Category Archives: 2016

Gary Young

3 Poems

The porch light throws shadows on the far side of the canyon. The pickets and posts of the railing cast the bars of an enormous cage, and I can see a giant—dark, featureless—pace between the redwoods and the granite cliffs. At last, he stops, soothed by the stream flowing over boulders and stones that snag the black water and give it voice.

*

We walked past the jail where a woman shouted to someone waving from the window of his cell. At the corner of 4th Street and Broadway, a sign on a shuttered bar said, Goodbye—and thanks to our loyal customers. Delivery trucks had snapped the lower limbs off the sycamores that lined the street, but the leaves high above rustled in a breeze coming in from the bay. Gene and I stepped into his lobby. An orchid sat on a brushed steel shelf. The elevator opened, closed, and when it opened again, we were at Gene’s door. Elizabeth’s hat and scarf were still hanging in the hall. That’s where she died, where Gene had asked, are you leaving me, and she’d said, yes.

*

In the facility, those who could, spoke, and those who could not, listened. A woman stood to the side. Her face was placid, but it was clear that she wanted to join in. At last there was a pause, and she asked no one in particular, am I dead?

###

Gary Young has been awarded grants from the NEA and the NEH. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and his book of poems, The Dream of a Moral Life, won the James D. Phelan Award. He is the author of several other collections of poetry including Hands; Days; Braver Deeds, winner the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; No Other Life, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; Pleasure; and Even So: New and Selected Poems. His most recent book is Adversary. In 2009 He received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He teaches creative writing and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.

Tom Whalen

Hero

Every hero the writer must approach only approximately. The eyes, for example, must resemble Roman candles, like the eyes of the actors in Wilhelm Meister arriving at night in freight wagons before the castle of a count, as noted in Jean Paul’s School for Aesthetics. Her hair may be red, a vibrant color appropriate on the heads of heroes, no matter her country of origin or how deep down lost she may be. Red signifies all I find vital, all that burns, loves, and dies. I will choose my heroes as carefully as the next writer, though perhaps, unlike them, I will choose my colors better. Trees line the avenues of my thoughts as I compose myself again for the day, which perhaps in no sense need be considered heroic. My description must be natural, despite ignoble nature, which winds its way into the voice speaking to me from a castle window. Is it raining? Am I in the courtyard or in a small boat? Do I sing songs? Is the hero herself a singer? Does the moon shine on the water? Later, deeper into the night, court musicians will serenade the queen, while I continue concocting lyrics to my hero’s heroism. Is my act, too, then, one of heroism? That I even ask proves it’s not. But then the question arises, Who is the hero trying to fool? To which I respond, aligning greatness with the small, Only herself. True value comes only from the original, which the hero in every way is, no matter how closely her behavior adheres to the pattern. Relating the parts of the pattern to the whole is where she performs her magic. How is it, you may ask, that she colonized the eye of this spectator? Had I another four hours I might answer that question, but in forty minutes I must be back at my unheroic work behind the desk of a desk, where I retrieve and send notes the point of which I do not understand. The hero, on the other hand, at every turn of the wheel widens my perspective. With a look, she can turn monsters into innocent youths asleep on hillside meadows beneath austere, imposing mountains, like the brow of a deity angered by her charges who sleep on unaware. Like me, the hero herself must work through the lunch hour, especially on days of great stress, e.g., the day the rent is due or a lover or child has forgotten to call. But what fool would do that? Certainly I wouldn’t, given the opportunity to importune my hero, which isn’t likely, nor would I dishonor her with a request greater than bringing me a glass of water, which indeed would be welcome after an hour adrift on the sea of eternity shouting Fenster and Salvation into the wind like some idiot schoolboy. But then is not my hero also imprisoned in a castle of her own making? Yes, with the exception that her castle rests on the top of a tree (Yggdrasil) and mine on Herweghstrasse in Stuttgart, Germany, at 11:31 a.m., May 6, 2016, the day before my mother’s birthday, dead these past forty-one years. The hero, too, lost her mother, but at an even younger age than I. The first time I saw her she was bent over, her arms plunged up to her elbows in two sacks of barley. A strange green light suffused the granary. But this isn’t why I credit her heroism. The hero exerts no moral fee from those she saves. The raven she changed back from a prince can only shake its dark head in confusion, then wander off into the woods until that time it’s again of use to the narrative. A psychic otherness surrounds the hero, for whom cognition is ontology. By the way, these opinions and resolutions I express here are occasions of joy. Even if she were to call me a malicious old monkey? But what am I saying? I’m neither your typical primate nor old, nor can I imagine—except during my weaker moments—she giving a fig for me. The hero doesn’t want to arouse pleasure, but to conjure things. Surely I haven’t conjured her, but has she conjured me? Best not think too much about that. The hero’s aesthetics—which I have had the pleasure of observing, like a diner another diner dining alone in a distant, poorly lit corner of a Parisian restaurant on rue de Rivoli—match her ethics to a T. I cannot doubt them anymore than I can wish them or her away. While I devised my lyrics, was she dreaming me into or out of the world? In other words, am I asleep or dead? Hurry. I’m almost out of time. The same I will not nor can say about the hero. Have I ever loved or been loved? Was there a time before which I cannot remember, and if not, then why do I bother to speak of it? What questions I ask! A ninny could do better. So could the hero, should she be so inclined. Soon all that will be left of me is a primitive phantasm to which no reality adheres. The night is as clear as a pebble, the stars constellations of her dreams. If she were a statue snowily glowing in the dark of night, I wouldn’t find her anymore heroic, considering what she is, which defeats my powers of description and make-believe. Not that that is a prerequisite to hero worship or that my essay has anything to do with Carlyle or Byron. No, the hero I’ve essayed herein lives modestly in a condition considered by some as domestic bliss, by others as domestic horror. My own opinion of the matter is hardly relevant. I live alone in a small back room where nightly not a single idea or possibility parades past exclaiming, “How will I live without her?”

