December 2016 (No. 55)

Jillian Jasper Dimas
Knowing

She said, I expected you to die
small, pale, blue when you slept
blue as drowned bluebells
in the bathtub.
I would have given you holidays
made little cakes every August
but you kept growing—
things remembered just before
slicing onions, peeling
the paper Mary from the wax.
He has passion like certain wires
strings in the gleaming underside,
inside, the exposed white fat of the cut
and the blood not letting.
The jealous god is never done with you
you do not roll over
like the electrocuted rat.
These are the perfect truths
that swallow—
some love is a team of horses
the perfect know forgiveness
is an empty bulb
the perfect ride beneath the hooves.

Black Venus
Our Bodies in Harmony

Our bodies,
two tuning forks
In sync.
We hum
electrically.
We sway
in waves of
unconscious rhythm
and rhyme is but
another tool.
Let us bring
ourselves forth in
harmony.
Give in to the
Life of sound
together.
Let us lift.
Let us bare.
Let us ring

KB Ballentine
Certain Dark Things

    I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
    in secret, between the shadow and the soul. — Pablo Neruda

Raven hovers, settles with a cack, a caw.
   Dreams shadow the room, whispers of   you
re-appear   in corners when I get out of bed —
   chunks   of darkness, they wait    for me to slip
under the covers. They’ll edge   close,
      wings like the blackbird’s rustling
   around my head,   feathering my cheeks
as I swallow  sleep, to dream again,
               of you.

 

John McKernan
I Walked Through the Wall

In my brain
Red Six feet high Three thick

I could feel
The water
Within my body

Sloshing around
Passing through the brick
Sliding through the mortar
Gliding

I remembered my college physics prof
Describing the vast distance
Within an atom between its fixed center
And the whirling electrical charges
He was right I didn’t have to duck or tilt

The color red
Never stops being red
It says Hey You
Want to be an apple
Or a drop of blood
With an oxygen attached

Breathing is what the living do

Travis Chi Wing Lau
Proviso

What is it that you hold
when you clutch me by the
spirit? Because time is what
we gut: we two falling
into flesh, into the sadnesses
made up of bodies that
cannot give up the habits
off their backs. Yet, these
life-threads can be broken
as we, so organically
twisted, know through
forms that warm to even
the queerest of motion.
So I ask only that you
tender me carefully, all
while recalcitrance revises.

Toti O’Brien
The Ride

      Yusuf always tells me I’m beautiful. Each time, after glancing in the rear mirror, he declares his eyesight good enough to appreciate my looks, though he got older—alas—since he last saw me. I did not, he implies.
Sometimes he even spoils me, stating I didn’t change, then specifying I am pretty. If it sounds like redundancy, it isn’t: I could be young looking and ugly. I am grateful for his detailed kindness. He no more mentions my likeness to a movie celebrity: no need. Such initial remark eased our introduction. Years have past since.

      I see Yusuf about once a year, for about half hour. Don’t exactly see him, only spot his eyes in the mirror. Though, recently, he has taken on turning towards me, while driving, for conversation sake. Am I scared? Not at all. I trust him entirely. And the town when we meet (the same hour, always) is clear like a cloudless sky. Only, more black than blue… lamplights, streetlights, car lights shining on asphalt. Our town—at this hour—is a parody of itself, a postcards booklet you flip with your thumb, bringing up eeriness suited to the situation.
We go from downtown to the airport: the ride, during the day, would take eternity. We could make it in twenty minutes now, should we wish. But we stretch it to a more leisurely pace: still fast, rather elegant.
Yusuf had to choose between night weirdos and daytime traffic hell—worse here than in most places—long ago. Tough pick, but he made it: he only works nights. And I only fly at dawn when homebound, after visiting my motherland.

      *

      Father met Yusuf by chance, then kept his phone number, wishing to directly call on occasion.
Dad is old-fashion-personable—extremely so. He likes forging relationships with people he deals with, as it naturally occurred in the village. He frequents the same market boots. He addresses vendors by their first names, adding some quirky joke: his idea of frank intimacy. Then he asks for the impossible—the one thing they didn’t carry, today—or he loudly critics the quality of a product. He intends to be tickling, gently provoking… but he sounds like the typical nasty little old man. You’d suppose he’s hated. For some reasons he manages to be adored.
      Yusuf loves Father. Meeting him in front of the building, when he pulls to the curb, adds a touch to his driving routine. Perhaps more than a touch. Dad beats me downstairs (well, he takes the lift), sneaking out when I’m in the restrooms or checking my bags. He absolutely wants to pay for the ride: a goodbye present that, of course, might become a farewell one. We know.
      “All done,” he and Yusuf exclaim with a blink, when I appear. Mother is at my arm, melancholic and teary as expected. The air is crisp, even in summer. Streets deserted, noise muted. Dad wears dark: all buttoned in his navy coat, beret Basque on his head, he blends with the surroundings. I hug him tight, with no superfluous words.       Same with Mother. I’m not sure in which order.
      They stand without motion while the car takes off. I stare at their tiny figures—uncannily stilled, as if petrified—until the last moment. I know they will take one another’s arm, stagger with cautious steps, seeking balance.           They will make sure to lock the street door behind them. They will return to bed. At least Mother will.
      Father might start coffee then sit in his studio—comfy in his armchair, with the portable desk—put himself to work.

