welcome to volume 133 (the November/December 2015 issue)
of Down in the Dirt magazine

Down in the Dirt

Down in the Dirt

internet issn 1554-9666 (for the print issn 1554-9623)
http://scars.tv/dirt, or http://scars.tv & click Down in the Dirt
Janet K., Editor

Table of Contents

John Feaster Adagio Ocean
David Hernandez What Reminds Me Of Christmas?
Chad Newbill Red Cape
Fritz Hamilton It feels like Saturday
Allan Onik A Lesson in Magic
Under Cover
The Reading
Janet Kuypers upturn
Denny E. Marshall Cars
Prescription #L
Planets Apart
Space & Time
Sean Lause The knife sharpener
Why I read comic books
Neil Flory Wichita
Janet Kuypers of his thirst
Judith Ann Levison Last Act
Doug Hawley Jen
Ester Avagyan Learning and Studying Went on Far Into the Night
Putting My Brain In A Concentration Camp
Joann Spencer Apology Poem
Michael Lee Johnson Abandoned
Brian Looney Alcoholic Murmurs (So Low)
Alcoholic Murmurs (Trust)
Andrew Schenck Home Alone
Janet Kuypers strike
S. R. Mearns Three Words Unspoken
Roger G. Singer Sheng Street
Mark J. Mitchell Actor
Solo Fight
Francisco Diamond A Very Good Year
Adventures in The Skin Trade:
    homage to Charles Plymell
J. Edward Kruft Heck Street
Janet Kuypers Quoting twitter with a found haiku
Dennis Vannatta Friends and Judges
Chris Johnson Down, Down
Stephanie Hammerwold The Service
Kylee Hemmings Smoke and Sun art
Bob Strother The Bump
Russ Bickerstaff The Face
Brian Looney Psychedelic Snail art
Christos C. Kallis The Perks of Being
Peter McMillan The Intersection
Edward Michael
    O’Durr Supranowicz
Crossing the River art
Peter McMillan The Tunnel is Closed
David Sowards Email cartoon
Crimson Blackstone In The Light And The Dark
Janet Kuypers know
Ben Macnair Charity
Film Studies
Danny Maltbie Incursion
Eleanor Leonne Bennett Sea Out art
Ralph Womer, Jr. The Storm
Stefan Benz [art is not. perfection]
[bug-eyed. the little child]
John Grey Deep as the Bear
Your Recovery
Richard Schnap Last Call
Sleeping Beauties
Karen Jones Ka-‘ula-o-ke-ahi
Golden Necklace
Naomi Kondo Visits to My Mind
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Adagio Ocean

John Feaster

Below the cliffs, Irish winter
blows each wave soft and white.

As far as you care to look, Earth
rolls past the ocean a dark marble
brushing a blue disk.

Hear me out: that which you call
the soul casts shadows.

I could tell you they lengthen
into ships that cross the sea: yet
they never make it.

I could tell you they are immortal: yet
they never live through the night.

From the center of my eye
the sky opens a great chasm over
the ocean:

dark rain pours down onto a splintered
surface. A single shadow teeters,
tips in, and is gone.

What Reminds Me Of Christmas?

David Hernandez

The snow comes in the only place
the writer knows: Ruidoso, NM.

He drives past the white trees to his cabin,
where he lays on his couch,
seeing icicles forming on his window.

He gets up to drink hot tea
to ease his sore throat.
He holds an empty small box,
wishing a diamond ring would appear,
and two white teddy bears,
without necklaces around their necks.

He imagines two girls named Annabelle and Ruby,
accepting their gifts, before waking up,
walking out the door,
lying on the snow,
and staring into to the sky.

“Every year in Christmas,
I wake in this snow covered cabin,
staring at these objects
that keep reminding me
why I stay alone.”

“The snow covers me from head to toe,
and it still doesn’t erase the memory
of her kissing me, after hearing my marriage proposal.”

Red Cape

Chad Newbill

I wear a red cape
lest there be a breeze in my favor.
The blue skies and fresh air
kill the buzz
of my loneliness.
incomplete thoughts.
The warming sun and cool wind
fuel my confusion.
I strut backwards in my straight jacket to
flaunt my sanity.
The crazy think they’re sane.
The sane think they’re crazy.
I’ve been on each side of the coin, so I guess
I’m average.
Mediocrity makes me
My only hope is to accidentally stumble upon

It feels like Saturday

Fritz Hamilton

    “It feels like Saturday, Luca.”
    “It is Saturday, Fred,”
    “But yesterday was Saturday.”
    “It was, Fred.”
    “That’s confusing.”
    “It is, Fred.”
    “Didn’t ISIL cut off a thousand heads yesterday, Luca?”
    “They miscounted. It was 2,00l.”
    “Isn’t that sci fi?”
    “It is.”
    “Didn’t a head roll into the river?”
    “It did, but the river is dry.”
    “Put an olive in it & call it a martini.”
    “Put an onion in it & call it a Gibson.”
    “A Gibson is a guitar.”
    “You can drink in the music.”
    “This is bullshit, Luca. Get to the point.”
    “There is no point, that’s why it’s so dull.”
    “Like you’re dull, Luca. Get to the point.”
    “When you get to the point, don’t sit on it, Fred, or you’ll get blood all over the floor, & when you slip & fall, you’ll bloody yr pants.”
    “I can still play the guitar in it.”
    “Try not to get blood on the strings, or the dulcet tone gets dull.”
    “Then it’s hard to make yr music lucarative.”
    “Ha ha ha!”
    “Ho ho ho!”
    The manager comes over & tells them to get out, they’re wrecking his business.
    “From the looks of things,” says Luca, “:there’s not much to wreck.”
    Two big bouncers arrive & bounce Luca & me out the door.
    “The floor is wet,” I complain.
    “Tht’s because these bouncers are dibbling us out the door.”

    “The river is dry.”
    “So put an olive in it & call it a martini, Luca.”

A Lesson in Magic

Allan Onik     Luin stood at the top of the tower. Looking out, he could see the vast expanse of Luria—the pines in the north, the sands of the deserts in the south, and the caves in the east where a great many witches and oracles resided...
    Segel walked behind him in his dark green robes. “It is a great wonder isn’t it?” Segel said, “This vast land we call Luria, full of the marvels created by Althena—our goddess and savior.”
    “I’ve read that the dragons in the western crags reject even the existence of your beloved goddess,” Luin said. He straightened his brown robes and picked up his staff.
    “There will always be those who reject what you must accept on faith or talent. Most of the dragons have been sleeping since before Althena molded Luria from the stars of Asemoth deep in the crevices of Time and Space.”
    “So now I suppose you’re going to try and convince me?” Luin said, “your lowly pupil, who can barely light a candle with his flames, much less see the details Her work beyond a sprouting flower in the gardens. I am a useless wizard.”
    “There is no such thing as even a useless peasant,” Segel said, “we all play a role in Althena’s grand plans.”
    “Even the ogres, orcs, goblins, scaven, and giants? Even the evil shadows that lie in many a hearts of men?”
    “Everything and everyone in our reality. They all have a plan and they all have a purpose. Here, Luin. Let me give you a few pointers. Perhaps if you can see Althena’s work with your own eyes you won’t doubt her presence.”
    Suddenly, Luin was looking at his body in the third person. He was still standing and holding his staff, and Segel appeared to be meditating. And that’s when Luin flew. He glided over snowy mountains and erupted grand flames. He entered distant stars and bonded with the Cosmos. He cast an ice spell at a fire dragon, and caught a pixie in his wispy hands. He saw farmers tending to their fields, and lent them some rain. He descended beneath the soil—and when deep enough felt the exhilaration of untapped, unbridled Magic.
    When Luin reentered his body Segel was smoking his pipe.
    “So, it has been a good lesson?”
    “Indeed,” Luin said.

Under Cover

Allan Onik

    Tab walked through the brush with soft footsteps. He scanned above—tendrils of light flowed through the thick, green leaves of the capironas. He sighed. The aura emanating from the vegetation was stimulating.
    In his camouflage breast pocket Tab felt for his .45 MK23. He removed it and flipped the catch. The specter he had sensed flowed up from the thick soil and formed a cold void that bent the light.
    “I can see you,” Tab said
    “Of course you can,” the being hissed, “I wouldn’t show myself to someone without proper sight.”
    “Then what do you want? I’m on a mission—and I don’t like interruptions.”
    “We are all on missions—some less glamorous than others. You know, The Creator loves you. Just as he loves all in the Cosmos—even the very evil. In your path you were meant to speak me. You see, now is not the time to leave your body. And without my help...”
    “I think I get your point,” Tab said.
    “Then let me give you your information. Close your eyes. Think before Hell Week, and back to when you were very young. Just relax, and hold your weapon tight. Fall into the Bliss that is at your very nature, in your core, and forms your energy.”
    Five shots rang out in the forest. When Tab opened his eyes it was dark and he was sitting cross-legged in the thick green roots of the Amazon floor. He lit a flare and noted the five slumped bodies surrounding him. He began to clean his gun.

The Reading

Allan Onik

    The General looked through the one-way mirror. “So, this is him?” he said.
    “Yes,” The Coronel said. “It took us years to find him.”

    Tab sat in a folding chair in the small observation room. Electrodes were attached to his head, sending readings to a small monitor. His eyes were closed, and he was mumbling to himself. His hands were neatly folded together on his lap. Next to him on the floor was a bent spoon and a deck of Tarot Cards.

    “He’s the most powerful on the planet?” The General asked.
    “Quite possibly,” said the Colonel, “that we were able to track anyways. Sometimes these types like to be left to themselves. But the division made it well worth it to him. Lets just say he won’t have to do any readings on the street anymore.”
    “What does the EEG say?”
    “It’s off the charts,” said the Colonel, “his gamma is 1000 times more powerful and adaptive than any brain recorded. Earlier he was able to manipulate The Field around him to bend the spoon. Our staff medium says his aura is quite radiant and precinct. He is one of the best clairvoyants to volunteer his time since Edgar Cayce met Roosevelt during The War.”
    “Scintillating,” said the General.

    The door to the observation room opened. The General walked in with his classified folder and pen. He stood next to Tab. “Just one question. Then we can make the transfer. Where is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?”
    An omniscient voice spoke to The General from all directions. Tab’s lips didn’t move. “A question such as this must be answered with a reading. Would you like to take my hand? I can give you the information—as well as something you’ll remember during a time when you’re, let’s say, a bit older.”
    Tab lifted his hand, his eyes remaining closed. The space around him began to bend the light. The General put his folder and pen on a side desk, and reached out.

    The light was bright, and The General felt warm with overwhelming sense of love. It made him think of the day his daughter was born, and playing on the sidewalk with chalk when he was a baby.
    “Don’t worry,” Tab said, “it is not time to fully embrace it yet, I just wanted to give you a tour—and a taste.”
    The General began flying. With The Love like a tight ball in his stomach, he saw The Greys at Area 51. He saw a Big Foot at Ruby Creek, and a Devil at Pine Barrens. He saw Mediums in New York City, and Witches in the Grozny outskirts.
    Then the General settled down, and The Love became deeper. He saw children opening presents on Christmas, and a mother reading a book to her child. He saw fans watching football, and carnivals and amusement parks full of people playing. He saw lovers holding hands on the streets of Paris, and a puppy playing fetch with his master.
    “I like this, but was it necessary?” The General thought as he floated through Time.
    “I like my subjects to feel Him during my readings. I can give you the coordinates now.”
    The General made note and stopped floating in the observation room. He curled into a ball on the floor and began to sleep.

    And in breaking news Special Forces have eliminated the vicious leader of the Islamic State. President Clinton has applauded the intelligence and operative community for a job well done...
    The General turned off his big screen TV and relaxed. He was no longer afraid.


Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14

with blurred eyes, hollow
upturned tortoise shells look like
battle casualties

(If you’d like, check out the
Janet Kuypers bio.)

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.

This haiku is on twitter, and this poem was nominated in the 100 Haikus 2014 press release for the (40 year) Pushcart Prize.
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Denny E. Marshall

With wheels
Time machines
Invisible luxury
Running water
Or electricity

1st Published “Red Owl” #8

Prescription #L

Denny E. Marshall

Heard in a song
Love is a drug
If that is true
Then hate must be
A fatal disease

Please I want
You to live
Take your pills

1st Published “The Germ” Autumn 2013

Planets Apart

Denny E. Marshall

Two planets
No moons
The goddess of love
Though all by herself
The flame of heartache
The heat of passion
Colliding long ago
Now alone
And spinning
Far from each other
Heavenly bodies
Circling on their own
Another night
With no satellite
I orbit in space

With no moon

1st Published “Red Owl Magazine” Spring 1999

Space & Time

Denny E. Marshall

One cold wind chill night
Sitting in a dark room
Fully wide awake
Eyes intense
In a dream–like state
Feeling a chill leak through
The cracks of the building
Looking out the picture window
And the street lights outside
I gaze up
And see the full moon
Spinning down towards me
Filling the room
I leave and take its place
Way up in the sky
She looks up and says “Your closer now”
I go forever
Visiting another galaxy
Never finding
A star like her

1st published “Stanley The Whale” #4

The knife sharpener

Sean Lause

A sharp blade’s edge
will sing vibration like a word
under the sway of her steady hands,
within whose grasp
such ancient learning lives.

She whistles, presses the pedal
as if playing an organ.
The wheel and the earth turn
to her song of metal on stone,
and the birds become the voice of trees.

She guides the knife in her reflection
until sparks overflow the wind.
The sun’s blaze refines to a purity
down the cool edge of blue steel,
and the zodiac turns the menagerie of fate.

She strops the blade to a fine shine,
checks the edge shape with a careful eye,
then tests its power on an apple,
slicing it neatly in halves, and tempted,
takes one half in one firm bite.

Why I read comic books

Sean Lause

The cockroaches came down as if on strings,
my father said, as I hid inside
my monster comic. They dropped on your head,
wriggled down your back, plopped in your food,
when you had food in that damned tenement.
Chicago. 1934. At night the rats
were waltzing in the walls. Pound those walls, they---
scatter! Later you hear them gnawing at wires.
His Old Man surrendered. Beat it. Scrammed.
Gave wife and kids the air. His mother
moved them to Ohio. Died. She got out good.

My father stayed put. Never surrendered.
Built our house brick by brick, board by board.
Nailed. Sawed. The walls went up strong.
Not a rat or roach in sight. His dream.
I hid inside my monsters. Why?
Because if one wall sighed, my father twitched
a neck muscle, his head a ball turret.
Once, I left a pizza box in the sink.
He howled and gassed the whole house with home-
made poison that killed everything that crawled.
I watched his hands quiver like small animals.

Every night I would dream of cockroaches
approaching on tip-toe, rats shhhhhing
through the walls with fears and whispers.
So when I could not sleep, I’d sneak a
flashlight under the covers and read my
comic books, whose monsters I could merely
toss away.


Neil Flory

yeah that’s right it was cans a big fat black garbage
bag overstuffed with aluminum cans all clunking and clanking together
like the loudest most obnoxious machine in the old factory and she
was dragging the whole stupid bulk of it across the cracked
pavement making the most ridiculous clattering scraping racket
you’ve ever heard in your life well needless to say I was awake
in no time flat what with this kind of commotion afoot no no
no she wasn’t young and glamorous she was an old hag with wild hair
a dirty shirt and a scowl that just wouldn’t quit no it wasn’t
Corpus Christi it was Wichita in the springtime and it wasn’t afternoon
but night and a real dark one to boot except that the illumination
of the parking lot was actually far beyond adequate having been
accomplished by way of a number of large streetlamps spaced just far
enough from each other so as to allow their coverage zones
to be separated by only a few thin inches of intervening dark in
each case well anyway by this time I had come to realize that the
store had closed hours ago and even if they hadn’t they didn’t
sell the kind of smokes that I liked so before another nap could
find me I turned the key found a station playing Wagnerian
opera put the top down and took off in what I thought was
a general southeasterly direction

of his thirst

Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/5/14

of my dead Scotsman,
they spoke of his drinking, but
never of his thirst.

(If you’d like, check out the
Janet Kuypers bio.)

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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the 9/27/12 6 Second Poems chapbook
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“6 Second Poems”,
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Last Act

Judith Ann Levison

I did not want to grow this old.
More questions than answers.
The big one like the moving colors
Of a garnet is abstract, yet yearns
For my lost attention to its
Black- blood brilliance resetting.

I tap my cane upon stone,
Hoping it will pierce then tarnish
The lament of my generation, mad
With gossip, our hats pinned to our hair
Never to be loosened by wild wear.

It startles me to now desire passion,
Now when life, a ritual of bowl, soap, and bed,
Sees the clarity of love
Become the magic of real things:
Dusk before a velvet-antlered dark,
Jagged rows of rocks you want to
Follow to a clot of daisies at the end.

What truth to see the wrinkling and
Fanning of the butterflies
In painted colors dance, then breathe
And mock my frequent and awed search
For the rippled swirling of my skirt
Brought to the lips, click, click!

I do not know how to prepare for death.
Local eyes say: see her now, then you won’t.
Somewhere as night comes on, like a slipper pat, patting,
I am now alone on a patio, sipping rum and coke,
Thinking this a proper ending, or a beginning
As when I first jumped into flour-sifted snow.



