spring2017

WHAT'S YOUR STORY, MORNING GLORY?
Oleg Kagan

My wife and I are old-timers in our small west Los Angeles apartment building; we have lived here for five years. I know the names of two humans and one dog living in the 15 units surrounding us. I'm told this is normal in the big city.

All in all, we lucked out with this place. When friends complained about their buildings, we bragged about ours. Two things stood out: First, we had our manager, an energetic New Zealander named Margaret with two autistic sons and a zest for gardening. She was competent and friendly, and with her handy husband took care of any issue we had. The second was the building's central courtyard, which Margaret diligently kept tottering just on the charming side of overgrown.

Passing through this courtyard was a daily touch of something simple and artful, like the hummingbirds that hovered around the little bird feeder every summer. Being observant there was always rewarded; leaves, bugs, and birds, changing every day. I grew so attached to the winsome bundle of Morning Glory wrapped around a small bush that I even published a poem about it. Oh, and for years a couple of doves returned there annually for their spring vacation. Tell me, is your courtyard a love nest for birds that coo? Ours was.

Then the owner, an ancient lady whose late husband had constructed the building in the 60s, finally died. Not long after, Margaret's husband began making long trips down south. He had bought and restored a boat, Margaret told us before she and the boys were to depart, so that the family could sail back to New Zealand. What a way to live!

Instead of hiring a new on-site manager, the owner's next of kin decided to personally supervise their new property. Technically, it was the grown-grandson Hank of Podunk, Nevada, who was appointed manager, but I never did glimpse him. This was not so with his mother, Golden Belle, who drove in from Podunker, Nevada to check things out. She was set to stay for a week, but like an obnoxious guest, stayed for five months.

We did not immediately dislike the dumpy, fully-blonde, octogenarian. In fact, we considered the introductory letter she hand-wrote, xeroxed, and tucked into all of our screen doors, amusing. It was written on the dead owner's outdated stationary, had drawings of a lighthouse, the sun behind a couple of skinny, crooked mountains, and was dated "February 1, 2016, year of our Lord". It began "Beloved Tenants," ended "Enjoy your stay," and loosely adopted the metaphor of Golden Belle as "the Captain of our ship," who "reside[sic] on Deck #12". Let it be said that the sailors on deck nine studied her words closely, reading them aloud several times and in different voices.

Despite the enthusiasm of her introduction, it soon became clear that Golden Belle had trouble adjusting to us apartment-dwellers because days after her arrival she undertook to change our ways.

It started with a notice near the building's back exit excoriating the mystery ruffian who'd left a cigarette butt there. The letter ended with the sign-off: "The Bell has Rung!". Next was a note -- topped by the time it was written: 6AM -- reminding us that the "Laundry Room trash Basket is for: Lint only. Not wrappings - towels etc." There was also a drawing of a stinky towel and her now-classic sign-off. Other missives followed and yes, they were all filled with peculiar capitalization, illustrations, and the fervent self-righteousness a holy warrior reserved for the unsaved hordes.

These admonitions were calmly ignored, though it is true that some brave resistance fighter took to adding whimsical doodles and post-scripts to her notes, as well as finding and deliberately planting old cigarette butts near the building's entrances. My ire was not truly awakened until The Bell aimed her puritanical gaze on our lush, wanton courtyard. One morning, about a month into her stay, she waylaid me on the way to my car and began discharging things like "This courtyard is a real mess, isn't it?" "I can't believe we let it go for so long," and "I'm going to fix it." Becoming a murderer occurred to me right then, but I had to get to work!

She spent the next four months wrecking our cherished courtyard with the help of a withered, barely ambulant man (husband? servant? We don't know!), and a bevy of part-time laborers. Even for a novice gardener, she did a terrible job -- chopping down and tearing out established flora willy-nilly with replacements that were pretty much DOA. And then, randomly, I guess she decided that she was done (both with the courtyard and with us) because with nary a farewell Golden Belle got into her old Cadillac and set sail for home.

I don't know what the other neighbors thought of the courtyard situation because we barely see each other, much less communicate. I do know that between Golden Belle's arrival and the sale of the building to its current absentee owner (and faceless management company), the screenwriter downstairs became paralyzed after a fall on the beach, the moody realtor in the second floor apartment across from ours moved out, as did the cute Serbian couple who lived under her. The young ladies, who live adjacent to the couple, graduated from college, and the guy with glasses above them got a roommate. Andrew, an entrepreneur who lives downstairs, participated in a panel at my library and did a good job. Also, the baby belonging to Eric and his wife, who live in the apartment next to ours, turned one.

By the way, when we first moved in, Eric left a green tea Kit-Kat bar from his trip to Japan on our door handle. When I rang to say thanks, he acknowledged that it was actually intended for the school-age daughter of the librarian living beneath us who used to live in our apartment. But he let us keep it, and I respectfully remember his name (though he has surely forgotten mine). The Smokers (everyone calls them "The Smokers") from downstairs continue to have their TV constantly on and smoke with their door open, and a poodle named Kona has moved in next door to us.

I don't know what our neighbors thought of Golden Belle, but anyway, what could we do but go on with our lives? Even the doves came back this year. I should move on, shouldn't I? Let go of things I can't control and all of that. Still, every day I pass the spot where the small bush used to be and I can't just forget that the Morning Glory is not there. 

___

OLEG KAGAN is a writer and librarian from Los Angeles. His work has been published in Frogpond, cattails, ROKOKO, Saturation, Phantom Seed, and numerous anthologies. He can be found on the web at lifeinoleg.com.

EXCERPT
from An Illegal Start
James Harris

An Illegal Start (click to buy tickets)
premieres in the merry-go-round on the Santa Monica Pier
May 5, 6, 11, 12 & 13, 2017, 8:00 PM

The play is set in 1980's rural western Colorado, where an old merry go-round in a defunct amusement park becomes a refuge for two young men (played by CAMERON TAGGE and IRISH GIRON) after a near-fatal accident, catapulting an unlikely friendship into an intimately intertwined journey through the trials of two starkly different life paths.

From Act 2, Scene 6

ROBBIE:
I’m getting married! (Pete hesitates, then replies. He is less than pleased.) 
PETE:
Well! The story’s complete, then, isn’t it? 
ROBBIE:
Huh? 
PETE:
(Dryly) Congratulations. 
ROBBIE:
I expected you to be happy for me. (Pete concedes.) 
PETE:
I am... I am happy for you. 
ROBBIE:
Good. 
PETE:
Yeah. 
ROBBIE:
I’ve got something to ask you. 
PETE:
Yeah? What? 
ROBBIE:
I would love for you to be my best man. (Pete stares at Robbie for a moment before answering.) 
PETE:
No. 
ROBBIE:
No? 
PETE:
I can’t. 
ROBBIE:
Why not? 
PETE:
I’m not going to be there. 
ROBBIE:
Why not? 
PETE:
I’ve made other plans. 
ROBBIE:
I haven’t even told you when it is yet. 
PETE:
Yeah, well... I’ll be busy. 
ROBBIE:
How can you be- 
PETE:
I’ll be busy! 
ROBBIE:
(Stunned) God damn you... 
PETE:
He can’t. He has “special plans for us”. 
ROBBIE:
No. God damn you. You and your self righteous, “follow-the-river-out-of-here-to-find yourself” bullshit. I thought you really had it together, Pete. You spoke as thought you had all wisdom, and I bought every word of it. You had the guts to leave everything behind. To do things your own way. To be Pete Wilson! I believed everything you said, about how life began outside of this valley, about growing up, about finding myself! And look at it all. Look at it all now! 
PETE:
You look at it! You found a life outside of the valley! You grew up! You found... Yourself! 
ROBBIE:
But you never did. That’s it, isn’t it? You never did... (Pete takes a long, heavy drink.) And you’ll never find it in there. (Pete snaps, confronting Robbie face to face.) 
PETE:
Don’t! Don’t you tell me where I will or won’t find myself. Don’t you lecture me! Don’t you give me any of your self-righteous bullshit! All you’ve become is a stereotype! 
ROBBIE:
A what? 
PETE:
You heard me. It’s what America does to its poor. They got you to join the service as an act of desperation. 
ROBBIE:
Desperation? 
PETE:
Desperation! Low income, no higher education, and to top it all off - a broken heart! Hah! And all over someone whose name you can’t even repeat!!! 
ROBBIE:
(Calmly) I can repeat it. 
PETE:
You can?! Well then do it! (Pete’s menace grows as he prods Robbie.) Do it once! Do it! Do it!! Do it!!! (Robbie answers calmly and directly, yet somewhat ashamed.) 
ROBBIE:
Teri Garcia. (Pete stumbles, did he hear this correctly?) 
PETE:
T-T.. Teri? 
ROBBIE:
Teri. 
PETE:
“Her”... Teri? 
ROBBIE:
I know I fixed you up with her, and you went out and all... And I know how much you liked her, but- (Pete turns away.) 
PETE:
You putted with Teri Garcia? 
ROBBIE:
Pete! It just never worked out. Not for you. 
PETE:
And sunsets? 
ROBBIE:
Not for her. 
PETE:
And Amaretto sours... 
ROBBIE:
And not for me. 
PETE:
She had beautiful brown eyes. 
ROBBIE:
Yes, she did... Pete, I’m sorry! (Pete takes another drink. He smiles wildly at Robbie, catching him by surprise. The effects of the liquor are really beginning to show.) 
PETE:
And you... Hell, you cheated on her. 
ROBBIE:
No. 
PETE:
No? You told me!!! Hah! Does you future wife know you’re a cheater?!! Ha Ha Ha! (Pete laughs wildly as he waves the half-empty bottle around. Robbie stares warily at Pete; his sturdiness that of a soldier.) 
ROBBIE:
No! Stop Pete! Stop! (Pete stops..) 
ROBBIE:
(cont'd) She’s not the one I cheated. (Pete tries to straighten himself, taking this statement.) 
PETE:
Who then did you- (He catches himself, realizing that Robbie is referring to him.) Me??? (He laughs.) Me???!!! You think you cheated on me???!!! 
ROBBIE:
I’m sorry, Pete. (Pete begins putting it all together now, as best as a drunk can.)


