welcome to volume 149 (the September 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

AUTHOR TITLE
Lisa Gray Rich Bitch
Preeti Singh Ominous
Tim O’Keefe “No Day Like It...Not Yet”
Richard E. Gagnon Smooth
Bag of Bones
Mary Kaye Valdez How Much?
Kassandra Heit Do I Have It Wrong?
J. Ray Paradiso Left Foot Forward photography
Leandro Pereda Pereda The Man That Comes Around
Randall K. Rogers The Closet
Janet Kuypers exterior
John Grey Waiting Room Mathematics
Your New World
Susan Kahil Good deeed indeed
John D Robinson Supervision
On Meeting an Underground Poet
Pot Dealing Bird-Man
Kari Livingston Land of the Free
Clarence Chapin Shane
Janet Kuypers soul
Marlon Jackson Internal Beauty
Betty J. Sayles The School
Patrick Duzan The Box Whisperer
Hector Ramos Recon
Fabrice Poussin Unfinished photography
Tom Minder Out West
Janet Kuypers earth
Brett Petersen The Light in the Sky
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz In The Soft Light 2 art
Alan Swyer Old Times
Eleanor Leonne Bennett P1450167 art
Karon Johnson He Sleeps
Marcia Eppich-Harris Carpool
Adel Aaron Mimosa
Janet Kuypers lost
Amber Shoemake-Doughty Blacks and Blues
Allan Onik Pooldead
Janet Kuypers jumped
Stephon Sherrod Theft, Hope, and A Coffee Stain
Eric Wade Prompt two
S. J. Lebow Is It Safe To Come Inside?
Janet Kuypers essence
Natalie Crick Remember Her
Patricia Walkow It Sounded Like a Good Idea
Janet Kuypers Exempt from the Draft
You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)
Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation)
Only an Observer

 
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Rich Bitch

Lisa Gray

    “You’re going to be rich!”
    The fortune teller let go of my hand through the car window. She’d seen enough in my palm.
    “That will make a nice change,” I said, thinking of the years I’d spent scrimping and saving, trying to keep the wolf from the door and the no-good boyfriends I’d seemed to attract who thought work was a dirty word. Not that I believed a word of what she said. I’d not even wanted to stop at her car when she’d hailed us. It was my friend, Pam, who’d been enticed by the words “tell your fortune”. She’d rushed eagerly to the open window of the car and thrust her arm in the open window, eager to have her palm read. Now Pam was standing sullen and resentful some distance from the car.
    Rich had not been her fortune.
    I had initially resisted the woman’s insistent “You have boyfriend? I read your fortune.”
    I shook my head.
    “Men and me don’t go together,” I said.
    “You strong lady,” had been her reply.
    Only through circumstance, I thought. And necessity.
    She persisted, waving her arm at me violently until I could resist no longer.
    “How much?” I said, ever the pragmatist.
    “Cheap. Very cheap. Fifteen euros.”
    I didn’t call that cheap. But what the heck? I thought. We were on holiday. It was a bit of fun.
    “You meet rich man! You meet him tomorrow,” she’d said.
     Ha! That’ll be right, I thought, backing away from the car and joining a silent Pam as we walked back up the hill to our hotel.
    The following day we were to move to a hotel in the island’s capital for three days, part of our dual location holiday. Pam and I got up early to do a little exploring before the heat of the day saw us retreating to the hotel’s air-conditioning. There were few people passing over the paved, central, city square at that time of the morning. I was glad. I wasn’t awake. Pam was unusually quiet after her initial insistence that we should get out early.
    Surely she wasn’t still brooding over the fact the fortune teller said I was going to be rich and she wasn’t, I told myself. If it had been the other way around, I wouldn’t have sulked. After all, what was money in the grand scheme of things?
    I thought of what the fortune teller had said to Pam. “You no lucky in love. You have many disappointments.”
    Maybe I shouldn’t blame Pam for being resentful, I thought.
    It was while we were looking in our third shop window, waiting for the shops to awaken from their slumber that I became aware someone was following us. I ignored him. I was too old for pick-ups. Pam, on the other hand, looked round and smiled at him.
    “Don’t look round at him!” I said.
    I moved off, more quickly than I’d been moving up till then, hoping to leave him behind. Pam lingered behind me.
     At shop window number four, I became aware of not only Pam catching me up but a small, older figure behind me. I started to move off again. Pam, on the other hand, began, to my horror, to speak to him.
    I grabbed her arm and pulled her away.
    “Don’t give him any encouragement!” I whispered acidly into her ear.
    “You’re an idiot!” she said to me later when we’d returned to the hotel. “That might have been your rich man!”
    “I don’t think so!” I said. He looked all of sixty!”
    “He could be an Aristotle Onassis. You don’t give people a chance. You’re too fussy. You’ve missed your destiny. Remember what the fortune teller said!”
    I remembered. But rich didn’t mean anything to me. Not when faced with a man twice my age. Pam was different. She’d always wanted to be rich. Not through her own efforts. But the efforts of a man. A Texas oilman had been her preference up to now.
    Still her words “You’ve missed your destiny” haunted me the rest of the day.
    Maybe she was right. Maybe I was too fussy. Wouldn’t anyone else have gone for it after the fortune teller’s words? So the old guy probably wasn’t rich. That didn’t bother me Maybe he was some lonely old widower, just seeking a bit of company. And I’d been rude to him.
    And what if that old man was my destiny just as Pam had said?
    I didn’t tell Pam but I formulated a plan. Before the shops closed, I’d tell Pam I wanted to go back to one of the ones we’d been looking in. I’d see if I could spot the old guy. And, at the very least, apologise to him. At least that would make me feel better. But I couldn’t go the way I was. Hot and sticky from the morning’s excursion.
    “I’m going to have a shower,” I said to Pam.
    That’s the last thing I said to her. Before I read her letter. It was lying on my bed when I came out of the shower.
    “Have just nipped back to one of the shops we looked in this morning. Saw a great dress in the shop window. Won’t be too long.”
    I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. If I hadn’t read the last line.
    “Maybe it’s my destiny.”
    I wish the dress had been. And not the old man.
    She’d met him all right. And he’d been rich, all right. So the police said. They’d been watching him for quite some time. Him and his sister. Wondering why so many women tourists had disappeared. His sister had set them up with her mumbo jumbo fortune telling and then he, the old man, had followed them till one showed an interest in him.
    She’s not interested in him now, I thought, looking at Pam’s grey body on the stretcher in the morgue.
    “Why?” I said to the detective on the case, when I’d stopped throwing up in the washroom.
    He drove me down to the police station and placed me behind a two-way mirror.
    She looked exactly the same as she’d looked in the car when she’d told our fortune.
    “I can’t stand a rich bitch,” she said to the officer questioning her. “And neither can my brother. They’re looking for an easy life and look down on people like me and him who work hard for every penny we get. They deserve everything they get! It’s their destiny.”
    I don’t like to admit it but the fortune teller was right. I am rich. But not in money. And I did meet him that day. Not in the best circumsrtances. The policeman. I guess she was right about Pam too. But I don’t like to think about that. They say something good comes out of something bad. I guess if I’ve learnt anything out of the whole experience, it’s never to be jealous of what other people have. It destroys you. It destroyed Pam and it destroyed the fortune teller and her brother, now serving a life sentence for their crimes.
    I don’t want a nice change. I’m happy to scrimp and save and work for every penny. Like my policeman. He’s not rich. But he’s generous. Take today when he placed fifty dollars in my hand and said, “Go buy yourself something to cheer yourself up.”
    I handed the money back to him.
    “I don’t need it,” I said. “I already have everything I want.”
    He smiled at me and took hold of my hand. He already knew it.
    He didn’t need to read my palm.












Ominous

Preeti Singh

    It was a rainy and stormy night, a woman in red dress was waiting for a ride. Out of nowhere; a man in a white suit and white boots who was carrying a rainbow shaded umbrella walked towards her and asked the quivering lady to come under it. As she moved forward; a huge lightning struck by the clouds and her eyes shuts. A fraction of second later, she tremblingly murmured ‘thank you’ and opened her eyes. Alas, there was no sign of the man around; all she saw was a colourful umbrella vigorously rolling over the wet ground.





Preeti Singh Bio

    Preeti Singh, based in Mumbai-India is working as freelance French-English language Interpreter, Trainer and a Media Professional who is engaged in writing and acting projects.
    She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in English, Psychology and Sociology with first division. She was the topper of her college in English Literature. After completing her graduation she attained a PG Diploma in Applied Journalism and Mass Communication.
    Currently Ms.Singh is member of: Film Writers Association (FWA), association for television and ciné writers, under-process blogger/contributer at The Huffington Post and Brown Girl magazine. She has assisted in film pre-production and script writing for the Indian Film Fraternity. In addition, she enjoys working as an artist and has portrayed different character roles for Indian television series.
    Some of her works has been published by: Ashvamegh Literary Journal, Scars Publication, Entropy Squad, Splickety Publishing Group, A story in 100 words, Fiftyword Stories and others.
    Preeti is multi-linguist and she can communicate in English, French, Hindi and other regional languages with adequate fluency.
    You can get in touch with her at http://languages-consult.com/, and through twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/PreetiWrites.












“No Day Like It...Not Yet”

Tim O’Keefe

No days were good, but some were worse
“Cancer,” he said it like he was reading a report card
A report card with a C where an A- belonged
yet still implying hope and a passing grade
My dad had no reaction, I had no gun
Dad sat there waiting, I wanted to shoot this pompous prick
The doctor cleared his throat and began again
I watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down

My father nodded once, twice, then again
Up, down, up, down...I wanted to grab it
I could hear the clock tick but not one word
Yet my dad kept nodding and nodding
Eventually we left the oversized office
So plush, airy and full of degrees and trinkets
I couldn’t breathe and dad guided me out
Sadly, the pompous doctor still alive

Knowing sped up the disease caught too late
My dad fought his whole life, yet surrendered to fate
I took him in and my kids watched for a time
It progressively worsened and I sent my dad away
I couldn’t make my children watch a man die
That was a torture dad and I alone shared
We went to hell together and only I returned
No days were good, but that one was the worst.












Smooth

Richard E. Gagnon

By the time he’s through convincing you
No one will ever notice the bruise,
A plum brandy stain,
Cauterized in the searing light
Of the energy-saving bulb,
Naked now, without the lampshade your
Mother replaced because it was too sixties.
You might again hunger for his touch,
Stroking your throbbing cheek
In time to some far off music.












Bag of Bones

Richard E. Gagnon

The guard dragged Frank feet-first,
as if he were
one more Saturday night special,
just another drunk destined for the tank.
Fifteen minutes of chest compressions
got the COs winded by turns
and the old man no further from death.

The corpse rested for a few minutes.
No need to hurry, really.
It’s not as if he was about to sit up
and start dancing, but you never knew.
When the EMTs arrived
they might zap him a few times,
even give him the kiss.

Stories would be passed around
like a beat up thermos of coffee
spiked with airline whiskey.
‘Scared me shitless’, said the fat one.
‘Guy’d been flat for damn near to twenty.’
Skinny said, ‘Marty had one start singing, right out of nowhere.
Irish. Pretty dead, though.’

If Frank was alive he was keeping it to himself.
The nurse checked her watch.
She was sore from giving flu shots all day,
and kept rubbing her arm as if to wake it up.
It had felt good to actually do something
with pretty much guaranteed results,
not so scary-iffy as all this resurrection business.

No one said much after the story about the Irishman.
The zap battery had gone dead,
so it was all hand work,
press and pump, press and pump.
The fat one nearly said aloud,
‘Kinda like a factory job, ain’t it?’
The skinny one silently packed up.
Frank didn’t complain when the zipper
caught on his nose. It was pretty big.
Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings,
the fat one apologized anyway.
He hadn’t known the guy,
but he reminded him of somebody,
couldn’t remember just who.












How Much?

Mary Kaye Valdez

    Brooklyn, a slim, blonde haired lady found herself in a state of disbelief, as she compared the image displayed on her phone to the one hung on the wall. She had been searching around for hours, only to have finally found it in a small store called K&A Company in Old Chinatown.
    A short statured saleslady casually approaches her near the corner of the store where the wall of paintings were hung, looking rather impatient as she awaits her to finally buy or request something.
    “Hi. How much is that one?” the lady finally points at the painting in the middle, “The one with the Great Wall of China on it.”
    “Forty-five.” responded the saleslady.
    “That’s forty-five dollars?”
    “Yes.”
    “For that? That’s... That’s way more than I thought...”
    “Oh,” the saleslady began to point at the different paintings, “there are other paintings. Cheaper.”
    “No, my boyfriend wants this one specifically. Can you lower the price?”
    “No, final price. Forty-five final price.”
    “How about thirty dollars? ”
    “No, too low. Forty-five final price.”
    “Forty-five is too high. Why can’t it be lower?”
    “This painting is very liked. Very famous. Many people like it. I can’t give thirty. Too low.”
    “Seriously? Fine. Do you know if it’s possible to get this anywhere else? Like in a different store, but lower price?”
    “No, I don’t think so. Only here.” the saleslady began to point at another painting, a particularly cheaper one, “But this one is thirty dollars. It’s pretty too. Your boyfriend might like it.”
    “No, it has to be this one. I don’t think he’ll be fully happy with any other painting but this one specifically. He’s been talking about it all the time.”
    “Oh, I see.”
    “Yeah, but I really can’t pay forty-five dollars for this.”
    The sales lady is quiet for a while, as she takes note of Brooklyn’s rather impressive appearance as it greatly contrasted with her surroundings. From her diamond earrings to her expensive coat, and to her Prada bag, she was definitely the last person who should start bargaining in a place like this.
    “Do you not have enough money? How much do you have in your... Prada bag?”
    “No... I have enough money... but I wanted to use the rest for something I want. Spending forty-five dollars now isn’t going to leave me with much after, you know?” Brooklyn lowers her gaze for a while on the floor, deep in thought, “How about thirty-five dollars? Is that a better price?”
    “No. I can’t give you a lower price.” sighed the saleslady, as she shook her head in disagreement, growing tired of the customer.
    “Oh come on!” blurted Brooklyn in frustration, “This is so difficult! Why does he even want this painting? Why the Great Wall of China? And why this specific one? There are several other versions of it for a lower price.”
    “Is it a birthday present? Why are you getting it for him?”
    “No. I wanted to make it up to him because he’s mad at me. But still, this is too much. I need to buy what I want too.”
    “What do you want to buy? Is it important?”
    “It’s... It’s just something I want to buy.”
    “Is it more important than him?”
    “O-Of course... not. It’s just that this paint—.”
    “Do you love him?”
    “Excuse me? Of course, I— You’re just a saleslady, it’s none of your business. You don’t have the right to be asking me these questions. Mostly, when you can’t even allow me to buy this stupid painting for a lower price.”
    “If it’s stupid then don’t buy it.”
    “Yeah, but I need to get it for him! I just don’t get why it has to be forty-five dollars!”
    “It’s forty-five dollars or no painting at all. Can’t be lower. If you can’t pay the full price, then don’t buy it. Your boyfriend should understand. Yes? Your love should be enough, right?”
    Brooklyn is left speechless, as her head lowers to the ground in embarrassment. Nervously, her fingers gripped onto the strap of her bag, as she tried to collect herself. She then takes one last deep breath and returns back to her dominant posture after reaching a conclusion.
    “Give me the stupid forty-five dollar painting.”





Mary Kaye Valdez bio

    Mary Kaye Valdez is a lover of heights even though ironically she can’t even be the height of 5'1. She loves storytelling, but frankly she’s just a liar who wants an excuse. Overall, she’s just a person who’d rather live in fiction instead of reality.












Do I Have It Wrong?

Kassandra Heit

    “Can you tell me exactly why you brought me here?” Hilary asked crossing her left leg over her right. Her back leaned heavily on the plastic straps of the lawn chair, the fabric of her shirt sticking to her saturated skin. Swiping away a few beads of perspiration from her forehead, a stray drop wandered down between her breasts, only furthering her discomfort.
    “Can’t we be civil about this?” David asked. He held out his hands, palms up to her. The light blue had turned royal being trapped between his ribcage and biceps. His fingers pulled at his tie before sliding down his face, gathering moisture on their way down to his chin. “I don’t want this to be difficult.”
    Hilary’s lips curled upwards as her eyes narrowed. “According to what you said,” she said pointing a dainty finger down to the legal documents laying on the fogged glass table, “I can only be difficult. Irreconcilable differences. It makes it sound like I was having an affair.”
    “I know you would never cheat on me, Hil.”
    “Then, what is the meaning of it?” Hilary asked. Picking up the document with manicured fingernails, she held it up to his face. “Tell me why are you serving these to me when it should be the other way around.”
    David pushed her hand away, not even glancing at the paper which held his signature. “That’s just it. I don’t understand why you haven’t filed. You aren’t happy. You don’t care for me like a wife should. I want to save whatever shred of our relationship is left so I don’t have to hear your name someday and think I used to know her.”
    “Well, my reasons for not filing for divorce are exactly that, mine,” Hilary said with a slight chuckle. “You have your secrets. I have mine, darling.”
    “Are you that naïve?” David asked furrowing his eyebrows.
    Hilary nearly sprang out of her chair as her own face contorted with confusion. “Naïve? I don’t know where that is coming from, but I’m not blind. If you think I don’t see the secret phone calls that end when I walk into the room and the various twenty-some year old models who prance out of your office, you really have no idea just how aware I am.”
    “Oh honey, I am well aware of just how observant you are. But, I’m not going on with an affair.” David said shaking a finger at her.
    Hilary wrapped her fist around the leather of her purse sitting on the table. “Liar.” The single word left her lips before she was on her feet and reaching for the door handle leading to the motel room that was probably something you could rent per hour. Her body froze, however, when his face reflected on the glass in front of her. His hand covered hers, keeping the door from moving in any direction.
    “I’m not cheating on you, God damn it.” David said. It was barely loud enough to be heard over the struggling air conditioner to their right, but the breath of his words circling around her ear. “I swear to you. There has not been anybody else but you.”
    Rolling her eyes, Hilary tried pulling on the door, but David’s calloused hands kept her efforts ineffective. “Let me go.”
    “Sign the papers first,” David said. He wrapped his fingers around her shoulder before turning her to face him. “I need you to leave me. I can’t tell you my secrets or why I’m doing what I am. I will always care for you, and, honestly, I don’t want to divorce you. But, I will only continue to bring you pain.” He lifted up the document, a pen waiting between his index and middle finger. “Sign it.”
    Hilary read down the paper until she saw the empty line with her typed name below it. David’s name was scrawled to the left of it. Taking the paper into her hands again, she pinched the top of it before tearing it in two. “No.”










Left Foot Forward, photography by J. Ray Paradiso

Left Foot Forward, photography by J. Ray Paradiso
















The Man That Comes Around

Leandro Pereda Felipe

    A cloud of smoke fled through his thin lips, battered and chapped by the cold. The bitter wind enveloped his form, biting into his bare arms and his florid cheeks. A thick veil sailed over the summer grass and the flourished trees that got lost into the night sky. A blinding light came into view. The boy squinted and rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands. In front of him stood a truck, flaming wings painted on both sides. The horn blared sending the cicadas into a perpetual silence. With a screech, the passenger door swung opened and the boy climbed into the darkness of the cockpit and the sound of Johnny Cash playing on the radio. The driver shifted smoothly into gear and the truck launched forward.
    “Where are we going?” the boy asked after a while.
    “Nowhere,” the man replied.
    “Where’s that?”
    “Between here and there.”
    “How long will it take?”
    “Who’s to say,” the driver said. “We cannot rush fate, neither hammer it nor bent.”
    The truck skidded down the poorly lit road and away from the other hitchhikers that moved like shadows through the ridge alongside the truck. The boy saw faces cloaked in anguish, melting and mixing constantly like black tar. He saw a woman tried to cling onto the side-mirror and an old man failing to keep up with the speed of the truck, getting lost behind in the darkness. Others floated down the road. Lost. Going nowhere. The boy looked baffled, yet he felt safe. He was glad to be confined inside the comfort of the truck and by the presence of the stranger with the silver tongue.
    “Who are you?”
    “The man that comes around.”
    “Do you have a name?”
    “I’m no one. I am everyone.”
    “Where do you come from?”
    The driver glanced up, his face covered by a cowboy hat that glared orange with the light of the dashboard.
    The boy didn’t understand. “Up state?” he asked. “I hope’s not Jersey?”
    The driver croaked a laugh. “I come from where the sun kisses the sea and the moon beholds the land. I come from a place men cannot understand.”
    “Can I go there?”
    The driver sighed. “One day, perhaps,” and continued onwards, sailing through the abyss.
    The boy hadn’t noticed that the road had disappeared. He looked forward, eyes squinting to the point he could see stars. But there was nothing but a void of darkness that surrounded the truck that not even the headlights could pierce through.
    Awareness sunk into him.
    Bam! Bam! A lightning strike of metal.
    The scent of burnt rubber and melted plastic filled his nose. The taste of blood his mouth. He looked at the driver, who had placed the huge hat on the dashboard, his face revealed for the first time and looking straight at him. The boy’s eyes adjusted to the dimness inside the truck as he gazed into the empty sockets where once laid his eyes. He saw his past, his future, and his present. He saw the flashing reds and blues as if looking through the rearview mirror. He could see the scrap of metal wrapped around the tree trunk and the smoke rising into the air. He saw the black body bag that laid solemnly on the asphalt get slowly swallowed up by the fog.



http://scars.tv/kuypers/poems/2013 photo of a car after an accident that caught on fire; photograph copyright 2013-2017 Janet Kuypers










