The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

May 31st, 2016

The Question Is

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the …

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the sitter can stay. The question is: What would Amy Albrecht-Ross do?

Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would never find herself in the A&P at this hour because she planned Reverend Ross’s birthday celebration weeks ago. It’s not as if his birthday is a moveable feast! She whispered into each of her four children’s rosy little ears their role in Daddy’s birthday festivities before she flew out Monday morning to present at the Aphra Behn Society, then back to teach on Tuesday. She ordered the cake, or, more likely, prepped the ingredients before she left, so she could cream the butter and slip the pans into the oven the moment she walked through the door. The children recited a poem they wrote in Daddy’s honor and presented him with sweetly grubby handmade gifts and cards. Reverend Ross was delighted. Professor Albrecht-Ross photoblogged the occasion on Pinterest.

No, what Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would do is never the question.

The question is: would Paul know the difference between a Betty Crocker Super Moist Golden Vanilla cake and a meticulously constructed Rose Levy Beranbaum All-American Downy Golden Butter Cake concocted from ingredients that include Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, which this store does not carry?

That, too, may not be precisely the right question.

Why bake him a cake at all could be the right question. Anyone whose birthday falls on a Wednesday late in the semester can’t expect his wife to bake him a birthday cake, especially when she teaches all morning, then attends faculty meetings all afternoon, and the birthday boy’s office hours don’t end until seven o’clock, after which he has a long commute. By the time he gets home, the girls will be in bed.

Why not just wait til the weekend to celebrate?

But if it’s only November and he already feels December distant, lost in midterms, department intrigue, tenure worries, and the book due in February, wouldn’t a cake seduce him back? Isn’t a woman who smells of butter and sugar and vanilla, but who can also keep up with her husband intellectually– keep up?–more accurate to say, surpass him, as she did in grad school, where such extraordinary things were expected of her that none of their friends can quite believe which spouse is stuck teaching freshman composition in community college and which landed the tenure-track position at Fordham–isn’t that woman too precious to drift away from every semester until he emerges two weeks after finals, dazed and blinking in the light of marriage and family? Won’t she be just fractionally further away every time, that much harder to summon back?

Would a cake from scratch be any more efficacious than one from a mix?

And why does no one else seem concerned? Why have six or seven other women maneuvered around the cart to grab jars of artificial chocolate frosting, pumpkin pie filling, corn bread mix–for God’s sake! What could be simpler than corn bread? What was even in the box?–graham cracker crusts, brownie mix. They say excuse me and look annoyed, but then again, shouldn’t they be annoyed at someone frozen in the middle of the baking aisle, contemplating cake mixes at dinnertime a week before Thanksgiving? What do they imagine the woman is doing?

It’s none of their business, and what are they doing, anyway, buying all that fake garbage? They may as well just buy their pies of gratitude from a good bakery. It will taste a lot better and save them from the charade of pretend baking. No bowls or blades to wash, either.

But anyway, that’s not the question.

The question is: why carry a purse that weighs ten pounds and drags at the neck and shoulder? Phone, tablet, notebook, wallet, student papers, Hannah’s little ballet slippers, a novel. Why not just leave it all in the car and bring only the debit and discount cards? But professorial dresses don’t have pockets, and carrying a small, light, backup purse with only the objects needed in the A&P is too much to aspire to at present, far too Amy Albrecht-Ross.

The question could be why dresses so rarely have pockets.

A better question is why anyone in her right mind would bake a cake when Le Gateau Suisse is only nine miles away.

Better still: who is crying? Or is that two people crying? Who cries in the A&P? Then again, isn’t the riotous excess of options, the tens of thousands of micro-decisions that constitute every expedition through this temple to consumer choice and evolutionary irrelevance enough to make anyone with even a fraction of her soul intact sob with gratitude, guilt, and despair?

Does one still believe in the soul?

That can hardly be the question right now, can it?

Does academia ruin a person for normal life might be a valid question. Another: is it better to keep reading the text of the baking aisle, or just to get on with Tuesday evening?

Still another: why won’t that child stop howling? Furthermore, if one began crying in the A&P, how would one ever stop?

The question is, essentially: if baking is about domesticity, and domesticity is the rarefied, exalted ideology of female subjugation made sweet and proper and pretty, the friendliest face of fascism, as it were, then why does the most feminist husband among the alpha males of Alwyn Park, a man whose dissertation was a Marxist analysis of HD and Muriel Rukeyser, love nothing more than when his wife bakes for him?

No, not nothing more. Why does he love to spank her, with his hand or belt or hairbrush, until she is aflame and whimpering, then penetrate her from behind, grinding her face into the sheets or the carpet, her arms spread wide?

Why does it bore both of them any other way?

To put it still more succinctly–is baking, at its root, the patriarchal ideology of domination and submission rendered in sugar and fat? Is baking simply sex in the kitchen?

Is there a conference paper hiding somewhere in these questions? An article? Can the baking aisle be a legitimate text for scholarly inquiry? Who would even touch that? Feminist Review? Journal of Material Culture? Cultural Anthropology? Some Marxist journal? Were those any easier to get into than the Woolf or Modernist ones? Three articles in five years do not constitute a ticket out of Mooreland Community College. Maybe BDSM and cake mix do.

The question remains whether any tickets out are ever available, once a decision is made. If one had stayed in Missouri, alone in the faculty apartment, teaching five classes of polite, earnest students per year, one would have published two books by now, at least, plus articles and conference papers. One would be tenured at Missouri, or perhaps on tenure track somewhere more impressive. But, then, no daughters, and likely, no Paul. Twice a month was not enough, the frequent flyer miles no substitute for frequent meals, frequent lovemaking. Six more months in Missouri, and the shy, dark-eyed medievalist in the office across the hall would have filled in the lacunae and annotated the aposiopeses in one’s long-distance marriage.

Fordham outranks Missouri. Children trump ambition. The only solution to the two-body problem is to subtract one body from the equation. One brain.

The question is not whether having children was the right choice. Margot had won that argument with her first scream of life. A newborn’s immediacy resists interpretation. A baby represents–no, not represents; is–that rarest of all things: an absolute. By her very existence, Margot, and three years later, Hannah, negated the question of whether their being was the result of prudent decision-making. They were irrefutable. A third child is not yet unthinkable.

A legitimate question remains, however, about whether these choices betoken the squandering of an expensive education, a question Mom and Dad politely refrain from asking, though, as their other daughter, the childless pediatric nephrologist often observes, they have every right to be furious with the result. But that raises (not begs, as one constantly had to remind students) a further question: if motherhood and community college mean that one has wasted a world-class education, is the damage permanent? Could one start over, out west again, perhaps, where a doctorate from the University of Chicago commands awe? Could that path wind far past the ranks of Fordham and onto something greater? Could an academic career have a caesura?

Maybe not. Amy Albrecht-Ross gave birth to each of her children in late May or early June. Professor Albrecht-Ross took no chances.

If the damage, however, were permanent, then couldn’t one simply give up? Join a book club? Watch those cable series everyone always tweets about? Take up tennis again? Stop feeling guilty about time wasted on the Internet? Learn, if it is not too late, how to relax?

Dr. Brenner, the chair of the English Department at Mooreland Community College declared at the tenure appointment, “You can teach here until your grandchildren have to drive you to work.” The years instantly spooled out ahead, skin collapsed into wrinkles, hair drained to white. Dizziness compelled sitting. Tenure, then, was not a prize. It was a life sentence.

Is it necessary, then, in the evenings after dinner, dishes, homework, bath time, bedtime, and grading, to join Paul in his study, log on to the Fordham library with his credentials, and read journal articles, take notes, formulate question after question in hopes that one might give rise to a theory? Is there any point, in the absence of colleagues with whom to volley ideas?

