Table of Contents

Autumn, by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz
From My Window, by Kathleen Tighe
The Scout, by Herb Bursch
A Song for the Arsenal, by Dallas Woodward
Conform, by Kaleigh Rodgerson
Blasé, by Erik Potere
“Scrambled Eggs”, by David Allen Strunk
Swill, by Amy Conger
Being Written, by Austin Feehan
The Running Script, by Ha Li
Grayscale Grace, by Shannon Flegel
A Boy and His Corpse, by Dallas Woodward
Covergence of the Misanthropists, by J L Carey Jr.
Imperfectionism, by Joshua L. Sauvie
BLUE, by Shannon Flegel
Always Stare, Never Blink, by Preston Hagerman
Ruminations, by Kaleigh Rodgerson
History, by Andrea Edwards
Hometown Poem (No Rush), by Nic Custer
The Dream, by Eric R. Trowt
Reflections on a Winter’s Day, by Kathleen Tighe
Recumbent, by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz
Stay, by Andrea Edwards
Jelly Shrapnel, by Amy Conger
On the Surface, by Kaleigh Rodgerson
Yes I Hear You, by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz
Separate, by Andrea Edwards
All My Friends, by Nic Custer
Infinity Continuum, by Grace Anne Carey
The Sound Between the Beating Drum, by Thomas Mann


 

Autumn

by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz

As usual,
I can only sit idly by
as autumn transmogrifies
the topography of my
awareness.

I discover this terra incognita
gradually,
through a set of mistaken,
myopic eyes.

My life’s work
feels equally unreliable.

And I would be liable to give
up the whole damn lot of it.

Except,

I like rhymes
and grinding
out some kind of
relevance.

It is my reverent,
but rude
attempt at
order.

I was made for sorting.

From My Window
by Kathleen Tighe

Strands of windblown gold
On bamboo stalks tall and strong
Autumn pampas grass

Lake a sheet of glass
Beckons with promise of speed
Skater stumbles on

Tracks disrupt stillness
Bluish-white, snow-filled pasture
Hungry, searching deer

Stark barren branches
Silhouetted against sky
Silver, black, and grey


 

The Scout

by Herb Bursch

He slipped back to his platoon
hidden deep in a snow-laden German forest,
and quietly spoke to his lieutenant
of a German squad advancing
down the valley floor.

The Americans preserved the virgin trail,
no tracks and no broken branches
to reveal their presence behind enemy lines;
they lay beneath drooping silver-tipped branches,
in the silent grey sky flickered snow, white spangled stars.
They prepared for death, if it should come.

Behind each personal pine,
pointed grease-blackened rifles,
down the slope at the waiting valley floor,
waiting wordlessly for the battle to begin.

It was quiet, no sound of breathing,
no creaking leather, no clinking cartridges,
no man-made sound,
just the creak of snow-laden branches,
just the sigh of white falling snow.
It shrouded their bodies,
while they waited to kill,
waited to die,
wrapped in white,
wrapped in cold.

They waited in silence,
waited, waited and waited.
The scout saw a prism of colored light
from snow glistening on his eyelashes.
White flakes gently christened his helmet.

The German troop came in solemn single file,
silent and alert, the column marched,
no scuffling from oiled boots,
no words,
the wet snow muffled their march through
pines and valley floor.

Snowflakes gently fell,
twinkling like knives in the frozen air.

All was at peace,
all was white, wet
and well with the earth,
but not with these men.

Snowflakes fly,
white angels to
grace the living,
to brighten the long wait.

The firing starts,
loud rifle cracks
break the silence,
and end the wait.
Sharp slaps of bullets hitting green wood,
quiet thuds of rounds in soft flesh.
German soldiers crumple
by their black rifles.
Then the silence returned

No living man moved or spoke.
No fallen man moaned or cried,
It was the silence of men
lost for words, and lost in battle.
The American soldiers
remained hidden while
white crystals fell,
covering the dead.
No word of grace,
no sigh of sorrow eased their hearts.
No one moved to stretch tired muscles,
no one smiled, no one cried.

The silence deepened.

The scout looked quietly
down at the dead Germans;
he was bound by the snow,
bound by the silence.

A small return to grace,
a small hope in sacred snow,
real beauty in silence,
snow covered the pine needles,
snow covered the living and dead,
with no difference between them.

The sublime silence
of the universe
revealed itself to the scout.


 

A Song for the Arsenal

by Dallas Woodward

There were a million kinds of people in the world, each with his own lot in life. Some men were inventors, and spent their days in cluttered workshops, dreaming up the next great weapon of death. Other men were soldiers, who drilled day and night to master such deadly utensils as the riefel and the steam bow, and thus became weapons of death themselves.
And some… some men were just like him. He was no inventor, to craft such terrible devices. Nor was he a warrior, to put them to purpose on the field of battle.
But he sure as Flame could build one, and that was a job crucial in its own right.
“Well Father Fesh he loved to ride,
And fought the ‘Ked with horse and spear.”
The half-made riefel slid towards him down the chute. He didn’t know what lay at the top of the chute, only that there was a man up there similar to himself, screwing barrels into firing mechanisms. He didn’t know that man’s name, where he came from, or what his dreams were. He didn’t care about those things, and he doubted the man at the top of the chute did either.
“Old Mother Tam liked ‘im not one bit,
And killed my poor old Father dear.”
There were crates on either side. One for stocks, one for butts. One was imported from down south, and the other came from a factory just down the road. He didn’t know which was which, only that one was subtly darker than the other. Different woods for different needs, different men for different jobs. Organized. Predictable. Life was good that way.
“Well good riddance I say, they both lived their day,
Their suns are all burnt and it’s my time to shine.”
The stock went on first, to protect the firing mechanism and the vulnerable spot at the base of the barrel. It was a tight squeeze, as always, and he ended up having to strike it hard against the countertop to make it budge the last few hairs. The foreman told him that was dangerous and he could seriously damage the weapon—a blunder that would come out of his conscience, and his weekly fera to boot—but the others assured him it was the only way to get it tight. It let out a loud complaint as it snapped into place, which only told him it was secure.
‘Cuz me I’m a Norther and this is my border,
And I’d kill ‘em both ‘cuz this land here is mine.”
Last came the butt. Passive as he was towards the rest of his job, he didn’t think there was anything in the world more soothing than the gentle squeal of a wooden riefel butt as it twisted into place. He gave the weapon a preliminary once-over, satisfied himself that everything was straight, then gave it a shove that would see it to the next person in line. She was a younger woman, with delicate hands made for careful study.
He finished the first verse, and she automatically picked up the second along with the riefel.
“Well my Sister’s a Creaser, don’t sell her short,
Eight million like ‘er back at home.”
She stared down the weapon’s length, insuring the sights were straight and the barrel secure. If she’d found either aspect lacking, it would have gone into the barrel at her feet, for disassembly and reconstruction. Not a piece would be wasted, not a dyne lost that couldn’t be extracted from some hapless man’s paycheck. Not that the woman cared about that one man. His was a lot all too similar to her own, and his ambition would be the death of her.
“My Brother’s a Card, you know he works hard,
Grows corn all day and by night he breaks domes.”
Sitting there, gazing down the sights, she almost felt like a soldier. She imagined squeezing the trigger, and saw her target drop in his tracks, the blood blossoming from his wound. Sometimes he was a man of the Compact, dressed up in outdated armor and wielding a sword marked with the three columns of fera. Other times it was a Dertesean skirmisher in brilliant red and blue, brandishing one of the Empyre’s special six-chambered riefels that could let off a flurry of shots in no time at all. Once she’d even gunned down a muscular Angelan wearing nothing but a loin cloth, but that had only been for her own enjoyment.
“Well them that’s my fam’ly, the whole darn tree,
And bet your last pyla we’re one of a kind.”
Next she checked the wood, critiquing the handiwork of the man beside her. If he knew she was judging him, he never once looked up or said a word to sway her decision. So far as he was concerned, the riefel ceased to be his work the moment it passed from his hands, and any imperfections she found in his setting of the wood might as well have been ingrained there since the beginning of time for all the responsibility he had towards it. She guessed he would make a horrible father, and guessed again that she was probably right.
But he did love to sing, and he always joined on the chorus.
“But me I’m a Norther and this is my border,
I’d kill the whole lot ‘cuz this land here is mine!”
This riefel was acceptable. Like all the deadly weapons of war that passed through her hands, she took a moment just to smell it. There was something about that unique mix of freshly oiled metal and lacquered wood stock that set her heart aquiver in her chest. If ever anything was divine, then surely it was the smell of a virgin weapon, yet to claim even its first kill.
With that the riefel passed from her hands and into the care of the man who would see it safe to its final destination. He took up the weapon, and the song that had followed it from birth.
“Well the ‘Ked they’re all dead,
The Glenn got their mountain,
The Fesh are beat down,
Tam drowned in their fountains.”
And the inspector sang:
“The Cards’ve gone crazy
The Creaser’s are lazy,
The Orca love sport,
The Gnomen build forts.”
And the stockman sang:
“Fek’s toes are all curled,
Emer conquered the world,
The Maka got moxie,
Harnans got the pooooox-seeeeeey!”
And all across the great Third Factory of Glory’s Bastion, a thousand voices cried out over the sounds of squealing riefel butts and the sweet smell of worked metal and lacquered wood:
“But we here’re all Northers, expanding our borders,
So bring ‘em all on ‘cuz this world will be ours!”
And the last man nestled the riefel in its crate amid a bed of straw, and thought it was surely the most beautiful sight in the world.


