Firm Iron

Fiction
Lou Gaglia


2011 Belmont Stakes - Khan of Khans in the Paddock
Photo Credit: Daniel Huggard

On the first day of ninth grade, after a sweaty recess, I wanted to tell the kids sitting around me in social studies that I still had a bump on my head from being kicked by a thoroughbred in July. But instead I quietly gazed out the window while Mr. LaFalce talked on and on. I wrote in my notebook, not the jumble of words about the Huns that he’d written on the board, but instead about that girl Cindy who worked at the barns, wondering if she’d ever gotten my note, or if I’d ever see her again. The answer I kept writing was no and no and no.

I wrote my nos very tiny, because Barbara Kelly kept looking over; then, because everyone was so serious, because Mr. LaFalce touched his mustache whenever he made a point, because Barbara Kelly shifted to get a better look, and because stupid Kerry Kern was sitting all serious and studious in the very front row, I burst out laughing, and when Mr. LaFalce stopped, drawing out the word “Huns-sss”, and stared at me, my laugh turned into a cackle.

From her front desk Kerry gave me a look, like I was an idiot, but I smirked at her, hating her guts now, a stranger after one summer, and remembered sitting on my curb crying after she broke up with me in June.

Mr. LaFalce was about to say something to me but I held up my hand.

“I’m all right,” I said. “All right now. Sorry.”

But as soon as he started teaching again, as soon as his voice started up, as soon as he touched his mustache, I cackled all over again and hid my face in my hands, hee-heeing, my body shaking, until he asked me if I’d like to take a walk through the hallway to laugh it all out, whatever it was. I went, letting some compressed laughter escape before reaching the door.

The second I was in the hallway alone, though, nothing was funny. I just stood there, my face like stone, looking at the tiles across from me and waiting for the bell to ring.

*

My father’s back had gone out on him again that summer, so I had to wake up with him at four a.m. for the trip to Belmont Park to help with any lifting. He needed help filling and carrying the water buckets and walking the horses after they’d had their runs. He tapped on my door the first morning, and I lay there looking at the ceiling and smelling coffee before slowly rolling off the bed, and by the time I staggered to the kitchen he was there, having already finished his shower. We ate breakfast silently, and then I got ready and we were out the door before five.

He started to nod off while driving along the parkway and then on the Long Island Expressway, so I kept an eye on him and said, “Dad!” whenever his eyes drooped. I watched the shoulder of the road, making sure he didn’t veer over too far.

Before reaching the barns, though, he stopped at a bakery and picked up coffee and donuts for both of us, and the Daily News for me so I could see how the Mets did.

I was kicked on that first day, walking my first horse, a two-year-old named Firm Iron, just up from Florida. My father told me to yank on the halter shank if he got fidgety or didn’t want to move, that I had to show who was boss. But on our first turn around the inside of the large oval barn a barrel scraped outside, and Firm Iron pulled back and shuffled his feet, so I yanked on the shank. He settled a little but the barrel scraped again, and Firm Iron stepped backward and pulled his head up away from me, his eyes wild. I yanked harder, and then up he reared and down he came, his front left shoe crunching into my head and me going down hard. I rolled away, seeing his feet scramble by me, and then I crawled behind a partition stacked with hay. Soon my father was there, lifting me upright and gripping my shoulders. He looked intently into my eyes before pushing me aside and running off to catch the horse.

A girl who worked for another owner on the same side of the barn sat me in a room and cleaned the cuts on the top side of my head and on my forehead. She was pretty and maybe a little older than me, and I heard someone call her Cindy.

“I’m all right,” I said, and pulled away a couple of times because the alcohol stung, but she showed me the bloody gauze she had pressed into my sore head. While she reached back for another strip, I felt at the bump already forming and glanced at her. Then she wordlessly wiped down the cuts on my forehead, and I watched her walk away with her ammonia and bandages.

My father appeared in front of me with the halter.

“What’s that?”

“Finish walking the horse.”

“How about tomorrow?”

“No. Now.”

“I thought that stuff was just for falling off horses.”

“Let’s go.”

