#45

Chris Stanifer
Finistere

The sky cracked open
three hours ago,
rivulets of silver
and black
screeching down
the pane like
diamonds
on glass,
melting the world
beyond my room
into Dali forgery.

I remember walking
past your house
in a torrential downpour,
soaked to the bone
and frozen in
thin cotton t-shirt,
skirting the halo of
lamplight,
hoping to see you
through the window,
hoping not
to see him.

The weight of the rain
on my body
echoed the weight
on my soul,
the flash of lightning,
the clap of thunder
timed to synaptic dance
and heartbeat,
and I felt both alive
and dead at once.

Sitting here now
in front of my window,
all underwear and anger,
Tom Waits on the juke,
Barbaresco on the desk,
wishing
the rain would stop
never.

 

Kristine Ong Muslim
Blasphemy

An odd place to stand on–that space
which our enemy occupies.

And there are the ghosts of our bigger selves
curled under the beds, inside the closets,

snickering, whispering, growing pale
inside those heart-shaped lockets,

always wanting to slip underneath the
torturers feet, breathing close to the ground.

 

 

William Doreski
Ballistics of Your Horseshoe Toss

Pitching horseshoes with the stakes
five hundred feet apart requires
the strength of Beowulf. My toss
falls halfway, but yours rises
nearly to Venus, then drops

and crushes a spectator’s skull.
We run away from the lawsuit,
shedding identities like snakeskins.
We lose ourselves on the fairgrounds
and become Mister and Missus Bland,

lately arrived from Nebraska
with bibles large in our backgrounds.
A big tent flaps and shudders.
Inside, tables set on the grass
display blue ribbon preserves,

jars of jam and pickled objects
that look like tiny human organs.
The prize pumpkin, eight hundred
pounds of flesh, squats on the ground
like Buddha atop nirvana.

You’re not impressed. A tear shaped
like a peso slurs down your cheek
and splats in the grass. You’re thinking
you killed that stranger, the odd
ballistics of your horseshoe toss

violating laws of physics
you learned in boarding school when
the laws of physics still applied.
We sneak out the end of the tent
and wander to the oxen pull

and admire the big-shouldered beasts
shrugging tons of concrete weights
heaped on stone-boats. Your toss
proved you stronger than these critters;
and whether that spectator is dead

or merely head-broken, I’m sure,
when I glance up into the sky,
that something abstract appreciates
the sacrifice, the full moon grinning
as if it finally got the joke.

 

 

Ernest Williamson III
A Bird’s Eye View of Man

branded by the sun
a litter of potential good sustained
lying spliced and red
bleeding for the sake of bleeding
their praise is the unisex of finality
burning smelt
lifting sulfuric vapors to my nose
pinching my putrid breath
annulled is the finch in taxonomies
foolish separations

I’d rather watch the movement of the coffee
black meddling with cream
revealing my delight and your envy
man is a big horn
gifted but loud
slurs in one hemisphere
and compassion in the other

 

 

Michael Lee Johnson
Nothing to Do

Summer
As the world burns,
Nothing else to do, but
Step into liquid cool waves
And swim.

 

 

Stanley H. Barkan
JULY

Now the summer butterflies have come
like poppies in procession
in the cemetery of youth,
all the long stretch of children’s caskets
laid out in their cerements of innocence.
Around the black granite stones
—etched with finger-touching hands—
the clouds of white wings fluttering.
All the rent garments of the wailing mourners,
all the ashes fallen from the still detached sky.
And the milkweed flourishing
along the paths of passing glory.
There in the sun-covered fields of first things,
I sought my way through the glistening questions
hidden in the cobwebs set to trap the seeker.
Now, in the fullness of seeds
grown to fruits of promise,
only pits and pebbles remain to place
upon the markers monumenting memory.

