After the Crescendo – a poem by Corren Hampson

After the Crescendo

“I’m really getting bigger,” Lena says, scrambling through the
woods to the creek. Her four-year-old voice affirms the pride of
accumulation, of chubby hands
tying shoes, of climbing trees
like a monkey,
of saying the ”R” in “water.”

In glory we are born,
climb through green change
to a golden crescendo
of confounding growth.
Lost in the jungle there,
we hear voices call from all directions where loss disguises as bright
birds.

I say she will be Lena, queen of the jungle, some day.
She says, “I don’t want to be
queen of the jungle.
I just want to be the jungle.”
“I’ll go with you,” I say.
“I’m really getting smaller.”

 

Corren Hampson lives in Grants Pass, OR.  She is a gardener and poet. Her first book of poetry, Growing Smaller, has recently been accepted by Flowstone Press.

from POND – poetry by John L. Stanizzi

11.14.2018
7.32 a.m.
31 degrees

Paired with nothing, I witnessed the
Occasion of its nearly inaudible thwack
Nearing the pond’s outlet; a single brown maple leaf
Dropped onto the surface and rippled the signal of its arrival.

***

11.18.2018
9.21 a.m.
34 degrees

Plowed perfect, snow mound reflected in the black mirror of the pond.
Oak leaves, blown from the southwest end of the water into the northeast cul-de-sac.
Note of the muddy bottom so low I cannot hear it,
dwindling, darker each day. Perhaps it is the B-flat of the universe.

***

11.20.18
11.33 a.m.
34 degrees

Pluvial night, the rain hangs on as mist.
Opiate ripples when a branch releases its gems of rain,
normal and lonely an act as releasing its leaves,
downward in silence, all around me the sound of rushing water.

***
11.24.18
8.33 a.m.
24 degrees

Peabody, Peabody, Peabody, Old Sam Peabody!
Oblique geometry here, mirror-smooth there, thick battered hem, gray
nuances of ice seal it all – those on the bottom – those in the bottom.
Determined white-throated sparrow searching for Sam, though I’m the only one here.

 

John L. Stanizzi’s full-length collections are Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallalujah Time!, and High Tide-Ebb Tide.  His new books – Chants, Four Bits – Fifty 50-Word Pieces, and Sundowning will be out before the end of this year.  His work is widely published and has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, New York Quarterly, American Life in Poetry, The Cortland Review, Tar River, and many others.

THE ONLY KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH OF GOD – a poem by Rupert Loydell

THE ONLY KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH OF GOD

‘When you get a clearer picture you can understand
why so many want to stand in the dust cloud,
where there is comfort in confusion.’
– Thomas Merton

The only known photograph of God
turns out to be a silhouetted skyhook
slung from a wire, holding nothing
and not moving at all. It is not
uplifting or impressive, the sky
is grey, the image black and white.

What did the monk who took the photo
mean? Was it a surrealist joke or a way
to make an oblique comment about
expectations or absence, the unknown?
He took up meditation, talked in zen
and went to meet the Dalai Lama,

then his maker. Left us notebooks
and a damaged small black painting,
photos and calligraphies, a mystery
shaped hole in the centre of his work.
It is totally absurd to expect answers
that might help explain our world.

© Rupert M Loydell

 

Rupert Loydell is a writer, editor and abstract artist. His many books of poetry include Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and The Return of the Man Who Has Everything (Shearsman 2015); and he has edited anthologies such as Yesterday’s Music Today (co-edited with Mike Ferguson, Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2014), and Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: manifestos and unmanifestos (Salt, 2010).

The End of Summer – a poem by Serena Mayer

 

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Serena Mayer studied anthropology and social geography, and is interested in hidden texts and forgotten or discarded language. Her writing has previously appeared in Nutshell, Electric Zone, Here to Stay, I Am Not A Silent Poet, X-Peri, Amethyst Review, Odd Moments, Reflections, A Restricted View From Under the Hedge, Poetry WTF, Storm Warning, and International Times. Her first book, Theoretical Complexities, was published by Broken Sleep Books.

