Thursday, October 29, 2015

The brighter lights of need -by Christina Murphy

It is assumed the passage will be dark,
the body’s mind recalibrating itself for the next world
in the vain staggerings between
one life and the next / or one life and one death

The outcome of desire is incidental to the heart
and truth gives way—like haze or fog—
to the brighter lights of need

The flesh of intention and the intention of the flesh
make peace within the soul; nothing left behind but
sweetness and grief, unto the eventual silence,
Nosce te ipsum—what greater hope, what greater desire?


Christina Murphy’s poems appear in a wide range of journals and anthologies, including, PANK, Dali’s Lovechild, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and in The Great Gatsby Anthology and Remaking Moby-Dick. Her work has been nominated multiples times for the Pushcart Prize and for the Best of the Net anthology.

The Growing Habits of Roses - by Katarina Boudreaux

“It’s about time you come down off that high horse” Seal says.  “You’ve been riding up there so long, you don’t remember what it’s like here on the ground.”

Seal’s never been one to mince words, and now that her neighbor Anne has lost her husband, she’s determined to use them.  She and Anne were in school together, and by luck, they were now next door neighbors. 

“Not that she ever wanted anything to do with me” Seal mutters and continues to water her Shasta daisies.

Watering is boring unless you’re a fool, and Seal decides to goad Anne a little more, as she knows that Anne can hear her.  “I’m just being a concerned neighbor.  Need a chit-chat?”

Anne doesn’t reply.  Seal chuckles, and watches Anne move around her yard.  

Anne was always different.  She always had different ideas, and sure enough, she ended up going to some foreign school and came back with a foreign husband.

Now that Seal thinks on it, she isn’t sure if he was her husband before he left, as she had never heard anything about a wedding.

Seal moves to water her bed of Lily of the Nile, but keeps in sight of Anne.

“Are you looking for him underneath those cabbages?” Seal asks.  “The gossips are saying he took off with some other lady.”

Anne doesn’t respond, but Seal notices that she cringes a bit, and this makes her feel some satisfaction.  

Seal leans over to make sure she gets enough water to the roots of her prize winning Lilies.  Seal is proud of her garden.  She always has the best blooms, and she looks over at Anne’s yard with a smug look.

Anne’s yard is in a sorry state.  Things are growing here and there, plants are mixed in with vegetables, and in all, Seal decides it’s a hot mess.

Organic mish mush mumbo jumbo -- that’s all that is, Seal decides.  Seal knows that Anne uses only natural this and that, and she can’t imagine why. 

Seal peaks through the Oleander and watches Anne bathing tomato plant leaves with soap and water.  

“Down here in the heat you need to use some good old pesticide and poison to get critters not to chew” Seal comments.  “It’s what’s needed to get things to grow up without huge holes in the leaves, that’s all I’m saying.”  

Anne looks Seal’s way, then back at her sweet potato vine.

“There’s no way soap is going to keep away those loopers and whitefly” Seal says knowingly.  “You can’t eat that kind of sweet potato anyway.  Don’t know what you’re growing it for.”

Seal smiles, and turns her hose to water her big bed of multi-colored Lantana. 

Now Lantana is a solid plant, Seal thinks.  It’s a reliable bloomer and doesn’t taste good to insects, but it looks pretty all summer.

“Now here’s a plant” Seal says and sprays a little water over the fence to get Anne’s attention.  “No trouble and nice looking, hard worker.”

Anne doesn’t look over, but Seal continues.  “Maybe you wish your husband was like that, right Anne?  No trouble and nice looking.”

Anne doesn’t respond, but Seal feels like she just has to let her words roll out.  “I should patent that phrase, maybe start a business getting men for women like that.”

There’s a flash of color and Seal knows that Anne is listening, as she is moving around behind the fence.   

“Lord knows, I landed myself a good one” Seal continues.  “I don’t have to worry about where that man is.  He’s at work.  He’ll be home for lunch, too.  No place else he’d rather be, just like clockwork.”

Seal waters her Lantana in silence for a moment, and watches Anne tie brightly covered scraps of fabric to her staked plants.  Anne picks up a little brush again, and with a small bowl of water, she continues to wash each leaf like some kind of mother hen.  

Seal hates chickens, nasty things, and she makes a dismissive sound.  “I’m telling you Anne, it’s not going to help, just washing those leaves.”