So I walked Firm Iron around the barn for thirty minutes, and every time he moved his head, even a little, my heart flipped. When another barrel scraped somewhere, I whispered, “It’s okay, it’s okay”—shakily, to him and to myself—and kept it up the whole thirty minutes, except for when I passed my father.

Later I was tired, so I went into the car’s back seat to take a nap, but my father was suddenly banging at the window and woke me up.

“Are you crazy? You can’t go to sleep after getting kicked.” As I climbed out of the car he wanted to know whether I was stupid or what.

*

The same songs kept creeping into my head the whole summer. In the morning, instead of letting my father scare me awake with his knocking, I set the music alarm clock, and what jolted me at four a.m. was often enough either “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen or “Afternoon Delight” by some ridiculous tra-la-la band I’d never heard of.

I liked “Suzanne,” but it was the kind of song that didn’t stay in my mind long. Leonard Cohen didn’t sing, just kind of muttered, and muttering didn’t rate reruns. But “Afternoon Delight,” one of the stupidest songs I’d ever heard, ran through my head for entire days.

My father didn’t let me near Firm Iron any more after that first day. He was too hard to handle, he said. But I still walked Fearless Queen and Winter Tide. Fearless Queen walked funny and kept stepping on my foot, maybe on purpose because she liked to play, often trying to bite men’s hats off when they passed her stall. Winter Tide was more manageable, except for one time when there was a loud argument outside the barn and he tried to run. I held on, pulling back on the halter, and for a second I was off the ground, holding him, until he finally stopped and walked again. That was the only time he ever got jittery.

During my breaks, after I finished walking the two horses, I went up a long set of concrete steps to the cafeteria, and I remember that on that first trip up, or maybe it was after a month, or maybe it was each time I climbed them, I thought of what my future was going to be. I wondered at everything ahead and had no idea what was coming. It was just a little thought, or maybe it was a long deep one—I don’t remember—but it was like a promise in the air and it made me stop on those steps.

At the cafeteria the men stood out front with coffees and rolls and racing forms. Cigarettes dangled from many mouths. I smelled the smoke and the coffee and the eggs—and the manure smell was still there. I got my own coffee and roll and stood outside away from them, but watched their hard worn faces. They were all barn workers or hot walkers or exercise boys. The trainers like my father weren’t there. And the owners, wearing suits, only came around the barn area once in a while.

From a short distance I watched and listened to the men, who often talked about which horses would win which races that day. And judging by the looks on their faces, they didn’t allow themselves much hope that their horses had a chance.

*

Carlos was my father’s barn worker. He was a nice guy and very funny, always making jokes in very broken English without smiling. One day he held a swatter and killed over three or four hundred flies on the barn walls and the horse stalls. “Kill the fly, kill the fly,” he said, methodically tapping them dead.

My father liked Carlos but frowned whenever he was late. He must have drunk his dinner, my father muttered. So a couple of times my father had to clean the stalls himself, and I helped him—although I was slow because the manure made me tip-toe too much.

One morning they said that Carlos threw up in his sleep and would have died if his girlfriend hadn’t been there. My father looked over at me with huge pained eyes.

I often sneaked glances at Cindy, my heart fluttering whenever I passed her or even saw her from far away. She walked with very sloping shoulders and had pretty blue eyes, and she was so relaxed and matter-of-fact about everything. I wished I had paid more attention when she’d taken care of my cuts and head bump, and I ran several—this time smooth—talks with her in my mind that never happened, leading all the way up to marriage proposals. “Afternoon Delight” played on the radio somewhere in the barn at least once a day, and I shook my head, because both she and the song were driving me crazy.

*

Near the end of August, I sat in my father’s car while he talked to his horses’ owners, and instead of reading the Daily News, I wrote to her—something about wishing I knew her, and wishing her into my future. But I didn’t say what my name was, or even that I was the guy whose head she cleaned up, just that I liked her and thought of her all the time, and that I wished I knew her one way or another for life somehow, even as a friend. I wasn’t particular, I wrote.

I went around the outside of the most isolated part of the barn, a turn where I knew she’d soon pass with one of her horses, and I threw the tightly folded note over the wall where it would fall into the walking path. But there were three other walkers in the barn besides her, and I tried not to think of how bad the odds were that she’d be the one to pick it up. I was sick of lousy odds by that time, late August, having listened so often to those guys outside the cafeteria.