 

Conform

by Kaleigh Rodgerson

the ungay raven
is not so diverse
in a world of peacocks and parrots.

the tracest hints
of like lineage
grant an opening,
though the tone differs.

crimedeathdespair.
the parrots tilt their heads;
‘how odd, how odd’,
they chant.

a mournful sound.

the peacocks
tilt over cans of paint,
and consider the matter done;

– but the raven knows,
that under the opalescent shine
of a silver moon,
his hoarse call
shakes down the stars.


 

Blasé

by Eric Potere

Balancing etiquette and absurdity,
the nuisance of socializing in this world.
Trumpeting curse words
receives strange glances.
Wearing trousers a shade
of neon might be too preposterous.

Rearranging normalcy to
fit my needs, I will dine
on spaghetti for breakfast and
fix Christmas lights up year round.

Rebellious,
I will do handstands in the grocery store.
I will string flower petals
from my coattails.
Living in technicolor.
The film of my existence
will breathe such life.
A bouquet of lavender on my palette.

Cast my body to the woods,
float among the lily pads in smooth ponds
bearing nothing
on my body save for
a pair of houndstooth patterned shorts.
I will doodle on my
limbs with wood char.
Wildman, I will forage
morels from the forest floor.
Braids in my beard hair
and curled at the ends like present ribbons.
I can practice pirouettes
dancing on lamp posts.
I will smile
at nothing
and laugh to everything.

Or,
I can sit quietly on the bus.
Avoid eye contact in public.
I will
practice good dental hygiene,
count my brushstrokes.
I will prevent sporadic movements
by tucking my hands
into my pockets.
I will not sleep a moment
past midnight,
the ghosts come out at night.
I will try my hardest
to avoid mistakes and disappointment
from my peers. I can deny
myself over-consumption.

Suppress
my curiosity because
it only leads to trouble.
I can sit quietly
within the safety of my four walls.
Close my eyes.
Avoid feeling anything.


 

Scrambled Eggs

by David Allen Strunk

My insides are like scrambled eggs
Unborn, broken, lifelessly dripping, beaten, mixed up,
fizzled, sizzled, and I feel fried
All you see is my fluffy outside
that combines good looks with great taste


 

Swill

by Amy Conger

niggling digging
drawing nipples
stippling simple pimples
on the faces of my scribbled drivel
in the spaces where careful letters
should be littered
but they’re fettered
in my gut
and shut up
in the pit of my pen
and this spit up
only shows up when
I don’t know enough
to throw up my hand and
end
rather than
fluff the feathered fibers
with gruel
that can’t be wizarded
cruel scriber!
only scissored
and chop-sueyed
pooh-poohed and fooeyed
crude and uncool
and overkill
swelling
brimming
swimming
swill


 

Being Written

by Austin Feehan

Your world is white with black scars but on occasions it’s filled with color; it’s filled with life. You’re completely immobilized, frozen; unable to move. Your every action is controlled by some unknown force; a voice that you hear muttering again and again from behind a transparent barrier that you can never reach.
Images flash by you, memories of experiences you never had. You blink, trying to make sense of what is happening. You’re in a train station and the world is in black and white. You see a single flash of color ahead of you in this monochrome world, a woman dropping a dark red scarf as she gets on a train. You feel a twinge inside your body, a gut feeling that you should do something. You walk to grab it, to pick it up and give it to her, but you trip. You blink on your way down, preparing to hit the hard ground but the world has changed.
You’re sixteen. You’re in a car, a canvas sack over your head. You’ve recently stopped crying. You feel like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders and the next few moments are crucial.
“I bet you think you’re so clever,” a raspy voice growls at you from some corner of the car, the owner hidden from you. “Don’t you?”
You close your eyes, trying to make sense of everything that’s happening but the world’s changed when you open them. This time you’re female. You’re sitting on a train, waiting for someone. You look out the window and see a woman drop her scarf outside. It’s your sister. It’s your scarf. You know she did it on purpose. She wanted one of the men to help her. You notice someone start to run to grab it, but they trip and fall. You sigh. Another perfectly good scarf wasted.
You blink again and you’re back where it all started; a world with nothing in it except a few black marks hanging about your head that you can’t read. None of it ever happened. It’s been erased, deleted; gone. The pattern continues day in and day out. You started making rules just so you could try to survive this ordeal, but really it only comes down to one thing:
Don’t get attached to anything.
You can’t afford to. Not to just have it ripped away. You’ve lived what feels like a thousand lives, all different, all the same, all meaningless as it turns out. You’re ready to give up, to hope for the end of this miserable excuse for an existence. This life has lost its appeal, the rollercoaster of experiences no longer lives up to what it first was. The ride was fun, but the edits, the constant deleting and starting over has taken its drain on you. You feel like you’re dying every time it’s deleted. That’s when you realize the truth.
This is the struggle that comes with writing.
Destroying your characters and everything you’ve written feels like a part of you has died. Sometimes you feel like you are your characters, like you’ve lost all control of what’s going on with your story. You feel like someone else has hijacked the events, like you’re forced under his will. You want to quit, you want to pretend like the whole thing never happened, but quitting would be worse than not having ever started. So you keep going. You punish your characters, you punish yourself, and in the end you hope for something worth reading, something worth the effort.


 

The Running Script

by Ha Li

I’m grasping onto the last of these words,
these letters,
these forms.
The forgotten cursive dies within us,
starving,
craving…
I cry out for a beautiful sentence to trigger the senses,
the minds,
the visual aspect of translation.
A foreign script it has become
No longer part of our native tongue,
our native eyes,
our native minds.


 

Grayscale Grace

by Shannon Flegel

Everything
is dying
withering into void
with stop motion
grayscale grace

as if a ballerina
were to age and wither
and die during dance

supple young woman
to frail skeleton

loneliness and isolation
more and more becoming
her

is this what life is
dying slowly
and hoping you’re
ignorant enough not
to notice


 

