Foliate Oak April 2014
City of Dreams
By Matthew Brennan
On the day that the Capital Coffeehouse opened in Port Townshend, the first cup of coffee they served spilled when a waitress bumped the patron’s table, newly situated within the floor space. The coffee surface listed, then tipped back across the still-full mug and breached the far ceramic lip, streaming down the alabaster side, pooling in the saucer, and splattering onto the new wood floor where it was ignored among the grand opening celebrations and seeped in to stain.
Through the wide coffeehouse windows, our patrons could see the harbor, where ships glided by under full sail, the steady winds carrying them into the harbor. Across the street, the grand opening banners of the Townshend Bank still flew. From above the cliff, the sounds of saws and hammers drifted down and out over the water as more houses and banks went up, seemingly overnight. Among the conversations spoken over those first cups of coffee, excited speculations of the promised Northern Pacific Railway extension were not long absent.
Seventeen years later, that first coffee stain remains, darkening a patch of flooring where a handful of regulars gossip in hushed tones. Absent are the sounds of construction, and the ships that steam past the windows continue down into the Sound and no longer make anchor at port. The bank windows across the street are boarded up, and the vaporous hiss of the coffee machines only reminds us of the trains that never arrived.
* * *
The Nude Vacuumer
By George Held
When I moved in to my third-floor Greenwich Village corner apartment, on an August day in 1982, I arranged my furniture so that my favorite chair for reading allowed me to look out a window at the red-brick townhouse across the street, where ivy grew up between the third-floor windows.
Early one evening a few days later, I was reading the day’s Times and took a break to look out the window. My gaze settled on the ivy for a moment before movement in the left window caught my eye. I saw a woman vacuuming, assiduously pushing and pulling the wand. She soon went out of view, only to emerge at the other window of her flat. Her wavy black hair fell just below her ears. Judging from where her shoulder appeared in the window, I figured she was about 5 feet 2. And then it struck me that she was nude.
I pulled the paper up before my face, a blush burning my cheeks. The last thing I wanted was for the woman to think her new neighbor was a Peeping Tom. She was obviously used to coming home from work of a hot summer day, stripping off her clothes, and vacuuming in the buff. Even a glance left the impression that she was a bit fleshy, but her breasts were so small that they hardly interfered as she pushed and pulled the wand at a steady pace.
I supposed the woman had been used to vacuuming nude for some time before I’d moved in. Maybe the two women who’d preceded me in my apartment enjoyed the view as much as I would eventually grow to, or maybe they too were averse to peering at their neighbor across the street.
In Oxford, Ohio, where I come from, it’s safe to say that no woman, even one of the wild students at Miami University there, would appear undressed in her window, vacuuming or not. Contemplating my new neighbor, I thought that Greenwich Village had exceeded my hopes, for I’d had no expectation of even the possibility of viewing nudity right across the street.
I sat in the same chair to watch TV, so out of the corner of my eye I began to sneak a look out the window to see if my neighbor happened to be vacuuming. She did this not every night but surely more often than seemed necessary. I vacuumed my place only once every few weeks, and fully dressed, I assure you. She used her vacuum cleaner two or three evenings a week.
I don’t know how long “Chloe,” as I came to think of her, had lived across the way and whether she liked our Village corner as much as I came to do. Besides the nude vacuumer, I enjoyed the chorus of house sparrows coming from the abundant ivy covering the windowless side of her building, and it pleased me to glimpse occasionally the famous blonde actress going up or down the stoop of the building cater-corner to mine.
In any case, my acquaintance with “Chloe” never moved beyond the window-frame stage, though I sometimes wondered if she was hoping I’d wait on her stoop for her to return home from work and introduce myself.
But I am probably too proper for my own good and would never have taken her cue, if indeed vacuuming nude in full view was that sort of cue. In any case, I watched as
fall turned to winter, and I supposed she had adequate heat in her flat, because she continued her nude vacuuming.
In January, after I’d returned from spending the holidays in Ohio with my parents, I noticed that in the evening her apartment remained dark. No one came home to turn on the lights, not to mention vacuum, until March, when I noticed a pair of young men there, and they soon installed curtains that they pulled closed in the evening.
I could then read my paper or watch TV without distraction after work.
One fine April Saturday as I walked down my stoop, I paused when I saw a familiar figure round the corner. It was “Chloe,” fully and nicely dressed. As she neared my stoop, I said, spontaneously, “Good morning,” and, pleased by this coincidental encounter, smiled broadly at her.
“Oh,” she said, breezing by, “I’m surprised you recognize me with my clothes on.”
“Oh, my,” I thought, my eyes following her as she flowed down the sidewalk while I was too witless to say another word.
I still think of her whenever warm weather arrives, but I never saw “Chloe” again.
* * *
The Soft Part
By John Oliver Hodges
On a hill in Hongdae Subi cut pork strips with scissors while Insook, whom she had not seen in thirteen years, spoke of leaving her husband three days prior. The breakup had been void of hitch: no shouts, no protests, no vacillation of desire; no trying to work things out, just nothing. “I packed my bag while he watched TV,” Insook said. “I didn’t say goodbye.”
