Fish – a short story by Mario Petrucci

FISH

The fisherman was utterly lost. The storm that had taken him so by surprise had also thrust him far out to sea. The waters all around him glowed darkly with an immensity of depth; the boat rocked to slow, massive currents. The night had been vast, the dark steep and impenetrable, terrible with swells and the constant terror of capsizing. In salmon robes, dawn had brought calm but also, in every direction, that sharp blue arc of distant horizon. Hours became days. His net and most of his provisions had been washed away in the storm; all that remained to him was a modest keg of fresh water that, fortunately, had been well tied down, a patch of canvas beneath which he could escape the sun’s fiercest rays, and a small square of net with some thread. He fashioned the fragment of net into a rough scoop trailed alongside the boat, hoping to snare some confused fry or perhaps a half-blind, tired old fish.

Not well nourished at the best of times, weakness soon descended upon the poor fisherman. It was the dusk hour, when ocean and sky seem to merge into one continuous translucence. A small silver fish strayed into his makeshift net. He felt gratitude well up in him at this unexpected and unlikely meal. On its side, caught up clumsily in the webbing and half out of the water, the little silver fish gasped gently and held the fisherman meekly in its gaze. The fisherman had often had cause to eat fish raw, and this tiny creature promised brief respite from the swells of hunger that surged through him. And yet, something in this fish seemed almost unnaturally clean and bright. It were as though the crescent of moon had fallen into the sea and cleansed itself of the merest tarnish before yielding itself to him. “I am sorry, little one. How innocent you are in this, my hunger – and yet I must eat.” The fish seemed almost to understand. It swivelled its eye to the skies without anger or judgement. Then, without thinking, free of any sense of the consequences of his action, and as gently as he could, the fisherman let the silver fish go.

The fish swam at once to the depths. He told his tiny school of silver brothers and sisters his strange dream: how a simple net had fooled him; how the huge man in a wooden boat had apologised to him for hunger, only to release him. The small huddle of fish was very still for some time, moving hardly at all and only now and then with the merest flick of a fin in the dimness. Then, one by one, they began to flutter upwards. One by one, over several days, they gently but insistently presented themselves to the fisherman’s feeble net. For a moment, the fisherman doubted his senses; but he knew the sea and its occupants too well to think this was some kind of coincidence or accident. When least expected, there would be a flash and flip of fish at the side of the boat. They gave themselves up softly, without struggle; and he ate with reverence, as though each little soul were the entire ocean, or the last crescent of moon that any woman or man would ever gaze upon. In humility, he accepted the many gifts of their small salt bodies. He ate until restored. The last fish of all was, he felt sure, the very one he had released. The salt of his tears joined the salt of the sea. He felt fresh strength dart silvery through him and, with a kindly breeze now behind him, the current firm beneath, the fisherman was returned to shore.

         copyright Mario Petrucci

Award-winning UK poet, ecologist and PhD physicist Mario Petrucci has held major poetry residencies at the Imperial War Museum and with BBC Radio 3.  Heavy Water: a poem for Chernobyl (Enitharmon, 2004) secured the Daily Telegraph/ Arvon Prize.  Consciousness is his truest subject, and i tulips (Enitharmon, 2010) exemplifies Petrucci’s distinctive combination of innovation and humanity.  www.writingintofreedom.com

 

Holy Land – a poem by Nessa O’Mahoney

Holy Land

For my pilgrim mother

Faith might be easier
if it was simply a matter
of almond blossom,
of blood anemones
spotting the hill-side,
or the diamond blue
of lupins and violets
along the valley
still called Armageddon.

Prayer might come quicker
if the caves stayed unbuilt-upon,
if layer on layer of
begun by Byzantines,
destroyed by Persians,
rebuilt by Crusaders,
destroyed by Muslims,
of twentieth century wars
remained scattered dust
in the Samarian wilderness.

Abraham does his best,
yellow base-ball cap at a tilt
to beacon us on through traders
and treacherous steps,
where nothing is as
the guidebook describes it.

The tears come,
not on, unsurprisingly,
the Via Dolorosa
or the slow sepulchral crawl
past Calvary, the quick shove
through the tomb

but in a quiet place
of vaulted roof,
of white Jerusalem stone,
where a smiling,
West Cork Franciscan
guards the door,
where steps descend
to the cave your namesake
may have been born in,

where the notes soar as we gather
a rag-tag choir at St. Ann’s altar:

oh sacrament most holy
oh sacrament divine

and I join in,
try descant
to my mother’s alto tones,
find harmonies
I’ve practised all my life,
came all these miles
to sing.