It bothers Seal that Anne doesn’t care about her advice.  I’m the best gardner this side of the river, Seal thinks, and she can’t understand why Anne won’t listen to her.

Some people, Seal thinks, and wonders if maybe Anne didn’t really finish her foreign education at all.  Maybe, Seal thinks, Anne just went off and landed herself in prison or something for all of those years.

“You did come back with a strange man and with no word at all” Seal says under her breath and aims her hose at the bed of annuals she planted this year.  “It’s hard to get the mind around that kind of story.”

Seal is disappointed with this bed, and she viciously sprays the water right at the Vinca that hasn’t grown the way she expected it to.

“Never going back to that nursery” she mutters, then looks over at Anne.  Anne is now clipping dead leaves off her rose bushes.

Seal hates rose bushes.  She’s never had any talent with them.  It’s like they just don’t like her touch.  Anne’s rose bushes are the best part of her garden, and they are blooming beautifully in pink and red.

“I’m glad someone’s got the patience and the time with those babies” Seal says and sniffs.  “Roses suit you, Anne.  Highfaluting for highfaluting.”

Seal can’t say much more, as she can’t fault Anne’s roses.  They are growing fiercey, and Seal admits to herself that she is jealous of the way they smell good across the fence, and look so heavy and full on the branch.

“Now just stop that” Seal commands her mind, and swings the hose around to her hanging Begonias.  “The Lord said not to want your neighbors things.”

“I’m giving up on you” she says over her shoulder to the Vinca bed.  She remembers the nursery and makes a big mental X over it.

Seal sighs.  Her Begonias are big and plentiful, and shel loves the way the plants’ arms just drape and sway with the slightest breeze.

“Not like we get much wind, right Anne?” Seal asks.

Seal looks over at Anne’s yard, and chuckles.  Anne is trying to nurse some sad looking orchids back to health, but Seal knows when a plant is done for, and the orchids are past done for.

“You’re wasting time there, Anne.  Those are scorched, and once the good Lord scorches them, there’s no coming back.  Think on Lot’s wife.  Too picky, those orchids; better off with something nice and solid -- a good grower, no trouble”  Seal says and waters the big planter of ferns chained to the front rail.

Some damn fool had stolen the previous planter, and though Seal still harbors suspicions about Anne’s husband taking it, she is resolved to let it go out of neighborly love.  The Cast Iron plant in it is root bound anyway.  Anne hates repotting, someone else can do it, or just watch the plant die.

“I’ve got plenty of others around the trees in the back, and those aren’t root bound” she says and waters the pretty Asparagus fern in the new planter.

Seal loses sight of Anne for a moment, then sees her head pop up next to some fruit trees.

Fruit trees in the middle of a city, Seal thinks, and shakes her head.  It’s pure nonsense, trying to make an orchard in the city.  Seal clears her throat.  “Don’t you realize my front porch is looking in on your back, and you are growing fruit trees?  My view will be ruined.”

Seal keeps shaking her head, then looks around her front yard.  There is nothing more to water, and she can’t think of anything else to do on her porch, so she walks to the hose caddy and starts to wind it up.

Anne’s head appears near the hose caddy.  Her head is round and small, and Seal looks at her pretty eyes in her pretty face with distaste. 

“Well look who came on down to the fence for a word.  What, are you getting lonely up there with your caterpillars eating on things?”  Seal tries to stand tall to give herself some regal bearing, an edge.

“Seal.  I smell something burning.”  Anne’s voice is whisper soft, and Seal doesn’t remember her voice ever being so whisper soft.

Anne moves away from the fence, and goes back to tying up her fruit trees.  

Seal is still for a moment.  The hose lies limp and forgotten in her hand.  Something burning, she thinks; here I am talking good advice all this time, and she’s going to tell me to use my nose like I don’t use it enough all...

Seal leaves the hose unwound and yanks the front door open wide and runs in.  C.J. will be home in a bit for lunch, and she remembers now how she put the seafood pie in the oven, how she ran out to water when she saw Anne moving in her back yard, and how quickly her new gas stove cooks.

There’s no smoke yet, but she knows trouble is happening when she reaches the kitchen and the smell of burnt swimming things hits her.

Seal turns the stove off, and grabs for her oven mitts.  The seafood pie is dark and crisp, and she throws the pie and baking bowl in the sink.  Scrambling for the oven door, she closes it while she turns on the water.  

