Thursday, November 5, 2015

Future Tense

In the Future Tense by Alan

You step into the future tense with no map or directions in hand. You recall a set of luggage - florid patterns, Russian-dolled sizes - that your mother brought from that other country you have yet to visit. You appropriated the space for something you were working on once, a long time ago. Songs maybe. Probably more like sounds. These are in the past tense in the future tense.

The path to the future tense is decorated with choices. You are like a Danish prince in the future tense in the sense that you will "lose thy name of action in resolution." You cannot kill the urge so you sit in front of it in the future tense. You watch it pray to other gods in your head.

You are a collection of hesitations and hiccups in the future tense, one that someone might consider studying but most likely will discuss over lunch. In the future tense, the lunch might be fast food or it might involve alcohol. In the future tense, your trajectory will be looked upon as more fluid than it may appear to you now in the present tense. It may seem like "he should have done this" or "he should have done that" in the future tense. In the future tense, hindsight is sitting pretty. It's your favorite dress. In the future tense, you will walk into the place where you met dressed as her and wait for yourself to walk in through the door.

In the past tense, you grappled with the appendages in a mechanic's bathroom in order to get out what needed to be gotten out. In the future tense, that will be considered "evidence" or "the way in." In the present tense, you are slightly embarrassed about the indentations or, rather, intonations of that number. But here's the thing in the future tense: there is no embarrassment. Only truth.

In the future tense, you will raise a hand in a classroom and volunteer for the experiment. It will involve a machine and the heart and wireless technology. It will remind you of this moment, half-buried between the present and the past, but alive yet still, tense, aching for new music to come.


Semantics in Florence by Sherisse

That was the year the men had all the words. The women were without mouths, tongues. They slept fully dressed beside the bathtub. They said their creator had made them do it.

That was year the fruit sat under the recessed bulbs of spackled ceilings. You could have been in a place like Florence, Kentucky, where the Duro paper bags are made and stamped, “100% recycled, please reuse.” Hot coffee on the stoves of the fortune tellers, untouched, and the matted trees laughing in your ears.

And salivating, you. Prior to lovering or fathering or friending. You are anyway as dear as they come. A word I can never entirely pronounce. To get at the violet in the body, discreet organ flower. These hands go looking for you who came and went, who I let split the stalk in two.

And the things you never let the other taste: ambient and parched the salt between it all, the white tip of your nail, the underarm. The very precious rupture into dis-order.

I heard you once sort of say: only the men who give the women back their magic are worth saving. Chalk it up to semantics, the open envelope let loose from plans. After hours, an emptied out shoe, double-chinned laughter in the factories.

How lucky, the places never even seen. That was the year of atoning for crimes not committed.


Moon Garden Tarot by Johanna

The Nine of Cups kicked back in her mushroom meadow, a recently emptied bottle of wine by her side. Looking up at the super moon in Taurus, she knew that everything would go her way. She was a brilliant social butterfly about to have her dream come true.

She gazed at the King of Swords in his glass throne in the sky. Dragons laid like old dogs, docile, at his feet. His sword was made of ambition. He was a competitive man, but sometimes his affections waned and she had to pressure him to stay focused. She dug his mustache. She made up stories about what she wanted to do with that mustache.

The King of Pentacles also had a good mustache and a very big castle. He was quite grounded and practical and his throne was made of stone. She eyed him longingly as he spun the world on his fingertip like a basketball. She imagined the stimulating conversations they would have solving problems of world peace.

For guidance, she visited the Fifth Hierophant. He always gave her comfort when she went to his gate. She waited for nightfall and used both the gold and silver key. She asked him for inspiration, “Tell me the truth, which one will it be?”

“Test them,” he said, “to determine the perfect one.” He shuffled the deck and three cups fell out. Each chalice filled with singing fairies. Their song entranced her as it amplified. She grinned, “That sounds like big ass love.” Rejuvenated, she decided to throw a party, the largest party anyone in the land had ever seen and she would be the High Priestess of the party. She invited the Hierophant, both kings, the fairies and everyone in Moon Garden. She wore a mermaid tale made of emerald scales and a crown bejeweled with the moon and sun. Dolphins served sushi and chocolate cake while whales sang in chorus. She rested blissfully in her throne of conch shells and listened to the melodic din of gathering friends.

Perhaps the kings would not arrive. Perhaps only one would come. She was sure it no longer mattered. She didn’t need to decide. She realized she could have them both.

The Hierophant leaned in to whisper in her ear.


