Month: April 2016

Featured: Object Permanence

Eloise Dowd

 

To move the nights along you have taken to performing tremendous acts of dental hygiene. You begin with careful brushing using all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” that you picked up at a life-enhancement retreat, because your friends think you are the kind of person who uses all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” and would appreciate being invited to a life-enhancement retreat. After the careful brushing is the flossing, each tooth one by one, even the ones that bleed, one by one, and after you finish you do it a second time just to make sure you are doing it right and also because it is 8.30. A flush of herbal mouthwash signals the finale, and you look in the mirror with pride, knowing that this ritual is the measure of a real life. You congratulate yourself for becoming the best kind of adult. You are doing so well.

The next morning you drink tea and then brush your teeth again whilst reading your book, not paying as much attention this time but still brimming with pride – you are doing it, you are brushing your teeth twice a day like they always say you should. When you spit into the sink you notice something more solid amongst the foam. At first you assume it to be a tooth, that you have somehow fucked up flossing so badly you have actually pulled a bone out of your head. But it is gelatinous, more connective than skeletal – something that regenerates, restored and continuing on. Nothing to stop a life over.

But then you think about tuberculosis and remember something about blood clots. You draw on your bank of knowledge on the subject, but all you come up with is Nicole Kidman coughing blood into a hanky in Moulin Rouge; because no one gets tuberculosis anymore, and you have never seen a slow death crawl. Every dead person you know went quickly and violently in machines and chemicals.

You think about the hospital and the balloons and flowers surrounding the bed. Will people still bring balloons or have they become like plastic confetti at weddings, the mark of a monster? In hospital you’ll be allowed to read the bad magazines, the ones that tell you who is too thin and who got her boyfriend through stealing, and you read them because people bring them to you so of course you have no choice and no one can tell you you’re not a feminist.

You won’t have to ride your bike everywhere and pretend to enjoy it or spend all your money on organic vegetables that sit rotting for weeks in the bottom of the fridge. You won’t have to eat kale, because all you can hold down is orange jelly that tastes like cancerous colouring and heaven. Your friends will say it’s so sad, the state of hospital food. How can anyone get better on this processed muck? And you’ll nod slightly and murmur, but you won’t have to speak much because you simply must conserve your energy. You will begin to waste away, everyone will watch as you lose half your body, and it will be accepted because you are sick. It is ok to be half a person when you’re sick.

You leave the toothbrush in the sink amongst the foam and make the first phone call, informing your brother of the news. He asks if maybe Dad can take you this time. You call your father and leave a message. You remember the life-enhancement retreat and the workshop on the power of the voice, and you make sure your tone is lowered so the full gravity of the situation is effectively conveyed. Then you sit on the couch in your pajamas and wait, not bothering to get dressed, because you are very unwell and you don’t think that is appropriate.

 

Author photo two cities reviewEloise Dowd has been a finalist in the Tethered by Letters Fiction Competition, and has an article forthcoming in Transgender Studies Quarterly. She is completing a Masters in Arts (Writing) and recently moved from Australia to California, where she writes about love and the apocalypse.

Featured: Linda, Asleep

Eric Dovigi

 

Listen to the poem below:

 

I just got my heart busted and now I canʼt dream straight.
Everything comes out cracked
And splintered.

I used to have nighthoughts about little monsters
That burst round the bedroom in smiles and fur;

Now I only see shards of many-colored glass
Spinning and spinning in the air,
And broke-up phrases of music, violin music,
Old-people music mostly, I think.
And the little monsters go in and out of the dreams in curves
And round bends with train-whistle songs under the violin music
And conductors of symphonies and stations with their arms in the air!
In the very air!
Wild beasts.

I just got my heart busted,
And now everything is like a coloring-book After my little sisterʼs got to it,
And you donʼt know where you are.
Like the lines were never there!

Now Iʼm living like the lines were never even there.

Best thingʼs ever happened to me, I think, getting my heart busted.