A Boy and His Corpse

by Dallas Woodward

It was morning before anyone found the message.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Five words, scorched straight into the brown soil amid a field of charred grass and still-smoking bodies. You could see where the skogs had been at the corpses, where the raw red flesh showed through the crispy black skin. Skogs would eat most anything, but nothing drew them quite like cooked meat. The faces. They always went for the faces first. Maybe they thought it would make them more expressive, having all those subtle muscles inside of them.
Maybe they just didn’t like the expressions on some of the dead.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Nester had been sent in to deal with the bodies. He would identify those he could, then hack the fingers off the rest for analysis later. All of them would have to be buried before night fell again. The scent of human barbeque would attract scavengers from miles around, and skogs were hardly the worst things on their trail.
“Noisy as all hell though,” observed Qi.
“You’re one to talk.”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Nester didn’t mind his work. Burial-detail was one of the grimmer duties, and most sane men tended to steer clear. Better a night on guard duty than a morning spent sawing off fingers (though at this level of crisp they were apt to break off without much of a fight). Just another reason he found people so hard to explain. Once you got used to the smell of burnt meat, it wasn’t all that hard to see why the skogs enjoyed it so much. Human was a hard dish to swallow, but at least they preferred it cooked. People ate worse in most of the metropoli.
“This one was lazy. Not a lot of muscle, but it’s tender.”
“Leave that poor wretch alone. He’s been through enough.”
“How about this one? She was a girl, once. Flat as a washboard, though; you can see how she tricked the physicians into thinking she was a man.”
“Idiot.”
“She was very brave,” Qi defended.
“And now she’s very dead.”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
He picked his first body carefully. Whatever his thoughts on the smell, burial-detail could get awfully depressing sometimes, so he and Qi had a sort of game going. If Nester could identify a corpse with only three hints, he earned a point. If he couldn’t, it was Qi’s point. They only played with the first body, and Nester always got to choose. It was his handicap.
As of today, he had nine points. Qi had sixteen. He was beginning to think he needed a better advantage.
“Tell me about this one,” he said.
“Happy fellow. Mixed in a little extra pepper with his evening meal. He died first.”
“The second platoon sergeant. Yarnol.”
“Ooh, tough luck. This one was a corporal. That’s seventeen for me, then.”
Nester confined his discontent to a low grumble. It wasn’t worth arguing with Qi, especially not over a corpse. That was a fight he couldn’t win.
He snapped off the corporal’s ring finger with just a bit more force than necessary to break the bone.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
“There’s words over there. Read them to me.”
“Read them yourself.”
“Don’t think I’m not trying.” One of the corpses peeled back an eyelid, black and crispy as pork rinds. White fluid drizzled down its ruin of a face: the melted remains of what had once been a man’s eyeball. “This one had bad knees. He complained to his shield-brothers every day, but never said a word to the physicians. He thought they would use it as an excuse to get rid of him.”
“He thought right. Now leave him alone.”
“Oh calm down. He was an ass. All these bodies thought so.”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
He spent the next few minutes harvesting fingers. He seldom tried to identify any bodies after the first; there was no game there, so why bother? Qi probably knew their names, though good luck prying a single syllable of a hecter who didn’t want to share. Better just to break the joints and leave it to the physicians. It was less work for him, and Nester was nothing if not lazy.
“Awful lot of them today,” Qi said. “What are you thinking, two per grave, or three?”
“You know it’s forbidden for bodies to mingle in the ground. If their decay runs together, they won’t be able to rise in triumph in the Next Place.”
There was a sound like wheezing. No, wheezing was too human. Whatever that high-pitched squeal escaping from Qi’s flash-fired lungs, it belonged purely to the dead.
“You shouldn’t laugh so much. It’s bad luck to mock the fallen.”
“The fallen? I’m laughing at you!”
Well, that was alright, then.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
“So one big pit, then, as per the usual?”
“Here’s a good spot.”
“In the middle of the clearing?” Qi tried to raise his head, and only succeeded in breaking his host’s neck. The snap was barely audible over the solid chunk of Nester’s shovel meeting dirt. “I dunno. Are you sure you should be touching that? Those words might be hexed.”
“What isn’t anymore?”
“You’ve got a point. This poor sap was hexed. Ate from a tree ordained by some minor god or another, and dealt with the shits every other day for six years. Not today, though. Yesterday. Tomorrow. You know, if he wasn’t…”
“Crispy?”
“Well that’s just dark.” The corpse pried open an eye, only to have it run down his face. “Crap. They don’t make these things like they used to.”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Nester spent the better part of his Dullsday on the hole. Mass burials were conspicuously faster than individual graves, but when you were one man burying forty, the time had a way of getting away from you. By the time he planted his shovel in the upturned dirt and started chucking in corpses, the sun had all but vanished into the west.
One of the bodies made a sound akin to yawning. He doubted Qi actually needed sleep, though the hecter was awfully fond of feigning boredom.
“You done yet? I’m attracting flies over here.”
“Would you like to be the first one in the hole?”
“I’m fine here, thanks. Attend to your business.”
One by one the corpses fell into the pit, forming a small hill in its center. Some were crisped to the point where they split on impact, spilling red insides onto the dirt. The words were gone, but they still rung in his head.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
“So who do you think left the message?” asked Qi.
“Beats me. Someone who fancied they were important, I bet.”
“So… a god.”
“Probably. Might have been a human, though. We can be just as full of ourselves when the mood strikes us.”
“No argument here. This one thought he was
Kormorion Reborn. I can see wanting to be Divine, but why the bull? No tact at all.”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Nester threw the penultimate corpse into the grave, before turning his attention on the body Qi was currently possessing. He took the man by both arms and commenced dragging. Distracted by his contemplation of the gods, it took the hecter a moment to realize he was moving.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m burying you.”
A dead sigh from dead lips. “Please don’t.”
“Sorry. Have to bury every last one. Those are the orders. Can’t do anything about orders.”
“… this is because I got another point, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question at all.
“How shallow do you think I am?”
“About as shallow as that grave…”
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
Qi’s arms tore as Nester threw him. He switched to another corpse even as his old one rained down on the contents of the pit, but couldn’t accomplish much apart from some various hand-waving.
“Come oooon. I’ll give you four guesses next time. Five.”
Nester said nothing. Instead, he started distributing dirt. The first shovel-full came down on the hecter’s head, causing him to spit as best he could.
“You’re being very childish about this whole thing.”
“Sorry,” he said. “No idea what you’re going on about. I’m just a man with a shovel.”
“Six guesses! I’ll even give you the first letter of his name!”
Nester said nothing. He’d never been much for small-talk. The sun finally slipped out of view over the far side of the horizon, and crisp night ruled in its absence. By the time the astral orb struggled back into the sky, there would be little to remark in the burned field but a wide swath of freshly turned dirt. The charred grass would linger for a few months, but the new growth would eventually push through. The grave would be no different.
But Nester wouldn’t be around for all that. His work done, he was already headed back to camp. It had been a good morning. No skogs had tried to take a bite out of him, and he’d even popped off a few rings along with his pocketful of fingers. Not a bad haul for a Dullsday.
You’ll remember me, won’t you?
It was morning before anyone found the message. As it was, the only man to read it wasn’t all that interested in what it had to say.


 

Convergence of the Misanthropists

by J L Carey Jr

There is only one cure for stupidity;
Mass compulsatory sterilization.

To believe anyone is thinking of you
Is to commit the greatest of fallacies.

You’ll be fine when the shepherd culls the herd
Because – There’s so many reasons to keep you.

Christ! People really piss me off. No really,
I’m serious. People really piss me off.

It’s impolite to laugh at an idiot,
But – Come on; let’s just be honest with ourselves.

If you can’t find a good person in this world
Then you must be a wicked bastard yourself.

Sleep well friend, the Georgia Guidestones mean nothing.
If you believe this, hark back to stanza one.


 

Imperfectionism

by Joshua L. Sauvie

you see
sometimes
your voice is the perfect poem
it is somewhere in themiddle
of the moments
when you start sentences with full first names
and end with expletives
when you grow angry
and you talk.
in.
stops.
and.
pauses.

the way you toss cups, toys, or dishrags
across the small and messy room
as if they were punctuation
adding emphasis to your words

it is somewhere in the middle
in-between your words
and your breath and
your curled lip and lip

it is that voice
that circles my chest
smoothnonending
enters and exits
hums and lands
misdirected
like the snow carefully everywhere descending

and those words, together
your thoughts
about fears and self doubts and weight and apathy
all contracting and receding into the grandeur of things

it is your talk of this one or that one
your past or our future
and on occasion
it’s in the way you laugh at me
when i do not mean you to

and at the risk of foregoing my feminist leanings
i feel compelled to write that sometimes
your lips are the perfect poem
more than marveling at lightening dry nights
or my somersaulting insides after kissing or not kissing
the way they look and move
it is the creases of your not quite symmetrical smile

soft and hot
your lips
like remembering Nevada nights by the fire and playa
the ones that jostle my insides
like forgotten bottles rattling in the trunk of one’s car
sort of to the left and to the right
rolling, pounded
jolted but unbroken
more comfortably moved


 

BLUE

by Shannon Flegel

blue is equinox
not too dark
nor too heavy
But not all that light
or upbringing
it just
DANCES
‘D’
‘A’
‘N’
‘C’
‘ES’
in its own melancholy
exaggerated neutrality
Ultimate Complacency

