Exquisite Duet: Helene Cardona and Myfanwy Collins

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


 

All the Sweetness in the World

by Helene Cardona 

The dreary memory of those two words spewed out
while she lay unconscious, a place in chaos.
The truth is you can never believe what anyone says.
I flash back to years of misunderstandings, love
absolute, the importance of geography, rough lessons,
our destiny settled before we knew it.
One day my heart will stop exploding when I see her face
and smile instead. I’m not saying it gets easier.

The best memories should look like enigmas.
Each time I write I think about her, gone
with summer. I can always make sense of an animal-
like state of grace preceding the end.
Keep going, start again with your name on jasmine.
I hear the bell in The Wasteland.
That’s it. Love, powerful as roses.
See what you’re willing to give up.

 

GIGO
by Myfanwy Collins

The dreary memory of those two words spewed out. She sat on a wobbly kitchen chair in a spot where once a spill of red wine had morphed into a rusty stain upon and within the tile. They had scrubbed that mess but nothing would do. The tiles were trashed. Garbage. That was it. That was it.

Garbage in. Garbage out.
GIGO.

Those were the words. Put garbage in and that’s what comes out. Not two words, but four. There was a time when words were compelling. A note, an aside, left to consider. What was left was the memory of words. A time before the spill, the wine. There was a time when words came easily, spilling, staining. There was a time. The mess of words spreading like a disease. The garbage.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Hélène Cardona is a poet, literary translator and actor, author of Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry), Pinnacle Book Award & Reader’s Favorite Award, The Astonished Universe (Red Hen Press), Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016), Ce que nous portons (Éditions du Cygne, 2014), her translation of Dorianne Laux, and Beyond Elsewhere (White Pine Press, 2016), her translation of Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac. She holds a Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College & LMU, and received fellowships from the Goethe-Institut & Universidad Internacional de Andalucía. Hélène Co-Edits Dublin Poetry Review, Levure Littéraire, and Fulcrum: An Anthology of Poetry and Aesthetics.

Myfanwy Collins has published a novel, ECHOLOCATION (Engine Books, 2012), a collection of short fiction, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND (PANK Books, 2013), and has a young adult novel, THE BOOK OF LANEY, forthcoming from Lacewing Books in March, 2015. Please visit her at: http://www.myfanwycollins.com

 


Six poems by Roy Bentley

 

Blood on the Chrysanthemums

Consider how they say boys will be boys.
Consider that some boys have a moral sense
of rage that other boys draw on for inspiration,
though most hold stores of their own sufficient
to whatever task or adventure. I wake to a memory
of my cousin Bob holding a fallen tree limb, saying,
No, you first and handing it over, that fat tree branch,
as if metaphorically baptizing me in the facts of rain
and locked doors. We’d arrived home from school
to an empty house. It began to rain as we waited.
Did I mention he liked going first—to ride a bike
or ask a girl to go steady—though he was younger?
I recall it was May. I remember taking one step
and ramming that limb through the back door
so that one of us might reach through the glass.
And I remember we got in but that I cut myself.
Not deep, a slice across the top of my fingers—
my hand must have slid along the jagged glass
like a human creature with a mind of its own.
I recall there wasn’t much of a flow. But what
there was, flew from whichever hand. Droplets
fell onto my aunt’s flowerbed of chrysanthemums,
the spatter bright against the white flowers, flashing
boyish insubordination as—what else—the color red.
Part of me wishes there had been applause. Because
we got in big trouble, Bob going first to the paddle
for seeing the world as the door that should open.
Bob’s dead. And I feel the failures of language
and the shock of existence in the word dead or
I want to feel it. I want his going before me to be
that serviceable limb he handed over. Smiling,
knowing there was nothing else to do or say.

 

Herons, in April in Ohio

These wade the development lake, stirring
sleepy banks of reeds like revelatory winds.
Thieving sustenance, they move like a hand
on an abacus, the click-click of bird mouths
keeping track in the calculus of the shallows.

Backyard orioles materialize as if last light
were cause to feast. They harass the herons,
wheeling in the frayed sleeve of air. Trespass
and theft are a postcard from US 23 in April.
In spite of downpours of agricultural toxins,

noise levels equivalent to carousels in endless
revolution, these build the unbuilt world. Nests
are the archival threadwork of the ground litter
and ephemera of ordinary days. Grocery sacks
are gorgeous, at least this once, with new use.

But not even the beautiful answers for the racket,
the hanging veil of semi-truck exhaust by the road,
though the birds do seem to have become American
in their capacity to coexist with the lack of respect
for everything. In the golds of sunset, I go down

and walk and wish for the healing to come soon
so we can review the state of things and go on.
If this were your last hour, wouldn’t you want
what you want?—for a heron to stand upright
in light like this. To feel the wind of wings.

 

Blood Relative

Her name was Susan, and I recall she wore the look
men wear after going to war and returning. My father had it—
like he had seen more than one thing worth turning away from.
Not to mention, his mother staring at nothing in a sanitarium
where they took her after she shot at a man she did her best
to kill but somehow didn’t. To be animated and sentient
is sometimes a matter of sitting for hours in a rocker
and thumbing the low hills of flesh of one hand.

That was what she was doing when I asked her
and spat out the name of my grandfather Bob Beach,
my father’s DNA-donor-only father, our blood relative.
Why she was where she was and had been for many years.
“Who?” she shot back through her hard mouth, the first sound,
the only sound, she had made since we’d entered the room.
I reached for the water near her. Handed her the glass.
A blue tumbler that beaded droplets of a darker blue.

