Archives Issues

August 2017 (No. 63)

Scott Laudati//he never was one for conversation

he was straight edge
until twenty one
and six months later
they found him in the backseat
od’d
for the second time

my best friend

but he wouldn’t die
even though they seem to so easily now.
he tried.
he kept his demons close
and just as his eyes started
to cut out the light
they would step in.
no retreat for my friend.
they wanted just enough of him
alive
to keep feeding

it was his birthday i remember
that we got him to drink.
twenty one years
and we undid it with a bottle
of johnny double black.
i was always one of those
who could do the line,
smoke the pack,
and then wake up
with nothing in my head
telling me- just one more.
but i never
had any trouble with living,
and i think that’s more rare
than a kid twenty one
who’s never touched
booze

and six months later
i was on line
with a couple dozen
black mothers
and their kids,
waiting to see those
that hadn’t done
any worse
than anyone else,
but in a country
that makes everyone
a criminal
we were waiting
to see the ones
who got caught

the guards
pushed mothers,
called little kids “animals”
right to their mother’s faces,
and when they
got to me-
the only white kid in line,
everyone
just looked confused.
i was a part of their world now
and neither
team wanted me

my friend had followed
the junkie script.
he robbed his
brother’s kids
and pawned all
of their toys.
and so dope sick
with nowhere to find help
he went right to the corner,
he went right for
the
needle

i don’t know
what his mother’s face
looked like when she found him
full of puke
or when she sent him to jail
but
i remember
my mother’s face
the first time the world
made me cry,
when she realized
she
couldn’t save me anymore.
it
probably
looked something like that

it was my turn
eventually
and i got to see my friend.
he was a man now,
heavy from the weights
and the bologna sandwiches
and blue milk.
and so pale

the phones were broken
so we had to bend over
and talk through a little slit
in the glass.
i couldn’t really hear him
but his skin was so pale
and he said more than anything,
his loss of respect
and freedom,
they took
the sun from him.
he said that’s what life needs
and even if he couldn’t change who he’d been
at least under the sun
he could grow
and maybe someday
bloom

i walked out of prison
and touched every tree
and thought about the signs
and the bad moons
and my friend
who went to sleep
and came back
under the same
fluorescent lights.

the squirrels
the car horns
the mail man.
it was like staring at
a diseased mirage.
but they were free to be nothing
so i stared
and i was grateful

David M. Harris//Uriah

And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said: ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness; and she returned unto her house – 2 Samuel 11:3-4

Centuries after the last king fled our old capital,
we were still Hittite warriors, proud
enough to need to serve a martial
and honorable king. David was
the one I chose, whose army and faith
I made my own. And he chose me, placed me
among his best, his Mighty Men, gave me
a home close to his own. I found a wife
of my new tribe, and loved her almost as much
as my honor and my new lord.

Good house, good leader, good woman. Yes, she complained
about being a soldier’s wife, the separation, but she knew
I am, first and always, a warrior. I could not change that,
not even for her.

The king summoned me from the siege at Rabbah,
and tested me, my faith. After my report he said,
“Eat, drink, visit your wife.” But I could not so this thing
while my comrades lay in the field. My honor held me,
kept me true to my faith. And I returned pure
to my commander, Joab, despite the temptations
of home and love and ease, returned pure
to the army, the war, as the Law requires me.
As it demands that I accept the orders I carried
from my king to Joab. Law and honor both
enjoin me to stand forth in the battle, even when
the rest fall back, bind me to carry on, in honor,
alone, fighting for my dishonorable king.

Joyce Schmid//Tree Mother

A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent…
–W.B. Yeats

I refused to love you then, when you were old,
although I felt your heartwood drying in the drought.
I flew three thousand miles to water you

but all saline in the hospital could not rewet
your phloem, and your xylem never flowed again.
The beetles burrowed into you, your cracking leaves

turned brown and fell,
and then the fires came for you.
Now lakes and rivers gather murk from rain

no longer filtered by your roots, the air is empty
of the oxygen you made, dry grass and brush
profane the footprint that you left behind,

and I am old and burning for your shade,
I who did the duty that a daughter does,
so proud, so stiff, so cold.