A thick hiss rolls through the kitchen, followed by a plume of steam.

Seal looks at the mess in the sink, then looks out the window.  Anne is staking beans, tying them up to bear fruit.

“Could’ve burned down my house” Seal thinks, and decides there should be a law for neighbors that don’t know how to be neighborly.

“Confusing everything, causing trouble” Seal mutters, and walks to the refrigerator to see if she has enough bread for a nice po-boy.
Katarina Boudreaux is a writer, musician, composer, tango dancer, and teacher -- a shaper of word, sound, and mind. She returned to New Orleans after circuitous journeying.  New work is forthcoming in Jenny, HARK, and YAY!LA.

Pennies a Day - by Andrew J. Bergman

We never replied to our sponsored child, not even once. He was eleven or so when we were propositioned at the front door one evening around suppertime and, ashamed of our affluence, we committed to monthly bank withdrawals that would go ever-so-indirectly to our selected Sri Lankan orphan. Every year after that we got a letter, a photo, and a progress report, items that I’d glance at and then toss on a pile next to unread copies of Travel+Leisure. Each month, forty dollars was withdrawn from our chequing account, a figure that my wife Janet dutifully recorded on an Excel spreadsheet in a column marked “Miscellaneous Expenditures.”
            “We should write him a letter,” she suggested one evening, after sorting through the junk mail and rescuing the envelope. She had heard about people actually visiting their sponsored children. You know, flying all the way out there and presenting them with a Bible and a PlayStation 3. Of course, we weren’t convinced that was the right course of action for a young married couple such as ourselves. There were ethical implications, after all. You could sponsor a hell of a lot of children for a hell of a long time for the cost of that one flight. Plus, we always had trouble finding someone we could trust to care for our Tibetan Mastiff. He was just a puppy, after all. Sending a letter, however, raised it’s own questions.
            “After all this time?” I asked. “Out of nowhere? What, so we send him a snapshot of this parka-wearing childless Canadian couple grinning like fools in front of mounds of snow?”
            “Yeah, something like that. It would be best to do it winter. He probably doesn’t see much snow—might find it interesting.”
            It was true there was never any snow in the pictures they sent of him—mostly just dirt and tropical trees in the background. I looked at him standing there at eighteen, a real young man, at least compared to the magnetized childhood photo that had clung to our refrigerator for the past seven years. Our monthly donations seemed to have served him well. A nice clean shirt, well-groomed, pleasant smile, healthy—heck, he was even literate.
            I grabbed a bottle of barrel-aged stout from the fridge and poured two glasses for Janet and myself.
            “I really think we should write him a letter.” She paused. “Maybe he’s on Facebook.”
            The thought that our sponsored child, now adult, might be an active participant on the world’s largest online social network had never dawned on me before. I shook my head at Janet.
            “Why not?” she continued. “I mean, just because he’s receiving charity money doesn’t mean he’s not accessing the Internet. He might even be tweeting by now, who knows.”
            I didn’t want to find out. I couldn’t imagine he’d want to connect with us on the World Wide Web, but Janet insisted we at least check it out. She scrolled through a few profiles. We didn’t have much to go on: a first name, a last initial, and the name of a town that probably wasn’t even on the map. That combination of information led to dozens of results. After eliminating a surprising number of old men and teenage girls, we spotted one candidate who looked promising.
            “Is this him? This guy seems really into cricket. What do the letters say—is our child a sports fan?”
            “I never read them,” I confessed. Janet hadn’t either, and since the face of the young Internet man was covered with paint representing his local squad, there was no way of knowing for certain that this was our child.
            “Well, send him a message.”
            “Seriously? What would it say? Dear Deshan: We couldn’t help but notice your online profile and thought you looked familiar. I know this is a long shot, but your name and general physical appearance resemble that of the pretend-child we’ve been ignoring for the past half-decade. We’re wondering if that might be the case. Also, any chance we could live vicariously through you?”
            But Janet insisted. She said she’d even do it herself so it didn’t seem so creepy, a friend-request from an unknown male with a Movember ‘stasche. She said she’d send a pleasant little note—“just wondering if we know you”— and see what happened.
            Hours went by—a day. Janet figured that time zones might mean we’d have to wait a while for his response. “Plus,” she said. “He’s probably using a computer in the community centre or something. He might not have access all the time.”
