Issue Five, Winter 2015

Tao of teaching English as a Second Language

Raoul Izzard

Let us dig deeper into teacher lore:
“Elicit what pupils do not want to know:

torn postcards undated, unseen kiss and tell
lips overdue on library loan, love hearts

erased from the Puritan’s Kama Sutra.”
“Life is a once lived experience relived

in fifty words in written timed exams.”
“You are living language in the class so make

the Earth your desk, the moon your lamp, a tree
hollow your bed then sleep on it for the night

is an orthodontist conference in Wichita, full
of illicit glances, misplaced key cards, and

room numbers inked on the napkins of the heart.”
“The fig tree leaf resembles the human hand,

as the new language does the cuckoo, only
seeming its true bedfellow, mother tongue.”

My Sunset

Stephen Philip Druce

In the distant horizon, a lava latent
has spewed its molten creatures in every colour,
sprawling beyond the shifting precipice in its tender atrocity.
To us – the immortal canvas, where the delicate hands of the gods
in their infinite measure, could never cast such a rich disarray
of raging splendour, bathed in a spiteful dusk that is not worthy.

A Spacey Nut Fell From a Tree in the Sky

Sam Silva

A spacey nut
fell from a tree in the sky
in the heat of Summer’s
broiling lullaby

…we nod and doze
who know no other way
to sow our seed.

And so
the brain, that bloodless rose,
learns how to bleed!

Jazz Club: Tubby Hayes

Dick Jones

The chunter of the bass,
a ruminant, chewing the
syllables over the heft
and shuffle of the drums.
A hi-hat sneeze, a pebble-
dash across the snare.
Eyes closed, strap-hanging
in rhythm like a passenger,
he nurses the tenor, cheek
nuzzled against the curve
of mouthpiece, waiting.

We huddle round the table,
heads swinging, on the nod
inside blue fumes. I see us
across the room – two
impasto vagabonds, skinny
chancers, callow, untried,
painted by Soutine, in blues
and blacks; two grotesques
trapped in a box of shadows.

And then there’s voltage.
First it’s the shock of a
clicking relay: a press-roll,
a rim-shot, a four-bar hiatus.
And then he’s bucking like
a great bull waking out of
a dream, his horn fighting
the thick air, spilling a
tumbling mess of wisdom,
blown out of light and
into the dark on a long
unfurling breath, the tale
of a messenger with
too much to tell
and too little time.

And like a dreamer waking,
here in my small piece
of the real world, I’m up
on my feet. Not to dance
or to worship or to scat
my own shower of notes
back at him, but just to
wake up for the first time
to the sound of surprise and
to stay standing while my heart
shifts a beat and my blood
is drawn by new tides
for the first time.

(Read by Cerys Matthews on her BBC 6 Music show.)

Sexing Plums

Dick Jones

Each one has,
in perfect symmetry,
paired buttocks, smooth,
undimpled, gently curved.
So, gender notwithstanding,
there’s something here
for the most exacting
student of anatomy.

Now look further;
check the contours
of those cheeks –
a face, half turned
away – the blush of
early passion jumped,
roseate and downy. Or
the rubicund shine
of passion unconsumed
in age.

And – the span of years
aside – if you listen
through the breeze,
the birdsong, you might hear
at the moment of release,
the plucked note’s pizzicato,
the juice unloosed,
the kiss of consummation.

portal

Christopher Mulrooney

what a flash of fame around the face
magnificent the toils of ahead and not yet ended
still more the yet to be ended in the distant past
the shallows endured the open sea befriended

Saint Cheryl

Mitch Grabois

Cheryl is thirty
but can’t stop picking at all the little flaws
on her face
She eats half of a stale peach pie over the sink
the crumbs raining down onto the stainless steel
That’s all she’s had to eat today

Her life
so unrequited all the time

She goes onto Instagram
and manipulates her image
It’s how she spends most of her time these days
There’s no profit in it
but she feels compelled
She puts a halo around her head
puts a blurred circle on her forehead
with beams of light radiating from it
like a Russian icon

Now she’s a martyred saint
yet to be canonized
One day the Pope will take her hands
and raise her up

Meditation in winter

Rafael Ayala Paez

The rain is an animal inside my body.
Its skin sketches itself on to my skin
and in the northern extreme of the sky
I watch it being born.

