Tag Archives: poetry

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.

 

Kathleen Nalley

Holiday Inn

After the bruised body recovered, after being shoved
into a car, after the knot in the temple subsided after
a platter of fried chicken smashed into her head, her
mamma took her girls to the Holiday Inn and hid. She
didn’t know what her next move would be; she just
knew she had to move.

Her grandfather brought donut holes and milk for the girls.
Every few minutes, her mamma reminded them not to go
near the window, not to peek out from the curtain, to be
sure the panels were pulled tight. Even the air was taut,
snapped shut. Shut up. She hoped the hotel’s star and
arrow didn’t beckon him, didn’t point out their location.
In the 1970s, the hotel’s slogan changed from “the
nation’s innkeeper” to “the best surprise is no surprise.”

This is her happiest memory: no surprises. Dunkin Donuts
and her grandfather’s khaki jacket, wet from the rain. The
newness of the old hotel room (a room not her own; a
room where she, alone, was not hiding). The coldness of
the milk on her lips. The warmth of the vent under the
curtained window. The green and yellow incandescents
twinkling like stars just above their room.

~~

Kathleen Nalley is the author of the
chapbooks Nesting Doll (winner of the S.C.
Poetry Initiative Prize) and American Sycamore
(Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is forthcoming
or has appeared in Slipstream, Rivet, storySouth,
Night Block, The Bitter Southerner, and Night
Owl, among others. She holds an MFA from
Converse College, teaches literature and writing
at Clemson University, and finds books their
forever homes at M. Judson Booksellers and
Storytellers.

David Lehman

Five O’clock Rush

The nurse left work at five o’clock. My heart stopped beating at 5:01. There
was no one in the room when I died and no one to notice the miracle of my return
to consciousness. Perhaps you have heard of such cases. Someone has died, for all
intents and purposes, then comes back to life. It happened to the composer
Jerome Kern, for example, back in 1937.

But there was something unusual in my case. When I died it was one
minute past five. When I woke the clock said 10:25, darkness had fallen outside,
the radio was playing an old Sinatra song, “But Beautiful.”

And here’s the strange part. When the song ended, the voice on the radio
was the voice of the nurse, Alice, who differed from every other nurse in this
purgatorial hospital by speaking to you not as if you were a child, not in the first-
person-plural (“how are we feeling today?”), but in the hippest jive imaginable in
1946, September 1946, in the streets and alleys of downtown New York..

For that was the month and year in which I came to life, and this was the
place. And here’s the strange part. When I looked out the window I saw Alice,
only now her name was Angel, in her customary raincoat in the customary drizzle
walking into the street. Her back was turned to me. The studio was undecided
between Joan Fontaine and Joan Leslie for the part. But when I looked in the
mirror I knew she was there with me in the room – I saw her standing there
behind me grinning, naked and reveling in the effect of her wild brown curls on
my overheated imagination. I had turned nineteen that summer.

Angel was English, and I was American and I ordered us drinks and the waiter
came and we made desultory conversation but everything I said she repeated
with a question mark and there was one simile like an oasis in the desert, a white
elephant in the room.

So I turned around a second time and saw the bed was made with her inside,
naked except for her wild brown curls, and there was a night light and a selection
of books on the night table. Proust as rendered by Scott Moncrief, War and Peace
as translated by Constance Garnett, Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, all
four volumes in an out of date and therefore somehow appropriate translation.
Not a bad way to die. And she was singing to me, my mushroom queen, my olive-
backed kingbird, my gin-and- vermouth with a splash of bitters and an olive in a
Y-shaped glass, and this was no hospital at all but a hotel, a grand hotel, and
there was nothing stopping me from getting my old tuxedo pressed and heading
out for a night on the town. That’s what I was doing. The clock said 5:20. I
couldn’t account for the intervening minutes. But I knew she’d be there when I
got back.

 

The Knight’s Move

Naomi wears a lacy light-pink blouse, shoulder-length brown hair with
eyeglasses to match, jeans, no belt, expensive sandals with toes painted a goth
purple, pearl earrings not too showy. Eye shadow and brow-enhancing make-up
have been subtly applied. The blouse does not quite reach the back of her jeans,
exposing a crescent of white midriff. She sits on a park bench with her legs crossed
and a Kindle on her lap and she is playing with her I-phone, swiping screens. On the
bench she is flanked, on her right, by the thin brown leather jacket she has taken off
and, on her left, by her black leather handbag invitingly open. The professor notices.