 

Nessa O’Mahony is from Dublin. She has published four books of poems. Her most recent publication is Metamorphic: 21st Century Poets Respond to Ovid (Recent Work Press), which she co-edited with Paul Munden. She presents a monthly podcast called The Attic Sessions.

Transformation, a Foxtale – a poem by Tamara Miles

Transformation, a Foxtale

Born a fox. Fox in the hen house.

Foxhound. Foxtrot, a slow, flowing dance.
Three step, feather step, natural turn.

Silver fox. Crazy like a fox. Fox on the run.
Slick like a fox,
quick like a fox, hide in plain sight like a fox.

Whiskey. Tango.

Hunted like a fox, the out of breath
got to get somewhere, got to get under it,
got to go deep fox, when chased for fur or fun.

Fox in flight, chased by dog or horse.

Red fox, brown fox. Quick brown fox jumps. Fox in the night.

_______________________

In Japanese literature, elite and folk,
the fox is often a shape shifter, a symbol of transformation
and duplicity. The rice-god Inari has fox servants
and is said to be a fox himself.

Kitsuni, the outsider.
Myoubo, celestial fox.
Nogitsune, wild fox.

In one of the traditional Japanese stories, a man shoots a fox
with an arrow, wounding it, but is unable to catch it.

On his way home, he sees it running past him with a flaming brand
in its mouth. It sets his house on fire.

In another story, a man saves the life of a vixen who later visits
him, explains that she is only temporarily human and offers herself
as his brief concubine. Sin, he thinks, and says no, whereupon
he hears this song:

The hat thou lovedst,
…………….Reed-wove, tricked out with damask,
……..Ah me, hath blown away…

and the fox is free to become fully human, and she leaves
the man behind.

__________________________

Aesop’s fox, who says he doesn’t want grapes, never did,
after he tried to reach them and couldn’t.

In several illustrations of this scenario, the fox first walks
back and forth admiring the alluring grapes on the vine.

(It is the same with a man who loves a woman only
as long as she loves him and after that begins to call
her names and say he never loved her at all.)

Foxglove (splendid purple flower-bells
with sparkled throats — highly toxic,
also called digitalis.)

All this I offer on the word of a fox.

 

Tamara Miles teaches English and Humanities at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in South Carolina. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of publications including Fall Lines; Pantheon; Tishman Review; Animal; Obra/Artifact; Rush; Apricity; Snapdragon; Cenacle; RiverSedge; and Oyster River Pages. She was a 2016 contributor at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a resident at Rivendell Writers Colony in August, 2017. She hosts an audio poetry journal/radio show at SpiritPlantsRadio.com called “Where the Most Light Falls.”

At Jacob’s Ladder, Sidmouth: Stones on Steps – a poem by Mike Ferguson

At Jacob’s Ladder, Sidmouth

Stones on Steps

Stones are creeping up the steps but they’ll
never make it all the way – no tidal ducks and
drakes can propel pebbles beyond the sand and
water of their belonging. Even metaphors climb
just so far before real hands and shovels come to
scoop them back, not like but totally as the rock
they are. It is the same in that way earth is never
linked to a heaven no matter how people dream
and however their babel tries to confuse and
persuade. Take a stone and put it in your hand and
feel the cold but rounded reality. After millions of
years and the crashing of waves these will be the
dust of the earth, stuff that comes and goes but is
not walking out of water to ascend these stairs.

Mike Ferguson is widely published in poetry magazines and his most recent collection is the sonnets chapbook Precarious Real [Maquette Press, 2016]. A retired English teacher, he co-authored the education text Writing Workshops [Cambridge University Press, 2015]. https://mikeandenglish.wordpress.com/

 

possum christ – a poem by Maria Mazzenga

possum christ

we
assemble
in the garden
sunday
at sunrise
waiting for the
cardinal to
sing

squirrel servers
scuttle through
the gate
rabbit deacon
dove subdeacon
orange-vested
robins
chanting
in trees

possum christ
plays dead
under a
bevined
bench

the cardinal
flits for the
blueberry bush
the deacon for
the dandelions
the servers
scuttle
up the
black
walnut

 

Maria Mazzenga is a poet from Arlington, Virginia who’s been writing poetry for 30 years; she was first published as a teenager in The Catskill Review, and later in Poet Magazine and Takoma Voice.  She has done readings in Maryland and Washington, D.C.  She is currently an editor on a new online poetry publication Jump, where she has also published a few of her pieces.

