Pieces

She arrived broken, pieces of herself missing – but it wasn’t her fault, really.

The factory sent her that way.

It was a shipping error of sorts, a mistake made somewhere deep in the bowels of the warehousing department, and before any of the fine folks at LifeLike Robotic Industries, Inc. knew something was amiss, parts of her had been scattered across the country, delivered to unsuspecting and very confused consumers.

One beautifully sculpted arm ended up in Indianapolis, Indiana; another in Portland, Maine; a leg somehow found its way to Billings, Montana; and one single, perfect, painfully beautiful eye found itself all alone, blind, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And so, she was left to hop along the hallways of her new home, unfinished, an incomplete being, and all the while her new owner thought just how unfair this all really was.

 

© 2014 Dave Novak

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I’d Swing

Walking a little closer,

My shadow closes in and grows

Blocking the sun.

I grab the rope and pull it towards me,

Clinging to the laughter.

I shut my eyes

And swing

Back and forth. Unaware

Of time slowly weaving

Little webs, wrapping us together.

 

If I could,

I would swing

While the sun rises and sets

Until the branch sags

And my feet scrape the ground.

Back and forth,

As if nothing would change.

 

But time is pushing forward,

Even if I am ever-swinging.

I open my eyes and

Walk away. 

 

© 2014 Marie Ceske

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Rivers

The girl believed in miracles.

In darkness when everyone else was asleep she lay facedown on her bedroom floor praying for God to give her the miracle of blood. She wanted God to drill the divine nail holes in the palms of her hands and feet. She wanted to feel the wounds of the savior.

So she prayed that way every night. Arms straight as iron in prostration before the open pages of the book about saints that she bought for fifty-cents at the Goodwill.

The book’s spine was as loose as an accordion and some of the pages had water stains like tree rings on their corners. The only reason she got the battered old thing in the first place was because she liked the glossy illustrations inside.

The girl spent hours looking at the vivid paintings of the dead saints. She had memorized the deaths of the saints by arrows, bonfires, drownings, lions, and beheadings.

What fascinated her most was how their eyes were always looking up to heaven. Like they could see God. She wanted to see God too.

It wasn’t easy to talk to God at first. She had not been born to any particular devotion or faith that exalted the saints or believed in miracles. No one in her family, for that matter, knew much about God.

In the beginning she stumbled through her prayers and often fell asleep before God could answer them. When she woke up she’d frantically check her bare feet and hands for any sign of nail-holes, turning them in the light over and over in search of even the faintest scratch.

But there were never any. Just the chill and stiffness of sleeping on floor with her head cradled on her elbow.

She believed the miracle would come someday. It had to.

Last year her mom married a man who lived in a house outside the city limits. She had just turned twelve and the man started touching her when they were alone. He told her that her mother would get angry if she found out about what they were doing.

But the girl believed that even the smallest drop from her hands and feet would stop the man from coming to her bedroom when the moon was high over the treetops.

*

Today was special because the town would celebrate the festival of the veiled saint. She had even fasted yesterday in preparation for the event.

Devotees of the saint believed that a mysterious holy woman in a black veil had preached among the Indians before discovery. The saint, according to lore, bore the marks of crucifixion on her hands. Rome had never recognized her, but the lady saint was still popular in the river town.

The main church where she lived held a festival to commemorate her mission to the Indians. The saint’s day ended with a ceremony where a raft covered with candles and flowers and a statue of the veiled woman was launched on the river.

The festival was important for the town. In the week leading up to the fair, craftsmen sold slender wood carvings of the holy lady at flea market stalls.

At dawn she rose from her prayers, gently closing the book and wrapping it in a piece of brown burlap. She had stolen the cloth from box of scrap materials in art class at school. She did not think God would hold it against her.

She hid the book in the space between the radiator and wall beneath the window. When she pressed her face against the cold window pane, her breath left a mist on the glass. She wrote her name in the condensation. At her closet, she pulled a sweater out of the pile of clothes on the floor. It was the nicest one she had.

She made her way on tiptoes to the kitchen. The light was off, but she jerked back startled when she saw her mother in the half-darkness. The ember from the woman’s cigarette glowed brightly with each puff.