She took it, the glass. Sat it back down where it had been.
They had brought me to see her. Had no idea I might speak.
And I’m sure they were afraid of what she might say back.
Some lives are irretrievably ruined. Hers was one of those.
Mostly she sat in her rocker. All day, every day. The boy
I was reached for her hands. To stop her hurting herself.
She brushed me aside with the gesture they translated
to say we could leave and not be missed. And then

my father called her “Mother”. He leaned down—
to stop the incessant rubbing. I can’t say why she
didn’t knock his hands away, only that she didn’t.
If there is a God and justice, it’s for those like her.
I was five. I wasn’t thinking about God or justice.
And when she did look up, it was into a shadow
on an opposite wall, the blue-on-blue eternity
she may have imagined answers to a name.

 

Nettie Dolores Potter Discovers Scarlett O’Hara

The librarian, Miss Webb, tells her she’s got a book for her.
Miss Webb does this every day or two. Just hands them over.
It’s 1950. Neon, Kentucky. And she offers Gone With the Wind.
I can see my mother as a young woman, not yet a wife or mother,
assume a place at a table in the library of Fleming High School.
I can’t make out words on the page, but I’m watching her read.
The radiant look on her face says she found someone like her.

Of course she’s seen the movie. Could be Vivien Leigh’s sister.
Russet hair aglow with rain. A wasp-waisted, long-legged waif.
I picture Mammie cinching a corset around her skinny middle.
I hear my angry mother, Nettie Dolores, telling her to piss off.
Pages turn. She moves a second chair around. Props herself up.
She’s taking advantage of a privilege afforded basketball stars.
This isn’t Tara, the plantation world she will dream of tonight

and for the rest of her long life. This is Neon. And her mother
won’t let her read at the house. She will want her to hoe beans.
Slop a sow she’s yet to name that has to feed them this winter.
For an afternoon her world is her own. Thanks to the librarian
who’s sure Nettie Potter will never sit in a college classroom.
She’s working a strand of hair as Rhett makes an appearance.
Maybe she imagines Bobby, her boyfriend, in a moustache

or dodging some antebellum heirloom she’s tossed at him.
Maybe her Rhett is mocking her Oh Ashley! and smiling.
The rogue-arrogant smile the Old South never conceded.
Not to subjugation nor the years of hunger after the war.
What she knows of brutality isn’t in Margaret Mitchell.
It’s in the mud-dirt roads of hollows she calls hollers.
In the fists of those she knows as father and brother.

 

Kentucky Love Story

One need not weep romantic tears for them,
But when the last moonshiner buys his radio,
And the last, lost wild-rabbit of a girl
Is civilized with a mail-order dress,
Something will pass that was American,
And all the movies will not bring it back.
—Stephen Vincent Benet, “John Brown’s Body”

When she is nude, barring a stretch mark or two
and her tendency to eschew black gartered stockings,
his lust for his wife Blanche is like a swallow of moonshine—
impossible to down without loving the reviving nature of it.
These days, any thoughts of her with that Belcher boy, Johnny,
can push him over the edge. The rumors are a taunt. Nothing
that Blanche will admit to. Except to say, Never happened.
He was away in the South Pacific. Serving in the Seabees.
Rumors are why Bill Barnett and Blanche’s brother Bill Potter
are lying on their bellies with TNT pilfered from stockpiles
of some eastern Kentucky coalfield. Like more than a few
who stayed behind during the war, Johnny has it coming.
And Bill sees his duty as making sure that Johnny gets his.
With four kids, Bill Barnett volunteered for the Army. Blanche,
newly shorn of all hope of a helpmate, was left to fend for herself.
It’s a story of a woman sleeping with a man after a dance and whose
child is whose become very much in doubt. So there are two Bills
on a hillside and Johnny Belcher needing blown to smithereens.
Between pulls on a fifth of bourbon whiskey, J.T.S. Brown,
Bill says, “I’ll duck-walk my dumb ass down this-here slope.
I’ll light this and toss it. And run like hell. You wait here.”
He pats the TNT in a pocket of his long black coat. Smiles.
The other Bill seems about to open his mouth and complain.
He doesn’t. He points to the silhouette of Johnny’s oldest
waltzing onto the porch. Which means that no one named
Belcher will be killed or die tonight in an eerie hollow
in a region named from a mispronunciation of a Cherokee
word for the land that lies south of the Ohio River. It seems
mistakes are as good as you make them if you’re waiting for the world
to answer for the lies it tells you about itself, on the way to truth.

 

Angel Lust

Where I grew up in Ohio, a mortician’s daughter
once told me how a dead man can get an erection.
We’re talking, soon after death. She said, Daddy
says he’s seen some raise a sheet
, then laughed.
She had a wild and ungovernable laugh. Told me
her father did small favors for the Dayton mob.

Said he’d embalmed a Don shot through one eye.
We giggled. Guffawed. I could tell you her name,
but I won’t. Since her family still runs the business
in that town known for the Wright Brothers circling
Huffman’s Prairie, performing loops. Figure-eights.
She and I were rescuing the unextraordinary hour

with stories of stiffs sprouting stiffies. Kid stuff.
Of course these were souls enduring the indignities
and nonsensical quirks of Being and blood flow,
without the aid or benefit of a single trumpet blast
or harp-note from celestial sheet music, without
the flash of a spruce-sparred Wright Flyer tipping

its Pride of the West muslin in salute to the fallen,
the whoosh of wings a one-eyed wink at the world.
It isn’t blasphemy to want to laugh out loud at death,
especially in Ohio where everything melts into grey
and we fail to glimpse our just-dead raising a flag
of self, lifting that flag to the status of blessing.


