Enjoy v151 (the November 2017 issue)
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

Norm Hudson Tea First
Amanda Pugh This Fire Burns
Chinenye Aniekwe the Visit of the Ghost
Rene Diedrich Negative Space (poem & art)
Suicide Pact (poem & art)
Ben Rasnic At Sixteen in Nineteen-Seventy
Denny E. Marshall Haiku (hint)
Haiku (stir)
Lavren Le’Clore Thundersnow
Allan Onik Checkmate
Zero Hour
Abraham Myers Goodbye
Fabrice Poussin Rule of the Sky photography
Matt Rydeen Monsters
Sayuri Yamada Good Sucides
Janet Kuypers knife
Stuart O’Rourke A Love for Death
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz Rose Colored Glasses art
Tom O’Brien The Queen
Janet Kuypers ghosts
Lotte Roy Galaxy
Drew Marshall The Squirrel and the Rabbit
The Night I met Groucho on Acid
David Francis A Villainess
Restored Sight
Adrian Villarreal Systematic destruction of cloudy days 8/9/16 1:41am
8/8/15 4:46am
Marc McMahon The Other Side of Darkness
Janet Kuypers easy
McCormick Anderson Karma’s A Witch
Mariya Taher American Daughters
Eleanor Leonne Bennett Getty 044 photography
Kalah McLaughlin Unemployment
Cliff’s Edge
Robert David Roe As Passengers
Kyle Hemmings Dented photography
Tommy Vollman Boots
J. Ray Paradiso Trippen photography
Tom Ball Balls
Sean Tierney The Wanderer
Janet Kuypers Ernesto
Just Thinking About It
Political Merry-Go-Round
Verge on Meditation

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Tea First

Norm Hudson

    “Bus Manager Stabbed!”
    Stan stopped drinking his fourth cup of tea and stared at the giant headline on the front of the local morning paper.
    God, I hope it’s no one I know, he thought.
    He knew almost everyone at the bus station. How could he not when he’d worked there for twenty years? He’d never even thought of leaving. Why would he when he and Jim had the whole place stitched up. He drove the buses and Jim controlled the buses. It was a nice little set up.
    “See story page three.”
    He turned to page three.
    Jim’s photo glared out at him,
    Oh, God, he thought. Some wacko has killed Jim.
    He’d seen Jim only the night before. Stan had arrived at the station an hour early like he always did. He didn’t like to hurry himself. He’d strolled around the adjacent mall, disappearing into a few shops to waste some time and avoid any passengers. He was an expert at wasting time. Why do more than you have to had always been his mantra. His bus to Edinburgh was not due to depart till 11 p.m. He looked at his watch. Quarter to. He looked for the Gents sign. He could waste five minutes in there.
    At 10.55p.m. Stan strolled round to the bus. The rain was pouring down and there was a long line of battered, bedraggled boarders queued up outside the door of the bus. His approach caused some movement. Excitement, you might say. Stan liked that feudal feeling. They were his vassals to command. He opened the door of the bus.
    An old lady, with a walking stick, at the head of the queue moved towards the open door.
    What’s that old dear doing travelling this time of night? thought Stan. She must be about eighty. Doesn’t she know it’s not safe? She must have been here at least thirty minutes ago to be at the head of the queue. Yes, thirty minutes judging by the wetness of her coat. The stupid old cow should have stayed inside, thought Stan. He glanced into the waiting room. All of the six seats were occupied. The old dear was almost at the door of the bus. He’d have to stop her.
    He needn’t have worried. Right on cue, Jim appeared. He and Jim had it timed to a tee.
    “No, no, dear,” said Jim, in a tyrannical voice. “The driver’s got to have his tea!”
    Stan climbed into the driver’s seat and shut the door of the bus securely.
    That lot could wait.
    He pulled his flask of tea out of his jacket pocket, removed the lid and poured the tea into it. The rain battered against the roof of the bus.
    Yes, there was nothing like a nice cup of tea in the warmth and solitude of his bus cab.
    He ignored the strident voice of a young girl outside.
    “Do you mean to tell me we have to wait out here in the rain while that ass-hole has his tea?” she said to Jim’s disappearing back. “Why couldn’t he have had it in the mall earlier and let us all on to the bus out of the rain?”
    But Jim was a fast mover. He didn’t hang about listening to whines. He was already heading home via the car park to have a nice cup of tea with his wife, knowing he and Stan had everything stitched up.
    “This bloody bus station is a disgrace,” said the girl to a guy behind her. It’s not even a bus station. It’s a corner of the shopping mall. Every other city has got a proper bus station with plenty indoor seats for waiting passengers and working monitors with information as to which gate to go through. Here, you don’t know which bus is going where and where to queue up. There are no working monitors and nobody knows anything. And it looks like nobody cares,” she added, eying Jim’s already departing back and Stan sipping his tea in the seclusion of his stance.
    “I know what you mean,” said the middle-aged, well-dressed guy. “I don’t even know if I’m in the right queue for the Dundee bus.”
    “No, this is the Edinburgh bus,” said the young girl.
    “Well, I think I’d better go and see if I can find out where the Dundee bus is and when and if it’s coming,” said the guy.
    “Good luck!” said the girl.
    Stan lingered as long as he could over his tea. He hoped he wasn’t going to have trouble with that girl. He wanted an easy night. An easy life. Wasn’t that what it was all about? He thought of Jim taking it easy with his wife in front of the telly. In a few years he’d aspire to be like Jim. Cocky. Confident. Controlling. Meanwhile he guessed he’d have to let all this rabble on to his bus.
    The bus door hissed as it opened.
    “Speed it up, dear” said Stan as the old dear with the walking stick faffed about with her fare. “We can’t be late!”
    “That’s choice coming from you!” said the young girl. “If you’d let us on to the bus earlier, we’d already be seated and on our way!”
    “There’s no need for that attitude!” said Stan, “and don’t drip that damn umbrella all over my bus!”
    The girl glared at him and was about to move on when a thought seemed to cross her mind.
    “Does this bus stop at Dundee?” she said, thinking of the middle-aged, well-dressed man she’d spoken to.
    “No, we don’t stop there,” said Stan. “We’re straight through to Edinburgh.”
    “But there’s a man who was waiting for the Dundee bus and it hasn’t turned up,” protested the girl. “What’s he going to do?” added the girl. “Suppose he’s got no money and no accommodation?”
    “That’s not my problem,” said Stan. “Move along the bus, please!” forcing the young girl to go to the back of the bus.
    That would keep her well away from him. And he could have a trouble free two and a half hour drive.
    “I thought you said you didn’t stop in Dundee!” said the girl, as she was getting off the bus in Edinburgh.
    Thank God she’s getting off the bus, thought Stan. Talk about a troublesome type
    She was like a terrier with a bone.
    “You could have taken that man,” she said. “I think you intended to stop at Dundee all along. You just didn’t want to wait for him!”
    Sure he had. But he wasn’t going to tell her that.
    Thank God he’d never see her again.
    He’d never see Jim either. The thought almost made him spill his fourth cup of tea.
    He started to read the newspaper. Somebody had followed Jim home and attacked him outside his house. The police were following the line it was a revenge killing.
    Why would anyone want to kill Jim?
    Stan laid down the newspaper. He’d phone Jim’s wife. But it was too early yet. He’d have another cup of tea to calm his nerves and open his mail lying forgotten on the table.
    But he didn’t get further than the first letter.
    “Dear Driver who dumped me,” it read. “I travel a lot in my job. Being a hit man makes it necessary. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s inefficiency. Or lack of information. Your manager and you suffer from both. He no longer. I saw to that. He wouldn’t wait to give me any information and neither would you. You should really do your job better, you know. Like I do mine. There’s no excuse for inefficiency. Know that you are next. Not now. Or maybe even tomorrow. But when you least expect it. I mean to make you wait. Like you made everyone else wait. With no thought for their well-being.”
    There was a tyrannical tone in the letter that made Stan tremble.
    It wasn’t a wacko that had killed Jim. It was that man the girl had been talking to.
    I’ll tell the police, thought Stan. I’ll get protection.
    But for how long?
    Jim hadn’t been able to protect himself. How could he?
    There was more. He read on.
    “While our work ethic is not the same, we do have one thing in common.”
    Jim stopped sipping his fourth cup of tea.
    Something in common? Something in common with a killer? No way!
    He read on.
    “I know you’re already shaking your head in denial. But see, you’re learning to wait already. Like I do. To see what it is. Look outside, Stan.”
    Stan dropped the letter. Was the killer watching him? He headed to the window. The early morning rain was already running down the window threatening to obscure everything. But even through the rivulets of rain, he could see a solitary, well-dressed man standing at the bus stop across the road.
    He threw his mobile phone in his pocket and, running through the hall, flung open the front door. He’d phone the police as soon as he was outside.
    He ran across the road.
    But there was no one at the bus stop.
    He turned and headed back to the door of his house, putting his hand on the handle.
    It wouldn’t turn. The door appeared locked. He rattled the handle crazily and put his shoulder against the door. The battering rain was already making him feel bedraggled.
    That was when his phone rang.
    “No, no,” said the voice. “I told you we had something in common.”
    A chill ran down Stan’s spine.
    Where was the killer?
    A dreadful thought crossed his mind.
    Surely he wasn’t in his house?
    The killer’s next words only confirmed it.
    “No, no,” he repeated in a tyrannical voice. “You have to wait.”
    Stan heard the strange sound of liquid being poured.
    “You see the killer has to have his tea first.”

This Fire Burns

Amanda Pugh

I see you across the coffee bar
and I also see
the fire in your eyes
I know the fire that lurks in your soul
you try so hard to be
what society expects you to be
to live up to what you should be
in your own mind
each step you take I know
is what you think should be done
but its not what your heart truly wants
I just want to see you fly
to rip off that cookie cutter mask you wear
and begin to live
not just exist
this fire burns in me
in you
in both of us
I used to hear it in your voice
I felt it in the way you looked at me
don᾿t let it die
let it live

the Visit of the Ghost

Chinenye Aniekwe

Thomas I was once
Days when I believed: figures, facts and science
Logical thoughts I believed
Mother told moonlight stories
Of the living and dead
People say it all; of witches and dark magic
Father kicked the bucket that night
Strange premonition on me
Far away in the city, when the call came in
I came in to the house
Left alone with my career woman
Who toil to and fro, to gather earnings for funeral
All alone at home, the wooden door of my room opened
An eerie sound I heard, goose pimples all around me
Be brave I said to myself
Entered into the room;
Felt a strange presence
Goose pimples increase more
Flashes, flashes, flashes;
Of a man on white
Strange! I fainted
Dead for   minutes

Negative Space

Rene Diedrich

The pull towards solitude was propelled by
Powders, puffs, pills, pulls and pollutants.
She wasn’t always in pain but like many things
She preferred to suffer alone. The Problem was
She loved him and he needed solitary
Confinement as completely and continually
As she did. There’s a story that’s
Always haunted her. This couple stops time
Whenever they touch and all they want to do
Is touch. One evening they go to bed
Entwined. Joyous. It’s the most Beautiful thing.
The world is still; they are safe.
What more can we ask for?
The couple in the story are bones, parched
Left in the dry lurch of dust when their tale
Comes to its end. And maybe
This is why he makes music in chaos eclipsed by
Calls to actions that rush the devil out of our lives
As she reclines in the curse of her blue streaks
Penning surreal forays into fates that are more ornate
And far less comforting than the distance between them.

art by Rene Diedrich

art by Rene Diedrich

Suicide Pact

Rene Diedrich

Were I wise and finished
I’d go too, I’d sit in
The bathroom like Elvis on the crapper
As the carbon memory
Filled the air I’d
Sit with my highball
Ice clinking Bourbon
Burn as the pipe
Lit my lungs with
Urban ‘urge’
I’d be near your corpse
Smiling yet blue
Naked as usual
And I’d wait to join
You in the hereafter
None too sure how sweet
It could be
I’d consider my
Son with no legacy
And every man who’s
Loved me
I’d consider
My future and the
Tales I had to tell yet

I’d get up
Go back to face
The mess I made
As I prayed and cried
For you in the office
Where you’ve left your
Life in order

art by Rene Diedrich

art by Rene Diedrich

At Sixteen in Nineteen-Seventy

Ben Rasnic

and still living
with my parents,
a few friends would drop by
to preview the latest Sabbath,
Hendrix or Zeppelin release
spun at 33 rpms on my Garrard
turntable wired to a 120 watts per channel
Kenwood amp feeding Pioneer CS-53 speakers
always with the lights out, excepting
the black light illuminating
psychedelic posters illustrated
by Peter Max and Andy Warhol.

And as was our nature, we
would grow bored
until someone whipped out a baggy
full of weed from his sock
which drew all eyes fixed like magnets;
like moths to a porch light
or flies to a fresh cow pile;

and on cue, I would roll up a towel
and tamp it beneath my bedroom door
until the room had become
as air tight as possible.
Then we would toke a few bowls,
coughing & wheezing;
the smiles on our faces
dilating as large as the pupils
bathed in our bloodshot eyes;
the music throbbing louder
and clearer; the black light images
animated & playing with our minds
until time dissolved into a blur

or the music abruptly stopped
as my friends were now filing
down the narrow hallway
& out the door to return home,
to which my mother would remark
“You know I really like the music
you kids listen to & I’m glad that
you all are having a good time
but I wish you would quit smoking
those nasty cigarettes.
The smell has even been seeping
into the bath towels!”

Haiku (hint)

Denny E. Marshall l

small pulsating patch
of stars in the charcoal sky
seems like hint knocking


1st Published Eskimo Pie July 2015

Haiku (stir)

Denny E. Marshall

stars in clear night sky
stir like circular ocean
swimming slow motion


1st published Aphelion August 2016


Lavren Le’Clore

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidences either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


    The early morning was dim, shadowed by light grey clouds drifting over the vast mountainous landscape. Irregular rock formations and limited tree growth littered the steep terrain, draped by the dense snow cover, making progress slow and erratic.
    Adeline Beltz, a young and highly distinguished university graduate, was in pursuit of her Master’s Degree. She was studying Snow Hydrology, the composition, dispersion, and movement of snow and ice. Along with her close friend and prominent professor, Lea Keil, whose exploration in hydrology had lead to a number of discoveries, they had initially scheduled this expedition later in the week. However, the developing weather pattern had diverted their attention. Intent on furthering studies in their respective fields, they had taken their research high into the Alps, loaded with analyses equipment and gadgets.
    Their guide and temporary assistant, Armin, was responsible for guiding them up the tortuous mountain pass. He was familiar with the whole area and in particular, this current path which he had ascended on a number of expeditions. He was well known and recommended by most scientists who had used his services for the intimate knowledge he possessed of the summit and the surrounding mountain range.
    Pausing in the thick snow which constantly hindered their progress, Adeline dropped her hands to her knees and bent over in exhaustion. Panting, she inhaled the frozen air which seared her lungs. The air was thin, a result of the high altitude. Her cheeks and face burned from the abrasive wind which relentlessly leached the warmth.
    Glancing up ahead, Lea too, had succumbed to fatigue and the snow’s enveloping capabilities. Armin, glancing backwards, promptly ceased his advance. After all, it was his duty to monitor their progress. He was much fitter than they and better adapted to the extreme climate.
    “This intense heavy snow overnight is rather unusual,” Armin anxiously surveyed the route.
    “The snowfall accumulation was expected to be above normal,” said Lea, trying to extricate herself from the knee-deep snow.
    “How could you tell?”
    “The excessive water vapour in the atmosphere and stronger up-drafts, which essentially condensed into cloud water or ice particles,” she explained.
    “Increasing the likelihood of snow formation and in turn heavy snowfall?” finished Armin, surprising them both.
    “Correct, there’s more to you than meets the eye,” exclaimed Lea.
    “Not that much, besides its simple enough,” he shrugged off her compliment.
    “Perhaps,” she studied the terrain surrounding them.
    “Shall we continue?” Armin turned to the ascent.
    Adeline and Lea adjusted the equipment they were carrying, before following close behind him. They concentrated their attention on the surrounding area and unusual sky above, rather than the narrow path Armin had created as he moved up through the large open glacier, pasted along the massive mountain side. They were heading towards a peak which reared up quite far ahead. The climb was long and arduous. The snow thickness had progressively worsened as they moved further into the glacier. Soon the snow level had risen enough to force Armin to a halt having sunk below his armpits. Unable to move any further, he was forced to manoeuvre his way back along the path he had made. He paused, waiting for Adeline and Lea to catch up and then guided them along the steep and slippery ridge instead, monitoring their every step.
    Though more dangerous, this was much faster than the route he would usually use but he had confidence in leading them over. Reaching the other end without so much as a slip or scare, they moved back into the thickening snow before taking a short break. Armin glanced down into the massive basin around which they had just ploughed. He was able to distinguish a vague line along its rim, the path they had taken. It was clear that the snow was far thicker than usual towards the centre.
    Glancing at Lea and Adeline, who were gaping into the humongous ravine below, he indicated that this may be a good place to rest. The rocks were steep and jagged throughout, rising above the cape of snow which had filled the cracks. Slicing through a section of the mountain and splitting its way right down to the base, the chasm continued into the open valley in the far distance. Armin had always compared it to the teeth of a shark.
    Adeline and Lea had removed highly specialised scientific field tablets, linked to the satellites orbiting above them. They began running numerous diagnostics and tests of the weather around them, as they had done all the way up the mountain side, analysing the radiances in various wavelength bands to determine climatic temperatures. Their focus was the variations of atmospheric pressure around the mountain, wind speeds above and below it, as well as fluctuation of humidity. All of which affected the atmosphere and climate alike.
    Adeline was particularly interested in possible cryoseisms, otherwise known as ice quakes or frost quakes, usually a result of sudden cracking in frozen soil or rock saturated with water or ice. Other such notable forms included non-tectonic seismic events, originating from sudden glacial movements. One or more of these could trigger brief and severe tremors lasting several minutes. Amongst the learned circles there are differences of opinion regarding the frequencies of these as well as effects of global warming.
    She positioned a portable digital seismometer to record any seismic activity which may occur, for onward transmission of data to their research centre. Lea on the other hand, was focussed on the unusual readings appearing on her tablet. Analysing the information sent a lurch of excitement throughout her body as initially she had been struggling to translate or form a logical explanation.
    Studying the light grey clouds overhead, she noticed the mysterious formation evolving before her very eyes. As the clouds drifted over them, they began to ripple and swirl in abnormal patterns, developing a highly unusual phenomenon and uneven effect beneath the clouds. This was due to the high level winds shaping their appearance, cold stable air below and warmer less dense air above.
    “Aveline, take a look at this, quick,” she whispered, her eyes fixed above.
    Abandoning her tablet, Aveline straightened up and followed her gaze, “This is amazing!”
    “It is, almost like - ,” she began, deep in thought.
    “Undulatus asperatus,” Lea finished, having assessed the data before her.
    “Undulatus asperatus?” repeated Armin, also gazing upwards.
    “It’s the name given to this rare cloud formation,” explained Lea absent mindedly.
    “How are they formed?”
    “An elevated layer of warm air over a cooler layer of air, causes the wave action at cloud level. But the specifics on how the clouds develop and evolve are still being explored,” answered Lea.
    “We should document this all before it fully forms, it can help our research.” Aveline began to unpack various types of equipment.
    “We should, but let’s not set it up here. We might get more data at the summit.”
    “Agreed, but at least we can set up some recording devices to catch its early stages,”
    “Its going to take a while to get up there, you sure it won’t blow over?” asked Armin watching the metamorphosing formation.
    “It depends, that’s why we need to set up a few things first,” insisted Aveline.
    Armin, having never experienced such an unusual phenomenon was both curious and very wary. Observing his surroundings with heightened senses, he noticed the slight draft originating from the valley below, flowing up the mountain side through the massive ravine, before drifting over the summit. Surreptitiously glancing around, he tried to analyse the environment, but could not see any other cause for concern, yet he could not shake the feeling that something was not right.
    Deciding that the signs were not apparent enough and that there was no visible threat of danger, Armin moved ahead while Lea and Aveline repacked their equipment. They exchanged a look of excitement at the significance of the opportunity which had presented itself, and hurried after their guide, closely monitoring and documenting their assessments. They followed the flat ridge in a direct line which lead all the way to their destination, moving as quickly and safely as possible along the narrow path which had minimal snow cover due to the gradient and wind flow.
    Eventually they made it to the base of the summit which had earlier appeared so distant. Lea and Aveline assembled a few more devices to capture this unknown data for later studies. Armin had continued observing the surroundings and was becoming more alarmed. The unusual cloud cover had darkened substantially, the prevailing winds up the mountain had strengthened. The temperature seemed to have decreased although he could not be sure whether or not it was due to the increase in wind. The weather was becoming threatening and dangerous.
    “Lea, this looks like a storm’s building up,” Armin finally expressed his concern.
    “Indeed, although Undulatus Asperatus tends to dissipate without a storm actually forming,” came the confident reply although she did glance up at the menacing sky.
    “Is it possible for a storm to develop?” he persisted.
    “Yes but unlikely, it’s completely normal to be like this.”
    “Alright then, I’ll prepare the climbing ropes,” Armin’s reluctance increased.
    Lea gave him a nod of assurance as he moved off towards the low cliff face. His experiences of past events roamed through his mind. He recalled the many abrupt snowstorms, virtually appearing out of nowhere, despite positive weather forecasts. Having never experienced such phenomena, he allowed himself to rely on the knowledge of the Scientists and chose to ignore his gut instinct. He knew his duty was to ensure their safety and he would have to take appropriate action in the event of anything further transpiring.
    He quickly set up the roping while Aveline and Lea made their way towards him. Ensuring the functionality of key devices, he attached short ropes between them, reminding them of a few safety features. Once completed, they began their final ascent to the low cliff. Armin leading with caution, keeping an extra close eye on both of them. The distance increased between them and the ground below. He was as surprised at their climbing abilities as they were of his knowledge of snowfall.
    Some minutes later they clambered into a large crevice at the peak of a small plateau which afforded them some protection from the weather. It was time for a short break to avoid over exertion and sweating which would ultimately lower their body temperature. Armin turned his attention to Aveline and Lea, studying them for any unusual signs which one would generally overlook. He was very familiar with such effects having experienced them a number of times. He again noted the increase in wind and lack of visibility. Watching suspiciously for a moment, he resolved to keep a very close eye on the developing weather patterns.
    Having made his final checks, he returned his focus to the climb. As they neared the ledge, he again noticed the worsening weather. The wind had increased substantially and with it the sudden appearance of snowfall. Although he was accustomed to this at the summit, it came as an unexpected shock after the relative calm below. He now felt the full blast of the winds snatching at his face.
    Helping Aveline and Lea over the cliff edge, they all stood and gazed at the summit just ten meters above them. Suddenly they were not so anxious to complete the journey. Both Aveline and Lea had become as alarmed as Armin at the sudden intensity of the wind. They immediately began removing their equipment to survey the unstable surroundings. Lea wanted to monitor these unexpected changes in wind speed and temperature.
    “This is sudden,” she had to raise her voice.
    “Wind speeds are rising to twenty miles per hour,” confirmed Aveline.
    “Perhaps we should get back down,” warned Armin.
    “I want to know what’s causing it,” Lea insisted.
    “I don’t, nor do I want to get caught in it,” Armin’s alarm system was in overdrive.
    “It’s almost like...,” Lea ignored him.
    “Thundersnow,” interjected Aveline.
    “Thundersnow?” asked Armin in confusion.
    “Another rare occurrence, similar to a thunderstorm, but with snow falling instead of rain and in addition graupel or hail,” explained Lea, now concerned, realising the danger at their altitude.
    “We should document this,” said Aveline desperately.
    “We don’t have much time, but we should leave something to capture its effects.” Lea unclasped the carabiners attached to their harnesses and much to Armin’s vexation, the two spread out over the large plateau, deploying their most advanced devices, keeping clear of any steep edges or any edges in general. Watching them intently and becoming more anxious about their situation, Armin busied himself preparing for their descent. Despite seeming ages but in actual fact, barely five minutes later Aveline and Lea began their return. Conditions had deteriorated rapidly and they had accepted the necessity to descend, fast.
    As they drew nearer to Armin, the Whiteout overcame them. A weather condition in which visibility and contrast are severely reduced, resulting in loss of all reference points and leaving those caught completely disorientated. The increasing wind speed and falling temperature had begun to slice through their clothing, cutting to the bone. They faced the real risk of hypothermia.
    Aveline and Lea raised their hands above their heads to quell the frosty snow being tossed into their faces. They moved slowly with their heads bowed, shifting through the thickening snow. Unable to focus on her path ahead and with the constant blowing wind, Lea lost her balance and sank into the snow. Reacting quickly, Armin attached his rope to a snow picket he had driven into the ground, before making his way towards her. He attached and secured a carabiner to her harness. Safely joined together, he called his intention before he began making his way towards Aveline.
    Aveline, arms raised before her, lost her balance. Unable to regain her stability and bearings, she stumbled and was thrown off her feet after an unanticipated gust of wind, solid and vicious, smashed into her. Crashing across the ice, she flung her hands out to anchor herself and stop the uncontrollable slide. As she slithered to a halt and dashed the snow from her face, her stomach clenched in horror. She was at the cliff edge.
    “Hang on!” roared Armin. He had seen her unexpected fall and frantically fought his way towards her.
    Surging with adrenaline, she quickly reached for her ice axe mounted on her back. But before she could use it, the ground beneath her began to give way. Instinctively she tried to haul herself out. Casting out her arm in a final effort to save herself, she felt Armin’s hand grab her fingers.
    Suspended by both shock and fear, her eyes locked on the cliff edge, she watched Armin’s outstretched empty hand and distraught face recede as she began to fall. Her life was suspended. Despair threatened to paralyse her. Drawn by the force of gravity, her descent seemed to quicken, steered by the violent wind. It was a magical feeling, that of being weightless as she was tossed about by the the buffeting gusts.
    Aveline gazed into the enveloping whiteout which had engulfed everything above her. She glimpsed a blinding white light piercing through, arcing and striking a point above, most likely the summit. In that split second, she recognised it to be lightening which bore a greater destructive potential than typical lightening as there was more of a chance of positive polarity, A known factor of Thundersnow.
    The sudden reduction in speed and violent change in wind direction forced her against the cliff wall. She was slammed into a pointed rock, which had protruded out and upwards. Catching the edge of her backpack and striking her ribs against it, she gasped in shock as her lungs decompressed completely. The pain was instantaneous and virtually unbearable. Spinning around once, her endless fall was broken as she landed on her back in the unyielding snow. Her eye sight blurred, darkness engulfed her as she slipped into a semi-conscious state.
    Moments later she awoke to an intolerable pain in her chest. She clawed wildly, an attempt to tear out the pain but instead forced in air as she gasped, further exacerbating the agony. As her body craved more oxygen, she found herself less able to cope. She realised the problem and knew how to relieve it. Struggling to unclasp the straps of her backpack, she finally shrugged it off. Gritting her teeth in determination, she rolled over onto her side and began to spill out its contents in search of the medical kit.
    On location she yanked it out, removed her glove and squashed it under her body before groping for the chest decompression needle. Struggling to breathe she began to panic and realised the onset of an anxiety attack. Grabbing a thick pen-like object, she quickly pulled it out and broke it open, spilling its contents onto the snow. Seizing the long broad needle and small catheter, she thrust her hand under her constricting clothing.
    She slid icy fingers over her ribs along the anterior axillary line under the arm pit, above the coronal plane. She had to find the point midway between the centre of the clavicle and the lateral end, between the forth and fifth rib. She held the chest decompression needle tightly in her hand, using her forefinger as a guide while she probed for the entry point. Without hesitation she pushed the needle into her chest. The relief was instant as the trapped air flowed out. Gasping deeply, she felt the frozen air burn through her body, replenishing lost oxygen.
    Laying on her back and still in pain, she identified the broken and cracked ribs. This was the least of her problems. Her body had already begun loosing a tremendous amount of heat, paving the way for hypothermia. As the shock faded and shivering increased, she realised that she needed to find shelter from the current storm which was becoming progressively worse, life threatening. The snowfall had increased considerably.
    Withdrawing the decompression needle, she carefully inserted the catheter and secured it as best she could before sealing her clothing to prevent any further heat loss. It was now imperative to manage the pain and find shelter. Grabbing the first aid kit again, Aveline shook loose all the contents before plunging her hand in to grope for the syringe with eight milligrams of morphine.
    Pulling back her sleeve as far as she could, she carefully located a superficial vein on the elbow pit, inserted the needle and slowly pressed down the plunger. The painkiller burned as it coursed through her veins and into the blood stream. While waiting for it to take effect she became aware of slight burning sensation on her forehead. Touching it lightly with her hand, she felt warm liquid oozing from a small cut. Blood. Unconcerned, she pulled down her sleeve and fastened her glove. As soon as she felt the medication begin to take effect, she hauled herself to her feet.
    After checking her clothing to reduce heat loss, she tightened up her hood and moved into the thick snow. Shifting along the cliff side, searching for shelter, Aveline took care not to stray far as the whiteout would easily result in loss of direction the ferocious blizzard. She could feel the frigid winds slicing through her clothing and knew she was a prime candidate for hypothermia.
    The minutes stretched with no sign of the storm abating, and no form of shelter. Aveline’s stressed body began to buckle. All thought and focus deteriorated. She no longer moved with purpose and swayed clumsily. Losing her balance in the thick snow, she collapsed. Disoriented and weak, she ceased to battle the forces of nature. She simply let go of all resistance, smiling weakly at the face of her fiancé floating before her, entreating her not to give up.


