March 2015 (No. 34)

Prerna Bakshi
A Public Space

I have no issues with airport body scanners

Or with any such checks

For the invasive eyes of men

Undress me everyday

For my breach of privacy

happens as often as I step outside

As if accessing public space

Makes a woman a public property

Like she’s been put on an exhibition

For the public gaze

With a banner hanging that reads

“Up for grabs!”

Yes! Up for grabs

Up for spanks

Up for pinches

Up for fingering

Up for harassment

Up for molestation

Surrounded by a sea full of people

With impunity

Daily, my privacy

Gets invaded intrusively

No, airport body scanners

Don’t bother me

Nathaniel Lotze
Bobby Kennedy

He read “that girl” Mitford’s book, or so the story goes, and learned

about the ways the funeral directors profit from death

under the guise of compassion. Under concerned expressions

in rooms full of carefully-arranged caskets.

Not coffins–that sounds too morbid and in the business of dealing with death

morbidity must be avoided. For the sake of the customers and their fragile emotions.

A few years later he died, the final hope of a decade extinguished

in a hotel kitchen. Sprawled on the floor in that grainy photograph

as the boy in a white apron holds him. Assassins bullets had already

found his brother in Dallas and Dr. King in Memphis and they found

him in Los Angeles. The city of angels. He followed

the others into that early grave where the nation’s dreams or

best-laid plans were buried with the bones of would-be saviors.

And the proud Kennedy family, lost in all their grief,

paid too much for Bobby’s funeral.

Patrick Fogarty
The Cast

Father, in our living room, I remember reading “The Lady or The Tiger” to my siblings. In our kitchen, mother inhales a deep breath and wipes her brow with a worn dish towel. Then, like magic she prepares a meal fit for your majesty. It’s payday and you’re late again. The wall clock ticks away the minutes. And panic, like a spreading virus, soaks the air. A door slams and I keep reading. You stagger towards the trail of my voice. Your shoes pound like war drums. Your little girls behave like frightened kittens. They squiggle and squirm with no place to hide. Your angry eyes stare and your daughters scatter. Then, for no reason at all, you charge at me. I tremble and wriggle as far away as I am able. My arms rise over my head. My legs pull up towards my small chest. And, as your fist strikes my young knee, I feel the punch and I hear your scream. But, your broken hand and the agony in your face delivers a strange comfort to my young mind. And today, a half century later, I still wonder —What did you tell your friends?

Rudolph Dunn
A Mother’s Kept Promise

Roaring hot flames devoured his mother’s flesh, and the small

boy smiled. Achebe noticed the soft brown skin was now black and charred,

the delicate nose, full lips, and piercing eyes had disappeared. The beautiful,

elegant, form of Ashanti, the envy and pride of her village, was no more than

a roasting dark mass of skin, muscle, and bone.

The pounding heat pushed Achebe back a few feet closer to

his younger brother and sister. Tears stained the small faces of Carmara and

Kanesha, as they witnessed their mother disappear before them.

Achebe strained as he picked up two heavy pieces of wood

and threw them on the engulfing fire. “Step back,” he said with all the

authority his nine-year-old voice could muster. He then picked up a kerosene

can a few feet away and with all of his might launched it into the middle of the

inferno. The flames flew high in the air and caused the children to turn away

and cover their faces from the vicious, unforgiving, heat.

“I’m scared,” said Kanesha, in a soft, trembling voice, “Why are you

burning up mama?” Camara was silent as he watched his six year old

sister say what he thought, but was too frightened, shocked, and confused

to utter. His voice seemed trapped, with no escape, deep in the tunnel of

his throat.

Her pleading question could not reach Achebe as he stared at

Ashanti’s form dismembering into smoky black pieces.

The memory of his mother’s bright sparkling eyes filled his thoughts,

eyes so full of love and affection that greeted him each morning when he was

awakened to do his chores and help care for Carmara and Kanesha. But those

eyes were gone now, along with the beautiful mouth that lit up the village with

its smile and laughter, that poured out so many joyous and soothing songs for

all to hear, that said they were loved and wanted even when scolding them.

Achebe watched as all of her disappeared into a pile of fiery

nothingness. But as he listened to the crackling of the fire and tried his best to

ignore its horrible smell, he knew that his mother had really begun to disappear,

bit by bit, long ago.

He knew the small cough that grew worse over time, the once

strong arms and legs that weakened, the attractive figure that transformed

into only a slight shadow of itself, had all been signs to him that the sickness

which had taken away his father only three years before, had now returned

to steal his mother.

Achebe couldn’t recall a time before the sickness. It had invaded

his village to take away aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends. It caused

villagers to flee and abandon loved ones and homes, to pretend they weren’t

ill, until they could no longer rise up from their mats and death claimed them

in their sleep.

So as the strong arms that pounded meal, hoed rows of okra,

and carried clothes to wash by the river became weaker and weaker, the small

arms of Achebe grew stronger and stronger.

For several weeks he awakened his mother at dawn as she once

awakened him. He wiped her eyes and mouth with a damp cloth, fed her the

daily meal and put the tin cup of cool water to her lips when she was thirsty.

When they became restless, he sent his siblings out of the hut to play so that

Ashanti could rest, and he fanned her face and tried to make her laugh when

the mid-day African sun became unbearable.

But this morning when he bent down to kiss his mother he

discovered she couldn’t be awakened. The warm brown skin he loved to

touch felt cold, the arms that once lovingly embraced him were

stiff and hard, and the piercing eyes that looked upon him with such love and

affection were frozen open with only a blank, lifeless stare.

Warm tears filled the corners of Achebe’s eyes. He placed his

small head on the breast of his mother and embraced her fiercely. The early

morning dawn was the sole, silent witness to his sorrow as Kanesha and Camara

slept comfortably on the straw mat in the corner of the hut.