Subi flipped the meat strips with chopsticks, saying “ung” and “nae” as Insook marveled over the lack of passion in the thing. She said, “It would have been nice to see him cry. Had he hit me, that would have been better than what he didn’t do. He didn’t get out of the couch.” Insook laughed like a snorting pig. The laughter took Subi back to their days growing up in Yeongdeok, to the summer of the rains, the summer they swore to be friends forever.
That summer was known as the busiest rainy season in Korea’s history. The rains ran down crazily from the mountains to flood the cities, and the windy fangs of the rains sunk into and mangled umbrellas by the thousand so that a shortage of working umbrellas caused residents of their village to stay inside. Through windows and open doorways people eyed the empty streets pounded by falling walls of splashing silver, and the brave ones called forth by necessity to acquire cookie packs, rice, coffee and, in Subi and Insook’s neighborhood, candles due to the electrical shutdown.
That summer Subi was nine, Insook ten. Each day, before the monsoon started, the girls had climbed the mountain to a secret cave. The cave was halfway up a steep hill overlooking a field of bright green clovers with purple spots on their leaves. The small trees growing sideways out of the hill were sturdy, and partially covered the cave’s oblong entrance. The cave was difficult to spot if you happened to be wandering by. It took several hours to get there, so each time they went, they brought supplies, old blankets and baskets and bottles of water. They made a home of the cave, played house. Insook was the husband. She bundled her hair up and wore a hat, and always changed out of her dress into boy clothes once they were in the cave. As Insook’s wife, Subi made small fires on the lip of the cave and fried strips of meat. Sometimes she knelt before her onni and caressed her feet as she had often seen her mother do for her dad. This was their happy play place away from home. They suffered many beatings for staying out beyond their curfews. The fun was worth getting in trouble.
So when the rains did not let up, Subi and Insook missed their time high on the mountain in their cave. One day at Insook’s they snuck a bottle of soju from her father’s liquor box. He would miss it, come looking for Insook, but the rains were so oppressive and conducive to boredom that her dad’s wrath might even be welcome. Up in the dusty attic they finished the bottle and, drunk, decided to travel through the mud and greenery and rain to the cave. Upon their arrival, soaking wet, they found a man.
He was handsome, dressed in American sneakers and pinstriped trousers. He was just lying there. The girls squatted on the lip of the cave in the rain, staring down upon him. They knew something was wrong. “Hey!” Insook finally said. The man remained motionless. In Spurts the girls closed the space between them. They scolded him for invading their space, then tossed pebbles onto his face. Subi reached her foot out and pressed it against his arm. She felt that he was not warm.
They could drag him to the lip and toss him over, but if anybody saw him later, their cave would be spotted, their good times over. He would smell if they did that, they knew. They should drag him somewhere to bury. In the pounding rain the earth would be soft. They could dig a hole for him with their hands
“No, we should report it,” Subi said.
“Do you want to die?”
“But his family?”
“He is a criminal. You want his family to know?”
Insook switched out of her dress into pants and a shirt, put on her hat.
The rain whipped leaves off the trees growing out of the rock. Branches were torn from the trunks of the larger trees below. The low sky thick with clouds the color of dark soup was course yet puffy. The cave darkened quicker than expected. They lit candles. Light flickered over the dead man’s face. His looks were above average. He was pretty.
Insook was the man of the mountain. She gave the final on decisions. She grabbed an arm. She motioned for Subi to help. With difficulty they tugged him to the lip. His hands reached out into the rain. They were going to push him over. Subi watched the rain splashing in his palms. The rain turned a darker color. Then stones smacked his hands, causing his fingers to wiggle. Next they heard a loud rumble. The mountain shook. Debris fell over the mouth of the cave.
The friends hunkered back. They held each other in the back of the cave until the turmoil ceased. It was darker. They crawled to the lip, peered over, saw that the field of clovers below them had vanished. They now looked down vertically upon the rearranged forest.
The dead man stayed in the cave all night, his hands out in the rain like a sleeping beggar’s. In the morning they saw that his hands had changed color. Didn’t seem right leaving him that way, so they pulled him back onto the hump of rock and dirt where it was dry. The rain showed no signs of slowing. They finished their snacks. They slept. They drank water from clay jars, and days passed, and Insook nibbled at his ears. She tried sawing his hand off with their fruit knife. The body had swollen up and the man’s face was now bloated. His lips and eyes perhaps. They unlatched his belt, pulled the pinstriped trousers down to his knees. Subi held it firmly as Insook sawed through from below. She tugged. It came free in her hands. Insook cut it into smaller pieces, scallops and strips. Subi built a fire with the dry wood they had stored.
The meat saved their lives. They did not eat it all at once, but slowly over the next few days. They were going to have to again cut away at him, but a piece of the mountain above gave way to another slide. The mountain trembled. The mouth of the cave turned dark with a speeding mass of green shrubbery and rocks and stones that spilled into the cave. The cave’s opening closed, then opened a little, and closed again. When the earth stopped moving, there was a small opening. The dead man was buried. They climbed into the earth, wiggling forward like frogs, their legs behind kicking the mud and debris. Subi’s onni poked her head through first, and by the sound she made, Subi knew. The mud had provided them with a path to safety. They were sickly, covered in mud and frail. They slipped down the mountain to their families.