    The abrupt and calamitous flash snowstorm had mobilized search and rescue teams across the mountains. Dozens of distress flares had been lighted up throughout the slopes and beacons secured to mark their positions. The climbers who had ascended were undoubtedly in danger and needed help very soon. Close analyses of the weather situation warned rescuers of the severity of risk and exposure which search parties would face, if the extreme weather conditions were to further deteriorate. Much depended on the abilities and training of even the top qualified personnel.
    After the initial emergency distress sounded, lead search and rescue officer Dietrich Jaeger and his team were one of the first to react. They were renowned for their high success and low mortality rate over the hundreds of missions they had carried out. Their efficiency, experience and dedication set them way above many of the other teams and they were known for purposely endangering themselves and taking high risks in order to save the lives so dependent on them.
    The four-bladed Sikorsky S-92 search and rescue helicopter, powered by twin GE CT7-8A turboshaft engines, capable of 2,520 shaft horsepower (shp) each, was waiting. Dietrich and his team of four climbed in, sealed the doors and took their seats. The engines roared as they all strapped in and prepared for the dangerous mission ahead. Contacting flight control for authorization to proceed and assessing their controls, the flight path was determined taking into account storm severity and economy. On receiving acknowledgement from the tower, systems were engaged and lift off began.
    Dietrich’s attention was concentrated on a mobile GPS device which he used to traverse the effects of the storm over the marked beacons. Assessing the severity, altitude and distance of each one, he highlighted them all in sequence, effectively black-marking two that they simply could not reach. The beleaguered climbers identified in these two inaccessible positions would have to rely on their own instincts, until the storm cleared up enough for them to be rescued since the weather which they were experiencing threatened the stability and flight of any helicopter.
    Dietrich linked his surveillance to the pilots’ navigation sequence. The flight plan was immediately altered to the new route he had set. He concentrated on the satellite surveillance, while carefully monitoring the weather patterns. It was, after all, his duty to ensure the safety of his own team, while they focused on the safety of those to be rescued. This included leading the entire operation and this particular case, watching the movement of the harsh storm into which they were flying.
    The first two rescue beacons were registered to a group of climbers which consisted of a seasoned and experienced guide and two highly acclaimed scientists. They were situated no more than fifty meters away from the lower altitudinal summit and exposed to heavy winds and freezing temperatures as well as reduced visibility, the result of whiteout. Their conditions would only worsen as the massive storm continued to swirl over them.
    Dietrich monitored their estimated time of arrival as they moved at a speed of about 280km/hr. Just over five minutes away although he would have to consider reduction of speed in light of the extreme weather. There was significant increase in danger due to the unpredictable nature of the storm as well as altitude and the prevailing winds.
    He glanced across at the Seigel brothers, Axel and Leith, both highly skilled in their respective fields, medical first aid and survival experts. They had remained by his side through almost every deployment since he had enlisted. Although exceptional, the two pilots Lisette and Rhodes had not been with them as long, having joined the team when he was awarded command of the helicopter. Their loyalty was simply unparalleled and never faltered, even in the worst situations they had endured. Dietrich trusted them completely and had won their total respect. This team was a force to be reckoned with.
    As minutes ticked by the Sikorsky S-92 began to vibrate with minor turbulence, a clear indication of their approach to the periphery of the storm. Dietrich ordered his team to prepare and remain vigilant. This was their second operation performing multiple rescues which were scattered over a wide area of terrain. The first had been a success, despite the loss of one casualty who died minutes before their arrival.
    As instructed, the three of them began organizing their equipment. Securing harnesses tightly along with the carabiners to the rings, they completed their preparations and donned snow shoes with crampons, heavy jackets and waterproofing clothing. Large backpacks complete with first aid kits, climbing and survival equipment was hoisted onto their backs. Thick blankets, stretchers and medical supplies were the final additions before readying themselves for deployment. Moving towards the sliding passenger door from which hung the rope for their descent, they grasped slings attached to the roof, both for stability and traction to prevent their crampons slipping.
    Holding his mobile satellite device, while keeping an eye on the closing distance and fast moving weather, Dietrich could feel the force of the wind affecting the helicopter. The turbulence was increasing. Visibility was reduced forcing them to rely on the their flight instruments.
    “Dietrich, these conditions are getting tricky,” Rhodes reported.
    “I can tell, keep a close eye on it,” noting the behaviour of the chopper.
    “If this gets any worse, we’re going to be forced to abort,” warned Lisette.
    “Then you make that call when you have to,” replied Dietrich.
    “Copy that.”
    “There’s something different about this storm,” he frowned, observing its formation on his mobile satellite device.
    “Like what?” Axel felt the aircraft bucking.
    “Like it has a hidden agenda, I’ve never seen this before,” Dietrich was puzzled.
    “Alright, we’re coming up to the first two beacons,” stated Lisette.
    “But thermal imaging is not picking up anything on or near the summit,” said Rhodes.
    “Keep a look out, there has to be something,” Dietrich replied, scrutinising his own device.
    “I think I see someone, but they have no heat signature,” said Rhodes after a moment.
    “That does not mean they’re dead. Lisette, see if you can get us closer,” Dietrich said.
    “Roger that.”
    Suddenly the Sikorsky instruments howled in distress. Heavy turbulence nearly sent the helicopter into an uncontrollable spin. Lisette’s extensive skills and training stabilized the aircraft. With Rhodes’ help, they managed to regain control, despite the increasing wind speed and thick snowfall which was definitely beginning to affect its performance.
    “Shit that was close, Dietrich we can’t fly in this,” said Lisette, shaken.
    “Alright, lets prepare to abort,” he said, convinced by the sudden scare.
    “What about who ever is down there, they might still be alive?” insisted Axel.
    “They may already be dead and we unnecessarily endanger ourselves,” argued Dietrich.
    “We’ve done it before, besides its just a matter of dropping down and collecting them,” reasoned Leith.
    “You know its not as simple as that, anything could happen.” interjected Lisette.
    Dietrich paused, very aware of the worsening danger. But he could not abandon those in need especially when they were so close. Search and Rescue had become the focal point of his life, saving as many people as he could, despite the fact that it was impossible to save everyone. He tried to analyse this storm, to figure out what was so different from a normal snowstorm, the violent and swirling winds, icy snow falls, sudden ferocity of lightening – it did not make sense.
    “Lisette, can you hold it stable for a moment?” he asked quickly, still pondering.
    “I can try, although it won’t be for long, not if there’s another gust of wind,” she replied.
    “Keep it as steady, we’ll be as quick as we can,” he decided, glancing at Axel and Leith who exchanged knowing looks.
    “Okay,” she said as Axel slid open the passenger door against the winds which buffeted them.
    They all held on tight, while Lisette and Rhodes stabilised the aircraft. The frozen and abrasive wind tore at them, forcing thick dense snow into the helicopter. Dietrich suddenly felt this was against his better judgement but the harsh wind quickly whipped away his indecision. Axel swiftly secured the helicopter strope to lower them to the white carpet below. He locked eyes with Dietrich, indicating them to proceed.
    “No matter what happens down there, do not endanger yourselves. If the storm becomes overbearing, abort. Do you understand?” he instructed, while Axel attached their harnesses to the ropes between them which were also attached to the aircraft.
    “We understand, Dietrich, be careful,” shouted Lisette as she fought the controls.
    “I will see you in a moment,” he lowered his snow goggles, while Axel glanced reassuringly at his brother.
    They both leapt out the door into the unforgiving storm. They almost lost the thumping of the rotors. As they made their rapid descent, the storm engulfed them from both sight and sound of the helicopter. It was only then that Dietrich realised the severity of the storm which threatening to overcome them. Unable to see either the helicopter or the ground, he focussed below, feeling the continuous thrashing of the rope. In no time at all, they crashed into the thick snow. Quickly recovering, they moved off with the rope from the helicopter still attached to their harnesses, to stop them straying too far and for quick ascension.
    Adrenaline surging, Dietrich began searching, barely able to see further than his hands. Soon he began to panic. There was no sign of any climbers. He was about to abandon the search, for all their safety, when he felt the urgent tug of the rope attached to his waist.
    He grabbed it and trekked across to Axel, who appeared to be wrestling with somebody. Hastening, he quickly realized what the tussle was about. The victim, a female in her late twenties sporting a gash on her forehead, appeared to be attempting to undress herself. This condition, known as paradoxical undressing occurs during moderate to severe hypothermia. A person becomes disoriented, confused, and combative. Removing clothing increases the rate of heat loss and generally leads to death. An explanation for this behaviour is a cold-induced malfunction of the hyothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature which leads to the muscles contracting, peripheral blood vessels become exhausted and relax, leading to a sudden surge of blood and heat to the extremities, convincing the person to undress.
    Dropping down beside him, Dietrich helped Axel clothe the girl. Shouting over the loud rush of the wind, he tried to penetrate through her disoriented state and calm her. After losing a few precious minutes with unsuccessful persuasion, he unwound a rope which was attached to his harness and clipped the carabiner to her. Axel helped him secure her in preparation for the airlift - when disaster struck. They both heard the alarms from the helicopter, screaming through their ear pieces.
    “Oh my god, Dietrich I can’t hold it,” screamed Lisette in obvious distress.
    “Abort!” he bellowed as the terror flooded his body.
    Dietrich and Axel struggled to see through the storm and could just make out the bright red safety lights, spinning wildly out of control. Limbs locked in horror, Dietrich suddenly realized that the helicopter strope was still attached to them. With split-second reaction he unclasped the carabiner attached to their rope, only to have it ripped from his grasp. Helpless, he followed the red lights of the helicopter falling away from them at a rapid pace. His ears rang with the blood-curdling screams of terror from his fellow team members before they were silenced by the collision when the aircraft slammed into the mountain- side.
    Dietrich and Axel both felt the shock-wave of the crash. It rumbled through the snow beneath them. Rooted to the ground they gazed blindly towards the spot where the helicopter had disappeared into the whiteout, hopelessly seeking any sign to guide them towards their team mates. The last sight the Sikorsky S-92 was imprinted on their minds.
    They were suddenly aware that the rumbling they had experienced moments earlier, was growing louder. The ground had begun to shake, and a distinct and heavy rushing mingled with that of the howling wind rumbled towards them, louder. It was coming for them.
    “Avalanche!” bawled Dietrich.
    As a result of the whiteout he could not take his bearings which meant that he could not select a route to flee and avoid the wrath of the oncoming disaster. He was also aware from the satellite images that there was a high cliff over which they could be swept. Their fate appeared to be set in stone. There was no escape. Slim as it was, the best option for survival was to move as far out of the way as humanely possible.
    Supporting the girl between them, Dietrich and Axel hauled her along in their attempt to flee impending catastrophe. With no immediate alternatives, Dietrich fumbled in one of his external jacket pockets, located and activated his emergency Avalanche transceiver. A last ditch attempt to ensure every outside possibility of rescue. Dietrich held tightly onto the girl, bracing for the solid force to come, and prayed.