Always Stare, Never Blink
by Preston Hagerman

I have told many lies. I have fabricated fictions and hatched half-truths for reasons that I can no longer rationalize.
But—for all of my tall tales I have never lied to anyone as much as I have to myself. There has been no introspective debate; I did not forget; I did not rewrite my past like a villainous historian, or blot out the truth like wicked men of the cloth. I have altogether denied it. I have made the conscious decision to ignore the pin pricks of distant memory, even as they drill into my ears and fill my head with onyx whispers of that one wretched moment not so long ago. So in the interest of verisimilitude permit me if I may, to begin with the place of my birth.
If you were to ask my folks or consult legal records they would tell you that the stork dropped me in the porcelain bowl of Alma, Michigan, on November 9, 1989. If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that while this may have been the place of my birth it was not where I was born. I was actually born five years later in the gloomy green-walled backroom of a dusty old shack that some sad sap had the testicular fortitude
to call a house. This broken down infrastructure, which belonged to my aunt and uncle, was not much worse off than Briarwood Estates—the tin can kingdom where I and other Bridge Card kids grew up.
And it was here that neither my mother nor father nor human being at all gave birth to me.
I was created by a man who was not a person for not all humans are people. I knew him well. For a time—as long as can be conceived by a five-year old—he was my hero. Uncle Keith was my world and during a time before he metamorphosed into my second father he was actually human. Whenever my parents left me with him to be babysat, we would play hide-and-seek and other adolescent games in that gloomy green-walled room that I mentioned before. But on one particular day—the Day of Yellow Eyes—things were different.
I hadn’t seen my uncle for the better part of three months so I was especially excited to get out of my parents’ hair that day. Before I got out of the car my father told me to be on my best behavior because Uncle Keith had something very important to tell me. When I went inside I was surprised to see that only Uncle Keith was in the house. My aunt and cousin had gone off to the park earlier in the day so we had the place to ourselves.
“Hi Uncle Keith,” I exclaimed, running to him for
a hug.
“Don’t come any closer!” he said rather forcefully from the shadow of the corner of the room. The room was too dark for me to make out his face but I could tell he had shaved his head.
“What happened to all of your hair?” I asked.
“I’m very sick, Preston,” he told me, coughing softly. “And when you’re my kind of sick your body changes. Your hair falls out and you look dead. Like a zombie or something. So I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“What kind of sick are you?”
Uncle Keith didn’t answer. He just motioned for me to sit on the couch on the opposite side of the room as him. He rose from his seat and disappeared into the kitchen. As he stood up I noticed that he was far more slender than I remembered—cadaverous even. He returned a few moments later and placed a glass full of bubbly liquid on the end-table at the far side of the couch.
“Drink,” he said. “I don’t need you catching what
I have.”
“What kind of sick are you?” I asked again, retrieving the glass.
Uncle Keith sighed. “It’s called cancer, Preston.”
I grimaced as the bitter liquid washed down my throat and although I still was not able to make out his countenance in the dimly lit room I could have sworn I saw a Cheshire Cat grin stretch across the center of his darkened face. I instantly felt sick to my stomach.
“I think I am going to barf,” I cried, rising to my feet.
—And then came the big beautiful blackness from which I wish I never awoke. I cannot say how long I was out but as I lifted my face slightly from the rough textured carpet of the green-walled room I could feel the pattern of the floor indented in it. That’s when I realized; I was naked, lying spread-eagle with my back to the ceiling and bound
by a four-point mechanical restraint with cords wrapped around my wrists and ankles and extending outward to connect to plastic hooks which were drilled into the four walls of the room.
I remembered seeing this contraption before. Months earlier I had entered the green-walled room without knocking and saw that my older cousin was in this restraint. Uncle Keith told me that they were playing a game about knights and dungeons and that it would be too scary for me to join in. I never questioned it then but was in great discomfort at this point so I attempted to wiggle my way out. I again lifted my head from the floor and saw in front of me a tall rectangular mirror. In the near darkness of the room all that I could see in the mirror was my head arched upwards—it was as though it were floating in midair. Suddenly I heard a click and found myself imbued in the citrine glow of lights I never knew were in place in that room.
After my eyes adjusted to the light I peered into the mirror and saw Uncle Keith standing behind me. I was situated in such a way that it was physically impossible for me to turn and face him directly. But he saw me trying.
“Damn it,” he snapped with genuine surprise. “You weren’t supposed to wake up.”
“I don’t want to play dungeons!” I found myself blurting out in a sore and raspy voice. Whatever I had drunk caused my throat to swell up and become raw.
“But I do,” Uncle Keith said plainly. “And don’t you want your old Uncle Keith to be happy? After all, I might not be around for much longer.”
Hearing some rustling behind me, I strained my neck trying to see what Uncle Keith was doing. In the reflection I saw that he had stripped down to his bare skin. He appeared tall, lanky, and a very pale shade of yellow. He had dark bruises covering his forearms and leading up to his sunken chest. There was hardly any flesh covering his bony cheeks and a dark shade of red surrounded his eyes.
With my chin to the floor and my head arched slightly upward I could not help but stare into the mirror before me. I don’t know if it was because of the lack of blood flow to my brain but the room suddenly became dim—dark in fact—and all that could be seen in the mirror’s cruel reflection was the pure white Cheshire grin beneath two yellow eyes which glowed with animosity as black as the surrounding room.
When my physical anguish reached its incomparable zenith, my mind left my flesh and hovered above the room, watching the pederast encompass his prey below.

***
—I came back to consciousness, and that brief moment which was absent of misery was all but gone. I felt the terror of my organic drum beat like a thousand pattering feet and the tear through the flesh of my innocence seeping down my thighs onto the floor; all of my adolescent innocence inundated into one crimson puddle of filth and pain and hate and excrement. When the serpent had his fill he undid my straps and exited the room saying “Get dressed.”
Alone in the dark, surrounded by walls that devolved from the happy-toned green-walled room of my youth into the mass of mold which resides there now, I sobbed so ferociously that not a single silver tear could muster the courage to slither out of the corner of my eye; that not a semblance of sounds could be heard in the silent vastness of the crystal clustered canvas that is outer space; not even physical pain and misery which literally and figuratively raped me could burden me with the sense of touch…of feeling. All sensation from then on and forever more was gone.
When I concluded my tearless sob I did what I was told. I always do. I slipped on my khakis and t-shirt and limped out of the green-walled room searching for a sign of Uncle Keith so as not to be surprised again.
“Those will not do,” Uncle Keith said suddenly. “You’ve got blood on them. Go get on a pair of your cousin’s pants.” I did as I was told. I always do. “Oh, and Preston,” he said. “This didn’t happen. Tell them something—anything else.”
I did as I was told. I always do. The cover story I crafted for what happened to my clothes and why I walked bowlegged was just one lie in a lifetime full of virulent utterances; just one laceration on a backside full of slashes and gashes that stretch and expand to proportions so deep that my stained and shattered self releases a Whitmanic yaaaawwwwp so poignant that it can be heard from the depths of my vessel and seen sparkled from my cerulean eyes.
It wasn’t that difficult for my five-year-old imagination to cook up a tale about why I was wearing jeans when I was dropped off in khakis—I said that I had “pissed my pants.” I wasn’t old enough then to see the repercussions from this one little lie. Disappointed that I had messed myself at an unreasonable age, my father took me home and beat me with a belt. I
was already sore and torn before he started beating me so I attempted to ward off the wisp of his leathery whip, but that only made him angrier. To him I had an issue with pissing my pants and challenging authority.
At some point in the years following the Day of Yellow Eyes I somehow managed to push that memory into dormancy. But I had never really fully forgotten. Beneath the gratuitous profanity and dirty jokes, beneath the double-dog dares and after-school detention—beneath all of the wacky antics of my adolescence and over-compensating generosity of my young adulthood, I always knew in the back of my mind that I was unclean. Damaged. Broken. And I have carried that with me every day of my life.

***
The first time I made love that memory crept into my mind like a cancer far more vicious than the one that ravaged the body of my second father. I spent a considerable amount of my time and energy blocking out those images but as my relationship with my first real love flourished I could no longer stomach the feeling. I climbed off of her, telling her I was seeing someone else
My relationship with Jean was actually the first time I had even legitimately fallen in love with a girl. So when I went home in tears that night my father and stepmother demanded to know what was wrong. I told them that Jean and I broke up and when they asked why, before I could even think I found myself spoon-feeding them some bull-crap about her cheating on me. Once again I had lied as I had done a million times before, but the fact that I found myself creating alibis and stories entirely in the stream of consciousness was disturbing.
Yes. I have told many lies. And the truths I have told about the lies I’ve told barely begin to articulate how severe it is. My lies have become an illness of sorts, an incurable disease that encompasses the mind and heart and soul. Much like cancer.
The biggest lie that I have told myself, however, is not that I never experienced the atrocities done unto me in my long-gone forgotten youth, although that would give the winner a run for its money. In truth, the biggest lie is that someday I will fall asleep and have the benefit of not seeing those two big yellow eyes peering back at me through the darkness of my unconscious mind. Like my own eyes since the minute of my second birth, they always stare and never blink. Always stare and never blink. Always stare and never blink.