 

Eric Dovigi lives and makes art in Flagstaff, Arizona. He has had a short story accepted for publication by the University of Madrid’s Journal of Artist Creation and Literary Research, and he works at a bookstore.

Featured: Orlando

Matthew Corey

 

Listen to the poem below.

 

 

You’re not following me out
of the Brooklyn Publick House
but the Berkshires instead
in 1999, the night
your stepfather
was hit by lightning
in a fishing boat
on a lake in Orlando
casting off despite
storm warnings.

Are you thinking about it, too,
as the door opens. Your arms
on my shoulders, following
me down a trail, trial

laced with pitfalls – rocks, divots
clefts (the twelve years it’s been?)

at three or four in the morning.

 

 

IMG_1384Matthew Corey is a writer living in Brooklyn. He was a runner up in the Lascaux Review’s 2014 Short Fiction Prize, and has poetry published or pending in Travel-tainted: Turtle Point Press Review and Weasel Press’s Vagabonds: Anthology of the Mad Ones.

Issue 9: Bullfrog

Richard King Perkins II

If we finish in this way, morning slips back into night
and the night starts to shine. What begins the chanting?
What, beyond the valley, makes the others sing?
Last month, in the gullies, the deeper gouges, a single
bullfrog was tumbled into weeds of homelessness.
Most days, we’ll hear its distressed call, sometimes
doglike, sometimes almost human. Skin dusted with quiet,
needing puddle or rain. And then the slow drumbeat,
lead striking lead, in the tall grasses. It could almost be
a child; restless dreaming in the wilderness. A young son
who slipped away one morning into a small pond, into
unexpected ripples edging outward.

 

Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

Issue 9: Jimmy

Tom Vollman

I was on a park bench with my wife and son when the news arrived. Jimmy had been murdered in a desert worlds away. My son was lost in his first-ever root beer float, and I felt something inside me shatter–something small but suddenly desperately important–something I didn’t know I needed, but now could barely breathe without.

That morning–hours before I got the news about Jimmy–my three year-old son tucked his toy cell phone into his underpants instead of his pocket and he and I went outside. He hooked a tape measure on the waistband of his shorts and clipped a black Sharpie to his t-shirt collar, the same as me. For about 15 minutes, he helped me drill holes. He wrapped his tiny hand around mine as I squeezed the trigger and sent the bit into board after board.

I can remember being so excited to help my dad with projects. I’d ask him, Are we being workmen, Daddy?

Yep, pal, we are, he’d answer.

Things never really worked out with those projects, though. I’m not exactly sure what I expected. I was only a kid. A little one.

Hey, Sport, Dad would say, you wanna help me build Hoppy’s new cage?

Of course I did. I always did. But I was always on the outside looking in.

One time, I hit Dad in the head with a hammer. My Mom tells that fucking story all the time.

Well, your Dad was putting cement in your digging space, she says.

But that wasn’t it. I hit him because he was mostly never present enough to hold onto.

That morning, before I heard about Jimmy, my son and I drilled holes and screwed boards to the front porch. Suddenly, he decided that he wanted to–needed to–write on the boards.

“You want to mark them?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” he answered.

He had on these small, orange googles that fogged with his exhales. They made him look like an insect.

“Remember, though,” I said, “that’s a tall-person marker–” He raised his face to mine. “So you can only mark on the boards, not on your arms or Papa’s arms or the driveway or anything else, okay?”

“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll mark them for you, Papa, so you know where to drill.”

I watched him unhitch the Sharpie from his collar, carefully uncap it, then trace short, vertical marks followed by long, horizontal lines along the freshly-painted one-by-twos. At first, I wanted to stop him–to tell him I’d just painted them and that he could mark the other ones, the scrap pieces. But I didn’t. His marks were lovely.

“Papa,” he said excitedly, “my marks are ready for you.”

“Yes, they are,” I laughed. “Thank you, mister. That’s super helpful.”

“Ready for the next one, Papa?” he asked.

“Most definitely,” I replied.

And so it continued.