The rain feels musical,
hypnotizes the fear the pain
fraying their edges
now comes peace.

Dance in the Twilight

Svetlana Kortchik

Plié, jeté, plié…My technique is perfect and precise. Nothing betrays the overwhelming tension that grips me. My muscles are heavy and unresponsive, but my movements are light and fast, which is just as well because when I’m on stage appearances are all that matter. When I’m up on that stage, the truth is irrelevant.

The music stops but I keep going, my grey worn out pointe shoes making regular tap-tap sounds on the wooden floor. The tap-tap-tap of my feet can barely keep up with the tap-tap-tap of my heart. My toes are bleeding, but on and on I dance, longing for physical pain, willing it to numb me from the inside out, to block out the guilt, the desire and the fear inside me. I desperately yearn for oblivion, and for a second, I almost succeed and I almost forget, but the despairing breaths that I take after every plié and after every jeté bring it all back, just like before.

***

I remember the first time we made love. We were rehearsing Carmen. It was my first lead role, and I was living and breathing his fresh passionate choreography.

‘Your moves are too perfect, there’s no soul, no passion,’ he would say, his Italian accent getting stronger as he got more agitated. For hours and hours I danced until I broke down in tears, and knelt on the studio floor. His arms around me felt comforting. His lips were on mine, and soon I was no longer trembling from crying but trembling with desire, from his touch, after months of wanting him, making me weak.

That was a year ago. I have loved him for a year.

***

Yesterday, as he held my quivering body in his arms, he said, ‘I have something for you. For our anniversary’.

‘You remembered.’ I was pleased. I gasped as he placed a delicate pendant shaped as a dancer around my neck. ‘Carmen,’ I whispered.

‘I can stay a little longer tonight,’ he said. ‘Sarah is with her parents’.

I tried to smile, struggling against a tidal wave of jealousy at the mention of her name. Hearing it here, in our special place, where the two of us shared so many happy private moments together, seemed unnatural and disturbing. It’s been a year of this, I thought. A year of jealousy and guilt and of hiding how I truly felt. ‘Can you stay the night?’ I asked hesitantly.

‘Not tonight, babe.’ He held me even tighter, as if afraid to let me go. ‘I know it’s been hard for you. I know you want to live a normal life.’

‘I just want you.’ I want a normal life with you.

As if hearing my thoughts, he said, ‘You want a normal life with me. I think the timing is right. I will tell Sarah tonight.’

I moved away from him, stepping back all the way to the wall. Not far enough. He was still touching me. ‘We talked about that. I can’t break up your marriage. I won’t be that woman.’

‘And I have told you before, Sarah and I don’t have a marriage anymore. We are like two strangers living in the same house.’

‘It’s wrong.’

‘You think that just because we haven’t told her yet, it’s not wrong? My life is a sham and I’m done living it. I want to be with you.’

‘What about Andrew?’ I whispered.

‘Lisa, I will never abandon my son. I am not your father.’

***

The last time I saw my father, I was twelve. His things were packed in the back of his Ute, and the house seemed hollow without his guitar, his smoking pipes and his model ships.

‘Daddy, when are you coming back?’ I demanded accusingly, although even back then, in my adolescent naiveté, I knew that he was leaving for good. The house was too small to hide the arguments, the heartbreak, the betrayal. The walls were too thin to protect me from my parents’ whispered conversations.

‘I will be back in a little while, baby. You look after your mother, ok?’

‘Where are you going? Are you going to live with her?’ I tried to put as much contempt into the last word as I possibly could. She was the twenty-two year old French teacher at the private school I attended. I looked at my father, who was so familiar and so loved, and my eyes filled with tears.

‘Now, now, little one. Don’t cry. When you grow up, you will understand.’

‘I will never understand,’ I said defiantly. ‘I will never understand how someone can break up a family. What kind of person is she?’ What I didn’t understand when I was twelve and afraid, was how to fill the void in my heart where my father had once been.

***

On and on I dance, tap-tap-tap of my feet getting faster and faster. I dance through my pain and through my madness, through my hope and through my fear.