 

Ruminations

by Kaleigh Rodgerson

run your fingers
through the pages,
thoughtfully,
and ruminate
on nothing.

consider the vast
blackness of space,
the unseen
unpredicted
tableau of a
dead world.

we See, but not
(and this is fact)
with Eyes, but only
inky words
and sculpted prophecy.

a grain of sand
on a pebble of space,
lit somberly in the dying light.
Let breathe one last lugubrious exhale,
and dwindle into the end
of all things.

History
by Andrea Edwards

Boulders tumble down the cliff faster
than they can feel the pain, knocking rocks
as they stumble over themselves like foals,
breaking apart to pebbles tumbling in a stream
until, at last, they can reach no smaller
as they mix with broken collected tidbits
from the past strata of lands.
A million years washes up as sand.

Hometown Poem (No Rush)
by Nic Custer

Lawns plastered with signs
fighting to be seen:

“For sale,” “For lease.” “Rent to own,”
“First month free!”

In my hometown
there’s so many choices on
which place to be.

Just one life to live
i.e. to flee
but fortunately, for me,
there’s no rush.

The city cemeteries are lush and
still blink neon lights
reading VACANCY.

The car may have raised and razed
Buick City but the irony
is killing me.

And all the basement buddhists meditate
under bloom-cycle lights, making bucks,
growing Kush, and thinking deeply about their own suffering.

A generation of garbage pail kids,
born with a broom in hand to clean up ancestral debris.

Even though 8 people per day give up
and move away worry free.

They can’t see anything left to save
just a broken tribe in an oil stain.

And the sad part is, they aren’t far off…

Staying here is more of a burden
than a point of pride

or at least for the longest time,
that’s how things felt to me

because despite whatever happy face
I want to feign,
or injustice
I could lock my door and ignore
instead of stress to change-
there’s just
not much still standing
that deserves the praise:

a few
pillared rows of half-burnt,
gutless homes,

chess piece
investment groves played out
in Downtown revival zones,

and a few well hidden
hornets’ hives
where gaunt artists thrive
in a daze
haunting the flower fields
of their minds.

A little buzzed,
they spit spun out poetic phrase. Softly
composing cracks of lightning
that lead to thunderous refrains.

Jaws rattling ferocious behind snake-bite fangs,
this is anti-venom spit, a mumbled rattle
sub-wolfed into a wild howl
penetrating your unknown like
lapping licks of an
inner shiver craze.

These impassioned
kids make clunky claims to fame
even though no one will ever know their name.

Lives comparable to
an upshot drop of water from a sprinkler
sputtering as background noise
to the pouring rain.

But magnets to metal,
they’re drawn here and have stayed.
And I’ll do the same
until the roof caves in
or my motivation dissipates
as the smoke clears
from throwing ink at
expectations, tossing out poems
like
pin-pulled grenades.


 

The Dream

by Eric R. Trowt

This dream’s been bothering me; I wake up in an open boxcar on a moving train. I grab the door and lean into the darkness. The wind steals my breath as my outstretched arm cuts it deeply. The smell of the summer and the starry sky take me. I loosen my grip and fall into consciousness.

Reflections on a Winter’s Day
by Kathleen Tighe

Timid morning sun peeks
At the landscape frozen white –
Winter rages on.

Sun ray ventures forth
Grey clouds race to overpower
No warming today

Headlight’s beam reveals
Small rabbit racing across,
Seeking its burrow?

Fleeting flash of brown –
Doe streaks across snowy beach.
Will she freeze tonight?

Cellphone ping wakes me.
Treacherous roads, stay in bed:
Another snow day.

Recumbent
by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz

We were
recumbent,
then
awoke

and thought our partnership
originated organically,
and not
by the inconsistent mechanics
of fate.

We were born
detecting a ping
on some arcane
radar
which became more sonorous
as we passed
in and out of days,
lazily weaving
time into years.

Each one of our lost longings,
belonging
to the other
like some riddle
solved first,
then written.


 

Stay

by Andrea Edwards

Do not speak softly when I see the weariness on your face.
It drags down your smile like
you are drowning in air.
I love you but is today better than yesterday,
will tomorrow be dark again? It is a roulette
game trying to find good days.

Still, I should not worry. I shouldn’t feel
this weight of an anvil upon my
chest, compressing my breath every time
I see your eyes droop shut.
You are through the worst of it,
remission is the mountain on our horizon,
and we have no need to stop
for gas, or unholy rest
which kept us so long in the valley.

Do not lie to me when this car stinks
of the past that you are fine,
that you are better. I remember!
I remember all too well the way
you wobbled in your duty.
Still, I cannot fault you for that, I love you.
You were sick as the grave;
four years before we found an excavator.

Do not speak softly to me when your
darker days have come back.
Don’t lie to me about this
cooling rain from the summer’s heat,
when it has evaporated
before it quenched the earth.
Even if I may worry, I would rather
know when it is coming,
so giving my love is not a chronic endeavor
to catch all the times we part.

jelly shrapnel

bitten tit to hip bone
under churling chomping waters
flat rib skin singed
with a smattering
of flagrant bubbles
peppered with invisible
hellish cells
body air dries
not keeling or keening
despite a side of jelly shrapnel
puckering under the weight of
air and sun
rot toxic
and the men drink carbonated beverages out of cans
as I try to assess how to piss on myself


 

On the Surface

by Kaleigh Rodgerson

burnish
the hewn gold
of your doorknob,
for what is life,
should all companions pass
unwelcomed?

(the harshness of brass
is a virile repellant
to the hand)

– and nevermind these
foolideas of
inner worth.
discard them
at once.

(Noone and Nobody cares
if, on the inside,
your organs gleam
with rivulets of solid
diamond)

Yes I Hear You
by Rachel Stock-Lignitiz

I hear you from the other room,
eat wash
sigh cough

I hear you flush
bare feet
greeting
the hardwood floor.

I hear the door

and those satisfied little grunts
and noises you make,

your clothes rustling
as you prepare
for bed.

Sleep:
that space between
living
and
dying

when we are near,
without much
effort or thought.

Which seems bland.

Except:
as we are engaged
in our nightly
ritual,
your body
and my body
are repairing
themselves.

Together.

And all the while,
our dreams are puzzling out
the little mysteries
that give way to more
mysteries
which marry our insecurities
which sire our conundrums,
because:
we are human.

I hear the sheets sing your
arrival
into our marriage bed,

here in this deceivingly
innocuous space.
The place we wait out death.

Your body and my body
renewing,
minds synthesizing the cracks in our
unconscious.

Yes, I hear you.


 

Separate

by Andrea Edwards

Tell me, where have you been
that when I looked at your cup
you were out of my reach?

Don’t lie now, love, was the journey hard
which took you so far as
to gallivant across these new horizons?

Did you notice that you were not at my side?
Could you tell the one fondling you
was not of the same mind?

It must have been difficult
to scroll unfamiliar thoughts
as I sat away from you
using your kin instead.

All that’s left is to profess
how much I miss your ink,
and the roll of your ball
across my page, bleeding
out my thoughts.

All My Friends
by Nic Custer

All my friends
are up to their eyeballs
in tattoos. They all rock backpacks
even though some of them haven’t been in school
for a decade. Most ride bikes or did or
would if it wasn’t so cold 5 months a year.

These friends are as comfortable
crowded on a smoky sidewalk outside the bar

as they are at the Point
off Island Street, overlooking the
river’s concrete banks as
sunsets crash molten red
into the paved-over brownfields.

Ghostly whispers wander
the old jobsite

carried

on the breath of the wind
and we add our whiskey-slick
exuberance
and graffiti-tongued bliss to the mix
like we’re kids again.

All my friends (or at least

the ones I find worth keeping near)

understand the appeal
of a cheap house with a side lot
and a scraggly
sweat-built food forest
that won’t produce for four more lean years.

If I don’t say so myself,
all my friends are cool cats or rude
dogs or phamily freeks
hunting down
enough loot to make a new start…

Or at least a partial payment
and avoid the shut off notices
for another month.


