Month: March 2017

Featured: At My Desk on a Saturday Night

Samuel Vargo
It’s ten o’clock
And I’m at my desk.

Again.

But I don’t know what to write.
Though I know tonight I don’t want to work

on the novel that’s working me.

And I don’t have anything to write about.
But for once, I want to write short. Concise.
Something with punch and flair. Something
Cool. That’s the winning writing recipe –
Like a poem that I wrote when I was 26,
And in love, and very, very drunk.
That’s how all my poetry started

that was accepted by presses years ago.

When the editors wrote back,

Telling me how much they loved a piece,

And always clipped to the acceptance letter
Was the accepted poem, a photocopy? And
Of course, I couldn’t even recall writing the poem.

It sounds kind of funny, I know.
I always started by writing something.
Anything and nothing. Sometimes,
even gibberish. What a confession!
 

I think, therefore, I drink. Therefore. . .

I always wrote after staying out
All night. Howling and prowling.
These days, Saturday night out normally
Ends at ten-thirty. Such a domesticated
House mouse can’t write good poetry.
And today it’s soda pop or coffee? Crackers? Yogurt?
– It’s not possible, nor is it probable.
Yes, poetry has left me. My first love is no longer mine.

Poetry’s for the young.
The wild, the free. Those Bohemian types

who don’t even write for Internet space
and contributor’s copies. Prizes? Huh?
They’re out there in the night,
In the jazz clubs and punk rock bars.

– It seems that they don’t give a damn
About poetry, but poetry cares very deeply

about each of them.
They don’t think of it. It just happens.

No, I don’t write much poetry these days.
I could write poetry 20 or 30 years ago.
Sometimes I look some of it over and I’m

Amazed; at times, even proud.
But a lot of it is just pure shit.

And I must admit, I loved to write poetry then.
I don’t like to write it now. Maybe I grew up
Sometime during the course of the past two or three
Decades, but probably not, I don’t know. . . .

I think I could write short once upon a time.
Now I’m longwinded and my desk’s as large as a barge.
I don’t know where that little poetry canoe got to, but I know
It’s way down that river somewhere and I’m lost. . .
 
Samuel Vargo spends most of his time writing for national, liberal, online magazines. He’s a freelancer, free from the hard deadlines he had when he worked full-time for 20+ years as a print journalist.  He just can’t write poetry like he did as a young man. Darn! Shucks!

Featured: Her Full Heart

Dawn Pink
 
Snap of the scissors
Around the frayed twine.
Yellowed card stock tag reading
KINDLING
Flits to the ground.
The brown sack’s mouth yawns
And sighs out bundles,
Hitting the carpet with the sounds
Of an August storm.
Ribbons holding the folds together
Every crayola color.
Dusted letters creak as they unfold,
The creases well worn
Out pours decades
Of heart’s blood and tears,
Bravado and tenderness,
To a name unrecognizable
Though the handwriting is clearly hers.
Hundreds of bows
Thousands of pages
Signed with her everlasting love
And never addressed.
 
Dawn Alicia Pink studied Dramatic Theory at the University of Utah. She has edited five books, including the critically acclaimed novel The Aeronaut by Bryan Young, and volunteered with the Salt Lake Community Writing Center. She lives in Salt Lake City with her cat Tybalt.

From Issue 13: Replacing the Monument #8

Darren Demaree
We must become more
than the dirt
& the double shadow
of our shuffling times
& if it means we must
build a theater
to tell each story about
each fire that took a silo,
then that’s what it means.
 