Sufficient Grace: An Imagined Conversation with Flannery O’Connor – by Emily Peña Murphey

Sufficient Grace: An Imagined Conversation with Flannery O’Connor

Sitting at my desk with eyes closed and dozing—the witching hour of 2 PM has arrived. There arises before me an image of a small, mousy woman wearing a sheath dress and unbecoming glasses. Like me, she is seated at the keyboard of her time, a typewriter. I recognize her and feel a desire to connect.

Flannery? Can you hear me?

Well, since y’all’ve been readin’ my work these last few days, I reckon I’m close by!

I’m overjoyed and honored to meet you! I hope I won’t be a bother if I ask some advice. You see, I’m starting out as a writer…and I’ve just been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that could turn out to be like your lupus.

Well, ordinarily I prefer that folks just leave me alone. But now that I’m over here my burdens are a lot less than when I was livin where you are. And what you say‘bout yourself suggests we might have life strains in common. It’s not too often an oddball like me meets up with a kinderd spirit!

Well, I’d say we must have things in common. I mean, like me and everyone you had to live in a body. But your body was sick and didn’t allow you much time to work—that’s a burden!

Well, truth to tell, I’ve always felt that time don’t count for much. And being close to the Lord always helped me forget about past and future—that was a blessing I was right grateful for.

What was it like to having that gift?

Well, ma’am, during the times I could write, it helped me get deep into that other world—the story—and just forget most everything else. And also, a regular practice of prayer helped me keep my mind pretty well focused.

The part of time that was hard was near the end when I’d get tired out and realize my couple good hours was used up ‘til the next day. At that point I’d commit myself to God and thank Him for my filled-up pages, even if they was only a few. But I never doubted that the strength would come back again if I was patient and obeyed His will. I had a strong belief—a knowledge—that as long’s I done my part, the Holy Spirit would grant me endurance.

And then in the earthly world a God’s creation there was deadlines; agents and editors and even readers was countin on me. I was responsible to friends who’d helped me out and was goin to make sure my writin got published. It was a great comfort t’ward the time of my death to know that my words’d still be set down in books after I was gone. I s’pose you could say it was one a the ways I had a sense of “life eternal.” No, if I hadn’ta been a Catholic I sure woulda been at a disadvantage!

What did it mean to you, being Catholic?

It was a rock-solid belief I was raised with—trustin’ in the goodness of God and the beauty of His kingdom—the example of our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice—the struggle against Satan—a way to live that’d guarantee my soul’s salvation—and daily rituals and routines that was such a source of assurance. But a course, that ain’t even the half of it!

But so many of your characters seem so far away from God—even evil! How do you account for that?

Well, I can’t rightly say. Maybe they was the underside of the goodness I tried to live out in my own life. Maybe they allowed me ta get up close to transgression; maybe you could even say…flirt with it a little bit! (Not that I was ever one for flirtin!) And it sure created struggles for them characters; that mighta helped keep the stories intersting. Lotsa critics’ve had a lot to say about it; for me it was really just the way the ideas come to me. I had a strong feelin about redemption.

My trouble’s that even though I trust God and pray, I often don’t have the self-discipline to sit down and write for even two hours a day. I have pain and tiredness like you; usually not enough to keep me away from my desk, so it’s no excuse! When I do sit down and get myself started, the words usually come pretty easily. I just avoid it for some reason; sometimes it feels like something about it scares me…

Well, what in creation might that be?

Well, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think deep down I’m afraid that letting go and creating means losing control—even insanity. My father was a writer with a serious mental illness back when it wasn’t really treatable. And even if there’d been a treatment he probably wouldn’t’ve submitted to it!

Whenever he was heading into mania he’d stay up all night pounding away at his old cast-iron Remington—banging out an autobiographical novel he never finished. There wasn’t any help back then for families like us. Just hospitals that locked the sick ones away and wouldn’t even allow their children to visit them. The worst of it was that the person I loved most turned into somebody I hardly knew. So later on I feared that by taking the risk of writing I’d be inviting the disease that destroyed my Daddy.

Well, I’m perty sure you know I lost my daddy when I was quite young, to the same disease that stood in wait to kill me. It was a slow torment, losing a loving parent to such a pernicious affliction. Maybe that’s where my characters’ battles with Satan began—something violent bore my daddy away!