‘Keep your back straight, don’t tense your shoulders.’ His voice startles me, and I pause mid-pirouette and turn around. I can’t see his face in the shadows but I can make out a suitcase by his feet.

‘Antonio,’ I say, as I walk toward him, pointing at the suitcase. ‘You told her about us?’

‘Didn’t have to. She was drunk when I got home. She lashed out. I left.’ Even in the dark, I can see a bruise on his face. I gasp. ‘Has it happened before?’

‘Happens all the time.’

‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I’m so sorry,’ I repeat, stroking his face.

‘It’s fine, darling. I’m glad it’s over. I’m finally done living my life for the sake of appearances.’

I hold him and stare at my feet that are bleeding and torn. Then I look at him, and in his eyes I see the truth, the only truth that matters. ‘Let’s go,’ I whisper. ‘Let’s go home.’

Wearing One Earring

A.J. Huffman

Sleepless and thinking of Van Gogh
I take my left earring out.
Placing it inside a box
to send to a love that does not
exist. Yet or ever. Probably
an empty gesture full of
meaning[ful psychoses] even I
don’t understand. Yet
I take my time. Wrapping
the parchment with pristine
corners any hospital would envy.
I even wavered momentarily
over the choice of ribbon, wondering
if it still qualifies as a present if tied
with breast-cancer-pink allusions
to suffering. No, this is serious
[ly symbolic if not just a tad imbecilic]
so I selected silver. Knotted.
Knightly. Even moderately merry.
And its glint was worth the fuss.
It focused the moon as it soared
from my balcony to the river
below. Beyond, I was able to trace
its trail as it soaked, swirled,
then sank. In a flameless
mocking of some ancient and
regal funeral. All light.
All sorrow. All honor.
All gone. As it settles itself
among the silt.

Corner of Diamond and Dust

A.J. Huffman

Fingers, honored in anniversary, linger
in anticipatory hover over ribboned box.
Does he love me?
                                  Does he love me not?
They cannot stop the childishly compulsive
repetitious rhyme from repeating. In the background,
breath is held as bow tentatively begins to come
undone. Lid, inevitably removed, finds no carat
sparkle. A smile is faked as mental inventory begins
in preparation of packing, the bags already waiting
under her side of the bed.

Cold

Stanley Wilkin

As cold as another age, wracked with solitude,
A slow start to another beginning,
Unreliable cloud coats the sky
And the sea repetitiously roars in,
Cuffing cliffs,
Pounding rocks
With calamitous roars
Playing endless riffs across the sand.

We walked together down the beach
Troubled by the surf
Chewing on cigarette stubs, sullied by the wind
New ghosts in the half-light
Bearing years like backpacks.

Grown old in the gathering twilight
We chattered together, our footsteps picking
Wounds. Barbed words
Like greetings, cheerfulness like an accusation.
Intercourse a shared and interesting memory,
We cuddled together in the scouring wind
Enjoying each other’s casual warmth.

It was a time for reflection,
When love is a scab on evolving friendship,
Heartlessness the price of redemption.
The contrived book of your beauty,
The gilded ceramic of expertly rendered features
The undulating film of your gestures, coded and decoded
Through time.

Beauty is finite, crumbling to fleshless reminiscence
Fixed to canvas and celluloid
With tireless labour. In the end, signifying another thing-
Of little interest.
An artist’s casual thought, a director’s cut.

They barely remember your name,
Your laughter and wildness gone, missed by the
Senile artist’s transitory brush,
Clotted with hundred-year-old varnish.

A small house by the sea
Surrounded by flowerbeds sparkling with summer colour
Self-absorbed children, with whom we exchanged affection
And parted from, holidaying in Bangkok
With lovers of all sorts.
As the sea rolled towards us
And evening gave way to night.

Rejected

Jeffrey Park

Had to get rid of him, she said, no choice,
had to be done.
          Was it the floppy ears? I asked.
No, it wasn’t that.
          Was it the waggly tail?
No, not the waggly tail.
          The sad soulful eyes then? I could imagine
          the eyes might have done it.
No, not exactly, she said.
No, it was the way he listened
so intently all the time, like he was trying
to memorize everything
I was saying, including things that someday
maybe a long time from now
I wouldn’t want to be reminded of.
Like he was recording
every stupid, pointless comment
that came from my lips.
          So…the way he listened.
Yes. The way he listened.
And maybe
the waggly tail as well.