 

 

Joseph Grant
The Souvenir

For several months Lyle and Monica had been going out. Although things had been agreeable, it wasn’t what Monica thought it would be. She had pictured Lyle as being completely different than he turned out and she was not at all content with their relationship.
Snow had begun to descend steadily in the City as they planned to meet for pasta in the West Village . As Monica trudged along, she thought about a lot of things, how Lyle was increasingly dependent on her and if not her, then his mother. She hated whiny, momma’s boys. Then, how suddenly pathological he could be. The wind whipped up and chilled and she pulled her St. John’s Bay coat snug around her body.
Flakes fell randomly out of the charcoal colored sky and impugned any good mood that had been left in Monica. She wasn’t happy with telling Lyle it wasn’t working out, but knew she had to do something. At the crosswalk, she spotted the restaurant where they had agreed to meet. She wasn’t too certain how he’d take her wanting them to see other people, already he’d spoken of marriage and everything was getting too claustrophobic. She knew she had to act out now if she was going to get out of the relationship at all. She was never fond of guys who moved too fast. She was glad she had picked some place public. Her nerves were already jangling and she didn’t need Lyle making a scene.
Monica peered through the foggy snow and saw him sitting near the window, looking hapless. Her stomach tightened. She wished she didn’t have to do this. He had been so nice in the beginning and all of her friends had liked him. It was funny, she thought as she walked, how much one could learn about a person in a few month’s time. He was still a nice guy but he seemed changed; more domineering and possessive. Shit, she couldn’t go anywhere without getting burnt by him. She took a deep sigh and walked carefully along the slippery cobblestones. She noticed how the neon lit off the stones and sighed. This wasn’t going to be easy.
As she opened the steamed glass door to the restaurant, his eyes immediately darted at her. She went over to him. The restaurant wasn’t crowded this early in the evening and seeing him sit alone made her feel sad. It seemed cruel for her to know she was going to break it off with him while he sat there, clueless and he would be sitting at many empty tables for a good long while more in his life.
The restaurant was a favorite of hers, on the corner of Bank and Bleeker, with an overview of St. Vincent ’s. Now that would have to all change. She’d have to find some place new; some place he didn’t know existed. From inside the warm restaurant, she turned her head to the left and looked over at St. Vincent ’s awhirl in clouds of billowing snow and slowly she walked across the darkly stained wooden floor of the eatery to where he was sitting. She took note of each white-clothed table and how they were each outfitted with uniform-looking china and shiny silverware. Next to each was a fine, triangular white napkin. Reticently, she sat.
“Hi.”
“Hi.” Lyle stammered. “I waited for you before I ordered.”
“Thanks.” She shrugged and took a sip of the free, room temperature water already poured. She looked up at him.
“So?” He gestured, opening his hands. “What’s up?”
“Not a whole hell of a lot.” She shrugged. She reached into her bag for a cigarette.
“Is everything alright?” He asked.
“Yeah, why?” She took a puff and blew the smoke out almost immediately.
“You’re smoking again. I thought you quit. When did that start?”
“Does it matter?” She snapped.
“Can I get you two anything?” A waiter interjected with folded hands and smiled at Monica.
“We’re trying to have a conversation here, pal!” Lyle snapped.
“And I’m trying to pay my rent.” The waiter retorted.
“Um, we’ll need a few minutes, thank you.” Monica said sympathetically. “I’m sorry.” Her face reddened by the exchange.
“The nerve of that guy.” Lyle groused.
“Him? Him? The nerve of that guy?” She reproached him. “How ‘bout you?! He was only doing his job and you treated him like he was hitting on me.”
“I didn’t like the way he was looking at you.”
Monica sighed and said the obvious. “I don’t think you have to worry ‘bout him.” Noticing he was already pretty chummy with another waiter, she took a drag. “Anyway, we have to talk.”
“About what?”
“About us.”
“What about us?”
She looked at him plaintively. He didn’t get it. She put her chin in her hand and looked out the fogged window; the snow was sweeping the street outside and was starting to cover the pavement and the asphalt. The grate in the middle of the sidewalk pumped out white-hot steam to no avail. She watched the dark circle of melted snow stain the sidewalk around it until he spoke again.
“I said…what about us?” He reiterated.
“Lyle…” Monica said in a pained manner. “I’m not sure this is working out.”
