The Journey

Ana’s Pick
Pamela Kung


Dramatic Guitar Player
Photo Credit: Justin Scott Campbell

“You won’t make it, Lee. You’re throwing away your college education for nothing.”

“Your father didn’t mean that. It’s just… how are you going to earn money as a musician, sweetie?”

“I need someone who has a plan in life. I can’t wait around for you. We’re over.”

“You’ve got a good sound, but the club’s booked right now.”

“Did you see this flyer? That club’s hosting a talent show.”

“Give it up for Lee Hampton—the winner of a free pint and a tray of hot wings!”

“You scored another gig downtown? Awesome!”

“Wow, you’re playing there tonight? Any chance of a free ticket?”

“I’m an agent and I know that I can make you into a big star. Here’s my card. Call me.”

“Son, your mom and I are proud of you. Congratulations on your first album.”

“And this year’s Grammy for Best New Artist goes to… Lee Hampton!”

“I’m so sorry that I broke up with you. I didn’t mean it. We were so good together. Forgive me?”

“I just got off the phone with Modern Records! They want to produce your next album and send you on tour. Whoo!”

“Sweetie, isn’t it time to settle down? You haven’t had a single girlfriend in over five years! When do I get my first grandbaby?”

“And that’s the latest single by Lee Hampton. What do you think? Call in and let’s talk. You know the number—1-800-New-Beat.”

“Lee, your mom is ill. You should come home, son.”

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Julia Anne Hampton will be remembered for her kindness and spirit.”

“You can’t just give up your music career to move back home. What are you even going to do? Work at the local hardware store?”

“Would you like to make a donation? We’re raising money so the school doesn’t shut down our music and arts program.”

“You’re going to walk away from the fame? The fortune? At the pinnacle of your career? You are making a huge mistake, kid!”

“Mr. H.? I finished my assignment. May I use the restroom?”

“I’d like to take a few minutes from our faculty meeting to congratulate Lee on taking our high school band all the way to Nationals this year!”

“I’m Marie, the new English teacher. Do you know how to get this copier to work?”

“I do.”

“Dad? We have great news. You’re going to be a grandpa!”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Hampton. I did everything I could, but there were complications.”

“Thanks for doing this interview. Fans of your music have often wondered what caused you to abruptly leave the music industry.”

“You have stage three colon cancer. I’m afraid you don’t have much time left.”

“I don’t how I’m supposed to live without you, Lee. You’re my world—you and this little one here.”

“I love you, son. Say hello to your mother for me.”

“The entertainment world mourns tonight. Lee Hampton will be remembered for his talent and generosity.”

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Pamela Kung is a former middle/high school English teacher who has yet to decide on what her next profession will be. She is partial to puppies, rock climbing, going to farmers’ markets, and of course, reading and writing. She enjoys traveling, lively conversations, receiving letters in the mail, and the occasional good glass of wine. Email: ppkung[at]gmail.com

Anlage

Creative Nonfiction
Agnieszka Stachura


birches in spring
Photo Credit: bgblogging

Anlage

—The basis of a later development; the first stage of growth

The photograph shows my father and me on a certain late afternoon in early spring. It is a small photo, unframed, with the rounded corners and slightly nubbled surface common to late seventies Kodak prints. In the photo, I am twelve—this is long before I’ve stopped eating and my father has started smoking again. In the photo, one of the last of us together before adolescence, I am still his little girl.

Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Morris, are English, and they have invited us for tea. In honor of this respite from a usual drowsy Sunday, my mother has asked my father and me to pose for a photo before setting out. The perfect backdrop is just outside our front door, beside the clustered birches whose trunks splay gently as flowers in a long thin vase. I have dressed for the occasion in a puffy-sleeved T-shirt, soft as kitten fur and the color of the sky, and a blue patchwork skirt that inflates like a bell when I twirl in place and drops, when I come to a dizzying halt, almost to the tops of the white knee socks pulled taut up my skinny legs. My hair in its shaggy new Dorothy Hamill wedge is too short for my mother to tug into the ribboned braids of my childhood, and the warm breeze that teases through it feels like freedom itself.

Beside me on the soft grass my father stands tall and proud, and his cheeks and his thick grey hair are both full. He leans towards me just a little, his right arm tucked around me and pulling me close. He is wearing a light gray suit and his best wide tie, and the crease down the length of his pants legs is ruler straight. I press easily against his side, my body echoing the soft bend of one slim birch, the top of my head tucked into the space between his cheek and shoulder. My mother squints at us from behind her viewfinder. “Yoo-hoo!” she calls. “Okay—smile!” But we are already smiling when she asks.

After she snaps the photograph, we will walk three houses up the dead-end street to the Morrises’, my mother and my father strolling arm in arm and I darting first ahead, then behind, orbiting them like a small satellite. I will sit up straight in the curved wicker chair in my neighbors’ manicured backyard, and Edward Morris, my host, will kneel before me like a knight. “When you are seventeen,” he will say, “you’ll be a heartbreaker.” Perhaps my parents will cheer—I don’t remember—when he presents me a lemonade like an offering, in a glass slick with condensation from the ice.

And he is right, my neighbor, for when I am seventeen I will be beautiful—as youth and health are always beautiful—for a moment, before the gaping future sends me shrinking back into myself, my skin drawn safely tight across ribcage and thigh, the bones of my hips jutting out like hands cupping the rim of an empty bowl. Seventeen will be the year my mother alternately screeches and pleads, standing with clenched fists in the open doorway of my bedroom where I sit cross-legged and unmoved on my bed. The year my father drifts back and forth like a shadow between basement workshop and carriage-house studio, silently chain-smoking the thin brown Marlboros he’d given up in exchange for my pacifier when I was three. He will move the photograph we’d posed for on that spring afternoon to the standing piano in the living room, and prop it against the pigtailed plaster bust for which I don’t remember posing when I was four. It must have taken my father days of quick work, deftly layering the thin white layers into my round-cheeked likeness during the brief moments I would consent to sit still. Now he will return from his studio with a new sculpture wrapped in a soft blanket, two separate figures carved from two distinct woods. The arms of the taller one will encircle its huddled companion. “Let Me Be Your Shelter,” my father will call it, setting it on the end of the coffee table where I will try to not look.

When I am twenty-eight I will greet the Morrises as I accompany my mother on a slow afternoon stroll past their house. My father, his wasting body unbalanced now by the twitching betrayals of Parkinsons, will not join us. My old neighbors will pull to a stop beside their driveway on the quiet street and I will lean into the open window of their chugging sedan and exchange the usual courtesies. Monica Morris will have grown frail and drawn. Her head, bald from chemo, will be covered by a false cap of gray curls. Beside her in the passenger seat, her husband Edward will be a withered gnome, peering at me dully and without recognition.