      *

      Yusuf admires Dad because he has studied, thus amassing a remarkable knowledge. Dad must have dazzled him, for sure, during their first ride. Dad is also a simple folk, still, one who came from the village and—though he went to college—didn’t lose his popular roots, or learned how to conceal them. Dad still scents the stable, so to speak. Conversely all of Yusuf’s daughters graduated. Bound to polished societies, they’ll become Father’s peers.       Thus a bridge joins driver and passenger.
      Yusuf told me, once, his dad—now deceased—would have been Father’s age. He had great tenderness and respect, he says, for his old man. And he clearly associates the two figures. Unavoidably he extends his feelings to this casually met aging fellow. How little does it take.
      Once, while commenting about meaningful moments, rides, encounters, making up for the oddity of the usual nightbird, Yusuf candidly confesses this scene each time fills his heart. Which scene? He is talking of my parents and me biding goodbye. Farewell. Daddy’s ritual of pre-paid fare. Then the hugs in the dark. The stilled figures.           The scene, he adds—maybe wanting to dispel a slight ambiguity—saddens him of course. But it also fulfills him, he insists.
      Where you see separation you see love, do you? Perhaps. Love coats the edges of departures: it spills out of the crack, like foam fringing the groove a boat cuts through water. Where you see farewell you see love (its footprint, its shadow) in one of its rare instances of visibility. Presumption. I’m sure love—its trace—is what momentarily nurtures Yusuf’s heart.
      How much love can you spot downtown, at night, in the streets? Not a lot, says Yusuf.

      *

      We often talk horses—a passion of his I can share. Easily. Son and grandson of horse traders, Yusuf rode since he was five. For a while he has matched his cabdriver job with a small horse business. Two or three animals, in the glorious days. One or two. Then one. He gave lessons of equitation, organized beginner excursions in the desert. It was what he lived for—the bright side.
Only recently, after a bad fall, Yusuf gave up riding. He doesn’t regret it too much… he has a lifetime of memories.       We often go over them: I am never tired of listening. Yusuf’s cavalier side enthralls me. Is it for it sharply contrasts with this cab ride, this mechanic fugue among buildings? No. There’s resemblance indeed: I’m experiencing a gush of freedom on his back seat—out of time, between places. Yusuf’s evocations of wild gallops fit the present scenario. They fill my heart—rather expand it—just as my goodbye hugs filled his minutes ago.
      Once, while visiting Egypt with his family, Yusuf rode an Arabian horse for the first time. “Don’t say I can ride,” he whispered to his wife and kids, “or they’ll give me the worst, the indomitable”. He mounted carefully, almost religiously.
      He had already tried Spanish horses—so sensitive you can feel tendons start, muscles tense, as if they were your own. You commune with your mount in a perfect fusion. But Arabian horses are the opposite, in a way. They glide: smooth, horizontal. Once you are steadied and tight, you need to give up control. They are so built they become a vector—a quiet arrow espousing its self-secreted momentum.
      “Is it just like flying?” I ask. Yes it is. Yusuf never forgot that first ride. “Arabian horses,” say the locals, “are born by the wind”. Yusuf whispers the words reverentially, as if they were crystals, pearls, precious stones. “It is true,” he states—eyes lost in the rear mirror.
      I believe him.

