Category Archives: Issue #1

Chuck Rosenthal

Sparrow, Crow

Diosa met Ruth Sparrow in a poetry writing workshop that Sparrow offered while visiting UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia. Sparrow invited her to flee to Vermont and take a vacation from the world of men. In Vermont, Ruth Sparrow taught her to tend a flower garden that lined the walk in front of her little house, to weed and water and prune the lilacs and lilies, the peonies and roses, hydrangeas, hibiscus, wisteria, tulips, daisies, daffodils, and gorgeous sunflowers raising their heads to the sun, and spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, basil, sage, catnip, and chives, all in their seasons, all in their balance, to watch and listen to the insects, the fertilizing bees, but most importantly to follow the birds, their perching, dance, song and flight, because everyone had a bird soul inside them, every woman at least, that must be freed and protected both, a task of depthful delicacy and, at times, grim determination. In the back of the house, of course, there was a vegetable garden that she and Ruth tended and harvested, cooked and canned for winter. They baked their own bread.

Ruth Sparrow and Diosa drank herb tea, lunched and dined, prepared food together and cleaned up together, because there was nothing like the music of women in a kitchen preparing and caring for each other. There were quiet times, alone, when each went off to write their poems, but for Diosa there was no creativity in bliss, and in those quiet moments she found her soul birdless, empty, and dark, her heart grasping for tense opposition, and she found herself filling her notebooks with the names ands smells of flowers, the songs and colors of birds, all to show Ruth, to please Ruth, the way she once wrote down the doggerel of the saints who spoke to her mother.

Then one day when Ruth was away, giving one of her many readings, Diosa looked up from a patch of blazing red gladiolas she was about to pick for the kitchen table and spotted a young woman watching her from behind a pine tree not far from the yard. Diosa went to her and the girl stepped out. She was small and dark, with wavy cropped hair, much like Ruth herself.

The girl put out her hand. “Has she named you after a bird yet?” she said. Diosa backed away. The air around them filled with voices, no, birdsong, though the twittering, the calls, seemed alarming.

“Girl poets,” said the girl. “One night you fall asleep and you wake up in a cage, flapping, twittering.” The young woman tilted her head and gazed at Diosa with one eye. She straightened. “The attic. Eventually she’ll let you out. You’ll be free, all right.” She put out her hand again. “Raven,” she said. “Her daughter.”

Diosa took the hand and held it. Of course, under the circumstances, it felt a little like a claw.

“Runaways,” Raven said. “Are you running away?”

“A nightingale who sits in the darkness and sings to soothe its own sweet sorrow,” whispered Diosa.

“You wish,” Raven said.

Diosa returned to the house and climbed to the attic where at the door she heard the tweeting and rattling of birds. The door was locked. Ruth Sparrow returned the next day with a new girl poet, Diana Trix, a heroin addict, who Ruth brought home to cure and save.

“Ruined by a man, a pimp and addict,” Ruth told Diosa. She locked Diana Trix in the attic for a week. She came out looking flustered, but she wasn’t addicted to heroin anymore, or poetry.

“Birds,” she stuttered to Diosa.

“Did they recite any poetry?” Diosa said.

Trix tucked her nose under her arm. She’d cut her light brown hair into a fuzzy helmet with a slight ridge like a Mohawk down the middle. She lifted her head again. “I wasn’t ruined by him,” she said. “Unless you call ecstasy ruin.”

“Ecstasy,” said Diosa. She’d known a lot of men, but never ecstasy.

“You ran from ecstasy?”

“You can’t possess ecstasy.”

“Are you turning into a bird?”

Diana Trix fluttered her elbows. “I have always been a bird,” she said.

Ruth Sparrow came into the kitchen. She went to her cupboard and brought out two ceramic bowls. She gathered some almonds, yogurt, strawberries, went to the cutting board and began slicing the fruit. “Blue Jay,” she said to Trix, “help me here.” Her dark eyes met Diosa’s. “Better this,” she said, “than devastation.”

Sparrow now doted on Blue Jay. She fed her and watched her as she ate, as she pecked at her nuts and fruit and seeds. Yet despite her apparent recovery it seemed, at best, that Blue Jay grew increasingly diminutive. When the three of them ate, Ruth and Blue Jay huddled together at the end of the table, sharing a plate while Diosa prepared and served, cleared the setting as the two of them nuzzled and preened.

One day, when Ruth took her station wagon to town to pick up supplies, Blue Jay disappeared. Diosa checked the garden, then the front yard. On the edge of the woods she heard only the soft ack-ack of a raven or crow. Back inside she found Blue Jay huddled, barefoot, at the top of the steps under the attic door. If now smaller than ever, her feet curled, and on her hands and face grew the intimation of soft down.

“I want to go in,” whispered Blue Jay.

When Diosa got done helping Sparrow unload and stockpile the groceries, she confronted her. “She’s at the attic door,” she said to her.

“It’s a process, my dear,” said Ruth Sparrow. “She’s finding her soul; not ready for captivity or freedom.”

“And me?” Diosa asked.

