Foliate Oak April 2019
Stuff Like That
By Michael Johansen
That was Stig talking.
That was me.
"Coat-racks!" Stig was adamant. "We can sell 'em as coat-racks."
"Sell what as coat-racks?"
Stig was always trying to sell something as something else.
"The old hydro poles by the railway line."
"Hydro poles? They'd make pretty big coat-racks," I said.
"Not the whole thing! We take the cross pieces with all the insulators, turn 'em sideways and mount 'em on a wall. Two hundred bucks, easy. We sell loose insulators for 20 bucks a pop down in the city and add five bucks if it's still got a peg poked up its ass."
Stig had his thinking look on his face.
"You know, we could roll up the wire, 'cause there must be all copper inside them, what?"
What nothing. For once Stig's idea wasn't so stupid. He was right about the wires. There were miles and miles and miles of them alongside all the tracks. They must go right across the country. They used to turn switches and stuff like that, but the railways started using satellites instead. They let the wires go dead. They let them rot, too - just letting the poles fall down any way they like: easy pickings for a fellow like Stig.
He was right about everything else, too. I've seen myself how much people charge for old glass and that wasn't even in the city. I thought his coat-rack idea could work. Slap on a bit of paint, or call it rustic. Some'll pay good money for stuff like that.
That's how Stig got me out on snowmobile. I followed him way the hell back off the trail. I pulled a bobsled - better, he said, for the cross pieces. He had an ordinary box sled and said we'd toss the loose insulators in there. He said he'd already found a spot. We just had to follow his old tracks. The spot was perfect, he said, because none of the poles had fallen down along that stretch. They’re still fresh, he said.
He was right about that, too. There was a whole long straight row of poles and none of them were down. All the insulators looked ripe for picking, all the wires still strung between them all the way down the stretch.
"You sure they're dead?" I asked.
Stig ignored me.
We had two chainsaws with us, but Stig wanted to make the first cut. I didn't care. He said he wanted to do it just right, so we left the snowmachines down the line where the bushes would keep the railway folks from seeing them. We walked and Stig picked the pole just about in the middle and started up his saw. I stood back. He cut out a big wedge on the side where he wanted it to fall – away from the tracks – and then tramped around in the snow to make the third cut on the other side.
"Get ready!" he shouted when he was just about through, stepping back when his saw bit air.
Stig let the motor stop and then gave the pole a push. It teetered a little one way and then back, but it stayed upright. It looked like the wires were holding it there.
"We'll need to take another one down," Stig said.
Five poles later and they still wouldn't fall. I've never seen Stig so pissed off. I was thinking I should take the chainsaw away from him. He was hardly even taking any care any more, just hacking through the pole as fast as he could, no wedge or nothing. When it wouldn't go down he just cursed it and stamped to the next, attacking it like all the others. I was glad when his saw ran out of gas and sputtered off by itself. He cursed that, too, and it looked like he was going to throw it, but something caught his eye and he just cursed that instead.
"That's it," he shouted at me and pointed. "That's what's doing it: It's that tree!"
He was right again because a few poles past us there was a big tree had fallen across the lines and was pinning them down, pulling them really tight. It sure looked like what was holding our poles up and I wondered how we were going to get it off. I wanted to think about it some more, but Stig already had the answer.
"I'm going to pull that son of a bitch down," he said and stamped to where we left the snowmobiles.
He didn't say he needed me for anything so I just had a smoke. It really was a nice day – sunny and not too cold. Without the saw running I could hear birds in the trees and wind and stuff like that – and far away I'm pretty sure I heard a train. It was a good smoke.
Stig started up his machine and drove towards me along the poles he'd just cut, but then he did a little loop in the woods around me, coming out not too far from the big tree. He had me take a rope and go back to tie it as high up as I could, so he could drag it off.
It was a spruce, so it wasn't too hard to climb, especially as it was laying down pretty straight. I was still thinking about everything and I wasn't sure if his rope was good enough for the job and I was thinking he should maybe cut the tree first, before he pulled it, but I climbed up it and tied the rope and got down again and Stig never gave me a chance to say anything. I was walking back to him where he was gunning the motor and he couldn't hear me. He couldn't wait so even before I got to him he took off fast, spraying me with snow, 'cause he must have figured the faster he pulled the rope tight the easier the tree would come down.
Well, he was right about that, too, but I was right about the rope. When the rope came tight the tree kind of bounced and the snow machine bounced too and the tree came over sideways, but then the rope was tight again and it snapped. I could hear it and then I could feel it because I was right beside the rope and it wrapped around me and jerked me off my feet. I just had time to grab the rope myself so at least I'd be dragged frontwards and I yelled at Stig to stop and for once he heard me and stopped, looking back to see what I was yelling about. I rolled over onto my back so I could get the snow out of my nose. That way I could see Stig had been right about the tree holding the poles up. The tree was down and the first pole was starting to teeter, first one way and then the other, and then it started to fall. The second pole was right beside me and I knew where it was going to come down.
