Listen

by on May 24, 2017

I hear the voices of the water.  Not mermaid voices.  Not fish, nor cetacean, voices.  A civilization of voices.  The soft, careful voices of warriors plotting.  The bruised, back of the hand voices of lovers who believe for stern seconds that passion is prized more if it is endless.  The battleship-gray voices of mothers disowning their children.  The boastful voices of those who have accomplished nothing.  The red glowing barn voices of those scheming wealth out of poverty.  The gossamer voices of suppression.  One voice that believes there are no voices, shouting.  A voice hidden in a far off lagoon, lingering in the shallows like a rifle shot.  Brute voices and soft.  A community of voices, a society of voices, a civilization of voices, all with mouths at my ear united in one common, tentacled plea:  drown, drown.

 


Ken Poyner’s latest collection of short, wiry fiction, Constant Animals, and his latest collections of poetry—Victims of a Failed Civics and The Book of Robot—can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, or Sundial Books. He often serves as strange, bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs.  His poetry of late has been sunning in Analog, Asimov’s, and Poet Lore, and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Café Irreal, and Bellows American Review.  Find him online at kpoyner.com.

Sacred Stones

by on May 12, 2017

In the breathless way that only five-year-olds have, she explains to me the importance of each of the rocks in her box of precious things, held inviolable in the secret spot in the top drawer under all the socks. Since I well recall the totemic power of sea-glass and flat, smooth river stones for warding off evil and standing as sigils of fate’s approval of my existence, I listen to her recitation of each stone’s biography in the absent-but-present way that loving uncles have about them.

Her words wash over me, tumbling from her in little bursts of enthusiasm, rife with wandering asides, non sequiturs, and sighs of frustration at her own inability to articulate the ocean of meaning inside her. To the casual listener, it sounds like a grocery-list of items being ticked off in a sing-song litany. It sounds like that to me, too, except that I love her. So I listen past the tuneless song of “…and then…and then…and then” until I don’t hear it anymore, and I can actually listen instead.

She’s too young to affect the rhythms of a story-teller, the body-language, cadence, and intonations. The rise-and-fall, tension-and-resolve musical qualities of a story well-told are beyond her, for now. But the need to convey, to be understood, for her truth to be recognized… these things are well within her grasp, and they animate the story of her stones until it becomes epic. But not if you saw it written down. A transcript of it would be boredom itself, filled with “…and then…and then…and then.”

I’ve grown into the mantel of a storyteller in the midst of a clan of storytellers. To stand out from among the group of Bards and Bullshitters I hail from is a feat unto itself, believe me. So I listen with a different kind of attention to the tale of her sacred stones, hearing the story beats like a drum out of time, implying the shape of truths buried in her. Witnessing her evolution from Sunday to Sunday is something to behold. Soon this little one, with her earnest “…and then…and then…and thens” will be gone, replaced by a big-time first-grader with a grasp of relevant conversational threads, and a developing instinct for the social cues to tell which story, and when. And then her tales will rise to take their place on the long arc of the living narrative made up of every story ever told.

But for now she stumbles forward, leading with intention and meaning in the absence of all the words, as we ever have, as we ever will, for they are the millennial predecessors of syntax and grammar. When our ancestors grunted and gestured with stone knives and bear-skins, their intention and meaning was still plain to each other, and so we arose. As we ever have, as we ever will.

I know well the frustration of words that fail, that cannot contain the life they describe. When my own stories lay flat on an imaginary page, lifeless as a recitation from any randomly chosen page in the phone book, their content as stilted as a grocery-list of unrelated events, strung together by mere grammar and syntax, “…and then…and then…and then.” When all the editorial tricks are just tricks that cannot hope to animate the lifeless heap of characters we made up so we don’t have to grunt anymore. And I stare at them until it seems hopeless, all these meaningless squiggles on an electronic page that doesn’t actually exist outside the uncreated space of charged particles they inhabit. So it is that  tens of thousands of words disappear into digital nullification, countless ones and zeroes recycled for better purposes. Delete.