When I am thirty-six and my father has been dead for one day, I will tear through my mother’s house in search of the photograph, through rooms maddeningly full of his presence. The piano on which I’d played Chopin, Beethoven, Mendelssohn—the full repertoire of a young girl’s heart—will be long gone, sold by my mother to make room for a decorative gas fireplace that gives off the illusion of heat. The bust, relocated to the top of the wicker buffet, will have no familiar photo propped against it.

I will ransack the places where my father lived. I will paw through the detritus in the china bowl on the onyx slab coffee table, uprooting toenail clippings and capless ballpoints and paper clips and snippets of thread. I will topple the stacks of books on the floor by his armchair and scatter half-completed Dell crossword puzzle books and old TV Guides with sketches inked into the margins of each page. I will pull open the sticking cabinet beneath the black-and-white Zenith before which we’d held rapt Saturday communion with the grainy wrestlers of the WWF. I will sift through the shopping lists and scraps of paper under the pillbox on the kitchen table beside his empty chair. I will be undone by the upturned toes and the velcro straps of his sneakers. I will climb the steps to my room in defeat and sink down at a desk littered with his pens. But I will not find the photo. Such a small thing, really, to be unable to find, to be unable to accept as lost.

And then, in an open cardboard box of my father’s belongings beneath my vanity, I find it. I find it. It is pressed like a flower into the tissue-thin pages of the Bicentennial World Almanac—I lift up the book and the pages flip open and there it is. I pull it gently free from the accumulated facts of this single year and hold it in my cupped hands. Regret is vertigo. I want it back, this moment, when the future is unwritten and I am unformed, anlage, shivering with the full potential of a seed.

I keep the photograph on my desk now, propped against a ceramic lamp that my father made when he was forty-three, the age that I am as I write. The vivid spring grass has blanched to the flat green of fall and my T-shirt to the color of a thinly overcast sky. The birches are fragile as twigs, their bark not yet peeling in the thin layers that in their maturity will make it seem as though they are continually shedding old skin. The moment though—the moment is always the same. It is a certain late afternoon in early spring. I am a very young twelve. Beside me, before the gently arching trees, my father is tall and healthy and proud, and I lean easily against him, my head resting on his shoulder—if I straighten, I will be almost as tall as him. But in this moment I do not straighten. In this moment I lean tight against my daddy, and he pulls me close to his side, and we look right at the camera, and my mother does not have to prompt us to smile.

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Agnieszka Stachura’s work has appeared in Tiny Lights, Funny Times, Swink, Ghoti Magazine, and is forthcoming in Passages North. Email: ltobin[at]nc.rr.com

Helicopter Rotors

Creative Nonfiction
Matthew Dexter


Beach view from the cliffs
Photo Credit: Jennifer Ormerod

I caught my Mexican sister-in-law climbing through my bedroom window, one leg over the ledge like a crab with its claws trapped in a fragment of coral. She was always pulling shit like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mexicans and don’t mind children—but her little girls are monsters. They tear the house apart, never stop screaming, leave fingerprints all over the windows, glass doors, walls, and television screens. Their mother leaves them all day to drive me crazy while she smiles and defiles her body with rock cocaine. But this time she didn’t get away with it.

“Que estas haciendo en mi casa?” I said, asking her what she was doing in my house.

She laughed like an idiot, struggling to raise her chubby leg over the window ledge. Her footprints were on the wall; dirt fell like snowflakes from dirty sneakers. There was a maze of tiny footprints, a trail of mud leading to a puddle of yellow urine shining on the linoleum floor. A patch of sunlight landed on a large tear in the back pocket of her daughter’s pants. The little girl’s ass reflected sunlight like a perverted disco ball. I noticed golden sparkles illuminated by the sun. Apparently, the girl bathed in glitter before breaking into my house.

“Contestame señorita,” I said, demanding an answer, an explanation for the break-in.

“Hola Mateo,” she said. Mouth open, mother dove face-first onto the floor, leaving an exclamation point of mud on the wall from the soles of her sneakers.

Why the hell did it have to rain last night? It hardly ever rains in Mexico.

Waking up to a home intrusion–babysitting ambush is like waking up to an earthquake. The younger girl twirled in a circle like helicopter rotors, running her fingers across the top of my bookshelf—smashing porcelain eggs, glass vases, and picture frames onto the floor. Broken glass echoed as I scolded the crackhead:

“Dios mio, que tienes señorita?” I asked, my god, what the hell was wrong with her?

“Lo siento Mateo,” she said, wiping her ass with her hand.

I went upstairs to go get a broom and dust pan. When I returned she was gone.

“Donde esta tu madre?” I asked the older girl.

The four-year-old pointed toward the window and smiled at me. “Se va.”

The señorita was running down the street through the mud. She looked like a cheetah: stolen leopard-skin coat flapping in the breeze; yellow with black spots made it difficult to ascertain which dark spots were from the animal and which were from the woman.

“Jesus Christ, not again,” I said. There was only one solution: I grabbed the children by their hands and lifted them through the window. I shut the window and ran out the front door. “Nos vamos en el coche, niñas,” I said, instructing the girls to get in my car.

They followed my directions. They had pretty faces and didn’t know any better. They couldn’t be blamed for their mistakes. It wasn’t them I hated. “Vamos a la playa,” I said. I figured the beach was the best place to be; they agreed with my prediction:

“Si, la playa, siiiiiiiii, vamos.”

“Gracias Mateo.”

I started the ignition and drove down the street. As I suspected, the señorita had wisely made the decision to run through the desert. Last time I chased her, I almost ran her down before she collapsed of exhaustion on the pavement. She was sneaky, that crackhead.

We arrived at the entrance to the beach and I drove down through sand dunes, cactus, and a rainbow kaleidoscope of bougainvillea growing wild. White clouds anchored across the horizon like cruise ships. Apparently not moving at all, they would drift in place as if they were a helicopter hovering over a hiker who had fallen from a cliff. And that’s when the idea hit me.

“OK, niñas,” I said, “estamos aqui.”

They knew we were here; they could see the waves. We were parked on top of a precipice. I opened the back door so the girls could shuffle out onto the gravel. We peered over the edge. I held their hands. I could see it all. The white foam from the waves formed a maze and I followed it backwards in time to where I could see the señorita pregnant for the first time, glass pipe in her mouth, bottle of Pacifico in her hand. No fingerprints on her right thumb when the polícia arrested her because she obliterated even the deepest layers of flesh with those goddamn fluorescent lighters. (Señorita burnt through half a dozen lighters a day when she had a pocket full of rocks.)