Paul Rabinowitz
The Clay Urn

On a hot July morning, Ilana and I board a crowded bus bound for Jerusalem. We throw weighted backpacks into overhead racks and slide into open seats. The bus makes its way out of a packed bus station, chugging through the bustling streets of Tel Aviv. Stucco buildings rising up from gritty asphalt, exteriors blackened by relentless fumes and cigarette smoke. A fair skinned man ducks under a palm tree taking refuge from the onslaught of the Mediterranean sun. Day laborers clutching lunch bags scamper over beaten brown center islands, undeterred by changing lights and blaring horns. A thick haze like the hands of god pushes down on a spirited people, guiding their fists onto car horns. “Get the fuck outta the way,” a driver says. Our bus swerves, ripping through a yellow traffic light, heading toward the flat coastal plain. Birds flutter near endless rows of sunflower fields. Ilana nestles close, sending a rush of blood through my tired, sleepy body. Looking out at the shifting clouds and changing landscape, I pull her close.
            “This is where David slays Goliath.”
            “Right here?” she says.
            “Well, that’s what my dad told me. He knew all this stuff. “‘See the stone over there?’ he would say. ‘Good chance David used it to whack the big guy.’”
            “He was kidding,” she says.
            “I guess, but I believed him. He was a tracker in an elite army unit. They knew everything about the land.         I’d go with him on hikes and he’d tell me stories about different civilizations that settled the land. His favorite time to hike was winter. The rains wash away the topsoil, exposing ancient coins and pottery. One time we found a large clay urn from the Israelite period. It was completely intact. Probably 2700 years old. Looked like someone buried it and walked away. I dug like crazy to get it out. “Be careful not to break it,” he said. “This is a rare find.”

      Stopping near a makeshift bus shelter, a group of soldiers hop on. I recognize the tall one. “Hey, Arik. How’s it going?”
            “I’m alright, Boaz. Thanks for asking.”
            “You’re done with your service, right?” he says.
            “I am. How much longer you got?”
            “I’m done in the spring,” he says.
            “How’re the guys?” He leans over Ilana, looking squarely at my face. I feel his breath.
            “You know we talk a lot about what happened,” he says.
            “Well, I guess that’s good for you guys. I don’t think too much about it,” I say.
            “Yeah, well, I guess that’s good for you, Arik. See you around.” He picks up his duffle bag and machine gun and finds his seat with the others.
            “Who’s that guy?” llana says.
            “We were on a night raid. I was commanding the unit. There was lots of chaos and darkness. A bullet caught his best friend.”
            “So they blame you?”
            “I guess.” She puts her hand on my thigh and mutters something. I turn away from her voice. The driver shifts into a lower gear. We begin our ascent.

      I met Ilana at a party a few months before I went into the army. I loved being with her. She was easy to talk to and always there for me. After my father died, my mother self medicated and couldn’t get off anti depressants. She wanted to spend time with me before my draft date, but struggled with her condition. Sometimes she’d close her eyes mid sentence and fall asleep. She’d always forget to pick us up. My little sister couldn’t understand why she’d do that.
      The worst night was when they got around to telling me my dad had been killed. I went into the garden and stayed there all night. My mother fell asleep and forgot I was out there. I dreamed I was alone in the world. It was after the war. Everyone was wiped out. The only survivors were me and the soldier who shot my father. I still have that dream. It always ends with the two of us staring at each other. When we returned to school after the war, my first grade teacher told my class that my dad was a hero. Told them he sacrificed his own life to save the unit.                   “They had no right attacking us on Yom Kippur,” she said. The children stared at me. There was so much pity in their young eyes. I told my mother what had happened. “Lets collect up your father’s letters and put them into the clay urn you found,” she said. I wanted to be held, to feel her skin, to cry. I had no interest in the letters.

            “Shit, it’s stinkin’ hot in here. There’s no air coming out the vents.”
            “Tell the driver to switch it on,” Illana says.
            “Hey, do you mind turning on the air?”
            “Sorry, it’s broken,” he says.
            “Y’ should’a told us before we got on.”
            “You didn’t ask.”
            “Fuck him.” Ilana reaches for my hand.
            “Hey, I’m excited to see your new apartment,” she says.
            “It’s small but has a nice garden in the back. We can stop at the market and get pastries. Have our coffee out there.” She presses her lips to my cheek.
            “That sounds great,” she says.

      We ascend to the top of the ridge. Rows of ancient stone terraces line the steep slopes. Small brush fires blow curls of black smoke spiraling towards a cloudless sky. The bus jerks and sputters as it rumbles along the ridge to the highest point. Ilana says something about a white dress. My head hits the glass. I feel her body pulsate with laughter. “Where are we?” I say.
            “I don’t know, but I’ll wake you when we get to Jerusalem.”
            “What did that sign say?”
            “Abu Tor.”
      Twisting my body, I look out at the landscape. The heat from the glass is unbearable. My head falls onto the window. Drips of saliva run down my cheek. She tucks her sweater under my head. The fragrance is sweet. My thoughts drift. I enter a long dark tunnel.