But some days, when I’m lucky, the love comes in.

When it does —when everything seems to shine, and even the wrong words seem to rhyme— and I’m out on the street and the 3/4 time of my steps counterpoints the 7/8 time of my heart, and every dog’s bark and shoddy muffler Dopplering away from me sings a song; the play of light and shadow is a game that the whole world is hoping I’ll notice and join in. I’m like a drop of water having rejoined its vast ocean at last, yet still a drop. The breeze chases my heels along and I am subsumed by a love of every single thing, ever.

Every person on the street, every distant soul in far-away lands, my flesh and blood; my family and friends like a fire in my bones. Even those that have betrayed me, every person that has ever cheated me, every criminal that has ever stolen from me, are separated from me only by their own illusion of “otherness.” And all the heartbreak in the world —even this I love, in the way that you love a willful child who must learn in their own way; regretful that they must, but content to walk alongside while they do.

Then everything unnecessary passes away, and the words that remain —that actually tell the story, that hold the essence of the life they describe— are animated by the love of what I’ve beheld. So the breath of life comes across the dry bones of mere words, anima whetting their marrow, such that they rise up to join the long arc of the living narrative, the one that God Himself is writing about each one of us, and literally everything else. A story of every attosecond of existence, every tear fallen, every dream dreamt; about the orbit of subatomic particles, and the beat of a butterfly’s wing in China.

A brokenhearted story of love and sacred stones.

 


Lawrence Elliott is a retired Journeyman Carpenter of twenty years. He’s enjoying a second act in life in the employ of the University of Oregon. He blogs about autobiographical oddities at Scratched in the Sand

Lenting

by on Apr 24, 2017

I have lented the ‘shoulds’ in years past. This year, I will lent what steals my breath. I will lent the cycling shrieks of war cries empty, and war cries full. This year I will lent the streaming compulsive—media and social media and the rites of the angry. This year I will lent the proclamations of imminence—every one.  This year I will lent the proclamations of eminence—all but one.

This year I lent, so that prayers made quiet, and prayers made loud I can hear myself. I can hear the whisper call of power and holiness simmering, resonating, in the presence of the Throned. In the just-beyond-my-eyelids.

 


Tiffany Grantom is a mother of five, doula, paralegal, wearer-of-many-hats-busy-monger who hopes for a season with time to write a book.  Today, just scribbles and lists, and fly-by wording glories.  Also found in working clothes at insightdoula.com.

Scattering in Harmony

by on Feb 9, 2017

The ashes scattered and danced on the calm surface of the Rock River.  After a quiet minute Cynthia squeezed his hand and whispered:

“But this is probably illegal, right?”

Oliver didn’t answer. Clutching his other hand was her son Jimi, now a stocky eight-year-old, and Oliver had no desire to go beyond this moment.

“Right?” She asked again.

Jimi broke free and scampered a few yards farther across the bridge, the better to watch the last of the ashes as they disappeared into the elements. Oliver turned to her and kissed her forehead. He said:

“Lady, I am indeed a real lawyer, and I’m here to tell you there’s nothing ‘probably’ about it – we have committed an exquisitely illegal act.”

“Well, then, I’ll just tell them it was my lawyer’s idea.”

“Great plan. That should work.”

They walked to Jimi. River gulls swooped in and out of the afternoon sun, their shadows on the water as graceful as their true selves in the air.

“Mom, once Grandma Millie and I saw an eagle here, a real eagle!”

“I remember, sweetie, because you wrote me a letter all about it. I still have it. I’ll always keep it with my most-important-papers.”

Oliver thought of another most-important-paper that would be waiting for them back in Janesville, the one that awarded him guardianship of Jimi. They would pick it up from the courthouse on Monday before driving Cynthia back to the women’s prison in Taycheedah. Her funeral furlough ended Monday at midnight and they were not going to be late. She still had four months on her ticket and nobody wanted an extension.