“Porque estamos arriba?” her daughter asked, wondering why we were high above the Pacific.

“Hablar con dios.” I told her so we could talk to God.

I held their hands. I could see angels. They would be better without the señorita. Their mother would surely destroy them sooner or later, in a house fire or a traffic accident or an insane act of desperation. We walked closer to the edge. No more turds festering in a toilet that never flushed. No more toilet paper covered in feces stashed in the trash. The sea was empty except for a fishing boat drifting along the horizon. I lifted the girls and twisted their wrists, spinning them like helicopter rotors over the edge of the cliff. A minute later I released their arms and closed my eyes. I listened, but couldn’t hear any sounds over the roar of the waves. They were lying on their backs in an awkward position staring at the sky. I called to them, “Vamanos niñas, nos vamos a la playa.”

I picked them up from the gravel and brushed the dust and pebbles off their pants. Their wrists were pink, but they were laughing. As I took their fingers, clouds kissed the horizon and I hugged the girls and there was glitter on my hands.
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Matthew Dexter lives and writes in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This lunatic gringo has been known to drink beer and eat tacos. He belongs in an insane asylum. Email: MatthewBDexter[at]aol.com

Wolf Dreams

Fiction
Cody L. Stanford


Wolves play fight
Photo Credit: Zechariah Judy

I couldn’t decide whether it was best to run away from home and go live with wolves, or just get it over with and kill myself. But that all changed when I fell in love with Garrett.

And then I started finding wolf fur in my bed.

Suicide had its drawbacks, so I was in favor of running away. I had saved my allowance for over a year to buy a bus ticket and for cash to live on while I looked for wolves and figured out how to live with them. It never occurred to me that the wolves might not want me. Weren’t wolves supposed to take care of lost, homeless boys? And when I dreamed about them, the wolves always welcomed me, and made me part of their pack right away. It’s like they knew I was one of them.

Wolves live in Minnesota and Wyoming. On maps it looked like Minnesota had more people, so I chose Wyoming. I wanted to get far away from everybody, but I had never been to Wyoming. It’s not as if one of my alcoholic ‘rents would ever take me someplace fun or nice. Or beautiful.

I have long, thick, dirty-blond hair that covers my eyes a lot. When my mom gets drunk and really into hating me, she threatens to chop off my hair. I look younger than fifteen. Garrett looks his age with long, almost-black hair and brown eyes. Brown eyes like stained cherry wood. It was those eyes that got me on the day about a month after school began, when I first noticed Garrett. Our school was large, but I couldn’t figure how I’d never seen him before. He seemed pretty aloof. Great, I thought; he’ll never pay attention to a twerp like me.

*

“René Raquet,” I told Garrett.

We sat on the edge of a wooden footbridge over the creek at the far end of my neighborhood. The houses ended behind us. In front of us was about thirty yards of woods and brush, and then there was a golf course. When I was little my friends and I used to hide in the brush, and we screamed when the fat old men tried to putt. Garrett and I dangled our legs over the side of the bridge, and leaned our arms on the crossbeam of the railing. We were about fifteen feet above the creek. Water trickled out of the steel pipe under the bridge—that round, corrugated kind of pipe, like a tunnel. I hid in that tunnel whenever I wanted to get high.

“René,” Garrett said. “I like it.”

Long hair hides red faces; that’s why I have it.

“My name’s Garrett Byron,” he said. He was fifteen, too.

I’d been in love with another boy over the summer. His name was Joey, and he had lots of brown-blond curls, pouty blue eyes, and a cute overbite. But it was hopeless. Joey liked girls, and he even told me fag jokes while I laughed awkwardly in front of his friends. I guess they couldn’t tell about me. By the time school began, I decided that Joey was too stupid for me to be crying out my eyeballs over him every night.

Look at the other kids in school. Some of them don’t care, but a lot of them do. Look at the news, with crazy-eyed idiots and their protest signs. I wouldn’t dare tell my mom, not that she probably hadn’t already figured out that her sports-hating son who likes to draw and read books never talks about crushes on girls for a reason. Look at me, scared to look up in the hallways at school in case I saw Trent. Or in case he saw me first.

*

It all started with wolfboys.

I like the word: the sound of it, the look of it. “Wolfboy.” It makes my heart beat faster for a moment, and then little goosebumps start to pepper my skin.

I first read about wolfboys in The Jungle Book. Then I saw a picture of one on the Internet, the kid in that French movie, The Wild Child. I was enraptured. The kid in the movie had long, ink-black hair. I love long hair on boys. I was about ten when I saw that picture. For the longest time I thought about that boy every night when I fell asleep. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to be him.

It was just another step before I fell in love with wolves. I read books about them and drew pictures of them, and pretended that just maybe the truth was that I really had been raised by wolves. I would have been very little not to remember any of it now. And someone stupid who thought he was helping out “rescued” me from the wolves, and forced me into the human world. I liked to pretend that my dad was scared of me because I was a wolfboy, and I might turn vicious, and tear him apart for spanking me. And that Dad left my mom because he was afraid of me. It felt better than the real reason, which was just that both of my parents were a coupla drunks who got tired of fighting each other all the time.

I had to have wolf blood in me. There couldn’t be any other reason for the dreams, nearly every night, about wolves. Sometimes in the dreams I was naked and wild, and the wolves gathered around me and took care of me.

But sometimes I had four legs and fur, and I was one of them, and we all ran together in a wonderful and loving pack.

*

Garrett wasn’t stupid, like everybody else. While we sat on the bridge, I told him about wolves and how much I loved them. He didn’t laugh.

“I like that,” Garrett said. “The way you love wolves and all.”

“I like to draw,” I said. “I’m pretty good at wolves. I’ll show you some of them sometime?”

“Yeah, okay,” Garrett said.

The sun setting behind us felt warm on our backs. I noticed that my right knee had drifted over and touched Garrett’s left knee. I held my breath. We both wore jeans— mine blue, his black—but I felt the warmth of his skin against mine. I hoped Garrett might notice. I was afraid he’d notice.

“Um,” I said, “what do you wanna be?”

“Musician,” Garrett said.

That was okay. I mean, I loved music, too. Didn’t everyone? But every boy in school wanted to play rock guitar, and they formed their own bands and had fantasies of fame. Trouble was, most of their bands sounded like cats in heat using leaf blowers to cool off.

I couldn’t help it; I had a half-snark in my voice when I said to Garrett, “Good luck.”

“No, not guitar,” Garrett said, knowing exactly what I had been thinking. “I play the flute. In the band.”

It was such an unexpected detail coming from him, all emo in his black clothes and black hair, that before I could stop myself, I laughed a little.