“I thought he would understand,” Insook said. She set her chopsticks down and covered her face with both hands.
“Onni,” Subi said. The meat on the grill was getting too crispy so she flicked it along to the side. Though they had just started eating, and Subi was very hungry, she couldn’t look at her samgyopsal now.
“It’s been hard,” Insook said. Her hands still covered her face. Subi felt bad for her old friend, but she’d told herself not to relinquish the resentment she’d felt for all these years. Wasn’t it Insook, the man of their family, who’d insisted that they never see each other? Seeing each other could only remind them of their time on the mountain. Their crime. Subi had been so heartbroken back then, but seeing her friend like this now, the bad feelings vanished. As they had finished their beer, Subi raised her hand for the waiter. “Yogiyo!” she called out. She ordered another Cass. It gave Insook the excuse to stop sniffling, and in a few minutes they were eating the meat again. Insook looked like a big lobster holding the tongs in one hand and the large meat scissors in the other.
Taking a chance, Subi said, “It’s really too bad we didn’t have those scissors up on the mountain.” Insook tried stifling the laugh that wanted to break free. In doing so a bit of snot burst from her nose. Then came the loud piggy laughter Subi loved so. It seemed like only yesterday that they’d been in the cave up high on the mountain. When they left the restaurant, the entire wait staff shouted, “Thank you for eating here! Come visit us again!” A light rain had started, but only Subi had an umbrella. She opened it and the two women, in heels, made their way down the hill.
* * *
Brother Hinds in the Basin
By Brandon Mc Ivor
The first Haiku I heard was composed by Brother Hinds, a hermetic, but not unfriendly rastafarian who resided in Blue Basin Springs, Diego Martin.
I had met him only once, but I always remember: he had his dreadlocks wrapped around his head like a turban, and there was a sweet, peaty smell about him, like honey from a wild beehive. I was exploring the forest around the waterfall and had come across Brother Hinds sitting on the rotting trunk of a fallen sapodilla tree. He was seated perfectly upright, but his eyes were closed and his face was vacant, as if he were asleep.
My mother, when I had asked her what she was most afraid of one day, had answered without hesitation or irony: “Rastas.” But Brother Hinds did not seem very scary at all. I backed away from him, not because I was afraid, but because he seemed to be in deep concentration and I did not want to bother him.
As I took the first step backwards, however, he said:
“Come sit here on this log with me.”
So I did. Brother Hinds had not opened his eyes, and it did not seem as if he were going to say anything else, so I asked him:
“What we doing?"
He answered, “Sitting.”
“You come to see the waterfall?”
“You trying to concentrate or something?”
“Why you here then?”
“There is no reason,” he said.
I did not know what else to say, so I just sat there on the rotting tree trunk, kicking my feet and looking about. There were some squashed and half eaten sapodilla fruits scattered around that were coated with a grainy crust of hardened syrup. There were also some tiny sapodilla plants shooting out of the ground, but they had only sprouted because of the freak rainstorm some weeks earlier. Now they were drooping, all but dead, because of the heat.
Then, Brother Hinds told me to listen, and he recited this poem:
Dry season drought--
The spines on the stinging nettle
He spoke slowly, and his voice was very smooth.
“That is a haiku,” he said.
If he hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known. I was confused, I’ll admit, as to why he was telling me about the nettles—especially since he had sounded sad that they were wilting. I had been stung many times by the nettles, and the less of them the better, I thought.
But I liked the way he talked, deliberately and pausing mid-sentence, so I told him:
“Tell me another.”
He responded with this:
Spider web on a dry waterfall--
Will its eggs hatch
Before the rains?
I did not know what it was about them, but at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to stay on that rotting sapodilla trunk with Brother Hinds and listen to his haikus.
I asked him, “What is a ‘haiku?”
He responded, “It is a Japanese poem about nature. You know who is Basho?”
“Basho was the best at writing haikus. He was an ascetic, just like me.”
“How you mean ‘ascetic?’”
“I mean he didn’t have plenty, but he was happy.”
“Like he was poor?”
Brother Hinds smiled.
“I'll tell you what,” he said, “Why you don’t read this?”
He reached into a knitted knapsack that was lying on the ground and pulled out a wrinkled softcover. It was covered over with brown paper, but it was peeling in places. On the front, written in pencil, were the words, “Narrow Road to The Deep North.”
“That is a book by Basho,” said Brother Hinds, “He went on a journey all over Japan, looking at nature and writing poems. If I was born long ago, I would have do that too, but back in Africa.”
“And I can borrow it?”
“You don't need it? To help you write haiku?”
“I leaving Blue Basin to see the rest of Trinidad. I travelling light.”
I took the book from him, and flipped through. The pages were a spotty yellow, and there was a paper ledger glued to the inner side of the back cover. The ledger was filled with names and dates, and the last entry read, “21/4/85—Kenneth Hinds,” which is how I came to call him “Brother Hinds.”
I read the book slowly over the rest of the dry season. Some parts were too difficult to understand, with a lot of Japanese place names, but other parts were plainly written, and I liked reading them very much. Occasionally, there would be poems interspersed with the text, and I would dogear and revisit them, thinking about Brother Hinds when I did.