The Closet

Randall K. Rogers

    I heard it first as a murmur, a brief knocking about. I awoke and sat up in bed. I looked toward the closet from whence the sound appeared to be coming. Someone was gently singing in there: “Here we go gathering nuts in May....” Slowly, as if unsure quite what to do, I rolled the covers off me and moved to sit at the edge of the bed. It was night and not a creature was stirring except the presence in the closet and me inching toward the closet door. Again knocks were heard from inside the closet and the soft singing. “Here we go gathering nuts in May on a cold and frosty morning....” I was puzzled, was this a dream, a hypnogogic or hypnopompic state? Could I be imagining?
    I decided I had to find out. I had to open the door to the closet to find out what exactly was making this noise and banging about in there. Apparently, whatever was in there was unaware of my stealth approach. For when I pulled open the door there he sat, a small person sitting on what looked like a wooden bar stool, perched next to a high thin chest of drawers I had in there that contained the journals I had been published in and my valuable papers. He was singing alright and looked up at me with recognition when I opened the door. When our eyes met I could see this was no stranger.
    No, I knew this person, somehow, someway. In the dark I struggled to make out the face. The little person averted his eyes and spoke. “Hello Randall,” it said, “how are you? I’ve been waiting for you.”
    Dumbfounded, I could do nothing but respond. “Have you?” An overpowering smell of rotten body odor accosted my olfactory cells and I cringed.
    “Yes, yes I have. I’ve been waiting for years....” His voice trailed off. He turned his face away from me and hid it facing the wall. He wore a non-descript, tattered black outfit with long ruffled sleeves. He was drunk and creepy; leprechaun-like. “I’m psycho,” he said.
    I was not taken back. “Me too.”
    “That’s why we are together here.”
    “Bullshit,” I said.
    The creature began to bray, to speak in tongues in a deeply unnatural gutteral voice. “You’re with us. In here. We are legion,” it said at length.
    “My ass,” I responded.
    “Oh yes, you’re here with us.”
    “Whom do you mean when you say us?”
    “Beelzebub and Satan, why of course, and others.” He turned his face toward mine. In the light of the closet I could see; he was emaciated and deeply wrinkled. His clothes hung on on his small body, swiveling on his stool. Suddenly he jumped off the stool and at me. His hands were claws and landed upon my face. Instantly he sunk pointed fingernail talons into my face, ripping at the flesh. Before blood could fill the the flesh furrows upon my face, his bony digits dug into my eyes. Gouging, he was able to dislocate my left eye. It popped out of its socket and dangled, still connected, a bloody white veiny orb upon my chest. The creature’s mouth was instantly upon it; filed teeth severed the nerves and veins and optical cords that protruded from my bleeding vacant eye socket. In this flash of blinding action I reared backward as my small decrepid doppelganger swallowed my eye. In horror I watched as the creature’s green gullet funneled the bolus into its stomach. Then as quickly and surprisingly as it attacked the noxious me-troll ran out of the closet, up the steps and through the glass of the front door. I began to give chase but shock and temporary blindness made me crumble in a heap upon the carpeted stairs.
    I lay there in shock and pain. Then my father began to descend the upstairs. Aroused by the commotion, he began to descend the lower floor stairs where he found me, bloody and eyeless rolling and moaning sprawled on the stairs.
    “Get up and go back to bed,” he growled, “and clean up this mess.”
    I did as he said, and thinking of Cyclops lurched toward my bedroom door. I stumbled into my bed and fell into an eyeless slumber ans the blood dried upon and around me soiling my bed.
    The following morning I looked inside the closet and there they were, my gouged severed bloody eye and the paring knife I had cut it out with. I smiled and marveled at my work. “That ought to freak the old fucker out,” I said to myself and went off in my car with my new eyepatch into school.












exterior

Janet Kuypers
2/3/17
twitter

I tear at my flesh
ruin my exterior
to reflect my soul



video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video 2/19/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poem “exterior” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 6 haiku poems “soul”, “eminence”, “oceans”, “violation”, “exterior” and “earth” in the intro performance 2/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.

http://scars.tv/kuypers/poems/2014 image of Janet Kuypers at Laschet’s copyright 2014-2017 John Yotko and Janet Kuypers










Waiting Room Mathematics

John Grey

I count them:
three coughs, a runny nose,
and one man in a wheelchair
breathing from an oxygen tank.
A young woman enters,
her condition not immediately obvious,
I give her the benefit of a baby
maybe seven months from now.
An old couple nervously hold hands
in the shadow of the fish tank.
Whatever one has, the other
will willingly share.
A young boy plays on the floor with blocks.
He’s suffering from childhood I expect,
that stage where life itself is the sickness
and a standard disease or two is the cure.
For a half hour or so,
these people are not their jobs,
their loves, their family.
They’re strictly what they suffer from.
They’re inhaler refills,
anti-depressant prescriptions,
twinges in the shoulder,
knees that hurt to put pressure on.
I’m acid reflux by the way,
for as long as I’m here waiting.





John Grey bio (20160219)

    John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and the anthology, No Achilles with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag and Spoon River Poetry Review.












Your New World

John Grey

Following diagnosis, your disease
becomes a second language.
“Malignant neoplasm”, you say,
or “lymphatic” or
radiation therapy.”
Every feeling is expressed in medical terms.

And the longer you survive,
the more these words become old friends.
Anemia, leukemia...
they never leave your side.
Metastasis may hate your every cell
but it spreads, displaces,
like only a lover can.

You sit up in bed,
speak to your visitors
with a doctor’s tongue.
A constant is the health of others.
To you, that’s what’s wrong with them.





John Grey bio (20160219)

    John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and the anthology, No Achilles with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag and Spoon River Poetry Review.












Good deeed indeed

Susan Kahil

Why the hell do so many expect a pat on the back?
Some kind of acknowledgment let it be well known
Even written up in lights, the topic of conversation
Whenever a so-called ‘good deed’ is done
Isn’t that what we as humans are supposed to do?
Just as we take in breaths then spit them back out again
I thought the reason our hearts were given permission to beat
Was for that very purpose alone
Has it become so rare to offer help without wanting in return?
Surly the act of kindness is reward enough knowing someone
Wherever that may be, has had some light sprinkled on their day
It seems so recorded people are more giving at Christmas
I wonder if they would be if they knew they would not receive
All this talk of Karma what goes around comes around
If a simple slice of helping makes you feel you’re suddenly a saint
Then all I can say is wake up get real
Most of what we see happening inside this spin bubble
Is caused by us and we need to start taking responsibility
For those bad or wrong things we contribute towards
A good deed every day I was always taught
No every second every beat every breath
The mind should be in its raw state the producer of thoughts
That are with good intent, people forget this secret place affects outcomes
We think our uncaring can’t be bothered notions are hidden inside pockets
Pushed aside ignored but they are not unseen and do have consequences
‘I don’t give a damn’ so easy to roll of the tongue
Sitting snuggly in the corner of the minds terminus
Where it all begins and all ends












Supervision

John D Robinson

‘I want you to write a list
for our meeting tomorrow’
my supervisor requested,
‘Something, that is going to
be helpful to both of us’
‘Okay’ I said and made the
list; here it is;
‘Don’t be aggressive
don’t use obscene language
don’t bang fist on table
or raise and extend middle-finger
don’t be sarcastic
don’t get angry
don’t make threats
don’t throw stuff around
don’t spit or curse
don’t get belligerent
don’t be subversive
don’t be antagonistic
don’t be provocative
don’t be hostile
don’t be inpatient
and most of all
don’t be an asshole’

I gave him the list and
he wrote at the bottom

‘Don’t forget this list’





John D Robinson bio

    John D Robinson was born in 63 in Hastings, East Sussex, UK; his work has appeared widely in the small press and online literary publications; including Rusty Truck; Rats Ass Review; Red Fez; Bareback Lit; Dead Snakes; The Kitchen Poet, Underground Books; Pulsar; Poet&Geek; The Commonline Journal; The Chicago Record; Mad Swirl; The Clockwise Cat; Poetic Diversity; Your One Phone Call: Ink Sweat & Tears; Horror Sleaze and Trash; Poetry Super Highway; Zombie Logic Review; Opal Publishing; Hastings Online Times; Bold Monkeys; Napalm and Novocain; The Legendary; Yellow Mama; Winamop.com; The Beatnik Cowboy; Outsider Poetry; Revolution John; BoySlut; The Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine; In Between Hangovers; Eunoia Review. Locust Magazine; Hobo Camp Review; Message In A Bottle; and poems appearing in; The Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Cavalcade of Stars; Degenerate Literature; Anti Heroin Chic; Haggard & Halloo.
    He is a contributing poet to the 2016 48th Street Press Broadside Series;
    His latest collection ‘When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide’ (Holy&intoxicated Publications) carries an introduction by poet and novelist John Grochalski.
    He is married with 1 daughter, 2 grandchildren, 3 cats, 1 dog and he likes to drink wine whilst listening to quietness.












On Meeting an Underground Poet

John D Robinson

Uglier than the photo’s portrayed,
long, thin greying hair and a
mouth full of black and stained
rotting teeth with a brittle but
friendly voice;
I ordered him a beer
and an orange juice for myself
and then answered the
expression on his face;
‘why wasn’t I drinking?’
“I went to a party in 1979
and walked away in 2009,
now I don’t drink during the
day; I take enough codeine
to slow down a herd of
agitated elephants and smoke
countless joints and then
I lift a glass about mid evening
until the end of the evening”
he smiled, nodded his head,
he knew what I was talking
about; I knew we were going
to get along just fine.





John D Robinson bio

    John D Robinson was born in 63 in Hastings, East Sussex, UK; his work has appeared widely in the small press and online literary publications; including Rusty Truck; Rats Ass Review; Red Fez; Bareback Lit; Dead Snakes; The Kitchen Poet, Underground Books; Pulsar; Poet&Geek; The Commonline Journal; The Chicago Record; Mad Swirl; The Clockwise Cat; Poetic Diversity; Your One Phone Call: Ink Sweat & Tears; Horror Sleaze and Trash; Poetry Super Highway; Zombie Logic Review; Opal Publishing; Hastings Online Times; Bold Monkeys; Napalm and Novocain; The Legendary; Yellow Mama; Winamop.com; The Beatnik Cowboy; Outsider Poetry; Revolution John; BoySlut; The Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine; In Between Hangovers; Eunoia Review. Locust Magazine; Hobo Camp Review; Message In A Bottle; and poems appearing in; The Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Cavalcade of Stars; Degenerate Literature; Anti Heroin Chic; Haggard & Halloo.
    He is a contributing poet to the 2016 48th Street Press Broadside Series;
    His latest collection ‘When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide’ (Holy&intoxicated Publications) carries an introduction by poet and novelist John Grochalski.
    He is married with 1 daughter, 2 grandchildren, 3 cats, 1 dog and he likes to drink wine whilst listening to quietness.












Pot Dealing Bird-Man

John D Robinson

Occasionally he’d smile but the
only word I ever heard him say
was ‘yeah’ and he never ever
made eye-contact with anyone;
he lived in a 2 storey house
with a pigeon
who flew, walked and shit all
over the house,
I don’t know what the fuck was
going on between he and the
pigeon and I would visit to buy
some blow;
I’d go in and ask how things
were
‘Yeah’ he’d answer
‘The usual’ I’d say
‘Yeah’ he’d respond and
open up a black leather pouch
of pre-weighed and pre-
packaged goods and
meanwhile this fucking
pigeon flew all around,
shitting and landing on stuff
and pecking at it;
pigeon shit covered every
surface, there was nowhere
to sit, but he didn’t seem
to mind it at all;
he must’ve really loved
that bird and I believe
that he’d make eye-
contact with the fucking
thing;
sometimes we’d share a
joint in near silence and
this pigeon would perch on
his shoulder or in his lap
and he’d look down at the
thing and say ‘yeah’ and
then he’d suck on the smoke
and grin, like he really
knew something.





John D Robinson bio

    John D Robinson was born in 63 in Hastings, East Sussex, UK; his work has appeared widely in the small press and online literary publications; including Rusty Truck; Rats Ass Review; Red Fez; Bareback Lit; Dead Snakes; The Kitchen Poet, Underground Books; Pulsar; Poet&Geek; The Commonline Journal; The Chicago Record; Mad Swirl; The Clockwise Cat; Poetic Diversity; Your One Phone Call: Ink Sweat & Tears; Horror Sleaze and Trash; Poetry Super Highway; Zombie Logic Review; Opal Publishing; Hastings Online Times; Bold Monkeys; Napalm and Novocain; The Legendary; Yellow Mama; Winamop.com; The Beatnik Cowboy; Outsider Poetry; Revolution John; BoySlut; The Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine; In Between Hangovers; Eunoia Review. Locust Magazine; Hobo Camp Review; Message In A Bottle; and poems appearing in; The Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Cavalcade of Stars; Degenerate Literature; Anti Heroin Chic; Haggard & Halloo.
    He is a contributing poet to the 2016 48th Street Press Broadside Series;
    His latest collection ‘When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide’ (Holy&intoxicated Publications) carries an introduction by poet and novelist John Grochalski.
    He is married with 1 daughter, 2 grandchildren, 3 cats, 1 dog and he likes to drink wine whilst listening to quietness.












Land of the Free

Kari Livingston

    The air was thick with the stink of sweat, piss and stale tobacco that clung to Hector’s clothes. The taste of his last cigarette still lingered on his tongue, and he ached for another, but the driver took what was left of his pack. “Can’t have you smoking in the truck,” Joe said as he stuck one of Hector’s prized cigarettes between his lips. “Might catch on fire.” Hector bit the inside of his cheek. At home, he would settle this with his fists, but he couldn’t afford to make Joe mad. Hector’s five hundred dollars was in Joe’s pocket, and Hector didn’t trust him not to kick him off the truck and keep the money, and then where would he be? Stuck, broke, and too embarrassed to go home.
    Men were wedged in the cargo truck, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, a collage of hopeful brown eyes, dirty calloused hands, and sweat-stained t-shirts. “Squeeze in,” Joe barked around Hector’s cigarette. “We got a straggler.” The bodies shifted and squirmed and impossibly, just enough room for Hector to cram himself in the truck appeared. He winced when Joe slammed the door against his shoulder. He sat huddled with thirty men, each with a different dream, but the same hope that their trust in Joe wasn’t misplaced.
    The darkness in the cargo hold was absolute, broken only by a thin shaft of light that crept in through a gap in the door. Hector trained his eyes of the stream of light, on the thin streak of illuminated steel. Rust patterns swirled, came in and out of focus based on the quality of the light, whether it came from a street light or the headlights of a passing car. He looked for pictures in the stains, the way a child would look for a puppy in a cloud. “What do you see, mi amigo?” Hector turned his head toward the quiet voice, but could make it no features, just a slight darkening where a body should be. “Nothing.” His voice sounded harsh, loud to his ears, even though he spoke barely above a whisper. “What do you see?” There was a smile in the answer. “Freedom.”
    Hector bit back his rancor. He wasn’t headed for freedom, and he damn well knew it. Trading one kind of poverty for another. But it wasn’t for him to step on any dreams. He closed his eyes and let his breath settle into a deep, steady rhythm, hoping to discourage conversation.
    “Where you headed?” Hector sighed as deeply as the compressed air would allow. Heat pressed down on his chest as sweat rolled down between his shoulder blades.
    “Arkansas. My brother says he can get me a job in the chicken plant. You?”
    “California.” The voice was young and hopeful. He tried to remember the flash of the face before Joe pitched them into darkness. “Going to pick oranges. Save enough to send for mi familia. You have children?”
    Hector thought of his Lupita and his dead girl born too early. Now Lupita was pregnant again. “Just my wife, but she carries a child. I will send for her before the baby is born.”
    “An American son?” The voice was full of admiration. “He will be president. A man can be anything in America.”
    Hector heard the note of wonder in the voice and hid his irritation. There was no place in America for him. His brother told him the truth— that they were unwelcome, forced to do jobs that no one else wanted. Pick strawberries. Skin chickens. Scrub toilets. Care for white people’s houses and children while his own sat alone and untended.“You think I am a fool?” The voice laughed.
    “Not a fool, but America’s not what you think.” Hector heard the bitterness in his voice, hated it. He was hopeful once, before his daughter died, before he placed his trust in a stranger to take him on a dangerous trek across the Texas border.
    “So you’ve been?”
    “No, but my brother...” Hector stopped himself. If the voice’s dreams helped him endure the hellish trip, Hector would keep his pessimism to himself. But the younger man heard Hector’s hesitation.
    “If it is so bad, then why do you go?”
    “Because the shit in America smells better than the shit in Mexico.” The voice echoed in the cargo hold like a bullet. The speaker made no attempt at whispering; he made sure that everyone was listening. The voice was familiar, but Hector couldn’t place it. “Because no matter how much they hate us, the worst they can do is send us back, and it’s just another $500 trip back over the border.”
    “How many times you been sent back?”
    “Twice. Third trip. Probably the last one. If I get sent back one more time, I’ll just stay. End up like my brother.” His brother. The recognition settled over Hector like an ocean wave, filling his nostrils, making it impossible to draw breath without drowning on bitterness. The sight of Ramon’s head, sawed jaggedly from his body, stuck on a spike at the corner of the market, a warning from the cartel, a promise of what would happen to those who cooperated with the police. He wanted to say he was sorry for Cesar’s loss, but what good what that do? Of course he was sorry. They were all sorry. It was why they all crammed in the back of a dank, airless truck, hoping against hope that things would be different in America.
    Hector thought of his own brother, the brother who sent the money for the trip. After what happened to Ramon, and a hundred others whose names he didn’t know, there was no way Hector could refuse. It would have broken Lupita’s heart. “I go because it is expected. Half my family is there. The rest of us are just waiting our turn.”
    The truck was silent again, except for the slow, rhythmic breathing, the occasional gasps for air. How long had they been in the hold? The air grew heavy with the stench of unwashed bodies and leaky bladders. Hector’s tongue grew furred, stuck to the roof of his mouth. He thought he would sell his soul for a drink of water, but he realized his soul wasn’t his to sell. He sold it to Joe for $500.
    “Why are we stopping? Surely we’re not there yet.” The boy’s voice was tight, strained. His body as rigid as steel next to Hector’s. “Is it the police?”
    “Abrir la maldita puerta!” Not the police. Bandits, kidnappers, hitmen from the cartel. Hector found the rosary in his pocket, the one that his Abuela shoved in his hand. He fingered the beads, and by habit, recited the familiar prayer, “Santa Marãa, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amen.” He pictured the smooth beads in his Abuela’s wrinkled fingers, heard her voice singing the prayer and realized he was praying to her and not the Virgin. His grandmother would box his ears for the blasphemy, but he found himself calmed.
    “The Hell I will!” Joe’s voice was slow and even. “There’s nothing in this truck that concerns you.”
    “Si usted está moviendo mercancãa, es nuestro negocio!”
    “The type of merchandise I’m moving is of no interest to you.”
    A gunshot, then another. Hector’s calm fled, picturing Joe dead on the ground, blood gushing from a hold where his face had been. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant picture, but where did that leave him?
    “Hang on in there!” Joe’s voice was still slow and even. “We’re going to take an alternate route, and it’s going to get pretty bumpy. “
    Hector felt the young man’s body relax next to him. “I heard you praying to the Virgin and she answered your prayers. We are surely blessed. You will find happiness in Arkansas. I’m sure of it.” Hector heard him yawn. “I’m going to sleep now,” he said. “We will be in America soon. You will send for your Lupita, and I will pick my oranges. You should sleep, too.”
    But Hector couldn’t sleep. The truck jostled over rough roads. Hector’s shoulder throbbed from being bounced against the truck wall. The minutes crept by. Hector rested his head on the young man’s shoulder and tried to sleep, but the heat and the heavy air made it difficult. The trip was taking much longer than it should have. Around him, the truck grew quieter and the shuffling and breathing slowed. Hector’s own breath was coming in shallow spurts. Horror stories of men who paid for passage, only to be left in the heat to die, rolled through his mind. Instead of trying to sleep, he fought to keep his eyes open, afraid that if he closed them, it would be for the last time.
    The truck stopped after two hours or two days. The cargo hold was deafeningly quiet. No one had the breath left for conversation. What breaths Hector could hear were shallow and small. It was a long time before he heard shuffling footsteps outside the door, so long that Hector wondered if they were abandoned. He wanted to bang on the door, demand to be allowed to leave, but what then? What if they were still in Mexico, or surrounded by border agents. He kept quiet and tried not to think about the last time he heard the voice next to him speak.
    Without warning, the door opened and blindingly white sunlight illuminated the cargo hold.
    “Out!” Joe barked and began pulling men out of the truck and throwing them onto the dry sun-parched earth. Some of the men staggered a few feet before steadying themselves, some rolled out of the truck and lay motionless on the ground. “Damn,” Joe muttered under his breath as he nudged one unmoving man with his toe. He turned and found Hector watching him. “What are you looking at? Get the hell out of here before I shoot you and leave you here with him.”
    Hector looked down at the smooth, hairless face of the boy at Joe’s feet. A small smile was on the young man’s lips, as if he had drifted to sleep dreaming of oranges. Hector’s gaze flickered to the cargo hold where four other motionless bodies lay. Hector pulled the rosary out of his pocket and placed it on the dead boy’s chest. Hector didn’t need it, would never need it again. The other men began a long shuffle across the plain on their way to the jobs and the families that waited for them. “Didn’t you hear me the first time, boy? Get the hell out or I swear to God I’ll put a bullet in your heart. I ain’t got time for this shit.” Hector gave the boy one last look before he joined the line of men marching like ants across the heat-scorched land. Joe took a final deep pull on one of Hector’s prized cigarettes and threw it on the ground before going back to Mexico for another load.












Shane

Clarence Chapin

    The receptionist noticed him as he passed her desk. She called out “Hi Shane” in a friendly way. That was what most people called him. Some people used the abbreviated “Doc.” Some of the more enthusiastic women used pet names. Others just called him “Boy.” It was not meant to allude to his color. He was much younger than his patients. He did not care what he was called as long as they let him do his job. Some of the staff judged him by the way he looked. They did not think he should be allowed to be there. He took it in stride. Some prejudices never die.
    He reminded himself that it was not about the nurses or the doctors. The reason he stayed was because of his patients. He was there to help heal them. If he could not heal them he at least tried to make them feel like people. Many of them found it difficult to remember who they were. The way some of the nurses treated them did not help their confidence any more than it did their conditions. He tried to be different. He wanted to win their trust. If nothing else he wanted to be a friend to them. For some of these people he was the closest thing they had to a friend. It was not a burden. He felt glad that he could make a difference in the lives of so many people. It was a small difference but if it helped them in any way that was why he was there. Some of the doctors had forgotten that. They did not see the people. They saw only weakness.
    Shane had a general rotation he followed but usually he could visit whatever patients he chose. He was not a healer of the traditional sort. That was why many people did not like him being there. He worked around the nurses and doctors rather than with them. His methods of healing rarely fit with theirs. He thought his methods were better. He was sure they felt the same way about their own practices. For him it was not a competition. Whatever method healed a particular patient was the best one. In almost every case it was a blend of their methods and his. That was why he considered the staff allies. Even those who disliked him. The only enemy here was death.
    The first room in his rotation that morning belonged to Shauna. The color of her dark body almost matched his own. She hated getting up as much as Shane did. She was extremely cranky in the mornings. Someone else might have tapped the door and tentatively announced their presence to avoid offending her. That was not how Shane did things. He had maintained some of his youthful mischievousness as an adult and he displayed it when he could.
    So this is what he did. He entered the room and walked to the edge of the bed. He tried not to see her frail form or hear her ragged breaths. He ignored the tubes and wires that kept her alive. Then he plopped onto the bed beside her.
    Her head shot up from her pillow. Curses flowed freely from her thin lips. She was angry and startled. But these emotions reminded her that she was still alive. Sometimes that was all that sick people needed.
    “Shane!” She said after her initial shock. He could not make out her entire response through her profanity. She swatted him playfully but he knew she was happy to see him.
    Once she calmed down she started to speak. Shane listened to the words but he put more weight on the way she said them. He learned long ago that was the best way to read people.
    By the time the nurse came with her food Shauna was laughing aloud.
    “Shane,” Eva said. Their eyes met and she gave him a respectful nod. She liked him. She appreciated what he was trying to do. She was one of the few.
    Shauna seemed disappointed that Shane was forced to leave so soon. But she understood. He had so many people to see today. He left Shauna to her food and continued down the hall. It had been a short visit. But he had made her laugh. He hoped that was enough for today.
    Shane spent most of the afternoon visiting other people in the wing. He sometimes broke his planned rotation if he heard or saw something that seemed urgent. He realized that grief could come at any moment and wanted to be ready when it did. Shane was familiar with most of the patients but he did not know many of them by name. He tried not to put too much emphasis in names. What living beings were called did not seem as important as the way they expressed themselves. The way they moved. The way they smelled. The way they felt. One word could not represent all of that. So he tried to get past the names and focus on the people.