    The early morning was dark and frigid at the breaking of dawn. Distant light on the horizon seeped through and illuminated the endless wave of ominous clouds drifting over the vast mountains. Shepherded by the wind which swept the menacing shadows, engulfing everything below, visibility throughout was reduced. Fluid eddys scoured the massive frozen terrain, sculpting and shaping the aerodynamic appearance as it dragged over the snow, displacing textures and redefining shapes, transmuting formation and natural contours.
    The storm had gradually deteriorated overnight, depositing several feet of snow in its wake. The surrounding conditions had mellowed into a calm and soothing breeze, while the daunting skies continued to intimidate the ground below. The silence had subdued the surrounding terrain which lay dormant in anticipation of the approaching morning, which would undoubtedly bring its own surprises.
    Feldwebel Reiner Krüger and his companion Fritz, a bold and daring purebred German Shepherd dog, had in the early hours of the morning been deployed up the snowy mountain range. They were accompanied by numerous volunteers of the Bundeswehr to assist the beleaguered search and rescue teams. All searches had been hampered by the intensity of the ferocious storm which had endangered nearly a hundred civilians and three search and rescue teams. Initial distress signals had not been repeated and many were feared dead however the search parties were driven by determination and intent on recovering those who had been trapped and unable to reach safety. Every minute was valuable, possibly the difference between life and death. There was always hope.
    Among the team were ten well trained search and rescue canine units, each capable of searching one hectare in approximately thirty minutes and finer searches in one to two hours. This compared to twenty foot searchers, with probes, covering the same area in about four hours. Finer searchers would take twenty searchers about twenty hours. The canines were gifted with about two hundred and twenty million scent receptors, their handlers with about five million. They were essential in the search to scour the dense snow, along with Probe teams and transceivers, the only other alternative to locating any survivors.
    Having begun their search early, Reiner and Fritz moved through the thick snow independently, scanning the last known areas of climbers. The rest of their team had fanned out over a large distance. There were many teams covering other areas of the vast mountain range, searching in the known locations of possible survivors. Smaller teams concentrated on activated emergency transceivers. The light was subdued so all areas were traversed using state of the art LED head lamps and torches, with which the canine units were also equipped.
    During the past two hours Reiner and Fritz had not been successful. The concentration was intense as they struggled against the interminable conditions. The steep incline which they were forced to negotiate was risky as there was a likelihood that an avalanche could occur as a result of the loose and newly settled snow. This was something they could not afford but not entirely avoidable. Both Reiner and Fritz were equipped with avalanche transceivers, in the event they too, were endangered.
    Before long Fritz came across a scent and bounced off in pursuit. Familiar with his companion’s characteristics, Reiner encouraged him before alerting the other members of the team. He focused his attention on Fritz as they both continued on up the slope. The constant fight against the thick snow significantly reduced their speed but Fritz, enthusiastic as always, battled the elements. It was more difficult for him to move through than it was for Reiner but the strengthening scent motivated him more than ever. His vibrant leaps propelled him through the snow but, in doing so he also caused the loose snow to slide. At that moment Reiner realised the very thing he had feared and anticipated.
    Between them they had triggered the onset of an avalanche. Reiner shifted into overdrive. As he ploughed through the burdening snow ahead, swerving as far from the disintegrating snow as he could, he alerted all his fellow team members, forewarning them of the impending disaster. They were not in direct danger. Ensuring the rope between them did not tangle, he encouraged Fritz as he gained ground.
    Reiner felt the vibration of the snow as it gave way and soon the great slide began. Adrenaline pumped, granting him the ability to catapult himself across the path of impending danger. He and Fritz launched themselves over the flowing snow which threatened to swallow them, dashing away the relentless force dragging at their legs. Reiner thrust himself above the slow drifting menace, feeling it slide away from beneath his feet despite efforts to suck them into obscurity.
    Relieved that Fritz had made it out of the danger zone, Reiner took one last leap. His legs were swept out from under him, landing him on his stomach. Sliding down, he spun around onto his back as Fritz’s teeth sank into his thick jacket, yanking him backwards. With his companion’s timely help Reiner regained his equilibrium and watched in relief as the snowfall they had triggered flowed away from them, engulfing the few large rocks and shrubs they had climbed past on their ascension.
    “Thank you boy,” he panted as he grabbed Fritz’s harness for better traction.
    “That’s a good boy,” he breathlessly clambered up beside his companion and stroked his head.
    “Feldwebel, are you okay?” called a voice through his ear piece.
    “I’m fine Aurel,” he responded.
    “That was close,”
    “Sure was,” he replied.
    Awed at the incident which had just unfolded, Reiner paused a moment to watch the receding snow, hearing the baleful rumble roll up and spiral around them and the entire area. Glancing around his surroundings, he glimpsed a few members of his team warily approach him. The two handlers were lead by their German Shepherds, who both indicated they were tracking.
    “Feldwebel, Heinz has caught scent of something,” called out Aurel.
    “It might be what Fritz was following, be careful of loose snow,” responded Reiner.
    “Understood Feldwebel.”
    Inhaling a deep breath of cold air and analyzing the situation they had so narrowly escaped, Reiner heaved himself to his feet and encouraged Fritz to continue following the scent he had sensed. As he carefully assessed the area cleared of the recent snow, he searched for anything which could lead him to a survivor. He feared that if there had been anybody trapped, they could have been swept back down with the snow slide. The likelihood of survival was slim and in any case there was nothing he could have done to save them.
    He focused on the search and scrutinised Fritz’s behaviour. Reiner then noticed that Heinz and the other German Shepherd were digging into the snow. Quickening his pace and encouraging Fritz, Reiner used the downward incline to join them. On reaching them Reiner removed a compact spade which was attached to his backpack. Skidding to a halt near Fritz, he began digging with him as the other two handlers followed suit.
    The snow was well settled and difficult to penetrate. It was not long before they came across a blue jacket. Assuming the possibility of the victim suffering from some form of injury, they were careful not to strike too close so Reiner began digging around the body to prevent any accidents, tossing the snow downhill away from them. After a moment of careful clearing, with the gentle help of Fritz, Reiner finally uncovered the man’s head, facing down and tilted to the side. It was clear at that moment. The face was frozen solid. Tinted with a white sheen, glassy and waxed.
    Reiner placed his fingers on his neck, just to be sure, before letting out disappointed sigh. Nothing more could be done for the deceased. Reiner straightened up and congratulated Fritz on his efforts. He turned to Aurel who shook his head. He had also found a body beyond help. The expression on the soldier behind him mirrored their reactions for the body he too, had recovered was no better. Yet the three canines had not finished their duty. They had continued to sniff and scratch in two other locations. Their handlers quickly followed suit. Sadly, their efforts were wasted as the two other bodies were also beyond help.
    “There’s nothing more we can do here,” said Reiner disconsolately.
    “Feldwebel, what about the bodies?” asked the soldier behind Aurel.
    “We’ll mark this position, tag the bodies so we can come back for them,” replied Aurel as he glanced over his shoulder.
    “Lets move, come Fritz,” said Reiner.
    Together they moved off, back towards where the snow slide had started. Aurel placed a transceiver among the five bodies to assist recovery of the bodies later. Once he had done so, he moved on with Heinz towards Reiner, while the other soldier continued tracking with his canine. Their surroundings had become increasingly brighter as the sun struggled to pierce the clouds.
    Although somewhat disappointed and angry, Reiner knew there would be few survivors yet the more he thought about it, the more he had hoped otherwise. Clearing his mind to raise his spirits, his thoughts drifted to his best friend and partner from whom he had been separated for the past few days. Many happy hours had been spent on these slopes with another expedition postponed later during the week since unforseen circumstances had sent him out on a training exercise. They, too, could have been caught in this unexpected disaster. Reiner regained his focus and concentrated attention on Fritz, awaiting him a short distance ahead for instructions.
    Encouraging him, they both pushed through the snow. Driven to forge ahead, he recovered momentum and motivation. As they both scoured the large area on the mountain side, the early and welcoming morning sunlight split through the obtrusive clouds, fighting its way through, pouring onto the smooth white snow. Its warming colours flowed over the mountain a short distance away, towards a rising steep cliff before vanishing. Reiner took comfort in the sun’s temporary appearance, a sign of strength in its ability to break through the suppressive clouds.
    Fritz’s behaviour changed as he came across yet another scent. He pursued with vigorous scratching at the snow with Reiner close behind, supporting him. Reiner, after watching Fritz for a few moments, alerted Aurel and began digging. The further they dug, the deeper they sank. Aurel and Heinz soon joined them and it was not long before they cleared a familiar red jacket.
    This body was clothed in the search and rescue uniform. He was clearly from one of the teams which had been reported missing the previous night. Unfortunately, as with the others they had found, he too had succumbed to the harsh clutches of the storm. Displacing a large amount of snow which had covered him, resulting in a large square crater, Reiner and Aurel were eventually able to extract the frozen individual and remove him from the hole. The name tag on his jacket read, “Axel Seigel.”
    Saddened once more, Reiner attached a tracking transceiver to the victim before returning to his feet to continue his mission. Indicating to Aurel that they should move on, Reiner turned to find Fritz, frantically pursuing yet another trail. This one appeared to lead towards the point where the sun had momentarily spewed over the snow at the base of the cliff. Taken aback by Fritz’s determination and unexpected drive, Reiner wasted no time in chasing after him, volubly encouraging him further, clutching his compact shovel in a tight grip.
    The space between them lengthened quickly but Reiner did not slow him. He sensed a deeper excitement as he followed Fritz who was barely keeping his nose close to the snow, instead moving at a faster pace, leaping in large bounds through the snow. Reiner’s eyes swept the area, seeking any clues which may assist. He was restricted by the deep snow which Fritz seemed to sail through without any impediment.
    Concerns about another avalanche surfaced and Reiner tightened his grip on the rope between them. He called Fritz and struggled to reach him as the snow hindered any progress. Intrigued by Fritz’s behaviour and trusting his instinct without hesitation, Reiner alerted Aurel through his ear piece. There was quite a distance between them but on Reiner’s call, Aurel’s response was immediate with Heinz taking the lead just as Fritz had earlier.
    After moments of bulldozing his way through the relentless snow, Reiner glanced up at his companion to find that he had begun digging wildly into the snow. Reiner hastily ploughed on. Sliding beside Fritz he, too, began to scoop out shovel loads of snow, keeping a watchful eye to prevent himself from plunging in too deep. He did not want to cause further injury, if there was someone below. With each dig and thrust, he shifted a large amount of snow but could not contain the strange sensation tingling through his veins.
    Aurel and Heinz soon joined him, quickly displacing piles of snow around the area in which Fritz had been digging. It was not long before they came across another bright red emergency jacket, another individual from the search and rescue. As they cleared more around it, Reiner began to notice something strange. This victim was not buried as deep as the previous body they had found, and, it was not the only one there. They had uncovered two people tightly snuggled up together.
    Reiner suddenly stopped and as he did, so Fritz paused. They watched carefully as he could have sworn one individual moved. Reiner slowed his actions and carefully wiped the snow from around the jacket, uncovering a man’s head. The movement was real, taking Reiner and Aurel by complete surprise. They calmed the victim and continued clearing the snow around him.
    Assuring him that he was in safe hands, Aurel urged him to hold on while they continued to dig them out. Reiner stopped briefly to call in for urgent medical evacuation. Numerous emergency helicopters were on stand-by not too far from their location and these were the first two survivors that had been located. Reiner and Aurel suppressed their excitement while trying to free the two from their snow grave.
    The man tried to free himself. He was muttering incoherently and in a panic. Words such as, “help,” and “safety,” were discernible but he was obviously suffering from delusion, sometimes caused by moderate hypothermia. At least, this was Reiner’s initial assumption, until the man began to gesture towards the other victim still buried. Nodding his head in understanding, Reiner tried to pacify him as they lifted him carefully out of the hole. They needed to assess his condition to determine the severity of his exposure but before they reached any conclusions, “Officer Dietrich Jaeger” according to the name tag on his jacket, impatiently gestured them to attend to the second victim.
    Leaving Dietrich in Aurel’s safe hands, since he was in possession of advanced medical training, Reiner dropped back into the hole to remove the second victim. The alert had reached more of the soldiers from his team who were making their way towards them so he was able to turn his attention to the remaining body. He was able to determine where the head lay as a result of Dietrich’s position. He began clearing snow as fast and carefully as he could, but this individual did not respond.
    Reiner concentrated on clearing the area around the head of the second victim, before pulling away part of the fabric covering her face. He caught a brief, suddenly very familiar glimpse of her features. The frozen blood on her forehead diverted his attention as he was concerned that she taken a blow to the head. He did not want to move her until she had been properly assessed. He gently removed the thick material covering the rest of her face. It was at that moment when he froze in shock. He felt as though he had been shot, winded and knocked unconscious.


Allan Onik

    Assad sat alone in the throne room. The throne was crystal, inlaid with multicolored diamonds, and his lion paced in front of him. SEAL Team Six entered through the windows and doors, and the dictator picked up his golden PP7 pistol.
    The SEALs were outfitted in tactical cybernetic gear, including vision enhancements, and carried modified Armalite Assault Rifles. They surrounded him and pointed. The officer pointed a spec op MK23 at him and stood in front of him.
    “Your guard has been neutralized. Your daughter will be sent to Turkey. Iran and Russia have withdrawn support, and Hezbolla is 90% eliminated, on the run back to Lebanon. And as for this cat...” One of the SEALs unloaded an Armalite clip. It yelped and puked blood, then curled up in a ball and stopped breathing. “You won’t be needing any more kitty litter. So that just leaves you. You gassed over 300 of your people with Sarin. What do you think we should do with you? The President says it is our call. Completely classified of course.”
    “I was only fighting terrorists. No different than your 9/11. They were anarchists.”
    “I don’t know too many anarchists that can’t say their ABCs and still need their diapers changed. They just wanted a good life. Equality and the pursuit of happiness. Lemme let you in on a little hint. You won’t be getting a trial. Not after the gas. But I’m an American—“and I don/t believe in cruel and unusual punishment. You can choose the way big boy.”
    Assad eyed his golden PP7. He pondered it for a minute, then put it in his mouth.’

Zero Hour

Allan Onik

    The unit landed softly in the dark. As their parachutes fell behind them, they spread and formed while crouching. The Ryongsong Residence was lit in the distance, and the South Korea Forms Unit equipped Daewoo K1s and K5 pistols, with vision enhancements and cybernetic upgrades.

    Un sat on a golden throne inlaid with multicolored diamonds. The floor was composed of imported Italian marble, topped with antique Persian rugs. His lion paced the room and he finished a last bite of pizza. A flare fell down from the ceiling, creating a neon orange halo. The SKFU then descended on ropes. “Numbers 14872, 89420, 48751, 36028, and 63092 have all been subdued and neutralized. The rest of the guard have been cut off from communication, so don’t bother trying to send a signal.” The officer and the others landed softly and pointed their Daewoos. “I hope you enjoyed your pizza. It will be your last meal.”
    Un’s brow creased. “You know, I knew you would come someday. I was counting on it, and I’ve been preparing to cross over. I’ve always fancied my father and grandfather a bit mad, and the apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree—I’ve been waiting for true freedom. This spectacle? No one in this country really believes it! And everyone just wants to see me fry. But I rode the gravy train while it lasted, and I realized that my line was about as goofy as daffy duck or Space Jam.”
    “No shit.”
    “Have you ever studied American History? I have. Lincoln is my favorite. He had a famous quote: ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ All I can say is, its been a hell of a ride.” Kim cackled.
    The officer dropped his Daewoo and pointed his K5 pistol. “This is for The Day of the Sun.” He unloaded the clip.”


Allan Onik

    The President looked out his window aboard Air Force One. He was sitting in his office signing papers, and could see the Chinese countryside. A Secret Service Agent wearing dark sunglasses walked into the room and dropped a sealed envelope on his desk. On the surface was stamped: Top Secret.
    The President opened it with this letter opener and began to read:

    Dear Mr. President,
    Agent Stephens has informed us of a top secret briefing he received from Langley during this flight. Within the past 25 minutes it has come to attention of The Pentagon that your trip to Seoul regarding the North Korean Nuclear crisis is being intercepted by a mole within the Secret Service itself. One of our agents has been bought by the regime for a sizable sum and is looking to neutralize you and then air jump to safety in Pyongyang. We don’t know yet which agent it is, and an investigation is underway. You must follow Agent Gestalt to the sealed bunker in the back of the aircraft where you will be closely monitored until we arrive. Then the matter will be dealt with in Seoul.

    As always, your life comes before that of your protectors here in the detail.

    Sincerely yours,
    Agent Carter

    The door to the office opened and three suited agents walked in.
    “Mr. President, please follow us. There will be two behind you and one in front. When we reach the safety chamber one of us will accompany you inside for additional protection.”
    They walked to the rear of the aircraft amid the gazes. “Jack and Coke on me at the hotel Mr. President,” The Secretary of State’s voice followed him as the doors to the chamber closed.

    Agent Vick readied his SIG Sauer P229 in the chamber. “Only 76 minutes till we land in Seoul Mr. President. You’ll be safe here.”
    “Thank you. This is the most nervous I’ve been since taking office in January. Talk about a rocky first few months! And my approval ratings aren’t nearly where they should be!”
    “Happens to them all Mr. President. Hardest job on Planet Earth.”
    “I had a quick question for you. In your interview, you said you went to Harvard, right? Well we checked the sources—everything checked out. But I was just wondering, what house did you stay in?”
    “Harvard yard, then Adams house, sir.”
    The President turned the coat of the agent and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
    “The 727 brand. Victory day in the North they say. The most famous cigs in the land.” The President stuck his MK 3 combat knife into the traitor’s stomach, then turned it. The Agent puked blood and fell on the floor, convulsing.
    “Adams house was closed in ‘95 due to an FDR memorial. You were the only Agent I wasn’t 100% on.”

Air Force One photograph with President Bush, copyright 1990-2017 Janet Kuypers


Abraham Myers

    For the last three years, I’ve been waiting for it. Today is the day.
    Being in this cell has made me think a lot. I have taken a lot of things for granted in my life. They were simple things, things that you don’t think about when you’re on the outside. Like the sunshine, or the rain, or a touch from somebody that cares. People don’t appreciate what they have. They don’t realize what they get to see every day. I see these bars, and it’s all I am ever going to see.
    I have laid here night after night with nothing more to do than to think and feel guilty. The thing I feel the worst about is my mother. She loved me so much, and she tried, she really did. I had it together for a while, but I just couldn’t hold on to it. It’s hard out there. It’s hard to survive when you have nothing, and nowhere to go. When you have no future. When you know, no matter how hard you try, you will still be nothing. I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I may deserve to die, but I do wish it could have been different.
    There was one person in my life that I thought could pull me out. Her name was Angela. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She filled that void that no one ever could. I met her in a mall in Jacksonville Florida. We had lived in the same town all of our lives, and it took us twenty years to find each other. I wish I would have had more time with her.
    My father. All my life I spent hating a man I never really knew. He left me and my mother when I was eight. I’ll never forget that look in his eyes the last time I saw him. It was the same look that I have now. Regret. I never understood that before. For all these years I have hated him. But now I see. Now I see that sometimes things don’t always happen the way you plan them. As a matter of fact, I believe things hardly ever work out the way you plan them.
    My father didn’t love my mother. He was twenty-two when I was born, and I know he didn’t want me. I believe he loved me, but he just couldn’t take the burden. I don’t blame him anymore, the way I used to. Being in here makes you realize things. When the world comes down on you, and everybody hates you, it hurts. Once you feel the pain of being hated, then it becomes very hard to hate.
    My mother was an angel. She stayed with me. She was like a rock, always encouraging me to do the right thing, and straighten up my life. But I was too angry at the world. I hated my life, and I hated myself. The only time, I think, I have ever seen her cry, was the day I was sentenced to die by electric shock. I looked at her before they took me away, and I saw the despair. I knew that she would gladly take my place if she could. But she can’t.
    This walk I have to walk alone.
    I bet you have always wondered how the criminal mind works. Always wondered what makes those terrible people on death row do what they do. Well I have to tell you, the people here are just like anybody else in the world. They hurt just like everyone else. They love like everyone else. They come from the same God as everyone else. The only difference between most of them, and the rest of the world, is a huge mistake.
    My mistake happened three and a half years ago. Angela and I had been dating for two years. Like I told you before, she was the one. The one who was going to save me. I was sure of it. She made me feel good about myself. No one had ever been able to do that before. She was hurt in her life too, and she had her own problems, but together, I really thought we could take on the world.
    Until the night that it happened.
    We had been fighting over something, I can’t remember now even what it was. Something stupid I’m sure. I have forgotten a lot of my life in this prison. The world I lived in before seems almost like a dream. I guess it has to, because if it didn’t, then you would never be able to stand the fact that you will never get to see it again.
    There was a guy Angela knew at work, he was always flirting with her, and she liked it. I guess he must have filled in the spots that I didn’t. I was never one for being very emotional. Where I grew up you couldn’t afford emotion. Angela wanted that, she wanted that affection, and I guess I just couldn’t give it to her. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, because I did, I loved her more than anything. I would have given my life for Angela, but I guess she never knew that. I have spent many nights laying in this cell, wishing I could go back and tell her that. Maybe if I had told her, it would have all been different.
    She left that night very angry at me. I was drunk, and I remember saying some things that I shouldn’t have. I told her I didn’t want her talking to that guy at work anymore, and then after she left, I followed her car. When she pulled up to that small trailer, I almost lost my mind. She knocked on the door and he answered.
    I waited in the darkness for a few minutes before I walked up to the house. I wanted to bust through the door and scream, but I knew if I did that I would never know what they were doing in there. So I moved to the window and looked inside. What I saw made me snap. She was on the couch with him, his hand down her pants. His hand was down my Angela’s pants. He was destroying all the sacred things we had said to one another. He was destroying our love. And he knew it. He knew about me and her, but he didn’t care. He didn’t fucking care a bit.
    I walked to the front of the house. I didn’t even know what I was doing, I was just doing it. It was like I was standing outside of myself, watching myself do it. He opened the door, and I asked for Angela. Just seeing him standing there pissed me off, and when he asked me what I wanted her for, I grabbed him by his collar and threw him into the yard. He stood up and swung at me a couple of times, but it was no use. He was no match for a man that had spent the first eight years of his life being beat by his father. A father who blamed his son for his failed life.
    I didn’t ask to be born, dad.
    I beat him bad, and I could have let it go. I could have walked away. I would be a free man today if I had. But I didn’t. I grabbed a tire iron from the back of my car and I beat him to death. I just couldn’t stop myself. It was as if all the pain of twenty years poured out of me. I killed him, and I didn’t feel the least bit sorry. That still haunts me.
    The police showed up soon after. Angela had called 911, when she saw me in the yard beating him. They took me away that night, and that was the last time I ever saw Angela. I don’t blame her for what happened, everybody has problems. The easiest way to see that is to spend a few years in here. And Angela if you ever read this, I want you to know that I still love you, that I have always loved you, and that I’m sorry I couldn’t ever tell you that in person.
    I guess that is all I have to say. I am finishing up my last meal now, and I know it won’t be long before the preacher comes to take me.
    The last three years have been hard, and like I said before, I’m not even sure I don’t deserve to die. I’m not really sure of anything, I never really have been. Have you?
    All I know is that I don’t want to die, and that these men in here with me, they don’t want to die either. They just want somebody to help them. So, if you’re one of those people who sit at home every night watching the news, and glorifying the men who will soon come to take me, I must say I feel sorry for you. I only killed one man, but you’ve killed many. I would suggest you spend a few nights in here with these people. Spend a few nights talking with them, and then decide if they deserve to die. Too afraid? I don’t blame you. Like I said before, everybody has problems.
    I can hear the footsteps in the hall, and the other men are whispering. They’re on their way. I will only be alive for a few more hours, but the rest of the men in here, they’ll be alive for a while longer. Maybe somebody can change all this before it’s their time to go. Maybe my story will make somebody think. Well, they’re here for me now, so I have to stop writing. They’re going to ask me if I have any last words.
    I think I do.
    I’m sorry for what I did, and even more sorry that I can’t change it. I feel sorry for you, because after today you can’t change what you have done. And I feel the most sorry for the men back there, in their cells, waiting. They’re all criminals, and yeah, most of them are guilty. But isn’t everybody?

Rule of the Sky, photography by Fabrice Poussin

Rule of the Sky, photography by Fabrice Poussin


Matt Rydeen

    We snuck away in the middle of the night, staying off the main roads, cutting through yards and alleys until we reached the safe house. Mom had hastily packed a few changes of clothes for us in preparation, careful to be sure that Father wouldn’t find out. Uncle Mark was waiting for us, ready to whisk us away to the first of many women’s shelters we would flee to over the next few years as we’d continue to trade one unpredictable home for another.
    We had our own room on the second floor of an aging, historic brownstone, a private space to escape to when things felt unfamiliar and scary. The shelter spilled over with battered and broken and terrified families. Mamma bears bristled with trauma as they tried their best to protect their cubs.
    Time did not exist in this space; neither hours nor days nor weeks nor months passed with any recognition at all, and before I knew it, we were heading back out into the world to survive on our own once again, the same way we’d left it.