Roy Bentley has earned fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. He has published four books: Boy in a Boat, from University of Alabama Press, Any One Man, from Bottom Dog Books, The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana, from White Pine, and Starlight Taxi, from Lynx House Press. These days he teaches for Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey.


The Poison that Purifies You by Elizabeth Kadetsky (reviewed by Robert Boucheron)

PoisonThe Poison that Purifies You

stories by Elizabeth Kadetsky

2014, C & R Press, paperback,

196 pages, $16.00

ISBN-13: 978-1936196432

 

 


 

 

The title of the book, The Poison that Purifies You, is also the title of one of ten stories. The story takes its title from a poem by Rumi, two lines remembered by the main character, Jack: “The water that pollutes you is poison, the poison that purifies you is water.” Jack does not explain these lines, and neither does the author.

Jack, a lonely, middle-aged American visiting Delhi, has been taken hostage by a suave young man who calls himself Rohit and four Islamic militants. Jack is homosexual, over-educated, too trusting, and given to flights of fantasy. He falls in love with Rohit, who pretends to be an upper caste Indian. As Jack’s keeper, Rohit recites poetry in Urdu, including these by Rumi, “worshipper of a delectable and godly object of passion whose name was Shams. A man.” Rohit muses on his school days, “the lads in the second form . . . the enchantment.” He says: “We understand each other, bhai. This is the strongest friendship I have made in a long time.”

The word bhai is Hindi for “brother,” a common way to address a friend. Rumi (1207-1273) was a Persian poet and Sufi mystic. He wrote love poems, was widely translated, and remains popular today throughout the Islamic world. Rohit, also called Johnny, is not who he claims to be, and his antic behavior implies that he is not quite sane, either. The story presents fine sketches of the two characters, both dreamers. Are they waiting for ransom? Lying side by side in the “safe house,” will they have sex? Their situation remains unresolved, but the comic interlude is complete.

Two other stores are set in India, with a multicultural cast. “Il Negro” casts an Italian antique shop owner, Milo, with his Hindu assistants, Arun and Ganesh. Here the comedy centers on a mechanical bank in the shape of an African-American and bearing the inscription “1882, Toledo Ohio, Jolly Nigger.” Milo sees the bank as a fellow sufferer and refuses to sell it. Arun sees it as a rare collectible, “top dollar.” And Ganesh sees the grotesque, animated figure as an idol, like the gods of the Hindu pantheon.

“The Indian Friend” features a group of Americans at lunch. “Rajesh had brought them to a food stall in Old Delhi, where they served what Rajesh claimed to be the best makai ki roti in India.” Rajesh tells a story about temple monkeys that steal glasses from tourists, and Brian says heatedly: “This is exactly what happened to me.” When Marcus grabs the bill, he knocks down the waiter, which sends Antonia into hysterical laughter, which leads to a general collapse.

Kadetsky has traveled the world, as her author biography sets forth: Guatemala, Mexico, Malta, Spain, France, Morocco, Egypt, and India. She did some of this globe-trotting as a journalist, some as a “creative writing fellow.”  Some of the stories are set in New York City, so it seems that she has lived there, too. She is currently “assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State University.” She has published a memoir and a novella, and her short stories are in literary magazines such as Antioch Review. “The first drafts of these stories accrued during a six-year period when I had the good fortune to complete 17 artists’ residencies and five writers conferences,” she says.

While Kadetsky possesses superhuman talent, the heroines in six of her stories have less to work with. Maria in “An Incident at the Plaza,” is confused about pregnancy and the street life that swirls around her in New York. She believes that she will abduct a toddler, and at the end, she tries. Cecile in “Loup Garou” starts a cross-country drive from Portland, Oregon in a creaky used car with her stoner boyfriend Morey. The two play a game in which they shed belongings, a game that leads to picking up a hitchhiker, who then steals the car. This is funny, but the title, which means “werewolf” in French, seems to have nothing to do with the story.

The young female war veteran in “Geography” has insomnia, imaginary fears, and real troubles. She has a boyfriend Freddy who gives her a globe, and she causes two male veterans in her therapy group to fight over her. But she ends the story as clueless as she starts, holding her globe. In “Men More than Mortal,” a New York bicycle messenger named Allison locks her Kryptonite chain around her waist, a “triple-heat-treated boron-manganese steel chain with a plastic-encased disk-keyhole padlock, seventy centimeters of four-sided steel chain links resistant to saws, hammers, files and bolt cutters,” then loses the key. She searches for a man who can unlock her, in all senses, but has no luck. Meanwhile she loses weight and becomes more attractive, she thinks. Or do men simply take advantage of her?

“Dermagraphia” is the longest story, at 36 pages. “What We Saw,” is also set in New York in the present, and both stories read like a novel drawn from the author’s life. They are dense, subtle, and slow-paced. Like the other stories, “Dermagraphia” has short passages of dialogue, so well done that I wish they were longer. It has nicely drawn characters, like the narrator Naomi’s feckless lover Hank and her willful Grandmaman. It has understated comedy in Naomi’s doddering parents. And it has a family dispute over inherited jewelry that is hard to follow.

Kadetsky’s stories are crammed with details, cultural and symbolic. In “Dermagraphia,” a white cat strays and reappears; a field has “mystical characteristics;” and Naomi fingers her pearls and a gold watch. The title refers to her “still-in-progress first book, which my tenure depends on. The book is on dermagraphia . . . a nervous condition in which one’s skin becomes hypersensitive to all stimuli and erupts in raised red patches at the slightest touch.” Naomi, naturally enough, gets dermagraphia. Or does she? “My case was different. My skin was trying to let something out. There was too much to say.”