The girl flipped on the light switch. The ashtray next to an empty bottle was piled with cigarette butts. The woman clutched a pair of soiled underwear in her hand. Bloodstains on the garment. It was the girls.

The girl stammered excuses, trying to explain what the man had been doing to her, but the mother slapped her face. The woman yelled that she knew what was happening. The girl was trying to ruin a good thing, she said, trying to tear her and the man apart with her goddamn lies. The mother called the girl a little whore with a little whore’s eyes and a little whore’s mouth and a little whore’s ways.

*

The girl ran from their house to the town square. By the time she reached the place a crowd had already formed there. The festival was underway.

The women of the parish had made a paper mache model of the saint and placed her on a flower-strewn platform in preparation for the river launching. An early morning wind ruffled the silk veil on the saint’s face. The girl almost caught a glimpse of her waxy visage.

She needed to get closer to the statue. She had read that the saint sometimes answered people’s prayers.

She knew she’d have to be careful. The girl didn’t want to make the holy woman jealous. She needed the saint, now in heaven, to listen to her pleas on this special day.

The girl elbowed her way between the people to where the priest was picking out the men who would bare the veiled saint to the riverbank by lottery.

He read out numbered ping pong balls as the girl asked the saint to whisper her request in Jesus or God’s ear. In all the priest called out six names. When he summoned the men, they approached the platform with the statue and bent down wordlessly, heaving the saint skyward on their shoulders with poles.

A band accompanied the saint-bearers as they moved through the crowd. Some people cried out. When the saint passed close to her, the girl’s lips uttered one last supplication for the sign of the messiah’s wounds to fall upon her like lightning bolts. But the only blood to trickle in her hands came from the quarter-moon marks in the soft flesh her hands. She had pressed her fingernails deep into the skin on her palms.

The crowd lurched onward, writhing in the wake of the statue, passing stall games, food courts and vendors with items of religious devotion for sale under billowing tents.

The girl prayed harder when they reached the station where people tossed rose petals and coins in the saint’s path. The silver money flashed in shining arcs before they hit the pavement spinning amid dings.

The girl did not know if it was a vision, but in her mind’s eye she imagined the palms of her hands and feet oozing blood and the men dropping the effigy of the saint and running back to her instead to lift her up on their shoulders.

The girl then saw the men carrying her back to her house for her mom and the man to see her with her hands jutted high to heaven in a visible sign of holiness. The town would not need to celebrate the nameless veiled woman anymore. Even the saint would understand. The girl would be a living sign to the people.

The vision came with a knee-wobbling weakness. It flooded across her. She leaned against a brick storefront but then the cramps came like clawing. She closed her eyes. After the pain she felt something damp in her pants, near her sex.

Her heart sunk as the loud cries of adoration rose around her. This was not the blood she wanted.

When she opened her eyes she had lost sight of the saint. She had blacked out. A few others from the crowd, overtaken by emotion, lay weeping on the sidewalk and road.

She rose, feeling the wetness spreading in the crouch of her pants. She pulled her sweater off and tied it around her waist like a skirt. The pain returned, but the procession to the riverside was moving too fast for her to catch up.

She looked at the crying people around her and the last of the saint followers. She could not go home now. Not with her unmarked hands. Her mother would be even more drunk by now. Then the man would come to her room. She knew he would be rougher than before.

She pulled the sweater lower. The crowd was out of sight, but she did not feel like crying anymore. She leaned against the wall and slid down slowly.

She closed her eyes. The sun was warm on her face. She felt free. Everything about her. Her slow breathing with gravity losing its hold. Like rising. She could sense herself floating with the land rolling up beneath like a scroll. Feel the wind as she glided with her arms spread and her body bending gently with the contours of the land. Moving faster beyond the town and the house and the forest to the river’s edge. A place where she could ease her body into the swirling brown waters and drift south to where the river becomes the sea. Like the saint.

