welcome to volume 147 (the July 2017 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

Gregg Dotoli June Walk
Carl Papa Palmer Rear end Rearing
Sunday Afternoon
David Sapp Flirted with Nurses
Marsha Foss Vacationland
Drew Marshall The Purse Snatcher
Virgin Memory Loss
Bijit Sinha Palaver
Kristyl Gravina Pain
Jack Moody Success
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz Shadow World art
Garin Turner The Mysterious Box
Allan Onik Zen Tap
Janet Kuypers nobody finds me
Allan Onik Dark Clouds
Allan Onik Red Tide
Wayne Franklin The Preparation
Janet Kuypers Cast in Stone
Alexander Smith A comfortable kind of nothing.
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz Running After Nothing art
Greg Stidham Salvation Army
Doug Hawley War
Chanelle Pina Sharp Pains
Denny E. Marshall Haiku (dimension)
Haiku (folded)
DC Diamondopolous Leaves of Grass: An Apothecary
Fabrice Poussin King of the Caldera art
Norbert Kovacs Disagreement over a Novel
Janet Kuypers judge
Liam Spencer Only Good Things
Kyle Hemmings Blue Finger 2 art
Heather Chandler On The Rocks
Janet Kuypers census
Kristyl Gravina Night-time Fantasy
Richard Schnap Chosen Few
Ben Rasnic Refrigerator Magnets
Bhargab Chatterjee Enmity
Tameka Jarmon For Us
S. R. Mearns Two O Clock Stars
Kennisha Wright Take Me Away
Janet Kuypers out there
Jan Marquart Truth
Eleanor Leonne Bennett P1470596 art
Tiana Edwards Relationship Troubles
Elijah Deus Falling Grace
E. Martin Pedersen Dumbass World
Donal Mahoney Imperfect Storm Ends in a Rainbow
Rebecca Cowgill Gun
Roger McKnight Down the River
Brian Looney How Is Yours?
Janet Kuypers Job of being Homeless
Quiver with no Home

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June Walk

Gregg Dotoli

I walk with dizziness
and heart pumping
we stop
never go
I need forever

Rear end Rearing

Carl Papa Palmer

“I’ll never raise my voice at you.
We’ll discuss everything and
always be friends, solve any
issue without fear of punishment.
I won’t force you to do anything
that you do not want to do.”

My daughter says all this to us,
her parents, through her new born
daughter. Vows to bring her little
girl up the proper way, not the
way we had obviously failed. As
we sit at our dining table, teenage
brother takes it all in, looks at me,
waits for my comment.

My reply is to answer, also through
my new grand daughter, with no doubt
as to whom it is directed. “Maybe I
should just engrave these thoughts
right here on our dining room wall.”

Three years later, pregnant with
her second daughter, my daughter
sits beside her first daughter, who
now sits alone and eats by herself.
“I have eaten all the veggies that I can,
Grandma, but I sure would like another
one of your buttered biscuits and a
refill on my glass of milk, please.”

To which my daughter responds,
“Listen here, Miss Priss, you will eat
everything on your plate. Don’t you
start crying. I’ll give you something
to cry about. Fill up that fork. Stop
whining right this minute. I’ve had
enough. Get over here. Come on. I’ve
gone through this before. Let’s go to
the bathroom, young lady, right now.”

We hear everything through thin walls.
They soon return to the table. Not a word
is said as I smile and point to the memory
engraved upon our dining room wall.

Author Bio

    Carl “Papa” Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway VA now lives in University Place WA.
    He has a 2015 Seattle Metro contest winning poem riding buses somewhere in Emerald City.
    Carl, president of The Tacoma Writers Club is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee.
    MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever

Sunday Afternoon

Carl Papa Palmer

Raking needles and cones down my sloping front
yard, I notice him watching while standing by his
mailbox across the street, kitty corner from my house.

The little boy, small for a ten year old, must take after
his mother, his father’s big. She drops him off on Saturday
mornings every other week, never gets out of the car.

Noticing his arm in a sling, I ask “break it at the rodeo?”
referring to the red cowboy hat he wears shadowing the
recent bruise on his cheek and band aid on his chin.

“Doctor says it ain’t broke, just sprained. It’ll be alright,
but Mom’ll be mad and start hollering again,” the boy
says as we both move closer to the bottom of my yard.

He looks back at his home quickly when I ask how he
really did hurt his arm, “I tripped and fell down is all,
nobody hit me. I better get back in the house now. See ya.”

“It’s a hot day, how about we get us a couple of popsicles?
I’ve got some in the fridge. Go ask your Dad if it’s okay.”
He smiles, runs back into his house, does not return.

Author Bio

    Carl “Papa” Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway VA now lives in University Place WA.
    He has a 2015 Seattle Metro contest winning poem riding buses somewhere in Emerald City.
    Carl, president of The Tacoma Writers Club is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee.
    MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever

Flirted with Nurses

David Sapp

The day before Dad died, I’m the dullard, his dying
news to me. In Columbus, there was nothing but Dad
stuck in crisp, white sheets, folded into origami creases,
and this obvious portent, a bright, red chemo bucket,
ghoulish, open-mouthed demon crouched at his bed.

The day before Dad died, he was touched warily with
neoprene gloves, protocol; he’d become a toxic spill,
an eschewed thing, a body, a bill to tally. Somehow,
despite white-coated dithering, I got him home to brothers,
sisters (Aunt Carolyn the choragus), a somewhat
familiar death, however imperfect.

The day before Dad died, he flirted with nurses
(a waitress on any other occasion). “Would you like a pill?”
she asked, too loudly, unnecessarily. Xanax to Xanadu!
Eyes suddenly bright, playfully, he stuck out his tongue for
pill, nurse, comic effect, our laughter a parting reassurance.

The day before Dad died, barbarian cells strutting into Rome,
a violence routing all of us, I was obliged to prefer cremation
or coffin. DNR? I rehearsed the letters on my lips and turned
this starkness over in my head; it refused to be casual,
an ordinary movement, a spatula flipping burgers.

The day before Dad died, Hospice brought pursed smiles
and eyes so gracious, so kind, inadvertent knives.
Hospice brought thoughtful cookies, chocolate chip,
oatmeal raisin, peanut butter with the kisses. I wondered,
are these all for him? I forgot his favorite.


Marsha Foss

I drove north 200 miles to reach this facsimile
fireplace in the hotel lounge,
the plaster stones shaped to fool us
into seeing old lake rock
hauled up from the shore.

Last night the gas flames in the bonfire pit
were encircled by glass panels
and had no sound at all
but one whoosh when
the manager came to start it.

Indoors, the shells on the shelf
below the plastic trophy fish
are real, I think,
small tokens
of the natural world.

I step outside in daylight
to breathe the air of the big lake
and walk into the wind
to discover old growth pines on the point,
a sturdy and threatened
reminder of things that are still
what they claim to be.

The Purse Snatcher

Drew Marshall

    It was a foolproof plan. We would meet back here in this abandoned building and split the money three ways.
    My fellow delinquents and I headed to the beach in search of our victim. I spotted a late middle-aged couple. They sat gazing towards the sea. The purse was a few feet from the senior woman’s knees. It sat on the edge of the blanket. The purse begged for it to be stolen from these ancients. Perfect!
    The fact that this was a beautiful Sunday of bountiful sunshine, complimented by a cool breeze, eluded us. A lazy day invented for cloud watching and floating in and out with the tide.
    We took our positions. Being the fastest, I grabbed the purse and ran. I ripped it open, grabbing the wallet and dropping the purse. I glanced behind me. The man was in hot pursuit. This was not part of the plan.
    I threw the wallet over to Roland; sped up and never looked back. I didn’t stop until I hit the street. I was the first to arrive at our hideout.
    Vinnie finally showed up, gasping for breath. About ten minutes passed, and Roland popped in. Wearing a wicked smile, he pulled out a twenty dollar bill from his pocket.
    Being the brilliant seventeen year olds that we were, we then headed back to the scene of the crime. We would spend our ill-gotten gains at the world-renowned, Nathans Famous Hot Dog Stand, in Coney Island.
    I was happily daydreaming and munching on my dog, when a cop car appeared out of nowhere. The vehicle pulled onto the curb. It screeched to a halt, inches away from me. I saw the guy who chased me in the backseat. He pointed his finger at me. His shouting could be heard for miles. “THAT’S HIM! THAT’S HIM! THAT’S THE SON OF A BITCH!’
    I flew off and ran down the side street. I was several blocks away before I slid down an alleyway to rest. Without a penny to my name, I walked the two miles back home. I met up with Roland and Vinny a few hours later. They filled me in on their narrow escape.
    It had never occurred to me that a dried up, wrinkled sack of bones, would chase after us. Until now, I couldn’t conceive of our pigeon as ever being young. I now understood he had been someone’s son. The man could be a brother, and father. That stranger was probably a grandfather as well. He was another living, breathing, human being. A spirit endowed with amazing speed and stamina to boot.

    It was the first and only time. I had learned my lesson.

Virgin Memory Loss

Drew Marshall

    Mike and I had several hours to kill until we could watch the big ball drop from Times Square. It was goodbye nineteen seventy five, and hello to nineteen seventy six. I was a few weeks past my twenty-first birthday.
    My friend had recently enlisted in the peace time Army. An action he took to get away from his parents. Mike had to catch the two o’clock bus to Fort Dix in New Jersey.
    A chill was in the air as a light snow began to fall. We strolled along Seventh Avenue. Not an easy thing to do. This district was lined with streetwalkers. Mike was wearing his army cap and uniform.
    A short pudgy black woman appeared out of nowhere and latched onto Mike. She whisked him away and headed down a dark stairway. At first glance it looked like a subway entrance. I stopped in my tracks and called his name. He had already disappeared. I proceeded with caution.
    I descended into the lower depths and entered a huge room. A worn-out sofa was in one corner, along with a few fold up chairs and a coffee table. A woman tended the cash register atop the bar. The shelves behind her were empty. There were about a dozen small rooms on the far end of this pit.
    I saw Mike enter one the rooms. His hooker closed the door behind them. I sat on the sofa and waited for him to return. There was not a soul, lost or otherwise, in sight. It was a dark, dank, depressing, pauper’s palace of pleasure.
    A vision of loveliness appeared before me. A rare beauty endowed with perfectly chiseled features. She stared down at me from heaven and smiled. Aphrodite and Venus combined into one ravishing creature.
    This light skinned black woman wore a tan skirt that touched the top of her knees. Her boots matched the shade of her skirt. The blouse was see-through, a beige floral design.
    A black bra masked her hidden treasures.
    She wore a hint of a sensuous perfume. Since the ancient times of Cleopatra, mankind has known that scent, is the most powerful aphrodisiac. The stench of dried semen evaporated.
    The woman was an oasis, in a barren landscape. One glance at her beautiful brown eyes, and you laid down your defenses and surrendered.
    This feminine creature engaged me in small talk. She was obviously intelligent and articulate. The lady was very soft-spoken. The soothing sound of her voice was music to any man’s ears. She seemed quite out of place in this den of inequity.
    She finished dressing before I did. I sat on the bed, putting my socks and shoes on.
    The angel stood by the door watching me. I told her that it was my first time. This enchantress nodded knowingly, and smiled. Her gentle warmth permeated the claustrophobic room.
    The goddess held the door open for me as I left. She touched my arm for a moment and told me to come back soon. I stared at the mocha colored nail polish she wore. She glided over to the cashier. I lingered on my last glance at the face that launched a thousand ships. No doubt in my mind that she was Helen of Troy, in her previous life.
    I noticed Mike pacing back and forth by the sofa. He was pissed. He took one look at me and then flew up the stairs and kept walking. I had to run to catch up to him. We headed towards Times Square. He told me that he had shot his wad during foreplay. The prostitute would not let him continue unless he paid to start again. House rules. He didn’t like that deal, so he left. The cashier told him I was in one of the other rooms.
    We spotted a USO center and decided to go in for a visit. After looking around for twenty minutes or so, we left to usher in the New Year. We were lost in the swirl of a crowd that size. You start off in one direction and are pushed along in the opposite direction. It took us two hours to inch our way back to the bus terminal.
    Mike took off after the bus, as we saw it pulling out. He never asked about my experience. It didn’t matter. I was floating on a perfumed cloud all night. Her scent lingered on my hands. Her essence engulfed my imagination.
    I couldn’t stop obsessing about that ethereal beauty since our first dreamlike encounter. I returned two weeks later to the cesspool of ill repute. The cavern was closed down. The entrance, boarded up.
    As time passed I found I couldn’t remember one single detail of the sex that night. I can only see the mystery woman standing over me, smiling, when it was finished. I’m told it’s not unusual.
    It may be for the best. When you look at your favorite painting, you admire the beauty of the end result. Your first thought is not to imagine what it looked like in the beginning, when it was first sketched out.


Bijit Sinha

    The leather-clad soldier looks down upon his brother-in-arms with a blank gaze, as he pushes him down the ditch. As the other man’s senses slowly fade out, it becomes obvious to him that his fate is sealed. But there is no pleading for mercy in this situation, for his still eyes gaze upon the armored man out of curiosity. For he was one whom the folk had counted upon; their golden prodigy! But before the man’s failed life miserably comes to a close, he comes to a horrifying conclusion as the other returns his gaze- this destruction wrought upon them was not the doing of a madman; rather something done out of base understanding. That in fact, there was no saving them.
    As the soldier had dug up the hole, flashes of searing silent screams had borne upon his head. Here he stood, aware of the futility of his attempt to stop the genocide, and yet he had to be the one to have initiated the massacre. For there could not have been any sort of absolution for the deed he had taken upon himself. He was helpless in the muddy terrain, crying out a stifled roar of agony in place of the victim, but there was nothing to be said underneath the sterner skies. In the end, he himself begins to reminisce back to the transpired events that had dramatically shifted his fate.
    Soldier: Can I do it?
    Perpetrator: If your heart lies on it.
    Soldier: Will I succeed?
    Perpetrator: The rest is up to you.
    Soldier: I am not going to come out of this with a clean slate, am I?
    Perpetrator: Duty upholds above everything.
    Soldier: Just promise me one thing?
    Perpetrator: Very well.
    Soldier: Can you guarantee salvation for my soul?
    Perpetrator: Nothing is definite.
    Soldier: Can you?
    Perpetrator: ...
    Soldier: Will my conscience be intact after this?

    Perpetrator: You realize the consequences if you fail this, don’t you?
    Soldier: I understand.
    Perpetrator: You cannot....you must not fail in your crusade?
    Soldier: This is not so simple.
    Perpetrator: You must have realized what is at stake around here?
    Soldier: I try to...but I cannot help but relive the insecurities of my life.
    Perpetrator: What do you mean?
    Soldier: Even if I am honored to do the greater good, I remain fixated on my own interests.
    Perpetrator: We shall see about that, won’t we?
    Soldier: I hope I won’t pay the due for the bloodshed.
    Perpetrator: ...............................................................

    Soldier: Are you willing to stoop so low for your so-called noble goal?
    Perpetrator: Justice is fickle. The laws that people rely upon are illusionary.
    Soldier: You can’t make decisions for everyone. Isn’t that unfair?
    Perpetrator: When people can’t stand for themselves, it’s time for one to lead them into greatness.
    Soldier: And yet you are willing to sacrifice the people for a select few?
    Perpetrator: Transcendence is everything humans have ever wished for....there can be no real acknowledgement of destiny.
    Soldier: ..................................................................

    Perpetrator: You could have never done this, can you?
    Soldier: It seems I overestimated myself.
    Perpetrator: And yet, you hope for the fulfillment of the deal on our end?
    Soldier: Hope is merely an instrument to foster activity in humans...or else we would all have been dead beings of the living.
    Perpetrator: Have you lost hope on the future?
    Soldier: ..........................................
    Perpetrator: Have you lost hope on us?
    Soldier: .........................................
    Perpetrator: Have you lost hope on humanity?
    Soldier: .........................................
    Perpetrator: Is there nothing that can be done to save our inherent existence?

    For the moment, I am clueless. The lull of despair that has inhabited my thoughts has hollowed out my soul. For the time has come when my actions bear no causality upon the dire consequences...you may have your way paved after all.


Kristyl Gravina

A nail has been placed in my heart
it stood there for years;
even a little rust collected
Some days it was pushed deeper,
then one day it was removed
The nail is not there anymore
but the pain remains,
in the gaping hole left behind
squirting blood with every beat