___

JAMES HARRIS is the author of Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier (Angel City Press, 2009), and co-founder of Santa Monica Public Theatre.

 

ANIMALS OUT OF WORK
An excerpt from Come Home Canyon
Jill Schary Robinson

“Shameful time for your buddies,” Ember said to her horse Rusty as she rode him into Come Home Canyon. Horses used to have jobs. Now, really rich people kept some horses polished up like poker chips. As they rode, the few horses still around just looked over Rusty as if he was a show-off. She heard the thundering up behind them. A guy rattled by in his Ford and squeezed his rubber bugle, honking them off to the side. The horses gave each other downcast looks. Shook their heads. It was real hard, Ember guessed, for these horses to see owners you used to work for, rumbling in on these motored rides, these ugly creatures called cars, dolled up in knight-in-shining armor metal. Nothing you’d want to hold close. For horses, it was the end of love and feeling useful. “We’re just about dust.” 

Ember left Rusty out to graze and tossed off her boots in Hank’s cabin. 

“Ember, Good Lord! Pull up your sox, kid! We got a job today!” Uncle Hank slapped her on the shoulder. “Own five horses, coin’ fine. Jose and Lance coming home from fixing Las Virgenes Canyon fences. Jose’ll need coffee.” Hank looked at the big clock rescued from the old Post Office. “You and I, due in Culver City—two hours from now.” 

Uncle Hank, Head Stunt Man at MGM, had trained Ember. She put on the percolator, ran up the trail to the main house to her loft. Put on frontier pants, blue-checkered shirt. Pulled back her long dark red hair tied into a ponytail with a twist of leather, grinned at her face, cheeks her friend Josie and called her look. “You approach people tough. They get thrown by how you look them over. Then you grin and they laugh right up with you.” Ember loved Josie, but Josie was thrown two years ago, broke her neck. Thank whatever I got Rusty and Hank. And Jose. And now, at 14, Ember heard Hank say, next to him she was “the best stunt person in town.” Hank didn’t throw compliments around. Jose had been a toreador when he was a kid; he’d left his family’s big ranches in Mexico to work with Hank in movies. They were best buddies and each wore a wide, silver cuff with each other’s names on. 

“Heard from your Ma this morning?” Hank asked. Ma was Hank’s sister. 

“No. She’s, you know. I didn’t hear her come home—except she was smashed, shoes on stairs, some guy using the spitoon. Yuck.” 

Everyone at school knew Ma was a drunk. And “cheap.” And when kids would tease—“I saw your Ma on the balcony in nothing but her black stockings”—Ember would cringe and hope she’d get a job on a far-off location. The ranch where she lived with Ma was right on the main Sage Brush road. And Ma would hang out looking for jobless guys ambling by. Whatever, just someone needing a drink and some time naked in bed. Ember got the percolator started for Hank, and she put the kettle on for Jose’s rosemary tea. Lance, his horse, was a Palomino. He liked her horse Rusty, but Rusty wasn’t interested in anything but galloping around the canyons with Ember. 

“Eggs and bacon?” Ember asked Hank. She took the frypan down from the rack.

“Just a couple of eggs for me, Sweetie.” He slapped his gut. “Jose said I got to lay off fat or I’ll be losing my looks, not to mention too heavy to somersault off a rooftop.” 

“Aw, Hank, you’ll always be the real best, and handsome as Gable, if you ask me. I”m going to walk some coffee up the trail to Ma. See if she’s—you know—“

“I know.” 

The trails connecting the cabin, the ranch house, the stables, and the tack room were kept rough and netted with chaparral brush to keep the land from sliding toward the sea during storm season. Ember reached the high point halfway to the back door of the house and turned, looking out over the sea. There’d never be anything she loved more than this view, the smell of this land, with the whiff of horse. There’s no use for people without land and horses. No reason whatever. She raised her arms to the sun. There was a prayer this Indian teacher said at school every morning. Vishnu was really born in the Land of India across from China—or whatever—but he was beautiful and you’d say, “Look to this Day, for it is Life…” and Ember liked to say it every day from this place—where her life was. She loved the line about “the Splendor of Action.” Whoever wrote that rode horses and knew them well. Embver told that to Vishnu who agreed. 

“A horse needs to come out at dawn. To catch the best, earliest light.” 

Now, holding the mug of coffee steady Ember climbed the steps to Ma’s wing, knocked on the door. 

“What the hell do you want?” Ma shouted. 

“I got you some coffee.” 

“I don’t want it.” 

“Ma. It’s me.” 

“Who?” 

“Ember. MA!

“Then you ought to know not to wake me.” 

"Well, I’m going with Hank—we got a job.” 

“Good for you!” Ma growled. 

“I’ll leave the coffee by the door.” 

“Yeah,” Ma said, voice blurry. Bad night. 

Ember walked down the trail, taking the right trail to the tack room, picked up a tube of the Veterinary liniment. Rusty still had a bit of a limp from an ankle twist a year ago. Jose had told Ember if she rubs it in “like this”—he’d showed her how—“it will be all gone. One day!” 

Rusty came running over, whinnying. When Ember took the right turn, she could feel his excitement, the lift of spirit, just like hers when they saw each other. Like when Jose saw Hank come in the door after a job and his eyes lit up. She felt that with Rusty and, with Hank, too. But it wasn’t the same—she’d love to see some real person look at her and be wild for her with his eyes. 

TRUNCATE
Sheikha A.

Autumn should have arrived ten days ago
but the days are mystifyingly clear
and with a cool breeze today – 
we are probably receiving the residual
monsoon winds from across borders.

This stray monsoon doesn’t know it can
never initiate rain on my ground – 
we live under a despot sun.

My skin hasn’t started to flake,
darken and wrinkle like autumn-inflicted trees,
but has turned a shade lighter – 
an unwelcome unexpected 

Spring never arrived; summer hasn’t left;
autumn is late; the months are shedding
days faster than the leaves in flight
to desiccation.

The days carry themselves with eccentric
precision – eight years have seen no change.

Winter will be its nonage burgundy self;
the nights crusting with sadness,
the hours condensing with slowness.

___

SHEIKHA A. is from Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. Over 300 of her poems have been published in various literary venues, both print and online, including several anthologies by different presses. More about her can be found on sheikha82.wordpress.com

TATTOO MAN, Chapter 1
Shirley Cannon

You never saw cars on the road on Sunday mornings.  Hardly ever.  I liked the quiet breath of the air.  I could see crows as they flew down from trees and landed nearby.  They say that when you start noticing crows and counting them, more and more show up.  Everybody said different things about what they meant.  I heard four of them meant good luck.  Two, death.  Eight, pain and sorrow.  There were quite a few that morning.  I lost count.  Nine, I think.  Maybe.  I couldn’t remember what nine’s supposed to stand for.  I loved looking at the crows.  The glistening black of their feathers made me think of peacock coal, that hard anthracite kind, not bituminous coal like we have.  Peacock coal is jet black and streaked with hot pink, Indian yellow, and stripes of acid green like you see sometimes on the back of a beetle.  As I neared the mine, I could hear the low hum of generators, pumps and high tension lines that kept the mine alive six days a week, and then sounded like some kind of slumbering beast on Sundays.  

I’d been walking barefoot on the newly tarred road, just heading up toward the coal mine, like I did every Sunday morning.  When my feet got too hot on the fiery surface, I hopped onto shady patches when I could, cool patches created by the thick, overhanging trees.  Sometimes my toes would sink down into sun-softened spots of tar that covered deep potholes.  It felt good the way the tar would sink in when I poked it with my big toe, and then slowly return to the way it was, like some thick licorice cushion in a hot, hard place.

At twelve years old, I was drawn to the mine like I was a spirit who walked through ghost towns.  Rusted coal cars lay like skeletons on abandoned rail lines.  The mine office, a once whitewashed cement block building, was now charcoal gray, like it’d been picked up and fondled by grimy hands, then plopped down onto that hard piece of earth.