Why doesn’t Paul want to talk about Woolf these days?

The question is not why that woman on the PA system believes that children will love their mother if she brings home warm bread from the store bakery. The question is how she knows them so well. Baking a cake will have much the same result. They’ll say someday at the shiva, “Mommy baked the best birthday cakes, didn’t she?” Her children shall arise and call her blessed.

Why do we call it “performing gender identity,” anyway, as if anyone ever does it on purpose? As if a woman at home with young children won’t slip unconsciously into patterns as ancient as the archetype of the hearth-tending Divine Mother? As if giving children a sane upbringing didn’t require, on some level, the abnegation of certain crucial aspects of the mother’s identity? Require the mother, on some level, to embrace, even celebrate, the death of those precious facets of her soul?

Are we back to the soul again?

Why does the ability to name patriarchal tropes grant no power to destroy them?

Is it even possible to bake this ridiculous cake tonight is an outstanding question. When will there be time? After the children are asleep? But if he comes home exhausted at 9:30 to a house that smells like caramel mousseline (tricky to make, but divine in texture, smooth as the inside of the cheek, light as a butterfly kiss, sweet as pleasure itself), won’t the smell charge up his limbic system, draw him instantly out of theory and politics, students and colleagues, traffic and bridges, and return him to his senses? Would Paul be horrified–decent midwestern Lutheran that he was, Marxist feminist that he is–to recognize the atavistic charm of what arouses and satisfies him?

The question is whether irony is funny anymore.

Has Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross ever stood, paralyzed with indecision before a display of cake mixes while other shoppers pushed and wove around her? Nonsense. Amy Albrecht-Ross is not a woman paralyzed with indecision about anything. Surely, she would have tweeted it, or Instagrammed an indecisive selfie, or composed a meditative blog post about it, connecting it to one of her husband’s Episcopal homilies, or maybe to Julian of Norwich.

The question is whether one can constantly read against the text of one’s life and still live it.

The question is why people are crying in the A&P.

The question is whether there is any point in asking these questions, once all the choices have been made and the consequences manifested.

The question is why I, too, am now crying in the A&P, and whether this is, considered correctly, hilarious, and–more to the point, if it is possible to stop either laughing or crying.

The question is: what time does Le Gateau Suisse close?

The question is: who is that screaming in the meat department?

*

Julie M. Goldberg is a writer, librarian, and teacher. Her fiction and essays have appeared in River, River, Mothers Always Write, Magnificent Nose, and on her blog, Perfect Whole. Julie lives in the Lower Hudson Valley with her husband and their two children. She is an obsessive reader, an occasional jazz singer, and an enthusiastic baker. “The Question Is” is a chapter from her current work in progress.

What motivates her to create?
In my early forties, I came to understand that I would die whether or not I ever finished writing the book I’d been dreaming about for years, and decided that I didn’t want to die without having written it. Procrastination born of self-doubt would not extend my time by one moment. It was urgent to create. And now, as I work my way through my second book (a chapter of which is “The Question Is,”) it remains urgent.

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May 27th, 2016

Waffle House for Carter

Dammit, Carter, this greasy morning coffee, spattered and scattered breakfast will not blind the poet’s eye. The juke box goes cold until the swolled woman in the red pleather coat checks out of her hotel room and into a booth. Among the spatulas, waffle irons, grill scrapers, the clatter of breakfast utensils, this woman is …

Dammit, Carter,

this greasy morning coffee,

spattered and scattered breakfast

will not blind the poet’s eye.

The juke box goes cold until

the swolled woman in the red

pleather coat checks out of her

hotel room and into a booth.

Among the spatulas, waffle irons,

grill scrapers, the clatter of breakfast

utensils, this woman is slipped

up under some man who is not

her husband he feeds the juke box

and Otis, Al and Luther rattle

out of the busted overhead speaker.

There’s a dope dealer with a cell

phone in his ear and an orange soda

in his hand covered with gold rings

at the booth across the way.

The Waffle House workers are

checked out, clocked out, off

the floor except for Belinda,

the blond headed black lady who

keeps my coffee full and hot.

I harmonize with the noise of

minimum wage workers and Al,

Luther and Otis and when the lady

stuffs her last dollar into the what-could-be

a Wurlitzer, I feel the need to move

or are my feet just stuck to the floor.

Four cups of coffee are enough to move

a man with prostate problems, eggs

and sausage can’t hurt this heart that’s

been scattered and splattered like the faces

of the patrons at the Waffle House

Early Bird Special. Two rode

hard white alcoholic painters

pulling overtime to keep from

losing their doublewide, a bald

headed brother with Bluetooth

and cheap gold chains hustling

knock off Tim’s out of his

Mercedes with thirty-day tags,

the poor little white girl with big ears

and shiny new braces that her

step-daddy barely can afford on

the tithes he gets from his part-time

gig at the store front church, preaching

to a congregation who believe in waffles,

the salvation of maple syrup. Now Miss

Belinda makes another round with extra

creamer, we all need lightning up she jokes,

I’ve seen it all. What comes out after

midnight ain’t worth speaking about

and church people are piss poor tippers,

Granddaddy said, can’t trust a town where

there are more steeples than liquor stores.

*

Marty Silverthorne holds degrees from St. Andrews Presbyterian College and East Carolina University. He has published six chapbooks including his latest Holy Ghosts of Whiskey. He has received several grants from the NC Arts Council and in 2015 he won the NC Poetry Society Poet Laureate Award.

What motivates him to create?
I’m infected with the sound of words and what they convey.

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May 24th, 2016

Deponent

de·po·nent/diˈpōnənt adjective 1. (of a verb, esp. in Latin or Greek) passive or middle in form but active in meaning. noun 1. a deponent verb. 2. a person who makes a deposition or affidavit under oath. I live alone. I sleep with women, if that does anything for you. I keep souvenirs of former selves. …

de·po·nent/diˈpōnənt
adjective
1. (of a verb, esp. in Latin or Greek) passive or middle in form but active in meaning.
noun
1. a deponent verb.
2. a person who makes a deposition or affidavit under oath.

I live alone. I sleep with women, if that does anything for you. I keep souvenirs of former selves. Baby teeth in a short-statured jar inside the solitary drawer of my bedside table. No lamp atop the table. In a plain white envelope in the drawer are pictures taken with a Polaroid camera which was once my aunt’s. She’s dead now. Breast cancer didn’t kill her. A psychotic homeless man did. Violence, eh? A man’s realm, I say. The photographs are of parks and ducks and snowball fights. Vinyl albums in a crate beneath a shelf system augmented with a turntable. I have music in other forms but the records are my darlings. They are art, they have texture. Chronicle of my favorites? Not forthcoming. Don’t try to define people by their tastes. You may be right most of the time but it’s a bit reductive, no? And hipsterish. I have girth. Some would call me a fat woman. Though I know I am not pretty, I relish expensive haircuts and fashionable shoes. Supercuts and Payless? Never. God, no.

My thoughts are mine own. Sounds better that way. More distinguished. Like sepia. Like the heyday of thoroughbred racehorses. Like cigar smoke smells and pipe-sweet smells and tobacco, not cheap overpriced cigarettes but real tobacco, from a tobacco store, an establishment that specializes in tobacco. My known. I enjoy such smells but I do not smoke. Mild asthma, self-diagnosed. My few friends and acquaintances tend to be men. Women I’ve had as roommates. Three Jessicas. One robust, one diminutive, one an artist’s daughter only child from Chicago who was terribly messy. Of the other two, I slept with one, and the other is the closest thing I have to that rare entity – the female friend. We see each other three or four times a year. Greek food. An off-Broadway play. We both like strong coffee and eating breakfast at non-breakfast hours.