~~

Tom Whalen’s books include Dolls (prose poems), Winter Coat (poems), and The President in Her Towers and The Straw That Broke (novels). His translations of short prose by Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, was recently published by New York Review Books.

(In real time, the Walser book comes out on September 13.)

Meg Pokrass

Where I Found Him

Way up in Alaska I found the man who loved me. He could no longer move his feet. I found him half-dead, staring up at the sky, looking for a helicopter. He turned his head and said to me “I am sad”. When he spit my name, it froze, but I understood it. He juggled the letters with his frostbitten stare. I was just visiting, a tourist in Alaska, I said, I was not local and could not be depended on. But the truth was this; I wanted to be loved by this man, even if the ice were rigid and the climate would ruin whatever we became. I liked the feel of his frozen words, the way they caught each other mid-air.

FACEBOOK

She: “So, you mean, as an example, you would be sitting here in the garden like this and if you were in Facebook, you’d take a photograph of yourself sitting here in this garden, and you’d put it all over on Facebook and say ‘look at me, hooray, here I am, wonderful me, in this garden’?”

Me:
“Yep”.

She: “Extraordinary!”

 ~~

Meg Pokrass, is a flash fiction writer, poet and writing tutor. Her books include flash fiction collections,Bird Envy (2014), Damn Sure Right (Press 53 2011) The Dog Looks Happy Upsidedown (forthcoming from Etruscan Press2016) and an award-winning book of prose poetry Cellulose Pajamas (Blue Light Book Award Winner 2015). Among her many other publications, she has a flash-fiction novella and essay on the form in My Very End of the Universe, Five mini-novellas in flash and a Study of the Form published by Rose Metal Press. Meg is not really sure if she lives in California or the north of England, but you can keep up-to-date with her antics at megpokrass.com.

Jeff Friedman

Strip Poker

My lover shuffles the deck, fanning the cards into a bridge. The cards arc like a rainbow, then fly wildly through the air like fish hurling out of the water into the mouths of bottled-nosed dolphins that leap to catch them in their hungry mouths.

The cards land on the table as full houses or runs of clubs. I take off my shoes, my sox, my Sherriff’s badge while she leans in, giving me a peek at her breasts and her valley of cleavage, and a bead of sweat glistens in the shadow of the valley. I take off my shirt, my undershirt, all my chains and Jewish bling.

“What’s next,” she asks as a royal flush shines on the table. I take off my jeans, and she loosens her waves of thick brown hair, and removes the cream colored blouse over her yellow crop top.

“Just to make you feel better,” she says.

We live and dress in layers, I think, but now there’s not much between me and the world. “You’re a real hustler,” I say, a card shark.

“More of a magician,” she answers and waves her hands over the cards, “Presto,” as they open on the table, 4 aces. Now I remove my striped boxer knits. She rotates her index finger in circles, and I do several full turns.

“Now what,” I ask.

“Let’s keep going, she says and deals another hand, then another and another and another until off come the tattoos spreading across the floor: an orange crossbow, a wolf’s head, a Moorish façade, three neon snakes dancing, a fountain of coins, and the complete Dead Sea scrolls in microscopic print, and a map of the 80s. She turns over the cards until I discard my costume of flesh, my bones, my fountains of blood and step out of myself into air.
“One more hand?” she asks.

Dybbuk

When the dybbuk knocked on the door, we at first didn’t answer. “Should we let him in,” my wife whispered. I shook my head.

“But he might be a good dybbuk,” she said.