After about 20 minutes, I’d mounted 12 boards, all with squiggly, broken, black lines across their fronts. We stopped in order to bike to an appointment my wife had a few blocks away.

“But what about the project?” my son asked as we readied ourselves for the short ride. Then he cried. “I’m sad, Papa.”

He wanted to finish–to stay at home and continue our work. I smiled. “It’ll be here when we get back.”

“But Papa,” he countered, “I love working with you.”

Finally, he agreed. “Okay,” he said as I buckled him into the bike trailer’s belt harness. “When we get home. After Mommy’s appointment.” He adjusted his Spider-Man helmet. “You promise, Papa?”

“Yes, mister, I do.”

After the appointment, I got the news.

Jimmy had been missing for a couple years. He’d been abducted in Syria. We all held out hope that he’d get out. Sometimes those hopes shrank. Sometimes they almost disappeared completely. But everyone held fast to the idea that we’d see him again, have beers, talk shit, and make noise.

But that wouldn’t be the case.

When we got home, I kept my promise to my son. We worked on the project, but my head swam with the news of Jimmy, and my son was exhausted. We mounted a few boards, then stopped for dinner. Afterwards, my wife put my son to bed and I went back outside to finish. I plugged in a pair of flood lights and caulked and sanded the seams. My son’s marks made me smile. Then I thought about my friend; I thought about Jimmy. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what he’d been through, where he’d been held, or what he’d thought about for the past two years when he closed his eyes.

When my wife and I found out we were pregnant, I didn’t tell my parents right away. When I finally did, I was in the car. My mom gushed when I delivered the news. When my dad got on the line, he thanked me for believing in the future.

My son turned three six months ago. Neither one of my parents have ever met him.

That night, after the news about Jimmy, I dipped my brush into the half-empty gallon of gibraltar grey and ran a few strokes over my son’s marks. They disappeared. Each of them were gone, as if they never existed. They’d been a testimony, of sorts, to my son’s joy. He’d been lost in that moment, free from any attachment except the notions he’d invented. And I painted over them.

I dropped my brush and began to sob. Our street was quiet and empty, the houses mostly dark at a quarter after ten. I cried and cried and then finally made my way inside. I left everything on the lawn just as it was. Tears and snot gathered on my cheeks and upper lip. I could barely say my wife’s name as I collapsed on the couch. The TV, which had timed out on the channel guide, threw a blue glare across the room. I looked at my arms–at my tattoos–little black lines skating across the winter white of my skin. My eyes clouded. “Jimmy,” I finally spat, “so fucking sad.”

My wife moved toward me. I told her how I’d painted over Ty’s marks. I told her how happy they’d made me, how fragile they’d been. I said it was too much. I sobbed and shook, so confused. I said I didn’t know how both things could be; how my son’s marks and what happened to Jimmy could both exist.

“You’re so brave,” she said, “for feeling this. For holding that space.” She paused. I wiped my nose. It was the first time in about a half hour that I’d been able to pull my hands away from my eyes. “But,” my wife continued, “you can’t wire those things together. Go back to that bench in the park, at the mall. Feel sad for Jimmy, but don’t bring this other stuff to it.”

I nodded. She was right.

I cried more and we talked more. My heart hurt; it just seemed to continue to break, over and over and over again. And the tears came in waves. Somehow, though, I felt lighter. Not better, but cleaner.

“But,” I stammered, “I know it sounds idealistic or trite or whatever, but I really want to live in a world where I don’t have to explain this to Ty. Somewhere where it doesn’t exist. Where the joy and hope and love that traced those marks never, ever goes away. Never gets tempered. I want us to be better.” I was sweating pretty badly. “All of us.”

My wife smiled and hugged me.

“Because I can’t explain it to him,” I continued. “I can’t do it.” I paused to wipe my face again. “There’s just no explanation. None,” I added.

“You’re right,” my wife replied, “there isn’t one.” She moved even closer. “But that’s why it’s so important, the wiring. That’s why it’s so necessary to get this right–to wire it right and eliminate the confusion and the things you carry–that we all, more or less, carry.”