*

During my last few days at the barn I kept my head down or turned away whenever I passed her with Fearless Queen or Winter Tide, but I watched her from a distance when I was near our stalls. On the last day, I forced myself to look into her eyes when she passed with a spotted white horse, but she only glanced over briefly, stone-faced. My father told me it was almost time to go, and I nodded and watched her walk away, taking a picture of her in my mind—her sloping shoulders and her pretty eyes and her easy casual walk and her calmness. I frowned to myself and looked into Firm Iron’s stall. He was staring at me from the back of the stall with his wild eyes, and I called him a jerk.

Before we left, the owner and some other guys in suits came around to talk to my father. I hung up brushes and combs in the tack room and when I came out, one of them asked me if I liked working there.

“I like the horses,” I said, “but I don’t like the people.”

They kind of laughed to each other with red faces, but my father turned to give me a dark stare that only I saw.

*

“Afternoon Delight” popped into my mind during my stay in the hallway on that first day of ninth grade. I stared at the tiled wall and missed everything about the barns, not just Cindy but Carlos, too, who never came back. I missed driving in the early morning with my father, and the bakery’s donuts, and the sports section, and even those guys near the cafeteria with their rolls and coffee and racing forms and shared defeat.

Never in my future would I miss that crazy Firm Iron, though, or that snob Kerry Kern, or Mr. LaFalce’s stupid droning voice. I knew that.

In my mind I stood on those long steps to the cafeteria again, wondering about my future, but I was sure I wouldn’t do any more wondering in LaFalce’s class, or ever laugh again and let any of them know that I felt anything at all. I would just do what I was doing right there in the hallway—stare blankly—and then maybe I’d get to stay in class.

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Lou Gaglia’s short stories have appeared recently in Rose & Thorn Journal, Spilling Ink Review, and Halfway Down the Stairs, among others, and one is forthcoming in Blue Lake Review. His first short story collection is forthcoming from Aqueous Books. He is a long-time T’ai Chi Ch’uan practitioner who still feels like a beginner. Email: lougaglia[at]yahoo.com

Back to Comanche

Fiction
Rick Bailey


Antheraea Polyphemus Moth
Photo Credit: Charlie Kellogg

It’s a big sucker. On the corner post of the back porch, there’s this thing with wings, like a grasshopper, only four inches long. “Come look at this,” I say to my wife. It’s burger night, I’ve got the grill lit, but I’m thinking maybe we should just run. What if there are more?

“Creepy,” she says.

“In a world man has destroyed,” I say in movie preview voice, “nature gets its revenge.”

“You okay?”

I say yes. She knows I’m not.

“Maybe it’ll turn into a butterfly,” she says.

“In a cocoon the size of a football.”

I grill the burgers. It’s still there. We eat, then wash dishes. Still there. Later on, I go out with a flashlight. Still there, by itself. Big. My wife says, “I’ll call Joann.”

 

That afternoon I’m at Red Cross giving blood. Kandice does the Q and A. She comes in with a flourish of her synthetic gown. “Did you eat today?” she asks.

I tell her no, but I promise to eat tonight. “Kandice with a K,” I say. “You’ve been saying that your whole life.”

She rolls her eyes. “How come you don’t eat?”

“I just got back from Atlanta,” I say. “I’m outta whack.”

She wraps the blood pressure cuff around my arm, pumps me up. “Drive?”

“I saw a hundred dead deer.” I feel the blood bumping in my arm.

Kandice loosens the screw on the bulb and the cuff exhales. She says, “You’re kinda high today.”

“How high?”

“High normal.”

“That better than low high?”

She frowns. “Do you drink alcohol?”

“Of course.”

“How much?”

Just enough. She asks, I tell about my coffee consumption. When I do the math, the number of espressos surprises me.

“You probably ought to cut back,” she says.

“Wine or coffee?

She smiles, for the first time. “I’d cut back on coffee first.”

 

I get almost home, I notice this car behind me, up close and personal, a guy driving. I turn down my street, he turns too. Not a car I’ve seen in the sub. I pull in my driveway, go halfway up the drive, and stop. This car, a white sports sedan, looks like a fang on wheels, it’s parked at the bottom of the driveway. The guy has his window down, an arm dangling out of it. He might be looking for someone, I think. He might be lost.