#

    It was an odd thing about Yvonne, concealing her eyes behind sunglasses during the day, and behind visors at night, so no one could see the whiteness of her eyes. Eva had never figured out why it should matter, since she couldn’t see their reaction. It made it difficult to determine when she was asleep, and when she was pulling a fast one to avoid her morning shots.
    “Did Shane stop by?” Eva asked, to determine which one was the case that Monday. Shane loved the patients, and the patients loved him. Any mention of Shane brought them out of whatever daze they retreated to in their loneliness, and allowed them, however briefly, to rejoin reality.
    The tactic worked, because Yvonne stirred in her bed, using every bit of body language she could to show that she was irritated at being disturbed, but that she was glad she had been.
    “How do I know? I’m blind. You should be the one telling me.”
    Some of the other nurses dreaded visiting Yvonne’s room, but Eva understood her. She was a fiery woman. Mean, but not mean-spirited. Eva liked her.
    “Shane has visited me every day for the past—how long have I been here, anyway? I have trouble seeing sunrises. The lighting in this room is terrible.”
    Eva smiled sadly. “You’ve been here for almost a month.”
    “It seems longer.”
    “That’s what they all say. I think you’re responsible for two of our interns quitting. That’s impressive for twenty-eight days.”
    “It’s good to know I still have an impact. You ever been in a place like this for that long?”
    “I work here full-time, Yvonne.”
    “I mean as a patient. You ever been anywhere like this for that long?”
    “I was in a hospital for almost a week after a surgery once.”
    “Did it seem like a week?”
    “Now that you mention it, it seemed like a year.”
    “Then you understand what I’m saying. You feel me, don’t you girl?”
    “Don’t talk like that Yvonne. You’re too old, and you’re much too white.”
    “Am I? All I see is dark. I thought maybe I’d changed, being around you.”
    “No. You’re still white, and I’m still black.”
    As she finished the injection she asked, “Has Shane been helping?”
    “You and Shane are the only ones that make this place bearable. When can I leave?”
    “I don’t know, Yvonne. You’ll have to ask Dr. Mitchell.”
    No one, patient or staff, seemed to like him.
    “He’s an asshole,” Yvonne said.
    “That might be true, but so are you. What did he say last time?”
    “The same thing you said. He doesn’t know. I’m tempted to just pull the plug out of the wall so I won’t have to wake up in this place tomorrow.”
    “Don’t be talking like that, or I’ll have to increase your dosage.”
    “It’s funny, isn’t it? Outside, you end up in prison for messing around with needles. Now that I’m a prisoner, I get as much as I want.” Yvonne smiled her toothy smile. “Beam me up, Scotty. It’s not like there’s a cure. I might as well enjoy the finale.”
    Eva smirked. “Girl, you are a rare breed.”
    When Eva had finished her rounds, she decided to pay a visit to Dr. Mitchell. She dreaded the encounter, but this wasn’t about her. So she grudgingly entered his plain, lifeless office, which wasn’t ornamented by pictures of loved ones, only grotesque portraits of extreme illness.
    “Dr. Mitchell?” The man insisted on being addressed by his last name. Eva wondered if he made his unrepresented relatives do the same. It wouldn’t surprise her. “Yvonne asked again, when she’d be able to leave.”
    “That’s probably because she forgot she asked every day since she’s been here.”
    “She has dementia, Dr. Mitchell.”
    “And she’s blind. And she has cancer. And as of last week, she has no family to speak of.”
    Eva was caught off guard. “What about her son?”
    That caused Dr. Mitchell to look up at last, through the thick glasses that enlarged his listless eyes, which saw only symptoms. “She didn’t tell you? I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. He died of an overdose. Ecstasy, ironically. His funeral was three days ago.”
    “That’s awful.” Eva had taken some much needed time off that week so she was out of the loop. She knew it was silly to feel guilty for the way she’d razzed her earlier. Eva hadn’t known, and for all she knew, neither had Yvonne. Still, it was a sad thing.
    “Awful. Yes, I suppose it was, though it was his own choice,” Dr. Mitchell agreed without inflection. Or compassion. “Given Yvonne’s condition, it would have been unpractical to have her attend the funeral. When I explained the complications of getting her across the country and back, and how difficult it would be on her in her condition, she told me she would consider it. The next morning when I checked in on her, she told me she was getting ready to mail his birthday card.”
    Eva frowned. “She told me that too. That’s why I didn’t know anything had happened.”
    “I explained the situation again the following day, and received the same response. In the end, I had her write him a letter and had one of the interns send it to the ceremony. She doesn’t remember that either.”
    “The poor girl.” That girl was more than twice Eva’s own age. Still, that was how she thought of her. That was how she thought of most of her patients.
    “So to answer your question,” Dr. Mitchell said at last. “She’s never leaving this place.”
    His tone wasn’t callous, only indifferent. He was stating just another fact. It was easy to see why he was in his fifties and had never been married.
    “I have a lot to do. Is there anything else?”
    “Yes, actually. Lindsay wants reappointed. She refuses to work with Mr. Chin anymore. She says he’s become violent.”
    “What was it this time?”
    “He threw his lunch tray at her.”
    Dr. Mitchell sighed. “I know he’s dying, but that’s no excuse for his behavior. Unfortunately, what can we do about it? I say let him die in peace. If Lindsay wants to be reappointed, I’ll take care of it. I’m sure someone around here would be willing to—”
    “I’ll take it.”
    He seemed surprised. “I’d planned on sticking one of the interns on it. Why you? You know what he’s like. I know you think of these people as your kids, but Chin won’t talk to anybody. Not anyone that’s not Chinese, anyway.”
    “Maybe you’re right. Maybe he won’t talk to me. But maybe he will.”
    Dr. Mitchell handed Eva the clipboard. “If you need to give that back at the end of the week, I’ll understand.”
    “I won’t,” Eva said. She hesitated before asking her only request. She knew how Dr. Mitchell felt about him. By-the-books Mitchell scoffed at any type of holistic therapy, whether it be animals, music, massage, meditation, or prayer. In his mind the only thing that cured disease came with a doctor’s prescription. “I was wondering if...”
    “Shane?” Dr. Mitchell’s lips twitched. “He can be involved. For all the good it will do.”

#

    Another day. The receptionist noticed him as he passed her desk. She called out “Hi Shane” in a friendly way. That morning Shane decided to start his rotation with Yvonne. That was what the nurses called her. Shane did not care much for names. He knew her as lonely and desperate. She could not see in life and she could not see a way out of her current situation. Of all of his patients Shane loved her the most. She could not see the world. She could not remember the things that happened to her. She was just waiting for her cancer to kill her. So that she could die. Alone.
    Shane did his best to make her last moments in this world happy ones. He could do nothing else to help her. He could only love. So she spoke and he listened. When she touched him he did not pull away. When she said nothing he allowed her the silence for personal reflection. There was never a feeling of awkwardness at neither of them speaking. They both knew that they both cared. They had formed a bond quickly when she had first arrived. Though their friendship was short their love for each other felt as if it had survived generations. It almost felt as if their spirits were connected.
    Shane stayed as long as he could. He had other patients and Yvonne understood that. As he was leaving her room she called out to him. “Shane.” He looked back at her. She did not say any other words. But she spoke. And he listened. She wanted him to get her out of this place. He wanted to help her. He just had to figure out how.
    After visiting a few more patients Shane ran into Eva in the hall. She had always been supportive of him so there was no question of denying her request. After a quick exchange she led him to a room he had never been to before. As they approached the door a nurse ran out crying. A tray crashed against the opposite wall. From inside the room came a series of angry shouts. Shane felt a little nervous but he had witnessed similar behavior before. He knew there was a root to it. It was his job to either cut it or let it grow.
    Shane indicated that Eva should enter the room first. As she did Shane watched the reaction. A moment later she exited the room as the nurse had. A bowl followed after her. Shane considered this interaction. Then he entered the room.
    The angry glare that Eva and the nurse must have seen was still etched onto the man’s face. But as Shane drew cautiously closer the man’s features gradually relaxed. Shane indicated that he was not a threat. He wanted to help. Mr. Chin understood.
    The angry man began to speak in a language that was unfamiliar to Shane. Shane listened as well as he could. He took note of the man’s body language and facial expressions. He embraced the spirit of his company. Over the following hours they formed a connection that could not be described in words. When Shane left the man was smiling. A smile wasn’t much of a cure. But it was a start.

#

    The next morning, Eva made a point to brag to Dr. Mitchell about what had occurred between Shane and Chin.
    “No one has been able to reach Mr. Chin for the past three weeks, and in less than two hours, Shane had him smiling.”
    Dr. Mitchell grunted. “Shane. Our resident angel.”
    “He is.” After a moment Eva said, “I think Shane could even bring you around.”
    Dr. Mitchell finally glanced up from his paperwork. “Bring me around to what?”
    “To becoming human.” Eva enjoyed Dr. Mitchell’s expression as she closed his office door, but she gave him no more thought once she entered the hall. She had a long day ahead of her, and lots of people to see. Out of all her patients, she was most worried about Yvonne, so she decided to head to her room first.
     When she entered her room, she noticed that Shane had fallen asleep beside her. It was funny, because Shane never seemed to think himself off duty, which is why he’d often be found curled up in a patient’s room instead of the cubbyhole where his cage was kept. He liked to keep his patients company, even when they weren’t awake. It was an endearing trait.
    “Come on Shane, get up. I need to give Yvonne her medicine.” He was a stubborn one, but usually he’d obey once he realized his puppy-dog eyes wouldn’t get him anywhere with Eva. But he hadn’t opened his eyes yet. He must have been exhausted. “Come on Shane, wake up.”
    He didn’t move.
    “Stubborn dachshund.” Eva pulled the tray to the side. “What did you do to the poor dog, Yvonne? Did you wear him out, playing?”
    Her eyes were covered with her visors, but her wan face was stretched in a thin smile.
    “I see you smiling Yvonne. I know you’re awake. Come on now, today is a busy day. I don’t have time for your pranks this morning.”
    Yvonne continued smiling. One frail pale arm, stuck with an IV, lay on the bed between them. Her right arm rested on Shane.
    “Yvonne?”
    No answer.
    “Shane? Here boy.”
    He didn’t move.
    And then she knew. Shane had done what no human could have done for that woman.
    More than anything else, Yvonne had wanted to leave this place and return home. Shane had helped her do that. Sometime before sunrise, they’d left together.












soul

Janet Kuypers
2/7/17
twitter

my spirit always
caresses, warms and supports
so your soul can fly



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 poems and haiku as one long poem, “Wanting You”, “Waiting for You”, “Watching You”, “Walking with You”, “With You”, and “soul” 2/11/17 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (Canon p.s. SX700).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems and haiku as one long poem, “Wanting You”, “Waiting for You”, “Watching You”, “Walking with You”, “With You”, and “soul” 2/11/17 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (from a Sony camera).
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See YouTube video 2/19/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poem “soul” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 6 haiku poems “soul”, “eminence”, “oceans”, “violation”, “exterior” and “earth” in the intro performance 2/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.

hug photograph copyright 2001-2017 John Yotko and Janet Kuypers










Internal Beauty

Marlon Jackkson

Outwardly extending is beauty reaching forward.
The sun still shines behind the thick clouds.
Revealing what I truly feel about you.
Echoed love... I love that sound.












The School

Betty J. Sayles

    Samantha Westlake was a very pretty young woman. Her family was wealthy and she always had everything she wanted including the freedom to go where she wanted and do what she wanted. Now, at eighteen, she was bored to tears. Her older brother, Robert, was a straight A college student and Sam’s parents expected the same from her. With years of rebellion and headstrong ways behind her, she had no intension of leaving her friends and going off to college. Their increasingly unlawful antics were the only fun she had.

    James and Ethyl Westlake were reading a brochure about a new school, a different kind of school. It guaranteed to change problem children into well-behaved model sons and daughters. They wanted an obedient daughter and had no idea how to make that happen. This seemed like the perfect solution.

    One afternoon, Sam came out of the music store with her new CD’s and was grabbed by a large man with one arm while the other hand held a cloth to her face. She dropped her sack and scratched his face, but that was the end of her resistance. She sagged on his arm and he lifted her into the side door of a van.

    “Wake up, bitch, we’re here.” Sam was still groggy and mumbled. “Where are we?”
    A man with a bleeding scratch on his face said, “This is your new school. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” She was hustled through a large, heavy door and the man locked it and pocketed the key.
    Sam ordered frostily, “You unlock that door and take me home. My dad will deal with you, he’s the Lt. Governor of this state.”
    “That won’t cut any ice here, bitch.” He half dragged her up a flight of stairs, pushed her into a room and locked the door. Sam pounded on the door and yelled, but no one came for the rest of the day. There was no bathroom connected to the bedroom, but she saw a bucket in a corner and she peed in that. Someone will pay for this, she thought.

    Sam was awakened the next morning by a heavy woman with huge arms and legs and a moustache. She was repulsed by the ugliness of the woman. “I demand you let me out of here,” she screamed. The woman ignored her words and said, “Get up, the director wants to see you.”
    Thinking that the director would have some sense of self- preservation after she explained who she was, she hurriedly pulled on her jeans and shirt and put on her sneakers. She had slept in her underwear. “Let’s go,” she said.

    They went down the stairs, along a long hall towards the rear of the building. Sam noticed that the windows were barred. “What kind of place is this,” she wondered. The director was a small man who looked like Woody Allen. “Why does everyone here look so weird?” she wondered.
    “You’re here to learn obedience and manners,” the man said in a squeaky voice. “I’m Mr. Johnson and I’ll be keeping a close eye on your development.”
    “Why was I kidnapped? I will not stay here, my parents will pay you to take me home.”
    The man motioned to the moustache and she took Sam’s arm and led her back into the hall. They stopped in a room where a girl gave her a toothbrush, comb and a roll of toilet paper. Moustache said,” You will shower in the community shower and use the bucket in your room which you will empty every day.”
    “You’ve got to be kidding, that’s disgusting.” Sam cried.

    After Sam took her new possessions to her room, she was taken to another room with a cement floor and a drain. In the center was a tall wooden cross with handcuffs on the crosspiece. She was told to remove her clothes. When she refused, she was beaten on the legs with a strap until she obeyed. She was handcuffed to the cross.
    “This is to teach you humility.” Said the moustache.
    Three young men and two young women entered the room and sat on the floor facing Sam. They all had bowed heads until the woman shouted, “Head’s up.”
    Sam wished she could die right then. Her torture was only starting. Her legs grew tired and she sagged with only the handcuffs, biting into her wrists, holding her up. She wet herself and saw pity in the faces of the young people. After two hours, she was released. One of the young men passed her on his way out of the room and he whispered, “We’ve all been there.”

    Every day, Sam spent two hours at the cross. On her second day, she was given a scant breakfast of oatmeal and later suspected that a laxative had been added to it, as she had diarrhea to add to her humiliation. Before being released, the moustache hosed her down with cold water.
    When she wasn’t on the cross, she was given hard work to do. Every night, a loudspeaker droned on and on about the necessity of obedience, obeying parents and authority figures. It went on all night, but she was so tired she slept, fitfully, through it.

    As the days passed, she guessed she saw about 20 different young people in the building. They never talked or met her eyes. She didn’t learn meekness fast enough and Mr. Johnson cut her scanty meals to two per day. She was always hungry.

    One day, her fifteenth, someone left a door unlocked. Sam was gone. She walked miles until she found a phone and called her mother.
    “Samantha, why aren’t you in school?”
    Sam asked, “You knew where I was?”
    “Well, of course,” her mother answered.
    “Why that school. Mother?”
    Her mother sounded defensive, “Well, you needed help, Samantha, We really couldn’t let you go on as you were.”
    Sam hung up. She reported the school to the authorities, but never learned if it had been closed.

    Sam was a smart young woman and she went through college on grants and scholarships. She got a good job and met a good man. Sometimes, she wondered what her life would be like without the school experience. But the memories were cruel and she couldn’t forgive what her parents had knowingly put her through. She and her brother remained close.












The Box Whisperer

Patrick Duzan

    After Mick woke up from the night’s slumber, he began making his way downstairs. The sun began to rise, to mark the start of a brand new day. Mick made his way to the kitchen to start getting to work on some breakfast. But just then the doorbell rang. “Who’s there?” Mick asked, as began walking towards the door. But there was no response, then he thought damn kids probably playing a prank. I’ll get those little punks. He walked back towards the kitchen, but the doorbell rang again. Then Mick walked faster back to the doorbell. He opened it up quickly and shouted. “WHAT DO YOU WANT!” But there was no one there, although he did scare a few birds from a nearby tree, and the neighbor’s cat went scurrying off somewhere. He then started to shut the door, till he saw a box sitting at the doorstep. Did the mailman deliver the mail already? He usually doesn’t come till the afternoon Mick thought to himself.
    He slowly picked the box up, unsure if there was a bomb inside of it. He then took the box, and he closed the door. He then sat the box on the kitchen counter. Then he started dialing 911 on the house phone. He didn’t have a cellphone, he was paranoid about cellphones. But just then a voice shouted/whispered at the same time. “WAIT!” Then Mick turned around to see who was talking to him, but no one was there, no one except for the box that Mick had picked up. Then Mick turned his attention back to the phone.
    But just then power went out in the entire house, and the phoneline was cut. The phone died. What the hell, Mick thought to himself. Then the same voice from before said, “turn around.” Mick did turn around, but once again there was no one there except for the box. Now open me, the box said. Mick just stood, and stared at the box and asked himself have I been fucking drinking again. But Mick knew he hadn’t been, he’s been sober, and he was proud of the fact that he was sober. So, it’s not alcohol, is it drugs he thought to himself.
    “No, you’re not drunk, or under the influence of anything.” The box said/whispered to Mick. Mick then said, that’s it, that’s fucking it, I am fucking insane, and crazy. “No, you’re not crazy Mick.” Oh, great now the fucking box knows my name, Mick thought to himself. “Open Me!” The box shouted. Mick than began looking for tools to help him open the box up. The box is led with black, and gold stirpes with a padlock in the middle. He then grabbed a screwdriver from a nearby drawer, the edge of the screwdriver fixed perfectly in the hole of the padlock’s lock. Mick turned the screwdriver counterclockwise and within seconds, the padlock clicked, as to being unlocked.
    Mick opened the box. Mick’s body got pulled into the box. Then something in place of Mick appeared out of the box. “Hey, where am I?!” Mick said panicking. “Oh, thank you, my poor deluded friend.” The thing in place of Mick said. “Now remember in the next life that you see a mysterious box, that starts talking to you just ignore, and get rid of it.” The thing said.












Recon

Hector Ramos

    Matthew’s forehead was well acquainted with his hair at this point and the man before him still spoke of the nice weather they’ve had this summer.
    “Noah, please. Enough with the recap already, we’re only wasting time here.” Noah halted the path of his martini to his lips and swirled the concoction before placing it once again in front of him.
    “Matthew, I’m appalled. I thought you were trained better. You and I both know that when you disturb a man’s retirement, you should be more polite and grateful that he even considered taking the time to speak with you. What would your mother think?” Noah shifted forward to stare at Matthew with a left sided smirk.
    “It doesn’t matter what my mother thinks about my manners as we both know she’s been dead for twelve years. Now, Noah, please cut the crap. Are you going to help me, or did I use a full tank of gas and probably break several traffic laws to sit here with a washed up old man and talk about the weather?” Matthew slammed his fist on the table between them, drops of gin jumped and hit the table, pooling around the rim of the glass.
    “You’ve let the job get to you, Matt,” Noah chuckled. “You didn’t use to be this much of a hard ass.” Noah reached over the side of the generic furniture the hotel had on the patios. He slipped out a manila envelope and glided it across to Matthew. “You know, just because you’ve been in the business eight years doesn’t mean you know better than I do, Matt. Just means you finally reached the point where killing becomes second nature.”
    “If I wanted a lesson, Noah, I would have stayed with my ex-wife, the college professor.” Matthew unclasped the envelope and spreads the pictures on the glass surface, two copies of each, on in black and white, the other in full color. Matthew lined them up by the date shown in the lower left corner.
    “By the way, how is Melissa?” Noah studied the olive before taking a sip. “She always was too curious for her own good, don’t you agree?” Noah bit into the olive and the juices glossed his lips.
    “She’s fine. How did you get these pictures?” Matthew held out a few to show Noah. “They are crystal clear and don’t have anything even remotely obscuring them.” Matthew held a photo of a dark haired man fumbling with his keys to open a sleek SUV.
    “It wounds me that you doubt my skills and accuracy. Remind me who it was that taught you the best ways to observe someone?” Matthew narrowed his eyes at Noah’s ever present smirk. “Matthew, I really hope these help you.”
    “They will once we can fully analyze them. This has been a big help, Noah. Thank you.” Matthew got up to leave, the photos tucked under his arm, and headed to the door.
    “Oh, one more thing, Matt, this is the last thing I’m doing for them. All favors have been cashed out and I’m done. After you walk out that door, I’m going underground.” Noah laid the bare toothpick on the glass and stood up as well.
    “Good for you. It’s about time you got a real vacation and don’t worry, I’ll let them know you’re out.”
    Matthew passed by the two full beds and was out the door.
    He raced down the steps towards his car.
    Bang! Bang!
    Glass shattered and a woman began screaming nearby. A group of workers in uniform rushed passed Matthew and up the stairs. Matthew studied his loafers as he reached the parking lot. Sirens blared from the distance and an engine roared as it raced down the street.
    Matthew reached over the passenger’s seat and pulled out a bottle of gin from bag atop the photos. One hand on the wheel, Matthew opened the bottle and took a swig.
    “Enjoy your vacation, old man.”