Simply Put by Lyle

Simply put, she will say rather loudly (at least for someone who stares into crystal balls in dark, cloth-laden rooms), It doesn't look so good. But she will be alone. Again. Perpetually? Who could say? She might have had something to say about that at one point, but not now (then?), to anyone who would or would not listen -- dead, alive or somewhere in between. That's crass of me to say, though. I'm demeaning her trade -- in the future tense, no less. Simply put, we don't know, as she will say as I've said. And we don't. Unless there is something built into our culture, into our cards, into our future. Something perhaps baked into the very nature of our jobs that will statistically suggest, no! predetermine outcomes, such as love affairs, morning routines, Alzheimer's and death (always death -- that's an easy one, she will say). Some trajectory that starts with a blue-bottomed bellow at birth. That's the easy part, she will say. Something simply put.


Brief Paths by Bill

Get yourself right with your maker. Maybe you have to buy a goat, or gather a bundle of holly tied together with a ribbon a child lost. Really that should not matter as long as the proper procedures are observed. You’ll know if you do it right because it will be as if you sat in the sat in the sand and felt the drumming of waves against the beach. Look in the windows as you head inside.

Sketch out her sign in front of you, draw the circle around it with the sweat from your brow and press the pad of your thumb to it as you close your eyes and set the empty glass ass-up on the table with your other hand. Remember her as a painting you saw walking in a waking dream, imagine the wind outside the building the day she gave birth to you and know down to the bone how it felt as she slipped away like a breeze.

Sit close to the fireplace listening to the stones warm. Be inside when you are outside, and outside when you’re inside, and flipped the other-ways too since the candle will stay lit all the way down until the very last sputtering spark draws in its final taste of oxygen in a soft sharp gasp before the thin rising curl.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Photo courtesy of & © Alina Noir.

Clasp Broken by Johanna

My husband’s lips are red with deception. They pucker and spit when he speaks. The blood rushes his mouth. He kisses hard like he is numb. He kisses soft when he is uncertain.

My husband drives my car to run errands. He fills it with gas. When it rolls into the driveway, the engine purrs and shuts off and there is silence.

In the winter, my husband lights a fire in the stove. He chops wood and covers it diligently. He takes care to keep the wood dry so it will spark faster and burn hotter. Sometimes, he forgets things. When the flue is closed, the room fills with smoke and our eyes tear. We laugh and laugh with watery eyes.

My husband writes the grocery list in red pen because it is convenient. The red pen sits otherwise unused. I moved the red pen to the car once, but the list still came out red.

The earring was red with glass beads. The clasp was broken. I pulled it out from between the car seats while searching for a pen.

By the window, a streak of sun cuts across my husband’s face. He is typing messages. His desk is made of pine. I touch his shoulder to wipe away the light and he flinches. His smile is broken and tethered. I want to strike the red from his lips. I offer him a glass of water. He watches for me to go before he gathers his words back up with his fingers.

He cannot see me in the unlit room, the glass between us, as he turns my car into the driveway. He checks his reflection in the mirror. He scans the seats. He picks up a weighted tote bag.

His door opens and he ducks to exit. His wide shoulders hunch slightly and his brows narrow. He pauses and smiles to no one.

The earring with the ruby red baubles that drip like blood stays safe inside my pocket. I will wear it in the dark while we make love and after he will scream and scream and scream.


Argument As Appendices by Alan

Three days after the towers fell, there was a silence in the streets whose only true sibling in the world is the silence realized when searching deeply for something one never quite had or, perhaps, understood. This idea, too, came and left massively, suddenly.

And so he went looking for you today. Not because of any after fight, imagined or real. No photograph that captured it in the mind. This was a surprise search. Figuring out that you‘re on one while on one. Found himself at the steps of a home you’d never inhabited. Near Park and something. Thought about what an argument might look like because, some might say, there wasn’t enough time. He wasn’t sure about this and the idea (cited earlier) by x…that without conflict there is no intimate.

One final note. The purpose of education is to eradicate fear, said Krishnamurti, so we can be free to love. One gets home and one does not always think of that though that is an answer in the frame, framing. So when two people inhabit the argument, the argument is not them. What is inside, rather, might be a series of carried objects so that the conversation is a lining up. A lining up and collapsing. Two dancers returning from the stage. Undressed by the things they’ve seen. Each other, even, is a thing when one lifts fear like a blanket in fall. Some arguments can go like this. Might go like this. And others, a different way for sure. (See R. Carver.)

It is at this point in the story (not nearly an ending) that the narrator wishes to take back what he said but not necessarily what he thought. (See C.)

A hypothetical: they’re told to argue, so they argue…not because they’re mad at each other or anything else, so inside the lips of the argument is something warm and right and unconditional and smile.