For years we had no notion I was developing the same condition. Then people tried to keep it from me. But when I found out the truth I realized I sort of knew it all along. It was a relief but also terrifying to the bone to know what lay ahead.

Your word “pernicious” is a good one, ‘cause it suggests fighting something malevolent. Those auto-immune diseases are like that: what normally protects and heals turns on us and starts to destroy. The body goes to war against itself—hard not to see Good versus Evil in that!

I guess compared to you I’m fortunate because I was diagnosed later in life; and now more remedies are available. But honestly, nobody can predict for any one person how these illnesses are going to play out.

Only God has that knowledge, and this holpen me ta accept what I was up against. That, and knowin His will was for me to write as much as I could for as long’s I was able. Though that old lupus was fairly a demon, for sure!

I hope you don’t mind me making comparisons…

Lordy, not in the least! I been taken down from my cross and now my spirit dwelleth in the Kingdom. I trod out my days ta the fullest on the path God set for me. And ever since I reached the end I been at peace. I think if y’all accept your own talent and put it ta hard work like a mule ta plow, whatever happens you’ll feel the same peace that I did. Jus’ don’t ever give up prayin for strength!

No. But there’s death

Yes, for us like ever-one. I was lucky, I s’pose, ‘cause death finally come while I was in a coma. So I just woke up in the bosom of the Lord. Maybe that was easier’n if I’d been aware when the time came; I didn’t suffer physically. Though just the same I could sense a lot of presences hoverin around me: “a cloud of witnesses.” But how dearly I loved those folks, that farm, my birds. And I hadn’t no chance to say goodbye.

But even long ‘fore that, death was fer me like an angel bird perched right on my shoulder while I typed, whisperin ta me that my time was short. Yet also remindin me that God willed that I live out the days he decreed for me, and that my purpose was ta write. Death seemed almost friendly ta me sometimes, urging me onward like that. See if you can’t have it be that way for you. Though, he’s also an adversary and you got to struggle against him to make damn sure he don’t take you ‘fore your time’s out!

And I assure you of this: when life finally ends, you’ll know the truth of the promise that we’ll be reunited with our lost beloveds.

You’re with your father?

All of us’s together again, dinin ‘round Andalusia’s big mahogany table! And, my, but them peafowl is hollerin in the garden outside!

And don’t y’all forget Saint Paul’s words: the Lord refused to remove the thorn from his flesh so that His servant’s strength might be perfected in weakness!

So for people like us… with bodies pierced by thorns…perhaps His grace is sufficient!

Sister, Amen!

 

Emily Peña Murphey is a retired psychotherapist who has published work in several literary journals. She was recently designated a finalist in the short story and essay categories of the Adelaide Voices Literary Contest. She has family roots in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Texas’ Río Grande Valley.  She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the U.S.A.

 

Drishti – a poem by Steve Straight

Drishti

Standing on my left leg, knee slightly bent,
my right knee lifted high in the warm air
of this room at the community center,
both arms raised and wrists limp,
I hear our yoga teacher remind us all of drishti:
Find a spot on the floor in front of you,
a fleck on the tile, a bit of pattern in someone’s
towel. Now soften your gaze so that you are
looking but not looking.

The hard stare seems to be the way to see
the world these days, reading five newspapers
a day and hopping from website to website
waiting for the alchemy of reporting
to reveal the golden nugget that will
bring down these evil clowns,

but as my shaky crane pose shows,
that way of looking, of being,
opens the window for the winged monkeys
of attachment, snatching attention
and carrying it off in their sharp claws.

Perhaps it is time to find
the unmoving point in all of this,
reduce the existential wobble,
to imagine the horizon in front of us
no matter where we are, find
the Steadicam of the mind that stills us
when all about is shifting, tectonic,

or even, now, to practice trataka,
gazing at a candle in the dark
with eyes open until they water,
bathing and cleansing the vision
with the tears of renewal:
one flame, one heart.

 

Steve Straight’s books include The Almanac (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2012) and The Water Carrier (Curbstone, 2002). He is professor of English and director of the poetry program at Manchester Community College, in Connecticut, US.

