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From Issue 22: The Mojave River

John Brantingham
Out here the gods play
their games with lost wanderers,
the river appearing now
out of a muddy hole like bruised faith
and disappearing again
in a mile.
It threads its way in and out
of the surface
during the long dry months,
and hiking these desert paths, I wonder
how many people walked
over the Mojave River
just ten feet above the water
that would have saved them.
I wonder
if any of them just gave up here,
sat down and died
not truly understanding
how cruelly twisted
the gods they worshipped
could be.
 
John Brantingham is Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park’s first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has ten books of poetry and fiction including A Sublime and Tragic Dance. He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.

From Issue 22: She Came Over on the Mayflower

Jim Daniels
My grandmother moved in with us when I was seven. Broke, she’d come back to Detroit from Arizona on a train. A Mayflower moving truck arrived the next week with a yellow box twice my size that contained her life like one of the Reader’s Digest condensed books she read. She pulled out some clothes for her dresser in the room she’d share with my sister, then the box sat for years like an upright double-wide coffin in the corner of the basement. My father put it on bricks to save from the occasional flooding. We used to climb in the box that smelled old like my grandmother, to hide in or to dream of going somewhere far. We never went anywhere that was not in the palm of Michigan’s hand. All we knew of Arizona was the petrified wood she handed us in tiny beds of cotton as gifts when she arrived. We saw cactuses only in cartoons. She never talked about what happened out there housekeeping in a convent. My grandfather died before I was born. She’d gone out west with a lady friend, then came back alone and lived the rest of her life in my sister’s room in a space curtained off that was as big as that box laid flat. She died when I was twenty-one years old, and I got drunk in that basement at her wake. When my mother had had my dog put down one day while I was at school, I barely shrugged, then headed off to my job at the party store, then after work to dry-hump my girlfriend in a way that was remarkably similar to my dog humping my leg during his glory years. My sister cried as hard as she cried when Elvis died, which was remarkably hard. I wonder now about my grandmother’s friend Hilda and what broke down out in the desert. If grandma kept any pictures, they weren’t in that box. She collected rosaries and kept a heating pad on her back every night and sat on her bad watching a tiny portable TV with an ear jack so she could crank up the volume without disturbing my sister—the last of the five kids, the only girl. We called her Little Grandma as she got littler, her brittle bones hunching her into nothing. To have a long life reduced to one Mayflower Moving box. Whenever I see one of their trucks, I fold into myself in shame for leaving her in that lonely box all those years, making fun of her farts, just like the dog’s. Old, and I’m one of them now. Put down. Put to sleep. Take me home, she said, and we didn’t know where to take her. You know the rest. How one day the water rose too high and ruined everything.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

From Issue 22: Wild Boar

Jim Daniels
Last night, I ate wild boar for the first time at the home of my friends Pierre and Christine. We sat on their terrace overlooking a hillside of vineyards lush green at the end of June. As the sun set, we had to put our sunglasses back on and hide behind a pillar. Five minutes, Pierre said, and the sun will disappear. No clouds willing to filter out the sun against all that blue surround. The colors here—the old painters loved them. It may have been five minutes in French time.
Pierre had showered and was ready to eat for a change. Usually, he shakes my thin hand with his thick one, or if he is too dirty, he offers his forearm for me to grab, then runs in for a shower. He works hard in the vines. He is a man of the earth who can tell where and when it’s going to rain, contradicting all available signs to us watching dark clouds hover, listening to the low thunder rumble. Knows where the wind is coming from and why and all things visibly invisible.
Where did you get the wild boar? I asked.
Christine said it’s a long story, then told us that story: a man in a nearby village has healing powers in his hands—particularly his thumbs. Nothing to do with Jesus. Once, he saw a cow moving awkwardly, favoring one shoulder. The man ran his thumbs down into the flesh of the cow until it moved normally again. The news spread through the village, and neighbors soon began dropping in, saying touch me the way you touched the cow. He did. He relieves pain, stiffness, pressure. People wait quietly on a bench outside his tiny house.
The man refuses payment. He has no training in chiropractory. The word spread to other villages. Since he refuses money, the lame and aching bring gifts. The countryside has been overrun with wild boar, and the farmers all hunt them. The man cannot refuse all the meat. He redistributes it to those who visit him. He gave a chunk to Christine. They were waiting for a special occasion. They are old friends of twenty years. For our visit, Pierre pulled the meat out of his giant freezer, where he keeps such things.
Restaurants can’t serve wild boar. The government inspectors won’t allow it. The idea of sharing the meat, a ritual here in these small villages. The howling of hunting dogs thickens the air in season after the grape harvest. The braying of hounds carries miles through this clear blue sky.
Roasted with gravy, accompanied by fresh vegetables. We sighed on the terrace as the sun dropped below the village on the hill. Juice of wild boar around our mouths, wiped with tissues Pierre handed around, in lieu of napkins. The soft waft as the tissues pulled out of the box after the cicadas kicked back for the night. I was skeptical at first, Christine said. Then she pointed to her back and lifted her thumbs to mime the man’s actions. She told us the name of the nearby village, but I’m not telling you. The man is 89 but the signs point to clear skies ahead, a steady tailwind.
When Pierre offers you his forearm, it’s a gift. He expects nothing in return. Happiness is the sun setting on a good meal and good story. The massive, shaggy beast reduced to stew, overshadowed by an old man with magic thumbs.
You might be skeptical, as I was. Christine was speaking French, of course, so I might have missed something in translation or time travel. But I don’t think so.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

