a poem? a dream? / Alice Shinkos

i dreamt about a lily last night

i wondered if the lily was me

i could see the roots and lovely parallel leaves and flower buds and flowers

the plant’s roots were suddenly immersed in water

and it grew and expanded and became full and vibrant and alive

so happy in its element

so healthy to be nourished

by the life-giving water

lillydream

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Steady / Katie Cavanaugh

If I played archaeologist

in old boxes

I would find the spiral bound

resting place of

fifteen year old musings.

The third page had

a list of ideals in blue ink.

There were all the things I hoped

steady love would be like,

whenever the ground beneath me

would stop daring the Richter

scale.

I did not know that love would walk

in with a laugh that shook bones like

tracks under a subway.

Couldn’t have expected love in

an American-Armenian

skull pummelers band shirt,

the disjointed lip

of Marlboro Reds smiling from a

pocket.

Wouldn’t have guessed love to speak

like it shared a private joke with

the world,

one with a George Carlin punch line.

That love would carry itself

like a unyielding shoulder

in a crowd.

My list only bit at the soft lower lip

of what love ended up being.

It didn’t have mornings of

mumbling happiness

or nights of

pillow fort conversations.

Didn’t have

gentle hands of patience

or the rewarding callouses

of building something important.

In a fluorescent cavity of padded chairs

and photocopies,

love smiled.

Rites of Stillborn Romance / Leonard Owens III

“Sure, we can shake uglies against the stall wall, but only if you take me home for a shower afterward,” she’ll say, and drag you inside the fourth floor library restroom for twenty minutes, then she’ll follow your car to your apartment.

Three days will be spent mostly naked, snugged in bed or in the kitchen cooking.

She’ll tell you, “You can’t cut cheese with a bread knife.” You’ll slide a bread knife from the wooden block, search the fridge for sharp cheddar. Three nights of dishes overflowing your shallow sink. Thursday’s pasta pot, lid closed to “soak,” will film over and belch fetid tomato breath if you jar the lid while probing for a cleanish utensil. Hardened beef fat will rim the cast iron skillet, remnants of late night burgers (your idea). Slimy yogurt spoons, serrated knife edges, all sizes of plates, a dingy baking pan for frozen pizzas—nearly every dish you own will jut in jagged juxtapositions, terrain fit to frighten even the most adventurous night vermin.

Your scrambled eggs are the fluffiest she’s ever had, she’ll tell you, and mean it.

Her cat will be named Whimper. If she goes out for morning coffee, you’ll kick the cat, as you groggy around her sloppy place. The cat will still try purring against your calves. You’ll allow it.

Some nights you’ll read poetry to her over the phone; other nights you’ll read old Garfield books in your bed, her teeth nipping your shoulder if you flip past pictures too fast.

Strands of her warm black hair will flutter and cling to the floor-mats of your twenty-year-old clunker as wind flaps your drunken faces past midnight. You’ll never vacuum the mats.

She’ll whisper her exiles into your lumped throat every night after twisting into you like you are her cracked shell. She won’t trim your patchy back hair. If you want to go shirtless at the beach, you’ll have to swing by Dad’s house beforehand to get sheared.

You’ll go see a musical in a movie theater on Christmas day. Her hand will squeeze yours tighter during sad songs. You’ll worry if your palm is sweat-mushy. She’ll think the movie’s too long and her knees will stiffen and butt will numb and you’ll wish you hadn’t paid full price for popcorn to impress her when you had coupons in your wallet.  

You’ll fuck the hole in her favorite jeans. She’ll tell you to, she’ll know what you want, to pump one through that gap onto her thigh. Your dead seed will linger even after two washes and treatment from a stain stick; she’ll spend bored minutes in class fingernailing sperm flecks out of faded denim, she’ll rub them between fingers till absorption.  

Kernels of shattered childhoods will pop within you both.

And she’ll be right about cutting cheese with a bread knife. You’ll never try that shit again.

Later, the book you write for her will be fifty-two cursive pages long. She’ll call your words scribble scrabbles and burn individual pages on a bi-weekly basis.

Some days, memories of loving her again won’t bitter your nerves.

How Can Two Become One? / Jacquelyn Meisburg

 

I.   As a matter of fact and the fact of matter itself, we must merge bodies.       We force Newton’s law into the corner of science and love, and demand an answer: “It’s me or her–but one way or another, some matter’s getting destroyed.” Oneness requires reduction.