The Skin Where You Can’t Find It by Sherisse

We assume they’re lovers. Because one is a man and the other is a woman. We assume they must be lovers because they’re naked and alone, because the heart of one faces the heart of the other. And that if they’re yelling it’s because they once whispered. We assume that what is being said is private. We think that there must have been some brilliant beginning. We make up a story about how they met. We say they met on a Friday at Neptune, the diner on Astoria Boulevard, near the basketball courts, near the M60 bus stop, near the highway entrance. All the waiters at Neptune were foreign with thick accents, black vests and bow ties. She had stumbled in one evening, dizzy from the change of season and the soft death of post-summer nights. He had been her waiter: a little bit tall, a little bit handsome. She had had chicken soup and mashed potatoes. He had let her try the rice pudding, sprinkled cinnamon on top, handed her a metal spoon as if it were the first kiss on the cheek. He had reminded her of someone. A man she met once, as if by accident. A man she had had coffee with, or tea, in the dark back room of winter. Later on that evening she would imagine untucking the waiter from his trousers, joking with him about the feminine wedding ring on his finger, about the fact that she had had dinner alone on a Friday night while listening to people talk endlessly about steak and eggs and California pie. How had he put up with that for so long? The rants of children and the eerie lights and sop of loneliness. The very fat people and the mess they left behind. She would wonder what he had done with the Sunshine saltines left in their plastic wrap, the remaining and unused packets of butter. Later on that evening she would want to touch herself while thinking of him entering and exiting the kitchen with her food in his hands. She would want to see him again, but only to thank him. She was filled with gratitude but already she was afraid of going back to Neptune, already she was keeping secrets. No, she could only imagine his body permanently positioned near the dessert vitrine, slightly aloof in his black polyester vest. A middle-aged waiter at work exposing gently the monotony of desire. A man too cool for his bow tie.


When You Act Like That You're Ugly or Math by Lyle

When I used to think about farms I thought about barns and chickens or cows and overalls. That's not not accurate, I suppose, now when I think of it. But when I thought of it it was. Wasn't it? Maybe I misconstrued something, math-wise, to where it was cows and barns and overalls and consent. Oh, and a tractor. I think that was somewhere in the equation. The yelling was not in that equation and it makes everything all crooked. Like the farm house is not level and the barn is ablaze and fuck the goddamn overalls, you know? I eat okra and it's slimy and I don't mind it until you start yelling at me. Fucking chickens or cows looking on. They must know something I don't. About math, at least.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Swung As

What I Really Want to Know by Alan

What I miss most is swinging. It seems obvious to say and perhaps a bit too simple. Someone reading this someday might even say unearned (“too soon…wasn’t it just a few hours ago?”). But its steady pulse and gentle hand and familiar weight, mostly in daylight. It’s almost as if the motion were this dream in me diving and resurfacing, holding the breath and measuring the height.

I’m saying this because 1) I’m in a lineup again and it’s the heavy later summer air that’s readying the transition to and in between winds enough so that everything seems nailed down in thought and 2) time is precious and is moving faster than I can comprehend.

If I had a heart, I would talk about the child too new to fit but eyes, yes, eyes. If I had a body, I would ask for another push (even harder than the last). And if I had the guts, I would consider unhinging them all and seeing where we land. But what are we unleashed, my dear? Subject to gravity’s palm? Level with the earth? Staring at the stars? But this is fiction, so we are not. If this were a poem, the meditation would go like this:

A. Draw an arrow on a page that looks like →
B. Consider it a kite
C. Now cut it’s tail

How does that feel? I want to know.


Swingset by Forrest

Round and round we go and we end up. . . back here, the last place we met before not going anywhere. The community college. With the whole swingset empty you and I had taken turns with pro and con laying out the case for attending side by side in the dead of night: forward we stay home, backward we stay home, forward we stay home, backward we stay home, and that was it basically. Couple of high school grads laughing at their own stupidity. Not embracing it. Not us. I remember something about what was it parallelism but forgot the big word of it all. Or even symmetry. Worthless. Some teacher, I guess. You define both words at length while kicking your feet up and back up and back your hair along for the ride and I only watch. And I don't argue. You're having too much fun. I'm still trying to think of a book you had read for me.


An Unscheduled Moment by Johanna

After work, she went to the grocery store. She rushed home to make dinner and watch the baby so her husband could go to the gym. Her gym night was tomorrow, but she wished it was tonight. Her body ached from sitting at a desk all day. At home, she bathed the baby, played with her, read her a story and put her to bed. She pumped more milk. She thought about a book she started when she was pregnant. She yearned to read the end, but she fell asleep before the pages fluttered open.

She woke from a nightmare, a scream held tight in her clenched jaw. She checked to see if the baby still breathed. She could not go back to sleep. She looked out the window. The moon was full. She walked onto the front stoop. The air was pleasant. She walked to the park across the street. She sat on a swing and rocked a little.

A memory occurred from years ago, when she was single and lived alone in the city and discovered a dead crow on the sidewalk, peaceful and still, as black as night. She took it to the park, hugging it close to her chest and cleared a space in the brush to bury it. She said a prayer for the dead crow and so moved by the experience, she stayed in the park late into the night, watching for shooting stars, imagining how small she was in the universe, a piece of dust.