Judith Ann Levison bio

    Judith Ann Levison is of Micmac Indian descent, and was raised in a logger’s family on coastal Maine. She holds degrees from Mount Holyoke College (BA), Hollins University (MFA), and Drexel University (MLS). Upon moving to Pennsylvania, she was chosen as Bucks County’s first woman Poet Laureate.


Doug Hawley

    I was wandering down the mall wondering what I could get for my wife’s birthday. She’s hard to shop for because Sally is very low maintenance. Maybe a cup or a scarf, I don’t know. On top of that I really don’t understand women’s clothes or sizes. A lot of the salesladies can’t deal with “She’s a real babe, a little shorter than me.” I saw Jen in the coffee shop having some complicated caffeinated brew. She looked the same as the last time I saw her.
    After an inward debate, I went in and asked if I could join her. She gave me a short pause and an uncertain smile and said “Sure.”
    I sat down and asked “What has it been, ten years?”
    “I suppose so, more or less. I haven’t kept track.”
    That made me seriously wonder whether I should have just kept on walking when I saw her, but I still had a lot of questions for her. “What have you been up to during that ten years, more or less that you haven’t kept track of?”
    She flashed that irritated look that I used to fear, but she didn’t leave. “After I left Eugene, I went to law school at Willamette University for four years. Finished with my J.D. and moved back to Eugene to get a job as a public defender. I married Ben, an FBI special agent, shortly after that and had Ken three years ago. We live in Coburg now because it seems like a good place to raise Ken.”
    It was hard for me to imagine the Jen I had known married to anybody.
    “It sounds like both of you are in some form of law enforcement. You must have a lot to talk about.”
    Another frown. “It would be unprofessional of us to talk about our jobs, and we don’t talk much at all. I don’t even like thinking about the dregs of society that I represent.”
    That sounded more like the Jen that I remembered, but never understood.
    “Your turn Duke, what have you been up to?”
    “After I got my masters in math at Oregon, I’ve been teaching at Lane Community. I married Sally Olsen, a librarian, eight years ago.”
    “Any children?”
    “On our salaries, we had to put the cat on half rations. I have no idea when we will have the finances to start a family, if ever. I’m thinking about changing jobs, if I can find something that pays more for someone with my background. I have no problem leaving this place, if that’s what it takes.”
    We ordered more coffee. I couldn’t tell if this was as awkward for her as it was for me. I tried to maintain the demeanor of old friends catching up, but decided I would risk asking the question that had troubled me ever since the last time I heard from her.
    “What happened to us? We had been seeing each other, I thought we were serious, at least I was. Then you just disappeared.”
    She turned red and looked down at her coffee. She took several sips and finally looked me in the eye.
    “Remember that you asked. There was never an ‘us’. How could you not get the signals? There never was an ‘us’. Didn’t the long periods when you couldn’t find me tell you anything? You were a distraction. I was seeing a lot of guys besides you. Believe me, you don’t want the details. You were my rock solid, unimaginative guy. I was trying a lot of things. Again, you don’t want the details. You probably noticed my erratic behavior, the highs and the lows, but you don’t know the reason. Can you remember the Kwiky Mart cashier killing about thirteen years ago?”
    “Yeah, that was a big deal. The guys name was Blain or something like that. He was a great kid who was at the top of his class in high school and a big time jock, before he started at Oregon. What has that got to do with anything?”
    “That was my fiancé, Blake, the only man I ever loved. His murder was just the beginning of my pain. Watching the meth-head that killed him at his trial made it worse. You may wonder why I became a public defender. Partly I needed a job, and partly I don’t do that good a job, and feel just fine about it.”
    “So I was just a part of your male harem to distract you from your pain?”
    “I probably wouldn’t have said it like that, but yes. I was trying to save my life.”
    “You must have made some sort of recovery, you started a family.”
    “After Blake died I was seeing a therapist, but he just asked me questions about how I felt about things. He was useless, and I got the idea that he wanted to have sex with me.”
    I wondered if she was right. Any heterosexual male would want to have sex with her, but it is also true that she imagined offenses, so maybe she was wrong about the therapist.
    “It helped to get out of Eugene and go to Willamette University. Meditating did me some good. Completely back to normal was impossible. At some point I decided rather than healing first, I’d fake it until I make it. That’s why I married Ben and started a family. He didn’t know anything about my background. He’s a good guy, and I’d like to be a better wife.”
    We drank some more coffee and had some very insincere small talk before leaving as quickly as possible.
    Now I wonder about myself. I should feel good that she has made a partial recovery from her trauma. The fact that she had no concern for me at all makes it very difficult.
    Sally wonders why I’ve been playing Little Richard’s “Jenny, Jenny” a lot lately. I should have been listening to Eddy Arnold’s “I Really Don’t Want To Know.”

Learning and Studying Went on Far Into the Night

Ester Avagyan

Learning and studying went on far into the night
as if the height of my knowledge reaches the Tower of Babylon.
But at the end, we all sit next to the Socrates,
Tapping on his shoulder because it seems he was right about humanity
knowing absolutely nothing.

Putting My Brain In A Concentration Camp

Ester Avagyan

I’m sitting here (in the classroom) scratching my
forehead, irritating my skin,
Begrudging    no effort to impress Ms. Wallick.
I    just    feel    like    my brain    is too sore,
and it needs glucose to
Boost the odd, surrealistic images I endeavor
to tell this piece of paper.

Apology Poem

Joann Spencer

Dear Mom
I’m sorry
I stayed
out all
It was just
a test to
see if you
would punish
When I opened
the front door the next
morning, you were
vacuuming the
You turned
off the vacuum and
just like


Joann Spencer

The guy
I trusted
To protect
My innocence
Took my fragile spirit
And pawned it
For a video game.


Joann Spencer

Mom takes a yoga class called
Stop the World I Want to Get Off
for better concentration & focus.
She can do
lying down butterfly,
twisting lunges,
and chants.
But she can’t muscle
the mental energy
to see
that I’m
downward-facing daughter
I’m a cutter.


Michael Lee Johnson

Indiana farmhouse
except old
grandfather clock
dusty corner
motionless -
still all family
memories remain
hidden behind
that face.

Alcoholic Murmurs
(So Low)

Brian Looney

To stand there dripping wet,
soaked to the bone,
so low that nothing helps,
not tobacco, sugar or caffeine,
not the AA diet,
and especially not the group,
two hot showers later,
running through the tricks,
and at the end of the list,
the only way
to abolish
the feeling
is to refill
my drink.

Alcoholic Murmurs

Brian Looney

    A long-time AA member once betrayed “the trust” with secret drinking. The circle announced it one morning with a gentle voice, with grave and wounded faces, with the keenest sense of betrayal, their faces taut, their souls distressed.

    But I could only muster admiration for the man. To my left, I whispered, “He shouldn’t have gotten sloppy. We all get sloppy when we want to get caught.” Mirthful hiccoughs to my left, or perhaps it was the weakness of exquisite pleasure.

Home Alone

Andrew Schenck

    Back to my sleepy split-level ranch at about 5:30. It was still sunny, but the evening tempered the afternoon heat just enough. I checked the mail, listened to phone messages, and fished around for the remote control, which was always expertly hidden beneath furniture cushions, or under my nightstand.
    Turning to my nighttime companion, an LG Flat-screen, I begged for some vicarious pleasure. It was at this point that my rebellious alter-ego made a desperate bid to change the routine, drawing me to an antique rocking chair holding vigil just next to the picture window. As I sat, a chill moved down my spine, making my extremities completely numb.
    I looked out at the gardens which lined the front walk, and watched the bees flutter along the beautiful purple irises, lovingly planted 5 years ago by a truly beautiful woman. I could still see Jinny kneeling with trowel in hand, delicately planting, watering, and weeding until the beautiful floral images in her mind’s eye had reached fruition.
    Some might say that the old khaki shorts, black T-shirt, and large straw hat looked peasant-like, but I felt that they were a reflection of her true loveliness, the simplicity of spirit which allows for the appreciation of what most call mundane. Her long flowing black hair glistened in the sunlight, and gave away the secret of her Korean heritage, which the large straw hat desperately tried to conceal. Her beautiful dark brown eyes and thin frame made her look like she belonged on a runway, despite the clothing that completed her disguise as a local planter.
    She was truly amazing, and as I stared almost hypnotically out of my window, tears began to stream from my eyes. It was the realization that I had reached 100 times before, and had conveniently “forgotten” through deliberate denial. She was gone.
    My little angels were also gone, stolen from me. I had two children, Matthew, aged 12, and Katelyn, aged 9. They were my pride and joy. Their personalities, which appeared to be divinely crafted into polar opposites, complemented each other perfectly.
    Katelyn was an incessant busybody, and fluttered around as the bees do from place to place, project to project. One minute, she was crafting a beautiful beaded bracelet. The next, she was helping her mother tend to the garden.
    Matthew stayed sequestered in the basement, which had all the tools he needed to pursue his hobby, an Xbox and a stack of games a mile high. One minute he would assassinate a hundred people to save the world, and the next he would sail the high seas, capturing whales through skillful projection of a shiny metal harpoon. All this “activity” could become overwhelming at times, leading him to rest periodically with the occasional cartoon.
    As beautiful as these images may be, they are also extremely painful. I can’t caress my daughter’s long brown hair, or play basketball with my son, whose lanky figure was just on the cusp of being called masculine. The store was only seven miles away. How could I know I would never see them again? They were robbed from me, forced toward an ethereal destination that I am desperately trying to find.

Andrew Schenck Bio

    Andrew Schenck has taught English learners for over 15 years. He currently works as an adjunct professor of ESOL at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY.


Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/15/14

Though he was injured,
he still held his rifle proudly.
He would aim well, strike.

(If you’d like, check out the
Janet Kuypers bio.)

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the 9/27/12 6 Second Poems chapbook
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Three Words Unspoken

S. R. Mearns

My eye caught it
From the corner of Sunday lunch
Three words unspoken
Lip formed
Not meant for saying
Not meant for others
But straight to Dan’s heart
Transmitted and decoded
In that moment everything stopped
Cutlery- unwashed
Roasts - un gravied
Falling rain
Retraced to clouds
Even Dave fell from the sky
And the turbulent sea
Of Dan’s world
Calmed momentarily
As mirrored glass
Reflecting in Ellies eyes
The three words unspoken
That said more than any letter,
Poem, verse, card, speech or vow.
A microwave warmth spread
Between them
Across the roast beef and Yorkshire puds
From the corner of Sunday lunch

Sheng Street

Roger G. Singer

Three bells sound within a mist.
Sheng Street fills with butterfly light aromas;
pillows shine of satin
while incense speaks to spirits.

A sea of black plaits sway in tides
of black shirts.
Black unto black, black blends
into night.

Frozen dragons snarl from smoky dens
where voices of ancestors gather
in corners.

Painted faces pause in shyness. Pearls lay
dull and lifeless.
The blood of families
sleeps in the soil of the street.


Mark J. Mitchell

The skins hang
loose in his long closet.

They are almost
sad—wrinkled, lifeless.

He tries two
or three on each morning.

He is not
preparing for anything.

He only wants
to know how they feel

before turning
to face the vacant mirror.

Mark J. Mitchell Bio

    Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologiesIt has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. Good Poems, American Places,Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. A length collection, Lent 1999, was ,just released by Leaf Garden Press. His chapbook, Three Visitors has recently been published by Negative Capability Press. Artifacts and Relics, another chapbook, was just released from Folded Word and his novel, Knight Prisoner, was recently published by Vagabondage Press and a another novel, A Book of Lost Songs is coming soon from Wild Child Publishing. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster.

Solo Flight

Mark J. Mitchell

He kept the blind date
with the mirror.

Things didn’t go well—
It cracked early

breaking his face into shards
that reflected everything.

His only choice was to leave—
He couldn’t stand crowds.

Mark J. Mitchell Bio

    Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologiesIt has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. Good Poems, American Places,Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. A length collection, Lent 1999, was ,just released by Leaf Garden Press. His chapbook, Three Visitors has recently been published by Negative Capability Press. Artifacts and Relics, another chapbook, was just released from Folded Word and his novel, Knight Prisoner, was recently published by Vagabondage Press and a another novel, A Book of Lost Songs is coming soon from Wild Child Publishing. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster.

A Very Good Year

Francisco Diamond

My seventeenth year was a very good year I kissed Helen on Hope Street and she thought it was Grand

This hometown isn’t physical but mental with plenty of there there

With tapestry grids that live in time and mind

I remember when I rescued the woman kicked out of a car by her husband how she thanked me and said that she would make me a star and asked me for two hundred bucks the next day

I remember when on this block the front desk clerk subtly sprayed pepper spray ambiently so I would leave

Now I am pursued down every street by memory knowing that someday memories will leave me alone

With just the city

Adventures in The Skin Trade: homage to Charles Plymell

Francisco Diamond

Sleeping under street lights
Occasionally car seats
That’s what nurtured this skin
I uncomfortably sit in

Skin loosely flooping air
hisses through meaningful holes
Called by some cheloidal scars

Quotidian sticks up its head as it tends to do
Saying hi, how are you the weathers nice and o my you’re thinner

Perversely I have it in me to reply
I am the cook
I am the walrus
But I decide not to reply
and know that I AM
the farmer of the rainbows

Feeling under the skin of the cook or the walrus
Searching about in secret chambers made by unknowing bees, wait, can it be?
In the volcano
beyond the waters of Vanuatu

The worker ants no longer see
-the grand design, from being underground too long
Their nearsightedness only improves alchemy
Soon they will be able
to channel a human heart

I cultivate another skin
One that looks more like me

Heck Street

J. Edward Kruft

    On days when she didn’t hate him, Maria let Lloyd come over before his swing shift at the SuperX and let him screw her in her attic bedroom. The summer heat and humidity had started mid-May and by July it was at its worst yet. The little attic room had been the only space left in the cramped house when Maria had arrived at her Auntie’s a year earlier. There was no AC in her room, only a small pink fan she clipped to one of the rafters and pointed at the narrow iron bed. There was a small oval window that opened into the attic like a cameo brooch, and before she let Lloyd near her, she would open that window and pray for a breeze.
    Then, Lloyd would quickly grab at her breasts and get all up inside of her, and she would moan, loud, like she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t that it hurt anymore; it was more like it surprised her, like having him inside was never what she remembered it as. Her moan would travel out that little window and hang heavy in the air above Heck Street. And if her Auntie was on the front porch – as she usually was late in the afternoons, sitting with her parakeet Tobi and fanning herself – and if she heard Maria’s moans – as she usually did, as everyone said Auntie Bern could still hear church bells in Old San Juan – she would yell so that practically the whole town would know:
    “Maria! Stop having seeex!”
    Lloyd liked Maria to be on top, and Maria liked it too because then she could see out the oval window, and imagine herself outside, free.
    One day she moaned and looked across the street to the postage stamp of brown grass in front of Mrs. Laier’s canary yellow bungalow, where she was surprised to see a boy, in a lawn chair, sitting perfectly still.

    After Lloyd left, Maria walked up the block to sit on the slopped lawn of Cathedral Baptist. Her Auntie didn’t like her smoking in front of her kids; and anyway, after sex with Lloyd, Maria liked being alone to drink the ice-cold Mountain Dew she hid in the back of the fridge and to smoke her Kools in peace. The boy walked-by on the other side of the street. Maria could tell he was eyeing her. Then he crossed over and walked-by on Maria’s side, acting all cool, like he didn’t even know she was there. Maria guessed he was around twelve. When he walked-by the third time, she called out.
    “Hey kid, what gives? You lose something?” He stopped in front of her.
    “Hi, Maria,” he said.
    “Do I know you?” she asked, shielding her eyes.
    “I live over there,” he said, pointing to the bright bungalow up the block.
    “OK, but I still don’t get how you know my name.” He took a sudden step toward her, and then as if thinking better of it, stepped back. He didn’t say anything, just stood looking. “OK, well, if you know my name, shouldn’t I know yours?” Maria asked.
     “Tobey,” he said eagerly, again taking that sudden step forward. It made Maria wonder if he was going to wet his pants or something.
    “That’s funny,” she said. “My Auntie has a bird named Tobi. I think it’s a girl, though.”
    “I’m a boy,” he said, and Maria laughed, although she wasn’t sure he’d meant to be funny.
    “Well damn,” she said, “I can see that!” Tobey smiled a little, his hands deep into the front pockets of his shorts, his shoulders all hunched. “Hey, if you want to come sit on the lawn, it’s a free country. Unless you’re not done wearing a rut in the sidewalk.”
    He sat about five feet from her and clasped his hands around his bare, bent knees. Maria sucked down the last of her cigarette and blew a long stream into the heavy air. “You smoke?” she asked and he shook his head. “Good for you. Nasty habit. Don’t ever start, OK?” He nodded. “How old are you?”
    “Thirteen. How old are you?”
    “Tck. Don’t you know you’re never supposed to ask a woman her age?”
    “It’s OK. Anyway, how old do you think I am?”
    “Man, I wish! If I was twenty I wouldn’t be living here no more.”
    “Nineteen?” he guessed again.
    “Sorry,” she said, “only one guess per customer per visit.” She liked that he guessed older than her sixteen years, although she didn’t buy for a moment he ever really thought she was twenty.
    She took a gulp of Mountain Dew and looked across the street to the house with the chartreuse shutters and the old beige mutt chained to the porch railing. It was a shitty house, even by this town’s standards, made even shittier by a total lack of care, and Maria had come to think of it as the saddest house on the block, maybe because she’d spent so many hours across on the sloped lawn, staring at it. If I had that house, she would think to herself, I’d paint it all white: the siding, the shutters, the trim, maybe even the roof and the sidewalk in front. She took another gulp of Mountain Dew. “So,” she asked, “how you like living here?”
    “It’s alright, I guess.”
    “Nah,” she laughed. “It’s OK, you can tell the truth. Who you living with, your grandma?”
    “Yeah,” he moaned.
    “What’s the matter, you don’t like her?”
    He rested his chin on his bended knees and turned his head toward her. He closed one eye for the sun. “She thinks I’m weird because I’m a boy.”
    “Boys are weird, aren’t you?” she asked, pulling another Kool from the pack.
    “She won’t let me close doors.”
    “Whattaya mean?”
    “Like to the bedroom, or even the bathroom. I have to shower with the door open.” Maria blew out the match and looked at Tobey as if to say what the fuck? “I overheard her on the phone say she knows what boys my age do by themselves behind closed doors, and she’s not having that in her house.”
    “Oh my God,” Maria laughed again. “She’s afraid you’re a little perv.” Tobey didn’t react and so she had to ask. “Well, are you?”
    “Hmm,” she said, uncertain. “So, why’d you have to come live here anyway?”
    “It’s just for the rest of the summer. My parents have some things to sort out.”
    Maria knew about that kind of stuff. Sorting out – it was never a good thing to her way of thinking. Her parents had been sorting shit out since she was practically born and they still didn’t have it together. She decided Tobey didn’t need to know all of that, though.
    “And anyway, what’s with that bright yellow she painted her house?” she asked.
    “Everything inside the house is yellow, too. She says it’s ‘cheery.’”
    “More like blinding,” said Maria.
    “Yeah,” said Tobey, cracking a full smile. “More like blinding.”