"Go on, drive!" I yelled. "Go on, man!"
Stig couldn't hear me though, 'cause suddenly there was this train running right alongside us and blowing its horn. Stig must have seen the poles coming down anyway because he booted it, jerking me on the end of the rope and dragging me backwards. First I was too busy to notice anything else happening because I was watching one pole after the other slam down right behind me, the coat-racks pounding themselves deep into the snow right where I'd been seconds before, but then I saw these faces staring out at me from the train windows – a few little kids with these shocked little expressions on their faces seeing me almost get clobbered by those hydro poles. I tried to give them a smile and a wave – let them know I'd be all right so they shouldn't be afraid – but Stig had come to the end of the trail and had to veer around the sled he'd left there. The rope hauled me clear into the air and then let go of me. Lucky for me I didn't hit anything except a thick drift of snow, but I sank into that pretty quick. It took me a few minutes to dig myself out. The train was gone and Stig was looking at all the poles. They'd fallen just like they were supposed to, but the wires had wrecked all the insulators, shattering them when they pulled tight and snapped.
"Barn boards," Stig said.
"Barn boards," he repeated. "We take the broken insulators off and sell the cross pieces as barn boards. You know how much people will pay for stuff like that?”
Michael Johansen is an award-winning Canadian author and journalist who has reported for television, radio, online and print media. He has three published books, the most recent entitled The Boy Who Walked. He is currently an editor on Indonesia's English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Post.
* * *
The Neighborhood vs Janet
By R.F. Mechelke
I remember the day Janet and her family moved into the neighborhood as vividly as I remember the time my mother lanced my first boil. Janet, as far as looks, wasn’t all that bad. She was pretty in a plain sort of way. Certainly not off-putting in appearance. Nor was her family a strange looking lot either. To anyone, they would look like any normal family. It was not the way she looked that was alarming. She seemed okay with her kids. At least they weren’t a brutish brood. Her husband, James, was a good sort of fellow, too. When after meeting Janet and James, no doubt everyone would walk away thinking, Geeze, how did that happen? Sympathy was a word that would seem to come to mind for James for anyone meeting Janet for the first time. Yeah, it was certainly a mystery.
We were a tight bunch, and we were all concerned about Janet. They moved into the second largest house on the street. Our little neighborhood was one of the older ones of the town. We took pride in our expansive trees that seem to reach toward the moon on clear, bright nights. We had a little park at the west end of the street; unfortunately buttressed up next to James and Janet’s house. The park was the place everyone in the neighborhood always ended up in the evening, where our children played dodgeball, baseball, and hide and seek, or whatever else the kids like to play. It was a wonderful place to sit on the benches along the walk that formed the perimeter of the park, sipping our iced tea and lemonades, giving advice about yard work, our kids, or anything else we cared to talk about. Together, we lived through hard times and bad times. We laughed and cried together. We cheered each other on, when it was called for, and we lent an ear or shoulder when it was needed. Like I said, we were a tight knit group.
Sarah and I lived in the largest house of the neighborhood near the center of the street. We had a large patio with a fire pit, where we loved to share evenings with our friends. We would sit around, opening bottles of wine, one after another, as the night air chilled our faces and the darting flames drew us all closer.
Sam, Linda’s husband, broke the silence on one of those evenings, leaning toward me, and asked. “Did you meet our new neighbors, James and Janet?”
Just hearing Janet’s name, made me visibly wince.
Sam grinned, and said, “Oh, so you have,” while lifting his cigarette to his lips and taking a long draw. I watched the embers at the end glow and fade against the black backdrop, and he let loose a cloud of smoke, and added, “Quite a lot to take in with that one, don’t you think?”
“I am not sure what to think about James’s wife. Never met anyone like her before. Do you know what I mean, Sam?”
Sam took a gulp of his wine, with his face turning a bit serious. His grayish dark hard hair and height gave Sam the appearance of authority, when in reality, he was a timid man. Maybe timid is a bit harsh. At any rate, he was not an aggressive man. I was never really sure what Linda had seen in him. Anyhow, he was a good man though. He was a lucky man, too. Linda was a real looker. But at this moment, he looked a little uncomfortable.
“You know Sam,” I said. “They will likely be here for a while. I mean really, who would want to leave? Not sure how to come to grips with that idea.”
Sam leaned back in his chair, and crossed his legs, and took another draw of his cigarette, and opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again. This was typical Sam. He took another gulp of wine, and focused his eyes on my face, with the turning down of his eyebrows, and surprised me, saying, “I don't think we have to do anything.”
At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to make of what Sam said. He may be a little hen pecked, but he’s a smart guy. What happened after that night, still has me flummoxed.
