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 Although manuals and operating procedures were posted here and there they often were outdated or had been superseded by an authority’s ingenuity or experience.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.

Once Upon a Time

by , , , , on Aug 9, 2016

(Watch Cristina Ortiz’s video of “Once Upon a Time” on Vimeo)

about “Once Upon a Time

The city of the dead, constructed by the living as a silent and still image of a restless and bustling city.

It has its houses, small, damp and dark; some more spacious and sunny; It has its individual apartments where the tranquil inhabitants crowd each other; it seems that they lack room … but no, what they lack is movement, why would you want more room?

Also this city has streets and gardens through which visitors pass, the future dead, amongst the present dead.

Dead people of all ages, with dead children and their dead dolls.

The schedule of this city is regulated so that essential work, crafts and ceremonies are arranged in a map corresponding to the firmament on that date: thus the days and nights on earth are reflected in the sky. Or conversely, the days in heaven and the nights on earth.

—-I understand well that you, that you feel part of an unchanging sky, meticulous clockwork gears, you bring nothing to your city and your habits change little. Yours is the only city that suits you, you remain motionless in time, the moving image of eternity… You have departed from time, you’re already in eternity, why would you want to change? Yes, I know, man prefers to want for nothing instead of wanting for something… but the sky, inspiring laws, cities and calendars, must be heard; maybe this is why you are so quiet?—

You deserve to be remembered for two virtues: secure in yourself, because nothing affects you, you tell me in your faces from those black and white photographs of serene gestures, even smiling; and prudence, convinced that all innovation in the city influences the design of heaven, before every decision you calculate the risks and benefits for themselves and for the whole city … and worlds.

–Consuelo Arredondo

 


Cristina Ortiz (Barcelona, Spain): Photographer specializing in using old photographic techniques and film producer. Since 1992 doing courses on techniques and creative photographic development. Since the early 1990s, her work has been part of numerous individual and group exhibitions. Web: crisortiz.com

Consuelo Arredondo (Santander, Spain) graduated in Barcelona in philosophy and philology, has devoted her professional life to teaching philosophy and also poetry writing.

Ferrie = differentieel (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) started making music in 2006 after years of painting in the expressionistic style. Around 250 tracks for art installations, dance performances, film, video and commercials. Web: audio.dailym.net

Luis Rojas (Bahia Blanca, Argentina). Composer, documentary filmmaker, researcher and instrumentalist. He has released many works for various groups, soloists and orchestra, plus electroacoustic works. Web: soundcloud.com/luisrojas2011

Johann Mynhardt. Web: youtube.com/user/johannmynhardt

and if you sketched the view from here minus

by on Jul 22, 2016

the streets and alleys, minus the motels and the three rollercoasters, minus the jetty and the lighthouse and the catamarans lined upside down on the sand, minus the evening’s surfers, the young women with their dogs, street poets, booksellers, guitars and glass jars stuffed with old dollars, minus pizza toppings, car keys, small lamps burning in windows, minus the fathers calling time to come in

and minus even this wharf where people sit with their fried clams and slices of lemon, where people fall into the sea as you draw in reverse dismantling the boards, erasing all but landscape and a pod of sea lions arcing in for the night and a few gray gulls flying toward the mountains off to the left; all that was before anyone ordered decaf for two or touched another’s face with a hand small as rain

 


Jeanie Tomasko is the author of a few poetry books, most recently (Prologue), the recipient of an Editor’s Choice award from Concrete Wolf Chapbook Series, and Violet Hours (Taraxia Press), a collection of the antics of a unique little girl. She can be found on her website (jeanietomasko.com), walking around somewhere near Lake Superior with her husband, Steve, or enjoying the antics of her cats at home, where she endeavors to always have a bottomless honey jar, garlic from the garden and bees in the front yard hyssop.

Gossamer

by on Jul 14, 2016

gos-sa-mer \  n  [ME gossomer, fr. gos  goose + somer  summer]  1 : and if wings could wing : and if summer could last : and if we could be as soft and careful as milkweed air :  as in, too soon we grab the net or nail and try to pin things down when  2 : it’s enough to know they are there1   3 : and right here in the middle of writing this, I get an e-mail from Orbitz, subject line: You’re so fly  3 : Dear Orbitz, how did you know?   4 : because the wind is blowing and the yellow leaves are flying and, I am so fly  5 : here with you under the available sky, a silver airplane2  &

 

 

1I think, as birds fly past our morning window

2two ravels of [goose + summer] geese

 


Jeanie Tomasko is the author of a few poetry books, most recently (Prologue), the recipient of an Editor’s Choice award from Concrete Wolf Chapbook Series, and Violet Hours (Taraxia Press), a collection of the antics of a unique little girl. She can be found on her website (jeanietomasko.com), walking around somewhere near Lake Superior with her husband, Steve, or enjoying the antics of her cats at home, where she endeavors to always have a bottomless honey jar, garlic from the garden and bees in the front yard hyssop.

I Am April

by on Jul 13, 2016

I am April, tail end of the rains. Flowers scattered askance and winking through the glassy drops. Mud tracks drying up, but still gifting a mess on the door mat. Don’t count me out for a storm or two and if Easter is in my grasp the high and holy days will dazzle, glory abounding hallelujah. That fresh breeze, floral and dank; we’re on the way into fullness and fruit, Winter’s grasp receding, but I haven’t forgotten him yet. Dim wretch, all this green and life is proof that hope is made new, anew.