Millie had been his client for a year, a remarkable grandma taking care of the fatherless little boy while his mom served two years for selling dope. Marijuana, in fact. Nothing else. Now his client was dead and he was in charge of Jimi. They had taught him nothing of this back in law school.

“Hey,” he said, “did I ever tell you about my buddy Sean? The one who works out in Arizona?”

He gave them no opportunity to respond before beginning his story:

“Sean works in a tiny town, Sacaton, on the Gila River Reservation. After his first year they had a dinner in his honor and someone from the Tribal Council announced: ‘From this day forth, Sean shall be known as Walking Eagle. We are extremely grateful for his service.’

Sean was touched, he told me, and then the Judge of the Tribal Court stood up, and said ‘Of course, Sean, we chose that name because you’re so full of crap you’ll never fly.’

Everyone laughed, Sean told me, no one more than he did.”

Jimi giggled all the way back to the shore, followed by his mom and Oliver. There were worse things than full immersion in the music of laughter.

May it always be so, Oliver implored anyone who might be watching.  Even Millie.

 


Tony Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 (Big Table). He’d love for you to buy it. He lives near San Francisco and has two Pushcart nominations but not one website.

I Have Me Some Hobbies

by on Jan 30, 2017

I take advantage of everything—mostly people and of these people mostly friends. I have other hobbies. Yes, I consider taking advantage a hobby and “found” items I display in my modest ranch house near the beach but the lists and the taking advantage summaries I keep hidden away in my knotty pine den with two boards that open to a secret closet by a spring opener. My found things are scattered all around the house, including my stash closet. One day in the supermarket I spotted an open purse in the baby carrier of a cart.  After watching the lady shopper walk off a few aisles and no one else was in the ethnic foods aisle I snagged the wallet and hit a mother lode of cash, credit cards, even a debit card with the password written on it. I sold that for five hundred dollars to some degenerate at a bar. Outside the hardware store I took a wheel barrel on display and filled it with bags of potting soil and wheeled it to my car at the far end of the parking lot and asked some young guy with the hardware store logo on his apron if he’d help me unload the soil and get the wheel barrel in my car. He couldn’t have been nicer so I gave him a $2 tip. That’s how my collections go. My bookshelves have a bunch of library books that I was able to walk out with in my backpack and my walls have pictures I’ve taken off of doctors office walls. You’d be surprised how many doctors are good photographers and like to display their work. I list the “found objects” in a moleskin notebook and keep it in my hide-a-way along with my “taking advantage” of moleskin. Who can remember so many items? I have to make some changes because my house is filling up with things I no longer treasure, Yesterday; I started dropping my collected wallets randomly into open purses in the supermarket.

 


Paul Beckman’s story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story, “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016  Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online. His published story website is paulbeckmanstories.com and his latest collection of flash stories, PEEK, is available on his site.

Natural Outlaws

by on Jan 17, 2017

I. Hubble’s Law

The Universe’s overriding impulse is to back away. The further that galaxies are from each other, the faster they move to increase that separation. For almost fourteen billion years, the Universe has been accelerating away from connection, away from communion. This makes me immeasurably sad: what could be lonelier than a Universe full of galaxies whose first principle is to recede from one another at an ever increasing speed?

II. Length contraction

If you make a long bus go fast enough, you can enclose it in a short barn. You need to be snappy with the doors, though. By this logic, you can fit a metre rule in a thimble if your sleight of hand moves likes lightning. You can even stick a length of swiftly moving truth in the fine cracks across your beliefs.

III. Illumination

Seeing is subtraction. Leaves are green only because of all the colours of light, green is the only hue the leaf refuses to embrace. It happily absorbs enlightenment from red to violet, gaining heat and energy whilst hopscotching over the middle ground of green. And so it is that a black hole accepts all, absorbs all, embraces every colour, every wavelength of light.  Likewise, white results from complete indifference, lack of engagement at any frequency, deflecting away every encounter with the light.