Jack Moody

    His mouth was moving rapidly but all that came out was a thin string of gibberish pouring out the front of his face like a garden hose. I was fairly certain that my eyes were focused upon his to produce the illusion that I was listening, but then became uncomfortable once I failed to realize whether I was blinking or not. My head was in an entirely different place than my body. My body may as well have not been there.
    Scott was talking about his job. We were in his new house. Scott had gotten me incredibly stoned. I was not used to being stoned, to this extent or otherwise. My god, the amount of words that could come out of this man’s face; it was staggering. I made a point of nodding, chuckling or releasing a shaky “yeah” every few minutes to keep up the charade that I was interested in what he was saying. It’s not that he wasn’t interesting me at all, I’m sure whatever he was saying was of decent entertainment or at least, valid, but the only thing I could be bothered to think about was how terribly I was doing in life.
    Scott was hard working, fit, healthy and happy. He had a well-paying job as a cook in the most well regarded, high-end vegan restaurant in the city (yes, vegan I know, but different strokes, as they say), a girlfriend so attached to him that he had to ask her to move out so he could have his own personal space, a new little house on the east end with one of his best friends for a roommate, a healthy relationship with drugs and alcohol, and such an enthusiasm for life that I found it almost nauseating. I was a struggling alcoholic, overweight, painfully depressed with debilitating paranoia, no job and no girlfriend, not even a semi-recent, one-off drunken sexual encounter under my belt to help satiate my lonesomeness, living at home, broke. The more I thought about the far juxtaposition between me and the beautiful soul sitting to my right, jabbering on without a care in the world, the more the pale yellow walls of his adorable little east end home began to close in around me and my drug-soaked brain.
    I inhaled sharply to regain my composure and caught the tail end of one part of Scott’s ramblings.
    “People come from all around the world to taste our food. They wait on a list for years to be able to get in. There are only fourteen seats in the whole place, and we require total silence while the chefs are serving you. They perform everything right in front of the guests; explain where every ingredient came from and how they’re preparing it. And every ingredient we use has been procured from only local farmers, all within no further than a hundred miles of our restaurant. This is the most top of the line dining experience in the entire vegan world, Henry.”
    I nodded, said “yeah”, and maintained a watchful gaze towards the open liquor cabinet across the room. He didn’t seem to notice that I didn’t care, or was just so wrapped up in his own life that he just wanted to talk out loud about it to someone that wasn’t his own reflection in the mirror.
    “Have you ever spent four hours carving the meat out of chestnuts with a knife the size of your pinky?”
    “What?” I asked, shook back to reality momentarily.
    “I once spent three hours skinning mini San Marzano tomatoes.”
    He then showed me a few pictures on his instagram of the tiny little meals on their tiny little plates. It was the exact kind of food that I imagine snobby, silver-haired ex-pats in turtlenecks losing their shit over while having well-informed, cordial discussions about an article that appeared in the latest edition of The New Yorker. It’s twelve courses of the smallest portions you could imagine, strictly vegan, strictly fucking expensive, strictly I-did-better-in-life-than-you-did food. Even the fucking plates were hand-made and exported by an award-winning potter on the other side of the country.
    I began to grow sick with myself again, and brought my attention back to the liquor cabinet, thinking about how perfectly the liquid in those tall bottles could wash away the feeling of gnawing inadequacy from the back of my throat.
    “Yeah, so things are just going really well lately, man. I’ve just been crushing it.” I could tell by the inflection in his voice that Scott was wrapping up his extended monologue. That was a nice feeling. “But anyway, what’s up with you? How’s the writing going?” He looked right into me with his brown eyes and a well-meaning, weak smile. I could tell he really wanted to hear something positive come out of my fat mouth. My friends, the ones that hadn’t yet given up on me, were becoming desperate to see me in a better place, if only by a small margin. I figured that most of them only kept me around anymore to be comforted by the fact that this is what they could have become, but through hard work and a positive attitude, they instead became who they were so proud to be. I had become a walking, breathing cautionary tale.
    “It’s going,” I said. “I’m still writing if that’s what you’re asking.”
    “Good, that’s good, bud. Anything published?”
    “A poem. That’s all. It was just a small journal.”
    “Well, hey, that’s great! Hell, let’s celebrate!”
    I knew what that meant. My eyes lit up.
    “If you insist, Scott.”
    “Whatdya want? I got Session, Captain Morgan, Tanqueray, Absolu—”
    “Whiskey,” I interrupted him.
    He stopped mid-sentence and hesitated before reaching in and pulling out a half-finished bottle of Wild Turkey. “This work?”
    I was starting to feel a little kick in my step finally. He poured two glasses and sat back down, handed me one. “So...to—”
    “To success,” I interrupted him again.
    “Right...to success.”
    Scott sipped gingerly at the brown drink while I emptied my glass. It wasn’t until the alcohol entered my body that I became aware of my immediate surroundings and not just the tunnel that my vision and thoughts had been squeezed into. A Violent Femmes record was playing on vinyl. It sounded lovely. There were pieces of artwork and photography hanging across the living room walls, done by friends and friends of friends. Scott’s roommate’s pet snake was coiled into the corner of its terrarium, a mass of yellow scales tasting the air with a red tongue darting in and out of its mouth. My palms were glistening with sweat and my left leg was bouncing up and down uncontrollably. Scott was handsome, dark features and darker eyes, a narrow face and a growing but trimmed beard. His long hair was pulled to the back of his head in a bun. He wore a wool sweatshirt that reminded me of wet earth.
    Scott finished his drink and looked back up at me earnestly, thinking of something to say to fill the silence that I alone appreciated. “You workin’ right now?”
    “Yeah,” I lied, “been doing some landscaping with my neighbor’s business. It’s good work, keeps me busy.” I hated myself more with each word that escaped my mouth, but I couldn’t stand my friend knowing that I was doing any worse than he already did. If complete honesty were to be maintained from my end, the conversation would quickly become blisteringly depressing. Through my lie, though, Scott seemed to be pleasantly surprised, and so decided to continue with the line of questioning in hopes that it would continue to be pleasantly surprising.
    “Any girls?”
    “God no,” I said in honesty.
    My straight-faced answer proved to be humorous. A smile grew slowly across his face until his mouth was open, laughing with his teeth and his brown eyes and all. I poured another drink from the bottle of whiskey without asking, drank that down in one gulp. Scott took my silence as an opening to talk about himself once more, which was just fine with me. Conversations with others regarding my own well-being and personal life normally ended quickly.
    “Man, it’s such a different experience going into bars by myself now that me and Sophie aren’t really seeing each other as much. Last night, I walk into the bar down the street, and there’s this bartender working there that I’ve seen all the time, and she’s never paying me any attention, always being snarky and shit. But this time I’m not with Sophie, and all of a sudden she walks up and introduces herself to me, says, ‘Hi, I’m Melody, it’s really nice to meet you,’ and starts laughing at all the things I’m saying, even though I know I’m not being funny. And then there was this sexy-ass blonde tattooed woman across from me at the bar who just starts feeding me food from her plate! I didn’t even say anything, just looked at her! Like fuck, man, if only I was single.”
    “Yeah,” I said.
    “Doesn’t that stuff ever happen to you? You’re at bars alone all the time!”
    “No. I don’t look quite as approachable as you do, Scott. Mostly my hands are on my head. I don’t really go to bars to be happy. I go to get drunk.”
    It wasn’t until the words escaped my mouth that I realized how sad they were. Scott struggled to find an answer, eventually spurting out, “Well, that’s cool, too.”
    No it wasn’t. We both knew that. Scott was too nice and pleasant and I was too dark and distant. So it goes. Sensing my removal from my surroundings once more, Scott poured me another drink. “Well hey! There’s always tomorrow, right?”
    “Right,” I said, and drank the whiskey in my glass.
    It was raining outside. I love the sound of the rain from inside a comfortable home. I decided it was time to go, and bid goodbye to Scott.
    “Keep your head on straight,” he said to me as I walked out the door into the black and blue night.
    The rain was falling heavily like a sheet of water and obscured my vision as it drummed on the street and the houses and the hood of my car. The faint yellow glow from the streetlights illuminated each drop as it careened down to earth. For a moment, my brain was silent. I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a trembling hand over the flame. I looked up into the great black expanse arching over me and let the drops land on my face and the cigarette hanging from my mouth. The rain was going to fall whether I looked at it or not. The black canopy would be overhead for always and ever. The rain was wet and perfect and it came from a stark blackness that I couldn’t pull my eyes away from. I stood there in the rain until it soaked through the cigarette and extinguished the flame, and I smiled.

Shadow World, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Shadow World, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

The Mysterious Box

Garin Turner

    The doorbell rings and Jessica answers it. She looks around and doesn’t see anybody. As she turns around to close door, she glances down and sees a box. She picks up the box and thinks to herself “I didn’t order anything!” She looks at the box and realizes It’s her daughter Brooke’s. Now what could a 16-year-old girl be ordering? Jessica thought. After a few minutes, she didn’t think much of it until Brooke got home from softball practice.
    “You have a package here,” Lindsey said.
    Seemingly worried, Brooke responded, “You didn’t open it did you?”
    “No, I didn’t but why does it matter? I’m your mother! What did you order anyways?” Lindsey replied with a stern voice.
    “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” Brooke shouts as she runs upstairs to her room with the box.
    Lindsay starts to go after her daughter but then she pauses to ponder about what just happened. Brooke has been acting strange lately. Since softball season started she always comes home and goes straight to her room. Normally Lindsay would think this was normal behavior from a teenager, but she’s always been close to Brooke until now.
    The next day after school, Lindsay knows Brooke doesn’t have any practice tonight and the game isn’t until the weekend. She decided to let last night go as teens will be teens and that Brooke was too embarrassed at the time to let her know what was in the box. It’s now 4pm and still no word from Brooke. “This isn’t like my Brooke,” Lindsay thought. All of a sudden, the telephone rings. “Hello?” Lindsay says.
    “Is Ms. Norton available?” the voice asked.
    “Speaking,” Lindsay responded.
    “Hello, Ms. Norton, I’m the principal, Mr. Thompson,” he responded.
    Before she could retort “how are you doing,” she started to wonder if her daughter had got into trouble at school. Or maybe he was calling to let her know Brooke made the honor roll. “How are you doing this evening?” she was finally able to ask.
    “I’ve been better. I’m calling about your daughter Brooke,” Mr. Thompson said.
     “I’m very disappointed in Brooke! She brought a bottle of mace to school and sprayed one of her classmates with it! Furthermore, she has a bulletproof vest on! Did you buy this for her?” Mr. Thompson asked.
    “There’s no way in the world I would buy such things!” Ms. Norton replied.
    Brooke finally walks through the front door, before she can say anything her mom is in her face. “YOU HAVE A LOT OF EXPLAINING TO DO!” Lindsay shouted.
    “Mom, let me explain!” Brooke said.
    With her tears flowing like a waterfall, Brooke starts to explain. “It’s not like anybody notices or cares! I’ve been bullied by these girls ever since softball season. It’s got so bad that sometimes I don’t want to live anymore. All the stares, the giggles, the laughter. All because I’m tall and I’m not as skinny as the rest. The mace, the bulletproof vest, yes I ordered it! It’s a self-defense kit I found on eBay. They threatened to kill me so I took matters into my own hands.”
    “Honey, why didn’t you tell me? We talk about everything!” her mother asks.
     “Mom, I’ve tried to tell you, things are different! You don’t listen like you used to. You constantly think now I’m a teenager I’m changing and that I’m not going to want anything to do with you! Plus, ever since you started dating what’s his name, I’m not important anymore so why should I say anything?”
    Lindsey paused for a minute. Her daughter had a point, she has been spending a lot of time with her new man. She felt horrible, she didn’t realize how bad it was until Brooke pointed it out. As a small child, Lindsey would never let it be known if Brooke had a point but now that they were so close, it didn’t matter. She then spoke, “You’re right Brooke, I was too blind to realize I haven’t been there for you!”
    “I want my mom back! I need my mom back!” Brooke said.
    “You’re truly my best friend Brooke,” her mother replied.
    “Don’t get me wrong mom, I want you to live your life just don’t kick me out of it,” Brooke said.
    “You’ll always be the main person in my life, no man will EVER change that,” her mother replied.
    They embraced each other both crying enough tears to create a new pond.

Zen Tap

Allan Onik

    The sanctuary was dimly lit with half-burned candles. Sitting cross-legged on the cold stone floor amid the shadows, Kain closed his eyes and began to meditate. He noted his body as his essence floated in the holy room. Baal crawled out the wall preceded by flies and beetles.
    You join me every time, Kain thought, can’t I be left in peace?
    No mortal can,
said the Beelzebub, I’m watching you all.     Right you are. But some fail to realize I’m here. Some think me and my brothers are fairy tales. Some like to half-believe. Others commit great sin in order to please our nemesis. It’s all quite confusing and a bit amusing to my master.
    I wish I didn’t attract you and your bugs like a bee to honey.
    You are the one and only. THE ONLY.
You see? Cried Baal. The Father...
    Loves me.
    And all as ONE.

nobody finds me

Janet Kuypers
two tweet twitter length poem 10/29/16
written on Bourbon Street, New Orleans

I wonder why nobody
finds me as fascinating
as i know i am

i’m positive
i’m the only person
who envisions strangers
coming up to me and asking,
“aren’t you...”?

It’s tough to be
as awesome as me,
so i mean, i know i’m the only one

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See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poem “Nobody Finds Me” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (this video was filmed from a Lumix camera).
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See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poem “Nobody Finds Me” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
video See Facebook live video on 4/30/17 of the first part of Janet Kuypers’ “Drop the Bomb” poem series she read for Austin’s 2017 Poetry Bomb, with the ending of Kick Someone Out, Lades and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Exhaling Toxic Fumes, Jumping from the Mausoleum, Just to be On the Safe Side, Nobody Finds Me, Bored the Night Before 9/11, energy, errors, rescue, This is Only a Test, You, Only Searching, Ugly Babies need the Most Love, Bimbo, Good Escape, Goth Girl Photographer, Koala Porn, Occupy, On a Downtown Chicago Light Pole, On This Ride, and Marne Rifle Poem (from a Samsung Galaxy S7 smart phone).
video See YouTube video on 4/30/17 of the first part of Janet Kuypers’ “Drop the Bomb” poem series she read for Austin’s 2017 Poetry Bomb, with the ending of Kick Someone Out, Lades and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Exhaling Toxic Fumes, Jumping from the Mausoleum, Just to be On the Safe Side, Nobody Finds Me, Bored the Night Before 9/11, energy, errors, rescue, This is Only a Test, You, Only Searching, Ugly Babies need the Most Love, Bimbo, Good Escape, Goth Girl Photographer, Koala Porn, Occupy, On a Downtown Chicago Light Pole, On This Ride, and Marne Rifle Poem (facebook live video with a Threshold filter).
“Drop the Bomb” 4/30/17 chapbook
View or download the free PDF chapbook
“Drop the Bomb” 4/30/17
of all of the short Janet Kuypers poems she read from her live 4/30/17 reading in Austin’s 2017 Poetry Bomb (plus one bonus poem).
video See YouTube video from 4/30/17 of Janet Kuypers performing her “Drop the Bomb” poems for Austin’s 2017 Poetry Bomb (Sony), with control, earth, enjoy, unbounded, Just Thinking About It, Kick Someone Out, Lades and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Exhaling Toxic Fumes, Jumping from the Mausoleum, Just to be On the Safe Side, Nobody Finds Me, Bored the Night Before 9/11, energy, errors, rescue, This is Only a Test, You, Only Searching, Ugly Babies need the Most Love, Bimbo, Good Escape, Goth Girl Photographer, Koala Porn, Occupy, On a Downtown Chicago Light Pole, On This Ride, Marne Rifle Poem, No Thank You, He makes me Think about These Things, (and you could hold me), & From Words to Wars.
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Dark Clouds

Allan Onik

    The flags were raised, the boots shined. The rifles cleaned, the tanks assembled. The Planes fueled, and babes hushed. Eyes gleamed.
    “All hail the great leader,” The crowd cried.

Red Tide

Allan Onik

    The carnival was empty. Under the moonlight, the Schutzstaffel surrounded the boxcar and held their weapons. Blondi followed the Fuhrer to the door of the car and soon curled up to rest in the dirt.

    “Adolf. I knew you would come. I can see everyone that’s coming years before they come in. That’s how it works you know. For me at least. All of us are different. And some of us are fakes. Though I can assure you I’m not.”
    The Fuhrer was hit with an intense blue light, though he couldn’t spot a source. Then he realized. The light was coming from the mystic herself. He also noted some roses and Tarot cards, crystals and old books.
    “It took my sources awhile to find you. You are said to be the most powerful on the planet in the arts of unseen Physics. Even more powerful than the great Edgar Cayce.”
    “Yes,” the oracle said, “He has given me a gift. Though I know you aren’t one to believe.”
    “I’m not here to find worship,” he adjusted his armband, “I’m here to ask you a question. One question. And I think you already know what I want to ask.”
    The mystic glowed brighter. Hitler had to squint. “You will lose The Great War. The Red Army will overcome you—just as they did Napoleon. You will take your own life in Berlin. And then what comes after...you don’t want to know. He is quite upset with you Fuhrer...”

    Adolf stepped out of the boxcar. He sniffed and adjusted his tie. The German Shepherd lifted itself up and shook off. An officer with a large facial scar walked up to him.
    “Good news I hope?”
    “Send her to the chambers. But first, The Special Room. And make it long.” The Furhrer walked to his car, got in the back seat, and was driven away.

    Two Schutzstaffel entered the boxcar. In the dark, one lit a lighter and put his other hand over his FEG 37M. The other unsheathed his Hitler Youth Knife. In the small space The Mystic’s chair was empty.
    “Gone,” said the other.

The Preparation

Wayne Franklin

    “I’ll get over you, I know I will,” Al sang along with the radio. “Man, I love this song.”
    “Yeah, it’s a good one,” Bernard said, before wolfing down half of his Reuben. “You see the movie?”
    “What movie?”
    “Pretty Woman. The song is from Pretty Woman.”
    “I didn’t know that.”
    “Yeah, my wife dragged me to see it last week. I was surprised at how good it was!”
    Al tapped a button on the console and the fog evaporated from the windshield, revealing a clearer view of the museum across the street. He flipped the page in the art book and attempted to sound out the words.
    “Ra... Ra-nor? Is that right?”
    “Ren-wahr,” Bernard said through a cloud of corned beef and kraut. “But we ain’t looking for Renoir. We’re looking for Rembrandts. I circled the ones we’re looking for. Look on the page before that one.”
    “Your breath is jacking my stomach up,” Al said, gagging.
    Bernard rolled his eyes and wiped the mustard from his lips. “I need you to focus. Study the pictures and study the map. We gotta get in and out. Rick said we got about an hour before the cops show up.”
    “That’s what I don’t understand. How does he know when the cops are coming?”
    “They radio the police department at fifteen past the hour, every hour,” Bernard replied. “The police station is like ten minutes from here. Rick’s gonna call my beeper right after they check in, and then we go in, tie him up, tie up the other guy, and start grabbing stuff. That’ll give up just over an hour to start hauling.”
    “Hold up,” Al said with wide eyes. “It says here that some of these frames are pretty heavy! That’s gonna cut down on how much we can get out in that hour!”
    “I thought the same thing, but the boss said don’t worry about the frames – his buyer just wants the art. So I got us box cutters. We smash the glass, cut out the paintings and keep it moving!”
    “That’s smart. You’s a smart guy, you know that?”
    The pager began to chime. Al and Bernard both gasped, excited. Bernard checked the readout.
    “Is it time?”
    “No,” Bernard answered, disappointed. “My wife is lookin’ for me. I told her I had a thing to do!”
    “Aw man!” Al said, his excitement deflating. “This is gonna be a lot of dough, Bern. You got plans for any of it?”
    “Yeah,” he answered. “I’m gonna get Glenda one of those necklaces like Julia Roberts got in the movie. Maybe then she won’t nag me all the time.”
    “What movie?”
    “Pretty Woman! Oh wait – you didn’t see it yet... See the guy from An Officer and a Gentleman is in the movie too.”
    “Richard Gere?”
    “Yeah! So he’s this rich guy, and he gives Julia Roberts this necklace...”
    The pager chimed again. Bernard read the readout and a smile spread out beneath his mustache.
    “That’s Rick!” They propped their matching police hats atop their heads and exited the truck. Al slid his art book under his jacket.
    After multiple deep breaths, they casually strolled across the street and approached the delivery door. Al pressed the buzzer with his Billy club. Bernard un-holstered his .38 and cocked the hammer.
    “Security,” a voice said through thick static.
    “Boston Police. We’re responding to a disturbance.”

Cast In Stone

Janet Kuypers
This2007 poem was nominated in the Partial Nudity
2014 release for the (40 year) Pushcart Prize

I’ve searched a millennia for you
and my love for you
    will survive through the ages
And if they cast us in stone
it will only cement my love for you
for all to see and admire
because even if the elements
    chip away our outer façades
the marble will smooth in time
and my soul will still flourish
being frozen by your side.

the 2008 Poetry Wall Calendar
This poem appears in the 2008 Poetry Wall Calendar (in march 2008, with an image of two statues outdoors in Beijing, China)
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(1:39) live at Mercury Cafe, live in Chicago 11/30/07
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at Taking Poetry to the Streets, in front of the Parthenon, Nashville 12/22/08
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of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Cast in Stone (from the book Taking Poetry to the Streets) in Chicago 11/24/13 (C) at her feature Book Expo 2013 Chicago
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Watch this YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Cast in Stone (from the book Taking Poetry to the Streets) in Chicago 11/24/13 (S) at her feature Book Expo 2013 Chicago
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.

A comfortable kind of nothing.

Alexander Smith

    When you’re young, people tell you to take risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seize the day. Live a little. It’d be an uphill fight convincing me that this wasn’t a joke the elderly play on youth. See, they build up this idea of adventure. Invincibility. Incredible reward waiting just outside the safe and reasonable for anyone brave enough to snatch it, and then they sell you the idea that you might just be that person.
    But when you reach? The world is waiting to snap that hand right off, let me tell you. You can practically hear them slapping their knees and cackling when it happens.
    When I decided to reach, I had a decent job. It wasn’t flashy, or anything like that, but it paid my bills, and I didn’t feel the need to hang myself by my tye from the rafters. I had a car. Old, but it ran. A fiancé. Cut a long story short, I was on the road to being a minor somebody.
    I still miss it. Even now, as I’m shoving open a sticking door over carpet that’s too thick for the opening. Without thinking, I do as I always had after getting home. Keys on the counter. Shoes off at the door. Empty my pockets.
    I’m not home, though. I’m somewhere that smells like a lavender-masked cocktail of soap, bleach and ammonia. I’m not looking out at a parking lot that frames my old beater, I’m staring at a fence that couldn’t keep out a particularly spirited flea, and carefully curated plants that I’m real certain don’t grow around here on their own. I won’t be going to work tomorrow. I won’t be wandering down familiar streets, past familiar dirt and trash, waving to familiar, sagging faces. My whole world, right here and now, is two slabs, dressed in stripes, pretending to be beds, this rug that could swallow a small dog, and a few chairs all made outta the same plastic and metal as patio furniture.
    They painted headboards on the wall. Can’t imagine why. Before this all gets too much for me, I figure I might try to breathe in the outside. Remind myself that this wasn’t the sum of everything. Remind myself that if I had to, I could shove this shoddy barrier right over, and disappear.
    Footsteps shuffle up behind me, and I catch a glimpse the other end of this spectrum. You can feel the electricity spring off her as she follows along. Grinning ear to ear. Eyes grasping and groping every little detail. Mouth working away in stinging little bursts as she talks about just how great everything’ll be when we get out west.
    I sit down. It’s the only thing I can do here. That, or scream. Or curse. Or cry. She sits across from me, at this terrible little excuse for a table, and I bang my knee turning to face her. I watch, and nod, and smile at what she says. I tell her that I’m excited too. I insist that I don’t mind driving so much. Seeing her smile is almost enough to convince me that this over-extension was wise. That it was reasonable. Smart. Admirable, even.
    Eventually, her talk fades to noise. And that just leaves me alone with reality. It leaves me alone with the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing here, and I don’t know where I’m going.