In chapter two Floyd, a practised pickpocket, strikes on the subway. He
removes Naomi’s wallet with all her cash and credit cards, plus something else, a
small blue box from Tiffany’s, and exits the train at the next stop. The young woman
absorbed in her i-phone will not realize that she has been robbed until the train
pulls into Union Square and she steps out into the farmers’ market and eyes the
tomatoes, green peppers, Italian plums, the last of the season’s peaches, the first of
autumn’s apples.

In chapter three we realize that Floyd is the true protagonist in the story,
elegiac in tone, about the master of a dying art, who has exercised his skill for
decades in the New York subways, specializing in the West Side IRT and IND lines
but sometimes crossing over to the Queens-bound F or 7 trains. He dresses like a
European tourist in a sport coat, can affect a foreign accent, and has the rare ability
to lose himself in a crowd of people and travel incognito, changing the lives of those
he rubs against while remaining himself unchanged in the encounter, like the
ageless proprietor of an esoteric book shop that will soon go out of business.

~~

David Lehman is a professional writer and editor who holds a faculty
appointment at the New School in New York City. He is the editor of The
Oxford Book of American Poetry; and the general editor of The Best
American Poetry. His most recent books are Sinatra’s Century: One
Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (HarperCollins, 2015) and
New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013).

Claire Bateman

Combustible

 

In the realm where infants, like comets, show up in flames, igniting
as soon as they make contact with the air, all of the delivery room
cribs are packed with sand to quench the new arrivals.
Immediately upon extinguishment, the babies begin to wail—not
in pain, for they are unmarred, but as if in lamentation over their
lost luminescence.

Once in a while, before plunging a newborn into its grainy bath,
the midwife lingers for a moment to gaze at the golden tongues
that spin across the child’s skin as though a hundred lionesses were
licking a cub to its first breath.

It is rumored that these delayed-bath babies grow up to be
uncommonly fearless and inquisitive, but because no midwife will
admit to having committed an act of willful malpractice, the
correlation remains forever unproven in this land of pyrophoric
entrances.

~~

Claire Bateman’s most recent poetry collection, Scape, is forthcoming from
New Issues Poetry & Prose in Fall 2016.

Amy Breau

Suite X

I was prepared to answer the first question, have you ever wanted to kill someone?
But it completely threw me off when they asked, have you ever wanted to keep
someone needlessly alive? One of the interviewers blinked every time I said the
word “and.” When I stuttered over the word three times—three blinks in a row.
I still wanted the job. I’d always admired the people who worked for the
department, how they strode purposefully in their well-pressed white suits,
brandishing IDs that allowed them to enter that building. I couldn’t sleep until my
letter came, we are pleased to inform you, report to Suite X….

The woman whose position I filled had disappeared. Nothing could be done without
forms from her files, or by specific procedures known only to her. I was to
reconstruct the way she did things, piecing together her handwritten notes and
computer files. When people asked for her by name– I’m sorry to say, the
investigation underway, perhaps I could help?

All this time, sitting under the desk was a pair of shoes. I’d figured out how she
processed head injuries as opposed to natural disasters, which announcements to
broadcast to which constituencies. But the shoes—should I leave them where they
were, give them to someone on the street? And what if she returned?

One day—there was nothing unusual about this day—I threw them in the
wastebasket and covered them with Kleenex. For the first time, I could stretch my
legs under the desk in the direction of the shoes! That afternoon I was promoted.
My new office looks down a hundred floors to the harbor. The tiny ships below look
like shoes.

There was a tag inside one of them, burnished with sweat and beginning to curl.
Every morning I glanced down and read it, though now I can’t remember what it
said.

~~

Amy Breau is a writer and registered nurse whose work has appeared in Prairie
Schooner, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Cleveland Magazine and on the popular
science public radio spot, A Moment of Science. She studied poetry at Vermont College
of Fine Arts and is a 2016 Creative Workforce Fellow with the Community Partnership
for Arts and Culture, funded by a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. She’s
interested in integrating her own caregiving experience into the broader narrative of her
life and supporting such efforts in others, and in arguing for greater integration of
mothering and other caregiving narratives into literary and other public discourse.