Archives Issues

September 2017 (No. 64)

 

Jamal Michel

A Small and Needful Fact
(After Ross Gay)

Is that Philando Castile
served in the cafeteria,
sneaking into small hands
a bit of good, here and there,
and told stories to those
small eyes and ears of
growing big and strong
with what little he snuck.
That maybe the providers
of those small hands and eyes
might have a night off from
school too, to curl up next
to theirs as if to say,
“that man…that was
a Good Man.”

 

Minna Dubin//In Anticipation of Mothering a Girl

  1. Maybe because girls are brought up to be mothers, holding swaddled baby girl dolls in our arms, she’s been in my belly for only nine months, but I have been waiting for her my entire life.
  2. I am afraid for her body, for when it is no longer encased in mine, for when I trust someone I shouldn’t: a neighbor, a friend, a family member, a teacher, the president. I don’t know how mothers of girls endure the stretch of time from sun up to sun down.
  3. I can feel myself transforming, already full of warning, “Make sure you…” “Don’t let them…” And she will “yeah, yeah, yeah” me, having none of my knowledge, which she’ll call “worry.”
  4. I can already feel her watching me, logging my flaws and insecurities, digesting and re-growing them as her own, even as she rejects them, just as I’ve done with my mother.
  5. I will always know her, as girl and as mine, recognize the genuineness in her big laughter, the dimples in her knees, the defensiveness in her sass. I will witness her grow herself into that familiar tree of a woman, whom I will take total credit for and also none at all…I am a woman after all.

 

 

Joe Bisicchia //Helmet

Inside my father’s crown

is heaven and earth.

He wears a box.

My father’s not Google.

Maybe can’t spit out exact numbers

of Mantle in a minute.

But may be able to, after a while.

 

It’s in his skull.

So much up there.

So much.

It’s as if, even all of heaven

and earth is somewhere up there.

He always notices the cardinal

out back.

 

And the blue jay, and sparrow.

Can list the numbers of friends

all lost in the war.

Sometimes they perch on the fence.

He sometimes takes a shovel

and carries away a bird.

One that’s dead.

 

Buries it behind the shed.

Says prayers and some scriptures

locked in his head by heart

amidst heaven and earth.

Says not one falls to the ground

without God knowing about it.

All lost, but found, and preserved.

 

And he should know.

Inside my father’s crown

is heaven and earth.

 

 

Stephanie Valente//Once In A Lifetime

i’d turn into a star, probably orbiting some other galaxy,

if i could, so you wouldn’t reach me

because you, nor your children’s children

would have the technology to reach

a pile of glowing ghosts so far away.

 

 

Ann Wehrman//A Mountain in the Sun

Do you remember?

You told me, back then,

your face shining with love,

 

“They saw you—

sitting on a mountaintop,

surrounded by children,

sitting in the sun.”

 

You’d heard of two strange black men—fortunetellers;

it would be an adventure, you said

(everything was, with you).

Remember?

We sat in their basement kitchen,

ate home-cooked possum stew.

After small talk, you three retired to the inner room, the chapel,

to pray for a vision.

I waited and worried, this side of closed doors.

Finally you reappeared, grinning broadly,

taking my hand, led me out onto snow-packed streets.

 

“They saw you—

sitting on a mountaintop,

surrounded by children,

sitting in the sun.”

 

You hugged me as if I were a treasure,

holding tightly my bare hand,

tucked into your coat pocket’s warmth,

and we raced home, freezing and on fire,

through the icy, black Midwestern night.

 

Did you find happiness—

did you find the right one?

Even then, you believed in me.

Although I know not what I’ve become,

I still remember you told me back then,

you face shining with love,

 

“They saw you—

sitting on a mountaintop,

surrounded by children,

sitting in the sun.”

 

Claire Stamler-Goody//If Something Terrible Happened

You often fantasize about what people would do if something terrible happened to you. Let’s say you are diagnosed with terminal cancer. You’re going to die in six days. Your co-workers find out, shake their heads, and say something like, “she was never one to toot her own horn,” or, “I wish I had worked a bit harder to get to know her.”