Enlightenment as Salvation – a poem by Brian Glaser

Enlightenment as Salvation
from Five Cantos on Enlightenmenet

The fire had worked its local menace,
The waiter and the boat rental manager
Had stories about how close the disaster

Had come this time, about the heroism of the fighters
And the ordinary evil of the arsonist
Who was out on bond for burning a barn.

We were camping not far from Lake Hemet.
The manager brought us to a corner
With a map of the lake and showed us where

We might find two bald eagles alighting
Or launching out from a wood along the lakeside.
They raise their young here, he said,

Because food is plentiful in the lake,
But there is not enough for more than two adults
And so, when it is time, you can find them

Chasing off their offspring over the water,
Insisting with wing and talon that their parenting
Work is over. Are they strangers, then?

I was not adept at motoring the boat
Out of the inlet through a shallow throat
Of water and into the manmade lake.

It took a few tries. I think sometimes of
My great grandfathers—less often
Of my great grandmothers and the women

In my family tree from an age yet older than theirs.
Did they ever imagine me, the Irish Catholic
Orphan from New Jersey and the German-born

Mother of eight in a Cincinnati ghetto?
Did they have hopes that I would be—
A doctor? A bishop? The mayor of a nearby town?

A father, perhaps? Well, I am a decent person
And in every respect a grown man.
I find it hard to think of myself chasing anyone off

The way those eagles have to do.
But I want no part anymore of the religion
They promulgated, my great grandmothers,

Zealously or dutifully or both.
I am afraid that even citizenship among the saved
Mostly feels to me like a flare thrown

On a forest road, from a car in which,
According to eyewitness reports,
There is either one person, or there are two.

 

Brian Glaser teaches at Chapman University in Orange, California. His first book of poetry, The Sacred Heart, is forthcoming at the end of 2018 from Aldrich Press.

The Adversary – a short story by Wayne-Daniel Berard

The Adversary

“This is English 202,” the professor began, “Introduction to Short Story. Let’s begin with this one,” and he commenced distributing a thin pile of xeroxed sheets to the head of each row.

A hand went up. “Excuse me, Professor …?”

“Abramovich,” he said, between silent nods and lip-synced numbers. Then stopped. He’d lost count, but looked up and smiled. “Yes?”

“Is this a course in writing stories or in reading them?” the student asked.

“Both,” answered the professor. “After all, to read is to rewrite, and to write is to read aloud …” He went back to counting, side-stepping from row to row as he did so, in time, like learning a dance. There were no further questions.

“What you have before you is a very old piece, Middle-Eastern, it seems originally. But it’s been used by Somerset Maugham, John O’Hara and others …”

At the sound of great names dropping, each student looked simultaneously at the top of his or her desk.

“Don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you about them!” Abramovich laughed. “Just take a minute and read the story through,” — a pause in the room — “It’s not even a half-page long …” Breathing recommenced; some had not yet looked at their sheets.

“And please note the title. Everything is important.”

 

DEATH SPEAKS

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market one morning. Not a half hour later, he returned, shaken and pale.

“What has happened?” asked his master.

“Master, cried the servant, “while I was in the crowd at the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman. When I turned and looked at her, I saw that it was death that had shoved against me. She looked straight at me and made a threatening sign with her hand I beg you, my master, if I have ever pleased you, here is gold, all that I have saved in my time of service. Sell me one of your horses that I may ride far from this place and avoid this fate. I will go to Samarra, my ancestral home deep in the mountains, where my people will hide me and death will not find me.

“Keep your gold, old friend,” spoke the master. “Take the fastest horse and ride. And God be with you. ”

After the servant had galloped off at top speed, the master himself went down to the marketplace, where he saw me standing in the crowd.         

“Why did you make a threatening sign to m servant?” he asked me.

“That was not a sign of threat,” I said, I only started with surprise. I was amazed to see him in Baghdad. I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. ”

 

“Now, what is the most important thing about this story, in your opinion?” Abramovich crossed back and forth at the front of the room like a talk-show host revving. Quiet. “I’m just going to call on someone,” he sing-sang, eyes sparkling.

A hand went up like a shrug. “The title?”