There was no grass or green of any kind to be seen, except when I looked up.  Up was where the trees were.  Up was where the hills were which held the trees.  Up was pure green coolness.  That dark hooker green spotted with sunlight which somehow managed to slip past the hulking mountains that surrounded the black tar road and black coal-covered ground, and the mine with its rusted metal doors and blackened coal tipple, the rusted brown wires and creosote-covered telephone poles.  Up was green.  Down was dark.  All my life, green had been where freedom lay.  My place to play and hide in spots no one else knew about.  But, that black and rust and tar?  That’s where my heart lived.

I followed the coal car tracks toward the tipple and found myself in front of the rusted doors that blocked the entrance to the mine.  I picked up a rock and knocked a few times.  It made a loud, hollow sound.  I dropped the rock and picked up a rusted railroad spike.  It was a good one, and I thought I’d take it home for my collection.  As I walked back toward the road, the tiny rocks covering the mine yard hurt my feet, so I scrunched up my toes to put some space between the soles of my feet and the hot pebbles.

Back at the road, I crossed over to the memorial, a large, three-paneled wood sign that reminded me of Italian paintings on a calendar at Joey Matteo’s house, with one big dirty panel in the middle and one skinny panel on each side.  I’m sure it must have been white when it was new, but it had turned grimy gray, the same color as the mine office.  It was hard to see some of the names, but I liked to read about the men who’d died in the mine.  Charlie Foster, crushed between a coal car and a support timber.  Leonard Ackerby, a ceiling gave way.  Harold Barthlow, slag fall.  Paul Rapach, Gabriel Blackmore, Carl Brady, black damp explosion.  There were almost fifty names in all.  Most of them had died of white damp poisoning.  Some drowned when water flooded through.

From where I was standing, I had a good view of the mine office, so first I heard the car coming, then I saw it pull up and park in front of the office.  Dr. Morris got out and unlocked the door and went inside.  He came out right away and began loading cardboard boxes into his trunk.  Suitcases were piled up in the back seat of the little sports car.  I held my breath as I watched my mother.  She was sitting in the car and wearing big sunglasses.  The top was down and she had her head laid back with her face turned up toward the blue sky and green trees.  She looked like a movie star in that white convertible.  Her hair sparkled like it was filled with orange diamonds.  When he came out with another box, he put it in the trunk, then touched her hair and smiled at her.  Bent down and kissed her on the lips.

I waited for him to go back inside and then walked over to the car.  I was trying to figure out what to say, but my brain wouldn’t let me keep track.  At first she looked surprised, then like she was mad at me for something.

“What are you doing up here by yourself?  You should have stayed home and not be running all over the place.”  She checked over her shoulder then looked me up and down like she was in a store.  “Where’s your daddy?”  She checked over her shoulder again.

“He’s at home, sleeping.” I said.  She seemed to calm down.

“You going to Pittsburgh to live?”  I wanted to add “with him,” but I didn’t.  “When you coming back?”  She probably wouldn’t have answered me anyhow.  She just looked at me through her big glasses.   

“Mrs. Fortley will see to you if you need anything.  You should be in church instead of running up and down this road like some wild thing.”

I could feel my bare feet burning on the hot pebbles as I stood there, but I didn’t move them.  Instead, I reached down to my calf with a fingernail and cut a deep “X” through a mosquito bite that had been driving me crazy.  I rubbed my thumb back and forth on the rough surface of the railroad spike and wished she’d just take off those glasses.  She didn’t.

“I don’t want you to go,” I said toward my leg, and bent down again to scratch the bite.  “I could help out more if you didn’t go.”  

When I straightened up, she looked at my dirty blouse and jeans and said, “How often do you change your underpants, girl?”

I didn’t know what the answer should be.  I was afraid all of a sudden that it would be too often or maybe too long and then I’d lose her forever.  I couldn’t remember what I did.  Or what I was supposed to do.  My mind felt like a jukebox she could see into, big and visible, with hundreds of choices and only one dime.  I remembered how we used to clean up to go up to the doctor’s office every week, so I finally said, “Once a week.”

“Once a week!  What’s wrong with you, girl.  You know better than that!”

Just then Dr. Morris came out of his office with the last box.  He locked the door and dropped the key in the mail slot.  When he turned around and saw me, his eyes got wide and sad for a minute.  Just as he was starting to smile at me, I took the railroad spike and raked it across my mother’s side of the car.  Then I raked it again, harder.

“You’re gonna be sorry some day.”  I whispered it low, but I knew she heard me.  Then I told myself when I headed back home, “From now on, I’m doin’ what I please.  And I’ll change my underpants when I damn well feel like it!” 

•••

Every Sunday after that, I walked up to the mine as usual, except I kept hoping she’d be there.  I didn’t know how life was gonna happen without her.  One Sunday I picked Johnny Jump Ups.  I put them on the window sill and made myself take a bath and wash my hair.  Most Sunday mornings Mrs. Fortley came down to see how I was.  That particular morning, she knocked gently on the screen door and poked her head into the kitchen.

“Addie, darling,” she said in a long, exaggerated drawl, “Why, Addie, look at you.  So cleaned up and pretty.  And the kitchen fixed up so nice!  Where’d you get those Jump Ups?”  Her huge body made the kitchen seem smaller than it was.  She stood with her hands on her hips and pretended to look jealous, but I knew she had Jump Ups growing all over her yard.  Violets were her favorite flower.  Except maybe for white roses.

“You walk up to the mine again?”  She didn’t wait for me to answer.  She knew I walked up there every Sunday morning mostly.  She just helped herself to a cup of coffee, put milk and three heaping sugars in it, then set it on the kitchen sink.  She stood as close as she could to the sun that was coming through the window so her heavy, wet hair could dry.  Mrs. Fortley washed her hair with Tide every Sunday to keep the shine in it.

Everything about her seemed heavy and wet as she shifted her weight like a wave of fat from one foot to the other and took sips of the hot coffee.  She was close to 300 pounds.  That’s how she’d say it.  “Lordy, I’m close to 300 pounds!”  She always got weighed by a doctor in Morgantown when she went to see about her diabetes.  Her damp hair was the deep golden color of the sulfur creek that ran past the mine and through Flaggy.  It was thick, healthy hair, streaked through with silver.  It was hanging in loose, natural curls that framed her smiling, plate-sized face, freshly creamed and shiny from some mysterious beauty treatment she concocted from her garden.  Her aqua-blue eyes, a little milky from cataracts, were two pools of kindness.

“Better to take a Sunday walk than go to that church, sweetheart.”  She shook her head and rolled her eyes a little then blew gently on her coffee.  “Not one flower growing in that churchyard.  Not one!  That should tell you something.”  She raised a knowing eyebrow.  “Especially no Jump Ups.  Even if there was, those people would never let you pick them anyhow.  Might give you a little too much pleasure to have them on your window sill like that.”  She smiled slyly, and then shifted her big body around a bit to catch more sun on her hair.  She sipped her coffee, and then tilted her head slightly to the right so she could see the flowers.  And me.

“I don’t go to the church anymore,” I told her, even though I knew she knew it.  

I’d tried the church after my mother left and had prayed really hard.  My friend Joey nicknamed it the Holy Roller since it was a Pentecostal church.  I only went there to ask God to bring her back, and I even asked him to bring my sister Marion back, too.  Even before my mother left, Marion had already run off to Cleveland with Baker Hutchins to get married.  Baker got a job in the Ford plant up there and we never really ever heard from them except through Baker’s mother.  But, mostly, I prayed that my father would give up the whiskey and the morphine.  People at the church would pump me about my mother, but I wouldn’t answer them.  I heard what they said when they thought I couldn’t, about how my mother had pulled the wool over the mine doctor’s eyes.  All I could think of was how Jeannie Lucas was right about her being a slut.

Nobody at the church had ever liked my mother.  She never went.  She was a lapsed Catholic.  The only thing worse, I guess, would have been a good Catholic, or maybe a Jew.  But nobody really knew any Jews, just the ones who owned some of the stores in Morgantown, and nobody actually knew them except to buy from them.

The slate dump caught on fire not long after my mother left, and Jeannie’s family saw it as a sign of God’s wrath.  Everybody knew it’d burn for years.  Just pump out black smoke that would eventually kill every leaf on the trees if it got really bad before it finally burned itself out.  Then Flaggy would look like Everettsville at night.  Pitch black everywhere except for the deep pockets of fiery red, glowing out from deep within the burning dump, a giant, over-baked biscuit that never gets removed from the hot smoking oven until it finally becomes a cinder, cooked down, I guess, to some tiny, dried up version of itself until it’s too far gone to even burn or stink anymore.  I can’t believe I was only twelve years old then.  Still, from that time until now, I’m twenty-six now, that’s how I felt, just like that cinder, every time I thought about her leaving us.  I thought about her all the time.  I didn’t know what I was to do without a mother.

So, one Sunday when Mrs. Fortley came to visit, I watched her finish her coffee and wondered if I should tell her what had happened when I took my walk up to the mine the morning my mother left, and maybe tell her how I saw her leave.  Part of me wanted to keep it hidden away, though, to have it be like an open sore in some dark part of myself so I could bring it out at night maybe to lick it.  Then put it away again before it had time to heal.