Sheryl, Joe’s wife, was working in her yard while their kids were in school. Janet is a stay at home mom too. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the mothers in our neighborhood were stay at home moms. Anyway, Sheryl was planting annuals along her walkway. Janet was walking what we in the neighborhood have been calling, The Beast. It was an English Mastiff, or a small bull. It was brown, with what looked like a five o’clock shadow. You could smell it coming several houses away. One could say it resembled its owner not in appearance, but in the attitude such a large animal would exude. I can see why Janet chose Ralph. When I heard its name for the first time, I thought it was a ridiculous name. Ralph? Imagine saying that name in an affectionate way or with an angered tone or just calling out that name loudly to get its attention. Anyway, back to Sheryl. There she was, minding her own business until Janet came walking by with Ralphie Boy. Sheryl apparently was startled by Ralph. Really, who wouldn’t be startled by The Beast? Anyway, Sheryl, on her knees, wearing rather short shorts, as was her way, with her rear staring Ralphie in the face. Well, The Beast yanked on the leash, and with Janet being tiny in stature, probably around 5’2”, no more than a hundred pounds, Ralphie broke free, and with beastly glee, ran at Sheryl. Ralph was running rather fast, and bumped into Sheryl, hard, overshooting the proverbial target, as they say, and trampled all of Sheryl’s recently planted flowers. Sheryl was laid out in the dirt, with skinned up knees, bleeding and stinging, when Janet ran up and grabbed Ralph’s leash. Well, with Janet being Janet, she didn’t make the matter better. As Michael tells it based on what Cindy told his wife, Julie. Sheryl ran into the house after exchanging words with Janet, and then she had the nerve to continue her walk with The Beast.
Michael and I stood at our shared fence in the backyard. He shook his head after he told me what happened, and I was dumbstruck with a vision in my head.
I shifted my feet, and I asked, “So, she was kneeling down on all fours?”
“That’s what Cindy told Julie. She was wearing the really short shorts she has. You know the shorts. The blue jeans pair, with the tiny, thin folded cuffs. Not only that, Cindy told Julie that Sheryl was also wearing a very flimsy, tight fitting red top.”
I kicked the fence with my foot. “Yeah, I know that top. How Joe let’s his wife outside with that top and shorts, confounds me.”
Michael looked around to see if Julie was outside, and said, “Yah, and with the way she’s built, that top must have been a sight to see.”
Michael only said what I and every other guy in the neighborhood was very much aware of.
Michael could see the smile on my face, and asked, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“If you are thinking about a pool party this weekend, then yes siree, I am.”
Michael turned to the house and saw Julie outside, and called out, “Hey, hun, could you get John and me ice cold lemonades?”
Julie was trying to untangle the kids from their bickering, and looked up, when it registered what Michael said, she put on a sweet smile, and called back, “Sure, sweetheart.”
Michael turned back smiling in turn, and said, “She’s a keeper.”
When Julie returned, Michael asked Julie to make the arrangements for the pool party this coming Saturday, and to make sure to invite Joe and Sheryl. Michael gave me a sly wink.
Julie nodded, and asked, “What about our new neighbors, Janet and James?”
I tried to hide my cringing, and Michael looked at me a little confused, and I felt the need to respond on behalf of Michael, so I forced a smile, and replied, “That’s an excellent idea, Julie. I think it is time we spend more time with our new neighbors.”
As Julie walked back to the house, Michael said, “Thanks, John. I was caught off guard a little there.”
“No problem. Who knows, maybe they already have plans.”
“We can only hope”
The day of the pool party, Sarah was scrambling around the house trying to get the kids ready. I had to shut the door to my study, so I could read my paper in peace. Boy, raising kids is such hard work. It was a fine day. The sky was blue, and the temperature was perfect. The guys and I were really looking forward to this. Everyone was coming, including Joe and Sheryl. I was bringing all the beer, which reminded me to ask Sarah to get the coolers from the basement.
When I finished my paper, I found Sarah in the living room wrestling with Johnny trying to get his shirt and shoes on, and as she saw me walk up, she pointed to the kitchen, and I saw the coolers already laid out for me, and I said, “Thank you, sweetheart. What would I do without you?”
I loaded the coolers with the ice and beer, and placed them in the Red Ryder Wagon, and stuck my head back through the front door, “I am leaving to Michael’s. I’ll wait for you and the kids there. Bye babe.”
All us husbands were seated around Michael’s patio table.
“So, Joe.” I said. “We heard what happened to Sheryl. Looks like she’s doing okay.”
We all turned to watch Sheryl prepare to jump into the pool. She was wearing a violet two-piece suit, with her blonde hair up. We turned back to Joe, who produced a proud smile on his face, and he replied, “She’s doing much better. Janet had felt so bad about what happened, she came back to the house to patch Sheryl up after returning her dog home.”
Michael and I looked at each other, and I turned back to Joe.