Indigent Line

Frederick Pollack

Towards the end, in Rome, in the Senate
(there were still senators, though they were all
Christian by then), addressing
the crimes of the Bacaudae
in Gaul ( – ex-slaves, proto-serfs,
the last few freeborn farmers, unpaid legions),
a senator got up and said,
“You ask why they rebel?
They rebel because you’re cruel.
You have always been cruel.” But the rest
was rotund, gorgeous, full of
myths and references
to now quasi-mythical triumphs,
and Christ of course, and everyone applauded.
It’s easy to imagine a similar speech
today, about some sudden awkwardness,
or even an ongoing “problem” as long as
it isn’t under the radar or over the top,
freezing though technically housed, eating catfood.
“I am so glad when night come.”

Shoreline

Frederick Pollack

1

For months now, not in dreams
(my dreams are all the usual pursuit)
but before the pills kick in,
I have been seeking the concrete-
like sand beneath successive arcs
of foam. Long-beaked long-legged birds
find dead fish, micro-crabs and safety
forever ahead of me, as if I were
the tide. The waves are moderate,
the sky a struggle with late afternoon;
the sea as empty as the land curving,
presumably, northwards. I’ve covered ground,
these nights. Familiar phrases
have disarticulated, dissipated
in my wake. (Romantic cliché.
Remarkable absence of others and social
concern. In real terms, real-world terms:
exhausted after an hour and complaining of bites.) –
Above the beach, the dunes give way
to rocky outcrops where
small prey and hunters hide,
evolve, pervade their ecological niche,
yet at my footsteps flee and twitch.
Up there, also, occasionally
some ruin – stone, and as close
as need be to the natural curve and slouch;
yet never, upon land or sea,
a plastic bottle or a scrap of paper.
(Quotation still grinds on
reliably; it isn’t exactly thought.
Even a gull’s wing or a dragonfly,
said Benn, would be too much.
A Beckett sky with Courbet passion.)
Sometimes I climb for a grander changeless
view. If it came before sleep came,
night would be stormy but the morning fair.
And oh, above that drift of salt
and iodine, the sweetness of the air!

2

Then I think, or believe I think, at the frontier
of sleep, of a shore I have always preferred, or would,
to walk, where everything I see
is seen for the first time
and every step is a small step, pompous
strut, or diffident meander
for man. And costs a lot of money,
or of some vast collective aspiration
replacing money. I look,
I turn, I scoop things up
as if in crystal, in a ritual
universally observed.
Or else (on autopilot now) alone.
So that I name weeds, waves, and stone,
their stand-ins or something completely different,
for others subsumed in me
if they exist at all.
That coast is almost featureless.
– A half-expected monolith inscribed
unreadably. Whoever made it
is gone now, hostile or benign,
and left it as an inadvertent sign
of the border, whose guards

are kindly ghosts and wave one through, if bribed.

It’s Alive

Frederick Pollack

1

Universal ruin doesn’t faze
the zombies. They think
(so to speak) a field has been cleared
so they may freely assemble,
demonstrate.
Except for hunger, they are free from pain.
As they mill, bump, parts
sufficiently rotted, or burnt
by things still burning or searingly
melting, drop; the rest falls,
groans more, moves more awkwardly.
Crows are too high, rats too fast,
roaches hard for their poor hands to catch;
and the zombies think it’s unfair
there are no brains left.
In herds around them, meanwhile, vampires
have adopted the umbrella phalanx
and the shared tarp, and scuttle
in shadow beneath these, squealing
and bitching. They too
recognize no
responsibility. Sing their thirst, the total
inadequacy and
betrayal of all beings
below them; that is their art.
Periodically one or another drops
its umbrella or ducks
out from beneath the tarp to take
a short walk in the sun;
that is their spirituality.

Surviving humans, unsurprisingly,
are soldiers. And have learned,
though late, how to
inoculate themselves against
the undead: they weep.
Constantly. Sincerely,
like a living fountain for all
the living and unliving.
It acidifies the blood, changes the brain.
Which doesn’t mean these puffy-eyed
sharpshooters ranged in the rubble
for this final battle
have forgotten how to put
one in the head or in the heart.