 


Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives Cambridgeshire, UK. Skeletons in her closet include a couple of physics degrees and many valiant but disastrous attempts at classroom teaching. Learn more at Spillingtheink.com or onetreebohemia.com

With the County

by on Nov 7, 2016

Somewhat to my surprise I discovered those who worked for the county in which I used to live were not government employees but members of a private club. One joined this club by filling out an application, taking a test and going to interviews. Once one was accepted (because “a slot opened up”) one received an employee number. I filled out the application and took the test because I needed money. I soon discovered, however, that even though I’d been accepted and had been given an employee number I was not yet a full-fledged member. Newcomers were regarded with suspicion, if not totally ignored.

Insiders called their club “the county.” The term, as they used it, had occult overtones. When speaking to newcomers, or outsiders, they would repeat, “The county issues warrants on Wednesdays…” or “The county does not loan heavy equipment…” or “the county charges .423 on a base rate of assessed value…” as though some secret inner spirit—of which they were the tangible extensions—breathed through everything that they did.

The longer one had “been with the county” I learned, the more one absorbed the county mystique. (Club members never said “I work for the county,” they said “I’m with the county” or “I’ve been with the county sixteen years” as though describing a marriage.) As a club member absorbed the secrets that defined his or her specific activity he or she became the sole authority on how that activity was to be performed. Although manuals and operating procedures were posted here and there they often were outdated or had been superseded by an authority’s ingenuity or experience.

A slot opening at a higher level triggered a game of musical chairs as lower level club members filled newly opened slots. For months—or even years—after these promotions the new slot-fillers were obliged to pry secrets of their position from its former possessors (who, in turn, were doing the same from those they’d replaced, thus creating a chain of dependency that remained unbroken except in cases of death or someone leaving the area). When that happened the new possessor simply was told, “Well, figure something out” and he or she usually did, even if what she or he figured out was inefficient, costly or illegal.

Most of the long-standing club members lived in the county seat, a debris strewn old industrial town that had waned economically as the agricultural towns surrounding it prospered. Although nepotism was discouraged many of those holding administrative and clerical jobs had fathers, wives, cousins and children who were “with the county.” Because hardly anyone ever was fired and only occasionally did someone retire or take a better job somewhere else turnover was slight.

The county complex typified what the club was about. It was built during my last year with the county on several acres of land across the river from the old downtown. The administration building, surrounded by parking lots, was partially hidden by a brick wall. The offices all faced an inner compound allowing the club members to turn their backs on the outside world. From the passageways one could look into offices where club members moved among identically styled cubicles but one had to give a password to guards (called receptionists) to gain admittance to the sacred territory.

I “was with the county” again briefly on a work-for-hire contract a few years after I left. I remember stepping outside the administration building, my brown-bag lunch in hand, only to discover that were no benches, no grass, no trees, no walkways, no paths, only the brick wall and the black-topped parking lots. A small sign warned against trespassing through the paupers’ cemetery on the other side of the entrance road. Past it I could see thistles sloping towards a swale where a few poplars stood and a road that curled past what once had been the county hospital towards juvenile hall and the jail. A rabbit burst from cover, raced down the road and veered into the underbrush again.

When I returned to work a long-time club member told me I could have come inside to the break room and eaten my lunch there. I thanked her and told  “next time” I would. But “next time” never came.

Like the rabbit, I ran.

 


Robert Joe Stout’s poems and stories have appeared in The Tishman Review, Emrys Journal, Existere, Two-Thirds North and many other magazines and journals. He lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Inkchester

by on Oct 17, 2016

It is a city alternately black and red, but always the same city. The people of this city are stocky, stunted in height, dark-humoured with toil, laughing, friendly, fragile and numerous as matchsticks. It is a city of railways and canals, like all cities, and canyons of brick where pigeons roost, heedless of hawks. It is a hissing, clanking city one day, a buzzing, ringing city the next, a place of riots and massacres, of carnivals, shops and trams. The streets are friendlier than the parks. In its museums old people learn about their grandchildren’s world, but cannot enter it. Its Free Trade is conducted by orchestras, its cathedral lurks in back streets, its pubs take centre stage. The universities multiply and compete, the docks are ship-less and airy, the airport has shrunk to the size of a child’s toy and the memory of thunder.

