Yuan Changming: “American Dream Anagrammed”

American Dream Anagrammed

Yuan Changming, nine-time Pushcart and one-time Best of Net nominee, published monographs on translation before moving out of China. Currently, Yuan edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver; credits include Best of Best Canadian PoetryBestNewPoemsOnline, Threepenny Review and 1309 others.

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Dan Nielsen: “Beryl and Ned Live in a Tiny House”

Beryl and Ned Live in a Tiny House

Beryl was a famous flautist. Ned was an unemployed florist. They met on Absurd Criteria, a dating site that matched partners based on how similar their professions sounded.

Beryl, still in bed, sneezed for the fifth time in less than three seconds.

“I’ll get it, honey.” Ned, arranging imaginary flowers in his mind, made his way to the pull-down bathroom with the medicine cabinet just slightly larger than the generic Dimetapp it contained.

Beryl sneezed again, this time so loudly it nearly ruptured her eardrums. She’d worn protective plugs earlier, but previous sneezes dislodged them completely. Beryl needed her ears to hear. She was first flute with the alt-cowgirl/retro-trance dance band Ten Gallon Pyramid-Shaped Hats. But Beryl’s real passion was The Charismatics, a Christian improv group that took its sketch suggestions directly from God.

“Here.” Ned handed the medicine to his wife.

“Thank you, my love.” Beryl tool a swallow and made a face.

“What is it, darling?” Ned stroked his beard in what appeared to be a thoughtful manner, but it was merely a nervous habit.

“The generic isn’t as good.” Beryl took another swallow, and, to prove her point, made the same face again.

Ned read the label. “The ingredients are identical, sweetheart.”

“I didn’t say it isn’t as effective.” Beryl quibbled.

Ned changed the subject. “Honey, you’re not wearing socks.” He saw her pink toes sticking out from beneath the blanket. “Your feet must be freezing.”

Without getting up, Beryl opened the top drawer of their dresser. The room was the size of a walk-in closet. It was the largest room in their Tiny House. The kitchen was a regular sized closet. Beryl’s music room and the place where The Charismatics practiced was a space under the sink.

The drawer had a divider. One side was her socks and the other side was his. Beryl chose a fuzzy pair of his.

“Honey?”

“What!”

“Nothing.”

Ned didn’t care about the socks. Tomorrow was Beryl’s birthday. He’d hidden a package of hot-pink pipe cleaners in his side of the drawer. He ordered them directly from the factory in Formosa. They weren’t even pipe cleaners. They were chenille stems.

“Now the inside of my skin itches.” Beryl didn’t bother scratching.

Ned looked at his phone. “That could be liver disease, cancer, a thyroid condition, celiac disease, kidney failure, anemia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, shingles, or pinched nerve.”

Beryl patted Ned’s arm. “Baby, it’s just a side effect of the generic you bought.”

Some people think there aren’t enough hours in the day. There are, in fact, too many.

 

Dan Nielsen plays solo ping pong, which is like Tai Chi, but fun. His flash manuscript Flavored Water was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press 2017 SHORT SHORT CHAPBOOK CONTEST. Recent work in: Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Cheap Pop, Random Sample, Spelk, and The Dirty Pool. Dan has a website: Preponderous and you can follow him on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES

Charles Rammelkamp: “Men”

Men

I admit, I always had to bite my tongue when I walked past the elementary school at the corner of Beech and Berry, no cars in sight save for the lone yellow schoolbus beached at the curb like the carapace of some prehistoric sea turtle, and Caroline, tricked out in her neon lime crossing-guard safety vest, told me it was “safe” to cross the street, granting me permission, on my way to the post office. Who did she think she was, Cerberus?

But I knew who she was, the jilted middleaged wife of that cad Brent Alford who’d dumped her for a younger woman, leaving her with a shitty alimony and a kid with serious disabilities. Caroline, formerly a housewife, needed this job to supplement her income, and even if she drove me up a wall, my heart went out to her every time I saw her standing at the crosswalk, holding the snotty hand of some little kid who needed to get on the schoolbus. We lived in the same neighborhood, had known each other for years.