Baptism – a poem by Steven Harz

Baptism

I will lean a ladder against the house
and take a chainsaw and goggles
up onto our roof,
prime the pump and pull the cord,
and with a tape measure
and an undying belief,
will cut a hole in the spot
that is directly above our bed.
Because, you see, a storm is coming –
you can smell it in the air –
and I want it to wash us clean of
past bruises and current sins,
and, through the hole,
allow God to witness a baptism
that will fix what His original one
could not.

Steven Harz is the author of multiple collections and is a multi-time winner of The Iron Writer Challenge. Originally from West Virginia, he grew up in Maryland, and now lives in New England. If you’re looking for flowery love stories, you’re in the wrong place.
Amazon author link: Steven Harz

The Summer Elvis Presley Died – a story by Donna Walker-Nixon

 

The Summer Elvis Presley Died

 

Mother cut okra off the vine, thinking she’d fix gumbo for supper that June night. Her fingers and hands itched. Still, she cut the tender pods off the plant, and discarded the hard ones to wither on the ground. A silver gray haze of smoke foamed from a car’s exhaust pipe. Few unexpected visitors drove this road since once they passed the farm they had to cross the old wood bridge and guide their vehicles over uneven slats. Tom Davenport, the County Commissioner for District 3, sent his boys out to grate the road at the beginning of the week, and the silvery haze shifted into a purple reservoir from the infrequent shower that settled into puddles that resembled for a brief couple of days an artificial lake. “These people don’t know the lay of the land,” she mumbled into the summer sauna.

The vehicle turned in at the mailbox and followed the gravel entrance with pecan trees on each side. They weren’t expecting company, and Mother told herself it must be an Amway salesperson hawking the glories of Nutrilite, the only company to grow and harvest the plants that would become the vitamins they sold. She’d best take her bowl with its three pods of okra and get back to the house or Daddy’d end up buying a two-year supply of vitamins they did not need.

When the car got closer and she saw the dark blue vinyl top, she reckoned the visitor was Polly Jobe, a nurse at the hospital where Mother directed a three person staff of kitchen employees and jokingly labeled herself the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. Polly and her husband Eldon were prominent members of East Side Church of Christ, and Mother thought Polly put on airs when she haughtily quoted from the ads that her “1977 Williamsburg Edition of the Lincoln Continental provided a conservative design for its buyers.”

Just the day before, Polly intrusively pleaded for Mother to share the truth about my sister Natalie’s roommate Esperanza, who’d gone off to nursing school and gotten herself impregnated by the overweight, married son of rancher who lived on his father’s place in Rosebud-Lott. Natalie and her friend spent more time at the Melody Ranch two-stepping their way to sure destruction and nursing hangovers. Polly told Mother, “And her daddy’s gone to live in Fort Worth with a Mexican whore.” Still, Mother said nothing. In desperation, Polly added, “I never knew any Mexicans until they moved to Lindsey. Now, I see they’re just like all the other damned Mexicans.”

Mother had already suppressed her urge to remind Polly that folks in Lindsey whispered tales about her pharmacist son who lived in Oak Lawn with his boyfriend Guillermo. Mother responded, “It’s not Mexican. It’s being human.”

By the time Mother got to the house, Daddy had finished picking apricots and peaches from the fruit trees. His half-filled bucket sat on the ground in front of the greenhouse he built for Mother when we got back from a Christmas vacation trip to the Rio Grande Valley where we drank freshly squeezed lemonade made from oversized Valley lemons. Mother insisted they buy lemon trees and two sabal mexicana palms because she cherished the sights of the Valley, which was really a delta, and of memories the trip held for her. Daddy built the greenhouse, and they gave visitors lemons when they were in season. The palm trees were not so lucky and waned their way to death a couple of years afterwards.

When Mother reached the greenhouse, Daddy stood in deep conversation with Brother Jobe and Brother Jackson. By the compliant movement of Daddy’s head bobbing up and down, Mother immediately decided he might as well have bought that two-year supply of Nutrilite. “What do they want?” Mother asked.

Daddy replied, “To talk to Natalie. That’s all.”

“About what?” Mother asked.

One of the men drawled, “The missus saw your daughter today at college registration. Esperanza’s mother thinks they’re staying with your other daughter in Midland. What’s going on here? That’s all we want to know so we can give her mother some emotional relief.”

Daddy told Mother to send Natalie outside. “No mother should suffer like this,” Daddy said, an echo of the words he just heard from the church brethren.