Jewelry isn’t my thing but I own some, bequeathed to me by dead mother, dead grandmother, dead aunts. I did a stint in a mental hospital, self-admitted. But I wouldn’t take those head drugs and never will.

Can you see me? Does it matter? Who the fuck are you? Does it matter? I think in a different life I could have been a judge. Stentorian-voiced female judge. A person of gravitas. Silver-haired and snarky. Like Fran Lebowitz on Law & Order. She’s a writer I studied in college. I was a dyke before college but college brought it out of me, showed me other dykes, told me I was taking possession of a word. They shaved their heads and not their armpits, which fascinated me. I didn’t dance until I was out of college. Figured dancing was like high school dances. But then I tried clubs and raves and body drugs and oblivion and it was pretty dark and pretty cliché. Like vampire fetishes. Like cocaine. Like ostentatious wrong color riot grrl lipstick. Like the fucking omnipresence of computers and fancy cell phones, that hateful glow they emit.

So I am not a techie or one of those proud nerds. I’m afraid of bugs. Insects always seem carnivorous to me even though I know most of them aren’t. My disgust is our disgust. Who really likes insects? Even those entomologist guys from Silence of the Lambs didn’t really seem to like them. It was just an obsession they’d settled on. They were weird men, unthreatening to our protagonist Miss Starling. Birds. Ravens. Poems. Girls who read. I guess I’m a girl who reads, a woman who reads, but I don’t like that designation, the predictability of it. The saccharine nature of those tired, shleppy, bookstore browsing, author admiring, tea drinking women is something I detest and detest and detest and detest.

I like companionship but I don’t need it the way desperate women need it. I prefer to give the cunnilingus and whatnot. Just provide me with a sturdy hug and kiss all on my neck. I’m not emotionally stunted, I’m just utilitarian. Educated and employed and unassuming. I’m all but invisible. I blend right in. I’m a roll of masking tape on a dusty toolshed workbench. Most men in the world, it’s not that they actively ignore me, they just don’t interact with me, not at all most days, nor I with them, except perhaps to place an order. There’s something unkempt and slovenly and stray cat about a man who’s a server. Waitresses have dignity. But a waiter is a scumbag, a sorry excuse for a suck-up salesman. A pleader and manipulator. A peasant.

Singing in the shower. I used to do it when I was young. I am not old, but I am too old to sing in the shower unselfconsciously. I know no one can hear. I can hear.

Some would call me misanthropic. The last time I slept with a man I was thirty and he was four years older and married. I had no compunctions. I am low maintenance and don’t get attached. I guess that makes me ‘single,’ but that word from me you shall not hear an utterance. I enjoyed watching old episodes of The Cosby Show but they took them off the air. They were the last relic of an unironic past that was also noble and progressive, if admittedly cheesy, and most of the later episodes are godawful. He was a talented man that Bill Cosby, and now they say he was a serial rapist. I don’t care much for all that persecution narrative and am starting to wish he’d just drop dead. Well, it won’t be long. Not for any of us.

Why write this down? Why write anything down? Why raise a voice? Why not admit it’s all pointless? I would like to lecture on something, to convey my ideas to the masses, to hold out the proverbial olive branch to some younger version of myself. I am an outlier. I tried to join E-Harmony, just out of curiosity, and because I like filling out those personality surveys and psych tests to see if they get me right. They said they couldn’t help me. E-Harmony actually rejects 20% of their applicants. Emma Goldmans and Gertrude Steins. Robert Crumbs and Harvey Pekars. I don’t read comics – god, no – but I like documentaries. Those comic book convention people? The ones who gather and wear costumes? Sad. Sad sad sad.

My life is structured. Most nights I watch basketball, men’s basketball, the Knicks in particular, though they haven’t been good in a long time. They have names like Amar’e and Carmelo and Tyson. The black guys with all the tattoos, I must admit I didn’t see that coming. I don’t need to mingle or root or talk to people, but otherwise sports bars are tolerable places. The patrons are comical. They look like they’re all named Trevor or Justin. Just think of it as absurdist theatre and you can really enjoy it, even if you’re a woman. The bartenders in the jerseys which have been altered to expose cleavage and midriffs, they make good tips those girls. Still, it’s self-abnegation, a jovial object, the cheerleader archetype. Unlike college sports, pro teams have no male cheerleaders.

There’s no way out of my own head. I realize this. I have no pets (god, no) and rely on very little closeness or affection or words of that nature. They are only words after all, concepts, sentimental American ones if we’re going to be honest. Women’s basketball is also a ‘god, no.’ As is the confinement of ‘lesbian.’ I don’t dislike pornography but its proliferation online is rather staggering. Something about it doesn’t bode well.

I give to charities if I find them morally uncorrupt. I am not above being awed by beauty, looking up like a seated spectator at a rural Memorial Day parade and smiling when I see my cousin waving from a float in his dress uniform. But what I prefer to look up at is a naked individual, statuesque, the superficial construction of a well-built person, regardless of gender. I don’t consider myself lucky to get them into my bedroom. It takes skill and gumption and character.

My mother had character. In her face and in her carriage. So few women have good posture these days. Now I sound old. Like my mother’s mother, an immigrant from northern Germany, in case that matters to you. If my grandmother was an immigrant then my mother was a soldier and I am a civilian. That is the progression. And it is unimportant probably. As are we all.

*

Sean Hooks was born and raised in New Jersey. He has a BA-Liberal Arts from Drew University, an MFA-Fiction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and an MA-English from Loyola Marymount University. He currently lives, writes and teaches in Los Angeles. Publications include Pif Magazine, Superstition Review, SubStance, FORTH Magazine, Intellectual Refuge, The Journal, Heavy Feather Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Las Vegas Weekly, The Record, Ginosko Literary Journal, and Akashic Books.

What motivates him to create?
It’s about building something, about harnessing a certain energy and giving it focus, about continually endeavoring to do things in writing that haven’t been done before.

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May 21st, 2016

Guruji

“Will all those who have not done their homework, please stand up,” said Naithaniji in his deep gravelly voice. A bolt of cold terror ran down Murli Prasad’s back. Not only had he not done his homework, he also did not know how to say that in English, which he knew from experience, was going …

“Will all those who have not done their homework, please stand up,” said Naithaniji in his deep gravelly voice. A bolt of cold terror ran down Murli Prasad’s back. Not only had he not done his homework, he also did not know how to say that in English, which he knew from experience, was going to be Guruji’s next request. He was absolutely right. “Those standing will now tell me why they haven’t completed their homework,” Guruji’s voice was cold and he was menacingly stroking the thin cane in his hand.

It was a time to test friendships. While Guruji turned his back to the class to spit the remains of the betel nut in his mouth into the dustbin, Murli whispered urgently to Ajay sitting next to him. “Batha, jaldi batha,” he growled, “homework nahin kiya ko angrezi mein kya kehte hain”. (Tell me quick, how you say you haven’t done your homework in English).“I did not do my home work,” Ajay whispered back, wiping his running nose with the back of his frayed sweater sleeve while pretending to be deeply engrossed in the English textbook open on his desk. A smart move since Guruji had turned back to the class again and was wiping his white moustache (that had acquired a fine spray of red from the chewed supari whose remnants he had so deftly deposited in the bin). “Yes Murli? ” he asked, prowling around Murli’s desk like a bagh in the forest. Murli was getting confused. He and his mother had come to live in Jaiharikhal with his father who was a soldier in the Army, only recently. Back in the village, he had never been exposed to spoken English. He could write the alphabets and do the A for Apple, B for Boy routine quite well if there was a picture book at hand. But speaking full sentences was a formidable task. “I d-d-d …I do not do my homework,” he mumbled, trying desperately to remember the sequence of words. The cane had landed on his bottom before the sentence ended. “You village bumpkins, you squat on stones to shit. You think you can be like the English? Angrez kursi pe baith ke hagte hain (the English sit on chairs to shit),” Naithaniji growled, moving on to pop some more supari into his mouth. Murli Prasad was allowed to sit down on his sore backside. He immediately got into a hushed discussion with Ajay about what the toilets of the English would look like and how difficult it must be to shit in a formal sitting position.