Joe continued, “I think James and Janet should be coming soon.”
I asked, “Have you spoken much with James, being he’s your next-door neighbor?”
“James? Oh yes, very nice guy. He’s a whiz with cars. He helped me with my carburetor just last week.”
As Joe was describing how James fixed the carburetor, James and Janet walked through the fence gate unto the patio, with their kids scattering toward the pool. Janet was wearing a white one-piece, with her light brown hair down. We all stood, waiting for Michael to greet them. As Michael was making the introductions, I snuck glimpses of Janet. Michael pulled out a chair for James, and as he thanked Michael, James offered the chair to Janet and he sat in another chair next to her. All us other husbands stood there, looking at each other, not understanding what was happening, so we just sat down with James and Janet.
I offered to Janet that Sarah would get her a glass of wine, and she replied, “You know John, I would rather have one of those beers you got in the cooler next to you.”
I must say, I was surprised as hell. I fished for a beer, and as I was about to pop the cap, Janet said, “I can handle that, John. Thank you.”
Janet skillfully popped the beer open and took a nice healthy drink from the bottle. She looked around with a satisfied smile, and said, “Wow, that’s good beer. Mighty fine taste you have, John.”
Janet saw Sheryl in the pool, and said to Joe, “I’m so sorry about what Ralph did the other day. I am not good with that dog. Thank God my brother picked him up yesterday. He and his family were vacationing in Florida for the past two weeks.”
James laughed, and said, “Not a moment too soon, right Janet? That beast was driving me crazy, constantly banging into things and tipping things over.” Again, Michael and I looked at each other.
Janet continued, “Oh my God, I have to tell you guys, I wanted to murder that dog. I love my brother, but he was real close to losing his so-called best friend.”
While I felt uncomfortable with Janet there, sitting and talking with all us guys, I have to say, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Janet laughed and talked just like she was one of us, and she was nice. It was nice. And I began to talk and laugh with her. Just like I said, I liked Janet and James the moment I met them.
R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. from Marquette University and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. His short story, “The Blue Line,” will be published in the April 2019 issue of the Blue Lake Review.
* * *
The Tree Line
By Josh Rank
“Go back inside!” shouted David Collins. The wind whipped the collar of his split pea soup-colored coat against his throat. “Now!” He struggled to balance the shotgun in his right hand as the dog pulled on the leash in his right.
But Chase didn’t move. Even after the divorce, when he withdrew into himself, when his third-grade teacher called home with her concerns over his behavior in class, when he moved to the new apartment on the other side of town with his mother, he rarely disobeyed his father. He didn’t smile much. But neither did he argue. Tonight, however, Chase stood his ground.
Chase knew his father’s words were hollow. They stood near the tree line at the back of the property, where the orange glow of the light attached to the side of their house became more of a suggestion.
Chase wasn’t comfortable in this vague area of recognition, but he had grown accustomed to it. There were plenty of things left vague in the two years since he first visited after moving with his mother, Sammy. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and he didn’t understand why it was called a “visit” when he was just going home. Sammy had been calling the apartment their new home, but that didn’t make sense. They already had a home. It was right where they left it. There was no room for a new home and nobody visits their actual home; they just go to it.
It was on this visit home that Chase found another confusing thing: There was a dog tied up to the tree in the front yard.
“Whose dog is that?” Sammy had asked David, who then turned to Chase.
“It’s his,” he said.
“Oh David you can’t just go and—” Chase’s parents walked away talking to each other like always did now, but he didn’t pay attention. He sat next to the dog he would eventually learn to be a boxer. With its skinny legs and small waist, she didn’t seem like much of an athlete, but he didn’t name the breed. The dog itself, though, he named after something else he didn’t understand. He liked the word “Brexit” from the first time he heard it while his Dad watched the news. It stuck in his head and when David told Chase he could name the dog whatever he wanted, there was no hesitation.
“Do you know what Brexit even is?” asked David with a rare smile on his face.
Chase nodded. “It’s my dog.”
His father grabbed him by the shoulder with one of his giant hands. “It sure is.”
Three years old and already housebroken, Chase didn’t concern himself with teaching Brexit tricks. Whoever had her before had taken care of the basics. The story of how she arrived at the local animal shelter was unknown, but once David heard about the adoption fair due to overcrowding, the dog was soon introduced to the boy who would spend the next two years essentially attached to her neck.
“Dad, please,” said Chase at the light’s edge near the tree line.
“She’s sick,” said David. “You know that. She’s not going to get better.”
Chase was supposed to be at his new home, but he couldn’t stay away. They had agreed, his parents, that this was the best course of action and that Chase shouldn’t be around. Chase didn’t agree with either point.
“This is what the doctor is for,” shouted Chase. Tears invaded his nose which ran into his throat and made his words soupy. “They can fix her.”