Abramovich stopped abruptly in front of the slight, blond girl in the front row. “The title?!” he almost shouted, and looked across the room. “The title??? Where did you ever get such an idea?!!!”

Hush. Then a little voice.

“From you?”

“Of course, from me!!!” said Abramovich and he even jumped a little jump as he said it. All eyes were now off the desktops. “What’s the matter with the rest of you? Good job, ah…”

“Julie.”

“Of course you are. And who’s Kristen?” A hand gingerly went up in the back. “And Jennifer?” Two more. “What about Kevin? Justin?” He hadn’t taken the roll.

“The point is,” he waved most of the room’s hands down, “that lack of ancestral imagination is no excuse for not . . .”

And he stopped, bent low, cupped a hand aside his mouth, and whispered loudly to the backwards cap before him.

” LISTENING!!??”

Not a flinch. Abramovich waved a hand in front of the young man’s face; everyone laughed (boy included). He went on. “And whom are we listening to in this story? Who is speaking to us?” In the back row, he saw a pair of lips set deep within a drawn, hooded sweatshirt begin to meet, to form a letter . . . “It’s not the Master,” Abramovich jumped in. There was gratitude in the nodding hood. “Death,” spoke a voice from the center of the room, one with a bit more assurance.

“Exactly. Death,” said Abramovich casting a look, quick but incisive. “Death is the narrator of this tale. Your assignment,” (his sentence raced their groans, and won) is to rewrite this story –with the same length –but with an important change. Turn the title into “Life Speaks.” Make your narrator Life. Any questions?”

Notebooks began to slap shut, book bags to make the sound of empty canvas sails. Abramovich, front and center, raised himself on the balls of his feet and slashed with his right forearm across the space before him. Everyone stopped. He wasn’t finished.

“Despite appearances,” he spoke deeply, “there are only two possible narrators for any telling: Death or Life. It is every story’s ultimate choice.” He paused, and so did everything. “E-mail me or leave a copy of your story in my box by this time tomorrow, and I’ll have

them ready for you by next class, as well as my own attempt at “Life Speaks” … Twenty pairs of eyes looked quizzically at him.

“Of course!” Abramovich smiled. “I wouldn’t assign you anything not worth doing myself. Until next time.”

* ***

Two days later, class reconvened. Abramovich had arrived ahead of them, xeroxed packets stacked upon his desk.

“I thought I’d just have you pick them up this time,” he said. Sheepish smile.

He didn’t call the roll; all seats were full.

“I enjoyed all your stories,” Abramovich began, “but in the interests of time I’ve chosen just a few for us to read and discuss today – anonymously of course. As you see, no names on the sheets.” But tension seemed absent that day altogether.

“Which one is yours?” a voice from the center of the classroom.

“Oh, it’s here,” said Abramovich, and half-pulled another pile of papers from his blue and white canvas bag. Then he half-sat on the desk’s edge, returning to their copies. “Which one should we do first? . . .”

“How about yours? You wouldn’t ask us to do anything not worth it to yourself …?”

Abramovich looked up from their stories. Breathed.

“Very well,” he said; eased himself from the desk, and passed his stack of papers out to his students. There was a soft deliberateness in his gestures. No one there thought of the word “Mindfulness,” but that night, one would write in a journal, “He moves as if he were wearing a great robe.”

Story distributed, the professor sat back upon the edge of his desk and began reading silently. His students followed.

LIFE SPEAKS

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market one morning. Not a half hour later, he returned, shaken and pale.

“What has happened?” asked his master.

“Master, cried the servant, “while I was in the crowd at the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman. When I turned and looked at her, I saw it was life that had shoved against me. She looked straight at me; I’m sure she recognized me. But then she hung her head and shook it, as if she were disappointed or ashamed. I wasn’t sure what to do, and when I looked again, she had vanished into the crowd

I beg you, my master, here is all the gold I have saved during my years in your house. Take it and release me from my service to you. You have been always a good and generous master to me, but I have stayed a servant too long. Indeed, I only left my home in Samarra to find work in this city because I was afraid. I had fallen in love with a girl in my village and she with me, but her family was better off than mine. She swore she did not care, that she would run away with me if she had to, but I wanted to make my fortune before approaching her father for her hand. That was too many years ago; she may have forgotten me or married another, I do not know. But regardless, I know that I must return to Samarra right away, today!”

