Issue 115 brings you into dreamland. Dreams of youth, innocence, and the loss of both. Kick up your feet and enjoy the magical stories of Joseph Gant, Roger Drouin, and the editor’s pick for “must read twice” by Brad Rose.
The Night a Boy Forgot to Dream
The first time Superman yawned as he flew over Metropolis, he knew the last of the best had been spent. Red capes can’t make the sun rise fresh again, however long you wear them. They just turn blue as the Earth below.
And saving the day was a punch card job.
Joseph writes from outside of Philadelphia, where he edits poetry for Sex and Murder Magazine and anticipates his first full-length collection of poetry forthcoming with Rebel Satori Press in Summer 2010.
Poetry is a Crime
It was either a career in criminal justice — aka the police force — or a career in poetry. He couldn’t decide which. He weighed the advantages and disadvantages. Both careers, he determined, were likely to result in death. One, a slow starvation, bones gradually protruding from flesh, and the constant need to depend upon the charity of family who hated him. The other, a life dodging bullets from gang members and “friendly fire” from corrupt colleagues. Come to think of it, the careers promised very similar career trajectories.
He carefully mulled these over. He asked his mother. He thought and thought about the life of the mind versus the life behind the thin blue line. His mother said there would always be crime and criminals, so he would never be unemployed. That, she said, was an advantage one should not dismiss. He responded that death was a kind of unemployment.
She retorted, “Do you think poetry isn’t a kind of unemployment? Wake up sweetheart and smell the blood running in the streets.”
He decided that death by starvation was preferable to doing anything his mother would recommend. He was a very good marksman, and much talent would remain unrealized in his chosen profession.
He became a poet. Soon, he learned that poets do, in fact, live on bread and water alone.
His sister said his poetry was so bad he should be arrested. His wife said he should be locked up. His mother said the authorities should throw away the key. He discovered that his career choice had put him on the wrong side of the law.
Brad writes from the city of angels, where he’s writing a tragicomic novel in six-sentence chapters.
When the Fish Breaks Free
Roger Real Drouin
Steve Miller blasted from the dented and paint-caked boombox wedged between us on the vinyl bench seat. We were going fishing. Five thirty a.m. on a Saturday, balancing our big mugs of coffee as we drove down State Route 109 in his old Dodge.
My uncle was filling in for my dad, who was working the blackjack table at the Sands Casino in Atlantic City, fist knocking, on a roll. When dad wasn’t running the bar or sitting at the blackjack table at the Sands, he was thinking of somewhere else, anywhere he should be other than home.
I took a sip from the mug in between dips, as the truck swayed over every pothole and indentation in the rural New England road.
Japhy poked his head through the sliding rear window, and I pet the top of his snout. He nudged closer to me and half shut his eyes. The blaze down his snout and the white stripe down his chest also had gotten whiter, and it made me sad to think he was getting older. He went back to lie down, lowering himself on his two front paws before he plopped down on the carpet that covered the metal ridges and the sheetrock dust in the truck bed.
“Hang on boys,” my uncle said as he slowed down and turned the Dodge down the dirt road.
The old shocks and creaky leaf springs allowed us to glide over a big sippy hole right past where asphalt turned to dirt. My uncle lowered his mug as the truck sank into the hole and then lifted it in unison with the truck—managing to keep the entire contents of his mug in the mug. I tried to do the same—only to have about a third of the coffee in my mug splash on the floor carpet. He looked over, grinned, took a sip, and drove on. We had an understanding, an unspoken bond. It’s OK to spill a little coffee in the truck. What really mattered was that we were drinking out of mugs; travel containers of any sort were unacceptable.
My uncle backed into our fishing spot as the sun started breaking through the sky. Japhy eagerly awaited his freedom.
I can still recall all those sounds: the clank of the tailgate dropping, Japhy jumping down in a spurt of energy, running down to the water, the big splash then the quieter splashes as he waded in.
Uncle Emo whistled to him, sharp but not too loud. Finally with some coaxing and a milk bone, Japhy got out of the water. I cast my rig out in no time at all because everything was already set.
“How’s school?” my uncle asked as he secured the Rapala lure and bit off the extra line with his teeth. I shed my flannel and soaked up the warmth like a sunbathing lizard. The dog stretched out in the grass next to us.
“How about English? You like English.”
“We’re reading Huck Finn.”
“Do good in school. Don’t be like your uncle, broken back and bad knees before thirty-one.”
He leaned his rod against a tree and let the lure’s silver belly reflect in the water as it dangled. A big bass stirred near the top of the water. We both saw it at the same time, impossible for an angler to miss. It was about twenty feet out, right next to my lure.
“Set it,” my uncle said.
There are sounds I can recall with all the clarity of my full imagination: the splash and tumble of water as the bass jumped out of the water, twisted in mid air as he struggled to break free of the hook embedded on the lower side of his strong jaw; my uncle moving in big strides, smoothly as if his sounds would spoke the giant fish. The lake at the end of the dirt road is never far from me.
“It’s set. It’s set good.”
I lost the fish. The line snapped. I tried to keep as little pressure on the fragile six-pound test line the entire time, and only when we both saw the fish, right there a few feet from shore, did he break free. Emo smiled. He told me it was a hell of a fight as he opened an ice-cold bottle of Sam Adams for me.
Back out on State Route 109, the cool afternoon air surrounded us. The breeze through the window kept me awake, even though I was dead tired. Japhy was up front with us, curled up asleep on the bench seat between his master and me, his reward for being a good fishing dog.
For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t trying to figure it all out. I wasn’t trying to figure out how I lost the fish. It was a good fight. I wasn’t thinking about that glare of silence in our house as I wait for my dad to come home or his empty seat at the dinner table. I wasn’t thinking of anything as the sound of humming tires lured my eyes shut.
There were many moments when I stopped listening, stopped waiting for the car door to open, for the footsteps of my father coming home, stopped hearing the frustration in my mother’s voice. It was a trick I had learned, an ability to leave the sounds hanging in the air before they reached me. But at the end of the dirt road, I heard every sound.
I take a sip from the coffee mug. The bay comes into view and my loyal hound Sandy points her snout out the window. It’s a different road I’m driving down, seventeen years later and a thousand miles away. But I know everything is all right. The sound of humming tires drifts into the truck, taking me back to a different fishing hole and a fight with a big bass.
Roger writes from Florida, where he’s a first year MFA student and can be read here.