Today and Today and Today
Today her bath takes an hour. She hasn’t the strength to help you pull her out of the now cool water. Your shoulder and back ache. You should rinse the tub, but she needs help toweling her body–that once strong body now diminished by disease–and seeing it makes you sad. You wrap the gown around her shoulders and button each button for her. She either ignores you or says mean things or praises you endlessly. Each response makes you sad.
Today you have trouble getting his nasal cannula hooked behind his ears and then realize the oxygen tank is almost empty. He complains his mouth is dry, his tongue is dry, his throat is dry. He’s cold. Where is his sweater? It seems to have disappeared. He can wear only that one sweater. The others are too thin, too thick, too warm, too prickly, or pull over the head. Now he needs to get to the toilet fast. Once the oxygen tank is hooked to the back of the wheelchair, you help him shift to the chair from the bed. The journey to the bathroom and back will be long and harrowing. And your shoulder again aches.
Today you visit your wife for six hours and then again in the evening for two more. This was yesterday’s schedule, and it will be tomorrow’s schedule. She lies on the thin mattress and rarely responds to you. But you feel she knows you are at her side, joking with the staff, making sure that aides and nurses alike care for her as they would their mothers because her submissive form has been brushed with the glow of your personality.
Today you show him an old photo album of the two of you when you were young. You point out people and remind him of pleasant times. He says he is dying, and you remind him that he has so much to live for, though at the moment you know it sounds hollow in the face of what he must feel. You keep knives away from him and hope he’s forgotten the old revolver in the basement. You don’t feel like smiling either, although when you took a walk three days ago and smelled the fresh honeysuckle you found yourself grinning like a fool.
Mary Ann Honaker
The sun illumines the street outside my window.
When I say illumines, I mean calls the soul up to the surface where it glimmers, stony, broken,
When I say soul I mean that one word that each thing is, thundering through the richness, thundering through the emptiness of the void.
When I say the void I think I mean the street has been emptied of meaning; the sickly blades of trampled grass sticking through the cracked sidewalk have been emptied.
When the sun grows wan the souls of things dim.
What does this mean, dim?
What does this mean that I want to rush out and stand on the street before the sun grows wan, to soak it in, the soul in me called up perhaps, the soul in me stoked and rising, the soul in me clouded over same as the sky?
I look at the blades of grass, trying to eat them with my eyes, gobble the soul they drizzle out so lazily; I look at the porch chairs quickly, before they fade too.
And it’s all lovely and frilled with flowers out on the street at noonday. It smells funny when the heat bakes the sidewalks so dog-dirtied.
Christopher S. Bell
Men are idiots. It’s maybe ten minutes into work each day before I think this, and then it repeats with each subsequent patient, regardless of gender. He enters with a steak knife in his arm and some rash on his genitals; wife at the gift shop, already thinking about phrasing for the card. They’re beyond apologetic, while I can only focus on their expressions, how each bends accordingly even in these lights. It’s acceptable to be where they are at this age, violent, but only to make sure the other can still bleed. He’s not pressing charges while now she barely notices the blotch just below her right eye.
I’ve been trained well enough to continually nod, marking necessities for the doctors, reassuring myself that this only a job. Walter would be dead if he ever hit me, although I haven’t decided on a method quite yet. I’m pretty sure he’s not messing around, despite an influx of double-clicking. These hollow pursuits to save face or maintain some semblance of masculinity don’t make me jealous anymore. Let them smile in their swimsuits, spewing political jargon and sharing bright memes with hopes of getting noticed. These bitches ain’t shit.
In the cafeteria with my coffee, I realize it’s already tomorrow; a few scrolls before my boyfriend’s the first to comment on Jillian’s post. “This rules!” So articulate, his cronies sharing similar sentiments. They’re up to no good tonight, already close to hungover, which means a particularly late Sunday dinner. It was easier when grandma forced us all over, every excuse falling flat. We’d be too full to do anything afterwards, talk eventually making each of us uncertain of our lives by comparison. Walter was better at pretending then, and I guess I was too.