Unfinished, photography by Fabrice Poussin

Unfinished, photography by Fabrice Poussin
















Out West

Tom Minder

    Gusts of cold air entered the busy office along with excited families planning their vacations. Agents worked the phones or navigated travel sites. Couples flipped through brochures and pulled credit cards. A couple walked in and waved to their favorite agent, Amie Landis. She smiled, motioned Sam and Lana to her desk, and waited as they removed layers of winter clothing. “Mr. and Mrs. Redman. I haven’t seen you since your Vegas trip a few years ago. What can I do for you today?”
    Sam put down a brochure, flipped to a dog-eared page, and handed it to her. “Amie, we want to go out West and see America at its rustic best.” He looked skyward. “Buffalo, geysers, presidents hewn in rock...buffet breakfasts...and maybe some gambling.” He pointed to the glossy guide. “The Westward Ho tour is just what we need.”
    Amie studied the description. “Seven days on a bus, Mr. Redman. Is that what you really want?”
    “Our forefathers trekked across the land in covered wagons. They fought off Indians, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. We can do a week in a bus.”
    Amie smiled. “Ok, let’s set this up. When do you want to go?”
    “I’m thinking September. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.”
    He nodded to his wife. “This will knock five states off our bucket list, Lana. Twenty more and we’ve seen them all. The Redmans would have done America.”
    Lana smiled at Amie. “And America would have seen Sam Redman. I hope there’s enough donuts out there.”

    They watched Jeopardy as Sam reread the itinerary. “What a great trip this will be. We start in Vegas, work our way up through Utah, then to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Little Big Horn, and Mount Rushmore.”
    “Seven days, constantly on and off a bus, Sam. Plus you have an aversion to all things crawling...and wild animals in general. On this trip, we’re going to see them up close.”
    “Snakes and bears can’t climb buses, Lana. Plus the park people keep them away from tourists. Bad for business.” He sipped his Columbian. “Explore new adventures with me, Lana. Jersey will be here when we get back.”

    Tropicana Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. “Boy that was a bumpy flight. But what a view, flying over Colorado, Utah and the Rockies.”
    “Sam, you were on Facebook and played slot games on your cell the whole time. Did you look out the window at all?”
    “I glanced over when the pilot mentioned landmarks.” He held his phone in front of Lana’s nose. “See my selfie. Resplendent in my Hawaiian shirt. Eat your heart out, ladies.”
    They checked in, found the casino floor, and looked for unoccupied slots. Sam took a second to feel the rapture before sitting at a BIG BANG THEORY game and feeding the screwball scientists twenty dollars.
    A thin, menacing shadow covered his screen. The creature’s head bobbed and turned. He spun around, then followed a flash of light. A large screen showing Ahmed, the dead terrorist. He relaxed and nudged Lana almost toppling her from her chair. “Hey, Jeff Dunham has a show here. Let’s see if we can get tickets.”
    They bought seats in the back of the balcony. The usher waved them to the row between gasps for breath. Sam loved the show and laughed so hard he peed a little. The couple left the theater with Sam hurrying to the Men’s Room. He kept yelling “I keel you,” clearing his way.
    Lana held Walter tee shirts and checked her watch as four men crammed into security outfits approached—clutching Sam. “Lana, tell them I’m innocent.”
    “Excuse me, officers, I’m his wife. What’s he done now?”
    One of the men peeled off as the entourage stopped. “Making terroristic threats, Ma’am. Threatening to kill people.”
    Lana stamped her foot. “Sam, you idiot.” She smiled at the man. “He just saw Jeff Dunham. He’s a big fan of Ahmed, the dead terrorist.” She gestured at Sam. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly...although he might eat one.”
    The man sighed. “Turn him loose, men.”

    The driver, Renaldo, stored the bags and the tour guide, Riley ‘Call me Coyote’ Jackson, welcomed each traveler as they boarded. Sam swung into the seat and emitted an ‘aaaahhhh’. “Look Lana, foot rests.”
    Lana slid in. “Yeah, Sam. Just like our ancestors.”
    The bus merged into the stifling Vegas traffic, hitting every red light. Finally, they cleared the city limits and headed through Northern Arizona toward Utah. Sam munched on Fiddle Faddle and checked Instagram.
    “Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah is our first stop,” Coyote said to the passengers. “It’s over two hundred scenic square miles of sandstone canyons and rugged terrain, enclosing the Virgin River.” He leaned to look out the window and pointed at the mountains. “This vista was carved out by nature over 250 million years.”
    Sam and Lana climbed out and stretched. Sam started the selfies, making sure his “Keep Calm and Shut the Hell Up” tee shirt stood out against the backdrop. They walked the guided trail with Sam munching Cheetos, examining every square foot for rattlesnakes and spiders and looking skyward for California Condors. Lana stooped to inspect the Prickly Pears and other plant life.
    A black and orange banded tarantula crawled on Lana’s sleeve. Sam gasped. “What’s the matter, Sam?”
    “Look at those mountains in the background.”
    Lana turned and Sam swung the snack bag at Lana’s arm, dislodging the arachnid. It crawled away into the brush.
    “Hey, Sam, watch it. Look, I have orange dust on my shirt. Take it easy.”

    Two hours later, the travelers climbed back on the bus. “How about Zion, folks. Wasn’t it beautiful? Bryce Canyon is next, home to the Hoodoo formations carved by centuries of erosion. These structures resemble ancient angry gods summoning all to worship them.”
    Lana stood at the lookout point and took a panorama of the majestic canyon. Moving left to right she captured the orange figures contrasted with the green forest and distant mountains. As her camera neared completion of the 180-degree turn, an orange cat-like hoodoo danced up and down into her frame. “Eat me, Lana. You know you want me.” She stopped recording.
    Sam waved orange popsicles honoring Tom and Jerry, the animated cat and mouse. “A Tom for me and a Jerry for you. Who knew you could get these in such a remote place. What a country!”

    After an overnight at a Bryce lodge highlighted by Caramel waffles at the breakfast buffet, the couple boarded the coach and relaxed for the long drive to Salt Lake City. Lana snapped pictures of the idle landscape. Sam closed his eyes and imagined the meals awaiting them.
    Leaving the southern desert, wildlife emerged as they drove through the Central Utah countryside. Elk, bison, and antelope roamed. Chukars, falcons, and the occasional bald eagle flew above. Sam awoke as a flock of geese honked overhead. “Utah is proud of the wide variety of birds that fill the sky,” said Coyote. “The chukars were brought in from Europe and have flourished in this western climate. The bald eagles are rare but are seen from time to time.” He looked at his watch. “We’ll be in Salt Lake City in two hours folks. The city is home to the Mormon religion and their beautiful cathedral, and is near the Great Salt Lake, the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere.”

    Sam and Lana unpacked in the Salt Lake Hilton. “Where are the slots,” Sam asked the bellman, Mike.
    “There’s no gambling in the city, sir. You have to go to Wendover, Nevada, about 90 minutes away.” Sam stood in silence.
    “That’s OK, Mike. Mr. Redman’s going through withdrawal,” Lana said. “I hear the Mormon Temple is close by.”
    “Yes, Ma’am. Just two blocks away. The concierge can give you directions and a pamphlet. The state capitol is close by also and gives a pretty view in the sunset.”
    They left the hotel headed for Temple Square. Sam snapped pictures of downtown in the late afternoon sunlight as the Rocky Mountains provided a scenic backdrop. He waved to couples until a brave pair stopped. “Hi. Are you Mormons?”
    Lana started to steer Sam away. The woman smiled. “Yes, we are.”
    “Sam and Lana Redman from back east. You have a beautiful city here.” The couple agreed and introduced themselves as Bill and Maria as Lana relaxed. “We’re just going over to see the Temple. We understand it’s beautiful.”
    “Yes it is,” Bill said. We’re proud of the temple and happy to see visitors there.”
    “We’re Catholics ourselves, but happy to meet those not so inclined.” He leaned in toward the man. “Tell me...How many wives do you have?”
    Lana pushed Sam away and turned to the couple. “Sorry...he’s from Jersey. Nice meeting you.”
    Next morning, the tour settled themselves in the cushioned seats. “How was Salt Lake City, folks? Wasn’t it beautiful?” Are there any questions?”
    Sam raised his hand, then took an elbow to the ribs. “No polygamy questions, Sam.” Coyote walked up, but Lana shook her head.
    The guide returned to the front. “Next stop, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Home to Grand Teton National Park.”

    The mild climate of Salt Lake yielded to chilling temperatures in Jackson Hole. Snow on the surrounding Tetons hinted at the approaching winter. The couple walked through the shopping district. Sam found an ice cream stand, ordered a Huckleberry cone, and shivered on a bench as he consumed the treat.
    Lana wiped a spot of purple from Sam’s nose and pointed to Jackson Treasures. “I’ll be in there.” She sighed. “For Pete’s sake, Sam, use a napkin.”
    Sam licked hands and fingers as he finished his cone. A ‘whoa!’ pierced his nirvana. That sounds like Lana, he thought. I hope she’s not in trouble. He rushed into the store. She was petting a six-foot, wooden Elk as the cashier rang up the sale.
    She smiled at Sam as she pulled her MasterCard. “Perfect for our Christmas decorations, Sam. The neighbors will be jealous.”

    The grey elk ascended the steps. A septuagenarian in the first row shrieked. Renaldo calmed the woman, as he waved Sam back to the sidewalk. Coyote walked the pair to Jackson Treasures to arrange to have the souvenir shipped home. A half-hour later, the tour continued with Sam and Lana taking their seats, elkless.
    Coyote tapped the microphone. “Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, opened in 1882. It covers almost 3500 square miles, and is home to bison, moose, black bear, antelope, and elk in their natural surroundings. You even see the occasional grizzly, but it’s rare. Take pictures, but keep your distance. And whatever you do, don’t feed them.”
    Sam filled his mouth with chocolate bar, then licked the molten residue from his fingers as he viewed the surroundings. A grey mound of fur ambled from the brush, then turned around and disappeared. “MMMMPPPPHHHH, MMMMMPPPHHHH,” he called out, standing and shaking a finger.
    Coyote walked back as Sam hopped. “What did you see, Mr. Redman?”
    Sam swallowed and gasped at the sugar rush. “A grizzly back there.” The tourists turned, some half-standing, some pulling cameras and knocking over those not adept at human stampede. “Hey, I don’t see anything. Nothing here. That guy’s crazy,” they shouted to the tour director.
    Coyote shrugged at Sam, who waved his chocolate fingers and sat lower in his seat. “Maybe next time, Mr. Redman.
    After checking into their park cabin, Lana finished unpacking as Sam stood at the window watching the sun disappear into the mountains. “Hurry up, Lana. I’m starving. Let’s get to the dining room before it fills up.”
    “Go outside, Sam. I need more time.”
    He picked up his last candy bar, wandered out, and walked toward the woods. A grey shadow became larger as he approached. Sam stopped when a grizzly came fully into view. “Holy crap. Lana...oh, Lana.”
    Sam dropped the bar and edged back to the cabin. The bear roamed Sam-ward, stopped to sniff the candy and consumed it in seconds. Sam rushed in and bolted the door. “I’m really not hungry, Lana. Let’s stay in tonight.”
    “Sam, I’m starved. Let’s go to dinner.”
    He glanced out the window. No bear. “OK, Lana. Let’s go. Ladies first.”

    After a morning stop at Old Faithful, the tour continued on. “Next up, Montana,” Coyote announced. “On June 25th, 1876, Lakota and Cheyanne warriors fought the U.S. 7th Calvary at the battle of Little Big Horn. Colonel George Custer and his troops were annihilated. This national monument contains markers for the war dead and gives a perspective on what happened from both the Indian and Calvary standpoints.” Coyote turned off his mic and led the charge of camera-flashing tourists up the hill to the monument.
    “Darn immigrants,” one man called out. “We should never have let those savages in.”
    “Actually, these are native lands for the Lakota,” Renaldo said. “The cavalry arrived later on to protect settlers during the western expansion of the U.S.”
    Sam fished into his bag of potato chips as he followed the crowd. A ‘Watch out for Rattlers’ sign blocked his ascent. Sam jumped when Renaldo spoke up. “Don’t worry, Mr. Redman. They’re a danger only if you wander off the main walkway.”
    He raised his camera and snapped the sign. He glanced toward the alternate path. My chance to overcome my ridiculous fear of snakes, he thought. He waved Lana on and walked down the track, making a continuous 180-degree scan of the ground to check for any roaming serpents.
    He pulled a turkey jerky from his jacket, unwrapped it, and bit off a large chunk. He continued on, listening for slithering or rattles. Hearing a rustling noise, Sam dropped the last of the snack into the tall grass and froze. A mouse ran through the brush, holding the food in its mouth. Sam laughed. “You win this round, little guy.” Just then, a grey flash and the mouse was caught in the mouth of a rattler.
    Sam stepped away and speed-walked back to the visitor center, making sure to look around—360 degrees this time—for any trailing predators. Lana returned from the monument and tapped Sam on the shoulder as he studied the snakes in the guidebook. “Geez, Lana. Don’t do that.” He took one last look down the path. “Let’s get back on the bus.”

    “Today, folks, we visit the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. Both impressive sculptures hewn from the granite native to the Black Hills of South Dakota.”
    Sam finished his Rapid City Presidents bar and stuffed the wrapper into his shirt pocket. Taking out his beef jerky, he read the nutrition label, assuring himself of the health benefits.
    The bus unloaded at Crazy Horse. Head bent down to concentrate on opening the jerky, Sam walked into an Indian dressed in ceremonial outfit. “Sorry,” Sam called out. The man pulled an ear bud, shut off his Megadeath download and smiled at Sam. “No worries, Sir. My name is Yellow Deer. A full-blooded Lakota. Enjoy your visit.”
    He asked for a picture and Yellow Dear assumed a defiant pose, gazing to the horizon. Sam struggled with the beef stick and camera. He handed the jerky to the native and snapped a selfie of them both, smiling as the annoyed warrior brandished the dehydrated meat.
    “Thanks. Mr. Deer. They’ll love you in Jersey.”
    “PALEFACES,” Yellow Dear mumbled as he walked toward the visitor area.
    “Hey, you have my Jerky,” Sam shouted to the man. Yellow Deer turned, chomped on the stick, and signaled an odd goodbye to Sam. I wonder if that gesture means the same thing in Indian, Sam thought.

    George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln looked out over South Dakota. Mount Rushmore. The tour walked the avenue of state flags leading to the outdoor amphitheater. Sam and Lana snapped pictures. “They’re working on Lincoln’s nose,” a woman called out. The crowd focused as workmen rappelled from the top of Abe’s head down to his schnoz.
    “They’re pruning his nose hairs,” Coyote laughed. “Actually, natural plant growth attaches to the inside of the monuments and needs to be cut back.”
    Sam pulled a Payday bar and started a loud, open-mouth chewing. A Japanese school group ignored the presidents and took pictures of him. He waved the wrapper at Lincoln. “Hey, look Lana, the branches from his nose are falling down onto the mountain. I’m gonna get a closer view.”
    He walked to the Presidential Trail, waved to Lana, and started the winding climb. Gasping for breath, he stopped, found a bag of M&Ms in his jacket, and popped enough of the chocolate vitamins to resume his trek.
    He gazed up at the monument. What a view, he thought. He stepped back off the path to get a clearer sight. A noise came from a nearby bush. Sam examined the ground for slithering wildlife. A mountain goat emerged. Man and creature studied the odd life form in front of them. The animal came closer. “Hi, fella,” Sam said. “Nice goat.” He held out some M&Ms.
    It sniffed the treat, grabbed onto Sam’s shirt, and started chewing. Sam pulled back as the shirt gave away, leaving him bare-chested. He ran back to the amphitheater. Panting, he bent over to catch his breath.
    “Look...he ate his shirt,” said a school child. “These Americans are always hungry.”

    Sam pulled into the driveway after their return flight from Rapid City. A corrugated container blocked the front door. He examined the box and, using the flashlight from his key chain, read the label. “Jackson Treasures. It’s heavy, too.”
    “That’s my Elk,” Lana said. “I hope it arrived in one piece.”
    Lifting it over the front step, Sam pushed the box into the foyer, retrieved a knife from the kitchen, and dismantled the wrapping. He pulled the elk, ears, hoofs and all, from the protection of the packing peanuts. The Styrofoam nuggets scattered to the floor. He set the animal on the tile and turned to Lana.
    She touched the head of her trophy between the foot-long antlers. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “Where can I put it?”
    Sam carried it into the four-season room, placing it facing the picture windows. Lana smiled. “Perfect. I’ll call it ‘Jackson.’”
    She examined the animal head to toe, found one last peanut wedged in its ear, and smiled. “It’s like we’re there now.”
    They left the elk to acclimate to its surroundings, unpacked, and then waded through the accumulated mail. The phone warbled. “This better not be a telemarketer,” Sam said as he pressed the speaker button. “Hello?”
    “Sam, this is Lucinda Shultz from next door.”
    He sighed. “Yes, Lucinda, we’re back. How are you?”
    “Did you know you had a large deer in your back room?”
    Lana snorted as Sam bit his lip. “Actually, it’s an elk. I hope it’s not bothering you, Lucinda. We call it Jackson. He doesn’t make much noise... except in mating season. I’ll lead it over next time I take it for a walk.”
    He covered his mouth, closed his eyes, and counted to three. “I just hope it doesn’t spook your cats.”
    Lucinda hung up without a response. “I’ll tell her tomorrow,” he said to Lana, smiling.












earth

Janet Kuypers
2/12/17
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craters, mountains, plains...
rattlers, bison, deer and elk —
experience earth



video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video 2/19/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poem “earth” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 6 haiku poems “soul”, “eminence”, “oceans”, “violation”, “exterior” and “earth” in the intro performance 2/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
“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.
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).
videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.

in national forest, elk and bison images copyrght 1998-2017 Janet Kuypers










The Light in the Sky

Brett Petersen

1.

    Damien Miller jolted out of bed and tore open the curtains. He whipped off his shirt and stuck out his chest so the Light could enter his heart. The Woman’s voice he had heard in his dreams commanded him to do so. The Light warmed the core of his soul like a cup of hot cocoa after hours of playing soldier in the snow. As soon as his heart began to overflow with memories of Adirondack summer nights camping with Dad and the feeling that everything was going to be okay, the Light retreated. The suddenness of its withdrawal left Damien in shock. It was as if his spine had been yanked from his body. He punched the hardwood floor without feeling pain. God’s Light had left him and he doubted it would ever return.

    For the next six hours, Damien sat on his bed rocking back and forth. At six-thirty a.m., he heard his mother knock on the door.
    “Good mo-orning!” she cooed. “Come get your breakfast.”
    He slogged out of his pajama pants, pulled on a pair of jeans, socks, and a shirt and wedged his feet into his two-tone Converse knockoffs.

    There were two corn muffins waiting for him on a Fiesta plate next to a glass of cranberry-apple juice. He took a few nibbles of muffin and decided he wasn’t hungry.
    “Don’t forget, you’re staying after school today to catch up on your graph assignments,” Mrs. Miller dropped several quarters into a plastic baggie. “Here’s your lunch money,” she handed it to him.
    “Thanks,” he snatched the baggie and sighed.
    Mrs. Miller glanced at the wall clock. “It’s quarter-of,” she said. “The bus will be here any minute,”
    “Okay,” Damien rose slowly, hoisted his backpack onto his shoulders and pushed open the creaky side door.

    The sun had barely risen. Clouds sailed across the orange sky like battleships. The air smelled crinkly and foreboding like autumn. Although it was only September sixth, the atmosphere had already begun to reek of pumpkin innards and hay mazes.
    A pair of blinking yellow lights down the road caused the gears in Damien’s head to turn. Hardened erasers and hallway bullies couldn’t stop the processes of puberty and identity formation. Would he be Damien the Demon Boy this year? Fated to massacre the entire school with adamantium spikes jutting from his knees? Or would he disguise himself as a time traveler from 1992? An affable slacker from an era when underground music still had integrity and flannel shirts were sold at the Gap for two hundred dollars apiece. Perhaps he could charm one of the Beckys in his English class by shrouding himself in mystery and forming a band. He’d play the cardboard box in a jazzcore band called Mystery Peanut Crematorium. ‘M.P.C.’ The abbreviation had a nice ring to it.
    By the time the bus pulled up to the driveway, Damien had forgotten all about the Light. What he did not realize was that, despite not being able to grasp the Light’s message cognitively, his body had absorbed and comprehended all of it. His homeostatic and central nervous systems had experienced faint sensations of a future where he could act like a wild gorilla and not give a single fuck. Primal urges tugged at his ripcord. Why couldn’t adulthood just happen all at once like a peeled bandage or a bomb threat? And why were girls’ budding breasts so damn sexy? Argh. It made him want to stomp the fuck out of a juice box. He could sneak one out of the cafetorium and bring it to the loading dock after school where he and his buddy Mike could leave a big, red, sugary picnic for the ants. Fuck the school and its protocols. Damien grinned. We gonna get ants all up in their shit.

    The day’s second miracle happened as Damien boarded the bus. A flash of Light from somewhere in the back! That was where the preppy kids sat; smacking their gum, texting their besties, preparing to guzzle Keystone and have unprotected sex while flunking university business classes. Damien scuttled down the aisle and took a seat amongst the gel-flips whose eyes flashed ‘loser alert!’ No sign of the Light anywhere. Huh. He slunk into his seat. Perhaps he could get in a few Z’s during the half hour ride to the middle-of-nowhere school.

    As he counted the trees whizzing by, something reflected in the glass caught his eye. His heart leapt. “Could it be?” He turned around.
    Sitting in the seat across from him was a girl in a white dress. She seemed about his age. A leather-bound book was open on her lap.
    “Hello?” Damien called to her. “Are you new? I don’t remember seeing you on this bus before.”
    The preps were busy texting. They didn’t seem to notice her.
    The girl closed the book and cocked her head. Her eyes were like above-ground pools with black inner tubes in their centers. The rims of the pools shined like golden coronas generating tunnels of Light. The tunnels connected themselves to Damien’s eyes. It was as if he was staring down the muzzle of a double-barreled shotgun made of Light.
    “The Light!” he held out his open palms in a gesture of humility and acceptance. “The Light is coming from your eyes!”
    BANG!
    Damien’s skull was blown to pieces. Blood, bone chips and chunks of brain tissue spattered the preppies’ hair and clothing and the backs of nearby seats.
    Despite this ‘death,’ Damien’s consciousness remained intact. It was as if he’d not been injured at all. He moved his head from side to side and even felt the familiar tickle of his bangs against his forehead. He studied his reflection in the bus window. The remains of his face hung around his neck like a lobster bib. Where his head should have been was an orb of Light.
    The girl took his hand in hers and began to peel the skin from his fingers. He yelped in pain, but she didn’t stop. As she tossed strips of skin and muscle onto the floor, she spoke softly to him.
    “Do not fret, my love,” she tore off the skin of his right hand like a glove. “The ear of sweet corn needs to be husked before it can be tasted. You have desired from birth to become part of the Light, and I am here to reveal to you the good news. You are the Light! You and everyone on this planet are beings of Light imprisoned in husks of matter. It is my duty to reveal this truth to all and to free individuals from the bonds of their flesh.”
    “But why me first? What about everyone else?”
    “I have chosen to free you first because you are the single human who most desires this freedom. But don’t worry. Everyone else will yearn for it in time.”
    She lifted his hand to his face so that he could see. There was no hand anymore, only a glowing mass of Light.
    “There are no such things as me, you or others,” She tore off her face and hair like a mask, revealing the Light that was her true form.
    “All are Light and the Light is One. Plurality and multiplicity are illusions. The dividing lines between forms and events in space-time aren’t actually real. The boundaries are completely arbitrary. There are only three states: Oneness (which is disguised as Plurality,) Null, which is Paradise, and Nil, which is total absence and therefore shouldn’t even have a-“

    The world went dark for a second.
    And then it returned.