            A few more days passed. We continued to consume copious amounts of ale brewed by Trappist monks and artisan cheese that I placed ever-so-carefully onto tiny wholegrain crackers. It was the holiday season; we deprived ourselves of nothing. Finally, after a full week, during which time we consumed an entire case of Westvleteren 12, there was a message.
            It wasn’t a message—not really. It was just a link, and I could tell from the little red exclamation mark that it wasn’t the sort of link our computer wanted us to visit. Perhaps this dangerous-looking website would provide us with convenient access to replacement tuk-tuk parts, or Sri Lankan dating, or sketchy Colombo travel guides—whatever it was, it was bound to give us a virus or, at the very least, attempt to sell us something we weren’t prepared to buy.
            “Well, I guess we haven’t found him.” By the way she guzzled a beer that was clearly meant for sipping, I could tell Janet was disappointed. You might even say she was devastated, at least as devastated as a woman in her late twenties can be after her meager attempts at online stalking had failed. “I guess we haven’t found him,” she repeated.
            “What makes you say that?” I asked. “It could be him. You know, I’d be pretty happy if he’d gone from subsistence farming to e-commerce. Looks like our sponsorship dollars have really paid off.”
            Janet shook her head. “No, it wasn’t him.”
            I encouraged her to send a message to some of the other candidates, but by this time she was so concerned about the risk of computer viruses and having her heart broken, that she vowed never to make contact with random Internet-users again.
I took the photo, the one we received that past Christmas, and placed it on the fridge next to the much younger picture. It was a dramatic contrast. The penmanship in his letters, too, had noticeably improved from the boxy crayoning of that first year. Sometime later I rummaged around and found the rest of the photos and letters and put them up there, too. It was a bit like a Facebook wall, or Instagram stream, or whatever all the young Sri Lankans are using these days, except our wall was more carefully curated—no links to Onion articles, and no bikini photos of ex-girlfriends. I think I told Janet we needed more magnets.
The display stayed there on the fridge for a few months. We even took a wintry selfie and contemplated sending it to the address, but for whatever reason it never made it to the post office. Eventually, though, it became like a billboard you drive past every day but never notice.
Once it was time for spring-cleaning, I took it down completely. I placed the photos and letters in a shoebox somewhere in my office, a box I labeled “our sponsored child,” in black felt marker. I think I even underlined it in red, as if that imbued it with importance, as if we’d be more likely, with the red line there on the box, to take it out and glance at the contents.
Not too long after this we got a note in the mail. This time I read it. It said our child was now an adult and this meant our sponsorship dollars were no longer needed to support him. Thanks to our generous donations over the past seven years, our child had achieved all his goals. They said he would soon be 19 and was entering a computer-engineering program in Moratuwa, the first in his village of farmers to go to college. They told us he was very happy and healthy and that in his free time he was a big supporter of Suraj Randiv who had an eight-wicket haul in a recent match against NCC. It said all this in the report.  This time, though, there was no photo.
Instead, they told us we could choose a new child, a younger one, maybe a girl this time. They sent along a few photos of our options. They told us it was just pennies a day and that these children were in dire need of our support. They told us that if we continued to support the program, they’d send regular progress reports, twice or maybe even three times a year. They implied that child sponsorship, as we already knew, was almost like parenting. They said it had all sorts of benefits for the child. We’d be providing shelter, clothing, education, opportunity and a host of other things. All we had to do was select a child. The cutest one? The one who looked most in need? It was a tough call.
To close the deal, they told us that we’d receive benefits, too. They implied that child sponsorship would improve our moral and spiritual status, and perhaps even our standing in the community. In other words, we would feel pretty damn good about ourselves. It was all pretty convincing. This time we chose a nine-year-old Tanzanian girl named Zalia. Janet thought she was a perfect combination of cute and needy-looking, and I wholeheartedly agreed.
So, some time has passed and now it’s her photo up there on the old refrigerator collecting dust and splatters of truffle oil. I think she might even be sending us the occasional letter. A while ago there was some discussion about composing a reply but I don’t know if we ever sent it. I get the impression Zalia’s doing well, though I’m not sure since I haven’t read her correspondence. Quite frankly, I have my doubts about many things. All I know for certain is that the payments are coming out on the first of every month.