After one and I can’t focus, drifting a little more with each checkmark. He just had to start another episode last night, as if the definition of “binge-watching” doesn’t even register. It used to be we’d only watch two if the season finale was a cliffhanger, but now there’s a void when we reach the end of something. Walter acts a little more civilized if our daily dosage contains boobs or violence. I don’t even know what I’m looking for in a protagonist these days.
“Well holy shit, if it isn’t Laurie.”
I stare up from the clipboard at Mark still drunk enough to smile. “Hey,” my voice cracks. “Are you okay?” I ask foolishly before glancing at the chart. “I mean, it looks like it might not even be a concussion, but we’ll know when the x-ray’s get back.”
“Look at you, all professional,” he beams. “I’m glad somebody with a brain is looking after me.”
“Luther and I got drunk and started punching each other. It was pretty dumb actually.”
“Where’s he now?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I heard his loud mouth earlier, but maybe that was just my head filling in the blanks,” Mark sighs then meets my gaze. “Anyway, how are you?”
“Alright,” I say. “Feeling pretty weird actually. I usually don’t get people I know. I mean, not often anyway.”
“You’re not gonna ask for another nurse to take over, are you? Because if you do, I’d like to put in a request for the prettiest one without a ring on her finger.”
“Don’t I qualify?” I hold my left hand up for only to moment then regret it.
“What, that asshole hasn’t proposed yet?”
“I think I only met him once, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t like him.”
“Did you have a reason?”
“Yeah. He wasn’t too sharp.”
“Says the guy in the hospital bed.”
“I just knew from those first five minutes that I probably couldn’t have an intelligent conversation with him, at least not about the things I love, like music or whatever. Your man’s still pretty into metal, right?”
“He likes it. I wouldn’t say he’s that into it.”
“Well, either way. Plus I’ve always sort of had this thing for you, so by default I came into that situation somewhat standoffish.”
“Are you sure you wanted to tell me that just now?”
“No, ya know, that might’ve been the concussion talking,” he stares blankly a moment then smirks. “Although I am hoping for sympathy. Maybe suggest the doctor prescribe something with a little kick this time.”
“That’s not going to make you happy, Mark.” I must say this same thing to somebody every day.
“You’re right. You probably wouldn’t either if we were together, but that would be on me, ya know? Like I wouldn’t know how to handle all the complexities of who you are, especially in whatever context they have to my life.”
“Right now I’m just here to make sure you don’t fall asleep and die.”
“Thanks Laurie, that means a lot to me.”
We both giggle a little then reminisce before I’m at another curtain. She’s fifty-three, maybe two-hundred pounds with a burning sensation and mild anxiety. I tell her to put the phone away twice, only briefly glancing at her Sweets & Sour score. Three-hundred thousand, huh? Amateur. My fingers briefly ache jotting then adjusting her pillow. She’s ornery, but almost considerate; something lost in the next three cases before my smoke break outside. I expect to see another nurse on her phone or an ambulance driver anxious to flirt.
Squinting, I consider how to broach Walter’s current state, whether auto-correct will help his case or my brain to settle. I wanted to quit smoking at the end of school, but after a few weeks, it got harder coming up with excuses to be alone. The first couple drags are almost enough, my foot tapping along with the high-pitched clink from a light overhead. Maybe I’m the only one hearing this sound and soon others will join it. “I’m cool, don’t worry baby,” he finally replies. I promise I’ll stop soon.
Orion is not really a hunter
or not tonight at least, not lying like that, at the
end of a four-lane curve of the highway, draped
horizontally across the eastern rim of November sky,
espresso-coloured and resolutely moonless.
Rather than tracking down and firing her arrows
into hapless wildlife, she’s more the insouciant
life-model, reclining on a threadbare chaise longue,
waiting to be sketched into existence, fleshed out
by a nervous college drawing class. Or else she’s a
siren, luring careless ships to their ruin on fists of
broken rock reaching out into a hungry ocean.
RKO Radio Pictures, 1933
My girlfriend often says she doesn’t think I’d protect her
from whatever jeopardies lurk, whether night-masked burglars,
knife-swinging drunks like blindfolded children
playing pin-the-tail at a party. I’m not strong enough,
willful, although I’ve been bloodied, a history of it.