 

© 2014 Tom Darin Liskey 

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NOCTURNAL

striped face
sharp claws
black and white

turns evening
to creeping shadow

stalks the cat
steals the grapes

chews the moon
with running shadow

drums the roof
under busy feet

shortens sleep
until night flees

she climbs a tree
and eats the plums
at dawn

© 2014 Joanna M. Weston

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Bear Among the Dogs

I used to work for the Bear when he was young and strong. It hurts me to see him old and half-lame. But he’s still the Bear. I was there in Archie’s last year when he took on the gringo.

I talk about those times with Bear to anyone who will listen, but some of it is mierda. My wife, she say, “Old days fade and turn into mentiras.” Now I live behind these thick glasses and work in a hardware store in Raton, and the Bear . . . . he never figured that age would catch him. He planned to be young forever. Nowadays a big bushy white beard hangs on his chest, and his hair is white too, and his back kills him most of the time. Bear, he is like the rest of us. He never saved a dime, so here he is at sixty-three still taking people from the city out to fish and sometimes to hunt. He lives in a single-wide he bought in 1972, lives there with his third wife Jennie, the only smart one he ever married. Or she married him.

That last time I saw him, before they took him away, I was in Archie’s Beer Barn, like I said. Archie’s real name is Celestino Archueleto and he runs this bar in a metal building out near Cimarron, mostly for us Latinos. Sometimes Bear would come by.

 

Bear, he’s white and a guide in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Used to be one of the best. In the old days, we ranged all seasons and all country. We carried pale white men back into the mountains for their moment of glory, their cuento de muerte. Bear was part of the mountain – he knew where the animals would feed, where the fish would hide, where the turkeys, they would roost. He acted like a bear too – you could never tell what he was thinking by looking at him.

That day in Archie’s, Bear wore what he always wore, a big dirty coat made out of an Indian blanket, with jeans and boots. Pushed back on his head he had a sweated-out felt cowboy hat with a snakeskin band – a snake he killed himself, years ago. His big belly hung out and he shuffled along like his back hurt, but he had a wave and a hello for everyone. I had hunkered down with some of my friends in the corner, and Bear stopped to talk for a bit. He told us he was down to one truck and one tent.

En buenos tiempos, we kept a full camp, horses and a couple of jeeps. It was our job to pick the sportsmen up at the airport, set up their tents, feed them and pour liquor in them. It was our job to throw them up on the horses, take them to the animal, skin and slaughter the animal once it was dead. Nothing in this was a bad thing. Bear, he respected the animal and its death. Also, the kill by the sportsman – en júbilo for the hunter and good to see. Most of these rich white men, they wanted to be Bear’s friend, so that was okay too. I was Bear’s Mexican, there to cook and wrangle horses, but I’m pretty agringado myself, white enough to keep everyone comfortable. The big thing for me? I got to work in la hermosa tierra de mundo. Until Bear went broke.
Like an animal, Bear don’t live in the past. So we visited about what he had coming up. Outside of coyotes near his casa, he hadn’t shot anything in months – still, he thought he’d make an elk hunt in the Fall. He also thought he’d go fishing soon, and we made noises like we would go too. Then he clomped over to the bar to visit with Archie.

Archie’s, it don’t see many outsiders, but every once in a while, guys out on a road trip together pull up. They park their cars or their bikes or their RVs and they stroll in to soak up Archie’s beer. This day, a bunch of Anglo guys out of Albuquerque had drove up in their Corvettes. They must have been in some kind of car club, a club based on how much they could spend on a toy with four big wheels and a cloth roof. They all chose tables way across the room from us and Archie waddled out from behind the bar to take their orders.

Things went fine for a while. There’s always un buen tipo who can talk to anybody, and so it was this time. This nice guy in shorts and a big fat nose wanders over and we visit for a while. He was retired, but he used to be in the concrete business, so we talked about that, about pouring foundations in the winter, about how far you can truck a wet load. He visited with Archie too and spoke to Bear. His buddies and him, they milled around for about an hour sloshing down the beer.

But if there’s a nice guy in a crowd, there’s also someone ugly, who gets uglier when he drinks. These Corvette drivers had a loudmouth in a nylon jacket, dark hair slicked back from his face. He sat there wavin’ his hands and talking up his opinions pretty estridente. It turns out he was muncho importante, and of course we wasn’t. He had been in lots of great places, and this wasn’t one of ‘em. He drove a great car, and the folks around here, we drove rusty pieces of shit. He was right – we drive what we drive and we buy what we can afford – old men and old trucks.