“I know, I know. But I wish. I just fucking wish.”

Tears drowned my words again. I thought about my Dad and his idea of the future.

I’d told my wife what he said about us being pregnant.

“What?” she’d puzzled. “What in the hell does that even mean?”

At the time, I shrugged.

I told my therapist about it, too. He laughed. He’s a pretty slight man, but his laugh is rich. “Oh my,” he said, “that’s amazing. In fact,” he added, “I’m going to use that, if it’s okay–and I hope it is.” He shifted in his wide, leather chair. “Geez. The future. Holy smoke.” He shook his head and brushed the mop of shoulder-length, grayish-blonde hair from his face. His laugh grabbed him again. “Who says that? I mean, come on.”

I reminded my wife of what my Dad said, again, there in the living room. I tried to tell her why it echoed with me now, after Jimmy’s death. “If I had a nickel,” I told her, “for every time my Dad told me that Albert Einstein said the war after the next would be fought with sticks and stones–” I shook my head. “Fuck.”

My wife’s face crumpled. “Jesus.”

“Yeah,” I continued, “that’s where it comes from–how it started. He told us all the time–me and my brothers–that it’d be up to us to figure things out. He said that he’d be dead and we needed to pay attention, to know what was happening.”

“So how does that tie to the future thing–believing the future?” she asked.

“Because” I replied, “here I am at 12 or 14 or whatever and my dad’s telling me how screwed up things are–how dangerous and hopeless the world is and then fast forward almost 30 years when things are even more fucked and I’m telling him we’re having a kid–that we’re bringing another soul into this mess–the one he’s been obsessed and afraid of for so goddamned long. That’s what he meant–thanks for believing so much in the fact that the world’s not gonna go and fuck itself to death in the next decade or so that you–that we–would feel confident enough to have a baby and be complicit in bringing him into this craziness.”

That night, I slept like shit and dreamed that I kept getting punched right in the mouth. I woke up too early, shifty and in a mood. I thought about the fact that hope is a motherfucking juggernaut. And I thought about how my wife is right: it’s important not to get things wired wrong. What wires together does, in fact, fire together. We are our own experience, but we are equally other peoples’ experience.

My friend has tattoos on his fingers. The ink spells out HOPE when he closes his right hand, LOVE when he squeezes his left. I think about that ink a lot these days. It helps me hold a space. It hurts to keep my heart open and be honest and present for my son. Sometimes, the hurt’s bigger than me, more than I can handle or even express.

 

Tom Vollman is enrolled in the doctoral program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, he teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. He’s working on a novel entitled Tyne Darling. Tom will also be releasing a new record, These Ghosts, in 2016.

Featured: Creature of No Consequence

Cristina J. Baptista

Listen to the poem below.

 
Everything is transmutable in this light.

I am the only daughter of an only daughter of an only daughter—
and I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean anything,

or if being anything at all
brings me any closer
to knowing who I am.

I learned a language of fingers and breaths:
takings, offerings, and bitings.
Mine is a world of huffing over letters first thing in the morning,
too busy to turn up the heat.

I fill no cup of desires,
either of porcelain or hands:
I prefer boxes and the mysteries they hoard
and how sphinxes can puzzle over them for years
without exposing a clue.

And I confess—I like to make things difficult;
my fate is all upward-stones and pecked-livers.
Everyone keeps her eye on the prize, sure;
but I know when to fire my arrows.

What is my mind trying to tell me when I go to write
“within” and my hand’s betrayal spins
out “without”?

I will never want to know—that is not who I am.
I am that thing that happens when no one’s looking.

In the right light, everyone can be something else.

 

 

Baptista_Cristina J. photoCristina J. Baptista is a Portuguese-American poet, writer, educator, and bibliophile. Her work has appeared in DASH Literary Journal; The Cortland Review; CURA; The Santa Claus Project Anthology; and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Fordham University and currently teaches American Literature at a private school in Connecticut.