“I need to talk to your daddy for a minute, honey.  Is he around?”  I told her he was in the living room.

I listened from the kitchen as she talked to my father.  “You mean she didn’t even leave a note?”  I couldn’t hear what all my father said, but Mrs. Fortley sounded mad when she said, “Just left like a snake in the night.”  She’d brought us a pot full of homemade chicken and dumplings.  I put them in the refrigerator and kept on listening.

“Dallas, you should call up Marion in Cleveland and tell her to come home and take care of her sister, or at least come and get her and take her back with her.”

My heart squeezed up into my throat or I would have screamed, “No!  I want my mother back!  I hate Marion.  I just want my mother to come home!”

My father must have said no or shook his head, because Mrs. Fortley kept on and sounded worried about how I was gonna do and who was gonna do for me.  But she didn’t get anywhere.  I could tell.  She looked mad when she came back out to the kitchen.  I figured I should tell her about scratching that car with the spike and that I saw them, but the look on her face said maybe I better not.

“Have some more coffee,” I said.  I picked up the pot to pour her some more. “Thanks again, Addie, but I better not.”  She glanced back toward the living room where my father was, and started to leave.  When I thought about how my mother had talked to me that day, my heart started pounding like that rock on the mine door, so I just said it loud and fast before I lost my nerve, “You think you could start teaching me how to cook?  I need to learn things.”

Mrs. Fortley’s face lost some of its anger as she looked at me.  I looked back real steady, hoping that she’d say yes.  All she said, though, was “Okay, I think I might be able to do that.  Why don’t you come up to see me later today, or when you get the chance.”   She looked once more toward the living room, and then left.  

___

 

EXCERPT
from Loss
Mel R. Friedman

Ever since that day in Pennsylvania all those years ago when Leo had ordered a dish of pork chow mein, only to violently expel it from his stomach minutes later in the alley behind the restaurant, Leo had formulated a set of rules to ensure his emotional survival. Despite his ambivalence regarding the concept ofG-d's existence, Leo's set of rules remained valid.. If this G-d, described throughout the Old Testament, as a just and merciful G-d, did exist, then surely he would figure Leo, his family, and more than six million others had suffered enough. From the moment Leo's tortured digestive tract had regurgitated its final morsel of forbidden food until the end of Leo's life, he should suffer no more losses. 

If, in fact, G-d did not exist, however,  the law of averages and probability should ensure the same outcome. For a life long compulsive gambler, such a postulation made perfect sense.

As they filled out the hospital admittance forms, Leo was in a dark mood. Six years earlier, Leah's mother had succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. Mother and daughter had resided in the province of Alsace on the edge of France and Germany. Several years after the war had ended, Leo learned about heavy water experiments the Germans had conducted in the years leading up to the second world war. If Helen's death resulted from radiation exposure generated by those experiments, Leah's current condition could easily be a casualty of those trials as well. 

Thirty minutes later, the admittance paperwork completed, the pair was ushered into Leah's room.   Leo had ordered a private room for her in advance. He didn't mind the additional expense. He wanted her to be as comfortable as possible.  Once the nurse helped her unpack and slip into the hospital gown, Leo was allowed inside. As he walked through the door, Leo noted how frail she looked , lying under the sheets ,  an intravenous needle protruding from her left arm. Her large brown eyes looked forward, wearing an expression of sadness and fear. 

“Shall I bring you something to drink?” he asked.

“No”, she replied.  “Why don't you take a seat in that chair?”. 

She raised the arm with the needle and pointed to the chair situated near the floor lamp several yards away. Leo stood motionless. She pointed towards the chair a second time.

He grabbed the arm of the chair, moved it closer to the bed, then sat down.

“Listen”, she began. “If I don't make it, I want to remind you to make sure to give my mother's jewelry to the boys.”

“Don't be ridiculous”, he began, but she cut him off.

“I don't have the strength to argue now”, she continued. “I want to get this clarified now. Do you agree?”

“Of course”, he said.

“Good”, she continued. “Now, there's something else.”   Leo raised an eyebrow.  “Now what?” he wondered. Tomorrow's surgery was to be an exploratory , or at worst, a hysterectomy, and here she was, acting as if she were already on her death bed reciting her last will and testament.

“In the back of my closet, you will find a dozen handbags. If you open each one, you will find a piece of paper with a name on it.”

“What?'  he exclaimed. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Each bag has the name of the designated recipient inside. You will know which ones will go to your sisters, my cousins, and a few other relatives. “

“Stop this nonsense right now”, Leo exclaimed. “You are here for an exploratory surgery. You will wake up tomorrow, and you will still be around for a long time to come. Do you understand?”

“Perhaps”, she replied. “But if not, I want to organize things properly while I still can.”

Leo slapped the top of his forehead in disbelief. Leah would undergo a procedure tomorrow which would reveal the state of her still unknown condition, and here she was, already anticipating the worst , with name tags of the intended recipients of her handbag collection foremost in her mind.  She had always been the eternal pessimist throughout the duration of their tumultuous marriage. To be fair, , though, Leo could not blame her. After all, spending her pre pubescent years hiding in a cramped subterranean apartment in Casablanca anticipating the pounding on the front door from the dreaded gestapo raid was hardly a recipe to generate a rosy outlook on life. 

He walked over to the window and gazed out at the evening rush hour traffic crawling along Amsterdam Avenue below..  As he did so,  unbeknownst to her, Leo gazed at Leah's reflection on the inside surface of that window pane as well. Her calm behavior astounded him. Though he had encountered near death experiences on a daily basis during the war, Leo's survival instincts did not allow him the luxury of dwelling on inconvenient emotions like fear and sadness. One could argue, he mused, those inconvenient feelings had continued to catch up with him during his years ever since. 

Leo continued to stare at her reflection in the window.  To Leo, the expression on her face suggested she was resigned to what she assumed was an inevitable fate. He remembered what he had said to his boys recently. “From that day I emerged from the sewers of Warsaw with my hands up, I was certain I was going to die. I have considered every day of my life since that moment as pure profit.”

Leo wondered if Leah felt the same after she emerged intact from that cellar apartment in Casablanca at the war's end.

He remembered the day he had seen her for the first time at that soccer game in Yankee Stadium . They were so young. He was eighteen, she was seventeen. The two of them had not fully processed what each had lived through during the war years. Perhaps the pair immersed themselves in their budding romance in a vain attempt to eradicate the painful memories of their recent past, and plan for a brighter future. Add to that the obligation they both may have felt to procreate to replace the millions that had been lost, and their fate was sealed.

Of course that was not to be. Staring at Leah's image reflecting off the hospital room window pane, Leo felt overcome with a strong feeling of sadness and regret.  Sadness for the potential imminent loss of Leah's life,  and regret for the way their marriage had been destined to fail from its outset.  They were a mismatched pair, each carrying their load of excess emotional baggage for their young years, each coping with their own separate inner turmoil in different ways. She with her obsessive behavior, and he with a never ending restlessness manifesting itself in compulsive gambling and philandering. Nevertheless, standing at the window, he loved her as much as he ever had, and the feelings of sadness were choking him.

He turned to Leah. “I'm going out for a cigarette. I'll be back in a few minutes, ok?” She nodded.

He walked down the hall and summoned the elevator near the floor's nurse's station. When it finally arrived, he stepped inside and pressed the 'lobby' button. It stopped on every floor.  Expressions on the faces of its incoming passengers convinced Leo he was not the only visitor in the building that day fearing the worst for their loved ones' prognoses. The tension and sadness which filled the tiny space were unbearable.

The ride from the sixth floor to the lobby could not have taken more than two minutes. To Leo, it felt like an eternity. When the doors finally opened, Leo exited the elevator with the ferocity of a shot fired from a cannon. He stepped outside on to the cool sidewalk of Amsterdam Avenue, still clutching his pack of Parliaments and book of matches. He walked a few steps towards a lamp post to shield his cupped hands from the wind. The cigarette finally lit, Leo inhaled . His eyes darted in every direction as he surveyed the throngs of people and traffic around him. That moment he knew this would be far more difficult than he had ever imagined.  This time,things were definitely not looking up.

___

MEL R. FRIEDMAN spent his formative years growing up in Queens, New York. After graduating New York's Stuyvesant High School and CUNY's Queens College, he moved to Southern  California, where he resides till this day.  After joining the Wimpole Street Group several years ago, Mel began writing again after a long hiatus.

SAN FRAN CHANT
Jessica Baker

Back in the city of angels but with a little more madness in my skin,
a little more beat to the rhythm pumping through my veins,
a glitter-bombed, Tibetan peach pie-eyed mermaid.

Wish I could bottle up the way the sunshine pierced the redwood treetops,
preserve the feeling of rose rewards, of roadside raspberries devoured crab-watching on unnamed coastal cliffs,
savor the succulent visions of the hysterical in Tenderloin, the rambling hippies praising the universe,
whose bodies operate grungy against the pastel paradise of painted ladies, asymmetrical,
whose ravaged hands hammer out drum-circle psychedelia while strangers spin in sacred spirals,
inspired by Haight Street temples, enshrined in endless crystals,
rhapsodizing god in all names and forms.