So Mr. Slick Jacket trots up to the bar to order another round of beer and he talks to Bear while he’s there. First he calls him Cowboy and then he calls him Old Man. Two other guys amble up and lean on the bar too, one beside Bear and the other near his friend, just to be close to Hombre Muncho Importante. Mr. Jacket, he asks Bear, “Do you know you look like Santa Claus with a ponytail?”

Bear takes all this real mild, just sits there on the bar stool. Then the stranger starts in on the White Thing. He says, “Do you actually drink with those dirty Mexicans in the corner?” Meaning me y mi amigos.

I thought Bear was an old man, past all this, but once an animal learns something, it must not forget. Bear jabbed out at this pendejo, fast like a snake – he slammed the heel of his hand into the guy’s nose. Then he grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw la cabeza del hombre down onto the bar, uno, dos, tres. Bam bam bam! The guy folded up like a pile of clothes on the floor at Bear’s feet. The other two Anglos, they closed up quick on Bear and he jumped to his feet. He spun on his toes to face the one and then to face the other.
A long time ago I seen a pack of dogs corner a bear up against a cliff, and it looked just like this. Them hounds would charge in on the bear’s back and he would spin around to try and catch them. This bear grabbed two or three perros and mauled them up quick. This was casi lo mismo, as Bear twisted from one to the other. He held them off with his mal de ojo and his stone face.

Archie had been caught sleeping, but he hustled out from behind the bar with a baseball bat in his hands. He sidled in between Bear and the other guys at the bar and waved that bat around saying, “Now – Now – Now.” The whole crowd of Anglo guys all jerked up from their tables and come running over. The young ones turned all red-face-angry and the old ones grey-shook-up, but they added up to a pack. We Latinos, we nailed our colillas to the chair. Bear might have been my boss once, but brown skins don’t have brawls with white skins and get away with it. I felt real bad about it, but I didn’t do nothing dumb.

Archie stuck the bat out to let them know he’d handle things, not them. The friendly gringo we first talked to helped Mr. Jacket to his feet, got him a bar rag to hold on his face. We could all tell this loudmouth needed the medics – he had left a couple of his teeth stuck in the bar. If Mr. Jacket got hauled off to Emergency, there would be a police report. So Bear, he’d have to have a long talk with the Sheriff.

Bear stared at the bloody-faced man, and he smiled like the sun come up. He turns to Archie and says, “After you call the ambulance and the police, maybe I can call my wife? I bet you they send me to County for this one. Jennie will want to know where I am tonight.”

 

That loudmouth, he got his cuento del vergüenza, beat up by an old man, and Bear got to feel young again. All of us in the corner, we was surprised. We had never known what Bear was thinking. All those years, him the Anglo and us the Mesicans. But somewhere in there he must have been thinking we Latinos were okay. Or at least we weren’t the dogs. Bueno.

© 2014 Scott Archer Jones

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“Detroit, Elegy for a Hometown” and “West Coast Rain”

Detroit,
Elegy for a Hometown

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

-The Third Man

 

You’re bullied in the fast lane, trampled in the market.
They nab your Wolverine pencilcase, flap it on its hinges
shake out its contents and malcontents, rattle your fired up pistons.

 

You follow with your eyes the dotted lines as they pirouette neatly away.
Your back’s against the wall, against the iridescent river with
five flailing limbs reaching out for fairer friends.

 

 

You first held me in the backseat of an Oldsmobile
arms pinned down, pink blanket wound round
as we followed the salt truck through Southfield

 

 

Your leader’s indicted and cited for perjury, a felony
so the zoo staff will blend his name into the Serengeti sunset
that glubglubglubs your water down from that belly by the freeway

 

with the motorcar unionist’s moniker, a slapdash path that cuts a swath
across your east to west and intersects the capitalist fat cats themselves
your people’s midterm gods of repetitive tasks, penance for entrepreneurs.

