The Taste of Luck

Fiction
Amy E. Ochterski


The joke begins after Kelly and I enter the 7-Eleven. That’s when Kelly’s older brother Scrubs and his gang of dirtbiker buddies swoop in behind us, squashing us up against the store’s countertop, knocking down the displays of beef jerky, Bic lighters, and cherry incense.

“Hey, Nishia,” Scrubs says flicking the top of my ear with his thumb, “Wanna flick my Bic?” At that, Scrub’s posse roars with laughter, the noise overriding the store’s cheerful musak. My ear throbs. No longer is the store’s air-conditioned cool comforting.

“Cut it out, moron,” I shout, shoving Scrubs back, sending him staggering into a rack of chips that hit the floor with a crash. That does it. The store’s manager blasts out of his shadowy backroom office, a look of intolerance spreading across his ham-sized face.

I’m the last out the door. Fearing the worst, I take a few steps forward, but it seems that Scrubs and company have peddled their bikes onward, for the parking lot’s deserted. I breath a sigh of relief that quickly ends in a scream when Kelly seizes my arm saying, “Nish, let’s go behind the store. It’s shady there. I’m too hot to walk home right now. Besides, Scrubs said he’d be waiting for us down the street. Let’s let cool it here awhile. Okay?”

Nodding, I tag along behind her.

Shade bathes the back of the store. Two large Dumpsters rest at an angle from the ramp that leads up to the store’s back door. I’ve just settled up against the store’s graffiti-filled wall, popped the top off a pixie stick when Scrubs darts out from behind one of the Dumpsters hooting like a monkey, pinning my arms to my side. I squirm and wriggle. “Quit,” I say wrinkling my nose at the scent of discarded, tarry gum that coats the wall near me. The stale fruity odor mixes with the fresh scent of cut grass from the field that lies between the store and the Conrail lines.

“We’re gonna play kiss-kiss,” says Scrubs, a toothy smile overtaking his thin lips. “Kiss-kiss Nish, and you’re it,” he says. Eyes closed, he leans forward. To cure him of his smirk, I spit, laughing when a glob lands on the bridge of his nose, dripping into his surprised, open mouth. “You—” he says, his eyes narrowing to slits just as the store’s back door whooshes open.

“What the hell are you kids doing now,” snarls the manager. Scrubs jumps back, releasing me and I take off, the Six-Million Dollar Woman burning across the field, never looking back to see if Scrubs and Kelly follow. I disappear into the poplars and willows that border the tracks.

Taking the tracks home means a longer walk. The sun’s intensity slams into me, frying my already sunburnt skin, sapping my superpowers. My mouth feels sandpapery. Each step forward is a Herculean effort, a Superman versus kryptonite battle that I energize with my candy—my Popeye power aid. Stuffing a handful of Lemonheads in my mouth, the candy’s sourness bites into the sides of my cheeks seconds before surrendering into a burst of sugary sweetness. I shudder at this powerful mix of sweet and sour.

My walk becomes a game, the sun my spotlight. Suddenly, I’m a world-famous gymnast. Mounting train track rail, I’m straight as an arrow. Eyes forward, head erect, I peer up the track. The shimmering headlights of an approaching train swallow up my glance. Moments later, the distant crossing signals start to clang.

Dismounting the rail with a flourish, I turn toward the tree-lined service road. That’s when I notice a change in the scene. A pudgy, shirtless guy in loose hanging blue jeans, black biker boots, and long greasy hair leans against a battered, blue van partially concealed by the surrounding brush. The van’s side door is wide open. Pink-orange shag carpet covers the floor and the walls. Its color reminds me of a gaping cartoon wolf’s mouth. “The better to eat you with” creeps into my head.

“Hey Sunshine, where you headed?” the man asks as he pushes himself off the van and saunters toward the tracks. He’s whistling at me—summoning me as if I’m a dog—while trying to hop over a water-filled ditch. His leap comes up short. “Aww… Christ!” he yells as one leg lands in the stagnant water.

Just then, the train blows its horn, and the tracks thrum as the Conrail’s nose thunders toward me.