Austin Sanchez-Moran//Ballad of Black Stuntman

There are times when things get too dangerous.
The scene must be manipulated so as to look real.
But appearance cannot be compromised. Enter Black Stuntman.

Black Stuntman is not automated and can be harmed.
Black Stuntman will crash a car, get bitten by a dog, shot
out of a cannon, then a crew will rush in to extinguish his fear.

He will die in place of you.
He has died for your entertainment.
It will happen again.

It is as if his black body has been snatched,
and put out on the street in place of all of us,
as we watch on a screen, home safe, in our pods.

Then as the pretend policeman approaches,
we still ask, “How does this one end, again?”

 

Jared Pearce//Going Someplace

That cockroach, just beyond
The bathroom door, so perfect
And so still, must have known
It was time to die and clicked
Perhaps tiredly, into the light,
Went into the light,
For that vision, for that moment
Of final burning,
For that last hope burning fast
His worn-down heart.

He floats immovable, his husk
Pinned where he wanted.

 

Caroline Mays//You Like? I Have It.

As a fellow student and I walk home from the train station, back down the Florentine version of Rodeo Drive, we pass the Gucci store, Prada, and Fendi. I don’t know why Via de Tornabuoni was widened when the walls of Florence were moved back across the Arno River, but it makes the thoroughfare seem more modern, even though the buildings are from the 14th Century.

There are far fewer tourists here on this street, where it is paved with regular, rectangular stones rather than loose, irregular cobblestones. You could wear heels on this street, and the Florentines do—it’s quiet enough that I can hear some click-clacking.

We stop in the square to double-check our directions, our large colorful map. To my right is a column with a statue of Justice on top, but I don’t see that on the map.
My friend, Susan, is returning to college and I am in grad school; she and I are studying here for a month with twenty-two other students, and unfortunately Italian Street Signs and Directions was not an offered course. As we trace our path from the station down Tornabouni to our apartment across the Trinita bridge, an Italian man greets us in English.

“Hello, Americans, yes?” he says. “Where in America?”

My friend and I grip our purses, looking sideways at each other.

“California,” we say. “East of LA.”

“I just come back from business in Beverly Hills!” He asks if we are shopping at the moment, and then immediately offers to show us the best places to go.

He speaks English well, with a charming accent. I eye his dress shoes and blue button-down shirt as he unfolds the rest of the map. Tan, large-nosed, late thirties and good-looking, he appears to be a businessman—but we’ve heard about how clever the pickpockets are here.

“Go to Via Rosso for shoes,” he says, marking it with an X.

“Where should we go for jewelry?” my friend asks. Her daughter has hinted that she would like a cameo brooch as a wedding present.

“This street for jewelry. You like leather? Go there for leather. No – come, let me show you my shop.” He introduces himself as Romano, produces two business cards—laminated—and motions for us to follow him.
Still keeping hands on top of our purses, we follow him down Via de Tornabuoni, toward the river. Maybe this is the kind of adventure I’ve been looking for: something glamorous, something artistic – something found only in Italia.
Ahead of us looms the Palazzo Spini Feroni, a palace that now houses the Ferragamo Museo on the lower floors. It is four large stories high, though because the stone floors are so thick and the ceilings so high, it might be as many as six or seven stories in America. Larger rectangular stones are used on the outer wall of the first floor, and the stones become slightly smaller and less regular the higher up they are. A series of huge wooden doors space themselves evenly along the first floor, while the second through fourth floors have wide glass windows with round tops. Small turrets line the very top.

