Adam King, “Tribal Letter”

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Tribal Letter

This is not my confession,
it is my burning refuge.
These sticks, these words
I have come to light up
speak of the villages, encampments, and towns.
In a drought, people go hungry
or they learn to eat fire.

I remember a children’s game
in which no one would hold my hand.
And a Mexican hat dance my class performed
but I alone had no partner.
I was given the crusts, crumbs,
the days-old bread of being alone.

Myself, so long I have beaten you,
a drum making no sound,
that I carried on death-marches
across barren wastes.
The dwellings I lived in
marked with X’s, like in the Bible story.
And each was destroyed, rubbled.

I don’t live anywhere now.
The walls are made of flame here
and the doors, of weak prayer.
I have only this task,
this piling of stone heaps.

I wish my home was the ocean.
Out of sticks, I’d make a boat,
be its captain.
I could know no one,
to others, be a ghost in the mist.
I could empty my ears
of all sounds but oars.

I watch our poor tribe
from my leaky boat,
and see all their days spoiled with wanting,
with lust for perfection.

 


Adam King lives south of Albuquerque, NM, along the Rio Grande. He holds an MA in counseling. His poems have been published in Blue Mesa Review, St. Elizabeth Street, Seattle Review, and The Tongue. He is currently working toward becoming licensed as a LADAC while editing twenty years’ worth of his “uncollected” poems. Hilda Doolittle’s little poem “Moonrise” began his love affair with poetry in high school, and he is forever grateful to her.


 

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Babo Kamel, “I hope someone shelters”

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I hope someone shelters

the lost cat in my dream.
Last night, I felt the weight
of a life in my arms, the cat purr
sweet as a young child’s snore.

So easy to swoop her from street stray
to something loved. To give her a name
she can return to, held, fed, safe.

But awake, I feel broken. Like the news
from Syria. Children fall out of their lives.
Silence becomes the star pupil in school.
Teacher takes attendance:

CHILD—Hamza Fadil Ghnowm: absent
CHILD—Majed Shear: absent
CHILD—Mowrat Zaydani: absent
CHILD—not yet identified: absent

My neighbor pushes her little dog in a stroller.
I pray for rain, then remember
that I don’t pray.

 


Babo Kamel’s poems have appeared in literary reviews in the US, Australia, and Canada. Some of these include Painted Bride Quarterly, The Greensboro Review, and Cleaver. She is a three-time Pushcart nominee. Her chapbook, After, is forthcoming with Finishing Line Press. Find her at: babokamel.com


 

Barbara Arzt, “Alteration”

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Alteration

The deaf trees roar and strain
against their shallow roots.
Wind, delirious, wraps the house
and turns it upside down.
Day is night and
night is day
and my mother sees devils
dance on the ceiling.
She’s been hearing a symphony
way too long and
doesn’t like the music.
Sitting in bed she reaches out
to gather the floating dollars.
I’m unsure who is more undone
me or this woman I don’t recognize
who swears she’s at the theatre
but I’m almost certain
we’re somewhere near Christmas
in my own living room, though
the tree looks very different this year
and a fire blazes, constant.
So I make believe summer
in shorts and no sleeves.
I’m good at pretending
all sorts of things
like the measure of time
on my own drifting skin but
I can’t deny the glassy gaze
that slides across my mother’s face.
Between the storms the wind unwinds
and rights the twisted trees.
Into the silence my idle talk,
a lyrical mist,
seeps below her wrinkled skin
to where our blood runs as one.

 


Barbara Arzt was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She attended Portland State University and Indiana University School of Music before beginning a career in dance that included tours in the United States, Canada, and Mexico and then returning to Portland to teach. In 2011 she began practicing calligraphy and writing poetry. Two of her poems were published in VoiceCatcher Press. Barbara continues to study and write.


 

Lindsay Chudzik, “Little Fish” (essay)

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Little Fish

I

I never choose good men. I never ate enough bread while drinking. I never understood how to make my student loan money stretch or how to balance my checkbook. I spent my last $7.50 on a signed first edition of Impossible Vacation, Spalding Gray’s only novel wherein his protagonist searches for just a moment of pleasure, incapable of finding it because happiness is always just a blip no matter where one lives or where one travels. I talked down the bookstore clerk from $13.75.