 

Infinity Continuum

by Grace Anne Carey

For my father and the existence of now…

Listen –
the gentle hum of ohms
passing through copper veins,
it is the lifeblood of our world
and yet – we keep faith
in that which we cannot see,
lingering here, as we always have
arguing about temporality, existence, words;
that’s all it is, words, but
they are powerful things.
Remember? Remember, the way we always do?
The now, the past, the future?
It seems we are always in this circle,
this circumambulation,
substantiating what has no substance,
giving life to a present,
lived by proxy neural ocular delay –
our circumlocution will ensnare us here
to pass the days,
the ohms gently humming, keeping time,
as we preach our faith
in that which we cannot see.


 

The Sound Between the Beating Drum

by Thomas Mann

Like many who call themselves Christians and truly believe in the one almighty God, Dmitri Yefimych went to church every Christmas Eve, sometimes on Easter, but never at any other time, not for any reason. He believed, and he was almost certain of this belief, that if there were a God, He would have the easy task of forgiving mortal lapses.
After all, there are worse offenses a man can do with his time.
Dmitri thought of three immediately: murder—first, second, and third degree.
His house was very quiet, especially at the oncoming of winter. It was located far off the main road, built with long tree trunks, and heated with a wood-burning fireplace. There were only four or five rooms in the house, depending how you counted: a living room, which connected to a kitchen, one bathroom, and two bedrooms. The wood floors were mostly covered with brown shag rugs in the winter, but were uncovered in April or May, depending on when Dmitri was sure the final snow had fallen. The walls he had decorated with the paintings his mother completed. They were quite abstract, and became more abstract throughout her life, he thought. By the end, they were simply uneven circles of red, yellow, and blue. Each painting just had a slightly different pattern. She signed them in the bottom right-hand corner with her initials. Now that her illness had taken its toll, the initials, painted always with a thin black stroke, were more prized than the painting itself. Sometimes he would take one painting off the wall, sit on the sofa, and stroke the letters with his thumb.
Dmitri woke up the morning before Christmas to the sound of falling icicles. The curtains were drawn and the light came into his room and spilled over the bed, caught by the drooping ice from the edge of the roof. His bed was cold on the empty side. The room was quiet. Outside the overnight snow had accumulated in the corners of branches, which moved in a mechanical way to and fro in the wind.
He had written a letter to the church after he saw a notice for the service on Christmas Eve. The notice asked for any parishioners, whether or not they attended frequently, to give the names of friends or family members who needed prayers. It was a small parish, with less than thirty members, but he thought that prayers, no matter how few, couldn’t hurt. He didn’t want to send his own name, though he wouldn’t mind the prayers for himself, so he sent the letter with the name of his mother who, he said, needed more prayers than anybody I know. If he wanted, he could have sent the letter anonymously. That way, the priest would only read off the name, there would be some silent moments for prayers, and then he would move on to the next. Instead, he chose to send his name along with the message that he would attend the ten o’clock mass on Christmas Eve alone. That way, as he knew from years past, he could accept the prayers on his mother’s behalf. Dmitri sealed the envelope and sent it to the church the next day.
Dmitri walked into the kitchen from the bedroom. There were two square, translucent windows above the sink. His house stood in the middle of a grassy ridge that split away from the steeply sloping earth. Attached to his home, just on the opposite side of the kitchen, outside the windows, was a little deck with wooden railings. The ridge curved downward under the deck. Beneath it, in the summer, he kept a little fenced-in garden. He split the garden in two halves. Nearest the house, he grew plants that had a distaste for direct sunlight. He preferred mushrooms and particular sour-smelling herbs. On the outside, lining the mushrooms and herbs, he planted tulips. He preferred the red ones because he thought that they stood out most vividly against the dull green lawn, or the faded brown logs of the house. In the springtime, and even into the summer, the deer would come near the house and eat the blossoming flowers off the stem. This did not upset Dmitri, for the reason he planted the tulips on the edge of the garden was to see the little fawns arrive underneath the deck. Sometimes, if it was warm enough and the moon was shining above, he would lie on his stomach, his face pressed against the railing, and wait patiently for the deer to arrive. Most nights, they would come around midnight. The crickets would hush and the slow rustle of tall grass would awaken his tired eyes. He watched them approach. One large doe and two or three fawns; fresh white dots spread like dusty constellations over their backs and under their tails. Once, he reached his arm through the gap in the railing to touch a fawn. Very slowly and soundlessly his hand crept closer to it. When his arm was outstretched as far as it could go, one of the fawns looked up and curiously felt the tips of his fingers with its cold nose. Soon it drew back and returned to the tulips, ate a few, and dashed back into the woods with its mother. That was the last time Dmitri had gone out to see the fawns.
Now, in the winter, he sat alone in his living room most days. Once a week he went into town. In warmer months he rode his bicycle, to which he had attached a small white basket behind the seat. But in the snow, he drove his mother’s old car. She hadn’t driven it since the crash some years ago, and certainly had no use for it now. His diet was simple—oranges, bananas, and apples, and had been so for nearly his whole adult life. How are you going to survive, his mother had asked him, if you don’t eat any protein? You know there are certain kinds of fats you have to eat as well? He told her that he ate potatoes from the garden and bought black beans for protein. He washed them off in the sink. Boiled potatoes topped with beans and a side of fruit. He saw little need for anything else.

His mother moved in with him at the beginning of her illness. While she was still able to speak, she complained about the food that Dmitri made. You have to add some cheese to these potatoes! she would say. And where is the meat? If you don’t eat meat, your muscles will shrivel up and it will be ME who takes care of YOU! He told her that she would probably feel better if she just ate better. Like hell I will, she said under her breath.
During the first few months his mother enjoyed the altitude of his home, at the midpoint of a small mountain, where the pine trees still stretched high above. She began to go on daily walks. She wrapped a checkered scarf over thin, nearly invisible white hair. Dmitri had pounded leather boots with hard soles for her, and she put them on over thick grey knitted socks. Her legs looked very thin and her body very thick. It was the beginning of fall and what few maple trees there were scattered sporadically among the pines, like hot atoms. Their leaves had turned a blazing orange, a vivid yellow. Dmitri preferred the pines. He thought that the aroma was more intoxicating than any color the maple leaves could become.
Before he let his mother go, he went to fetch a walking stick he had found while biking into town the previous Sunday.
—Now you be careful, he said.
—What do you take me for, a clumsy old buffoon? she said.
—I just want you to be safe and come back in one piece. He handed her a small silver whistle. Now if you have any problems or questions, or need any help at all, any at all, blow on this whistle and I will come running for you. Don’t blow it just once; make sure you do it consistently until I reach you.
—I doubt I’ll need…
—That means that I don’t want you to do anything you can’t handle. Go slow. Don’t go up the mountain for very long. And don’t lose your breath. Here, take this water with you, too. He handed her a small canister that she attached to her waist.
Then she went off down the mountain. She leaned on the walking stick and waved at Dmitri without looking back. He had been tearing apart a leaf in his hands and did not see. It took more than twenty minutes, but she turned around the bend far down the road and escaped his sight.
She returned three hours later. Dmitri had run out of the house at the distant sound of the whistle. When he burst through the front door, though, he saw his mother pulling herself up the road with the stick, walking very slowly with long strides. He looked at her and she erupted in laughter. He almost cracked a smile, too.