Garrett was up and off the bridge, walking away, before I could even get to my feet.

“Garrett,” I called after him. “I didn’t mean it! I just… it just… slipped out…”

He didn’t look at me when he hollered back, “Yeah, it’s too fucking gay, right?”

Aw god, aw god; oh no… aw, shit.

*

Mom was into her booze early that evening, and she let me know quite plainly once again how my existence was a drain on her life, and that I was worthless and selfish and uncaring, and on and on and on. I went to bed and cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I kicked the mattress and beat up the pillow. My sinuses swelled up so much, it felt like someone poured concrete into my head.

My mom? The hell with my mom. I was crying about Garrett. And I knew it was serious because crying about Joey never made my head feel like a bowling ball.

*

When I arrived at school the next morning, I spied big-guy Trent stalking around like he was looking for someone to beat up, and my twerpy little butt would do just fine. So I hid. In a stall. In the girls’ bathroom.

Garrett and I didn’t have any classes together, so I had to dig up the courage to go hunt him down between classes and make things right. It took me until fourth period before I finally felt brave enough, and when class ended I ran to the hallway outside his next class. With so much at stake, I felt like I was running to my own execution.

That was about right. Garrett saw me coming, turned around, and walked the other way. I called after him. He didn’t look back.

I hid in the girls’ bathroom again and cried for a half-hour, another one of those red-eyed, snot-dripping, bricked-up sinuses sort of things. How could I have been so stupid as to hurt him like that? I wondered if wolves ever cried. I wondered if they ever fell in love.

In my mind I saw Garrett and me together, standing amidst our friends the wolves on a hillside in Wyoming, all mountains and trees and blue-heaven skies, pretty as a movie scene. All I knew about Wyoming were pictures where everything was perfect, alone with Garrett far away from drunk parents and sub-intelligent bullies who beat kids up for being too smart and wrecking the curve, away from morons like you see on the news screaming that gays are sinful abominations and all that crap. I hate those kinds of people. And that hate dried my tears, and gave me back the courage to run after Garrett when he walked home that afternoon.

I stopped running right beside Garrett with a clomp-clomp-clomp from my sneakers. It was that time in autumn where you start to notice the dirt and gravel in the gutters because it’s wet all the time. I walked next to Garrett and tried to get him to talk. He wouldn’t answer me at first, but I kept pestering him.

“I didn’t mean to laugh,” I said to him. “I only… I don’t know you very well yet. It’s just that… the flute thing? It didn’t seem like you at first and I thought maybe you were joking and all, and…” Don’t cry, René; don’t cry. “I’m really sorry.”

Garrett finally talked. “I started playing the flute when I was ten. I still sneak the flute case out of the house when there’s band practice because my dad calls me a sissy when he sees it. ‘A real man’d play something made of brass, like his balls!’ Dad thinks that’s really funny.”

It was funny, not what he said but the way Garrett said it, with stupid, super-tough machismo. I went from trying not to cry to trying not to laugh again.

Garrett sort of half-looked at me and said, “Bet you think it’s funny trying to picture me in a band uniform.”

“Um… a bit.”

“Dad hates it. Says I look like a depressed nutcracker. He hates that I’m emo but he hates the band uniform, too. He wanted some brass-balled linebacker for a son and he got me instead.”

“I’m… sorry,” I said.

“I’m not what you think. I’m not what anyone thinks.”

Garrett’s tone was still offended, so I wasn’t sure if we were okay. My voice wavered, like I was gonna cry again. “Can we… be friends?” I said. “I mean, like… start over again?”

Garrett was just a little taller than me, but he seemed thirty miles up when he looked at my face. I swung my hair out of my eyes.

“Y’know,” Garrett said, “the worst part was, when you laughed at me? I thought you were one of them.”

“One of who?”

“Everybody. Stupid people.” Garrett was quiet for a few moments, and then he said, “There’s band practice tomorrow, after school. On the football field. Come watch if you wanna.” Garrett broke into a run and left me standing alone on the sidewalk.

I’d never been so happy in my entire life.

*

It turned out that Garrett liked the same indie rock that I did, even some of the same bands. So it was kinda funny seeing him march with the other kids while he played his flute and tried to be so obedient and orderly about the whole thing.

The afternoon was grey and cold, and my friend Craig had followed me out to the football field to check out “the new boyfriend.” Craig wasn’t gay but he knew I was. I had told him over the summer, when I had my crush on Joey. Craig was cute, with lots of red hair and blue eyes. We sat in the bleachers like a couple of leftover summer flowers with fuzzy tops, and watched band practice.

“He’s cute,” Craig said.

I blushed, and dropped hair over my smile. “Thanks.”

“You still plan to run away now that you’re in love all over again?”

I shrugged and said, “I dunno. Why d’ya think it’s love?”

“Has to be. You said ‘yes’ about running away when you were crushing on that Joey kid.”

I blushed again. “Yeah…”

“How’s your mom?”

“Same.”

The band director was trying to get the kids to march in a new formation. It wasn’t hard to spot Garrett. He was the only one dressed all in black.

Craig chuckled. “Emo kid in the marching band. Sounds like a song.”

“He likes band. I like that he likes it. And he hates when you laugh about it.”

“It’s funny. He needs to lighten up a bit. The two of you sad sacks together oughta be a lot of fun on dates.”

“Shut up. I think he’s just… I dunno. Lonely. Like me.”

“Think he’s gay?”

I shrugged again.

“Flute’s a good sign,” Craig said.

What could I say? Yeah, it was a sissy stereotype, but I’d been thinking the same damned thing.

*

That night I dreamed about wolves again, in Wyoming under the moon. The air was freezing but it didn’t bother me. I ran with the wolves, very fast, and never got tired. Garrett was waiting for me, leaning against a tree like he owned the forest. He stepped in front of me and grabbed hold of me, and he kissed me. I wished that dream had never ended.

In the morning I found grey fur in my bed. We have a cat, but she’s orange. And this wasn’t some random shedding, the fur was in clumps, like it fell off an animal. The two clumps of fur were grey all together, but when you pulled the individual strands apart they were each almost white more than grey, with little tips of black. A few strands had a little brown on them, too; almost gold, like toffee.

I studied the fur for so long I was almost late for school. I had no idea how the fur got into my bed, but I had no doubt what kind it was.

It was wolf fur.

*

I saw a real wolf pelt once, in a museum. I got permission to touch it. The fur was so soft and deep that it felt like my hands were swallowed up in water. The fur on that pelt was just like what I found in my bed that morning.

Touching the wolf pelt felt nice, but it made me mad to think that someone had probably killed that wolf out of hate and fear and ignorance. What they did to wolves, they also did to little queers like me.