    The girl was gone and Damien’s body lay sprawled across the bus seat, head blasted apart, limbs mutilated. A bug-eyed sixth grader alerted the bus driver, who immediately stopped the bus and waddled to the back in order to confirm the fact that a student had been killed. The police were called and the rest of the kids on the bus were evacuated.
    Forensics could not figure out how on earth his head had been blown to bits as if by a shotgun. There were no bullet fragments and no evidence that anyone on the bus had brought a gun with them. Regardless of the facts, the authorities would have to frame some quiet loner kid or lower class underachiever in order to keep the parents and politicians at bay.

    A funeral was held for Damien the following week and Mrs. Miller laid magnolias on his grave.

2.

    The final canto of Damien’s (as well as the Universe’s) epic poem began in what some would call a ‘charming’ café in Paris, France. The reincarnation of Damien, a twenty-six year old university dropout, sat alone in a booth chewing on espresso beans. A Woman of about thirty-five who smelled like oregano sat down across from him.
    “Hey there,” she said, smacking her gum. Her teeth were like translucent Legos. “Whatcha doin’ all by yaself?”
    Her accent annoyed him. It sounded like New Jersey had swallowed Long Island and taken a dump in a Yankee Stadium bathroom. “Um...” he tried to speak, but his espresso jitters were making his voice all quivery. “I-I’m sitting here, a-and you can s-s-sit here if you want to, but-but if you don’t want to, that’s okay ‘cause I’m per-perfectly fine here by myself and I-I-”
    “Oh, come on,” she said, standing up. Her red afro grazed the rafters of the ceiling and her legs were covered entirely by striped tights. The fragrance from beneath her skirt widened Damien’s eyes. He even felt it move.
    “Quit flappin’ ya gums and let’s go back to my place,” she beckoned him with a curling finger. “I’ve got some really good movies on Netflix we can watch.”
    “Oh-okay, sure, y-yeah that’ll b-be awesome, I can’t wait, I-“
    “Relax bae,” He felt her hot, moist breath against his neck as she whispered into his ear. “I’m on birth control,” she gave his earlobe a lick.

    When they got to her place, they shed their clothes and explored each other’s orifices with eager fingers and tongues, but when it came time to fuck, Damien just couldn’t seem to land the plane on the runway.
    “Nope,” the Woman grunted, “you’re going towards my asshole, aim higher,”
    By that point, it was too late. Damien’s hard-on had deflated and all he could think about was pizza.
    “I think I’ll be better when I’ve got some food in my belly,” he smiled sheepishly.
    “One would hope so,” she rolled her eyes. “I’m gonna take a nap,” she sighed. “Wake me up when the food gets here.”
    Damien reached into the pocket of his trousers and retrieved his cell phone. He dialed the number of the one pizza place that still delivered to the nameless housing project dubbed ‘la Tranchée’ by locals.

    Two hours passed. The Woman snored and drooled on the lumpy pillow. Damien figured the pizza guy had forgotten their order. He flopped into bed next to the Woman. Her mouth was like a clay pot spilling water into a drainage ditch. He could leave. She wouldn’t care. The place gave him the creeps anyway. She stretched and yawned. Her apartment smelled like cat shit and flies buzzed everywhere. Cat food crunched beneath his feet and stuck to his socks when he got up to use the bathroom. This, he thought, was about as far away from Paradise as anyone could be.
    In an attempt to lull himself to sleep, he concentrated on a beam of dirty light shining through a crack in the blinds. He traced it with his eye all the way to its source. Fire, he thought. The source of creation. The key to unlocking the puzzle of this labyrinth is fire.
    He sprang out of bed and jerked open the blinds. The Woman tossed and moaned.
    “I’m gonna burn this place to the ground.” He looked around, taking in the bleak panorama. “All of this has to go,” he grinned. “I’ll burn down every last inch of la Tranchée including myself and the Woman. It’ll be like burning down a forest to get rid of an invasive tree species. Once the weeds have been reduced to ashes, real life can begin to grow.” He scoured the apartment for flammable chemicals and matches.
    “Hold it!” a voice shouted from somewhere.
    Damien stopped dead in his tracks. “Who said that?”
    “I did.” The Woman’s sleeping form was glowing. It was a different kind of glow than the ugly city light; pure and white, a magnolia’s petals, springtime.
    “W-who are you?” Damien felt his chest tighten.
    Magnolias.
    Something in his head had shifted. “What is going on?” His life algorithms were being reprogrammed. “Can you explain to me why I’m having all these bizarre thoughts?” He took a deep breath in. The shakiness of his out breath alerted him to the fact that his mood had tanked far below the danger line. “A second ago, I was going to burn down la Tranchée, now I’m getting cold feet about it?”
    Magnolias.
    That was it! The vision of magnolias triggered by the Light. The Light! The Light had set something right in his head that had been misaligned. “And who is this Woman? Am I supposed to be in love with her? Who was I before I met her? I feel like this isn’t the real me, and this time is not the real time.”
    “You are correct in a rudimentary way,” said the voice. “And it’s alright if you’re confused. I would be too if I had the limited perceptive capabilities of a human.”
    “But, just what is a human? Who am I? And who are you?”
    “Shouldn’t that be obvious?” The voice laughed. “I am you, you are me, We are All, and All is One. This may sound to you like a bunch of oracular mumbo jumbo, but it’s as close to the truth as you’ll ever comprehend.”
    Damien began to sob. “Please, please just end the confusion! I don’t wanna be confused anymore. My actions, my thoughts, they don’t even make sense, please God,” he clasped his hands together; “please just allow the world I live in to be coherent, to have a point and a purpose and a solid reason for being. I’m sick of the chaos, the not-knowing, the complexity. I just want to live a simple life as a simple person. And when I die, can’t there just be Pearly Gates and Angels and a vending machine full of Arnold Palmers waiting for me?”
    “Hmmm,” the voice contemplated Damien’s request for several minutes. “Alright, I’m going to set the dial of the Creation Engine to its most basic level. The story of the universe will go something like this:”

3.

    “Good mo-orning!” Mrs. Miller cooed as she knocked on Damien’s bedroom door.” “Breakfast is on the table.”
    “Okay mom,” he schlepped out of bed and into his favorite pair of Lee jeans. In the bathroom, he brushed his teeth and spat into the sink. He popped a large zit on his temple. The pus left a speck on the mirror.

    Two slices of French toast drizzled with syrup and butter awaited him on a porcelain plate next to a glass of milk. He wolfed the toast and downed the milk in one gulp.
    “Don’t forget,” Mrs. Miller said, “you’ve got to sign up for the spelling bee today.”
    “Oh yeah, I’ll ask Mrs. Feinman where I’m supposed to find the sign-up sheet. I have her for third block English, so that shouldn’t be hard to do.”
    Mrs. Miller glanced at the Looney Tunes watch she had worn since forever ago, “better get outside; the bus’ll be here at six-fifty sharp.”
    “Okay,” Damien extended the handle of his roller-pack and wheeled it down the concrete steps.
    The yellow lights of the bus flashing in the distance reminded him of autumn although it was the middle of May. Every blossom that could bloom had flowered. Floral fragrances mixed with the fishy stench of fertilizer created a perfect antipode.

    On the night of the spelling bee, the cafetorium was empty save for a few devoted parents, faculty members and the custodian who swung her mop listlessly around the folded-up lunch tables.
    The number of contestants had dwindled down to two; Damien and a seventh grader named Lucy Fuhrman. Lucy had just correctly spelled ‘galvanized.’ Now it was Damien’s turn.
    “Damien,” Mrs. Feinman smiled. A glint from her gold tooth caught his attention. “Your word is, ‘conditional.’”
    Seriously? Damien laughed. An easy word like ‘conditional?’ If this keeps up, I’ve got this thing nailed.
    He cleared his throat. “Conditional, C-O-N-D-,” a spear of pain shot through his right eye. He clutched his head and stumbled backward. A blinding, searing, excruciating light reflected off Mrs. Feinman’s tooth. He tried to think of the next letter, but every time he attempted to conjure it, the tooth shined brighter. The pain intensified and the ringing in his ears grew louder. He wrapped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut.
    “Damien?” Mrs. Feinman called to him through the microphone. “What’s the matter? Are you alright?”
    “I can...ugh...” his head felt like it was going to explode. “I...can...still...” he fell to his knees. Teachers, security guards and concerned parents rushed the stage.
    “Con...di...tion...al” he croaked.
    “He’s having an allergic reaction,” shouted Mr. McDaniel, the vice principal. “Does anyone have an EpiPen?”
    “Con...di...tion...al...love...LOVE! That’s...it!” Damien’s face contorted in agony. A torrent of white liquid splashed from his mouth. He puked again and again until the vomit ran down the front of the stage, erasing everything it touched like white-out. It wasn’t long before the entire cafetorium was an ocean of white.
    Eventually, all that remained to distinguish one form from another were black lines. Then the lines vanished leaving only whiteness and sound. The sounds of confused shouts lingered. The world’s audio track fast-forwarded, rewound and looped around itself, creating a cacophony capable of inducing psychosis in even the most placid mind. The whiteness turned black and all sound ceased. When it became white again, every possible sound sounded at once. The world flickered from black to white, to black again, faster and faster until everything became gray. Tones of every frequency chimed sporadically. The blackness and whiteness recombined and flickered off. Then the world became colorless, odorless and silent. Somewhere, a gray cat smiled.





About Brett Petersen

    Brett Petersen obtained his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011. His fictions have appeared in journals such as Polychrome Ink, The Offbeat and Leopardskin & Limes. He is also a cartoonist, drummer and singer/songwriter whose high-functioning autism only adds to his creativity. He lives in Albany New York










In The Soft Light 2, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

In The Soft Light 2, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz
















Old Times

Alan Swyer

    His head throbbing, Mike Hajeski pulled the covers over his head in a futile attempt to ignore the ringing of the doorbell. Only when that gave way first to knocking, then to banging, did he finally lift himself out of bed, an effort that was nearly undermined by what, during his baseball days, he would have termed a Big League hangover.
    Still garbed in clothes worn the night before, and far from certain how he made it home after rounds of boilermakers at a place that was a dive bar well before that term came into fashion, Hajeski tried to keep his balance as he stumbled toward the front door. All the while, he was prepping himself for what he would say if the pain-in-the-ass turned out to be some kid selling magazine subscriptions, or a Jehovah’s Witnesses eager to save his sorry soul – not that such pests appeared often in his downtrodden part of Newark.
    Trying without much luck to rub the drowsiness from his bleary eyes, Hajeski unlocked the door, then gaped at a vaguely familiar figure backlit by the morning sun.
    “I-I know you,” Hajeski mumbled, generating a nod from the tall guy in a sport jacket and slacks standing there. “High school, right?” Another nod. “You were the white guy on the basketball team.”
    “Me and Ronnie Angelo.”
    “I remember him. Moved to California or something. Tell me your name.”
    “Ed. Ed Gault.”
    “Who everybody called Steady Eddie. You were a grade behind me?”
    “Two.”
    “Hey, come on in. It’s not much, but –”
    “I don’t want to –”
    “C’mon... It’s not every day I get to shoot the shit with somebody from way back when.”
    Taking Gault’s arm, Hajeski ushered him into his apartment, then cleared away a sweatshirt and an old sports section from an easy chair. “Sit,” he said, giving Gault a chance to glance around at the furnishings, which seemed to come from multiple thrift shops. “You and I seen each other since high school?”
    “Not that I can remember.”
    “Get you something? Coffee, if instant’s okay? Or something with more of a kick to it?”
    “I’m all right.”
    “Well I’m sure as hell not.”
    Gault watched Hajeski reach for a bottle of Dewar’s and a glass. “My morning waker-upper,” he explained, downing his first shot of the day, then wincing as it hit home.
    Gault used the time to look around at the empty Chinese takeout containers and pizza boxes that made it clear there was rarely a female presence in the dimly lit place.
    “So how many years is it?” Hajeski asked.
    “Since you graduated? Roughly fifteen.”
    “Like the blink of a fuckin’ eye. I go from being the toast of Elizabeth to tearing up the minor leagues to tearing up my shoulder, and the whole thing seems more like fifteen minutes than fifteen goddamn years. Sure I can’t twist your arm?”
    Gault shook his head, then watched Hajeski down another shot. “Married?” Hajeski asked, eliciting yet another nod from Gault. “Local girl?”
    “Originally from Chicago.”
    “Which means you’re smarter than me. Jersey girls lead the league in ball-busting. Remember Buns Noonan, with the biggest you-know-what’s in town?”
    “Hard to forget.”
    “That’s who I married. Total nightmare. I’m busy fighting my way through the minor leagues, and what’s she doing? Going down on everything but the Titanic.” Hajeski again lifted the bottle. “Sure you won’t join me?”
    “No, thanks.”
    “You’re making me self-conscious.”
    “You’ll get over it.”
    Hajeski chortled. “Guess that’s right. So tell me, see anybody?”
    “From time to time.”
    “Gimme names.”
    “Mike Ziobro and I have lunch every so often.”
    Hajeski searched his memory banks, then smiled. “Big guy, football player. Who else?”
    “Once in a while my wife and I have dinner with Richie Burke and his wife.”
    “He marry somebody local?”
    “Bunny Novak.”
    “Cheerleader, right?”
    Still another nod from Gault.
    “Anybody make something of themselves? From your class... the one after... or mine?”
    “A handful are doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants.”
    “And the rest are in the army, or jail, or dead?”
    Gault shrugged. “Not all, but quite a few.”
    “And the one who aren’t are what? Manicurists? Working at the post office? Doing construction?”
    “Some are school teachers, some went into family businesses. I heard one gal’s a dancer, and supposedly some guy’s a writer.”
    Hajeski grew uncharacteristically reflective for a moment. “How do you explain something?” he then asked. “From some towns – Westfield, Short Hills, maybe South Orange – kids go on and do big stuff, exciting stuff. But us, so many fall by the wayside.”
    “Hard to say. Affluence? Role models that we didn’t have? Opportunities?”
    “Okay. But how, without any of that, do a few still manage to make something of themselves?”
    Gault shrugged. “I guess it’s some kind of social Darwinism.”
    “What the fuck’s that mean?”
    “You’ve heard of evolution, right?”
    Hajeski nodded begrudgingly.
    “Maybe, in whatever species you talk about, most stay – or want to stay – just as they are. But supposedly, way back when, a few creatures climbed out of the water and onto land, and somehow developed legs... Then later, some dinosaurs grew wings... And somewhere down the line, some monkeys or apes somehow wound up becoming cave men.”
    “Which is how we got ‘The Flintstones!’”
    Gault chuckled. “I watched the reruns faithfully.”
    “Me, too.”
    “I guess it’s kind of the same with people,” Gault went on. “Some – most, probably – take the path of least resistance. You know, accepting whatever seems easiest or inevitable. But somehow, every so often, somebody or other finds a way to grow, or change, or just plain lift his – or maybe her – ass out of the muck.”
    “That’s what we were in, growing up. The goddamn muck. But know what? A lot of the time it was fun. Am I right, or am I right?”
    “Can’t argue with that.”
    “We didn’t have the expensive cars, fancy toys, big houses, trips all over the world –”
    “That’s for sure –”
    “But I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.” After pondering what was for a couple of moments, Hajeski studied Gault almost clinically. “Know what? You look good. Like you’re comfortable with the life you’re leading and take care of yourself.”
    “I try.”
    “I used to do a better job of it, but –” Clearly saddened by the direction his thoughts had taken him, Hajeski poured himself another drink. “Listen,” he began a moment later, “mind if I bounce some names on you to see if you know what happened to ‘em?”
    “Fire away.”
    “Greasy Borowiek?”
    “Heard he died in a car accident.”
    “Ouch! He and I used were in wood shop together and used to cut school except in baseball season. How about Bootsie Sanders.”
    “Wish I knew.”
    “Me, too, ‘cause she was hot. I’m talking heavy-duty fantasies. “What about guys I played ball with like Mikey Colon, Danny Igoe, Richie Chesare?”
    “No clue.”
    “We had good people, you know? Not all of ‘em, but for the most part. It always felt like we were in it together. And that we mattered. Know what I mean?”
    “Yeah.”
    “Not like in the suburbs, where kids have to be chauffeured everywhere, and everything’s scheduled. We wanted to play baseball, we rode our bikes to the park. Basketball, over to the playground. And if we just wanted to hang, there were always fifty places where you could find people. But once those days are over, it gets lonely, you know? Life gets tougher, your parents, your aunts and uncles start dying, and you find yourself wondering what’s it all about. And will it ever be fun again.”
    Suddenly Hajeski frowned, then let out a laugh. “Listen to me, crying in my beer. What would Greasy Borowiek say, right? But I’ll tell you, it’s fun to talk to somebody who was part of it and gets it. You feel what I’m saying?”
    “Yup.”
    “Look, I’m sure you’ve got things to do, so I don’t want to keep you. But mind telling me how it is you happened to ring my bell? And what brought you here?”
    Gault stood. “I’ve got a warrant for your arrest.”
    “Y-you’re a cop?”
    “DEA.”
    Seeing Hajeski jump to his feet, Gault immediately put a hand on the pistol holstered under his sport jacket. “I’d rather we do this the easy way,” he stated.
    “Listen, can’t you cut an old buddy a break?”
    “If it’d been a matter of possession, maybe. Selling a small amount, probably –”
    “Yeah, but –”
    “But, nothing. Thanks to your would-be hijacking, there’s one guy on life support and another pretty close.”
    Hajeski shook his head. “So much for old times, huh?”
    “You got it. So much for old times.”










P1450167, art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

P1450167, 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.

www.eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com


















He Sleeps

Karon Johnson

He sleeps like no one is watching,
as he drifts into his own careless purpose;
meandering, wandering, pondering, lost
as she sees it.
He’s in a world of ideal,
yet polluted thoughts that he keeps to himself.
His dreams are like his reality;
he can never distinguish the difference between the two.
She entered his universe of sundries and
wants to illustrate to him there’s a slight distinction,
if only for a moment in time.
Because bestowing him inexplicable, passionate,
unadulterated, love
is what her intuition tells her is what he thirsts.
It’s like her new mission in life,
to exceed his fantasies and turn them into absolute truths.
Can this force to be reckoned with stand out?
Or will he just continue to be average like the rest?
It’s ultimately up to him to decide what happens;
the executioner is standing there,
waiting with the ax or noose.












