Coyote

Fiction
James Butt


Photo credit: naathas/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Angie was on the sofa in the living room, on her side with her back to the TV. One of those reality wedding shows was on, the ones where the drama appeared natural enough. I put my work bag on the kitchen table and poured a glass of water.

“Any dinner?”

She didn’t respond. I didn’t expect her to. She rolled toward the TV, resting her right arm across the top of her waist as she reached for the remote. She probably thought these little gestures of hers prevented me from noticing her growing bump.

I rummaged in the pantry for a loaf of bread and filled a sauce pan half-ways with water before putting it on the stove. “I’m boiling some weenies. You want any?”

She shook her head no, and I went to the fridge. There was a casserole dish with sour cream and salsa dip on the middle shelf, covered with cellophane.

“We having nachos?”

“No,” she said. “That’s for Eileen and me. She’s coming over later and we’re doing some planning for the baby. You’re going over there to play poker with Ray tonight, remember?”

Eileen was a few months pregnant. She and Angie got together regularly now to discuss her baby. I’m not sure what things they discussed, in terms of Eileen’s baby plans. But it seemed to help Angie some. She’d been happier the last month or so. It meant I had to spend more time with Ray, because that’s who we hung out with now, Ray and Eileen. Tonight was poker, and he’d have his construction pals over to fill out the table.

I closed the fridge and put the pot of water in the sink. I threw the bread in the trash. “I got fired today.”

She glanced over briefly and I couldn’t read her face. I said nothing else and turned for the bathroom to get ready for poker night.

*

Ray and Eileen lived next door to me and Angie. We shared a fence in the back, and the path between us was beat down to a thin dirt trail. Ray had a new poker table set up in his garage. We usually played at the kitchen table, but now, with Eileen pregnant, she didn’t want smoke in the house.

Ray was a big guy. He looked exactly how a construction worker ought to, with a large shaved head and barrel chest. His construction pals looked the same as him, each had arms thicker than my legs.

They were already at the table. Ches and Paul, and a new guy I hadn’t seen before. He was younger than the rest, with a cap pulled tight over his head, and a thick, wiry beard hung down below his chin. All four of them were smoking cigarettes, something I rarely seen outside of poker night.

The garage door was open, and their beers dripped with condensation from the humid night. A few moths pecked at the light attached to the door opener above the table.

“Hey, Chuck,” Ray said.

My name isn’t Chuck. But I’d gotten sick the first time playing poker with Ray and his pals. They all called me Chuck now.

“This here’s Aiden. Hired him for that hotel contract we got a few months back,” Ray said.

I nodded and reached my hand across the table. Aiden passed me a beer from the fridge behind him. Ray started to deal. I looked at my cards. None of them made any sense so I folded. The hand played on without me, and I gazed around Ray’s garage. It was neat and organized, obsessively so, with a workbench along the far wall. There were painted outlines for all his tools on the pegboard above the workbench.

“I knew Angela back in high school,” Aiden said, “before she went away to college.”

“That so?”

“Small world, sometimes, seeing people like that from the past again.” He grinned and flashed teeth white as bone, bright against his dark beard.

“Yeah,” I said. My attention drifted to the middle of the pegboard to where a large machete hung vertically. The blade was close to two feet long, coated in black enamel that’d been chipped away in some spots.

“She was popular back then, being so pretty. Smart, too.”

“She still is,” I said, getting up from the table. I moved over to the pegboard. They continued to play the next hand.

“A lot of us fools went for her back in school. Asking her out or trying to get her to come out to a party. She wouldn’t have any of it, though.”

“Never seen this before, Ray. It’s a big blade,” I said.

Ray turned from the game to eye what I was on about. “Yeah, needed that for hunting last fall. Glad to have it, too. Saved my skin.”

“You serious?”

“Yeah. I went deep in the Highlands after the first snow. Tracked a buck for miles. He led me deeper than I’d been before. Big buck, a full seven pointer. Maybe close to 600 pounds. It took awhile, but he fell. Good thing he was close to the road.”

I glanced back to him. “Thought you said you were deep in the Highlands? No road out there deeper than one or two miles.”

“Well, I had to cut the road first,” he said and nodded toward the blade.