I get out. “Help you?”

“You sonovabitch,” he says, “you cut me off.”

“What?” I say. “When? Where?” I think back a block, a mile, a day—nothing.

“Don’t bullshit me.” He raises that arm, levels his index finger at me. “You know you did,” he says. “I oughta kick your ass.”

“If I did,” I say, “I’m really sorry.”

“Sonovabitch.” He says again he should kick my ass, then steps on the gas and roars away. I stand there, baffled, and realize I’m shaking. I look up and down the street. No one outside. Just me and Badass.

Inside the house, I set a bag of groceries on the counter.

“Got any blood left?” my wife says.

“My blood pressure was high.” I reach in the bag and pull out a bottle of wine. “High normal,” I say.

“You gonna light the grill?”

“You’ll never guess what just happened.” I can still feel the adrenaline rush. I don’t like it.

 

Our friend Joann the naturalist comes to the door in her pajamas. Bug books under her arm. There’s a gleam in her eye that comes with the thrill of pursuit. Ask her, she’ll tell you forty years ago she was a hippie. It’s not difficult picturing her in jeans, beads, tie-dye, feathers in her hair. Now she works the school nature center, which means she talks to you like you’re a sixth grader. We walk through the house, out the back door onto the porch. She sets her books down on the table.

I hand her the flashlight. She puts on her glasses and looks.

“Oh my,” she says. “Thank you so much for calling me.”

I tell her it doesn’t seem like a good idea, her driving around in her pajamas. My wife rolls her eyes. “You never know,” I say.

“I was in bed,” she says. “But I had to come. She’ll be gone in the morning.”

Both of us: “She?”

“She, yes. Notice the antennae. And notice her slightly distended abdomen.” She tilts her head, draws close to the thing, a few inches away. “I’d say this is a polyphemus moth. She’s sending out a powerful scent right now. Males of the species will detect it and come to her. They’ll mate. In the morning she’ll be gone.”

This scent she sends out, I picture it, for some reason, as searchlights or laser beams boring into the night. “It’s not going to eat the wood on the house,” I say.

“It doesn’t eat,” she says. “The caterpillar eats. This moth procreates, then it dies.”

 

“I think I know what happened,” I say to my wife. We’re lying in bed. She’s reading a book about Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped by the Comanche in 1836. “I know where I cut him off.”

“These guys were brutal,” she says.

“On the corner of Franklin and Walnut Lake.” I wait for a response. She’s reading.

“Remember that TV commercial,” she says finally, “the piles of garbage and the Native American with a tear dropping from the corner of his eye?”

“Except I didn’t cut him off.”

“Pure revisionist history. A romanticized view of the Native American,” she says. “They raped, they murdered, they tortured people.” She taps a page with her index finger and shakes her head. “Mutilation. Babies, slaughtered.”

“There’s that temporary right lane as you go through the light, north on Franklin?”

“The Comanche,” she says, “were terrible.”

“He was in that lane. I was in the main lane.”

“Sometimes you drive too fast,” she says. “You don’t pay attention.”

“I had the right of way. He’s supposed to yield to me.”

She reads for minute, then says, with genuine sadness, “So much for the noble savage.”

“Maybe he wasn’t paying attention.” I stare up at the ceiling, playing back the driveway encounter. He sat there, waiting for me to get out of my car. “He probably was waiting to see how big I was.”

“What?”

“That guy this afternoon. What if I was big?”

“Let it go,” she says.

“He sat there waiting. Because what if I was linebacker size? What if I was Del Durfee size?”

“Who’s Del Durfee?”

“He’d’ve shut his trap and drove away.”

We lie there a minute. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to sleep. And now I got blood pressure. She closes her book and shuts off her light. “They’d take women who looked like they could work, and a couple kids,” she says. “Kill everyone else.”

He was the sonovabitch.

 

Next morning on the way to work I stop at my coffee spot. I ask Taha what kind of tea they have.

“Tea?” He’s already working on my double espresso.

“Something herbal.”