Robert Boucheron

 


Fox Drum Bebop by Gene Oishi (Reviewed by Jacob Budenz)

Oishi

Fox Drum Beblop

Gene Oishi

Kaya Press

285 pp.

$16.95 paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1885030177

 

 


 

Gene Oishi’s Fox Drum Bebop contains a gorgeous richness inside and out. Not only the prose, but also the overall design and storytelling structure captivate the reader. A thought on design, before getting into the breathtaking attention to detail that Gene Oishi pays his settings and characters: in a day where the value of print books faces question in the face of e-readers, publishers have begun to wise up to the importance of design. The Kaya Press design of the paperback book—its neat and tastefully designed inner jacket, exciting header typeface that does not go overboard in its artfulness, and vague ink drawings at the beginning of each chapter—merit a mention that tilts toward the still-exciting, still-evolving experience of printed literature.

However, this review could go on endlessly about design, and we are here for content. Plotwise, Fox Drum Bebop narrates the experiences of a first generation Japanese immigrant named Hiroshi and his family before, during, and long after their internment at a prison camp in Arizona during World War II. The Kono family enjoys relative wealth and a respected status in Hacienda, but the war and the time spent in prison take a lasting toll on their status, as well as Hiroshi’s life for years to come.

With a current re-emerging public attention toward racial disparities in the United States, in the context of the Ferguson trials and the #BlackLivesMatter mantra trending, a great book like this one becomes particularly salient. Far from didactic or harshly critical, Fox Drum Bebop offers an honest exposure of a time in America—not too long ago—when systematic racism and xenophobia affected an entirely different population. Furthermore, Fox Drum highlights the complexities about the experiences of racial “othering” in the United States. For example, two brothers of Hiroshi’s family named Mickey and Yukio find themselves pitted against one another: during internment, Micky, who had found success assimilating into white American culture prior to the war, is a part of an American loyalty league, causing friction with his brother Yukio, who has never assimilated to or identified with American culture. Readers can draw varied conclusions from the complex racial issues Oishi brings up in his work. The fact is that racial inequality and racial otherness play a major role as a theme in this novel, particularly in a context that we as Americans seldom face.

Though the book centers primarily around Hiroshi and the war’s effects on his life, the narrative departs largely from his perspective and paints a full, vivid picture of the inner lives of his entire family. Though this interesting turn varies at times in its effectiveness—the timeline of the narrative becomes muddled every so often—this convention helps further deepen the reader’s understanding of this particular family and each individual’s experience with being first-generation Japanese immigrants.

The most noteworthy aspect of this book, however, is the richness of the prose. Oishi peppers every character, every action, every moment of dialogue with such surprising detail that the reader cannot help but feel hypnotized at the reality of it. Part of what makes the book so effective is that, though at many points grim, the narrative contains a slew of colorful side characters and situational humor that comes mostly out of intensely focused setting and place detail. Even from the onset comes the hilarious character of Tex, whose vernacular Oishi carefully captures with moments like “tabbaky” and “Hee-row.” His juxtaposition as Hiro’s peer shows an early awareness of class disparities, as Hiro’s family is comparatively wealthy to the caricaturized Tex.

Through and through, Fox Drum Bebop proves a wonderful piece of modern literature. Topical, colorful, and complex, it will surely provide a worthwhile read.

 


River Talk, stories by C.B. Anderson (reviewed by Robert Boucheron)

AndersonRiver Talk

stories by C. B. Anderson

C & R Press

223 pp.

$16.00 paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1936196463

 

 


 

We ask a great deal of fiction, we Americans in the twenty-first century. We want our fiction to be realistic, yet we also like smart dialogue and a narrative arc, neither of which occur in real life. We love a good story, yet we demand believable characters, who tend to stray from the plot line. We want all the parts to meld in a seamless rush to an inevitable denouement, yet we relish a surprise at the end.

C.B. Anderson, I am pleased to report, delivers the complete package. How on earth does she manage it? Her book River Talk contains seventeen stories of varied length and focus, all set in rural Maine where she grew up, specifically the Androscoggin River valley. This is her first story collection, but it must be culled from many years and many more stories. The mastery of style shown here can only come from experience.

The author biography is shorn of dates. It says that Anderson “graduated from Cornell University with a degree in mathematics and has been moving leftward ever since—from computer programming to proposal writing to journalism to fiction.” It says that she is a “winner of numerous prizes.” Her stories have been published in the best literary magazines in America, and seven in this book are “fiction contest winners,” as noted in the front.

In a television interview on WCSH-WLBZ on July 31, 2014 to mark the book’s publication, a video of which is posted online, Anderson appears to be in middle age. She notes her earlier career as an actuary in New York City. She then earned a journalism degree from Boston University, and she wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, Yankee and Down East. “My journalism is wonderfully energizing to the fiction,” she says, and as an example she cites the influx of Somali refugees in Lewiston, Maine. This is the source of the story “Two Falls,” which brims with closely observed details—of the Somalis, the native Mainers, the textile mill, and the winter weather. Placed last in the collection, with the finely drawn character of Amina Abukar, the story is a tour de force.

In the television spot, however, Anderson says: “I’m not the sort of writer who channels characters. Characters aren’t talking to me and pouring onto the page.” No? Maybe the author is unaware of her own strength. Each story features a heroine or hero, a consistent point of view, and a certain amount of interior commentary on the action. Dialog is sparing, as though Anderson did not quite trust her dramatic powers, but it sometimes blossoms into a fully-realized scene. The proof lies in the range of lifelike characters, from the young mother in “China Falls,” to the retired brothers in “Taken,” to the fiftyish couple in “Tourmaline,” to the thin girl in “Baker’s Helper” . . . and we’re only up to page 45.

