The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

February 4th, 2016

Break-In

e’s telling me the bad news with a smile.
DVD player and collection of DVDs,
flat screen TV, two computers,
a cell phone — all gone.
Desk lamp, end table, missing.
Display of arrowheads framed
on the wall, ripped from its hooks.

He’s telling me the bad news with a smile.
DVD player and collection of DVDs,
flat screen TV, two computers,
a cell phone — all gone.
Desk lamp, end table, missing.
Display of arrowheads framed
on the wall, ripped from its hooks.

He’s a ranch kid, college freshman.
Rents an apartment with three other guys,
on a proper well-lit tree lined street
adjacent to campus. Doubt my old man
even owns a key to the ranch place,

he says. Least I never seen him use it.

Says he’ll lock up every night from now on.
But that’s not the point, he says,
and grins wider. Says he’s turned
calves in the womb. Seen wolves
chew a lamb to nothing but fleece.
Swam horses and steers across
an icy river. Point is, he says,

I don’t know squat ‘bout people.
Says he wonders what nerve it takes
to sneak in the dark and open a stranger’s door.
Tiptoe out with a TV while the owners snooze
in the next room. Risk jail time.
He came to college, he says, for the education.
Says he knows now a lot more than before.

*

Lowell Jaeger teaches creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana. He is author of six collections of poems: War On War  (Utah State University Press, 1988), Hope Against Hope (Utah State University Press 1990), Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press, 2009), WE (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2010), How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past (Grayson Books, 2013) and Driving the Back Road Home (Shabda Press, 2015). He is founding editor of Many Voices Press and recently edited New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from western states. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize, and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. Most recently, Lowell was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting civil civic discourse.

What motivates him to create:
When my oldest daughter was three, she was watching me fix something around the house, and she said, “Dad, you’re a really good maker!”  Well, that seemed like a huge compliment, especially coming from such an innocent perspective.  Some people, I believe, are simply programmed to make things, like others may be programmed to heal or to teach or to lead.  In my case, I make things with words.  It’s who I am.

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January 22nd, 2016

2 poems

I’ve come for coffee,
a visit with the other grandma,
who needs some company.

I think we’ll chat
for an hour or two.
She knows she’s dying.

Visiting
for Carolyn

I’ve come for coffee,
a visit with the other grandma,
who needs some company.

I think we’ll chat
for an hour or two.
She knows she’s dying.

Cannulas hiss.  Pulse ox
we watch.  She nods
and gives a thumbs up sign.

I’m OK for now, she mouths,
then coughs from the effort.
Morning passes into afternoon.

We talk of respirators and
ministers.  I call her daughters
Thank you, she mouths again.

Our grandson plays
quietly in the next room.
Rain pelts deck furniture.

Here in the den old friends
wait, hold hands, think of
childhoods and parents

long gone, siblings,
husbands and children
we’ll leave behind.

[Death waits just outside.]

 

 

Doric Loop

I.

It’s a simple casket, its wood polished to a high luster, the lid edged by a pleasing curve. Something simple; only needed for a couple of days.

Casket: 1. a small case or chest, as for jewels or other valuables. And what could be more valuable than this boy, this almost man, this never to be a man? 2. a coffin, possibly an alteration of the old French, cassette. An endless loop? Is this an endless loop of foolish choices and bad judgment leading to inevitable tragedy?

Not a cask: (a barrel, a cylindrical container that holds liquids.) Nor a casque, so famous for Poe’s The Casque of Amontillado, and poor, vain Fortunato, left chained to a moldy brick wall behind an archway, deep beneath the river. (Fortuna: Spanish for fate, the inevitable, nothing to do with fortunate, meaning lucky.) In ancient Greece the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were thought to control human destiny. I’ve met them in the Sunday crossword every now and then.

A casket. A tisket a tasket – a green and yellow one would surely stun this assembly, a bizarre mix of family and my nephew’s druggie friends – black-clad boys with ear plugs and tattoos on their necks and a girlfriend/baby mama with the obligatory nose ring, a spray of red roses tattooed across her chest and black latticework along her arms.

The classic curve of the wood, the inverse of the fluted columns on the simplest of Classic Greek styles. Is this an ogee curve? Another crossword puzzle word.

II.

An old man told me once about the worst funeral he had ever attended. It was across the river in Haverstraw, back in 19 and 36, he said, a very cold winter in these parts. As cold as this one? As he spoke, I pictured Depression era men in overalls carrying a casket like this one across a snowy field on a cold, blustery day like today. The cemetery was on a steep hillside looking out over the Hudson, and when one pallbearer lost his footing, the coffin dropped and slid – to the horror of the assembled family and friends and well-wishers of one sort or another – and took off down the steep incline like an Olympic luge, till it rammed a tall monument erected some years before in honor of the town’s former mayor and sprang open, flinging the corpse in a perfect 10 of an arc to land in a seated position a little further downhill, leaning against the headstone of a Mrs. Mary Ellen Hitchens, may she rest in peace, before it (the corpse, not the headstone) fell over on its side.

Women screamed. A flock of crows flew up into the winter sky cawing excitedly, a black cloud circling and blocking the sun. Friends moved to shield the horrified family from the ghastly sight. Funeral employees and pall bearers hurried to recapture the elusive body. With each step as they ran down the hillside, their feet broke through a thin crust of ice into softer snow below, which proceeded to fill their black dress shoes with clumps of icy crystals that melted into frigid pools. Embarrassing wet spots appeared on their pants where they fell. It was some time before they could get the deceased positioned back in the box and the box placed into its resting place.

I don’t really believe this story, though the old man promised it was true. But then, again, Santa Claus was supposed to be true. God was supposed to be true. I’d like to think that the spirit, at least, flew through the air, to meet with dear ones again on God’s golden shore, as the Soggy Bottom Boys sang. Though how our spirit selves will recognize each other without bodies, still trapped down there under the snow, I don’t know.

III.

There’ll be no snow for this casket. My nephew will find a warm welcome tomorrow at the local crematorium, a small brick affair, absent of any decorative moldings, smooth Doric style or otherwise.

This afternoon, aunts, sisters and friends of the boy stutter out sad stories. The boy’s uncle, my brother, plays his guitar and an aunt holds her hymnal and sings, “In the sweet bye and bye. We shall meet in the sweet bye and bye.” And my sister sits and wrings one wad of tissues after another till this crowd of weeping mothers and fathers and friends finally goes home.