Ches and Paul and Aiden laughed behind me, but I didn’t get it. I leaned in close to the pegboard and could see old blood and fur caked to the edge of the blade. “What’d you use it on? That doesn’t look like deer hair.”

“Coyote,” Ray said. “They came at me while I was hauling my buck down to camp. Must’ve smelled blood where I quartered him and tied him to the sled. I heard their cries, but the sound bounced around the hills up there. I couldn’t get a good read on where they were.”

“That’s something else, Ray,” Ches said.

“Thing is with coyotes is they’re smart. They got intelligence enough to know when to be tricky. They used that so I couldn’t get a sense for them. I don’t usually see them in packs, but with the snow and my buck, I’d a hunch they’d be round in a pack. They answered howls back and forth, louder and closer for about an hour. But they used those hills. Smart, see.”

I had a recollection of this story from some time before.

“They have weakness, too, just like all animals,” Ray said. “They come at you from the front, for the throat. You get a chance to see them before they strike. And soon enough they showed themselves right in front of me.”

“Christ,” Paul said.

“No matter. They showed themselves, and I cut each one down in turn. I brought those hides home, too. A nice trophy to go with my seven points.”

I lingered at the blade a couple minutes more before taking my seat again. I stared over at Aiden, but he seemed less interested in me then. The next hand was dealt and I finished my beer. My cards made no sense so I folded, and the hand played without me.

*

I was home later than I’d liked. Eileen had left a couple hours before, and Angie had gone to bed. The TV was on in the bedroom, the blue glow visible between the floor and bottom of the door. When I entered she was on her side, facing the wall away from me. All the blankets had been stripped off the bed, and she lay there in an old tank top and a pair of my boxers. She wasn’t asleep. People asleep have a softness to them, like all the weight been squeezed out of them. Her body was too rigid for sleep.

I flicked off the TV and opened the window a bit wider. A night breeze came in, and a ceiling fan spun above our bed. I lay next to Angie. It took less than six years for me and Angie to fall out of love. I tried to think of what that meant, but my attention strayed to the twirling blades above.

If I stared at one blade at a time I could follow each unique rotation around the room. I watched them spin and tried to listen for the call of coyotes in the distance. I watched them and wondered who the father was. I watched them and wondered if it mattered.

pencil

James Butt lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A graduate of Dalhousie University, his time is split between the excitement and spontaneous nature that is family life, and the crafting of short fiction based upon those experiences. Email: james.butt[at]eastlink.ca

Three poems

Poetry
Tiffany Washington


Photo credit: Sheila Sund/Flickr (CC-by)

Confession

Last Easter,
wedged between my brother (alcoholic)
and my mother-in-law (tyrant)
my grandmother decided to tell us a story—
to seek redemption in the retelling

Denouncing her past claims
that ink runs through our veins
(writing’s in the blood)
she admits Biology, not English
was her best subject

until the day
the young farm-girl version of my grandmother
maternally carried to school, a frog (extra credit)
“I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” she repeated

finally, my grandfather finished her words
concluding this story
between courses of the holiday meal

60 years later, her mind cemented
on that moment
(the scalpel and the still-beating heart)

 

Upon Remembering a College Trip to Ukraine

Babushka—hand over your face
do you worry about me now?
All American
All grown-up.
I do not make borscht like you

taught me—Saturday afternoons
for Sunday dinner.
Hot tea does not sit in a front
window-cooling as we pray.
My alphabet of tripled TTTs
and harsh straight lines lay
forgotten
folded between subway
schedules and sheet music.
I remember Katia
playing her accordion
while Ana banged the drum
and “little professor” practiced
English with us after every
performance.

Babushka—do you still ride
in the side-car of the motorcycle
down dirt roads outside the city?
How many groceries can
you fit besides you on your travels?
That summer when Sara got sick,
we did not know she would leave
her husband after only 10 years.
American aspirin and antibiotics
saved our lives—years of immunities
stored to prevent
death that too quickly came
—brought in our suitcases and on our clothes
from an airport halfway around the world

Babushka—do they still Baptize
people in the brown river,
downstream from Chernobyl?
You would not let us swim there
on hot days, fearful cancer
would seep into our skin—
But Baptisms were protected
“By God,” you told us.
Safe in the salvation
of full immersion, not that Holy
water sprinkle in an air conditioned church.