*

Friday night came, and with it the promise that the rest of the world would leave me alone for a couple of days. After dark, Garrett and I smoked a joint in the tunnel under the bridge, and then we went over to the little strip mall for pizza. Afterwards we walked around together through the neighborhoods. Sometimes we took shortcuts over fences and in drainage ditches. The families were all hiding in their houses—scared of wolves, perhaps. Garrett and I didn’t really talk about much of anything, just stuff like movies and books and music and video games. The night was chilly, and I wondered if Garrett noticed that I was walking really close beside him. I wanted him to put his arm around me.

I told Garrett I wanted to run away from home.

“Yeah,” he said, “sometimes I do, too.”

“I saved up money,” I said. “I’m gonna go live with wolves. In Wyoming.”

“Better take a heavy coat.”

Yeah, I knew my plan was kind of stupid. I mean, uh-huh, living out in the wilderness with a bunch of wolves like I was a real wolfboy. How long before I starved or froze to death, right?

“Dad once tried to teach me how to hunt,” Garrett said, “when I was little. I know some stuff. So take me with you, ‘kay?”

I laughed, and then turned totally red in the face. “Sorry. I mean, you hunting. I can’t picture it.”

“You don’t want to. I threw up when Dad gutted a deer in front of me.”

I laughed again, and I knew it was okay. “If you ran away, where would you go?”

Garrett shrugged. “Dunno. Someplace where they don’t care if you play the flute and like other boys.”

I was so wrapped up in thinking that my own runaway plans were stupid that I almost missed what Garrett said. Then his words hit me, and I looked at him with one wide eye from under my long hair.

Garrett was sort of watching me out of the corner of his eye, between strands of his own long hair that swayed back and forth while he walked. He was waiting for another laugh from me, some sort of insult or mockery. He was waiting for me to call him a fag.

This time I didn’t screw it up.

“Yeah,” I said. “Me, too.”

“You too what?”

I shrugged, and sort of bounced from one foot to the other nervously, and then stuffed my hands in my jacket pockets. “Like boys.”

Garrett said nothing, and we kept on walking. I wrestled with finding a way to tell him how I felt about him. Maybe he just wanted to be friends. Maybe he wouldn’t care if I ran away and left him behind. A wolf would know what to do. A wolf would know what to say.

Just as I finally decided that I was really, truly going to tell Garrett right then and at that very moment, damn it, what I really felt about him… he put his right arm around my shoulders.

“Cold night,” he said.

I could hardly breathe. I slipped my left hand out of my pocket, slid it under his jacket, and put my arm around his waist. Then our hips touched, our steps got out of synch, and we stumbled a bit. We both laughed a little, because neither one of us would let go of the other.

We got our steps to work together and for a little while, the rest of the world simply vanished.

*

Dreams of wolves and dreams of Garrett, running through night and cold and snow, and we had no clothes on. But we weren’t cold because after a few minutes Garrett and I turned into wolves, and we ran ran ran through deep snow and up mountains with ease. The rest of the wolf pack ran along around us, and we all howled in the wind.

In the morning, I found more wolf fur in my bed. Some of it was stuck in my hair. I wondered if it was some kind of prank, but Mom was the only other person in the house, and she was always too deep in sleeping it off to play stupid jokes. I gathered up the fur and put it in a drawer of my desk.

Weird.

*

Craig had a big mouth.

I confided in him that I had a crush on Joey, okay. This was back during the summer and now summer was over, and Joey was back with his crowd of friends that I never really fit in with, and I was in love with Garrett. But Craig had to go shoot off his mouth to Joey, “Hey Joey, didja know René Raquet has the hots for you?” Well, no, he didn’t know before, but thanks anyway, Craig, because Joey and Trent jumped my ass on the way home that afternoon and beat me up.

I was supposed to go over to Garrett’s house and do homework with him, but instead I ran home and hid in my room, and cried.

After an hour or so, someone knocked on my bedroom door. I figured it was Mom, and I hollered at her to go away.

“It’s me.” Garrett’s voice. “Your mom let me in.”

I barely blubbered out, “Okay,” before I buried my face in the pillow again.

Garrett opened the door. “Your cell stop working?”

I raised my head just enough to say, “I turned it off!”

“Yeah, I figured.” Garrett came in, closed the door behind him, and sat down on the bed beside me. “Let me see.”

I raised my face to him. I thought I’d feel ashamed being all beat up and weepy, but for some reason I didn’t. I saw Garrett’s eyes and I felt, I dunno. Better.

“Wow,” Garrett said. “Some shiner.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shoulda called and told you I wasn’t coming over.”

“Who?”

“Trent and… goddamn Joey. They called me a pussy and a… faggot.”

Garrett didn’t say anything; he just wrapped his arms around me and held me.

I stopped crying.

After a few minutes I said, “You wanna see something?”

Garrett nodded, so I crawled over my bed to my desk and got out some of the wolf fur. I crawled back to Garrett, handed him the fur, and told him about my wolf dreams.

“And I’m in ’em,” Garrett said.

I nodded.

Garrett just looked at me. He didn’t say anything. He probably thought I was crazy, that I was making it all up like some little kid. One of our neighbors had a Malamute. I bet Garrett thought I might have kyped some fur out of the dog’s brush to try to impress him with my stupid wolf dreams.

“Here.” Garrett handed the fur back to me, and then reached into one of the pockets of his black jeans. What he pulled out, he put into my hand.

Wolf fur.

“The dreams started right after I met you,” Garrett said. “Wolves and wind and snow. And you. The night you laughed at me, I, uh… I cried. And then I was so happy when you showed up in my dream. We ran with the wolves, and then we became wolves, both of us. Just like in your dreams.”

“That’s weird,” I said.

“It’s beautiful.”

I looked at the wolf fur in both of my hands. Garrett’s was exactly like mine.

My voice was a whisper. “What do you think it means?”

Garrett shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe it means we’re destined for each other or something.”

We both laughed. I think he meant what he said. And then I was sure he meant it because he put his arms around me again and he kissed me, oh god, right on the lips, just kind of soft and barely touching, and I slid my arms around him and we just sat there finding different ways to fit our mouths together while we giggled like a couple of girls.

I felt worn out and warm, and my heart pounded. I laid my face against Garrett’s chest and I said, “Not gonna lose you. Not gonna let them take you from me.”

I don’t know how much time passed while we sat close like that with our arms around each other.

Finally, Garrett kissed the top of my head and said, “Put some ice on that eye. I have to go see somebody.”