2

The brilliant scientist is no fool.
The contacts may be placed
absurdly on the whorls and
protrusions of the monster
on the gurney. The flatlined
monitors may lie.
He’s armed, the scientist, and never
wholly diverts his attention
from the body. The general,
though a mind steeped in protocol
the event offends, glares steadily
at a claw. Data flows to his ear
from the site. Whether deep
undersea, or in ice, or a cordoned
field of strange non-metal,
it represents a power that
will be matched, will be crushed.
The soldiers also know the score,
their rifles on full automatic, leveled.
If I used eyes they’d be shut.

NAFF 5

Kev Patel

Damn you grady
Long time ago/you pushed me down
On my skates.then held me while I cried on your
Letter jacket/through binoculars I saw you
Messing with the one from life science class
Cried alone into my teddy bear’s fur/ wishing Mr. New
Would take me to the dance. So me and my fresh jherri curl
Could show you/a locker next to yours/ followed you
Around for weeks/but distracted by a future crack head
With horrid teeth/on the way to bulimics anonymous offering
my cherry Garcia to any chunky monkey. Now it’s
me and You/ Mr. New/ Mississippi grady after a
hard day’s work you’re a picture of frustrated
masculine sinew with/raw, unashamed passion
for your woman (that’s me)/ you’ve had a
rough day with Mr. Bossman/unload on me. I listen
because it’s my job and I really don’t mind, you know/
I’m sweet and wife like in this new place/ I even rub your shoulders, feet
Complaints melt to moans/ “what’s for dinner, babe?”
And of course there’s a gourmet what’s-it in the oven and
Soon ready/we eat and over dinner/frisky/you take my
Hand/dishes can wait/ and my gawd, do they/and I thought
Hendrix made music/ listen to the bill grady anthem/baby,
We sing billie, ella and gorillaz/we talk, you sleep phone rings/
i wake
to my intrusive as fuck alarm clock and teddy bear/ threw something
on and see you here/remembering dinner/ “morning, ma’am”/ I crumble
those eyes/those teeth/those hands/the attitude
its us/me/you/against them
just like before

NAFF 4

Kev Patel

Pigs on troughs with golden snouts
Nose rings of sugar and glass
Puppet master syringes drip with
Ruby red consciousness
“How I love to hear the jaybirds sing!”
my bathtub of memories combusts
as the butler feeds me shards of yesterday’s misery
“How I love to watch the willows weep.”
Fixtures of peppermint time
On platters of bronze beanie weenies
Impaled on eight food roaring toothpicks
“Brother, can you spare a dime?”

The Least Eventful Day in History

Jon Steinhagen

She awoke early. He slept in. She crept into the bed in which her mother and father were sleeping and sweat the sheets. He ignored his alarm because he thought it was part of his dream. A few had only just fallen asleep before they had to get up. She awoke thinking she had not dreamt. They woke up and remained in bed thinking about this and that. She awoke disoriented. She and he awoke refreshed. He and she and a few others were awakened by the incessant barking of that damn dog next door.

He was up and showered and breakfasted and on the way to the airport in less than forty-five minutes. She was sick. His neck was stiff. They brushed and flossed. He shaved. She took a pill. She and she took a whole raft of pills. He washed his face. They used an astringent. He coughed and coughed until he thought his spine would crack. He brought her a tray. She
retrieved the paper. They got online. She took a moment to watch a cardinal perched on a branch just outside her window. She made orange juice. They were seated by the waitress. He used too much hair gel. They played with dolls. He let the dog out. She looked for those earrings that had belonged to her mother’s aunt. He took the car out of the garage. They waited for the train. She packed everything she could think of. He called his brother. He and he and a few others elevated the bad foot. She read three articles and posted a reply to the middle one. They argued about the coat. He waited in line. They had sex. She picked up her parents and took them to the funeral home so they could make the arrangements.

He clocked in. He and she and he made an important decision regarding the basement. He spent more money than he had planned. She found him very attractive. They had a very loud phone conversation in public. She told everybody to take a piece. He held the baby. She didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. He turned right without using his directional. They shouted. He caught the ball. She ran out of cumin. He had to sit down and catch his breath. He and she swam immediately after eating. She slapped him. Many of them shivered. He held court. She gave up on the crossword. They struggled. They played Rack-o and were not very good at it.