This memory made her smile. She looked up at the stars again. She was alone. When was the last time she was alone? She realized she loved to be alone. She never knew this before when she was often alone. She leaned back and closed her eyes.

She heard an owl hoot. What a beautiful sound. When was the last time her life was quiet enough to hear an owl? Was it an owl? She hoped it was an owl. The wind picked up. She felt a chill. She worried she was not alone in the park in the dark. What time was it? Did druggies squat in this park? Wasn’t there a mugging here last month? Her robe unfurled. She closed it tightly. Did she hear the baby cry? Was her husband calling her? The owl hooted again, louder, closer. She scurried back inside.


Mind Sets by Lyle

It's a lot like tennis, swinging. Like the US Open, say. Or the pretty girl sitting next to the drug dealer -- that guy must be a drug dealer to be sitting next to her. Or the nighttime sound of helicopters as you swing quietly in the dark waiting for them to find you, and off in the distance the light from Arthur Ashe stadium illuminates the night. It might very well be a hole in the ground all the way to the other side of the earth where the sun is shining straight through. It might as well be a swing set when you think about the nothing that is your life. This swing doesn't quite reach the light. Doesn't quite match the pop of the tennis ball off the racket. Not quite the big bang, but maybe a lot like tennis. You're ready for them, but they're not ready for you. They're ready for you, but you're not ready for them. It's all the same, at rest, between sets.


Swings by Sherisse

Andy was high up in the summer air, his legs were dangling, the cool chains making indents in each brilliant palm. This swinging he hadn’t done in years, this kind of love play. He was kicking like a child and, quietly inside, he was laughing. There, against the backdrop of windowed buildings and the hollow groans of the city, I could find him. Once I pushed and pushed until he almost fell off. I felt bad about our condition but I liked watching Andy’s body in motion, meeting him in the trying. From behind, I could see his spine through his shirt and I could see his bald spot. When I pressed my palms to his low back I wondered what it would be like to have Andy’s whole long body on top of my own, if falling in love happened even when you were holding back. I guessed that Andy smelled like grass and tasted like peeled grapes; that he would be all earth in my mouth. For his birthday, I made him a cake and I put fat church candles in it. I wrote in a card, “I had two children but they fell through the earth.” That was a dream I had once; I thought he would appreciate knowing me that way, through the strange ghosts in my dreams. From the swing, his hungry body ate up the whole cake with a plastic fork. When he was done I wiped his mouth with my blouse and gave him a good, hard push. He went up into the stars like a handsome and brave bird. The night was long and in it Andy stretched out over the island. I saw him go; he was magnificent even when silent and far away.


Eurydice by Bill

There is enough of a breeze to oscillate the seats front to back but the chains make little noise from this far away and it seems like a great deal of effort to move forward, walk into the shining hours of the night when the air is violet black velvet resting against our skin. Oxygen and ozone spiced and scented by a tomorrow justice has not written off. When we can leave the wondering to hang like raindrops in the air free to be plucked from the space before our eyes by the fresh faces who will come after and the measure of exceptionalism needed to persevere will not be quite as sheer, where it won’t cost so much just to be. The loose stones and the gravel will stay bright with the moon and starlight and slip and spill when we finally build up enough speed, get high enough to hurl ourselves out into the air and feel weightless just for moment until we touch down again crumpling up in a heap to channel all that energy down on the rocks, glad that gravity still wants us enough not to let us go.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Neck of the Woods

Giraffe by Alan

If it’s the nose that grows when a lie is told, what happens when a lie is not told? When it’s stored? When it could be told but instead it stays put. An urge in reserve. In the cellar an I could say but I’d rather not. An is anyone even asking.

Perhaps it’s the neck that grows then, so in love with the swallowing. Perhaps it grows to escape its circumstances, a natural evolution type of thing. Perhaps it’s in love with the sky. Another sky? The reason for the lie?

When the lie that could have been told is never told there is a breath of fresh air, but there is also a longing. Make it a lengthening. Because the lie was never told. Because the reason for the lie has never grown old. A fairy tale, almost. A tall tale. A bulging tall tale aching for release.

And in the conclusion, a sincere attempt to recast the purity of the introduction. And in the body of the tale essay, everything is what one might imagine it is. Minus the details, of course.

Still…the better to see you with, the better to eat you with, etc. There are so many wonderful things we can do with these extensions out in the wild.


Ways to See in the Dark by Sherisse

Ah, yes. The giraffe. You asked once about the animal and its extended neck and I never answered. I may have been asleep. I was not beside you. (Not ever.) What exactly is it that you wanted to know?

Of the sky, of the behind, of the underneath, of the texture of the invisible. What the closed eyes saw, to whom the meek voice was speaking.