“I’ll talk to Natalie on my own, and we’ll go from there in deciding what to do.”

Shifting from one foot to another, the brethren glared at Daddy while Mother walked up the pavement to the parlor that used to be my bedroom. Natalie lifted the wobbly window blinds, and my youngest sister Grace turned down the record player where Elvis sang “Love Me Tender.”

Mother told Grace to turn off the music. “Natalie,” she said, “People in town are talking. These men are right. Esperanza’s mother has a right to know where she is, but it’s not their right to force you to tell them. But where is she?”

“She’s staying with Sandra Sue McKnight and her husband Jerry.” The mumps left Sandra Sue barren at age sixteen. Right out of high school, she married the assistant director of the funeral home. His pale white face, pitted with acne, reminded me of a nectarine pit. They moved to Abilene, where the marriage soon ended, and she married her divorce attorney whose white hair made him look older than her parents, really almost as old as her grandmother who lived down the street from my grandmother.

Mother told Natalie to call Esperanza and tell her the men from the church had driven down spindly gravel roads to get to our house. When Natalie got off the phone, Mother went outside and told the men, “We will talk to her mother, not to you.” She commanded them to leave our property, and she and Natalie drove to Esperanza’s house on the edge of town.

Mother avoided a pick-up truck on the narrow bridge just before they crossed the bridge two hundred yards from the clapboard Church of Christ we attended after we moved from Fort Worth to a ramshackle house where cold winds pierced us to the bone. That year, Daddy worked as an aircraft mechanic at Chance Vought in Fort Worth, and she did not have a drivers’ license nor a car to whisk her away from the howling wolves that enveloped her new world. A Texas blizzard prevented him from coming home, and Mother counted heartbeats where her idiopathic tachycardia made her gulp for air like she was drinking ice tea.

Natalie skipped across mounds of snow to the chicken coop. People called her precocious when she fed raw eggs to our dog Tip. She never understood how Daddy figured out her crime, which could have led to an egg-sucking dog that raided chicken coops. Daddy whipped her for her transgression; now she was too old for that, but Mother told her, “We spent hard-earned money sending you off into a new world. Why did you think your grades wouldn’t suffer? You don’t meet men who plan on settling down and raising a family.” Mother didn’t teach us to settle down with our high school sweethearts and preferred none of us date seriously until after we finished college.

Maybe, for the first time in her life, Natalie had no response. She huddled against the car door when Mother veered into the left lane as a neon-black Dodge Ram pickup faced her head-on at the dirt mound where Miss Nancy lived in a single-wide trailer with white aluminum siding. Almost every day her dog Tricks rode next to her to the Allard’s Crossing Store to buy tuna and chicken in a can and Rice Krispies.

When Mother put on the brakes to turn into the gravel drive where Esperanza lived, the church men put on their brakes and attempted to follow Mother and Natalie into the white house with its red trim and paint that peeled off the wood. Mother announced, “We said we would talk to Esperanza’s mother—not you.”

“But… but…” they stammered. “She’s expecting us.”

“She can look out her window and see you’re here. That’s enough.”

The men whittled broken limbs with their pocket knives while Mother and Natalie went inside. “We’re here,” Mother’s voice must have sounded like a deep echo in a deeper canyon than either one expected to hear that day at the end of August in 1976 when they unpacked clothes and the girls chose bedrooms. That day Esperanza’s mother clutched her daughter’s hand and did not let go. This day, she grasped Natalie’s hand and cried in desperation, “Where is my daughter?”

“Here is her phone number. She can explain it all.” Mother thrust into Mrs. Sanchez’s hand a yellow legal pad note, and they waited.

“I will call. We thank you. Very much we thank you.”

 

Lindsey Tribune Herald

August 16, 1977

Birth Announcements

Jerry and Sandra Sue (McKnight) Kinney, Jr., of Duncanville welcome into their home Shaundra Sue, their long awaited child. Proud grandparents are Jerry and Alma Sue Kinney and Dwight and Verona Allison.

 

Donna Walker-Nixon was a full professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where she received the distinction of receiving the Mary Stevens Piper award for excellence in teaching. She currently serves as an adjunct lecturer at Baylor. She lists her five primary professional achievements as 1) founding Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature in 1997, 2) co-editing the Her Texas series with her friend and mentor James Ward Lee, 3) co-founding The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas 4) publishing her novel Canaan’s Oothoon, and 5) serving as lead editor Her Texas, which has boosted Donna’s faith that the voices of women writers and artists truly mean something to both men and women.