“Keep your gold, my friend,spoke his master. “Accept it as a wedding gift, or spend it on passage to seek out your love if she has gone, or for a strong sword to fight for her if you must. Take my finest horse and ride. Only commend me to God in your prayer sand in hers.”

The servant kissed his master’s hand and galloped off at top speed. After he had gone, the master himself went down to the marketplace, where he saw me standing in the crowd

“Why did you hang your head and shake it at my servant?” he asked me. “He is a good man; how can you disapprove of him?”

“That was not a sign of disapproval, I said. “I have come with my betrothed to this, his home city, to be married; he is a merchant who has long had dealings with my father in Samarra. Many times he sought my hand, but I longed only for my true love who had left to make his fortune. That was years ago; he has never returned, and all this time my suitor has waited. Finally, I consented. Then this morning in the marketplace, who do I see but my great love? He looked straight at me; I’m sure he recognized me. But he made no motion toward me, said nothing. I shook my head in disbelief and lowered my eyes to hide my tears. Tonight, I shall be wed. ”

“Not until tonight?” said the master. “Then you have time to listen to a story . . .”

Stillness robed the room entirely.

“So you see,” began Abramovich slowly, “no matter if the narration is first or third person, omniscient or limited, whether the voice is that of a character or of its maker, there are really only two possible narrators. The choice determines one’s entire story, its progress, its destination …”

“But surely there is a third way, Professor.” An increasingly familiar voice. “A way which is neither. We see it all the time, especially in today’s stories. A life captured between life and death –no longer one, but not quite the other …”

Abramovich stood fast but said nothing. Listening.

“Take my stories, for example,” the voice continued. “I rewrote both. But mine are much more … realistic. More true to contemporary life. The servant flees to escape death. He gets part way to Samarra, but is so heavy with fear that he cannot go on. Nor can he return to his master. What would he say? So instead, the servant disappears into faceless anonymity. He does meaningless work for an innkeeper on the road, mucking out his stables, toting water from his well. Oh, he may even marry some other non-entity, perhaps an ill-used daughter who would do anything to escape a lecherous father, but finds herself forever joined to a hollow rattle of a man. Oh yes, he escapes the death which awaited him in Samarra, but he is in no danger of life either. He makes no choices; he grows neither better nor worse. He merely remains —The End.

“Similarly, the maiden hears the story the master tells, but it is too late. Convention dictates that she must marry her suitor, and she cannot resist. After all, the wedding has been paid for, the guests invited. What would people say? Each night of her life, she will weep into her pillow. Her young man, finding her gone to Baghdad for her wedding, is overcome by the black irony of existence. Young and disillusioned, he tries to take his life, but succeeds only in damaging himself, body and mind. Each day, his parents place him in a chair at their front window. Life has abandoned him and death has rejected him. Yet he is not truly different from the married servant at the inn, or so many others today, whose story is not narrated by either of the two you claim, but by the voice of pointlessness, of grey monotony and inertia …”

“Stupid assignment!” one of the students muttered under his breath, and others nodded and grumbled.

“Wait a minute.”

A voice from the back of the room. Commanding. Almost everyone turned in their seats.

A hood was pulled back from a burnished face. Dark, serious eyes. “I did a story, too. Not that different from his. In some ways . . .

“At first, the man is scared. He gives up, he hides from death and life. He’s lost everything, his girl, his job, his home. But then, slowly, something happens. Or, it’s more like it didn’t happen. The guy didn’t have an identity any more. He wasn’t the master’s servant, wasn’t a boy friend. But still, there he was. No labels, no expectations. Just him. And it begins to dawn on him. He’s free. There are limits to being a servant, how he’s allowed to act, to talk. Even lovers can fence each other in, lots of “supposed to’s.” (Nods) But with all that gone, this guy’s found that it doesn’t really matter. He is who he is, not what he does or even who he loves.