“You don’t realize how ruined you are,” said Sparrow. “Relax. Take sanctuary.”

Was that the choice? Diosa felt the base of her nose hardening into her cheeks. That afternoon, yearning for ruin, she went back to the woods, looking for Raven, but the air around her was filled with a cloud of flapping birds, with chatter, chirps and whistles. She called for the girl, hoping for her to emerge, or even a single raven or crow, but there were dozens of them, not silent but screaming. She listened for voices beneath the cries, but there was nothing in them but the fears and desires of birds.

~~

Chuck Rosenthal is the author of seven published novels and a memoir. The novels: Loop’s Progress, Experiments with Life and Deaf, Loop’s End (the Loop Trilogy), Elena of the Stars, Avatar Angel: The Last Novel of Jack Kerouac, My Mistress Humanity, and The Heart of Mars. The memoir: Never Let Me Go. His work has been nominated for The National Book Award, The Penn West Award for Fiction, the Penn International Award for Fiction, the Critics Book Circle Award for Fiction, the American Library Association Most Notable Book Award, and for Best American Creative Non-fiction. He is a three time winner of the Utah Arts Council Award for Fiction.

Robert Scotellaro

Fun House

She’d gotten the fun house mirrors at an auction and had them put up in the spare bedroom. He found them strange, even a little disturbing, and thought the buy extravagant with the kids away at college and the big tuition bucks spilling out. But she’d insisted on a “well deserved splurge” after all that straight and narrow. A side of her, new to him.

So he went along. Even following her one night, with a bottle of Marques de Riscal, into that room with the lights dimmed and candles she placed on both dressers, adding to the mix. In bed, she began taking off her clothes, then his. “No way,” he said, draining the last of the wine, gazing into one of the mirrors overhead, at their stretched-out, undulating forms; fleshy waves of them in the sheets.

He started to sit up, but she pulled him back. “This is weird, Connie,” he said.

She reached out a zigzaggy hand and ran it down his zigzaggy middle. Looking left, she was squat and condensed, her cheeks bulged as if she had two apples stuffed in her mouth—her breasts large, wobbly globes. She guided his hand to them.

In another, the two of them were amoeboid, transforming silvery strangers. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. She smiled. And at a glance it was an astonishingly wide curl, liquid as mercury. He continued shifting his vision.

“My God!” he said.

“What?”

“The size of that thing.”

She leaned over and whispered something. A name, he thought—not his own. Perhaps an endearment. She shook out her hair—jagged bolts against his chest. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them she was wriggly and rosy. A stick figure, a block, a fleshy smear—strange and elegant. He heard some low, guttural sounds—his own.

She bit his shoulder and he pulled her close. His eyes banged against each corner of their sockets. The room was cluttered. It was ablaze with candlelight—squat fiery balls, elongated licks of light, and all their odd and flagrant infidelities in every piece of glass.

~~

Robert Scotellaro has published short fiction and poetry in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. He is the author of six literary chapbooks, and another due out by White Knuckle Press (2014). His story “Fun House” is included in the forthcoming anthology Flash Fiction International by W.W. Norton. A collection of his flash fiction, Measuring the Distance, was published by Blue Light Press (2012). A full-length book of his micro fiction, Close As We Get Sometimes, is due out later this year. With Dale Wisely, he co-edits the online journal One Sentence Poems.

Leonard Kress

 Fifty Bucks Leftover

My husband buys me earrings and hands them to me. I take the box, pry open the lid. I go through the whole ordeal—remove my old hoops and my other studs, push the new ones through, try them in all different combinations—two in one ear, one at the very top of one ear and one at the very bottom of the other. I ask him and my little daughter to vote on what looks best. I want to joke in secret with my husband about next time getting my nipples pierced if he’ll buy me ruby studs for them. Instead, I just balance the box on the top of my knee and freeze for a minute. I don’t want these, I can’t take them. They just don’t make it. They’re not good enough. He could’ve gotten them at any Walmart. He’ll probably suggest we just buy another pair. I can’t do it—I hold open my left palm, flattening it, stretching out my fingers like I’m preparing to feed some sugar to a horse. But instead of sprinkling the sugar, I place the closed-up box right in the middle and extend my arm out the window as far as I can, hyper-extending my elbow like I’m returning something gross and buggy to a waitress.

My husband looks like he’s about to cry. He knows what I mean and he slumps down in his seat. “What should I do now?” he sulks. “Should I take them back and get something else? Because I still have fifty bucks leftover.”

“Just forget it,” I say. “Ignore me.”

Suddenly, I realize that I’ve had this conversation before. It wasn’t with my husband, though, not this one. It was after the trip to Madison for my abortion and he wanted to go out to a fancy restaurant and celebrate how we averted a catastrophe. Nipping it in the bud, were his words. That’s when he confessed to me that when he first telephoned the clinic he felt a little like a gangster putting out a contract on someone. I tried to say, “like my baby, for instance,” but it didn’t come out. No, it wasn’t then—I’m getting confused. I think it was back in Iowa, before that, when I was still pregnant. We were at the Dvorak Festival, walking slowly down Main Street. He held my hand wrapped up in his and we were joking around, trying to match our strides, bumping our knees and wobbling so everyone thought we were drunk. The smells were making me nauseous—brats getting charred in the thick smoke, beer splashing out of plastic pitchers, lard spitting on the grill with potato pancakes. We were talking about Chicago, about getting away from this hick town for good, about how much we despised Mr. Mikoula, our high school guidance counselor, who was up on the bandstand shaking his button box accordion.