On the other side of the street is a huge stone church with carved wooden doors two stories tall, and a frieze of Jesus being taken down from the cross. The church is the same color as the stones of the other buildings in the square, the same color as most of the buildings in Florence—a kind of light tan with hints of yellow.
Just a few paces west of the Ponte Santa Trinita, across from the shallow Arno River, we step up into the entryway of his leather shop. This is not the average leather shop whose walls are jam-packed with jackets and purses, whose floor is covered in racks bulging with jackets, whose owners are sweaty, balding men who yell, “Buongiorno, bambina!” when you pass in the morning. This is not the kind of leather shop that sells 100 Euro jackets in the San Lorenzo marketplace, the kind with the open front and the sketchy salesmen who plead with you, “You like, I have it! Come in, come in! Why you don’t come in?”

I follow my classmate onto the marbled floor of the main room. I can see a hallway and doorway lead to more rooms with more leather.

Okay, I think, when our Italian guide nods to a classy-looking woman behind a desk. He is definitely not pickpocket.
In that first room, coats in black, brown, tan, and red are organized on small racks spaced throughout the floor.

Three mannequins pose in the small window. If you wrapped a jacket around your head, the smell of leather couldn’t be any stronger.

Romano points up at the ceiling, painted sky blue with ribbons and Victorian women in long, flowing dresses.
He leads us into an adjoining room. Clutches and handbags in black, navy, red, and green line the shelves on the wall. Some are the size of one’s hand, others, the size of one’s suitcase. The bags are spaced just so in order to please the eye and still convey that there is a large selection. Rather than seeing leather on top of leather like in the other shops, here, the purses stand out against clean white walls and sleek shelves.

“Why did you decide to go into the leather business?” I ask.

“My family does it since 1907,” he leads us past some customers, down the hall into yet another room.

He’s showing off his leather, pointing to different styles and cuts. But I don’t want leather, I want history. I want to know why.

“Did you always like leather?”

“My grandfather knew leather, my father knew leather, so I learned leather when I was old enough,” he says.

He leads us into another room and points up at the ceiling. Again, it’s painted with flowers and ribbons bordering the edge, women and cupids in the middle.

In this room, black, tan, and gray jackets line the walls; some have furs. All the empty spaces between racks are covered in mirrors. I turn a circle and see our reflection in every direction.

“Reversible,” he says, showing us the underside of a gray leather coat.

“Mink collar,” he says, picking up another one and ruffling the fur. “And feel how light the sleeve is.”

Oh lord, here comes the sales pitch. I don’t ask, but I know these coats cost at least 700 Euro—far out of either of our price ranges.

But we nod. The leather is light as a sweater and as smooth as wet soap.

Crossing the room to another rack, he looks back at us for a moment and picks out a tan jacket, hip-length, with two lapels, no pockets, and princess seams to define the waist.

“Try it on,” he urges.

It’s part of the adventure, right? I don’t have enough euros on me anyway.

That’s when he helps me into the sleeves and zips the jacket up for me, a little too close for comfort.

“You see, it’s your color,” he says. “Because it matches your hair.”

And he’s right – he guessed my exact size, 44, and the right color—blonde inside and out.

I turn and watch the mirrors around the room, admiring the sleek jacket but mostly thinking of how to go about handing it back gracefully.

“It’s yours,” he trails off.

Oh, no he did not.

“You’re right,” I say quickly, pretending to misunderstand, pretending that I’m interrupting him before he can finish his sentence. “It’s definitely my color.”

“Yes, it’s your color.” He looks to my friend. “What have you seen so far?”

“Venice,” she says. “Tomorrow, I’m going to Cinque Terre.”

“And you?”

“Not sure I want to spend the money on the ticket,” I say, hoping he will take the hint. No jackets for me, salesman.

“Maybe I’ll see something else.” I turn around to look toward Susan as she examines a two-toned red and black jacket.

That’s when he puts his hand on my arm.

“You need an Italian boyfriend,” he says.

“I have an American boyfriend,” I say as I slide his jacket off my arms and use the hanger in my other hand to part the lapels. It takes a second for the situation to sink in. I’m not someone who gets hit on like this. I’m not someone who gets hit on much at all in the U.S., thanks—I suspect—to a long stride and a short haircut and a calculated, down-to-business face.