 

II.   Or, even relational matters can be approached logically. We graph our                  components side by side in a Venn diagram. The number of smoking breaks to take in an afternoon, the number of alarms to set before bed, the number of half-and-half packets to add to morning coffee. Yes, every nuance must prepare for envelopment. We assume each other’s opinions in researched understanding; we consume each other’s needs in hungry desire. We fold into each other 360 times each. A perfectly spoked circle, unity results.

 

III.   Or, I swallow you whole. We’re buzzing electric in a hive of shared company, inside jokes, and your crooked grinning. My smile is toothy and broad, you slip down my throat accidentally, and I don’t spit you out. Seizing my chance now, you’re a bee cupped in my palm, poison bottled, a memory crystallized in motion. You’re my perfectly enclosed milk and honey salvation.

 

IV.   Or, it’s the dull, relentless heat of summertime, when boredom fogs the sky. We know the opposite of love is not hate but this neutrality. So, we set each other aflame and argue. A flash of your brilliant sarcasm, fire orange and fire blue, then our insecurities dance brightly in the prismatic light of exposure. We burn through all we know, feeding and feasting upon the cruelty hidden in our memories. Breathless, we’re extinguished, gone–where once there were two, now there is none. Fire consumes all to an absolute, silent end. We are one in our absent bodies of ash.

 

V.   Or, effortlessly, we accept each other’s presence. I’m the mirror to your forms. You let me ease my moonbeam into your sea. You let my shadow fall gently behind your glowing head. I wake and don’t know whose lips I kiss: my lover, my lover’s love for me, the love inside of me for my lover, or the lover that I am myself. We are a shared ocean of waves braiding endlessly. Tugged up, up, and apart, we curl and crash to rejoin the one with which we were always one.

Voices at the Table / Phillip Wenturine

The candle’s flicker atop the wooden table waves good evening. Gazpacho and fresh bread accompany the flame, their scents floating around my nose circulated by the fresh mountain air around us. Brilliant red reflects in the windows on the back of the villa, the poppy fields a native mark of Provence. No place more perfect for a writer’s and painter’s workshop. No place more perfect to foster new friendships. Our makeshift family files in for our last meal. To some, we’re still strangers, but here at the table there is no such thing.

Next to me rests an empty, wooden chair, an absence of a free spirit off for a wander.  A wanderer of Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia, Costa Rica. My ears towards the field, anxious to the friction of crunching stones, an indication of her return. She’s missing out on quite the party. Although a party is never really something she cares to miss. In fact, her definition of a shindig is something else entirely. Other sounds distract my hungry ears. Porcelain clanking, voices. Other seats filled with stories. A rectangle full of history.

In the seat past the empty one sits a quiet girl, more polite than shy. I know this from having sat next to her during many workshops back in the states as well as on the plane over. Her cloth napkin rests on her lap as she cuts her field greens delicately. And next to her, a him, a man of wisdom from here and there having been. I’ve been an apprentice of this man for some years now; his words reconstruct the world unlike any digital lens I’ve seen. I hope to one day be this man, to be someone who can inspire others as he has instilled such passion in me. He speaks to an older mate sitting within earshot. This man I know nothing about, but he too, seems well traveled, well spoken.

He says, “When I jump to a conclusion and make a broad judgment…” stopping to take a sip of wine.

He says, continuing, “I stop myself and find another way of thinking…”

Another taste of the vineyard.

I make a mental note to always find a positive way of thinking.

Other words and sounds at the table take over and I lose the ending of his sentence. I check for the arrival of the wanderer, the darkening sky hinting of her soon return.

Near the two wise men sits two ladies and a gentleman.

A young lad at a pit stop from his European travels—a writer, an adventurer—long hair flanking his cheeks without a care; the first woman, her features younger than her age, full of history from the Slavic regions; and the second, a younger lass with curly locks, perhaps mid-twenties, her education surpassing all: knowledge of tissues and medicine, cells and biology. Together she and I reminisce over our travels to China— differing years, same places, being linked by culture over time.

Three very different individuals, linking conversation as they sit squeezed on the edge of the table.

And back to the second wise man, who has now finished his second glass of wine; becoming more fluid, he seems to ignore the woman by his side, supposedly his better half. His eyes suggest he fancies the studious traveler to his right. Or perhaps it’s the wine. This woman speaks little, but she appears to be enjoying the chips.

My attention is drawn elsewhere, towards the other end of the table.