The lovely curve of the lid is almost hidden under the spray of roses and carnations, all white for the boy, white for his youth, white for… I don’t know what for.

And we scoop my sister up and get her some food at Cappola’s down the block, in a brick building that has been partially stuccoed to resemble a Tuscan villa, with stone Italian-style arches, like those where poor Fortunato found his eternal rest.

*

Katherine Flannery Dering holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. Her memoir, Shot in the Head, a Sister’s Memoir a Brother’s Struggle, was published in 2014. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Inkwell Magazine, The Bedford Record Review, Northwords Press, Sensations Magazine, Pandaloon Press, Poetry Motel, Pink Elephant Magazine and River, River. A narrative non-fiction piece, which later became a chapter of Shot in the Head, was included in Stories from the Couch, an anthology of essays about coping with mental illness.  She is a member of the advisory board of The Katonah Poetry Series.

What motivates her to create:
Most often a sudden inspiration while I am driving requires that I pull over to the side of the road and jot it down. A phrase, an urgent new expression of a belief or attitude toward the world, a moment of sorrow, a truth. Scraps of scribbled paper beg life as a poem or essay. A series of inspirations becomes a book. I love beautiful sentences, a carefully crafted images, and I strive for the aha! moments when writing something I never knew before.

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December 22nd, 2015

Spotlight: Manhattanville Writing Alumni Contest Winner

Out of the Blue Most days I wake up with the sun, walk from my home along Coast Lane, hang a left onto Main Street, and pick up the newspaper from the sundry shop at the hotel on the corner. I pass the hardware store, where I breathe in the perfume of its first batch …

Out of the Blue

Most days I wake up with the sun, walk from my home along Coast Lane, hang a left onto Main Street, and pick up the newspaper from the sundry shop at the hotel on the corner. I pass the hardware store, where I breathe in the perfume of its first batch of popcorn percolating in the popper. I meander past that new exercise place and sneak a peek at the slender ladies in their skin-tight bodysuits, even though I know I shouldn’t. Then I roll along past The Coin Shop and end up at The Coffee Club. I order rye toast, and a coffee. If I have any errands to do, like I do today, I set out from there to tick them off one by one.

I like the calming rhythm of routine.

Today I see Fernanda, the post-person, who gives me a big smile and says: “Beautiful day, Mr. Lark.” If they still wore caps, I have no doubt she’d be tipping hers. A few minutes later, I’m transacting with the ATM machine at Wells Fargo, when I am jolted by a KABOOM. It’s like a bomb has exploded behind me. I turn to see an instant crowd form around the source of the noise. I can’t see much from my position on the outskirts of the group but, as I inch around looking for a better view, I see a cream-colored Cadillac that appears to have hit something. Everyone has rushed to surround the something that’s been hit but, oddly, no one approaches the now stopped Caddie. The Cheese Stands Alone comes to mind from The Farmer in the Dell. Silly, sentimental tricks of the brain.

The multitude of noises I hear do remind me of a barnyard though. One attacked by foxes in broad daylight.

I start to make my way over to the Caddie, to see if I can help there since I can’t seem to get near whatever’s been struck, and because I feel an inexplicable pull coming from that Caddie.

A woman wearing a Wells Fargo name tag blocks my path.

“Are you a man of faith?” she asks me.

When I do not answer, she takes my hand anyway, and I am swept up into a prayer circle faster than I can say Amen.

***

There it is. The Coin Shop. Sandwiched between Exhale Fitness and The Coffee Club just as her dad said it would be.

Amanda McKesson slides her Prius into an open spot across the street and turns off the engine. Taking a deep breath, she reviews her earlier conversation with her father regarding the coins. She has to get it right, yet she knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about coin collecting. But her children’s education depends on the outcome, so she takes five more minutes to rehearse.

Those three kids — Annie, Ellis and Charlotte — are her life. Together they are her North Star, the most enduring light in the heavens, keeping her ship on its destined path. Just that morning she drove them all to school and stayed for Annie’s Lacrosse game at Waterview High. Her boss gave her the morning off, but now it’s 11:41 am and she still has to conquer The Coin Shop before she swings by the house, makes her Dad his salami sandwich, and hightails it to work.

“There’s a lot of junk in there, Amanda,” Dad explained earlier over breakfast. He pushed his eggs around his plate then dropped his fork on the floor. “Let them bargain you down on those, but stay firm on the 1969 Lincoln penny. It’s worth at least $35,000.”

Dad had been collecting coins since she was a child. She could still smell and taste the metal on her fingers after counting jars full of coins on rainy afternoons. Her fingers had tasted salty and coppery like blood.

“Dad, are you sure?” Amanda asked as she leaned over to dab the corners of his mouth. She picked up the fork from under the table and started to clear the plates. She knew he was finished eating. The fork on the floor had become his signal that he was done with his meal.

“Amanda, I am sure,” he said while backing his chair away from the table and smack into the wall. “I am tickled pink that my silly hobby can be converted to cash for my grandkids’ college fund.” His tone was reminiscent of his gentle but firm instruction when she’d been just a girl. “Now…that 1982 dime without the ‘p,’ the one you found on eBay offered for $3,000, that’s not so valuable so don’t insist, but that 1965 silver dime? That’s a beaut. Worth at least $10,000. If old George gives you guff, make him weigh it. They stopped making silver dimes in 1964 so the ones from 1965 are a rare mistake. They weigh 2.5 instead of 2.27 for the copper and nickel versions.”

Amanda is always amazed at how her father can remember minutiae such as weights of dimes when sometimes he forgets her children’s names.

“Then there’s the 1914 Indian head gold eagle. I call that my Amanda.” He chucked her under the chin as he said it, making her feel five-years-old and care-free again. No man had ever loved her so, not even her ex-husband.

“Dad, come with me to the shop. I’ll be lost without you.”

“Amanda, you’re the smartest person I know. What if I forget what I’m saying in the middle of negotiating?” As if to prove his point, he tossed his knife and plate into the trash along with his dirty napkin. “That old fox George will take advantage and we’ll never get top dollar. Besides, he’s got a weakness for a pretty girl.”

Amanda sighed. “Is there anything I can do for you before I go?”

“That play list you made for me, honey. The one with Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra on it. You know, that Nature Boy song. Play that.” She rescued his dish and cutlery from the bin as soon as he’d tottered off, contentedly singing to himself: “There was a boy, a very strange, enchanted boy….”