“We’ve talked about this, said David. “It’s too expensive for just ‘a fairly good chance.’ You don’t want her to be in pain, do you?”
“No!” But Chase was talking about the pain she would feel that night and not in the coming months. He noticed the way she wouldn’t always get up to greet him. Or the way she would squeak a little when she jumped down from the couch. The problem was that she couldn’t explicitly tell him how bad she felt. It was up to him to interpret her behavior and his overwhelming attachment hadn’t allowed him to entertain the thought that the best thing for her was to be gone.
“Chase, honey—” His mother’s voice floated on the wind behind him.
“Why did you bring him here? Now?” yelled David.
“He just…I don’t know. I’ve never seen him like this.”
Chase stood between his parents. His mother looked like a dark ghost. The orange light from behind drowned her face in a shadow. She stepped forward and knelt down.
“Chase, things don’t always make sense. It seems like they should, but they just don’t. The hard part isn’t learning this, but accepting it. It’s different.”
Chase turned around and watched his father lean the shotgun against a tree before leading the dog away from the tree line.
“She’s young,” said Sammy. “It seems like only old dogs get sick, but that’s not true. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it is.” She looked over Chase’s head toward David.
“Say goodbye, Chase,” he said.
“Chase.” His mother left his name to disappear with the orange light in the trees.
He sat in the grass. The dog turned toward him but didn’t move. Chase scooted forward and wrapped his arms around her neck. He said goodbye even though he didn’t understand. Even though he didn’t want to. Even though he wasn’t sure what that actually meant. Then he stood up and Sammy took him by the hand. His Dad led the dog back toward the shotgun and the tree line. His mother led him back to the house. His home. His first home.
It would be another ten minutes before David walked back into the house alone, but they didn’t hear him close the door because Sammy had turned the music up so loud.
Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and has had stories published in The Emerson Review, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. He currently eats sandwiches in Nashville, TN. More ramblings can be found at joshrank.com.
* * *
How I Think Up My Dead Mother
By Michael Akuchie
she should be bigger than the framed photograph holding her
she shoukd touch me by mouthing the name with which she blessed my umbilical cord
until age 9, i always walked past the portrait nailed to the wall
turned my eyes away from the strange woman built into the parlour
until my brother's mouth started to foam with revelation
truth laced with shock installed nightmares inside this body
i merge eyes with the only surviving ornament, break into a flood
dust plaits my mother's face neatly as i ignore the resemblance
i climb up a stool & set her down for clearer examination
i introduce her face to my chest, draw her close enough
after school, i come home to intimate details of my day with her
i do not think my words are licked clean by empty air
i believe she hovers around my life fending off ghosts
that she is God which picks my prayers & washes me anew
that she soothes me with pretty stories till sleep takes control
that i do not have trouble bringing her inside my dreams
that she calls me son , & in so doing sets fire to the rain in my eyes
i am a boy who pools his life inside the wish pond & retrieves his mother
because i want to feel her breath's warmth pressed against my neck
because i want her scolding to tighten up childlike screwups
i rise to the rank of a ladder & replace her body on the wall
nailed once more as inglorious personal saviour to go unnoticed
this sour moment empowers a floor of tears to overrun my eyes
& i spill over the carpet sweeping emotion across the room
mother's absence visits in the grief of dreary weathers
i make the hurt fitting by choosing to unbreak my life
the bandage of this thought will heal the wound, prominent like my name
Michael Akuchie is an emerging poet from Nigeria. His work has appeared on 8poems, Kissing Dynamite, TERSE, Nitrogen House, Burning House and elsewhere. He is on Twitter as @Michael_Akuchie. He studies English at the University of Benin, Nigeria.
* * *
By Amy Baskin
-“Tell everyone on this train that I love them.” - Taliesin
Namkai-Meche, Hollywood Transit Center, Green Line, Portland Oregon,
May 26, 2017.
In the seat next to you
sits a stranger,
shining brow, sweating
shirt stains evident
like your own
for one moment, close
your eyes in trust
can you feel him
not his hands or
the side of his body
can you open
is your skin thin
for his love
could he be
your murderer? he may
have daggers within him
I have seen those who
have thrown away their souls
could he be
your prophet? he may
I have seen those who
have given up their lives
and they are everything
Amy Baskin's recent work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Cirque, and Friends Journal. She is a 2018 and 2016 Willamette Writers Kay Snow Poetry honorable mention recipient. When she's not writing, she matches international students at Lewis & Clark College with local volunteers to help make them feel welcome and at home during their stay.