He thought of how his mother had wiped away his tears after

his father’s death. She gently held his face in her hands, promising him she

would never abandon them and would always be there to guide and protect

them and remain by their side forever. And now, he felt she’d taken her

promise with her on her journey to the ancestors.

A few minutes passed before Achebe raised his head

and found the courage to stare into his mother’s eyes. It seemed the

deeper he looked, the more he realized his mother would never lie to him.

She would always keep her promise. It was then the answer of what to do

came to him.

Later that morning, while Camara and Kanesha wept over the body

of their mother, Achebe was outside gathering brush and wood and anything he

could find that would burn well. He then came inside the hut and brought out a

can of kerosene they kept by the door and carried it over to the pile of objects

and thoroughly soaked them.

He returned to instruct his brother and sister to grab Ashanti’s feet

as he strained to lift up her shoulders. Despite the struggle, they were able to drag

her to the pile and place her upon it. His siblings looked at him strangely after

seeing the pile of brush, rags, and wood. He ignored them. He was the eldest, and

there were simply some things they couldn’t yet understand.

He kissed his mother on the cheek for the last time and carefully poured

kerosene over her body. After covering her with rags and brush, he struck a match

and lit a piece of paper and tossed it onto the piling. He watched as the fire grew

hotter and completely engulfed Ashanti’s twenty-four year old corpse.

For several hours he stoked the fire, smiling, feeling pleased

at his accomplishment, ignoring the loud sobs of his brother and sister a few

feet away.

The approaching evening had spread its shadow fingers across the

darkening sky , and the red ball of the sun dropped below the tip of a group of

distant trees by the time the charred black mass that had once been Ashanti had

cooled, and Achebe’s thoughts had returned to the present.

“Carmara, go in the hut and get father’s axe, and Kanesha, go with

him and bring me mother’s special basket.” Without saying a word, the children

obeyed their older brother and walked slowly to the hut.

Achebe grabbed the axe and recalled how his father had taught

him to always take long even strokes when cutting wood. Now, using the same

technique, he cut his mother’s burnt remains into pieces being sure to thoroughly

smash Ashanti’s skull and remaining bones.

He then took the beautiful green and black woven basket in his hands,

recalling how his mother loved to trace her long, slim fingers along its triangular

designs. Not since receiving it as a wedding present had she ever allowed anything

to be put inside it, always believing it to be too special for keeping meal or corn.

“Do what I do,” he instructed his siblings. He kneeled down and

placed his small fingers into the cooled ashes, slowly and reverently, putting scoop

after scoop into the basket, until he and the children had filled it to the brim. He

used his palm to smooth out the ashes on the top and then carefully placed on

the lid, sealing the basket securely.

“We must go now.” His voice was gentle, yet firm, the way he imagined

his father’s voice would be in this circumstance. “No one else is left in the village;

the sickness has taken them all away.”

Neither the darkening sky, nor the screeching sound of the animals

resting in the bush, or the thought of the evil illness that had come so swiftly to

destroy his village and family bothered him now.

The soothing touch of the warm dirt below his small feet felt good

as he walked along the road to Nkoli, a large village several kilometers away,

where he once remembered hearing several villagers had fled.

He sensed the fear in the eyes of Camara and Kanesha as they

walked closely behind him. He knew they were still very young, and he was

almost ten, so there were simply some things they couldn’t understand.

Achebe smiled, hugging the basket tightly to him. He could now,

once again, feel the same love , warmth, and safety from Ashanti that he’d always

known. He had found a way for his mother to keep her promise to always be by

their side and never leave them.

“A mother always keeps her promise,” he said softly, before singing

one of Ashanti’s favorite songs.


Prerna Bakshi is a sociolinguist, research scholar and writer of Indian origin, currently based in Macao. She has contributed essays and articles to a variety of publications including The Hindu, CounterCurrents, Amar Ujala, and Desh Bandhu to name a few. Her poetry has been published in Indiana Voice Journal and peer reviewed journals such as Muse India and is forthcoming in several publications. For more information, please visit: . She could be reached at: or found on Twitter: @bprerna

Nathaniel Lotze is a writer, musician, and photographer living in the sometimes-beautiful city of Columbus, Ohio. This spring he graduated from sometimes-heard of Kenyon College, where he studied English. His poetry has previously been featured in Persimmons, and he is currently seeking publication for his first novel.

Patrick Fogarty is an author and poet. He writes creative nonfiction, historical nonfiction, memoir and poetry. Born and raised in the south Bronx, his works are infused with personal experiences from his childhood. He is a recent graduate of Yavapai College’s Creative Writing Program. His stories have been published in the last two issues of Threshold—the literary magazine of Yavapai College. Patrick and his bride Susan live in the mountains of Central Arizona with their two dogs—Lady, a beautiful German Shepherd and Mia, a lovely Irish Terrier.

Rudolph Dunn is a native of Richmond and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and has worked as a journalist and educator over the years. He is also a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Dominican Republic for over two years, where he helped impoverished villagers with educational, economic, and health related development projects. Due to his fluency in Spanish, he’s volunteered to work in ESL programs in Richmond to help recently arrived immigrants adapt to a new culture and life in the United States. One of his most rewarding experiences was working as a Title 1 Writing and Reading Tutor in the Richmond Public School system, where he helped young people with special educational challenges to reach their full academic potential.

His passion is writing, and he is presently working on a book of short stories about children and women who face incredible challenges in the developing world. He loves traveling abroad, learning about different cultures, and also expressing himself through sketching and painting. He is single and lives in Richmond, where he is presently a Spanish teacher at a private school. “A Mother’s Kept Promise” is his first published short story.