*

The thing about Trent was, he was a jock wannabe. That meant he wanted to hang out with the jocks and be popular with the girls and all without doing the hard work of, you know, actually playing football and stuff. The jocks hated him. Plus, Garrett had helped a jock in one of his classes with some homework, so the jocks actually kinda liked Garrett even though he was emo and weird. The jocks probably realized that Garrett wasn’t after their girlfriends and wasn’t stupid enough to make a pass at any of them. So, Garrett called in a favor.

The next day, the jocks took care of it.

I kinda felt bad for cute little Joey when I saw his black eye, but man, seeing Trent with a shiner and crutch-wobbling on his injured ankle sure felt good.

That should have ended it, but it didn’t.

*

The wolf dreams grew more intense. One morning I actually pulled wolf fur off my skin, like I was shedding. It had grown on me during the night. I was kind of scared until Garrett told me the same thing happened to him.

I went over to Garrett’s house a couple of times to hang out and do homework and stuff. His mom seemed to like me. But then his dad figured me out and realized his son really was a fag, and I got banned. Garrett showed up at school the next day with a shiner of his own.

The hallway was jammed with kids between classes when I first saw Garrett and his eye. I ran up to him, and touched his cheek under the bruise.

“Trent?” I said.

Garrett shook his head. “Dad.”

Everyone saw us. Everyone watched how I touched Garrett’s face. Now, everyone knew.

So then another bunch of jocks who really didn’t like little fairy boys decided to get revenge for Trent and Joey. Word of their plans sparked down the school gossip wires like an overload. Garrett and I took a different route home from school that afternoon.

We went to my room. Mom wasn’t home from work yet.

“It’s time,” Garrett said. “Get your stuff together, no more than you can easily carry. And your warmest coat. And all the money you can get your hands on.”

I got my stuff and a few of my drawings and my iPod, along with my runaway savings. Garrett and I slinked out of the house like thieves.

Garrett got his stuff, including his flute, and then we went to an ATM. He had swiped one of his dad’s credit cards that morning, and we used it to get a bunch of cash.

Garrett shoved the bills into separate pockets, and gave me some, too. “The price of one black eye, Dad,” he said. He dropped the credit card on the sidewalk.

I pulled on his arm. “But won’t we need that for—”

“Can’t use it again,” Garrett said. “They’ll find us that way.” He took my cell phone and his, and threw both of them down a runoff drain.

We huddled down in the bus terminal overnight. In the morning we got on a bus to Wyoming.

*

We found wolves.

Garrett and I live just outside of Yellowstone, on the northeast edge of the park. Wolves live in the hills and mountains here, a couple of pretty large packs. There’s a park ranger in a big yellow SUV who comes out and watches the wolves with binoculars. Back in the woods Garrett and I found an old cabin that no one had used for ages. We scrounged up enough weathered lumber to patch up the gaps in the walls. The place has an ancient iron stove for heat. We found an old bed that Garrett and I share at night. If we have questions about how to do things, we hike over to the library in a nearby town and check the Internet. We’ve hardly touched the money we brought along. We kill our own food, and gutting the animals doesn’t make either one of us throw up any more. Garrett knows how to set traps, and he’s teaching himself to bow-hunt. But sometimes we don’t even need those tools.

At night Garrett plays his flute, and the wolves come.

The first night it happened, Garrett put down his flute and we went out to see the wolves. They circled us, curious about their new neighbors. The wolves sniffed our bodies, and we knelt to let them rub their muzzles in our faces. You have to get used to little nips from them. Their teeth are sharp. Their eyes glow at night. They can hear you blink your eyes.

Garrett and I no longer dream about being wolves.

We’re surviving the winter just fine.

Because when it gets really cold, we change.

On that first night, we ran with the wolves. Like in our dreams, we stripped naked to follow them. The longer Garrett and I ran, the better we felt, the warmer we felt. When I looked down, running, and saw that I had four big paws and grey fur, I looked over at Garrett. He was a wolf, too. And when we lifted our muzzles and howled, the pack howled with us.

The little librarian lady smiles at us when we enter her domain. If she only knew.
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Cody L. Stanford‘s publishing credits include the short stories “The Magician” in Eyes magazine, “Alexandra’s Cat” and “Reedman” in The New Orphic Review, “Blindsight Eclipse” in The Rejected Quarterly, and “But a Toy” in The Circle. His volunteer work caring for tigers at a nearby feline conservation park sharpens his wits for the savage world of publishing. Email: gryphontiger[at]gmail.com

Gifts We Are About to Receive

Fiction
Rion Amilcar Scott


Feb. 10 breaded chicken with lemon (Recipe)
Photo Credit: Matthew Gonzalez

Perhaps he had gotten fed up that time. Fed up is an odd way to describe a kid, six or seven years old, but he’s always been sort of strange, popping with anger at some perceived slight, some injustice, some small inconvenience or a bit of stupidity; he’s still like that. You’d expect an angry child to scream and cry facing down some wrong, and I assure you, he usually did, but not this day. Perhaps that’s why the reaction to him was such as it was. He’s the youngest and I often look for that to explain him and that day, but it doesn’t. He sat next to his oldest brother and across from me. I often visited my cousins and ate dinner with them—my parents being wrecked as they were during that time.

The house smelled of brown rice and black-eyed peas, Shake ‘n Bake chicken and moist green beans. His gums smacked loudly like the sound of wet hooves clopping along the puddled earth as he shoveled a forkful of rice into his mouth. He reached for a chicken leg when his father’s voice cracked across the table.

“Did you say the grace?”

“Yes,” the boy calmly replied, giving it not a second thought before biting into the crisp golden-brown crumbs that covered his chicken.

“When? I didn’t hear you,” his older brother—six years his senior—asked.

“Just now,” the boy replied.

“I didn’t hear you say it,” his father boomed.

“Well, I did.”

“No you didn’t,” his older sister—eight years his senior—said. “I’ve been sitting here the whole time; how come I didn’t hear you?”

The boy shrugged and went on tearing at his chicken.

From the other end of the table, came a voice: “Nobody heard you. You didn’t say it.” It was his mother.

“Yes, I did.”

Many years later he told me that it didn’t occur to him to ask the very simple question of: Why would I lie about such a small matter? All that occurred to his child mind as the forces lined up against him was: Yes, I did. He said it so simply and firmly as if it was the rule of law—true because it came from his mouth, how he always says even the most bullshit of things. Often it’s not any more convincing than it was when he was seven, but he believes it. He’s endearing. He’s annoying.

His father looked at him with stern eyes, his voice deepened as it does when he becomes irritated: “Say the grace.”

“Why? I just said it,” the boy replied calmly.

“No, you didn’t.”

The boy kept scooping forkfuls of food into his mouth.