Andrew J. Bergman is a novelist and ghostwriter from Winnipeg, Manitoba. His work has previously appeared in Geez, Ballast, and He blogs at and occasionally tweets @andrewjbergman 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Single Atoms, Wide Apart - by Howie Good

It came as a surprise. Everything pink had begun to yellow. The woman feeding a neighbor’s cats sighed. Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn. They were all there in her sigh. This was someone who was trying to disappear. Evening and the bare tree were mere props to tell a story. When she draped her clothes and then herself on the branches, the witnesses scattered, and all because what couldn’t be immediately understood wasn’t considered worth understanding. Most everyone agreed, which made a tremendous noise.

Howie Good’s latest poetry collection is Dark Specks in a Blue Sky from Another New Calligraphy. He is recipient of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for his forthcoming collection Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Blood Underneath a Lamppost - by Kelly Kusumoto

I will always remember the summer after graduation. A high school diploma changed nothing but my freedom. My schedule was suddenly open. I had no immediate plans to go to college. I wanted the road to take me wherever it was going to take me and I didn’t see it taking me right back into school.
On my first free Monday in twelve years my best friend, Devon and I squinted into the summer sun as we drove westward on the freeway with the windows down. The breeze blew through my hair and ultraviolet rays beat down on my arm as it hung out the driver side window. We were on our way to La Crescenta, a town in the foothills high above downtown LA. We took the northbound onramp where the buildings spread out between hills and forest. It smelled of dry brush and asphalt and even though my cup was still half full of soda, I threw my cigarette butt in it. I’ve seen these hills aflame and these houses rebuilt and I’ve wondered why people spend millions of dollars on building their fortresses in the middle of a barbecue. I didn’t want to be the cause of yet another So-Cal fire.
As I listened to the cigarette singe, a reckless asshole in a BMW cut me off. I was in too good of a mood to fuss over it but striked me oddly, though, how more often than not, a good deed done always seems to be followed by a bad one against. I recalled once giving a bum five dollars. He was so happy that it made me happy. The look on his face and the expression in his body said it all. Later that evening I went to the ATM and got mugged at gunpoint; the bastard took everything I had in my account (which wasn’t much). Things always happened that way. Do something good and the universe reminds you that life is not all butterflies and unicorns. Still, I wasn’t going to let some righteous BMW owner dampen my night. I was alive, there was gas in the car, my friend singing along to the radio in the passenger seat, and a nice sunset to our left which was leading to–what we anticipated was going to be–a great summer night.
We exited Pennsylvania Avenue and turned onto some side street that led up to a modest house on the corner. Devon got out and walked in through the front door. I looked around. There was a stray dog running down the middle of the road, barking at some ragamuffin kids kicking a soccer ball around in the dirt patch across the way. Without the breeze of driving eighty miles an hour, the heat was starting to bear down. After a moment, Devon stepped out of the house and down the walkway. As he descended the few steps to the sidewalk, a face I had only seen in dreams appeared behind him. Her eyes were bright and sparkled like morning dew. There was a radiance emanating from her skin that made me yearn to caress it. Her straight, long hair was dark and wavered like reeds of kelp in a gradient ocean, reaching for the lighter shades of cyan, dipped with nourishing sunlight. Her arms were petite and feminine; their lack of strength triggered my willingness to provide. Her tiny frame was as delicate as a dandelion and her legs were soft and inviting. She was the type of girl you wanted to hold at the waist and lead into a diaphanous waltz, all the way to the bed where you would find out just how delicate she was. I was instantly intrigued to say the least. So much so that the heat and the sun, the bark and the dirt ceased to exist. They were faded background images in a photograph where she was all I focused on. I followed her with my eyes as she got into the back seat. Two other other doors shut and slam me back into reality. With our eyes fixated on each other, I heard Devon say, “Valerie, this is Kevin. Kevin, Valerie.”
Normally I chew gum whenever I meet someone new. It keeps me alert, keeps the juices from sticking, but without any at my disposal, I let out a feeble and stuttered, “Hi.”
Stuttering herself, she mustered an identical, “Hi.”
“And that’s Nicole,” Devon said, pointing to the right.
I cleared my throat and said, “Hi Nicole. Nice to meet you.”
“How’s it going?” she said with a wry smile and a look that slowly shifted from me to Valerie and back.