 


Jo Waterworth lives in Glastonbury, UK, and is involved in groups for writing, editing and performing poetry. She is also studying part-time at Bath Spa University, now taking a third year poetry module. She has been published online and in print, and has won various poetry prizes in the UK. She blogs at Jo’swriting.

Ominous Dreams

by on Aug 15, 2016

Blood Moon
His stroll in the park is a shot in the dark. She sits on a bench under a light waiting for something to happen. Dramas such as this are enacted in parks everywhere. A full moon can seem like an omen, and a blood moon can feel like a curse. With the moon at my back I approach them — two people inexorably drawn together for a purpose that is still unclear.

The Curtain Rises
They toss the silent frisbee back and forth on this still summer evening. The gunman in the window views it as a moving target not unlike a clay pigeon. The purpose of an object is ultimately made clear only in how it is used. A quiet street is like a stage in an open-air theater. I like theater and wonder how this play will end.

Storm Warning
They surge past the guards and form a crowd in front of the embassy building. You step out onto the balcony and prepare to address them. Scenes such as this are always more dramatic in a movie or a 1930s newsreel. Some say a car backfiring sounds like a gunshot. I drive out of the picture as my car, half-stalling, backfires again and again.

 


Bill Waters, a lifelong poet and writer, lives in Pennington, New Jersey, U.S.A., with his wonderful wife and their three amazing cats. You can find more of his writing at Bill Waters ~~ Haiku and Bill Waters ~~ NOT Haiku.

My Cross

by on Aug 10, 2016

“It’s him again,” my elder brother complained. We all peered through the window to see who he saw.

The man from our church came again to the house. Dad wasn’t back from work. Mum gathered the four of us as usual──my brothers, my sister and me before the man. We sat beside her as she flipped through the black King James Bible. The man spoke. They listened. I observed him.

The other day, before this day, he talked about sinners, sins and saints; hell and heaven. The word “sins” particularly reminded me when mum called me a sinner after flogging me ruthlessly on the day she met me holding an egg, the only one left out of the three crates kept in the house── I was barely four years old. When she questioned me, I said innocently:

“Mum these balls are not bouncing like tennis.” I broke almost all the eggs in the crates as I mistook them for tennis balls.

The man talked about the end of the world. He said a big trumpet would be blown on the last day for everyone to be judged before the Maker. I looked at him, the type that suggested disbelief and fright.

I imagined how mighty the trumpet would look to sound to the world on the last day and the number of Angels that would carry it. The Angels, I was sure, had been to the gym. The particular Angel to sound the trumpet, I knew also, would have a mouth as wide as that of a hippopotamus. I knew too that that Angel would vomit enough air into the trumpet for enormous and resonate sound to reach all the peoples of the world even the deaf.

Because no one knew the exact time of the last day, I was deeply worried. I worried because I might be caught unawares when I might be filling the Five Alive juices stored in the refrigerator with water after I might have had my fill from a tiny hole I often perforated at its side or when I might be at the kitchen at night stealing meats from the soup pot (mum always had blamed my acts on witches that she believed was one of our neighbors) or when I might be adding more salt into papa’s food before serving to punish mum for always flogging me for bedwetting.

“…carry your cross and in this way can you follow Christ truly. Lets us pray,” the man said. I examined him as he concluded, prayed and left.

Thursday passed, so did Friday and Saturday. Sunday came. We were ready for church.

“Where are you going with that?” my mum asked me in bewilderment.

My posture was slanted and imbalanced. I was exactly that way anyone could see in those pictures or calendars bearing Jesus Christ’s images. What I carried was my yesterday’s construction done with pieces of wood I stole from a nearby carpenter’s shop.

I didn’t understand my mum’s reaction; I thought she heard what the man from the church said the other day.

“Mum, this is my cross. I want to follow Christ.”

 


Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto studied English Language and Literature at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria. He is a lover of literature and expresses himself in writings.