She said I could go on like this forever.

He had to shovel the snow when the kid didn’t show up. He and he and some of them shocked the people they were with. He used the toilet. She raised the hem. Many of them crossed the street at the crosswalk. He tried to get comfortable. She went through all the old letters. They spoke. A handful of them stopped for a few moments because they didn’t know what to do next.

He said It doesn’t look bad.

She called AAA. He ordered a patty melt and fries and a medium RC. She was stung by a bee but didn’t cry. He learned to walk. They couldn’t remember anything or anyone. She visited.

He remembered the CD. A few of them used a gift card they thought had expired. He served the drinks. He and she submitted their reviews. She did three loads of laundry. He walked between the cars jingling a cup of coins. She and she and a few others found parking. He pooped his pants. She sang. Most of them stretched. He removed a stone from his shoe.
She said Hi I’ll be right with you.

He cheated at cards. They checked in. He steamed the suit. They noticed the farm. She found all of the photograph albums. He sold the Corvette. They went down for a nap. She baked an apple pie. He wondered what was keeping him. She and she and he got a senior discount. A small amount of them felt tired.

He said I can’t I just can’t.

She turned on the lights. He signed the lease. She responded. Some of them bought the day-old bread. She bailed the water. He set the table. She put her in her place. He listened to “Estrellita” four times in a row. They became belligerent. She chose the wire frames. He watched him eat both halves of the squash. Some made a mistake in the checkbook. He and they tuned a guitar. She let go of the balloon.

She said I believe in making morally responsible choices.

He cleaned the pool and found two quarters. She applied the rash cream for the fifth day in a row. They coughed. Some of them hailed a taxi. She had to put some items back. She took her sister’s doll. He emptied his safe deposit box. He and he poured the concrete. They took the picture. She thought ahead. A bunch of them mopped up the spill. He finally told her. They suddenly sneezed. She initially wavered.

He sat down. She reclined. They plopped. He took out the garbage. She asked for some kind of help any kind of help. A few of them thought the airplane was not an airplane. He left. She made it oh so obvious.

They said their first word.

A Wary Distance

Richard King Perkins II

Their luncheon; ceremonial at best.
Mother and daughter chat over French onion soup
and club sandwiches, trying to find the mysterious
ground that once seemed so common. Conversation
ranges only to topics that maintain a wary distance:
Politics, economics and plans for future travel.
Ensuing laughter is a bit too sharp, a little too loud.

At a nearby table, an old woman gags and spits up
her food. Everyone is listening, watching in a way
where heads don’t move, playing let’s pretend
we’re not fascinated by this inevitable suffering.

It’s an ideal moment for empathy; a whisper or sigh,
a silent nod of the head. Instead, an ill-tamed silence.
This is what we have forgotten about each other.
Why they must quickly move apart if their legs brush
beneath the table, why they can’t sip from the same
glass. Fully shunning the unfolded scene, Mom
suggests sailing to Bermuda and the laughter is a
trifle louder, elusively comfortable in this cultured-state;
to know what is feared so much more intimately than
that which we hope to love.

Return of the Perfect Object

Richard King Perkins II

That object retrieved from the sea
which might be love—

quite out of place in the arid world,
so that if we didn’t know better,
we might call it pearl, or doubloon,
or even trilobite—
but we know it cannot be these things,
so we call it love, set it on the
cabin table and further label it ours.

Seen against the maculate horizon,
its appearance changes with each
subtle flirtation of water—
and our conviction wavers as well,
so we rename our treasure,
calling it jealousy or ego,
and we further clutch it between us,
deciding if it is mine or yours.

Ominous arrival,
a silent arm of tide curls over
the sailing craft, reclaiming the object
we once thought of as love,
now worn as bracelet of the waves—
nothing more than salvage or haul
for weekend tourists
on a chartered yacht cruise
out of Miami Beach.