Abducted by an unceasing out-of-body experience, my spirit is still
choking down fernet between beetle-adorned bar walls,
stumbling, intoxicated by exultation, up and down tie-dyed hills,
singing infinite gratitude to our angel-headed hipsters.

___

JESSICA BAKER is a museum publishing professional with editorial experience at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Rubin Museum of Art. She occasionally plays with words, but more frequently guides others with theirs. She can be found scrawling the poetry of Sylvia Plath on Los Angeles walls in ultraviolet invisible ink.

THE ARTIST
Daniel Barbare

The Artist

is
self

green
leaves
and
seasons

meant
to
be
experienced

life
is
a
dream.

___

DANNY P. BARBARE is located in the Upstate of the Carolinas. He attended school at Greenville Technical College. He has been writing poetry off and on for 36 years. His poetry has recently been published by HERA ( Humanities Education Research Association.) He resides in South Carolina with his wife and family and small dog Miley. 

3 POEMS
Robert Beveridge

CRANBERRIES ON ICE

This could be
the only hotel in Wales
where live lobsters are served
to unsuspecting customers

they must paint them
that peculiar shade of red
only achieved
in boiled lobsters
and the eyes of hardcore drunks

one man, drunk, itinerant,
gets fingers pinched
by a mischievous lobster

undaunted
he pries it open
and starts to eat

*

DOING LUNCH WITH JESUS

They thought
about ordering sandwiches,
but He kept dripping
on the rye,

so they settled for pizza,
where the stains
wouldn't show as much.

They're sitting
out on the porch
in a little cafe
in New Hope, Pennsylvania,

just across the bridge
from that great big glow-in-the-dark
garden Golgotha
He now calls home.

He's been incognito these last two thousand years,
shaved his head
and moved to Libya
after the ascension trick,
then emigrated
to America
at the outburst
of World War I.

The interviewer, swallowing
a bite of pepperoni,
notes that He
looks like Willem Dafoe
in the epic film
about his life,
except He, in the flesh,
is wearing jeans and sneakers.

He did let the mustache
grow back, at least.

The two sit
in a momentary lull in conversation
and sip Pernod,
staring out
at West Mechanic St.

He speaks
before the interviewer
can grab a pen:

“There was a hit and run
at this corner
some years back.

The poets
had a field day with it.”

Flustered, the interviewer
scribbles a few words:
“Hit and run—W. Mechanic—
poets field,”

but his subject
is already talking
about life in Persia
|in the 13th century.

*

SANCTUARY

For Allison Beveridge

It is a common door, the same
as the other twenty-five on the hallway.
Brown, handle, peephole in the knocker,
a place to run a fob. It’s the payoff
for the caress of plastic on plastic,
the blink of the green light,
that sets this door apart.
                                        Beyond,
the place itself is small, functional.
A kitchen just big enough to cook
for two, a space for a child to play,
love seat to curl up and watch movies,
comforting and comfortable bed
with two sets of pillows. An escape
from a world full of errands that must
be done just so, endless paperwork
and too many storage boxes. I’ve put
two steaks on the grill, potatoes
}in the oven. All that is required of you
is to pick up a fork, talk about nothing.

___

ROBERT BEVERIDGE makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Pink Litter, The Ignatian, and YuGen, among others.

"HE DIDN'T KNOW WHO HE WAS…"
Pablo Capra

He didn’t know who he was, he was too young,
but he liked white walls and seeing things in front of them,
and most of all he just liked to see.
He liked the wider awareness brought about by extra gazing
as it clarified and cast a light on a deeper reality.

There are many colors in white: 
there’s a catoptric surface, a plum-scented wind, wild ducks chime in….
He could never find the bottom.
As the touch perfectly hollows the place where it lands,
his wonder made everything blossom.

His paintings were substantial hard-fought battles,
taking up too much time, removed.
“I paint, I look, I erase,”
he gasped, identifying his facture.
“I didn’t do this to become a crusader.”
He liked when things that were normally never still paused:
a bird, a dog, an unplayed guitar.

When the bird looked up, it saw its short life:
a small gaze to a gold puff tethered.
When the dog looked up, it saw its intelligence,
and wanted to strike out—which it would never.
When the guitar was leaned against the wall, its haptic seduction grew, 
calling to the player who stroked his chin with haptic pleasure.

Childhood had been a game, the birds flying by,
searching for a castle to call home;
making faces fish-like, goat-like
at the limits of what was accepted or what was known;
a minstrel with a poem always in his hand,
and an independence that left him trembling,
chasing maidens on dirt roads to swimming holes,
dusted skirts and wind-blown hair by wind-blown grains yellowing.

He was pale from the moon, from staying up until the curtains turned orange,
watching sunlight pirouette down upon the vespertilian skyline of the city.
He marveled as, with the noise of hammers, people began to stir,
making the world flower again with their activity.
His espiègle fellows tried to bring him out on the town.
They put figs in his mouth.
“A life well-lived needs to be celebrated!” they exclaimed.
But they left him alone when he insisted, “I’m working this summer.”
People sympathize with someone trying to live their own way.

July was a lizard, asleep in the heat. 
The colors dried on his hands.
He wore them like jewelry.
When he felt lost, he stood very still.
Sometimes he’d stare at his impassioned reflection,
wondering, “What can I say about me?”

___

PABLO CAPRA is a poet and publisher of Brass Tacks Press.

 

SITUATION IMPOSSIBLE
Romaine Colthurst

One fine day at Buckingham Palace
Prince Charles honoured a transvestite
Who wore midnight blue silk and ostrich feathers
Nothing like Adam, the man I nearly married
Who, twenty odd years ago, told me he had a secret
Not a huge surprise as what ex-Etonian isn’t partial to a spot of Rocky Horror
And what harm could it do if he preferred bonking in suspenders?
After all I adored him
Stockings proved to be fiddly as they caught on the hairs on his legs
And at six foot three even extra large only reached up to his knees
It took the two of us to fasten the suspender belt around his waist
And there was no way we were going to be able to attach the dangly bits
But he seemed more than satisfied
Even though we had to remove the suspender belt half way through proceedings
As it was cutting off his circulation
But he kept the stockings on
Next he wore a basque, a gift allegedly bought for me
But the strain proved to be too much and it burst apart
Just as we were getting down to business.
But there was a progression. 
He found a shop in Soho and stopped buying gifts for me
That pretense was discarded along with his boxer shorts
And soon his collection of underwear exceeded my own.
Extra large Jewel encrusted basques, long black gloves, frothy garters,
Thigh high boots, dog collars, crotchless panties all snuck into our lives
Though I did manage to dissuade him from too much rubber
But it was the makeup that proved to be too much
The sight of those huge sticky red lips coming down to kiss me
Then it was intimate dinners for just us two girls and what he fondly imagined as small talk.
“But you’ve known me since I was eight, I’m the girl you climbed trees with
What on earth makes you think I want to discuss hem lines?”
As our wedding day loomed and I grappled with guest lists and bridesmaid dresses
Adam declared that he needed to dabble with the love that dare not speak its name
It would be a one time thing after which he was confident that he’d have no problem committing to me
The plan was to find a male whore to do the deed
So I said yes it was best he did this before sanding up in church
And plighting his troth to me
And prayed he’d change his mind
He made his plans but chickened out ,
But I ended it anyway
Adam is now Misti, with an ‘I’
He looks nothing like the tranny at Buckingham Palace, all elegant and smooth
He’s fluffy and fuzzy, with purple tops and plucked eyebrows
A sad, sad man who once was my starts and moon

___

ROMAINE COLTHURST worked for Jill and Stuart Shaw for three years when they lived in London and is a longstanding member of the Wimpole Street Writers.  She is currently working on a series of children¹s books.

 

FRIENDS
Josh Kravitz

“I’m starting to worry about something,” Billy said, a bit hesitantly.  The seven-year-old was lying on a grassy hill, looking at the sky.

“What are you worried about?” said Grontarr, the twelve-foot creature lying next to him.  

“I’m worried that you’re not…that you’re not real.”

Grontarr furrowed his brow, or at least his version of it.  His furry purple face had only one, very large eye that left little room for a forehead.  The eye glared at Billy a long moment before Grontarr finally broke out laughing.

“Hahaha.  Not real!  That’s hilarious!”

Grontarr’s laughs revealed the expanse of his cartoonishly frightening mouth.  Sharp, oversized teeth struggling for space.  A wide maw that seemed built on an endless swivel.  And then there were the two tongues that gave his gravelly voice a lilting tint.

“It’s not that funny,” sniffed Billy.  Grontarr’s guffaws finally ran their course.

“So, what, I’m like, your imaginary friend?”

“I guess.”

Grontarr grew a bit concerned.  He nervously pressed his finger against his own chest, dozens of small horns peeking through his patchwork tunic.

“But…I feel real.  I have a mother.  And a father.”

“But how do I know I didn’t just imagine them too?”