Babushka—do you stand taller
now after Dr. David straightened
spines all afternoon, while I checked
charts with names and ages?
Are your arms strong enough
to hug me like the prodigal
daughter when I return to the
country of my almost home?

Babushka—hand over your face
I do not worry for you
All Ukrainian.
Always grown-up.

 

On an Aging Mother-in-Law

Before dinner you told us
about the internship so close to death—
a summer between wills and beneficiaries,
of the “no presents” rule to protect neglectful children.

And I thought of your mother,
in the front seat,
who already declined the invite
to share our home (just in case),
disapproval trumping loneliness.

But when she made that comment,
the one removing me from all familial obligation,
I stopped feeling sorry.
And I started to understand:
her one son’s yearly Mother’s Day amnesia,
and the other’s long distance job, never a moment to call.

What I do not understand:
your eagerness to love her
and my savage desire for her approval.

pencil

Tiffany Washington is an 8th grade English teacher, mother of four, and sometimes poet. Her works have appeared in a number of print and on-line publications including Caduceus, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Artis Magazine and Long River Run. Email: tmwashington[at]yahoo.com

Vagina Bowl Making Workshop

Poetry
Salvatore Marici


Photo credit: bluebus/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Vagina Bowl Making Workshop

Photos of Tigerlily’s vagina guide
women’s fingers press,
curve beige clay,
cast intentions to the earth
cuddle in their hands.
Bear babies if they want.
Lubricate after menopause.

Like priests with chalices
I raise arms
hold vessels of life.
Hail to vaginas’ miracles,
women’s marvels.
Tilt, drink.

pencil

Salvatore Marici’s poetry has appeared or forthcoming in Toasted Cheese, Spillway, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Of Burgers & Barrooms a Main Street Rag anthology and more. In 2010, Marici was the Midwest Writing Center Collins Poet-in-Residence. He has three books: Mortals, Nature and their Spirits (chapbook), Swish Swirl & Sniff, and Fermentations (all Ice Cube Press). Marici served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and he is a civil servant retiree as an agronomist. He is learning to maneuver a 17-foot ten-inch kayak in mangroves and the Gulf. Email: redwineandgarlic[at]yahoo.com

Three Poems

Poetry
Marchell Dyon


Photo credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Black Women Sing Too Of Cages

We too howl against the rattle of time
We too rage our tattered wings against the bars
We see the length of years stretch before you
We see the gray math twinkling in
Only inches of sun

We too have spilled tears of rage
Until the tears that burned us cools our sweat
We know of thoughts of suicide, a rainbow engulfed
We live a life of high potential wasted

Yes!
We know the choices of no choice
We understand the self-pity and self-denial
We wish for the magic to rise out
From under despair

You tell us to wait with our chins up
You tell us you’ll be home soon
You tell us stories, and you spin your yarn
You ask us to hold on to air

We let you fill our heads with dreams
Still, we work
Alone we raise your children
We stand on blisters

Waiting… waiting… waiting…

In anger, you say women have it easy
You say girls don’t struggle, growing up isn’t hard
Remember now, whose left with the responsibility

When you decide to slang or pick up the gun
Try being women raising
Our children on a minimum wage

Try being blamed for everything as the day is long
Try having to explain your prison term to our son

 

A Black Woman’s Thunder Song

I am the red bird striking
The sky with lightning
My wings bellow like tornadoes

My words are powerful
My words can blow down your house
From my words there’s no shelter

That can prevent me entry
Boom, boom, boom,
I rock your complacency

Re-cord me
My words have a different meaning
Played backwards

My words are never at peace
There is always another war
Another march to rally for

Even if you pretend you don’t have ears
You hear me
You see me

I paint myself red
Even if you count to ten
The flash bomb of my words will blind your eyes

As thunder split the heavens
Rest assured my voice will make its mark
So, shut yourself in and pretend

With your heads in the clouds
Till the storm rolls and awake you
With the sounds

I will not sit silently at society’s
Fruitless table
I will shout my right to order