Other than his English class, he was enjoying school. The boys were rosy cheeked and friendly and often came to class in slippers and pyjamas, which made Murli feel quite at home. That mother had washed their grey school trousers and they had not dried yet was a good enough excuse to not be in uniform. Jaiharikhal was a cold place and Guruji knew that none of the families could afford to get more than one school trouser stitched for their children. As long as you had some parts of your uniform in place, no punishments were meted out. While some of the boys wore pyjamas with school shirts, ties and sweaters; others teamed uniform pants with their home pullovers. Some even came wearing their older siblings’ footwear, either having broken the straps of their slippers playing football or not being able to find one of the pair in a hurry to get to school before the assembly bell rang. Many of the girls wore skirts with hems let out term after term, the faded stitch line showing just how much they had grown.

While Guruji got very upset with incorrect English, he was quite understanding about shabby dressing. In fact, he endorsed it. Often he would himself come to class in a pullover that was gently unraveling from the back where he had caught it on a lose nail sticking out of his chair in the classroom. In fact, most of Naithaniji’s clothes had a tear at the back from the nail, which acted as a sort of indication that he was the class teacher for standard five.

Whatever be his animosity towards the English language and Naithaniji’s cane, Murli bore no malice towards his teacher. In fact, one day he decided to put an end to the nail’s evil acts. He got hold of the heavy class duster and was in the process of hammering the wicked nail poking out of the class teacher’s chair in with some hearty knocks when Naithaniji walked in and caught him by the ear, suspecting that he was up to some trick. While Murli was too tongue tied to explain what he was doing (he also could not say it in English) the best student in class explained his attempted good deed and made Naithaniji take off his sweater to show him the tear the nail had made.

“Thank you my, boy,” a visibly touched Naithaniji said to Murli, letting go of the ear he was holding, “I’m sorry.” “Menshon nat, guruji,” Murli declared, blushing as pink as the tip of his pinched ear. “Not. Pronounce that as ‘naught’”, smiled Guruji, correcting him gently. That was the first time Naithaniji had smiled at him. For Murli the sun came out from behind the clouds and sent a warm ray right into the classroom where he was standing next to his English teacher.

Thereafter, Murli Prasad started liking his English class. He learnt that instead of “My come in Sir,” he had to say “May I come in Sir”. What he thought was “Omlette” was in fact “I am late”. And if he rephrased “May I do toilet?” just a bit and instead asked: “May I go to the toilet?” it made Naithaniji so much happier.

On his way to school, a five kilometer walk from his house, Murli would sometimes catch the maroon of Naithaniji’s pullover far ahead in a turn on the road. He would sling his bag across his back, sprint along the hillside, and clamber up the slopes, getting wisps of fern and fallen pine leaves caught in his hair, to catch up with his English teacher. Breathless and red nosed from the early morning run in the cold, he would greet Naithaniji with “Namaste Guruji,” adding a “Good Morning Sir” for good measure. The two would then walk together in companionable silence listening to the rustle of the wind up in the Pine trees and the piercing “Kafal pako, mil na chakho” (the kafal fruit has ripened but I didn’t taste it) of the hill bird, hidden in the thicket somewhere. They would watch the white flecked Whistling Thrush hop across the track and see the snow covered Dhauladhar ranges far in the distance changing colour in the sunlight on a clear day. Sometimes, they would come upon a patch of wild flowers and Murli would point them out because he had come to love the verse Guruji would break into.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.”

Murli did not know what daffodils looked like and when he asked guruji, he didn’t either. “They grow in England Murli. Maybe when you grow up you will go there and see them some day. I know I never will. But that doesn’t matter, I’m sure they are as pretty as the yellow marigolds we have growing in our town”.

Many years passed. Murli cleared his civil services exams and interview (in English) and joined the External Affairs Ministry. On his first posting to Birmingham, he came across a clutch of golden yellow flowers growing along the bank of the Edgbaston Reservoir. Next to them was a signboard that read: Please don’t pluck daffodils. Murli stared at them for almost an eternity. He looked beyond the still blue waters to the narrow mud track that turned along the edge of the lake. He thought he could see a man with a familiar shuffling walk and an old maroon pullover with a rip in the back, darned with a mismatched thread. If he could have, he would have run after that fading figure and pulled at his elbow, where the sleeve sagged a bit. Instead, he just blinked to clear the wetness in his eyes that was blurring his vision. “Look Guruji, daffodils,” he said to himself, gently reaching out to touch a yellow petal.

Naithaniji had passed away many years back making his final journey in a bier lifted by his sons. There had been yellow marigold flowers scattered on the white sheet covering his body.

*

Rachna Bisht Rawat is a full time mom and part time writer. She lives in Delhi with her husband Manoj, teenage son Saransh the Wise and a crazy overgrown Golden Retriever – Huzoor, which (roughly translated from Urdu) means, Your Highness.

What motivates her to create?
I was a quiet, shy, introvert in my childhood. Scared and insecure. When I started writing I realised it gave me the gifts of confidence, perception, happiness and the ability to make friends, if only in my stories. Slowly these qualities started seeping into my personality. Writing comes naturally to me. If I didn’t write, I doubt I would be as happy and content as I am now.

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May 20th, 2016

2 poems

Reading Ravensbruck These women suffered Unimaginable brutality. Kicks, Floggings, standing hours in icy rain, subsisting On rutabaga soup and ersatz coffee. Shot for amusement or for talking To a friend or for praying. Gassed In groups. The hellishness torments me Like a bird of prey ripping A rabbit into bits. A friend says at her …

Reading Ravensbruck

These women suffered
Unimaginable brutality. Kicks,
Floggings, standing hours in icy rain, subsisting
On rutabaga soup and ersatz coffee.
Shot for amusement or for talking
To a friend or for praying. Gassed
In groups. The hellishness torments me
Like a bird of prey ripping
A rabbit into bits. A friend says at her age
She reads for enjoyment. But these things
Happen again and again. These women,
Many of them couldn’t believe they would be taken
Or that their destination was not another camp
But a grave. Some smiled and waved
From the truckbed. One Polish girl
Pointed skyward. She would have turned these pages
Of despair just as I do thinking knowledge
Could be a defense
Against the future. It is the future:
Boats full of refugees are sinking,
Families shot in their beds,
Girls abducted from school rooms,
Children taught to slaughter.
All these printed words can’t capture
One moment of happiness or surcease,
Yet some of the women marched singing
To the lethal showers, some of them
Holding hands.

No Trophies of the Sun
After Hart Crane

Splashes of light beneath the trees
Migrate like birds in a forecast
Of instinct and pressing time

Which repeats itself like words
Misunderstood in the common tongue
Of dailyness. What we expect

Is what we think we earn.
So no surprise that flowers overnight
Will take us in white arms

As if engaged with lilies.
The coffin-haunted blooms
Engulf the rooms of people

Who dust the shelves and pour
Coffee into morning mugs. Who wait
For each day to imitate the other.

*

Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review,etc. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 16 books including Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and “Ribcage” from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. She has two books forthcoming in 2016 and 2017. One of her poems is among the winners of the 2016 Atlantic Review International Poetry Contest. Colby is also a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Kentucky Review.

What motivates her to create?
I’ve been writing poetry and fiction all my life. Insofar as poetry is concerned, my chief motivation is that I hope the poem will reveal something to me that I didn’t previously know.