He starts down the list, I’m listening for something I know, like Lipton. “Sweet cranberry fruit melange, Rooibos chai, Assan Mangalam…”

“Green tea,” I say at last. “Plain.”

Taha is a little Egyptian, with a voice so soft you have to lean over the counter to hear him. His manner is nothing if not cherubic. He also has a black belt in some variety of martial arts. He’s told me what. To me it’s all karate. Some Monday mornings his arms are red and bruised. Once he told me his jaw was dislocated. This morning I’m picturing Taha pulling a big guy out of a car, educating him, then throwing him in the ditch.

“Green tea,” he whispers, handing me my drink.

“I’d like to see you fight sometime, Taha.”

“I don’t fight,” he says. “I compete.”

This thing of tea is big and hot. I hate it already. “But you could fight,” I say.

He gives me a gentle smile. “I would do anything not to fight.”

 

I stop in to see Sheldon at work, to tell him about the polyphemous moth. I know it will make his day. Sheldon is sixty, balding, an avid bridge player. Also a nature hog. He’s walked the Appalachian trail a few times. He plans to retire soon so he can devote himself to playing cards and hiking. There must be outward bound bridge tournaments somewhere. While we’re talking, I begin to notice, for the third or fourth time, this little hallucination thing I’ve got going. Things are walking into and out of my peripheral vision, little bug-like things, there and gone. I suppose it’s blood pressure.

I wonder out loud if I should see a doctor.

“Eat right,” he says. “Nuts, celery. How’s your omega-3s?”

“How should I know?”

“Get your fish oils going. Limit your industrial foods. There is a pestilence upon the land.”

I tell him I appreciate both his advice and his Biblical utterances. I’ve seen two doctors in the past ten years, a big one and a little one. The big one is your standard issue internal medicine man, an affable guy forty pounds overweight, with a ready prescription pad. The little one is the holistic guy. My wife calls him Speedy. He doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. He says to eat the way people ate in the 1700s. If you can’t eat right, he can get the eighteenth century into you through the miracle of dietary supplements. Either way, you end up with artificial pills or natural pills. I don’t like pills.

I ask Sheldon about his daughter, he shakes his head. “They rob her blind.” Meaning her employees. She and her husband have orchards, cider, donuts, a specialty shop. “Last weekend,” he says, “there were a couple men in the shop for over an hour.” He looks out the window and shakes his head. “In security films, you can see guns in their pockets. People will do anything these days. They’re so desperate.”

“They certainly seem crazy,” I say.

“They’ll kill and not even blink an eye.”

I start to say it will be all right, but I’m not so sure. When I turn to go, I tell him I had green tea today.

“Polyphenols,” he says. “Out with the free radicals.”

 

“You know she wanted to go back,” my wife says. We’re lying in bed. She’s reading about Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter recaptured and repatriated to civilized life. I’m reading about hypertension. The story starts slow, then rises to a predictable and awful denouement. I’m also watching for phantom insects in my peripheral vision.

“Back to the Comanche?”

“Is that from the Internet?” she says, pointing to my reading. “You should talk to Speedy.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Yes, the Comanche.”

“Life was good,” I say.

“It was the life she knew. She tried to escape from the white people. She ran away countless times. She cut her breasts with a knife, not to kill herself, but out of grief. Then her daughter died. Then she died.”

I tell her I liked it better when she was reading about the Persians. “They made you laugh,” I say.

“I can’t believe you’re giving up coffee.”

“I’ll be an herbal gerbil.”

“I don’t think you’ll be able to give it up.”

I tell her about Sheldon’s daughter, men with guns.

“What about your friend?” I ask. “Did he get a gun?” Unstable employee, let go. Stalks the boss. Parks outside the house. One imagines a predictable and terrifying denouement.

“I think he did.”

We shut off the lights and lie there. I don’t ask for it, the image just pops into my head, of those patches of road between here and Atlanta where the deer were struck by cars, smears of red on the pavement, huge and obscene, some of them across two or three lanes. So many as to be almost ordinary.