“Never again,” my husband yelled. “No more dumb Bohunks and their stupid-ass music.”

“Never again,” I joined in. “No more men wearing red-sequined vests. No more fat polyester ladies with big-boob tee shirts saying I’m a Czech-Mate’s Mate.”

“Never again,” he said. “No more geezers shaking boombasses, no more polkas.”

“Never again,” I said, “will we have to endure the likes of Brenda Kudelka, twirling her flaming batons on every crappy festival stage. No more skimpy skirts and flashing teeth and her hair like frosting.”

Suddenly the music became so quiet we thought the crowd could hear our comments. I think they began to play a waltz because everyone got real teary and sentimental. My husband ripped open another beer and yelled out, “Hey, Mr. Mikoula, have a good life!”

“Mr. Mikoula,” I shouted, ko-lee-kee ho-deen,” the only Czech I still remembered from my gramma. I don’t even remember what it means, though I don’t think it’s bad because he just smiled back, his little bird-face peeking over the top of his accordion.

Then my husband turned and grabbed my arm. “Is there anything else you want? Cause, if not, I’m going into the blackjack tent. Because I still got fifty bucks leftover.”

“How about some rubies,” I said, but I don’t think he heard.

~~

Leonard Kress has published fiction and poetry in Passages North, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Atticus Review, Harvard Review, The Writing Disorder, Barn Owl Review, etc., and most recently, The Swarm and Writing Disorder. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Living in the Candy Store, and Thirteens. He teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio and serves as fiction editor for Artful Dodge.

 

 

Matthew Fogarty

In the Shape of

That day it was cloudy and there was a grinding noise of gears coming off the clouds muscling into and out of each other, gears like on a car or a freight train but like they’d been winter-rusted. It’d been wet: cold and icy. And there’d been snow that fell for months and collected into white drifts made into mountains by snowplows that rutted through our neighborhood. Just when it seemed the snow would reach to the clouds, scrape the bottoms of them, there was the big melt of spring, rivers of water rushing down snow mountains like villagers fleeing ash. Rain came, too. First we could see the clouds were heavy with it, holding it in by their grooves and swoops and swirls. But they couldn’t hold it forever and eventually they gave way.

And I wonder if that’s how it happened, those months of the mountains of snow, which to the clouds must have looked awful familiar. Like they held the snow once but never thought of it in that way and then looking down at the great piles of it, like looking into a mirror, like they’d let pieces of themselves fall without realizing. That the snow rose so high it almost came back: it must have been heartbreaking. The way sometimes you fill up with tears, but you dam them. And the new-formed lake of it all erodes your insides, corrodes, rusts, until you can’t well it any longer. This must’ve been the clouds, all rusty and worn out and just trying to keep doing their job, trying to keep the sky working like nothing’s wrong even though we all could hear different.

It was loud that day and most every day until summer came and then the clouds were gone and there was the sun and the road crews out fixing potholes with their orange barrels and their trucks of hot cement and tar, fixing up the streets while it was warm, before the next winter, before the clouds came back and it started snowing again.

~~

Matthew Fogarty was born and raised in the square-mile suburbs of Detroit. He currently lives and writes in Columbia, where he is fiction editor of Yemassee. He also edits Cartagena, a literary journal. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Passages North, PANK, 14 Hills, Smokelong Quarterly, and Midwestern Gothic. He can be found at http://www.matthewfogarty.com.

 

Cooper Renner

Vapid

Sure, it looked like there were grapes in his jeans. No doubt. This was his fantasy: she’d come and peel him out of his shell, not even say please. Who says please anyway? He wants to rant, he wants to be obscurantist, he wishes she’d grant him the back table at the restaurant. The one with the oil cloth. How the candles sputter over the vapid ashtray. Is it dangerous, the spilling wax? Because look! look! she’s discovering the shortening, the foreshortening, the way he’s vacuum-packed himself. And it’s–oh dear. Cider.

~~

Cooper Renner is the author of The Tommy Plans (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014), The Goddess Moon (Ggantija 2014), an ebook novel of The Wolves of Malta, and “Coyotes,” a short story included in the anthology New Border Voices (Texas A&M University Press, 2014), Triple No. 1 (Ravenna, 2012) includes two collections of his drawings, a wordless erotic series “The Amores” and the supernatural illustrated story “The Sorrows of Young Hemdlos.” Disbelief, his novella about the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta, is available from Ravenna Press. His novels are A Spurious Death in a Foreign Country, A Death by the Sea and Dr Jesus and Mr Dead. New fiction has appeared recently in New York Tyrant, Keyhole, and other magazines.