Looking for another existence
and the remainder of the world,
we found something flourishing
at the bottom
of a bejeweled, thieving ocean—

the fossil-lives of recognizable others
kept in the immutable state
which we would likely call perfect.

share with me your secret

Linda Crate

i saw you running
your majesty
dark mane
eyes of hickory
body of darkest pitch
you gazed at me with such startling intelligence
such knowing i wanted to set you free
from behind the fence that secured you,
every living creature should be free
to make their own choices to roam where their
heart contents, but you were scripted
there by some design i couldn’t
undo and so i walked past discontent and aching
your pain echoed in my heart and as you
snorted i knew you knew
misery deeper than
the ocean but joy brighter than any of the suns that
have summered me into being;
i wish you could share the secret of such
happiness with me —
birds chirp and flowers bloom and always in these months have
found me such happiness i could scarce contain,
yet fragments of pain and misery are
edging them away, locked in a chest of discontent
all my fragile dreams seem to be blowing
in the wind like leaves;
cascading love seems to be crushing me beneath the
weight of country roads and their forked tongues
snakelike hiss and snap at me,
causing me to jump
breaking all my fragility into the open so they can smirk at the
foolishness of my chipping heart for have fallen in such deep love.

Cemetery Gates

Clare Holman-Hobbs

I’ve picked the spot
Behind one and two
They’ve been here a while
Too loved to survive
Too far to be loved
How did you pass these gates?

A young pilgrim
Walked a lonely path
When I stopped you
An oasis
A mirage
A siren some say
I drank you in
Felt your bones
Good enough for me
Good enough for my cemetery

Get my shovel
And dig, dig, dig
Here you are
This ones yours
How deep would you like?
The deeper the better
That way you can never come back
I’ll dig it for you
I may as well
It was I that bought you here

I’ll make you a head stone too
What would you like it to say?
How loved you were?
How missed you will be?
I know all about that
I know what missing you feels like

But I’ll keep you here
And mourn the loss of you
Mourn my life since you left
But you’ll be safe
Underground
Away from me
Away from everything that we could have been

May 24th

William Cass

The young woman was playing with his dog. It was a bright, sunny May morning. Mt. Juneau loomed across the Gastineau Channel, all new green. The snow on top of it was diminishing grudgingly in long, thin crevices along the sides. It looked like the negative of a big ice cream sundae that someone had left out on a counter. A scattering of pink, green, and red houses sat among the spruce trees at its base, and then the small shelf of land that constituted the state capital’s center spread down to the channel’s edge.

There was no breeze. It was quiet, already unseasonably mild. A huge, white tour ship was docked across the channel at the Alaska ferry pier, the first of the season. Its towering white sides had thin blue piping just above the blue-green water line. The old gold mine burrowed in the side of Mt. Roberts behind the ship was red-brick, crumbling. The sky was the blue of a moth’s wing. She was smiling. He was in the cabin making breakfast. She tossed the stick for the golden retriever. He bounded after it and caught it in mid-air. She clapped her hands and put them between her knees as he trotted back to her. She was tall and slender and pretty. Her dark hair was a mess of long, wet curls. She wore old blue jeans, sandals, and one of his big work shirts, unbuttoned, with the sleeves rolled up.

He came to the door with a tray of food and a basket. On the tray were a coffee press, two ceramic mugs, a half loaf of thin, crusty bread, a serrated knife, scrambled eggs and a tomato on a plate, a chocolate bar, a small thermos, a box of waxed paper, and two oranges. He set the tray and basket down on the hood of his truck. She came over behind him, put her arms around him, and kissed the back of his neck. She kept her arms in that embrace, her head resting against his back, rocking slowly, while he poured two mugs of coffee. He poured the rest of it into the thermos and screwed the lid down tight. The dog had the stick in his mouth and was nudging her legs.

The young man’s short hair was sandy-colored, disheveled, and also wet. He wore a thick blue sweater, hiking shorts, and tennis shoes. He cut the bread and tomatoes into slices, made sandwiches with the eggs, and wrapped them carefully in waxed paper. He stacked the sandwiches in the basket, put in the oranges and chocolate bar, laid the thermos on the side, and closed the wicker lid. While he worked, she remained behind him with her eyes closed, the small smile never leaving her face. He took her hands in his. The dog ran in front of him, dropped the stick, sat down, wagged his tail.
A bald eagle flew off down the channel above them and landed in the top of a charred tree at the water’s edge. The sun’s light was white. Here and there, dust drifted in it. The air was still crisp and tart-clean. The channel sat completely still; a sailboat tacked back and forth across the far end of it.