On the other side of the tracks stands a field of long weedy grass infused with brambles and burdocks. A line of barbed wire fence towers above the field. I consider heading for the fence, but hesitate for I know that prowling somewhere behind the fence is Trasher, the junkyard dog—legendary for his vicious welcome of trespassers.

Indecisively, I take a few stumbling steps forward until an eroded railroad tie gobbles up one of my sneakers. I lurch forward, spilling a few Atomic Fireballs from my pockets. They wobble like marbles across the tie’s hot surface. As I fall to my knees, one of my bathing suit straps slips down past an elbow.

Seeing this, the man catcalls and then hollers, “Ohhhh, yeah…!” The rumble of the train’s approach guzzles the rest of his words. I peek over one shoulder and register the huge wolfish grin pasted on his face. It’s a look that makes my stomach twist. He shares the look Scrubs wore the day I snuck up on him in my father’s tool shed. Staring into one of my father’s well-thumbed magazines, Scrub’s face bore a strange smirk as his eyes consumed the pages. He was so lost in what he saw that I had to thump him on the back to gain his attention. After giving a strangled cry, he sprang forward, shoving me against the shed’s metal wall. Rapping his fingers hard against my chest, he made me swear on a hundred of my family graves that I wouldn’t tell.

The man’s coyote-like howls bring me back. My face burns as I yank up the strap. This man is staring to make me feel like a piece of coveted candy—the kind of candy that is simply, mouthwateringly, wanted. The kind of candy that cannot be exchanged for a spitty game of kiss-kiss. I guess that the man lurching after me thinks of me as a better kind of candy—the kind of candy that he plans to own, and not to trade. I’m his candy, candy that when he gets it, he will devour with his glistening teeth.

His crazy, wild-eyed look drives me to my feet. Still uncertain of where to flee, I race down the rocky embankment that slopes away from the tracks and that leads to the fenced field when Trasher lurks. Blood trickles from the knee I skinned on the rocks surrounding the weathered tie.

“Hurt yourself?” I hear a few beats behind me. “Let Junior take a look. Heck, let Junior play doctor. I bet you like playin’.”

His tone releases the sob that’s been caught in my throat. Above me, the stones grind as they shift under his weight. My stomach tightens, twists, and dives; all at once, the butterflies within cease their urgent fluttering.

“Sunshine! I am talking to you. C’mon. C’mere. Be a—” he snarls, the train’s blaring horn and lumbering approach squelching the rest of his taunts.

Nearing the fence, I see Trasher pummeling his muscular body against a section of the fence that’s begun to sag. Frothy foam drips from his mouth. Staggering sideways, I dodge the menagerie of rusted car parts that surround my feet. I run so fast my lungs feel like two overfilled balloons ready to explode. Turning back to the tracks, my hope of escape rises as I watch the man tangle his feet on some junk embedded in the grass. He lands heavily on his side reaching for one of his ankles.

The train’s horn is ear splitting, nearly constant, as it issues its rhythmic patterns of blasts. Seeing my hesitation, the man sits up and cups a hand to his mouth. His frantic mouth shouts words I cannot hear. The train’s din dominants all—its mechanic roar shaking me to the core.

Swallowing, I sprint for the tracks. Thousands of tiny black spots dance before my eyes. I run, propelled on legs that feel like Jell-O. With the backs of my hands, I’m wiping tears from my cheeks. It’s a wild dance, a tango between girl and train. The man ceases to exist. I’m no longer aware of him as he lumbers to his feet, as he awkwardly lurches after me. It seems I’m on a collision course with the train’s engine, and, yet, I continue on—a graceful deer that bounds up and over the rails—that flees somehow unscathed. The train’s diesel exhaust bathes my body seconds before its powerful back draft thrusts me down the embankment.

Crumpled, my heart a roaring rush in my ears, tears streaming down my face, I lie there, staring up at the sky. Then, I roll to one side and see Scrubs and Kelly staring at me. Kelly’s got a hand to her mouth. Her cheeks are translucent—they’re so pale. And Scrubs… he tosses his bike down as he runs frantically toward me—his face a mottled mask of emotions. Shakily, I sit up just as Scrubs reaches me, grabbing my hands to pull me to my feet. “N—Nish—Nisha, you okay?” he shouts at me, shaking me. But rather than answer, I crazily pat my pant’s pockets with jittery, boneless, rubbery hands. I’m searching for the candy—for my power aid, for my good luck talisman.