Oh God, how she’d miss Dad when he was gone. To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

It took a court fight with her ex-husband, Todd, to get permission to leave Washington, DC with the children to care for her father. Dad gave up his driver’s license when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year earlier. It wasn’t too advanced yet but he needed someone to drive and tend to his other needs. He’d been all alone in the modest ranch house since Mom passed a few years ago.

Honestly, Amanda was relieved when she returned home to California. After the initial ego- swell and prestige of landing the job in the Obama administration, she’d felt deflated most of the time. New jobs were like sugar highs. Once the sweetness was forgotten, the aftertaste of office politics lingered on the tongue.

In the rear view mirror, Amanda studies The Coin Shop, as if expecting something about its face to change. The front glass window benignly reflects dwarf palms and sunny skies just, as she imagines, it always has. It’s the kind of October day that would be called Indian summer in Washington, D.C. but here, in California, it’s just another perfect day.

Amanda exits the car and walks around to the trunk, opening it with the remote. Dad packed his treasures in a blue and white Pan Am carry-on that he and Mom acquired on their first and only trip to Europe. Amanda opens the Pan Am bag and gingerly picks out the most valuable pieces, which she clutches in her right hand. She slings the bag with the remaining coins—and her cheat sheet—over her left shoulder. She slams the trunk and makes her way back to the car’s front door to grab her purse, when she is distracted by a red-haired woman wearing sunglasses on the sidewalk, gesticulating wildly. Next to the redhead another woman, wearing a baseball cap, seems bolted to the sidewalk, eyes open wide and hands glued to her mouth, as if to halt a hiccup, or suffocate a scream. A car door slams. Someone shouts: “Watch out!”

Amanda’s senses are on high-alert. She smells the aroma of popcorn from the hardware store and the metallic scent of the coins now embedded in her moist hand. Everything seems to stop and sharpen, like a high-definition TV show on pause. Before she has a chance to turn, she freezes, like the hare who feels danger but not the direction from whence it comes.

An excruciating blow from behind forces the air out of her lungs and sends her purse and the Pan Am bag flying. A fleeting image flashes behind her eyes, of the World Trade Center as it is rammed by a 737. She feels on fire too. She realizes that her father’s collection is being scattered across the asphalt. Someone will steal them, she thinks, so she wants to chase after them. The coins are rolling, rolling, rolling, every which way, under cars, in the street, but she cannot move her legs. She is pinned between her Prius and the monster that has hit her from behind.

She hears screams and sobbing, yelling and praying. Sounds amplify and echo, as if she were listening from the bottom of a swimming pool. Distorted, slow, and deep. She floats there, between the cars, in a space neither of nor not of this world.

What’s happening, what’s happening?

Images flutter through her brain, a magic lantern Zoetrope, moving backwards from that moment in time, skipping too fast through those episodes she would have thought of as profound – Charlotte’s crooked baby tooth, Annie’s first kiss, Ellis’s tonsillectomy when he had almost died from too much anesthesia. The slide show stops in the most unexpected place, a roulette wheel arrested, the ball falling on the wrong color after you went all in with your life’s savings. Todd. Of all people, why Todd? Because he’ll get the kids IF…

“What do you think about while you’re running?” Todd asked her the day they had met.

Amanda’s been a runner for as far back as she remembers. In the playground, around the school track, along dirt trails, on a treadmill. If only she could run now. Run and not look back. Run to the top of Mt. Horn, run in place until the sun sets over the Pacific, bruising the sky purple and bleeding red all over the horizon. Run for her life.

A groan erupts like the grumble of a volcano, beginning somewhere in the center of the earth, entering her body through the asphalt, shuddering through her useless legs and melded-to-metal diaphragm. It escapes her swollen lips with a guttural, prehistoric sound.

Amanda tries to make her legs move to run, run, run. She tries to will it. But her legs ignore her.

Oh my God. Who will pick the kids up from school? Todd? Oh but Todd’s not here. But if he were, would he?

Would Todd know or care that Ellis hates sports? That Annie spends too much time on her iPad? That Charlotte has problems reading?

Amanda can no longer look up or turn her head. Her eyes feel like slits and she sees only shadows and the color red. Her car is red. Her hands are red. The street is red.

Is someone chanting? Prayers? For me? Am I dying? I cannot be dying. I need to be at work at one, I need to cash in the coins, make Dad’s sandwich. I need to pick up the kids…..

“DON’T MOVE THE CAR!” several onlookers shout at once. Amanda hears feet running. She hears a creaking sound, similar to the sounds from an old spring bed when a great weight is lifted. A sound eerily like a death rattle. She feels her body move. She is still pinned between the cars but the miniscule shifting causes a thunderbolt of pain and her body slides. Amanda slides deeper and deeper. Here but not here.

An old song whispers to her gentle as a lullaby. She imagines a boy serenading her, an enchanted boy, a little shy and sad of eye, with a message of great import. She strains her ears to hear him, his message, but suddenly sirens hum, then buzz, first one then a swarm. Deep barking male voices.

Am I saved?

Amanda has to concentrate harder than she ever has before to hear his song, the boy who now shares her father’s voice: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return.

***

Ruth Larsson has been shopping at the hardware store for some Rose-Tone, pleasantly distracted by the old-fashioned popcorn machine emitting the most delicious memory-filled scent into the air around her. Now she returns to her car and inserts the key into her cream-colored Cadillac and the smell of popcorn helps her remember bringing her grandson, Reed, here and his father, Stanley, before that. Stanley died five years ago of massive heart failure and Reed, himself a father thrice over, settled down on the East Coast. Ruth frequently reminds herself that Stanley was an old-ish man of 66 when he passed, but still it’s unnatural when your child goes before you do. Especially an only child.

Stanley was born here in Waterview, as was Ruth. Both at Central Hospital, which has since been converted to expensive condominiums with ocean views. Ruth shook her white-haired head in disbelief when she read that someone had paid over five million dollars for what used to be the morgue. The irony of rebirthing a place known for being a repository of death was not lost on Ruth.

Waterview was a different world back then. A sleepy little hamlet, where everyone knew everybody else. Seems as though all you have nowadays are tourists. And dogs. Nearly every person has one. She could see a French bulldog walking his owner at that very moment. The tourists are a different matter altogether. They travel in throngs, like gnats, so thick sometimes you can’t see through them.