 
Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly (2016, 8th House Publishing). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

From Issue 13: Small Town Date Night

Peter Clarke
No way our town is ready for the future. We’re already passed up, but get ready to be literally wiped out—I mean actually obliterated. When the future gets here.
At the Ravioli House with my new wife. God, she’s got the best skin. You’ve never seen skin like this before. Sometimes I have to stop thinking just to touch it. Everything goes away when I focus in on how real it is.
“What are you thinking about, Ansel?”
“Huh?”
“I know you’ve got something going on up there.”
“Oh yeah…yeah…”
I haven’t told her about how screwed we are. Our town.
“How’s your ravioli? It’s not too soggy, is it?”
“No, it’s fine,” I confirm, taking an extra big bite, taking my time chewing. The restaurant was completely empty, as it tended to be at this hour—right when they open. I was in luck in this respect. So far, so good, I thought, glancing around the restaurant. I looked back at my wife with my healthiest, damn-that’s-some-good-ravioli sort of smile.
How well do I know this woman? I asked myself, my grin fading. I had to look away from her face to process this thought. Her skin was too lovely. You can’t critique a creature with skin like that, not when you’re looking right at it. I found myself looking at my ravioli, with its oily, squishy surface. Yes, my critiques held. I didn’t know this woman whatsoever.
The Ravioli House means date night, so afterwards we went out for a drink. We walked the streets. Our one main strip for downtown. Old cars parked on the street next to coin-operated meters. It’s almost a shock not to see horse-drawn carriages.
When the future hits, this street will be the first to go.
My wife moved closer and caught hold of my swinging hand, capturing it like a balloon that might have floated away. Or maybe like a rickety old carriage that might otherwise have been pushed off a cliff. And good riddance to it. Her hand fit just right; even when I made no effort to hold it, I was holding it like holding something dear to my heart.
This felt like I was home—her hand in mine. When the street is destroyed, I decided, it won’t matter so much if this hand is still here to hold.
“You’ve got that goofiest face tonight,” my wife laughed, poking my cheek with her free hand.
“Hey!” I pulled my hand out of hers and patted my beard. “What’s that even supposed to mean?”
“It’s like the wrinkles on your forehead are trying to escape, like they’re wiggling themselves loose to go on vacation.”
I found myself staring into her eyes. The initial flash I sent her way was certainly a hard one. It was the look you may give to an enemy, of sorts. But a moment later, after getting into her eyes just a millimeter deep, my gaze softened.
The eyes are tough. Definitely a point of contention. They can go either way. Sometimes they’re friendly and worth diving into; other times it’s just the skin all over again—enchanting but untouchable.
At the bar, we found seats at a table in a dark corner. It’s only been about a week since the wedding. The wedding? It’s still called that, I believe? One week, anyway. And this only our second date night. The first time we went out, it was a Tuesday, so that hardly counts. This time it’s Friday night. That doesn’t mean much for our backwoods town, but it does mean more uncertainty. More unknowns—like people I don’t know popping up and butting into my business.
“Well, look who it is,” said John, the bartender. Overly friendly and one of the few people I let get away with it. “The town’s best looking love birds!”
“We’ll have a scotch neat, John.”
“And the lady?” he asked with a smile as if it were a fantastic joke.
“She’s fine,” I said.
“She sure is!” he winked, walking away.
My wife was all smiles. “What a perfectly friendly guy! You don’t mind how I winked back at him, do you? Because of course I didn’t mean anything by it. And I certainly don’t mean to upset you—the only man for my heart.”
“Where did you pick up that phrase, only man for my heart?”
“Nowhere, I suppose. I put the words together myself, just for you.”
I sat back in my chair, folded my arms across my chest, feeling, for some reason…not irritable—agitated, perhaps.
“Does God exist?” I shot at her.
She smiled with her cheeks puffed out, chin tucked down, as if she were disappointed in me. “…I’m searching for the best way to say this,” she said, apparently holding back the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m guessing there’s something you want to hear.”
“Forget it. How about this. When will I die?”
She was still processing this (or pretending to) when John came around with my drink.
“Glad to see you’re so happy, Ansel. Nothing like a woman to make a man complete.”
I nodded while still looking at my wife. Not sure what had gotten into me, but I couldn’t stop myself. “What’s the biggest news story happening right now? One that hasn’t reached the mass media yet.”
“Terrorist attack on Istanbul’s airport,” she said. John stopped to listen. “Thirty people dead, at least—the bodies are still being counted. At least one hundred injured. Sure you want to hear this, dear? It’s awfully grim for a date night topic.”
“You’re right,” I said. “That one was just for John. Hey, isn’t she great?”
John, however, couldn’t speak. He’d fallen for the trap. I caught the look in his eye. He was transfixed by her satin, glowing skin. From his vantage, he could certainly even see into a bit of her cleavage. God save him. God save all of us in this damned town.
I was drunk when I finally got it out of her when I would die. Of course I wouldn’t! “Not with me by your side, silly,” she said. I looked into her eyes, lost myself, knew her more deeply than ever, and realized my town had already been annihilated long, long ago.
 