Now, as I watch this old version of the story,
I know she prefers the ape: wrestling a T-Rex,
tearing apart a pterodactyl. He’s so big &
full of love, he can fight off a dozen sailors
while still finding time to place her on a pedestal.
What skills have I to compare with that?
I catch on when it’s time to run or hunker behind a shrub,
counting the leggy shadows of grass until danger passes
on its two great legs & the fantasy that began with an overture
ends in a joke, as all of us do, even if no one laughs.
Maddie had been pacing her room for twenty minutes, walking back and forth, leaving dark footprints on the pale pink carpet. Any second, Eliza would be there, knocking on the front door, and Maddie would kiss her as hard as she could, if she could. She glanced at her phone and smiled at the last gif Eliza had sent: Michelle Tanner, running toward the door over and over and over again. That was Eliza, always getting closer, impossibly far. She was the tide and Maddie’s best friend, even after they had been high school romantics, college roommates, and senior year experiments. There was nothing they couldn’t talk about, except John. Back and forth, back and forth.
Maddie jumped; her phone vibrated. Bugs Bunny was tapping his foot in another gif – apparently, Eliza had arrived and wasn’t happy about being left in the rain. Maddie took a deep breath, walked out of the bedroom, and to the front door. She slowly unlocked the screen, turned the deadbolt, and unlatched the chain. Eliza turned the handle herself and walked in, not noticing Maddie’s surprise.
“’My door is always open’, she says…” Eliza laughed shook her mid-length, red hair like a dog, spraying little rain droplets all over the entrance.
“Well, yeah. You know how it goes. If you’re up past one in the morning, I figure I’ll have to come by sooner or later.” Eliza watched Maddie’s cheeks flush and wondered if this was the first time she’d ever asked someone for a hook-up.
Maddie stepped on her own white-socked foot, unsure of what to say. Even now, John was there, in the necklace around Eliza’s pale neck and the light bruises on her right arm.
Eliza grabbed Maddie’s hand and smiled. “White socks aren’t sexy,” she said, gently pulling Maddie toward her. Maddie didn’t resist, but neither of them leaned in to kiss, ignoring their own practiced movements. Eliza held Maddie for a moment, allowing her to breathe against her damp neck. Maddie could smell the perfume that the two of them had picked for Eliza’s “grown-up scent” at twenty-three, the scent that made her spin around every time she smelled it, even if that meant watching a married mom of two march through Macy’s.
Eliza started rubbing Maddie’s back, gentle and platonic as the socks. “What’s wrong?”
Maddie took a step back and sat on the couch. She paused. Eliza waited for Maddie to settle on the one word she knew was coming. “John.”
Eliza sighed and kneeled, eyes slightly lower than Maddie’s. “So, all those song quotes… and now you tell me you don’t like John. Now you bother to tell me you don’t like my boyfriend.”
“Fiancé,” Maddie spat.
“Wha- What?” Maddie wrinkled her forehead and clenched the fist lying on the cushion.
“We just talked about maybe, someday. That’s all. I told you we’d probably get married. I’m not even sure he’s got a ring.”
“Oh.” Maddie didn’t make eye contact.
“What’s wrong with John?” Eliza murmured, leaning back on her heels.
Maddie looked Eliza up and down. Her eyes were tired, purple rings forming under hazel stars; she flinched when Maddie moved toward her, as much as she tried to hide it. Everything was wrong with John, head to toe. He smelled like beef all the time, and he liked to talk about Donald Trump’s ex-wives.
“Funny? Personable? A Democrat?”
“He’s n- not me.” Maddie rubbed her index finger against her thumb and absently wondered if she could give herself an Indian burn that way.
“What?” Eliza’s voice and eyes sparked, just like they did in twelfth grade on the day she told Maddie she’d lost her virginity to Tommy Wilson.
“You ha-have to have kn-known,” Maddie met Eliza’s eyes unflinchingly, “you can’t have forgotten wha-what we were like …”
“That you broke up with me?” Maddie stood up, pacing on the gray carpet, still dripping rainwater, “You said we weren’t serious. You said you wanted freedom. And then you said we could be friends again!”