* * *
By Jordan Corley
the years are far too many
to validate my words and make
them seem any less insane
on paper than when they swirl
around inside my head,
so i'll pretend the years that've passed
are actually only weeks
and the you that i remember
is the one that lives today
because when years go by
and people grow up,
into something different.
they become closer
to their end person
when the changing finally stops.
i am scared your end person
is not the same person i remember
when we were both still growing.
i am scared your end person
and my end person
do not fit together
with the easy we once did.
i am scared our persons have grown apart
over the years that have passed us by.
we have changed too much
to fit together, anymore.
an irreversible truth
that has taken me years
Jordan Corley is a student at Penn State with a passion for the art of poetry and creative writing. She published her debut poetry collection, “battle scars”, in 2018 at the age of 19. She hopes that through her writing she can reach others dealing with physical and mental illness and spread the message that they are not alone in their fight.
* * *
You'll Know It When You Find It
By Chris Davis
I just can’t get past the grease-blacked hands.
Be nice if I could, though – be one of the family men.
My dad and brother, both holding their bologna-on-white-breads with
those same blacked hands.
Mine throbbing, jammed deep
into the cherry-red ’66 Mustang’s ribcage,
feeling for something I don’t know how to feel for.
Their minds turn the same gears –
cam shafts and spark plugs.
Mine on the music: Lennon (the “soft” stuff) and Hetfield (the “loud” stuff).
I ask, again, what it is I’m trying to fix,
and in one sentence:
“You’ll know it when you find it,”
My dad drains the little confidence I had left.
I toss a plea to my brother,
but my dad seals our communication:
“Let him figure it out on his own, Bryan.”
Face pressed against the air filter, fishing for the wrench I dropped into
its aluminum alloy muscles.
I can hear his eyes rolling.
My pounding heart echoes his tapping foot.
My fingers catch on a bolt, shaving a layer of skin off my knuckle.
“I think I found it!”
My dad’s reply, skeptical, rather than pleased:
“Do you think you found it, or did you find it?”
Turning the wrench, black fluid pools around my feet
in rainbows, bright as my tie-dyed shirt.
“I knew he’d screw it up. Go fix it, Bryan.”
As my brother shifts in to salvage things, I slip out,
sealing their relationship.
Chris Davis earned the title of “least prepared person to ever enter space” by NASA, farmed exotic guinea pigs in Peru, and was once bit by a goat. His interests include above-ground spelunking and writing fake bios. He recently graduated the fourth grade and owns over seven houseplants."
* * *
My Ex's Father
By James H. Duncan
casually monolithic in a Stones t-shirt
smoking on the back patio
in the haze of infinite Sunday
he never asked me what I saw in his daughter
he never asked me to treat her right
or get her home early, just tossed me his
keys and let me move in when she
was away at college and I was homeless,
talked humanist indulgence and
vinyl records, Long Island
summers, and when Zeppelin jumped
the shark or if they ever did
he bought weed off my friends
but voted Republican and traveled
with Phish and would ask me
to drive him to the supermarket
sipping a Corona in the passenger seat,
a smoke dangling from his
lips and he’d go inside and come
back with lotto tickets and a sixer while
never having put on shoes that day
I’d lay in my girlfriend’s bed and
when she’d come home her head would
fit right in the crook of my neck and
we’d plan out a dream house,
woodstove, a library with one of
those ladders with wheels that rolled along
the walls lined with books, and we wanted
a guest cottage for her old man
so he’d always be around, and that made
us both really happy, we’d just shut
up and stare at the ceiling, smiling
she loved him but I idolized him, and
I think the difference was she wanted
someone like him to always be in her life
and I wanted to be what he was so effortlessly
but I knew I’d never get there, it was out
of reach for someone so shiftless when idle
as Paul Westerberg would scream when I played my
car radio too loud fixing the taillights
with him sitting on a stack of old tires riding
my ass about my shit garage band music and
laughing, seeing me get defensive, making
me laugh too, and god damn I missed
him when it had to end, hated leaving him
behind almost as much as leaving her
but she had fucked just a few too many guys
out there in Chicago and so I had to
pack my shit car up and find somewhere
else to be until the next one came
when I saw his obituary a decade later
I almost reached out, but the obit
was two years old online and there
wasn’t anything else to tell her anyway
so I just drove to the supermarket without
shoes and bought a sixer of Corona
and drove to the river that night
playing early Zeppelin before
hucking the empties into the Hudson
River and hoping they made their
way to Long Island somehow,
little empty messages in bottles
sending my thanks homeward bound
James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of Nights Without Rain, Dead City Jazz, What Lies In Wait, and other collections of poetry and fiction. He also reviews indie bookshops at his blog, The Bookshop Hunter. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.
* * *
Washed Away 2005
By Charlotte Hamrick
When a certain scent wafts on the wind,
it brings back those long summer days
- and the winter ones too -
when we all sat outside together
smoking and talking, laughing
at your stories. You were always
the funny one quick with a joke
and a smile, the glint of devilment
in your fathomless eyes. You beguiled
us all with your charming Cajun ways
talking about growing up on the bayou,
riding bikes in the cane fields where
you claimed you once saw a Big Foot,
how the older boys chased you
and hit you with brooms at Courir de Mardi Gras.