There was one character in the book called Sora who always stood out to me. Not much was written about him, but he had been with Basho for almost his entire journey. Sometimes, I would reread the haikus, and I would be filled with admiration for Basho, the master, only to find the addendum: ‘written by Sora.’
This gave me ambition to write my own haikus and to follow Brother Hinds on his journeys, but I never saw him again. Still, I thought about him frequently, even much later in my life, and I would wonder how far along he had gotten in his pilgrimage. During the quiet moments in my life, I recalled the two haikus he had told me, and I was taken back to that place in the Basin, sitting on the rotting sapodilla trunk and swinging my feet with Brother Hinds.
* * *
By Kirie Pedersen
Jana waited for her boyfriend, Marco, to arrive for his first visit to her new home, a one-room shack on Snee Oosh Road. “In the period before a breakup, the partners demonstrate an attitude of politeness, passivity and detachment,” Jana read. “One or both is resistant to argument or discussion.”
Jana was increasingly hopeless about salvaging their shipwrecked union.
“You don’t blink when I tell you I might sleep with someone,” she told him on the phone. “Your attitude seems to be Oh that will be good for you, dear. What can I do to help?”
“All I care is that we remain friends,” Marco said. “I don’t own you. I want what’s best for you.”
“What’s best for me is for you to give a damn.”
“Let’s talk when I get there,” Marco said.
Jana debated whether to tell him about Terry. Her second morning in the shack, she huddled on the single mattress. A car pulled into the driveway. She ran to the window, and there was Mazie’s gray Volvo.
Only it was Mazie’s husband, the minister, climbing out.
“Hello Jana,” he said as though continuing a conversation they’d never had.
Terry had seemed nice enough the day before when she met him at Mazie’s, but once he was inside her cabin, she felt nervous and awkward. Terry settled himself into her one chair. “When I met you yesterday, you seemed to have this maternal energy,” he said. “I don’t get much of that from my marriage. I’m sure you could see that.” Jana wanted to laugh, but he seemed serious. “I need be held right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Jana said. And she was. “I’m not the kind of person who touches people I don’t know.” She didn’t want to say she wasn’t maternal, because what woman admitted that.
“Thanks for being straight with me,” he said.
And he was gone.
But that wasn’t even the strangest. A few hours later, her phone rang. “Terry tells me you two are getting close,” Mazie said.
“He stopped by,” Jana said.
“I want you to know I’m glad you two are becoming friends,” Mazie said. “I want you to know it’s all right with me.”
In the graveyard beneath the bridge that joined the island to the mainland, half the gravestones were for babies dead at birth. As the native population dwindled, white artists flocked to the island. Painters, potters, poets, and musicians built lean-tos and shacks. They claimed the island as a kind of Findhorn or cusp to which they were drawn by invisible forces.
STRING OF IMAGINARY BEADS
When she heard Marco’s Volkswagen pull into the driveway, Jana flung open the door to greet him. She threw her arms around him, kissed his neck and face. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” he said. “Though things have been in a real uproar. Your parents are upset you moved out without talking about it with anyone.”
“I talked it over with you.”
“They feel you just ditched out. Your father says you’ll ruin your career.”
“I’m not leaving my career,” she said. “I didn’t quit my job.” She moved to the one chair, watched as Marco lit the propane burner to make coffee in her little pot. “I don’t want to talk about my parents. What’s it been like for you, being apart?”
“We need to talk,” he said. Jana counted on a string of imaginary beads. “I want to have other lovers,” he said. First, Jana felt as if she been injected with lidocaine. Then she wanted to fall to the floor, screaming.
Someone knocked at the door that opened off the bathing porch, and Jana hurried to open it. It was Mazie. “Don’t look at me,” Mazie said. “My hair’s greasy. I need a shower.”
“You look beautiful,” Jana said. She gathered towels, hung a blanket over the cubicle that held the shower. When Mazie emerged, her hair curling around her face, Jana introduced her to Marco. Mazie glanced at their faces, and then turned back to Jana. “I’ll come back later,” she said.
Jana grew convinced she was, after all, as crazy as Marco said she was.
In particular, it seemed, Jana was crazy for clinging to the archaic notion of monogamy.
Marco suggested Jana try therapy, only you couldn’t call it that. It was called Group. You couldn’t even say “I’m in the group” or “I’m going to my group now.” And heaven forbid “I’m in therapy.”
No, it was strictly “I’m in Group,” the word an amber-colored womb.
The therapist was Martha. Then she changed her name: Sapphire. Then she was to be called facilitator. Finally, Martha-cum-Sapphire announced it unhip for her to be present at all. Her presence held implications of power, which fostered dependency. Henceforth she would appear only on alternate weeks. The other week, the group would be peer-facilitated.
So we pay half of what we pay now, right?” For Jana, finances were always a problem. She was so poor she was selling her blood plasma. “Hey, why are you all staring at me?” Jana said. “Did I ask an unhip question?”
“Declare leaders anachronistic,” Jana told Marco later. “And then charge clients for leading themselves.”
“How long did Marth-Saph say you’d require therapy?”
“Three or four years, and then she’d see,” Jana said. “I’d like to leave, but I’m afraid of what might happen. A moral miscarriage. A spiritual sinking. I might start drinking and drugging again. You might leave me.”