Grontarr looked stumped a moment.

“I guess you’re right.”

“We look so different.  Like we’re not from the same planet.”

Grontarr looked back and forth, comparing his gargantuan Velosian frame with that of the four-foot human.  Tri-fingered hands bigger than Billy’s head.  The small feet of the boy dwarfed by Grontarr’s metal hoofs.

“It’s possible.”

The two friends turned their attention back to the sky, worried as to where the conversation was headed.  Grontarr finally broke the silence.

“Billy…”

“Yes, Grontarr.”

“We’ve had so much fun playing together.  I don’t want it to end.”

Billy turned his head quizzically, as if doing a math equation in his mind.

“Why would it end?”

“Well, if I’m not real, you’ll eventually leave me to play with someone who is.”

Billy’s face quickly grew angry.

“I would never do that to you Grontarr!  Never.  We are friends for life.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  Friends for life.  Say it with me.”

“Friends for life!” the pair shouted, smiling.  Grontarr started tickling Billy, who began laughing hysterically.

“Hahaha!  Stop!”

The merriment dying down, Billy and Grontarr laid back and turned to the sky.  Billy smiled and sighed.

“I love you, Grontarr.”

“I love you too, Billy.”

Just then, the pair heard the sound of footsteps approaching.  A shadow appeared over them.  A scraggly voice boomed out.

“Dinner’s almost ready.  Wash your hands.”

“Okay, mom!” the pair yelled in unison before cracking up with giggles.

“It never gets old,” remarked Billy.

“Are you playing with your imaginary friend again?” asked Mom.

“Who’s to say what’s imaginary?” replied Grontarr.  “Who truly knows what’s real and what isn’t?”

Grontarr and Billy shared a knowing smile.

“I guess you’ve got me there, Grontarr,” replied Mom, shaking the furry purple head that sat atop her nineteen-foot frame.  “But you still need to wash your hands.”

___

JOSH KRAVITZ has been a writer since he was in the womb, when he penned What to Expect When You're Expected. He lives in L.A. with his laptop and is celebrating a birthday this year.

 

THE MERCHANT OF PEARL
Mani Leyb
Trans. from the Yiddish by Marvin Zuckerman

The horses they fly, in the sleigh they are spanned,
The whip, it cracks in the merchant's right hand,
Happily tinkle the bells.

--Girl, go open the door wide for me,
Let me go into your courtyard to see,
I am a merchant of pearl.

Young merchant you come from so far, far away,
But you've come to some poor people who never can pay,
What you ask for your pearls.

--Girl I have journeyed expressly to you,
For your parents are certainly rich people too,
To have such a pearl of a daughter.

O clever young merchant, you come from the world,
But you will not be able to buy me with pearl,
Away from my mother and father.

--Girl, go open the door wide for me,
Let me go into your courtyard to see,
There to talk to your parents.

Good little merchant, speak so no more,
Into this court I'll not open the door,
I am the bride of another.

The horses walk, in the sleigh they are spanned,
The whip, it hangs slack in the merchant's right hand,
Mournfully tinkle the bells.

___

MANI LEYB was a leading figure in the American Yiddish poetry group known as Di Yunge (“The Young”), the first movement in Yiddish literature to cultivate “pure poetry,” explicitly rejecting political goals. Leyb immigrated to the United States in 1905 and became a shoemaker. He was influenced by Russian authors such as Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov; in London en route to America, he met the Hebrew writer Y.H. (Yosef Haim) Brenner. By concentrating on themes of solitude, abandonment, and hopelessness, Leyb became a poet of “the lost soul in the big city” (according to Zalman Reyzn), and his influence on modern Yiddish poetry was vast. He also wrote stories in verse for children. One of his best-known poems, “Shtiler, Shtiler” (1914; “Hush, Hush”) is “a credo for a poetry of nuance and understatement, a kind of allegorical reflection on the state of modern Jewish life, and a play upon the messianic expectation that runs through the whole Jewish experience” (according to the American literary and social critic Irving Howe. (From the Encyclopedia Britannica)

MARVIN ZUCKERMAN was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., to working-class immigrants from Poland. Neither of his parents had any formal education. Both garment workers. Grew up in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Cooperative Housing development on the southern border of Van Courtlandt Park in the Bronx. Worked 15 years for the Northrop Electronics Division in Hawthorne, CA, as a Configuration Management Engineer, Proposals and Reports Coordinator, and Data Management Supervisor. Became professor of English at Los Angeles Valley College in 1976, serving as Chair of the English Department for 15 years, and Dean of Instruction for six years, retiring in 2002. Published eight books, two of them English college textbooks, five of them in the field of Yiddish, and one of them a translation from the Yiddish into English of a memoir published by Purdue University Press in 2016. Also published various articles in journals and periodicals, one of which appeared in Volume 333 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography: Writers in Yiddish (Thomson-Gale, 2007), “Yehoash,” pp. 337-343. In his retirement, Zuckerman has served as representative of the Administrators’ Association (Teamster’s Local 911) to the Los Angeles Community College District’s Board of Trustees, and as creator and administrator of various academic projects for the Los Angeles Valley College’s Job Training Program.

 

AZURE BLUE
BC Petrakos

When Alice got the divorce papers, when she saw his name, a list of assets, a list of agreements written down on white sheets of paper separating her from the life she knew, she took a deep breath. 

Alice watched herself being erased from what she was, what she thought, from all that was important before and all that meant nothing now. She sat down slowly on the couch and stayed there.  For a year.

She was blue.

Alice only got up from the couch to go to the kitchen or to the bathroom. The man who signed the paper dismissing her existence paid the rent, the utilities and some other things. But she knew, in truth, he didn’t do anything personally, he was never personal. Someone at his office sent the checks and paid the bills.

He was now just a signature on paper, a source of confusion and a reason for Alice to be on the couch and to be blue.

That year, she did not leave the house, ate only what was in the cupboards, did not turn on the TV, or radio or computer. That year, she was so blue that she cried and took a lot of baths. She couldn’t bring herself to go into the bedroom or look at the bedroom so she kept the door closed. Mail stacked up by the front door. Her grass turned brown, her car stayed in the garage. Nothing was done. No one visited. 

Alice was blue.

After a year, Alice decided to take her last bath. She had run out of food and had very little soap left so she decided it was time. In order to take the last bath, she had to go to the bedroom. She had to open the door and walk to her closet. She knew it would be the last time she would do it and it took her three days to complete this task. The only reason she had to go into the bedroom was to get a swimming suit. She reasoned that someone would find her after the last bath and she did not want to be naked. Her only choice was to go into the bedroom and get a swimming suit from the closet. She stood, walked to the door that had been shut for so many days, and opened it. The sight of that huge bed made a sharp pain shoot across her flesh as if it were yesterday, as if she just saw the notes, heard the conversations. It felt as if she was cut in her guts as she stood in the room, took a deep breath and tried to focus. She decided to walk to the closet and get a swimming suit as planned. She recognized this was the last of her decisions. In the walk-in closet, she saw half the clothes missing, taken out more than a year ago.  The other halfof the closet was full of clothes, neat and organized

the way she used to make her maid organize it, all hangers and clothes facing the same direction, everything

pressed, hanging color coordinated and perfect.  She remembered scolding that maid for mixing beige with taupe and being in a rage that she did not understand the difference. The maid was right. There was not much of a difference. She saw dresses from big corporate parties, remembered arguments, and drinking, and shopping sprees that meant nothing. She saw cute outfits and designer shoes that when they were purchased made her happy, or what she thought was happy. She saw half a closet with nothing and half a closet with neat, lifeless, once expensive clothes, clothes which have become like her, no longer valid, valuable, or necessary. She smiled at this thought and went to the custom dresser ‘they’ were not happy with. The little dresser ‘they’ discussed and she whined about. The little dresser in the closet conversation that drove the poor ‘Closet

Lady’ insane. The dresser ‘they’ laughed about, the dresser that was so important, so wrong, so not perfect. It was the last time they laughed . It was the last time he talked to her, it was their last decision together.

He like a king extending pardon, gavethe ‘Closet Lady’ her check for the balance , even though the thing was not right.  Together they smirked and watched the ‘Closet Lady’ cry. Poor thing, they were royalty in that moment, they held the fate of the Closet lady,  holding back her pay her till the last second, how arrogant they were together?   

She realized the swimming suit was a good idea as it was her last bath and who knows what someone would find her. She thought whoever would find her after her last bath would be unsettled anyway?  Whoever would find her would not, at the very least, find her naked.

Before the divorce, when on a trip to San Francisco, she went into a Chinese market and found an old fashioned straight razor. It was new and the blade was steel, it interested her. So she bought it. It was just before the end of that other life of hers, before the papers, the arguments, the betrayal, the discoveries, before the couch,  the silence, the tears. Before the year of being blue. She remembered standing at the counter and looking at the strange straight razor, in that moment,  it reminded her of

something she could not put her finger on.  She remembered trying to find a reason to buy it and the man showing her how sharp it was by cutting his finger with a swift touch. “Very sharp,” he warned. There was a part of her that knew exactly what it was for, she realized that now. 