 

 

From Grandma’s porch swing just over the wall
we could hear your lions pace and finally fall asleep
while all the city’s mothers called us home to dinner

 

 

Once a railroad, underground, then overground, a station!
You were made of marble once, Corinthian pillared, vaulted, grand.
In public even, you shined and bathed your citizens in echo.

 

Now you merely move people, people with chili sauce crusted on their chins
from block to block of coney islands, pit-stops on the pilgrimage
to the cathedral of finance, where once was martyred nothing but leisure.

 

 

 

On your muggiest nights, we stormed Dairy Queen
biked there barefoot, swarmed under the Motown speakers
to eat footlongs and Dilly bars amongst the classic cars

 

 

You were the arsenal of democracy, the color-blind creator of B-24s
and race-related resentment, a melting pot of simmering tensions.
In the middle of a world war, you held a home-grown riot.

 

Later you had a revolution. There was a time of national guardsmen, of tanks.
But what did they guard? A gilded age past, passed away long before
any Vietnam vets or displaced cogs crowded the blind pig that Sunday.

 

 

Some weekends we just left you, took our Kroger’s bags
to the apple orchards beyond your suburbs or to the
cider mill and ate donuts while we watched the wheel spin

 

 

When the nation’s noble taps ran dry, your purple gang stepped in.
And on your neighbor’s generosity you simply brimmed with Jazz-age spirit
sipped from outboard motorboats and the backs of black Cadillacs.

 

You don’t drink so much now, but you gamble, just a pocketful of deeds left:
a temple of books, a museum of art, and a pair of ballparks. No card shark,
you need a miracle, or better, a renaissance. We hope for better things.

© 2014 Holly Painter
 
 
 

West Coast Rain

The earth has lost its gravity
The oceans are getting loose

We say it rains, down from the sky
but it rains up too, just more invisibly
Evaporation

a tumbling rinse cycle between ocean and clouds
the earth’s extra skin
its rain-coat

a clinging layer of grey fuzz like stubble
and bad breath after three days
spent in a tent

that’s a solid six on the waterproof
scale of one to submarine
(where submarine means “watertight,

submergable to fifty fathoms,”
not “underwater”) but today
is underwater

only half an inch, but that
half inch is where everything sits
isn’t it?

Clothes, food, books, phone, and you
zipped in your sleeping bag
(a seven or eight), naked

no longer bothering to wring out your singlets
or bail out your tent
just waiting

for sea and sky to finish their exchange
waiting for the earth to hold its oceans close again

 

© 2014 Holly Painter

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Moss

Act I

Our protagonist moss appears on a slope denuded of invasive ivy, some of it poisonous, torn out by the roots. The north slope, of course. The north is where the moss comes from, and the north is where the moss settles. Why? Because moss is green and the north is white and they must bid each other adieu, mismatched lovers? Or because the north is generous and gift-giving? Here, says the north, I send you…moss.

Possibly, but if that were so, wouldn’t the north perform such a feat by means of its whistling, tumultuous wind? And if that were so, wouldn’t the north wind, in contrast to all other winds, be tinctured green because it bears within it not just snow and sleet but minuscule spores of moss by the millions and billions?

We take our characteristic stance in evaluating which way the wind is blowing and where north lies. This means we cock our heads. This means we feel with our faces, then resort to our wetted fingers, then look up at the leaves to see how they flutter, then stare into the azure absence of the sky and use the cloud banks as background to detect that subtle hue of the most subtle of all heroes, moss.

Not there. No intimation of wind-borne moss aloft and at ease with its green tail snapping through the heavens. Therefore we look down at our feet and wonder: Did it somehow crawl from the north? Is it not the north’s gift but its escapee?

These vaguely troubling thoughts yield more vaguely troubling thoughts. Did we–you and I– step on moss while walking in the woods, unintentionally crushing it, so that some squashed specks clung to the soles of our massive boots (relatively speaking), hopped the wall with us, and brought that first microscopic colony of spores into our lives? Quite possibly we’ve been hitchhiked. Quite possibly we and the moss are fatefully intertwined.