Ruth has her eyes glued to the rear view looking for an opening to back her car out into the opposite lane (she’s going west, not east, after all). Long ago, in the off-season, the only traffic on Main Street was bicycles. Gosh, she and her friends did cartwheels down the middle of the street, like human tumbleweeds. Yup, things change. But, all in all, she’s had a good life, compared to most people she knows, and she counts her blessings every day.

Even though traffic on Main is light today, it’s still tricky to find a synchronized opening in both lanes. The cars in the rear view swell like the waves on Waterview Shores, growing larger in the mirror as each one approaches, until it seems about to knock you down, before dissipating into the road ahead.

Finally, an opening!

Ruth swerves across the two lanes in reverse and pauses. She looks ahead to make sure there aren’t any pedestrians in the crosswalks. It gets confusing sometimes, glancing this way and that at an intersection, checking all four crosswalks, making sure no one had entered just as you take your eye off the ball. As luck would have it, all four are free and clear. Ruth steps hard on the gas.

The first thing Ruth Larsson thinks when she feels the THUMP in the back of her car is that some teenage driver has hit her rear fender. She sure hopes that this one has insurance.

Within seconds, Ruth realizes that something more than a fender-bender has occurred. For one thing, she’s gone backwards, not forwards. And the racket. Gasps, commotion, clamor, pandemonium. She hears a roaring to rival Reed’s old high-school football games. A small crowd charges toward the rear of her car, so thick it blocks her view. Ruth doesn’t know what to do. She feels as though her 91- year-old frame is shrinking inside the clothing she so carefully chose that morning — black slacks, white Peter Pan collared shirt, pale blue cardigan. All 110 pounds of her willfully channeled into her right foot, which is glued on the brake like an anvil.

Time isn’t relative, as Ruth had once taught her students. It is irrelevant. Ruth has no idea if she has been there for five minutes or five hours, and it matters not one iota. Although it is a warm day, she is shivering. A knuckle tap, clicking on the driver’s side window like Fred Astaire’s heels on a marble floor, disturbs her reverie. A man, about the age Stanley would be if he were still alive, opens the door. He looks vaguely familiar but, when you live in a small town as long as Ruth has, everyone looks familiar.

The man reaches over Ruth and shifts the gear from reverse to park.

Is this the man whose car she just hit?

Ruth leans toward the glove compartment to get her insurance card ready. She is still shaking and knocks over her purse, which had been sitting on the front passenger seat. The contents scatter across the floor. Helter skelter are her rosary beads, blood pressure pills, Coral Crème lipstick, Life Saver candies, house keys on a Sea World key ring, and other detritus of an ordinary life. Loose change spills out, coins rolling, rolling, rolling, on the worn car mat.

The man practically lifts Ruth out of the driver’s seat. With only the changing of gears and slight shifting of weight, the Cadillac emits an exhale that sounds to Ruth like a sigh of relief. The subtle sigh of relief is drowned out by loud shouts: “DON’T MOVE THE CAR!”

“What happened?” Ruth asks. She repeats her question but the man does not answer. He shields her eyes and leads her to the sidewalk.

Ruth hears sirens and sees police arrive. They cordon off the scene, with yellow and black tape, stretching for blocks on end, returning those streets and intersections to the deserted and solemn ones Ruth remembers. She barely stands, still shaking, held up only by the strong arms of a Good Samaritan. As he tries to shelter her from the worsening storm, Ruth is pelted by a hail of judgments:

“Old people shouldn’t drive.”

“Lock her up and throw away the key.”

“No one over 75 should get a license.”

***

The woman from the bank, four others, and I are in a circle holding hands. The others are praying but I’m silent. From the chatter, I’ve put together that the Cadillac backed into a pedestrian, pinning him or her between it and a white Prius. The soft chanting around me is interrupted by an authoritative shout. I use the distraction to break from the circle so I can better see what’s going on.

“Disperse, disperse.”

I stop and look for the speaker. No megaphone in sight, but you could’ve fooled me.

“Are you an off-duty police officer?” a redhead with sunglasses asks the first voice.

I see the first speaker now, in the middle of the street, waving her arms to divert traffic. A female shape dressed in black Spandex.

“No. But this is bothering our patrons. I work across the street at Exhale Fitness.”

I feel the fury rise from the crowd at this callous remark.

“Do you think she’ll make it?” A woman in a baseball cap asks.

“I don’t know….she must have massive internal injuries,” a blonde lady answers. The blonde has a dog, a French bulldog, tugging and pulling at the end of its leash.

Through a break in the crowd, I see a lovely young woman, maybe mid-forties, pinned between the rear of a cream-colored Cadillac and a white Prius. Her expression reads like a dictionary of emotions, like those paintings of Christ on the cross in the Villa Medici in Florence. Pain, defeat, sadness, surprise, resignation….I watch her face until I can’t watch any more.

There are so many on-lookers I wonder where they’d all come from. I see a young Latino man in a restaurant apron taking pictures of her with his cell phone. Other people are frantically poking at theirs, dialing 911, I suppose. Ladies in exercise clothes, tourists with shopping bags from The Gap and Lululemon, bodies without names drawn from their offices, cafes, shops, by the Big Bang. Random particles thrown together by an accident.

I see the Caddie, and its driver, still alone.

At first I only see the back of the driver’s head, hair white and wispy, like albino cotton candy. Something feels familiar, but it isn’t until I break from the prayer circle and walk to the driver’s side door that I recognize her. Ruth Larsson, the mother of my childhood friend, Stanley. My 8th grade science teacher from nearly 60 years earlier.

My reflexes take over; I have to get her out of that car. Without another thought, I tap on the window, grab the car handle, fling open the door, shift the car from reverse to park, and practically lift Mrs. Larsson out to safety.

I don’t know why I don’t re-introduce myself to her. She clearly doesn’t recognize me. Perhaps knowing each other is such a low priority at such an intense moment. Maybe anonymity is prophylactic. Perhaps I want to remember her as I knew her, pure and wholesome as milk. The Mrs. Larsson who opened my mind to Einstein and baked the best Devil’s Food cake in the world.

A policewoman approaches as I stand on the sidewalk with Mrs. Larsson. She is shaking so hard I worry she might have a heart attack right there in my arms. She feels so slight, I am afraid that if I release my grip she will flutter away like a scrap of newspaper in the wind.

“The driver?” the officer asks, indicating that she means Mrs. Larsson.

I nod.

“You know her?”

I nod again.

I give my name, address, and cell phone number and agree to wait until Mrs. Larsson is settled to give my statement. The officer leads Mrs. Larsson into Wells Fargo and I wait for an indeterminable amount of time. I focus my eyes on what seem to be hundreds of coins, flat and lifeless, in the street.

