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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

David Spicer: “Elegy to a Poet Whose Entire Oeuvre I’ve Read Since His Death”

Elegy to a Poet Whose Entire Oeuvre I’ve Read Since His Death

 
Thomas Lux, 1946-2017                                      
 

Over four hundred poems in three months—
books, magazines, a few broadsides.
Funny, I didn’t read your work when

you graced the world with poems,
one of which had insulted my
own poetic hero by calling him a dumb

fucker for shooting himself three times.
Others employed hackneyed tricks
learned at a midwestern Mecca that scores

of genius writers flock to like
sheep nibbling the ambitious corn.
I forgot your poems existed, ignored

them like an arrogant fool.
Then, when you died, I asked
myself what I had missed. Too much:

surreal bodies of water, mischievous boys
fishing, arcane facts about cows and lichen,
trees that shined like jewels, a brilliant heart.

Dead poet, I’m sorry I snubbed
your poems like so many peppermint
jawbreakers bad for teeth. My loss.

I missed too many gems in the necklace,
but now I thank you for those rivers
of diamonds that will flow forever.

 

David Spicer has had poems in Chiron Review, Poppy Road Review, Mocking Heart Review, Alcatraz, Gargoyle, The Drunken Llama, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He is the author of Everybody Has a Story and four chapbooks, and is the former editor of raccoon, Outlaw, and Ion Books.

Seth Jani: “Transmigration Blues”

Transmigration Blues

Don’t forget me
Because the moon
Is the radium
Of a split orange
And I too, am one
Unraveled light.
Coming out of love,
Or going in,
We fall asleep
In the fragments
Of fireflies.
Their wings drift
Over us like snow
From the Carpathians,
From ranges that don’t exist,
Dream tectonics.
And whoever you are,
I feel the ribbon
Of many lives holding us
Against the wheel.
As stars are born,
Collapse, and transform
Into ghosts,
I think many indescribable days
Have passed between us.
So many that even the soul
Loses count in its index
Of obsessions.

 

Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA, and is the founder of Seven CirclePress (www.sevencirclepress.com). His own work has been published widely in such places as The Chiron ReviewEl PortalThe Hamilton Stone ReviewHawai`i Pacific ReviewVAYAVYAGingerbread HouseGravel and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. More about him and his work can be found at www.sethjani.com.

Aden Thomas: “Hunchback”

Hunchback

Teased for silence inside of silences,
he never raised his hand.
He slumped when walking under moonlight.
He noticed details others lost.

Roots grew under sidewalks and lifted the concrete.
Ants appeared
then disappeared in the cracks between the spaces.
It happened–the smallest of things.

While others talked and pointed,
he saw the intricacies
of interactions of the tiny,
more than roots and insects,

but those of people,
who carried with them a gravity
inescapable,
the beginning of a crack

smaller than sound,
unheard at midnight,
growing by the hour,
something only a bell-ringer hears.

It was the narrow beating of their hearts,
a spider’s sorrow
crawling through their veins,
weaving a single tiny thread.

 

Aden Thomas grew up on the high plains of central Wyoming. His work has appeared in The Blue Mountain Review and The Inflectionist Review. More of his work can be found at: www.adenthomas.com.

Michael Chin: “Spread”

Spread

When the Knicks lost to the Bulls, but only by two, my old man clapped his hands. Vinnie and I looked at him, wondering if this were one of those times he was being antagonistic for the sport of it, or if he’d misread the score.

But he tipped his tallboy back, leaning back in his La-Z-Boy, and explained the spread—that when you bet, it wasn’t about wins and losses so much. No one would bet on the Knicks to beat the Bulls, but to come within six points? That was the point spread they needed to cover.

Vinnie said he’d bet on the Knicks.

Just the same, Vinnie’d bring up the point spread logic, talking Cara Joyner and the homecoming dance sophomore year.

I invoked the easy sports metaphor first. “You’re not in her league.”

He argued no two people were equally attractive—equally good looking or funny or smart. “There’s a spread.”

But Vinnie didn’t beat the spread for Cara. Wouldn’t beat it with Valerie or Jenny either. Had to rethink the whole thing.

My mom and pop split up about that time. Because he was betting too much. Because of a lot of things. Mom said the gambling was representative of all the reasons she had to go, of the way my father thought. I watched them split their things. Mom got the practical pieces. The cookware, the couch, the Encyclopedia Britannicas. The house. Dad, he got the baseball cards, the big TV from the living room.

I’d stay with Mom most of the time, but got split between the two of them, spending time with Dad across weekends, and certain weeknights. Spread thin.

And Vinnie changed around his theory. That my old man covered the spread for a time, but the margin of difference grew larger and larger until he couldn’t anymore. Until he lost his bet.

I lived in that margin.

 

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York, and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won the Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has published work in journals including The Normal School and Bellevue Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.