Featured: Jealousy

a hunger that
will split a hair—
then hunger till
the head is gone—
 
 
Laura Wendorff is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She has been published in several journals, most recently Spillway and Schuylkill Valley Journal. Wendorff’s essay “Worth The Risk: Writing Poetry About Children With Special Needs” was nominated for a Best of the Net Award and the Pushcart Prize.

Featured: Watch Her Sleep

Endika Sangroniz
 
 

 
Endika Sangroniz is a 21-year-old singer/songwriter and poet from the Basque Country, Spain. Last year, he wrote his first full-length collection of poems entitled ‘Songs That Can’t Be Sung’, which is still to be published. Endika’s poems tend to be much rawer and darker than his songs, shattering the classic structures.

Featured: The Invitation

Paul Hostovsky
Being white and having attended a few
racial justice meetings where the talk
is of cultivating authentic relationships
with people of color, I asked a black co-worker
if he’d like to come over for dinner. He answered
my question with a question of his own: “Why?
I mean, it’s not like we’re friends or anything.”
“Well, I’m trying to cultivate,” I recited,
“more authentic relationships with people
of color.” He made a face. “Cultivate?
As in, your garden? As in, you want some more
purple eggplants, some more token negritude
in the pale, pathetic, privileged patch that is
your life?” Ouch. He wasn’t going to make this
easy. Lean into the discomfort, I remembered
them saying at the racial justice meetings
in the suburb where I live, where a person of color
is as rare as a white eggplant among the aubergines.
“Not token,” I said, smiling and wincing
at the same time. “For real.” And it felt a little like
asking someone out on a date, someone
a little out of my league. “The real question,” he said,
stroking his chin in a pensive attitude, then twirling
his imaginary mustache while sizing up my imaginary
chef’s hat, “is what’s for dinner? Something
toothsome, I hope.” And he gave me his beautiful teeth.
 
 
Paul Hostovsky‘s tenth book of poetry, LATE FOR THE GRATITUDE MEETING, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. His poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. Website: paulhostovsky.com

From Issue 21: For Kurt

Andrey Gritsman
I am sitting at McSorley’s
alone. He is late.
Raining, and cabs are scarce,
I guess.
Notes GIs left before
embarking for Europe,
1917, still stuck behind the bar.
GIs, who never came back
to McSorley’s.
I am sure he’ll show up
shortly.
Candles dying slowly,
trembling, melting.
The beer is straw-colored,
strong, eternal.
I am on the second one,
thinking of his 6th Ave. poem,
Then leaving, wandering,
stopping at Pete’s by O’Henry’s table.
Then Union Square Market,
inspecting gladioli from LI nurseries.
Another drink at Algonquin,
Chelsea, thinking of those greats
ended up flying from their windows
to the pavement of the 14th Street.
All the way down to Cornelia.
Red-faced Robin, raconteuring
at the bar after tasting
new delivery of Sancerre.
Angelo, absentmindedly
nursing his cold cigar,
his quiet, sad smile lives by itself
in time and space.
But Kurt is not there,
hasn’t come yet, getting dark.
And then I realize—
he is also looking for me
in some other domains.
 
 Andrey Gritsman, a native of Moscow, immigrated to the United States in 1981. He is a physician, a poet and essayist and has published several volumes of poetry and essays in both languages. Poems, essays, and short stories in English have appeared in over ninety literary journals and were anthologized. Andrey Gritsman edits the international poetry magazine in Russian Interpoezia.