“What are you writing there?” The young lady to my right asks me, lovely in a French accent.

I answer, after making sure no one was watching my lips.

“The table. Everyone around it.”

Two snotty women, older—snotty because they referred to themselves as such as I eavesdropped, because they are posh, from Britain, not because of any conclusion I might have jumped to—sit on the opposite side of myself.

And to the right of them, a larger woman, also older, in black. Black hair, jacket, shirt, slacks, socks, shoes. Dark eyes, too. Silent as she snacks on hour doves, not particularly keen on using silverware.

A calm sweeps over the table, and I’m able to enter back into the wise men’s conversation.

“Life is too short to disagree with people, I feel,” said the wise man.

“Seems you’ve found a level of Buddha-hood, my friend,” replied the wiser.

“Yes, well, it took me a while to get there.” He says, nodding.

“And all the more zen you shall become in due time.”

More mixing of words and language and wine.

I take a moment to continue eating my gazpacho which has lots its chill.

A voice on the opposite end, a woman of age, an artist of her own era, speaks: “Phillip, are you writing anything important?”

I say, “Perhaps.”

“I hope so. You look very intent.”

I jot that down.

She tells me why she’s a painter. How she finds tranquility in taking something man-made and manipulating it until it blurs the distinction. And if anything, certain colors warrant a distraction when placed in a frame, and sometimes the eyes need something still to focus on.

She elaborates further whilst others share their ways of fighting life’s clock.

Writing and traveling are how I fight life’s clock. Although I relish every second of the fight when I have these two, which in this moment, I do, and in this moment, all is well.

Laughter. Good conversation. Happiness.

Next to the artist rests a man and a woman, a son and a mother, neither of each other. A chef and a teacher, both masters of their own niches. They converse over the food using words such as flambé and percolate, fricassee and congeal. I just savor the tastes of the steak and crème brulee. Adjacent to them, two girls, two more artists, protégés of the voice that addressed me. Quiet, but plotting their next painting. Tired from an earlier hike, a search for inspiration in the mountainous ruins. I bought a piece from one of them earlier, a landscape including the table we sit at, our villa, the poppy field. The perfect memento.

And back in front of me, the two snotty women, they, too, address me.

“Yes, there, what are you writing?” One says, the leader.

I say, “Oh, just…writing.”

The other intrudes, disregarding me, “A lad I knew once wrote a story about—”

And the other interrupts, “Boring shit, I’d imagine, eh?”

“It held my interest. Was a bit wordy.”

“Ah, yes. It’s never as people say.”

“Because of nuances and gaps, half sentences. It’s very difficult to get across moments as they were.”

I pondered that for a few breaths. I suppose it’s true. Sometimes language lacks a specific description. Sometimes too little leaves a moment lacking and too much leaves it lavish, unbalanced. That is, until language creates a way to better create the moment. Like how the only thing better than a photograph is actually being in the photograph. Or, until the next generation of Nikon makes it top the real deal. Yet, at times language can do what reality cannot—contortions of the mind, harmonizing the soul, making what is yet to be, thrive.

A new topic, again from the artist that addressed me at the right end of the table, opposite of the wise men to my left. I noticed the wise man was now on his third—or maybe fourth—glass of wine before I leaned over to grab a roll, my attempt at hiding my keen interest in her conversation.

“Do you miss your husband?” I’m not sure for whom she intended this.

“My cats, yes.” A mouth full of food answers, sarcastically.

Someone laughs, the joke a bit tired to me. But light and happy, nonetheless.

I reach to refill my glass of rosé.

The two snotties in front of me drown out the other’s conversation with their silliness.

“Can I pass you the cookies?”

“God, yes.”

“No, what are you doing?” another snatches back the plate. “And what is this? A lemon thing, hmm.”

And the wise men to my left, as well, carry on.

“It surely is a great freedom…” and he trails off, again sipping on his wine.

“You’ll get there in the end,” says the other.

“I agree.”

“I’m an optimist, but you can’t remain silent. You have to be your own change.”

A clanking of glass, an interruption of conversation. The son with his mother next to him, the one that originally spoke to me about my writing as I sit here listening, writing as they speak, they unknowingly being recorded.

“We’re leaving at 9:30 in the morning. None of this quarter before notifying. Be finished with breakfast and ready to go. Our first stop will be the grave of the French Nobel Prize winning writing Albert Camus followed by a quaint lunch at a nearby vineyard before going to a village where pigments are made.”