    We set up camp on the top floor of a rundown yellow two-story house on the outskirts of Stillwater, near the old prison. Steep, paper-tarred steps led up the back to a makeshift patio, which was also gummed black. The sun softened the gunk in the summertime, and the smell would reach into the pit of my stomach with noxious claws.
    Mom got a job making bowling shoes, earning just enough money to squeak by, but it wasn’t long before Father came back along to sabotage the progress she’d made. I didn’t understand why she would let him back into our lives, but I didn’t think she really understood, either.
    After a while, there were days when she just wasn’t able to show up for her shifts, when her face was so beat up that she couldn’t find the strength to show herself in public, embarrassed and ashamed of what people would think. What if they thought she deserved it?
    Did she think she deserved it?


    “You fucking idiot.”
    Father jabbed his finger in Mom’s face until it repeatedly poked the bridge of her nose.
    “Stop it, Lee, you’re hurting me,” Mom said.
    “You realize they’re right out there, don’t you?” Father asked.
    “Who’s out there, Lee?” Mom asked.
    She opened the back door and peered outside.
    “Nobody’s there.”
    “You fucking called them, you bitch, you called them!”
    Father shoved her, hard, and her head bounced against the wood as the door slammed shut. He grabbed a handful of her hair and dragged her into the living room like a rag doll, then dropped her onto her back and sat on her chest, pinning her arms down with his legs as she screamed.
    Father went to town on her face with his fists, hitting her over and over again until blood was everywhere and Mom was silent. Until there was no noise left in the room at all except Father’s heavy breathing.
    I hid under the kitchen table and bit down on my knuckles to choke back the tears, thinking Mom was surely dead this time, afraid he’d do the same to me if he found me. Father crept out of the room without giving me a second glance, as if I didn’t exist at all.
    I tiptoed through the kitchen. Mom wasn’t moving. She looked like a corpse. Her face had been pounded into goulash, chunks of flesh mashed into bone. I wondered if she was alive. I leaned in close and tilted my head to listen for her breathing.
    A few minutes passed like this.
    They felt like an eternity.
    There was a loud pounding on the door, and I dove back under the kitchen table. I huddled as far back in the corner as I could wedge myself as Father’s footsteps came back up the hallway. He dropped a wet towel on Mom’s chest as he walked past her, then peered out the back window before opening the door.
    “Hey,” the man said, tall blue jean legs and cowboy boots.
    “Hey man, what’s the happs?” Father asked pleasantly, as if he hadn’t just beaten the living crap out of his wife, who lay there, unmoving, just a few feet behind him.
    “Not much,” Cowboy Boots said. “You ready to roll?”
    “Yeah, man, I’ll grab my bag and be right down.”
    Father tried closing the door, but Cowboy Boots stepped in at the last second.
    “Yo, I can wait right here.”
    “Nah, that’s alright,” Father said.“You go back down. I’ll be right out.”
    Cowboy Boots disappeared, and Father shut the door behind him. He walked back through the kitchen, stopping briefly in the living room to look at Mom, who was sitting up now, holding the bloodied rag to her face.
    She was still alive.
    Father shook his head, then skirted the wake of carnage with his duffle bag in hand like he couldn’t wait to escape into the scorching sun of indifference.


    A few weeks later, dishes shattered against walls and wood smashed into splintered pieces. Father’s voice rang out the window while Mom’s cries went unanswered. I stood on the tarred stoop and waited for the turbulence to blow over and the silence that would inevitably follow. I had to go to the bathroom, and it was getting harder and harder to hold it. I crossed my legs, shifting every which way, as things crashed around inside the house.
    The fighting raged on until I couldn’t hold it any longer, so I crouched down to relieve myself in my overalls. The late summer sun scalded and judged me. Aunt Mary drove up in her Jeep Wrangler and hopped out of the suicide door. I stayed squatting, my underwear full of shit.
    “Hi, Matthew,” she said, followed by “What the fuck?!” sailing from calm seas to category five hurricane, as most of Father’s family was prone to do.
    “What’s going on up there, Lee?” she screamed at the house.
    The back door flew open.
    “Get the fuck off my property,” Father said as he waved his shotgun wildly in the air.
    “Your property? Your property, Lee? Are you fucking kidding me? You don’t own this shit-hole. You couldn’t even if you wanted to. What a joke, sponging off your woman like loser trash. What, you think you’re a big strong man with that gun?”
    She hoofed up the stairs unfazed. Father looked around like he was trying to find a quick way to escape, while I tried to disappear into the corner of the deck.
    Aunt Mary winked at me and whispered, “You stay put.”
    She was at least half a foot shorter than Father, but she shoved him aside like a pile of dirty laundry and went inside the house as he muttered something incomprehensible under his breath. She came back out with Mom, the whole time threatening Father within an inch of his life if he even thought about touching her. Aunt Mary grabbed my hand and escorted us both down the stairs to the Jeep. I was still embarrassed that I had gone #2 in my pants, so I huddled on the floor behind her seat where she couldn’t see me. I was in the clear until we got to Aunt Mary’s house, where Mom had to wash the shit out of my clothes and give me a bath.
    We didn’t even spend the night.
    Mom brought us right back home a few hours later.


    Once the swelling and bruising around her eyes and nose had healed up enough that she could cover the rest with makeup, Mom got a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken after she was let go from the sewing factory. Father was supposed to watch me during the day, but he almost always slept until late afternoon, so I was left to my own devices. I spent a lot of time playing with my friend Clifton, who lived down the street in a pale yellow house with dark brown trim almost identical to our own.
    One day, shortly after I started kindergarten, the bus dropped me back home, and I walked down to Clifton’s house like I did most days. An older man I had never seen before answered the door dressed in paint-splotched, faded blue jeans and a stained white t-shirt.
    “Hi mister, can Clifton come out to play?” I asked.
    “Clifton isn’t here right now,” he said. “His daddy took him to the store real quick. They should be back in a little while.”
    He looked past me down the alley.
    “Say, I need to pick up something at the drug store in town. Would you like to come with? Maybe we’ll run into Clifton. You can even pick out a toy before we head home. My treat.”
    I climbed into his rusty truck, grabbing the inside door handle to help lift myself up in order to reach the tall ledge with my foot, and then awkwardly pulled myself onto the edge of the bench seat onto my stomach. Throwing my legs around to the floor, I flipped right side up so I could sit on the seat while my legs kicked in the air.
    We drove the winding road that led from Oak Park Heights toward downtown Stillwater, descending into the valley, passing the steep bluffs along the St. Croix River. The many rainy days we’d had over the summer provided a tremendous amount of green, and the trees and grass and flowers had exploded into a lush Minnesota rainforest.
    The man parked his beat up truck on Main Street and led me by the hand into the store. He picked up a few things and placed them into a wire basket as we walked the aisles. Standing next to him, my head barely reached his thighs. He was much taller than my father.
    We strolled around a corner and there was the toy aisle in all its glory, filled with colorful packaging screaming, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ as my eyes filled with longing. There were so many choices, but he’d said I could choose just one, so I settled on what looked the most exciting: an orange and blue NERF gun that shot neon green foam balls.
    The man helped me into the truck this time, lifting me up by my wrists and setting my feet onto the ledge, then pushing my bottom as I scrambled onto the seat. The rusty door complained as it shut. He drove the same way home as we’d come, slowing down as we passed the truck stop diner nestled beneath the bluffs on the side of the highway heading out of downtown. I’d been to that diner once before with Grandma Hazel earlier that year, around the time I’d just turned five. She’d taken a styrofoam cup of coffee to go and bought a newspaper from the coin-operated rack on our way out, setting the folded paper on the car seat between us and wedging the coffee cup in its usual place on top of the dashboard against the inside of the windshield, where it had steamed up a large circle on the glass.
    “Are we going to the diner, mister?” I asked, hoping I could get one of the giant M&M cookies from the display case.
    He didn’t answer. The truck slowed down, but instead of turning right into the diner’s parking lot, he turned left in the opposite direction, onto a dirt road heading toward the river.
    The mammoth tires pulverized the gravel, trapping us in a cloud of dust, sending loose rock pinging against the undercarriage. Tall grass stood erect like wheat along both sides of the road, while an abandoned industrial building loomed up ahead at the bank of the river. He swung the truck to the right, along the railroad tracks and an overgrown cluster of bushes, as the sun slipped silently behind the cliffs, hushing the river valley, except for the crickets which noisily chirped their anticipation of dusk.
    The man got out of the truck, came around to my side, opened the door, then picked me up underneath my armpits and set me down on the gravel. The smell of dead fish clung to the humid air. He took my hand and directed me to the crumbling cement wall holding the earth against the river. We stood there for a minute, neither of us saying anything, watching the river laze along. The silence filled me with unease, and I nervously watched bits of leaves and foam and an occasional piece of river wood drift by.
    We explored the abandoned building, the part that was open to the elements, and I heaved chunks of collapsed concrete into the river. They kerplunked as the water swallowed them whole. Everything was in a state of decay. Eventually, we grew bored with kicking up sand and dust into the twilight air, and headed back toward the truck.
    The man opened my door, hesitated for a moment, then said, “I should check you for wood ticks,” like an afterthought.
    He turned my little body to face away from him toward the train tracks, and, reaching around me, undid my belt, unbuttoned and unzipped my pants, then pulled them down around my ankles. He slid his big hand down the front of my underwear and felt around. His fingers stung like ice cubes and the chilly air bit at my eyes.
    The calloused hand reached around to my bottom, and I could feel his breath, hot on the back of my neck. It was putrid, like he’d not brushed his teeth in weeks. I stood frozen in place, afraid to move even an inch. His breath coupled with the smell of rotting fish made my stomach lurch in violent somersaults.
    “Can we go home now?” I asked.
    My voice was tiny, but it startled him. He quickly pulled his hand out of my underwear and stepped away from me, looking at me as if seeing me for the first time, like he didn’t know if I was a human or a dog or a cricket.
    He cleared his throat as he dragged his feet against the rock.
    “Yep, you bet. There are no wood ticks on ya, that’s for sure. Yep, you’re in the clear, and Clifton is probably back home by now, anyhow...”
    “I don’t want to play with Clifton anymore,” I said as I pulled up my pants.
    I gazed out the window as the rocky cliff-face whizzed past, feeling tired and confused and spooked because I didn’t know what we had been doing by the river, and I didn’t like the feeling of what had just happened, even though I didn’t really know what had happened. He’d said he needed to check me for wood ticks, but something about the way he did it felt wrong.
    I wondered what would happen if I flung the truck door open and jumped. If I could tuck myself into a ball quickly enough in mid-air before landing in the gravel along the side of the road, and roll safely into the dogwood, maybe I could disappear into the burning bush forever?


    I threw the NERF gun in the garbage can behind the garage before I went into the house. I never wanted to see it again. Never even took it out of the box. I felt silly for wanting it so badly in the first place, plus, the thought of telling Mom how I’d gotten it made me feel dirty and guilty.
    I never saw the man again after that day. It was as if he’d vanished, or—and I desperately wished this to be true—maybe he’d never existed at all. But either way, Mom was so wrapped up in her own battle for survival, I don’t think she would have noticed if he’d been sitting on our back steps waiting there for me every day for the rest of my life.


This piece has also been published online in the Matador Review.

Matt Rydeen Bio

    Matt Rydeen is an LGBT author, a member of the Loft Literary Center, and has spoken excerpts from his upcoming debut memoir, Cherry Lane, at Toastmasters International. He is passionate about partnering with organizations fighting to end domestic violence as well as the stigma of mental illness, and works to champion change by providing a personal account of how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and to raise awareness that the system, although designed to help, still fails many abuse sufferers that go unnoticed. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can learn more about his life and thoughts at mattrydeen.com.

Good Suicides

Sayuri Yamada

    Good morning everybody. I’m Trevor Mortimer. Welcome to ‘Who’s the Best?’ Last year there was no winner, because as some of you might remember no one succeeded. So this year the prize is bigger than ever! (Cheers from the studio audience) I wonder ‘who’s the best’ this year.
    I’ll explain the rules. Don’t worry. I won’t go into the every single detail to make you fall asleep in front of your TV or in your seats her in the studio. Hello! (Hello! from the studio audience)
    We’ve chosen two contestants as good jumpers out of four hundred and fifty one contestants. Thank you for your enthusiasm, as usual. (Cheers)
    How it works is, in case some viewers haven’t seen this game show before, (Boo!) that people send their simulation DVDs to us and five renowned suicidologists select two, who will do their jobs in reality, and the audience vote for the best one.
    The basic rule is that you can’t use artificial settings. You have to use natural or already-existing things only, like mountains and rivers and buildings. You can’t stick knives into the ground to make it more effective, for instance. If we found out that you’ve made your own settings, you’ll be disqualified automatically. Another disqualification is like last year if you survive, you’ll be out. This is not child’s play. This is not a frivolous game show. We are in business! We are serious! (Cheers and whistling) It is a life or death matter! (Laughter)
    The winner will get huge honour and we will make a gorgeous grave for him or her according his or her religion.
    Before I introduce the final two, I’ll show you some funny or strange contestants. The first one is, as shown on the screen behind me, this man who disguised himself as a woman. As you can see, he has thick make-up: long artificial eyelashes, blue eye shadow, red lips, red cheeks. And he’s in a red full-skirt dress with puffed sleeves and white frills on the hem. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but his legs under the knee-length skirt are quite hairy. He could’ve shown them without those black hairs easily with a computer, so it must be on purpose, but I don’t get what for. Probably to make him look funny. But I don’t think it’s working. What do you think? (Boo) He’s standing on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that is fifty-seven metres above the Cooper River in South Carolina in the US. It’s a beautiful white cable-stayed bridge, but it doesn’t make his job any better, mind you. See, he is looking down at the river, which is very wide. Looks like a sea with that clean blue water. This simulation is very well made. It looks like real. So we tried to contact her to come for an interview. But the DVD wasn’t a simulation, but a live one! She was disqualified right away, because she couldn’t come to the real contest. (‘What was that idiot?’ Laughter.) Please don’t do that. I mean don’t do the real thing in a DVD. You’ve got to be alive to do the job later.
    Anyway, he, that man in the red dress with hairy legs jumped into the river and drowned. That was all. Of course he wasn’t chosen. It was just stupid and silly.
    Another example on the screen behind me is this woman sitting at an open door on a small aeroplane. Now she’s in a close-up. Nice looking, although her nose is a wee bit too big. (‘Way too big.’) Just watch what she’s going to do. Now she jumps down and hits another small aeroplane that is flying underneath. She hits it with her head which starts bleeding heavily. Then she falls onto another aeroplane down there and hits her legs, which become askew. Look. She falls and again hits another aeroplane and hits her stomach and then finally hits the ground. Dead. If she could to it in reality, it’d be spectacular, but I don’t think so. Who could fly aeroplanes at the exact height and time like that? (‘Silly cow!’ Laughter) You can do anything in computer simulation, but don’t forget you’ll have to do the same in the reality if you’re chosen. Be realistic.
    The theme this year is Jumping from a Height. It’s the same as the one last year. That’s because there was no winner last year as many of you must remember, so we have to have the same again this year. It was a disaster last year as I’ve already mentioned. Both of the last two contestants survived. It was shocking. It hadn’t happened before since we started eight years ago. Sometimes one survived, both? Never. But it happened last year. What was wrong with you? (laughter)
    The first contestant last year jumped from a coast redwood at Redwood National Park, California. It was 115.66 metres tall, the tallest tree in the world. If nothing had happened, he’d have succeeded. But he hit a branch three times, which softened the fall and he was still alive when he hit the ground. (Boo!) He died of the head injury six hours later. Too late! The rule for the jumping is to die instantly. If it’s poison, you can be alive for an hour to allow time for the poison to work. If it’s fire, ten minutes. With a knife, thirty minutes to give them time to stab themselves more. It’s zero minutes for jumping! (Yeah!)
    The second contestant jumped from the top of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. It’s thirty metres tall. She’d have died instantly in theory, but she survived and didn’t fall in a coma or anything. What’s wrong with people? Are they growing external coverings like cockroaches? She was shamefacedly taken away on a stretcher under ‘Boos!’ from everybody and was killed in a car accident right the next day. Too late! (Laughter) We just hope both can succeed this time. Don’t you think? (Yeah! and whistling)
    Well, it’s time to go to the locations. (Cheers)


    Thanks Trevor. I’m Stephaney Clawe. This is the first contestant, David Clawe. We aren’t related, mind you. We are on the top of the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong. We are standing on a 412 metre tall building. The wind is a bit chilly and strong. But the sky is blue, no sign of rain. David, what’s your plan?
    Well, I’ll shed this blanket and jump stark naked. (He opens the blanket at the front to show he is naked) (Whistling from the studio audience watching the scene on the big screen)
    You don’t have to do it again until you really jump, all right, David?
    Fine. It’s too cold to be naked standing here anyway. My plan is that I’ll think about my girlfriend all the way to the ground, screaming her name and masturbating. I don’t think I can come in the few seconds while I’m still in the air, though. Anyway, I’ll hit the ground just by her and die there. I love you, Peach.
    It’s a very unique way of jumping. Nobody’s ever done it before. What makes you chose this unique way?
    Well, because I love my girlfriend so much. I love you, Peach. So it’s kind of natural. I love you, Peach.
    All right. Here is his girlfriend, may I call her Peach as well?
    That’s fine.
    Thank you. Here is what Peach said about what her boyfriend is doing twenty minutes ago at the bottom of the building.
    Davievie, I’m very very proud of you. And I’m very very honoured. You’ll think about me until the end. You’ll yell my name until the end. You’ll masturbate thinking about me. Nobody’s ever been loved that much. I love you, Davievie! I love you, Davievie!
    What do you think of that, David?
    Well, I love you, Peach! I love you, Peach!
    All right, all right. Are you ready?
    Yeah. I love you, Peach!
    Now, he just jumped after shedding the blanket, yelling, ‘Peach, I love you!’ and masturbating. Let’s watch it in slow motion. Here he goes, stark naked, holding his penis, shouting, ‘Peach. Peach.’ Going down and down with his legs wide open stretched as if sitting in the air. Down and down. I don’t think his penis is any bigger, although his hands are moving fast. Now he’s hit the ground, but hang on. I think he hit his girlfriend. Let’s have a look one more time. He’s going down, down, shouting, Peach, Peach. And on his Peach. Oh, no. That wasn’t his plan. It was by her side, not on her. He must’ve been on her too many times. (Laughter from the studio audience) Well, the rule says that if it’s different from the simulation DVD, you’re disqualified. Hang on. (Listening to earphones with her head cocked) Yes, it’s confirmed that he landed on her and both died. If she lived, he might be still in. But sorry, David. It was very unique and moving plan, but you are out! Back to you, Trevor.


    Thank you, Stephaney. Bad luck, David. But he’ll probably be happy with his Peach in heaven now. Don’t you think? (A mixture of Boo and Yeah)
    We just hope the next contestant will succeed. (Yeah! Yeah!) Or we’ll have to have the same them next year. (Boo! Boo!)


    Thank you, Trevor. The next contestant is Alex Vowden. We’re standing on the top of the Doges Palace Prison Courtyard in Italy. It’s not a tall building, only four storeys. You might be puzzled as you know contestants usually jump off tall buildings or high mountains or tall bridges or anything tall or high. But the ground from where we’re standing looks so close. Can she succeed? What’s your plan, Alex?
    My plan is to jump and hit my stomach to that black iron thing over the well down there. So all of my innards will be all over the courtyard.
    (To the camera) She is to hit the black iron arch over the well on the ground. It’s a bit far from here. Don’t you think it’s risky, Alex? You might miss it.
    I know it’s risky, but I’ve been practising jumping from my flat onto several mattresses on the ground with the same distance from the building. I think I’ll make it.
    Good for you, Alex. I admire your enthusiasm. Well, I think it’s time now. Do you want to say something for the last time in your life, Alex?
    All right. Ready? Here she went. She jumped and hit the iron. Wow! Her intestines are spewed from her torso. They are long and snow white with a bit of red blood here and there. I didn’t know intestines were that beautiful. Some of them are dangling from the black iron arch like a long sash. Let’s watch it in slow motion. Now she jumps forwards, arms and legs wide spread, face down. Going to the black iron arch. Her short dark hair flapping in the air. Going down to the arch. Going, going. Now. She hit it, right in the middle. Look at that! Her intestines fly in the air like a firework. Beautiful! Her blood is like a three-dimensional fountain. Her other organs also fly everywhere. Wow! She’s done it! It was exactly what her DVD showed. Congratulations. Alex. It’s actually premature. I should wait till the doctor confirms her death and the suicidologists declare the winner, but I’m sure she’s the winner. I’m so excited.
    Doctors down on the ground are now examining her to make sure she is really dead. (Listening to an earphone) Yes, it’s confirmed she is dead. And her innards are all over the courtyard as she planned. She’s done it! She’s done it!
    Back to you, Trevor.


    Thank you, Mohammed. He was a bit too excited and slipped from professionalism, but I won’t blame him. Alex did it perfectly. And David’s disqualified. So there’s no need for the audience to vote. It’s a bit of a letdown, no competition. But Alex’s jump was brilliant. Don’t you think? (‘Yeah!’ Whistling) We’ll give a greater than usual tomb to her for her great death, because there was no winner last year. She deserves it.
    Next year, the theme is Knife. Start thinking about it. Send us your DVDs. We’ll let you die in honour. Good bye and see you again next year, everybody. I love you! (‘I love you, Trevor!’ from the studio audience and loud applause)


Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/28/14

he didn’t want to
pull the knife out, injuring
him more             so he sat

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku knife live 9/27/14 on Chicago’s WZRD 88.3 FM radio (Canon)
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9/27/14 of Janet Kuypers on Chicago’s WZRD 88.3 FM radio performing many poems, including this one (Canon)
the 9/27/12 6 Second Poems chapbookthe 9/27/12 6 Second Poems chapbook Download this poem in the free chapbook
“6 Second Poems”,
w/ poems read on 9/27/14 WZRD 88.3 FM radio
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of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku knife as a looping JKPoetryVine video live live on WZRD Chicago radio 9/27/14 (Canon fs200)
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See a Vine video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku knife in Scars Publications’ 2016 Down in the Dirt book the Breaking as a looping JKPoetryVine video 2/23/16 (filmed w/ a Samsung smartphone)
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See a Vine video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length poem “knife” from Scars PublicationsDown in the Dirt collection book “a Stormy Beginning” as a looping JKPoetryVine video 8/15/16 (this video filmed in Austin TX from a Samsung Galaxy S7).
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See a Vine video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku “knife” from Scars Publications’ 2016 collection book “the Chamber” as a looping JKPoetryVine video 12/18/16 (this video filmed in Austin TX @ Jim’s diner on a Samsung Galaxy S7).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.