A chorus from around the table called on him to say the grace. I admit I joined them, simply because it was easy and I wanted to see if I could make him budge, but I couldn’t. We couldn’t. His mind hardened like wet cement in the sun. It was almost a visible thing. From his spot at the head of the table, his father reached past his oldest son to smack his youngest son’s face. It wasn’t a hard slap, but no one expected it and the old man moved swiftly and gracefully like a basketball player gliding in for a layup. The boy dropped the fork, but quickly bent to pick it up. He turned to his father and said nothing. There were no tears in his eyes. This surprised us all. He could cry when he wanted to and did often. His slight turn looked like a taunt, but it really was a meaningless gesture.

“Say the grace,” his father pointed a chubby finger at the boy.

“No, I just said it.”

His father swung again, but this time the boy, expecting the blow, dipped and the hand missed his face. Enraged, his father jumped from his seat. I can still hear the rattling of plates and silverware. A glass of water tipped over onto the tablecloth.

The boy’s stillness was ruined by a slight flinch.

“Say the grace or go eat in the kitchen,” his mother called from the end of the table.

Being exiled to the kitchen meant missing out on the jokes, conversation, and good times that went with the best part of the day. That feeling that you were part of something. For about a half-hour a night, a child mattered as much as an adult. At least it felt that way. I suppose all of that had already been ruined for a night, but this is a child we’re talking about. Remember how at six or seven every moment was new and if there happened to be sadness, in five minutes there could be overwhelming joy. That’s what makes childhood seem so exciting and dangerous.

“I’m not saying the grace again.”

The boy picked up his plate, his glass, his mat and his knife and fork and retreated slowly to the kitchen. No argument. No pleading. It seemed to be a matter of principle. A stand. I found it remarkable.

“Go eat in the kitchen!” his father shouted even as the boy walked past him into the wilderness.

With the boy away in the kitchen, we were all free to act as if the past few moments had never occurred and that an irritation such as the boy had never existed. My oldest cousin started to talk about soccer practice and her brother cracked a joke and we were all laughing and cross-talking. My uncle was the most boisterous and joyous conversationalist of us all. After a few moments went by, the boy loudly mocked his mother and then his father, a brave and foolish act. After he repeated his father’s words in an Elmer Fudd voice, his older brother said, “Dad, you’re going to let him get away with that?”

And for that night, his father let him get away with it. I’m not sure why. The boy though, paid for his victory with weeks of short-tempered bursts of anger from his father and licks for the smallest transgressions.

That whole night seemed—and still seems—so out of character for the boy and at times I’m tempted to dismiss his rebellion as youthful acting out, but truthfully sometimes I think that day was one of the only days I ever got to see his authentic self. Perhaps the weeks that followed were where he learned to wrap his genuine feelings in a dismissive smirk and a joke. Maybe his solitude in the kitchen—a jester mocking the king—taught him that alone is where he needs to be, even if it is to his detriment at times. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. God, he’s so frustrating.

Ask him about that day and he’d likely tell you that that moment was his greatest and only triumph.

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Rion Amilcar Scott has stories forthcoming or published in the pages of New Madrid, Fiction International, PANK, Apparatus Magazine and other publications. He currently teaches English at Bowie State University in Bowie, MD. Email: Rion.Amilcar.Scott[at]gmail.com

Beneath

Flash
Kelley McDonald


April Showers
Photo Credit: Sarah Madeleine Louise Horrigan

Ellie carried her umbrella with her wherever she went. The rain could be falling, the snow could be pounding, the sun could be shining. It could be a beautiful day in late May—the kind of day when the flowers hug your ankles and the air smells like freshly poured lemonade—and Ellie would still be using her umbrella. It was pink, with yellow polka dots that were so bright that they sometimes made Ellie squint her blue eyes.

Ellie liked how she felt when she was under her umbrella, like the entire world could only bother her if she invited them under her portable roof. She liked not being able to see the looks that people were giving her as the metal pricks of her umbrella inched near their faces. On days when she was feeling adventurous, she would spin the umbrella between her fingertips and the sun would cast bright pink shadows across her pretty face. She liked feeling invisible.

She always dreaded windy days, days when the cool air did cartwheels around the branches of the trees. It was hard to hold on to the worn metal handle, and sometimes the whole umbrella would invert. She would shut her eyes and pretend like nobody could see her, opening them only when the gust was over. She would adjust herself and continue.

Ellie had two friends in high school and she liked them because they never asked questions. She would walk up to the big doors of the school, shut her umbrella, and carry it around with her throughout the day. They never asked why. They heard the other kids talking about her, whispering floods of torment and disgust. They liked Ellie because she was different, because she made them feel normal.

During their lunch period the three of them would go outside under the cover of the polka dots and eat their bagged lunches on the warm macadam. There was one day, in the midst of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple slices, and an understood silence that it started to rain.

“I’m glad we have this umbrella,” Andrew said, awkwardly nudging Ellie.

“I’m not,” she said as she inched away from him, exposing him to the tears of the puffy gray clouds. “I hate having to use my umbrella.”

Nobody said anything. The only sounds were the crinkling paper bags and the bouncing of the raindrops on the blacktop. Ellie breathed.

“Before my dad died, he told me that he would always be looking down on me. I hate the idea of being watched. I hide from him. He lost his right to care about what I do when he died,” Ellie told them abruptly.

Her friends didn’t respond. She had answered their unasked questions.

Ellie felt exposed. She wanted to be invisible to her dad. Now she wanted to be invisible to them too. She walked away, shuffling her feet in the deepening puddles.

Ellie could be invisible to the whole world if she wanted to be.

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Kelley McDonald is a working writer from Philadelphia. Email: km440250[at]sju.edu

Sobriety

Flash
Digby Beaumont


p1070531
Photo Credit: Andrew Bulhak

As the train pulled into the station, the woman hugged the little boy sitting beside her in the carriage, then looked at the man opposite them. She stood up and went to the door. She waved goodbye. They watched her leave.

The train moved off again, and the boy shuffled to the edge of his seat, planting his feet on the floor. “That was a surprise, wasn’t it, Dad? Running into Amy like that?”

The man had closed his eyes. He opened them again. “Yes, it was.”

The boy cocked his head. “Was she sad?”

“Sad? I don’t know, son.”

“She seemed sad to me.”

The man loosened his tie. He had noticed something, too, in the woman’s demeanour.

“She smelled nice,” the boy said—more to himself than the man.

The man turned and stared out the window, at the backs of the houses rolling past.

“So,” the boy said, “will we see her again?”

“I don’t know, son. I don’t think so. She’s got another boyfriend now. A new life.”