Running After Nothing, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Running After Nothing, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Salvation Army

Greg Stidham

    She was walking so briskly, quick-stepped, like those soldiers in old black-and-white World War II movies. They called it goose-stepping. Parades of the bad guys. I remember watching them on my grandpa’s Magnavox. There would be fifteen or more, side by side, hundreds deep. Marching, kicking their legs up like college football cheerleaders today, looking to the side. They were scary.
    She made me think of them, storming across the parking lot. Her heels were high, raised her up three inches. And they were loud, like cannon shots. I thought she might salute me. Or, worse, kick me. So instead of a salute, I rang my bells.
    The bells were attached to a thin leather strap. The strap was so thin, I thought it might have been made for something else. I wasn’t even sure it was leather. I wasn’t sure about her at all, but I was determined not to flee, so I sat there and I rang the bells, as the clop-clop of her boots drew closer and closer. Her boot lifted her up to the step to where I sat, outside the door. She nearly knocked over my bucket, and just who would have been in trouble then?
    The night air grew even colder as she stormed past through the automatic doors and into the warmth of the liquor store. While I watched, scratching my five o’clock shadow, she disappeared into the bright light of the aisle packed with bottles. My khaki winter jacket was losing its battle with the cold wind. And I shivered in my corner on the steps of the store, with my tripod-strapped kettle not so full of coins.
    I jingled the bells again when two couples came up the step. I saw them. I know they looked, but they pretended they didn’t. They walked right by, me jingling the non-leather strap of bells more and more frantically, hoping for a coin toss into my kettle. They pretended they didn’t see, but I saw them. And they saw me.
    I’m not sure how I was chosen for this job. It’s a volunteer job, so I don’t get money; but still, there were lots of others applying. I waited with a small group. We were all waiting to get the paperwork we would have to fill out. I looked at all of them. There were businessmen. A young mother carrying a small kid on one arm. Some older folks who looked like they’d just wandered away from their forever home.
    And there was me. I never made it through high school. You see, I was what they called “special.” So I got to take special classes, with other kids who were special too. And I did real good. Fifth grade all the way up to eighth. I got the best grades you could get.
    When I started high school, everything was different. It was really hard. The classes were hard, and the subjects, but what was really hard were the teachers. If they said something we needed to learn, but they said it too fast, we couldn’t just ask them to say it again, more slowly, like we could in the school before.
    The new school was hard for other reasons too. When I left my old school, I also left my friends. Maybe I will see them again some day, but I don’t know. Before, I could always count on them, and now they weren’t there any more.
    In the new school it was different. People didn’t really make friends. Some had their own small groups, but they didn’t ever say anything to me. Sometimes, though, they made remarks, and laughed, pointing in my direction.
    My grades weren’t good any more either, and by the end of my second year at the new school, I decided to quit. Now I live in the basement room of my mom and dad’s, so I don’t need a whole lot of money. I got a job cleaning the floors at night at my old school, my special school. Not much money, but enough for the bus and for Three Musketeers.
    I didn’t think they would take me for this job, but the thought of wearing a Santa cap and ringing a bell to make money for poor people seemed like a great idea. They helped me fill out the papers, and a few days later, my mom called for me downstairs and said I had a phone call. It was the lady from the Salvation Army. She told me that I had been chosen to be one of their volunteers. I was so excited I almost tripped on the basement stairs.
    It’s been two weeks now since my first night. After I got the job, my mom drove me to the office where I picked up my white-trimmed red cap, my kettle and the stand. I tried the cap on every day before I started, just to be sure it fit just right.
    I was assigned to the liquor store about a mile from my house, three nights a week, until New Year’s Day. Every morning after work, I was to bring the money I’d gotten to the office. I guess they just trusted me that I wouldn’t take any for myself.
    On my nights to work, I was to start at six in the evening and stay until the store closed at ten. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That would be my schedule for the next four weeks. That first night was one of the coldest. You could see your breath floating away from your lips.
    I was so excited I was nervous, and I set up my chair in the corner outside the door, my kettle in the tripod. I rang my bells for the first time. Most of the time I sat waiting for people to walk by. When they did, I would ring my bells. And when I had to pee, the store people let me use the washroom in the back. Of course, I had to bring my kettle with me. When people passed, leaving the store, I rang the bell, and I got some coins from a few of the people. It wasn’t as much as I thought, but I guess okay for my first night.
    The night I saw the goose-stepping lady was the Wednesday before Christmas. That was not one of the good nights. Everyone was in a hurry, or in a bad mood. I wished them all “Merry Christmas” when they passed, but for the most part, they looked the other way, and then hurried on without saying anything, bags in their arms. A few people pressed coins into the slot in the top of my kettle.
    One guy stuffed his chewing gum into the slot. I think he was trying to make me mad. But it didn’t work. I just dug the gum out with my fingernail after he went on to his car.
    The goose-stepping woman stayed in the store a long time, longer than most of the customers. When the electric sliding doors hummed open to let her pass, I immediately heard the clop-clop of her heels again. She had a large bag under each arm. I rang my bells and said “Merry Christmas,” while she sternly turned her head to the side and silently snarled at me.
    A few more customers passed by on the way in to the warmth of the store, and then back out into the darkness of the parking lot. A man and his wife passed by, and she dropped a coin into my kettle.
    Three college girls giggled past. When they came out, two of them dropped a handful of coins into the bucket. I thanked them and wished them “Merry Christmas.” Most of the customers just passed by. I was invisible, even though I rang the bells.
    Just before it was time for the store to close, an old woman rode up the walk in a 3-wheeled electric scooter. It was red, with a little pennant flag on a stick. She had a pack on the back of the seat with a clear plastic hose coming out of it, leading around her side and up into her nose. I wasn’t sure she would get over the step to the landing where I sat, but her scooter climbed right over it like an army tank. And the doors opened themselves, so they were not a problem. I rang my bells and said “Merry Christmas.” She just glared at me.
    The old lady on the scooter was in the store for only a few minutes. When she rolled through the opening doors she was already tipping a bag-wrapped bottle to her lips. As she passed me, I repeated my “Merry Christmas.” Glaring at me again, in a voice as hoarse as a rusty saw blade, she spat, “Go to hell.”
    When the time came, the workers in the store dimmed the lights and began to leave the store, one by one. That was my signal to start packing up too. After unlocking the chain that tethered my bike to the pole in the corner of the parking lot, I walked back to my corner just as the manager was locking the door. I wished him “Merry Christmas,” and he said same to you, even though I am pretty sure he didn’t celebrate Christmas. He spoke with an accent and I heard the other worker say he was from Iran.
    After getting my bike, I put my kettle into the basket on my handlebars. And I folded up the tripod stand and strapped it to the back of my seat, got on the bike, and began to pedal off into the dark.
    The first part of my ride home took me down a dark road past an apartment complex. You could never be sure who might be there, during the day or the night. I was usually not afraid. I had ridden my bike by there many times, even when I was a kid. It was a little different at night, though, and my pedaling was a bit more brisk, my Santa cap perched precariously on my head.
    “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” The voice came from the dark just as I was turning a corner. Then I made out in front of me a young man, or teenager, bundled in an army jacket. And then I saw two more guys standing behind him.
    “Home,” I said. “I just got off work.”
    He snorted. “And where do you work? The North Pole?” I guess he noticed the Santa cap.
    “No. At the liquor store.”
    “Liquor store. You got any booze with you?”
    “No, sir.”
    He stepped closer, eyeing my bike. “What you got in the bucket there?”
    “I was collecting money for Salvation Army. For poor people.”
    He laughed. “Well, aren’t you lucky! You just found yourself some poor people. Why don’t you just hand that little bucket over to these poor people?”
    I felt myself start to shake as the three drew closer. “I can’t do that. It is not mine to give away.”
    It was just then that the sky went white with lightning. And that was the last thing I remember.


    Desirée was the last one to leave the office, and she knew she would have to hurry or she would be late for the Christmas dinner party. It was at his house, and she knew his wife would be there. And she, on the other hand, would have to act like she was just one of the other people in the office. Even worse, she would have to watch him chatting with his wife, having fun, being a real couple like she wanted to be with him. She was not in a good mood.
    She walked briskly to her car in the cold air and scolded herself for not wearing her warmer winter jacket. There was no snow yet, but it felt like it couldn’t be far away. She unlocked her Lexus with the remote. It was already dark and it wasn’t even six o’clock yet.
    She needed to stop by the liquor store and pick up a bottle of good wine to bring to the party. Then she would barely have time to get home, shower, fix her hair, and change into something that might at least grab his attention. Desirée was thinking about all of this when she pulled into the lot of the liquor store, got out, and walked hurriedly to the door.
    She barely noticed the kid as she passed. He shook some toy bells and mumbled something as she passed, but she didn’t quite catch it. And that ridiculous, faded Santa cap that looked like it was on its twentieth and last Christmas.
    Desirée found the wine she was looking for, her favorite—a local Baco Noir. She grabbed two bottles and marched up to the checkout aisle. There were two people in front of her, so she had her debit card and Air Miles card ready when her turn came. After she paid, she put the bag in her arm and hurried out the automatic door.
    This time she heard him. “Merry Christmas.” But he was begging for money. She glared at him and walked briskly past and to her car. She was not in a good mood.


    They finished their last exams of the semester that day, and it was time to party before everyone packed up and headed back to their families and homes for the holidays. Roberta, or Robbie as her friends called her, and her two housemates were going to a party at the Gary’s house. Gary was a good-looking guy in her Art History class. If the other guys coming to this party were half as cute as Gary, the girls were in for a good night.
    Robbie got to their house around supper time. She had to shower and get dressed before her housemates laid claim to the bathroom. She had some new skinny jeans and a silk blouse she planned to wear. Both the jeans and the blouse were just revealing enough.
    As she stripped off her sweatshirt and grungy jeans, she headed to the shower and called to her roommates. “Can someone order a pizza so we don’t totally starve before the party?”
    “Great idea!” came the reply from downstairs.
    Robbie was from Vancouver. Both her roommates were from Toronto. The next morning they were all three taking the bus to Toronto which left from campus and goes straight to the airport. Robbie would then catch her plane west, and the other two would be met by their families.
    Robbie scurried, towel-wrapped, from the bathroom to her bedroom. Her suitcase lay open on her bed, half-filled with clothes for her trip home. She moved it to the side and began to rummage through the underwear drawer of her dresser, finally choosing a matching pair of panties and bra. You just never knew who might get to see them tonight.
    While she was pulling on the skinny jeans and buttoning her shirt, the doorbell announced the arrival of the pizza. Lanni called out, “I got it.”
    Robbie fastened her jeans and skipped down the stairs, bursting into the kitchen. She fished her wallet from her purse and handed a ten to Lanni to cover her portion of the pizza. “I’m starved!” And she grabbed a piece. Lannie and Claire both took a paper plate and loaded them with two pieces each before scurrying up the stairs to ready themselves for the party, and Robbie grinned thinking about Gary.
    It was long past dark by the time the girls were ready to head out the door. All three were giggling with excitement as they skipped down the sidewalk. Before they got close to the liquor store, they broke out in song: “What do you do with a drunken sailor, what do you do with a drunken sailor...”
    As they stepped up to the door of the store, Robbie noticed the young man with a Santa cap. As they passed, he rang his bells and said, “Merry Christmas.” Once inside, they wandered the aisles, weighing their choices. Robbie picked up a six-pack of wine coolers, while Claire grabbed a bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.
    Robbie was the only one of the three with a credible fake ID, so she took all three items and made the purchase. She paid the clerk and kept the coins in her hand as the three of them left. As she passed the man with the Santa cap, she dropped the change into his kettle. Claire fished some coins out of her coat pocket, and dropped them in as well.
    The man rang his bells. “Thank you. And Merry Christmas.”
    Then they were off down the road to Gary’s house, singing again. They were going to have some fun tonight!


    Old Miss Ratchett finished her supper in the dining area, pushing her plate to the center of the table where she sat with three other old women. Rachel had had a stroke. Her left arm was weak and her mouth drooped. She had to use a walker, too, but her mind was clear. She was one of the women who played canasta every afternoon in the parlor room.
    Mrs. Taylor had been an opera singer when she was young. She still liked to sing around the home, but you couldn’t understand the words. She had early dementia, and although she could still take pretty good care of herself, she couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation if she had to.
    Of all the people in the home, Norma Smythe had the most visitors. She had two sons and a daughter, and they all lived in town. All three of them had several children, and someone would come visit every afternoon and they would always bring some of the kids to visit as well. Norma was the most sociable of the residents. Nobody in the home had ever once seen a single person visit Miss Ratchett.
    “You going out again tonight, Hazel?” Norma asked.
    Miss Ratchett put her scooter in reverse and backed away from the table. “None of your goddamned business,” she snarled, and lurched her scooter forward and down the hallway to her room. When she got there, she retrieved her jacket from the chair and, after removing the oxygen tubing from her nose, she twisted herself into it. Then she brought the tubing back around to the front and placed the prongs in her nose.
    “Goddamned busybodies,” she mumbled under her breath. She pulled her stocking cap down over her ears and pivoted the scooter in a perfect 180 degree turn, heading back out down the hallway to the front door. When she got there, one of the aides, a young Jamaican woman, opened the door and held it for her.
    “Have a nice evening, Miss Ratchett.”
    “It’ll be another shit evening, just like every other one in this hellhole.” And off she whirred down the sidewalk.
    Her scooter scooted faster than most people walked, and she was at the liquor store in no time. The step up to the door didn’t slow her down. She knew exactly how to boost her scooter over it. “Oh, shit. Another one of those asshole beggars.” She scooted on by, barely taking note of the Santa cap and kettle.
    Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels. She knew just where it was. She whirred right over to the wall where it sat on the shelf waiting for her.
    “Hey. Hey, you. You work here? Come grab this bottle for me.”
    The clerk came over, took the bottle off the shelf, and handed it to her. “’Bout time.”
    “Merry Christmas.”
    “Up yours.”
    And Miss Ratchet pivoted and headed toward the checkout line. She doled out her bills, took her change, said nothing when the clerk wished her a good night, and headed off into the dark outside the automatic door.
    The young man was still there jingling his bells. “Merry Christmas.” Goddamn. This stupid kid is still saying Merry Christmas. Goddamn.


    Julio was bored as shit. His video games were not interesting any more. His mother had already left for one of her appointments. And he was alone in his filthy room, with his dirty clothes thrown all around, a few partly empty bags of chips. He found his nearly empty vodka bottle and poured what was left into a fruit juice glass.
    He downed the vodka in a swallow, and pulled his cell phone from his backpack. Johnny would be home by now. Johnny was always up for fun, as long as there was some weed involved.
    “Hey, Johnny. What’s up?”
    “Oh, nothin’. I just got home.”
    “So what are you doing tonight? Anything fun?”
    “No. Nothing goin’ on. Mom’s gone. Place is empty as fuck. What about you?”
    Julio thought a moment. “I was thinking about going out and looking for some babes. What do you say?”
    Julio didn’t know his father. All his life he was trailing after his mother. She worked all kinds of jobs. Waited tables in Alberta. Cleaned motel rooms outside of Saskatoon. Most of her jobs kept her away, sometimes for twelve hours or more. He went to school. A little. But he was never in one place long enough to fit in. Kingston was the longest they’d stayed in one place for as long as he remembered. But it really wasn’t any different.
    Since they moved to Kingston, his mother had started working longer hours, and at weirder times of day. Or night. In the day, she would tell him she was leaving for a job and would be back in a few hours. In the night, she would just leave.
    “I’ve got some good weed. What say we go smoke and head out looking for babes? Or whatever action looks cool.”
    Johnny said, “Yeah. Sounds good. Meet at your place? Okay if I bring little Charlie along? He’s feeling a bit lonely tonight.” Charlie was Johnny’s 13-year old kid brother.
    “Sure. Bring him along. It’s not like it’s x-rated or anything.”
    They met up at the fence outside the housing project. Julio had the weed. A couple of joints. They set up in the corner of a parking lot. It was cold, but they all wore their jackets. Julio lit up first, inhaled, and passed the joint to Johnny as he exhaled smoke into the night.
    “Hey, Charlie. You’ve smoked before, right? Just inhale and hold it in your lungs for a minute or so.” Johnnie passed the joint to Charlie. The boy inhaled deeply, and immediately burst into a fit of coughing.
    “Charlie, don’t inhale so fast. Take a little, with a little air. You’ll get used to it.” Johnnie tried to be a good big brother.
    They passed the joint around the circle three more times before there was nothing left. Charlie did okay after the first try. And then Julio lit up the second. It too was passed around the warming circle three times before its glow dimmed. The boys were all quite buzzed by this time. And talkative.
    Julio said, “I hate my father.” And then, “I don’t even know who he is. I never even saw the bastard.”
    Johnny grunted. “Yeah. I knew my dad. He was an asshole. He beat my mom, and he beat me. And he would have beat Charley if he’d stuck around long enough.”
    They started walking, passing through the fence gate toward the sidewalk beyond.
    “Hey. Look at that dork on the bicycle. What is he, one of Santa’s elves?” All three broke out in laughter.
    Julio continued. “Hey, you two want to have some fun with this retard?”
    “Yea. Watch this.” Johnny stepped to the curb where the bike wobbled a few yards away.
    “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”


    The voice was familiar. A deep voice with a slight rasp. I tried to open my eyes, and through the slit in one eye I could see a bright light. And then I saw my father’s face looming over me, and heard his voice calling my name. My head hurt. And my ribs felt like a horse was sitting on me. I started to cry. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help it.
    “Where am I? What happened?”
    My father’s face grimaced. “You got attacked on your way home from collecting. When you didn’t get home, I went looking for you. I found you on the side of the road down by the housing projects. You were out cold. They wanted to keep you in the hospital overnight.”
    “Where’s my coin kettle?”
    “You didn’t have anything with you.”
    “What about my bike?”
    My father shook his head. I started to cry again. “They took the money? And they took my bike?”
    “Yes, son. I’m afraid they did.”
    I could barely see my father through my partly opened eye, and my other eye was swollen shut. My father looked like he wanted to cry with me.
    “It’s okay, son. It’s gonna be okay.”
    “But, what about the money for the poor people?”
    “It’s okay, son, there’s plenty of money been raised for them. Why you yourself raised a couple of hundred dollars!”
    It was true. I had averaged twenty dollars a night. But what I lost was twenty more dollars I could have given to the poor people. I started to cry again, and I could feel the snot run down my upper lip.
    “Son, it’s okay. You did more than your share. You shouldn’t worry about that. You should be taking care of your bruised face, black eye and broken ribs.” As an afterthought, “Are you upset about your bike?”
     I didn’t know how I would get to my job at the school now. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I started to cry again.
    “I’ll figure something out, Dad. The bike was mine, and I’ll figure something out. But the money wasn’t, and I was supposed to be taking care of it.” The Salvation Army people will be mad at me.
    “Dad, will you do something for me?”
    “Sure, son. You name it. Anything.”
    I took a deep breath. “Dad, I have some money I’ve saved from my school job. It’s in the top drawer of the desk in my room. Could you get twenty dollars and take it to the Salvation Army office over on Princess Street?”
    “Sure, son. I’m glad to do it. I’m just glad you are okay.
    “I’m going to head home and check in with your mom, and then I’ll take the money over and let them know you won’t be collecting for a while. Your mom and I will be back to see you after supper.”
    “Thanks, Dad.”
    My father got up and turned to leave.
    He paused and turned back toward me.
    “Merry Christmas, Dad.”