 

In another restless daydream, you have been murdered. Three men you dated show up at your funeral and decide together that you were far more serious over text message than you ever were in person. The especially outspoken one says that you never drank enough water, no matter how many times he explained what such an oversight could do. Your father laments his flimsy relationship with you, and your mother just sobs and sobs and sobs.

 

Listen, you have bad days, but who doesn’t? Not days when you feel upset, but days when you feel useless and empty, which is much worse. These are the days that end by inviting you out for a walk at late at night. And on that walk you do everything you’re not supposed to do: you wear headphones with the music turned all the way up and let your wallet show. You choose poorly-lit residential areas instead of busy streets. It’s during nights like these, when you’re practically asking to die, that you wonder what would happen if you actually did.

 

You’re not kind to yourself when you’re in one of these moods. Would anyone attend your funeral? And if they did, would they talk about your appearance once they arrived? Of course they would. They would discuss the cluster of acne that never fully left your chin. They would say that you could have been pretty if you had lost some weight. Someone, it doesn’t matter who, will claim that it all went downhill after you stopped running cross country.

 

“But that was in 2007!” an incredulous acquaintance will utter.

 

“And?” the wizened asshole will ask. “Your point is?”

 

It’s not all going to be about how you look. That same outspoken ex-boyfriend from a previous fantasy will whisper to his current girlfriend (she wasn’t invited, but you’re dead, what are you going to do about it?) that you were such a phony. He will tell her about the time that you two went to a coffee shop to write together. He’ll squeeze her pretty little hip bone and say, “she was on Facebook the whole time. I saw so in the reflection in her glasses which, let’s face it, may not have even been prescription.”

 

Relatives will reference your uncertainty. They’ll remember how often your passions and callings shifted, how they fell from ambitious to comfortable as quickly as they did. Friends—people you listened to, comforted, and bought housewarming gifts for—will shrug and say, in one way or another, that you sure tried to hog the spotlight after you’d had a few drinks.

 

And yet, it is better to think through your worst-case scenario funeral than to not. It is better to feel bad than to feel nothing. You would rather exist (even as a disaster) than cease to. By dying, you are actually making sure that you’ll survive.

 

Plus, not every day is bad. In spite of your many shortcomings, (see above) you wake up some mornings rested and happy. You leave for work with your packed lunch and your calves look muscly in a feminine way as you head to the train. When you take night walks on days like this, you’re much more careful. The risk is still there, but now you keep your headphones in your purse and try to look mean. No one can mess with you now. In fact, that’s probably when you’re happiest: when you have that mean look on your face.

 

Now when you die, everyone will be crying. They won’t even be able to talk because they’ll be crying so much. But when they do manage to spit out a few words, they’ll say that you were a great, exotic beauty. More than one will note your cheekbones. If your grandfather is able to make it all the way from England (he will), he’ll say that between those cheekbones and that husky voice—heavens, no man was safe.

 

They’ll grab all of your writing from its dusty corner of the internet and pass out hard copies during the memorial. Your aunt will read it, in all its vulgarity, and lament the loss of such a great thinker.

 

“A savant,” she will whisper, wiping a tear from her eye. “A freaking savant.”

 

Speaking of writing, someone will find the journals you kept. Every weekday for the last two years, between 8:00am and 8:40am, you wrote. They’ll find your journals when they clean up your apartment and take the things that matter with them. Then, they’ll give those journals to a publishing company where the edited compilation will become a bestseller. You’ll be, posthumously, the voice of the reasonably wealthy white millennial woman. And you’ll stay that way for three years at least.

 

These fantasies comfort you when you’re in apathy mode and build you up even further when you’re doing well. We’re a selfish species, not like bees or naked mole rats—not even close. It takes something big to throw a person other than you to the front of your mind. When was the last time you really thought about anyone other than yourself?

 

When he or she died, that’s when.