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May 17th, 2016

1 poem

Going Nowhere It’s a glitch in the cell towers, signals flitting about in the air like gnats; people trace their filched phones to a green, clapboard country house. They arrive red-faced, raging. Sometimes they bring the police, pound with fists to get in, don’t believe the man that opens the door only to mumble, mistake. …

Going Nowhere

It’s a glitch in the cell towers,
signals flitting about in the air like gnats;
people trace their filched phones
to a green, clapboard country house.
They arrive red-faced, raging.
Sometimes they bring the police,
pound with fists to get in,
don’t believe the man that opens the door
only to mumble, mistake. No one wants
to think, mistake. One time, the police tracked
a kidnapped girl’s phone to that home,
forced those who lived there
to stand outside while they searched.

Like the misdirection when you and I
talked and it felt as if we had tried for too many
years, and we agreed to try harder, hoping
for peace. I thought I had heard
something real. I didn’t want to think
I’d made a mistake,
its buildup of ceasefire impossibility.
Though then, no one pounded on the door.
No one was of interest to the police.
No one cried, but rage was everywhere.
No one ever acknowledged jurisdiction.

*

Susana H. Case’s newest book is 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press, 2014). Author of four full-length poetry collections and four chapbooks, including The Scottish Café which was re-released in a Polish-English version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, by Opole University Press, she is a Professor at the New York Institute of Technology.

What motivates her to create?
I was taught at an early age that creativity was more important than money, than a fancy car, than many material things that often motivate people. Writing isn’t the only activity that makes me feel alive, but it is up there in importance to me.

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May 14th, 2016

2 photos

“A Boy in Dark Glasses at Night”   “U”   A poet, visual poet, artist, essayist and playwright working in New York and Washington, DC, John Vieira’s art and visual poems have been exhibited at museums and galleries internationally, including Artpool Art Research Center (Budapest), the Pace-McGill Gallery (New York), and “The Golden Jubilee National …

A Boy in Dark Glasses at night

“A Boy in Dark Glasses at Night”

 

U

“U”

 

A poet, visual poet, artist, essayist and playwright working in New York and Washington, DC, John Vieira’s art and visual poems have been exhibited at museums and galleries internationally, including Artpool Art Research Center (Budapest), the Pace-McGill Gallery (New York), and “The Golden Jubilee National Festival of Arts and Culture” (Kumasi, Ghana), and can be found in many special collections, including The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry (Miami). An entry on his career with a specimen of work appears in A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, 2nd ed. (New York, Schirmer Books, 2000).

What motivates him to create:
Creating is a means for me to be ecstatic which I find an important element to constantly be re-introducing into life, to give me relief from my egocentricity (which is otherwise what is usually mostly operating in my living). Our society tends to think of “ecstasy” as being “high”, but the etymology of this word suggests a more fundamental meaning: “to stand outside”, or, as I’m saying here, “to be outside of oneself”. And anyone who creates knows this feeling (when you get out of the way and the work mysteriously comes together almost on its own), and if, in the making of a work, we’re true to the allowing of this to the best of our capability moment to moment, then, subsequently, others reading / viewing / or otherwise appreciating that work may also–to whatever degree–enter into the ecstasy that hopefully inheres in it (and of which their egos probably also need that same enjoyment and relief).

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April 29th, 2016

Winter Haven

The sun is coming up now, its first light a promise of warmth. It’s probably a lie, though. I’ve lived here long enough to know that the cold will fight off the day, that the snow won’t melt, that the icicles hanging from the gutters ain’t going anywhere.