Lyle’s look of concern turned hard at her. “Where the hell’s that waiter?” He griped. “I could use a drink!” He held up his hand and waved him over. He waited impatiently by tapping his other hand on the table, stirring the silverware while the waiter deliberately took his time returning to their table.
“Hey, could we get some service?” He bellowed as the waiter was halfway to them.
“What can I get you, sir?” The waiter said in a hurried but derisive tone.
“A beer.” He snarled. “I’ll take a burger and fries and another beer, a Heineken and she’ll have-.”
“Can I just have whatever the pasta special of the day is and a Coke?”
“That’s one pasta primavera and a burger.” The waiter intoned. “Right, thank you. I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute.” He said cheerily to Monica and rolled his eyes over Lyle’s shoulder.
“Do you believe that guy?” Lyle growled. “I’m going to talk to the manager.”
“Please, Lyle!” She said. “Don’t misdirect your anger at the waiter…”
“What’re you talkin’ about?” He said indignantly. “Anger…ha! What anger?”
“You!” She stubbed out the cigarette and immediately lit another.” You’re the angriest person I’ve ever met! If something doesn’t go your way, you snap and go postal on whomever’s closest and that’s usually me!”
“I do not!” He protested. “It’s just I won’t get taken advantage of by people lower than me.”
“You’re not God.” She shook her head. “You’re always thinking you’re the biggest and the best. That’s just what I can’t stand about you. I’m glad we’re talking honest here, cos what I wanted to talk to you ‘bout was us. I just don’t think it’s working out.”
“So, what’re you saying?”
Monica shook her head again. “Listen, I think we should see other people.”
“What?” He said, shocked. “You think we should break up? Why? It’s going good. Everything is fine.”
“No, it’s not.” She said pointedly. “I don’t like this angry side to you…frankly, it’s scaring me. I had to explain away that bruise at work. You get too wrapped up in things and let your emotions get the best of you.”
“But you’re my girlfriend.”
“You’re exaggerating our friendship.”
“Oh, so now we’re friends?”
“Well, we’re not really going out…just seeing each other, really. We’re our own booty calls.” She stopped from going further as the waiter came over with the drinks.
‘What?!” Lyle screamed at the waiter, sending Monica’s hand hiding her face in embarrassment.
“Calm down, tough guy.” The waiter said and put the drinks down.
Just as Lyle was about to answer, Monica intercepted him. “Oh, knock it off, Lyle.” She said as the waiter walked away. “I’m sick of you pulling the hard ass routine. Who cares if you can take him or a hundred guys? It doesn’t make you any more of a man to me. All I see is a child who, when he doesn’t get what he wants or when it doesn’t go his way, strikes out at anyone. I’m tired of it and I’m tired of you.”
“So, what’re you sayin’?” He asked worriedly. “It’s like, over?”
“Yep.” She said after a sip of her Coke.
“But what about us?” He interjected. “I love you!”
“Please.” She gestured. “Save it.”
“I do!” He said as the vein on his neck protruded.
“No, what you feel is just an adolescent attachment to me, cos I’m a replacement for your mom; you think you love me, but you don’t. You want me to stay with you so you don’t get hurt and it’s something I can’t do. I like you, I mean; I think you’re a great guy an’ all…” She lied. “…but I think it’s best if we just go our separate ways.”
“See?” He threw his hands up and went for his beer. “I told you if you went back to college, you’d start to think different. I don’t like you getting’ these idea, it’s wrong. You understand me?”
“You don’t own me, prick.” The words came out before she even heard herself say them.
“An’ you all the time mouthin’ off to me-.” He countered weakly.
“It’s over.” She said hoarsely and took another drag of her cigarette. “You understand?”
“But why?” He asked angrily. “I thought we made a great team. We have a lot in common.”
“We have nada.”
“I love you, Monica.”
“Quit saying that, Lyle.” She said. “I don’t love you.”
“Please, please don’t do this.”
“Do what?” She pleaded. “We’re not even serious, thank God.” She murmured. “It’s just sex. Lyle, look at me, please. Look at me, huh?” She could see he was ready to cry. “Lyle, I need you to focus, Lyle.”
“Wh-what?” He looked at her, lost. “I thought…I thought we could get married-.”
“You said that, not me.”
“But why, Monica, why?” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “I love you.” He said as she started to wave him off. “No, I do, I do love you.” He insisted. “I-.” He sniffed as he knocked over the salt, almost hitting the small crystal cubed candle on the table. “I love, I…I…” He began to blubber and clean up the spilled salt.
“Lyle, forget the salt, huh?”
“I love you, Monica. I can prove it to you.”
“Stop, please, this is getting uncomfortable.”