 

I hear this thumping behind me. I’m driving home from work the next day. Traffic is slow from months of road repair. In every car you can see the strain; people’s expressions range from despair to berserk. Now this noise. In my mirror I see a fluorescent purple Firebird with odd bluish headlights that remind me of zombie eyes. The driver muscles into the left lane, pulls alongside me. He looks over at me, stabbing the air with scissor fingers. He singing, he’s having a helluva good time, and my whole car is vibrating. I hate this. While I watch, he guns his engine, surges ahead, then stops.

We sit like this for a full minute. I can see his shoulders bouncing up and down. The music throbs. I’ll bet anything he’s turned the volume up. From the car in front of me, I see an arm extend through an open window, the driver’s palm raised in supplication. The guy must be asking him to please turn the goddam music down. Scissor fingers reach through the passenger window of the Firebird, form a fist, then the middle finger unfolds in response. The driver in front of me responds in kind.

The next thing I know, the Firebird driver hops out of his car. He’s wearing camouflage pants and a sleeveless T-shirt that reveal long tattooed arms. He stomps around the front of his car, reaches inside the car in front of me with his left hand, pulls back and smashes the driver with his right fist. Firebird holds him like that, yelling and swaying to the concussion of bass and drum. It’s like he thinks he’s in a video. He’s enjoying himself. I’m waiting for traffic to move, thinking he’ll have to get back in his car. I’m also waiting for someone to do something, when he pulls back his right fist again.

What the hell. I’ll do what I can.

I honk my horn.

I don’t beep it. I lay my forearm across it and mash it.

The Firebird driver pulls his punch, turns to give me a look. You want some of this? He releases the other guy and smiles. I know I’m in trouble, but I’m not giving in. I lay on my horn. Then the car beside me honks. Then the one on the other side of that guy honks. In a few seconds, seven, maybe ten drivers are blasting this guy. He stands there. The dance has gone out of him. More cars honk as he stomps back around the front of his car, gets in, and slams the door.

Traffic begins to inch forward. We’re still honking. Everyone has had enough. The drivers in front of him seem to hold back, blocking him. More horns. We’re letting him have it, and he can’t get away. We all go a little faster, pressing on him.

I realize, wherever this is going, it won’t be good. I let up on my horn. I don’t want any more. I’d like to get away, but I’m trapped in traffic just the same as he is. We begin to accelerate, a convoy of rage, speeding toward a resolution that we don’t deserve and that will solve nothing.

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Rick Bailey lives and works in Detroit. Email: baileyrv[at]gmail.com

The Queen’s Secret

Flash
Jacqueline Doyle


kiss
Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer

My drunken father’s boasting started it. “I’m just a miller, but my daughter, she has a real future ahead of her. Smart as a whip, beautiful as the day is long, and what’s more, she can spin straw into gold.”

He said it once too often, leaning against the bar, downing shots with his cronies. Next thing you know the King had me locked in a tower with orders to spin straw into gold. Three days, three nights, and then I’d be executed if I hadn’t performed my trick.

I stared at the spinning wheel and piles of straw. A spoiled only child, I barely knew how to do ordinary household tasks. Given three days to spin fleece into wool or darn a sock or bake a loaf of bread, I would have had trouble. I curled up on a pile of straw and hugged myself, sobbing softly.

When I awoke, twilight had fallen. The most curious creature was staring at me from the corner of the room. No taller than my waist, he looked like a child with a cunning old man’s face. His long blond hair was greasy and matted. “I can spin straw into gold,” he whispered. “Give me your ring and I will start.” The next night he asked for my necklace. On the third night I had nothing to give. He crossed his arms and refused to finish the task. I begged, I pleaded, I cried, I stamped my foot. He shook his head. “Give me your first born and I will finish spinning this straw into gold,” he said. Never one to think of the future, I acquiesced.

You know the rest, or you think you do. How the King married me and the strange dwarf showed up nine months later as I cradled the young prince in my arms. Already I loved him beyond measure. I offered the wizened creature all the wealth in the kingdom if only he would leave us alone. “Keep your riches. If in three days you can guess my name, the child stays with you.” The King’s Secret Service fanned out into the mountains and forests and did their job. “Rumpelstiltskin is your name,” I called out in triumph three days later. Such a tantrum! His face turned red. He spun in circles and stamped his foot so hard that it created a deep crevice, which he fell into, never again to be seen.