Peter Clarke is a writer native to Port Angeles, Washington currently living in Oakland, California. His short fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Curbside Splendor, Hobart, and elsewhere. He’s an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal and founding editor of Jokes Review. See: www.petermclarke.com

From Issue 13: Actually

Oscarine Malabele

Actually, nothing is wrong with how a woman wears her mini dress
Or tight clothing if your mind is well and fully dressed
The wrong is with the women and then men with unclothed minds spilling a fill of nonsense
The women of my culture would bear their erect breasts to sun freely
Knowing that the men of our clan see their children born naked
To tell of the truth
One’s attire matters nothing of any percentage to a pornographic observance, it is already filled with stripped contemplations
The question I will to ask is;
Have you ever noted how dressing naked wears no sense,
Who unclothed us with clothes?
Then slopped fornication into the minds of slobbering women and men?
Is it not the mind that requires long dressed?
 

 
Oscarine Malabele is an unassuming 32-year-old human spilling with words and love. Her birth land is in South Africa, Bushbuckridge. She loves all art, in all of its different forms; helplessly.

From Issue 13: Trouble in Paradise

Bradley Rundblade
A comet needs to take us out
For light is the law
And we’ve lost it
We’ve gone blind
A planet full of darkness
The roads broken up
Painted over rust
Been swept beneath the carpet
Our pride has gotten the best of us
Seas riddled with plastic
Radiation in our blood
We must submit
That history is in the dust
We are watchers of disconnect
Silent sentinels
Occupants of disgust
Our existence bred out of love and trust
These ideas are endangered now
Like arcane concepts
We chose the path of least resistance
The path of spoon-fed thought
As hurricanes on Saturn erupt
Some wonder where it all went wrong
While others laugh it off.
 

Brad Rundblade lives in Los Angeles and splits his time composing, screenwriting, filmmaking and creating as many memories as he can with his family. He’s had short stories and poetry published and has also helped produced award winning music videos for his band Emerald Portal.

From Issue 13: Dusk

Vicky Harris
In the wandering ways, the lightening
flashes grey and the farmhouses are hollowed
empty like a spent bullet. The corn stubble is
sharp for the deer, who step judiciously between
the broken stalks. Then the wind presses against
the grass, and the trees bend low, in prayer to a whisper,
their branches stroke the clay dirt. The frayed
hammock swings empty.
 

Vicky MacDonald Harris was born in Windsor, Ontario, where she received her BA in English Literature, but now calls Lincoln, Nebraska home. In print, her poems have been published in the NaPoChapBook collection published by Big Game Books, The Lincoln Underground. Online she has poems at Poets and Artists, Hobble Creek Review and others. She’s had one short story published in Return to Deathlehem: An Anthology of Holiday Horrors. She blogs at https://vickyharris.wordpress.com when she isn’t finding time to work on revisions on her first novel.