What it said?

To itself. What it said to itself.

There is a place near the river that reminds the giraffe of…


I have never slept there. (Not ever with you.) From this spot one witnesses, if one is paying attention, the most gentle and the most violent gestures of the current, the turning on and off of east side apartment lights. With the spooned moon in view, the pastel bridge below and inside it. The nerve of endings: where the cars go.

Now, the terrestrial animal of your mouth, its hesitant urgency.

For what do you believe it hungers?

The teacups were all along too small, the hall too narrow a place to say farewell. The giraffe wants back the hand and the lip and the little distance. The critique, the lap.

What asks?

The circuitry of the body; its continued looking. Or the gentle curiosity of just being. The question performs as if an actor in a theater. It feigns loneliness, competes for attention.

Why come back to it at all?

To know what it is to be a thing in progress that paws itself into earth and puts off dying but does not fear it.

Surely there are things missed in the interim?

If so, here, you will speak to me of them.


Serengeti Wax Animals in Their Natural Habitat by Lyle

Did you know it takes a minute for saliva to trickle down a giraffe throat? No swallowed saliva, you understand. Just dripping saliva. This was not the tour I was expecting. We’d already gotten the rhino scatological leg over with. And the elephant scrotal exhibit. Not at all what I was expecting from the Serengeti Wax Animals in Their Natural Habitat tour. And how was this wax still so… Not melted? When it was my turn to ask my one question, that would be it. That or, Why does the female water buffalo have such a large — no! Melted wax. Definitely the non-melted wax. Still the life size statues did beg the questions. The guy next to me asked about the erogenous scales of the Nile crocodile. Sucker. No one would ask about the wax, that’s for sure. I had that one. But what about that water buffalo. I mean, look at that thing! Surely there’s an interesting explanation of that particular feature. Dammit, man. Focus. Wax. Certainly, the odd postures were something, all these animals toppled. None grazing like I had read about as a boy. Or was this the way it was? The water buffalo turned up on it’s back, legs splayed. Then it was my turn to ask my question.


The Kitsch Giraffe by Forrest

Nobody believed me. Nobody wanted to go home. All we had—all we had ever had, according to them—was the kitsch giraffe, and they loved it more than home. For several days, reduced to camping out in the station wagon, relying on the convenience store for meals and washing up, my wife and children hovered near its hooves, stood underneath its pre-molded torso of fiberglass, and pondered the mysteries of its empty head as I watched. To tell them the vessel was empty was pure folly. A trucker from Texas tried his luck, first with amazement, then profanity, but I could do nothing to prevent the spectacle. It had seized them with merely a sunbeam glinting off its yellow neck. Did they still want me, the father, to stay in the picture, or had I lost my place to the kitsch giraffe. They considered this carefully at first. My feelings were at stake: I did, after all, drive them to the kitsch giraffe. I deserved some adulation. They waited for instruction, however. Something filled with that much kitsch must have a message. My wife flagged down drivers to lay Spanish candles before it. My children began constructing messianic chants out of doggerel from Bazooka Joe comics they bought in the store. We would wait, they said. And when the police arrived, they set up a cordon to safely demarcate our area, later arresting me as I tried to ram our station wagon into one of the kitsch giraffe's leg. Let me save my family, I begged them, can't you see. Can't you. Yeah yeah, we see, buddy—you've got yourself a beautiful giraffe here. You should be really proud of yourself.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Anacoluthon by Alan

When Aram Zohrab woke one day from deep in the reverie of the much-longed-for-and-recently-realized kiss, he found himself changed into a knobby and irreconcilably amphibious toad. The path that led to this discovery was, it seems, the only point. And a man becomes a toad as if a toad becomes a man. And a frog becomes a ravine in the way that I think I love impossible you and will always love the idea of.

The first thing he did that day was consider the circumstances. Like other sudden discontinues, there is no other way to say it. No familial dream, no going backwards in a fairy tale. The water flows one way and inside the most sensitive cavity an aching transformation.

The rest is, as one likes to say, historians, not so much history. He thought about the kiss much, the lips, interruption. We’re always interrupting or interrupted, aren’t we? We shift through points of view only to arrive at a single moment whose beak is both lovely and sharp, whose feathers for fancy and flight. When Aram Zohrab woke that day, he found himself. Still, but no lay trap. Just a refocusing, a conflagration of the soul in order to understand this desire, which is always reason enough.


She Tells the Houseguest by Sherisse

That still she derives some pleasure from knowing this man even though she can no longer sit in the same room with him or listen to the sound of his voice. She has had to make his aches and pleasures irrelevant. But she keeps him near her neck and ear and she imagines that he whispers something about Césaire or Tranströmer in the middle of the night because he suspects that she is particularly interested in the aesthetics of loneliness and in her mind, or someplace, they go on together about what is real and where the real resides. The conversation was charged, made her spine light up like a thing on the brink of death.