I hold my son close, cooing in his ear, inhaling his sweet scent. He screws up his little old man face and bawls until he turns beet red. I rock him tenderly, crooning, “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Daddy’s secret name nevermore will be heard. Don’t you cry, no, don’t you frown. One day soon, you’ll wear a crown.”

My drunken father brags that his grandson is the richest, cleverest boy in the kingdom. “Drinks are on me,” he cries, spreading his arms wide. “I’m sitting on a pot of gold.”

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Jacqueline Doyle’s work has appeared in elimae, 5_trope, Monkeybicycle, Prime Number, Front Porch Journal, Blood Orange Review, Prick of the Spindle, Pear Noir!, California Northern Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches at California State University, East Bay. Email: jacqueline.doyle[at]csueastbay.edu

Two Poems

Poetry
Brian Price


(019/365) Rain, rain go away
Photo Credit: Daniel Norwood

Rain South

The storm has broken
The rain eased but not for the
brown-barked cedar
Winds shake the spear-spiked leaves

Cold drops fall on my bare scalp
I shiver and drag for warmth
under the tiny shallow eaves
of the old brown shake roof

Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and
Santa Monica all transformed from playgrounds
to dreary wet mounds of soft sand
The seagulls aren’t picky weather pickers

Venice is quiet with the few visitors
shuffling their deck-shoed feet in disappointment
Promised golden beaches bleached by warm suns
have lost their luster under the sullen skies of November

Southern California winters are not for the faint
dreams dreary in the reality, lost vitality
High heels turn to galoshes and fashion
sloshes and slips in winter’s gray grip

We are all just wet pedestrians now
knowing that tomorrow the sun will come
bright as ever and we will forget that
winter falls in Southern California

 

Sara

Sara is sleeping now as I write about
her and me, whatever us is.
Her broken chest raises slow and falls fast
under the yellow newspaper sheets.

I am cold again; these nights are long
for an insomniac homeless hairless mouse.
She came back yesterday through the backdoor like a thief
a killing thief, not just the robbing kind.

I was fifteen when I met Sara on the dirty streets
she was a wispy fourteen-year-old already deep in the life
nicotine teeth and alcohol breath, hateful tongue
her angel face is losing the moonlight now.

Her ivory-white arm sits on the pavement, tracked tracked
and her holey-nyloned leg, cracked souls, broken straps
all a mess on the cold night ground—who was I once?
The moon is falling behind the stark city like a sick mallard.

I pack my things, many things that don’t add up
little scraps of life found in the wet grey gutter,
soaked in the run-off of another life, some warm water life.
I knock off the worms and hit the streets; Sara knows better than me
how to die alone.

pencil

Brian Price is a California native born in the rural community of Mariposa, CA. He has been writing for 25 years and has never been published before. Email: poet738[at]aol.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Paul Hostovsky


sympathy cards. it's so surreal.
Photo Credit: Rachel/Fuschia Foot

Dear Hallmark

I know some kids who’d rather make their own.
And I know some grownups who would rather
cut their own tongues out
than let you speak for them. Helplessly intelligent
surrealists, glib intellectuals, haiku bicyclists, some
of my best friends. But I’ll give you this, you have
sold more poems than all the moderns and postmoderns
put together. And the people love you. Are the people just
stupid? Are the poets just jealous? Are the pharmacists
just high on life? The truth is, I love your timeless
earnestness. I do. In sickness and in health. Births and deaths
and all occasions in between. Because it goes without saying—
the whole world goes without saying. Saying doesn’t
make it go. Never did and never will. But you,
you say without going, like the clock that doesn’t
go, the clock that stays the same, your hands always
together, in applause, or prayer, or shared joy, or sorrow where
you can only wring your hands, fumble for the words,
and say the words are inadequate. Which, of course, they are.
But at least you say them. You say them for us when we go
without saying, and when we go without knowing
what to say, or don’t go at all but send you stammering
in our stead. And here I stand in your aisle, in your
shadow, in your presence, my hands in my pockets, fumbling
for my wallet, feeling I am in the presence of
not greatness, not brilliance, not scholarship or virtuosity,
but love. I am in the presence of love here, helplessly
simple, deliberately compassionate, practicing forever
its imperfect loopy cursive with its pink tongue sticking out.