“A dybbuk is a dybbuk,” I answered. But he pounded on the door so hard it began to crack. “Come in,” I said and shut the door.

Before I could ask him to put up the cash for a new door, it repaired itself, the cracks disappearing. He looked like an ordinary dybbuk, a sparse thatch of hair, a simpering grin, a yellow light in his eyes. “Don’t you recognize me,” he asked. We looked at each other and then back at him. “I’m your Uncle Morty.”

“I don’t have an Uncle Morty,” my wife replied. “I don’t either,” I added.

“You look like family,” he said and pulled out his cellphone, tapping on the GPS. “Oops, right street, wrong country.” Now he had a warm smile on his face. “I’m your aunt Esther’s brother.”

“Who’s got an aunt Esther?” we answered. “Small world,” he said. “It’ll come back to you.”

He sniffed the air, smelling the brisket and potatoes roasting. “The table’s set for three. You must have been waiting for me to arrive. When will dinner be ready? I need to freshen up.”

I held my arm out straight to stop him from going any farther, but he laughed and passed through me, vanishing. We heard cabinets slamming and the refrigerator opening and closing.

A moment later he stood at the table pouring three glasses of wine. “Where did you get that bottle of wine?” I asked.

He raised his glass: “Dybbuks should stick together.” Reluctantly, my wife and I touched our glasses and drank the wine.

~~
Jeff Friedman has published six poetry collections, five with Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Pretenders (2014), Working in Flour (2011) and Black Threads (2008). His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International, Flashfiction.net, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, Plume, Agni Online, The New Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poets, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Smokelong Quarterly, The Vestal Review, and The New Republic and numerous other literary magazines. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014. Friedman and Orlowsky were awarded an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship for 2016.

 

Kelli Russell Agodon

Overcrowded With Ghosts

My nights are packed with mourning—barn swallow in the closet, fishhook attached to its beak.

I once had a sister named Hazard, we daydreamed about orchids, I washed the blood out of her hair.

My nights are packed with panic—thunderstorm in the west of my brain, earthquake beneath my ribs, someone I know is dying, had died, is holding the gate open for death, but death is sleeping on the porch.

Is this the moth my sister longed for? Moth becomes mother becomes a suicide
in the flowers. Orchid. Greenhouse.

When my sister died it wasn’t because she was brokenhearted, instead it was a cancer
that wouldn’t let her swallow. It wasn’t because she grew up without a mother, but because her body grew too much. Like blossoms. Like tumors.

My nights are packed with lightning. Ghost storms of the past, someone whispering, Who’s next? The room is dark with worry. My phone blinks on the nightstand, my sister blinking in the stars.

Fairytale in Fractures

1.
Sometimes through the darkness you can see the bioluminescence in the waves, an ocean of constellations, someone moving a magic wand through the seawater. There was no light streaming through the castle window, but the moat glistened. Everything that shouldn’t glow was glowing, everything that didn’t want to be touched was being touched, and when you disturb the plankton it shines for a moment.

2.
I leave out the part when I was sixteen and my friend took me into the back bedroom of his castle. And instead, I tell you how later that night I walked two miles down railroad tracks carrying a puppy I‘d found, guessing he’d been abused or tossed from a car. I leave out the part where I was hurting and instead focus on the moonlight shadowing Puget Sound, how I knew another train was coming by the ripples in water, how the bioluminescence stayed by my side all night. I leave out the part where he pushed me down on his sister’s twin bed and instead focus on walking to the only vet still open after midnight.

3.
Sometimes in the darkness you can’t see the darkness, like when a friend is no longer a friend, but then, we didn’t have a name for it, like someone moving a wand through the seawater—everything that shouldn’t be known is known, and if you injure the plankton that part of it will die.

4.
I leave out the part where I left the castle, because there never really is a castle and instead tell you the easiest way to stop suffering is to find something more hurt than you are and carry it near your heart for many miles. I won’t describe to you the villains, who are probably not villains in other people’s lives. I won’t go into the details of days/weeks/years after, how long it took to trust again, but will say—I set the puppy in a towel on the receptionist’s lap then washed the blood off of mine. Sometimes we have to walk home alone on railroad tracks. Sometimes we have to do our best to fight off a prince. But because the world hopes for happy endings, I will tell you—the dog and I both survived.

~~

Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, and editor from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the author of six books, most recently, Hourglass Museum (Finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Poetry & the Julie Suk Poetry Prize) & The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice. She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic, New England Review and O, The Oprah Magazine. Kelli is also the Co-Director of the Poets on the Coast writing retreat as well as an avid paddleboarder, mountain biker, and hiker. She lives in a sleepy seaside town a floating bridge & a ferry ride away from Seattle. www.agodon.com / www.twosylviaspress.com