Maddie jumped to her feet, “YOU wanted that!”
Eliza turned to face her, eyes ablaze, “Yes, because you’re the only person who gets it! And now I’ve got John, and you’ve got a cat!” She knew she was being unfair, but it didn’t matter. She’d begged Maddie to be her friend, and after everything, Maddie had only ever asked her to be with her once, and Eliza hated it. Eliza hated her pride. She hated that Maddie loved her; Maddie deserved a goddess and Eliza deserved John. There was no way around that.
“Does he even know your favorite food?!”
“Because natto is gross!”
Eliza paused, looking at Maddie in shock. Maddie’s head was turned to the side, frozen in an expression between surprise and a smile. Eliza started laughing and Maddie took a couple steps forward.
“Hey, you okay?” She gently rubbed her fingers along the bruises.
“Yeah, you just want me to leave my boyfriend and run off with you into the lesbian sunset.” Eliza’s voice was shaking.
Maddie leaned in and gently kissed her cheek, hoping that would say something she couldn’t. Eliza collapsed against her, in love with her friend and in hatred with herself, infinitely torn between the two.
“Eliza?” Maddie’s body was warm and close, and Eliza felt its kindness through the cold. “I want you to be happy. Stay as long as you like; I won’t try an… anything. You don’t have to… love me.”
Eliza pulled away, knowing she couldn’t speak just yet. She opened a note on her phone, one she’d re-written a thousand times. “Dear John,” it started.
Select all. Copy. Paste. Send.
“Well,” she handed the phone to Maddie, “there’s this.”
Maddie read silently for a few seconds, looking for Eliza’s reaction. Eliza was peeling off her wet shirt. Maddie dropped the phone.
We lay too much blame on the poplar tree
We have let it replace the mobs of smiling
faces that strung up our great-grandparents
in broad daylight. We lay too much blame
on the poplar tree, because it was swinging
in the breeze all night long trying to shake
those bodies loose, but the smiling faces
with merciless hands tied the ropes
too tight for nature to have her say
The poplar tree has been weeping
ever since, brown bark, like brown skin,
seeking rest from persecution, growing
new leaves to honor the lives
it could not save, stretching its roots
to find clean water free of fallen tears and
Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Her second collection, a chapbook called Kin Types, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Luanne studied at the University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and Stanford University. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, the museum of americana, Crack the Spine, The Review Review, and many other journals. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.
Mary Ann Honaker holds a B.A. in philosophy from West Virginia University, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Lesley. She has previously published poetry in 2 Bridges, Harvard’s The Dudley Review, Euphony, Off the Coast, Van Gogh’s Ear, The Lake, and many other online and print publications. Her first chapbook, It Will Happen Like This, was released by YesNo Press in 2015. She currently lives in Beaver, West Virginia.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music archive focused on digital preservation with roots in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in Lakeview Journal, Noctua Review, Yellow Chair Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, Lime Hawk and Talking Book among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.
Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US, including Antiphon, Clear Poetry, Gyroscope Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. More of his work can be found at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com/
Ace Boggess is author of the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and two books of poetry, most recently, The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014). Forthcoming is a third poetry collection: Ultra-Deep Field (Brick Road). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Heidi Turner is a graduate student at Azusa Pacific University who writes poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and stage plays. When she isn’t writing, she is playing guitar, drinking coffee, or re-watching old movies.
Although she is currently applying to medical school, Lauren Fields continues to write poetry as a means of grappling with, and celebrating, what it means to be an African-American woman living in the United States. Her poems have been published online by Blackberry: a magazine, Literary Laundry, and previously published by Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and she has had the pleasure of performing her poetry with the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, the choir that helped raise her.
Utsav Kaushik doesn’t consider himself a poet yet likes to bramble obscurity. Also has a deep interest in doing theatre, writing songs and music. His voice is deep set in the grey shades of North India. Nature always inspires him for awkward cacophony. And he is a very talkative poet. His poems have been featured in Londongrip, Ashvamegh…the literary flight, The Paragon Journal etc.