Stan Larsson was in my class at Waterview Middle School. We sat next to each other in nearly every class, him being Stanley Larsson and me, John Lark. Those were the days when we recited both The Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in home room. I knew from Stanley that his mother was a young widow and that’s why she’d gone back to teach. And I’d heard that Stan died a few years back too. Damn shame, really. Elderly, alone in this world, and now this.

The randomness of it is terrifying. What if Ruth Larsson had woken up with a cold and decided not to do her errands that day? What if a telemarketer had delayed her by five minutes to try to sell her a reverse mortgage? What if that young woman got stuck in the check-out line at Trader Joe’s delaying her just ten minutes? What if her husband or boyfriend or brother had sent her roses that morning and she had phoned to say thanks?

Horrible things happen to people all the time, seemingly out of the blue. What keeps us going, day after day, and from not just drowning in a cesspool of despair?

“Mr. Lark?”

I look up to see the fresh-faced officer hovering over me. “Yes, officer?”

“Ready to answer a few questions, Sir?”

“Sure. Is the driver ok?” I ask.

The officer looks me straight in the eyes. “She’s in shock.” Pen and pad poised. “So, Sir, did you see the actual moment of impact?”

“No.” I answer honestly. “I heard it first. I was over there, at the bank.”

From the corner of my eye I can see the EMTs lift a stretcher onto an ambulance.

“What exactly did you see?”

I close my eyes. I see chocolate cake. I see a rose garden. “It, it…was a horrific accident.”

“I understand, Sir. But I need facts. Anything you can remember. A woman is near death and we need to know what happened.”

Two women, I think.

“Sir? Did you happen to notice what gear the car was in when you opened the door?”

I try to make sense of it. This incident just a microcosm of what I see daily on CNN. If I ever believed in God, the arbitrariness of what I’ve come to think of as tragic selection — a kind of perversion of Darwin’s theory — had long convinced me otherwise. But what do I believe in then, if not the desperate thread of hope that others call God?

A kind word, a soft touch, a rose garden, chocolate cake….

“No,” I say. “I did not.”

I quietly leave the scene as the police continue to interview witnesses and collect evidence. As I walk away, a curtain of sadness seems to fall over this final act, as though signaling to the audience that it’s time to go home to their real lives and safe beds.

In the paper the next day, I read that Amanda Jane McKesson, 45, mother of three, died of her injuries at Waterview Hospital. The story is an inch long on the bottom of page four. A life reduced to six lines of type. A week later, The Waterview Light runs an obituary that Ruth Larsson, 91, former science teacher, member of Waterview Presbyterian Church, recently involved in a vehicular homicide, is discovered dead in her home. In a note left on her bedside table she requests that her ashes be scattered in her rose garden.

*

Editors
What are the three things you couldn’t live without?

Jessica
Seriously: My family, my writing, and my muse, Daisy, a 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier.

Qualitatively: Reading, ice-cream, the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Editors
What is the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery?

Jessica
My husband always buys lottery tickets. I always hope he loses. (He always has). I’m afraid to think how so much unearned money would change my life. But…if I won, first thing I would do is buy everyone I love a home they could afford to maintain on their own, pay off my own mortgage, and donate the rest to humanitarian causes devoted to saving the lives of people and animals.

Editors
What do you do when you’re not writing?

Jessica
Think about writing. Read what others have written. Walk. I try to do a good deed every day.

Editors
Cats or dogs?

Jessica
I have an almost eccentric affinity for all animals, but especially for my dog, Daisy. She appears in my most recent novels, The Glass Curtain and The Eye Inside, as the protagonist’s soul-mutt, Kitty. These two works of fiction are the first two in a planned series about a New York City investigative reporter embedded in the NYPD.

Editors
Beaches or Mountains?

Jessica
BOTH! Three years ago, I moved to San Diego, CA. I live across from the Pacific Ocean, where I enjoy the unparalleled climate, the salt-laced air, and beach walks. I spend at least a month a year in Santa Fe, NM, where I bask in the beauty of the mountains, the open air opera, and daily hikes.

Editors
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Jessica
Although this sounds sacrilegious coming from a born and bred New Yorker, I have found paradise on the “left” coast. The physical beauty, climate, and niceness of people not burdened by stress is wonderful.

Editors
What’s your favorite word?

Jessica
Hummingbird

Editors
What was your process behind writing this piece?

Jessica
In October of last year, I witnessed an elderly woman back out of a parking spot and pin a younger woman in-between two cars. I watched as the life drained out of the younger woman. I watched her die. I was haunted by this experience and felt compelled to write about it. Everything except the accident itself is fiction. The “inciting incident” was real.

Over the next several months I revised the story numerous time. I experimented with POVs and first vs. third person. Writing it had a cathartic effect on me. Only when I transferred the feelings to paper could I begin to resolve the turmoil within me.

It was particularly rewarding to win this contest with this story, since it meant so much to me.

Editors
What’s the strangest thing you’ve gotten inspiration from?

Jessica
I wrote a short story once about a housewife who discovers that her chauffeur is a terrorist.

Editors
Do you usually mine your own life and experiences when it comes to your writing or is it pure imagination?

Jessica
I’ve had such a rich and varied life, full of people and places worth memorializing. My characters often are a composite of interesting behaviors and idiosyncrasies I have observed in real people, but never based on one person. Settings are always places I have experienced first-hand, which I think imbues them with authenticity. The stories are pure imagination.

Editors
Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Jessica
No. My recommendation to writers who do is: pick up a book and read.

Editors
Who has been your greatest influence, writer or otherwise?

Jessica
Without hesitation – John Herman. I took several courses with him at Manhattanville. He is a great writer, a great thinker, and a great teacher. He made me understand what I was meant to do with the rest of my life – write!

Editors
What are you reading right now?

Jessica
I read at least a book a week. My preferred genre is literary fiction. Oddly, I never read mysteries, although that is the genre I am currently writing in. Now I am reading, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis, about the years following the American Revolution. I just finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt, because I loved The Goldfinch, We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride, and Two Rivers by T. Greenwood. T. Greenwood leads the read & critique group I have been a part of for about a year.

Editors
Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?

Jessica
I am putting the final tweaks on The Glass Curtain, a mystery novel. My agent will start marketing it when I am done. Then I will start revisions on the completed first draft of another novel called, The Eye Inside. Both novels revolve around the same characters. I’m hoping for a two book deal. If successful, I plan several more mysteries in this series.