“Or you might leave me.”
Jana remained in Group, and that was the night Felix showed up. And Sapphire announced Mandatory Cuddling. Cuddling was henceforth the Group’s foundation. “You’ve all been denied cuddling as children,” she said. Now they would become children again and spend their nights cuddling with each member of group, one at a time. It would be safe.
“Only,” Sapphire said, glancing around the ring of dependent faces, “There is, of course, a no-sex rule. We don’t believe in rules here in Group. But if anyone sleeps together and becomes sexual, one of them must leave Group.”
What about you and Billy, Jana wanted to ask. Billy was in Sapphire’s group when she was still Martha, still called a therapist. He wasn’t even trained as a therapist. Now he was co-facilitator. Now he lived with Sapphire.
His eyes fixed on Sapphire, Billy sat cross-legged and silent.
The night Felix showed up, Jana wrote in the small notebook each Group participant was required to carry: New man. Handsome. Quiet. Presenting problem inability to get close to people.
“He just sits there with his mouth shut looking so intelligent and wise,” Mazie was to say after she moved in with the rest of them. “But when I try to draw him out, and he never comes up with anything, I have to conclude there’s nothing there.”
So yes. Felix was handsome. Was that sufficient motivation for what Jana was to do? He had red hair, lots of it, unlike poor Marco, nearly bald at twenty seven. His features were even, and although only a few inches taller than Jana, his body was well proportioned and muscular. Later, as Felix and Jana reclined across the drab-grey coverings of his bed, he told her how smart he was.
“I never worked in school because it was all bullshit,” he said. “I always knew more than my teachers, and that pissed them off, so they’d flunk me.”
“I’m also psychic,” Felix continued. “When I meet a woman, I read her mind and tell her about herself. That freaks her out, and then she becomes dependent on me.”
Jana could claim she ended up with Marco and Felix because she was jealous of Mazie. Or perhaps it was because Vick, Jana’s first palliative for pain from Marco’s desire for open love, was training as a Red Paint Dancer and needed to be celibate.
Whatever the reasons offered or believed at the time, most of all it was because the denizens of the art colony found their way out of one bed, sometimes, by finding their way into another.
Sometimes, for whatever reasons, for better or worse, that’s just the way it was.
* * *
Measuring the Man
By Charles Rammelkamp
I was reading a poetry collection by Tony Hoagland when Jack strolled over and tossed the stroke book onto my desk – “Now here’s some poetry for you, my man.” A naked woman with an angry, accusing look in her eye stared at me from the slick cover, gobs of sperm rolling down the Alpine slope of her breasts in a viscous translucent avalanche.
“Thanks,” I said, watching Jack leave my cubicle and then putting down the poetry to flip through the magazine, full of photos of naked young women in provocative poses.
An hour later, grandparental Gordon Hosten idled over to say goodbye. It was his last day of work after close to forty years. As he approached my cubicle, I noticed the stroke book on my desk where I’d tossed it after flipping through the pages. Embarrassed, I shuffled some papers over the slick magazine, hiding it under innocent office clutter.
In a mood to reminisce, Gordon talked about the wonderful years he’d had here at Infodyne, the great people he had known and the worthy projects on which he had worked. Then he described his retirement plans. He and his wife were building a house down the street from their daughter.
“I want to bicycle with my grandkids,” he confided. Already I could see the cherubic grandfather, the family man, mentoring his grandchildren, driving them to after school lessons, taking them on camping trips, teaching them the secrets of nature.
Fond tears glistening in his eyes, Gordon shook my hand in a gesture of farewell. In reaching out to take his outstretched hand, I managed to brush some of the papers on my desk aside, exposing the magazine Jack had left. Gordon picked up the magazine I'd discreetly turned face down.
“Jack give this to you?” he leered, admiring the naked young blond.
I nodded, embarrassed, feeling a little ashamed in the presence of this wholesome granddad.
Gordon nodded to himself and said, “I gave it to Jack first.”
* * *
Your Family Is Waiting
By Helen Sinoradzki
The bookstore's paging system crackles. “Ann Schulman, please meet your party at the exit.” I've just ordered a latte in the coffee shop. It's fifteen minutes before the meeting time Elly set. My sister planned this trip. A week of girl time. Just Mom and us. We've had facials, mud baths, and mani pedis. We've had Lancôme make-overs and eaten decadent desserts from a two-page menu. We've shopped in every boutique on Nob Hill that accommodated Elly's wheelchair. She fumed if they didn't have ramps. She yelled at a salesperson when her chair got stuck in a doorway.
Every morning, when Elly raps twice and opens the door that joins our rooms, I want to close the drapes and crawl back in bed. She tries to swallow a sigh when she sees me in my bathrobe, but her face is clenched because I'm disrupting her schedule again. All the school-day mornings that Mom made her wait for me are in that room with us.
I was five, Elly seven when she got her wheelchair. From the beginning, she hated it when she needed help. She hated not walking to school. She hated the kids staring while Mom unloaded the chair and swung her into it.
It's Day 5 of girl time. After breakfast at a restaurant on Elly's list, we split up at the bookstore entrance, Elly waving at Mom to follow. She wasn't letting Mom loose in a store this big. She's convinced Mom's small memory lapses mean she's sliding headlong into dementia. Mom turned to me and lifted one eyebrow the way she did when Grandma said Elly was headstrong. I winked and went upstairs to armchair travel.