But then The Big One came and washed
us all away to Memphis, Dallas, Asheville,
and even to New York, scattered from our
ribbon cane murmurs and confidences,
our laughter and complacence. Washed away,
never to be the same again.
Charlotte Hamrick’s poetry, prose, and photography has been published in numerous online and print journals. She is a Pushcart Prize Nominee and was a Finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize for her Creative Non-Fiction. She is Creative Nonfiction Editor for Barren Magazine and lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets.
* * *
By Jack D. Harvey
in the clouds,
in the roses,
in the dirt,
root like a hog;
flog the memory
for the one forgotten lay,
for a flight of fancy,
for an open sesame
in your empty day.
a bolt of lightning
in the dark,
riving mortal mast and
and you are weary, wary;
what foam on the waves
leaves a trace?
Sunk beneath the shimmery sea
it's no use;
a muddy submarine
stuck in the deep,
a cold-hearted fish
out of favor
in one time and place.
In the library
the sunshine dies on
the western door;
little windowpanes frame
the snowy fields
in little pieces;
somewhere a faucet leaks,
a beam creaks in the attic.
Blank as the breasts of Helen,
the white walls seem to
look and listen;
the poet sits
in the gloaming
silent as the books
Flighty muse, artful goddess,
to your shrine
a pilgrim comes calling;
your light hurts,
your dark too
and the burnished sun
you gave me
burns still, sings
in the ruins;
an emblem of life,
Past sweet voices of angels,
past red-hot declarations
I go like a shot;
striving for simple faith,
the intake of a divine breath,
my efforts betray me
like bad moves in games.
Is it enough for now?
In the reckoning
is it ever enough?
Strong hands reach
from far away;
lead me goddess,
in the hours of sleep
lean in and listen to my heart;
I am your child.
Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Bay Area Poets’ Coalition, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies.
* * *
Three Poems by Mia Herman
When the Pregnancy Test Is Negative (AGAIN)
I want to wake him with good news--
tell him he’ll never sleep again
because our baby’s wail
will still be ringing in our ears
long after she turns eighteen,
and I want to warn him
that I must cut caffeine and alcohol
and raw fish from my diet so life
as we know it is totally over,
and I want just once to catch a fucking
glimpse of that mysterious glow
as I walk past
the bathroom mirror--
but the little blue line sends me back
to bed where I will implant myself
between the sheets and try like hell
to dream of good news.
BabyCenter says I can expect my embryo
to be the size of a sesame seed
several weeks after conception
and I’m not sure why but I think about this
when the cramping begins and the crimson creeps
down the inside of my thigh until I finally reach
for the phone because panic has set in
and I am certain I can feel this little seed
scatter right out from under me
which I try to explain, hours later,
when the doctor is “sorry to report”
that he doesn’t see anything
on the screen and it suddenly feels
like a gust of wind has plucked me
from the ground and I am floating
away for good.
What People Whisper
She lost the baby--
like I don’t know where it went.
Fucking stupid phrase.
Mia Herman is a writer and editor living in Queens, NY. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the Bellevue Literary Review, F(r)iction, and Minerva Rising, and her nonfiction work earned an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Tom Howard / John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hofstra University and serves as the Creative Nonfiction Editor for F(r)iction as well as the Outreach Director for Brink Literacy Project. Follow her on Twitter @MiaMHerman.
* * *
Two Poems by Linda Imbler
Remember when bandaids came in a tin box
instead of flimsy cardboard?
It’s as if the hurts
don’t need to be protected as much as they once were.
The glamour and illusion of safety
in childhood is today dispelled
and palsied hands
offer no safekeeping
and the mitigation of unhappiness
is no longer a hope
the illusion of size to security,
falling is still an option,
but now it’s so much harder to get back up.
To The Dead, We Are Monotonous
The dead have no interest in being alive again.
They don’t hang out in cemeteries.
They go other places,
find more interesting locales.
They hold their cycle of conferences
and do all manner of deft plotting
with only their own future in mind.
There is no opportunistic uprising
being prepared by those gone cold
in order to wipe us out.
So, while the night wind croons
and we worry we will have visitations,
while our seamy superstitions
force us to light bulbs and candles
and wring our hands,
as these demonstration of our fearfulness
consumes our dark hours
the dearly departed stand apart,
impartial to our world.
They see us as monotonous.
Linda Imbler’s poetry collections include Big Questions, Little Sleep, Lost and Found, The Sea’s Secret Song, and Pairings,,a hybrid ebook of short fiction and poetry. She is a Kansas-based Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Nominee.
* * *
Two Poems by Peycho Kanev
I had to do it—all of a sudden I had to eat the stars.
I was outside under the sky, drinking wine, eating bread--
But then, in the dark, I got things mixed up. I ate the stars.
Just when they tried to whisper something to me.