The subject matter is as varied as the characters. Mathematics, or at least Euclidian logic, becomes lucid in “The Geometry of Words,” in which a college student resists the sexual advances of her teacher. Taxidermy shows up in “Taken,” where it pairs with deer hunting and allows a play on words, and again in “Everything,” where the disturbing image of pulling a whole skin from a carcass comes back to haunt the hero. “Skipjack” goes to an ocean beach and the carnival rides of Tobago Park. “In the Ice” deals with veterans of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their injuries in body and mind, and reverberations of these in family life.

We see rivers, their rocks and currents, the ice that forms on them, the fish and mosquitos that breed in them, and the people that swim in them and sun themselves on the bank. The pungent haze of paper mills appears in the first story “China Falls,” and it seems to hang over the rest. In “River Talk,” a young woman tells her fiancé how she taught a child to swim in the river.

There is plenty of cooking, eating and drinking, usually to good dramatic effect, as when the capable but clueless narrator of “Taken” prepares a special dinner for Et, the woman who lives with him. As butter burns in the skillet and scallops spoil on the counter, he sees that Et has decamped to live with his handsome slob of a brother. “Life plays out while you’re not watching. It really does.”

An autistic boy named Cory is at the center of “China Falls,” in the sense that he causes the breakup of a marriage, then causes an accident that sends him to the hospital. But the story is not about autism. It is about a family, including the boy’s sister Amanda, and the churlish ex-husband Greg. At the same time, the story is about Jeanine, the thirty-four year old mother, who meets a sympathetic male nurse named Lee, first at the bar where she works and then at the hospital. As in “River Talk,” a lot goes on in twenty pages, maybe too much.

Several times, Anderson creates a sense of dread, as though an accident is about to happen, or a bout of domestic violence. In “Tourmaline,” when the characters scrabble in an old mine, a collapse seems likely. I feared that one of the PTSD veterans of “In the Ice” would snap, or that the goaded father Reed in “Skipjack” would lash out. In “Tourmaline,” instead of confronting his abusive father, Phip simply leaves—and his mother hops in his pickup truck.

“Mavak Tov” is set in a religious commune called Chavurat Messiah that practices plural marriage, intense prayer sessions, and group meals. The heroine is Ranya, the young mother of a brain-damaged girl, Gavriella. Isaac, the group’s leader and Ranya’s husband, is exploiting Gavriella as a faith-healing saint, to the point that Ranya tries to escape with her by boat. Will they drown in the river? Judith, Isaac’s first wife, effects a reconciliation, as touching as it is unexpected.


Robert Boucheron


Exquisite Duet: Kristine Ong Muslim and Thaddeus Rutkowski

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


Dear Protégé

by Kristine Ong Muslim

Crouch in a kennel and you’ll fit in my life. See how quickly you can grow when bound and constricted. So, are you still thinking of ways to mend what you categorize as “this world’s utter disarray,” or have you finally understood the guttural sound that was once let loose as white noise mingling with the low-frequency band, where television channels stream their clichéd signals for their faraway flock? During your nightly forays in perfumed foyers, where socialites lounge as they twiddle with their pricey wares, are you enjoying the flavor of torture—foie gras rolling across your tongue, foie gras from fowls force-fed to death—while tinkling your sleek wine glass with those held by the self-appointed patrons of the arts, the same well-dressed middle-aged people whose unnaturally smooth foreheads and contoured cheeks regularly appear on the society pages? How are you? Did you find at last what you were looking for, what you believe was missing?

 

Cramped Quarters

by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Crouch in a kennel and you’ll fit in my life. Not that I want you be my dog, or that I want to be yours. And not to say that crouching is better than any other activity, such as tail wagging or tongue panting. But you might have to get down on all fours to fit into the kennel of my existence—to fit without hitting your head. Once you’ve entered, however, you’ll find the accommodations comfy. There’s plenty of food and water, and there’s a roof over our heads. No rain will reach us here. The problem is, while we can see out, we can’t get out. This situation, really, is not satisfactory. It’s nice having you here and all. It’s nice to have someone to chase tail and howl at the moon with. But this feeling of being on the inside, looking out, is not all right. I think we are going to have to break free. The next time the door opens, we will bolt. We will fly, tongues out and tails spinning, across the open ground; we will run too fast to be caught. And if someone blocks our way, we will fight our way out.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of three books, most recently We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012) and Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012). Her poems and short stories were published in the likes of Confrontation Magazine, New Welsh Review, Sou’wester, Southword, and The State. She lives in a small farming town in the Philippines. Website: http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched, and Roughhouse. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

 

 

 


Fiction: What the Living Claim by Heather Luby

The boys came running with news of a dead body catching flies in the empty lot bordering our street. We dared each other, double dared, threw burlas, until, at last, we all went down together, not holding hands, but shoulders grazing in a line of would-be bravery.” Among the trash and rocky, tall grass was the man just like they said, but face down and picked by a crow. There were not so many flies as I expected. Later the boys told tales to bring the girls close. One boy claimed his father owned a shirt just like the one the dead man was wearing. Another boy boasted the dead man wore stolen shoes from his tío Sam’s closet. A third supposed the dead man could be the unknown father of his sister’s baby. I did not have anything to claim. I shared nothing with the dead man except my skin.

When the sun slumbered I ran home to find my overused father scrubbing his fingernails at the kitchen sink, my heavy hipped mother tracing the beads of her rosary while cooking. Older brother and sister counting dollars and time. I wondered if my cuates wanted the dead man to wait too. If they dreamed of pockets and stories yet unfolded. I swallowed my words. I knew how to keep my freedom.