From Issue 21: Sea Gate through a 35mm Amourette 1928

Eric Berlin
Maybe the glare is why she scowls as she turns,
the shutter convulsing in the handheld camera
her husband keeps between his open eye and her,
but I’d wager my life that he said something cruel,
focused tight on her nape with its gossamer curls,
then tapped the button, not noticing her pursed brow,
her downturned mouth, only the fluid way the strap
of her bathing suit rounds her back, spans the hollow
from shoulder to collar bone. Buckling shakes and stucco
bake in the summer light beyond her. This is half
of the split-frame photo. To the overcast sky
that burns out the other, his left hand holds aloft,
as if for sacrifice, some orphaned animal,
a puppy or kitten, its details mostly lost
to the brilliance above (nothing automatic
back then) and below too, where the sun strikes his watch.
Squinting at me as if I weren’t her grandson,
she stares through the greater part of a century,
distrustful, but not used to feeling such disdain,
bracing herself as if for necessary pain.
 
 Eric Berlin’s poems have won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Bradford on the Avon Poetry Prize, National Poetry Prize, and The Ledge Poetry Prize. Currently, he’s researching various genres of oral literature and teaches online for The Poetry School.

From Issue 21: The Queen of Moloka’i

Kirby Wright
A Snapshot of My Grandmother’s Life
 

Brownie’s on horseback. The ratta-tat-tat of a seaplane spooks her mare, causing them to charge into roadside kiawe. Brownie pulls back hard on the reins. She chose Bella over the jeep because riding makes her feel mighty. She’s a hair over five feet but up here on her thoroughbred she’s the queen. Today brings memories of Chipper’s cattle drives and summertime rides with her boy, Buddy. Chip called him keiki manuahi. Now Bud fights in the South Pacific. Brownie remembers a Zero low-flying taro patches and Chip pulling his .219. He fired at the Rising Sun.
She’s riding west to check the First Aid station at Puko’o. She feels bad it’s a shanty, with walls of termite-riddled lumber, bamboo flooring, and a single window facing the outhouse. Still, there’s a stack of emergency cots and a cabinet filled with bandages, rolls of gauze, sutures, aspirin, syringes, and vials of penicillin. The haole doctor from the Red Cross approved it, along with nine other stations Brownie helped build the month after Pearl Harbor. Rumors of paratroopers and an invasion by sea triggered a patriotic frenzy on Moloka’i, from joining the Armed Forces to volunteer nursing to building barbed wire blockades on beachfronts. She joined the USO and became District Manager for the Red Cross. She knows the appointment came only because she looks more haole than Hawaiian.
***
She stands offstage at Kaunakakai Community Center wearing rouge, pink lipstick, and a string of pearls. Brownie doubles as the USO’s event coordinator. She taps a victory roll in her Betty Grable hairdo watching girls kick in unison to Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood.” Soldiers hoot and holler as waiters hustle by balancing trays. When the song ends, the girls blow kisses to whistles and catcalls. They exit the stage to applause that rattles the floodlights.  
Brownie joins her troupe backstage. These wahines are mostly piha kanaka maoli, but two have a smattering of French blood. Keiko, the girl from Okinawa, is the best hands down. Brownie tells them, if they keep practicing, they’ll give the Rockettes a run for their money. Puanani hugs her. She loves Puanani like a daughter, despite catching her sister in bed with Chip. Her girls slip into denim and tug on boots. She smells pikake perfume. Soon they’ll be prancing to “Home on the Range.”  
She finds the table of mothers. “My Mona stay ready fo’ Hollywood,” brags Ruth Kamakeaina. “Rita goin’ Broadway straight off,” Marvely Naki says. Brownie knows the stage brings hope during this time of rationing, living off the aina, and waiting for news of husbands and sons fighting overseas. She wanted the girls to be at their best so their mothers would have tonight. She made them rehearse for months, teaching them the two-step, tap, and the Lindy Hop. She showed them how to link up and kick as a team. She studied fashion magazines sent by the USO and spent weeks with Ruth and Marvely sewing Rockette-style skirts. They even stitched sequins and feathers for the pillbox hats.  
She spots a man in a khaki uniform seated at a table, his cap slanting at an angle off his temple down to an eye. He lifts his glass. He seems comfortable as a lone wolf. Their eyes meet. He lowers his gaze to light a cigarette. He wears a chain bracelet and has a ruddy complexion. He’s younger than her. Not much, but she can tell. The ends of his tie are tucked in the breast of his shirt. He looks up, blowing smoke through his nose. She looks away. She shifts her chair so Ruth blocks him. She listens to gossip until curiosity forces her to peer over Ruth’s pompadour. She watches him order another drink. 