It's always been Elly's job to organize us. I get it that she needs the job.
The barista sets my latte on the counter. The bills she gives me as change are wrinkled. I smooth the creases before putting them in my wallet. Carrying my books and the latte is more than I can manage right now. “Sometimes I just hit a wall,” I say.
“Take your time.” The barista smiles, but her forehead is creased and the smile is tight. “I'm not going anywhere.”
“That was my sister having me paged.”
Her smile grows less forced. I've given her ordinary. “Sisters, they can be a pain. Mine's always bossing me around.” She laughs. “I can call the front counter for you.”
“Oh, no, that's all right. I have my phone.” But I don't. It's in the hotel room. I lied when Elly asked if I was sure I had it.
I manage to get the latte and the books to a table without disturbing the perfect white heart the young barista made. Its symmetry pleases me. I sip gently and the heart floats there, the white foam just touching the edge of my lip.
I stack the books in three piles by size and align their edges. One of the hardbacks is bigger than the one below it. I lift the stack, put it in its proper place, and realign the edges. The young man at the next table watches me. I shrug my shoulders and look down so he won't start talking to me. I like this city—its green spaces and the way old brick buildings rub elbows with sleek glass new ones—but I could never live here. The skies are too grey, the people too friendly. When I washed my hands five times in the rest room, the woman at the next sink smiled at me in the mirror.
The paging system crackles again. “Ann Schulman, your family is waiting for you at the exit.”
I open the top book, Travels in a Thin Country, and read several pages. The author traveled Chile, top to bottom, with just a backpack. I've always wanted to hike Patagonia, to stand at the tip of the continent and let the wind from Antarctica blow through my brain.
“Why didn't you answer your phone? Mother's tired.” Elly's voice is loud enough to make the young man look at her. “I had to have you paged. Twice.” Her wheelchair bumps his table. He grabs his mug, but not before coffee sloshes onto his papers. Elly doesn't notice. She shoves a chair away from the table. “Sit here, Mother.” Mom straightens the jacket of her new suit and sits between us. She's wearing her new Lancôme lipstick. Elly rolled her eyes when Mom bought Rouge in Love.
Elly lifts the basket of books from her lap and thumps it on a chair. Her arms are muscled. She's always said electric wheelchairs are for wimps. She piles books on the table haphazardly. My fingers itch to stack them and square their edges. I hide my hands in my lap and dig my fingernails into my palms. The night Elly came home from the hospital, I crept downstairs after everyone was asleep. The wheelchair gleamed in the light from a streetlamp. The seat was stiff, and the silver footplates were cold on my bare feet. I thought they were pedals, but when I pushed on them, the silver wheels didn't turn.
Elly sighs. “Mother, all these books are never going to fit in your suitcase.”
“I can have them shipped, can't I?” Mom turns to me and lifts her eyebrow.
Elly snorts. “They probably charge a fortune.”
“I wasn't short of money the last time I looked.” Mom stands up. “I'll get us something to drink.”
Elly looks at her fingernails. “Coffee. Make sure it's from a fresh pot.” She doesn't wear polish so the manicurist buffed them. They gleam under the fluorescent lights.
Mom heads off.
Elly stares at the books. “She'll never read all these.”
My cup has traces of the perfect white heart.
“You left your phone in the room, didn't you?”
I hide the heart with my hand.
* * *
Transparencies: A Photograph Between the Albums
By Michaela Ballard
That set had two swings on it,
an aluminum slide on one end that burned
knobby legs in sundresses,
and a horse with broken springs
loitering on the other. Whispering
to that nag, "soon we'll ride,"
nose to nose, brushing its rigid mane,
I was the lone barbarian on Geneva Ave.
Here I wasn't wax lipped, smiling through
fraudulent hairspray curls. It couldn't have been
my mother then, on the other side of Kodak acetate,
winding the 35mm. She kept things plastic, and I
was wild, galloping through my kingdom to the notes
of the creek, to bed with cricket chatter. I pretend
it was Dad who was thoughtful this time, running
after me in what must have been one of the last days.
The chains were all rusted when he broke down
my favorite part about our backyard and threw it
in the pickup with the rest of his stuff. I make believe
his forgotten records are my inheritance--savage survival songs.
Papaw mumbles through fish sticks he forgot
to chew about his new roommate.
He wrinkles his wrinkles and purges
the argument they had. Della
would have known what to do.
He maintains one spotlight of focus, and it shifts
to my face. Remembering
the sticks, I'm gone again.
Some bluegrass-playing Christians beckon
on the only television--the last normality
he's got. The other man feebly stares
at the giant remote. It looks like a gag-gift
The two have simmered into pulpy creatures
waiting for the bed on the other side
to boil away.
I am a kermes scale
eating up white oaks who are
eating up the stressed breaths
of my grandmother when she
thinks of me.
Next to her on the pew,
when my stockings didn’t stretch so far,
we drew pretty dream houses for me
together, a line at a time. She
omits the scars of her yard,
the dirt that fed us then.
Add a slick JCPenney dress,
an education, a lack of interest.