At school the teacher ordered faces forward, nose prints on the window glass washed. She claimed there was nothing to see. At recess our eyes followed the points of fingers. The crows had grown fat in number, their bodies a breathing gravesite of black. One girl insisted a lover would claim the dead man’s body. Another that the dead man had it coming.

In the shadow making hours the children became centinelas for the dead man, guarded from bedroom windows and breezeless backyards. Early morning, men in jackets arrived quiet and zippered his body away. Chotas. There were no lights twirling red and blue. No sirens crying. No candles or altars to claim a quiet corner in his name. With no one to speak it, he had no name.


 

Heather Luby is really nothing more than a girl from the Ozark Mountains that grew up with dreams of writing stories. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, LITnIMAGE, Bartleby Snopes, and a few other places along the way. She has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is the Managing Editor of The Citron Review. Read more at http://heatherluby.com/.


Fiction: Fission by Mary-Jane Holmes

When the towers fell, a man came running at me shouting oysters, oysters in Spanish before crash – tackling me to the curb. I sank under the weight of him, felt the seep of briny fear from his shirt seams and the swell and collapse of his lungs draw like a riptide against my chest, as we lay there flat and still, our bodies rigid as shell.

Now, idling in one-lane traffic on the ocean road, cinder curls spewing from an upturned four wheeler and Grandmother’s gravelly ashes pulsing lightly on the passenger seat, those words surface and I wonder what he meant. The coverage is poor this far down the isthmus and as the pixelated hourglass spins through its axis, I look outside at everything I’ve forgotten: the strips of furrowed shingle, the sea aster and club rush raking the tideline, the boxed shadow of the power station blunt against the skyline.

We swam there every summer holiday while she was well and we were small, in the thermal plume of spent water flushed from the reactor’s condensers. Even on the coldest days the bay stayed warm and fisherman seeded oyster spats on racks looped back and forth across the discharge basin. We orbited them like electrons, watching the shell-stacks fizz in the current. But no-one else came; perhaps the skim of orange foam that frothed off the waves and clung to our legs like cuckoo spit was warning enough though we didn’t care; we licked it and imagined the taste of salted clementines.

The definition flashes up on the screen: a denotation of surprise or anger which I pass on to the camper behind revving impatience now the four-wheeler is flipped and righted. Shucks. Darn. Shoot I mouth in the rear view mirror. Although it’s Good Grief I understand.

The line of traffic crocodile-files to the shore. The road is new; its hard shoulder staked with caution: Slippery surfaces. Wave break. Algal bloom. We worry there won’t be space to park. The beach fills; day trippers haul windbreakers and coolers across the ouch of pebbles, apply block and wide-brimmed hats, memorize their children’s faces just in case. I remember hers, the way her chin buoyed against the slap of surf.

I sieve the contents of the box into the cold decommissioned shallows; watch it lift and lighten to spindrift, citrus in the sunset before the current catches and carries it towards the pencilled horizon, straight and empty like the old road, devoid of signs of what might be. I feel the pull of it, the undertow of back-then when we knew nothing of disaster, of meltdowns, or her hope that this sullied water might leak heavy and quell the secret growths swelling like pearls inside her. Why would we have thought of such things? We believed in that world: our oyster. Good grief, Good grief.


Mary-Jane Holmes is chief editor of Fish Publishing Ireland. Her work recently won the 2014 Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize and short-listed for the 2014 Bridport Prize (UK) She is an article contributor at Flash Fiction Chronicles and has work published and/or being published in Firewords Quarterly, The Journal Of Compressed Creative Arts, Tishman Review, The Incubator.


Fiction: Undoing by Kim Magowan

Reasons to do it:

To get you out of my system. Because the reality of you can never match the fantasy– no matter how great you are, how skillful, how tender your touch, how inventive your sweet talk. So possessing you will take away your power. That’s why I need to see your body: naked, real, unglorious. So I won’t want it. Cure by poison.

Or, carpe diem, et cetera. Life is short, right? In two years I turn forty. Soon my life will be too unwieldy to fling (like an anarchist in a cartoon, throwing a dynamite stick) into the fire.

Grist for the mill. I need to think of you as a research project: this is a collection of information, like leaves from a nature walk, like specimens from the moon. I will observe you closely: the hair on your shins, the texture of your armpits, the color of your tongue, the way your eyes look when you come (opaque?). The feeling of your hands on my body (heavy? gentle?).

We are still strange to each other. I don’t know every sock in your drawer, every bristle of your Sonicare. Likewise, you haven’t known me since I was twenty-six: every bad haircut, every time I’ve yelled at a child or forgotten the name of a world leader or pretended to have read that book. With you, I can be new.

You remind me of the first boy I wanted, in high school. Right before summer break, I slow-danced with him on the grass. His lips, so dry, grazed my neck. Something about you— the blank squares of your glasses, the way you transfix me (because I can’t have you)— makes me think of him, my first crush.

Because you don’t think I will. So there is something underhanded about your flirting. You’re careful; the craftsman of the double meaning, the sly line. You expect me to reject you. I should call your bluff.

***

            In a borrowed car, we drove to the waterfront to watch people fishing. We drove to get away from your apartment, which could only lead to trouble. You had your left hand on the steering wheel. I had your right hand, a new and temporary possession. I was captivated by your hand, completely preoccupied with it: I turned it over, inserted my fingers between yours, traced the fleshy part of your palm, near the thumb, examined the nicks of your wrist.

“You have such small wrists.”

You turned and smiled at me. Your glasses glinted. You squeezed my hand.