Later, when I think of that day, it’s the pungent taste of Lemonheads that I remember most. As my mouth begins to water and my cheeks begin smarting against the memory’s sharp, sourness, I know what I’m tasting is more than Popeye power. The sensory experience runs deeper than the unusual kindness that Scrubs bestowed upon me as he pulled me to my feet, as he half-carried me to his bike, before peddling me home. What I taste is the sudden, savory flavor of having a childhood bully turn into a lifelong protector and friend. The aftermath of that day bears a gritty sugariness that coats my good fortune, making it as lucid as sun shining through a coating of ice. What I taste when I think of that day is the sharp taste of luck, a taste more fulfilling, more enriching than any kind of taste imaginable.

 

pencil

Amy E.Ochterski scribbles her work on the backs of envelopes, during (boring) meetings, while driving (carefully of course), in her sleep—in essence—constantly. She lives in New York’s Southern Tier region and teaches writing full-time at Corning Community College. Given her hefty workload of reading student work paired with her other academic duties, she is often faced with the choice of sleep or writing. Large quantities of free trade coffee often tip this tossup. She has been published most recently in Starry Night Review, Beginnings Magazine, Wild Child Magazine, Bewildering Stories, and Dogwood Journal. E-mail: ochterski[at]hotmail.com.

Dumpster Diving

Fiction
Trish O’Brien-Edwards


Dumpster diving was never my thing, but when I saw the doll by the curb, I couldn’t pass her by. I saw her on my way home from working as a cashier at Walgreen’s, her arms outstretched, waiting for someone to pick her up. She was in front of a house I’d passed before, Colonial style, with a “for sale” sign in the middle of the yard.

I abruptly stopped my Audi, causing the man behind me to honk his horn. I gave him the “I’m sorry, it’s my fault” wave and put the car in park a few feet past her.

I sat for a few minutes shrunk down in my seat, watching her in the rearview mirror. Next to her was a menagerie of things: an old wooden rocking horse with one of his legs broken, a panda bear with his stuffing escaping from a hole in his head, a cracked pink piggy bank.

I got out of the car when I saw no one was coming and walked past her a few driveways. I circled back around and picked her up thinking she looked like someone I knew once. Her yellow blonde hair was cut short and made her look permanently surprised. I almost dropped her when I thought she said my name. “Mama,” I heard on closer listening.

I put her in the trunk, but when I got back into the car, I realized I didn’t want to leave her alone in the dark. I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t want her to be scared, so I got her out and put her in the passenger seat next to me, belting her in.

I caught myself looking at the doll as I drove. I couldn’t place the name to the face, but I was sure it would come to me in time, like when I was taking a shower or checking out an old woman with expired coupons for Metamucil.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “You’re safe.” I blushed, realizing that I was talking to a doll.

I couldn’t let my boyfriend see her when I got home, so I smuggled her in under my work smock and went straight to the bathroom. He already thought I was crazy and this would prove him right. We’d had a fight the night before about whether or not I believed in evolution. Not that I ever had a real opinion about it, but the thought of coming from monkeys gave me the heebie-jeebies.

“You’re so stupid,” he said to me. He thought he was smarter than everyone else, especially me, because he’d gotten into law school. He didn’t finish, not being able to get through his first year, but the fact that he got accepted was enough to give him a big head. “You just don’t understand the theory.” He went on to draw a diagram showing Darwin’s ideas.

“It’s not that I don’t understand,” I explained. “It’s that I don’t want to believe it.” I walked away. I had a habit of walking away from him.

“Suit yourself. But you look like a fool to people,” he called to my retreating back. I flipped him off before shutting myself in the bedroom.

I filled the sink with warm water and a splash of my Body Works bubble bath. The yellow gingham dress she wore was torn and made for a much larger doll. I gently took the parchment thin dress off revealing her smooth plastic flesh.