The sun is coming up now, its first light a promise of warmth. It’s probably a lie, though. I’ve lived here long enough to know that the cold will fight off the day, that the snow won’t melt, that the icicles hanging from the gutters ain’t going anywhere.
Darla is still asleep. She won’t wake until I’m making lunch. Which is fine by me.
It’s cold in the bathroom. I lean one hand against the wall and hold myself with the other while I piss. It takes forever.
I want to crawl back into bed but I pull on my wool socks, my thermals and the cleanest pair of jeans I can find then make my way to the kitchen. There are still some embers in the wood stove so I shove a few logs in on top of the crumpled sports section. The paper catches and the flames march across it in a steady advance. I close the stove door, drop the latch and hold my hands over top of it.
It ain’t like this down there in Florida. In Florida they got palm trees. Here it’s just snow. Here it’s just two chairs at the eating table. I got half a mind to put the third one out, just to remember how things used to be. That wouldn’t change nothing though.
The birdfeeder out back is empty. Two sparrows with white stripes on their heads are scratching at the frozen ground below it. A cardinal lands on the perch, looks at the empty tray and flies away.
We keep the birdseed in the shed. We keep it there because it attracts mice and we can’t have that in the house. At least that’s what Darla says. I say bullshit. Put it in Tupperware on the top shelf of the pantry. But Darla’s not having none of that.
The cold stings. My breath freezes in my lungs as I walk along the path I’ve shoveled in the snow. The shed is locked. Seventeen, twelve, thirty-six. I pull down on the lock and it comes undone. It’s warmer in the shed. The wind is blocked but still the cold comes in through the building’s seams.
I turn on the electric heater. It hums. The coils glow. It’s old and very likely will burn down the shed one day. The lantern throws shadows against the walls. I pick up a wrench and hang it in its spot. Darla hates the shed. She says it smells. She says nothing’s in place. She says rodents nest in the walls. I love the shed. It smells. Nothing’s in place. Rodents nest in the walls.
I’ve come to get birdseed. I tell myself that but instead I lift up a floorboard and retrieve a shoebox and set it on the bench. My hands are shaking. It’s the cold. I crack the door. The house is quiet. There are no lights on.
I return to the shoebox. I breath in, the air now warmer, thanks to the heater. I grasp the lid. I close my eyes.
Darla won’t wake until I’m making lunch.
She’ll want me to make her bacon and eggs. I’ll say you know where they are you make them. She’ll yell at me and call me an ungrateful bastard. She’ll throw something. I’ll cave and make her eggs and bacon. I’ll remind her later, at night, when we’re both in bed, I’ll remind her what I did for her and ask her to repay the favor. Maybe she will. Probably she won’t. I’ll beg but it won’t matter.
The shoebox is held together by tape. The lid has lost two of its sides. I run my hand along the top. I look out the door again. The house is still dark. There are no birds under the feeder.
I should just put the shoebox back. Instead I lock the shed door from the inside. I open the box and pull out the pictures. It’s kind of silly, I know, because I’ve looked at them so much that if I were an artist I could paint them with my eyes shut. The wave of her hair, the dimple of her smile. The hand on her shoulder.
It’s all that’s in the shoebox. Three pictures. One held together with tape.
Outside there’s a noise and I drop the picture and run to the door, put my ear against it. The metal is cold. My breath hangs in the air. I hear nothing. Darla is still sleeping. She won’t wake till I’m making lunch.
I pace a couple times. My daddy used to do that same thing. The apple falls where it does. I pick up the picture that’s been taped all over. Tape nowadays don’t yellow like it use to. I run a finger along it. Sometimes I think when I do this she’ll come to life, just show up right there in my shed. I know it’s no good to think that but sometimes I think it anyway.
I push down on the floorboard that’s in front of the workbench. I pull out a different shoebox. Inside there’s an ad I’ve ripped out of one of those magazines Darla used to subscribe to. It’s a woman in a bra. She’s not a supermodel or anything. She’s just a damn fine looking woman. I think, when I first saw her this is what I thought, that she looks like the kind of woman I would have married if I hadn’t married Darla so I ripped it out and stuck it in my shoebox. It’s an old picture, but I don’t care. I’m old now too.
I set it aside and pick up the other ads I’ve ripped out of magazines. They’re paper clipped together. I take the paper clip off and set it on the bench. I walk over to the door and open it a few inches. This spooks some snowbirds and they fly off into the shrubs I planted with Amanda. The house is still dark. Darla won’t wake till I’m making lunch. I shut the door again and slide the deadbolt into place.
The ad on the top of the pile has a girl wearing one of those skimpy bikinis. She’s on a beach in Tahiti. The sun is shining. The sand is white. The water is light blue. There ain’t snow everywhere. The next couple of pages are a paid advertisement section I ripped out of a magazine I stole from the doctor’s office. It’s one of them infomercials but printed and not on the tv. It’s all about Polk County Florida. They got a place called Winter Haven there. A fellow could buy himself a trailer and live there and never have to light a stove first thing after he waked and pissed. There’s a phone number for a real estate person. I know it by heart. One day I’ll call it. Twenty-five hundred dollars could start me out just fine down there, in a trailer in Polk County.
I feel guilty thinking this and I look back at the taped together picture. This is the picture I had under my mattress. She’s eight years old, looking up like she’s looking at angels. Darla found it one day and ripped it up and beat on me. The doc said he thought my ribs were broken but I said that they probably was just cracked. That was the only time I ever hit her back. Punched her in the eye. Knocked her down. I hadn’t never hit anyone before. It didn’t feel good.
Darla said if the good Lord were going to take our little Amanda away she weren’t going have reminders of her all over the place. Not in her house. So after that there weren’t any pictures of her anywhere. Except for the three I kept.
I put the lids on both of the boxes and set them to the side. It’s starting to get warm in the shed but the stove in the house probably needs another log so I go back to the house. The sun is higher now. It reflects on the ice that coats the porch railing. I throw in a few more logs and then peek into the bedroom. Darla’s sleeping on her back. Her mouth is wide open. She won’t wake until later, when I’m making lunch.
I go back to the shed and lock the door and slide back the third floorboard. This is where I keep the moneybox. I got it from KMarts back when they was Walmart. Darla gives me twenty dollars every week to spend. It’s all inside this box.
I set the box on the bench and unlock it. I go back over to the deadbolt and give it another shove to make sure. I put this week’s twenty in the box then unfold the piece of paper I keep inside the box. I do the math. It’s easy. Two thousand, three hundred and eighty. I erase the old number and write the new one. I’m so close. I can feel the Florida sun on my face. It’s bright and it’s warm. I look directly into it. I close my eyes. It’s still bright. But there’s a black spot to the side. It’s always there.
I pick up a worn newspaper clipping. Johnstone’s Memorials. I cut it out of the Courier the day after Amanda passed. My company gave me ten thousand dollars to help pay for the service and what not. The headstone would have only cost two thousand five hundred. We had enough left over. We had plenty but damn her to hell, Darla wouldn’t have none of it. She weren’t going to waste good money on a headstone. God knew what He’d done. We didn’t need to make no monument for it.
But damn her to hell. Amanda deserves better. The snow covers her plaque. She looks so lonely. And I almost got enough to buy a proper headstone. I don’t give no care to Darla what she would think about it. It’s my money. She ever actually get out to the graveyard she might have some words for me. Maybe even give some bruises. But damn her to hell, Darla Jeannette Jones.
In six weeks my moneybox will have twenty-five hundred dollars inside of it.
I set all the boxes in their spots. I put the floorboards back. I pull the deadbolt and slide the door open. Long shadows cross my path. I walk out into the snow and hold my arms up. I’m in Winter Haven. There’s no aches in my joints. There’s no snow to be shoveled. There’s a girl in a bikini. I’m no fool, I know she ain’t looking at me, old coot that I am. But still, she’s there. The world spins around me. Palm trees go by but then I’m at Amanda’s grave. She needs dignity. Ain’t nobody should be treated like a dog, being buried without no proper headstone. Sometimes I imagine she’d say Go to Florida, Poppy. Spend that money on a trailer. I don’t need no proper headstone. Do what makes you happy. But no eight-year old girl ever talked like that.
I go inside. I pull the bedroom door shut. I stand by the stove. I put a pot on the burner. I go to the parlor and look at the third chair. I pick it up. It’s rickety. I put it down and go back to the kitchen without it. Soon I’ll make some porridge and eat the last of the donuts I’ve been hiding from Darla. She won’t know no different. She won’t get up till I’m making lunch.

*

John Bartell is an East Coast transplant who has resided in Fort Worth, Texas for the past fifteen years. Though he still hasn’t broken down and got himself a cowboy hat or a big old pickup truck, he has taken a fancy to Shiner Bock and the Austin music scene. He’s a winner of the Weatherford College Canis Latran Writing Contest and has short stories published in Sanitarium Magazine and in A. Lee Martinez’s Strange Afterlives Anthology. He has served two years as the president of the DFW Writer’s Workshop and is currently working on his second novel in between earning his keep as a microbiologist, which is probably the most glamorous job a person could have.

What motivates him to create:
He’s inspired to write because he has an unquenchable drive to express the beauty and the pain that defines our world, but also, and probably pretty much closer to the truth, it’s mainly to get the girl, which has worked out pretty well so far.

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April 22nd, 2016

Bees

It was blazing hot the morning of Great-grandma’s funeral. I was eight years old.

It was blazing hot the morning of Great-grandma’s funeral. I was eight years old. Bees tap-tapped into the screen door of Grandma and Grandpa’s old house. Visitors squinted and shielded their eyes from the sun. Cars shimmered in the dazzling light. Stiff-haired ladies in black dresses, slathered with tons of makeup and doused with perfume you could smell a block away, and men in wrinkly dark suits paraded slowly up the walk and into the house. I kept an eye on the bees.

My mother dusted off two big fans my father had lugged up from the cellar. She and Aunt Ellen bustled about, serving coffee from Grandma’s silver pot and slices of cake with no frosting, washing and drying dishes, showing where the bathroom was. Some ladies held hands. Some cried. People spoke softly, as if apologizing. Bouquets of bright, sweet-smelling flowers shivered in the wind from the fans.

When my grandfather strode into the living room and announced that it was time to go, the guests rose, set down their half-empty cups and half-eaten cake, and filed past me out the door. Ladies sniffled and buffed runny streaks of makeup on their faces into gleaming patches. The men wrapped their arms around the ladies’ shoulders and eased them forward protectively. My grandmother, who hadn’t come out of her bedroom all morning, came out now, supported between my mother and aunt. A black veil covered her face. She swayed back and forth, weeping, struggling every few seconds to catch her breath. Grandpa hugged her to himself and guided her to the door. I jumped in front of her and peered up into the black veil, but Grandma didn’t see me.

My mother rocked my shoulder. “Come on, Jimmy,” she said. “We have to go.” Fine creases lined her eyes. She adjusted the black band on her bare upper arm. All the adults in my family were wearing black armbands. Bedsheets covered all the mirrors in the house.

“Anna, are you ready?” Aunt Ellen called to my six-year-old cousin. Anna skipped into the living room and held still long enough for Aunt Ellen to straighten her barrette and smooth down her white, flowered dress. My aunt scooted her along to my Uncle Henry, who stood by the doorway, almost as tall as the doorway, with his hands folded in front of him. He took Anna’s hand and led her outside. She smirked at me as she flitted by.

“Jimmy, you go with Uncle Henry and Cousin Anna, okay, honey?” my mother said. “And Auntie Ellen will go with Daddy and me.”

“I don’t want to go with them,” I said, but she was already busy with something else.

I took a deep breath, checked under the eaves, and pushed against the screen door. I held back a moment, then bounded away from the cloud of bees swirling around the stoop.