     Maria got a job for a couple of days filling in for her cousin Monica at the ear piercing booth at the mall. Lloyd was plenty pissed because she didn’t get off until 6:00 and that meant no before-shift screwing for a couple of days. But on the third day they were back to the routine and as Lloyd got all up inside of her and she moaned and Auntie yelled, out the window was Tobey, sitting in his lawn chair. Maria half expected him to wave. She suspected he had a crush on her, and she found it sweet. Lloyd was sweet sometimes, like after he got paid and took her to Applebee’s. Mostly though he just acted like a guy.
    For the first few days, Maria had to ask Tobey to sit down on the slopped lawn, but after that he’d come and plop himself down without invitation. They talked about all kinds of stuff, with Maria doing most of the talking, which she found kinda nice. She’d never had many people around who wanted to listen. Tobey was a good listener. She knew that to be true when a few days after describing the tattoo she wanted on her ankle, he relayed the image of the little blue and pink butterfly back to her, detail by detail. Maria could tell Lloyd was a little jealous – not for any reason that made sense, but just because Tobey was another guy. “He’s just a kid,” she’d told Lloyd.
    Maria talked a lot about Lloyd to Tobey, about how Lloyd only seemed to ever want one thing from her – although she never named the thing – and how sometimes she didn’t think he was good for her.
    One day, Tobey turned to Maria and asked: “What’s it like?”
    “What’s what like?”
    “Sex,” he said.
    “What?” she wailed, tipping onto her back. “Oh my God, why are you asking me about that?” Tobey didn’t answer at first, but he had a noticeable grin on his face as he turned to the house with the chartreuse shutters.
    “Maria,” he said, “how do you think I knew your name that first day?” Maria thought back.
    “Oh my God,” she blurted with sudden understanding. “You little shit! That’s why you’re always sitting in the front yard?” His grin got a little bigger; and then sheepishly he let out a little moan, and then laughed as though it pleased him. “Oh my God!” she swatted him on his arm. “You’re embarrassing me!”
    It wasn’t true. Sex wasn’t embarrassing to her; it was just sex. Still, she felt for appearances like she needed to guard her virtue. She could tell Tobey was having too good a time with it, so she turned the tables.
    “So,” she said, “you mean a stud like you has never?” Tobey looked at her, startled-like, and shook his head. “Like not even a blowjob?” Still, no. “Not even a hand-job from a girl?” She could tell she’d embarrassed him. “Okay,” she said, looking off toward Tobey’s grandmother’s house. “But if I talk to you about this, that yellow-crazy grandma of yours isn’t gonna hunt me down, is she?” Tobey shook his head and Maria thought for a moment. “Sex,” she said, “it’s, you know, nice. Most of the time. I guess it can make you feel loved. It makes you feel good all over, not just in your, you know, groin, but all over.”
    “Do you do it a lot?”
    “I don’t know. What’s a lot?” Before he could answer she said, “Yeah, I guess I do it a lot.”
    “What’s he like?” asked Tobey.
    “Who, Lloyd? He’s OK. Just a guy. It’s not like I’m in love with him or anything.” Maria surprised herself with this last comment, because she’d always just assumed she did love Lloyd.
    “You were crying over him the other day,” Tobey said finally, and the switch in focus threw her.
    “Who said I was crying?” she demanded, her spine stiffening. Tobey looked at her with his soft blue eyes and she told herself to let it go. “You know,” she said, getting to her feet, “you’re skinny but you’re kinda cute. If you tried, I bet you’d have no trouble getting some girl to give you a blowjob. Especially girls around here.” Maria looked across the street to the house with the chartreuse shutters and then turned to Tobey. “Listen, I gotta go. I’ll see you later, though, OK? ” He didn’t say anything as she walked slowly up the sidewalk, but she was pretty sure he was watching. She didn’t want to talk about it – not even with Tobey – but he’d been right. She had been crying over Lloyd. It was happening a lot lately.

    Lloyd got canned from the SuperX. He said it was because the manager had it in for him, but Maria figured he probably had it coming. He stopped by unexpected, just as Maria was finishing the pile of dinner dishes. He came up behind her and reached his arms around and grabbed her breasts.
    “What the fuck, Lloyd? Not here, the kids,” she whispered.
    “Let’s go upstairs then.”
    “Come on,” she said, “let’s go for a walk.”
    The sun was just lowering over the asphalt roofs of Heck Street. Some of the streetlights had buzzed on and the poplar trees rattled from the horny cicadas. A few blocks beyond Cathedral Baptist and Heck Street came to an end where the pavement met a giant log, beyond which was a mess of trees and vines, and beyond that was Bingham’s Ravine, filled with empty beer bottles and old tires and a shopping cart from the Family Dollar Store, and other peoples’ trash. Maria and Lloyd straddled the log, Maria in front, leaning back into Lloyd’s chest. Lloyd lit a joint and after taking the first hit handed it to Maria. His arms curved around her waist and his long fingers lay flat on her bare thighs just below where her cutoffs ended. The fingers lingered there a moment before they found their way under the fringe of her shorts, up her thighs and in between her legs.
    “Doooon’t,” Maria cooed.
    “What?” he said.
    “Lloyd, not here.”
    “You wanted to go for a walk.”
    “A walk...” she moaned, and it was too late. His fingers were all up inside and she became wet. Lloyd began to chew on her earlobe. “Oh God, baby,” she said.
    And then Lloyd suddenly stopped. “What the fuck!” he yelled into Maria’s ear so that it hurt. He pushed Maria forward and got up from the log. “What do you want?” he yelled at Tobey, who was standing in the middle of the street and staring back at Lloyd, who had his arms stretched to his sides.
    “Lloyd!” Maria called.
    “What, you like to watch?” Lloyd asked Tobey. “You some kind of pervert?”
    “No,” said Tobey.
    “Why you gotta hang around her all the time, anyway? You know, she already got a boyfriend. Me!”
    “I just want to talk to Maria. She’s just a friend.”
    “Fuck that. She don’t want to talk to you no more. Just get the fuck out of here.”
    Tobey didn’t move. He was either being brave or stupid – Maria couldn’t know which. Either way, she was a little afraid for him and she moved from the log and put herself between Lloyd and him.
    “Knock it off, Lloyd,” she said. “Leave him alone.”
    “You’re going to take his side?” asked Lloyd, moving toward her in that way she’d come to know meant back-the-fuck-off. But she didn’t and Lloyd slapped her to where she could feel blood rushing like a million pins and needles to her face. And then, in just a flash, Tobey was on top of Lloyd – having sprung at him like some kind of wildcat – and he was slapping Lloyd with open palms, and Lloyd was laughing, but in that way Maria recognized when he thought something was funny only because he was superior, and in that way that meant something was building inside of him. And when it built enough, he stopped laughing and flipped Tobey onto his back and sat on his legs and started choking him. And Maria didn’t feel the pins and needles in her cheek anymore and she started wailing on Lloyd’s back and screaming like a motherfucker for him to stop, for him to hit her instead if he needed to hit someone. Tobey was twisting beneath Lloyd’s weight, and his arms, looking so small next to Lloyd’s, were pushing against Lloyd’s chest. Tobey’s face was still as he stared up at Lloyd. But where his face was surprisingly peaceful, his body twisted and writhed under Lloyd’s weight. And as he gave one last great twist of his hips, Maria saw over Lloyd’s shoulder that Tobey’s shorts had ridden up and twisted around his skinny body, exposing him. Maria stopped beating on Lloyd when she saw Tobey’s hard-on. Lloyd saw it too and stopped choking Tobey and jumped off of him.
    “What the fuck is that?” yelled Lloyd, backing away like Tobey’s erect dick and balls were poison. At first Maria could tell Tobey didn’t know what she and Lloyd were looking at. And then he took a moment and saw for himself and his face blossomed with recognition and shame and redness, and he jumped up cat-like again, and ran up Heck Street. So fast.
    Lloyd stood there a moment, and then he started to laugh. “Yo, that’s one fucked up little boyfriend you got there,” he said, going back to the log, picking up his roach. “You better be careful or he might start stealing your clothes and shit.” But Maria was already gone, making her way up Heck. “Yo,” called Lloyd, “where the fuck you going? Oh yeah? Fuck you cunt. Yeah, go off to your little faggot boyfriend, he’ll probably give you AIDS...”
    The sloped lawn of Cathedral Baptist was a mess of shadows and pockets of darkness, which is where Maria found Tobey, holding himself around his bended legs, his face dropped onto his knees. She sat next to him but he didn’t move, and for a long time Maria couldn’t say anything. She pulled her Kools from her cutoffs and lit one and after a long drag, she put her hand on top of his mess of clenched fingers, and then gently she tore his one hand away from the other and held it. “Don’t pay any attention to that asshole,” she said. “You’re too good for him anyway.” She looked across the street. Even in the dimmed light of evening she could make out the chartreuse shutters on that shitty house. “Yep,” she said. “You’ll see, Tobey. One of these days we’ll both find ourselves someone that treats us good. Yeah, OK. Go ahead, go ahead. Cry.”


    Previously published in Bop Dead City.

Quoting twitter
with a found haiku

Janet Kuypers
started 3/9/15, finished 3/12/15
adapted from @PrezBillyJeff 3/7/15, added to twitter


What will save us from
isis? Water with fluoride,
vaccines, fewer guns?

(If you’d like, check out the
Janet Kuypers bio.)

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Friends and Judges

Dennis Vannatta

    And however agonizing the sacrifice, would we not sometimes forbear to keep those we have loved as friends after their deaths, for fear of also having them as judges?        —Proust, The Fugitive

    In this crepuscular hour of my sixtieth birthday, among the slanting shadows of the sweetgums and southern pine looming above my back deck, James has given me two gifts, the first well-meaning but inconsequential, the second such a one as could only be forthcoming from a friend of many years who knows what lies in my heart of hearts. He has given me Albertine.
    Albertine Bontemps, he called her. But of course Mme. Bontemps, with whom she was living at the time of her death, was her aunt. “Albertine Simonet,” I corrected, and for a moment James seemed nonplussed enough to lose the thread of his narrative. But then he shook his head. “No, my father distinctly called her Albertine Bontemps. Maybe at that point she’d assumed her aunt’s name.” Could be. Albertine had always been, after all, so great a liar.
    But let me go back to the beginning. Fiction may play hopscotch with time, but for reality, taking it straight is best, especially when the aim is clarity and not effect. I know what James said, what he did, what his father said and did, but what did it mean—as James obviously meant for me to consider—for me? Faulkner, Joyce, Nabokov, all those great, formidable modernists and postmodernists, are easy; trying to fathom the meaning of any one moment of our own lives is what plagues us.
    Say our moment began at around seven of this cool April evening, James and I huddled close to the chiminea on my back deck, sipping the fair-to-middling Jordan Cabernet James had brought to help us celebrate my birthday. We were enjoying the wine, the fire, the blessed relief of another department meeting (earlier that day) behind us. Even the Voight couple next door inconsiderately coming out on their deck, starting up the old gas grill, soon to be joined by another couple cum children—beer drunk, laughter, the old Nerf football tossed around—even this was no more than a minor irritant.
    “Married folks, lawdy, I hates ‘em,” James said, dropping into his best local color idiom (American, although he was a nineteenth-century Brit specialist). “T’weren’t us’ns lucky to have dodged all that mess?”
    “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it,” I said to James, a lifelong bachelor only a few months older than I. (I don’t recall what we did on his sixtieth.)
    “Well, old friend, you tried it two or three times. How’d that work out for you?”
    “Only once. Don’t exaggerate. That thing with Margaret Powell, remember, she left me standing at the altar. So number two never happened.”
    “That’s because you were standing at the altar in Memphis while she’d been led to believe that the altar was at that quaint little church in Colliersville.”
    Well, the contretemps that led to my aborted second wedding were not quite so sitcomish, but they did the trick. I felt bad for Margaret. We’d been almost forced upon one another by the near-unanimous opinion in the English department, decades ago when I was a new assistant professor and she an ABD instructor, that we were perfect for each other. The only dissenters were James and, unfortunately for Margaret, I. I’d like to think that Margaret, who fled the scene of her humiliation immediately afterward, was better off in the long run. There might be some alternate universe where she’d at last finish her dissertation, but none in which she’d publish enough to get tenure. She’d have been doomed forever to teach four courses of comp a semester, plus helping out with the Christmas potluck. Better to do that someplace other than the University of Memphis, then as now a tough place for “part-timers,” as we still call those people.
    “I think of ol’ Margaret often,” I said, and James said, “No, you don’t.”
    The affair left me with the reputation around the department as something of a rake (or cad or bounder; James, big on Austen, would know). Not necessarily a bad thing. Among my fellow English professors, a paranoid, pusillanimous lot, I became thought of as not just a scapegrace but someone not to be messed with. I came up for tenure early, got it on first vote; I think they were afraid of turning me down. And don’t forget the co-eds. For them I was mad, bad, and dangerous to be around. I bedded a few—or perhaps I should say they bedded me. Hey, there’s no law against it—unless it’s sex-for-grades, but U. Memphis co-eds, alas, tend to be remarkably uninterested in grades. After a few flings, I discovered I was remarkably uninterested in them. There followed a few affairs of varying duration and intensity, none much more than pro forma, and then all that sort of thing—romance, even just sex—was over for me.
    It was easy enough to give up. Not Margaret Powell, not the co-eds, not the participants in my aborted affairs—the great love of my life has been Albertine Simonet. And Gilberte Swann. Her mother, Odette, too. Even Mme. Guermantes, who would of course never have deigned to acknowledge my hoi polloi presence. An English teacher? Mon dieu, one might as well be in trade. Add her husband and her brother-in-law, the deliciously reptilian Baron du Charlus. And Robert de Saint-Loup. Oh yes, my heart of hearts is capacious enough to enfold each and every character residing within those seven glorious volumes. How can one love a novel? First of all, answer the greater mystery—how can one love—and only then complete the sentence with the direct object of your choice.
    For me: Proust, In Search of Lost Time.
    James interrupted my reverie: “Where are you now?”
    For a moment I assumed he meant, where have your thoughts taken you? But then I realized, no, he knew me too well.
    “You mean in Proust?”
    He didn’t even bother answering.
    “Finished it this afternoon at Starbucks’s. I needed to reward myself for enduring that department-meeting bloodletting.”
    He set his wine glass down beside his lawn chair—I’ve never gotten around to getting decent deck furniture—and cleared his throat.
    How many times now?, I expected him to ask—i.e., how many times had I read In Search of Lost Time from beginning to end—because the subject seems to amuse him, and I began the process of calculating the number when instead he said, “Well, this seems like an appropriate time for me to give you your present.”
    I thought he was joking until he reached under his chair and came up with a rectangular object. It was wrapped in rough brown paper that looked suspiciously like a Kroger shopping bag, the tape the cheap stuff that we all filch from the department supply closet. Affixed to the middle, though, was a rather fetching purple bow. I was touched.
    “But we’ve never exchanged presents,” I protested.
    “This is a big one, though—your sixtieth.”
    “Yeah, but I never got you anything for your sixtieth.”
    “Well, it’s always one giving and one receiving in a relationship, isn’t it?”
    I smiled. “So we have a relationship? Better not let that get out into the department.”
    “Shut up and open your present.”
    I knew it was a book by the shape and heft. What else would it be, one English prof to another?
     I tore off the paper. A hardback, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. I gave the front a long, appreciative look, turned it over and pretended to study the back.
    “This looks fascinating,” I enthused.
    “So the reviews all say. It was this year’s Booker Prize winner, and not the stale old Barbara Pym stuff the Brits tend to dote over.”
    “Hey, I like Barbara Pym,” I said, pressing my hands to my chest, feigning hurt.
    “Yeah, I know you do. I do, too, but then she’s more my speed. You’re supposedly a contemporary lit specialist, after all. There’s a whole new world out there. Time for you to get you some of it, pal.”
    “’Time for you to get you some of it’—elegantly said for an English professor, pal. Besides, for a nineteenth-century Brit person to—“
    “Oh I almost forgot,” he said, interrupting me, for which I was grateful. We hadn’t had enough wine for these professorish exchanges to be entertaining. He reached under his chair again. Had he stuck a case of curiosities down there when I wasn’t looking? He came out with another book, paperback this time, sans wrapping.
    “This isn’t a birthday present. I found this at the used book sale at the library, just finished reading it myself.”
    I gave the front and back covers the abbreviated version of my long, appreciative look. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie.
    “It’s set in China during the Cultural Revolution. It’s about two friends, both in love with the same girl. At the end, she takes off and leaves them, and they’re left with just themselves—and literature. It’s hard to tell which they love the most.”
    “This does sound interesting, Mr. Bones,” I said. “That’s from John Berryman, by the way—Mr. Bones.”
    I’m actually a modernist, which in English departments tends to mean the first half of the twentieth century, but since Tom Van Zandt, our contemporary lit specialist, died, I’ve been wearing two hats. James calls it “contemptible literature.” Not to worry, I get my kicks in on the subject of James’s dissertation, ol’ Nancy Boy Swinburne, who says absolutely nothing so beautifully.
    “Berryman, yes, I seem to remember stumbling across him in a bad dream,” James smirked.
    Yeah, nothing like two English profs in an intellectual bitch-slapping contest. Before it could get even more disgusting, a yodel rang out from the Voights’ back deck across the way. The male friend was holding up his young son (I suppose) by the ankles. The boy was waving his arms and pleading to be let down.
    “Somebody should call the SCAN people,” I said, but James said, “Naw. Look. The kid’s loving it.”
    I looked again. Yes, the boy was screaming in delighted terror.
    “Give a dollar to see him drop the little bastard on his head,” I said.
    “He won’t,” James said, then turned back to me. “So, which book are you going to read next?”
    I hefted a book in each hand. “Well, by rights I should read the birthday present first, shouldn’t I?”
    “I didn’t ask you which of the two you’d read first. I asked you which book you’d read next.”
    Oh, of course. I got it. What I didn’t get is why it apparently mattered so much, mattered at all, to James. What happened was, a half a dozen years ago I taught Swann’s Way in my Modern European Novel seminar. Didn’t the students just love that? Hoo, boy! A few even stayed awake long enough to ask a question or two about what happens in the six remaining volumes of the novel, which I realized I remembered in only the broadest, vaguest terms. It occurred to me that I should reread it for my own edification (it being too late to do any good that semester). It’d been thirty years since my first and only complete reading of Remembrance of Things Past, as it was then called in the Moncrieff translation. I was a different person back then, in rut for tenure and les femmes. I remember it was a real slog, but I gritted my teeth and trudged on through it like a desperate man through a blizzard. Never again, I said. But then, six years ago, a different world, different me, something happened. Maybe it was the translation: the D. J. Enright revision of the Moncrieff-Kilmartin translation. It was as if the ghost of Proust threw a switch and said, Let there be light. Suddenly, all was light, effortless, graceful, witty, moving, not a slog but a headlong fall into something like love. As I approached the end of that final volume, Time Regained, I felt something happening to me, a feeling I couldn’t identify. Only when I turned the page to the last lines—