He was the kind of would-be lover who could, without knowing it, make her feel acute grief and if not grief then pure and pungent longing. She would tell him this; she knew that he was amused by it. And once they walked together along that stretch of highway where all things appear trapped beneath the earth and asphalt and on and on that summer just after the baby, several babies not belonging to each other, were born.

And all the items that once must have belonged to nature, or the absence of it, the possibility of it, now organized themselves into shapes not that orient but that absorb noise and imagination and all the rest of it. She had asked this before: what would be there now if they returned to it, what odd creatures and non-native trees and what stars and what atmosphere of innocence and would it be enough to get them lost in that whisper just under the things not said.

The actual lines were strewn throughout the house, the fragments and notes and bits of his beard. The awkwardness of sudden closeness, like looking into a mirror and seeing your own ghost. The shock, finally, of his presence. How visible she had made herself.

But now she was repeating things. The houseguest with the toad around his neck had said nothing this whole time, not even when desperate she asked like a sick child for a cure. He inquired instead about her dreams. He was interested in the dialogue and laundry of sleep. She was suddenly possessive, unable or unwilling to give anything away. She didn’t have the courage to apologize. In this country there could be no proof of his ever having been there. The houseguest would have to leave and return empty-handed.


Conviction by Forrest

Toads are not the best of animal friends one can stumble upon in the forest primeval, but sometimes it's best to make a go of things with them when you're lost because ugliness, too, is entertaining: it makes you feel less stupid for getting lost in the first place. The rough part comes when you unlose yourself by finding a cabin inhabited by a pair of convicted criminals on the lam. Taken by surprise, they'll see you with the toad in hand and ask, Whatchoo doin with that toad in your hand, mister? Now since you may not know that these two are escaped cons (though the matching jumpsuits are trying to tell you otherwise), you would be inclined to say, Bad luck repellant; however, following a newfound instinct being slowly sharpened by your current predicament of walking lost in the woods, you say instead, That's between me and my toad. The entreaty of privacy, though resembling zoophilia somewhat, could, in fact, earn you a certain respect with these two—and sure enough, it does. They start laughing wildly. A stupid question to begin with. We're all friends now! Bring the toad inside—we got plenty a dead bugs for it. You politely turn down the offer. It's getting dark, you explain, and you've been wandering lost long enough. It's time to get home. They stop laughing. The short one looks at the tall one, and it's the tall one says, This is your home. It occurs to you then that these are the handsomest strangers you've ever been suspicious about. Maybe the tall one is right. One place is good as another, and you seem to forget at that moment any of the former comforts you enjoyed at wherever you were living before you got lost. You're just as handsome as these two men—perhaps more so since, unlike them, you have a full head of wavy hair. Three handsome men living in a cabin in the woods. There's a poetry to this scenario you can't recall from something you've read before, but it doesn't matter. Feeling a tinge of jealousy, you place the toad on the ground; immediately it bounds away from you. The short one slaps you on the back. Tells you it'd be happier outside instead. You would very much like to believe him as you walk up the wooden steps to the entrance with the tall one right behind you, watching the toad knife into the bushes from the clearing, but the cabin feels so much warmer. There's a fire waiting inside. Yes, there must be.


As Earth Had Shaped Them by Bill

Simple and shaped by calm as the rolling of stones through the ages of the earth, collecting rainwater in time’s basement, listening as it flows down the face of the rock, seeps through the stone to drip a far falling echo when it lands, the humming murmuration of it in the pipes once the walls have closed in on mornings framed by progress. Understanding taking the shape of people, mimicking their behavior while struggling to act in accordance with the rough chaos of their logic. A quiet response to a call it took a long time to make. There is a bit of the stretch left and the frustration of hope.


Qualia by Lyle

The old toad froze, contemplating, one might imagine, life. Not in that fight-or-flight way of most amphibians but in another way all together. Considering the afterlife, such that it is (it is!), of a toad. Surely swampy. Filled with those fast moving challenges to satiation -- making them all the more tantalizing and rewarding (one might say, more heavenly, even). Or perhaps we image this old toad contemplating the wind-skimmed, fractured reflection of the pond. What would it be like to hop on a ray of light? What is this qualia qua qualia that is perhaps something other than just fight or flight. What is this leaping sensation?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sugar, Chef's Quality

Maybe, Sugar by Alan

Sweetness, why do we sway in the trees so? Where is it that those sudden wings fold in genuflections over hidden earths? What is it that the thirsty man said to the breeze before it lifted his desire and turned it into a dove?