A Love for Death

Stuart O’Rourke

    How did one put this into words? Some might call me cruel or evil but in truth I was nature at work and the day wasn’t finished yet. It was just hours ago that the detective told Mrs. Hagerty that her husband had passed, little did any of them know she would soon follow. Nausea set in as my stomach stirred with that acidy feeling that preceded taking some big test or giving a long speech. How was this possible though? Could a reaper feel such things?
    Contrary to popular belief we soul takers were mostly human once but something happened to us after death. We came back and as if in some sick twist of fate, were made to take life ourselves but it had been so long since I felt, well anything. Mrs. Hagerty’s eyes, a bloody red as tears ran down her face like water down the mountainside. She unknowingly stabbed me in my beatless heart but it wasn’t just the pain. The fuzz of the carpet between the toes as I took each step, the smell of pot roast. The sunset in the distance actually required that I blink with those colored spots one saw after looking at the sun.
    The old corded phone rang but Mrs. Hagerty didn’t budge. There’d be no long conversations about today’s youth or politics this evening. It had to be done though, nature demanded that life be taken yet I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do it. There was nothing particularly remarkable or different about this woman so why did I feel this way?
    “You don’t need to skulk about young man,” Mrs. Haggerty said.
    Did she see me? Hear me? How?
    “There’s no point in just standing there. I know who you are. What you are. Just come over here and sit down please,” she then said
    Her words commanded me, a human moved me. Each step towards the glass double door felt like an eternity. Seated in the same lawn chair she had been the entire day, she took the moment to dry her eyes. Low and behold she lifted her head and looked right at me, not through me like so many others but at me, as if she actually saw a person.
    “Well sit down.” She said, her hand gesturing me towards the opposing chair.
    I accepted the invitation and sat. These feelings were all so unfamiliar. The wind blew beads of sweat away. A mixed aroma of roses and other plant life in the garden replaced the cooked dinner.
    “Don’t they smell nice,” she said pointing at the flowers as if reading my very thoughts. “My husband loved them. Not Frank god rests his soul but my first husband, Thomas.”
    “I... I supposed they do Donna,” I said, the sound of my own voice so unfamiliar.
    A cough pumped its way up my lungs, tearing my throat as it did. It had been so long since these lips uttered any words. I wasn’t sure why I called her by her first name but it came naturally.
    “Do you know why I’m here Donna?” I asked.
    “But of course, You’re the best news I’ve had all day. I survived Thomas’s passing but Frank too. No thank you. I’m checking out,” Donna said.
    “How do you see me?” I asked.
    “I’m not sure. You just walked in, didn’t you? Do people not see death in their final moments?” she asked.
    “No not usually. I’ve taken in all forms, from the grizzliest murders to the most peaceful final breath and not once has someone seen me.” I said
    How did one take something so beautiful? I guess that was the nature of things. We grasp the good for as long as we can but eventually, no matter how hard we try we end up having to let go. This seemingly unremarkable woman somehow allowed me to feel again, and I had to end her life.
    “You know Frank always said we have to keep fighting for the good moments and do our best to set aside the bad. It’s something I think my first husband needed to hear. Always sulking because he never felt he could do enough, always focusing on what he lost rather than what he had. You kind of remind me of him, kind of have his good looks too Mr. Death,” she said, a fount of sage like wisdom Mrs. Hagerty was, or perhaps insane.
    Mrs. Hagerty smiled and she would do so in her final moment, I’d make sure of that at least. I took to my feet and approached the flowers. Each step was blissful, grass tickling bare feet. The sun would set on Mrs. Hagerty but it would do so kindly and she’d look as beautiful as she did at twenty. I picked a rose from a small collection in the corner. Only appropriate a reaper beautify death with more death but such was the way of things, I’d kill a flower to decorate the art that was Donna Hagerty. I turned. My dead heart shattered at the sight of her smile. Fiery needles pricked at me from all angles and the wind picked up blowing through strands of hair that previously may as well not have been there. Glass ran through my veins. Approaching Donna, this time each step was another hell I had to perceiver through, fire engulfed me both body and soul. Now drenched in sweat, I stood before her.
    “I guess it’s time, isn’t it Thomas?” she asked.
    “Why yes, yes, it is my dear Donna. You’ll see Frank soon,” I said.
    She closed her eyes as I placed the final brilliant red rose on her ear, tucking her hair behind it. I had forgotten humanity after death, ironic that more death brought that humanity back. I left her, I forgot. I killed her, I remembered.

Rose Colored Glasses, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Rose Colored Glasses, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

The Queen

Tom O’Brien

    The Queen slipped through the oversized double doors, letting them fall shut behind her, soothed by their slow sweep. Her eyes swept through the shadows of the great room, surprised and relieved to find she was alone. So often these days she sought solitude in vain. To find it without trying was a rare treat.
    As the light flickered to life, a slip of her mind sent her back forty or more years. There was a time in her youth when solitude had been the last thing she wanted. She had desired admiration and attention, for her power, her finery, her majesty.
    So many had been happy to oblige. She had a flash of them now, supplicant before her. Smiling with too many teeth, laughing while their eyes darted from side to side, excited and fearful to be near her. Even at the time she had known that it was her title, her place in society and her wealth that had attracted them. She also sensed that it was she, the Queen intrinsic, which made them stay.
    As the cold light removed all shadows, so it removed the past. The thrill of her former vanity caught her breath. Much had changed since those light long lost days. She had matured, had lived, experienced so many things, seen the world turn, and turn again. The thought of those things changed the trapped breath into a sigh.
    Was she still vain? No.
    Proud? Perhaps. False modesty was as ill fitting as ostentation in these straitened days.
    The Queen stiffened her shoulders and moved through the room, making decisions that would affect all who followed. She set the tone for their day. It was a responsibility she accepted with signature calm grace.
    Behind her the doors swung open and she heard someone bustle in. She didn’t turn to see who it was nor did the new arrival acknowledge her. That was the protocol and she wouldn’t be the one to break it. Even so, she did allow herself a glimpse, via one of the room’s many glistening surfaces, at who had joined her. It was the dark haired worker who always managed to be around when she was around. If he could have seen her reflection, instead of her straight back, then he might have caught a tiny smile.
    The Queen made herself appear busier than she was. She sensed that the young man was doing the same. He stationed himself where he always did and made great play of arranging the space around him, stacking sheets of paper, reorganising them. It was a ploy she regularly used herself. In her case it was to relieve the pressure on those around her who might otherwise wither under her attention. For a simple worker like the dark haired man, it was more likely nerves.
    Continuing on her way, at her own pace, giving each space the appropriate attention, she saw that her route through the room would soon bring her close to him. Through years of experience she knew it would be better, for him, if he could see this in advance and remove himself from her orbit. There was a way of doing this that could seem both effortless and elegant.
    The Queen dipped into the range of subtle gestures that were bred into her nature. She had learned them from her mother, who no doubt had learned from her mother and so on, in the royal way. Without any explicit gesture or sound she let the young man know that he could move away if he wished to.
    The man, who was either unschooled or uncouth, made no attempt to move. A flash of irritation ran through the Queen. Not for herself but for him. His presence could not affect her. Her annoyance was that he had failed to take the opportunity offered. Particularly galling, since he was the one likely to become flustered when they came closer than decorum would allow.
    She pressed on, looking at what she needed to, touching what she must and attending to everything that needed her attention. Her manner was thorough without being pedantic, scrupulous without being impossible to please. That was a lesson she had learned by observation. Her father, much as she respected and admired him, had made himself unlovable by his adoration to detail far beyond the spirit of the rule. She controlled the shudder that came when she thought about his end. As she released that necessary breath, she allowed that this side of his nature might have played a part in the lack of mercy shown him in the final days.
    The dark haired man looked up at her as she neared his post. Her nearness startled him, she could see. Though no trace showed on her regal face, it took effort. It was all so predictable, so unnecessary. Taking pity on the poor man she allowed herself to become distracted by some papers near her hand. She glanced through them with perhaps more attention than they warranted, as if caught by some fascinating detail. That was also a technique from the old days.
    She heard him say something, though she couldn’t quite make it out through his coarse accent. In any case she didn’t respond. To become embroiled now would only make his embarrassment complete. The Queen looked up from the sheaf of papers when she heard his chair pull back and his steps hurry away. He had finally taken his opportunity, though with no great élan. She hoped not to have to repeat this little play again.
    At least with him gone she could continue her circuit, dispensing with the first duties of the day. As she got older the tasks that had as a new Queen seemed so dull and repetitive were now comforting and necessary rituals. She would miss them if they were no longer required of her. Pomp and display had its place of course but it no longer held the lure it once did. The glittering lavishness of her early years, in the old palace, seemed gaudy to her now.
    “To be royal is to learn,” her mother had said. How true that was, thought the daughter. Would she be Queen Mother one day? No, she would not. The time for such things had passed,
    The dark haired man held one of the double doors open for her as she approached it. She acknowledged him with the tiniest of nods, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t only royals who could learn.
    That moment of goodwill left her as he spoke. His words were incoherent, his tone disrespectful. From his crude gestures she could see that he was trying to direct her attention somewhere. She followed the pointed finger and saw the door he was suggesting she take.
    Without trying too hard to conceal her irritation the Queen stepped toward the door, which was ajar, then stepped into the small room behind it. She knew who occupied this room and prepared herself to deal with him.

    The temptation was to sack her on the spot. Bill Morgan rubbed the morning grit from his eyes and wished he had not had coffee on an empty stomach Again. When would he learn?
    He looked up at the stiff old woman who had stepped into his office without as much as a knock. As usual she looked as if everyone was an irritant to her, as if she didn’t want to be there.
    Bill had inherited her, not hired her but if she didn’t smarten up he would be the one who fired her. The tab on his desk said Facilities Manager but it should have read Everything and Anything Manager, he often said.
    “Come in,” he said with acid joviality. “I’ll get to it. I’ve had a bit complaint about your good self.” He paused, waiting for a reply, a defence, outrage, acceptance, apology. Got nothing.
    “Now we’ve spoken about this before,” Well I’ve spoken, he thought. “It’s about you reading paperwork on the desks, going through their things. Now I appreciate that as a cleaner you have to clean, don’t get me wrong. And in general your work has been satisfactory.” He let the last word linger, wondering if it’s lack of endorsement would register with the stuck up old bird. “But by the same token I think you need to stick to just cleaning, do you follow?”
    He waited for a response. That was a direct question after all. Damned if he was going to ask it again. On the other hand he wasn’t going to just sit and wait. He tilted his head, his eyebrow forming a question mark.
    She nodded.
    Just nodded.
    Early morning cleaners were easy to find. The urge to tell her to ‘eff’ off rose along with the coffee heartburn. No. Not enough to sack her. Enough for everyone to moan, but not enough to get rid. Bloody HR.
    “Right. Unless there’s anything else?” he said through a stiff jaw while glancing at the door. The Cleaner leaned with a stifled grunt to pick up the half full bin liner she had lain by her feet while he spoke, then walked from the office without a backward glance. Bill allowed himself a grunt. Jesus, who did that woman think she was, the queen of bloody-
    He never got the chance to finish the thought, instead answering the phone on its first ring. The real business of the day could begin. “Dave, you old-”
    Outside the small room the Queen reflected that perhaps there were days when her previous opulence didn’t seem so meaningless. She walked past the dark haired man who sat at his desk, pointedly not looking at her.
    If only those rumours of her own personal troop of henchmen had been true, she mused, before brushing away the thought as unworthy of her royal status.

Tom O’Brien Biography

    Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been published, longlisted, shortlisted and placed in numerous competitions and publications around the web. He has a short story appearing in a forthcoming print anthology published by Blood & Bourbon.

    He’s on twitter @tomwrote and his website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.


Janet Kuypers

a poet in a
café       sees dead ancestors
ghosts   stop haunting me

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See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ultimate Connectivity: how coffee can be relaxing” and her haiku “ghosts”, then reading a portion of her short story “Crazy” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (this video was filmed from a Lumix camera).
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See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ultimate Connectivity: how coffee can be relaxing” and her haiku “ghosts”, then reading a portion of her short story “Crazy” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.


Lotte Roy
from “Lotus-eating Japan”

    The Galaxy that exists, let me explain this so called reality.
    One where the mind is constantly questioning its 24-carat reliability.
    There are the Sundays when a congregation meets,
    They go to the church but I think it is an euphemism for something else...
    A cult, a clan, a brotherhood, a cohort, a gang of sorts,
    And where was it again, you say Bahrain or lying off the west coast,
    Somewhere in the sea in proximity to the continent?
    The network works wonders at sniffing you out,
    Discovered on Google the coordinates of your current hide-out.
    How lucky for you to be sailing the seven seas,
    With my pretty penny in the pocket, a globetrotting life of ease.
    Makes me curdle inside and brings me dis-ease.
    The mind creates this framework to compensate for the irrational, the illogical. For six months on, the conditions remain, whereby a ransom be paid, another drop of sheer urgency, to secure the loot, of filthy lucre hidden away...that will someday be here, you say, early in the day. You have got to be joking admits the logical side, it is a trap...yet reminders from dear Sunny Jacob keep intermittently being sent...
    Dear customer,
    The termination of your holdings in our storage will take heed.
    Cover the fees promptly or lose it completely.
    Lose what I beg? My savings are all depleted, I have nothing more to lose, take it I surrender.
    This world where interplanetary connections network indiscriminately, preying on the frailty of systems.
    Where are the law-enforcements I hear you say? The viral spores keep infesting, savagely weakening your immunity. Not protected? Pull the plug and disconnect, no other option to escape. The notion of privacy, an ideal once cherished, now leaves us fully defenseless in our vulnerability. The whims of malevolence infiltrating with their presence, they being the Big Brother’s adversary, the Black Knight of hackers, the strategists with a mission, to plunder and pillage, that of a by-gone tradition. With modern tools at hand, they stealthily encroach, the system we entrust only loosely securing the surface. The infrastructure at play, is weak and leaking, a system so sick, the unravelling such a blessing for the hoodwinkers persisting. Their clandestine operations, no detection is made of their malicious operations...beyond the system, beyond the law, a paradigm shift feeding into their own coffers, unleash the RATs, let the invasion begin!
    There exists submerged, in the undefinable abyss, a whole other world interconnected. Acting in ways more pernicious, simply put vicious. To the naked eye, we cannot perceive the vandalism of the viral cataclysm undertow. With every breathing moment the network ticks over, exhorting their conniving ways yet to be surfaced. How is one defended from the dragons breathing down your throat? Switch it off and ignore it? Was once, an option for the cold callers of a bygone era. They reside in your system, flooding and clogging the veins of your communication; that which defines your very existence.
    The penetration immeasurable afflicting the networked system, once thought of as a selling tool for your convenience. Raiding sources, stealing details and data...how foolish we have become in relying on such a complex web of integers.
    And what of the corrupting channels? Who do you turn to when forcibly violated? There is no hard evidence, no weapon, no scars, nothing visibly detected. Faith in the order sullied by man’s duplicity...how does one overcome and survive unscathed anonymity?
    Given the fast-paced ever-changing progress marked in IT, laws cannot even fathom the principles of restriction nor define their application.
    Let chaos take over, let the cracking thwart existence,
    Until another fall victim.
    How long do we wait, how much do we endure,
    At what point do we stop and give attention to the menacing threat,
    Playing havoc in my system, and with my head?
    Where is the succour when sorely needed?..ah the cavalier pretense. Not of particular interest, not of concern, we have more important issues to undergo.
    Have some data, some information of interest...do you not want to at least investigate the links? My sources, the very weakness of system, the faulty connections, not hermetically sealed for your protection. Such a leak, such a link, have mercy on me. Curiosity screams, the pursuit of investigation weighs high, a glimpse into their world inadvertently transpires. A fraternity of members, from all corners of the globe, non-gender specific, how coming-of-age the posse has become. A vessel afloat and fully equipped, off the shores in the Atlantic or Pacific or both, where a gang of profiteers subsists.
    Who are you? Where do you come from? This cartel of thieves, a consortium of diversity as evidenced in the listing of languages: of English, Arabic, Vietnamese and Thai, a sprinkling of European strains strategically selected to add fuel to the marauding on nigh. Working in tandem on an assignment, you sense there are a few engaged on any one project: en masse this violation, of scamming and cheating the innocent.
    Have you paid off enough for your presence afloat in the bay ...oh what a haven. Of disparate individuals forging a fraternity; the collusion of criminality, I just pray that guilt does afflict your barometer of morality. Sadly though temptation has corrupted the soul, and sucked you dry, stung you permanently...scarred you for life...Have pity for you the long lost sons and daughters... Wickedly conniving, yours is one of anger; a fire burning in desperation you know no other.
    Stepping outside the system, what a dare! By sheer connection, my eyes are now wide open to the very function of manipulation without a gram of pity; incorrigible in your pursuits, shameless endeavors in raping the minds of your young female victims.
    What is worst you toyed with her spirit, played with her mind, destroyed her confidence and scarred her outlook on life. Yet beyond all of this, she has wizened to your ways, she has learnt to overcome such terror, and is more determined these days.
    Where do you sit so mighty and high,
    Another Galaxy, another planet beyond the sky?
    How does it look from your angle there,
    By my own admonition a reproachable character,
    Can you see me as you sit and stare?
    Ah the cohort of thieves,
    Attempting to wrest her precious dignity,
    Do you know just how this feels?
    Confounded I am left lamenting the depravity of character,
    And beg for mercy, a slither of compassion.

The Squirrel and the Rabbit

Drew Marshall

It was the first heavy snowfall of the season
I looked out of my apartment window
Across the alleyway
I spotted a squirrel on the fire escape
It was standing tall against the elements
I ran to get my camera
When I returned
The squirrel had vanished

I recalled the time
When a squirrel had gotten into my kitchen

He flew around the kitchen at lightning speed
One second he was on the stove
The next on the table
He finally settled onto the top of the refrigerator

The squirrel started screeching
The shrill shrieking noise took me by surprise
I never knew they could make such sounds
A few minutes later the animal found its way back to the window
He quickly took off for more familiar ground

While in my late teens
A friend of my mother’s had given me a rabbit
A beautiful mixture of grey and white
Smooth to the touch and easy on the eyes
This rabbit liked to nip me
He was not interested in making friends

When taken out of his cage
He left his droppings throughout my home
After a few months I tired of this
I gave the rabbit to a kid down my block

I never gave the nameless rabbit a second thought
Until I ran into this kid several weeks later
He told me the rabbit had died
I felt guilty, coupled with a sense of loss

Strange to have such feeling for a pet I never cared for

The Night I met Groucho on Acid

Drew Marshall

    My friend John and I were the first ones on line. We were waiting to get into The Stand Up New York comedy club. The place was a small hole in the wall, off Broadway, on the upper west side of Manhattan.
    There was a lull in our conversation. I glanced to my left, out into the street. A dirty white van pulled up. The side door slid open and out popped the man. With my pen in one hand and his autobiography in the other, I rushed over to greet him.
    He flashed that magnetic, killer smile. I shoved the pen and book towards him.
    “How are you doing? You look great man! It’s good to see you. Can I have your autograph?”
    As he signed my book, we were immediately surrounded by several beautiful women. They were fawning all over him and gushing. He continued signing autographs for them with my pen. I wasn’t about to ask for it back.
    “That’s all right Abbie, steal this pen.” I said jokingly. He was focused in the moment and I think he missed my remark.
    I returned to the line and the club soon opened up for business.
    John and I grabbed a little round table in the middle of the room, across from the stage. I doubt the place held more than fifty people. It was soon packed, standing room only. The stage was bare, except for a stool and microphone. We were lucky to get in.
    We both ordered a rum and coke. I left to visit the men’s room, downstairs in the basement. When I returned the drinks were on the table and the show was about to begin. John left to relieve himself and disappeared down the stairs.
    The house lights dimmed and “the radical activist’ stepped into the center of the performance area.
    It suddenly dawned on me, that this was no mere celebrity entertainer, sitting fifteen feet in front of me. Abbie Hoffman had made his mark on history and was continuing to do so.
    I was in grade school and junior high school during the turbulent decade of the nineteen sixties. Abbie was always popping up on the television news. His conviction and intellect made him stand out from the crowd. In an age where rhetoric overruled reason, his humor is what made me take notice of him.
    There was an extremely pale, thirty something woman, sitting alone at the table to my immediate right. So pale in fact, she seemed to glow in the dark. The girl was braless and wore a long, low cut black dress. She was lanky, with long, sandy brown hair. Her nose seemed to be long, not in sync with her other facial features.
    Hoffman was making his comedy debut. His presence and charisma filled the small room. Abbie commanded your full attention.
    About ten minutes into Abbie’s set, the glow in the dark woman started repeating the name of Jessie Jackson. Her voice was an abrasive, nasal whine.
    Twenty minutes later she started up again.
    “Jessie Jackson. Jessie Jackson. Say something about Jessie Jackson.”
    Hoffman shot her a side glance.
    “What about him? He can walk through Central Park after midnight. He’s doing all right!”
    This remark brought the house down, and we never heard another peep out of that girl.
    A perfect example of the activist’s rapier wit. His sense of humor was often compared to that of being like Groucho Marx on an acid trip.
    When I stopped laughing, I realized John was still submerged underground in the restroom. I was worried and thought I had better go and check on him. He resurfaced at that moment, mumbling something about stomach problems. John pushed his drink aside and told me I could have it. He seemed fine now so I continued watching the show. I nursed the booze throughout the rest of the evening’s festivities.
    The night quickly grew to a close. His fans and well-wishers rushed the stage. We split the club. John and I went our separate ways.
    Hoffman would be dead eight months later. Abbie was battling with Manic–Depression. We didn’t call it bipolar back then. He was in constant pain, resulting from a car accident he had, while driving alone. It came out later that Abbie emptied one hundred fifty or more Phenobarbitals into a glass of Scotch Whiskey. Downed several more shots and headed for the Big Sleep.
    He knew what he was doing. The man sold pharmaceuticals to supplement his income before becoming a full time activist. He had been through hell and back. The Clown Prince of the 60’s was no more.
    Millions mourned his loss. Many rejoiced as well.