    . . . like giants plunged into the stars, they touch the distant epochs through which they have lived, between which so many days have come to range themselves—in Time

    —did it hit me with very nearly the force of a blow: an almost irresistible urge to immediately, that instant, turn back to page 1 of Swann’s Way and begin again. Indeed, why bother resisting, I asked myself. What was I saving myself, saving my time for?
    I slipped Time Regained into the slot in the bookshelf waiting patiently for it, traced my finger right to left across the spines of its brothers, and extracted, as one would extract the most precious of jewels from its velvet bag, Swann’s Way.
    For a time, I would go to bed early.
    Oh, I was hooked, I was lost. I was Brett Ashley telling poor, desolated Jake Barnes, “I’m a goner,” when she fell hopelessly headlong for her young bullfighter, with the difference that both she and Jake knew that fire burned so hot because it was doomed to burn only for a season, and then they’d all have ashes in their mouths. Six years later I’m still reading In Search of Lost Time, and the fire still burns as fiercely. I think James is afraid that that fire has burned everything else. He may be right, but a goner can’t do anything but go on. I go on.
    Oh, I read the newspaper, once in a while a magazine. I have not quite reached that shameless point in the classroom where I do no more than teach old books from old notes grown brittle with the years. I do some reading and re-reading for my classes. Grading papers—does that count as reading? Only when those papers count as writing. Other than that, though, it’s Proust, nothing but Proust, over and over and over.
    How many times all the way through over these last six years? One can’t speed-read Proust. Deduct from the time available that other reading, teaching classes, committee meetings, the occasional, though more and more rare, cocktail party or dinner invitation, some TV watching, household chores, shopping, etc., I think in the beginning it was taking me about six months to read the seven volumes. Now it’s down to about three months. Since Bravo, A&E, and too many other channels capitulated to the dark side (reality TV), I hardly ever watch television anymore. Movies? Couldn’t tell you when I last went to one. I canceled my Netflix membership long ago. I’m never been the sporting type and so don’t have golf and the like to distract me. I used to enjoy a long walk or two a day, but that has gone, too, with the advent of the heel pain. An operation might correct the problem, I’m told, but ain’t nobody cuttin’ on this boy.
    So I have a fair amount of time on my hands and use it almost exclusively now on Proust and will continue to until somebody convinces me there’s a better choice. Does James really think it’s Dai Sijie?
    I gave James an apologetic smile. “Well, I could tell you I’m going to read this next,” I said, gesturing with my birthday gift, “but we’ve been friends too long to start lying now.”
    I thought he’d smile back ironically or resignedly, but he shocked me by lurching up out of his chair, seizing the book, and flinging it over the side of the deck, where it fluttered to the ground like a wounded duck (I suppose; I’ve never hunted).
    I stared at him, dumbfounded, then said the first thing that came to mind: “You throw like a girl.”
    A chorus of laughter erupted from the Voights’ back yard. I didn’t look over to see if it was directed at us.

    He sat back down, picked up his glass, and took a sip as if nothing had happened—or so someone who didn’t know him so well as I might have thought. I knew he was in the grips of some emotion I couldn’t quite recognize, but it was powerful. Then he looked up at me, and I could sense he’d come to a decision.
    “All right, I guess I might as well tell you,” he said. “Consider it another birthday present. You’ll love it, I’m afraid.”
    He shrugged off the question and continued. “It’s a story my father told me a couple of years ago, just before he died. He was in the hospital, in fact. Why he waited so long to tell me, I’m not sure, because it happened in 1968. In fact, I’m not sure why he told me at all. The story didn’t have any real importance for him and not much more for me. Maybe he was just trying to fill in the blanks about his life for me. He and my mother divorced when I was five, you know, and I didn’t see much of him for many years, not until he moved back to my hometown in the ‘90s. Maybe that was it, or maybe he was just trying to pass the time while waiting to die. But you’re the one he should have told it to.”
    The ‘60s—drugs, free love, drop out, get laid way back—his father decided he wanted that a lot more than he wanted the responsibilities of a wife and child. So he split, did whatever, wandered wherever. San Francisco, Mexico, Tangiers, and then in the summer of 1968, Paris. He thought it would be a lot of fun, but one day he got caught in the middle of an especially violent student demonstration, a street full of smoke and screaming, rocks thrown and now a Molotov cocktail and then gunfire, and he wanted to be anywhere but there. Hey, man, make love, not war. He ducked into a little bistro, and no sooner in than the front window exploded and terrified young people were spilling in and he went right back out through the opening where the window had been, then fought his way down the street until he found another shop to duck into where a tall, gray-haired woman locked the door after him and pulled the shade down, as if that would stop them.
    She put a forefinger to her lips. Shhh.
    She led him through another door at the rear of the shop, closed it after them. They were in a storeroom. Only then, seeing the boxes and shelves stocked with soccer balls, tennis rackets, skis, and the like did he realize the shop was a sporting goods store. Then he saw that another woman about the same age as the first but shorter and less robust was sitting on a little stool in the corner, looking like a mouse with a cat scratching at the door.
    The first woman began to talk to him, her English impeccable. Who he was? Where was he from? Why was he in Paris? Then she began to tell him about herself. At first he thought that her interest in him was odd, but then he understood: she wasn’t talking to him so much as talking for the other woman, speaking calmly, soothingly, as if this were just another day, just another customer albeit, one with an interesting story to tell and they all should listen, all tell their stories and ignore the chaos just outside the front door.
    Her name was Albertine Bontemps. When I objected, James said, “No, my father distinctly called her Albertine Bontemps. Maybe at that point she’d assumed her aunt’s name.”
    “It’s quite possible,” I admitted. “Albertine always was such a little liar.”
    But then something occurred to me. “Wait,” I said. How did the name—Albertine Bontemps or Simonet or whatever—make any impression at all on James’s father? James had told me that his father had been a dispatcher for Yellow Cab before he ducked out on them. After that he’d worked on Mississippi River barges, an oil tanker, for a few years on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, other odd jobs. Was this man a Proust aficionado who’d recognize the name of poor Marcel’s la belle dame sans merci? And even in that extremely unlikely event, why bother on his deathbed to tell his son, who didn’t give a hang for anything later than Arnold Bennett? It didn’t make sense. But then, before I found voice for my questions, they were silenced by a greater certainty: I simply did not care. I wanted to hear the story, tale, concoction, whatever it was; I wanted it as I wanted Albertine clothed in lies as she’d inevitably come. Because when Albertine comes, thence comes Marcel and that whole glorious world.
    “So Albertine wasn’t killed in a riding accident,” I said.
    “Obviously not. You said she was a liar. In this case it was a fiction to cover up her marriage, to keep it from Marcel. She thought the news might kill him—or perhaps he would kill her. She was always a little afraid of him, she said.”
    “Who was the lucky guy?” I asked.
    “I don’t remember his name. Some worthless fellow—she said that herself.”
    “’I’m a washout’!”
    “’I’m a washout’—that’s what he always said about himself. Marcel used that phrase for his name, essentially. He was the Verdurins’ nephew.”
    “He died in the 1914 War. That’s what the French call it. Albertine felt freed, she said.”
    “She spent some time in Balbec, but it wasn’t the same as when she was young with her gang. Then it was back to Touraine and her aunt’s. But that was a sort of death, so she went to Paris, no plans, no prospects, and would soon have been on the streets if her aunt hadn’t had the good sense to die and leave her a tidy sum. She thought about opening a bookshop but decided after all she’d only pretended to like literature for Marcel’s sake. What she really liked was tennis, biking, swimming—the outdoors. So she opened a sporting goods store, of all things. And who walked into it one day? The person she’d loved all along. Not that simpering fool Marcel but . . . ta-da! . . . Andrée.”
    “Yes. She was the other woman in the storeroom with my father.”
    “Andrée. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think Marcel would have been surprised, either. But wait. Doesn’t she have a husband in Time Regained? I guess that doesn’t mean anything, though. Go on. What happened next?”
    “Next? Nothing. The mob outside had dispersed or gone on down the street, and my father left. Albertine and Andrée would both be long dead by now, of course.”
    “Of course. But what about Marcel? Did Albertine ever see him again?”
    “Yes, once. Very late at night in a little café in Paris. I’d like to think it was that night that Proust met Joyce, and the two great men talked about their indigestion. But that was later, I think, Proust on his last legs. She thought he looked very lonely. But the saddest thing was that before she could make her escape she was positive he looked up and recognized her, but . . . and this was the sad thing . . . he didn’t care. The great love of his life, and he could hardly bother to give her a second look.”
    “Well, that was sad for her, maybe. A woman’s vanity and all that.”
    He fairly shouted it. I almost spilled my wine. The Voights, over on their deck, turned and looked.
    “You don’t understand the issue here. I don’t think for all your reading and reading and reading you’ve ever really, truly understood Marcel. He never did love Albertine, you see. Nor Gilberte, either. Marcel only had one true love in his life, and that was In Search of Lost Time. And that’s why he was such a sad case.”
    “Wait a minute,” I said. “I think you’re getting a little confused here, my friend. Are we talking about Proust or the Marcel in the novel? Marcel is a character, after all, although—“
    “Yes, yes, yes!”
    James jumped up and did a little dance around his chair. I glanced over to see if the Voights had taken notice of this madman’s latest antics, but, by a strange coincidence, they, too, were dancing, holding each other close and swaying slowly, sensuously to some melody that, at this distance, I could not hear.
    James hollered “Yes!” once more and then laughed in triumph. “Finally we’re getting there. Yes, Marcel is a character. But damn it all, man, Albertine is a character, too. And Andrée and the Verdurins and their nephew. They’re fictions, man, fictions.”
    I tut-tutted him. “I don’t expect a nineteenth-century specialist to buy into the post-modernist blurring of the actual and the virtual, but—“
    “But there is a difference. There is a difference between a book and by God life. And what a tragedy to live your life for a book.”
    “Ah, we come to it. We come to me. That’s what this has all been about, your one-man intervention to save pathetic ol’ me from myself. What a joke. Go on, tell somebody with a real problem that you’re worried about your friend who reads a certain book too much.”
    He started to say something, but I cut him off. “You want to hear the real joke, though? It’s you. How funny that you’re so worried about me in my advancing years wasting myself on a book I love—me, a man with one marriage, almost another, and more affairs than I care to remember—when you have never had anything but books. Never. No wife, no affairs, hell, as far as I know you’ve never even had a date. You’ve never loved, James, you’ve never loved. All you have is literature. I mean, Jesus, how long did it take you to concoct this ridiculous Albertine and Andrée story, whose point I’m still not sure I get, by the way?”
    I’d tacked that last question on at the end because I realized I’d gone too far—not saying anything untrue but too true, hurtfully true, throwing it in his face that he’d never loved or been loved.
    I had already been in the English department for a year when James was hired. We were the same age, he single and me a recent divorcé, and we hit it off immediately. We were the “new kids” doing battle with the department troglodytes. Well, now we were the troglodytes, but not much else had changed except James apparently felt close enough to me to tell me how to live my life. That was a minor irritant, though, not reason enough for me to go for the jugular with that “you’ve never loved” crack.
    He didn’t respond to my question but just stared at me a moment and then gazed off into the darkness. I looked across the way, but the Voights had gone back inside and turned off the lights to their deck area. We had it all to ourselves now.
    Then without turning to me, almost as if he were addressing the night shadows, James murmured, “Who said I’ve never loved?”
    “Well, have you?” I said too quickly. It sounded snide and challenging, I was afraid, and I didn’t want that. I said it again, softly, gently this time, a friend communing with a friend.
    He gave me a look of weariness but also, it seemed to me, impatience, even disgust, and I felt my hackles rising again. I was trying, after all, I was trying, but he wasn’t meeting me half way.
    This time I demanded: “Well, have you?”
    Then it struck me. “Oh. You have, haven’t you? Yes yes, you can’t hide it from me, I can see it on your face. You have loved. Goddamn it, James, I mean goddamn it, man, I’ve felt closer to you than any other human being for over thirty years, and unless I’ve misread the situation, you’ve felt close to me, and yet you never told me? I mean, come on, I’ve told you about every affair I’ve ever had, so just out of fair play . . .”
    He gave me that look again—weariness, impatience, disgust—but now it seemed as if at the same time he was trying not to smile, as if the whole thing was so absurd all one could do was laugh.
    “What—?” I started to say, but then it hit me. Oh, Jesus. How could I have been so dense? Anyone could have seen it. Probably everyone but me had seen it all along and had been laughing up their sleeves at us. Or maybe just at me, blind.
    “So now you know,” he said, then shrugged. “Sorry.”
    “There’s nothing to apologize for, James. I just feel sorry for you. Not that I pity you, that’s not what I mean. I mean I’m sorry that there was never a hope for you since, well, I mean, me being straight and all.”
    “That’s not important to me—the physical side. Sex. I’m not sure it was ever very important to me. I don’t want to embarrass you any more than I no doubt already have, but since we’ve gone this far, I might as well say it. Love is all that matters to me. Not sex. I guess that’s a nineteenth-century sort of thing to say.”
    “So sex doesn’t count? The human contact, so to speak, doesn’t count. It’s just what you love, what you feel, that’s all. Is that what you’re telling me?”
    “Yes!” he said eagerly, leaning toward me, eyes gleaming with, I suppose, hope.
    “In that case,” I said, “I can in all good conscience return to Proust.”
    James looked stricken.
    I offered him a sop. “You know, at the end of The Fugitive, it’s not Albertine whom Marcel weeps for. It’s Robert de Saint-Loup.”
    But that didn’t seem to bring him any comfort.