This month we want nothing but questions, for the child has not yet begun to read. One might be a photograph, a play of light. Another the trace of a breast. There are things sought after in this world, and there are things that never leave one’s side. This is a kind of maxim he will most assuredly learn, another punctuation mark with which he will fall in love.

Can we meet again? At the end of this month. At the counter where we first met. I’ll be done with a set of words and walking home. It will be spring, finally. I will stare through the glass and look for you amongst the faces. There we will find a space in the dark to exchange dresses. I always thought there was a chance that you were the voice I spoke to long ago, the one in the perhaps dream. What is it about memory that leaves certain probable holes - space for the tasting, taste for lasting – that are inevitably filled with sugar, more sugar? I will meet you there.


Some Other Ghost by Sherisse

Over crepes, Ellie said that she believed her husband was falling in love with me and asked whether I, too, was falling in love with him. There were pink peonies on the table that looked as though they had just bloomed. Outside it was hot and we’d agreed we would sit indoors where it was air conditioned. We were both wearing dresses that covered our knees. I laughed when I heard the question, or just a moment after. Ellie’s face grinned but only slightly. I looked over at the bar and the band performing Chris Isaak’s, Wicked Game. I noticed how few people were dining at this early hour on a weeknight. I was chewing and pointed at my mouth to indicate that I would answer her question but needed more time. Her gaze was fixed on me but friendly. It was as though she’d just asked for something that belonged to her and was simply waiting, patiently, for me to retrieve it.

We'd been seeing each other, the three of us, for several weeks. I wasn’t yet sure if this was a relationship, if I would even call it that, nor what was expected of me. And it was that thing – expectation – which I had been trying to deflect since the first conversation. I had wanted to be a passerby, or a participant from a distance. But now we were here, she and I, on a date that started with a stroll through Chelsea and would end with a kiss on the Highline. We hadn't gotten to that part yet. Soon we would order coffee. The coffee would arrive in bowls. She would add sugar to hers and I would have mine unsweetened. This detail seemed to signify some greater difference: the fact that Ellie had a husband and I did not or, perhaps more accurately, that she had made a choice to become someone’s wife whereas I had not ever believed I could fully inhabit such a thing.

Eventually some words strung themselves together. “I may be falling in love with him,” I said, “but we can’t yet know what is reality and what is fantasy.” I paused there. Ellie seemed satisfied as she exhaled. I thought her satisfaction might have more to do with the fact that she had asked the question in the first place, found a confidence she didn’t know she possessed.

After the Highline I found my way back to my Queens apartment. In the soothing dark I wept for some past not yet washed away or disposed of or gone. It was as if Ellie had asked what other secrets I'd been keeping. I hadn't realized I'd been keeping any at all. I may have been falling in love with her husband – with her, even – but there was some other ghost. I took the peonies home with me that night, not the flowers themselves but a photograph. I would go on looking after them in solitude as if they were an extension of our own – Ellie’s and mine – forgotten, or lost, beauty.


Sweet Tea by Lyle

Sweet tea with Susie under the pecan trees in the afternoon when it was still not so hot to sit out under the trees and drink sweet tea with Susie. But that was some time ago before the rain. Before the rain was sweet tea with Susie. And then the rain left us separated; a rain is a sliver that separates. A woodpecker in the savaged trees. The foreignness of bridges. Homes stolen for bridges. Sweet Susie under a pecan tree, still under, where I drive a nail into the trunk and think about sweet sweet tea with Susie. No more with sweet Susie.


Sweetness by Johanna

For the first eighteen years, I lived in a marsh. We ate rice, mushrooms, watercress, fish, frogs and ducks. My skin flaked with green scales. I made friends with flies and lizards. My eyes yellowed and twitched.

I picked my mom a bouquet of asters, marigolds and rose mallow. They dried to dust under the window. The only music I knew came from my dad's fiddle and he never played it very well. I found a magazine once at the side of the old county road. The pages torn and wrinkled from rain. I brought it home and hid it under my pillow. At night I searched the pages in the moonlight. It was all about cars. Red cars. Fast cars. Electric cars. Trucks and wagons. I was shocked to learn that people cared so much for cars. So much that a whole magazine could be devoted to them. We never had a car. Only a row boat.

My dad found the magazine and burned it in the yard with the trash.“It's just trash,” he said. “You don't need to be reading that junk.” I couldn't read anyway.

Then there was the fisherman. He called me pretty. News to me. He saw that I was feral and he pulled prizes from his pocket. A wooden token, paper clip, pen cap, rubber band, glass bead-- his pocket seemed infinite-- brass key, earring, button, broken chain, and the best prize of them all, a dirty, torn packet of sugar.“Try it,” the fisherman said.

He took me away that night and I never returned. I had never known such sweetness.