I set the doll in the water, soaping her hair and face first. She had a crack in her back and I rubbed my thumb across it, pushing the soap in. Dirt had crusted around the fissure, and no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t come out. I grabbed my boyfriend’s toothbrush and rubbed it on the bar of Dial soap forming bubbles then scrubbed her with it. I submerged her into the water to rinse, watching the air escape from the hole in her mouth.

“What are you doing in there?” my boyfriend jiggled the locked bathroom door.

“Nothing,” I called. It wasn’t the first secret I’d kept from him, though maybe the most benign. I’d kept things from him from the beginning, not thinking we would be together for so long. If I had, I might have told him about the abortion I had the first few months we were dating, or that my father used to hit me until my head swam against reality. And the worst secret of all, that I didn’t love him.

The relationship should have ended many times, but something always happened that forced us back together as we drifted apart. His father died when we were sophomores and I was getting ready to break up with him. I went with him to the funeral out of sympathy and saw what a crappy family he had and felt sorry for him. His mother hit on the priest after the mass, and his brother didn’t even show up. That gave him at least another six months. Then I didn’t get into grad school. I turned to him then, abusing him with my passion. He’d gotten into law school and I hated him for it. Hated that he was going to make something of himself while I floundered. Hated him for all the time he had to study while I was washing his dirty socks. I stopped doing his laundry in rebellion. He didn’t realize until he didn’t have any underwear and had to go commando to a job interview.

He was ready to be an adult while I was still practicing. He wanted to stay home and watch TV, while I could still picture myself drinking until I puked all over someone’s couch. We compromised and I puked on his couch. He didn’t like it that I went out with my friends on Friday night instead of staying with him, or that my pocket collected phone numbers at the bars we went to. I didn’t like that he was boring as hell and it didn’t seem to bother him.

We didn’t like the way things were going, so we moved in together. This way we were with each other constantly to make the fighting easier. No more late night screaming matches over the phone. We were able to yell in person, maybe even lob a plate or two. We’d even thrown around the idea of getting married to make the intolerable situation permanent. We were thinking a spring wedding.

“If you don’t come out of there, I’m going to break down this door,” he hollered overdramatically.

“Fine.” I opened the door to find him looking through the peephole.

“Great look for a lawyer,” I said, before pushing him out of the way. He wobbled like a Weeble, but ended up on his butt.

“Bitch,” he called after me down the hall from his place on the floor.

I put the doll down on my bed and wiped her dry with the towel I’d wrapped her in. I wanted her to look as good as she did when she was new, her hair in shiny yellow ringlets, her cheeks rosy and fresh. I wanted for her to get another start.

I tossed her dress in the garbage. She wouldn’t need it. I would buy her a whole new wardrobe including a red coat with fur trim and a white wedding dress with a gauzy veil. And a new bed too. She was going to have a chance to live her life all over again.

“Is this what you’ve been doing?” he said from the doorway. “Playing with dolls.” He had a sneer on his face like he did when he found out I’d been hiding Snickers bars under the bed when I was supposed to be on the Atkins diet. “I thought even you were too old for that.”

I didn’t say anything, just brushed the dolls hair with a brush I’d found in my purse. It wouldn’t pull through, so I was mostly combing the frizz into place.

He snatched the doll away and held her to his face for inspection. “Looks like you.”

When I grabbed for her, he held her over my head. I reached for her only to have him hold her higher. I jumped, but he leaped on the bed to get away from me. When I fell to the floor on my final attempt, he laughed like I hadn’t heard him do in months.

“It’s hard to relive your childhood when you’re still in it.” He dropped the doll next to me and walked away, taking his smirking face with him.

I looked at the doll. She was cleaning up a bit. Her hair was wiry, but wasn’t sticking up anymore, and she was clean and had lost the smell of garbage.

I said her name under my breath, the same as mine.

I grabbed a pair of underwear and stuck it in my purse. I could buy a new toothbrush later.

“Where are you going?” he demanded as I headed out the door.

I paused. “Toyland,” I answered. “Don’t bother to follow.”
pencil

“I am a graduate of Iowa State University where I studied literature and creative writing. I live in Ames, Iowa with my husband of twelve years.” E-mail: trishieo[at]yahoo.com.

Guda and His Son

Fiction
David Biddle


It was nearing 7:00 and already the morning was feeling strange to Guda Ghazali.