Then it became even darker. And I was completely alone.
Only the red drunken moon stayed with me. The empty bottle, too.
And the pain and my tears and the night. But at least I was fed.
My stomach was shining from the inside with dead time.
So What Now?
Old fossil is what you are
deep inside the thin layer of rock
No sunshine, no wind, nothing
The flesh was all around you before
A heart like a hammer
You will never escape your rocky prison
just like us in our darkness
The chisels are at work under the sun
They are coming closer like moles
We are still blind like that
Can’t see the sun, can’t feel the wind, nothing
You can only wait like the stone that you are
We are digging our own graves
And very soon you will be out in the sunshine
just to die twice
Do not curse our curiosity
We are all made of stardust and dreams and destruction
Peycho Kanev is the author of 4 poetry collections and three chapbooks, published in the USA and Europe. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, such as: Rattle, Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Front Porch Review, Off the Coast, The Adirondack Review, Sierra Nevada Review and many others. His new chapbook titled Under Half-Empty Heaven was published in 2018 by Grey Book Press.
* * *
Letters From My Father
By John Kaprielian
Words were not just words
in my father’s house
they had weight
and were not to be
placed on a page
He thought about them
differently than I do
with a designer’s eye
not a poet’s
he loved them just as much.
Words and letters
serifs and sans
leading and kerning
I was born into this.
my baby book was a
California job case.
When he died
his house was filled with
so many words
and a bag of
old and mildewed.
Mostly his initials –
Ws and Ks
with a smattering
I guess he liked.
They used to live in his office;
a few I remember from walls or shelves
in the house where I grew up.
A tall and sleek J I always liked
rich with wood grain
sat dejected in the bottom of the bag.
I spent a good part of a day
cleaning my father’s letters
brushing and washing and oiling them
till they looked as I remembered them
so many years ago.
Despite the lack of vowels
they speak to me
murmuring stories from the past
a physical manifestation of
one of my father’s
A natural history photo editor by day, John Kaprielian has been writing poetry for over 35 years. He has been published in The Five-Two Poetry Blog, Down in the Dirt, New Verse News, and Minute Magazine. He lives in Putnam County, NY with his wife, teenage son, and assorted pets.
* * *
To a Friend Who Lost a Son
By John P. Kristofco
there is no word for it,
no noun to name the ‘person, place, or thing’
lessened by the loss of just one day;
to claim this empty space,
the wind gone from the tree,
bird sprung from branch;
the flesh embezzled from the word
to no more dwell among us,
sit across the table, on the couch,
footprints in the yard
sacrificed for memory,
an endless echo now,
north star of what might have been,
what was, what will never be
this babble of the unsaid words;
something in her eyes forever changed
by smile never to be seen,
the ears for want of voice,
hands now less for loss of just one touch,
this failure of the language one more time
as at sunrise, sunset,
the scent of rain through screens at night in spring,
this silence now in grass
along the hillside of these
rows of polished stones
John P. (Jack) Kristofco's poetry and short stories have appeared in about two hundred publications, including: Rattle, Cimarron Review, Slant, and Foliate Oak. He has published three poetry collections and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times.
* * *
Two Poems by John Leonard
Life Boats for Paper Dolls
I still throw salt over my shoulder
because it makes the devil thirsty.
He drinks from an oaken bucket.
We can live our lives without him.
I know an old tree in Pennsylvania.
A girl nobody saw leaned against
its moss every day after class.
She wrote in a journal while ants
crawled between her silent fingers.
The summer I turned eighteen,
she tried to hang herself from it--
the tree, not the journal.
It’s easy to get confused since
our words often feel like gallows.
You never forget the first time you taste
sour milk; that feeling of time's betrayal.
But some things still have to be taken
on faith and not on expiration dates.
Today, I spotted that girl at a book-
store in Duluth, Minnesota.
There is something beautiful
about rotting wood.
Divide the Days
A grain of sand…or whatever grabs
your attention. August started with
a gunshot, and bled into my grand-
On this day in history,
I stopped sending a Guatemalan child
twenty dollars every month, because
it was cutting into my beer fund.
The Son of Sam found Jesus.
I’m still looking for my keys.
Divide the days between cloud
watching and watering a peace-lily
that will almost certainly die.
In my father’s house there were
many rooms, but only one gun cabinet.
Another piece of glass enters
my foot from a ballerina figurine
that was broken seven years ago.
My whole point being--
there’s always a little something left behind.
Joseph knew the same people I did. That’s why he fell
across the seminary gates and crawled through thorn bushes.
That’s why he swam trough all those brackish rivers.
It doesn’t have to make sense to feel it;
blood rising in an hour glass while my arms
erase the moon. Nobody is God enough for you!
Beseech me or leave a note on the fridge.
Either way, I need to be reminded to buy
milk and gather a handful of tomorrows.
John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal.
* * *