Editors
What motivates you to create?

Jessica
Over the course of my business career, I always felt dissatisfied with my work. Energy expended with money as the sole end product falls flat. When I write, I feel sated. I liken the difference to junk food vs. a gourmet meal. I am driven to write by the elation I feel when I see a story spun solely from my imagination. And, it gives me untold joy when readers appreciate my stories.

Thank you Manhattanville!

*

unnamed-1
Jessica Dee Rohm, a lifelong writer and a serial entrepreneur, started her career at the New York Times. Her first solo enterprise, Jessica Dee Communications, a marketing and communications company, grew to be the sixteenth largest in the country when she sold it to the then largest advertising agency in the U.S., Chiat/Day. She earned her M.B.A. in management and marketing from Columbia Business School. In 2010, she was awarded her second master’s degree, an M.F.A. in creative writing, from Manhattanville College.

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November 24th, 2015

2 poems

O dazed pilgrims, lonely and high in the wide aisles
of white fluorescence! O peace of three a.m in a town
that says its prayers. O stained glass of shining bags!

The Stop and Go

O dazed pilgrims, lonely and high in the wide aisles
of white fluorescence! O peace of three a.m in a town
that says its prayers. O stained glass of shining bags!
O bored pilgrims restless of your brown couch!
Here the ladies of perpetual yes are wrapped in cellophane.
Here whiskey pints are lined up like metal milk bottles at the state fair.
Here are the flavored condoms and rolling papers.
Here are the barbecued pork rinds fresh from Gomorrah.
Here the liquid cheese stays hot while the wrinkled hot dogs
ride the wire Ferris wheel. O change for a dollar!
O Galaga machine with your row upon row of patterned doom!
Spend, pilgrims, spend! Paradise won’t be so cheap again.
 

*

Livery Cars

Around their home base, sullen, shut down,
My thoughts wait like livery cars,
Engines ticking, the squawk box leaking noise
Into the starless Brooklyn night:
Need a car,
Five minutes,
Where are you,
How long….
The important questions without end.
In answer: movement, the compass spinning
And from the mirror swinging, the mystical cross.
The voice says go and we go,
Car, thought, me through brownstone Brooklyn
Or we climb that beautiful lady of geometry,
Almost flying, Oscar Peterson on the stereo,
the boats underneath cutting the reflections of skyscrapers,
All to descend into drunken Manhattan,
Where the glittery minutes fall
Into the terrible glory hole of boredom.
Sometimes we take people home in the rain,
Women with one long strand of hair stuck to their cheek
Gripping their wet shopping bags
Smiling at the joke of it, the change in fortune
Just by stepping into a car.
Sometimes to the purple lobby of the opera house
In the once a year finery of another self
And it’s other tongue singing the lovers apart.
Sometimes the stunned meander to deathbeds or the hurry to secret beds.
Sometimes just to walk under a lit window and remember.
Sometimes home from the dentist
Holding our pain by the biblical jawbone.
Sometimes, lucky, lucky car,
We travel to the airport with only a back pack.
Sometimes we ferry the impossible.
Sometimes it is just me sunk deep in the fake leather,
Bereft of metaphor, feeling the glide
When the expressway loosens
And the car frame leans over the back wheels,
The front lifting slightly until the hood ornament,
Like a sight, aims an instant above
The pocked face of the unblinking moon.

*

Jason Primm pursues modest goals in a coastal city. When he isn’t writing, he can be found sharpening his slice backhand. His work has most recently appeared in here/there poetry, The Maynard, Heron Tree, burntdistrict and The Southern Humanities Review.

What motivates him to create:
“This question almost gave me a nervous breakdown. Writing or not writing has always had a certain amount of anxiety attached to it. If I’m not writing, I have a feeling that I’ve forgotten to do something. Maybe I left the house unlocked or the oven on and I’m on a train heading out of town. When I do have a poem going or even if I’ve recently written one, the anxiety is temporarily gone, but it is replaced with a manic concentration. Even when the poem is finished, I keep reading it. So I guess, the answer to the question is that I feel compelled. Seems like I should have a more positive, striking the flint of the universe kind of answer, but I don’t.”

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November 4th, 2015

Through the Hall

wrestling down Ezekiel from

the gates of bone-pearl Heaven

wrestling down Ezekiel from

the gates of bone-pearl Heaven

she cries for rain and all

the discomforts of silence

as if plucking the rib

from Adam

herself

 

*

 

Garrett De Temple was born a baby and has physically matured into an adult male human. He certainly enjoys stuff, but not as much as things. He’s currently working on two chapbooks, one of which is tentatively titled Panama City.

What motivates him to create:
“The idea of nothing.”

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October 8th, 2015

Postmortem

When I walked in the door, I hadn’t expected the room to be so full. My Dad was a funny guy: boisterous, entertaining. But the depth of most of his relationships ended there. He had a few good friends but otherwise people seemed to come and go in his life. He spent his afternoons in …

When I walked in the door, I hadn’t expected the room to be so full. My Dad was a funny guy: boisterous, entertaining. But the depth of most of his relationships ended there. He had a few good friends but otherwise people seemed to come and go in his life. He spent his afternoons in his Lay-Z-Boy watching the local news and any other free time at the bar or on the tennis court. The people milling around the room indicated a part of my father that I didn’t know. He was in the front; and he looked good, which even as I said it in my head sounded weird. How could anyone look good dead? It’s one of those things people say at funerals, though.

I took my seat in one of the front rows.

A preacher I didn’t know got up and starting saying things about my Dad, the general things you say when you don’t really know someone.

“Life is precious,” he said.

Life is short-lived, I thought.

“We need to cherish it,” he said.

It had been a long time since I’d been back here. Years ago, I played soccer across the street on the prairie dog fields and a few miles back I swam laps in the neighborhood pool every day after school. But the fields had been replaced by a large mall and the pool by a condominium complex and nothing was the same, yet I was expected to pretend like it was.

I probably should have made it out here before this. My father had lived here since he was six years old when his own family had moved from Nebraska to the budding Denver suburbs. I was born here. It was once home to me too, but sometimes memories aren’t enough.

“I’ll come next month,” I would say to him over the phone.

“That’s good,” he’d respond.

And I’d look for plane tickets the next day but never buy one and he’d never ask about it again.