Doug Hawley

    President Jenkins - Ladies and gentlemen, we have bad news. The government of the caliphate of Isis has just executed five Christians in what used to be Northern Iraq. Name me possible responses.
    Chief Of Staff Brooks –Madame President, after Viet Nam and Iraq, war is a very hard sell.
    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff Adams – As you know Madame President, the military has been severely handicapped by the squeezed budget for the last generation. On the other hand, based on the time since the last major military operations initiated by Presidents Bush, we have quite an arsenal of older weapons. I hope that the ISIS fighters are ill prepared for battle, given that they have not done any fighting since they secured their present borders fifteen years ago.
    I would never admit saying this, but the troops are getting fat and bored when we have not had any major conflicts for 17 years. Officers can’t get promoted for sitting on their asses.
    Secretary of The Treasury Adkins – Madame President, the unemployment is creeping up towards 8% again and productivity is sagging. I think that an increased military would absorb some of the unemployment and have a positive effect on the economy.
    Jenkins – If there is any way we could justify putting those murderous bastards from ISIS in their place, I would be a happy woman. Unfortunately, many in the public remember “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and some of the really old remember “Bay Of Tonkin”. There is a huge anti-war presence out there, even beyond the usual peaceniks and pacifists. How can we get around that?
    Press Secretary Simpson – This may sound perverse, but could we drop anonymous hints to our enemies in the press that this administration is soft on ISIS? That might get a lot of people behind an invasion.
    Jenkins – Sneaky, but I like it.
    National Security Council Chief Rosten – I think that several of the countries around the Middle East would support us. Even the Sunni governments in places like Saudi Arabia think that ISIS is a bunch of crazies that threaten their governments. Iran would love to chase those guys out of power. I know that we still don’t like Iran or their various proxies much, but you know “The enemy of my enemy”. I don’t know if the public would know or care about us switching sides yet again, or understand the distinctions between the different brands of Islam or even that Arab doesn’t equal Islam.
    Attorney General Flanders - At this point it seems that ISIS has no terrorist plans beyond the Middle East, but we are keeping our eyes on them.
    Secretary Of State Lincoln – Madame President, I have several private communiqués from several Mid Eastern states implying that they would at a minimum not get involved and perhaps would openly support an invasion. They would even tolerate Israel coming on board. The Kurds hate ISIS.
    Jenkins – Mr. Adams, what kind of damage are we looking at?
    Adams – We think ISIS has only 5,000 committed, trained fighters. The rest are just wannabees who will quit as soon as they face a major enemy. To be safe, let us say 10,000 US troops and just a few billion dollars. Rounding error.
    Jenkins – I think that what we really need is a little more outrage amongst the populace. As you say, we can’t try anything like “Bay Of Tonkin” or “Weapons Of Mass Destruction” again. There are too many people who won’t fall for it, even though they should not have bought those frauds the first time around. We certainly can’t claim they will be dancing in the streets upon our arrival in Iraq like Dick Cheney said.
    Anybody? Anything? Ok, we will meet back here in a week to see what we can come up with.
    A week later.
    Jenkins - As you must all know by now we received a gift this last week. ISIS plotted major disasters in twenty different cities. I give them points for imagination and vision. Poisoning the water supply for Chicago. Blowing up the Boeing plant in Seattle. Destroying Boulder dam. Undermining the levies around New Orleans. We’ve got a hero in the FBI, Special Agent Manson, who was able to unwind the whole thing before it got serious. Frankly, I doubt that they have been able to pull it off, put all we needed was proof that they would try.
    Flanders, can you swear that this was not a put up job?
    Flanders - Absolutely. Everything is on the up and up. Our fingerprints aren’t on it, and to our benefit the bad guys want to admit that they are behind it for their personal glory. They will proudly be punished to the maximum extent of the law.
    Jenkins – OK, now what would really help is to get something out of the United Nations. Crant?
    Delegate to the UN Crant – I’m on it Madame President.
    A month later.
    Jenkins – We’ve got some support from the UN, but I can’t call it complete buy in, but good enough.
    Mr. Lincoln, is our coalition together?
    Lincoln – Yes, but I can’t say it amounts to much. At least we can say that it is an international force.
    Jenkins – Mr. Adams, is the military ready?
    Adams – Yes, we wish we had a bigger slice of the budget over the last twenty years, but yes.
    Jenkins – This is not the time for politicking, yes or no.
    Adams – Yes, Madame President.
    Jenkins – How does Congress look to you Ms. Brooks? You still have a lot of pull there since you were a senator.
    Brooks – Even though our citizens hate ISIS, they had hated war even more and Congress didn’t want to wade into that hornets’ nest, but with this huge terror plot, I think that we can easily pass a resolution.
    A month later.
    Jenkins – We have all of the loose ends tied up. ISIS has a month to disarm and dissolve or face military action. Since they won’t accede to these demands, we can assume thar we invade in a month. I want to hear anyone who is not onboard, and reasons why.
    Headlines over the next year:

    Coalition Forces Surprised By Poison Gas
    Thousands Suffer From Impaired Lung Function
    Costs And Casualties Mount As Invasion Drags On
    Coalition Members Face Rebellion At Home – Troops Withdraw
    Gas Price UP 50% As ISIS Threatens Supply
    Jenkins Rating 34% Favorable And Dropping Fast
    Special Agent Manson Admits Organizing Plot That He “Discovered”
    Manson Says His Name Held Him Back – Wanted To Be A Hero
    Jenkins Will Not Run For Reelection


This story previously appeared in the defunct Subtopian and the live at this time Swings And Roundabouts.

Sharp Pains

Chanelle Pina

    Who knew that just one person can make the hair on your arms and the back of your neck stand up? They can make your stomach turn in knots and do back flips and make you run to the bathroom multiple times before you leave to meet up with them somewhere. It’s crazy how when you’re with them, their touch, even the slightest, can induce the most thrilling surge throughout your being. Let’s not mention their beautiful gaze; a starry galaxy of colors swooshing together to create the most mesmerizing look you’ve seen all your life. You, my friend, are in love.
    And as quickly and beautifully as this comes, it does go away. This time the thought of seeing them in public somewhere makes your throat dry. At the mention of their name, your tummy lurches into your throat and your sinuses sting. It’s crazy how the last time you were together, you thought it was going to last so much longer, perhaps forever. And now this thrill you once sought is only but a thought. It’s such a damn shame that you gave so much of yourself for crumbs in return. Yourself that wasn’t even enough for you to have, let alone give. That my friends, is the truth behind love. Oh what a shame, the thought of your once dearly beloved, the mention of their name only brings your shattered, heavy heart sharp pains.

Haiku (dimension)

Denny E. Marshall

fold sheet of paper
until disappears into
other dimension

Haiku (folded)

Denny E. Marshall

folded universe
even with giant shortcut
lifetime not enough

Leaves of Grass: An Apothecary

DC Diamondopolous

    Assembly woman, Brenda Bustamante stepped from the taxi onto Market Street in the Castro District. The rainbow flag rippled and waved like a proud declaration atop a pole above the gay metropolis. San Fransisco was a long way from Brenda’s hometown of Bakersfield, and the Castro further still, when it came to politics and lifestyles.
    The cool spring breeze lifted the lapels of her blazer and swept her auburn hair off her face. She gazed across the street to her destination, a place she didn’t want even the cabdriver to know.
    Since that night, at her best friend’s son’s graduation party when she ate from the wrong—or in her case, the right—batch of brownies and wrapped several in a napkin for later, she drove home, staggered into bed and for the first time in years fell into a fathomless sleep for almost eight hours. Best of all, she woke up without a hangover, unlike the pills her doctor had prescribed. With her intense workload and ambitions for higher office, sleep was crucial. After talking with Tony, she decided that edible marijuana was the answer, and with a medical license, it was legal. She drove all the way from Bakersfield to the central coast to get her permit. If her constituents back home knew, even the more liberal ones, they might vote her out of office.
    She had never smoked, cautioned her three daughters about cigarettes and drugs. She did have one addiction, sweets, especially cookies and cake.
    Brenda found a cure for her insomnia. And gosh darn it—she had every right to buy it.
    She waited at the crosswalk. Her research, the knowledge of all aspects of cannabis, made her aware of the medicinal benefits. When she went online to Weedmap, she found more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks in the city. Further information revealed the best places to buy edibles were in the Castro.
    Brenda had one day to purchase her medicine and drive to her apartment in Sacramento.
    She passed young men and women in the crosswalk wearing T-shirts, jeans and Giants’ baseball caps. Before going into politics, they reminded her of her students at Cal State, Bakersfield. No different, except that the men held hands with each other, and so did the women. There were heterosexual partners with children, and, at the bus stop, an older Asian couple quarreled as the breeze carried a notion of how close she was to the sea.
    She recalled that ugly time during Prop 8 when yellow signs blotted homes and church lawns. It sickened Brenda how people’s ignorance incited fear.
    So, when marriage equality became the law in California, she rode in a float as grand marshal in the Pride Parade. Her three girls cheered and waved rainbow and American flags as she passed by sitting on a bale of hay in a restored 1930 yellow Ford pick-up truck waving to the spectators. She never imagined being in a parade could be so much fun.
    Brenda headed toward the neon green cross on the facade of the building and a black awning with gold lettering, Leaves of Grass: An Apothecary.
    By the open door, stood a security guard with a tattoo circling up his neck.
    “Rip offs!” a man yelled.
    The guard stepped in front of the door.
    “You can buy this shit for twenty bucks at the corner of Hayes and Pierce. Rip-offs! Suckers!” The man staggered away.
    Noise from trolley buses and cars clanked over metal plates that covered wide tracts in the street. Passersby chatted on phones. A homeless girl foraged through a trash bin. One man picked up after his dog. The brisk air currents rushed through the city washing it clean, except for the mad and the hungry. As a politician, Brenda felt responsible. Driven by obligation, she saw herself as a statesman, and forced herself to be ruthless toward her goals.
    “I need to see your permit,” the guard said.
    Brenda reached inside her purse. Her fingers fumbled for the paper. Excited by the unfamiliar, she pulled it out and steadied her hand to keep the paper from shaking.
    “Go on in.”
    The smell of dried cannabis overwhelmed her. She knew what marijuana smelled like, but this was more pungent, like a crop that had just been harvested.
    “Is this your first time here?” asked a young man standing behind a narrow counter in the foyer.
    “Yes.” She glanced around the dispensary. A mural of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and cable cars circled the windowless, but well lit store. Glass counter showcases lined both walls with shelves holding hundreds of jars of cannabis. Vintage medical cabinets interspersed between the counters combined the old with the modern. Stairs led up to a loft. The place appeared organized, clean, no bongs or paraphernalia that she’d heard about in the funky head shops of the 1960s. The employees were young and clear eyed.
    “I need to see your certificate and license.”
    Brenda pulled the documents from her purse.
    “You’ll need to fill out some paper work,” he said handing her a form.
    It instructed her to keep all cannabis out of the reach of children and away from pets. Never drive when using. Upon purchase, store in the trunk of the car.
    She signed her name.
    “You can go in now.”
    Brenda hesitated, unsure of where to go.
    A young woman approached her. She wore a close-cropped Afro and held an iPad. “My name is Venus. Can I help you, ma’am?”
    “Yes,” Brenda said. “Thank you.” She relaxed.
    “What’s your medical condition?”
    “I have insomnia. But I don’t want to smoke.”
    “Our solutions and edibles are upstairs. Follow me.”
    They went up the steps to a room where the words—Do anything, but let it produce joy. Walt Whitman—was painted on the back wall in a flowing script. A glass-enclosed counter with shelves of assorted foods, an antique cabinet, and a refrigerator in the corner took up most of the space.
    “Carrot cake? Is that what that is?” Brenda asked peering into a shelf.
    “Yes,” Venus said resting a hand on Brenda’s shoulder. “But only eat a sliver, or it will send you on a vacation you hadn’t planned.” Venus went behind the counter.
    Brenda smiled. “No, I wouldn’t want that. Is it fresh?”
    “All our pastries are.”
    “I’ll have several pieces of the carrot cake.”
    “I’ll cut them into slivers. You can store what you don’t eat in the freezer.”
    “And the muffins?” Brenda asked.
    “Banana or pumpkin.”
    “Both. I’ll need enough to last me several weeks.”
    “Okay, but cut them into quarters. I’ll give you a printout of all the directions.” Venus typed on her iPad then went behind the counter.
    Brenda gazed down at the first floor.
    In walked a man who looked like her distant cousin, State Senator Ray Bakar, right down to the Stetson, cowboy boots, vest and beer gut hanging over his turquoise belt buckle.
    “What about lemonade and tea. We have cocoa, too?” Venus asked.
    “Plenty of each,” Brenda said. She looked down at the man in the cowboy hat. He was a match for her cousin on the Basque side of the family. But it would be inconceivable for Bakar, a gay bashing family value’s hardliner, to be in a cannabis dispensary and preposterous for her adversary to be in the Castro. But then, no one would believe she’d be there either.
    “Since you’ll be medicating at night, how about decaffeinated tea?” Venus asked.
    “That would be perfect.”
    Brenda stared below. The man took off his hat, and mopped his bald head with a bandana. “Oh, my God,” Brenda whispered. It was Ray!
    With her eyes on her cousin, she reached inside her purse for the phone. Turning away from Venus, she held the camera at her waist and snapped several pictures.
    “I parked along a side street, is there a back exit?”
    “Only for emergencies.”
    Perhaps she could slip past Bakar without him seeing her. “Do I pay here?”
    “No. Downstairs.” Venus went to the cabinet. “You bought a lot so we’ll give you a Leaves of Grass carrier bag.” She opened the cabinet door and took out a black bag with gold lettering and a sketch of Walt Whitman.
    Brenda had her hand on the railing when a man walked in, went up to Bakar and kissed him on the lips. She gasped. Astonished. She covered her mouth and braced herself against the railing.
    Brenda glanced around the store, for cameras, for anyone who might catch her. Like a gunslinger, she reached for her phone and filmed the two men as they nuzzled and held hands.
    The conservative back-slapper, the ranter—“Save our children from the perverts!”—liked men and was a pot user himself.
    His hypocrisy appalled her.
    Brenda tucked the phone in her purse. Her discovery cast tremendous possibilities. She could expose him. Ruin his career. Or, use him.
    She watched, floored, by the tender way he caressed and kissed his boyfriend’s hand. His manner was so unlike the brash cousin she knew.
    What she witnessed was a man recklessly being himself. The pathos brought back memories of when Ray’s older brother died of AIDS. The community shunned his family. Ray and his younger brother endured beatings and bullying. Then, in his junior year, Ray shot up to six foot three. The intimidation stopped. He joined the debate team and discovered a talent for wrangling.
    Now she knew why Ray never married. “Too busy!” he announced. “Spend all my time working for my constituents.” He became a respected figure in Kern County and a persuasive speaker, even if what he said was drivel. Although the insight brought compassion, Brenda found him a coward.
    “It’s ready,” Venus said holding the Walt Whitman bag.
    They went down the stairs. Brenda thought about her own deceit, traveling four hours and spending the night at a hotel to buy marijuana.
    With her eyes on her cousin, she stepped onto the landing. He leaned against the counter, next to his boyfriend with his arm around his waist. So natural. How long had they been together?
    She walked over to the register, paid for her medicine, and thanked Venus for helping her.
    In seven years as a politician Brenda learned to shovel manure and throw it on opportunity. A vote for her bill, equal pay for women, came up at the end of the week. Now, she had something to fight with. As her youngest daughter would say, sweet!
    She strolled up to Bakar holding the handles of her bag. “Hello Ray,” she said as if she had run into him at the county fair.
    His arm snapped to his side. He gaped at her. His round face a fluctuation of red, crimson then scarlet.
    “Cousin, Brenda!”
    He never called her that. He was as phony as Frank Underwood.
    “I’d never take you for a pothead.”
    “I’m not,” she said. “The THC helps me sleep. Is that why you’re here, Ray?” she asked. “Because you can’t sleep at night? I can understand why.”
    She held out her hand to Ray’s boyfriend who looked like a much younger version of Ray minus the cowboy getup. “I’m Brenda Bustamante, a cousin of Ray’s.”
    He glanced at Bakar. “Yeah, Ray’s mentioned you. I’m Martin.”
    They shook hands.
    “I’ll meet you outside, Ray,” Brenda said.
    She left the dispensary.
    Gusts of wind rustled her paper bag. Leaves drifted from the street lined trees. She remembered a closed sign in a photo shop with a recessed doorway and an awning. Brenda went up the street and waited.
    Bakar walked toward her, his swagger replaced with hunched shoulders. His face sagged like a sack of guilt. He was a real grizzly, wide as a side of beef. When they’d meet in the halls of the state capitol, his deep voice bellowed out arguments to stress his opinions. She tried to have an exchange, but Ray never took a breath. He had the lungs of a whale.
    Now it was her turn to talk.
    He stood next to her in the doorway facing the street. “No one will believe you. It’s your word against mine.”
    “I filmed you with Martin. I took pictures, too.”
    He sucked his teeth. She felt his anger roll off of him like a tumbleweed. He took a step forward, snatched his hat in his hand and whipped it across his thigh.
    Brenda didn’t flinch but her heart did. She remained poised in the hollow of the entrance, watching as he lumbered down the street, stop and pace. She wondered how he could hurt so many people to protect his lie.
    Ray adjusted his hat, gave a yank to his vest, looped his thumbs in his pant pockets and came toward her.
    “What’s it gonna cost me?”
    “You’re going to vote for my bill. And persuade two other senators to vote for it.”
    “I vote for your bill, they’d all know something is up.”
    “Oh please, Ray. You can come up with a reason.”
    “I’m dead if I vote for that bill.”
    “You’re more dead if they find out your gay.” She had him. But he was still family. “I remember the hell you went through when Mike died. The way you and Larry were picked on.”
    “Oh, Jesus, Brenda,” he said turning away. “Do you have to bring that up?”
    “Isn’t that the crux of it? The hiding?”
    He confronted her. “You aren’t? You came all the way from home to buy pot in the Castro. You could have at least ditched the pumps and the pressed slacks for jeans and tennis shoes.”
    That was true. She was prone to overdress, but what a jerk. “You’re a phony, Ray.”
    “So are you.”
    “I should come out and tell my story,” Brenda said. “It could help others. But don’t think you can spin what I saw. I’ll send the film and the pictures of you and Martin to the press. I’ll post it on Facebook. You vote for it, Friday. And get me two more votes. That’s all I need. Cousin or not, I’ll expose you.”
    He crossed his arms and loomed over her. “I could come out before Friday. Then you’d never get the vote.”
    “Do that. I’ll still send the pictures to the press. Everyone will know why you came out.”
    He growled.
    They both remained silent in the alcove of the doorway. The wind hissed. Buses and cars sputtered down Market. A woman’s laughter floated on the air like notes from a musical instrument. The sun half above the hills the other half descended toward the sea. The moment Brenda shared with her cousin, a moment so charged became a noise all its own.
    At last, he looked at her. She expected anger, instead she saw sorrow. “Your family was always kind to us, not like the others.” His voice just above a whisper. He stared across the street at the shopping center. “I had cancer. I’m okay, now. Forty years old. I’ve lost all my hair, high blood pressure, yup.”
    “I’m sorry to hear that, Ray. I want my girls,” Brenda said, “all women, to have the same rights, the same pay for doing what men do.”
    Ray listened. He shifted his weight. Hitched his shoulders. Crossed his arms.
    “If you choose to come out, you’d have the support of my family. I promise. If you don’t choose to come out, and you get my bill passed, I’ll never ask for another favor. You have my word.”
    “The vote’s only five days away. What happens if I vote for it but can’t get the two other votes?”
    “People owe you, you have power, charm them. You can get two votes.”
    “But if I can’t.”
    “Then the deal’s off.”
    Ray snickered, then exhaled through his mouth.
    “You know, Ray, during that horrible time,” Brenda said, “I remembered your mom, how she went to the PTA and told them to help stop the bullying. What she must have gone through, losing her eldest boy and then treated like an outcast.” She took a step closer to her cousin. “When they cut your father’s hours, your mom took a job. Bet she didn’t even make minimum wage.”
    “She was the heart of my life,” Ray said.
    Brenda lowered her gaze. She now knew how hard it was for him to be honest.
    Martin came toward them holding a white paper bag. His shaved head along with his beard started to grow a five o’clock stubble. His expression vacillated between concern and hope.“Can I join you?” he asked with a lopsided smile.
    “Of course you can,” Brenda said.
    Martin looked at Ray. “You were always worried you’d be outed. You’re lucky it was your cousin.” He glanced at Brenda’s bag. “You must’ve bought a lot to get a Walt Whitman bag.”
    Brenda smiled. “I don’t like to smoke and I have a weakness for sweets.”
    “Did you get the carrot cake?”
    “I got a chocolate chip cookie,” Martin said. “I’m getting fat. But they have a genius baker.”
    Ray moaned.
    “I’m hungry,” Brenda said.
    “Me too. Cafe La Folie is just down the street.” Martin gestured in the direction where the rainbow flag brandished its colors at the foothills of San Francisco. “They have the best crème brûlée.”
    “I like it with a really thick crust,” Brenda said. “You know, where it’s hard to crack.”
    “Let’s have dinner. I’ll save us a table on the patio.” Martin took off.
    “He’s a nice young man.”
    “Yup, he’s a keeper.”
    “Let’s go break some crème brûlée.”
    “Ah, I need to lose weight.”
    “We all do. What else is new? C’mon Ray,” Brenda said taking his arm.