Brags become whispers, loud
as a sermon, and I’ll smile.
During prayers I don’t hear,
I will layer old paths with fresh seed,
move the cat from his window seat
to a garden damp with footsteps.
* * *
Poetry by Jonathan Devin
When I saw you last headed down Main Street,
you looked peaceful, resigned to vacancy,
like my mother was upon news of infertility.
Your face pressed to shoulder, collar pushed up
against the rain, as if to light a cigarette—though
we all knew you quit because you know what’s fun will kill you,
but you still drink on occasion
as you will do tonight, as would anyone, alone
in a one bedroom apartment, lined with boxes
and made blue from the skylight,
arguing with the moon over how many
until allowing maybe one more sip.
In the café doorway, I stand smoking and imagine,
as you turn the corner, how the edges of your shoes must feel to the concrete.
And I envy the sidewalk because each step means something--
movement towards new jobs and lovers and the empty car
beneath fluorescence and more concrete.
And tomorrow, when your mother calls,
she will ask about your day; you can hear her breathing,
your father shouting at the news.
And you think about the broken Ford pickup
behind the shed, light blue, growing
into rust and weeds,
and how, at seven, you would sit in the driver’s seat,
eyes shut, gripping the chapped wheel,
with radio blasting, and hope
Last Season's Watermelons
Today we ate watermelons in the garden together.
The red fruit sweat beneath the canvas awning and bled
into the paper towel underneath. And we laughed
and spit the seeds onto the long August grass where
they sank into the earth to swell and spread
the way the memory of a place dissolves into colors
Today will be a blue day,
an edgeless ripple, a wine bottle tossed
into a lake—the energy rushing outward and spilling
onto rocks and weeds.
Tonight the rinds will rot in the compost heap.
Next year we will have more watermelons.
As the rim of a tire grows darker
above the white ring
below the worn grooves
and the loop of rope
suffocating the center.
Watch it sway
beneath the oak tree, planted
by someone’s grandfather
he himself now growing smaller
all except the droop below the distant stare
above the neck rocking side to side, towed by the old rope, until
the movement drops chin to chest
and time wins.
You have his eyes, they will tell you.
It’s in that passing twinkle that cracks--
a spark leaping from a fireplace and
catching the haunches of a sleeping cat.
And your neck too moves, it arches
backward, as you spin.
the rope groans like an old mattress.
The blue and branches swirl together
and you can no longer tell up from down
as you are thrown by the movement
and sit on the scuffed earth.
Be still, child.
Close your eyes and feel the motion.
* * *
By Rachel Koehne
The wool stretched and fuzzed on my arms.
My tights pulled and chilled and warmed and shone,
my naked hands frictioned my sweater.
Sparkly sunlight yellowed the dewy grass
and the dewy grass reflected the diamond solarance.
Whimsy grabbed me-
it made me talk about things like the leaves that are jealous of the grass, so they leap
and tumble down to play.
My mouth expands with the warmth and honeyed creaminess of tea.
My throat slurps the leafy wetness and I gasp in delight. While my mouth is
autumnal zephyr cashmeres into tastyence on my tongue.
Yums abound in mouthy places.
The hair on my head is not my own hair anymore;
it has declared hairesy and flits about.
Meanwhile, my erstwhile feet-things are no longer
connected to my gloopy brainything.
They dance dopaminey,
my shoes clikety-clacking beneath them.
The dancy, slippery joy of
* * *
Poetry by Barbara McGaw
of waking trees
in bounding strides
over canopied leaves
onto the grass
and into my window
under my eyelids
closed in sleep
You are gone
apart from me
into your world
but you linger in pillows
smelling of your hair
you into me
in deep drowning drafts
and fears so sharp
my blood racing
in my ears
leave me never
on the backs
of my hands
(like cracks in glass)
coursing silent red
(deep indigo rivers)
what the drip
(like streams in spring)
filling the heart
until i hear
in the anvil
of my ear
the rush of
in a waiting room
reading a novel
like I lived it
stuck, but in motion
third eye panning
zoom angle down
and a piercing elation
to the edges of my skin
the last frontiers
of blood and bone
through the blinds
why the shine
on their noses
lips pressed in a line
they're bellied out
ankles correctly crossed
they're candles snuffed
afraid to rush the pulse
why do I feel
i'm oxygen rich
fueled to ride
* * *
Poetry by Claudine Nash
Nothing gets me going more
than the stationary section of
the office supply store. All
those folders and burgundy
pens and the aroma of paper
intertwined with promise and
graphite makes my fingers
strum and my eyes roll back. It
smells like September mornings
almost every hour of the week.
(Except for Tuesdays at four
When sometimes I swear
I detect a trace of April
in the central air).
There’s a pink pocket-sized
Moleskine journal that I’ve had
my eye on for the longest
time, but I’ll hold off until a
truly desperate day like the next
time my boss reams me or I
unexpectedly kill your fish for
the third time while house-sitting
and need a quick pick me up.
Fortune Cookies for the Infatuated
Although I estimate the exact count,
I can say with absolute certainty
that it was the fixings of number
nine hundred and fifty one that did me in.