A few months later, his mother lost the ability to walk. On her last hike in the mountain, she had fallen nearly a hundred feet after slipping on a bundle of dry leaves. The whistle had fallen near her face and she was able to turn her head and lift it with her lips. Dmitri heard her calling, leapt to his feet, throwing his jacket on as he jumped off the porch. He found her lying in a park near a metal swing set that hadn’t been used for some time. A sticky web of blood ran from her nose to her lips.
—Thank God you found me, she said, I would have been dead in under an hour. She was still out of breath.
He put his hand under her armpit and lifted her up to a seated position.
—Is everything feeling all right?
—I’m sore, but no bones broken, I don’t think. But I’ll need to stay seated for a little while.
Dmitri stood straight next to her, facing down the mountain. The trees were sparse and before them was a massive clearing. Beyond that was a drop that led to a sudden cliff. In the west, to their right, the sun was setting. The light ruptured the branches and colored leaves, passing easily through the stiff pine needles. He sat beside her and they spoke to each other sideways, neither one facing the other. Dmitri quietly said something concerning her health. His mother offered no reply. They sat in silence and watched the blue sky turn into a supple pink shroud, and then he noticed, far off, the creeping blackness in the east. His mother inspected her legs, feeling them with the tips of her fingers.
—I think I’m ready, she said.
—Then let’s go home.
He helped her to her feet and handed her the walking stick. By the time they had made it back to the cabin, the star-singed, dusty twilight had recaptured the night sky. She sat down on her bed, appearing aloof but aware.
—Can I get you anything? he said.
—Perhaps a cup of tea, please.
Dmitri went off to boil some water. He poured the water and dipped the teabag into it. He held the saucer with two fingers and it shook in his hands. By the time he returned to his mother in her room, she was leaned over, facing the wall, asleep. His mother never asked to go out walking again.
Soon she found that she was unable to easily get out of bed, or to roam around the house.
—Dmitri, she said, Dmitri, can you help me to the living room?
He held her hands and led her with her elbow. She sat on the couch and rubbed her knuckles against her legs. It would be less than a month before she could not use her legs at all. The power, she said, simply escaped her, like a force that pushes harder and harder against you until you are unable to move—a sudden paralysis. When her illness got to that point, Dmitri carried her out of bed to the living room. She lay on the couch and rubbed her knuckles against her legs.
Dmitri could not remember precisely when everything else seemed to rupture. One day, while his mother was lying on the couch after he had carried her there, she let out a quiet whimper. Dmitri thought it was a deer outside eating the tulips, but after she made the noise again, he realized it came from his mother. He ran to her and held her hands in his.
—What is it? What do you need?
His mother did not respond. Her eyes rolled back inside her head. Dmitri reached to the pile of blankets that were on the backrest of the couch and put his hands underneath her wilted frame. She felt like nothing to lift. A feather, a sheet of paper, a weightless extension of his body. Without even thinking about where he would go, he put her in the back of the car and drove swiftly past the trees down the mountain, toward town.

One afternoon, around November, while she lay in bed, his mother called Dmitri into the bedroom with a little brass bell. The orange light from the sun was carried into the room by the dusty white curtains. He could see soft little particles float around in the air. Her bed was set with many layers of quilts she had made when Dmitri was a child, when his father was still alive. He stirred her tea with a small spoon, squeezing the teabag against the side. A brief burst of reddish tea spilled out. Then he tapped the spoon on the side of the teacup, placed it on the dish, and set it on the table next to his mother. She lifted her head slightly, as if to look at Dmitri, but she did not open her eyes. It seemed to him, from the faint movement of her lips, that she meant to say thank you, but he only heard the sound of a distant, grumbling echo.
—Do you need anything else? he asked.
She shook her head and frowned. She held the bell in her hands and caressed it, feeling the curves and pulling at the clapper. Dmitri put his hand on his mother’s arm and she turned her head away. She seemed distant, as if her heart had fluttered somewhere else, somewhere warm, and all that remained was a steaming mechanical apparatus that pumped liquid blood to her organs. Somehow, he thought, she was not there, not even if she lay there in front of him, like a shadow that remains long after the body has gone. He felt the flesh of her arm, but it felt cold and dry.
He lifted his hand away as if to leave, but his mother turned and weakly grabbed his wrist before he could move away.
—Stay, she said in a voice below a whisper, please stay.

Dmitri stopped in the threshold between the warm drone of the house and the prickling cold of the mountain, where icy snowflakes had begun to fall. He was on his way to the ten o’clock mass. He held the door open and the frigid air spun around the room, blowing the smoldering charcoals in the fireplace. He listened once more to the slow beep of the monitor secured to his mother. One tube ran into her veins, another two burrowed deep into her nostrils. Her body had become tense like stone, and most recently she felt too weak to lift a teacup to her lips. Dmitri looked down at his feet. His legs straddled the threshold. He breathed in the frosted air and went out into the night.
The snow had been light. Thin, fast-moving flakes covered the road, but he drove without issue. An hour passed, and he reached the parking lot of St. Rita’s Church. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot. He waited a little while until he saw the lights of two more cars. They drove in and parked next to him. Dmitri waited for thepeople to leave their cars and pass him. In the first, he saw three people—a man and a woman with a small infant. In the second, a van, was a large family—two tall parents and five or six children got out first. Then the woman opened the passenger door and helped an old folded woman out of the seat. She wore a long black fur coat and a white silk scarf around her head. She unfurled herself, though she still seemed bent over, and the woman handed her a cane. The younger woman walked slowly with the older. When they were near the door of the church, Dmitri exited his vehicle and ran to catch the door for the women. The younger woman thanked him, but did not look at him. The older woman, who had followed the younger, gave a little gasp and gazed up to Dmitri.
—Thank you, she said as she looked in his eyes. Thank you very much.
The doors to the church led directly to the pews. Dmitri looked them over to sit away from everyone else. He saw an unoccupied bench near the corner by a cinder column to which a lantern was attached. He noticed the hot blue flame burning in the lantern. As he began to walk over to the place, the old woman, whom he had followed without noticing, grabbed his arm. Dmitri gave a start. She looked him in the eyes and said:
—Stay. I would very much like to sit with you. Please stay.
Dmitri nodded to the woman. She led him to the front pew. He sat on the end nearest the aisle next to her. They did not speak the entire evening, but Dmitri felt her warmth on his arm; felt her constant, calming presence. The bell in the tower struck and the priest came out shortly after. A group of five older men walked down the aisle with baskets of white candles. He handed the basket to the older woman, and she took one. Shortly after, the men walked down the aisle again with their own candles, lit and dripping wax.
Finally, one bald man came to Dmitri and lit his candle. Then Dmitri leaned over to the old woman, who reached out with her own. Hers was shaking so uncontrollably Dmitri had to wrap his hand around her wrist to steady it. Once every candle was lit, the lights dimmed. The priest said some words, then they prayed. Dmitri was not sure whether or not he should pray, so he looked over to the old woman and decided to close his eyes and say a word or two. Soon the priest ordered the lights on and everyone blew out their candles. Dmitri followed the instructions of the priest for the rest of the mass—standing, sitting, standing, kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing. The older woman did not kneel or stand, but sat very quietly. Dmitri noticed that she did not pray when the priest asked them to, or perhaps she had no need to show others that she prayed.
Just before the priest called for communion, he announced the few requested prayers. Dmitri suddenly remembered that he had sent in a request for his mother. The priest held a small pile of notecards in his hands, which was handed to him by the single young altar boy. He quietly thanked the boy. The first was for a man named Spiro Greive, who was suffering from an affliction Dmitri had never heard of. The next was for a woman named Eudora Baldwin, who had been taken from the world the previous week and had requested prayers to help her reach heaven. It had been a slow, drawn-out death, but came to a sudden halt when her cancer spread to her lungs. Her daughter stood and faced the small parish. She wore a red blouse and black skirt. Her eyes looked sad, Dmitri thought. They drooped and were sunk deep in her skull. She seemed as if she had just stopped weeping, for the moment; her cheeks shined as if they were softened and glistened with tearstains. She thanked the parishioners for their prayers, and bowed a little before sitting down.
Dmitri was called next. The priest read the card out loud. When he finished saying the words Dmitri wrote, needed more prayers than anybody I know, his eyes welled with tears. Dmitri stood and waved, bowing his head and looking to his feet. He thought about saying something—perhaps a word about his mother’s illness, he thought, to clear the air of mystery. But then he looked around the room, to the thirty or so people sitting around him. They looked back at him. Some were smiling, others wiping tears away with scarves or bundled-up napkins they had found in their coat pockets. And while Dmitri looked around the room, for the first time in a long while he felt as if he belonged some place, as if the people knew him, and more importantly, wanted to know more about who he was. He pressed his lips together and felt the warm hand of the old woman on his lower back.
—Thank you, he whispered, and sat down in the pew, his elbow resting on the end, palm covering his face.
When he looked up again, he noticed the flames of the tall, heavy candles flickering, as if a frail wind had surged into the room. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising, he thought, for the church was old and its stained glass windows seemed in need of repair. The crucified Christ that hung as a plaster mold at the front of the church, behind the podium, looked out with an expressionless gaze. Dmitri looked up at the face. Like a restored portrait, or colorful graffiti done over and over in the same spot, he saw the distorted color of a cheap repainting service. The light brown had faded away slightly, revealing the grey color that lay beneath. His face looked sick, the color drained from it. Dmitri felt as if he wanted to repair it that instant, to paint a new coat over the face, and to have it resonate afresh. But he had no supplies, and he couldn’t afford any. Some things, he thought, must wear away; they follow the necessity of breaking down, changing, restoring, and becoming new again.
—Let us pray, said the priest.