When she got home, she put it in her dresser in the little black box it came in as if it was jewelry, right

next to the diamond earrings he gave her for the first anniversary.

She went into the bathroom turned on the water, as hot as she could stand it and then…she settled into the tub.

After a year on the couch, looking at the papers, sleeping, thinking, and crying. She heard herself speak out loud, her voice was dry and scratchy from not talking. She said in a low steady tone “Today, today, today”

She said the word ‘Today’ like it was a chant or a prayer. “Today,” she repeated.

It was interesting to open the razor. It took a bit of work, it was long and heavy. The blade was still surprisingly sharp and the first cut went deep and was a shock. It hurt with a burning sting and poured her blood into the bath water. She cut again on the other arm, deep and after a moment she cut again, deep. It was a burning cut, water being mixed with blood, hot and surrounding her. After a moment she couldn’t feel anything, she got light-headed and her eyes focused on the circle of teardrops at the end of the tub. The part of the fixture that drained the excess water was sucking excess tub water into its teardrop slits.

Then a strange thing happened. The water turned blue. The mixture of blood and water turned azure blue, it was the last words that she said… “Azure…it’s Azure Blue,” and she felt herself pour through the teardrop slits at the end of the tub, and pass quickly through tubes and steel and then she was forced into the sea,  the swirling life of the sea. Around and up and down, fast and suddenly slow. She moved and she was no longer she, the body was no longer her, now the azure turned to gold and green and nothing and everything and all that there is. She was living in every molecule, she was moving and touching and not touching everything. No more memory, regret, no more thoughts of love, no more couch and paperwork, now she was not anything but azure, and gold, everything and nothing, touching and cold, warm and for the first time filled with life!

___

BC PETRAKOS is an award-winning playwright, Pushcart Prize & Best Of The Web–nominated, widely published flash fiction writer.

BLOOD SISTERS
Mattilyn Rochester

“I know! I know!”  Becky screeched.  She pulled out a shiny Swiss Army pocket knife from her stone washed cut offs and proudly showed it to Melody.

“What the heck is that for, Girl Scouts?”  Melody said and fired a quick look at the front door.  No mean moms in sight.  Melody was all out of options and was certain bud Becky could not come up with anything that could or would change her own mother’s mind.  She refused to look directly at her best bud for fear of the lump in her throat.  She knew if she looked at Becky’s eyes, as brown as her own, with shoulder length greasy brown hair to match, that lump would turn into tears and drown her sherbet.  So, she licked her sweet treat instead.  She handed Becky what was left of the soggy cone.  Becky slurped away oblivious to the imminent threat at hand.  Becky’s idea had not worked and were part of the reason they were in this mess in the first place.  

Last week, Becky told Melody to reason with her mother.  “Just tell her!” Melody knew better.  Her mom was stubborn as a bull.  Melody had, in the past, tried a few of the tactics she witnessed her play mates make to sway their parents and it had not ended well for Melody.  When Mrs. Pinter put her foot down, it was a Looney Tunes “That’s All Folks!”  kind of thing.  

The short reign of Becky Wheatly and Melody Pinter as best friends had come to a swift finale, just 2 and a half short years.  They met in kindergarten and became fast friends.  They played together almost all day every Saturday and in the Summer they were together daily.  For hours they explored the deep woods behind the high school playing Swiss Family Robinson,  they dragged buckets of crawfish from the creek near the cemetery that stunk up the garage, and they played house mostly at Melody’s because Mrs. Pinter hadn’t met Becky’s parents.  Why couldn’t Becky just play at her house?  But no she had to suggest to Mrs. Pinter that she meet her big brothers instead.   Besides they were the ones who were home most of the time anyway.  Melody had never heard about or seen Becky’s parents and Becky only talked about her big brothers.  That was the meeting marked the beginning of the end.  The last time Melody played at Becky’s.  And the last time Becky was allowed in Melody’s house.  

 After the said meeting, her mother’s rampage had been seismically proportional to the end of the world.  Only this time, Melody was happy that her mother’s rage was not directed at her.  “Who the hell do those poor, bunch a good for nothin, low down, triflin bunch a nothin’sthink they are?  Gonna have the nerve, the gaul, the audacity to open they not past a 3rd grade education, West Virginia hillbilly, trailer park, feeding Mountain Dew soda pop to newborn babies mouths to say my baby can’t play with their little beat up sister in they little, dirty, stankin beat up house?  Just because you black? Paleeaze!”  Mrs. Pinter paused the rant to catch her breath.   She didn’t rinse the dishes before putting them in the dish washer.  This was a no no.  But Melody thought better of reminding her mother who glared at her like she had, “You betta not go back over there.  They should be honored to have a Pinter grace that muck they call a house.  You betta not go back over there.  You hear me?”  She didn’t give Melody time to answer.  “Hell will freeze over and heaven will be one big burning bush before you EVER take yo black self over to they dirty white house!  You hear me?  Answer me when I am talking to you young lady.”  Melody obeyed, “Yes, Ma’a-”  She didn’t wait for Melody to finish,  “I didn’t come all the way to NJ from the red dirt,stinking outhouse, backward, bloody handed cotton picking country for this.  No sireee!  And where are her parents anyway? Them boys couldn’t put together a sentence if their lives depended on it.”  She wanted to tell her mother that their house was pretty clean except for that flea infestation.  But she wasn’t supposed to be there when no one was home in the first place.   Melody had been there when Becky was home alone a few times.  She wasn’t sure what their being white had to do with anything but that was the cat’s fleas not theirs.  Melody thought the flea thing, besides the red itchy bumps all over Becky, was pretty cool.  The big plastic tent that was over their entire 4 bedroom Rancher house for a day looked like a super special flying saucer.  

Melody cleared the table but opted to pass the dinner dishes to her mom across the white island countertop that separated them instead of walking directly into the kitchen.  It was usually Melody’s chore to do the dinner dishes but she didn’t say a peep.  She thought she could probably leave and go upstairs to her room and her mom would be none the wiser.    

“Humph!  They got some nerve!  Listening to the one who got all the money, all the power and control and too dumb to realize they are pawns of their own white stupidity.  I know that kind.  I grew up wit that kind.  Keep them dumb and poor quicker than me.  Dumb is the real definition of a nigga, not black my dear.  Dumb and white is worse than dumb and any kind of black in my book.  Because the white man gets them to think that they better than me or you, just because they white?  Paleaeze!   They relax into their limitation.  Lazy.  Our limitations are imposed.”  She mindlessly slung Melody a soaking, soapy dishcloth and without skipping a beat continued, “Systematic sins against humanity.  They ain’t got no damn excuse as far as I’m concerned.  No excuse!  You better not go over there!  You hear me?  You better not!  And she bette not step her licey head in my house again.”  Melody wanted to ask what systematic meant and a whole bunch of words but once she opened her mouth only,“Okay mommy” came out.  

Melody quietly wiped the table down and passed the rag back to her mother.  Melody also wanted to tell her that the lice thing was fixed in Becky’s hair and that she had fixed it herself with some V05.  Even though she was scared to spook her mom with words and even though her heart raced a little each time her mother moved somehow this tirade made Melody feel close to her mom.  

After dinner they even drove to Sunnyside Farms for homemade ice cream.   Mrs. Pinter got her favorite, butter pecan.  Her mother always ate butter pecan when she was upset.  Well, she ate it when she was happy too but she ate a little more when she was upset.   Melody even got to get a cone and whole container of her favorite, rainbow sherbet to take home for later.  She was planning to hide it in the freezer behind liver or something so her brother wouldn’t see it.  

Melody had forgotten about the Becky pact her mother instituted by the time their red and brown station wagon pulled up the driveway.  Becky was sitting on the red bench on the front porch.  Melody jumped out of the car and ran to greet Becky.  “Want some Sherbet?”  

“Sure!  Hey Mrs. Pinter!”  

“Hay?”  Mrs. Pinter said in her teacher voice.   Melody wanted to whisper to Becky, hay is for horses but picked a red berry off the bush and squashed it in between her fingers instead.  Mrs. Pinter didn’t smile but addressed her politely, “Hello Becky.  Does your family know you are here?”  Becky dug her hands deep into her pockets and looked down.  “They aren’t, like, um home.”  Mrs. Pinter towered over them and reality bore down on the two girls like the sun had moved just above their heads to incinerate them to smithereens.  They were done.  There friendship cooked.

“Well I don’t want you disobeying your parents.”  Mrs. Pinter looked at Becky then at Melody.  It seemed like she was going to say something but instead said, “Melody 10 minutes.  Then you have to practice the piano.  You have things to do.  An idol mind is the devils playground.”  The screen door screeched and the iron knocker to the door made a loud singular BANG.  Mrs. Pinter was gone.  But somehow she wasn’t.

The two stood across from each other and said nothing for a while.  Melody looked at the sherbet stain on her shirt and hoped it would come out in the wash.  It was her favorite.  A pink t-shirt with a roller-skate and shoe strings hanging that you could actually tie.    Becky dug deeper into her pockets and smiled.  “I know I know!”  Melody looked at the front door, then at the knife.  