 

 

Kelly Ann Jacobson//Dionysus

While the other gods complained about being stuck outside the city of Danville for the summer, Dionysus silently thanked Zeus for his choice. Sure, at first he’d had his doubts about the neighborhood and its lack of culture—after all, he was an ancient Greek, or at least, he thought of himself that way, and there wasn’t a single winery in sight—but then he had stumbled on two things that made this vacation tolerable.

The first was a girl named Terry, who wore cherry red lipstick and a pin on her apron that said “Bite me.”

The second was the miraculous liquid that Terry served from 6:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., Monday through Friday, with exceptions for holidays and smoke breaks.

Coffee.

The true ambrosia.

How Dionysus loved it. Every sip of French roast filled him with strength, every whiff of Columbian coffee took him back home, to Olympus, where he imagined sitting on his golden chair guzzling the stuff morning, noon, and night. Then there were cappuccinos, espressos, Americanos…more combinations that he could ever try in three months. If he ever got bored, which he couldn’t imagine, there were syrups and whipped creams and ices to add. The possibilities were endless.

Of course, he couldn’t tell the others about his newfound loves. Dionysus, god of wine, spending his days at a Starbucks? Unthinkable.

During their third week in Danville, Dionysus finally got up the nerve to address Terry by name.

“Hello, Terry. I’ll take a triple grande, no fat, no foam latte.”

Terry raised her dishwater blonde eyebrows, which contrasted with her dyed black hair, and then noted his order on a cup.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“An Americano, tall, and…a French press.”

Her eyebrows arched higher. “Expecting friends?”

Two trips to the pickup counter later, Dionysus had a spread that covered his small table. Slowly, he sampled every order, enjoying the instant buzz that, instead of making him sleepy or silly, sent him to the altered state of VERY AWAKE.

“Mind if I join you?” Terry stood over his table. Even from below, she seemed so small compared to Dionysus’s girth.

His mouth wanted to run a mile a minute, but he managed to say “Sure” and then bit his lips closed.

“Great.” She slid into the seat across from him. “Cool horns, by the way.”

Dionysus self-consciously touched the bull horns hiding beneath his crown of ivy and wine vines. His heart pounded, and his palms began to sweat. Had the lights just gotten brighter? What was that buzzing in his ears?

“Are you okay?” Terry asked when he didn’t say anything.

“I don’t feel very well,” he said. His mouth begged for water, even as he sipped at one of his cups, and his face felt warm.

Terry put her hand on his, the one clutching the cup, and said with concern: “I think you’re having an overdose. Do you want some water? Or something to eat?”

Now his face was on fire, and both of his hands shook with nervous excitement. Ah, the ecstasy!

“No, I’m fine.” He used his other hand, the one not touching her, to bring the Americano to his smiling lips. “This is exactly what I ordered.”

 

 

Thaddeus Rutkowski//Monkeys Invent the Wheel

The monkeys that live by this particular path, in these particular trees, are smart. They think ahead, beyond their immediate needs. Some of their most intelligent members have been studying round stones as they roll downhill. They have noticed the physics of gravity, though they don’t call these concepts “physics” and “gravity.” They don’t call them anything, because they have no language. But from their observations, they have put object and motion together, and they have invented the wheel.

They now possess one wheel—a perfect stone disk with a hole in the middle, made by chipping, grinding and polishing. They achieve that roundness by using other stones.

At first, they don’t do much with the wheel, because they are tired of watching it roll downhill. It is just a disk, lying on the ground. They could spin it and play roulette, with seeds or nuts for markers, but they haven’t invented games of chance. They don’t know about betting, or about winning and losing. They could turn the disk into a potter’s wheel and make clay vessels to store wine—but they haven’t discovered fermentation. They don’t even have alcohol, though some of the leaves they eat make them tipsy. And they don’t use the wheel for a coffee table, either, because they don’t make coffee. They eat coffee beans, however, and whenever they eat them, they get hyped. Some of them have become addicted to the whacky leaves and coffee beans.

Most of the monkeys have more immediate needs than what they can achieve with one wheel. They need to gather food and care for their children. Those activities come first, before any self-attention.