    You will expect me to say that with each rereading I find something new, something fresh. That’s what we tell our students about the great writers, isn’t it?
    But Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is not about discovering the new but resurrecting the old. His search is never futile; he always finds. And what he finds is the familiar. He and I take comfort from that. His Combray is my Combray, his Paris mine. I can take the Méséglise way or the Guermantes way with equal facility; I would never, now, lose my way. Gilberte is mine, Albertine mine; never will I be tortured, ravaged by jealousy because they will come to me at my bidding, as long as I have strength to turn the page.
    Indeed, I’m the luckiest of mortals. I have Marcel’s world without his suffering.
    After tonight, of course, I will no longer have James, but I have something better: his story. He made it just for me, after all, which, it occurs to me, would have required him to, first of all, read the novel, all of it, and how that must have been torture for him. And I am so grateful. I think I’ll insert it as a sort of divertissement between The Fugitive and Time Regained. Or perhaps as a coda following my next full reading.
    My next re-reading! I fluff the pillows behind my head, pull the blanket up just so. The remains of the Jordan cabernet are in a glass on my nightstand. (No tea for me at bedtime, and certainly no madeleine; the cholesterol, you see.) And now, oh yes, once again, come to me. Ah, love, come to me once more!
    For a long time, I would go to bed early. Sometimes . . .

Down, Down

Chris Johnson

When I believe I’m almost there
Someone goes and moves the goal.
The trip falls off the sides of the maps.
My GPS flashes “Out of Range.”
The plans I’ve made with care
Have gone awry, eaten by mice.
When I look through binoculars
Everything moves farther away.
I run only to discover
That I am on an escalator
Going in the opposite direction.
There are two elevator buttons
But both take me down
Regardless of which way they point.
“Movin’ on up” is a TV fantasy
And that “deluxe apartment” is the gutter.

The Service

Stephanie Hammerwold

    Alexander’s feet are propped up on the control panel as he stares out the front window. 45 minutes to go. Lights blink around his boots, and the planet is far enough away that it looks like he could send it off across the galaxy with a simple flick of his left foot.
    “It would be pointless. We really should reconsider this lame plan of yours.”
    “Lame? That’s rich. Did you pick that up from them?” Aurora says and gestures toward the window.
    “Yeah, I kind of like it. I think I’m going to take it back with us and use it.”
    “And if we have things your way, that’s all we’ll take back.”
    “Come on. You’ve watched them. You’ve seen what I’ve seen. We’ve talked about it plenty. They just don’t seem worth the effort of deploying the full force of what we have on board. There sure are lots of them.”
    “But they have those little things that play music and all those other useless gadgets those wrist fitness things. They’re primitive, but the kids back home would love them.”
    “Sure, they’ve mastered getting loads of music onto a small device, but I don’t see them mastering intergalactic travel.”
    They both laugh and stare at the target ahead of them. Their mission was always the same: launch the observation pods, wait for them to land, watch the footage from the planet, and make the decision about striking. If they destroyed life, they could go down and take what they wanted to sell or give away. Of course, anything that could be used to advance lives back on their planet would be handed over to the authorities. Others like them were all over the known universe, and a single aborted takeover would garner little notice from mission control.
    A sensor on the control panel gives out three, high-pitched beeps. Alexander puts his feet on the floor, reaches out, bounces his fingers on a numbered keypad and resumes his previous position. 40 minutes to go. They have to make a decision soon.
    “I just think it will be worth our time. We’d be doing them a favor really. Most of them are unhappy. They care little for the lives they’ve built for themselves, and so many of them work jobs that drain them and come home to families that are equally as draining. They just stare at those boxes and see pictures of people living the life they want. Ugh. Can you imagine?”
    “Uh, Aurora, what exactly was it that motivated you to sign up for this nine-year mission?”
    “Good point, but that’s exactly why I want to give it to them. It’s an easy out. It will be over for them in a flash, and then some other species can come along and make a better go at it.”
    “But don’t you get tired of all this invasion stuff? I mean, Invasion’s not even a good word for it. Things have been streamlined to the point where we just hit a few buttons, and it’s done. It’s a little too easy in my opinion. We don’t even give them a chance to fight back. That’s how it used to be. We’d let them fight. Now? Well, now there’s no contest—we just get what we want,” Alexander says.
    “What? You’d rather be down there with some kind of handheld weapon and bombs, picking them off one by one. That hardly seems effective when there are so many of them. It could take us months to finish up such a chore, and we could get hurt or killed in the process,” Aurora says.
    She gets up and walks over to a small screen hanging on the wall behind them. She pushes a button and a keyboard pops out of the wall as the screen comes to life. She taps the screen in a couple places and brings up a window. She types a quick message, hits send and pushes the keyboard back into the wall.
    “You told them we’re doing it, didn’t you?” Alexander asks.
    “I did no such thing. I told them we’re still undecided.”
    “Oh, Carlisle is going to love that!”
    “Only because he’ll know you’re the one holding things up,” Aurora says with a laugh.
    She looks around the ship. This place has been their home for three years already. It’s going to be a long six years if Alexander is already getting distracted by moral quandaries. It had been easy when they started. The observations sent back by the pods never gave them enough to get attached to whatever life they found crawling around. It was just enough to see if there was anything of use there—anything their planet could benefit from. If such things were not there, they flew away and left the planet’s beings to go about their tedious existence. Most of the places they saw were like that, which was the most disappointing part of it, at least in Aurora’s mind.
    She had taken this job to get away from her own such existence—the husband, the continued attempts and failures at having children, the job that did little more than pay the rent and keep her belly full. She had wanted a change, so when she struck up a conversation with Alexander while waiting for her morning latte and heard about his plans to join the Service, she decided to get his number and figure out how she could enlist as well. Her husband was not pleased, but what was nine years in the span of their lifetimes these days. Maybe a trip away would be what they needed to rejuvenate their marriage and give them the spark to have a kid or two. But so far she is not even sure she wants that kind of life anymore.
    “Let’s do it,” she says and looks at the clock. 35 more minutes. Almost time to commence the final protocol.
    “In the last few days, you have given me no more reason than ending their suffering. You know, euthanasia or something.”
    “Yes, it is a form of euthanasia.”
    “That’s not why this program was set up,” Alexander says. “See if there is anything worth taking. If so, destroy and take it. If not, leave them be and go away. It’s simple. We don’t get attached, and we certainly don’t get invested in curing their misery. I say we go. It will be a waste. We’ll save it for somewhere more useful—at least somewhere where total, instantaneous destruction is justified.”
    “Nice to see that you’re back. I was worried you were turning all soft on me. I was about to send you home with a protest sign in the escape pod. I’m glad it hasn’t really come to that.”
    “Me too. The thought of you spending the next six years up here by yourself would have done me in.” He reaches out an arm and pulls her toward him.
    “Stop it.”
    They look at each other for a moment before Alexander speaks. “OK, we’ll do it. We’ll take them out if you want.”
    “What made you change your mind?”
    “Your eyes, my dear. They do it every time.”
    Aurora laughs and gets up to prepare for the launch process. They still have time, but she likes to get things set early. It is just how she is. From this distance, the planet could be a painted rubber ball strung up with fishing line and suspended from a coat hanger in a child’s mobile for school. It is hard to believe that living beings swarm all over the patches of land that stand in sharp contrast to the bold blue that consumes much of the planet. Swirls of white coat the surface, and she is sure rain falls down there. She remembers the smell of wet pavement after a long awaited rainstorm—this is not the only place such things exist—and she longs to walk down there and take it in as the water evaporates in steam.
    She and Alexander say little as they move around the cabin and follow the protocol. She goes to the main control panel. Alexander reaches for her hand as he always does in this moment, and Aurora hovers her free hand over the keypad. It is just a matter of entering the final code.
    “You sure?” Alexander asks.
    The planet draws closer, and Aurora can almost feel the lives below as they go about their daily existence, not knowing how close it all could be to ending. Is she sure? No, but she reaches out with her fingers nonetheless.

Smoke and Sun, art by Kyle Hemmings

Smoke and Sun, art by Kyle Hemmings

The Bump

Bob Strother

    Jay nodded at the waitress as she poured his coffee and waited while she filled Leonard’s cup. It was raining outside, and chilly for April, like winter was unwilling to give up its hold on the city. Big, fat raindrops chattered against the plate glass window, making him glad he was inside the diner where the only thing cold was the ice in his water glass. He would have preferred sunny and warm but guessed any day was a good enough day for a killing.
    He dumped sugar and cream into his cup and stirred. Decaf—his doctor had suggested it, and Jay was trying his best to comply. He took a careful sip and then added more sugar.
    “Decaf, huh?” Leonard asked. “Thought all us tough guys drank it black.”
    “Got a little hypertension,” Jay answered. “Not bad. Just trying to keep it under control.” His new partner nodded and slurped coffee from his own mug. Leonard was in from Philly, transferred by the Old Man a week ago. He was younger than Jay, mid-forties, with owlish-looking eyeglasses that gave him the appearance of a college professor.
    “Know what you mean,” Leonard said. “Got to stay on top of your health.”
    Jay drank some more coffee. The sugar and cream helped, but not much. “So why’d you get transferred?”
    “Philly was getting a little hot for me. You know Philly; business was booming. The cops were getting crucified, putting the pressure on everybody. The Old Man thought a change of scenery would be good for me.”
    “Uh-huh.” Jay understood; he’d been moved around some in the past. One thing he had to say for his employer, the Old Man took care of his own.
    “So how’s the decaf?” Leonard asked.
    “Not too bad.”
    The waitress came around again topping off Leonard’s coffee. Christ, Jay thought, he could actually smell the caffeine. She poured more for him as well, from the pot with the orange top. No smell there. Now he had to add more cream and sugar—but only one sugar packet this time—and only half a container of cream. Seemed like a hell of a lot of trouble to make the stuff drinkable.
    “You married?” Leonard asked.
    “Nope. Thought about it a couple of times but never made the leap. You?”
    “No, but I got a girlfriend back in Philly, a real mellow chick. I’m thinking about moving her up here. Maybe getting engaged.”
    “Probably not a bad idea,” Jay said. “They say married men live longer.”
    “Most married men are not exactly in our line of work.”
    “Right, but I’m just saying ...” Jay checked his watch, took another sip of lukewarm, impotent coffee, and slid out of the booth. He tossed a few bills on the tabletop. “Let’s get out of here.”
    Both men shrugged into their trench coats and headed out the door. They turned their collars up against the weather and crossed the street. The morning rush hour was over, and the rain made for minimal pedestrian traffic.
    “So what’d this guy do,” Leonard asked, “that somebody wants him dead?”
    “I’m not sure. All the Old Man said was that he’d crossed somebody pretty bad.”
    “Probably sex or money,” Leonard offered. “It’s almost always sex or money.”
    Jay nodded, checking street numbers as they walked. “What else is there?”
    “Of course, if it was sex, most guys would take care of it themselves, not contract it out.”
    “Possibly, but what if the guy doesn’t live around here? What if he lives in, say, Chicago or Milwaukee or somewhere?”
    “I see your point,” Leonard said. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s just another job for us, huh?”
    “It’s another five large for each of us—not bad for a morning’s work.”
    “I wonder how much The Old Man keeps?”
    Jay stopped in front of a three-story brick apartment house. “I was you, I wouldn’t ask. This is the place.” He checked the street and said, “Let’s do it.”
    Inside the doorway to the left, a group of mailboxes was built into the wall. An aging staircase was located off to the right. Leonard checked the mailbox names and said, “Third floor, number 10.” They gloved up on the second floor landing. Then they checked their weapons, attached noise suppressors, and crept slowly up to the third floor. The hallway was deserted and dimly lit by a window at the far end. Apartment 10 was halfway down on the right.
    Jay knocked on the door, softly at first, then a bit harder. There was nothing, no footsteps, no sound of movement. He tried again, still heard nothing.
    “Maybe he’s not at home,” Leonard said.
    “Then we’ll wait,” Jay said, and pulled a small penknife from his pocket. He slipped the blade between the doorjamb and the lock, forced the latch backward, and twisted the knob. He pushed the door open slowly and stepped inside.
    Leonard followed and closed the door behind him. “I can’t see why anybody would rely on a cheap piece of shit lock like that. Where does he think he is? New Hampshire?”
    The apartment was small, with a rectangular sitting area and a kitchenette to one side. A sofa, coffee table, and TV occupied most of the space. A short hallway showing two doors branched off to the left. One opened into a bathroom, the other had to be the bedroom. Leonard walked silently to the bedroom door, glanced inside, and held up his hand. He looked back into the bedroom again and then jerked his head, motioning Jay over.
    Inside the bedroom, lying snug under the covers was C. Oliver Treadwell, recently under contract for disposal. Jay looked at his partner and shrugged. The men stepped into the room, nine-millimeters at their sides, and approached the bed. Oliver’s eyes were closed. He might have been sleeping. Jay nudged him with the pistol then felt the man’s neck for a pulse. He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t in rigor yet so he must have kicked off in his sleep, maybe even while they were at the diner. Or not long before.
    “Shit,” Jay said. “He’s already dead.”
    “Fuck,” Leonard offered. “I can’t believe this. What do we do now?”
    Jay removed the suppressor and holstered his weapon. “Let me think. This has never happened before.” He returned to the sitting area and stood looking out the single window down toward the street. “We don’t get paid for people dying in their sleep. The son of a bitch just couldn’t hold out a little longer, could he?” He heard a noise behind him and turned to find Leonard going through the apartment’s small refrigerator.
    “Hey, he’s got beer,” Leonard said, dragging a six-pack from the shelf. “Want some?”
    “I don’t normally drink alcohol before six.”
    “Like you said, man, this isn’t exactly normal.” He twisted off the cap and turned up the bottle.
    Jay moved over to the counter and began opening cabinet shelves. “You see any coffee?” He found a jar of instant and opened it. The coffee crystals seemed to have hardened, but at least it wasn’t decaf. He grabbed a spoon and worked it around inside the jar, breaking up the clumps. Then he ran water from the tap into a pan, sat it on the stove eye, and turned on the burner. When the water boiled, he placed a spoonful of powder in a cup and poured in the water. Some of the crystals gathered on the sides of the cup around the surface of the liquid. He stirred the mixture then took a tentative sip. It was hot and bitter but tasted nothing like coffee. He emptied the cup into the sink, then rinsed it and the spoon and placed them in the drain rack.
    Leonard lounged on the sofa. He had finished his beer and opened another. “Should we call the Old Man and tell him what happened?”
    “He won’t be happy about this turn of events. It means he won’t get paid either.” Jay closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. When he opened them again he said, “Let’s improvise.” Then he went back into the bedroom with Leonard following close behind. He took out his nine-millimeter and reattached the noise suppressor.
    “What,” Leonard asked, “we’re going to shoot Oliver anyway?”
    “Not just shoot him,” Jay said. “If we just shot him, he’s already dead, so he wouldn’t bleed. There’d be a problem with that. The client might ask questions, be suspicious about the why blood wasn’t pooling. So ...” He knelt, placed the barrel of the gun to Oliver’s temple, and squeezed the trigger. The muffled pop from the nine sounded like someone had dropped a light bulb. Bits of bone and gelatinous chunks of brain matter spattered the pillow and decorated the wall beside Oliver’s bed like some kind of modern art poster.
    Jay straightened up and splayed his hands out, palms up. “What do you think? Was he bumped off or did he die in his sleep?”
    Leonard tapped his own temple. “Good thinking, partner. Now everybody’s happy.”
    “Except Oliver,” Jay said, grinning. “But then he wouldn’t have been happy either way.” He took a cell phone from his pocket and snapped a couple of photos of Oliver, making sure he got good coverage of the wall detritus. Then he sent them to the Old Man as proof the job had been completed. Standard procedure. “Okay, partner, let’s roll.”
    On the street a few minutes later Jay received a text message he shared with Leonard. Short and to the point—just like the Old Man, Jay thought. It said: Good job.
    “So, how’ll you spend your five grand?” Leonard asked.
    “I don’t know. There’s nothing I really need. What about you? Planning to buy your girlfriend a big diamond ring?”
    “Yeah, I think she’s kind of expecting it, but not too big. I try to live modestly, you know? Stay under the radar.”
    Jay turned up his collar again. The rain had slacked off, but the wind was kicking up. “Does she know what you do for a living?”
    Leonard smiled and glanced sideways at Jay. “She thinks I’m a business consultant.”
    “I get it, sort of like a ... trouble shooter, huh?”
    They both laughed.
    “Really, though,” Leonard said, “there’s nothing you need? I wish I could be like that.”
    Jay shrugged. “Well, maybe not nothing.” He reached for his phone again. “There must be a Starbucks around here somewhere.”