“What the heck is that for, Girl Scouts?” 

“I figured out how we can still be friends!”

“How?”

The door opened.  Mrs. Pinter nodded for Melody to come to the door.  Becky quickly shoved the knife back in her pocket.  Melody opened the screen door and Mrs. Pinter handed her two bowls of sherbet.  Through the screen her mother said, “After you finish you are going to have to use your words and tell your friends you have things to do.”

“Yes mommy.”  Melody smiled.  “Thank’s, I mean thank you Mrs. P.” Becky said.  There was still hope.

The girls slurped and gobbled in silence.  Their good times were being threatened by the grown ups.  Melody swirled the remaining colors of the melting sherbet together with her spoon.  She put the bowl to her mouth and drank the rest.  Becky licked any remaining sticky drippings from her hands, wiped them on her shirt and brandished her pocket knife.  “Look it.”  Becky opened the blade and placed the pointy head of the knife into her tender skin.  

“That your girl scout knife?”

“Yup!”  Becky’s tongue always protruded out of one side of her mouth when she was concentrating.  She gently pushed the sharp blade into her forearm.  A bright red stream of blood stained Becky’s freckly arm.  She looked up at Melody and winked.  Melody wrinkled her forehead.  She could hear her mother in her head, you keep making that face it will stay that way.  But she couldn’t help it.  Becky took the tip of the blade and lifted the thin layer of her skin that protected her muscles and blood vessels.  “Ewww.  Don’t that hurt?”  Melody screamed. 

“A little.  But its worth it.”

“Huh?”

“What do you see?”

“Blood!”

“No silly after that.”

“Skin.  Ew.  It looks like meat.  Like chicken.”

“Now you go.”  Becky passed the knife to Melody but Melody let go of the knife and it fell on the ground.

“Nuh uh! I can’t have no marks on my body unless my mommy puts them their.  And besides.  Why?”

“Cuz underneath we the same silly.  You not black.”

“I’m not?”  

“Nope!  You just got a tan is all!  You not black and I’m not white.  We like are like, chicken!  We can play together.  Here I’ll do you so you can see.”  Melody jumped back.  

“That’s gonna hurt.” 

Becky picked up the knife and wiped her blood on her jeans.  “You wanna be friends or not?  Just trust me.”  Melody looked at the front door.  There were no signs of life. 

“Okay.  But after I gotta practice the piano.”  Melody extended her left arm.  

“No the other arm so we can be twins.”  Becky was concentrating.  “Gotta not cut too deep.”  She placed the blade flat against Melody’s forearm.  The sun caught a glimmer on the silver that reflected a gleaming light from the knife.  “One, two, three.”  She cut into Melody’s skin.  Melody barely flinched.  Her lips disappeared and her teeth bore into them.  But the lifting of Melody’s top layer of skin was a different story.  They both looked at the blood pouring from Melody’s arm.  “Why is mine bleeding more?”  

Becky shrugged her shoulders.  “Maybe black people got more blood.  What do you see?”

“I thought I wasn’t black?”

“You know what I mean.  What do you see?”

“Blood.  Okay blood and skin.”  A broad smile took over Becky’s face.  

“And!  What color is it?”  

“The meat? Ohhh!  It looks like chicken too!  Squawk!”  

“See?  I told you!  Now we can be friends!  You not black I’m not white!  Underneath we the same!”  

“Wow!!!  The chicken sisterhood!”

“Best buds forever! Squawk!”

The two friends from Kindergarten danced and jumped around the porch.  They made a song of the words.  You’re not black, I’m not white.  Deep inside we are the same.  They danced and chased each other around the porch screaming, “We’re the same! We’re the same!”  Becky stopped.  “Lets seal it with blood!”

“Okay!  Blood sisters!”

“Yeah that’s even better than best friends Melly!”  

“Yeah and you got freckles.   They the same color as me!”

“Yeah! God just didn’t finish coloring me in!”  Brown arm and freckly peach arm merged into one bloody mess.  They sealed their friendship with blood.  A few minutes later.  Melody was passed out on the front lawn and Becky was meekly but urgently banging on the front door.

___

MATTILYN ROCHESTER's most recent performance was at the Catalina Jazz club. She has performed literally all over the world:  throughout the US, Asia and Africa.  This excerpt is a work in progress of her memoir and solo show, now entitled, “The Long Goodbye” a mother who can’t remember and a daughter who can’t forget. 

 

 

 

 

GHOST RABBIT
James Mathers

From the show
WISDOM, MATHERS: THE DRUIDS OF TOPANGA
at the Ernie Wolfe Gallery, open by appointment and Saturday 12 - 5 PM
April 8 - May 31, 2017
1655 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

___

JAMES MATHERS is a Los Angeles artist who was discovered as a teenager by Andy Warhol in the 1980s. Since then, he has exhibited around the world, and published several books of his illustrations, including THE CHILDREN'S GUIDE TO ASTRAL PROJECTION (Brass Tacks Press). His work is often tied to the Lower Topanga artists community where he grew up. 

www.jamesmathersart.com

THE ANGELBIRD
Elizabeth Yochim

The Angelbird is a multi-layered journey for me to remember my own wings and to fly. Following a long held dream to become a street performer in Europe.  -- Elizabeth Yochim

There is also more information available on the website .

 

The attached gallery was photographed by Michele Mattei.

All rights reserved. 

___

 

3 POEMS
Gerry Fabian

JUST LIKE STREETCARS

It hasn’t been good spring.
His press is going broke.
His baseball team is rebuilding.
The regular job
he uses to support both
is about to end.

The paint on his car
is chipping away
and whenever he looks
for anything;
it's missing.

Only the music
stays the same.
"Thank God
for the Glimmer Twins",
he says out loud.

Outside, the cat
get in a fight,
one of his children
falls out of bed

and his wife still isn't home.

 

*

 

SOURCE ORIGINS

The stuttering child
still cannot explain
the source of his fright.
His rapid word-groups
tangle on the tongue.
You quickly pull him
into your warm arms
to show that the source
of adult power
will now protect him.

Much later that night
while he is asleep,
you sit and wonder
about the sleepless nights
when your brain stutters
and
who
will be there

to hold you?

 

*

 

MOURNING NEWS

I stumble upon your obituary
accidentally
while searching for part two
of a local news article.

I gasp
and quickly read the obit.
Memories come flashing
in segments and bursts.

You were the first one
that I ever loved.
You taught me so much
in that kind gentle aura
as we explored
the forbidden sides of life.

No one has ever kissed me
with the passion you gave.
I have never truly recovered
from the way that you left me.

And now,
you've done it

again.

___

R. GERRY FABIAN is a retired English instructor.  He has been publishing poetry since 1972 in various poetry magazines. His web page is https://rgerryfabian.wordpress.com  He is the editor of Raw Dog Press https://rawdogpress.wordpress.com. His novels, Memphis Masquerade , Getting Lucky (The Story) and published poetry book, Parallels are available at Smashwords and all other ebook stores.

AFTERLAND
Marina Muhlfriedel

Dress me, my love,
in organza and satin
Clasp the diamond sparrow
‘round my neck
Slip on those silvery bracelets
I want to look my best

Make sure, if you would,
my eyeliner is even
Lips full, and perfectly drawn
Sweep on these cheeks, a measure of pink
Lashes mascaraed full and long

On my dresser
you’ll find Shalimar
Dab it on my neck and inner thighs
I need it all to be perfect,
when I turn up on the other side

Lay me down in style,
but lay me not to rest
That mahogany limo
will be waiting
And I’ll be on my way at last

I’ll step out
when I hear the band play
And enter those pearly doors
To finally dance with all the men
I secretly adored

It’s true I seem soft and well-mannered
At peace with my age and place
But I’m just waiting
for afterland
to kick it back up a pace

I’ll be shakin’ it on the dance floor
Flirting up a storm
Cackling as loudly
as I desire
Without a glimmer of remorse

Here I am an old woman
with crackly lips
and creaking knees
Dying to feel that magnetic pull of
men who can’t resist me

Make sure my hair is styled,
shiny, red and teased just right
I hope to look a bit wicked
When I show up there that night

Don’t be offended
if I flash some leg
Distressed by coquettish smiles
Indulge my craving for affection
If only for awhile

It will all
be out of my system
before you step through that same door
I’ll have grown tired of the attention
And ready for something more

Then we’ll swing each other wild
Leap and twirl
with all our hearts
If we want we’ll dance on forever
And never be apart

And if none of it happens?
The door slams shut for good
Then I won’t know the difference
So humor me, if you would

___

MARINA MUHLFRIEDEL is a native Angeleno and a published and produced writer and filmmaker. She has recently been featured by Angels Flight literary west, has had two poems put to music and included in albums from CIRCE The Black Cut, a global music collective based in Athens, and two Haiku in a public art display in Washington DC. An essay she wrote appears in Harvey Kubernik's latest book, "1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love." Marina has been a participant in the Bali Writers and Readers Festival and regularly reads her poems and stories at venues across Los Angeles.