What these family monkeys need are three more wheels and an axle, which members of the intelligentsia quickly provide. The axle is as much a miracle as the wheel, and these primates know it. With some scrap wood and the wheel assemblies, they construct a wagon. They can now transport food more easily. No more grasping of leaves or fruit with one hand while swinging through trees with the free hand, free feet and tail. Instead of carrying children on their backs or under their stomachs, mother monkeys now have a stroller. They use it to transport their children to the next grooming spot.

For monkeys without families, there is the thrill of the ride. Young gun monkeys can race downhill in the go-cart. they coast as fast as the incline will allow, then drag the cart back up for another run. They zoom down, and trudge up, all day. Uphill rides won’t come for eons. These monkeys haven’t yet invented the engine.

And they haven’t developed mass production. They have only one wagon, and they soon grow bored with it. One prototype isn’t enough to change monkey civilization. So they put it in a museum—a clearing where the wagon is displayed. Passing humans, the few who come to this part of the jungle, mistake the monkey wagon for a primitive human wagon and pay no attention to it. Sometimes the monkeys sit on it to groom themselves. They sit there and pick through their fur. But they don’t use it for carrying or riding. The novelty has worn off.

Some nights, however, bold simian adolescents sneak into the clearing and “borrow” the wagon. These are the young coffee bean eaters, the ones who like to get wound up. They chew some beans and link arms, and head for the wagon museum. They take the one monkey wagon to the nearest big hill and go for a spin. They bare their teeth and howl with glee as they careen down the path between the trees.

If unsuspecting tourists walk by, the monkeys wave as they pass.

“Oh, look,” a tourist might say, “the monkeys are riding a wagon.”

“Where did they get it?” another tourist might ask.

“Maybe they found it,” another might say.

“I think they made it,” the first tourist might say.

“Impossible!” the rest will chime in.

The tourists won’t know that the monkeys invented the wheel and the axle, and all they could make was a wagon. The people will nevertheless try to take photos of the monkeys careening downhill—evidence that they encountered wild monkeys on their brief trip. At home, they will show their friends the images of the monkeys with the amazing invention that was not seen as anything extraordinary.

Meanwhile, the monkeys will be sitting on the wagon in the wagon museum, grooming themselves, while the young guns wait for their chance to go for a spin.

 

 

Contributors:

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.

Minna Dubin is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the founder of #MomLists, a Bay Area literary public art project. Her work has been featured in MUTHA Magazine, Huffington Post, and various literary magazines. When not chasing her toddler in circles around the dining room table, she is eating chocolate in the bathroom while texting. You can check out her current work on Instagram @momlists and on Facebook www.facebook.com/momlists.

Joe Bisicchia writes of our shared dynamic. An Honorable Mention recipient for the Fernando Rielo XXXII World Prize for Mystical Poetry, his works have appeared in various publications. His website is www.widewide.world.

Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and has work included in or forthcoming from Danse Macabre, Nano Fiction, and Black Heart. Sometimes, she feels human. http://stephanievalente.com

Ann Wehrman’s poetry, stories, and literary analysis have appeared in various small and independent presses, both print and online. Rattlesnake Press published Ann’s 2007 broadside, Notes from the Ivory Tower, and her 2011 self-illustrated chapbook, Inside (love poems). Ann teaches English and related courses online for Ashford University and University of Phoenix. Ann also plays classical flute and teaches yoga. She lives in Sacramento, CA.

Claire Stamler-Goody is a writer, scientist, and photographer living in Chicago. Her previous work has appeared in Birds Piled Loosely and Timber Journal.

Kelly Ann Jacobson is a professor of English and the author or editor of 19 published or soon to be published books, including the novel Cairo in White and the poetry collection I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams. Her short fiction has been published in places such as Northern Virginia Review, New Plains Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review. Kelly also writes young adult fantasy novels under her pen name, Annabelle Jay. For more information about Kelly, please visit www.kellyannjacobson.com.

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched, and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.