A Villainess

David Francis

She watches the child
running down the aisle,
rigid from her booth
with her dark smeared eyes.

Her husband is a
gaunt translucent man
appropriately seated
next to the coatrack.

Her wooden roving
eyes say: Children should
be kept in their own booth
like me and him.

Her husband waits. She
goes back to the table
and leaves the tip,
skirting in small doll steps.

David Francis Biography

    David Francis has produced six albums of songs, one of poems, and “Always/Far,” a chapbook of lyrics and drawings. His film “Village Folksinger” has screened in the US and England. David’s poems and stories have appeared in a number of journals. http://davidfrancismusic.com

Restored Sight

David Francis

Last time I was here
I saw things through your eyes
but your eyes were not cultured
your eyes were narrow
you scarcely had eyes at all

Now I see through the crotch of the tree
the leaves opening their greenness to me
I see the girl reading next to me
I see what I see
and I don’t have to mince words

Never again
will I pluck out my eyes
wrap my face in gauze
and cover my naked limbs and trunk
for you

David Francis Biography

    David Francis has produced six albums of songs, one of poems, and “Always/Far,” a chapbook of lyrics and drawings. His film “Village Folksinger” has screened in the US and England. David’s poems and stories have appeared in a number of journals. http://davidfrancismusic.com

Systematic destruction of cloudy days 8/9/16 1:41am

Adrian Villarreal

drift on to the deepest oceans
they do not know how it feels to trapped in a cloud
the only way out is a sparse storm
and only a few are invited
but most show regret with their gliding wave
to the nearest sand waiting to evaporate
with cans and plastic forks from garbage waste

those so fortunate to be in the deepest of oceans
don’t see the filth and debris that the world brings
maybe they glance as they float by
as they think to themselves
good riddance
but say, how unlucky
and they drift

never to be touched by rubbish
only to enjoy the opportunities of their untainted sea

8/8/15 4:46am

Adrian Villarreal

I did not think I’d ever write this elegy
although, I stirred us to the underpinning
and jostled your love afar
I am mournful, inconsolable, despairing every second
now I write our eulogy
as I remember your accolades
and your touch to the very bone
vibrant but gloomy are my days with you gone,
remorse is layered
and to compensate
I cannot wait to tell the tale
of our years
when you were lovely and I was foolish and you loved till you couldn’t

now I write my ignominy
and at the top of my list is what I ruined

melancholy will hit me years from now, and I will wonder why the heart-rending wave hits so often
then your accolades will come upon me
and I’ll wonder what you’re doing
and who’s arms you rest in
and who is tracing the spaces between your freckles
at every secret place we sinned
and who will be able to call you their best thing
and who will you smile to
and who will hear you sing
the songs you sang to me

and I’ll read this undelivered elegy

The Other Side of Darkness

Marc McMahon
*Suicide Is Not the Answer!

    There’s a place that is so distant and dark that few have ever seen it and lived to tell about it. So lonely and cruel that those who have returned were too ashamed to speak of it. A place I once thought to be my great escape, my final refuge, a peaceful bliss. Imagine if you will somewhere that leaves you feeling an emptiness you never knew existed. A near heart-stopping void that chills you to the deepest part of your being to your core, the heart of your soul.
    A second heart you never knew you had until that moment, the most horrifying place you have ever set foot in. Freezing air that when inhaled makes you feel like someone ripped your lungs right out of your chest and set them ablaze. A searing knife, melting flesh as it stings its way through your soul.
    Then the realization that this new level of emptiness, this loneliness, wasn’t just an emotion passing through, but more like the one feeling you would be tormented with for all eternity. A perpetual living hell wrapped in a cloak of tranquility. Satan’s backyard disguised as child’s playground. The grand entrance to Disneyland leading into a cemetery. A nightmare that never ends, a darkness imprisoning you in absolute horror. A place where you can neither live nor die, trapped, by choice!
    The biggest lie I ever believed had taken me to this place. The year was 2002, and I had just been released from my first inpatient Psychiatric stay at the local Hospital. I was miserable, strung out on cocaine, a complete wreck when I was brought into that hospital just ten days prior. I had called an ambulance on myself because my heart was beating so fast and so hard that it was starting to hurt my chest. Out of fear that I may be having a heart attack I called 911 and had an ambulance dispatched to my aid. Ten days later when I walked out of the Behavioral Health Unit (a.k.a.- Psych Ward) to face life again on life’s terms, reality slapped me in the face.
    I stepped off the bus 45 minutes later in the small town that I grew up in only to realize I had nowhere to go. No one who wanted me, not a soul to call that cared to hear my voice, literally alone. An empty broken shell of a man. I stood at a phone booth, phone in one hand fifty-cents in the other when I realized for the first time, that the selfishness of my disease had rendered me completely undesirable not only to the family but also to those I used to call friends. It was as if I was the only leper in a healthy colony of humans.
    So, what was I to do? All I knew was that I was completely isolated, alone, and unwanted and those feelings at that moment were more than I could bare. So, I reached out to the only person I could, my nurse at the Psychiatric unit I had just been released from just a couple hours earlier. She must have heard the desperation in my voice when I told her my situation. She asked me to come back to the hospital right away and stay some more. She made me promise her I would not harm myself before I seen her and I did promise. With tears streaming down both my cheeks I hung up the phone opened my backpack and pulled out my bottle of Seroquel to commence suicide attempt number one.
    I ate as many of those pills as I could. I just wanted that emptiness I felt, that unwanted dirty feeling to go away as soon as possible. I remember thinking I am going to walk around this block until I fall dead. And I wonder I thought am I going to drop in front of my favorite bar or on the other side of the block in front of the fire station. To make a long story short I fell thank God in the driveway of the fire station. When two medics sitting in the lobby of the fire station seen me and rushed out to help. The two of them carried me inside and checked my blood pressure it was 60 over 40 technically dead. I was rushed to the emergency room where barely conscious I was greeted by a team of doctors and my faithful nurse from the psych. unit. Ten minutes later as my throat swelled shut I gasped for what I figured was going to be my last breath when I realized I really did not want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop.
    That’s when Satan laughed at me and said: “only true despair lies on the other side of death!”

    **Suicide is the big lie, it is not an escape from all of life’s pain and misery. It is only the beginning!

Marc McMahon bio

    Marc is a 48-year-old Author, Speaker, and Soldier in a war to loosen the grasp that Substance Abuse has on our society. He is a Father, Son, and friend to all those seeking refuge from this incorrigible disease. Marc resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where he enjoys, writing, hiking, and kicking the disease of addiction in the teeth, every chance he gets. As Marc always likes to say, “be blessed, my friends!”


Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14

I’m angry with you
for taking the easy way out
when death is your choice

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku easy in Chicago 3/17/14 (C) at the open mic Waiting 4 the Bus
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading many of her poems live (8 haiku poems, 4 poems, and a Periodic Table poem) in Chicago 3/17/14 at the Waiting 4 the Bus open mic INCLUDING THIS HAIKU
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of Janet Kuypers’ haiku easy @ the pond @ Jan & Palos drives 6/5/15 (Motorola)
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See Twitter video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku easy from Down in the Dirt’s Scars Publications book The Hive 5/30/16.
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See a Vine video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku “easy” from Scars PublicationsDown in the Dirt Jan./June 2016 issue collection book “a Stormy Beginning” as a looping JKPoetryVine video 12/12/16 (Austin; Samsung Galaxy S7).
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See Vine video after hearing George Michael died of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length poem “easy” from Scars Publications’ 2016 collection book “the Chamber” as a looping JKPoetryVine video 12/26/16 (filmed in Austin Texas from a Samsung Galaxy S7).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Karma’s A Witch

McCormick Anderson

    Let’s just say that my sister is a strong believer in karma. I, however, am not. There is no evidence supporting some mystical force that controls what’s right and what’s wrong. Typically I have no reason to believe in it. However, I must admit that one time it did seem as though there was a mysterious force that gave me what I deserved. On that particular occasion, “karma” came in the form of a tree branch.
    One fall day my grandparents had taken my sister and me out to a piece of land that we call “the farm”. It isn’t really a farm. We don’t grow anything, and we don’t raise any animals. To be honest, nothing productive ever comes out of it. However, that piece of land is perfect for riding four wheelers, shooting clay pigeons, and overall, just hem hawing around. A busted-up, asphalt driveway leads from the road to a giant field with several trails leading out into the surrounding woods. A pole barn with a camper underneath it sits right beside the driveway.
    We hadn’t planned to stay for very long, just an hour or two. The Crispness in the air suprised me for early September. I was wandering In the woods near the campsite with a machete in my hand, just cutting limbs and clearing out the dead wood. Just then, my sister ran into the woods towards my location. (Why she was running, I don’t know. She seems to run often for no apparent reason.) At that time, she was about sixteen, and I was only about eleven. My sister, Kathryn, was (and still is) the skinniest American you will ever meet. There are starving children in Africa who fatter than her, and although she is four and a half years older than me, I am probably twice as responsible as her — except for that day.
    “What are you doing?” she asked me. I had been staying away from her because she had a knack for, well, being an older sister. One second she would be fine, the next she would be a female Donald Trump; however, I wasn’t about to say that to her face.
    “Just clearing,” I replied back, not paying her much attention.
    “Hey!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t that the rope we used to swing on when we were kids?”
    I turned around and saw what she was talking about. There it was- a thin rope dangling from an an overhanging tree branch. A little to the right of the hanging rope, the remnants of the bent tree we used to jump off to swing on the rope stretched out parallel to the ground at an odd angle. The bent tree had mostly rotted, but the base remarkably still had bark on it and protruded about a foot and a half up from the ground. It was a couple inches thick and perfect for little kids with light bodies to use for starting their swing.
    In my eyes the large remnant of that tree was just another piece of wood for me to clear. Because I thought this rotted tree was in my way of a clean forest, I strutted over and gave it a kick.
    “Hey!” my sister exclaimed. “Don’t do that.”
    “Why? Are you worried I’ll hurt its feelings?” I said sarcastically.
    “No, you will get bad karma.”
    One- karma isn’t real. Two- even if karma were real, trees are senseless objects with no feelings whatsoever, and karma wouldn’t apply. Three- the tree was dead. I couldn’t catch karma from hurting something dead, right?
    “Riiiight,” I mumbled as I delivered another kick.
    “Stop!” she protested.
    “Fine,” I spat.
    I dropped the machete and then moved to the rope hanging about six feet away. I gave the rope a tug. I jumped on.
    At first all was good. I hung there for a second and thought, “Wow, I’m surprised this holds me.” That was until I felt the rope give way.
    The next thing that ran through my head was a word that my mother would not approve of, as I plummeted to the ground with a hard thud. At first, I thought the rope had broken- that was until I looked up to see the branch tumbling right on top of my head with a large crack. I sprawled on the ground with a throbbing headache that can only be described as- well, as if a tree branch fell on your head.
    Being the eleven year old baby I was, I went crying back to my grandparents, and we then left immediately.
    My sister, who spent the first fifteen minutes following the accident laughing her head off, hasn’t let me forget that day, and something tells me she never will. You see, she says that because I “injured” an important part of our childhood, karma dropped that tree branch right down on my head. Although it may seem that way, I just believe that that tree branch falling on me was impeccably timed.
    So there you have it - the time the tree branch fell on my head. The only time in my life where something has implied that “karma” might be real. If I can help it, there will never be another time that suggests this mysterious force gives us what we deserve because then my sister would be right and I would be wrong. And I don’t like it when I’m wrong.

