Exquisite 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.
by Karen Stefano
Something isolates us from ourselves
when we try to control another’s thoughts.
I don’t have time to be still.
I don’t have time to listen to my own mind.
I hear my name repeated ceaselessly through the day.
Requests, demands, errands to be run.
It will never stop, this much I know.
Tuesday, I forget to shower.
For the first time in years I recall The Yellow Wallpaper.
Can this be a warning?
We breakfast together.
My eyes flutter across the table.
–What is it? What do you need? What can I get you?
–Jesus. I was just looking for the salt.
–I just want to make you happy.
Disillusion seeps across the crisp white table cloth like a stain.
I have learned that disillusion festers, overwhelms, until it becomes dissolution.
One thing for certain.
I can’t afford another mistake.
Days drift by.
I drift with them.
Wednesday, I forget to brush my teeth.
I don’t know what you want from me.
I am a possession, a dependent.
I must shape up or I will lose my screen time.
I must shape up or I will get a time out.
One way or another, I will be punished.
Everything smells yellow, it is true.
I know what you want from me.
If I can learn how to stay here, I won’t lose my way.
Maybe it is time to settle.
I will settle.
Clouds, Toys, Screams
by Ken McPherson
Something isolates us from ourselves,
drives us into walled darkness,
stretching black shadows into waves
of shapeless clouds. We discover
our propensity for concealment,
and through vibration, synch our verses.
We lean against tactile, charcoal walls
in otherwise abandoned rooms
gathering twilights of muted grayness.
We lean with no confidence to move,
wrapped in compression, slipping,
slipping toward a journey undreamed.
We shift souls of dust,
share the slide of time,
push across jagged ceilings,
enliven perfidious, dank corners.
We feel cool, silk hands, cobwebs
mapping tracks across false eons.
Warped windows splatter gray,
we disengage from attic noises, toys left
sequestered, Jacks no longer in play,
six points filed sharp
in need and threat, scratch
gargoyles on my chest.
Whispers breathe clouds across
secluded rooms where we sit.
We leave this footprint:
stretch to touch a metered life,
withhold no phrase nor iamb
to prove our vapid worth.
We will linger, as here
we demand solitude, refuse life
with ferocity that splinters
into our vessels, charges
to pierce our hearts,
shouts a perfect path to our end.
Who blames a child swept away,
no breath, no hope, no dream.
No, we rend our screams of isolation.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Karen Stefano is the author of The Secret Games of Words, published by 1GlimpsePress (2015). She is Fiction Editor for Connotation Press, and her stories have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, Lost In Thought, Green Mountains Review, Gloom Cupboard, and elsewhere, Her story, “Seeing,” was nominated for the XXXVIII Pushcart Prize. To learn more about Karen and her writing, please visit www.stefanokaren.com.
Ken McPherson has been published in various literary magazines. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where a walk to the mailbox can inspire the creation of visions and dragons. He mostly writes short stories, and believes poems are like arm wrestling. However, he is willing to step in. Who wouldn’t dare?