Once, I did purchase the ticket. It was a humid summer day after a light rain that made it worse. I took the train out to JFK and waited at the airport. My flight was delayed, repeatedly, so that an eight o’clock in the morning flight still hadn’t taken off by the same time in the evening. I remember spending a lot of money that day with nothing to show for it but burnt coffee, tabloid magazines, a soggy turkey sandwich, a bag of jelly beans, and three bottles of water. The flats I wore dug into my arch, slowly building a blister, which went against the main reason I’d chosen them in the first place.

At just after nine, they cancelled my flight. I picked up one of those phones that dials some call center in another part of the country, probably Texas or Chicago, and told the woman I needed to rebook. I called him when she put me on hold.

“What’s a good weekend?” I looked at the calendar on my phone. Then put it back to my ear. “Two weekends from now?”

“Your flight is cancelled?”

“I’ve got the woman on the phone on my other ear.”

“What woman?” He smacked his gum.

“The United woman.”

“I knew this would happen,” he said.

“I’m on hold. She’s going to come back.”

“I hate flying. They’ve turned it into a nightmare.”

“Can you check?” I asked.

“I went grocery shopping.”

“What?”

“What am I supposed to do with all this food?”

The woman was speaking to me from the other receiver. Telling me she had an available flight and did I want it.

“Another time,” I said and hung up on them both.

That was the last time we spoke. Most people would probably feel bad about that, like they should have known it would be the last time or if they could re-do it, they would do it differently. But I didn’t really feel that way. That was how it was between me and him. At least we weren’t pretending.

The first man to speak at the funeral was about my age, thirty, and using words that didn’t enter my mind when it came to my father: good-listener, thoughtful, gentle.

“He was like a father to me,” the man said.

And I looked at him, closely, for a sign that I knew him, that I might have heard about him. He had ice blue eyes and a sharp chin. He was thin and tall and the clothes he wore didn’t seem to fit quite right—a little too big in the neck, a tiny bit too short in the arms, a tie a shade darker than it should have been. He spoke with a bit of a lisp, gestured frequently with only his right hand.

“I’ll miss you, Jerry,” he said and you could hear tears in his words.

As the blue-eyed man made his way back down to sit, people were murmuring in the crowd, agreeing with him.

“What is there to say about someone you love so much?” I asked the crowd when it was my turn at the podium.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t lie, that I wouldn’t tell them something about my father or our relationship that wasn’t true. So, I related a few fond childhood memories: our hikes up in Red Rocks and pretend concerts on the empty stage, the voices he made during long car rides to keep me entertained, the baby bird with a broken wing we carefully took to be rehabilitated at a local vet, the weeks he spent teaching me how to punt a soccer ball. I mentioned how much he made me laugh. I asked the audience if he did that for them too? They nodded.

“Laughing is important,” I told them. “It makes living easier. So maybe we can take a moment and thank this man for the ways in which he made our lives easier. Maybe, in the end, that’s all anyone can focus on for another person.”

I sat back down and listened as person after person got up to describe a man that I was coming to realize I had known differently than them.

Afterwards, in the lobby of the church, everyone gathered around a collection of things that used to be my father’s: a tie patterned with different colored dogs; an old tennis racket missing two strings; a signed football; a tarnished trophy from his induction into his college’s hall of fame; a well-used screwdriver; a heirloom mantel clock that donged every fifteen minutes; a large, crystal bowl full of his favorite type of gum.

“I heard you gave a nice speech,” the blue-eyed man said. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear it. I had to step out.”

I nodded. “Yours was nice.”

“He was a great man.”

I held out my hand, introduced myself. He took it and I waited for the recognition.

He pointed to the bowl of gum. “Bazooka was his favorite.”

“I know,” I said.

“How did you know Jerry?”

I said my name again.

He shook his head.

“His daughter.”

He leaned back, surprised. “He never told me about you.”

I wanted to tell him I’d never heard of him either, but instead, I looked to the bowl of gum. “He used to read the cartoons to me as a kid.”

The man was cradling each elbow in the opposite palm and staring at me.

“But maybe he did that for you too,” I said. It came out more spiteful than I’d wanted it to.

“I’m sorry,” the man said.

I picked up the crystal bowl and took it back into the church where my father was laying, a person or two still sitting in the pews.

He looked like a wax figure of himself, the stillness unsettling.

I rattled the gum in the bowl. Then did it twice more. And turned it upside down, pouring the pieces into the casket, the hard, little squares scattering about my father’s body. I thought about telling him how much I hated him for not being there and how little time we’re given and how he wasted his, wasted mine. I thought about whispering how I really felt into his waxy ear and having the last word. It was unfair for the room full of grievers, for the blue-eyed man, to know a better man than I did. I thought about yelling and screaming and pounding my fists against his chest.

But it was pointless, to be angry with a dead man and words no longer mattered. My hand brushed against the hardening shell of his body as I picked up a piece of gum, unwrapped it and read the comic to him.

 

*

 

Leslie Rapparlie’s short stories have appeared in The Stoneslide Corrective, The Evening Street Review, The Broken Plate, Flash Fiction Funny, Picayune, and South Philly Fiction. She received her MFA from Rutgers University, and also writes extensively about experiential education, teaching, and writing. She is currently a Writing Coach for MBA candidates at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and an instructor at The University of Colorado.

What motivates her to create:
Ideas and images come from the beautiful, complex, confusing, amazing, horrible, and dynamic world around me. I find myself using an interaction that I saw between people on the street or pulling a line of dialogue from when I was out to coffee with a friend or exaggerating a characteristic of someone I love to shape the lives of the characters on the page. I am motivated to write about situations that confuse, inspire, and torture me. I write to have a tether, to put what is inside, outside.