“What is this box here?” Guda’s son Carter called from the front where he had been inserting cash into the register.

Guda glanced up from his work in the back room, searching quickly for an expression on his son’s face. Shifting his gaze, he checked the package that had been delivered by UPS just before closing at eleven the night before.

“I do not know,” Guda said in English as he returned to his task of sorting cigarette cartons.

“It’s from the company.”

“I’m waiting for the letter.”

“The letter? It’s addressed to Station 982. That’s us, Abbu. We should open it.”

“I will wait for the letter.”

“What letter?”

“They don’t send anything without a letter. I need to know what to do.”

“We can open the box and see what’s inside and still wait for the letter.”

Guda stepped into the opening with a carton of Springfields in one hand and a carton of Camel Lights in the other. Already his son was so different from him. He would never have badgered his own father, and certainly would never have thought to open a large box such as this without the proper authority.

“Abbu, you are the owner here,” said Carter. “There is no one else in charge. They do not run you. You have the right.”

“I also have the right not to do anything. I will wait.”

Guda hadn’t ignored traditions and worried about appearances just for his business’s sake, or even for safety. He had changed for his son. Carter was named after the President of the United States from when his parents had arrived in the country, four months before Ronald Reagan took office. Guda and his wife could not vote. The name they gave their son two years later was the best they could do.

Several cars pulled up to gas pumps and Guda readied himself at the cash register. It was just after seven-thirty and the rush would be starting soon. A few clouds lingered in the morning sky. He turned to the small portable television on the cigarette shelf behind the registers and flicked it on. The customers liked to watch while they waited in line. He was glad he had Carter to keep him company, that they shared the time. He knew only a few weeks remained before his son stopped working full-time in order to concentrate on his studies. Carter was taking night classes at Rutgers in Camden and planned to become a regional manager in the company. “Forget the margins, Abbu. I am going to get a paycheck. No profits for me. Just bonuses and vacations.”

As people entered the tiny store, Guda watched impassively as his son slit open the tape on the UPS box and folded back the flaps. There was nothing he could do or say directly. They would be overrun until around ten. Several hours of taking in money. They were the best-placed gas station within five miles—just off two highways, on the edge of the three roads that led people from the neighborhoods to the highways. They had eight pumps that would be in constant use.

Carter was peering into the box and shaking his head.

“There are people,” Guda said in Urdu. “You are making for only one line, my son. Get up here.”

Carter looked at his father, shook his head, then looked back into the box. “It’s uniforms, Abbu.”

“Come help me,” Guda said quietly, still using Urdu. “These people want to give us money.”

“It is shirts and ties, Father. Shirts and ties.”

*

“The letter was in with the clothes, Abbu.” Surprisingly, the rush had stopped. It was a little before nine. Guda stepped away from his register.

“They send it separate.”

“Not this time. Look at it. I’m not wearing that stuff.”

Guda passed his son to look in the box. He saw shirts and ties wrapped in plastic. The shirts were a melted chocolate ice cream brown with white stripes shadowed by thinner red strips. The ties were adorned with tiny, yellow smiling faces, American flags, and the colorful little pennant that the company used.

“I’m not wearing those,” Carter said again.

“We wait for the letter.”

“The letter is in the box I tell you,” Carter replied curtly. “At the bottom. But I don’t care. They think we’re monkeys. It is disgusting—brown and red and white, flags and these yellow smile faces.”

“The shirts have our names on them.”

“I’m not wearing them.”

“We’ll wait for the letter.”

Carter made a face of exasperation.

Just then there was a noticeable change in the rhythm of TV chatter. Guda glanced first out the window of his store to see that the sky was beginning to glow like a lit, pure dome of blue porcelain. The clouds had completely run away. But there was a noticeable pulse of something new coming out of the television. For just a moment Guda wondered if everything on the earth had stopped except the the pulsing television. On the screen a jet had smashed into a giant building. There was smoke like oil pot smoke everywhere. Something began turning over in Guda’s mind—over and over, like forgotten clothes in a Laundromat dryer.