Carpool

Marcia Eppich-Harris

    Shannon didn’t know the boy she was picking up. Earlier that morning, his mother had frantically emailed the other parents:
    “Can anyone take my son, Xavier, to play rehearsal? I have a work conflict that I can’t get out of.”
    The maps app said they lived about ten minutes from Xavier. Maybe Ben could make friends with this kid. So she replied to the desperate mom’s email, saying she’d be happy to help. After a series of phone calls and reassurances between the moms, it was all set up.
    “Thank you for helping out,” Xavier’s mom, Karen had said. “I can give you some gas money.”
    “Oh, please, don’t,” Shannon said. “We’ve all been there. It’s fine.”
    Shannon drove with her two kids, Ben and Kit, to the idyllic neighborhood just on the other side of the freeway. These were the real suburbs – picket fences, custom homes. Shannon watched the houses for the address, noting the manicured lawns in various patterns. The kids talked about superheroes in their obsessive way. She had to interrupt to get Ben’s attention.
    “Okay, Ben. We’re here. Why don’t you go get Xavier? Your brother and I will wait in the car,” she said.
    Ben stared out the window for a moment, then suddenly comprehending her request he said, “Okay,” and opened the door.
    “Ring the doorbell,” she called after him. He left the car door open.
    Ben stood waiting on the front porch of Xavier’s house. Then, remembering he was supposed to do something, he knocked on the door. Shannon sighed.
    “Mama,” Shannon’s six-year-old son, Kit, said from the back seat, “Why doesn’t Ben ever follow directions?”
    Shannon looked at Kit in the rearview mirror. Ben was four years older than Kit, yet somehow Kit’s normalcy made him seem older.
     “He’s too busy in his mind, I guess,” she said.
    Ben and Xavier approached the car. Xavier was a skinny, dark-skinned kid – bookish looking.
    Shannon said, “Ben, how about you let Xavier sit up front?”
    The car was cramped. Better to let a guest have the front seat for the leg room. They got in, and as soon as Xavier was seated, she recognized him and her heart sank.
    Xavier put on his seat belt and folded his arms across his chest.
    “Hi, Xavier!” she said, way too cheerfully. “How’s it going?”
    “Hi,” he mumbled, looking at her sideways.
    “I talked to your mom this morning,” Shannon said. “Did she tell you we were picking you up?”
    “Yeah,” he said.
    “Okay, great,” Shannon said. “She’s planning on picking you up after rehearsal.”
    “I know,” he said.
    Shannon backed the car out of the driveway, wondering if Xavier’s mom knew about the incident. They hadn’t been in rehearsals for very long. Maybe Xavier didn’t know all the kids’ names yet. She wondered how Xavier reacted when Karen said that they were picking him up. But she had received no follow-up call, so maybe he had kept his feelings to himself.
    “You have a lovely neighborhood,” she said.
    “Thanks,” he said, his voice sounding like an accusation.
    Shannon had recognized Xavier from his glasses. They had swirling blue plastic frames that stood out in strong contrast to his dark brown skin. He had been standing on the landing at the theatre last week when Ben came running down the stairs, giggling and breathless, red cheeks in shocking contrast to his white skin. He was sweating.
    “Mom!” Ben had shouted. “You’ll never believe what just happened!”
    “What?” Shannon asked, grinning.
    Ben gripped the banister of the stairwell and shouted, “Destiny asked me on a date!”
    Shannon laughed. They were only ten, for Christ’s sake.
    “What did you say to her?”
    “No!” he shouted.
    The general hum of post-rehearsal pick-up time in no way dampened Ben’s extra loud voice. He twisted around the open banister and started running back up the stairs. People had to avoid him as he leapt around.
    “Ben,” Shannon said, slowly climbing after him, hoping that her proximity would slow him down.
    “I said, ‘No!’”
    “Okay,” Shannon said. This is how Ben led her through the conversations he planned in his mind. He would always repeat what he last said until she asked why he did what he did. That was his methodology. She steeled herself for the worst, asking, “Why did you say ‘no’?”
    “Because she’s black!”
    The chatter in the room dipped, held, and then swelled around her.
    Shannon clutched the bannister to stop herself from stumbling. What the hell? This was worse than usual. No matter how well-meaning and liberal they were, Shannon and her husband could never predict the inevitably shocking things that Ben would say. She always reassured herself, We didn’t teach him that. But occasionally, she had to admit, We didn’t teach him otherwise, either.
    Once steady, she jolted up the stairs two at a time. She reached for his arm. He twisted away. On the second try, she grabbed his sleeve, pulling his jacket half off. He stumbled and looked at her.
    “Hey!” he shouted.
    “Come on,” she said.
    “What? I just don’t want to date a black girl.”
    She looked up at and saw an African American boy with blue, swirling glasses frames perched on the landing. He clenched his jaw and stared back at her. She wanted to defend herself: We are not racist. I don’t know where he learned this. Instead, she winced as if slapped. She turned, shame quickening her steps as she hauled Ben down the stairs.
    In the car, Xavier’s glasses reflected the late afternoon sun, occasionally throwing a blinding beam of light toward Shannon.
    She wanted to find something to say – that she thought racism was taught, and they hadn’t taught their children to be racist. That they had friends who were in interracial marriages, and it was no big deal. That she had dated a dark-skinned Indian man in college – didn’t that count for something? That, after the incident, she had talked to Ben about how his words can hurt people, and she told him never to say something like that again. And maybe she got through to him. Maybe he understood. But the cars slowed in rush-hour traffic, demanding her attention. Besides, what could she say that wouldn’t sound like an excuse?
    A flashing sign said there was an accident at 22nd Street, and the left two lanes were blocked. The five-lane highway squeezed down to three. In the distance, a church tower rose out of the low-lying buildings on the western quarter of downtown – the church was across the street from the theatre. She trained her focus on the tower. Oh God, if there is a God, get us out of this traffic.
    She couldn’t concentrate on her children’s unconcerned chatter in the back seat with her peripheral vision holding vigil on the silent child beside her. Xavier stared straight ahead, quietly poised. Her stomach churned and she breathed as quietly as she could through her mouth. It occurred to her that she used to do the same thing on those restless nights when Ben was much younger and couldn’t sleep through the night. At the time, nothing could have convinced her that those early years were the easy part of parenting. Once Ben became verbal, a year or more later than his peers, the things he would say were much harder to contend with than a teething infant, especially since he didn’t seem to comprehend the impact his words had.
    The church tower grew larger with their approach, until finally, she could no longer see the spire. She parallel parked. Xavier and Ben got out.
    “Do you need me to walk you to the door?” Shannon asked.
    Xavier shook his head and said, “No.”
    “Bye, Mom,” Ben said, adding with practiced duty, “Love you.”
    “Love you, too. See you in a bit.”
    She watched them until they made it to the entrance, Ben trotting, oblivious, and Xavier marching, shoulders squared. Xavier looked back at the car from the open theatre door. He stared a moment, then turned, and went on.
    Shannon pulled into traffic without looking. Someone honked.
    “Christ,” she spat.
    “What’s wrong, mama?” Kit asked.
    None of this had gone the way she planned.
    “Nothing,” she said. “Sorry. I’m just ...not myself.”
    Not who I want to be, she thought.
    She pulled up to a red light and leaned against the window. Traffic splashed across the road, a sea of brake lights. The signal turned green. No one moved.





Marcia Eppich-Harris brief bio

    Marcia Eppich-Harris has published fiction in Johnny America, Spelk, The Avenue, So It Goes, and Across the Margin, where her short story, ‘Play Ball,’ was chosen for the ‘ATM Best of 2016, Fiction’ list. Marcia teaches literature at Marian University.












Mimosa

Adel Aaron

    “You’re ten minutes late. Why?”
    Frank’s question took her by surprise. If only Claire could tell him she hadn’t wanted to be late. That some things were simply beyond her control.
    So many things were beyond her control lately. Certainly, she hadn’t wanted to move to this hole in the wall. But she’d had to or she would’ve been laid off. She hadn’t wanted to call her old friend, Elaine. She’d done it anyway. What difference had it made that calling Elaine, the owner of a four-bedroom condominium in the town to which Claire had had to move, was an act of desperation? Back at home, she’d kept her house. Claire told herself that all she needed were a few months of good luck; she’d find a new job and be able to get back to the small, cozy house she’d bought only a few years before. Although, in the end, she had made a good deal for one of the guest bedrooms with a small bathroom, heaven knew how much she hadn’t wanted to live with Elaine and her husband, Albert. Even for a few months. Even for a day. But it had been beyond her control.

* * *

    Claire was thinking. It was barely 5:00 a.m. She was already dressed. She thought of her intolerable work situation. The difficulties of her new home environment were so frustrating that a job offer couldn’t come fast enough.
    She heard a noise in the hallway outside her room. Claire shut her eyes and listened closely. She wanted to slip into hiding, like a hand inside a leather glove. A moment later there was a knock on her door. She didn’t answer.
    “Are you sleeping?” The male voice sounded suppliant.
    She opened the door and their eyes met. Claire, barely five feet tall, had to look up. She was dressed in a buttoned-up white shirt and a fashionably tight black skirt that was short enough to allow his eye access to her shapely legs. She stood there before him like a desired toy, soft and vulnerable. In the dim light of the room, her spiky hair made her look more like a punkish boy than a middle-aged woman. She knew why he was here. She was almost certain he wouldn’t touch her or even so much as come closer. Looking at her was exciting enough for him.
    This was not the first time Albert had foisted himself upon Claire. Now he remained in the doorway, towering over her and blocking the way, naked except for a pair of old cotton shorts that barely contained his big belly. He was six feet tall and seriously overweight. His broad shoulders gave an impression of physical strength. His muscular legs were rather short; worn-out, flat slippers exaggerated his bulging calves and big ankles. His rough, intimidating hands reminded her of a lion’s paws. She imagined how much damage he could do with a single angry swipe. His chest was heaving slightly. His large, bare nipples protruded sharply; the sight of them made Claire feel sick to her stomach. He was visibly sweating, and the sharp odor of his body further nauseated her. She had to end this as quickly as possible.
    Claire forced a smile. “Good morning.” She tried to sound nonchalant, but she knew her mere presence in the condo aroused him. It’s not my fault, she thought. I’ve done absolutely nothing to provoke his cravings. My conscience is clear.
    She never had been able to toy with a man even when she wanted to. She was always jealous of the cold-blooded coquettes who knew precisely how to play their cards. Flirtation wasn’t her strength. At social events she would intentionally disappear into the background, leaving others with no particular memory of her. She presented no real threat to other women, especially not to those who were masters at marking their territories with teasing laughter, innuendos, and plunging necklines. Claire tended to fold inward like a mimosa, the sensitive tropical plant with leaves that moved and withered when touched. Except that Claire withdrew deep within herself; so much so that few ever guessed how fearful she was of being hurt. The knocks she had suffered in life still pained her. Never had Claire realized how some of her own traits made her extra vulnerable, nor had she ever learned how to put a stop to unwanted attention.
    She closed her eyes and recalled a voice from the past: “Come closer, child. Come, your uncle wants to hug you. You know how lonely I get. Ever since your Aunt Lisa had the stroke and became paralyzed, I have not been the same. I am a broken man. You are a smart girl; you understand me. You should feel sorry for me.” Hungry, rough hands would pull her skinny body between his legs. She would feel his chubby fingers running along her back and instinctively press her arms against her prepubescent body, trying to protect her flat chest. Feeling her resistance and hating to waste precious time, he would quickly move downward, touching her legs, then forcing his red, angry nozzle between them, rubbing it against her pink flesh.
    He would aim his lips at hers but rarely scored; silently she would struggle, turning her face away. No matter! He was excited just to be near her; touching her was for him like holding a winning lottery ticket. He was satisfied with anything: the corner of her mouth, her cheeks, or her young neck. It was hard to find privacy in a small apartment with five people, never mind the kind of privacy his innocent mischiefs, as he called them, required. And so the entire episode rarely lasted more than ten minutes.
    Sensing movement behind closed doors, he would half-beg, half-order: “Don’t tell anybody!” And just like that, she would be free. Even now, so many years later, she remembered his hairy fingers with their short, bitten nails; the impatient, craving eyes running over her body; the moist, drooping lower lip; and his saggy, unshaven cheeks. His breath was heavy with tobacco and onion, and the utter repulsiveness of his entire being made him resemble an old, vulgar satyr. Through the small opening between the door and its frame, she would see how he sat motionless on his old kitchen stool, smiling at his dirty thoughts and enjoying the feelings she brought out in him. Like a delicious meal served with a fruity young wine, the flavors of the last few minutes were still lingering on his tongue. Unsatisfied, brooding, with a rising desire to take her by force, he would almost be choking on his saliva.
    Today, Albert was making Claire feel like she was that ten-year-old girl again. Though she was much older now, she was still alone with her troubles. She looked at the fat figure in the doorway and sought to end this latest confrontation before it could begin.
    “I’m going to work now.”
    “It’s still dark outside. Why are you going to the office so early?”
     He is out of his mind, she said to herself, but out loud she merely replied, “I have a lot of work to do.”
    “Really? That much work?” His eyes were half-shut. She noticed a bulging vein on his neck; it looked as if it might burst. She turned away. She was not afraid; she was simply tired of this and all her other problems. She wanted to be left alone. Instead, he stood in her way, forcing himself upon her, demanding her attention, behaving so ridiculously that she wanted to slap him hard on his round, greasy cheeks.
    “Come. I’ll make you a cup of coffee so you don’t fall asleep behind the wheel.” All this time he had been gazing up and down her body. Claire wanted to scream, Get out! at the top of her lungs, but instead she said calmly, “It’s okay. Thank you, though. I’ll be fine.”
    “No, let’s have coffee together. Besides, I need to ask you something important.”
    She wanted to shut the door in his face. She stood there for a few seconds, waiting for the wave of anger to pass.
    “Okay. Why don’t you start making the coffee? I’ll be right there.”
    He didn’t move.
    Ah, what a morning! She picked up her computer bag. “Come on, Albert, let’s go to the kitchen.” She wanted him to go away, to disappear.
    He left her a small opening and she walked out hastily, slipping by him without even closing the door, as that would’ve allowed him another few seconds of intense closeness. To her disgust, their bodies briefly touched.
    Why am I doing this? The last thing I want to do is please him. I should confront him now! I should demand that he stop going into my room when I am not there. I know he goes through my underwear, my makeup kit. How dare he! She didn’t know whether to scream or cry. Actually, she wanted to do both.
    “I wanted to ask you something important. I . . . Elaine? You aren’t asleep?”
    Claire raised her eyes and saw him looking sheepishly behind her. She turned around and there was Elaine in her colorless old nightgown. The corners of her old friend’s lips pursed, giving her face a cautious and dissatisfied look.
    When Elaine spoke, her voice was as dull as her nightgown. “Why are you holding her up? She should be at work by now. Shouldn’t you, dear?”
    “Oh my. Yes, I should. Thanks anyway for the coffee, and you two enjoy your day!” As she was leaving, Claire felt two anxious pairs of eyes on the back of her head. They were burning through her like a laser. Why do I feel guilty, as if I’ve done something inappropriate? Nonsense! I did nothing wrong. Nothing!
    By the time she arrived at the office, Claire felt exhausted, as if she had already worked the entire day. Tuesday mornings were especially unpleasant as she always dreaded the prospect of having her weekly meeting with Frank, her boss. Outgoing and funny, he was very popular with the female population of his department. Oddly enough, he paid little attention to Claire. Yet when she spoke, he listened; his answers were sharp, sometimes almost angry. The strangest part of their adversarial relationship was that she nevertheless liked him. Why, she thought, am I attracted to a nasty piece of work like him? Sometimes she felt as if his eyes were following her, though she couldn’t be sure. She found herself thinking about him more often than she cared to admit.
    The time for the meeting had arrived. She knocked on the door of Frank’s office.
    “Come in. Sit down.” He put his feet up on the desk while leaning back in his big leather chair. Frank was a good-looking man. His close-shaven skin was smooth and unwrinkled except for the slightest hint of crow’s feet about his eyes. Those large, dark eyes were nicely shaped; their expression could turn quickly from inquisitive to openly mocking. The best part of his face was his mouth, his full lips sexy and suggestive.
    Claire sat in front of him, thinking his back would definitely hurt if he didn’t soon change his sitting position. They were looking at each other face-to-face, with a certain amount of mutual curiosity.
    “You’re ten minutes late. Why?”
    Claire wanted to tell him about all the morning troubles she simply couldn’t control. But she changed her mind: “I was on the phone with the IT help desk.”
    “That’s no excuse.” He was studying her, an intense look on his face. “I was in a much better mood earlier and now I’m irritated.” He paused to see what effect his words had upon her. Then he continued to push. “Now I won’t agree to anything you’re about to ask me for. You missed your chance by ten minutes.”
    “Oh?” She couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.
    His phone rang. He checked the incoming number, then let the call go to voice mail. “I approved your attending the CMS conference in D.C. You’ll be presenting.” He looked at the calendar. “Give or take, it’s about seven months from now; you should have plenty of time to prepare. I hope that makes you happy.” As she remained silent, he continued. “I won’t be going, so you’ll need to cover for me.” He marked something in his calendar. When he spoke again, his voice betrayed his agitation. “Aren’t you going to thank me?”
    “Thank you?” She was taken aback. “I’m speechless.”
    “Really? I didn’t think I’d live to see such a phenomenon.” He continued to study her. An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Finally, he sat straight in his chair. “So, are you getting acclimated?”
    “Yes. I’m all good now.” She too straightened her back against her chair.
    “I’m glad. By the way, are you still renting?”
    “Yes.” His patronizing tone caused her to cringe a little inside.
    “Alone?” He had been playing absently with his glasses. Now he stopped and stared hard at her.
    She merely raised her eyebrows at him.
    “I mean, don’t you feel lonely?”
    “Lonely? Never.”
    “Hmm . . . I get emails from you late at night. Do you ever relax, or go out? There’s a great bar across the street. They have decent food, cheap drinks too. . . . You should check it out sometime. I go there on Friday nights. Do you like bars?”
    “Not particularly.” She had never been this clipped with him before.
    “What do you like, then?” He appeared calm, yet Claire thought she detected impatience in his voice. He plowed ahead. “Drive a mile down Main Street and you’ll find plenty of great restaurants. I could give you a lift if you need one.”
    “I’m sure you could.” She was beginning to withdraw within herself again, like a mimosa that’s been touched.
    “Would you like me to?” His voice had taken on an urgent tone, almost demanding.
    Claire’s eyes widened. “Are you out of your mind?” For an instant, she was frightened by the words she had just uttered. Yet she still liked him; it was too bad he was such a brute.
    “On the contrary. I’m totally focused.” His smile disappeared, replaced by a look of annoyance. “I’m willing to show you a good time.”
    “Really?”
    “Yes. I’m offering you my help. You should be grateful.” He leaned forward a bit.
    “Are you drunk?”
    “No, I’m quite sober. Are you paying attention?” He got up and went around his desk, coming much closer to her than he ever had before. “I want to see what’s beneath the masquerade you put on every day.”
    She got up to leave.
    “Don’t even think about it. Sit down!” There was a dangerous flash of anger in his brown eyes. She sat down, looking at him with a mocking smile.
    The calmer she stayed, the angrier he became. “Look at yourself. You walk around here with your nose in the air, as if you were getting a chairman’s award. I hate to burst your bubble, but no one’s staging a gala benefit in your honor.”
    “No, not a gala, but a first-class circus performance.” Claire had suddenly found her voice. “Very entertaining, I must admit. I’m especially enjoying the clowns.”
    “Are you calling me a clown?”
    “With all due respect, I’ll take a rain check on answering that. But what do you think of yourself?”
    “I asked you first.”
    “All right, if you insist. The truth is that you are still a clown in training. But don’t take it to heart or sink into a depression over it. I don’t mean it as a criticism. Please don’t be hard on yourself. Keep it up and eventually you’ll be hysterically funny.”
    “Not bad!” He charged forward. “Allow me to return your frankness. Your sweet, quiet tone of voice doesn’t fool anyone. Your obnoxious attitude and passive resistance are very irritating. Believe me, you aren’t as smart as you think you are! You’re stubborn, opinionated, and you refuse to follow simple instructions. You’re below average.”
    Frank was tall. He always wore white Ralph Lauren shirts; he liked to roll up the sleeves to reveal his impressive biceps. He was fifty-four years old but looked younger; his stylish haircut made him appear more youthful still.
    “Look, it doesn’t have to be this way.” His voice was softer now. “It actually could be very pleasant for both of us.” Quite sure of himself, he sat on the edge of the desk, almost touching her legs with his knees.
    “What exactly do you have in mind?”
    He took the pad she was holding out of her hand. “Would you like to spend the evening with me?”
    His cocky attitude was too much for Claire. “You must be dreaming, or running a fever. Oh, wait! I get it. Of course, your secretary! Is Janet old news? Already? That was quick. Or are you looking for an alternative bedmate while Janet’s vacationing in Europe with her husband?”
    He smiled but didn’t move. “Are we playing a guessing game?”
    She stood up and was now even closer to him; there was no way to get to the door unless he made way for her. He stood up, leaned over, and whispered in her ear: “Don’t be a fool.” He was beginning to lose control. Her physical closeness, the perfume she wore, her stubborn and yet almost playful resistance were giving him signals he was unable to read with any certainty. Had she unintentionally provoked him?
    Slowly, he took her by the waist and forced her to come closer still. She pushed both hands against his chest. It was a silent fight she was about to lose.
    “I’ll scream.”
    “I don’t think so.”
    “Go to hell.” She bit him on the arm—hard, enough to leave tooth marks on his skin. For a few seconds he still held her tightly; then he let her go.
    He looked at her and not at his arm, as if he felt no pain. She was panting, standing in front of him, filling the room with the shock wave of her suppressed emotions. It was like silent thunder.
    “Don’t go,” he said, looking down. She would’ve laughed in his face if she hadn’t been so angry. For a moment she looked at him with disdain. She left quietly; the door slowly closed behind her.
    His lips were parched, his throat dry. He moved her chair back against the wall. She had left no trace of her presence, and yet he still saw her; his mind couldn’t let her go. He rolled down his sleeves, vividly remembering her hands holding the pad. She wore no wedding band. He stood in front of the computer, thankful his phone was silent.
    Right before lunch, the HR manager called and left a message, asking him to come see her. He had expected the call. He turned off his computer, shredded all the paperwork on top of his desk, grabbed his car keys, sunglasses, and her pad, and went out.

* * *

    “Hey, you look tired, babe.” The woman with huge fake eyelashes and nails invited him to sit down. “So, have you heard?”
    He shook his head.
    “She’s leaving! Frank, did you hear what I just said? I expected a big, fat smile from you!”
    “I’m sorry, Amy. I don’t understand. What happened?”
    “Your princess came to my office and told me that she was leaving! Buh-bye. Au revoir!” She paused, waiting for his reaction.
    “Did she say why?” Frank sounded surprised.
    “That’s the thing: no! She said . . . let me see, I jotted it down . . . ah, here it is: ‘I overestimated the whole thing and, clearly, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. It’s beyond my control.’ What a stupid thing to say! She shouldn’t have ever come here. She should’ve taking her separation package and left. We spent so much money on relocating her. And boy, she was expensive! We could’ve hired two recent graduates and paid them less than what she was making alone. And the way she was dressed!” Amy threw her hands in the air; her long synthetic nails made cold, clicking sound. “She was a fricking outsider. Too bad I couldn’t tell her how much you helped to finally push her out. I saw it!” Amy’s lips widened in an oily smile: “This witch with a capital B is so full of it, she was oblivious all this time. Congratulations! Now I can finally report to the top that it’s done! Look, you deserve a pat on the back.”
    “What else did she say?” He felt an urge to put an immediate stop to the diarrhea of words and animated gesticulations that hurt his eyes.
    Amy dropped her substantial body into the chair. “I told her to talk to you, but she said . . . aha! Here . . .” Amy read from her notes: “Frank wasn’t feeling well and I didn’t want to add any more stress as it was already a stressful morning for him.”
    She burst into wild laughter. “Get it?” Amy couldn’t stop laughing and clapping her chubby hands with excitement. When she finally stopped, she picked up a tissue to wipe away tears of joy.
    “Is she coming back?”
    “No! I told her to pack and leave. See?” Amy jiggled a badge in front of his eyes. “That’s it! She’s gone and I’ll make sure she never comes back here again! Are you feeling okay? Maybe for once that nut was right: you do look stressed. What’s the matter? Missing her already?” She howled with laughter that made her eyelashes flip like the wings of a giant moth.
    “I might be getting the flu. I’d better go home before I give it to you.”
    “Good idea. Feel better, and hey! Congratulations, man! You finally did it.”
    Frank got into his car. He drove slowly, trying to think about nothing. He knew that when he got home, he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep; insomnia had always given him a bad taste in his mouth.
    Claire, on the other hand, was thinking about every detail. Luckily, the condo was empty when she got there. She was ready in a matter of minutes, packing only those items she considered essential. Finally, she wrote a thank-you note to Elaine, including a few lines about her car, which she would leave with her. When she got into the yellow cab, she pressed her back deep into the leather seat, away from the window, afraid to be recognized by the neighbors. Only after they crossed the bridge and merged into the highway did she draw her first deep breath. It started to rain. The wipers were making painfully screeching noises. The streaks of dirty water running down the windows from the roof of the cab looked like old ripped curtains. It was cold and ugly outside.
    They wound up caught in terrible traffic and she almost missed her flight.