“You know how many girls would go out with me? I’m buff, I go to the gym.”
Monica looked at him. Yeah, if they only saw the big body builder whimpering at the table, jeezus, they’d SO love you. She thought.
“It’s not a question of proof, Lyle. It’s just not working, please hear me.” She said as the waiter brought over their steaming hot plates and quickly vanished.
“I-I, uh, gotta hit the bathroom.” Lyle turned in his seat and shook his head in disbelief.
“Lyle, it’s nothing against you, believe me, I’m just not ready.”
“I’ll prove I love you. I love you. I love you more than anything in this damned world.”
“There’ll be others, Lyle. Other girls will see what I’m missing.” She said with a compassionate turn of her head. “Just not me. Let go, Lyle.”
“I only want you.” He drew closer to her. “I love you and I’ll prove it to you. I have to hit the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”
“Whatever.” She said with a hand gesture and looked back at the deepening snow. She had to get home soon. Mass transit would not be running much longer in this kind of weather. She looked at the empty chair and sighed. She hated doing this to him but she did not love him and he was taking this thing way too seriously. She didn’t need that now. Not after the last psycho. She was beginning to see a pattern in her relationships and her psychology classes helped enormously to see her shortcomings. She waited a few more minutes for him before delving into her dinner of pasta. She was famished.
The dinner was good and tasty and it filled her in a rich, warm way on this frigid evening. She looked at his burger getting cold. She wondered where his place setting was and wondered if it had fallen to the floor. She looked beneath the table and saw nothing. Maybe the waiter he had given a hard time had chosen to give him an equally hard time and not give him a place setting. That would be odd, as the service was usually impeccable here, she thought. She wondered what was taking him so long. Used as she was to long lines in the ladies room she knew men didn’t suffer that gender distinction. She wondered if he had skipped out on the bill, but people usually did that after they ate. He would be the first dumbass to get it wrong, she smiled.
The waiter came over. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, but he didn’t get a place setting.”
“I beg to differ, but he did indeed get one.”
Monica looked at him. “Well, he doesn’t have one now, could you please get him one?”
The waiter nodded and walked away.
It was only a few seconds later that Lyle appeared, sweaty and ashen-faced. He had his hands thrust deep into his pocket the way he always did when agitated. He glared at her and sat.
She looked across the table. “I was uh, getting worried ‘bout you. Thought you dined and dashed.” She chuckled nervously. “I just hope you can see my side of it. I think we’re two rational adults…” She said in an undertone that begged for him not to stalk her.
“I…I, uh, I can’t think about this now. I can’t deal with it; it’s all too much for me to take right now. I, uh, gotta get outta here. I gotta head out-.”
“What’re you talking about? We just got our food. You’re just going to leave?”
“I gotta get outta here.”
“Into the snow?”
“Your compassion so sincere.” He mocked.
“Don’t okay?” She snapped. “Just don’t. I’ve tried to be nice about this, but you’re starting to get on my nerves. You’re starting to ruin my mood.”
“And you’ve ruined my life!” He screamed. He took his hand that had been thrust in his pocket and pulled out a red cloth. “Here!” He shouted. “Here’s something for you to remember me by! I told you I loved you and you didn’t believe me…now maybe you will!”
Monica looked at the crimson cloth. “You didn’t have to get me anything.” She smirked. “Lyle, I can’t…”
“It’s not a gift.” He said tersely. “It’s more like a souvenir…” He sneered. “You’ve ripped out my heart; you might as well take it all!” He gritted his teeth. “I’m history!” He slammed the cloth onto the table and stormed out into the snow. As Monica sat there, the cloth began to slowly unfold. Much to her shock, in the glimmering candlelight, she discovered he was right. He loved her more than anyone ever had. The red cloth had been his white napkin he had taken from the table along with his steak knife. While in the bathroom he had hacked off his middle finger.

2 thoughts on “#45

  1. Enjoyed ‘The Souvenir’. The prolific Joe Grant has a great way of drawing the reader into his stories. This female character seems totally believable to me, with her mix of compassion, strength of character, insecurity, moral clarity, pragmatism and bitchiness.

    — Notes From A Room

  2. Wow, pretty powerful story. I loved the conversational exchange, leading up to the surprise ending. As always, I am a great lover of your work, Joe.

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