From Issue 13: The Hammocks: A Hidden Past in Central Florida

Miriam Mosher
The persimmon is a strange little fruit—eat it too soon and you will involuntarily pucker, the tissues of your mouth and tongue literally contracting from the astringency; wait too long and the flesh becomes soft and bruised, clearly past it’s prime. Florida is a cornucopia of weird produce: lemons nearly as big as a baby’s head, and supersized avocados too, wild grapes with thick leathery skins and every citrus combination imaginable, but the original strange fruit is a thing most Floridians know nothing about, or feign ignorance if they do. While the poplar tree isn’t particularly common on the peninsula, bodies once hung from the large live oaks that are so ubiquitous in the state’s northern region.
I grew up in North Central Florida. In the rural areas that dominate the region, most white people proudly self-identify as rednecks and the N-word makes appearances in more than just rap songs, yet I came into adulthood thinking of Florida as The Pseudo South. It has the regional tropes, from boiled peanuts to cracker houses, but was somewhat removed from that messy slavery business. Most of my fellow Alachua County residents operate under that same delusion. Gainesville, after all, is a college town: definitively liberal, a bastion of intellectualism, a celebrated progenitor of both second wave Feminism and music from early rock to post punk. In this town, Southernness is embraced as a kitschy thing, celebrating the signifiers yet none of the history they represent.
For some combination of reasons including the framing of Florida as a vacation destination— more an extension of America than American in and of itself — The Sunshine State uneasily fits into the designation “Southern.” Late to join the nation, Florida didn’t follow the same plantation narrative as the Deep South.  The transfer of Florida from Spain to The Untied States in 1821 and the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865 only allowed sixty-odd years for the existence of that peculiar institution. It’s easy to gloss over slavery in Florida: starting with tobacco in the Chesapeake and ending with King Cotton in the Deep South, its expansion into Florida becomes a footnote in the plantation narrative. Judging by what we learned in school, Florida history was all about the Spanish and the Indians.
In conversation, I heard about other histories. We had a family friend named Arthur. In his youth he had been a black cowboy working for what had once been a prominent planter family. They lived in South Carolina while he managed their large farm in Florida. He bred and sold steer and dogs, making the family significant amounts of money. This was before the land became a luxury housing development and town center named, of course, Haile Plantation. Before he passed, Arthur told my mom stories about dinners with the Hailes— eating from their other china even though their dogs, animals that he had bred, would lick the scraps from the family’s personal plates. His stories illuminated a not so distant Florida that felt miles away. He told us about a large tree in the small neighboring town of Newberry. His mamma pointed it out to him, he said, after he had shown interest in a white girl.
***
Newberry is still a small town. Located just beyond Gainesville’s westward sprawl, it is decidedly rural. Past Dudley Farm Historic State Park, a living exhibit of Florida’s cracker era, a few miles of open pasture, and Hitchcock’s grocery, Florida State Road 26 narrows into a two-lane main street. A small, unassuming sign announces your arrival, Newberry: Enhancing the Future, While Embracing the Past. The main drag is a mile or so long. It’s a mix of old buildings, some still functioning in their original Mom and Pop capacity, feed and seed stores, pawn shops, and, of course, a white clapboard church.
On a particularly brutal August morning, I drove out to Newberry in my sister’s pickup. I was looking for the spot referred to as The Hammocks, a collection of live oaks just off the main street. The southern live oak is a magnificent tree; their large boughs arch gracefully away from their sturdy trunk forming a canopy. It is achingly beautiful, the Spanish moss hanging like lace curtains in the wind. That particular day was the hundred-year anniversary of The Newberry Six, a mass lynching that took place at that particular copse. Four Black men and two women, one with child, were killed by a mob almost as large as the town’s white population.
When the first planters came to Florida from South Carolina—namely the Hailes, the Chestnuts and the Dudleys—they created the plantation belt, a series of large farms spanning the North central region of the peninsula. The weather was harsh and relatively inhospitable to the major cash crops, so the plantations looked more like homesteads than the lavish plantations of Virginia or the Deep South.  There simply wasn’t the same volume of wealth to be generated here. Florida, for the most part, was undeveloped, simply the nation’s appendage. It was the growth of business outside of farming that eventually spurred development. When mining came to Newberry, among other small towns, so too did an influx of single male laborers. The same trains that would later bring vacationers brought a steady stream of poor white men in search of work. The area developed the rough and tumble restlessness of a boomtown. Unskilled laborers far outnumbered jobs; a problem even today as mining has become increasingly mechanized and a cement plant, which promised to bring jobs, didn’t hire locally. The noxious combination of poverty, perceived entitlement and racism created a nexus of vigilantism.