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September 28th, 2015

Maybe You Would Be Right

You said you did your best with me
so I guess a blow
across the jaw with broken Wedgewood
is an improvement over your worst
which would be the fork landed
in Sissy’s eye when she was 17

                    Dark and Light, bad and good, are not different but one and the same. —Heraclitus

 
You said you did your best with me
so I guess a blow
across the jaw with broken Wedgewood
is an improvement over your worst
which would be the fork landed
in Sissy’s eye when she was 17

I felt quiet and afraid
but you say I was Ethel Merman
on a high wire
I do remember using
Daddy’s barber scissors to cut off my pigtails
the sound so different from ripping
and then the shock
on your face that a 4 year old would do such a thing

 
Many memories of you I wish I could erase
but not the tucking in bed on a summer night
or reading Little Women and Charlotte’s Web aloud in the dusky bedroom

You never gave me the satisfaction of feeling really loved by you
even near the end when I hoped to fix the unfixable
you came out of your coma only to accuse me of wanting to kill you

I flew out to Los Angeles four times
because if nothing else a good daughter is there
when her mother dies but you waited
until I landed home

You wouldn’t see it that way I know
you would say the plate dropped and a piece flew up and cut my face
and you had to pull my hair that hard so I would listen
that you held on to spare me the pain of watching your last breath
that every day was like Ma, and Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy

                                                                 - and the bond between a spider and some pig

 

*

 

Denise Mozilo Frasca is a writer, educator, wife, mother, and grandmother (not necessarily in that order). She has received the James Nicholson Political Poetry Award for her poem “Memorial Day,” and was a selected poet for Poets and Writers on War and Peace. Her poems have been published in Mother/ Daughter Duets, a collection of essays and poems about adult daughter/mother relationships, and in The Westchester Review.

What motivates her to create:
Structure. I love that in a poem, everything counts—assonance, meter, rhyme, imagery, rhythm, syntax-and nothing is more immediately gratifying than when all the elements come together in a well-written poem. I enjoy “trying-on” other poet’s styles. Many of my poems started as an answer to a poem by another poet. I love the challenge of poetry prompts and trying new poetic forms. Many of my poems are not about anything I was trying to convey but simply just the product of my being intrigued by a particular poetry form. Awareness. I notice language in everything I hear and read. I look to “steal” odd word combinations, and to use unusual words in my pieces. I have birthed poems from store names, technical instructions and New York Times articles. Other artists. A trip to MoMA to see Matisse, a big band concert at the Ridgefield Playhouse, Beautiful on Broadway or an Author Talk with Richard Price at Jacob Burns often take on a second purpose—feeding my poetry. A good book. Reading well-crafted fiction pushes me to improve my own writing. Sometimes I meet a character in a book, and take on the challenge of writing a poem in her voice. Life’s difficulties. Often creating a poem is a part of my emotional process, such as when my mother died, or when I went through a bumpy patch in my marriage. I have used it to express my fears about my children growing up and away, and to fantasize about another path my life may have taken.

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September 15th, 2015

Crowd Surfing

The air is red. It slaps me like a thousand little pills as I fall through music and limbs. Every hand is a mouth, a word. This one wants a tibia, that one wants blood. I lean my head back and laugh, baring my incisors. You know, it’s true, what you said. You need to …

The air is red. It slaps me like a thousand little pills as I fall through music and limbs. Every hand is a mouth, a word. This one wants a tibia, that one wants blood. I lean my head back and laugh, baring my incisors. You know, it’s true, what you said. You need to starve to be free. Let it wipe everything clean. My fingers reach out and dig. A rib, a sternum, the hollow of a collarbone. It’s good. Hot hands cover my neck and stomach like peaches. They press, pinch. They’re taking my language, making it too bright, too solid to reside in bones. I shut my eyes and see your pale back, just before you jumped. I jumped. I’m falling now, falling through blue and yellow and violet, through hard noise. Will you be at the bottom?

 

*

 

Sara Henry’s work has appeared in Word Riot, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn and works at a literary agency in Manhattan.

What motivates her to create:
“Secrets motivate me to create. They can be shameful, strange, and unpredictable, but they always tell the truth, polite conversation be damned. With the power to transform the ugliest parts of us into the most beautiful, secrets are the closest things to magic we have.”

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September 8th, 2015

Morning, Miami Springs

To the east, dawn
gives a feeble push against
the stubborn night.

A sickle moon hangs
overhead, a thin tear
in the skies darkest corner.

To the east, dawn
gives a feeble push against
the stubborn night.

A sickle moon hangs
overhead, a thin tear
in the skies darkest corner.

In the street, a raccoon lies
frozen in place like a thief
caught at the flip of a light switch.

To the west, an orange tree
heavy with fruit
absorbs the day’s first light,

the oranges glowing
like lanterns carelessly left lit
overnight.

 

*

 

Ariel Francisco is a Miami poet currently completing his MFA at Florida International University where he is also the assistant editor of Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Portland Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Washington Square, and elsewhere.

What motivates him to create:
“The need to explore, interpret, and understand the world around me, and the experiences that come from that, are what motivate me to create. I draw a lot of inspiration from the ancient Japanese and Chinese poets: using the world to understand the world; daily occurrences and the nature that surrounds us are full of poetic opportunities. The real world is infinite to me and I wake up every day with the intention of deciphering it.”

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September 3rd, 2015

A Hiccup in Time

I heard it on the radio yesterday.
Scientists have discovered a hole in time,
filled with nature’s hair and empty bottles.
I tried to follow along.

I heard it on the radio yesterday.
Scientists have discovered a hole in time,
filled with nature’s hair and empty bottles.
I tried to follow along.
I imagined walking down a smooth street
and tripping on a lip of concrete—
(the scientists call this lip the event horizon).
Beneath this lip,
a black-mouthed sinkhole opens up—
blacker than the death of a dog.
The hole is infinite but the size of a pinprick—
expansive enough to contain a thousand black suns.
On the other side of the hole,
the sidewalk smooths again.
Everything that falls into this hole disappears
into its mysterious depth:
baby shoes,
love letters,
arguments,
fold in on themselves—
scramble,
and become random particles
never to reemerge.

The story made me feel very small.
Smaller than when I look up at the moon.
I realize I am a mere adhesion
on a thin tissue of time.
I am a postage stamp
on the missing envelope.
I am a floater,
a small pair of wings that forgot how to fly.
I am a cluster of pink buds falling
into a gap of my humility.

 

*

 

Suzanne O’Connell lives in Los Angeles where she is a poet and a clinical social worker. Her work can be found in Forge, Atlanta Review, G.W. Review, Reed Magazine, Permafrost, Mas Tequila Review, The Round, The Griffin, Sanskrit, Foliate Oak, Talking River, Organs of Vision and Speech Literary Magazine, Willow Review, The Tower Journal, Thin Air Magazine, The Evansville Review, Serving House Journal, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Licking River Review. She was a recipient of Willow Review’s annual award for 2014 for the poem Purple Summers. She is a member of Jack Grapes’ L.A. Poets and Writers Collective.

What motivates her to create:
“I write to communicate. It is a conversation first with myself and then hopefully with others. In my career as a therapist, I mostly listen, so this poetry-type of conversation is new and liberating.”

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