Moss is very slow. It evaluates and acquires land not by invasion but more by the mystery of not-there and then there, simply there, one faint brushstroke, then another and another. In painting this is called impasto, a thickening texturing of the oils that gives them depth, a glistening geography. Although you should never run your hand over a painting to feel its ridges and valleys and rivers and plains, you absolutely must run your hand over moss to feel its comparable wonders.

Moss is velvety, spongy, delicate and yet resilient. We want our fingers, our cheeks, even our chests to touch it. Moss wants this, too. She’s feminine, moss. Our protagonist is feminine, a vulnerable heroine who crumbles into a kind of nothing if we do not treat her gently. Those glistening mounded archipelagoes must be caressed, not roughly robbed of their life-giving patina of moisture.

For of course our moss, all moss, is moist. Moisture stirs it to explore the stillest, most beautiful places: the overhanging bank of a stream, where moss embroiders itself; in between the bricks of the walkway and flagstones of the patio, up tree trunks and rain spouts.

Almost anywhere, in fact. Moss several inches thick covers rooftops in Japan. Old roofs, ancient roofs, forever roofs. Yes, it’s so. As long as there is a north, there will always be moss, and how can there never be a north? If there were no north, there would be no other directions either. We would be lost, tossing and turning in a bundle of chaos very much like…moss.

Act II

In this theater of our lives, where we are sporadically attentive, welcoming intermissions, adjusting ourselves in our seats, daydreaming, we haven’t been aware how dramatically the barren stage has been transformed over the years by the plush, familiar, restful, sweet presence of moss building up its role, acquiring what we call character, exposing itself openly through sheer, abandoned repose. Then we feel a draft, a mere puff, a breath of air warm and sensuous, almost an erotic tickle. No one, thought we, ever considered us out here in the darkness of merely being ourselves. We have had little role and no character until this light whisper grazed our faces and throats and ruffled our hair. Nor wanted any. If life was to be a drama of moss, then let us, as near as possible, be moss ourselves.

But we are listening and alert now. Not moss-like. Within the moss and yet beyond the moss.

Above the north slope stand the oaks, the pear tree, the walnut and dogwood watching the moss as we watch the moss, beginning to realize that the moss has become so lush that exploring it the way one would explore a lover’s body has become forbidden. That’s what we heard and felt, a sigh. Our sigh. Somehow the moss has told us that after all these years it has acquired an untouchable beauty and we may not go there. It’s too beautiful. It’s too intriguingly sensuous and shadowy and multi-hued and vulnerable.

We are now in a precarious equipoise, our lives here, the moss’s life there. It is sickening to know that, wrenching. No wonder that after so much silent inattentive, imperfect worship we sighed, beauty having transcended us, beauty having left us behind.

Briefly one morning a mushroom appears and then goes away. Another three or four appear and go away. A storm snaps off thin branches and they pierce the moss like arrows and remain stuck there. Life and death, mushrooms and spindly branches, the eyes and the heart, the past and the present, the mystery of the topology of the flowing, thickening, imperceptibly living, glistening moss and that soft draft, that whispering message, that omen brushing our skin.

We dare not go out and remove the arrow-branches. The mushrooms? We would never step on them as when we were kids. This drama, in its second act, has managed some kind of pivot. The moss has become a kind of mirror that reflects nothing but itself and yet contains us within it. There lie our hearts. We are in the moss’s coils. All these years we have loved and adored it and more than that: believed in it and its secrets, which were our secrets, shared with no one including ourselves…until now.

Thankfully, we are seated because the antagonist is among us, and we know who he is: each of us in our fated way, each of us less dazzling than the moss, aging less beautifully than the moss.

In counterpoint more than one of us thinks that the moss, then, is the villain, not us. What a thought, what a betrayal, but understandable. Behold, the grave blanket from the north spreading our way, mortality tearing at our joints, making our lips crack and fingers ache while the moss heals its own wounds, ever more dazzling, ever more lush and profound.

Moss, we think, stay where you are.

Moss, we think, now that you are among us, between our toes, climbing our ankles, just as we once dreamed, be slower than ever before.

For at last we grasp this drama’s meaning and burden. What we felt for the story of the moss isn’t what the moss felt. The moss is not heartless or cruel, far from it, but it is forever and we are not.

© 2014 Robert Earle

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