While lavish plantations and the antebellum system within which they functioned have come to signify Southernness, it was Florida, with it’s more modest homesteads and large poor white population, where a black man was most likely to be lynched, not by sheer number, although that is close as well, but far and away proportionally. There are 20 documented lynchings in Alachua County alone, and many undocumented incidents as well. According to Patricia Hilliard Nunn, a Professor of African American Studies at The University of Florida, to claim that there were 20 lynchings is “dishonest and disinterested,”— traditional records simply don’t capture the whole story. In addition to the undocumented lynchings, there were the sham trials that ended in a hanging. After about 1920, the state began to condemn lynchings, it was tarnishing their efforts to brand Florida as a vacation destination. Instead, they pushed for speedy trials that all ended the same way— with a body. It was shocking to learn that I had grown up in the lynching capitol of the Southern United States. Florida isn’t the Pseudo-South; it is the South.
***
Slowing down to 30 mph, I realized that I didn’t actually know where the trees were. They remain unmarked, an issue that has gained a modicum of attention on the centennial of Newberry’s most infamous lynching. I assumed it would be obvious, the large trees in the center of town, but before I knew it I had already driven the entire downtown drag, and found myself surrounded, again, by a tunnel of green. On my second lap, I pulled into Cilantro Tacos. The dirt lot had its fair share of pick-ups, but it was less crowded than the BBQ joint. It seemed like a simple enough question until I was faced with asking it: “I was just wondering if you know where The Hammocks are,” I asked shiftily. It didn’t seem appropriate to ask for the lynching tree, so I resorted to that Southern art of obscuring the grotesque with the idyllic, of referring to history as something charming. The Hammocks, what a delightful name. What a bastion of natural beauty, a reminder of a time past when a town center actually meant something. And gathering place it was—thousands from across the state had made the pilgrimage to see the bodies hanging, limp like laundry on a clothesline. Postcards document it. This was before Florida marketed itself as The Sunshine State, sending greeting cards of lynchings instead of sunny images of oranges with their liquid gold juice.
The woman at the counter wasn’t originally from there, a surprise in such a small town. Most transplants live in the high-end subdivisions between Gainesville and Newberry. She directed me to a large man eating lunch with his wife and two children.  “He grew up here,” she told me helpfully before getting his attention. What had she so kindly gotten me into?
There is a discomfort in asking. It feels accusatory, like I am implicitly saying, hey, I want to know where your relatives and all their friends killed those black people. I continued dancing around the topic with euphemistic turns of phrase. He only knew The Hammock apartments, or so he said. I tried again, “lots of town events happened there… like some lynchings” I meekly squeaked before hastily making my exit.  In my rearview mirror I could see a building with three signs: Amo, Wholesale Jewelry, and Firearms.
Why hadn’t I asked about Boisy Long, the black man accused of running a hog-stealing ring 100 years ago, or Jim Dennis, a victim of the gun-slinging vigilantes? Why didn’t I come out and say the names of the five who graced those grotesque postcards: Mary and Bert Dennis, Andrew McHenry, Reverand Josh J. Baskins and Stella Young? How could any Newberry native not know the events of August 1916?
The days leading up to the arrest and execution of Boisy Long were some of the darkest in Newberry’s history. They leave a long shadow. On Friday 18th, 1916, George Wynne, the Deputy Sheriff, and Dr. L G. Harris, the local pharmacist, paid a 2 a.m. call to the Dennis home to investigate a supposed hog stealing ring. An altercation of some sort occurred, resulting in Boisy Long allegedly shooting the two men. Deputy Wynne was rushed to the hospital in Jacksonville, but the wound proved fatal. Long was on the run, a precarious situation normally, but a death sentence as a black man in rural Florida.
Boisy Long had been orphaned as a child and was raised by the Black community, the Dennis family in particular. Later that day, three members of the Dennis Family and two close family friends were arrested and accused of aiding and abetting Long. Jim Dennis was shot resisting arrest. The manhunt for Boisy Long became a town event.  While Boisy did eventually receive a trial— a biased trial, but a trial nonetheless— a mob sprang the Dennis siblings, Andrew McHenry, Reverand Baskins and Stella Young from the jail and marched them to the Hammocks. From that day on, the Hammocks became known as Lynchers Hammock or Hangman’s Island. Others were killed in the chaos that ensued around those stately trees.
How could he not know? But then again, can’t a man just eat some tacos with his family?
On my way back to Gainesville I noticed a round white building across from Hitchocks. It backed up to a forested area. Hadn’t Arthur said the tree was by the round building?  There was a large clump of trees by the road. Maybe this is the spot? I had read that the old cemetery is behind Hitchcocks so this would have been considered part of town, the edge for sure, but still on the main artery.  There was a little dirt road heading diagonally behind the round building towards what I thought may be the site. Making a last ditch effort, I quickly turned the wheel. The road turned out not to be a road but a driveway leading to a permanent trailer. Three pit bulls were barking, effectively warding me off. If those were the trees, I sure hadn’t communed with them in any meaningful way.
Quercus Virginia, the Southern Live Oak, can endure for centuries. They are stately, an over-sized parasol providing shelter from the blazing heat. A veritable habitat, the trees are a self-contained ecosystem from their roots to their branches. These trees, if they were the trees, had borne witness to so much: to young lovers, basking in their shade, to kids playing and friends meeting; to the five that hung on that fateful day; to those who were killed in the mob violence; to the two young girls, juice dripping down their chins, who were hung when a farmer accused them of eating his watermelon. So many moments had played out in the dappled shadows of those long, arching boughs.
 