“What happens in Florence, stays in Florence,” he chuckles and slinks his arm around my neck, rubbing my bare shoulders. “An Italian boyfriend will take you to the beach, out to dinner, buy you gelato.”

“There you go,” Susan winks at me.

“No, I don’t think so.” I smile and slip out from under his arm, but then he puts both his hands on my head and raises his eyes to the heavens, as if to bless me.

“Oh God,” he prays, laughing at me from the space between his arms. “Oh God, take the devil out of this body—”

I’ve only been in Italy for two weeks and if this is a joke, I don’t get it.

“You’re trying to put the devil in this body.” I pull away and move so that Susan is in between us.

He protests that he’s only kidding, but follows me in a circle around her, jovially invading my space, he touches my arms, my back.

In Italy, American women have a reputation for being loose. This guy has no idea that I’ve kissed a grand total of one (very handsome, very dashing) man in my entire twenty-something life.

“We’d better be going.” I offer my hand.

He encircles the back of my neck with his fingers, caressing my skin. “Please come back, anytime.”

“Thanks for showing us your shop,” I say, and turn toward the hallway as he follows too close behind.

Go ahead, I think. I dare you. What he doesn’t know is that I know how to fight, that I spent twelve years in a dojo learning how to kick people’s heads off. What he doesn’t know right now is that if his hand slips lower, it’s going back broken and he’d better hope no Italian blood drips on the surrounding leather.
Maybe he can sense that he’s pushing it—or maybe he’s just polite as well as aggressive, because I don’t need to smash his face after all.

As soon as we get out of the shop, we nearly run down the street—laughing—but looking back to make sure he’s not there.

Jamal Michel//Like Skin

Teaching, they say,
is being the umpire.
It’s calling strikes
and fouls.
It’s never donning
the jersey of your
favorite team.
Like walking the
line.

 

What teaching does
not dictate, however,
is what to do when
you’ve already been
playing for a team
since birth, and it runs
through your blood
like water,
and the jersey sticks
to you,
like skin.  

 

Robbie Maakestad//Spiderman: Window Washer

Peter Parker is now in his late 50s and the superhero life has not been easy on his body. Years of late night crime battles paired with early morning deadlines at the Daily Bugle caught up, and arthritis forced Parker to slip his Spiderman suit behind a pane of glass, framed above his bed. Gone are the days of chasing Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and the Sandman. Gone are the days of swinging between skyscrapers, saving New York City from nefarious super-villain plots. Gone are the days when women swooned at the sight of his skin-tight blue and red.
Now that Spiderman is no more, Parker struggles to sleep through the night, his dreams haunted: an inability to stop Green Goblin, a Metro accident caused by Doctor Octopus, the Hobgoblin’s successful mayoral kidnapping.

Awaking from his turbid sleep each morning, it usually takes Parker five minutes or so to assure himself that they were just dreams; however, a glance at the newspaper headlines during his morning coffee reveals that his dreams are not far from reality.

New villains – Panic, the Pigeon, and Krypto – have crawled up from the sewers to wreak havoc upon New York City’s inhabitants. With his retirement, Spiderman left the city stranded with no new superhero to fill his place. Peter Parker is trapped by visions of saving people – protecting the citizens who once relied upon his crime-stopping prowess; yet he knows those dreams will never again be his reality.

Three weeks after Spiderman’s retirement, Parker was informed by J. Jonah Jameson that he would be released from his photo journalist position at the Daily Bugle. With the increased trend toward online news, the Bugle was forced to cut staff. Parker didn’t put up a fight – he knew why they were firing a senior journalist. With a glut of newly graduated photo-journalism students, nobody wanted to pay an aging correspondent at double the salary.