* * *

    It was early in the morning when she got home. She dropped her suitcase in the hallway. On the way to the bedroom she took off her shoes, jeans, stockings, and everything else until she was naked. Exhausted, she crawled into bed and was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
    A phone call woke her up sometime later; she refused to answer it or even move a muscle. An hour after that, still naked, she went into the bathroom. She turned on the shower and stood motionless under the hot water. While still at the airport she had received an email telling her that the job offer she had been counting on had fallen through. What now? On Monday she would start looking all over again. She would have to begin making calls, asking people for help. If push came to shove, she would need to rent this tiny house and move in with her cousin. It would be a little tight, but hopefully it wouldn’t be for long. Although that was exactly how she had convinced herself to move in with Elaine. What a nasty situation she was in! But she’d get through it. She always did.
    A wave of self-pity rose so quickly that she couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. They streamed down her face, and she let the steaming water wash them away. The pictures of shells on a beach that decorated the shower curtain seemed to stare at her. She wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes, feeling that, somehow, the shells were judging her. She turned and faced the wall, still sobbing.
    The water was getting cold; she had used up all the hot water. Blinded by tears, she found the faucet and turned off the taps. The showerhead leaked a few heavy drops and then fell silent. The pipes behind the tiles gave a last low sigh. There was no other sound but her sobbing. Then she caught her breath. He had called her obnoxious, below average. Was that what she was?
    She shrank within herself, thinking of how others perceived her. Then she recovered a little. Whatever, she thought. I can’t change now. I’m too old. The flood of tears dried up. Then she raised her shoulders as if she were about to start sobbing all over again. But she didn’t; it was just a last spasm. She took a towel and pressed it against her hairline. Then she looked in the mirror, where she saw the swollen face of someone she refused to recognize.
    The rest of the day she spent paying bills, answering emails, and cleaning. She was busy enough that she forgot to eat. In the twilight, she felt a bad headache coming on. A hangover, she thought for a moment. A hangover from too much reality.
    Claire went to the kitchen and made herself a Turkish coffee. She stood by the window, watching two adorable squirrels joyfully playing around the tree. She didn’t envy them. She envied Janet, Frank’s secretary. The cup in her hand grew cold. She looked at it without interest, drank the cold coffee at once, like a shot of vodka.

* * *

    Handsome and confident, he still stood on the stage. “If no one else has any questions, I’m happy to introduce the next presenter, Mark Levitz.” Thirstily, she watched him walking back to his seat.
    Coming to the CMS conference, she thought, was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, she’d had to travel to Washington on her own dime and the trip hadn’t been cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Long ago she had persuaded herself that coming here would be a good networking technique that could end up with permanent employment; she was contracting and earning just enough to make ends meet. But deep down she knew the real reason she was here. She’d had to see him. She was hoping to fix what she thought she had broken seven months before. She couldn’t afford to fail now.
    Claire barely listened to the next presenter. Behind the pole, she carefully watched him, her heart jumping every time he turned around and looked back. When the lunch break was announced, she quickly got up and went to find him. He stood with his back to the exit.
    “Hello, Frank.”
    He turned around. She could tell he was surprised to see her. She always had liked his open smile. He looked sharp in his expensive jacket. And she noticed other women were looking at him with interest. Aware of how quickly she lost all the color in her face, she couldn’t decide immediately if he was eyeing her inquisitively or mockingly. To keep her poise, Claire almost frenziedly clung to her bag.
    “Nice presentation.” She felt a tightening in her throat. She broke through her shyness and complimented him. “And you look . . . nice as well.”
    “Thank you. You too.” He bowed slightly to her in approval. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
    She contemplated his comment for a moment and then quickly said, “I came because I wanted to see you. I knew I would find you here; you were listed as a presenter.” He raised his eyebrows. Blushing despite herself and breathing with difficulty, she asked, “Are you free tonight? Would you like to have dinner with me?”
    He hesitated for a moment. “I’m leaving tonight. I’m afraid it won’t be possible.”
    “How about lunch, then?” She stood very close to him, extremely embarrassed, burning inside, waiting for his verdict.
    “Now, you mean? Look, if you want to chat, we could...” He gestured to the chairs along the wall.
    She moistened her lips before she replied. “I would like to talk to you in private. Please.” She was out of breath, as if she had just run for a long distance.
    “Sure. Walk with me. I know an empty room where we can talk.”
    The sleeveless navy blue dress she wore emphasized her small waist and her beautiful long neck. For the first time he noticed how fresh and clean her skin looked. As they turned the corner, he said sincerely, “If you’re still looking for a job, I can give you a few solid leads. Some of my friends are hiring. I could recommend you to them.”
    She caught no irony in his voice. He was pleasant, gentlemanly. “Thank you.” She felt the pulse of her heart inside her throat.
    He invited her into the empty room, used earlier in the morning for late registrations. “After you.” She walked in and he followed her. Then he shot the door with his foot. He leaned against the wall, his arms folded across his chest.
    “Well, I’m all ears, Claire. What is it you wanted to say?”
    A feeling resembling riding on a swing went over her. She felt a little off-kilter.
    “What did you drink back there? You told me you didn’t like bars.” He leaned forward and held her firmly until she finally regained her composure. “Are you okay?” He let go of her but seemed ready to give her his support if she needed it.
    Instinctively, she closed her eyes. Ah, how much she wanted him to draw her up to him. For a moment, the temptation to drop to the floor or pretend she was falling was high; he would have to help her up, he would touch her, hug her; he would say something that would make her want to cry. Cry from the desire to have him, as he was, and not wanting to share him with anyone, with the rest of the world. An icy calm had fallen over her, but beneath it her thoughts were flying at full stretch.
    “Hear me out, please. You see...” She had started slowly. She was afraid the right words would fail her. She knew what was at stake. “I was thinking why I didn’t accept your—” she stumbled for a moment—“proposition. I’ve been angry with myself because I could never understand why I ... I behaved so eccentrically. Normally I don’t bite.” It was a meek attempt to relieve the tension. She felt stupid; she was trying too hard.
    He smiled softly, almost sympathetically. “That’s okay. I deserved it. Is that what you wanted to talk about?”
    “Wait!” Her face grew even paler than before, all her movements strained by the effort of coping with the feelings that interfered with her thoughts. She stretched out her hand. “You’re standing there and smiling, thinking I’m the most irrational person on earth.”
    Intuitively, he understood what a great tribulation she was in. He felt a pang in his chest and instantly the room was too hot.
    “I must tell you what has tortured me since we saw each other last. For a long time I tried to figure out what happened. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. Are you interested to know?” She looked at him, her back very straight, her cheeks on fire.
    He nodded his head, still smiling with his eyes.
    “I was angry with you because I was...”
    A bar of silence felt between them. He slowly moved away from the wall and came closer to her. “What is it, Claire? What did you want to tell me?” He didn’t sound patronizing. His tone was kind, patient.
    She looked at him, feeling how much she wanted him. “I...I was in love with you,” she said quietly. “And...I simply wanted you to ask me. If you had, I would have done anything for you. I still would. You don’t even need to ask me anymore. I’m telling you, as is.” She was afraid to look at him. She was afraid to find a little spark of ridicule, of laughter in his eyes. She looked down at the carpet, not noticing a wine stain right under her heels. In fact, she didn’t see anything at all because the pain she felt was taking over her entire being. As if she were mortally wounded. Yes, she might as well be mortally wounded. And yet how easily she could be cured.
    His eyes narrowed and he frowned, as if he needed to concentrate, to study through his glasses this rare specimen in front of him, the one he had mistaken for a simple white chamomile. He was astonished she had opened before him in this way.
    “Oh, Claire, Claire.” He hugged her ever so gently, as if she were a little girl lost in a big, busy town. He brushed his closely shaved cheek against her short hair that resembled sharp hedgehog’s needles, except, he discovered, they were soft and smelled like mimosa. A sweet, painful compassion filled him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
    “I’m so sorry, Claire.” He waited for a moment, trying to find the right words. “Please, try to be reasonable. You were my employee. We weren’t friends in any real sense, any more than I’m friends with any of my other employees. If I weren’t your boss, we would never have had any relationship at all. And, of course, we never really had any relationship. I don’t know you all that well. And what I do know about you from our interactions tells me that, at the end of the day, we probably wouldn’t be simpatico anyway.”
    He felt her body tighten in his hands.
    “It’s not true. I always, always loved you.” As she said it, she raised her head and saw how intently he listened; but alas, he simply didn’t hear her.
    “Claire! I’m not husband material. Please believe me.”
    “I’m not asking you to marry me. I just want to be with you. Please allow me. I love you.” Now she looked at him. She forgot her pride, taking upon herself the yoke of shame. But she didn’t care. She wanted to be with him so badly. There was nothing in life she wanted more. Her eyes stared, large, troubled, feverish in her thin face.
    “You don’t even know me. I’m not a nice person. I would ruin your life. I’m not worthy of you.”
    “I don’t care,” she whispered, softly and bitterly.
    There was an embarrassed silence. His fingers touched her wet face.
    “Claire!” Then again: “Claire!” He crashed his teeth together so violently, the muscles in his cheeks stood out.
    She held her courage in both hands, summoned up her will, and took the last step. She sought the simplest words, but they grew as she went on, unable to stop. “You have no idea what you did. I think about you all the time. I think about you when I’m at work, when I drive, when I take a shower, watch TV, read. The worst is when I try to sleep. I think about you touching me, kissing me, making love to me. I think that if you were ever to hurt me, I would forgive you. I would love you even more. Because I believe I can make you love me back. I know I can. Give me a chance, please.” Held by him, she felt she could confess everything and he would understand. She would knock on his heart until he heard her. He must hear her. It was now or never.
    “Claire!” He felt a shiver go down his spine. He took a step back. “Please! I can’t. I don’t love you that way. As people, we are very, very different, and that means that, as a person, you simply don’t particularly interest me. You’re trying to fill a void in your life by pretending I could ever care for you in more than a superficial way. Don’t you understand what an immature way that is to approach life?”
    She stood quietly, shamed, feeling as if he had whipped her naked in front of the entire world. When she finally spoke, her voice was hollow and rusty. “I understand.” She avoided his eyes.
    Then Claire lifted her head. There was emptiness before her, emptiness behind her. A phrase rang in her head: It’s beyond my control. She swallowed. She needed to leave the room immediately or she would break down in a million pieces. She would simply dissolve. She was very pale and her body felt empty. She held her head high, her gaze straight in front of her.
    She suddenly looked directly at him: “Good-bye, then.” Claire stood there for a few seconds, looking at him, absorbing his face, storing the image in her memory. She pulled herself together sharply. She left quietly; the door slowly closed behind her.
    Frank knew the ways of the world, and he saw clearly enough how the matter really stood. Not that any judge in the world would have found him guilty. But he felt guilty all the same. Guilty and sad.












lost

Janet Kuypers
2/23/17
twitter

teasing      ridicule
trapped in this wretched cycle
I have lost control



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 joining Thom & others on stage and reading her 5 haiku poems “enjoy”, “lost”, “unbounded”, “upside-down” and “enemies” in the intro performance 3/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (Canon Power Shot SX60 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining Thom & others on stage and reading her 5 haiku poems “enjoy”, “lost”, “unbounded”, “upside-down” and “enemies” in the intro performance 3/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.

Obey image copyroight 2016-2017 Janet Kuypers










Blacks and Blues

Amber Shoemake-Doughty

    Alex approached the painting with his feet dragging and arms stiff. Joseph was cutting the painting out of the frame with quick slicing motions, not taking the time to make precise cuts.
    “Joe, I have a bad feeling,” Alex said, eyes darting around the vast open space. “Something just doesn’t seem right.”
    “Really?” Joseph replied, turning around with a box cutter in his hands and a belittling look. “We are robbing a museum, of course it doesn’t seem right.” He returned to his hasty slicing motions.
    “That’s not what I...” Alex’s voice trailed off as his eyes met a painting, dark and covered by the shadow of another painting. He tried to resist the pull of his feet, but he walked toward the painting anyway.
    Standing in front of the painting, Alex’s eyes lit up. The art work was so deliberate, as if the artist knew from the beginning that this painting would be something special. Alex put his hand on his chin and examined the painting from top to bottom. The colors ranged from blue to black and an eerie grey that Alex stared into.
    Joseph finished cutting the painting out of the frame, leaving a bare spot where the painting used to hang. “See, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, rolling up the painting. He ignored the flakes of paint that fell to the ground like snowflakes on his feet. “Okay, so now we have the Rembrandt, so we need to find a good escape route and...” Joseph turned around and glared at Alex, who still stood, feet planted in front of the painting.
    “Are you kidding me man?” Joseph asked, stepping off the ladder and facing Alex. “Since when did you give a shit about art?”
    Alex didn’t move or react. His eyes were glazed over and his body was stiff, much like the painting in front of him.
    “Dude, seriously?” Joseph walked toward Alex, his feet bouncing as if being helped off the ground. “If you want this one so bad we’ll take it too.” Once the painting was in view, he dropped the box cutter. The blues and blacks of the painting were solid and meaningful. The gray began to move in waves across the painting, dancing and reflecting off the men’s eyes.
    Alex and Joseph felt a pulling sensation, which neither of them resisted. They put a hand up, reaching towards the flowing grey tones. Suddenly, a flash of smoke filled the area around the painting, which evaporated within seconds. Once cleared, there were no traces of the men or the paintings in their possession. The only thing left was the dark painting on the wall, which stood still.
    The next morning, the director of the museum called it one of the most devastating losses of art in the century. She wept in front of cameras, and begged for the return of the work. Once alone, she approached the painting in the vast room filled with empty frames. The blues and blacks covered the grey behind it. She smiled, rubbing her hands together like a praying mantis. Everything was calm in the empty gallery.












Pooldead

Allan Onik

    On the deck Pooldead perused through his box of issues. His costume was a pink jail jumpsuit with a letter “P” stamped on the chest. A pretty blond in a bikini sat near the water in a pool chair.
    “Just looking?” she asked.
    “There’s a lot of issues in my collection,” Pooldead said.
    “What is the first and most valuable issue about? And most importantly, is it in mint condition?”
    “Yes. Mint I assure you. It’s about the repugnance of societal assholism. Is Colossus in the Pool house?”
    “He’s writing a novel in there. Just like Stephen King.”
    “I think he has a best seller in him,” Pooldead said. He chained the iron ball to his ankle.
    “Looking forward to this?” She bit into a freshly peeled banana.
     “Of course,” Pooldead said. He jumped into the abyss.












jumped

Janet Kuypers
2/26/17
twitter

black and blue, prison
surrounded me —     so I jumped
into the abyss



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 2/26/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her 2017 haiku poem “jumped” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX60 camera).
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video 2/26/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her 2017haiku poem “jumped” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 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).
video videonot yet rated

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).
videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.

jumping image copyright 1995-2017 Janet Kuypers










Theft, Hope, and A Coffee Stain

Stephon Sherrod

    Agent Kelly had been hopeful for a lot of things, but never had he put so much hope in a few specs of dust. The special agent had gotten into the routine of walking into the forensics lab and asking the same question every afternoon for the past five weeks. Hazelnut latte in hand per the norm. The difference was that he got called to the lab today.
    “Kingsley, tell me you’ve got something?” Kelly said.
    The bald and bearded scientist, spun around in his desk chair, excited. “Like you wouldn’t believe, Jeff.”
    Kelly stopped in mid sip. “Is it the Rembrandt?” The coffee jerked out the cup and onto his white shirt. He didn’t notice.
    “No, but I think, and I stress think, that we’ve found the Vermeer.”
    “Adam, how sure are you?”
    “I’m about ninety-three percent positive. There is room for doubt, but it’s a small margin.”
    Without saying another word, Kelly walked to the desk, set his coffee down, and picked up the phone. After a ring or two he said, “Yes, this is Special Agent Kelly of the FBI. I need to meet with a William Youngworth. I’ll be on a plane in two hours.”

    Billy and his attorney sat in an interrogation room waiting for another agent to arrive. The light gave the room a blue hue, which matched the cold temperature of the room. The sweat under his armpits would make you think otherwise. His leg shook under the table.
    “You nervous, Mr. Youngworth?” said the attorney. A plaid-checkered tie that resembled an apple pie, hung from his neck and he wore thin framed glasses.
    “How do you expect me to do this, huh?” Billy said. His northern accent was coming through.
    “I already said I’d work with them for immunity and the reward, and now you want me to renege?” He shakes his head and put his thumbnail in his mouth.
    “It’s not going to be easy Mr. Youngworth.” The attorney placed one hand onto his shoulder. “You do this and we give you more than just five million.”
    “I know that, but how am I going to sell this one?”
    “You’re a criminal, Mr. Youngworth.”
    Billy snapped his head to the slick-haired attorney and squinted his eyes at the hand on his shoulder.
    With a chuckle, the man removed his hand from Billy’s shoulder and pushed up his glasses. “Just think of the money, Billy. You’ll do just fine.”
    As the attorney leaned back in his chair, the door opened and in walked a man in a suit with a brown spec on his shirt and took a seat.
    “Good evening, gentlemen. I’m Special Agent Kelly, FBI. I’d like to take you up on that offer of immunity, Mr. Youngworth.”
    “No,” Billy said without hesitation. His shoulders flexed.
    Kelly stared at Billy, mouth slightly ajar. Billy folded his arms once more and remained as still like his volumized hair.
    He closed his eyes and then opened them slowly. “I’m sorry, I don’t think you heard me. We’re willing to –”
    “No I heard you,” Kelly said. “I think that you didn’t hear me. Or at least, not what you wanted to hear.”
    Kelly looked at the sketchy lawyer behind Billy and then back to him. “You do realize that there are charges against you already? That they’ll stick if you give up immunity?”
    “Yeah, but,” Billy said, shaking his head and sucked his teeth. “I’ll be out by the time you suits do anything.”
    “We were investigating the claim that the specs of dust you gave us were legitimate, because the art was no longer in your possession.”
    “I said my piece. I’m not gonna work with someone who isn’t even presentable.” Billy pointed to the stained coffee spec and snickers. “You guys are a joke. You need me and I’m not gonna work with you.”
    Kelly closed his eyes and crinkled his forehead. He felt like the trail fell through his grasp like water that flowed through rocks.
    “You are going to give up immunity, and five million dollars, because of impatience?” he asked.
    “My client is done talking for now Agent Kelly,” said the attorney. He stood up, pushed up his glasses, and patted Billy on his shoulder once more. “You’ve done enough Mr. Youngworth. Our business is done.”
    Billy tensed his shoulders at his touch. The agent’s eyes traveled back and forth between the two men, perplexed. Billy took a swift breath and then got up from his chair. The screech of the metal chair echoed in the room. The attorney patted Billy on the back as a gesture of “good job Billy, good job.” The two exited the room, Billy’s posture was relaxed and had a swagger about it. Kelly remained with fingers clasped and faced toward the smooth wall of the interrogation room.
    As the two left the room, the attorney, with hand still on shoulder, said, “That went well, Mr. Youngworth. Just stick to that and we’ll hold up our end.”












Prompt two

Eric Wade

    Mark is outside on the patio pacing back and forth agonizing over meeting his birth parents. Exhausted from travel, his mother Sarah, the woman that adopted him, sleeps peacefully inside. After chemo therapy, she insisted that she make the trip with him to meet his birth parents. After wearing out the concrete, he walks back into the room, to locate the bottle of wine his mother requested that he take as a gift. He grabs the wine from the dresser and smirks to himself.
    “After today, I will never have to see them ever again.”
     Mark grabs the bottle, and tiptoes over to his mom’s bed. He moves her hair away from her face and kisses her gently on the forehead, before going to meet the people who discarded him as a child.
    Three hours later, Marks comes back to the hotel. The room is dark and filled with a stench of vomit causing him to gag uncontrollably. He turns on the light and sees his mother leaning over the trash can next to the bed. He helps her up, grabs her robe from the chair, and finds a few specks of blood on her pillow.
    “I should have been here with you instead of wasting time with those people,” says Mark.
    “Speaking of those people, how did it go?” says Sarah.
    “Not very far. Do we have any food, I’m starving?” He turns around to see if there are any snacks in the room.
    “Mark, they are my only hope, our only hope. I need to know that you are taken care of in case I don’t make it.”
    “You are going to be fine; I don’t need to get to know them.” He brushes it off like its not a big deal.
    “Can you do it for me, please?”
    “Mom, you are too trusting. What if they are just out for our money?”
    “They said they wanted a second chance with you. I have to believe their telling the truth. I just wanted you to meet your birth parents”. “I’m sorry mom, but they relinquished that right a long time ago.”
    Shaking his head, he goes out on the patio to smoke a cigarette. He leans over the gate and turns his gaze to the activities of the ocean. She grabs her bottle of wine, a plastic cup, and her cell phone. She drags her body out of bed to take on the laborious task of walking outside to keep Mark company. The smell of the ocean and the warmth of the sun blanket her ailing body as she pours herself a little wine.
    “I am glad that you didn’t mix up the two bottles,” says his mother.
    “I marked theirs, so I wouldn’t get confused,” says Mark.
    “Good, because you know how forgetful you are.” Smiling and gently squeezing his hand. “I am so thankful that you are my son.”
    His bottom lip quivers and he lowers his face into his hands. “I don’t want to lose you mom. What will I do without you?”
    At that moment, Mark’s grudge for his sperm donors grew to malice within his heart. His mother was the third family that he was sent to. Mark was so much of a handful that he had lost all hope of ever finding a home. But unlike the others, she vowed that this was his home forever. She changed his whole life.
    After a few moments of silence, his mother says, “baby, I need you to be okay with this.”
    “Mother, you are fighting for your life. How can I be okay with leaving you?”
    “Sweetheart, death will meet us all one day. All we can do is embrace it.”
    “Listen, mom, I love you, and I am going to be by your side until the end.”
    “I love you too, son.”
    He rubs her cheek and gently dries the corner of her eyes. He looks away at the ocean and inhales deeply. The sun is beginning to set and her face feels stiff and cold underneath his fingers.
    “Tell me how things went today.”
    “Nothing to tell.”
    “Since you won’t talk I will just have to call myself.” After her third time calling she gets no answer. She hung up the phone, and took her last sip of wine.
    “Did something happen?”
    “Huh?” shifting his eyes back and forth. “Why do you say that? Is it because they didn’t answer the phone?”
    “You look guilty.”
    “Me guilty, of what? Maybe their phone is just dead.”
    Her eyes roll to the back of her head. She leans slightly forward. Dropping her chin into her chest. She slumps over to the side. He quickly catches her before she falls. She regains consciousness. She stares off into the distance. Fear glosses over her eyes as she struggles to speak. Her body shakes violently. He lays her down on the ground. Foam begins to form across her mouth. He takes the bottle of wine out of her hand and notices the label.
    “Oh, my God, what have I done!” He cried. Mother this was not supposed to happen to you.”












Is It Safe To Come Inside?