            “Get down. Hold your positions. I’ll check the house and see if he’s there.” Withdrawing my night vision goggles I sink on one knee. A family sits around a small table, sipping a drink from steaming glasses. I withdraw a photo from my pocket. The younger man matches the face in the photo. He is our target. A shadow moves past the window. The blinds close. A piercing pain runs through my stomach. I open the wood gate, crawling closer to the front door.
            “No, I didn’t give the commander the keys to our car,” the older man says. “I knew you had your equipment in there. I made up a story about needing the car to get to work. The soldiers believed me. The commander returned the keys and slammed his rifle into my gut. That’s how I got the bruises.” Silence pervades the room. I turn to check that my soldiers are in place. They appear like boulders.
            “You should’ve grabbed his gun and killed him,” the boy says. An argument breaks out. I close my eyes and review the orders. My eyes grow heavy. I pinch my cheek. Dogs howl in the distance. There is no moon. It is black. A chair scratches the floor. A light turns off in the back room. I signal to settle near me. “Ready.” Wide eyed they stare at me, shaking their heads slowly. I kick open the door. The boy flips the table and runs through the narrow hall. Dishes fall to the ground. Cracking glass cut through the woman’s wailing voice. “Get out, get out. This is my home.” The lights go out. We proceed down the narrow, dark hallway. A shadow leaps at me. I squeeze the trigger. A whimper echoes off the walls.
            “It’s a dog,” a soldier says.
            “You killed him. You bastards. Get out, get out of my house.”
            “Shut her up,” I say.
            “Arik, our soldier is down.”

            “Hey, wake up,” Ilana says.
            “What happened?”
            “Your head is banging on the glass,” she says.
            “Where are we?” Glancing at my face she runs her hand down my cheek.
            “You want to tell me what the dream was about.” The bus jerks and stops at a small farming village. A slender boy in his teens, in a crisp white shirt and black pants, steps on. He digs his hand deep into his pocket. He walks down the aisle, sliding into an empty seat in front of us. A waft of sharp cologne follows behind him.
            “Maybe we have the ceremony in the garden? We can wait ‘till spring when the weather is nice. What d’you think, Arik? Is there enough room?”
            “I can widen the path and flatten the ground. I think we’ll be OK.” She presses close to me. We turn our faces towards the window, glancing at the view. Drifts of pink and white cyclamen dot the landscape. Her fragrance is sweet. The boy rocks back and forth, gripping the bar on the seat in front of him. Craning his neck he looks down at the ravine. Silent words like a prayer churning inside his mouth. The bus creeps along the top of the ridge.
            “I know that guy from somewhere,” I say. He turns his head slightly. He rises, tucking his shirt into his pants. He walks slowly down the isle muttering to himself. “The guy’s weird,” I say. “He’s counting his steps. We did that in field training to calculate distance.” Without warning he lunges at the driver, wrestling the steering wheel from his grip.
            “Allahu Akbar. God is greatest. Allahu Akbar.” With all his might he pulls the wheel towards him. The muscles in his neck expand. He steers the hulking machine toward the edge. The bus hits the guardrail at full force, sailing over the cliff. Ilana screams. Crashing glass ricochets off bending metal. My head slams into the frame. The bus bounces down the embankment. Windows shatter. Ilana is thrown. Chunks of glass rain down on my head. My body sails through the jagged remains of a window. I hit the ground. My forearm snaps. The bus explodes. A fierce wind blows through the ravine. A twisting trail of black smoke rises from the valley floor, carrying the stench of burning fuel and charred flesh. I look down at the earth for signs of Ilana. Blood pools under my lip. Crackling metal and plastic echo through the ravine. Bodies like boulders are strewn over the landscape. Pathetic cries bounce off the scorched earth. Walking towards the bus to find Ilana, a boy is holding back his scream. Our eyes lock. His chest palpitates. A photograph flashes in my mind. A stone rests near his head. I struggle to remain standing. Blood rolls into my mouth. Lying on its side, the smoldering bus bellows, sending a ball of fire into a black void. The wind pushes the heat across my body. I hear Ilana’s voice. I move towards her. She lays motionless, her mangled body spread over the harsh landscape. I kneel close to her chest. My knee presses her ribs. “Ilana.” I touch her cheek. “We’ll have it in the spring. I’ll move the rocks.” I rest my head on her blood-soaked shirt. A surge runs through my body. I push the dirt away from her eyes. She blinks. Her lips stretch. The wind settles. White ash raining from a blackened sky covers her face. Her chest inflates. A puff of air grazes my cheek. Light pulls back from her pupils. Her cold body succumbs to the hard, red earth.