The Face

Russ Bickerstaff

    Chase always saw the same little man every time he went to work. He never really thought much about him, so in a sense he never really saw him. Perhaps his mind was too lost in the thoughts that usually accompany a trip to work. Perhaps thoughts of that had so consumed his mind that he couldn’t see another face in the crowd that was always looking at him just a little uneasily. He really had no idea where the uneasiness had come from. It was something in the background of his trip to work at a job he wasn’t thrilled about having to work. He really had no idea that some of the uneasiness may have come in the face of a passing stranger that always looked like it knew him a bit more intimately than he did.
    The face was a little bearded face attached to a little bearded man that kept looking at him. It wouldn’t stop looking at him with a high degree of intensity in its eyes for the entire duration of the time it was passing by. One might think that it might be kind of obvious. One might think that this sort of thing would be readily apparent, but as the face was always in a crowd of others, it may have been difficult for Chase to spot right away, buried as it was in the parade of faces that would shoot by him in the strange barrage of reality that extended from one edge of the daily journey to the other.
    Somewhere along the line, Chase started to notice that there was something about him that was feeling bad that didn’t necessarily originate within his emotions. It definitely had its effect there somewhere in the backwaters of consciousness, but it only came there from some subtle awareness of something that was going on somewhere in his body. The face kept looking on and he kept failing to notice it. He kept going to work. He kept feeling slightly off physically in some way. Not always. Some days were better than others. Some days he got to work a bit later than others. But he always got to work.
    Always in the flow of things over the course of a day, Chase would forget about whatever it was that would make him feel ill-at-ease until the next morning came around and again there would be vague physical sensations of something effecting him around the edges of his mind originating somewhere in his body and always there would be the face of this little bearded man that would be looking on with the same uneasiness that he felt within himself. And always he would fail to notice it in the parade of other faces that would wash by him in the course of the journey to work every morning.
theatre face statue at a top floor restaurant at the Visakhapatman India hotel overlooking the Bay of Bengal, copyright 2015Janet Kuypers     Chase had slowed down over the days that were weeks that were months that were seasons that were years and beyond. He started to leave early for work to ensure that he would make it there on time. He left progressively more and more early but he would always see the same face of the same little bearded man that keep looking at him uneasily every single morning on the way to week. Always he would fail to recognize the face of the little man in the steady flow of images that would wash over him in the course of any given day. The faces were always there. The faces were always in motion.
    Before long he was always feeling a bit ill at ease from some part of his body. He wasn’t entirely conscious of the situation while it was rolling over him, but he knew in a sense that it was always there. Work itself had been getting ever so much more difficult to manage lately. Chase was on some sort of a break halfway into the journey out to work when he noticed the face flash across his conscious mind for the first time. He needed to rest roughly halfway into every journey to work these days. He saw the face of the little bearded man for the first time even though he’d been seeing it every single day on his way to work for days that could have been years.
    Having seen the face for the first time, Chase felt as though he’d seen it before. It was all he could think about. He would close his eyes and see it burning there in his mind. The face itself didn’t seem nearly so disturbing to him as the look of concern. He wasn’t sure why it was that a clearly sympathetic face would be anything more than friendly to him. Having woke-up a few times with the image of that face in his mind, he decided to confront it the next time he saw it.
    Chase rushed out the door a bit earlier than usual. He stared eagerly at the oncoming rush of faces that were passing him by on his way to work. He hungrily devoured the image of every last face that he saw on his way to work that day, finally landing on the face of the little bearded man. Most of the faces on the way to work that day only would look at him when they noticed the intensity with which he was staring at them. The little bearded man’s face was the only one that even that day had been staring at him from the moment it came into view.
    Chase ran headlong into the crowd and grabbed the little bearded man by the shoulders. The little bearded man’s look of sympathy became a look of shock. Chase was shouting at the little man in a vaguely intelligible shout that seemed to overpower everything on the sidewalk. Looking at the terror in the face of the little man, he let him down. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the little bearded man would wonder over the course of the rest of the day where he had seen the big, angry man before. And perhaps he would remember that he had seen it on his way out to work every single day. And he would realize a sympathy for someone he never really saw until that man was lifting him into the air and shaking him as he demanded something the little bearded man could not give him.

Psychedelic Snail, art by Brian Looney

Psychedelic Snail, art by Brian Looney

The Perks of Being

Christos C. Kallis

Under the covers of the bed, in the morning hours, I pretend

To be an embryo. I stay in and retract all that is me

In the haven of the bedsheets that is a belly.

I put my headphone in my earhole and (I)

Scramble eggs. Inside I decide how to get to

Work. On the C train I was trained to kick the back of the seat. Before

I                step                outside                my                eyes        dilate

From        the sun. Out                        In the office I hear

Live Blues.

The Intersection

Peter McMillan

    Day and night Ernest watched the intersection with vigilance. He was retired, had no hobbies, and couldn’t sleep at night what with all the medication he’d been prescribed.
        Most of the cars and drivers he had come to recognize, and he even knew how often and when they passed. Some were harder to pick out than others. The partly bald guys in their zippy little BMWs, the hockey-then-soccer moms in their gargantuan SUVs, the shiny new pickups driven just as often by young women as men, and the low-slung, loud mufflered rides of the working class twenty-somethings were the easiest to identify.
        They happened—the traffic violations—year-round, but only in summer was it especially dangerous for pedestrians since that’s when people enjoyed getting out and walking. Because there were no sidewalks, they had to walk on the road. The intersection was a T, and only one direction had a stop sign, although it wasn’t apparent that anyone exercised any less right of way than anybody else.
        Two hundred and eighty-seven in one hour was the record for the number of traffic violations Ernest had witnessed. He told a police officer who said he’d look into it, but nothing ever happened. He tried again with the police, this time separating the pedestrian population into senior, young adult, middle age, and school children. Same result. He went to the city. He was told it was a police matter. The police, he was assured, would look into it.
        Meanwhile an accident occurred down the street. Just a block away, an eight-year-old girl on her brand-new bicycle was struck by a Lexus SUV. Fortunately, the SUV was nearly stopped, and it bumped rather than hit the child. The bike didn’t even get a scratch, and the little girl only suffered a small scrape on her elbow where she fell down on the pavement. She needed a bandaid to calm her, but it didn’t stay on very long as she recounted what had happened, arms waving in the air, to anyone who would listen.
        The next day, Ernest erected a large and highly-visible sign at his intersection, righteously proclaiming it a “Zero Accident Zone.” At the bottom of the sign, there was a picture of a camera. He credited himself with being a genius and a saviour, too. However, by the end of the day, his town councillor came by and informed him that the sign had to go.
        He continued to monitor the traffic. Drawing on his former expertise, he plotted data in three dimensions, constructed elaborate graphs and colorful charts, and developed complicated forecasting models to demonstrate the real and projected dangers at the intersection.
        He wrote a letter to the newspaper editor, but, due to a backlog, so he was told, it wasn’t printed until after Christmas by which time most of the pedestrians were safely indoors for the season.
        The following year Ernest moved into a condo. There was no view of the street. That had been a condition.
        He started weaning himself off his meds on a trial basis but resumed his full dosage upon discovering that there was a children’s daycare in the apartment above him.

Crossing the River, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Crossing the River, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

The Tunnel is Closed

Peter McMillan

    We’d already begun our descent into the tunnel when everything suddenly came to a stop. We were all stopped. Of course, I had to be the one to go through the tunnel. There was absolutely no movement in the traffic. Ahead there were brake lights and behind headlights, three lanes of them. The guy in the scruffy beard and super-sized pickup truck had his window rolled down, head stuck out, yelling at someone or maybe just the situation. The SUV in front was watching a kid’s movie. A cabbie in the rear had just gotten out and was standing beside his taxi, arms propped on the roof. Everyone else seemed frozen in their cars, not reacting.
    My window was rolled down part way even though the fumes were bad. Someone further down inside the tunnel screamed, then someone else did and others joined in. There was no fire or smoke, no sign of an emergency, but people were getting out of their cars, and they were walking kind of funny, because, as I later realized, they were trudging through knee-deep water. I opened the door of my van and water rushed in as a small wave passed, covering the brake and the accelerator pedals. Instinctively, I reached for my pocket and quickly closed the door. Even though the van was on a fairly steep slant, it was probably still a foot deep at the back of the van where I had to exit. People were splashing past to get to higher ground, leaving their cars stuck and flooding in the tunnel.
    I couldn’t see it from where I was but I imagined that the electronic billboard at the entrance to the tunnel now simply and cryptically read “The Tunnel is Closed.” It wouldn’t say why because of the panic that would cause, although it had to be increasingly obvious as more people escaped and related what they’d seen that an enormous disaster was developing under the river. Judging by the huge cracks forming in the walls of the tunnel and the ceiling at the edge of the tunnel, it was going to get a whole lot worse. I only saw 40 or 50 people from cars in front of me get out and get to safety—the cars around me were already empty—and I knew there had to be lots more still inside. After all, the tunnel is a mile long.
    It couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes, but it seemed a lot longer for help to arrive. Several divers went straightaway into the tunnel, disappearing into the flickering light. I imagined a Godzilla from one of those old Japanese science fiction movies wading through the river and stepping on the tunnel and crushing it. It would have immediately filled with water, and up here, some 50 feet higher, there would have been a small wave like the one I saw when I opened my van door.
    It was slowly starting to sink in that I was a handicapped man caught square in the middle of a major urban disaster. How ironic. I’d finally caught a break and now this. I knew I could get out, as long as the electrical system in the van worked and the ramp lowered. But I didn’t know whether I could steady my wheelchair and navigate it through the water for 100 yards. I figured people would stop to help if they saw me, but it was chaos. Would they notice? I had to keep the wheelchair from toppling over into the water or I’d certainly be missed.
    And if someone did stop to help, they don’t get why I can be so stubborn. It has nothing to do with them and their good intentions. It’s strictly about me. I’m not a lump and I won’t be treated that way. Besides, I really don’t like being touched. Period.
    Once out of the tunnel I would have different worries. Most people have trouble touching us. Paramedics, on the other hand, don’t care. Nothing’s off limits for their prying hands. As I’m in good health, as long as they stick to checking my vitals, everything should be fine. Since I’m conscious and in no distress there’s no need for them to pat me down and go through my pockets (for meds and identification) and find that little cloth bag with the stones. I’m so glad I told the other guys to split up, because if any one of us had got stuck in the tunnel, we’d all be done for. I just wish I hadn’t offered to take the tunnel.

cartoon by David Sowards

cartoon by David Sowards

In The Light And The Dark

Crimson Blackstone

    I wasn’t cold or unsheltered, back in the downpour,
    the asphalt split town and spilled homes,
    drowning family treasures
    Slipping under to save them, I couldn’t watch the spider gangs,
    and I backed into cracking sunlight, vulnerable to the sea’s breathing

    Sour apples’ bitter growths fermenting on the ground,
    mice cursed the invasion of their borrowed comforts in a second compressed seclusion I was reluctant to invade; had I chosen wisely, the tiny bones never would’ve cracked, and the noiseless cries and my tears, pinned to my chest, would’ve yielded room for other urgent hangings

    Blankets offered decades too late, lines passed out in both times, sucked in, evasive and misinterpreted back, whiplashed and limping through the midpoint to the reckoning; and I peered through layers that dimmed through the looking glass, applying superior magnification to the previous. I channeled through that looking glass, singeing, then burning holes through spider-ridden stores, and the mouse dying in your shadow, on the lines I swallowed when you fed your swines at will

    Why, you say, and my personal betrayer asks me in that space from which I can’t shut my mind away, and I’m stranded in old rooms with black walls, plastered in your lazy proof that I should march into colder halls and whiter walls; and still, you ask why, yet tonight, as the last, I’m trapped with false comforts, unsolicited borders, and that twinge that it’s all wrong

    Your axe bit unsteady again and brought me down, but I fell outside the redwood tops, and they’re much obliged to stand as memorial markers to dirty wheels, freezing waters in afternoon hours, and years of jack-o-lanterns that welcomed me as one of their own, within deceitful control to which I’d returned

    The swipes never quite stopped

    I’m here on the surface fighting a battle ongoing below, and there’s no chance I won’t win, and there’s no pain that’ll reconstruct my dandelion trail. I bring my own comforts and build my own borders; you won’t understand when I explain it, you’ll see only a weathered dummy meant to lose its memory to appease yours

    Pass out your leaking tokens if you insist

    In the light and the dark, I protect my dearest ones, and in ushering them away from the violet storm and traffic you summoned, I reaffirmed what I’ve always known


Janet Kuypers
haiku 4/2/14

how does the light feel
once you know the truth, alone,
in a darkened room

(If you’d like, check out the
Janet Kuypers bio.)

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This haiku is on twitter, and this poem was nominated in the 100 Haikus 2014 press release for the (40 year) Pushcart Prize
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading (S) her poem know from her “Partial Nudity” book release feature live 6/18/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading (C) her poem know from her “Partial Nudity” book release feature live 6/18/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery


Ben Macnair

The Young Couple are browsing in the bookshop.
She picks up an old book,
older than the two of them,
inside the front cover is sixth form poetry,
written in his hand,
using the same, tired lines,
that he used to use on her.

Film Studies

Ben Macnair

Less than five minutes ago,
the film ended,
and all I can remember is the small
of the lead actresses’s back,
and how Don from the Newsroom,
always seems to be Don from the newsroom.
I know that somewhere in there, there was a tale
about faith, hope, forgiveness, and redemption,
but maybe that is all we remember in life,
fleeting glimpses of female flesh,
and once they become successful
people always seem to repeat the same patterns
from the same small bag of tricks.


Dan Maltbie

    Jens’s feet pounded the deck of the icy knorr. His beard was stiff from hours above deck. A red line rimmed his eye from the spyglass. In the sky to the east a star fell toward the line of ships.
    “What is it?” Erik said.
    “It entered my sight about three hours ago and has been traveling steady since.”
    On the starboard side their lane was beginning to fill making running impossible.
    Jens handed the frozen glass to Erik. The object appeared to be a large turtle shell, shiny and solid. Its edges aflame from the rate of travel, or maybe a piece of onyx highly polished dropped from above.
    “Have you seen something move that fast before?” Jens said.
    “No. It seems Odin flung it from Valhalla.”
    “It should make impact on the water within the next few minutes.”
    “The other ships are adjusting course,” Erik said.
    “It won’t matter. When that thing hits we could be swamped. Head aft and secure the cattle.”
    The vessel shifted from the enormous wave created by the object’s crash. Jens concentrated on the spot where the star had fallen. Steam and smoke obscured the rough waters.
    Mikkel, the captain of the lead ship, moved his vessel to intercept. A pillar of steam rose less than a few yards to its starboard. Waves crashed on its shallow hull rising and falling as it progressed.
    “The cattle are tied down, any news?”
    “The sea is still too rough to make out anything. Mikkel has moved his ship toward it, what he hopes to discover is beyond man’s comprehension,” Jens said.
    Jens looked through the spyglass. His numb hand trembled on the tiller as the ship trudged on.
    A great light shot high, making a glowing beacon in the crisp night air.
    Screams erupted from Mikkel’s ship. New shapes emerged on the deck of the embattled vessel, black and lithe. The sound of swords and axes finding purchase was pounding the air.
    Jens rang the alarm bell and signaled his companions. A chorus of replies rang out from the line of vessels. He smashed the spyglass to his eye searching the skirmish for any sign of Mikkel.
    The wraiths covered the ship.
    There were no more screams and the clanging of the bells faded. The star descended beneath the waves spitting fire and smoke.
    “Jens, that was your brother’s ship.”
    “Aye, he is a damn fool for moving off course,” Jens said.
    “He was placed in a hard position. The village would not make it to spring without his cargo,” Erik said.
    “Arm the men, Erik,” Jens said. “Either in Odin’s Great Hall or mine own home, we will feast come the morning.”

Sea Out, art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Sea Out, art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Eleanor Leonne Bennett Bio (20150720)

    Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist of almost fifty awards. She was the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2013. Eleanor’s photography has been published in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has been displayed around the world consistently for six years since the age of thirteen. This year (2015) she has done the anthology cover for the incredibly popular Austin International Poetry Festival. She is also featured in Schiffer’s “Contemporary Wildlife Art” published this Spring. She is an art editor for multiple international publications.


The Storm

Ralph Womer, Jr.

The summer storm
leaps into your lap,

nuzzling you, then shaking
the last few drops from its fur,
jumps out again leaving you drenched.

Ralph Womer, Jr. bio (7/31/15)

    Ralph Womer, Jr. is a retired veterinarian who practiced small animal medicine and surgery in Alabama for 40 years. He is the author of several professional journal articles, and has recently turned his writing to poetry, essays, memoir and fiction. He lives in Auburn, AL with his wife, Carol and their 13 year old cat, Mr. Roberts.


Ralph Womer, Jr.

The bartender’s eyes
keep returning to my arm
resting on the marble.

What? This one, I say,
the eight inch scar on my forearm?
A knife fight in a Saigon bar.
I threw my arm up just in time
to prevent being slashed ear to ear.

The split lower lip?
Yeah, it went through and through.
For a while it was hard to kiss, or spit.
No, different bar, different fight.
A broken beer bottle,
and I didn’t raise my arm in time.

Others? Sure. Ones you can’t see,
slashes of regret on my heart and soul,
lives I might have saved and those I had to kill,
but don’t bother asking about any more
without buying me another drink.

After we leave, my wife says, Why
do you do that? You know it’s a lie.
You’re a retired veterinarian.
You’ve never been to war,
or fought in a bar.

I stare at her and ask, What should I say,
that the scars came from being clawed and bitten,
that I put too many to sleep at the animal shelter,
or that my only battles now come at night,
when I fight back the tears?

Ralph Womer, Jr. bio (7/31/15)

    Ralph Womer, Jr. is a retired veterinarian who practiced small animal medicine and surgery in Alabama for 40 years. He is the author of several professional journal articles, and has recently turned his writing to poetry, essays, memoir and fiction. He lives in Auburn, AL with his wife, Carol and their 13 year old cat, Mr. Roberts.

[art is not. perfection]

Stefan Benz

[art is not. perfection,
your broken fingernail, spiked
deep into my back
launching orgasms that
hurt both & all. once
eyes genitals minds memory.
&. us

[art is. not perfection,
not change not fear not
soul of the world. wipe
away the clean faces. wipe
they do deserve to die.
for us.