“It’s the same with the girl. When she hears the master’s story, she runs off, back to Samarra. But her boyfriend never made it there, remember? She’s shamed her family, her fiancé. Everyone disowns her. So she wanders back to Baghdad. The master needs a new servant. This is beneath her, but she takes it. She learns his business; she goes to the marketplace a lot. Soon she’s running much of his enterprise. She’s a woman; this is unheard of.   But she’s good, and it’s not long till she goes out on her own, with her old master’s blessing. Many men propose to her, but she turns them all away . . .”

“See, she’s pining for her old lover. She’s stuck.” The voice.

“Wrong,” said the hooded sweatshirt. “She doesn’t want to be owned; she doesn’t want to belong to anybody. Finally, she meets somebody who doesn’t want that either . . .”

“Her first love, right?” an expectant rise in the voice of Jennifer/Julie/Kristen. “In the end, they find each other?”

“Too neat. He’s a widower. He enjoyed his marriage, but knew what he knew. He’d seen his wife die. And like the guy from Samarra, he’d rather die his death than live someone else’s life. The girl, too. Maybe that’s the real question. Whose life narrates your story? Whose death? Yours? Or theirs?”

Nods all around, seeming to pump energy into the room.

“You’re kidding yourselves!” said the first voice. “Who says that ever happens?”

“Who says it doesn’t?” Dark hood. “They’re stories. Our stories. Our choice …”

There comes a moment when a class is spent. Abramovich took a step forward.

“Perhaps the opposite of life is not death. Perhaps the opposite of life is our attitudes about it, our beliefs about what life must be or can never be. And stories are the blossoming of the possible . . .”

Deep breath.

“And that’s where we’ll begin next time. Until then.”

Abramovich lingered as his students moved toward the door. The young man from the middle slightly bowed his head as he passed. He never returned to class, but never officially withdrew either, supposedly forcing the professor to fail him. Abramovich, however, refused to give him any grade but “Incomplete.”

The student in the hooded sweatshirt was the last to leave. “Thanks. Again,” said Abramovich in hushed tones.

Then the room was empty. The teacher slumped to his chair, exhausted, head wrapped in his arms like an invisible tallit. Just himself. Read aloud. Rewritten.

 

Wayne-Daniel Berard teaches English and Humanities at Nichols College in Dudley, MA. Wayne-Daniel is a Peace Chaplain, an interfaith clergy person, and a member of B’nai Or of Boston. He has published widely in both poetry and prose, and is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry. His latest chapbook is Christine Day, Love Poems. He lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine.

How to Pack for Iceland – a poem by Sara Letourneau

How to Pack for Iceland

Leave the umbrella at home.
The wind there has a will of its own,
and you might not want to tempt it.

Plan to dress in layers.
How else can one prepare
for the unpredictable?

Waterproof your body
in duck down and feathers
and a tortoise shell of nylon.

Your feet will want hearths as well,
so give them shoes to keep them warm and dry,
with cushioned midsoles for support.

Don’t forget the usual necessities:
your passport, your phone, a granola bar,
a change of clothes in your carry-on.

Most importantly,
make room for the things
you won’t expect to bring home:

fistfuls of fresh air, wild and pristine,
deep breaths of black sand and lava salt,
the music of geysers and vast countryside,

rhapsodic rivers and vacillating sky,
singing themselves into your belongings and
spreading like incense smoke once the suitcase is open.

Last but not least, take a selfie before departure
so you can compare it with the one you take
upon your return.

 

Sara Letourneau is a poet, freelance editor / writing coach, and columnist at the writing resource website DIY MFA. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Muddy River Poetry Review, Canary, The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts. https://saraletourneauwriter.com/

Where the Word Begins – a poem by Robert Okaji

Where the Word Begins

I end, or so it seems.
Small comfort

in the light of that lamp
reflecting from the window,
a low, interior moon
subject to whim and
circumstance.

And how do we retract
those unsaid lines,
heartfelt and meant,
but never expressed?

The hoot owl voices my response.

 

Robert Okaji lives in Texas and occasionally works on a ranch. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxidant | Engine, Vox Populi and Ristau: A Journal of Being, and may also be found at his blog at https://robertokaji.com