The sky was clouding over. The man sat forward and buttoned the boy’s coat. He remembered how the woman’s eyes had brimmed only minutes ago, when he informed her that this was his sixth month of sobriety.

“She reminds me of Mum, Amy does,” the boy said. He sighed. “Mum smelled nice.”

“Yes, she did, didn’t she?”

The boy nodded. “Mum would have liked Amy.”

The man nodded back, and the boy stepped up close to him. He put his arms around the man’s neck and turned his head to one side, resting it on the man’s shoulder.

The man held the boy. They held each other. Soon they were out in open countryside. Wind rushed at the window as the train gathered speed.

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Stories by Digby Beaumont appear in such journals as The Rose & Thorn, Pindeldyboz, 34th Parallel, Opium Magazine, Slow Trains, Monkeybicycle, The Linnet’s Wings and others, as well as in the anthologies Small Voices, Big Confessions, Late-Night River Lights and City Smells. He has worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications. He lives in Brighton, England. Email: digbyb[at]btinternet.com

Four Poems

Poetry
Patrick Loafman


soon to be unmentionable
Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan

Tracks

1.

There were cotton fields,
lines of white, straight as rulers
measuring the days of the pickers
pacing back and forth.

Behind the cotton, a path cut
its way through pines to a swing
hung from an oak. Down the road,
a drugstore, old men sat outside,
told stories, spitting tobacco juice.

Inside, an old dog curled by the door,
a candy machine we saved pennies for—
a multicolored gumball could be traded
at the counter for a rabbit’s foot.

There were train tracks.
We walked in line,
became soldiers.

This landscape is memory.

Before leaving, you gave Mom
your lucky rabbit’s foot, saying
you didn’t need it anymore, then
everything went wrong. The map
that was our lives ripped. Nothing
is ever the same after a brother’s
death.

2.

I eat Chinese food inside Safeway,
gaze through the window at a man
in the mist, wearing army fatigues,
begging for change.

Fathers steer carts around him
as if what he has is contagious
and maybe it is. Eventually,
loneliness touches everything
that’s human, it’s the war
we all fight.

Is it as simple as a path forking
in some woodland: I chose one,
he chose the other? Or are some
lives drawn with a straightedge?

I wish for a penny to give him
and for a magic machine that
dispenses only multicolored
gumballs.

It’s what we all wish for: something
that won’t cost us too much.

3.

Sometimes we’d put pennies on the tracks;
after the train passed we’d pick up the warmed
copper, the stretched faces of Lincoln.
We’d chase the 5 o’clock bubblegum man
who rode the caboose, throwing candy.

And sometimes I still feel the rumbling
of that train, the heavy sounds of steel,
the rattling of empty boxcars, and we’re
running full speed, chasing that train’s
tail towards sunset, towards another
morning.

You hop on the caboose, toss candy
that turns to dust and dreams.

4.

There’s something in the gray:
a moment when black and white
find peace.

I break open a fortune cookie,
pull out a slip of paper, as a baby
cries in a shopping cart overflowing
with groceries, and that man outside
steps back into the fog.

 

Purple Raven

I found a slip of paper
behind the reference books
at the public library;
on the back was writing.

The words were old,
faded, familiar.
I put it in my back pocket,
carried it with me.

In the alley
between the Catholic gift shop
and the liquor store,
I saw you.

You turned
as if wearing a black cape,
spiraled,
merged with shadows.

At that spot you vanished
I knelt down,
expecting blood,
but found only

cracked pavement
and a weed
looking for light,
wanting to bloom.

How long did I hold on?
Thinking I might find an answer
written in a language
between logic and poetry,
a drug between whiskey and God?

Like the darkness in a raven,
there’s a blackness that reveals
a spectrum of violets
when the sun finds it.

I started a poem today,
a few words scribbled
on the back of a napkin,
but abandoned the thought,

placed it between
the salt and pepper shakers—
figured I’ve carried it
long enough.

 

9 AM, After Driving All Night

I misread the sign,
think it says “Nirvana,”
so I exit the freeway,

drive into a small Midwestern
town, past the bar, the church,
the high school, the kindergarten,

to where the woods take hold,
passing faces I swear I’ve seen
somewhere else or everywhere.

Yes, this place, these faces
they give no hope, no despair.
But before I turn around,

continue traveling towards my childhood
home, to Mom and her visions she never
misreads, and who sees reasons behind

everything that happens, I imagine
telling her there was no need
to fly to India, no need

to pray in a Buddhist temple;
there was no good reason
my brother died, but the thoughts

fly off as I find an abandoned
driveway leading to a burnt home,
and a certain quality of light

gathers beneath oaks
that lost all their leaves,
standing in what once
was a garden.

 

Gold

You had to look down while you walked
so you wouldn’t fall through the hole
in the school’s wooden floor where
canebrakes and diamondbacks waited.

Teachers taught English, but we spoke Alabamian.
My accent was as thick as a cottonball.

Grandma bought used underwear at yard sales.
She owned only two dresses as a child,
would crumple Sears catalogue pages
to soften them for toilet paper, but maintained
she wasn’t poor because of what she held inside.

After school, waiting for the bus,
we gathered around Jerome
smiling so large it looked painful—
his bloody gums infected
by some disease I couldn’t pronounce.

He spray-painted his bike
gold. We all wished we owned it.
My brother got to ride it once.

Mama took us out of that public school,
said she was worried about our education,
put us in a Catholic school.

The church had shiny statues, gold cups,
an ivory Virgin Mary. The school floors
were swept and waxed. We walked
in straight lines in clean-pressed uniforms,
were told to keep our heads up, but I
kept an eye low, knew there must be a hole—
a place people would fall.

The teacher’s pet scribbled cuss words into his Bible,
explained their meanings to me, whispered how he hated
niggers into my ear; I punched his face; blood stained
his clean, white shirt.

Then a nun tried to beat the gospel of nonviolence
into my thin skin, but I learned another lesson:
the distance between right and wrong,
like the distance between any two points,
is never straight.

*

While driving through the small town of Joyce,
my eye caught a glimpse of a boy on a bike,
and I remembered the important teachers disguised
as ordinary people and how the most precious lessons
are not taught, but found, like common quartz
in a gravel pit, that in the right angle
can become a diamond.

My wife asked, What are you thinking?
Gold, was all I could say.

I was thinking of gold.
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These are old poems that have been sitting inside the memory of Patrick’s computer, and he decided it was time to air them out. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, and is trying to get a novel published. He’s a gourd artist and has made two gourd banjos that he plays obsessively at his small farm where he lives with his wife, a blue cat, two bunnies and nine curious chickens. Email: ploafman[at]tfon.com