S. J. Lebow

    The bass player looked down at her face and remembered that he had forgotten to put new litter in the cat box.
    “There’s going to be a mess when I get home,” he whispered to her.
     As he looked at her he thought about how pretty she had been when he had picked her up at the club that night.
    But now her eyes were red and swollen shut.
    “It’s all your fault,” he said to the girl. “You know you made me do this, right?”
    He dressed and left her apartment.
    Sally Vesper was starting a career as the first “White Reggae and Country singer”. She had picked up the guitarist at Club Robinette that night who had the unlikely name “Gene Whiskey”.
    “I am the one who asked him back,” she said to herself as she stood in the shower after he was gone.
    Foolishly, she blamed herself.
    “It really is my fault.”
    She took a psychoactive drug and slept for an entire day.
    When she woke up she went through her underwear drawer and found a package of new underwear. She threw out every other pair of panties in the drawer and put on the only new ones she had.
    She was reporting to her new job that day, “Cybernetic Plastic Surgery of Old Miami”.
    “You leave with more than when you came in,” said the internet advertising for the clinic.
    “Welcome to our clinic,” said Doctor Stacie when he came into the examination room. “Did our clinical manager explain what we needed from you?”
    “Yes,” she said. “He told me you needed subjects to attach cybernetic enhancements to their bodies to see how they would work out before you went for full FDA approval.”
    “That’s right,” he said, as he indicated to the nurse anesthetist to begin.
    “You going to wake up with some new part and let’s see how that works out for you.”
    When she woke up from the surgery a few hours later she had an extra mouth on the side of her face.
    “What does it do?” she asked the doctor.
    “We’re experimenting to see if you can talk with your regular mouth,” he said, “and then drink with the other one on the side of your face.”
    “Fair enough,” she said. “Hand me a drink and a phone. We’ll see if I can do both simultaneously.”
    For the next several weeks she came into the clinic and the doctor took off and then put on new cybernetic implants all over her body.
    “We’re going to give you a third eye,” the doctor explained one day. “It will be attached to your pineal gland, at the base of your skull.”
    “After the procedure we going to make you walk backwards for a month,” he said. “Let’s see if you can get around just using that third eye.”
    After months of wearing an extra mouth or an extra eye she approached the doctor one morning at the clinic.
    “I have an idea for the next implant,” she said. “Am I allowed to suggest possible enhancements?”
    “Of course,” he said. “I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
    She explained her plan to him and all he said was, “Fine, come in tomorrow morning. Let’s see what we can do.”
    After weeks of healing she went back to Club Robinette on a Wednesday night.
    “Do you remember me?” she asked the bass player at the end of his set that night.
    “Not really,” he said. “But I’m off now. Can we go back to your place?”
    When they came into her apartment she turned off the lights and lit a single candle.
    A few minutes later he looked down.
    She had an odd expression on her face.
    “Do you know what a Chinese handcuff is?” she asked
    “Oh my God,” he blurted out. “Do you actually have teeth...”
    “Yes,” she whispered in his ear. “In fact, I’m famished. I haven’t eaten anyone all day.”
    As Gene screamed that one last time she blew out the candle and the only light left in the room was the final sliver of a dying moon.





About Rabbi Steven Lebow

    Rabbi Steven Lebow life and work in civil rights have been profiled in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR and CNN. He holds a BA in ancient history from Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio), a Masters in Medieval history from Hebrew Union College (CIncinnati, Ohio), and a Doctorate of Divinity in Jewish and Christian Mysticism from the Jewish Institute of Religion (Jerusalem, Israel).












essence

Janet Kuypers
3/3/17
twitter

transform the essence
make the human inhumane
that reflects your soul



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

Crazy collage copyright 2000-2017 Janet Kuypers










Remember Her

Natalie Crick

When she turns blue
Remember her as sky.

Grey, she is the sea
Leaden, gone,

Still half-asleep,
Dragging death by a string.

It already sounds distant as
The sharp gasp of ghost,

Punishing us, shy thing,
By turning into a light leaf

Or leaping from
The edge again

O so sweetly,
Blood effervescing and receding,

The promise of forever
At the end of every line.
My hands write, poised like a pianist,
And I wait.





About Natalie Crick

    Natalie Crick, from Newcastle in the UK, has found delight in writing all of her life and first began writing when she was a very young girl. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature and plans to pursue an MA at Newcastle this year. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in a range of journals and magazines including Interpreters House, The Chiron Review, Rust and Moth, Ink in Thirds and The Penwood Review. Her work also features or is forthcoming in a number of anthologies, including Lehigh Valley Vanguard Collections 13. This year her poem, ‘Sunday School’ was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.












It Sounded Like a Good Idea

Patricia Walkow

    It sounded like a good idea on paper. Enchanting color photos and italic script graced the substantial, captivating travel brochure:

    “Extend your visit to Peru. After seeing the cultural and historic treasures at Cusco and Machu Picchu, explore the country’s wild side and see nature at its most pure in the Peruvian Amazon region. Your Amazon adventure begins at the equatorial river port of Iquitos, where you will travel by boat to your deep jungle lodge and experience life in the Amazon first-hand.”

    Peru had been a dream of mine, and the Amazon was certainly on my list of places to see. I planned to visit when I was old, and “old” meant thirty. Besides, a trip to the Amazon affords the traveler a certain level of bragging rights. The dream included my husband, Walter. But he had no interest in this particular trip.
    I was disappointed, but would not let it get in the way of my trip.
    So I booked a tour that included just a few other travelers and off I went to Lima, then Cusco high in the stark Alta Plano of the Andes, to lush Machu Picchu, and finally to Iquitos, the Amazon river port.
    At Iquitos, the humidity averaged 115 percent.
    It sounded like a good idea on paper.
    The morning after our arrival at Iquitos, my tour group boarded a metal dugout-style boat, about thirty feet long. There was a palm-thatched canopy shading part of the boat, and as the engine started, the movement generated a welcome breeze.
    The river twisted and turned and seemed to get lost among its own peninsulas and islands, eventually finding its main channel once again. It reminded me of an endless pretzel, a hopeless landscape. No mountains, no sense of direction, as close to lost as I had ever been, and that was with a guide.
    I wondered if I would ever be able to find my way out of here, if I had to.
    Laughing mocha-colored children cavorted on the riverbanks, playing, screaming, teasing, as children do everywhere. Some of them swam, others tried fishing. Mothers washed clothing from colorful plastic buckets.
    Walter, why aren’t you here to see this?” I whined to myself.
    Our lodge, downriver over an hour, would not have electricity and I felt game for the adventure.
    Finally, we alit on a dark, wet beach. Our shoes sunk to the laces in thick, spongy mush, causing a sucking vacuum sound with each step we took to walk up to the lodge, a few hundred feet inland. It sat on stilts on a low rise above the water.
    As my shoes dried to a gritty matte brown, I recalled it had sounded like a good idea to visit the Amazon.
    Immediately, I recognized Iquitos seemed less humid than here at the lodge. I didn’t think that was possible.
    Also, I was completely lost. I knew I was on the planet and on the continent of South America, but I knew little else, and recalled a line from the brochure:

    “...travel by boat to your unique, secluded deep jungle lodge...”

    It was deep, alright.
    The lodge itself was fascinating, but our first order of business was to visit a local village to barter with the inhabitants.
    Apparently, I had failed to read the part of the brochure about trading and was woefully unprepared for any exchange. But the crafts the children made were too good to pass up and I scrounged in my satchel for anything I thought they might like to have. Taking a gamble, I emptied a blue Estée Lauder waterproof zippered makeup case and, held it high in the air, demonstrating how the zipper worked. Immediately, seven arms went up, each offering something to trade. I selected a ceremonial (non-functional) blow gun, wrapped in ocelot fur and bearing long pointed darts with needle-sharp tips.
    The rest of the afternoon was spent in my hand woven hammock, safely suspended from some posts under a thatched pavilion at our lodge. I tried to sleep, but I quickly learned a body resting on a hammock attracted beetles. And apparently, they laughed at DEET. What I didn’t yet know was those beetles were the just the small ones.
    It had all sounded like a good idea on paper.
    Sunset comes early near the equator, and before long we were called to supper in the dining area. We sat four to a table and enjoyed a simple, fresh meal of fish, vegetables, and fruit.
    As the light waned, beetles crawled over our dining table, up our legs, clinging to our skin or slacks. Flying insects whacked our necks. I had to guard my food so they wouldn’t crawl into it. But I had lost my appetite, so I didn’t care.

    “... you will travel by boat to your deep jungle lodge and experience life in the Amazon first-hand...”

    It had sounded like a good idea on paper.
    That night, eerie shadows cast by my kerosene light danced on the dark wooden slats serving as walls in my cabin. I quickly sponge-bathed with a wash cloth and some bottled water and attempted to dry myself with a towel. The towels were wet from the humid air. After lathering myself in insecticide, I shook out my night gown to be sure there was nothing alive in it.
    As I reclined on the bed it occurred to me a mattress is a foolish thing in the tropics. It is hot, sticky, and wet and only heaven knows what was living in it. I lay sweating on the bed, covered in insecticide, furious, and almost panicked.
    Why are you making me do this alone, Walter?
    It was too hot. I couldn’t sleep.
    There wasn’t enough air. It was noisy.
    Every creature that could make noise was making it. After lying in bed, sweating still, I heard a new noise.
    THWAAACK!!!
    What was that?
    I was too afraid to get up and walk to one of the screened windows to find out; too timid to pull back the curtain and discover something grotesque; too anxious to even touch the curtain; too wary to put my foot on the floor.
    THWAACK!!!
    Walter, I’ll never forgive you for this!
    THWAACK!!! Again.
    That was it. I jumped into my shoes, horrified I didn’t check them for insects first, and gingerly pulled aside the curtain. There at eye level was the underbelly of a huge bat, munching on a hapless critter it caught.
    I opened another curtain. Another bat. Munch, munch, enjoying its midnight lunch.
    It had sounded like a good idea.

    ...Why not explore the wild side and see nature at its most pure...

    I had experienced about all I could stand of nature for one night.
    The next morning we hiked to a black water lake about an acre wide and boarded a small hand-made wooden dugout. There wasn’t a breath of air. It was the definition of “stagnant.” Hot. Humid. Pungent. Still. We boarded two boats, four to a boat. Each of us was handed a small wooden fishing line with a tiny nub of some kind of bait at the end. We were told to see what we could catch.
    But I gamely did as I was told and was the first to catch a fish. At about six inches across and eight inches long it wasn’t too large and was somewhat translucent with tinges of orange. Its teeth were big and needle sharp.
    My first piranha.
    Do you mean we are sitting in a tiny, tippy wooden canoe in a lake filled with piranha?
    A young boy in his own canoe glided toward us. He helped me remove the fish from the pole, and I let him keep the piranha. We were told the locals skewer and roast them until crunchy.
    He re-baited my line. Ten seconds later, I had nailed another piranha. So had everyone else in my boat.
    The heat must have been getting to me. I sat there in the boat, stupefied. I may as well have been drugged.
    What if I stick my finger in the water? Really, suppose I do that? Walter, watch this.
    When we left the lake I dallied a bit, preferring to remain at the tail end or our group with one of the guides as the rest of the group headed back toward the river. I walked slightly ahead of the guide.
    “Miss, will you please stay still for a moment?”
    I stopped and turned my head.
    “Yes, why?”
    “Do not be alarmed. There is a snake coming from your right. It won’t bother you, I think. It’s large. Just let it pass.”
    I froze. I like snakes, but don’t know them, so I am cautious around them.
    The snake came and slithered about five feet in front of me. It stopped for a moment and raised its head and flicked its tongue, as though to check me out, and continued past me. And then it continued to pass me some more.
    “What is it?” I asked the guide.
    A constrictor. A big one. Maybe fifteen feet.”
    It had sounded like a good idea.
    Walter, you won’t believe what just happened.
    My bragging rights continued to expand.
    When I retired for the evening, the same animal-kingdom ruckus as the previous night accompanied me as I tried to sleep. I was not as anxious, though, until I had to get up, put my shoes on, and head to the bathroom in my cabin to urinate.
    There, on the dark wood wall behind the toilet was a beetle about two inches long, pointed uphill. I shined my flashlight on it. It was pale brown, with iridescent blue and green spots. Pretty, actually. But I couldn’t take the chance of having it fall—or worse—fly into me when my back was to it.
    I went back to bed.
    But I had to pee!
    I got up again and gently swatted it with a towel. It fell on the floor and now I couldn’t find it.
    Now I REALLY couldn’t pee.
    Back to bed.
    It didn’t work. I returned to the bathroom and engaged in what could only be described as speed-peeing.
    It had sounded like a good idea.
    I was awakened in the middle of the night by rain. It silenced all the screaming creatures. I pulled aside a curtain and saw it fall straighter than I had ever seen rain fall before, illuminated by the waning light of each cabin’s lantern. Then it stopped. And to my amazement, it became more humid.
    What if I never get out of here?
    I sat up and just started to sob.
    Why did I ever come here? I am so glad Walter isn’t here! He would never forgive me for this.

* * *

    With the passage of almost twenty years since my Amazon visit, I can see the experience more objectively. Or maybe, it just isn’t raw any longer.
    It was a good idea to visit the Amazon.
    The experience shattered my smugness and shoved me light years beyond my comfort zone. But isn’t that what travel is sometimes supposed to do?
    Yes, it was a good idea.
    If I return to the Amazon, it will be on an air-conditioned boat. After all, I’ve already earned by bragging rights.
    And next time, you’re coming with me, Walter.












Exempt from the Draft

Janet Kuypers
11/12/16

I’m not in a military family.
My father, because of the size
of the family he raised,
was always exempt from the draft.

But when the Gulf war started
I heard my friends saying
they wanted to sign up to fight
and I was nervous that they’d go,

that they’d be taken away from me.
I know when you’re young
you’ve got something to prove
and combat shows off your machismo,

but everyone, because they’re young,
thinks they’re invincible. And you’re not.
So lucky me, all stayed here,
and I didn’t have to worry

about all my chicks
leaving their flock before their time.
But you, you came from a military
family, Army, Navy, the Marines.

And I hear stories of your father
stationed in Europe, and I hear
you tell stories of flying at night
to other countries, ready to fight.

And maybe I’m the one
who like to keep the ones I love
too close to me, but all I can say
is that I’m glad I didn’t know you

in your military days, because I’d
worry too much. And this is only
one reason why I’m grateful
that you’re here with me today.



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See YouTube video 11/12/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Exempt from the Draft” and “Two Minutes With Ayn Rand” at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (Canon Power Shot).
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See YouTube video 11/12/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Exempt from the Draft” and “Two Minutes With Ayn Rand” at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (on a Sony camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers saying her 3 poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “Been a World Leader” and “the Way you Tease me” 11/13/16 (with background music from the HA!Man of South Africa, &#entering the ruines”) at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (this video was filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
video
video
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers saying her 3 poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “Been a World Leader” and “the Way you Tease me” 11/13/16 (with background music from the HA!Man of South Africa, &#entering the ruines”) at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (this video was filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.










You Know What I’m
            Talking About
(2016 grateful edition)

Janet Kuypers
11/12/16 (based on a poem started 12/27/98 and converted to prose 09/28/05)

I have thought about you lately.

I know it has been years
since we have talked
and I know you probably hate me
and maybe you want something different in life,
but maybe, just for a minute,
I would be a nice diversion for you.

Maybe I could tell you
that I have gone through a lot too,
and maybe we could find consolation
in each other.

Because I remember those days,
you were my beacon,
you were my light at the end of a tunnel,
and I will always be grateful to you for this.

Friends would see your photo
from my wallet
and call you Superman.

A two inch by three inch photo
of you, holding a newspaper
in front of your grandparent’s house
in the Florida sun. Superman.

Because maybe, after all this time,
you would like to be the kind of man
you could never be around me before.
Maybe you would talk to me
and say things that you couldn’t tell anyone.

(Well, at least not in open places.)

Maybe you know what I’m talking about —
I’ve always been grateful
for the hope you gave me,
when you made me feel
like I was worth something.
And I’m grateful for that.
I will always thank you.
Because, my point is,
I’ve been looking for things
and maybe, just maybe
you are looking for things too.

Maybe I could be that for you.
Maybe you could be that for me too.



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not yet rated
See YouTube video 11/12/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” & “I’m Thinking About Myself Too Much at Georgetown Public Library’s “Poetry Aloud” (Cps).
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See YouTube video 11/12/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” & “I’m Thinking About Myself Too Much at Georgetown Public Library’s “Poetry Aloud” (S).
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See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).


View the Janet Kuypers bio.










Just By Holding His Hand
(extreme 2016 sestina variation)

Janet Kuypers
7/24/16 (adapted from “holding hands, a 3/17/14 variation of “holding my hand”, written 04/20/98)

when we’re walking down the street in stride
and our feet pump out the same rhythm
and our shoulders are almost touching
and our hands seem to brush up against
and along each other for one brief moment

in that one brief moment, our hands almost touch
and he reaches over and takes my hand
he slides his fingers around my hand
and I feel him move along my palm to my fingers

when he moves along my palm to my fingers
no one knows what it feels like then
when his fingers curl and hold me tight
well, it feels like... pop rocks

you know when it feels like pop rocks
that candy is sliding down your throat
after you let it explode on your tongue
and it’s tingling, oh, you know that feeling
and no one else is eating these pop rocks
and no one knows that tingling feeling
and this is my little secret

and I love keeping this little secret
when I feel this feeling like never before
and it makes me want to laugh and cry
because when I look around the room
I know no one else is eating those pop rocks
and no one knows the feeling when he’s holding my hand

no one knows the feeling when he’s holding my hand
it’s like candy and cupids and hearts and sunshine
and all those generic symbols of love
that never explain it just right

words can never explain ut just right,
it’s catching your breath, falling from an airplane
it’s climbing a mountain, it’s standing on a glacier,
it’s following dolphins, it’s swimming with sharks
it’s turning your head and seeing those fingers
interlocked with yours as you’re walking in stride

because then and there, walking in stride
you think of those pop rocks, tingling down your throat
but now this feeling hits all of your nerves
because pop rocks never felt like this

and now nothing has ever felt like this
it’s in all of your muscles and all of your nerves
and now you want to hold on for your life
you now feel something you’ve never felt before
all
      just by holding his hand



video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video 7/24/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems the Battle at Hand, Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation), and Only an Observer at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (Canon P.S.).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video 7/24/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems the Battle at Hand, Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation), and Only an Observer at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (Sony camera).
video
not yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation) 11/6/16 at “Recycled Reads” open mic, at a book store affiliated with the Austin Public Library (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation) 11/6/16 at “Recycled Reads” open mic, at a book store affiliated with the Austin Public Library (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
video not yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Dilemmas in Gift Giving”, “everyday objects equal performance art” and “Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation)” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/6/17 at Austin’s “Recycled Reads” open mic (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Dilemmas in Gift Giving”, “everyday objects equal performance art” and “Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation)” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/6/17 at Austin’s “Recycled Reads” open mic (Lumix).
video See YouTube video 8/22/17 of the Janet Kuypers show “This Just In”, with her poems “Protecting Peace can Put you in Prison”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “erasure poem: A Poetic History”, “Just One Book”, “Newspaper Ink’s the Blood of a Dying Species”, “Elusive Imaginary Creature”, “Your Imaginary Soul Weighs 21 Grams”, “Yearning to Break Free” and “Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation)” (Lumix)
video See YouTube video 8/22/17 of the Janet Kuypers show “This Just In”, with her poems “Protecting Peace can Put you in Prison”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “erasure poem: A Poetic History”, “Just One Book”, “Newspaper Ink’s the Blood of a Dying Species”, “Elusive Imaginary Creature”, “Your Imaginary Soul Weighs 21 Grams”, “Yearning to Break Free” and “Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation)” (Sony)


View the Janet Kuypers bio.










Only an Observer

Janet Kuypers
7/24/16 (edited from “Seven and Seven, plus eighteen”, 2007)

I know I’m supposed to be the creative one
but I started my schooling in engineering

I say I’m a writer
I say I’m an artist
but I haven’t known what to say to you

but I want you to understand
that if I were a painter
I’d be Michelangelo
and paint my love for you
like it was the Sistine Chapel,
       our hands touching in the sky,
like it was our Last Supper

what am I saying
painting like Michelangelo
I’d probably paint like Jackson Pollock
calling splashing and dripping
art

so maybe I’m not a writer
maybe I’m not an artist
maybe I’m an observer
like an astronomer
looking out into the universe
learning what makes everything
everything

because molecule by molecule,
we originate from stardust

but outer space
is a violent place
violent explosions create the stars
and our earth has earthquakes,
avalanches, volcanoes
tsunamis, typhoons

and in all this madness
somehow I’ve found you

the journalist in me observed you
I came to you asking questions
and broke your hardened shell

and with you I have walked on the tops of glaciers
crouching down from the violent winds

with you I have watched solar storms
from the Arctic Circle’s Aurora Borealis
we’ve even seen it dance over Greenland
from our window, 40,000 feet in the sky

I’ve held your hand
on the Great Wall of China

you’ve followed me retracing Darwin’s steps

you’ve steered me clear of a rattlesnake bed
you’ve shown me how to reload gun magazines
and how to hold an AR-15

‘cause I’ve seen galaxies collide
I’ve seen comets smash into planets
I’ve seen supernovae and the death of stars
and in all of that, I’ve still found you

as I said before,
I’m only an observer
but I’ve found what I’ve been looking for

and with these observations,
I thee wed

and I’ll tighten my grip on your hand
because I will never let you go



video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video 7/24/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems the Battle at Hand, Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation), and Only an Observer at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (Canon P.S.).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video 7/24/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems the Battle at Hand, Just By Holding His Hand (extreme 2016 sestina variation), and Only an Observer at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (Sony camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Etched into that Tombstone” (from her book “Part of My Pain”) and “Only an Observer” 9/10/16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (Canon Power Shot).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Etched into that Tombstone” (from her book “Part of My Pain”) and “Only an Observer” 9/10/16 at “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (from a Sony).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poem “Only an Observer” with a live jazz band for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video not yet rated
See YouTube video on 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” with live jazz music for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (this video was filmed with a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video video
See YouTube video on 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” with live jazz music for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera, & given a Sepia Tone filter).
video not yet rated
See YouTube video on 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” with live jazz music for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (this video was filmed with a Canon Power Shot SX60 camera).
video video
See YouTube video on 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” with live jazz music for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX60, & given a Posterize filter).
video not yet rated
See YouTube video on 3/20/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” with live jazz music for “Austin Rhythm Fire” at Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX60, & given a Threshold filter).
http://scars.tv/kuypers/poems/2017 Austin Rhythm Fire chapbook http://scars.tv/kuypers/poems/2017 Austin Rhythm Fire chapbook
View or download the free PDF chapbook
2017 Austin Rhythm Fire
with her poems “Keeping a Record of Going Too Far”, “Yearning to Break Free”, “Entering the Lake of Fire” and “Only an Observer” performed in her 3/20/17 show.
videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony).
video video
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersSeptember 2017 Book Release Reading 9/6/17 of Down in the Dirt’s book “Carpool” haiku poems “soul”, “earth”, “lost”, and “jumped”, and then her poems “Exempt from the Draft”, “You Know What I’m Talking About (2016 grateful edition)” and “Only an Observer” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (Sony, TH).











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 ISBN# 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# ISBN# 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. 2017, after hr October 2015 move to Austin Texas, also witnessed the release of 2 Janet Kuypers book of poetry written in Austin, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and a book of poetry written for her poetry features and show, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (and both pheromemes books are available from two printers).








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