When you had picked me up at the train station, I sat close to you on the seat. This hand I was examining so carefully would brush my leg now and then, as if by accident. Our eyes met and flicked away, like light touches. But we hadn’t touched yet, except for that greeting hug in the station. Too long a hug, you said later that morning: “That’s when I knew.”

But what did you know? And why are you so much better at reading me than I am at reading you, or myself? After all, I am a translator, a professional reader. Why are you a code I can’t interpret? Like an Arabic book I once found in the library, composed of beautiful and inscrutable letters.

***

            I never undressed you. You never undressed me. As if clothes were a metaphor for the other things that came between us: my husband, your wife, all the obvious obstructions. When you unhooked my bra (you were strangely clumsy, I arched my back to help you, we both laughed as you struggled with the curved wire teeth), my sweater stayed on. I remember thinking that given the circumstances, the clothes seemed almost comically excessive: lying on top of me, you were still wearing your shoes, your glasses.

Time, like clothes, was something you used to keep us in check: only this much, and no more. The first time you kissed me, you broke away to say, “It’s 10:40 now. At 11:00, we’re getting up and going out to breakfast.” Though it took us longer than that, because when I came out of your bathroom, bra rehooked, sweater smoothed, my face wet from splashing water on it, we stood with our foreheads pressing together, we kissed, and you temporarily turned off your meter.

I never undressed you, and lying on slatted lawn chairs sunbathing was a subtle form of torture. This was as naked as we could be together: me in a bikini, you in old, mauve bathing trunks with water-stained shorts. From hooded eyelids I studied your body, committed it to memory: sunburnt legs, bony knees, the moles on your back. Sometimes you used my distraction to advantage. Playing chicken fight in the swimming pool, both of us with a wet child on our shoulders, we tried to knock each other into the water. I grabbed your hips for leverage, and became suddenly conscious of the bunchy fabric in my hands, your cool skin. You hooked my leg, and I lost my balance and fell.

***

            When I’ve most wanted to hurt you back: sitting rigidly in the car outside the train station, listening to you say, “I hope what happened today doesn’t mean that you’ll start fooling around. It gets easier after the first time.”

Or, and this is stranger, when you told me I should help Ian clean the grill. Why did that make my face feel actually hot with anger, so even the pool water couldn’t cool it? Perhaps because it seemed indicative of your moral superiority: you are better than me, more thoughtful, less selfish.

But most of all, it is your silence: the way you check out, for days or weeks, the way you become not just cold but entirely vacant, an empty chair. I wish I could turn from you with such ease.

***

            “Why?” you asked me.

Sometimes you represent yourself as someone who has travelled down this yellow brick road to Infidelity and has warnings to offer about the potholes. But you also imply that your own fooling around, while nothing you’re proud of (you emphasize proud) has been understandable.

“Abstemious” is a word you apply to Diane. “She keeps her appetites in check.”

I’ve witnessed that myself: before anything sparked between us, when I was thinking of you two as potential friends, we had you over for dinner. When I called to invite you I asked her, as I always do, if there were any food issues, and she paused— perhaps it was my use of the word “issues”— before saying “No.” But she barely ate her scallops, she picked at dessert. She saw me notice and said, “It’s lovely, Emily. It’s just so rich.” You saw me raise my eyebrows. We caught each other’s eyes, and that exchanged glance might have been the first brick on our road. A conspiratorial flash: see what I put up with?

So for all your regrets, your Ghost-of-Christmas-Future implications that betrayal is not worth the trouble, I know you believe there is something understandable about cheating on a woman who picks at scallops.

It’s my being drawn to you that is, in your estimation, deviant. “Ian is such a good guy.”

Good Guy. The number of times I have heard that. I have fantasized getting Ian a tee shirt that says “Good Guy,” like those “Number One Dad” shirts at Target.

Well, I love Ian, and I have for twelve years. I won’t dispute the title.

But I would like to show you, just once, his collection of snow globes. They line the third bookshelf of our home office, eight of them. The first one, the start of this collection, was given to him by his high school girlfriend Julie. I don’t know what it commemorates; Ian is evasive when I ask. The scene inside is a glass greenhouse, and through the plastic panes (not real glass of course) you can see a tiny, scratchy tree. Red blossoms bloom there, small as sequins: a begonia, perhaps, or a camellia. On the green plastic base, written by one of those liquid silver pens (I had one myself in middle school, for using on black paper), is, “To Eye, from Jay.” Their nicknames for each other.

This ex-girlfriend is still around. We see her four or five times a year: Julie Howe, Julie Crockett, now Julie Azzopardi. Two months ago we went to her wedding— the second of her weddings that I’ve been to. It seemed strange to make a second wedding such a production. Her dress wasn’t white, but such a pale blue that from any distance it looked white. That seemed strange too.

She came to my wedding of course. I remember her gift: an apple-red ceramic bowl. Sometimes I serve pasta in it. Back then, eleven years ago, Ian still occasionally called her Jay, though I never heard her call him Eye.

What does collecting snow globes say about a man? That’s the question I want to ask you. Or that his collection began because his ex-girlfriend, from when he was sixteen, gave him this particular one of some greenhouse, and wrote on the bottom in silver ink? What does it say about Ian that he does not select his own fetish objects? I’ve collected things too—sand-dollars when I was a kid, egg cups more recently—but those items meant something to me. I chose them myself.

A day or two after Julie’s wedding, I looked through the open door in the office, and saw Ian holding a snow globe in the palm of his hand. Of course, I knew which one it was.