And on the other side of him, another mother, a grandmother. Or mémé, as she prefers. “And we mustn’t be late! And don’t forget your ticket!” Such a tender spirit, this one. Her English accent warm and inviting, and her tone and spirit therapeutic for listeners. Her spirit quite jovial, surprising for dealing with a fresh divorce. A kindred spirit falling in the only world she’s known. Her King Charles Cavalier always followed close behind her heels. “Dyson, like the vacuum cleaner,” she’d repeat when asked his name.

Excitement stirs, as does the food making its rounds of the table along with the conversations now fully immersed under the sparkling sky.  A breeze picks up, ruffles the pale tablecloth hugging the wooden top.

The girl to my right, and her girlfriend beside her, jokes about getting married. The two snotties ask if they are a couple, but the girls laugh and decline and say it is just a thought for the one from Spain to get an American citizenship, as she wishes to move to Florida to live with the one next to her.

A crash of ceramic and glass draws my attention back to the left end of the table. It appears the wise man was indeed on his fourth pour. Deep red seeps through the porous covering and stains the wood beneath. Merely adding a dose of character, really.

Conversations erupt over the whole table. A long rectangle of cultures and colors.

Sundresses, overcoats, plaid, a black and Kelly-green striped hoodie on the Slavic to my left, at the table’s edge, bright contrasts with her red hair, man-made. A wild soul in the midst of a peaceful poppy field, over yonder, behind us. Normally her accent intrigues me, but tonight she rather kept to herself. Perhaps a story inside that she’s not ready to share. But when she is, I’ll listen. Others more casual, basketball shirts and tees, and the shoes, each of them so different. All worn from travel.

The soul for which the empty chair longed for returned, silently snuck up, its seat now warm and chatty. She speaks to the girl to my right as I refill my plate and my glass of wine, the wise man across from me well onto his fifth.

“I love to get lost. Today we made so many U-turns before getting here. But it was an adventure, and we ended up finding a beautiful spot down by the beach.”

The soul to my left just listens, her breath intent on what’s to come.

The planner in me finds this interesting. Loving to explore nonetheless, but stuck in a nine to five itinerary, a corporate mindset. Longing for such ways, slightly.

The English mother and one of the posh ladies enter into conversation. They branch off into a new language, French, returning occasionally, but the gaps not plentiful enough to clue me in. Still, I feel at ease to their movement of lips, their voices. The sounds relaxing and comforting.

And the two on either side of me continue, I hear them over everyone else simply because of proximity, all of the conversations also of interest.

“A homeless man I once met told me it’s not about one’s rarity, but the rarity of everyone around you that matters in life.”

She continues, “I’m looking for a home. A home is somewhere safe, comfortable. It’s where you fit, like community. Where there are no excuses for my craziness, my difference, my anger.”

She says, “It’s about the rare human adventure.”

And I glance at all the rare life around me. The strange family I’ve come to favor. Caroline, Heather, Ari, Jeff, Tjasha, Selma, Ivan, Nancy, Eliza, Jill, Fred, Louise, Carly, Angela, Nelly, and Vanessa.

And myself.

I never did catch the name of the mysterious lady in black, nestled in between Eliza and Jill. Another story, that one is. Another dinner, another time.

And at once, they all laughed, a connection of mismatched travels and a fusion of language.

We Are the Machine / Alonzo Byas

Excuse me! I don’t mean to bother
For those of you who have chosen to sleep a little longer
and others who are just waking up and getting to the yawning
I understand this message maybe be a little jarring
but this is just the story I was told to bring
So let me just start off by saying
We are the machine…
Taking orders given to us by the king
accepting the values, standards, and beliefs given to us through a program
Passing labels onto one another as if we are the stamp gun
Shooting judgement down each others throat
without even giving the right to fair trail
Group-think makes the next move hostile
morals pushed out the window
in comes the master making his commands
and we obey every single one
When will we stop?
Until the last day has come?
Burning flowers cry to the sky
Singing, why! oh god why!
Zombies roam the land looking for fresh meat
Untrustworthy robots take all the Intel
and bring it back to the master’s feet
When will their hold loosen?
When will the light of Zion reign supreme once again?
The man who seeks to rule world loses his soul to sin
The master twisting his mind till it bends
Therefore, death becomes him, making the vessel vacant
An empty hotel room waiting for the next guest
In return he receives riches and notoriety at best
Alien invasion infecting the nation
Children born in dismay, growing more and more confused
As they try to find their way
In this strange new world…
Should I be myself? Or should I conform?
Maybe the better questions are
Do I know myself and Where am I going?
Where are we going?
It seems we are driving so fast without anyone knowing
The answers…
Yet we live like we know it all
Throwing caution to the wind, sin after sin
Living life through the lenses of iPods and Androids
Doing any and everything to fill the void
While the world around us gets destroyed
Just like us…
We are slaves to the master
and with every program that he starts
We obey the rules and play our parts
We are the Machine
Oh and I’m sorry
I didn’t mean to cause a scene
This is just the story I was told to bring.