The former owner of the book’s name was neatly penciled on its inside cover—Jenny Withey. Jenny had underlined many passages, then erased most of her markings, charcoal smudged, indicative of a woman who couldn’t tell where to look or what she should see but still tried. I traced my fingers along her signature as I entered Gristedes.

I grazed the fruit aisle, lining my pockets with wine-colored grapes to eat while traipsing through the market, buying nothing. I knew I would dump corn into a bowl at home for dinner, the vegetables still swimming in the water from their can, goods that arrived in a recent care package from home. I knew I would walk the forty-six blocks to Marymount for my evening playwrighting workshop, bypassing entrances for the 4, 5, and 6 because subways cost money and cabs were unthinkable. Still, I felt like ignoring Spalding Gray would have cost more.

II

That same night I dreamt of other people sleeping. A teenager napping on a bus as it barreled down Lexington, his body origamied with his backpack. A housewife slouched in a beach chair, waves filling in the holes she’d dug in the sand, proving water has no memory. Whenever I saw these strangers’ seamless escapes from life when I closed my eyes, someone I knew had died.

When I woke up I scoured the obituaries and news from Delaware, the Internet an isosceles cage anchoring me to the people I knew when I still had a specific location to call home. I couldn’t keep anything in its place no matter how I tried with moving. Sure enough, one of my closest friends from high school had died in an automobile accident, possibly drinking-related. She was on her way to another party because the first wasn’t enough.

Before going home for the funeral, I had to sit through a dress rehearsal of The Pajama Game at the theater where I interned. The world where saccharine-sweet music could settle a labor dispute and result in love made me sick. I read from my Spalding Gray book in between dance routines.

In the weeks that followed the funeral, there was an initial outpouring of kindness from acquaintances and strangers alike. My professor bought me a drink at BBQ’s, a garish barbeque joint that served oversized margaritas to minors. The clerk at the bodega who was always changing names on the corner of my block took one look at my puffy eyes and gave me a free lottery ticket. My landlord stopped yelling at her daughter in unintelligible Greek from their shared apartment on the first floor. Ultimately, everything returned to normal and everyone forgot.

III

At 22, I was certain I saw Spalding Gray at an airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, haggling with a TSA employee. “We need to see identification.” The worker wasn’t even in uniform, which made the request seem even more insulting. The man who was or wasn’t Spalding Gray rifled through his carry-on luggage. The men behind him in line grumbled.

“There goes our chance of getting beers before boarding.”

“Does that man think he’s so fucking special that he can hold up the rest of us just because he’s old?”

“Men like him shouldn’t leave their houses.”

Men like Spalding Gray? I could vouch for this man, and I wondered why no one else could. But I said nothing, and the man who was or wasn’t Spalding Gray said nothing. The security guard escorted him away to inspect his shoes.

I thought of Zelda Fitzgerald, how she once threw herself down a flight of stairs at a party because her husband was flirting with another woman. Zelda had been called a “woman before her time,” a nice way of saying no one wanted to take the time to understand her and instead opted for the shorthand, calling her crazy. That hadn’t stopped her from demanding attention, but now, nearly a century later, we’ve regressed further. So few of us are of our time, but even more so, so few of us even ask to be acknowledged.

IV

The next time I encountered Spalding Gray was in an airport two years later. It was just after my last night in New Orleans and, though as on most vacations I tried to remember the glimmering moments in between—the jazz, the laughs, the beignets and hurricanes—I felt like it would be impossible to forget the leaving, the hangover I carried through baggage at Louie Armstrong.

I dozed off while waiting for my flight and dreamt of someone else sleeping—a child in his father’s arms during the seventh-inning stretch. When I awoke, I scanned the obituaries and news stories on my iPhone from all of the places I had tried to call home, but I came up with nothing. I considered that dreaming of sleep might have come to mean nothing more than dreaming of sleep, indicative that my day-to-day had left me feeling overextended.