I might be leaning into the sunshine, underdressed, straining toward the summer warm, but this is my favorite part. The cusp, the place in between.

 


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.

Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ

by on Feb 16, 2016

It’s midday, and there aren’t many other cars on the road. It’s also cloudless and sunny—if you can call Indiana’s low-altitude, watery haze sunny—and so sticky hot that I’m cursing my battered Ford’s broken air conditioning. The edge of the earth is visible in all directions, a shimmering indistinct line that barely separates land from sky. Everything looks pale and flat, even the occasional cow or tree. It’s all weathered cardboard and faded paint. A poorly done stage backdrop.

A small black dot appears on the horizon in my rearview mirror.

I glance at the dashboard. The speed limit is 75 mph, but I’ve set the cruise control to 79 because I’ve heard state troopers will overlook an extra 4 mph. Cruise control was invented in Indiana by a blind man. I think I know what inspired him. He sensed the unwavering monotony of this place in his inner ear and it frightened him. He needed to flee to a place with texture. I don’t want to be here, either. Nobody wants to be here. They want to be anywhere else, and quickly. No wonder more interstate highways connect in Indianapolis than in any other U.S. city.

The dot gets bigger, and I can see it’s a car, pale blue like the sky above me but with an unmistakable man-made metallic sheen. A Chrysler sedan. It’s gaining on me. Whoever’s behind the wheel is driving like he’s late for an appointment in hell with the rebel actor James Dean, who was born in Indiana but got out before the boredom killed him, only to die in a fiery car wreck a few years later.

I shut off the cruise control and let my speed drop to 75 without braking. Cops don’t usually drive Chryslers, but I don’t know what they do here. If it’s a trooper, I don’t want him to see my taillights blink. I don’t want a speeding ticket. Another ticket. Now I’m sweating and paying more attention to the car in the rear view mirror than the road ahead of me. That’s stupid, but I’m mesmerized by this approaching missile.

In an instant, it’s behind me, veering into the passing lane like it’s surging toward the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500. I figure it’s going 120, more if that’s possible. As it pulls beside me, a turbulent gust of air shakes my Ford. I turn my head to see the wild man who’s not afraid to drive a boxy sedan at suicidal speeds.

But it’s not a man.

It’s a nun.

Sister Speed Racer is blowing by me with split-second ferocity, but time drips like cold honey and I see everything with stop-frame accuracy. Her tunic is blue, a shade darker than the car. She’s wearing a white scapular over her shoulders and a white coif with stiff white wings similar to the ones worn by certain orders of French nuns, except shorter, and less aerodynamic looking. She’s sitting ramrod straight, eyes fixed on the road, both hands clenched on the wheel, one at 10 o’clock, the other at 2 o’clock, like they teach you in driving school. There’s another nun next to her, and two more in the back seat. They’re young. Staring straight ahead. Not talking. Looking grim.

As they pass, the nun in the passenger seat swivels her head like a mechanical doll to glare at me. Her eyes shine black, and she scowls. Scowls. I look away self-consciously. Seconds later, the car is a dot again, this time ahead of me.

I slump into my seat, confused. Why are four nuns tearing through the countryside like they’re being chased by demons? Where are they going? Why?

The highway stretches in a straight line toward an unseen abyss.

My stomach pitches and my mouth goes dry.

I don’t want to be here. I desperately want to stop the car and turn around. Yet I’m following Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ directly into the white-hot heart of this place.

The thought is chilling. I shiver, and suddenly notice that the stripes dotting the pavement are whipping by like bullets. I’ve absentmindedly pressed the accelerator to the floor, and I’m going 95, 96, 97. I blink and swallow hard, setting my cruise control back to 79.

The wind outside my open window growls like a hungry wolf.

 


Michael Whiteman-Jones is a longtime journalist and editor who has won a few press awards that he keeps hidden in a box in the basement. He believes there is more truth in fiction than in facts, and in recent years, has written several hundred thousand words of short stories and essays on an iPad with his thumbs—a feat that probably truly deserves an award, or at least a visit to the chiropractor. He lives with his wife and family in Denver, Colo.

Closed Sign at Bill’s Bait & Beer

by on Feb 5, 2016

Bill’s family came to Hawai’i from China in 1921. They settled on the worst farmland on O’ahu. Bill remembers running through parched sugar cane fields as a boy.

Saturday mornings, Bill drove the family’s Model-T to Honolulu. The back seat was loaded with papayas, coconuts, and sugar beets to sell at Waikiki hotels. Kitchen managers weighed and thumped the fruit, then counted four or five dollars into Bill’s hand. Sometimes 25 cents was added to pay for gas for the trip home.

Bill remembers Mother, Father, and Uncle drinking tea by candlelight late into the evening; talking quietly or, more often, sitting in silence.

“Go to bed, son,” Mother chided gently when Bill padded into the kitchen.

Ten years passed. Bill’s family sold the farm and opened Lock’s Bait & Beer on the North Shore. Hawaii was a territory then. Nobody cared about fishing licenses.

At sunrise, locals lined up to buy bait and beer on credit. Bill recalls seeing men and women standing by the shoreline, straw-hatted, throwing nets in the ocean.

If opah refused to bite, fishermen couldn’t pay. Nobody minded. Locals settled up when fish cooperated.

“We did things differently then,” he says.

 


Trish Saunders writes poems from Honolulu, Hawaii.