King of the Caldera, art by Fabrice Poussin

King of the Caldera, art by Fabrice Poussin

Disagreement Over a Novel

Norbert Kovacs

    Mr. Robert Taylor liked that he lived a normal, respectable life. He liked that he owned an attractive eight-room house in the Long Hill section of Trumbull, Connecticut. He saved a lot to acquire the expensive home and perhaps the costs to keep it were getting over his head, but he was proud he had the place. He liked to work on the home and talked about doing so with his colleagues, who owned homes like his. His colleagues made their homes favorite topics of conversation, too. What is more, Mr. Taylor had a happy, fairly average marriage. He and his wife had their differences, such as how to spend money or whom to invite to their weekend get-togethers, but otherwise got along decently. As with most people he knew, Mr. Taylor made a favorite hobby of watching TV. He liked to see sports, the popular prime time shows, and the evening news on the broadcast channels. He set his schedule to watch certain favorite programs and kept to it. He never would have ventured to see a mind-provoking documentary, say, on urban sprawl or listen to experimental music on the Sirius channels. As a rule, Mr. Taylor dressed in the neat style of the fellow businessmen of his field. Proud of the look, he was conservative in his attire even on weekends when he wore a long sleeve shirt and vest, dark slacks, and worn dress shoes around the house.
    Mr. Taylor used to feel as content over his thirty year old son, Jimmy. Jimmy was an excellent writing talent and worked at an established magazine in Fairfield. He was admired for his writing on politics, art, and film. But Jimmy had fallen in his father’s esteem since he started dating Elsa Potts, an artist who lived in Bridgeport. Mr. Taylor thought Elsa the wrong type for a respectable fellow like Jimmy. By Jimmy’s own account, Elsa was poor and not making much advance from it. But she had worked some influence over Jimmy, it seemed, for he talked about the young woman endlessly. “She is such a different person,” Jimmy said. “She thinks these things about art, people, that no one else does. It’s her talent.” Whenever he heard this praise, the reactionary Mr. Taylor threw up his hands and marched away raging.
    However, Elsa was not the worst for Mr. Taylor as it concerned Jimmy. When Elsa had become a less volatile subject in the Taylor home, Jimmy visited his father in a friendly spirit and asked a favor. He said he had been working on a new “idea novel” that he thought made several serious statements about how people live today. Jimmy had gotten a literary agent to take an earnest interest in the book and now asked his father to read the work and make comments about it. Mr. Taylor read it and saw as he expected for his son that the book was very well written—the style was fluid and enjoyable. However, the work had a lot of upsetting subject matter. Most of the book was a picture of the egocentric and hedonistic sides to modern life that make people feel uncomfortable discussing. Mr. Taylor was unsettled by the content enough that he made a quick issue of it when his son next visited.
    “This book is sick, Jimmy. You can’t write about people so. As if they’re animals.”
     “I’m not saying that people are animals, Dad. I’m showing people who have real feelings and thoughts about each other. They express them uniquely. I want those feelings and thoughts on the page so a reader really sees a personality. It lets me show sides to people and achieve things I couldn’t otherwise.”
     “People will read this book and say you have a dirty mind. They’ll say you’re hung up on sex. They’ll think you’re slipping them an adult novel.”
    “I’m not slipping anyone an adult novel. Yes, the novel does get physical, but it’s just to describe things a little differently. My characters are a little different than characters in other books.”
    “The book has too much sex. But it has more problems than that. You show people being too egocentric. Like that character who lies to his parents for money.”
    “There are people who do it. I think it belonged in the novel. I wanted my character to do it then grow past it.”
    “But to lie?”
    “Well, I’m not saying everyone would lie that much to a parent. I just was showing what goes on with one materialistic person. Too many other authors don’t go into lies of that sort in a way that people can appreciate. I want people to see what greed and coldness are like in real life.”
    “But people get worried when it’s a child lying to their parent.” Mr. Taylor leaned closer to his son as if to be confidential. “You should respect your readers’ taste.”
    “Telling the truth has nothing to do with respect.” Jimmy sounded annoyed.
    Mr. Taylor felt his son was missing the point. “Then what will people say? They’ll all claim your work is too strange and different to like.” Mr. Taylor pulled his chair closer to his son. “You should re-do this book as a more traditional story. I know you could develop it nicely with that style of yours.”
    “I won’t write something that’s trite and conventional.”
    “Who said you should? No, I’d like to suggest some ingredients for a work that your readers and critics would like to see. You need new kinds of characters for one, not your alienated and self-troubled twentysomethings starting their lives in a new city.”
    “I see a lot in those alienated people. They have unique issues.”
    “Sure but who likes hearing of those? It’s dysfunctional. People want something else. They want to see someone who can succeed at something important, someone who becomes famous. Someone who becomes a hero...”
    “There are many ways besides seeking fame for a person to do something interesting in a story—definitely, more meaningful ones. I could write for instance about an intelligent talk over lunch. Or an artist reflecting on his life and developing a new work of art in the process.”
    Mr. Taylor made a face. “I’m talking about what will impress a reader.”
    “I’d like to write something ‘original’ and ‘deep’. Perhaps I have the talent to write original, deep prose.”
     “You can write a deep story that gets the public interest.”
    “Like what story?”
    “Well one where people go after the big things—money, power, beautiful people, fame, the stuff the average person desires but finds hard to get. You can write lots of different stories about that stuff. Like how about a guy trying to get rich and the scheming people who get in his way? Maybe you could write a romance with a beautiful woman who knows a powerful politician’s secret.”
    “How would I develop a story like that?”
    “Well, let’s suppose for the sake of discussion you write about the man trying to become rich. You could talk about how he acquires a name and connects with powerful people.”
    Jimmy stared. “He would want just a name, not something more?”
    “It’s a comforting thing to have a name. Many people would be contented to be one. Plus, you do interesting things to get one.”
    Jimmy shook his head. “Couldn’t my character instead want something personal for him or the few people he knows? It would help him be more of an individual rather than a caricature.”
    “A character would be plenty individual if they became wealthy, gained power, and won beautiful women. A character would have to be unusually hard working, talented, and attractive to achieve those things. But to return to the guy after money...he needs some conflict if your readers are going to stay interested in him. How about having a schemer try to ruin him when it looks like he’s about to take over a company? Like claim he’s embezzled the company pension fund. Then have the hero expose the schemer so that he has to quit his job and run into hiding.”
    Jimmy shook his head. “Dad, you see things too simply. How many people can you really say are going to persecute someone like that? And you don’t even bring up any faults in the main character.”
    “Give him a few minor ones if you like for interest. But mainly, the hero should get the love of a beautiful woman; the determined man should have power and wealth; the villain should die or go to jail. Heroes get what they do because they try harder and dare more than everyone else; villians because they are self-interested and violent. A good story reveals those things.”
    Jimmy scratched his forehead and gave his father a bewildered look. “But your story isn’t going to be a picture of what people are really. Your stories would make a big deal about power, looks, clichés of romance, physical surface. But what about anything deeper? What about the sides of people that can’t be immediately understood by everyone?”
    Mr. Taylor considered this silently awhile. “I don’t know. I suppose that’s the limit to my choice of story.”
    “Exactly. There’s so much to people and their characters that your idea of a story never explores. A serious author builds up a narrative as he goes into the depths of character. He makes a character great; he doesn’t assume having a certain trait makes you so to start. He works to elevate a character—if he’s committed to the task, I think he will build a good one and a different kind of story. He’ll be able to write about any aspect of human character that he chooses. Any character, any revealing act, any truth becomes his clay. I’ve imagined a new narrative just by thinking of character like this. It would belong to a book other than we’ve been discussing. The book would have a main character/hero with a callous and uncaring wife. The hero would have a heated, adulterous affair with another woman during the story.”
    “How can he be the hero then?”
    “When his spouse is self-interested and cold, maybe adultery’s not a problem. For my main character, adultery is a relationship where he’s newly valued.”
    “Newly valued for sex.”
    “My main character would be interested in his lover for her personality, not a fling.”
    Mr. Taylor shifted in his chair; he had not supposed his son would have tried to claim this. “Well, go on.”
    “So my characters would work hard to live out what they think is right. They’d go out of their way because they feel their connection worth it, even if they might be disapproved or treated differently for it. My adulterer would like his mistress because she’s honest and beautiful, though not rich.” Jimmy paused and put a hand to his chin, caught by his imagination. “He would see her often. He’d walk with her in public where nobody would recognize them. But he’ll fear when she pushes their relationship to develop. He will consider he’s still living with his wife.”
    Mr. Taylor opened his eyes wide. “You mean, his mistress wants him to leave his wife and live with her instead?”
    “What of it? She’d be in love: there’s a reason. Besides, her offer to live together would bring the relationship to a difficult pass I would turn to effect. The main character would think whether he should make the leap and move in with her. Likewise, he would consider if he chose against it, if he did from an inferior motive like fear or uncertainty that he loved her.”
    “In other words, he picks and chooses which relationship he will respect, with a mistress or with his wife? What do his ties mean to him then since he changes them at will?”
    Jimmy shook his head. “He sees all relationships can be meaningful. Just that not all relationships work out, so he goes after a new one that might.”
    “Well then, should people give up on each other whenever it’s convenient? Aren’t you forgetting the love and happiness that come from good friends and committed spouses? Mine for your mother? If you go leave a person, you give up that love when you may not have a good reason. Shouldn’t there be some guideline, a standard, to keep a person from shortchanging themselves in those cases?”
    Jimmy held silent awhile before he said, “I guess you might be right. Well then, I think I’d have my adulterer consider whether it’d be worth leaving his wife. But if he did go through with it, I’d have him commit to his lover in his heart, so he could be confident they would remain together.”
    “I guess that would be better than going for her on a whim.”
    Jimmy studied his father. “You know, what you’ve suggested about a person holding to a standard makes me think you would be okay with my seeing Elsa.”
    “Oh?” The mention of Jimmy’s girlfriend caught Mr. Taylor off guard.
    “I am committed to her. I wouldn’t leave her for some trifling reason, some random other woman.”
    “Good. However—”
    “Your issue was what she’s like. She is a very decent, honest person. You don’t know because you haven’t meet her face to face. Actually, she seems as serious-minded as this model character you have been persuading me to write of. Elsa thinks of values in art sort of like you do. She believes art should present values in a way that really moves and invigorates people.”
    “Is that right? Like which values would I take away from her art—assuming I ever saw it?”
    “Truth for one. Justice. She says her work projects values like those visually. She has done blood red and bone white paintings about violence and peace. Pasted collages about love and poverty. She creates art where she shows serious values at odds. In conflict. Sometimes to bring on conflict.”
    Mr. Taylor felt beside himself. “Her work sounds more dynamic than I believed it could. Maybe even visceral. Exciting on a good day.”
    “She can get intense making her stuff too. She tells me how she struggles to paint and give the idea of truth or justice by it. She thinks sometimes she will show a man is strong despite his closed views; then, she imagines presenting a woman as openness, full of life. She has her conflicts deciding it. Just like you said a romance can create boredom or excitement for a reader.”
    “Well then, she is more of an artist than I gave her credit. More interesting as a thinker too. I have underestimated her. Maybe I could come to like her.”
    “I hoped you would agree when I explained.”

Norbert Kovacs bio

    Norbert Kovacs is a short story and flash fiction writer who lives in Hartford, Connecticut. His stories have appeared in Squawk Back, Darkrun Review, Ekphrastic, and Scarlet Leaf Review.


Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14

between my fingers
I’d share my secrets with you,
and you never judged

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku judge live 3/12/14 at the open mic the Café Gallery in Chicago (C)
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem judge (originally in her books Partial Nudity and 100 Haikus) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Canon)
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem judge (originally in her books 100 Haikus and Partial Nudity) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Sony, posterize)
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Only Good Things

Liam Spencer

    The weeklong visit had flown by, and it was time to go back. A very early flight. Erie International Airport, stop at Chicago, and on home to Seattle.
    For some reason, it had been a little easier to disappear into the airport this time. Maybe it was the possibility that my sister might visit sometime soon, to get away from her abusive husband. Maybe it was just the thought of the trip ahead, and getting home. Maybe it was the misery of going back to work at that hell. Who knows.
    Security lines are not as long at smaller airports. I was through quickly, with plenty of time. There were older people waiting around for boarding. They seemed downtrodden, with make shift clothing surrounding their plumpnesses. My belly didn’t seem as noticeable.
    “Here I go,” I thought, shuddering to the long day ahead. Chicago is a great city, but their airport sucks. Every time I go through there. Every time. Every. Ugh.
    I thought about my flight going from Chicago to Erie, just a week earlier. The big guy beside me talking to his girlfriend on the cell phone even as we were taking off;
    “But....ok. I’ll be stuck in Erie Airport then. I mean, what? Why did he take Muffin again? Can’t you go get her and then come to the airport? But... Oh ok. Ok. Just go back home then, ok? No, just go back home. Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure something out, ok?”
    On and on. The poor guy.
    When waiting for luggage at Erie, she was there. They cried together. Very touching.

    Now there was none of that. Family was in rural Pa., settled in and snoozing. Five AM. The small jet filled quickly. It was announced that we were leaving early, and would arrive early. One could only hope.
    The small jet roared through liftoff. Clouds were none. Lake Erie was dead. Not a light. The cabin was pitch dark. I realized I had forgotten to put on my nicotine patch. There, in the dark, my shirt half off, I placed it on my right shoulder, pressing it hard for good luck.
    Looking out the window, I wondered what city was underneath. After the Lake, everything was lit as far as the eye in the sky could see. Cleveland? Nah. Detroit? No. hmm. On it went. Lights. Everywhere. Soon it was announced we were landing in Chicago. I rolled my eyes. Here we go. Bullshit time.
    It was shuttles quickly, for once, whisking us away. A29. Where is A29? I rushed past all kinds of gates, looking for signs. I needed to find the boards that showed flights departing. None could be found. Shit. Put one up here and there, would you?
    Finally one was seen. My flight was on schedule. Really. Wow. For once. I still didn’t believe it. We’ll see.
    Anyway, I had nearly three hours, and was hungry. I walked to find my gate first, but eyed for places to eat along the way. Even McDonalds was busy as all hell. The line was a quarter mile long. There was no way I would wait in that line for that food. Onward, there was a wine bar with stools right along the corridor. The rest of it was closed. There was one woman with long blond hair sitting there eating somethings out of plastic. No food served. It looked pricy.
    Onward. There was my gate. Across from it was a restaurant and bar (separate). It would have been perfect except for the quarter mile long line. Shit.
    Ok. Do I wait in line forever, or go have an overpriced beer at the wine bar? Hmm. Wine bar.
    The blond was still there sipping wine and eating Lunchables. Her legs were crossed with her right high heel slightly bouncing. She was not heavy, but full bodied. Made for hard ridings. It crossed my mind what she could do.
    She very briefly looked up as I bellied up, then looked away. Completely uninterested. Fine. The bartender walked over, sleep still in her face. I looked at the taps. All pricy. The cheapest was Sam Adams. I ordered a glass.
    Ouch, I thought. I just wanted a cheap beer to sip on. Oh well, everywhere else was filled. I placed a ten and two ones down. I always try to tip well.
    My eyes opened wide as she placed the beer in front of me. It was huge! Like forty plus ounces! Ouch! Was she trying to kill me? I only wanted a twelve or sixteen ounce beer to sip. It’d take forever to pee that much beer out.
    “Welcome to Chicago.” She smiled.
    I sipped heavily. Wow. Empty stomach, under two hours of sleep, and the first thing in my system is strongish beer. Not exactly the best decision, but I have hours to go. It’s not like I will be flying the plane.
    I went to my new iPhone. It was my first. My sister had to show me how to use the thing. I sipped beer and messed around on my phone, trying to figure it out. I accidently took a picture of the bartenders butt. She hadn’t seen. I laughed to myself.
    I took a picture of myself in front of the giant beer and figured out how to text it to Melinda.
    “Beer for breakfast. Why am I not surprised?!”
    “Well, everywhere else here is too busy. I can’t get in.”
    “Yeah, uh huh. Lol. Where are you?”
    “In the same city as you, for the first time. At the airport, though.”
    There was silence for a while. I continued sipping.
    “Liam, we are not in the same city. Rosemont.”
    “Huh? We’re both in Chicagoland, so I get to pick on you a bit.”
    “Yes we are.”
    The texting went back and forth for an hour or so. It was good to talk with Melinda. She and I had been very close in the past, like a year prior, but she had taken her hubby back, and they were again living in their hometown of Chicagoland. She and I had faded since, but still had great conversations whenever we did talk. Even as it had been love lost, we still committed to being friends, at least keeping up with each other to see how we each turned out.
    I had finally finished my giant beer, and was hungry. I got in line at the restaurant across from my gate. The line was not quite as long. I strained my eyes to see prices, while continuing to text with Melinda.
    A Spanish omelet, four eggs, for $7. With toast. Ok. Ordered. Melinda had to go to work. I got the food and went to the bar to sit down. Only two seats were available. The food went down fast. A bottle of Bud sat in front of me. I still had time.
    As I finished the food, a blond woman with medium curly hair plopped beside me. Her voice held force.
    “Hell, the line here is so long! All I could do was grab a damn Lunchable! Shit.”
    “Yeah, I lucked out a little. The line had shortened when I got in.”
    I sipped my beer as the bartender came for her order. She ordered a Bloody Mary, and dictated all the booze to be used, down to perfection. I noticed the rock on her left hand. It was worth more than many people earn in two years. Her hands were manicured. Makeup was perfect. Hair was precise. Heavenly smells filled.
    She piled cheap lunch meats and fake cheeses into her mouth, pausing to sip her perfect drink.
    “So, where are you going?’
    “So you live there?” She asked impatiently.
    “Yes. It’s a great city. I love that city.”
    “Yes, I’ve been there many times. I really want to move there.”
    “You’ll love it. Some complain about the rain, but the rain shovels easier than snow.”
    “Uh...uh huh.”
    “Where are you heading?”
    “Vegas. A girlfriend is getting married soon, and we’re having a girl’s retreat. Going to be wild. I can’t wait. Gotta cut lose when you’re still young enough.”
    “Indeed. I’ll drink to that.” We clanged glasses. She sipped very heavily, then eyed me over.
    “Damn, I meant to get here early, get an early start!” She grabbed and squeezed my hand. “Now I won’t even have time for a second drink!”
    “Well, you can drink on the plane, right?”
    She ordered two shots of the best whiskey, and slid one in front of me.
    “Cheers!” the whiskey went down, landing hard. “Two more, please hurry!”
    “Mirage? Bel.....”
    “No no, she...my girlfriend, she doesn’t have money, so she just rented a villa, off strip. I know, I know, but it’ll still be so much fun!”
    “Wow! That’s great!”
    Her phone rang. It was her girlfriend. They began talking. The blond complained about Lunchables, then mentioned meeting a cute guy at the airport. Her hand gripped mine again. I began thinking about airport sex. It might not exactly be the mile high club, but still.
    “Oh shit! Julia, if I don’t go now, I’ll miss my flight! Talk with you in Vegas. Bye!”
    She grabbed me by the hand, and took off, nearly ripping my arm off. We got outside the bar, and hugged as she kissed my cheek. We briefly stood there looking at each other longingly before she rushed off, disappearing forever.
    If only.
    Time is such a bitch.
    “Well...” I sighed. My highlight is over. To the plane, for a long flight with my back murdering me.