“Ma, don’t let the bees in!” I shouted. She ushered the last few people out, and the screen door swung shut and clicked into place.

At the temple, Uncle Henry stayed outside with Anna and me. He hung his jacket on the little hook inside the back door of his car, rolled up his sleeves, and leaned against the fender, smoking cigarettes while Anna and I played on the swings. My hands were sweaty and my back was hot. Little black curls of dirt collected in the crooks of my elbows.

“Can I take my shirt off?” I asked Uncle Henry.

He said yes.

“How come boys get to take their shirts off?” Anna asked.

Uncle Henry smiled.

As people began to emerge from the entrance, six men at a side door struggled to load a long wooden box into a big black station wagon with curtains and dark windows. Anna and I stared.

Uncle Henry crushed his cigarette with his shoe. “Let’s go, kids,” he said.

Anna scampered down to greet Aunt Ellen and threw her arms around her neck. “Mommy, are we going back to Grandma’s now?” she asked.

Aunt Ellen kissed her forehead. “No, honey, not yet.”

Anna leaned forward on tip-toes and asked Aunt Ellen, “Will you ride with us this time?”

Aunt Ellen looked towards my mother.

“Go ahead, Ellen,” my mother said. “We’ll see you there.”

Anna clapped her hands. “Oh, goodie!” she exclaimed.

“Jimmy, get your shirt on!” my mother hollered.

I slipped an arm back inside my shirt as I ran towards my parents. I wanted to ask about the box.

“How about if you stay with your aunt and uncle?” my mother said to me.

“Again?”

“Now, Jimmy,” she said. “Be a good boy. You and Anna can play together on the way.”

“But I don’t want to play with her,” I said.

“I don’t want to play with you,” Anna answered.

“No one’s talking to you!”

Cars were starting up as I stood there with my shirt half on and half off.

“What do you say, Jim?” Uncle Henry asked.

They were all staring at me like zombies. I wanted to scream.

“All right,” I grumbled.

Uncle Henry patted my back.

My parents hurried off, my father trying to hold onto my mother’s elbow as she tried to run in her high heels.

Anna stuck her tongue out at me.

“Cut it out,” I said, and gave her a shove.

“Hey, hey, none of that,” Uncle Henry warned.

“Be nice,” said Aunt Ellen.

Anna climbed into the back seat and I followed. For just a second, I thought of running out back behind the temple so they’d have to come looking for me. But what if they didn’t come?

My father’s car slid in front of us, behind the black station wagon with the box in it and a limousine carrying my grandma and grandpa. The other cars lined up behind us.

Anna shook Uncle Henry’s shoulder. “Look, Daddy, all the cars have their lights on.”

Uncle Henry just nodded.

“Are your lights on?” she asked.

I nudged her aside. “Great-grandma’s in that box, right?” I said.

Aunt Ellen frowned.

“Hey, I was talking,” Anna said as she tried to elbow me away.

Uncle Henry glanced at me in the rearview mirror. “That’s right, Jimmy,” he said. Aunt Ellen started to brush something off her lap, but there was nothing there.

Anna looked at me, then at Uncle Henry. “How can Great-grandma be in that box?” she asked.

“`Cause she’s dead,” I said.

Aunt Ellen groaned, as if someone had punched her in the stomach.

“Well, I know that,” Anna said.

“Well, that’s what happens to you when you die,” I said.

Aunt Ellen cleared her throat.

“Aren’t I right?” I asked.

“Enough, okay kids?” she mumbled.

“How did she get in the box?” Anna asked.

“Look, can we please change the subject?” Aunt Ellen said, more loudly.

“Daddy, how did Great-grandma get in the box?”

“Anna, please,” said Aunt Ellen.

“Huh, Dad?”

“Anna, honey,” Uncle Henry said softly.

“What? I just want to know how she got in the box. Why won’t anyone tell me?”

Aunt Ellen slammed her hand against the dashboard. “Because I’ve asked you to stop talking about it!”

We all hushed. Aunt Ellen made a soft little noise and hid her face. Then she was crying, her shoulders rising up and down, up and down. Uncle Henry gently rubbed the back of her neck.

Anna turned back around and gazed out at the line of cars with their lights on. I didn’t say a word. Finally we started moving and all the cars wound around the temple parking lot and edged out into the road.

After a while, Uncle Henry lifted his hand from the back of Aunt Ellen’s neck with a little squeeze. He steered with his right hand and stuck his left hand out the window so he could tap the roof with his fingers.

“Boy, it’s a hot one,” he said. “Roll down your windows, kids.” Anna and I raced to see who could roll down whose window first. She said she won; I said I did.

“I wish we had air conditioning,” she said.

The wind made a noise like sheets on a clothesline. My hair blew across my face and stung my eyes. Thick strands of Anna’s long brown hair came undone and flew all over the place; in her eyes and in her mouth. She giggled. Aunt Ellen’s window was still up.

Anna bounced on the seat. “Where are we going anyway?” she asked.

“To the cemetery,” Uncle Henry answered.

“Ce-me-te-ry,” Anna chanted as she bounced. “What for?”

Aunt Ellen looked at Uncle Henry.

“We have to bury Great-grandma,” he said.

“Bury her?” Anna made a face and stopped bouncing.

“Yeah, like when you bury something in the sand at the beach,” I said. I imagined Great-grandma’s toes sticking up out of the sand.

We stopped at a red light. Anna pushed her hair away from her mouth. “What’s Great-grandma’s name?” she asked.

“Ida,” Aunt Ellen answered wearily, her head leaning against the window. She was slowly tearing at a soggy, crumpled tissue in her hands.

“That’s a pretty name,” said Anna. Aunt Ellen looked back at her through puffy eyes and smiled.

We slowed down as we drove into the cemetery. The wind stopped. The tires squeezed small rocks out from underneath the car. Uncle Henry pulled next to my father into a little circle surrounded by trees and bushes and bright yellow and white flowers.

“Daisies!” cried Anna.

Thin clouds of dust rose as cars rolled in. Brakelights flashed. Doors creaked open and slammed shut. Aunt Ellen stepped out.

My mother stuck her head in my window. “We won’t be long,” she said. “I want you kids to stay here.”

“I knew it,” I muttered.

“Can’t we come?” Anna asked.

“No,” my mother said. Aunt Ellen shook her head and stared at the ground.

“Jimmy, you take care of Anna, now,” my father chimed in. Anna was looking out her window, running her finger up and down the inside of the door and humming.

“Please don’t make me stay with her,” I said. “I’m old enough. Why can’t I come?”

“We’ll only be gone a little while,” my mother said. “You’d just be bored anyway.” She patted my arm. My father smiled.

“I don’t care,” I said. “I want to come.”

They shook their heads.

“It’s not fair!” I shouted. I was almost crying. I jerked my head around so no one would see.

There was Uncle Henry, looking right at me, his arm swung over the seat.

“Don’t worry, Jim,” he said. “You’ll be fine. Put the radio on if you want. Just leave the windows down, or it’ll be like an oven in here. Okay?”

I nodded.

He turned to Anna. “Give Daddy a kiss,” he said, and Anna scrambled into the front seat and hugged and kissed him.

“We’ll be okay, Daddy,” she said, and he laughed.

He pulled his jacket off the hook and eased himself out of the car. “See you soon,” he said. Aunt Ellen waved with her tissue and blew us a kiss. My father put his arm around my mother and the four of them tramped away. I slumped down in my seat. I heard their shoes crunching gravel and kicking pebbles and then the sound died out. Anna stayed at the window, her arms resting on the door, her chin resting on her hands. She rocked her head slowly back and forth and hummed. Then she started to sing, first one stupid song, then another. She was driving me crazy.

“Stop singing!” I shouted.