 

Note

All I need is a car
and some gas
and a garage, and I’m good to go. Good
to go. To cease upon the midnight with no pain.
Half in love with easeful death
all my life. All my life I have
been jumping to death the way others
jump to other conclusions. When I got sick
I jumped to my death. When I fell in love
I said she is so
beautiful I want to die. But a suicide
isn’t born a suicide.
He wasn’t a suicide in elementary school.
And he wasn’t a suicide in band practice.
And he wasn’t a suicide when he was playing left field.
For a long time he just wanted to be
one of those words that are acts.
A speech act. To say one is to do it. To actually
do it. I promise. I apologize. Maybe that’s why
he was always making promises,
and always apologizing
for breaking them. To cease upon
the midnight with no pain,
no pain being the operative
words here. For he doth hate pain. You can
operate a garage door from the front seat,
close it with the electric garage door opener
while your car is still running, and not get out,
and not walk back into your life.
You can sit there thinking about
the lines in certain poems
while the car is singing soft and low
and Lethe-wards. Being
too happy in thine happiness.
I don’t think I’ve ever been
too happy in mine or anyone else’s happiness.
Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here
all alone except for the sleds and the bicycles
and the lawnmowers and snow shovels
and garbage bins, thinking about Keats and
tuberculosis. And wondering: if he had a car
and some gas, and a garage, would he
have done what he said in that poem?
I know the words are not the act itself.
These words are coming before the act.
After the act, others will come
and read these words, looking for reasons.
I apologize. To the living.
I know the act itself says
there is no reason to go on living.
I know it’s kind of a slap in the face.
But it’s nothing personal.
I wasn’t talking about your
life when I took my own.
Your life is still beautiful in so many
words. I love you is another
one of those words, you could say.
Or you could argue that it isn’t.

pencil

Paul Hostovsky is the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes, Dear Truth, and A Little in Love a Lot. His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009.
Visit him at paulhostovsky.com. Email: phostovsky[at]gmail.com

Strawberries

Poetry
Andrea Egert


For Caro, Stirling Strawberries_1981
Photo Credit: Robert Taylor

Strawberries

For $6, I bought you organic strawberries

Instead of the inexpensive, satanic strawberries

With satanic strawberries, you get 2 pounds for $2.99

And I got them for you, once, because they were so cheap

And I was trying to preserve our always-dwindling resources

I got satanic strawberries—pesticidal, hypo-manic strawberries

Those gargantuan, grandiose, drought-resistant red strawberries

The kind of berries that deplete the soil in which they’re grown

Smirking vermillionaires that tastelessly mock their eater

Fruits whose evil, with refrigeration, preserves them

It made me feel bad to have gotten them for you

So I went out and bought you some organic

They go bad sooner than satanic

So eat them now

pencil

Andrea Egert is a writer, visual artist, and singer/songwriter. She was a participant in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers 2006 summer conference, is a recipient of the ASCAPlus award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, and was a studio arts participant in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She is a licensed MSW and psychotherapist in the state of New Jersey, and practices the domestic arts in an acceptable fashion in the home that she shares with her husband and tweenage son. This is her first published poem. Email: egert.andrea[at]gmail.com

11:11

Poetry
Maria Vasquez Boyd


lock for her
Photo Credit: Milo Tobin

The charm of a heart
is that it appears to be heart-shaped.
But it’s not.

In fact
it resembles the shape of fists
that pummel locked doors

Or
the shape of a mouth
that murmurs,
“No one loves me.”

Hopeless romantics
and children
release hearts
from folded paper
with scissors.

But the disappointment
of an imperfect heart
underlines an angry truth
that things never turn
out the way you want.

pencil

Maria Vasquez Boyd is a founding member of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City Missouri where she continues to write and publish her work. She is a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute where she returned to teach in the Design and Illustration Department. Boyd taught at the Nelson Atkins Museum, worked for Hallmark Cards, and served as gallery coordinator for KC galleries. She exhibits paintings and illustrations across the country including murals in Mexico. Boyd also serves as producer and host of special programming on KKFI 90.1 FM community radio. Email: mariatortilla86[at]hotmail.com