[art. is not perfection,
deep rendering, clouds
scare the sun into dark-
ness. die. flickering venus
shadows pukes puke migratory
rights. for every, god.
to die. upon, the cross
of stone, of color, of time
i love you says i, i

[art. is. not, beginning
end. solitude. of manunkind
is all there is is is is. is
jokes on it & bored children
& you. fool’s. gold tapestry
coat, go home & leave. all

[bug-eyed. the little child]

Stefan Benz

[bug-eyed. the little child
hates, fierce, love. for, what
it, is. for not knowing the
hows of so many dead.

[it tugs puzzles all daynight.
blowing at clouds. knowing why.
no. the clueless ways are end-
less. help is is; the little child
born. & alone.

[starry-eyed, love child. hates
his name. hates all whos &
wheres. hates, hates manun-
kind. takes challenge, all
yours. challenges sown into
fleshy ashes. old angel mid-
night names & promises. spoken.
last, first. in sodom babel. Go
kid. GO

Deep as the Bear

John Grey

Above me, the big bear
growls silent in the northern sky,
ascends through clear darkness
disappearing endlessly as it does.
I want to lie down here,
the bear asleep on my ceiling,
and breathe like the tiny window bells,
a slow stirred cream of soft notes and stillness,
but what I want is nothing to the world.

I envy the rock, the leaf, the crumpled up paper,
natural - tree after tree,
hill upon hill, sealed off by moonlight.
But silent and still
and anonymous as I struggle to be,
my lungs rise and fall with my name.
To be as fixed as the stars,
guided by nothing but the ripple of my lips
toward the new horizon,
while frogs drum, breeze flutters,
I’d be self-satisfied,
except there’d be no self.

John Grey Bio

    John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and Sanskrit with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Owen Wister Review and Louisiana Literature.

Your Recovery

John Grey

I can’t get away from them -
TV, the internet, twitter,
even talk around the water cooler -
celebrities have assumed the role
of the center of the universe.

But then you call me -
you’re out of hospital.

At last, news sends me a gift.
It doesn’t care who’s dating who
or wearing what designer dress.

I can imagine you seated on your patio,
family around you,
setting sun drenching your face.

You’re coddling a wine glass in your wrinkled hand.
You’re distanced from the superficial
by a canyon of heart and mind

The wine, I’m sure, tastes like the earth and growing,
like the land that spreads before you,
a family history in blades of grass and fences.

A smile plays out
beneath your warm farm-girl eyes.
You doze, contented, with the past around you,
dream a year not yet lived.

John Grey Bio

    John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and Sanskrit with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Owen Wister Review and Louisiana Literature.

Last Call

Richard Schnap

The streets are as sad and suspicious
As the old men inching by with their canes

Over the cracked and broken sidewalks
That seem to conspire their doom

While their hearts are filled with longing
For a time and a place long ago

When laughter was only a nickel
And love was only a dime

Now they seek somewhere to linger
That drowns out the noise of the world

A bar to forget who left them
A church to remember who stayed

Then as the day ends its drama
And the curtain of night comes down

They wander back home in the darkness
To pray for an effortless death

Richard Schnap Bio

    Richard Schnap is a poet, songwriter and collagist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His poems have most recently appeared locally, nationally and overseas in a variety of print and online publications.

Sleeping Beauties

Richard Schnap

I remember her face
Framed by the moonlight
Caught between darkness
And light

And I remember her voice
A lost bird’s song
That welcomed the sun then
Cursed it

There were many like her then
In black leather jackets
That concealed dresses
Of silk

That answered to names
Of springtime flowers
But sometimes to ones
Of weeds

Richard Schnap Bio

    Richard Schnap is a poet, songwriter and collagist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His poems have most recently appeared locally, nationally and overseas in a variety of print and online publications.


Karen Jones

I am Pele:
Queen of the fearsome volcano.
Goddess of flaming hair,
and eyes that burn the land,
I shape this sacred place.

White tropic birds
nest in steaming walls
around the crater of fire
where my spirit dwells.
Its molten lake I command
to ravage every space.

My hot heart awakens,
my sulpher breath poisons the air.
Lava spews from my jealous throat.
Raging, violent,
the ground quakes.

My fiery river
ignites a path to the sea,
burning great forests.
Steam clouds rise under sunset sky;
red roaring fountains
explode over water, black waste.

There, wind and water
round my forged crystals
to shining pearls.
They spill from sculpted precipice
and gather into green sands,
sifted by endless waves.

There, with my sea sister,
I bring forth,
sparkling in the sun,
a billion black diamonds
where sea turtle hides her eggs,

and cliffs
where the black seabirds
play and dive over sapphire waves
crashing constant
against my wild embrace.

I am Pele:
I shape this sacred place.

Golden Necklace

Karen Jones

He placed the chain around her neck
in presence of the guests.
Admire the fine
and costly craftsmanship;
behold the golden segments,
rich and heavy curves.
See it shine against her throat’s
dry furrows.
then turn away.
Look not upon
her bitter mouth
as she tries to smile,
into her eyes’
haunted reflection.
How this cold snake
its dissembling
her darkening

Visits to My Mind

Naomi Kondo

    The day I was released from the psych hospital my parents picked me up and drove me to my apartment. They offered to come up and help me settle in, but I told them I just wanted to be by myself for a bit. My mom said in that case I should take some food she bought me, gesturing to two grocery bags sitting next to me in the back seat. I thanked her and took the surprisingly heavy bags up to my apartment.
    Everything was exactly how I had left it a month before, but all my possessions felt oddly distant, as though they were from a movie set, rather than objects in a real place that someone lived in. I dropped the two grocery bags and the trash bag of toiletries provided by the hospital on the kitchen table, now unwanted memories of my sad experience. I sighed. It was time to restart my life.
    First I needed to eat, and so I went over and inspected what my mom had provided. I discovered that one bag was entirely filled with cans. Beans, tuna, and perhaps the entire Progresso soup line. This was unfortunate, as I did not have a can opener. The second bag had cereal but no milk, pasta but no sauce and an enormous bag of oranges. I took the Raisin Bran by itself to the living room, flopped on the couch and began eating it from the box.
    I found the TV remote, still partially lodged in the cushions, and turned the TV on. Absolutely nothing appealed to me. I settled for the news, which featured local shootings and international wars, confirming, as I had always believed, that the world is a hopeless mess. After ten minutes I couldn’t stand it anymore and turned it off. I dropped the cereal box on the floor, but I continued to lie on the couch.
    I quickly drifted off into thinking about my stay in the hospital. My roommate would occasionally scream in the middle of the night, abruptly waking me up. Far too often our mid-day snack was peanut butter and graham crackers, which never seemed like a logical combination. Art group was actually kind of fun, because we were provided glitter, but healthy living groups were lame, seeming to be geared towards people who had never heard of calories. If you have a new outfit three times a week, which your parents bring when they visit, people in johnnies resent you.
    These thoughts had a dream quality now that I was home. Just as my possessions seemed unreal, my mind was distant from itself. Maybe I had imagined the past month; maybe these memories were just melodramatic fiction. I slowly let in the truth that this experience was all mine, and that I could neither forget it nor give it away.
    I decided to call my best friend, Cammie, and let her know that I was out. On the first ring she picked up.
    ̶-;Hey Penelope, how are you?”
    ̶-;I’m out.”
    ̶-;Really? That’s terrific. I really missed you. Sorry I never visited you.”
    ̶-;That’s okay. It’s not a pleasant place to visit.”
    ̶-;I’m really glad to hear from you. Listen, we’re going to Scuba tonight. Just us girls out on the town. What’d you say?”
    ̶-;Yeah, that would be fun.”
    ̶-;Great. We’re all meeting up around 9. See you then!”
    Immediately I was overcome with dread. I still felt tender from my month ̶-;away.” I wasn’t really sure if I could handle a night out, but I said I would go, an impulse reaction I would not have made with a moment of reflection. Maybe hurtling myself right into intense social interaction would be helpful, like throwing a child with one leg into the water and telling her to swim. I checked the clock, 5:30. That gave me a little while to stay on the couch. I closed my eyes again, and this time I let pure emotion wash over me, waves of painful memories crashing into each other, haphazardly beating the insides of my mind. Being in a mental hospital for a month, even though it was voluntary, really is a big deal. It means no privacy, no joy, and no ability to trust in yourself.
    At 6:30 I pried myself from the couch. I made my way into the bedroom where I inspected my closet, looking for something suitable. In the back I found a short red Isaac Mizrahi satin dress, a late night QVC purchase, which I worried hugged my curves a little too much, but I had never worn it, and this was as good a time as ever. I chose a pair of sparkly black Prada heels, my treasured and most expensive shoes, which I received as a graduation present, wore all the time, and seemed perfect for the outfit. I headed to the shower next, and after it, I began the process of preparing: makeup, hair, jewelry, the alluring smell of lavendar. At 8:30 I was ready. I decided to splurge for a cab, because I didn’t feel like using public transportation in this outfit, and besides, I had just gotten out of the mental hospital – I deserved a cab.
    The cab pulled up right in front of the club, and I felt a little important exiting it in front of the long line of people. I didn’t see Cammie or any of the other girls, so I got in the line by myself, which made me a little embarrassed, as I didn’t want to seem like a lonely person without friends, or a single girl looking for a hookup. The line was slow, but eventually I got to the front. The bouncer was enormous, exactly as he should be. As I moved to enter the club, he smiled at me, and I felt validated.
    Inside the club, it was pounding electronic music with an overwhelming beat. As was my habit, I moved directly to the bar, keeping an eye out for Cammie and the girls. The bar was swamped with people, but after some time I was able to push myself to the front and order a Cosmopolitan. I wasn’t really supposed to drink on my medication, but once I had a drink in my hand, I felt more confident. Now I fit in. Just as I was easing into the atmosphere, a short, twig-like man approached me with the line, ̶-;Do you have a sunburn or are you always this hot?”
    I laughed at his ridiculous try at wooing me, but I really didn’t feel like engaging with him, not just because he was tiny, but because I didn’t have the energy to play the game, not even to insult him.
    ̶-;I’m sorry. I really need to find my friends. I really need to go. I’m sorry. Good luck with someone else.” I ran away, now hoping to find my friends as soon as possible.
    I decided to circle around the people dancing, as they were too dense a mob to sort through. At the opposite end of the club, I spotted the girls sitting at a booth drinking martinis. Seeing them all together reminded me of our great times in college, both clubbing and binge drinking at frats. We would spend hours preparing our outfits and makeup, not settling until we were all confident that each of us looked hot. I was very relieved to have found the girls, but when they gave enthusiastic waves, I felt a pang of jealousy. While I had been in the hospital, psychotic and terrified, they had been doing exactly what they were doing now.
    ̶-;Hey there, girl!” Cammie said with an affectionate grin and a toss of her perfect blonde hair, ̶-;So glad to see you!” I was closest to Cammie, and she was also our unofficial leader.
    ̶-;Yeah, it’s been way too long!” Terry, with her cute red bob, chimed in. Terry went through men like they were water between her fingers, always ready to scoop up more.
    ̶-;Join us,” Mary added. She had different color hair every few months, and it was currently blue-black. She was wearing a spiky bracelet, which looked fashionable and a little punk rock.
    As they shifted to make room for me, Victoria said, ̶-;You really look good.” Of all of us, she was probably the most beautiful, wearing her long brown hair in loose curls, but she was humble enough never to acknowledge it.
    I sat down in the space they had made for me, but then sighed by accident.
    ̶-;What’s wrong?” Cammie quickly responded to my inadvertent complaint.
    ̶-;Nothing. It’s just....” I paused too long, and Mary asked ̶-;What?”
    ̶-;I guess I feel really tired. This music is a little overwhelming.”
    ̶-;Are you kidding? Little Miss Dancing Queen thinks the music is too loud?” Terry sounded shocked. She was not just teasing me.
    ̶-;What did they do to you in there?” Victoria asked.
    There was a very long silent moment. Finally it occurred to me that they were waiting for me to say something.
    ̶-;I just sat around a lot. I had to go to a lot of groups. There were some really weird people.”
    ̶-;Well you’re out now, sweetie, and that’s what matters!” Cammie said.
    ̶-;I know,” Mary said with a sneaky tone, ̶-;We’re going to get you out on the dance floor, and you’re going to dance away the last month.”
    I really didn’t want to go, but as all the girls immediately agreed this was a terrific plan, I had no choice. In unison they finished their martinis in a gulp but then placed the glasses on the table gingerly. Mary grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor.
    The beat was still bumping as it always did, but I couldn’t lose myself in it the way I used to. In the past, the music would wash over me, and I would feel it pulsing inside me, inspiring me to move, to gyrate, to be alive. But now it felt like an attack. Every boom was an assault, and I felt jabbed from every angle. I could hear the other dancers’ thoughts, which were all telling me how there was something wrong with me, that I didn’t belong. Then the flashing lights started forcing me into a dizzy panic. In the midst of the chaos of moving bodies, I stood completely still, petrified.
    Only Cammie noticed me and stopped dancing, asking me if I was okay.
    I wasn’t. I wasn’t okay. I had to go. That was all I needed. To go. I shouted this explanation to Cammie as I pushed through the hordes of people, eventually reaching the exit, very grateful. Luckily a group of people had just exited a cab, and I was able to flag it down right in front of the club. ̶-;Please take me home,” I said.


    After my shaky return to society, I decided to take some time to recuperate before venturing out again. For about a week I mostly slept, leaving the bedroom only to use the bathroom and to eat occasionally. I ran out of toilet paper and started using napkins from the kitchen. I mostly ate oranges. When I was ̶-;fine” I spoke to my parents about once a week, but after all that had happened, they wanted to check in on me daily. It was a little irritating, but I also kind of appreciated the support. I always told them I was good, and they pretended to believe me.
    When I had first returned home, I found a month’s worth of mail somehow stuffed into the small box. I had had no energy to look at any of it, leaving it on the kitchen table in a lump. However, when I reemerged after that week, my first plan was to look through it. Most of it was junk mail, which I only glanced at and then threw out. Almost all the rest of it was bills. I now remembered I had no money to pay them. I had lost my job at Banana Republic when I went completely bonkers in the store.
    While folding the ̶-;buy 2 get 1 free” printed tees, I was hearing the customers’ and my co-workers’ thoughts. A tiny woman, perhaps size 0, kept telling me in my mind that I was fat and didn’t deserve to work at a clothing store. Then my co-worker started telling me in my mind that I was a bad worker, that I was the worst at folding t-shirts of everyone in the store. People had been visiting my head for some time, but on that day it just became too much.
    To the skinny customer, I shouted, ̶-;Shut up you anorexic bitch!”
    The woman did not react well to this. My co-worker pulled me aside to assess what was going on, and I told her that I was not the worst t-shirt folder ever and she should mind her own business. The store manager then came over, and suggested I go home and take some time off, which I took to mean I was fired.
    Upset about my job and irritated that so many people were saying things in my head, I decided to go to my parents’ house, where I attempted to explain to them what had happened. I guess my try at articulating the situation went poorly, as they brought me to the hospital that day.
    My parents had supported me in a number of ways throughout my life, which I learned was not the case for all people, especially those in psych hospitals. In addition to love, they also helped out with money. Even when I was working, my parents had been contributing a bit. The little one bedroom, plus utilities, was more than my retail position could support. I would probably have to ask my parents for even more money. They had already shelled out money for the hospital, and so I felt bad about asking them. I glared at the unopened bills on the table and chose to ignore them. The only mail of any interest was a catalog for next semester’s classes at a community college, where I had been taking painting classes for fun, and my monthly Vogue.
    I grabbed Vogue and brought it to the living room, where I put on some Coldplay, and then dropped on the couch reading it with enthusiasm, the most I had felt in a long time. Page after page of the newest fashions relaxed me, transporting me back to college, when a successful ensemble was my main concern. Back then I enjoyed studying all the designers carefully, making a mental list of all the newest trends I wanted to show off. Now seemed like a good time to reclaim that pleasure. I studied the ads as much as the rest of it. Everything from Balenciaga to Marc Jacobs. I managed to spend a little over an hour occupied this way, and when I reached the last page, I remembered how great it feels to shop. I still wasn’t sure if I was up to it though. The idea of the mall, once my second home, seemed too much to handle right now. There would be an onslaught of busy shoppers, and it was also the site of my breakdown. I would save that for another time.
    I finally decided to address the issue of apartment maintenance. The mess that a deteriorating mind can create is substantial. Most of it had accrued over the past few months before the hospitalization, when things were snowballing all over the place. My first job was to throw out my neglected spider plant, which I did with some sadness, because it had been with me through all of college and had been the only living being in my apartment other than myself. Next I addressed the layer of floor disaster, mostly clothing, dirty dishes, and misplaced objects. It did not take long to collect all the clothing and throw it into the hamper, which now overflowed. Likewise, collecting dishes and placing them in the sink wasn’t hard. What took me the most time was reorganizing everything else.
    I found my favorite necklace with a ̶-;Penelope” charm resting on the counter next to the toaster. I got it from my parents at the large, wonderful ̶-;Sweet Sixteen” party that they threw for me. My signature pink beret, adopted initially as a joke that then became a habit, was crammed half way under the fridge. My collection of piggy banks from the places I had visited on family vacations was scattered in an almost forced pattern of randomness on the floor. There was a purple sequined belt on the cocktail table and moisturizer sitting in an open drawer in the kitchen. A picture of all us girls was partially covered by my stuffed elephant, Muffy, who I had had my whole life and had also fallen to the floor.
    After an hour of cleaning, I took a nap. I drifted off feeling some satisfaction at my small, but to me significant, effort.
    My mother called me about an hour later. As usual she asked how I was, and I said fine. Then she said she had been giving me some time, but now I should start going to see a psychiatrist. She was paying for this, so I felt an obligation to go. She had already set up an appointment for the next day, and I agreed to go.