To make myself heard,
Never will my voice be disabled
Never will I be the dark girl seated but, in the corner,

My stride with lightning will light places
My electric footprints will fill the air
Like thunderstorms my voice leaves traces

My echoes you will remember
I was there and I shook the bars
I was a contender

 

Black Woman, Cool Down

When my anger flares
Is it my blood pressure you wish to ensnare?
See the ice defrost from my lips

See it hone my vocabulary to something sweet
I claim each new moment like a pearl
Found and dived for under an ocean of pain

I hold my breath, I swim
Through the muck like I have gills
I refresh myself by sheer will

I often smooth the conversation
With nothing more to say I leave the room
In the air is the scent of flowers

I remain cool for a few hours
Not that I’m always a hot head
Brimstone
A flint attitude of fire

I just like to sleep well
When I retire
Not that I have joined your point of view
Being that angry black woman all the time
Babe, I have better things to do

pencil

Marchell Dyon is a poetry enthusiast. She enjoys reading poetry wherever she can find it. Once she was nominated for the Best of the Net prize for her poem “As I Stand by My Window Dreaming of Falling.” Her most recent publications are Toasted Cheese and Medusa’s Kitchen. She has taken many poetry workshops; her education and thirst to improve her craft have constantly developed, despite having both schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. She continues to live and write in Chicago. Email: marchelldyon[at]yahoo.com

Five Poems

Poetry
Richard Dinges, Jr.


Photo credit: 5chw4r7z/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Loss

What can you know
of a woman who
mourns a tooth pulled
to decay, her mind
already in slow
dissolve, her diaries
read in absentia
spread into tight
spidery webs, words
lost in all that white
space hidden beneath
black unreadable
ink, that what you
remember last
is her brief spoken
grief for a tooth.

 

Garage

This small enclave
wrapped in tin nailed
to dead trees’ souls
smells of oil, gas,
and sweat, where I
toil to repair
what no longer
works, where I scrape
fingernails, skin,
calloused palms on
cold hard iron,
wrap myself in
their mysteries,
bring them to life,
to roar and belch
smoke, an exhaust
cloud that drifts in
trees and dead leaves,
air too fresh to breathe
mixed into my
hard day’s reward.

 

Friday Fish Fry

White paper plates,
styrofoam cups, dull
stainless steel forks
hold us together
across a multitude
of mouths. From food
queue to rows
of metal chairs
that fold open with
hollow finality, then
shoved against tables
hidden under white
cloths, we bend our heads
over mounds that steam
and shovel another
bite into our gaping
unsated appetites.

 

Trees’ Lives

Trees return in small hints of life,
dot gray skies at the end of each
twig, scatter into wind’s cold breath,
then settle again to calm growth.
Each compact bud contains a map
of the distant past, promises
of extraordinary bursts
into a verdant bright new life.

 

Windy

Wind is busy
wiping clean all
surfaces, dust from
leaves, gray from sky,
clouds, even those
that resemble
cotton stuffing
from plush toy bears,
images from
my eyes, printed
on memories
stuffed behind my
ears, where wind blows
what is left of my
hair in tiny
ripples of gray
around my head
wiped clean as the day
I drew my first
breath of this wind.

pencil

Richard Dinges, Jr. has an MA in literary studies from University of Iowa, and no longer manages information systems at an insurance company. Home Planet News, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Westview, Pinyon, and Writers Bloc most recently accepted my poems for their publications. Email: rdinges[at]outlook.com

Five Poems

Poetry
Chris Abbate


Photo credit: darwin Bell/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Before You Were Here
For Beth

Dad points out the unicorn
in the empty lot along Jordan Lane.
He does this every Saturday night
on the way to my grandparents’ house.
Everyone pretends to see it except me.

When we arrive, Grandma pulls
our wrists into the kitchen,
a bowl of Chex mix and a deck of Bicycle cards
on the table, a Benson and Hedges
dangling between her lips.
Downstairs at Grandpa’s bar,
Ro pours air martinis for me and Steven.
She tops them off with invisible olives.
We toast and drink them down in one gulp.

When Dad calls for us, we stumble upstairs,
tripping over each other like we’re drunk.
He stands behind Mom,
his hands on her shoulders,
and announces we are having a baby.