He separated her hands and turned around. He handed her the two mugs, opened the driver’s side door, and put the basket on the seat in the middle. He kissed her on the forehead and put his face down into the wet hair behind an ear. Her shoulders shivered, and she closed her eyes. He picked up the tray and went back into the cabin. She reached inside the open truck door, set the mugs of coffee on the basket lid, went around the other side, and climbed inside. She took one of the coffee mugs, set it between her legs, and kept her hand around the other.

The dog dropped the stick in the small bed of flowers in front of the cabin. The young man came back outside and laid the plate with the leftover eggs next to the door. He checked the hitch where his Boston Whaler was hooked to the truck, made sure the tips of the fishing rods weren’t sticking out in back, and then got in and closed the door. He started the engine, smiled gently at her, and they drove slowly down the gravel road. The dog came over to the front step and began eating the eggs on the plate.

***
The old woman who had been watching them wiped her eyes. She lived on the hill above the cabin and stood in a housedress looking out her living room window. At her ankles, her big calico cat had fallen asleep. She turned around and looked at the old photographs on the fireplace mantel. One was a picture of her husband in his uniform before he was discharged from the Korean War, not long after they were married. In it, he wore a pressed cap and all his decorations; she didn’t know where it had been taken. There was an old photograph of him cooking hamburgers over a grill out at Echo Cove in which he wore a T-shirt, cooking mitts, and a chef’s cap. And there was their wedding picture in its gold-flecked frame, an old black-and-white, faded with age.

“Hello, Tom,” she tried to say. They were the first words she’d spoken in two days. The sun had not yet crept up the hillside, so the house still held the night’s coolness. She wrapped the housedress around her. As she did, the cat stirred and sauntered off. She sat down on the edge of an armchair. It was May 24th, the anniversary of their first date together. That had been another rare sun-filled day. They’d left later in the afternoon and had borrowed his grandfather’s skiff from the other end of Douglass Island. They went up around a few bends to a cove, trolled a while there, but caught nothing. When the sun began to go down, he puttered them up onto a beach and made a fire. They roasted hot dogs on sticks as the red and orange hues of the sunset slowly widened to purple-pink over the channel. He’d brought chocolate, too: a package of malted milk balls that they passed back and forth.

Darkness gradually fell, and he kept the fire stoked, eventually, he took a blanket out of his knapsack and shook it out over his back. He looked at her and said, “You cold?” She lied, “A little.” He opened the arm closest to her, holding the blanket like a cape behind it. “You can come over here if you want.” She slid over. That had been forty-nine years ago. Thinking of it, of the warmth of his arm and the blanket as they wrapped around her, she closed her own eyes.

The cat came back a few moments later, curled itself in and out of her ankles, and then padded away silently towards the back hall. She waited a while longer before opening her eyes. Gazing out over the wide channel and the bridge and the mountains, at the vast beauty and wilderness that she’d somehow been graced to call home all of her life, she forced herself to consider the possibilities ahead of her for the day. She could work on the quilt she was making on the front porch. She could sit out back and begin one of the new books she’d gotten from the library. There were letters to write. She might take a walk up the trail behind the house, up towards Mt. Adams. She could go into town for something to eat; she could cast reason to the wind and have enchiladas for brunch on the Mexican restaurant’s covered patio. She had nothing but time ahead of her, and no one to infringe upon it.

It was a perfect day. In that part of southeastern Alaska, with its everlasting rain and cold, those were few and far between. She wouldn’t watch the young couple when they returned, and she wouldn’t look at the photographs again. She didn’t know how many days like that she had left, and she didn’t want to waste it.

Owl Nights

Linda Himot

Restless, the owl hunts at night when none can see.
His cries, like a dead brother, disturb my sleep,
shiver me awake despite still air and heat.

Prey to grief, I recite my catechism of losses.
Their sharp talons grasp, stun the breath from my body –
an entire family of sepia shaded faces – except two

long-haired nieces, chartreuse and pink, giggles and games
they come to visit – stay the week – smiles to melt –
my owl cache of frozen tears saved for times of privation.