    I was scheduled to meet with Dr. Caroll twice a week, which I was not happy about. The psychiatrists in the hospital had been all business, ticking out each symptom with an impersonal nod. The social workers had asked me questions that seemed unimportant, like showering and eating habits. What could this psychiatrist possibly do to make life any better, other than doling out medicine? Dr. Caroll was one of the few psychiatrists that did therapy as well as medication. My mother had done her homework.
    At the beginning, I mostly sat and stared at her, determined not to share anything with a woman I was wary of. I told her there was no way she could ever understand what it felt like to be me, let alone help me. I spent most of our first meetings glaring at her in silence. She told me that she was here for me whenever I was ready to share, which I doubted.
    After three sessions of silence, of Dr. Caroll trying and failing to engage with me, she asked me what I enjoy in life. In an attempt to avoid discussion, I said ̶-;nothing.” But suddenly I reflected on how sad that was, and perhaps it was that question infused with her shrinky magic that made me elaborate.
    ̶-;I sit around my apartment, watching TV, listening to music, and hating my mind.”
    ̶-;What makes you hate your mind?” Dr. Caroll asked.
    ̶-;Because it misbehaves. After a month in the hospital, I have come to understand that people aren’t really visiting my head. It just seems like that. They only let me out of the hospital because I recognized this fact, not because the crazies went away.”
     ̶-;I’m sorry you are still suffering with this. There are a number of medications that might work better for you than what they put you on in the hospital. We can explore this further. I also think talking about these experiences could help them lose their power.”
    I was surprised to realize I wanted to share. I told her how around the time of graduation, when it felt like the life I loved was ending, I had discovered that I could hear other people’s thoughts inside my head, and that at first I was excited to discover I was a telepath. In the beginning it was just my friends’ minds that visited my head, but later I began to hear the minds of strangers: customers at the store, people on line at the supermarket. I managed to live with this for about a year, even holding down a job. Unfortunately, the thoughts began coming into my mind more and more frequently, until I had no idea when or how much they stayed in my head. I told her about my breakdown at Banana Republic. I emphasized that I now know these visits to my head aren’t real, but that they still upset me. I added that I try to do breathing exercises, which the social worker in the hospital suggested.
    Once the floodgates had opened, it all came out. In the following sessions I started telling her about anything and everything that had ever happened to me in the past twenty-two years. Lost childhood friends, bad relationships, an over-protective mother, who I did admit to loving. Surprisingly, it felt good. I reflected that it was exactly what therapy was supposed to be.
    After two months of seeing Dr. Caroll twice a week, she suggested I join a support group. She recommended one that met on Tuesday nights, saying it was called MISC, which stood for ̶-;Mental Illness Support Crew.”
    ̶-;It’s a fun group of people, who I think you would be able to relate to,” she said.
    ̶-;Is it like the groups in the hospital? Because I hated them.” I asked.
    ̶-;No, it’s more informal. Everyone just says whatever they want. There isn’t an agenda, just a chance to relate to people. It can be inspirational to have this sharing experience.”
    ̶-;Okay,” I said. Dr. Caroll had successfully sold me.
    There were six people the first time I showed up. The facilitator was a friendly middle-aged man, named Bob, who smiled and said ̶-;Welcome to the Miscellanies.” He then explained that everyone in the group had mental illness, including himself, but that everyone had different issues to share. The meeting began by everyone going around and ̶-;checking in” on their lives. There was an array of reporting: sadness, loneliness, boredom, traumatic memories of childhood. Members of the group took turns expressing real support and concern. I observed enough kindness that when it was my turn I said honestly that I spent all my time on the couch and that life sucked. Everyone expressed real sympathy for this. A number of people said that they too had long patches when they hated life and spent their time on the couch. I then felt comfortable enough to confess that for some time I had been having people’s thoughts visit me in my head, but it was happening much less now.
    Billy responded, ̶-;You can read minds? That’s awesome! You’re like a super-hero. Why would you want to give that up?”
    ̶-;Well, it started clouding my whole head,” I explained.
    ̶-;I want to read minds! Even if they’re not real. It sounds fun.” Billy continued, ̶-;Give me that problem any day!”
    Bob interrupted, ̶-;Billy, Penelope had a very difficult time, and you need to respect how hard it was for her. We all have our own challenges, and you need to respect everyone’s issues. Emotional pain is not awesome.”
    ̶-;Okay, I’m sorry.” Billy looked just a tad sheepish, making me hate him less.
    ̶-;It’s okay,” I said, ̶-;It’s just that having people in your head all the time is really exhausting. It makes everything harder. Trust me, you really don’t want this.”
    ̶-;You are so brave,” Cindy said and gave me a large, glittering smile.
    ̶-;Yeah, you are, ̶-;Billy said, ̶-;I’m sorry, and I feel your pain.”
    ̶-;Thanks guys,” I said, ̶-;The meds help, and I’m working on it a lot with my therapist.”
    Over the following weeks, Billy, Cindy, and I became a little group within our group. We only saw each other at the meetings, but we often had mini-conversations within the group, which Bob sometimes politely told us to stop. Rod called us ̶-;The Three Amigos,” which we laughed about. Of course we were open to everyone in the group and were supportive of everyone. We were just especially close, which in part might have just been because we were the same age.
    I reported to Dr. Carroll that the people in my group were helping me feel better. She said that was great and then suggested I might try and find an activity that I would like to do. She suggested something very low pressure. Maybe only a few hours a week. Perhaps a volunteer activity. We came up with the idea of volunteering at the local pet shelter. I have always loved animals, and I had wanted a kitten, but my landlord had said no. I contacted the shelter on my own, and they agreed to let me come in two days a week for three hours. This seemed like the right level of activity for starting life up again.
    My first day at the shelter, a very gregarious woman named Sandy greeted me with a large wave and a loud ̶-;Hello, you must be Penelope.” While I did not have that same level of enthusiasm, I tried my best to match it with all I could muster. It seemed sufficient, as she immediately began showing me around. She began with the obvious, waving her arm where I was standing, explaining ̶-;this is the waiting room.” Then she gestured for me to follow her, moving into the examination room. It felt so much more sterile than the fuzzy brown carpet and red plastic chairs of the waiting room. A man in a lab coat was standing next to a Jack Russell Terrier on the examination table.
    ̶-;Hello there,” he said, ̶-;I’m Frank.”
    ̶-;Nice to meet you.”
    ̶-;Welcome to our family.”
    This seemed too accepting too soon, and so I merely nodded.
    Then Sandy brought me to the cages where the animals were kept. It was a sad thing. These animals, all without owners, were just sitting in cages day after day. Clearly Sandy had already come to terms with the sadness I was now feeling.
     She said only, ̶-;These are my darlings. Aren’t they wonderful? I would take every single one home if I could. I already have four cats and two dogs though.”
    ̶-;That’s a lot,” was all I could say.
    ̶-;Your job will mainly be to clean these cages. I hope that’s okay.”
    In a sharp flash, Sandy jumped into my head and told me I was only cleaning cages, because I too was refuse. This was extremely disturbing, but I immediately took some deep breaths and did some self-talk, reminding myself that it was not real. I hoped Sandy had not been able to discern what I was thinking.
     ̶-;Yeah, that sounds good,” I said.
    ̶-;Great. Let me show you the cleaning closet.”


    I slowly eased back into something like a life. I went to the shelter on two days, the support group on one, and the other two, I went to see Dr. Caroll. It almost felt like a work week, even if it was only a few hours a day. I even began to feel like I was having a weekend, something that disappears as soon as you stop working.
    One day in group, Rod reported that he had been eating even more than usual. He had purchased three packages of donuts and had eaten them all within the span of half an hour. When the visits to my mind got to be overwhelming, I started eating a lot, so I said that I understood and he should not be so hard on himself. I added that ̶-;emotional eating” is pretty common. I asked him if something had triggered him into eating that many donuts. His eyes defocused as if seeing a blurry object far away, and after a moment, he perked up with visible understanding, and he turned to me and said that actually it was his birthday last week. He had blocked that out, as his birthday was a very sore spot for him. Then he thanked me for helping him understand his actions. Bob turned and smiled at me, which I took to mean that he also appreciated me helping Rod.
    Unsurprisingly, making that kind of human connection turned out to be far more rewarding than cleaning animal cages. While I looked forward to my Tuesday night group, I began to dread my two days at the shelter. The staff was friendly enough, but the smell was awful, a combination of animal waste and industrial cleaner. Also something about that place was triggering, people visiting me in my mind far more often than in other places.
    In group one day, Cindy turned to me and told me that my simple Calvin Klein t-shirt with Juicy Couture jeans had real style. I thanked her and told her that her DKNY dress was really cute.
    ̶-;We should so go shopping together!” Cindy said.
    I was still wary of stores, but I wanted to maintain this friendship, as she was the only friend I had who really understood what it was like to suffer. She herself was a victim of childhood abuse. So I replied a vague, ̶-;Yeah, sometime. Definitely sometime.”
    ̶-;Ladies, can we plan shopping another time?” Bob interrupted.
    ̶-;Yes, sorry, Bob,” I said, ̶-;Rod, I was listening, and I think you do have the power to improve your life.”
    ̶-;Thanks, Penelope. I’m not so sure, but thanks.”
    ̶-;You do.”
    After a few more months, I began talking to Dr. Caroll about dreams for the future. For a long time, the future seemed like a gargantuan creature that loomed so completely over my little life that it terrified me. But now I was finally able to peek at it.
    I had finished college, which meant that I should have qualifications for something. I had been a Psych major, which now struck me with sad irony. I had asked myself many times if I had known about my issues somewhere secretly inside me, which had driven me to that major. In general I liked to tell myself ̶-;no,” but the thought persisted.
    I brainstormed with Dr. Carroll what I wanted to do with my life. Now that I had smelled the world of animal shelters, I was pretty sure it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Similarly, I realized that I didn’t want to do anything with my Psych degree. That would mean dealing with sick minds all day, and not in the reassuring context of a support group.
    Dr. Carroll helped me consider what activities I enjoyed in life. I realized what I really liked was art. I planned to attend another painting class in the following month when the semester began. Dr. Carroll was very supportive of that. I identified that I liked fashion and had worked in a clothing store, but I didn’t want my old job back, or any other store in the mall, because I thought it might be a reminder of that incident at Banana Republic. If I wasn’t working retail, there wasn’t much to do with fashion. I didn’t have it in me to try designing, and I didn’t even know how to use a sewing machine. We agreed that I would keep it as a hobby. Dr. Carroll encouraged that hobbies are also important to have. Together we considered if I wanted to do more with art, and we came to the conclusion that taking a class for now was a good start. I didn’t need to fill my life with lots of activities all at once. A gradual process of taking on responsibilities seemed to be the best method of recovery.
    In group, I checked in with everyone about my life plans so far. I would keep cleaning at the animal shelter, because it was something to do, and the visits to my head were manageable. For fun, I would take a painting class. I would see my therapist and come to the group. I received friendly nods after my explanation, and Cindy said ̶-;You are so awesome, so strong, Penelope.”
    Later in that group, Billy and Cindy made a formal announcement. They had fallen in love, and because romantic relationships were frowned upon in the group, they would both be leaving. I was floored. How could I have not known that my other two amigos were in love? I felt happy for them but also a little betrayed. I didn’t let on though, and I congratulated them on their love and told them they would be missed. Everyone else offered similar remarks. With a glint of tears in her eyes, Cindy said to me that she had come to think of me as her ̶-;once a week sister,” and she would miss me so much. I appreciated her warmth, even while being a little hurt. The rest of the meeting maintained the bittersweet tone of their announcement, and at the end we all hugged. As Billy and Cindy left after the meeting, holding hands, I had a flash of desire for love. I hadn’t even considered it for some time. A sick mind has no room for romance. I took this pang to be a sign of health.
    There were other indications that I was recovering. My apartment was cleaner than it had ever been. I even vacuumed. I ventured to the mall and bought a black pencil skirt with the fantasy I would wear it to an important meeting some day. I began studying some art history on my own, specifically the Fauvists for their bold, wild color. I had pleasant conversations with my family.
    I also began considering what would be the best way to reintegrate with my friends. After that failed night out, most of my friends had not made much of an effort to talk to me. They all called at various times, and I had a number of polite conversations, but we no longer had the marathon phone calls we used to have. They were gentle and distant and cordial. At first that was fine. It really was all I could handle anyway. Maybe they sensed that.
    I still did talk to Cammie on a somewhat regular basis though. It wasn’t what it had been, but I could tell she was making an effort, which I appreciated. It became a routine that she would ask me to do things, and I would decline, but she didn’t stop trying. Finally, after about six months had passed, I agreed to have lunch with her. She was so ecstatic at the prospect of seeing me, that I was filled with joy and almost tears. I had a friend who cared that much. This was something undoubtedly good in my life, something lucky.
    At lunch Cammie couldn’t stop talking. We had been in contact, but it seemed that there was a lot I had missed. Her new boyfriend of two weeks, whom she had mentioned to me, had just been accepted to medical school.
    ̶-;I’m dating a man with a real future,” she glowed, ̶-;So much better than those other dead beats. Forget you, Samson.”
    ̶-;Yeah!” I smiled and agreed.
    Then she told me that Terry had gotten engaged.
    ̶-;Seriously! That’s amazing! I haven’t known her to date anyone for more than a few months.”
    ̶-;Well, apparently a month and a half was enough for her. Oh, and Victoria cut off all of her hair. We all tell her it’s cute, but I think it might have been a mistake.”
    ̶-;That’s too bad.”
    ̶-;I know. Anyway Mary is leaving.”
    ̶-;Yeah, remember Stanley? Her long distance love. Well, she decided to move in with him. All the way in California. I don’t want her to go, but you know, I want her to be happy. We all do. But we’re sad.”
    ̶-;Yeah, that is sad.”
    Cammie paused then, and looked at me, searching for something. Eventually she asked, ̶-;So, how are you?”
    ̶-;I’m good,” I said, and then I reflected and realized this was not a pleasantry. I really was beginning to have a good life, or at least a better one. As bad as things had been, they were at least a little better now. I had a good therapist, a family who loved me, a useful support group, a not always awful volunteer job, and a great friend right next to me, loving and caring.
    ̶-;I’m so relieved to hear that, Penelope.”
    ̶-;Yeah, I am too.”


    Exactly two years to the day that I was admitted to the hospital, I took stock of my life. Everything was genuinely better. I had gone to Xtatic the night before with all the girls and had a great time. I drank, which I wasn’t really supposed to do, but it was fun and nothing bad happened. In fact I finally enjoyed dancing again, rejoining the rhythm I had lost.
    The divide between me and the girls had mostly mended. We never talked about the hospital, as pretending it never happened seemed to make my friends most comfortable. Other than Cammie, they offered zero support around my mental illness, but at least they didn’t treat me differently.
    Things had gone back to normal with my parents too. We talked once a week, every Sunday, like in college.
    I had just gotten a new real job in the gift shop of The Museum of Fine Arts. During my lunch break, I was free to wander the exhibits as much as I wanted. Sometimes the customers would still say things in my head, usually that I was a sub-par cashier, but I was much more used to it now. I had learned how to use self-talk successfully to reassure myself that I was having a delusion and that what I was perceiving was not real. After two years of practice, I had gotten much better at this.
     I still saw Dr. Carroll, but now once a week, who continued to be a great support.
    There was a new issue with MISC, though. Bob had informed all of us that he was moving to Ohio in the following month. He had explained that he always loved the Midwest, had actually grown up there, and he was looking forward to returning. This left the group in question. Would we disband? Everyone agreed they didn’t want to do that.
    Then one day in group, Bob casually suggested that I take up the role as facilitator. The idea of that seemed absurd. I had no credentials. A BA in Psychology was hardly enough. However, Bob reminded me that the group had always been peer run.
    ̶-;I have always been open about my own experience with mental illness. I don’t have a Masters in anything, but I think I’ve been running the group just fine. We are people with mental illness supporting people with mental illness. You’ve been with us for almost two years, and we’ve all seen how much progress you’ve made. I think you would be a great choice. You have always been so supportive to everyone in the group. You’re a good listener, Penelope, and you’re patient. Those are just some of your strengths.”
    All the other members then took turns encouraging me to take on this role.
    ̶-;You’ll be great!”
    ̶-;We believe in you!”
    So I agreed. How could I say no?
    When I got home that evening, feeling really proud, I noticed that my moisturizer was once again in an open kitchen drawer. My first reaction was terror. My mind was falling apart again. This was the first sign.
    Then I took some breaths and used some self-talk. I told myself that things were better and I had achieved so much, that I wasn’t falling apart, that this was just a quirky little thing, and I shouldn’t worry.
    ̶-;Okay, self,” I said to myself, ̶-;You are better, which does not mean you are perfect. You are okay. Don’t worry. You’ve got this.”

Janet Kuypers Bio

    Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
    She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
    She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org and chaoticarts.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
    Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
    In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, po•em, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed.

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