More than once, I have wanted to smash those snow globes, or perhaps just that one. Partly to understand the nature of the liquid inside. Not water, I don’t think: something more viscous, more gelatinous. And I would like, perhaps, to pry those “glass” walls off the conservatory; I’d like to determine what tree is protected inside it.

Yes, I would like to show you the snow globes. They seem at least as relevant, as motivating, as refusing scallops. They seem to shed light on one’s character. What kind of person is attracted to sealed domes? The half-circle, not even whole, not a globe after all, that sits in your palm? Who would display them in a perfect row?

“But Emily,” you might respond, “Their whole function is to be shaken.” To unsettle them, to stir and disturb those sparks of snow.

***

            “Patience is a virtue,” you said to me, and I am reminded of the Latin root of patience, pati, a verb that appears only in passive voice, that means to suffer, to endure. Passion has the same root: think of the Passion of Christ on his cross. Yet what can be more opposed to passion than patience? The gnawing of one, the tamping down of the other.

You claim that what has kept us out of bed is logistics, and the word buried in there, logic, speaks to a gap between you and me. You are rational when I am hopeless. You evoke scenarios in the future, somedays, someafternoons, when we’re in the same place, and time doesn’t have to be meticulously tracked. But to me those moments are irretrievably lost in the past, or belong in some parallel universe, both of us teenagers, unattached, unmoored, where there is space to be with you.

***

            You and I never had sex, though we sat on a low wall across the street from a hotel for half an hour and discussed why we shouldn’t go in. You described four possible doors that hotel would lead to, which I picture as sets in a game show, tatty velvet curtains suspended from brass rods. Through Door A, we would sleep together and finally get over each other, the frenzy dissolved, the residual secret smile exchanged twenty years later. Door B was the literal anti-climax, an awkward roll in the hay that would divide us between disappointment and relief. At Door C, the worst one, we would get caught and wreck each other’s lives. And Door D was the hardest to imagine: we would somehow walk off with each other, intact. That conversation ended rancorously. I got up, unsteady, and said, “Well, let’s leave, then, but let’s also stop pretending this is ever going to happen.”

But in that alternate reality, I will carve a space for us.

We are in Rome. Why Rome? Because it is not the place where either of us live, places associated with the fundamental accessories of our lives (Ian, Diane, my children). Perhaps, in the kind of eternal return of dreams and stories, because Rome is where I lost my virginity, and I will undo that night (cheap wine, tears, brown stains of crushed mosquitoes on the walls) by replacing it with you. So, we are in Rome. You stand in front of me. Your arms are at your sides, or perhaps you lightly press my shoulders, and you look at me. But I do not meet your eyes. I am concentrating on undoing, one by one, the mock mother-of-pearl buttons of your shirt, to touch your invisible and secret skin.


 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. She has fiction published or forthcoming in “Arroyo Literary Review,” “Breakwater Review,” “The Gettysburg Review,” “Indiana Review,” “River City,” “Valparaiso Fiction Review,” and “Word Riot.”


Exquisite Duet: Randall Brown and Rusty Barnes

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


 

The Seven-Year Itch

by Randall Brown

Was it me or her that had something twitching in the head? This is what happens when parents smoke the powder from their 17-year-old son’s confiscated marijuana grinder. Twenty-one years ago, they’d come home from their Caribbean honeymoon infested with burrowing mites, and they both became certain they could see them ticking under the other’s skin. They both see such ticking now—the ventral tegmental area, the hypothalamus, the nucleus accumbens—lighting up as on brain scans. It’s gotten more powerful, she says. Rapid breaths. Accelerated heart rate. He reaches for another drag. You sure? she asks him. They’d had sex going down a water slide. My lights are brighter, he says. She studies the illuminated mid-brain. Lite-Brite, she answers, making things with light. What a sight, he follows, making things with Lite-Brite.  This turns into a chant, then a dance, each one swinging the other onto and around the leather couch, the ottoman, a love seat. Their brains ignite. Who had the twitching head?  Both their heads flicker, nictate. That’s a crazy word, he says, nictate. Sarah Palin—The Nictator. A parade. Nudge, nudge. Silly walks. To another seven years! Yes, she Yes! It’s a date!

 

Song With No Lyrics for Legion

by Rusty Barnes

Was it me or her that had something twitching in the head?
A long time ago the rats had eaten the inside of my skull

and exited out my ear and all the bad things I’d ever said
about someone/anyone were out in the zeitgeist for people

to glom onto in their own sweet relationships and relative
des faux pas and I wanted to be sad enough to crawl into

a drainage ditch and wait for a roaring rain but I wasn’t so
I ended up in a donut shop that everyone would recognize

if I said it so I won’t but it was orange decor and made me
want to vomit but the chubby girl in the back said everyone

attack; I had nothing but my two fists and Legion to help
me so I reached behind the counter and slapped the decaf

pot with the leaded pot and broke both of them. I wasn’t
surprised I was asked to leave but Legion led me toward

other folks who claimed to be in the same circles of hell
but Legion led me toward the dark horizon and Legion

led me to claim that they’d possessed me and what can
you do with news like that except report it so I got a phone

and did a selfie report I talked into the mic but what recorded
were not my words but Legion’s in the argle-bargle of demon

speak and what could I say. Friends I am possessed by Legion
and thus do the voices speak and flow through me and soon

I will live in your drain and drink rain and eat your garbage while
all around the saints whirl and desolate the world without knowing

while Legion laughs and says thing in the temper of bears
and trees and one lonely oak with an inveigled noose.

 


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.

Rusty Barnes lives and works in Revere MA with his family. His latest book is the novel Reckoning, and he is currently working on a collection of poems and a short crime novel.

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,353 other followers