American Daughters

Mariya Taher

    Tanveer cut herself. She hadn’t meant to. The soapy sponge was tattered and a knife’s serrated edge cut through it as she leaned over the kitchen sink washing dishes after dinner. She didn’t stop to tend the wound, watching instead as bits of steak mixed with droplets of blood on the dirty plates resting at the base of the sink. The cool clear liquid coming from the faucet would soon wash away any instances of red and the soap would not only disinfect the grime found on the plates, but also her wound. So she stood over the sink with her shoulder length black hair tied in a messy bun, scrubbing as hard as she could.
    “I know this is difficult. I watched you go through it. Sufiya didn’t,” her husband Robert told her before leaving for the gym, a routine he followed obediently which Tanveer insisted he not miss tonight. She needed time alone.
    “Mother, if you can’t accept I can believe what I want and date whom I want, you’re a hypocrite,” her nineteen-year-old daughter, Sufiya, had yelled at dinner. Tanveer shook her head to diminish the words’ sting. It had been the first real exchange of words between them since Sufiya unexpectedly arrived in Lompoc two days earlier. The doorbell had rung Thursday evening and when Tanveer answered it, in front of her stood Sufiya with a backpack on her shoulder and a laundry basket filled with unclean clothes. Tanveer hugged her daughter immediately, but their embrace lacked the usual warmth. Sufiya gave her a lackluster smile and asked if they could catch-up later. She was exhausted from the drive and wanted to nap.
    Over the next two days, Tanveer continuously tried to engage her daughter in chit-chat. Tanveer asked about her daughter’s classes. Had she picked a major? What about studying abroad? Each time Tanveer started a conversation, Sufiya was busy. She had homework. She was on an important phone call. She needed to visit a high-school friend. Only once did Sufiya answer a question. Religions of India was her favorite course. Tanveer wanted to ask more. It was a curious course to take. Their family had no religion. Sufiya wouldn’t engage. She needed to go for a run.
    Not wanting to be an overbearing mother, Tanveer accepted these excuses. Generally, they had a great relationship going shopping, watching movies, and gossiping together. Sufiya could ignore her this weekend. By Sunday morning though, Tanveer realized her daughter hadn’t smiled once since arriving home and was constantly on the phone – of course out of earshot of Tanveer or Robert. Something was wrong and Tanveer needed to fix it. She went to the grocery store and bought beef tri-tip for dinner. Sufiya’s favorite. They would have a proper family dinner before Sufiya returned to school. It would help.
    The dishes washed, Tanveer wrapped her wounded finger in a paper towel. She could hear her daughter’s footsteps through the floorboard above her. Sufiya was pacing. Nothing about dinner had been proper.
    The family sat around a leaf shaped table in the dimly lit dining room. As Tanveer chewed on her last barbeque draped bite of steak, Sufiya clanked a fork against a crystal water glass. Tanveer swallowed and glanced at her. Sufiya’s clenched jaw and somber expression made Tanveer uneasy. She recognized the look. Sufiya gave it once when she brought home a report card with a D+ in English.
    “I don’t know how to do this so I’m just going to say it,” Sufiya began. “I came home because I’ve met someone. He’s an exchange student from India and umm...we’re talking about getting engaged,” she ended.
    Tanveer thought the world might have gone mute. Silence ricocheted off the ivory painted walls in the room. No one spoke, but Tanveer’s arm hairs stood in protest.
    Robert swiftly grabbed the back of Tanveer’s chair. Sufiya had barely spoken to either of them all weekend and he wanted her to keep talking now. “Wow, that’s a big step, darling. You’re young. You sure? We haven’t even met him, have we?”
    “Um...sort of. At least, mom has,” Sufiya said averting Tanveer’s stare. “Last month, when mom drove through L.A., we had lunch and he was there.”
    Tanveer’s nostrils flared. Her breathing became rapid. She could not form the sounds needed for speech, but her mind was racing. What? Sufiya...Indian...engaged...THAT boy. Tanveer searched her memory for the boy’s image and found a man in his thirties standing at the buffet line in Naan and Curry. He was wearing a pale blue collared shirt, with two buttons opened up top, un-tucked and hanging loosely over khaki slacks. She would have called him good looking, had it not been for the speck of daal dripping from his scraggily black beard. Sufiya introduced him as the three of them stood in line filling their plates with food. She had told Tanveer they were classmates.
    Underneath the table, Tanveer flexed her hands trying to release the tension ringing through her limbs. She hadn’t prepared to enter a boxing match. The image of Sufiya in a white (or would it be a red and gold Indian bridal gown?) made Tanveer feel cold. She couldn’t be a wife. Sufiya couldn’t even do laundry.
    Tanveer’s mouth began parting when she caught sight of Robert’s soft hazel eyes; they were so different from her dark almond ones. His gaze pleaded with her to remain calm. Tanveer sighed letting Robert know she would cooperate. His attention then refocused on Sufiya. Tanveer had always been amazed at Robert’s ability to understand explosions, especially his knowledge on how to avoid them. Once, when Tanveer was out of town, Sufiya, fifteen, came home drunk and Robert let her sleep it off. In the morning, he brought her coffee and Advil and sat with her until she was ready to talk. Tanveer would have raged into their daughter’s room, giving her a life sentence. Robert never lost his cool and Sufiya never came home drunk again. This soothing, conciliatory quality had not changed in the twenty years since she married him.
    Tanveer grasped her chair’s underside and listened to the questions Robert asked and the answers their daughter gave on how she met the boy that was about to ruin her life.
    “How did you meet uh—”
    “Yes, how did you meet Shabbir?”
    “Remember the Religions of India course I took last fall? He was the teaching assistant.”
    “Isn’t dating a TA illegal; shouldn’t someone have reported him to the Dean,” Tanveer snapped.
    “Tanveer, please. Let our daughter talk.”
    Tanveer shot him an annoyed look. She liked Robert’s mediator qualities, but sometimes his sensibilities drove her nuts.
    Sufiya continued, “I went to see him during office hours for help. You know me Daddy; I hate essays.”
    Robert gave a mild smile, nodding in agreement.
    “He kept helping me and it just developed into this relationship.”
    The more Sufiya explained the more Tanveer wanted to throw things. She thought crashing dishes would be more soothing than her daughter’s gibberish. Sufiya was now talking about how Shabbir and she fell in love over a plate of tandoori chicken, basmati rice, and raita at his favorite restaurant, Naan and Curry. Tanveer released her grip on the chair, took hold of the fork lying on her plate, and clenched it until the sharp edges left harsh red imprints on her palm.
    “He took me to a mosque during Eid holiday, said Sufiya. “I liked it”.
    “Oh, you did? Now what? You’re going to convert?” Tanveer said sarcastically.
     “Actually, I might,” Sufiya said softly.
    “What?” Tanveer said.
    “Tanveer, please let—”
    “–No, you had your turn. What the hell did you just say, Sufiya?”
    “I’m thinking about converting,” Sufiya said raising her chin confidently.
    Tanveer’s body temperature rose, boiling, with this new information.
    “Shabbir will be graduating in a year from his PhD program and he wants to move back to India.” Sufiya continued.
    The air around Tanveer felt fog heavy. Sufiya shut her eyes and Tanveer watched as her daughter’s chest rose and fell with each deep breath. The motion was a confidence-building characteristic Sufiya inherited from her grandfather, a man her daughter knew only from pictures. “I’m moving with Shabbir and converting to Islam,” she said as her eyes opened.
     “Like hell you are,” Tanveer said, pushing herself up from her chair. “If you think we’ll let you drop out of college, convert to Islam, and move to India all for some...some boy, you’re crazy! You’re American for God’s sake,” Tanveer yelled. “This has got to be the most ridiculous stunt you’ve ever pulled, Sufiya. You know nothing about Islam and you want to marry a Muslim? Well then, better say goodbye to those pork chops you love so much. And you know what else? That pretty little red skirt you have on there, well, no more skirts for you my darling daughter.” Tanveer flopped back into her chair, reached for her wine glass and took a gulp. “One more thing. You won’t be able to have a champagne toast at your wedding,” she added, tilting the crystal wine glass in her daughter’s direction.
    The whole thing was absurd. Tanveer knew firsthand what kind of life Sufiya would have marrying that boy. A life filled with rearing children as soon as possible, her Peace Corps dreams forgotten. A life in which disagreements with Imams would reflect poorly on her reputation. Forever Sufiya would worry about shaming her family due to her misunderstandings on how proper Muslim women should behave. She would be miserable. She would suffocate. After all, hadn’t Tanveer?
    Tanveer’s eyes narrowed. Sufiya had to be going through some sort of phase, an act of rebellion. Tanveer set down her wine glass, chancing a look in her daughter’s direction. She found a poised young lady with red-rimmed eyes staring back at her.
    “Why are you so angry at Islam?” Sufiya asked.
    “What are you talking about?” Tanveer said, taken aback. “I’m not angry at Islam. You’re being ridiculous. You know my story, Sufiya,” she said locking eyes with her husband. Robert had witnessed the days of closed drapes, the endless crying, the months of antidepressants, and the hours of therapy Tanveer needed to let go of that pain.
    “Yes, I know your story. I grew up hearing your story. I’ve never met my grandparents because of the story,” Sufiya said. “I enrolled in the Religions of India course because of your story.”
    Tanveer did not understand.
    “You used to tell me a bed-time story about a princess born into a proper family, she said. “A witch cursed the princess with willfulness and gave her an insatiable appetite for adventure. This put the princess at odds with her family. One day, a kind man built her wings and sprinkled fairy dust on them. The princess then flew away to live happily ever after.” Sufiya finished. “Eventually, I got it. The story was about you. The price the princess paid was to never see her parents again.”
    Tanveer remained quiet.
    “Mother, how could you think I’d make a decision like this...without even...without putting a great deal of thought into it?” Sufiya said, brushing the bangs off her forehead and stiffening her back. The gestures made Tanveer remember herself at nineteen. Sufiya could have been her clone with her starless night black hair and golden brown skin, except for those dazzling hazel eyes inherited from Robert. For a second Tanveer was lost in the past, her daughter’s distressed voice bringing her back.
    “Mother, are you listening to me?!” Sufiya pounded her fist firmly on the table, rattling her silverware. “You’ve said Islam’s not a bad religion. Just wasn’t for you, but what if it’s for me?” she pleaded.
    It was obvious Sufiya was trying to reason with Tanveer, and only her. Robert was sitting quietly beside her with his hands folded in his lap, looking downwards. “Mama, if you could’ve felt what I did at the mosque on Eid. I felt...elated. Mingling with everyone there. I kept going back to experience that feeling,” she said with a tenderness catching Tanveer off guard. “After namaz, the women sitting on those beautiful prayers rugs told me about the peacefulness of Islam. They taught me about Ijtihad,” Sufiya said.
    Freedom of thought, Tanveer interpreted in her mind.
    Sufiya took a deep breath. “The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the religion and it wasn’t because of the boy, Mama.” Her voice turned serious again, “I won’t be sacrificing my life by marrying Shabbir. I will be following my heart,” she said. “Just like the princess.”
    Her daughter’s reassurances did not have the desired effect. Feelings of loneliness at having grown up with the mosque washed over Tanveer, intensifying from a level two storm threat to a level four storm threat. Tanveer had longed to be like the blonde hair girls with fair skin who skipped around the playground during elementary school and later had dates for the big dances in high school. Instead, she was the girl who could never sleep over at a friend’s house, never wear tanks tops or shorts on days when the heat reached 100° F, and who was glared at when adorning a headscarf in public.
    She felt even more like an outcast in the mosque. Scorn filled images of madrassa teachers flashed through her mind. Her accent had been wrong pronouncing Arabic’s guttural sounds while reading the Quran. She wasn’t trying hard enough said the teachers. But she had tried. She memorized hadiths and recited them. They were never good enough. She remembered how bratty children, the sons and daughters of Imams, made her feel worthless. One pushed her through a sliding glass door, showering pieces of glass everywhere. Of course, it was only an accident. The boy’s father yelled at Tanveer. She shouldn’t have been standing so close to the door. She had never felt enlightened. “You don’t know what you’re getting into Sufiya.”
    “Mama, you had a traumatic experience. Doesn’t mean I will.” She sighed. “You know one shade of Islam. When I went to the mosque, there were many different people there and many different languages, from Urdu to Arabic, to Malaysian. The women were all dressed differently, too. Some had full abbaya and others only a headscarf. The religion can be practiced in many different ways – not just the strict form you grew up in, Sufiya said. “Did you know Shabbir converted? He was born Hindu, but converted at fourteen,” she continued. “Mama, you may think this is a mistake, but I’m allowed to make this choice.”
    Tanveer’s eyes were locked on her daughter’s. She could hear Robert breathing beside her. Her daughter’s voice had been steady, yet Tanveer couldn’t accept them. “How can I let you make a choice that’ll ruin your life?”
    Sufiya left the table and slammed her bedroom door, but not before shouting her mother was a hypocrite. “Mother, your reaction proves we have no real relationship.”
    At the sound of those words, Tanveer felt a sorrowful pang, but she hadn’t allowed the feeling to show. She remained seated in her chair with arms crossed in front of her like a guardsman with no emotion.
    Recalling the dinner fiasco drained Tanveer’s energy. She turned off the kitchen lights and walked to the family room. Over the years, this room had collected an assortment of picture frames: oval, silver, rectangular and wooden. On the coffee table in front of the couch was a picture of Tanveer and Robert taken on their wedding day in Kauai. They had eloped. Beside it was another frame with pictures of Sufiya on the day she was born. Hanging over the fireplace was the last addition, a portrait of her family taken a month before Sufiya left for college two years ago. Taken in a fruit orchard, Sufiya’s arms draped adoringly around her mother’s shoulders; the two were looking at each other, laughing.
    Tanveer settled on the couch. She grabbed the thin wool blanket lying beneath her and flung it over her legs before grabbing the remote and turning on the television. Some teen drama was on. She recognized the characters. Sufiya loved the show. The two of them used to watch it together in years past. They’d sit together, a blanket covering their legs, and a bowl of popcorn mixed with M&Ms on their laps. That moment seemed so long ago. Before Sufiya left for college. Before Sufiya yelled, “We have no relationship.” Tanveer never expected to hear those words spoken by her child. Words, she herself had used twenty years earlier after a car ride with her father. It was a memory that still haunted her. Robert had helped to soften the memory’s impact and she had learned to distance herself from it, but it was never forgotten.
    A quick trip to the Indian grocery store, back then, that was all it was supposed to be. Tanveer had taken a few days off work and driven to San Jacinto. Her parents were complaining again that she never visited them, though it had only been a month since her last visit. In her lap sat a pink box filled with orange-colored jalebis, a deep-fried, sweet resembling a pretzel. The sweet was Tanveer’s favorite and her father, without asking, bought a box filled with them. Yet, the gesture’s sweetness could not prevent them from getting into an argument Tanveer knew too well as her father drove them back to her parent’s home.
     “I’m not going to follow some archaic old ritual where the parents pick out who I marry?” Tanveer yelled.
    “Beti, this is how it is done in our culture,” her father said in an even tone from behind the steering wheel, his glance directed at the red stop sign twenty feet in front of them. Tanveer watched as the waves of wrinkles across his forehead expanded. His hairline had receded quite a bit since she had gone away to college. White had overtaken the last few remaining strands on his head.
    “It is not like we are telling you to get married tomorrow. Just talk to the boy and see if you like him. Then you decide if to continue baht with him. She knew he was trying to reason with her. There was no harm talking to Muslim boys via mail or phone. If it worked out that would be great, if it didn’t, her parents would look for a new boy for their daughter to marry. Tanveer might have bought into her father’s logic had it been the first time he presented it to her. But she had talked to Indian Muslim boys and had even gone on one date to appease her parents. Their argument felt too much like a never-ending merry go-round.
    “I’m not even religious. Any guy I would consider marrying would have to be agnostic, too.” There. She had said it, the word that made her father’s face cringe and the color drain away. She noticed his hands tightening around the steering wheel.
    “You’re confused. It’s just a phase,” he said.
    “Yeah, a phase I’ve been going through for the last twenty-three years,” she mumbled. Tanveer flopped her head against the passenger seat’s headrest and gazed out the window. The sun’s warmth felt good. Outside, the world passed by in a multi-colored haze. The tops of the giant palm trees and valley oaks seemed to wave to her as the wind pushed them first toward her and then away. They were not yet in rush-hour and the only other form of transportation on the road was a bicycle ridden by a young child. The cute little girl in pig-tails was peddling as hard as she could, giggling the entire time. Tanveer found herself wishing they could trade spots.
    “Beti, religion gives you a sense of structure and purpose in life. Besides, you don’t have to marry someone who is religious—”
    “But they have to be from a Muslim Indian family,” she finished for him. “It just doesn’t make sense. I could marry someone who isn’t religious at all, but I can’t marry a white guy that might be a devout Muslim?”
    Not that she wanted to marry anyone who was devout Muslim. The truth was Tanveer’s head cleared the day she admitted to her parents she no longer prayed namaz. Tanveer shut her eyes and took a deep breath. Her father would repeat himself and say, “This is the way in our family,” but deep down, she thought he agreed it was hypocritical, even if he could never admit it. He did not want to upset Tanveer’s mother.
    Tanveer had never enjoyed her mother’s company. She knew she should, but oftentimes she thought if the woman hadn’t given birth to her, they wouldn’t have sought each other’s company. Tanveer’s mother was simple minded. A visiting Imam once preached that Muslims should not eat food cooked by Hindu hands. Tanveer’s father laughed. He had grown up with Hindu servants in his household. They made the best biryani rice, he claimed, cooking the goat meat to perfection and mixing it with spices that made his mouth salivate at smell. Tanveer’s mother had also grown up with Hindu servants, but after the Imam came and went, Tanveer noticed her mother would grin pleasantly then refuse food if handed to her by a woman with a bindi on her forehead. Tanveer’s mother only saw black and white. She disliked these qualities. Yet, this was her mother and Tanveer’s father was married to her. Their daughter marrying an outsider would not be acceptable.
    The requirements their culture had for marriage felt too much like pedigree dog breeding. As long as the other held the same DNA, they could procreate together in blissful union. The same went for purebred children. Sometimes, she thought her father would be okay if she told him about Robert, a French, English, Irish, fourth generation American boy with eyes the color of a wintered meadow coming back to life. They had been in a relationship for the past two years. She thought her Indian father might have been okay with her marrying a European mutt if it weren’t for his concern that family members would shun Tanveer for her actions. Robert’s father had embraced Tanveer the very first time she met him and his mother had called to congratulate Tanveer on hearing news of the proposal. Tanveer’s relatives would do no such thing.
    Tanveer continued looking at her father’s profile as he pulled the car up the driveway, inching it slowly into the garage. He was leaning forward, peeking out the front windshield trying to make sure he didn’t hit the empty cardboard boxes stacked against the front wall. The extra care he took in moving her car reminded her he took care of sick children all day long. Her father had left his family and his country many years ago. She did not know what drove him to practice medicine in the United States. Maybe a sense of adventure. The decision had led to Tanveer calling the U.S. home and India a foreign country she visited on a tourist’s visa. In the garage, after satisfying himself with the car’s placement, Tanveer’s father turned off the car’s ignition and twisted around to face her. “Tanveer jaan, you may be an American, but you cannot lose your heritage. You will understand when you are older,” he said.
    She stared into her father’s face and felt an ache. She loved him very much. When she was a little girl afraid of the dark, he placed flashlights around her room; all within reach from her bed so she could shine light on the monsters and scare them away. He even left a walkie-talkie on her nightstand in case she needed to call him for back-up in the middle of the night. Then when she turned sixteen, he bought her the silver Honda Civic they were presently sitting in, forgoing his expensive trip to Mecca to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.
    Tanveer had believed letting him drive her car to the grocery store would relax their conversation. She had imagined them discussing how smooth the car drove. How quiet the engine was. How sensitive the breaks were in comparison to her father’s first car in this country, a walnut brown-colored Saab with manual drive. She had hoped it would veer the conversation away from talk of ’what is done in our culture’. She had been wrong.
    Tanveer temporarily muted her father’s voice and noticed a slight stain across the pocket of his t-shirt. Spilt chai, she assumed from its brownish nature. He drank three cups every day, his one guilty pleasure. She glanced up and found her father’s gaze fixated on her. She couldn’t do this anymore. She had to tell her father about her intentions to marry Robert, then sit there and listen as he begged her not to do so. Tanveer reached over the center counsel and took her father’s hand, “Papa, I don’t agree with you.”
    “Beti,” he sighed.
    “I’ve met someone,” she said.
    Tanveer’s father removed his hands from underneath her’s and sat staring forward, looking through the windshield at the neatly stacked boxes in front of him. His hands were rolled into fists and his chest rose and fell with each deep breath he took.
    And I would go to the ends of the earth
    Cause, darling, to me that’s what you’re worth
    If you need, you need me to be with you
    I will follow where you lead
    Tanveer was jostled back into the present by the sudden increase in sound. The remote had fallen underneath her and she had hit the volume button. She went to grab the remote and her injured finger rubbed against something sharp stuck in-between the couch cushions; her wound from washing dishes re-opened and a tiny spot of red smeared the couch. Tanveer stuck the finger in her mouth. The taste of copper overwhelmed her and she quickly removed her finger. Tears slid down her cheeks.
    Aside from the occasional letter notifying the other party that they were still alive and kicking, she hadn’t really spoken to her father in over twenty years. Their last encounter included hours of yelling and tears and at the end of that night, they walked away from each other adamantly refusing to reconcile. She shut her eyes tightly as their last words that night came back to her.
    “I can’t believe you don’t want to see your own daughter happy,” she said coldly.
    His reply just as frosty, “Beti, how can I watch you make a mistake.”
    She got off the couch and walked towards the kitchen. Neither of them had tried to fix it, she thought. Neither of them had ever called. Five years ago, her father informed her via e-mail that he had successfully undergone surgery to remove a polyp from his voice box. The manner in which he wrote about the abnormal, but benign growth of tissue, suggested to Tanveer her father had been in no immediate danger. She replied, “I’m glad you’re well,” and then deleted the e-mail. She thought about sending a get well card, choosing a card with a teddy bear on the front, but changed her mind on the way to the cash register, leaving it on the candy-filled shelves in the check out aisle.
    She wanted Robert home. The recollection of that encounter with her father left her exposed and she wasn’t comfortable with these raw emotions. It made her feel unbalanced and her knees buckled. She leaned against the kitchen’s doorframe to steady herself and caught sight of a painting filled with Asiatic lilies. The painting hung proudly in a golden frame on the wall above the sink. Her daughter painted the watercolor in the 8font size="-2">th grade. Tanveer studied the bouquet and then diverted her glance to the left where a telephone sat on a granite counter. She picked it up and dialed a number, but when she heard a click and then the heavily accented “Hello” she panicked. The man’s voice on the other end sounded too foreign too crumpled. Not smooth and velvety like the voice she remembered her father possessing twenty years earlier. Her index finger was ready to hit the end call button, when an image of Sufiya at dinner raced through Tanveer’s mind, urging her to speak. The eighty-year old voice said “Hello” again, this time a little louder.
    Tanveer gulped down the saliva collecting at the back of her throat. Grasping the phone even tighter, she opened her mouth and finally said, “Salam alakum, Papa, it’s me.” The line had already gone dead.
    Tanveer placed the phone back on the counter and went upstairs. She stood outside her daughter’s room ready to knock when she heard her daughter’s voice. “My mom’s stuck, Shabbir. She doesn’t get it.” Tanveer turned around and went back down the stairs to the kitchen. She stared at the phone, wanting to reach for it. Instead, she kneeled over, cried silently, allowing her teardrops to collect on the floor beneath her.
    Her body began to numb when a pair of warm arms wrapped themselves around her. Robert had come home. He had on a black t-shirt, gym shorts, and tennis shoes. He swooped her off the floor and carried her upstairs. Tanveer nestled her face against his neck, feeling the growth of his day old beard. He smelled salty and sweaty.
    Gently, Robert placed her on their tissue-soft bed and pulled the comforter up around her. She looked up into his hazel eyes, the same as their daughter’s, and drew in her breath. Robert bent down to kiss her forehead and whispered, “Tomorrow.” He was the eternal optimist, which sometimes annoyed her. Not this night. She needed it. She wiped away the tears smearing her make-up and weakly smiled up at him. “Yes,” she agreed. “Tomorrow.”


    This story previously appeared in Pulse Online Literary Journal and the Blue Minaret.

Getty 044, art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Getty 044, 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.



Kalah McLaughlin

My love comes home from work so late
But I’ve been left alone all day
To wander and to dream
My lover is so tired he
Collapses on the bed
But my brain is wide awake because
Him walking through the door
Was the highlight of my day
If it was his, he doesn’t say
He’s been sleeping since he came
And now I’m more alone
Than I was before

Cliff’s Edge

Kalah McLaughlin

He notices everything
The bracelet on my ankle
The straightened style of my hair
He stops me from ripping the skin off my lips
And cares when I pass on the blunt

He did not notice my body change
From size eight to four
He did not see the suffering in my face
As my cheeks lost their fullness
And my eyes sunk in deeper caves

He wants me forever
Lock and key
He’s not mean
But he turns away when I dangle

From the cliff’s edge

As Passengers

Robert David Roe

    I deeply resent our world in a certain dimension for enforcing what I call meekness on people, on myself but also on people much more deserving of attention than myself. Unspeakably subtle structures in life, at work, in the family, everywhere really, rob us of our self licensure. We can’t all get up and rebel against this oppression because our oppressor is faceless. Certainly no one person and not even a culprit such as a single board of directors enforces the norm that is our quietude. Rather it is society as a whole. It is we ourselves who tell us our ideas aren’t worthy of being heard.
    I am jealous of protestant preachers. I want to speak on a topic with such authority that I must intone almost like someone singing a hymn. I don’t want to believe in God in that way; sin. Rituals. Cleansing. Sacrifice; I just want to speak in long-rolling, opulent tomes of clauses, sentences that may never end.
    Along with some of the realizations I will tell you now, I have also realized it is presumptuous of the preachers. So I have chosen, at this stage in my life, to risk presumptuousness. You see, I am actually a meek person even if I am coming into a new voice.
    I have chosen to risk placing my voice in the atmosphere.

    This isn’t going to the dark place you think it is, but my topic is that our overwhelmingly apparent possession of free will is an illusion. Ultimately I turned away from this belief because I could not face it, because there must be more. This is inconsistent, but if you believe in pure physics it has to be true: we’re made of electrons and other particles. The immutable laws of physics control the motion of objects from the minuscule to the massive, don’t they? Our thoughts and our consciousness itself are electrochemical processes, fully explicable in physics, a closed system. What blossoms in your head is an event in your brain and it’s no more up to chance than the dribbling of a basketball, which when it goes awry always has a determinative explanation. The dribbler applied pressure differently or didn’t see a pebble someone had dropped on the court, which sent the ball off in a seemingly random direction. It’s all predictable even if we don’t know the details of each instant. So is your mind. There is no juncture in the determinative, electrochemical system at which free will can slip in and magically change things. Rather, the utterly authentic illusion that you can do what you will is an effect of a marvelously complex machine.
    I’ve read the results of experiments that sank in more deeply with me than they seem to with most people. In a particular experimental setup, highly repeatable, that has spawned many similar experiments, scientists are scanning the subject’s brain. They ask the subject to push a button at an otherwise random moment of his or her own choosing. A signature burst of activity always comes at a consistent span before the decision—not before pressing the button, but before the decision itself. The neural activity comes before the patient is conscious that he or she will experience the seeming moment of resolution. Your brain knows long before you that you’re going to have the thoughts you have. The physical organ operates with the regularity of the machine it is, with the consistency of all physics. That we’re aware of ourselves is a side effect of the complexity of our nerve network.

    Just as the stars are always in motion, billions of miles away, flying away from us—at more than the speed of light, as it happens—so does our nervous system keep doing its thing without our awareness. The electrons, in their countless multiples of trillions, are always orbiting their nuclei in our spines. Our neurons are always firing and the universe has always already decided what any one of us is going to do. As we surf the moment that is the now, this truth is on our heels. It is atop us, and it is ahead of us right up onto this moment, this one right now in which you comprehend this sentence. Ancient and medieval theory held that the stars were points on a vast sphere, as if pinpricks of light in a shell that enclosed our own world. Might not that just as well be true? Might I just as well indulge a picturesque fantasy? I’ll risk seeming pretentious to say I’ve begun to see the brushstrokes of this being of ours. Yes, I choose this Van Gogh-inspired aesthetic of existence in which the starry night is our painted existence.

    When I read the results I mentioned, they sank right down into me making perfect sense, then loomed up menacingly.
    I no longer believe we’re just slaves to fate—the angle I’m giving you is only one truth in a telescoping series of truths—but I dwelt in that perspective alone for a few days before moving on. I still relapse into the thought loop at times. Those experiments arriving in my hands, even the arising of my self doubt, would have been not my doings but machinations of particles. Even my several days’ cogitation, during which I calmed myself and looked away, were the universe being me. My flash of realization on that week of that year had been inevitable since the unfurling of hydrogen and fire the age of the universe ago.
    I do have a reason for bringing this to you. I’ve never been so sober nor seen the other side so clearly as when I grasped how much sense total predetermination made. Once you see it, you reel. Over some time you adjust and settle into a stance as to what’s happening to your mind, and after that you start to see the texture more clearly; I mean the way the paint lies on this life of ours. The big bang, they say, happened 12 to 14 billion years ago; they could be wrong and might even be wrong about how the universe began, but in a way the beginning happened just a moment ago, and in a way, is all on the verge of beginning to unfold. Paintings in museums are paintings within a painting. All beauty is of one kind. Take a natural monument: a stunning placement of a sandstone monolith in a spartan landscape: that is no older than works of art, which you mistakenly see now as more ephemeral. Hear the right rock song catching you at the crest of a peaking mood. Neither is the monolith more or less inevitable than the song. At the same time of the birthing explosion, so was created this moment here, now, in which I rant to you about the predetermined nature of existence, and you are in the audience, telling yourself in some low-lying vestige of your consciousness, that you choose to sit quietly and listen—more or less rapt, I hope, or I’m going to have a word with you after church.
    The end—of everything, as it were—is also just around the corner. This should thrill you with relief. Life’s all over. Now live the rest of it. You’ve done your damnedest and your damnedest is done.
    If I tried and succeeded with convincing you we had no real choice, would it not deprive money of its ineluctable significance? It would reveal that money is not something you spend but something you do.
    Would it infuse with new mystery the way in which poets and writers interlock these words into these regiments and terraces of time? Can you see it would reveal language itself to be an invention, devised by a single human being or a group of human beings?
    If I could make you see this, that we are all just deeply programmed machines, I would turn you into the absolute passenger. You would be in the backseat of a luxury automobile cruising the city, the pinpoint lights of windows suggesting the shapes of great enterprises. You would have no ability to escape, looking up at the towers through glass. After the lights massaged your perception for a while, after your internal debate as to whether to attack the driver and seize control moved into a rear zone of your consciousness, you would realize a sense of resignation had set up in you, and then even more vague and profound, a deep knowing: that you owned all within your view, and that anyone who affirmed your ownership could be no more foolish than anyone who denied it. That as the one who knew, you could now stop the car and place foot to concrete. Walk the streets and wrap your fingers around the brass, concrete, clean, and filthy details of your kingdom, godless and feeling the truth as your personal, end-all, be-all blood, like some monk of the ages ever sent back to live this life again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
    I only hope to have entertained you.