She whirled around. “No! Who’s gonna make me?”

“If you weren’t such a little baby, I wouldn’t have to stay here with you.”

“You’re the one who acts like a baby,” she said.

I was ready to smack her when I noticed a bee outside, hopping from one daisy to another. Then I saw a second one, a yellowjacket, flying around angrily, hurtling wildly from flower to flower.

Suddenly the radio blared. My heart jumped. Anna’s hand rested on the knob.

“Lower it!” I yelled.

She glared at me before turning it down. Then she pressed all the buttons again and again and finally shut the radio off.

“Know any games?” she asked.

“No.”

She scowled at me and grabbed the door handle. “I’m going outside,” she said.

I reached for her arm. “Oh no you’re not. We have to stay here.”

“Don’t touch me,” she said.

“Then don’t go outside.”

Anna rolled her eyes but let go of the door. She sat back and played with the steering wheel and made engine sounds. She crawled over and rolled down the window Aunt Ellen had left closed. She sprawled across the front seat with her knees raised, dropping one knee sideways to the seat, then swinging it up again. Each time her leg fell, I could see her panties.

“What are you looking at?” she snarled. Her leg stopped swinging.

My face grew hot. “Nothing.”

She pulled the hem of her dress down against her knees. I looked out the window.

A bee buzzed past my face and I toppled back inside.

Anna poked her head over the seat. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked.

“There was a bee out there.”

“So?”

“So, bees can sting, you know.” I pulled myself up. “Some people die from bee stings.”

“No way,” she said.

I folded my arms. “If you’re allergic, you can die.”

Anna leaned over the seat and looked outside with me. Her legs kicked behind her. She tugged at my arm and pointed. “Look, there’s the bee!”

“That isn’t the same one.”

“Wow, look at that one!” she gasped as a fat black bumblebee zoomed up into the sky and plunged back down. “Can you really die?”

“Yup.”

A bee landed on the hood. We stared at it through the windshield. It spun around crazily a couple of times, then whizzed past the window.

Anna turned to me suddenly. “What if one gets in?”

“Maybe we should roll up the windows,” I suggested.

“Won’t we be too hot?”

I was already sticky with sweat. “Well, what else can we do?”

She thought for a moment. “How about if we close the back windows, but leave the front windows open halfway?”

“But a bee could still get in,” I said.

“Then you think of something.”

I couldn’t. We tried her idea, but even with the front windows half open, trying to breathe the still, heavy air was like having your face inside a plastic bag.

There were bees everywhere. They tore off into the bushes and shot up into the air. They flew straight at the windshield, then at the last second curved up and over the roof and out of sight.

“I’m sweating,” Anna said. “When are they coming back?”

“How should I know?”

A black and yellow bee tapped against the right front window. It danced and skittered up the glass, climbing closer and closer to the opening.

“Jimmy!” Anna could barely speak. She slapped at my arm. We held our breaths and backed against the doors. The bee flew in.

Anna shrieked and I grabbed my door handle, ready to spring the door open and run. “Go away!” she cried at the bee. The buzzing sounded like high tension wires. My arm hairs bristled. The bee hovered and dipped, then darted back out.

“Close that window!” I screamed. Anna leaped across and rolled it up. I reached over to get the other one.

“I’ll do it!” she yelled, and she bumped past me and closed it up tight.

Silence. My heart pounded. Anna shuddered, wide-eyed and panting, balancing herself between the seat and the dashboard. I checked and rechecked all the windows, then lowered my head against the seat. I blew on my arms to try to cool down but it didn’t help. Nothing helped.

I heard Anna fidgeting so I looked up.

“I’m hot,” she said. Her hair was wet in front and her forehead was all red. “Can I open a window?”

“What about the bees?”

She sank down onto the front seat. I sat back. My hair was wet, too. I felt like I could hardly breathe.

“When are they coming back?” Anna moaned, and then she started to cry. Soon, I was crying, too. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve but I couldn’t stop. Tears dripped off my chin onto my collar. I huddled in the back seat and closed my eyes.

The sun was hot on my face. Anna sobbed quietly in front. I leaned over on my side and fiddled with the metal ashtray on the armrest. It felt cool against my fingertips. I could see bright red light through my eyelids, as if the whole world outside were on fire. I wished I could watch them bury Great-grandma. I wished I could see what she looked like. I thought of everyone outside in the hot sun, and her inside the box, under the ground, lying there alone in the dark.

The dashboard clock ticked. My hand dropped to the seat. Bees struck the windows, sounding almost like raindrops. Hundreds and hundreds of bees…

*

A car door banged shut. I opened my eyes and gazed dreamily up at the sky. There were noises outside. I pushed myself up and looked around. People were coming back to their cars.

Anna was sleeping. A rectangle of sunlight shone on her face. Her mouth was open and sweat had dried in her hair, straggly across her cheek and forehead. One knee was up, resting against the back of the seat.

A rap on the window made me jump. It was Uncle Henry. He knocked again and I rolled down the window. His voice filled the car:

“Why are all the windows up?”

Anna stirred in front.

Uncle Henry shook his head. “You two must be dying in there.”

Anna sat up and yawned and said with her eyes closed, “There were bees, Daddy.”

“Bees?” Uncle Henry said. “Why, the bees won’t hurt you.” He stood back and lit a cigarette. “Besides,” he said, looking at me, “Jimmy was here to protect you.”

*

Since completing Naropa University’s Creative Writing Program in Prague, CZ in 2005, Laurence Levey has had short stories published in Cezanne’s Carrot, Art Times, Versal, Ellipsis, and the Barcelona Review, book reviews published in Drunken Boat and Word Riot, and poetry accepted for publication in Fulcrum. He was a semi-finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars-2010 Unified Literary Contest and he writes for The Review Review.

What motivates him to create:
The desire to communicate and to express myself, both of which I often do better in writing than by speaking. The desire to tell the truth, or at least a version of it. The desire to fuse work and play. The desire, mostly unrequited, to make a little cash. The desire to please. The desire to be thought well of. The desire to contribute something of value.

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April 15th, 2016

I’ve Known

All night stars burn themselves out, spending
energy in Dionysian dance. I have felt the moon
pull my blood in giddy tidal surge, as night wheeled
along its course and dawn seeped red and purple
across the sky.

the joy of water carving canyons
through rock, long, slow joy of rain, of rivers

slowly mingling waters with the sea. I’ve known
the wild spill of gulls glancing off sparkling waves.

All night stars burn themselves out, spending
energy in Dionysian dance. I have felt the moon

pull my blood in giddy tidal surge, as night wheeled
along its course and dawn seeped red and purple

across the sky. Winter whispered in my ear and
turned my breath to mist. In Africa I felt big cats

stir as night fell. A bull elephant in must charged
past so close I could have touched his leathery hide,

which shivered in the lust of gigantic loins. Once
I watched a hundred frogs climb from a muddy

lake to serenade the pines. My canoe slipped
past a Northern as it floated near the surface, black

and spotted with gold. Alone but not alone, I breathed,
arms aching with the joy of effort in quickly fading day.

*

Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared in ten countries, in such journals as Boston Literary Magazine, Deep Water, Expound, Red River Review, Snakeskin, Ygdrasil, and many others. Several of his poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Recent collections include Speaking to the Field Mice (Sweatshoppe Publications, 2013), My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto (Flutter Press, 2013) and Return of the Bride of Frankenstein (Kind of a Hurricane Press).

What motivates him to create:
It may be that the act of creation is a basic human need, or at least a common desire. When I was a child, I wanted badly to be able to draw, mostly scenes from my imagination. It turned out that I had no talent in that direction, but I found I could do something with words. It’s become an almost daily pleasure to create using language, its sense and sounds, as a medium.

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