Number nine hundred and forty nine
in my lifetime lineup of cellophane
and cookie enclosed bits of wisdom
certainly intrigued me with its portend
and urging –
“Impatience may be appropriate
at this time."
Shrewdly insightful, nine hundred and
fifty momentarily made me pause before
dessert, but had little other lasting impact –
“Good advice jars the ear.”
But straight from the crack of its
carbohydrate shell, number nine hundred
and fifty one came as an almond-extracted,
moderately caloric, blindsiding
sucker punch to the gut –
“If you love something, set it free…
if it returns, keep it and
love it forever.”
I could be an introverted albino
on a South Beach street,
desperate to camouflage into clouds or
sink in hollow of whitewashed sand,
or build my house on dissolving ground
and watch the first floor plunge
through a void as the surface layer
gradually gives way.
I could come back as a claustrophobic
canary indentured to a mine or
pet shop cage, or
find myself a rabid coyote
parched before a desert pool.
I know there are worse things
in the world than wanting you
this way, but right now I feel
like a beautifully-robed
Buddhist monk with Tourette’s
who ticks and blurts “shitfuck”
all the hours of his first
* * *
Poetry by Connolly Ryan
An untangled ampersand
stalking through shallows
with epic stealth
to impale a slippery
pickerel in its staid beak.
Studying the way it studies
the water--deciphering the specs,
paginating the ripples and context-
ualizing the illuminations--
one need no longer
wonder by whom
the first master lesson
in martial arts
Ennui On Trial
into disgust, disgust
into rage, rage into
assault of other
boredom knows no
bounds, so anger is the king
and carnage is his design.
Pick up a stick,
study its shape,
meditate on its solidity,
basque in its logic,
inhabit its secrets
and then, if you
find yourself bored,
(which willingly you will)
lift it high and bring
a head of a child
because boredom is murder,
so why put it off?
That's What Cliché Said
The first rule of Fight Club
is not to apply one-liners from exhilarating movies
to your comparatively uneventful narrative.
Feel some pain
instead of no pain.
Have a few worries
in lieu of none at all.
Don’t pretend it’s all good
when at least a little of it stinks.
Resist the newest cliché
before it slits your wit’s wrists.
By all means, keep it real,
but admit it’s frequently fake.
That may be what she said,
but what did she feel when saying it’
and moreover allow that
what she left unsaid
murders your ego in its sleep.
If it takes a village, then it
is guilty of genocide, period.
* * *
By Greg Leichner
Another grueling project has come to an end.
It has taken me fifteen visits over fifteen years to resurrect this 1919 craftsman home room by room. Final touch: my brother's one-car garage is now an office, a hideaway with a built-in desk and storage cabinets, bookshelves, couch, coffee table, TV, DVD and sleeping loft. My brother's wife, always in need of quiet time thanks to two teenagers, has claimed the garage as her own. She is calling it her menstrual hut.
I have spent five months in Seattle with my nose to the grindstone. At one point I worked thirty days in a row.
On the last day of June I drove I-90 from Seattle to the July 4th gathering of old friends on Flathead Lake in Montana. I didn't mind the rain. An overcast sky is easy on the eyes. I plugged in a book-on-tape and for five hundred miles it was Rex Stout's "The Final Deduction," wherein Nero Wolfe thinks his way to the truth behind a high society kidnap/murder.
In Stateline, Idaho, I exited the Texaco mini-mart sipping my coffee. I passed a man in his late sixties, we made eye contact and nodded good morning. At the truck I turned and the man was walking toward me.
He said, "Aren't you the one who installed my kitchen faucet? At the cabin on Newman Lake. Last month."
"Did he drive a brown pickup?"
"Yep. You look just like him."
"A problem with the faucet?"
"Nope. You did a good job."
My doppelganger lives in Idaho.
I am a loner carpenter, a vagabond, an animist. I keep my religion in a medicine bag stashed behind the driver's seat of my brown pickup truck.
It has been ten years since I last dumped the medicine bag's contents onto the kitchen counter, in front of everybody.
:two Zippo lighters (Dad's)
:one dry fly (Royal Coachman)
:one brass-bead choker (gift from a lover)
:two deer vertabrae (Blackfoot River)
:two newspaper obituaries: (Uncle Don and Old Man Brown)
:one wishbone (grouse)
:one small brass bell (inscribed with FLORIDA)
:nineteen buffalo nickels
:twelve Mercury dimes
“I don't question it. I accept every aspect of my medicine bag.”
Carefully I placed each aspect back inside the canvas pouch and drew the strings closed.
I buried the medicine bag behind the driver's seat, underneath roadmaps, beach towels, a basketball, a baseball glove and a strongbox containing my grandfather's Hamilton pocket watch, a 1907 edition of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and an invalid passport.
In the glove compartment I keep a copy of the Magnetic Poetry Kit refrigerator poem I composed at the lake in Montana, for my current forbidden love.
beneath the moment
our gift is crushed
smooth as purple shadow
our frantic trudge
a delirious storm
chained to honey skin
Tomorrow I hit the road again, bound for New Mexico via Missoula, Boise, Salt Lake City, Moab, Cortez, Durango.
* * *
Collage by C.A. LaRue
Images of Iceland by Richard Ong
Sunset in Granada (Nicaragua)
By Ze lé Roi