There’d been rumors that her son-in-law, Ray Lawson, had lost his temper and slugged her on more than one occasion. Ray married Brent and Caroline’s daughter Elizabeth, and for a year, before they moved to Tennessee, they’d lived under the same roof with Caroline. Caroline had sported a shiner for a while, but she’d claimed she’d “fallen down,” even though the neighbors had called the police when the shouting and sound of breaking furniture had gotten out of hand.

So on this day, ambling down Beech in a stylized manner that looks rehearsed, if not choreographed, comes a young guy in a wifebeater, cigarette tucked behind his ear, a long greasy curl of hair shading the filter. Pimp-shuffle-skip … pimp-shuffle-skip…I’m behind him about fifteen paces on my way to the post office.

Wifebeater steps off the curb without looking around, lost in his head. Pimp-shuffle-skip.

Caroline blows her whistle, bleats, “Wait a minute!” In her uniform of faux authority (I always think of it as a “costume”) – baggy navy trousers with a wide blue stripe down the legs, a shiny badge that looks like it came out of a cereal box, a cap with a stiff plastic bill – she looks more “bureaucratic” than “powerful” or “intimidating.”

Startled, Wifebeater stumbles at the curb, loses the rhythm of his pimp-shuffle-skip.

“The fuck?” he shouts, glaring at Caroline. “Who the fuck are you, granny? Mind your own fuckin’ business, you old fuck!” And then he resumes his dance across the street, no cars in sight. Pimp-shuffle-skip … pimp-shuffle-skip.

Caroline looks offended, then kind of crumples. She looks around. Nobody but me.

Sure, I’m a retired old guy but not decrepit, and besides, I don’t need to do anything physical to come to her defense. Maybe a stern word of warning? But I don’t do anything. I try looking sympathetic, but I only feel like yet another man who has failed her.

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and edits The Potomac, an online literary journal–http://thepotomacjournal.com . His latest book is a collection of dramatic monologues called American Zeitgeist, published by Apprentice House, which also published his collection Mata Hari: Eye of the Day.

 

 

 

Margaret Potts: “Happiness”

Happiness

I could, I really could, I say.
I could sit down while you re-paint the porch
and sip coffee until I die today.
Because the caffeine in the morning
and because the morning in your smile.
Because it took me such a long while to be,
here,
sitting on a porch with you,
rooted.

Is this how it feels to be a tree among trees?
A vine of ivy draped across similar vines?

Community: when I complain that I do all the talking
and you toss me a scowl.
Because you speak through deeds,
and me, incessant vocabulary made verbal.

Does the ivy not climb?
See: one tree, desiring sun, shooting past another unforgivingly.
Isn’t the Earth complex?
A solitary, living planet spinning in a cosmic mess,
and yet — brothers with Pluto.

And you, and me, and we.
Respecting boundaries, are able to co-exist:
together and separate.

 

Margaret Potts graduated from DePaul University, Chicago, with a degree in Philosophy and French. She’s published poetry with After Hours, a Chicago literary journal, and won 2nd place in the South Dakota State Poetry Society’s annual contest. She currently lives in Oakland, California, where she works with at-risk youth.

Michelle Brooks: “Vacation Bible School”

Vacation Bible School

Before the puppet show, Melissa and I split
a stolen Valium. As the children gathered,
a dreamy feeling descended on the eighth
grade me, benevolence for all I saw — the cheap
hand puppets, a mouse and giraffe who
became Jonah and the whale. I put my mouse
into the mouth of Melissa’s giraffe while God
waited for Jonah to get himself right. He’d
run from Ninevah only to suffer. Brother
Buddy complimented us on our performance,
telling me that longsuffering was my fruit
of the spirit. I didn’t sound good, even medicated
against harm and boredom. I didn’t know then
that you didn’t have to be swallowed whole,
that you could swallow the whale and not
know you were trapped by what was inside you.

 

Michelle Brooks has published a collection of poetry, Make Yourself Small (Backwaters Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy (Storylandia Press). A native Texan, she has spent much of her adult life in Detroit, her favorite city.