By its twin he knew the building. It was the World Trade Center in New York City. He had seen smoke flowing out of it before, but much closer to the ground. A car bombing, he remembered. Some terrorists claiming to be religious. “Please turn it up,” he said.

Carter stepped forward while Guda glanced again outside. Nothing was moving. Cars had disappeared. No one was at the pumps. The sky was as pure and beautiful as he had ever seen. But something was still turning over in his mind.

“There is no confirmation on how this has happened…” the voice was saying.

Guda could smell the hot plastic of the TV cooking in its own electricity. His body was talking to him. He felt the swirl now of the thing turning over in his belly. He didn’t know if it was his clothes or someone else’s.

Carter’s face was squeezed into anger and confusion. “What was he thinking? What could a pilot possibly be thinking? This is insane.”

Guda watched his son say these words and the turning stopped. He knew. He understood. It could not be an accident. Something else. Something as untouchable as the cloudless sky and the glass light of the morning.

“The shirts,” Guda said quietly.

“What? Abbu, this is terrible.”

“The shirts. We must put this clothing on.”

His son looked toward him from the television. “You must be joking.”

But Carter saw the look in his father’s eyes. It was the same look Guda gave when his son did not want to go in the back room and pray toward Mecca or visit his cousins in Havertown for the end of Ramadan.

“Put on the shirt and the tie,” Guda said quietly to his son. “And for God’s sake, my son, tuck yourself in. It will be a long day.”

He watched his son standing over the box. He watched him stoop to pick out the clothing, and saw how the plastic wrapping on the shirts and ties shimmered in the bright sunlight.

“I want you to go to college, my son,” Guda said carefully as he accepted his shirt and tie from Carter. “But…”

On the television the smoke was rising higher and the one good building seemed like it was in a bad mirror of itself. Guda felt his son’s anger growing in himself as well.

From how far back does this come?

“But what, Abbu?”

His son was standing over the box, his young eyes moving from the television screen to his father’s face, glancing quickly as well every few beats out the window at the morning.

“But I do not want you to be a regional manager,” Guda continued. “I want you to wait. I just want you to go to school and learn and think and wait. Let your life come to you. Do not have goals. Wait. I want you to be something you have never thought of before.”

Carter held his father’s gaze with this. On the TV the announcer said, “New York’s police and fire departments are at the scene. But we have no word yet.”

“You go in back to change first,” Guda told him, waving at the storage room. “I will wait for customers. I will read the letter you say is in here and wait for customers. Then we trade. Go quickly. It will be a long day.”

pencil

David Biddle has worked as a farm laborer, soup kitchen manager, solar energy technician, civil servant, and educator. He is a contributing editor to In Business magazine and part-time executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council. He lives, happily, with his wife and three sons in Philadelphia and may be reached at: formalityoccurrence.blogspot.com.

Mother’s Day

Flash
Anna McDougall


Neither of us smiles; we both concentrate on the task. A beginner, I worry I will fail the simplest assignment. To protect the pink cotton of her clothes from the semi-solid lumps I take small scoops. Setting the spoon in the white dish, I raise a tissue to clean her cheek. Mary swipes with hands barely coordinated, but I am quick, and she misses.

I have longed for this, and now that Mary is before me, I am awed by the feelings she stirs. We are blessed to have this Mother’s Day together, our first.

I must enjoy each moment fully; before long it will be our history. Will I be able to recall my early impressions in years to come? I study her features. Does Mary favor me? Her hair is light and soft; mine is brown and wiry, but her eyes—yes—her eye color is the same.

I increase the pace, pleased as my expertise builds. Balancing sloppy beige food on the tiny utensil, I deliver it to her waiting mouth. Mary receives this nourishment without as much as a glance at the contents of the bowl. Mutual trust is at the root of motherhood. We must trust those who care for us, but they must also trust themselves. She separates her pale lips again and holds my face in her eyes. We continue the spoon-mouth-bowl rhythm smoothly; she seems hungry, but cannot tell me with words, of course. Both of us have questions in our eyes.

Mary’s face convolutes and deepens in color. She no longer resembles the image of serenity I was dancing with just a moment ago. What happened? My heart begins to pound as I replay my last move. Have I hurt her? Suddenly, her voice erupts into a howl. The last bit of supper slips over her quivering, lower lip. My fingers stiffen around the spoon and I look around the room, stunned.