 
Born and raised in Northern Florida, Miriam Mosher has penned various essays relating to the South. She authored a chapter, “‘Through the eyes of others:” on the aesthetics of double consciousness which will appear in an upcoming publication from The Smithsonian. Miriam now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works as a freelance writer and contributor to Bushwick Daily. 

From Issue 13: Oyate Tamakoce

Bino Realuyo
“Land of the people” – Apache
The flying now exist – no more for man –
   –    Sonnet V, David Humphreys
Dear flying now, another morning of air
held within, fraught in the Crowd racing through
trains, towers, time. Above, below, everywhere
really: Air-less, boxed hearts, hive minds.
What’s become of placid water, free air,
of Oyate Tamakoce? (Apache word, reclaimed)
Sacred buffalo, gone (also gone: circle of chants
about the single descent of an autumn leaf).
In its place, life drinking fossil blood. Water in bottles.
And I—the observer—only eye the interstices
of our now: love maneuvered by fingers on devices,
language in fragments, a museum of pixels.
Dear tomorrow, another flying hour wondering
where you are. Where is the light when I need to find
you? Where are the roses when I need to find light?
 

 
Bino A. Realuyo’s poem Oyate Tamakoce is from a recently completed collection of ninety-nine sonnets titled, The Rebel Sonnets.  He is the author of the poetry collection, The Gods We Worship Live Next Door.  He lives in New York City.

From Issue 13: Ode to Gasoline

George Longenecker
I love you— but I hate you.
You’ve always been so refined, and I like your aroma;
though you’re killing me, I have fond memories,
of your high octane brew; forget about CO2, oil spills—
gasoline, you and I have gone so many places.
We crossed the Kansas plains in my Triumph,
black oil pumps rocked gently,
sucked fossil fern from bedrock,
raw crude that took us
all the way to California.
You had pumps at every crossroads
I’d gas up and drive to escape city pollution
watch purple sunsets through dust and ozone haze
Janis Joplin singing
nothin’ left to lose.
I loved the wilderness and hated you,
but you took me everywhere;
now they blame it all on you, gasoline,
who filled my Karmann Ghia, my Datsun,
took us to Bryce, Zion and Yosemite.
I know you’re dangerous,
but my heart’s an engine
you’ve kept beating for so long.
Tell me, it can’t all be your fault—
crude on beaches, melting glaciers, hurricanes—
I want to inhale your fumes, hit the gas,
go west like nothing matters
except warm wind and a full gas tank.
 

George Longenecker taught history and writing at Vermont Technical College for many years. His recent poetry and book reviews have been published in Vermont Literary Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Isthmus, Poetry Quarterly, Rain Taxi and Saranac Review. He lives on the edge of the forest in Middlesex, Vermont.