Parker knew he was in trouble when he still hadn’t picked up a job after three weeks of unemployment. After ten months of fruitless job search, Parker didn’t have money for the next month’s rent. The only job he could find was as a window washer at the Daily Bugle, and that was only because he’d previously befriended the head of cleaning staff back when he had an office. It was a pity hire.

Now every morning Peter wakes at seven A.M. and walks to work wishing that he was riding the elevator up to his old office rather than heading down to the parking garage. After preparing a bucket with soap suds, he straps on his web-shooters and walks out of the garage to the base of the building. With a flick of his wrist a web rockets up the side of the skyscraper and Peter Parker begins the arduous ascent toward the roof, bucket and squeegee clipped to his belt. All day long he ascends and descends the structure, first soaping the windows, then wiping them clean.
Peter Parker has washed windows for eight months. To him, it seems an eternity. After a weekend spent burying his sorrows in the bottom of a beer stein, Monday morning comes too early. Before heading out the door, Parker slips his Spiderman suit out of its frame, rolls it up, and lays it atop the sandwich in his lunch sack. At work he spends the morning soaping and wiping, soaping and wiping. Instead of joining the rest of the cleaning staff for lunch break, as usual, Parker scales the building to avoid their probing questions about his heroic past and whether or not he’s considered a comeback. He sits on the roof corner that points south across the crowded Manhattan skyline toward the Statue of Liberty and eats his sandwich in silence – pastrami on rye, his favorite.

After downing the last bite, Peter Parker stands and strips out of his work uniform, then pulls the Spiderman suit over his body. It no longer fits cleanly; he’s put on weight since retirement, causing the mesh material to strain over his paunch, more blue and red ladybug than spider. He crouches on the ledge for almost a minute gazing out at the city he once ruled. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Spiderman raises his hands in front of him like a well-practiced symphony conductor; a long web strand bursts from each wrist out into the nothingness of the sky. Without hesitation, Spiderman jumps.

 


Contributors:

Scott Laudati lives in NYC. He is the author of Play The Devil and Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair, both published by Kuboa Press. Visit him on instagram @scottlaudati

Until 2003, David M. Harris had never lived more than fifty miles from New York City. Since then he has moved to Tennessee, married, acquired a daughter and a classic MG, and gotten serious about poetry. All these projects seem to be working out pretty well. His work has appeared in Pirene’s Fountain (and in First Water, the Best of Pirene’s Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2013.

Joyce Schmid’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Atlanta Review, Chautauqua, Canary, and other journals. She lives with her husband of half a century in Palo Alto, California.

Austin Sanchez-Moran received his MFA in Poetry from George Mason University, where he was a Laanan Fellow and then an Honors Fellow. His poems and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Catamaran Literary Journal, Denver Quarterly, Laurel Review, and Salamander Magazine, among many others. Also, he had a poem chosen for the anthology, Best New Poets of the Midwest (2017).

Jared Pearce

Jamal Michel currently teaches English Literature at Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina. He uses writing and social discussion to address issues as a teacher of color. He received a BA in English Literature at Florida International University in Miami, Florida and received a fellowship as a writing adviser and was a part of the English Honors Society on campus. He also completed a creative writing workshop summer intensive at New York University and went on to receive his masters in teaching English Literature at the secondary school level from Duke University. His goal is to pursue a masters in legal and studies and begin analyzing the sociopolitical landscape for young women and men living in the margins in America.

Caroline Mays brings Californian sunshine, bright colors, bomb tacos, sick mma moves, & a love of writing to initially-reluctant community college students in SoCal and New York. Happily married to a wonderful chef-wordsmith New Yorker, she is also a third-degree black-belt and teaches women’s self-defense seminars near you.
IG: @caroline92507

Robbie Maakestad received his MFA in Creative Nonfiction at George Mason University where he was the Editor-in-Chief of Phoebe. He reads and edits for The Rumpus and has been published or has forthcoming work in The MacGuffin, Free State Review, Bethesda Magazine, and Mojave River Review, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him @RobbieMaakestad.