    I turned to my gate. It was just in time. I looked at my ticket 14B. Shit. A middle seat. I imagined myself stuck between two fat guys, all of us in little cramped seats, my back murdering me.
    A woman was sitting in the window seat. She was talking to a guy who was sitting in my seat.
    “Sorry, excuse me, but I think you’re in my seat.”
    “Oh, we’re together. Would you mind taking that seat?”
    “That’s perfect. I prefer isle seats.”
    Yes! What a score. I sat down and put my laptop bag between my feet. I always pay the baggage so as to travel light. A really bad back will do that to you. I fastened my seat belt.
    Something was off. My seat was actually kind of comfy. I had an amazing amount of leg room. I stretched out. This is not right. I rechecked my ticket. It was right. Totally. Business Plus. Wait, what? A free upgrade?! Me?
    I quickly counted. Under twenty people ahead of me when getting off the plane. YES! My smile made the muscles in my face hurt. The doors shut. The pilot announced we’d be leaving early, and thus arriving early. YES!
    I could still feel the good whiskey burn as the plane launched into the sky. Five hundred and fifty miles an hour, and yet, still slow somehow. Soon came the drink cart. “Coffee.” “Orange juice.” “Coffee.” “Coffee.”
    My turn; “Vodka and orange juice, please.”
    “Yes sir.”
    The married couple beside me changed their order. “Vodka.” People who had already ordered requested booze.
    There, surrounded by those of means, I was setting trends. We all sipped our booze, hurling through the sky at over five hundred miles an hour. And yet, somehow, it just wasn’t fast enough.
    At some point, a little girl one row back from first class began playing in the curtains that separated first class from the rest of us. I braced for a loud child. Instead a tall guy built like a teddy bear got up and began walking her back to the bathroom. I couldn’t help but look at him, as he looked somewhat familiar. He had a bowl haircut, like Moe from the Stooges, and a piggish face. I knew him from somewhere....
    It was my ex wife’s husband!
    Fuck! So much for a good trip. I wished I had escaped it all to go on an adventure with the rich blond from the bar. Yeah, Vegas. No more USPS. No more....ummm...rent money. Umm. Never mind. I just had to lay low.
    Besides, I couldn’t be sure it was them.
    Ten minutes later, she got up and marched back to the bathroom. It certainly was them. I laid low. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to have to talk with them, but still.
    Upon landing, I jumped up, as usual. Enough sitting. My back wouldn’t take anymore. I knew it was a risk of being seen, but fuck it. What are the chances? They’ll be eager to get off the plane too, especially with a young child. They left. I made sure not to catch up.
    It didn’t take long. I was outside smoking at one end of Seatac Airport. Soon I noticed two cute Asian women acting strangely toward a pink piece of luggage. They clearly needed to go catch their plane, but couldn’t go near the wheeled suitcase. What on earth?
    As I walked around the thing, I saw it. Yellowjackets had discovered something on the bag. There was eight or so, aggressive. It was that time of year.
    They looked at me funny as I stepped up.
    “It’s ok. I’ll get them.”
    My hat swung sharply. Direct hit. Bug guts sprayed. Two flew off alive. The girls grabbed their bag and hurried inside. Four yellowjackets moved in on me. My hat was on target. No more yellow jackets.
    Back inside, my bag was fifth off the belt. YES! I rushed to the other end of the airport, and had a last smoke before going to the train. Attractive women were everywhere. The train was packed. I stood with my luggage in front, stuck in the area reserved for bicycles.
    A few stops later, an amazingly attractive woman walked on.
    It’s hard to describe, but she had a face that screamed sexuality. Those eyes, those lips...just in every way. It was as if she was close to climax.
    Unlike most, she did not bury herself into her phone. We exchanged glances, then each looked out the same window at the houses flying past. It was Tukwila. Not a good neighborhood.
    I couldn’t help but glance from time to time. Damn. There was something there. I could somehow sense smarts, but couldn’t know. If only there were an ice breaker.
    It crossed my mind. How odd. Melinda and I, with all our talks, and how close we had been, might not have chemistry in person. She nearly gave up Colorado, Chicago, and a hubby to move all the way out to Seattle for a roll of the dice. She was wise to choose Chicago. As she had said, “I have a much better offer in Seattle, but love is love.”
    And yet, here was a woman I’ve never talked to.....
    I stopped myself, realizing how silly I was being. I smiled broadly. Just how tired was I?
    She looked over and smiled. I smiled and blushed, then began racking my brain for an ice breaker.
    An intoxicated guy meandered over and tried to converse with her. She was not interested, but was polite. He got more forward, swaying back and forth with the train. She looked at me. I walked over, ready to bullshit through it.
    “Dude, read the sign.” I pointed up. It was a map of the train stops. I knew he couldn’t read it.
    “Oh, ok. Sorry.” He slurred, and stumbled away.
    She smiled slightly, sexily, the point of her tongue licking the left side of her upper lip as if she wanted to say something.
    The train made it’s stop, and she walked off. We watched each other for as long as we could.

    Finally it was my stop. I made my way through bullshit crowds to my bus. Before long I was home again, to my messy apartment. It was always a combination of injury and exhaustion that kept my place from being what I wanted it to be. There was my mail, saved for a week.
    Suddenly, I had to shit. It was a bad one.
    In with me came our union newsletter. NALC Branch 79, called the 79r. I sat there, gagging on the smell of my own shit. It had been brewing for a long time. I read the newsletter end to end. Then, as I often do, I looked at the welcome to new members section. Sometimes, I recognize names. I did this time too.
    Song Ming. Stephanie’s boyfriend. Yep. The one that called me “white trash” for “having” to work a labor job, was about to try to do the very job that was so beneath him. I need to stress the word “try.” Few can do it.
    I have never, to my knowledge, laughed while taking a long shit. This was a first. It was a long, deep laugh from the belly, from the soul. It made me fart and shit harder, which somehow made me laugh more.
    That little shit? Really? He’s going to try a job that chews everyone up and spits them out? HAHAHA!

    Having spent a week and more surrounded by people, I was suddenly alone again. I didn’t want to be. I headed out to the bar down the street. I didn’t want vacation to end. I got a beer and went to smoke. There was Min. We hadn’t seen each other in forever. The last I heard was that Min had cancer. The bad kind. No hair. Exhausted.
    Yet, there she was, drinking and beaming. We had always hit it off. She was an amazing person. We talked and laughed like old times. Her face still lit up the night.
    Soon, Carrie came over. She was a breast cancer survivor, still getting treatment. Carrie was a loud and loving person. Min was more quiet and reserved. Carrie started.
    “You know, when you’re there in the doctor’s office, and he gives you that news....you realize how alone you are. Really. Everyone dies alone.”
    “Sorry Min, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry, but everyone loves you, but no one can save you. Know what I mean? I mean, what can they do?”
    They hugged. I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing.
    Carrie had to go home to her hubby. Min got tired, and left. I realized how tired I was.
    I bought smokes and beer on the way home. I put beer in the fridge, then collapsed on the couch.

    My mistake was a calculated one. It didn’t make sense to buy food before my trip. Why put fresh food in the fridge to rot while I’m away? I had coffee, after all.
    So, there I was, hungry. Needing groceries. Hells awaiting at work the next day. There was the plan. Buy smokes at the smoke shop, stop at Pagliacci’s for a $4 slice, then to Safeway for groceries.
    I got to thinking as I sipped my coffee. I saw, heard from, or at least heard of all these people from my past, all within days of each other, but what did it mean? I mean, the only one I hadn’t seen or heard from was Samantha. It just seemed so odd. And yet, life marches on and on, and I had hells to pay at work coming the next day.
    The one thing I wanted to be over with was waiting to chew me up. Great.
    I got my smokes, and got a slice. Pagliacci has great pizza, but the crust is tough. I prefer a fork and knife. It’s pricy, and so a rare treat. I dug in, devouring it quickly.
    The last bite. Crust. Chew chew chew. Past the window walked four women. The first I recognized was Linda. She had always hated me. Severely. At five one, the weight gain was pronounced. It had been roughly five years.
    Then there were two women I didn’t know. A bit older, chunkier, looking conservative.
    And there was Samantha. The Her of poetry fame, looking as great as ever. Her prized ass still amazing. All smiles. Pointing and talking. Excitement. They paused at the intersection.
    It felt like I should and could walk out there and hold Samantha’s hand, picking up right where we left off, as though it was right somehow. I knew it would not be welcome. I stood there, smiling like an idiot.
    Their light turned green, and off they went. I followed well behind. I dared not approach, even to just say hi. In the state I was in, injured and embarrassed, it would not have looked good. Yet, there was something about seeing her there, in what was once our neighborhood, our terf, that made me need to watch her walk through those streets. Our streets.
    I watched as she disappeared yet again, as I stood there as a jilted lover from memories, mourning love unclaimed, and left for dead.

    Reality snapped me back. Really?! After all these years with the USPS, busting my ass into injury and oblivion, I was actually worse off?!
    I shook my head, and walked to get food. I cursed my life’s stupidities. We are all alone, after all. Totally answerable to ourselves. Gagging on the smell of our own shit, and laughing at others who gag even worse.

    Groceries lugged home, the old back was aching. Easy, toaster oven food was needed, along with beers. The evening went fast. Distraction. Avoid truths that showed how far I had fallen. Numbness. Masturbation. Dreaming of better days of long ago. I was settled back to reality. The hells called work. Dramas and insults. Junior high school bullshit. The life I never wanted, but was sucked back into. I grunted and growled before opening another beer.
    I wanted to write, but couldn’t. I cussed at myself for the prison I had found myself in.
    A full belly and three cheap beers made sleep hit. My alarm hit at four. Work at six. Drama. A fight. An early release. Three beers and two sandwiches. An exhausted snooze. Another alarm at four. The usual. Back to the beaten path for a beaten man. More dramas, and more fights. An early day and a bad mood. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to enjoy. The vacation was over. Lifelessness. Again.
    For shits and giggles, I texted Melinda. I didn’t expect a reply for days, but it seemed like a good idea. To my surprise, she texted back;
    “Hey. I’m still at work. Can I call you in like an hour?”
    “Cool! I’ll look forward to it.”
    A rare treat! It was always good to talk with Melinda. I opened a beer and sipped heavily. This will be fun.

    Soon we were talking and laughing. Each had beers to sip and ventings to do. On and on we went. As usual, time flew.
    Then things changed. There was no warning.
    “Liam, how much do you love me?”

    Talk about a deer in headlights. What could I say? What could I know? What brought this on?
    I had to say something, right?
    “Umm...well, the first thing that comes to my mind is that you’re a married woman living with your husband in Chicago.”
    “Uh huh.”
    “Right. I mean, I thought we agreed to be friends and keep up with each other....”
    “Uh huh. And?”
    “And? What do you mean?”
    “Well, you didn’t answer the question.”
    “Ok....Well, there was a time when I would have gone for you, in time, but you did work things out with Chris, and I was very supportive...”
    “Yeah, just never mind, ok never mind.”
    “Umm...ok.... Just, I’m on the spot, and not sure what to”
    “JUST NEVER MIND, ok?”
    “Ok. Ok. You ok?”
    “Yeah. Yeah. Let’s change the subject.”

    We did change the subject, and went on to laugh and joke and sip, but now we sighed together too. The talk went on for another half hour or so.
    “Well, Liam, another five minutes, and I gotta let you go.”
    “Ah yes, the standard saying of Melinda....no surprise. And my standard response; all good things must come to an end.”
    Small talk swirled for a bit longer than five minutes.
    “Ok, Chris is about to come home, so I gotta let you go, ok?”
    “Ok. Have super super super sweetest of dreams, Melinda. I’ll talk with you soon, I hope.”
    “Yes, you too. We will. Good night, Liam.”
    “Good night, Melinda.”

    I didn’t know what to think of any of it. Did she love me? Did I love her? What was that? Just buyer’s remorse? I paced and sipped, wondering and imagining. Was I in love for the first time in years? Was she in love with me? What the hell?! Eventually I was able to sleep a bit.
    The cruelty of the alarm hit at four, shattering the silence of the empty apartment.
    I gave my standard response for having to go to this job; “Fuck!”
    What a way to live. But I knew I was stuck there.
    Not a way to live, or have any kind of life, really, but it’ll never end.

    That night would be the very last I ever heard from Melinda.

    Only good things must come to an end.

Blue Finger 2, art by Kyle Hemmings

Blue Finger 2, art by Kyle Hemmings

On the Rocks

Heather Chandler

    Caley’s fist wrapped tightly around Rasputin’s throat. She grabbed the butcher knife and forced the tip into the middle of his neck and drug it across. A quick spray of blood showered the front of her apron. His beady eyes just stared up at the sky, his head laying on the block as she plunged the rest of his body in ice water draining the blood. She walked over to the sink and ran hot water over her hands, cleaning them, and then letting the next bucket fill. Scalded birds are easier to pluck. Rasputin had gotten too feisty lately, and mean roosters make a good soup. She tossed him into the second bucket for a good soak and then went into the kitchen to begin prepping the stock.
    Looking out of the kitchen window, she saw Billy strolling up the path toward her old blue house and her heart leapt a little. His hair had grown out just a little too much and the humidity brought out the curls. His jeans were too big, but she could still make out his muscular shape. He wasn’t big like those guys on the football team, but refined from labor and the occasional swim in the river. Quickly, she tossed aside her apron and smoothed down her cotton dress and brushed off any specks of lint and feathers from the day’s chores. She ran her fingers through her hair, but it wouldn’t help much. Unlike Billy, her light hair became limp and lifeless with the humidity and it clung to the back of her neck and the sides of her face. Flipping her head upside down, she hoped to fight against gravity and at least boost some appearance of the bouncy hair plastered on every magazine lining the checkout at Jim’s IGA.
    She’d known Billy all her life. Their families worshiped at the Baptist church for generations, and they were often corralled together into the same dingy basement Sunday school classroom, even though Billy was a couple years older.
    It’s hard to keep Sunday school teachers these days. It seems like the bigger everything gets in town, the smaller the church gets. Heck, they were even getting another fast food restaurant now. Her dad often railed against the changes. “We already got a Sonic,” he said, flailing his right hand in the air as if he could swipe away the progression that seemed to threaten him. “What the hell else we need with another burger joint?” he complained. “I kinda like the idea of a new burger joint” she replied, wondering if he’d yell at her or just ignore her. It made her feel they were almost modern.
    Mostly, Billy kept to himself. Everyone knew his dad drank too much and his mom spent as much time in the institution as his dad spent at the bar. He carried the shame quietly, though. Only his steely eyes revealed flashes of pain. And he had a way of seeing through you while forcing you out at the same time. It was unnerving. And there were the whispers; speculation really— about some girl a few towns from here. Caley didn’t believe any of it.
    Caley met him at the screen door, trying to appear casual and also trying to beat her dad to the door. Her dad didn’t much like Billy. Thought there was something squirrely in those dark eyes, but Caley knew her daddy didn’t like any of the boys that came calling. And his intensity was part of the attraction. There’s a fine line between power and powerlessness that stirs the soul into a whirlwind of emotions. She’d lose her breath around him, both because she loved him, and because there was just enough danger in him that she also kind of feared him. In either case, she smiled at him and hoped he couldn’t notice how hard her heart pounded in her chest. She had been sneaking out to see Billy often lately, and each time still sent shivers through her.

    “Come take a walk with me, Caley,” he said, that slight smirk visible causing her to smile in return. “I wanna talk to you.”
    “Let me get some shoes and I’ll be right out.” Barely looking over her shoulder, she hollered, “Daddy, I’m going for a walk.”
    “Alright,” her dad mumbled, more concerned with the Sooner’s game flickering in front of him.
    They were wandering down the dusty red path, the hot Oklahoma sun beating down their backs, when he took her hand. She couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way across her lips. His hand was warm and she could feel the rough callouses. She wondered what it might be like to kiss him, and then she shivered.
    Billy wasn’t much of a talker.
    “I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks,” she said, lilting the end of the statement to sound more like a question.
    “I’ve been workin’,” Billy replied.
    “Well, I just finished up school,” she nervously continued. “I’m thinkin’ of maybe goin’ to college in Cameron or maybe moving to the city.”
    “Why are ya trying to leave here?” he asked.
    “There’s nothing in this town!”
    “What about me?” he asked.
    They reached the river where the gorge met the bend. The rushing water breaking over the rocks filled the silence, and a dove called out from a tree overhead. Caley stared at the rust colored dust gathering around the toes of her sandal.

    “That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Billy said. He let go of her hand and then rethinking, he grabbed it again a bit more forcefully.
    “Marry me,” he commanded. Caley’s head was swimming with all kinds of emotions, and the rushing sound of the river nearby made it hard for her to think.
    She stood there silent, letting the whole thing sink in. What about college? What would her dad say?
    “I can’t marry you” she said.
    He winced like she had slapped him. His smirk hardened and the softness of his mouth seemed to morph into something sinister. He grabbed her arm above the elbow, and said, “What are you talking about? I see the way you look at me. We belong together.”
    But his forcefulness scared her. She tried to widen the gap between them, but he squeezed her arm until she could feel the imprint of his fingers forging through the muscle and pressing on the bones in her forearm. Her throat tightened—the words of rejection she had uttered forming a noose, causing her breath to become shallow and quick. He couldn’t be serious, she thought. But he narrowed his eyes, a triumphal smirk emerging on his lips.
    Caley brought her arm in a full circle while turning her body away from him, forcing his grip to release, and the way he lunged at her told her she better run.
    “Billy—stop!” She cried out as she tore past the trail and moved closer to the river. She could feel the earth soften beneath her and she tried to make her steps lighter to resist the pull from the mud as she descended the small bank.
    She waded through the water feeling the slippery stones beneath her feet. The water was so heavy and his strides closed the gap. He grabbed her by the back of her hair and pushed her to the ground.
    “Don’t worry, my love. You won’t drown.” He spoke the words as gently as some rancher calmly coaxing his cow to slaughter. But his eyes weren’t so kind. They bore into her with hatred and she wondered how it was only moments ago he asked her to be his bride.
    She struggled underneath him as he straddled her, bearing down more of his weight. She tried flipping over, but the rocks underneath cut into her back and hips. She might as well try wrestling with Goliath. Then he took out his knife.
    You can’t hear yourself think when the water’s rushing around you like a storm upon a sea.
    She felt the knife rip through the belly of her dress, taunting the skin beneath before sliding upwards. Billy’s erratic breath came in short gasps. As his right hand guided the knife, his left hand released Caley’s arms to tear away the top of her dress. Her own breath rasping and struggling.
    Caley felt her arms sinking into the riverbed and her ears filled with water, leaving the world muffled. She stretched her fingers into the slimy mud, grasping for some resemblance of solid ground, but a jagged rock tore into her palm. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Caley thought of Sunday mornings. Gold-trimmed edges on thin pages, red words bringing comfort to the old ladies singing off-key. Ms. Latham on the piano, pounding out the notes with the execution of a military drill team commander.
    Billy was slobbering all over her neck now, his weight pushing her further into the water. She could feel splashes on her cheeks and she tasted rust. Her mind turned to Grandma’s biscuits served with peach jam and salted butter. She could smell them now. She could feel them in her hand, the melted butter dripping down her wrist. But the butter was cold and slid too quickly, the biscuit weighing heavily in her hand. Suddenly aware of Billy tugging at his pants, she clutched her fists imprinting a large piece of jagged slate into her palm. And then she slammed it into the side of Billy’s head.
    Stunned he reached up for her arm, but not before she directed the stone to its target again. At first, the rock just stood there, impaled into his temple. The skin looked taught and unaffected, silvery white lines tracing the outer wound as if the body itself was in disbelief. And then the blood poured out. Billy collapsed on top of Caley, submerging her face in the river.
    Eyes wide open, gurgling screams no one could hear, she frantically tried to free herself from under him. The water swirled red around her, blocking the ray of light streaming from the Sun. Finally, she was able to slide from beneath him. Billy remained face-down in the river with the rock still stuck into his temple. Caley rose from the water, legs weak and trembling. She stumbled to the river’s edge, her hair clumped together in mossy tangles. Billy’s blood merged with sludge on the torn bodice of her soaked cotton dress.
    Caley stood shaking on the bank, staring at Billy’s lifeless form resting in the water. His pants were slightly pulled down, leaving his backside exposed. She couldn’t leave him there. Maybe she could. Her mind raced as quickly as her heart pounded. She picked up a rock on near her foot and threw it at Billy’s body. Nothing. She tested again. Billy just remained. Caley picked up a third rock, but she stopped, turning it in her palm. She looked around and then she filled the skirt of her cotton dress with as many rocks as she could hold and waded back into the water near Billy.
    She stooped down and nudged Billy, just to be sure. When Caley was sure he was dead, she quickly began forcing the stones in his clothes. She shoved them in his pants, down his shirt, even in the little pocket on the chest of his flannel shirt. She ran back to the shore and gathered more stones. When his clothes were ripping under the pressure of the rocks, she grabbed both of his arms and began dragging him out further into the water. When her feet could no longer touch, Caley released him. He mostly sunk, except for his arm bobbing up and down in the water, waving.
    Billy’s body sunk deep into the middle of the river. The water seemed calmer, as if content with the sacrifice. Caley swam back to the shore and stood looking over the water. The sun danced off the ripples, winking back at her.
    Caley returned home and slipped into the house through the back door. She could hear the television blaring and her father snoring. Once in her room, she slipped out of her torn dress, held it briefly, and then crumpled it into the bottom of her wastebasket. She grabbed a pair of jeans from the bottom of her drawer and put on a soft red t-shirt. After dressing, she stared in the mirror, combing out her now dried hair. Her hands no longer trembled and her breath returned to a natural rhythm. She headed downstairs and started the soup for dinner.


Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14

I want to work for
the U. S. Census Bureau,
and count the bodies

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku census in Chicago 3/17/14 (C) at the open mic Waiting 4 the Bus
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading many of her poems live (8 haiku poems, 4 poems, and a Periodic Table poem) in Chicago 3/17/14 at the Waiting 4 the Bus open mic INCLUDING THIS HAIKU
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of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku census as a looping JKPoetryVine video live 3/17/14 at the Waiting 4 the Bus open mic Jaks Tap in Chicago (C, glow and saturated filters)
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See a Vine video
of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku census as a looping JKPoetryVine video live 3/17/14 at the Waiting 4 the Bus open mic Jaks Tap in Chicago (C)
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See YouTube video 2/26/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her 2017haiku poem “census” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video 2/26/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her 2017 haiku poem “census” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX60 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 4 haiku poems “jumped”, the second haiku from her “Two Not Mute Haikus”, “census” and “civil” in the intro performance 2/26/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX60 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 4 haiku poems “jumped”, the second haiku from her “Two Not Mute Haikus”, “census” and “civil” in the intro performance 2/26/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Night-time Fantasy

Kristyl Gravina

The smell of your skin
As you sleep next to me
Your shoulder my pillow
I trace a finger across your chest
Softly; so as not to wake you up
So as not to remember
That all this is a pretence
A memory; of something which was real
But which no longer is
I slip my head off your shoulder
and turn my back to you
Slowly; so as not to wake you up
And I try to sleep;
Breathing your scent
Wishing We were still real

Chosen Few

Richard Schnap

Most people need leaders
But some don’t for they are
The navigators of their own fates

Through seasons fraught
With storms and droughts
Famines and fear

They stand at the helms
Of vessels of their own design
Carrying them way beyond

The fogs that blind others
Their eyes piercing through
To landscapes of their own making

Wildernesses where lie
Paths only they can see
Only they can comprehend

And if you ask them how
You will not know their answers
For by then they’ll be far away

Refrigerator Magnets

Ben Rasnic

I knew
I had become a man
when my accomplishments
no longer merited
attachment to the refrigerator door.


Bhargab Chatterjee

Finally I slash
on the ventral surface
of a private hawk moth
with a knife.
My incision is precise
like a surgeon.
Here on the right side
I give a push
with the tip of my index finger.
Viscera tumbles out on the wax tray.

Outside in the street
crowds move to both directions.

Bhargab Chatterjee Bio

    Bhargab Chatterjee lives in Calcutta, Eastern India. He is a regular contributor to an American online journal, Mad Swirl (13 poem publications), the most recent one, “Clamour”, Nov. 19, 2016. He has nine poem publications in another American online journal, The Camel Saloon. His poems have also appeared in the literary pages of The Times of India and Asian Age.

For Us

Tameka Jarmon

I don’t have to say your name
Or hide beneath hyperbole and metaphor
Or change the details to protect our guilt
Because neither one of us are clean
We both created the storm
That left behind enough pain to last lifetimes
I dare not pretend this isn’t in honor of
The beauty we were at the beginning
This is an ode to a tragedy that will always be

The you and me that we became


Tameka Jarmon

I’ve got plans to let you go
To burn every memory
And scatter them beneath your window
One day

You’ll see what could’ve been

Two O Clock Stars

S. R. Mearns

Its as dark as it should be
With Only two o’clock stars
For company,
Each flip flop step
Echoing alarmingly
On the polished steps,
Breaking the silence
Not even the extensive
Bat wings could breach
I can even hear the faint sea
Stroking the shore
And the goatsuckers beat.
The other noise is louder
The one that ambushed my dream,
A rhythmic Zulu spear banger
From Rourke’s Drift
Tapping my window.
So many stars up here Unwatched,
So many
The thin ones
They blend
Like lucent lace
Hanging between
Fatter stars, flanked
By a waxing moon, Bright like lime lite
Dripping with applause
From a crescendo of cicada’s.
I felt stage struck,
Awesome, alive, My light feet
On the cool terracotta
Tingled and tapped,
Felt like a kid so much
I hardly noticed
The two conjoined young Bodies undulating rhythmically, rapping
Their eternal tune
On the loose slat sunbed Behind the barbeque.
Then I knew,
I knew they weren’t for me
The two o’clock stars,
It was for them , all of them
Such a clean vital light,
An intimate light
I was suddenly alone
With my nakedness,
Stealing something not mine.
Awkwardly, I left the stage
And slid back to bed
And dreamed of 1982
And my own
Two o’clock stars.

Take Me Away

Kennisha Wright

    Amelia didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she wasn’t staying in that dreadful house for another night. She packed all the clothes she could fit in her green suede backpack, grabbed all the cash she had saved from under her queen mattress and left. She headed towards the town’s edge through the woods. She didn’t want to get caught by the cops; they would’ve dropped her in front of her foster parent’s door. At midnight, every light in the town shuts off. Only two minutes, she thought. She sat in the woods, right next to the beginning of the highway. Looking down the street, there were no cars in sight, no one around. She checked her phone, and right on time, every single light turned off. As if it was magic, the moment Amelia stepped on the road, she heard a truck coming down the way. What else do I have to lose, she thought. She stretched out her hitchhiker’s thumb and prayed the unknown stranger would stop.
    A white lifted four-door truck came storming down the road, blaring loud music. Amelia listened in disbelief. “Am I dreaming?” she whispered to herself. Bryson Tiller was playing at what seemed like the maximum volume. First a truck at the exact time I need it, and it’s playing my favorite artist, Amelia thought. The truck slowed down; she was able to see the driver. He smiled at her awkward stance. He turned down the music. “Need a lift?” he asked.
    Amelia stood there frozen, glaring at this God sent angel.
    “Um, do you need me to grab your bag?” he asked.
     Amelia blinked and breathed in the cold air of January. “Hey, um,” she murmured. “Yea I’d love a ride, and no I got the bag!” she exclaimed.
    He jumped down from the truck and ran around to the passenger side to open her door. The jump was more of a step; he was at least six foot four. Amelia gazed at the guy’s frame as she walked to her side.
     “I can help you up, if you don’t mind,” he said with a smile.
    She gasped. “Uh yea. I don’t want to fall climbing your mountain.”
    They both blushed at her joke. He ran back to his side, hopped into the drivers seat, and they were off. ‘I’m Joe, and you are?” he questioned, his eyes never leaving the road.
    “Amy...Amelia,” she said laughing at herself trying to be mysterious to a gorgeous stranger.
     “What is someone like you doing walking the highway this late?” he asked.
    “Someone like me, you mean a girl? If you must know, I’m running away from home. Going where the world takes me. That place didn’t deserve me,” she exclaimed.
     “I meant someone so beautiful but I’m sorry to hear that,” he said softly. Joe turned the music back up a little.
     “I didn’t mean to offend you,” they both said in sync.
    They giggled.
     “You like Bryson? No one in my town appreciates him,” she said.
     “Only guy I listen to. But um, where are you headed, if you don’t mind me asking?” he asked.
    “Wherever you’re going, if you don’t mind,” she said blushing.
    Joe finally looked at Amelia and couldn’t help smiling at her smile.
    They talked about everything. Amelia explained her life story and Joe sat quietly while she poured out her feelings. She’d get to a part that brought her to tears, and he’d wipe them away. When she was done, he pulled over just to hug her. She breathed in his old spice and held him crying. He got back on the road and held her hand.
    “Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asked.
    Amelia looked at Joe in shock, tears flowing down her face. He smiled and once again wiped away her tears. “Amelia, if you can believe it, I didn’t plan on living to see the end of today. But when I saw you on the side of the road reaching out for help, I had a feeling that you needed me,” he said.
    “I did...I do need you. I’ve never felt this way for someone. I never thought someone could feel this way for me,” she whispered.
    “You said you wanted to go with me wherever I was going, right? Well, stay with me forever. I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t want this to end,” he said smiling.
    “I’ll ride with you into the sun!” Amelia exclaimed.

out there

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14

alone and lonely
all the love was just out there
I couldn’t reach it

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.


Jan Marquart

    Abortion? I was used to his lack of commitment: no marriage, no buying a house together, no friendship ring, even. I was used to his freak-out and irritability when we went on vacations and he had to go without the structure of his job. I was used to not counting on him when I had life changes like the year I couldn’t find work and the years I struggled with working and going to school full time, surviving alone, an uncared for island. But, this? The implication blindsided me. Abortion?
    I froze facing him. The room closed in. He didn’t move a muscle but instead remained leaning back against his yard-sale bed’s headboard, the one with three finials he diligently refinished and spoke about with such loving devotion it bordered on mental illness, legs outstretched and crossed in front of him. “You know what to do with it,” he calmly said without looking up, turning a page as he continued reading Shogun. I had prepared myself for his anger, for rage, for confusion, to be humiliated, but not this. Did he not hear me?
    My words echoed in my head. “I think I’m pregnant.”
    It? Did he say it? A child therapist whom everyone thought was perfect refers to a fetus as it? That’s what his staff said to me at the Christmas parties I hated going to. It’s how his mother talked about him. Perfect! We were monogamous, is that how he talks about a child he should assume to be his? It?
    My fingers gripped the door jamb. My voice tried to speak but – nothing. I was used to his tuning out when I spoke about his clothes, shoes, and books laying around the house I wanted him to pick up. I was used to his refusal to hear my pleas about turning his thirty T-shirts right-side out because it required me to stay at the laundromat longer than I wanted, exhausted from going to school all day and working a full shift. I had grown used to so much and now it all came crashing around me, slapping me in the face. The veil of my denial, dissipating into wide holes. Anger began erupting in slow waves then stopped for fear of what it would do. I usually yelled trying to get what I wanted, to be treated kindly, to be listened to, to be adored, to matter. I believed there was a way to get what I wanted if only I could make him see my aching need, meet him on a rational level. It seemed so simple. Now, darkness swallowed me whole. What have I done? I had been thrown away a long time ago. What did I expect now?
    So maybe it was my fault. I shuddered with shame. I hadn’t told him the truth for fear he would blame me, as he did every other thing that didn’t work out the way he wanted in his life, his so fragile life. The truth returned to somewhere deep inside me.
    Now it was time. Matters were at a crisis point. I ached to tell all, collapse in his arms, scream, hoping to be comforted, but I stood frozen clinging onto the door jamb. Hope is not a strategy. I couldn’t move my tongue. My thoughts were swallowed by the chasm. My body faced him like an old conch shell. I had to protect myself from this seemingly perfect man who couldn’t look up from reading Shogun for a second to allow room for anything but him. I took the truth and hid it deeper.
    “It isn’t yours,” I ached to say. “It’s the rapist’s.”

P1470596, art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

P1470596, 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.


Relationship Troubles

Tiana Edwards

    Camille Ward stares out of the passenger’s seat window. She runs her fingers through her straight, long, blonde hair. “Just admit it. You are lost.” She turns to Glen Ward with narrow eyes.
    “I’m not lost. I just took a wrong turn. That’s all,” he says, and rolling his eyes.
    “We’ve been driving for hours.” She clenches both fists. “We should have been at your parent’s house two hours ago.”
    “I know but I have everything under control. We’ll be there in five minutes.” He shrinks back into his seat.
    “Call for directions,” she says. “Pull the car over and call for directions.”
    He pulls the car over to the side of the road. “This is a waste of time. I know exactly where I am going.” He pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and dials the number. “Uh.” He looks at the blank screen. He shifts in his seat and pulls at the collar of his shirt. “My phone just died.”
    “Are you serious?” She slams her right hand onto her forehead and groans. “I married an idiot.”
    “Hey, your phone is dead as well.” He narrows his eyes at her.
    “Why do I even bother?” She crosses her arms.
    “What does that even mean?”
    “It means I don’t know why I listen to you.” She sighs. “I wanted to fly.”
    He clenches his teeth and he turns the key to start the car but it makes a clicking sound. He slams his hands down on the steering wheel. “Unbelievable.”
    “This was a mistake.” She gazes out the window at the street.
    He gets out of the car and pulls the hood up. Smoke rises, and he groans. He slams the hood down, and he kicks the car until a sharp pain shoots up his leg. The license plate falls to the ground. He runs his fingers through his dirty blonde hair. He limps back to the driver’s side but can’t open the door. He knocks on the window. “Let me in.”
    She glares at him and shakes her head.
    “Oh, don’t be like this.” He limps to her side of the car. “I’m sorry. Is that what you want me to say? I’m sorry.” He knocks on her window. “Let me in, please.”
    She reaches over to the driver’s side and unlocks the door.
    He gets into the car. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t what I pictured.” He reaches for her chin. He turns her head toward him. He gazes into her sea green eyes. “We’ve been fighting for so long that I thought a relaxing road trip would be good for us.”
    “I haven’t been the easiest wife.” She stares at her lap. “I’m sorry.”
    “You’re perfect. I’m the idiot that thought this was a good idea.” He smiles.
    She giggles. “This was a horrible idea.”
    He chuckles. “We will fly back.”
    “We have to figure out where your parents live first.” She shrugs.
    The sound of knuckles hitting his window makes him turn around. He smiles. “Dad.”
    “Hey, Glenn,” Michael Ward says, “are you and your pretty wife going to stay out here all night or are you coming in?”
    “You live here?” Glenn asks. His mouth drops open and he blinks.
    “Just across the street,” he says. “Heard the ruckus.”
    “I was lost, and the car decided to stop working.” He gets out of the car and hugs his father.
    “We’ll worry about that tomorrow,” Michael says. “Come on.”
    Camille and Glenn glance at each other and have bright smiles on their faces. He puts his arm around her shoulder and she puts her arm around his back. They follow Michael.

Falling Grace

Elijah Deus

    “I’m pregnant,” said Grace.
    Matt removed his lips from her neck. “What did you say?”
    “I’m pregnant.”
    Matt withdrew his hands from her hips and took a few steps back. Grace got off the wall she was pressed against. She lifted up her shirt that was slightly down. She looked at the lit candles that was around the room, one candle on each side of the bed, and several on a round mid-size table in the middle of the room. The candles were held inside glass container and it made the room smell of lavender. There were rose petals everywhere and it covered a stain that was on the carpet floor.
    Grace walked closer to Matt. “I didn’t know how you were going to react. I was hoping for a positive reaction.”
    Matt sat at the edge of the bed. Rose petals flew in the air and dropped to the floor. Matt rested his hands on his knees and shook his legs.
    He turned his head. “What do you want me to say?”
    Grace sat next to him. “I want you to say that you’re happy for us. That we can finally start a family together. But I guess that was too much to ask for.” Grace’s eyes watered.
    “I can’t do that right now.”
    “Why not?”
    Matt leaped up. He walked over to a wall, placed one hand on it, and put his head down. “Because I have a wife and kids. I have a reputation to keep.” He looked up at Grace. “Do you think I wanted this?”
    “You’re the one that asked for it in your office, in your car, and in this crappy motel.” Grace paused. “Behind the church-.”
    “That’s enough.” He smashed his hand against the wall, leaving a small dent in it and a remnant of paint on his hand.
    Grace flinched.
    “Listen, we can figure this out,” said Matt, lowering his shoulders.
    Matt walked over to Grace, tears rolling down her face. He reached for her hand but she rejected it.
    Grace wiped her tears and rose to her feet. “You said you would leave your wife for me. You said that you’ll take care of me. I graduate high school in a few weeks.”
    “It’s not the right time.”
    “When is the right time? When I tell people about the baby? When the baby is born?
    Matt grabbed her. “No one can know about this you hear me.”
    Grace tried to move her arms, but it wouldn’t budge.
    “Let go of me. You’re hurting me.”
    Matt let go of her arms and walked away. Grace touched her arm. Her caramel skin turned red as she felt the burn beneath her skin.
    “So the rumors are true?”said Grace.
    Matt squinted his eyes. He made his hands into a fist. “We can discuss this matter peacefully. We don’t want to do anything someone might regret.”
    “You’re a fake and a liar.”
    “What did you just say?” Matt grinded his teeth.
    “You preach about being holy and staying faithful, but you’re none of those things.”
    “Shut up.” Matt stepped forward.
    “I saw a bruise on your wife one day. Now I know where it came from.”
    “Shut up.” Matt slapped her in the face.
    Grace stood there. Her face turned red and so did her behind lip. She placed her hand on her face.
    Matt pointed a finger at her. “Now you listen to me, no one can find out—”
    Grace spat at his face. Matt wiped it off. There was a moment of silence before Matt reached for her, but she fought him off. Grace ran toward the door. Matt got in front of her and blocked her way.
    She pounded on his chest. “Let me go.”
    “We can fix this.”
    Matt held her arms. He moved her away from the door.
    “Help someone help.”
    Matt tossed her. Grace’s whole body turned and hit head first on the round table. She collided with a candle and it shattered. She slid off the table onto the ground along with the rest of the candles. A small flame emerged next to her. She laid there. Matt reached out his hand but brought it back. The flames grew around her and the rose petals burned one by one.

Dumbass World

E. Martin Pedersen

On our planet stupidity is revered
We celebrate it as a form of entertainment and culture
We’re offended by suggestions of diminishing returns
What, we’re not number one?
Oh yes we fucking are!!!

Would you vote for a thieving lying racist?
X is one, would you vote for him?
Because I like him, he’s qualified.

Would you buy and use a household product proved to be toxic?
Because I want to. It’s a free country
(Two thumbs up and a grin)

I wonder what will happen if I drive my car into a brick wall
If I get laid by the HIV-positive cutie
(he/she’s so sexy)
Ya think I can drink an entire bottle of Jack Daniels in one gulp
Like John Belushi in Animal House?
He’s so cool; I love him.
Loved him.

So are you saying I have to pay for sending wetbacks back to Wetbackland?
I won’t pay, I won’t; I want budget cuts, tax cuts, my due, my fair share, buddy
The government only exists to steal my money, my hard-earned cash
Gotta cheat the cheaters before they cheat me
And all illegal aliens gotta go
Or toss ‘em in jail and torture ‘em
That’ll teach ‘em who we are.

I got it
Let’s have a blind transgender midget toss to raise money for charity
I don’t know any blind transgender midgets.
O.K., we’ll use newborn children.
Isn’t that dangerous?
That’s why people will pay to see it. It’s for charity!
We’ll get ‘em drunk first.
Who? The children?

Dumbass country in a dumbass world, Dumbass
We’re stoned on self-mutilation
Let’s start a war just to see what happens
Like killing, you mean?
Man versus food, food versus mass destruction
Jesus versus Bigfoot
That’d be a good fight
Or cut off our noses to look like a cartoon
in an app game I just downloaded
my thumbs hurt though
but they’re gradually bending

Everyone wants to suffer, to fail
To lose control, to drink the poison
Why? Why not? Why? Why not?
The constant experimentation
Exasperation of advanced technology
The dark ages, renaissance, industrial age
The space age and then –
The dumbass age.