After a Dying Ray by Bill

It’s a sweet chance and we had to take our shot. The train was getting ready to leave, ahead of schedule, a bit of secret advance we’d managed to scrap up. Normally we were all thumbs on the pulse of things, and our hearts were never that strong to begin with – often we got knocked out before we even knew we didn’t know anything. But the train was a change and the train was the whole bowl of wax where it wouldn’t matter why we couldn’t hack it. If we got this one thing right, had a choice between the convalescent and the moribund then it was worth it to take a roll of the bones and see if it came up white.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Options by Alan

It was 1995, and the world seemed fine. After they got off the plane, the boys rented a car to find James, who was said to be at the Peace Festival at the foot of the range. A totem of sorts. Some place where the placards would go. A makeshift town circle. These were the notes. See you there in the morning.

For city folk, the mountains aren’t that unfamiliar. The steel is traded for soil…the height is still an inclination to believe in God. People still like to climb. The smells are different. That’s about it, might be a conclusion. But for suburbanites, there is something alien in the purity. A shameful dislocation for at least one in the group. He did not mention it to the others.

The mission to find James began with a map, several hoods, understanding of one’s breath at these heights, and ended with a tent tucked into the folds of the earth. He was with a lover, and so easily he made his departure, as if it were premeditated by at least one of the two of them. Then the options. Boys always like to believe in options. It’s almost as if their world depended on the right to view the land, the world even, from some serious and foreign height. They wore boots for it. They came prepared for what they thought was necessary, part of the deal.

For a moment, everything was still, and something felt familiar. It may have been the way the clouds descended over the tip of the thing and came to a spot just above the heart. And the way what was below was firm and hard. The top, the thinking, a mystery. The ground, an exhortation, a plea. Somewhere in between blood and guts. Branches reaching for understanding.

James placed a hand on a shoulder. Let’s get out of here, one of them said, the words like striations of earth carving out the landscape, which was otherwise miles of intractable snow.


Eloquent Disappearance by Sherisse

They could see from the bedroom window that the light had changed and the sun had started to set. Although she couldn’t navigate very well in the dark, not even with her glasses on, they decided to take the drive anyway. She had wanted to see The Cloisters, she said. She had not visited the gardens in over a decade and she missed their private and quiet beauty. She had not intended to arrive necessarily; she knew they might have to turn back. She wanted at least to experience the drive and, if lucky, to experience the reconfigured landscape, even if only from a distance, to rearrange the body according to elevation. To fall, obedient. She had kissed her first lover there (in a parked silver Honda beside the museum), a French-speaking girl several years older. In the middle of that darkness existed a more subjective longing and she wanted to go back to it again, to show him its lush and organized interior. There she had known, felt more directly, the true clasp of desire: they had fogged the windows and laughed, taken their clothes off and climbed on top of each other. This – the drive on this particular night – felt like a study, an academic experiment. There was the timing to mind, the now unfamiliar road, the limited light and all the other facts, how the car would have to be parked – and then what? She had pondered these things prior to the climb with him. Earlier, she had pressed her mouth to his fingertips and tasted into despair, into their needing a way out of stillness, the pursuit of some less linear ascent. They had agreed: if the top of the park was reached, they would not abandon each other. Instead, at the point of entry, they would disappear – one and then the other or both simultaneously – and they had discussed how the signage on the road would fall from view, all forms of report. The days between then and now would stretch sorely into some lovely birth, a more endless reflexive looking. Into their unspoken words, a timid light would pour. “Try it,” she had said, the mouth already filling with absence, folding in like a loose and tender leaving. The car would remain in neutral; some previous and perfect version would find the evening, reach in to rescue the blessedness of its architecture.


Past Due by Johanna

The only skin exposed burned at the top of his cheeks where the eyes begin their thoughtful burrow into the skull. The blowing snow pounded on his chest (his heart just a mumble) so that he had to hold his head down to withstand the force. This was the way home, or so he hoped. The landscape barren of markers, a white horizon blurred with the sky. He turned left at the last sign of civilization long ago and followed the sun (a muffled glow in the clouds that must be the sun) westward, back to her. He remembered her plum lips and the way she always kept a candle burning in the window for him. He shivered. His feet disappeared deep into the numb of snow. His pace slowed. He wondered if she’d ever forgive him.


Arms by Lyle

In the light of the TV, which flashed blue light across his legs outside the covers, he considered turning up the volume so he could hear what statistics they found about the batter. Maybe that the last time he was up and it was his birthday, he had hit a home run. Or had been beaned. Haha. Yeah, maybe that was it. What are the chances he gets beaned again? Very slim. Very slim that he would be here. Alone. Watching baseball. But there he was, a thousand miles from everything wishing that he wasn't. Somehow the tilt and pitch of the television light helped. Somehow the blur of arms and then getting ready again for the blur of arms... What was he thinking anyway? He sighed and turned off the TV. Outside, moonlight off the snow.