Dented, photography by Kyle Hemmings

Dented, photography by Kyle Hemmings


Tommy Vollman

    A few months prior to what should have been the end of my final year of undergrad, my then-girlfriend told me she was going to study abroad in London.
    It was the middle of the spring semester, but any identifiable aspects of real spring had yet to hatch. The air was a rusty knife—unwieldy and dangerous—and the whole city tossed and turned under a thick, grey duvet of clouds. My then-girlfriend was set to graduate, but I wasn’t; I needed 12 credits and fourteen thousand dollars. The 12 credits didn’t include foreign language, and the 14 grand was for unpaid tuition and fees, which triggered a hold on any future registration. Despite all of that (or maybe in spite of it), I planned to go to London, too. My hold, though, prevented me enrolling via the regular study abroad channels.
    Going to London was important. It was as if something fragile had to be held in place and my going to London would hold that fragile something exactly where it needed to be. I guess I sort of figured I’d be able to sort everything out once I arrived. Of course, I thought everything could be sorted out when the time came. Everything.
    The first two weeks I was in London, I bounced between a half-dozen hostels. I had nowhere to live since housing arrangements ran through one’s sponsoring school. Because of my hold, I had no sponsoring school, so I had no housing arrangements. The other American students—the ones officially enrolled in the study abroad—gave me a nickname: homeless. It was a joke between the dozen or so of us—my homelessness—and I suppose that since I was 23 years-old I should have known better, but I didn’t.
    Near the end of my first month in London, I finally got a room in a flat up in Northolt. The sub-letter was a woman, a blackjack dealer at some casino out along one of the autoroutes. She worked almost every night of the week, so she and I were on nearly polar-opposite schedules. When we did cross paths—no matter what time it happened to be—she always seemed to have on some sort of satin robe or gauzy coverlet, which was usually untied so that I’d catch momentary glimpses of her negligee or bra (always lacy and fire-engine red) or (on at least three occasions) naked breast. I moved out of her place in the middle of the night after only about a week-and-a-half because she 1) sneaked up behind me in the kitchen one morning, pressed me against the counter, tongued my ear, and whispered You know you want to fuck me (which I most definitely didn’t) and 2) barged into my what-I-thought-was-locked-and-probably-was room late one night to see if I wanted to shag her from behind while some other guy watched (which I likewise wasn’t at all interested in doing).
    When I told my friends about her and her come-ons, they agreed that it seemed I’d been better off homeless.
    And now, almost two decades later, that same word, homeless, is clattering around inside my brain, and the only thing I’m thinking is, How many students are even at this school?, which is pretty fucked up given what I’ve just been told.
    A voice suddenly stabs forth from the center of our little group. It’s the President.
    “A hundred and two?” she asks.
    I think she hopes, like me, that she’s misheard the figure. Sadly, she hasn’t.
    “Yes,” the counselor repeats, “a hundred and two.”
    The counselor’s name is D’Marne, and she looks quite young and has on these shiny, patent-leather heels with long, narrow points at the toes. Her blazer is cinched tight by a single, diamond-shaped button that wrenches her torso just above her waist. She seems uncomfortably off-balance and disproportionate to both herself and the space around her.
    Her lips twist awkwardly around the words she speaks, but I don’t want to notice this twisting since it seems so awfully inappropriate given the implications of what’s being said.
    “The latest data,” she continues, “and we’re swimming in data, indicates that we have one hundred two homeless students.”
    As she speaks, my chest collapses. Of course, it doesn’t really collapse because nothing that trite happens outside of movies or short stories, but I am given time in the slow, beating movements of blood and breath to think about what, exactly, D’Marne’s statement implies. I’m uncomfortable with this, uncomfortable considering the explicit awfulness a reality where one hundred two students at a single Milwaukee public high school are homeless.
    I’m standing in the massive, open-concept, glass entry way that anchors the north and south wings of Leslie Tech, part of a little huddle of administrators from the handful of four- and two-year colleges that dot the map in and around the city of Milwaukee. I see students in classrooms crammed with a complicated array of technology. The students—at least a majority of them—seem distracted. It’s as if they’ve been teleported here from bedrooms or isolation booths or places where this type of stimulation is foreign and rare and so overwhelming that it almost posits a complete shut down of all cognitive processes.
    And now D’Marne is talking about something else, but I can’t pay attention; I can’t shake the thought of one hundred two homeless high school students. This thought bothers me because I don’t know what to do with it. Holding it feels so heavy that I’m afraid I might slip and tumble right off the edge of the Earth. Not holding it, though, seems reckless. Not holding it seems irresponsible and convenient. I shift and squirm and stand and look at them—girls, boys, men, women. How many of them, I wonder, are homeless? How many of them have nowhere to go when the bell rings at 2:45? How many of them are included in that number: one hundred two? I wonder how the one hundred two survive. I wonder how they even show up, day-in, day-out, and do whatever it is they’re doing. I wonder how me or anyone else can expect them to do anything different than whatever it is they’re currently doing. I mean, just by being here, they’ve accomplished a hell of a lot more than I ever would or could if I was in their position.
    It’s a raw deal they’ve been dealt. It’s unfair, untenable, indigestible, and like a single spark that grows and multiplies and lights the darkest depths, I want to do something about it.
    I need to do something about it.
    But what?
    Conversations erupt all around me—educrat talk about co-requisite acceleration and retention, about support and testing.
    But fuck all of that.
    I want to say something—anything—to get us all back to the point that matters, the one we’re all working so hard to ignore. But I can’t. All I can think about is the number one hundred two and the way D’Marne’s voice shuttered like a slightly torn sail as she spoke it only moments ago.
    I’m restless and furious; I’m scared I might explode. But I can’t—I won’t—explode.
    What, then, can I do?
    What can any of us do?
    There are so many peaks and canyons tucked into these insurmountable mountains. I hate myself for not being brave, for not having answers that don’t exist. The only response me and my privilege can muster is to tuck both of my hands into my pockets and stare anxiously down at my boots. I got them in Los Angeles from a store on the corner of Lincoln and Venice Boulevards. I didn’t pay for them, but I know they retail for $559. Five hundred fifty-nine is a big number. It’s far, far bigger than one hundred two. And even though these two numbers (559 and 102) are seemingly unrelated, it’s their current, conjoined context that seems to inspire everything. I wonder as I stand here and stare at my boots, how I can be so concerned with one hundred two when I care so little for five hundred fifty-nine?
    There’s weight behind five hundred fifty-nine, but it’s different than the weight attached to one hundred two.
    I live in Wisconsin where minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A Wisconsin resident who works 40 hours-a-week at minimum wage earns a gross, weekly paycheck of about $310. Taxes and pay-ins take a little less than 20%, which essentially means that a minimum-wage Wisconsin worker pulls home roughly $268 each week.
    Sources that seem mostly credible report that the average American spends about half of their weekly income on housing. Most of these same sources state that between one-third and one-half of the remaining amount is spent on food. That means that after housing and food, a minimum wage Wisconsin worker has about $89.33 left in their pocket for other things, both essential and non-essential. It’s pretty clear what category my boots fall under, but let’s just—for the sake of argument—pretend they fall into that other category. If a minimum-wage Wisconsin worker wanted to purchase my boots at the price they retail for, they’d have to work for 6.26 weeks and purchase/pay for nothing but food and housing. 6.26 weeks of work equates to 250.4 hours or 15,024 minutes or 901,440 seconds, which is a fucking eternity, especially when you’re thinking about how one hundred two students at a single Milwaukee high school are homeless. It’s even longer, I suppose, when you’re the one who’s actually homeless. The truth is I have no idea how long anything is when you’re homeless since I’ve never been anywhere close to homeless except in the tentacles of my most furious and terrible nightmares. There, of course, and at the butts of bad, tasteless jokes short on consequence, but long on insensitivity.
    I wonder how many seconds I could last if I were actually homeless.
    It sure as fuck wouldn’t be anywhere close to 901,440.
    And even with all this, I still can’t manage anything but silence in the face of one hundred two homeless 14 to 18 year-olds.
    I have so many words for so many other things. I throw words away, toss them around like disposable capital, and yet I can’t make a single, goddamned sound for any one of those one hundred two.
    So, as I stand here in this massive entry way, the number one hundred two careening through my skull, I think about my the cost of my silence.
    But it’s hard to talk about cost.
    From a manufacturing standpoint, my silence has no cost since nothing is expended in its production. By all intents and purposes, my silence is the very absence of production.
    From an economic standpoint, the cost of my silence is nearly impossible to determine since it’s unclear what’s lost as a result of it. Also, what’s the perceived, apparent, or relative value of my silence? That, too, is nearly impossible to determine. I can’t, after all, retail my silence. It doesn’t actually exist in a physical, quantifiable sense. The argument, of course, can be made that it exists in a quantum sense—that it has weight and utility and the ability to occupy space—but that discussion is theoretical. This discussion, on the other hand, is real.
    The truth is that I don’t say anything because I don’t have to. I can afford to remain silent. I want to say something, but I don’t know what to say or how to say it and because I don’t actually have to say anything, I remain silent.
    These students—the ones in front of me, all around me—they can scarcely afford my silence, especially those one hundred two.
    But none of them know what to say, either.
    Their voices don’t work; they can’t and won’t form words because what are those words, anyway? I mean, how can anybody—especially them—possibly begin express the awfulness of homelessness at 17. Or 16. Or 15. Or 14.
    Fucking fourteen.
    So they embrace their only seeming alternative, they manifest their voices through their actions, their demeanors. I stay quiet, they rage silently, and we all burn like some junkyard tire fire. How can sentences be strung together, sentences that would become paragraphs and whole essays on injustice and privilege and opportunity (or the dire lack thereof) when words aren’t available?
    And whose fault is it? Theirs? Mine? Is it the fault of the schools? The administration? The parents? Who’s to blame, after all? The system?
    It has to be something, doesn’t it?
    Something has to be to blame for this; something must be at fault.
    The awful truth is that it’s not the fault of any of those aforementioned things. It would be nice (or at least convenient) if it was. I mean, then we could point to one or two things (maybe even three or four) and assign blame. That would give us all something quantifiable to work with, something physical and manifest. Then we could all dive in, right up to our necks if we wanted to, and fix matters. We could solve the problem and insist that all it took was a fresh perspective, a willingness to get one’s hands dirty with organized effort. We could talk about how it really wasn’t that difficult, after all. Then, if our solutions proved faulty, we could look for other, less apparent elements—ones that hadn’t before emerged—and we could reassign blame to them. Or, we could blame some aspect of the process. We could analyze the process, gather more data, and see where things went wrong. Eventually, we’d really know what or who or how to blame. And that, we’d agree, would make all the difference.
    But we can’t do any of that.
    I mean, we can (and we do) do all of that (and more), but we really shouldn’t. We shouldn’t do any of it since none of those things—those convenient, quantifiable things—are actually to blame.
    It’s the silence, really. The silence is the problem. The silence is to blame.
    The silence is guilty—mine, yours, their’s, everybody’s. Our collective silence is fucking criminal.
    And my boots with their $559 price tag?
    Well, they’re innocent.
    After all, they’re the only ones talking, the only ones making noise.
    I hear their sound every time I take a step.
    And it’s so fucking loud against the backdrop of my silence—against the backdrop everyone’s sickeningly ridiculous silence—that I can hardly stand it.
    I hear my boots all the time, echoing louder and louder with every single step: Privilege. Privilege. Privileged.

About Tommy Vollman

    Tommy Vollman is a writer, musician, and painter. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. Tommy was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his 2016 short story, “Jimmy.” Recently, he’s had stories appear in Two Cities Review, Palaver, Pithead Chapel, Gris-Gris, and Per Contra. He was selected as an Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s “Family Matters” and was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s “Short-Story Award for New Writers”. He has some black-ink tattoos on both of his arms. Tommy really likes Kurt Vonnegut, Two Cow Garage, Tillie Olsen, Greg Dulli, Tom Colicchio, Willy Vlautin, and Albert Camus. He’s working on a novel entitled Tyne Darling. Tommy released a new record, These Ghosts, in November of 2016. He currently teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College and prefers to write with pens poached from hotel room cleaning carts.

Trippen, photography by J. Ray Paradiso

Trippen, photography by J. Ray Paradiso


Tom Ball

    Ball-headed people with no body just floated through the air. They played a game of perpetual basketball. They would bounce off of one another and try get into the basket. Four teams competed for four baskets.
    And when you touched another and you were male you could impregnate a female.
    And when not playing the game they used their mind to paint pictures of a dream nature. They slept 14 h a night and dreamt, and were only awake for 8 h (22 h day).
    Many of the dreams they painted were of balls of different colors and sizes playing the game.

    Did we try to help them out? I am not at liberty to tell.

The Wanderer

Sean Tierney

is the wanderer
without even a refuge
in his own mind

no love for him
in his own heart

his thoughts like mud
flow through the swampy
growths that run endless
to no sea

the sun is swallowed
by some clouds

then sets
like a broken


Janet Kuypers

As my mother lay dying
on the other side of the country,
I tried to get a flight
so I could see her one last time.

But the ticketing attendant
said she couldn’t help me,
that I couldn’t buy a ticket
because of hurricane Ernesto.

So because this hurricane
was spiraling through
my mother’s town, our lives
were spiraling out of control

as we tried to brace ourselves
for losing our mother,
and picking up the debris
from a disaster we couldn’t control.

video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ernesto” and “Just Thinking About It” on the theme of circles that she wrote FOR this reading at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ernesto” and “Just Thinking About It” on the theme of circles that she wrote FOR this reading at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
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See YouTube video from 4/15/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems Ernesto”, “You Are a Force” and “One by One the Beech Trees Fell at Austin’s “Recycled Reads(Sony camera).
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See YouTube video from 4/15/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems Ernesto”, “You Are a Force” and “One by One the Beech Trees Fell at Austin’s “Recycled Reads(Sony; Edge Detect).
Hear SoundCloud audio of Janet Kuypers sharing her poetry from her two JanetJanet books, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (w/ her poems “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together”) in her Chicago 88.3 FM WZRD Radio interview 8/26/17, Part 1.
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(this video was filmed in studio from a Sony camera).
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(video filmed from a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (video filmed from a Sony camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (Sony camera w/ a Cartoon filter).
video See YouTube video 8/23/17 of Janet Kuypers’ poem “Knew I Had to be Ready”, then her show “Under My Skin”, with her poems “Protecting Peace can Put you in Prison”, “Ernesto”, “Quivering against the Invading Enemy”, “The Truth Is Out There”, “x-raying metal under my skin”, “X-rays and broken hearts”, “unique noise”, “erasure poem: A Poetic History”, “Just One Book”, and “Returning to Georgetown)” (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
video See YouTube video 8/23/17 of the Janet Kuypers’ poem “Knew I Had to be Ready”, then her show “Under My Skin”, with her poems “Protecting Peace can Put you in Prison”, “Ernesto”, “Quivering against the Invading Enemy”, “The Truth Is Out There”, “x-raying metal under my skin”, “X-rays and broken hearts”, “unique noise”, “erasure poem: A Poetic History”, “Just One Book”, and “Returning to Georgetown)” (from a Panasonic Lumix camera; Hard Light filter).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Just Thinking About It

Janet Kuypers

It makes me dizzy, dizzy, dizzy in my head*
to just think about it —
the Earth is spinning
on it’s circular axis
as it’s circling around our Sun.
And our entire Solar System,
it’s catching a ride
at the end of one of the arms
of our spiral Milky Way Galaxy,
riding on the edge
of another massive circle.
My head is swimming
when I think of this spinning,
because even if
I think I’m sitting still,
I think of how
I’m hurtling through the cosmos
in one cosmic circle after another,
and it makes me dizzy, dizzy, dizzy in my head.


* quoting a line from the song “Dizzy”, by Danielle Dax

video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ernesto” and “Just Thinking About It” on the theme of circles that she wrote FOR this reading at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Ernesto” and “Just Thinking About It” on the theme of circles that she wrote FOR this reading at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video was filmed from a Sony 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.
Hear SoundCloud audio of Janet Kuypers sharing her poetry from her two JanetJanet books, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (w/ her poems “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together”) in her Chicago 88.3 FM WZRD Radio interview 8/26/17, Part 1.
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(this video was filmed in studio from a Sony camera).
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(video filmed from a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (video filmed from a Sony camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (Sony camera w/ a Cartoon filter).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.


Janet Kuypers

So it seems the people here think
that things will change
when Presidents change,
and when parties change.

But really, people will still complain
because politicians never do
what is best for the people,
but what’s best for their chances

for re-election.

So what else is new, you want
to see change, but you don’t
realize that all your life
you’re on this political

merry-go-round —
you think the scenery is changing
but you’re staying in place
while spinning in circles.

video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “I’m A Record Now” at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “I’m A Record Now” at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
Hear SoundCloud audio of Janet Kuypers sharing her poetry from her two JanetJanet books, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (w/ her poems “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together”) in her Chicago 88.3 FM WZRD Radio interview 8/26/17, Part 1.
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(this video was filmed in studio from a Sony camera).
See YouTube video of part 1 of the Janet Kuypers interview on video WZRD 88.3 FM Chicago Radio 8/24/17, with her reading poetry from her two books “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems”, including “Ultimate Connectivity: a bird in the hand”, “Original Snowbirds”, “Earth was Crying”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round”, “Ernesto”, “Endings Bring Light”, and “Everyone Celebrates Together(video filmed from a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (video filmed from a Sony camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (Sony camera w/ a Cartoon filter).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Click here to read the Janet Kuypers bio.

Verge on Meditation

Janet Kuypers

I always thought of it was my beach.
I know it was a public place,
but Naples Pier, off the Gulf of Mexico
was a place that was my special retreat
ever since I was a little kid.
You have to go just one block north
of the Pier to dig in the sand
and find the coquina shell fish
burrowing their way into the sand.
Find the spiral in the shells,
drop it into the water between the waves
and watch the ever-growing ripples
in circles near your feet.

I don’t know why I’m claiming ownership
to a public beach, but when I search
for a moment to escape,
I choose to verge on mediation
by imagining myself on this beach
at dusk, where the reds and oranges
of our circular sun
change the water from blue to black —
with the beautiful breeze,
and the battered down circular
microscopic grains of sand
massaging my feet with each step —
that is the closest thing
to coming to peace,
and coming full circle
to reach everything I’ve ever needed.

All at a beach I claim for my own.
Well, when it makes me feel this good,
it does become mine,
and it makes the circle complete.

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See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation” and “Weren’t Even Marries” at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
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See YouTube video from 3/25/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation” and “Weren’t Even Marries” at the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (video filmed from a Sony camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Verge on Meditation”, “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Ernesto” from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” 8/23/17 at Waukegan (IL) Beach (Sony camera w/ a Cartoon filter).
See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (filmed with a Panasonic Lumix camera).
video See YouTube video of Janet KuypersNovember 2017 Book Release Reading 11/1/17, where she read her Down in the Dirt 11/17 book “Monsters” haiku poems “knife”, “easy”, and “ghosts”, and her poems “Ernesto” “Just Thinking About It”, “Political Merry-Go-Round” and “Verge on Meditation” in Community Poetry @ Half Price Books (video filmed with a Sony camera).

Janet Kuypers Bio

    Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
    She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
    She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images. Starting at this time Kuypers released a large number of CD releases currently available for sale at iTunes or amazon, including “Across the Pond”(a 3 CD set of poems by Oz Hardwick and Janet Kuypers with assorted vocals read to acoustic guitar of both Blues music and stylized Contemporary English Folk music), “Made Any Difference” (CD single of poem reading with multiple musicians), “Letting It All Out”, “What we Need in Life” (CD single by Janet Kuypers in Mom’s Favorite Vase of “What we Need in Life”, plus in guitarist Warren Peterson’s honor live recordings literally around the globe with guitarist John Yotko), “hmmm” (4 CD set), “Dobro Veče” (4 CD set), “the Stories of Women”, “Sexism and Other Stories”, “40”, “Live” (14 CD set), “an American Portrait” (Janet Kuypers/Kiki poetry to music from Jake & Haystack in Nashville), “Screeching to a Halt” (2008 CD EP of music from 5D/5D with Janet Kuypers poetry), “2 for the Price of 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from Peter Bartels), “the Evolution of Performance Art” (13 CD set), “Burn Through Me” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from The HA!Man of South Africa), “Seeing a Psychiatrist” (3 CD set), “The Things They Did To You” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Hope Chest in the Attic” (audio CD set), “St. Paul’s” (3 CD set), “the 2009 Poetry Game Show” (3 CD set), “Fusion” (Janet Kuypers poetry in multi CD set with Madison, WI jazz music from the Bastard Trio, the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and Paul Baker), “Chaos In Motion” (tracks from Internet radio shows on Chaotic Radio), “Chaotic Elements” (audio CD set for the poetry collection book and supplemental chapbooks for The Elements), “etc.” audio CD set, “Manic Depressive or Something” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Singular”, “Indian Flux” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “The Chaotic Collection #01-05”, “The DMJ Art Connection Disc 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Oh.” audio CD, “Live At the Café” (3 CD set), “String Theory” (Janet Kuypers reading other people's poetry, with music from “the DMJ Art Connection), “Scars Presents WZRD radio” (2 CD set), “SIN - Scars Internet News”, “Questions in a World Without Answers”, “Conflict • Contact • Control”, “How Do I Get There?”, “Sing Your Life”, “Dreams”, “Changing Gears”, “The Other Side”, “Death Comes in Threes”, “the final”, “Moving Performances”, “Seeing Things Differently”, “Live At Cafe Aloha”, “the Demo Tapes” (Mom’s Favorite Vase), “Something Is Sweating” (the Second Axing), “Live In Alaska” EP (the Second Axing), “the Entropy Project”, “Tick Tock” (with 5D/5D), “Six Eleven” “Stop. Look. Listen.”, “Stop. Look. Listen to the Music” (a compilation CD from the three bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds & Flowers” and “The Second Axing”), and “Change Rearrange” (the performance art poetry CD with sampled music).
    From 2010 through 2015 Kuypers also hosted the Chicago poetry open mic the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting weekly feature and open mic podcasts that were also released as YouTube videos.
    In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, po•em, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc&d 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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