Stuart Dybek’s “Flu” / Richard Sell

In Stuart Dybek’s “Flu” he uses short descriptors separated by semicolons which manipulates the reader into producing a visual state of Faye’s experience with the flu as instantaneous. She undergoes “days of nausea, vertigo, diarrhea; a fast of toast and tea; fever.” These are familiar experiences. We’ve all had the flu at some point so there is no necessity to dwell on them, but what makes this long sentence so powerful is the way it forces the reader to experience Faye’s illness. They don’t have time to think about the information being provided, only time enough to visualize it.

 

Dybek’s use here isn’t limited to a complete and instantaneous visualization of Faye’s flu. His clipped remarks turn to the mention of her “sleeping spells.” Dybek then piles all this imagery into a realization by the character that she is “alone.” The reader’s visualization is transformed by this brief remark. Dybek finally ends the sentence with another clipped remark, “Faye felt better.” The suffering that Dybek describes ends with Faye understanding that she is alone, and the knowing is immediately followed by her recovery.

 

Dybek has inadvertently roped the reader into a love story by way of sickness. He establishes the opening of a metaphor that is later closed when the man who ends Faye’s loneliness, Aldo, states that their relationship “started with the flu.”

 

Sentence length is key to the way the reader experiences Faye and Aldo’s story. Dybek’s long sentence introduces us to everything that Faye suffers through. The forcing of one complete visualization of her illness ends with the idea of loneliness, which forces the reader to link these two ideas together.

 

The use of overlong sentences can be employed in many different ways for a number of effects. Jose Saramago uses long sentences to speak to an immediacy in thought in Blindness. The narrator notes how “The very air in the ward seemed to have become heavier, emitting strong lingering odours, with sudden wafts that were simply nauseating, what will this place be like within a week, he asked himself, and it horrified him to think that in a week’s time, they would still be confined here, assuming there won’t be any problems with food supplies, and who can be sure there isn’t already a shortage, I doubt, for example, whether those outside have any idea from one minute to the next.” Stream of consciousness shapes the character and environment at the same time. The reader experiences things live, through the narrator’s shifting focus. This allows for an embodiment within the narrator.

 

“My muscles flinch inadvertently and my mind opens like a catalog. The light creeping in through a crack in the ceiling, and the sweet, nauseating smell of cordite, and the dust particles weaving through the air, and my rapid heartbeat the only thing in my ears, then the electric snap before the waves rip my flesh away like tissue paper.” In this sentence I’ve used sentence length to reflect an immediacy of action. Everything within the sentence is taking place at a single moment in time.


There are many elements of craft that not every reader will catch, but the use of overlong sentences will always have an effect, especially when that length provides a contrast, as in Dybek’s “Flu.” The reader is forced to combine more and more to the point of excess. This leads to a very real change in the reading experience that can’t be overlooked.

A Child’s Leaves / Gina Olson

A child forms her first word:

a rippling breath

producing tree, an object, a sound with leaves—

bright with lightest green—hints of new identity

lingering on her

warm tongue,

flowing through moss beneath the softened

stream plant, swaying unclearly

but not foggy—the roots

spreading gently over sides of her mouth, stems

producing extensive buds in her lips,

& as the mute form shy language beneath

slowly cracking chestnut masks &

finally show, she

learns tree by each leaf

by blinking & watching suddenly the old man outside the café

as he sips loose leaf tea

(through childhood’s memory mirage—a brilliant

canopy of language we will not find; for we take wrinkles,

crease them out & cannot see) she sees, but doesn’t know

tealeaves bonding, creating

intimate mirages in the unreal water—

tealeaves telling narrative;

reality: leaves are not thoughts grown on trees

they are only plain leaves, occasionally stained

with a spot of something, of some color

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