A nurse rushes over and pats the bony shoulder of the old woman across from me. Calmly, she speaks to me with a smile. “I’ll take her to the washroom then we’ll join you in her room.”

I wave to the woman I was just getting to know, relieved from duty by someone who knows better.

pencil

Anna writes fiction and creative non fiction from her home in Calgary, Canada. Her work can also be found at Verb Sap, Salome Magazine and at Flash Fiction. E-mail: mcdougall[at]cmt.net.

Three Poems

Poetry
Corey Mesler


Limited Edition

Small, lovely artifact,
paper and stitching,
how can you mean so much?

I hold you in my hand
to read the colophon.
The types are hand-set Spectrum
& Palatino; the paper

is Antique Laid. Numbered
copies have been hand-
sewn into soft Ingres wrappers.

I can almost feel a heartbeat
on my palm in the nap of your
skin. Oh, and inside, like prayer,
you are full of poetry.

 

The Jay Underneath Yggdrasil

I went out this morning just
at sunup to fill the birdfeeder
and the air was as thick as
incense-wreaths, and a bluejay
stood magisterially nearby,
patient like the eternal rocks,
and looked at me, for all the
world, as if we understood each other.

 

Last
“Every morning I forget how it is.” —Charles Simic

for Sandra

A name tied to a kite.
A loose name.
A girl who died
on the way to her sister’s
wedding. A girl
you kissed once.
A hot feeling even on
the nicest day.
A reason for anything.
Why you would kiss
anyone only once.

pencil

“I have published prose and/or poetry in Fiction Warehouse, Rattle, In Posse Review, & many others. I won the Moonfire Poetry Chapbook Competition 2003 and my chapbook, Chin-Chin in Eden, has just been published by Still Waters Press. Another chapbook, Dark on Purpose, is just out from Little Poem Press. One of my short stories was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best. My novel-in-dialogue, Talk, was published by Livingston Press in 2002. My forthcoming novel, We are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, is also from Livingston Press. I’ve been a book reviewer, fiction editor, university press sales rep, grant committee judge, father and son. With my wife I own Burke’s Book Store, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.” E-mail: resolemcrey[at]yahoo.com.

What Poetry’s About

Poetry
Bruce Hodder


(after Ana Christy and Melanie Faith)
for Ruth

It’s about the luscious sensuality of heavy sleep
after staying up till one writing poems.
It’s about the silence of the night
cut by the soft pealing of the church bells
or a car rolling by through the darkness
and you wonder why they’re out so late.
It’s about the morning conversations of the birds
in the trees and aerials all around you.
It’s about that being there all day
if you concentrate and fade out human noise.
It’s about days when the light is startling
and if you listen, you can hear grass grow.
It’s about how nature isn’t everything though
and the godliest non-sex non-love
experience is instant coffee in the morning,
black with two spoonfuls of caffeine in the mug.
It’s about the feeling when you’re on the sofa
listening to Bob Dylan and suddenly you’ve got
to take your girlfriend’s picture out.
It’s about so much; actually it’s everything.
Sometimes it’s even about a book
if it’s old and sun-stained and bears a dedication
in handwriting that speaks of long ago.

pencil

“I am an English poet and sometime editor of the irregular small press print magazine Blue Frederick.” E-mail: Bkerouac[at]aol.com.

Why My Father Has an Axe

Poetry
Mariel Boyarsky


I saw the axe
resting against the side of the house.

Its blade was kissing the earth,
the sweet, cold metal and
red warmth of dirt:
one inside the other.

This
is why my father has an axe—
to bury the sharp danger of it
in the womb of something
tender
low
and soft.

pencil

Mariel Boyarsky is 17 years old and a senior in high school, but she will be attending Vassar College in the fall. She has been writing poetry for four years, and hopes to pursue a career in creative writing. She has been published in a variety of local, state, national, and international publications and contests, including Can We Have Our Ball Back?, the Anne Arlys Bowler Poetry contest ($100), and the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts ($1,000). E-mail: marzymoogirl[at]yahoo.com.