Then I saw it: a small blurb in the Times suggesting Spalding Gray’s body had been recovered from the East River. He had been missing for two months, and there was speculation that he had jumped off the Staten Island Ferry. Spalding’s widow told the press he saw Big Fish the night he disappeared, a movie that closes with the sentiment, A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal. She thought the film gave him an excuse to die.

I needed to scream. I wanted to shake the businessman to my right, pacing while shouting into his cell, frantic about someone’s stocks that weren’t his own. I wanted to talk to the woman to my right who was breastfeeding her child. The circles under her eyes were deep, grayish-blue half-moons, and she’d given up trying to be discreet.

Instead, I veered toward the airport bookstore. Even though all of Spalding Gray’s work was housed together on one of my bookshelves back home, I scoured those shelves, desperate to find something tangible. I came out empty-handed.

 


Lindsay A. Chudzik received her MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in FLAR, Haunted Waters Press, and Pembroke Magazine, among others. Her short story “Check Yes If You Like Us” was a finalist for the 2015 Dogwood Prize, her short story “Pinning” was a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee, and her creative nonfiction has been anthologized. Currently, she is editor in chief of Feels Blind Literary, an assistant professor of writing at VCU, and a recent recipient of a Gulf-South Summit Award for excellence in community engaged teaching. She spends her free time brainstorming creative ways to work Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna into her store and syllabi.


 

Simon Perchik, “*”

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*

What’s left are its pilings
pinned down the way the pier
once smelled from marble

though the sails could tell
one wave from another
were content as fingertips

and shoreline, here, here, stretched
without holding your hand in water
–what juts from this hillside

has outlasted its ships, ropes, tears
stacked in crates for a better night
and you are now the horizon

slowly dragging the sea back
for more darkness, its mouth open
hoarse from lips singled out

covered with mud, with a moonlight
filled with wood close by
kept wet for you and leaving.

 


Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems, published by box of chalk, 2017. For more information, including free e-books, and his essay titled “Magic, Illusion, and Other Realities,” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.


 

Michael Brockley, “Aftermath”

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Aftermath

You ride a red horse through the American apocalypse, remembering days of purple rain and Chinese oranges. Along your trek, paintings of la Santa Muerte deface the billboard ads for roadkill toupees. The wall always rises in the south—rage evolving on its pocked surface. Your saddlebags are packed with relics from a saint’s bier. The DNA of bees. Books with red, white or blue in their titles. Without recourse to your obsolete maps, the horse discovers the ghost towns where you camp overnight. Around a creosote fire, you reread Blue Highways and wrestle against sleep by playing mumblety-peg with river rats. Their teeth against your knife. It’s been months since you’ve seen color, years since you’ve gathered a bouquet. In the morning you shoot at the Wanted posters shellacked on the wall. You’ve been riding the roan along this trail like a prison sentence. Drinking gray water and eating crickets. Bone grates on bone in your hips and knees. You mark a page in the book of roads with a hair plucked from the roan’s mane. You’ve quit counting the years since women last appeared in your dreams.

 


Michael Brockley has had poems appear in Atticus Review, Gargoyle, Third Wednesday, and Flying Island.


 

Jennifer Poteet, “Shell”

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Shell

I had prepared for this to happen,
but not tonight. Not like this.
Two men came to the apartment
in dark suits.
One pushed the gurney, the other, gloved,
unzipped a black shroud.
We didn’t speak. I left them alone to work.

My mother had climbed over
the raised rails of her hospice bed,
and fell to the floor.
Her aide heard the thud, dialed 911, called me.
I was blocked from the bedroom
as EMTs compressed my mother’s chest,
but she was already gone.

There was a bump as the men hoisted their cargo
past the room divider, out the front door.
The lower plate of my mother’s dentures
was left behind on the carpet, a half-smile.
I reached down.
Still warm. I raised the pink horseshoe
and cupped it, as I would a seashell, to my ear.

 


Jennifer Poteet lives in Montclair, NJ, and works in Manhattan as a fundraiser for public television. Work has been published recently in Whale Road Review and The Cortland Review. Jennifer’s first chapbook, Sleepwalking Home, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2017.