: red,
white and magenta twirls. It is the urge to procreate
so long suppressed that propels this playful excess.

In leaves,
                  the sober greens will speak
                                                                   when April turns to May.

FOUR SCENES

A swathe of periwinkle blue thriving
in April: this won’t last till May.

A quartet of summer birds roosts
on the cornice: they are real not painted.

Once-green, rain-sodden leaves hug
the streets: scenes from an autumn massacre.

The light from distant galaxies varnishes
the winter sky: it is brighter than ochre.

_____________________

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. His poetry and translations of Ghalib have appeared (or will appear) in TriQuarterly Online, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Chicago Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Sufi, Marlboro Review,Critical Muslim, Paintbrush, West Coast Review, etc.

 

Categories
Blog

Judson Simmons

GRAYING

You find a single gray hair
on my head, standing out
like the tallest boy
in a yearbook photo.

“Hold still” you warn,
and pluck from the weeds
a single, white rose.

You release my hair—
it slips from your fingers,
becomes just another thread
to the fabric of the floor…

I am getting older, as expected,
but nothing announces
the changing of our lives
like the frailty our bodies
concede and expose.

_____________________

Judson Simmons is a graduate of the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Program, and holds a BA in Writing/English from the University of Houston. He recently graduated from the MSEd. program for Higher Education Administration at Baruch College in New York City. His chapbook, The Hallelujah Hour, was published by Amsterdam Press in 2010, and his work has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Evergreen Review, Folio—among other journals.