Soon the mass was over and the people began to leave the church. Some embraced. Some talked. Others, children, played with their siblings’ hats or scarves. Dmitri had been walking slowly down the aisle, behind some other families, when he felt a light jabbing on his lower back. He turned around to see the old woman with her cane outstretched. She was smiling, and Dmitri smiled back. She lifted her hand to her lips and pressed gently. Then removed it and blew him a kiss. He nodded and smiled, and turned toward the door. As he reached the threshold to the outside, he turned, graciously, toward the old woman again. The younger woman had been helping the other put on her coat and hat.
Dmitri returned home where his mother still slept quietly in her room, heated by the gentle purr of the wood fireplace. She never awoke again, but sometimes Dmitri could hear her voice in the insulated silence that comes after the snowfall, or in the resounding voices of the choir.
And sometimes in the howling wind that rushes down the mountain.

 


Contributors

Rebecca Blakeney
Time for Reflection

Rebecca Blakeney was born in Longmont, Colorado, and has lived in several cities in Georgia and Michigan. She is currently finishing the last two semesters of her Bachelor’s degree as an English major at UM-Flint. Rebecca has a passion for all different types of literature and for photographing nature.

Cassidy Buckelew
Before Harvest

Cassidy Buckelew, a freshman at the UM-Flint, is in the preliminary stages of completing a double major in both Psychology and Studio Arts. She is exceedingly passionate about the arts and firmly believes that her niche is deeply rooted in creation, primarily through sculpting, photographing, writing, drawing, painting, and doodling. Alongside her artistic devotions, she thoroughly enjoys spending her time reading, baking, and biking. “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott

Herb Bursch
The Scout

Herb Bursch is in his last semester as a graduate student in the UM-Flint English MA program. During the past several years, his life has revolved around school, substitute teaching, family and dog. He is chief cook and serves as general manager of maintenance, yard and gardening at his home. He also loves to write poetry.

Grace Anne Carey
Infinity Continuum

Grace Anne Carey is a storyteller, spinner of yarns, and collector of tales. To read more by Grace, visit Yahoo! Voices and be sure to keep an eye out for her upcoming book of poems, When the Earth Was Ours to Hold.

J L Carey Jr.
Convergence of the Misanthropists

J L Carey Jr. is a writer and an artist living in Michigan with his wife and three children. He is an Instructor of English and Art and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. His work is noted for being Repressionistic, and often dealing with Pop-Culture Conspiracy.

Amy Conger
jelly shrapnel and swill

Amy Conger is constantly losing pairs of sunglasses; she eats Indian food on Christmas Eve, and she only has nine toes (or does she…?)

Nic Custer
All My Friends and
Hometown Poem (No Rush)

Nic Custer is a poet, playwright and journalist. He has released six poetry chapbooks including All Power to the Peep Holes. Custer graduated from UM-Flint in 2011 with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology.

Andrea Edwards
History, Separate, and Stay

Andrea Ewards is an English Specialized in Writing major, and Fine Arts minor. While she was a manuscript reader for the last three Qua issues, this is her first time being published for poetry. An avid poetry reader, she is a fan of Billy Collins, and the villanelle.

Austin Feehan
Being Written

Austin Feehan is studying for an Associate in Arts at Mott Community College. He enjoys reading, writing, and has an obsession with buying books. “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but a human heart, oh no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” – Tennessee Williams

Shannon Flegel
BLUE and GRAYSCALE GRACE

Shannon Flegel will most likely never be a famous writer.
Despite this he continues to write, as he has for the better part of the last decade. “Cuckoo clocks and moth-eaten deer heads gave the restaurant a dreary, out-of-place, Tyrolean look.” – Queer by William S. Burroughs

Marlena Frasier
1940, The Capitol Theatre, and
The Pin Cushion Queen

Marlena Frasier from Swartz Creek, Michigan, is currently a senior at the UM-Flint. She is working on a dual degree in Communications and Visual Communications with a concentration in Photography. “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.” – Ansel Adams

Troy Gibson
From “SanMo” To “SanDawg”

Though California is his second home, Troy is a proud Flint native with five generations having lived in the Vehicle City. His passion for art and design reflects within the shots taken of his daily inspirations in the SoCal area. –”The world is ran by programmers, designers and creatives,” he often says.

Preston Hagerman
Always Stare, Never Blink

Preston Hagerman is a Youth Services Worker at a psychiatric juvenile detention facility. Always Stare, Never Blink is his second publication with Qua. When it comes to creative writing, Preston writes almost exclusively in the stream of consciousness. He shares a modest blog with four other authors, poets, and playwrights. You can read more from Preston -n- friends at http://gardengnomeprophets.tumblr.com.

Jacqulyn Leary
Frozen in Time

Jacqulyn Leary is a senior at the UM-Flint. A Visual Communications major, Jacqulyn enjoys digital design, photography, knitting, sewing and spray painting. Her photo was taken after the severe ice storm at the end of December, 2013.

Ha Li
The Running Script

Ha Li is everyone’s favorite vaguely ethnic ukulele player. She’s a free spirit that flies! She is as mysterious as her ancestors’ homeland! At the light of the full moon she turns into a cat, in her past life she was a dinosaur. Living off of vegetables and IPA… Rawr.

Alexandra Hinson
Asking Alexandria

Alex Hinson, a two-year photo-journalist in progress, loves nothing more than music and photography. Combing her passions has directed her to photographing some of the biggest bands of today, Asking Alexandria being one of them. Check out an interview with the band at: www.youtube.com/MsAlexTheeKoo

Helen Lund
Birches and Across the River

Helen Lund is a junior studying graphic design. She enjoys a good book and a warm beverage. Nature is a large inspiration
to her and her work along with travel. She enjoys history and learning about different cultures. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Thomas Mann
The Sound Between the Beating Drum

Achtung! Though Thomas Mann went missing in 1955, rebel Androids still release work in his name. To his knowledge, the current author is the nation’s preeminent authority on the world’s most inaccessible jazz music. In his spare time, he is attempting to build his entrepreneurial grave-digging empire, “Venetian Slumber Service.”

Mike McManaman
Gilkey Creek Sunset

Mike McManaman is a graduate student at UM-Flint studying
Computer Science. He worked in local television for years and is really tall. You can find more of his work at “Mike Mcmanaman Photography” on Facebook.

Erik Potere
Blasé

Erik Potere is an alumnus of UM-Flint. He is a regular kid that enjoys hot tea, running, and bending words.

Kaleigh Rodgerson
Conform, On the Surface, and Ruminations

Kaleigh Rodgerson is a freshman at the UM-Flint, majoring in English. She has a few dozen partly-finished stories on her laptop and a few hundred more waiting to be written. “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” – Ray Bradbury

Joshua L. Sauvie
imperfectionism

Joshua Leland Sauvie, a recovering pessimist, is often bothered by too much direct sunlight, the overwhelming simplicity blanketing most of contemporary culture, and formal education’s obsession with the surface of things. He does, however, enjoy the taste of lime, the slow burn of a steady infatuation, and the word “plethora.”

Rachel Stock-Lignitiz
Autumn, Recumbent, and Yes I Hear You

Rachel Stock-Lignitiz is a student at UM-Flint. She still doesn’t know what she want to be when she grows up, but is pursuing degrees in History and Creative Writing. She is married to her best friend, George. They hike, bike, and watch absurd amounts of baseball.

David Allen Strunk
“Scrambled Eggs”

David Allen Strunk studies Psychology and Communication at UM-Flint. This former drummer of the band Fungus enjoys classic horror movies, writing, and music. David is a byproduct of Toledo, Ohio. He’s a joke away from a laugh. David donates these few words of wisdom, “Make life fit you.”

Kathleen Tighe
From My Window and
Reflections on a Winter’s Day

Kathleen Tighe is studying in the Graduate English Department. She writes to reflect on past experiences, explore new ideas, and feel the joy of expression. “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” – Joan Dideon

Eric R. Trowt
Better Weather Ball and The Dream

Eric R. Trowt is a senior majoring in Journalism and English, with a Specialization in Writing. He is an accomplished writer and photographer, with work appearing in both student and private shows, as well as various local publications.
Favorite quote: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

Dallas Woodward
A Boy and His Corpse and
A Song for the Arsenal

Dallas Woodward is a senior in the Mathematics department. He enjoys long walks on Wikipedia and the crisp blue of a virgin hyperlink, yet to be pressed. His sanity has been questioned, but never found guilty of any serious crimes. He recently finished off a novel. It screamed.