Brownie excuses herself. She hula-swings over to the bar, using that strut she perfected as a girl with Sue, her big sister. She’s glad the years of work kept her body hard and strong. She orders bourbon. She feels sexy in the red wiggle dress Sue sent last Christmas. The soldier extinguishes his cigarette. He gulps down his drink and gets up. His stride is confidant yet boyish. No wedding band. Broad shoulders. Thin waist. He sweeps off his cap, giving her a bow. “What’s your name, doll?” he asks. His jet-black hair shines like the oiled barrel of a rifle. “Julia,” she answers. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Fletcher.” She’s glad he didn’t extend a hand—she doesn’t want him feeling her calluses from cutting and chopping. He has a good name. His lapels are pinned with captain bars. He sounds like the newsmen on the radio, the deep-voiced ones who keep her company whenever Chip takes off. She feels guilty for not using her nickname. But “Brownie” brings thoughts of swinging axes, driving cattle, and dressing like a kua’aina. “Julia” makes her feel young. Part of her wants to pretend she’s still free to love whomever she wants, even after her mother told her nothing good can come from it.  
Fiddles strike up “Home on the Range.” The girls return in denim skirts twirling lassos. They square dance on a stage decorated with wagon wheels, sawhorses topped with a saddle, and pine barrels. In the background, a prairie schooner painted on butcher paper hangs off a big bamboo frame. Keiko and Puanani ride in on hobbyhorses and receive a standing ovation. 
Fletcher leads the way down the stairs to the coconut tree courtyard. Brownie likes the pencil moustache and the perfect posture. He smells like gin. She has not felt like this since her days chasing haoles in Waikiki with Sue, not since the Moana Hotel Ball when the Englishman kissed her under the eyelash moon. “Married?” Fletcher asks. She wants to say no. Why shouldn’t she lie about a man who chases every skirt on the east end? She tells him about Chipper and scratching out lives on homestead land. Fletcher’s married too. Martha’s in Columbus waiting for his R & R, but he’s been ordered to report to Schofield Barracks. His steamer leaves the wharf at dawn. Fletcher pulls her close. They kiss. The coconut fronds rattle in the onshore breeze. “Spend tonight with me,” comes the radio voice, “at the Pau Hana Inn.” She doesn’t answer. But she knows by her silence that she will, even though the inn is little more than a bungalow perched on a mud flat overlooking the wharf. Will she do it to punish Chip? Brownie’s not sure. She imagines cigarettes, drinks, and geckos patrolling the walls. His uniform hangs off the bedpost, the captain bars glowing in the harsh light from a naked bulb. She sees herself lying on a narrow mattress as fingers test her bra. She believes tonight she’ll become a princess, a wahine naïve enough to believe in dreams.   
Notes:
aina: land
haole: white
keiki manuahi: bastard child
kiawe: mesquite
kua’aina: country bumpkin
palaka: checkered red and white
piha kanaka maoli: having 100% Hawaiian blood
pikake: Arabian jasmine
wahine: girl or woman
A Note from the author: 
This creative nonfiction story is based on the World War II stories told to me by my paternal grandmother during my summer visits to her Moloka’i ranch. She wanted to write them down but had trouble composing sentences because of her third grade-only education. I promised Gramma I would write down her stories, while she was still living. I failed. I failed her, partly because the creative writing students at my college got bored and dismissive when I read anecdotes about an old woman living on a remote island. But the real reason I didn’t write her stories was because I gave in when my father when said writing was a frivolous waste of time. He stressed practicality, pointing out that only a handful of writers made a living at it. He convinced me writing was at best a hobby and that I should take a more practical path through life, such as going to law school or pursuing an MBA. Instead, I went into sales. I was good at sales but felt guilty abandoning the written word.    
I know what Gramma said was true because she’d repeat stories verbatim, including scraps of dialogue and how she felt. She loved horses. Six mares roamed the once forest-dense pastures she helped clear with her husband Chipper. Her name was Julia Gilman. She was nicknamed “Brownie” by the locals after a boy saw her likeness to a cartoon character on his Brownie camera box. In 1942, the Red Cross appointed her District Manager from Kainalu River east to Puko’o Harbor. A year later, she became Show Coordinator for the USO in Kaunakakai. She wanted military men and women on R & R to forget about the war, if only for a night. As a girl she loved to dance and attended the various balls in all the big Waikiki Hotels, such as the Moana and the Pink Palace. She organized extravagant dance numbers for GIs, Marines, and sailors who’d taken steamers over to Moloka’i from Oahu. And, yes, Julia did fall for Fletcher, even though she was only with him that one night at the Pau Hana Inn. She carried those few bright hours she spent with him without shame or guilt, a summer night in 1943 as shiny as the chrome bars on a young captain’s lapel.  
 

 
Kirby Michael Wright‘s new book is THE QUEEN OF MOLOKAI, which is a prequel to the story by the same name published by Two Cities  Review. He won the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction. 

From Issue 21: The Doll

Joan Colby
At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.
I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer.
The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
Unlike me.
She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
And compliant.
My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.
 
 Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival  from FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her latest book Her Heartstrings was published by Presa Press in 2018.