      Saturated in darkness I draw the curtains. Winter sun breaks through morning clouds, spilling light into the still garden. Radiator pipes clang and sputter. Steam collects on the window. I write Ilana’s name on the cold, wet glass. A housefly lands on a picture frame. It scurries down the glass, stopping at her face. It lays motionless, defying me to interfere. I let the phone ring. Balls of dust collect under my chair. I kick them. They remain in place. Staring at the broken clock hanging on the wall, I swipe at the phone. The receiver rolls to the floor.
            “Arik, its your mother. Are you there? Are you alright?” The fly hurls its body at the window, joining a group that gathers near the letters. “Arik, are you alright?” I bend down, lifting the receiver to my cheek.
            “I’m not sure,” I whisper.
            “What. I can’t hear you. Arik. Are you OK?”
A sharp pain shoots through my leg. “Hey, Mom. Would you like to come over? I will make tea. Mom?”
            “Yes, Arik. I would like that. Perhaps we can read through dad’s letters.” The fly lands on my forehead. I swipe at it. It hurls itself against the window.
            “Oh, I gave it away, mom.”
            “The urn?”
            “Yes.” I push open the window. The flies escape. “Do you still want to come over, mom?” My eyes grow heavy. My stomach aches.
            “Yes, Arik. I’ll come over.”

      I take the urn down from the shelf and remove my father’s letters. Spreading them across my desk, I place them in chronological order. On a blank piece of paper I write chapter one and the first sentence of the first letter that he wrote to my mother on the first day of the war. I repeat this action on a fresh piece of paper with every letter until I get to his last. I tear up the last letter. I carefully stack the new pages, placing them inside my desk drawer. Recounting the chapter’s opening lines, I push open my back door, walking over a narrow path to the garden. Planting my feet firmly on the rocky ground, I raise the urn over my head. A steady rain begins falling. Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name. I smash the urn on a large rock near my feet. Hundreds of shards spread over the moist earth. I arrange the shards neatly into intricate patterns, pushing them into the ground with my thumb. I make my way back to the apartment and put a kettle on the stove. I throw a white cloth over the wood table and arrange two sets of teacups and saucers. I pull up a chair and wait for the pulsating water to push steam through the tiny hole.

 

Contributors:
Jillian Jasper Dimas has a B.A in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University. Her poems have appeared in ELKE, Two Cities Review, The Cadaverine, Plain China, and The Nassau Literary Review. She splits her time between London and Chicago, you can find more of her work at www.jillianjasperdimas.com

Black Venus grew up surrounded by lovers of art and music. As a young girl she loved to write and participate in all things artistic. She has been inspired by the art of black women such as Josephine Baker, Ntozake Shange, and Audre Lorde. Her work centers her life experience as a queer black woman born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. Aside from creating, Black is an active community organizer. She collaborates with fellow artists in the Boston area on programming that targets oppression and promotes healing through creative practices. Her most recent collaborative project, Real Friends, is a yoga, writing, and meditation workshop for black women. For more information about the art of Black Venus, future performances and/or community events you can follow her on Twitter/IG @blackv3nus.

KB Ballentine has a M.A. in Writing and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Poetry. Her latest collection, The Perfume of Leaving, has just been awarded the 2016 Blue Light Press Book Award. Fragments of Light (2009) and Gathering Stones (2008) were published by Celtic Cat Publishing. Her work also appears in River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty-first Century (2015), Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee (2013) and Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets (2011). Her third collection, What Comes of Waiting, won the 2013 Blue Light Press Book Award.

John McKernan – who grew up in the middle of Omaha Nebraska in the middle of the USA – is now a retired comma herder / phonics coach after teaching many years at Marshall University He lives in West Virginia and Florida His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Journal, Antioch Review, Guernica, Solstice and many other magazines

Travis Chi Wing Lau is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Department of English. His research interests include eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature, the history of medicine, disability studies. His academic writing has been published in Journal of Homosexuality, Romantic Circles, and English Language Notes (forthcoming). His creative writing has appeared in Atomic, Feminine Inquiry, Wordgathering, Assaracus, Rogue Agent, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology.

Toti O’Brien was born in Rome and lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Entropy, Bindweed, The Courtship of Winds, and Pilcrow & Dagger, among other journals and anthologies. More about her can be found at totihan.net/writer.html

Paul Rabinowitz teaches creative writing to senior citizens in New York City and New Jersey. He has self-published a chapbook: Renewal (2015) and his work will appear in Long Exposure Magazine in the fall, 2016. He hosts The Platform, a literary open mic series in Madison, NJ, and collaborates with local and international artists mixing his writing and photography with animation, dance and visual art. He produces mixed media performances that have appeared on stages in New York City and New Jersey. Paul is working on a novel that is set in Israel during the early days of the Intifada. He currently resides in Morristown, NJ