Imperfect Storm Ends in a Rainbow

Donal Mahoney

    In 1958 Elmer’s was the only high school in his county that had been integrated. Basketball was the big sport. People in the little town filled the gym every Tuesday and Friday. They roared when the home team scored and they booed when the visiting team fouled one of their players. But before and after every game the town was rife with racial tension.
    Some folks were neutral about integration, figuring its time had come. Others were adamantly opposed. Hard to say, even in retrospect, if anyone, black or white, was in favor of it. If someone thought it was a good idea, no one said anything. But at every basketball game, people got along, whatever their color. Points mattered and wins mattered. And in 1958 this small school had a very good team. Some might say the team was good in part because of integration.
    In fact, the school had its first team ever with a realistic hope of going to the state tournament. And when the team did, there was even more hoopla among the people of the town.
    To this day many people believe that if their star player had not torn his knee in the first game, the team might have gone deep in the tournament.
    The local newspaper said the team was good enough to win it, which helped, of course, to sell a lot of papers. Even though the team didn’t win the championship, the effort brought the town together. The racial talk largely subsided and hasn’t risen since except out of the mouths of a few who are upset about other things as well.
    Change of any kind bothers people, some more than others.
    But at every reunion of the class of 1958, that team dominates the conversation. And no one knows that better than Elmer.
    It doesn’t matter now that racial strife in 1958 kept Elmer and his classmates from taking a senior trip. They’re over that and the ones who are still alive simply enjoy getting together at the Elk’s Club Lodge and reminiscing about the good times while feasting on fine food. They talk about their lives, the classmates who have died and, of course, their team.
    It doesn’t matter either that every teacher they had back then passed away long ago, teachers they remember fondly and teachers they remember not so fondly. They know those teachers made a difference in their lives and they appreciate them now far more than they did back then.
    It doesn’t even matter that the building where they went to school no longer stands or that their school system long ago was absorbed by a larger system. But everyone in their town and surrounding towns remembers the name of their school because of its being the first to be integrated and because of its basketball team in 1958.
    Because of that team, Elmer and his classmates, black and white, never lack for conversation at a reunion.
    Just ask the black guy, the tallest one in the room, what might have happened if he had not hurt his knee in that game. Elmer will be happy to tell you he and all his classmates think their team would have won that championship, the only team in the tournament that year with a black kid playing, grabbing rebounds and just before he hurt his knee executing a monster dunk not often seen back then.
    Elmer doesn’t have problems with his knee now. A surgeon in another town operated on him in 1958 and the town held three barbecues that summer to pay for the operation.
    Elmer received a scholarship to a good university and starred on the team for three years. Then he went to dental school. And just a few years back he retired from his dental practice in his home town. He had more white patients than black because more white folks live there.
    Now just about everybody in town gets along despite the big change in 1958. Sometimes people are better off in the long run whether they like change when it happens or not.
    Elmer will be the first to tell you he’s not the only one who benefited from integration. His town, his school, his team and his patients for 40 years benefited as well. They were all part of an imperfect storm that ended in a rainbow.

Donal Mahoney bio

    Nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, Donal Mahoney, a product of Chicago, lives in exile now in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune and Commonweal. Some of his online work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs=


Rebecca Cowgill

spring horizon
golden leaves
down the gun barrel


Rebecca Cowgill

a motorbike
zips through traffic
with the passing years


Rebecca Cowgill

fall on the beach
counting shooting stars

Down the River

Roger McKnight

     “We’re still slaves, folks. The owners just took the chains off our legs and wrapped them around our minds,” Anselmo Washington said, careful to temper his tone. A black Mississippian born and bred to the plantation, as he described himself, Anselmo stood on his three-story mansion’s steamy front porch, hat in hand, and spoke to the white folks before him. He told them how he came to Illinois and eventually bought this grand old slave house on the north bank of the Ohio River to give tours and show Midwesterners their true history. “You never know your future till you understand your past,” he liked to explain. But today only six paying visitors had shown up, and he needed seven to break even. Anselmo wondered if he and these six had anything in common besides the maddening horseflies buzzing around them. He swiped at the pests with his hat and led the visitors into the former slave master’s quarters.
     “Five greenbacks, admission,” Anselmo announced. Sometimes he considered charging more, but his aim was to tell things like they were, and he feared raising the price would turn folks off.
    “I’m Ruth from Rockford,” a blonde, middle-aged woman said, as she paid him. “Interior decorator. Wasn’t this a free state before the Civil War?”
     “Yes,” Anselmo answered. “But a slave owner came here in 1834 and built this lovely mansion, Greek Revival style. It was one of the most notorious slave houses in the U. S. A story of misery and the vile ways slaves were treated by the most violent slave driver in American history. John Crenshaw.”
     “No, ma’am, Crenshaw, John H. See the gorgeous view he had?” Anselmo motioned to a steep verdant hill leading up from the River.
     “Magnificent,” Ruth agreed. “But I’m here to see the inside furnishings.”
    “That’s the hill niggers like me climbed everyday, all the way to the mines. Note the pole with ball and chain attached.”
    Ruth looked up in surprise when Anselmo used the n-word. Without speaking, she turned to the master bedroom featuring flowery wallpaper and sturdy oaken ceiling beams. She studied several cabinets with vintage toiletries and bed linen neatly placed on the shelves. Beside the cabinets stood a glass case displaying shackles, pockmarked hand weapons, and a sawed-off shotgun.
     “Crenshaw became the wealthiest man in the state,” Anselmo said to the other visitors. “So he put up this dwelling. Built by intelligent black men. They scoured the South for the best slave craftsmen. Those colored masons anchored this house in eight foot of solid bedrock.”
    “Amazing construction work, but this Crenshaw guy, he got away with that? Practicing slavery, in the North?” asked a tall, serious-looking senior, who introduced himself as George Johnson, a retired building contractor from Indiana. He addressed Anselmo earnestly while his wife, who walked with a cane, went from room to room. “I’ve heard tell of this place, but never knew what to believe about it.”
     “Crenshaw made his fortune on the salt mines here. The work was too hard for white men. So Crenshaw smuggled slaves from Kentucky. He kidnapped Northern blacks and forced them into the mines. We still got an old salt kiln outside,” Anselmo said pointing to the backyard. He, George, and two others, a couple in their twenties, gazed out at the kiln. “This mansion made 250 thou a year from sales of salt, and paid half the taxes of the State in 1842. Crenshaw was so rich he bribed senators for the use of slaves.”
     After Ruth and George’s wife returned to the fine room, Anselmo went on talking while leading his group up some more stairs. As he spoke, the sixth visitor, a slender Latina with a baby cradled in a sling over her shoulder, appeared from the restroom below. “I’m Carmen. And this is my daughter, Maria. Sorry to lag behind, we’re from Chicago, just wanted to see how other ethnics lived,” she said while pressing a bill in Anselmo’s hand. “Ten, for me and Maria.” Anselmo was happy for Carmen’s extra cash but felt embarrassed accepting money for the child.
    “Crenshaw ferried Kentucky slaves across the Ohio to work here,” he continued. “In bad weather he kept them overnight in a slave hut. Or on the third floor, up above.”
    “Even farther up?” George’s wife asked and pointed at the stairway with her cane.
    Anselmo nodded. “Steep, all right.”
    “Never you mind, we’ll manage,” the woman assured him. “Just you wait and see!”
    “John Crenshaw treated blacks like animals,” Anselmo replied with a contempt for the slave owner that overrode his smile.
    At the top of the second flight, Anselmo paused for the Johnsons to catch up. He ran his hand over a shiny mahogany post. “Know what this is?” he asked. He reckoned no one would answer, but Carmen raised her hand like an eager school kid.
    “A whipping post,” she said.
    “Sure, like at the Cook County Jail, huh?” Anselmo said, as if he spoke from experience.
    “Hey, my man Eduardo did a stint there,” Carmen explained. “He’s from below the border, you know.”
    “No Latinos here, but lots of black men’s blood ran down this post. The whites taught us backwards, in their language, forced us to learn their ways. Out on the slope horses drew black men apart, limb from limb. Ex-slaves early in the twentieth century still remembered their screams. What’s the difference, folks, between killing us on the spot and making us follow their white ways?”
    While Anselmo waited for a reply, Ruth gave him a friendly smile. George shook his head. “Beats me,” he mumbled. The young couple looked at each other until the woman answered, “Up north in Minnesota, we got nothing remotely like this. We’re married students, traveling through. Just tell us.”
    “Killing is instantaneous,” Anselmo explained.
    When no one commented further, he led them into the second-floor rooms. “Is this more like it?” he asked and showed them Crenshaw’s sumptuous banquet hall. The dining table ran the length of the room, with chandeliers jangling above. The group ran their hands along the shiny tabletop talking among themselves, while Anselmo chatted away about the value of the household goods. When they re-gathered, he produced a pre-War bill of sale from the mansion’s files. It listed two mirrors for $1.50 each, a shotgun worth $5.00, a chair for $8.00, a slave woman priced at $500, and her daughter for $100.
    Meanwhile Ruth and the Minnesota couple inspected a mixture of items arrayed along the wall, including canning jars and a cream separator. Ruth pointed at a gaggle of bones hanging from a rod in the otherwise empty cloak room.
    “A dead skeleton,” George’s wife said blankly.
    “A man’s,” Carmen added. “I can tell. Like Dia de los muertos.”
    “Yes,” Anselmo agreed. “A dead slave somebody found in a salt pit. Crenshaw left him there. Never bothered to dig a grave. Later somebody hung him up for tourists.”
    George’s wife put her cane down and leaned against the banquet table. Anselmo pulled out a chair for her. She gazed at the spectacle. “Lord, so hideous.”
    “Folks say that’s Lincoln’s seat Mrs. Johnson’s using,” Anselmo told the others. He made a point of telling every visiting group about that chair, and had grown used to the blank stares his comment often left on visitors’ faces, but Ruth, Carmen, George, and the young couple stood firm and stared at him intently.
    “Abe Lincoln, the liberator?” Carmen asked.
    “He ventured this far south, imagine,” the Minnesota woman said to her guy. “Just like us, honey.”
    “Not what we learned in school about Lincoln,” Carmen added.
    “Oh, yes, in 1840 Honest Abe passed here, running for state office. John Crenshaw hosted him, at this very table, even threw a fancy ball, with white men’s quarters below and slave rooms above.”
    The Minnesotans gazed up as if they imagined rebellious feet stomping on the ceiling. “Hard to believe,” the man said.
    “Cars with twenty different license plates been here to see,” Anselmo agreed. “I’ve had people try sleeping in the slave’s attic. White folk don’t last a night.”
    “Because they realize what their ancestors did?” Carmen guessed.
    “Their conscience can’t bear it,” George deduced.
    “We’re all brainwashed to the max, black and white alike,” Anselmo explained kindly, sensing how this group caught his drift intuitively.
    “Nowadays us slaves believe we are free,” George mused.
    “Here we are a hundred and sixty years later,” Ruth said with a sigh. “If we really were free, we wouldn’t be here now, would we?”
    “Free?” Anselmo asked. “Free puts you on tricky ground. You never know. Crenshaw captured freed blacks and sold them back into slavery. He tricked them into boat rides on the Ohio and dumped them on the other side in chains. Underground railroad in reverse, you know.”
    “Thus the expression sold down the river,” Ruth surmised.
    Anselmo smiled at the group’s attentive feedback.
    “But we can change that,” Carmen said as though reading his mind. “Can’t we?”
    Anselmo turned and led the way up a staircase to the third floor. He showed them a line of windowless rooms.
    “Like for Mexican farmhands,” Carmen commented.
    “Notice, some rooms don’t have bars,” Anselmo explained. “Only women and children were locked up. Sixty to a hundred slaves, eight to ten people per room, in this heat and humidity, no bathroom, no water.”
    “Hideous,” George’s wife repeated. She and George had managed the steps well. So now they stood resolutely together in the narrow hallway. Anselmo noticed how they cringed slightly as though the third floor still smelled of past years’ sweat, urine, and tears.
    “Tiny wood bunks, no ventilation or daylight, in 100-degree heat,” Ruth lamented.
    George wiped perspiration from his brow.
    “What about the men?” Carmen asked. “Why no bars?”
    “Didn’t need them,” Anselmo replied. “If they ran off, Crenshaw shackled them to that pole outside, as an example, but he had to be careful. If he beat them bad, the scars would remain and the slaves’ value sank. The worst offenders went to the whipping post.”
    “Their value sank on the free market,” George commented ironically.
    “Supply and demand,” Anselmo agreed. “See this last room? That’s Uncle Bob’s. Crenshaw kept him locked in there as a stud for twenty years. Like a stallion. Fathered 300 slave children.”
    “And Abe Lincoln knew this?” Ruth asked incredulously. “He was here. Saw it? Heard it?”
    “Your guess’s as good as mine. Stories, you know,” Anselmo answered. “This place operated till the 1860s. Crenshaw outlived the War. The property remained in private hands, for its salt, later for tourists. I owned it a while, till the State paid me for it. Now they let me run it. I get the cash.”
    “You believe that? About Uncle Bob?” George’s wife asked.
    “He lived to be a hundred. Ended up going to a senior residence. The story was, he thought they were moving him to a new stud farm, at age 85.”
    “Spooky,” the Minnesota woman said.
     Maybe so, Anselmo thought.
    The tour over, he showed the way down the stairs till he stood before them again, hat in hand, on the front veranda, in the same summer heat.
    “Interesting, folks?” he asked.
    “Yes, very much so,” Ruth answered. “More ways than one.”
    The others nodded yes, but said nothing. They were sympathetic souls, Anselmo knew, who had not set out that day to spend their cash for so much bitter knowledge. Now here they were struggling with the full import of what they had seen and heard, as though something atavistic and horrific was crawling in their bones. Their looks begged for a magical word to exorcise the nagging unrest or make human cruelty fathomable to them, but Anselmo turned as voiceless as they. Seven times five, he thought, that’s what my day’s work amounted to. Yet he also realized, as never before, that he could do more than break even by speaking the truth, if the time was right and the people, too.
    And so Anselmo stood, together with the six adults and a sleeping baby, as they batted in quiet consternation but perfect unison at the dive-bombing horseflies. They were free to go, but everyone stayed.

How Is Yours?

Brian Looney

    My neck and back creak and groan like an antique rocking chair, ancient oak. Unbreakable, perhaps, but oh-so-warped. How is yours?

    They tell me to have a massage, but I don’t have the cash. They tell me ’yoga,’ but I don’t have the spirit. They tell me surgery, but I don’t have the balls. They tell me many things, but I don’t have the cash.

Job of being Homeless

Janet Kuypers

So, the magazine editor in me
has gotten to the point
where I start to base my opinions on the homeless
by the writing submissions I receive.

Now, the poets
send me submissions
of a homeless man at one corner
who lost his leg in the war,
and a homeless women
at another corner
who has two children to feed.

And then I get the short stories,
the prose about life in th streets,
about a man who recently lost his job,
got the ropes from another homeless man in Austin:
Don’t take someone else’s corner,
And only put in two hours a day
of asking for money on the streets
and you’ll have enough drinking money
until the next day.
Follow everyone’s code here,
print on your cardboard sign
that you only want a dollar
in the winter months,
but after Memorial Day
get a new sign
and only ask for a quarter.
And whatever you do,
pull on the heart strings
for anyone who claims to be a Christian,
and make sure you sign
ends with the words
“God Bless.”
It might be hard for the first few days,
But you gotta put your pride on hold.
This is tax free,
the government doesn’t own you,
and as I said,
just two hours a day
to get drunk at night
and sleep under the stars.

So, as you see,
I’m a bit torn,
because I keep getting
these two different perspectives
on the homeless life,
because this is what the creative people
send as submissions
to my literary magazines...

So, I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know who to believe.
Do I have hope for the wayward soul
or do I ignore the drunken bum.

Which idea do I support
when I see one man
selling free newspapers to commuters
until he gets a job
and can break free of the cycle,

before I see a man
get out of his parked car,
say good bye to someone on his iPhone,
put it and his ear buds in his denim pocket
and grab a cardboard sign
to walk to a street corner
for his next shift of tax free work.

I’ve heard some can make six figures.
As I said, tax free.

So, I’m a bit torn,
and I don’t know what to believe.

video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Job of being Homeless” and “Over and Over Again” 9//16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home” and “Guilt” 9/24/16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (video filmed from a Sony camera).
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See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home” and “Because This Is What We Do” (cut off) 9/25/16 at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (filmed with a Canon Power Shot camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home” and “Because This Is What We Do” (cut off) 9/25/16 at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (Canon Power Shot camera, Edge Detect.).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home”, “Because This Is What We Do” and “An Outline to the Apex of Rites of Passage” 9/25/16 at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (the video of this poetry reading was filmed with a Sony camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home”, “Because This Is What We Do” and “An Outline to the Apex of Rites of Passage” 9/25/16 at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (this video was filmed with a Sony camera, and then given a Threshold filter).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).

Read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Quiver with no Home

Janet Kuypers

I didn’t have a job
for almost nine months

then, when I stopped
my seven year old car
at an intersection

two cars hit me
and almost killed me...

And while I was
learning to walk

my apartment was sold,
so suddenly

I was unemployed
and had no home.

It’s a scary feeling;

you talk to someone,
and when they ask

you can get away with
“I’m between jobs,”

but not having a home,
not having a place
to call your own,

it makes your soul quiver.

It makes you feel
that you can never

have a place
you can feel

at home

where you can feel
at peace. At ease.

But now, without a home,
you can’t feel content

with anything around you
because nothing is you

and nothing is your home.

video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home” and “Guilt” 9//16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Quiver with no Home” and “Guilt” 9/24/16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (video filmed from a Sony camera).
videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Lumix camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersJuly 2017 Book Release Reading 7/5/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “On the Rocks” poems “Job of Being Homeless”, “Quiver with no Home”, “out there”, “census”, “judge”, “Nobody Finds Me” and “Cast in Stone” in Half Price Books Community Poetry (Sony camera).

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. 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. Starting at this time Kuypers released a large number of CD releases currently available for sale at iTunes or amazon, including “Across the Pond”(a 3 CD set of poems by Oz Hardwick and Janet Kuypers with assorted vocals read to acoustic guitar of both Blues music and stylized Contemporary English Folk music), “Made Any Difference” (CD single of poem reading with multiple musicians), “Letting It All Out”, “What we Need in Life” (CD single by Janet Kuypers in Mom’s Favorite Vase of “What we Need in Life”, plus in guitarist Warren Peterson’s honor live recordings literally around the globe with guitarist John Yotko), “hmmm” (4 CD set), “Dobro Veče” (4 CD set), “the Stories of Women”, “Sexism and Other Stories”, “40”, “Live” (14 CD set), “an American Portrait” (Janet Kuypers/Kiki poetry to music from Jake & Haystack in Nashville), “Screeching to a Halt” (2008 CD EP of music from 5D/5D with Janet Kuypers poetry), “2 for the Price of 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from Peter Bartels), “the Evolution of Performance Art” (13 CD set), “Burn Through Me” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from The HA!Man of South Africa), “Seeing a Psychiatrist” (3 CD set), “The Things They Did To You” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Hope Chest in the Attic” (audio CD set), “St. Paul’s” (3 CD set), “the 2009 Poetry Game Show” (3 CD set), “Fusion” (Janet Kuypers poetry in multi CD set with Madison, WI jazz music from the Bastard Trio, the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and Paul Baker), “Chaos In Motion” (tracks from Internet radio shows on Chaotic Radio), “Chaotic Elements” (audio CD set for the poetry collection book and supplemental chapbooks for The Elements), “etc.” audio CD set, “Manic Depressive or Something” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Singular”, “Indian Flux” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “The Chaotic Collection #01-05”, “The DMJ Art Connection Disc 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Oh.” audio CD, “Live At the Café” (3 CD set), “String Theory” (Janet Kuypers reading other people's poetry, with music from “the DMJ Art Connection), “Scars Presents WZRD radio” (2 CD set), “SIN - Scars Internet News”, “Questions in a World Without Answers”, “Conflict • Contact • Control”, “How Do I Get There?”, “Sing Your Life”, “Dreams”, “Changing Gears”, “The Other Side”, “Death Comes in Threes”, “the final”, “Moving Performances”, “Seeing Things Differently”, “Live At Cafe Aloha”, “the Demo Tapes” (Mom’s Favorite Vase), “Something Is Sweating” (the Second Axing), “Live In Alaska” EP (the Second Axing), “the Entropy Project”, “Tick Tock” (with 5D/5D), “Six Eleven” “Stop. Look. Listen.”, “Stop. Look. Listen to the Music” (a compilation CD from the three bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds & Flowers” and “The Second Axing”), and “Change Rearrange” (the performance art poetry CD with sampled music).
    From 2010 through 2015 Kuypers also hosted the Chicago poetry open mic the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting weekly feature and open mic podcasts that were also released as YouTube videos.
    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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