Grandpa goes to the liquor cabinet
for a bottle of champagne.
His twelfth grandchild—
they are cheaper by the dozen, he says.
We feel Mom’s stomach for a bump.
Grandma calls into it,
promises to spoil you rotten.
Steven and Ro make a bet
about whether you’re a boy or girl.
They tell me I will have to burp you
and change your dirty diapers.

The moon follows our car
on the way home.
As we pass the lot again,
Dad asks if I can see the unicorn.
I tried to draw a picture of God once,
but drew a sunflower instead.
Now, I squint into the dark
and imagine you—
a shimmering body and legs,
a long head, nodding.

 

Drawing the Tree

The picture
she drew
of her childhood
was the maple
she climbed;
a respite
from the turmoil
on the ground—
the broken machines
of the day
and the father
who beat
a path
to the garage
searching
for the tools
to fix them.

He took the tree
down one day
without warning,
or explanation.
The earthen heart
of its upturned stump
and dismembered
limbs were strewn
across the yard
like dead soldiers.

As she aged,
the tree became
one more thing
she was deprived of;
an object
of her father’s
combustion.
How little
he knew about her;
all the climbing
she still had to do—
to look down
from above her house
wearing a crown
of leaves,
depths of sky
to fathom.

 

Invisible Roots

Let’s talk in marigolds, mother,
like the orange and yellow blooms
you planted along the stone wall back home
where I sat and posed
on my first day of grade school—
my crisp Oxford you ironed, and clip-on tie,
a White Owl cigar box of school supplies
in my lap, and Buster Browns on my feet.

You knew to capture the moment
before the school bus came—
standing over me in the driveway,
a halo of sun above your head
while I squinted in the light;
head cocked, legs crossed.

I wonder what you thought that day
in the mother’s clothes you wore.
Was it how to fill the fresh silence of a house?
Or finding a name for something you lost?

When the bus, as imminent as any bloom,
turned onto our street
and I stood up to leave
did you sense too,
the invisible roots between us
stretching thin through the lens?

 

Day Care Report
for Ella, December 21, 2013

You won’t remember crying at naptime yesterday,
or soaking your sleeves while washing your hands,
or how apple juice leaked from your bottle
and dripped into your boots.

When I sat at my desk this morning
and read your day care report
the sun peeked into my eyes
beneath the porch awning.

I have always anticipated daylight’s
rise from the ashes of December,
like ancient tombs in Ireland
whose entrances were positioned
so that light might pierce
their inner chamber
for a few fleeting minutes
each winter solstice.

What if all we have of a day
is the sunlight captured in stone?
The recounting of a day care report?
If so, I wish you ones
with no more weight
than you can bear—
with restful sleep,
a clean, dry shirt
and a well-sealed bottle—
knowing that tomorrow will be
a little longer,
a little brighter.

 

Station of the Cross

It was the closest I would ever get to Maggie,
the eighth-grade beauty playing Mary to my Jesus
in our school’s presentation of the fourth Station of the Cross:
a freeze frame of Jesus meeting his mother.

Maggie is kneeling before me in a sky blue robe
and white mantle, a look of compassion on her face,
which I would like to interpret as infatuation
rather than fabricated sympathy for my impending crucifixion.

During rehearsal, Sister Grace instructed me to rest my hand on her head.
But my palm wasn’t sweating then, or quivering like it is now,
because I can’t help but think that I am touching her
when I should be focused instead on saving humanity.

I wanted put down my cardboard cross and confess
to my classmates and their families my feelings for Maggie
despite how she regarded me that day no more than she did the day before.
I would have told them how I was beginning to appreciate Jesus more,

because love isn’t reciprocal, and saviors and boys are mostly misunderstood.
I was sacrificing a piece of my boyhood on that altar;
I had given myself over to an emotion I didn’t understand, and tomorrow
would have no choice but to pick up my cross, spread my arms, and die.

pencil

Chris Abbate’s poems have appeared in Connecticut River Review, Chagrin River Review, and Comstock Review. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award. His first book of poetry, Talk About God, was published in 2017 by Main Street Rag. Chris resides in Holly Springs, NC. Email: chrisabbate[at]yahoo.com