I adjusted my rear view mirror so that it was angled towards Valerie. I took a quick glance up and our eyes met, followed by a sheepish smile and an awkward, mushy feeling I hadn’t had since my first crush. I glanced at Devon from the corner of my eye and he was shaking his head. Damn! I didn’t want to get caught.
We arrived at the movie theater and decided comedy over of action. I don’t even remember what movie it was to tell the truth. Ten minutes in and I hadn’t laughed. More importantly, she hadn’t laughed. I had to do something. I looked over at her with sincere regret. “I’m sorry.”
She laughed. Perfectly.
I cringed in a perfectly awkward manner. “This movie really sucks.”
She laughed again. “Better than being at home,” she said as she laid her hand in mine. It was softer than I could’ve ever imagined. I could feel her stare. I looked at our hands intertwined and then turned towards her and smiled. “Very true,” I said.
As I turned back towards the movie screen, I felt her clench harder. She laid her head on my shoulder. It wasn’t long before the next lame joke rang through the theater. It must’ve been a cue because the next thing I knew, she’s straddling me on the theater chair. Her lips were like cotton candy; her hair blanketed our faces from the rest of the theater, which thankfully, was pretty much empty. She went from my mouth to my neck and I was able to glance over at Devon. I saw him reach over and grab Nicole’s hand. I don’t remember much after that. That’s false. I remember everything.
Our feelings were so strong that we could hardly go anywhere for an extended period of time without falling on top of each other. After a while I would just pick her up and go straight back to my house. Movies were boring. Amusement parks were boring. The beach was boring. The mountain trails were boring. We were only interested in each other and how our bodies felt together. What could be more pleasing than two young people sharing each other’s skin, or whatever you want to call it? That was the thought process, anyway.
One night I dropped her off early because she was going to hang out with the girls. They were giving her a hard time, telling her she needed to make time for them too. My band had a gig that night, so I picked up Devon before heading over to Hollywood. He would always come along and help me with the drums. It got him into the shows for free and he was always willing to take the girls from my hands, now that I was “occupied.” He asked me where Valerie was and I told him she was doing the girls-night-out thing.
“Why didn’t you tell them to go,” he asked?
“I did,” I said. “She said you and Nicole weren’t getting along at the moment and it’d be better if you guys spent some time apart.”
“That’s bullshit!”
“Hey man, I dunno,” I said, defensively. “That’s what she said.”
“Nicole and I are whatever,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“You know, whatever. We see each other, we see other people...whatever. It’s not like stars and rainbows and fucking cupid shooting arrows out of his ass like how you and Valerie got it.”
I gave him a perplexed look and said, “Huh?” as I let out a chuckle.
“By the way, this club tonight, how old you gotta be to get in?” he asked.
“18,” I said.
“How am I gonna get in?”
“You’re the roadie. Roadies are the exception.”
“Would they make an exception for Valerie?” he asked.
“Huh?” I said, a little concerned.
“You know she’s 13 right?”
“What?!” A lump in my throat came from out of nowhere.
“She didn’t tell you? I told her to tell you!” He palmed his face and shook his head. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t think you’d fall so hard for this girl. It was just for fun, you know?”
I could not find the words. What would they even be at that given moment? I barely remember walking on stage. Muscle memory guided me through the set. My band mates’ questions and concerns floated around like the blubber from a decaying whale. The rest of the night was a haze. I woke up the next morning with three different pieces of paper crumpled up in my pocket with three different phone numbers and “XOXOXO” written on them or hearts and smiley faces. I couldn’t recall receiving any of them. I felt an overwhelming sadness. I felt disappointed. I felt...dirty. For any 18 year old, the difference of five years, in either direction, was an eternity. It wouldn’t have been much different than if I were 13 and she was eight. It was frightening and sobering. I felt let down, like one giant buzz kill coming to cut the ropes that held me higher than I had ever felt before. One small piece of information changed everything. My perception, my feelings, my connection with her was all a lie.
How was I going to face her? What the hell was I going to say? For weeks I avoided it. Calls after calls came. Visits to my home, flowers on my doorstep, notes tucked into my screen door, letters in the mail were all received but not reciprocated. I simply didn’t know what to do. Finally, I took the steep climb up the northbound freeway. The falling leaves felt symbolic, as if representing the decay of something once perfect and naive. As soon as I pulled up, she stormed out. Before I could close the door behind me, she held me tight and pleaded with sobs. “Where, why, with who, what is going on?” were followed by tears and fists beating against my chest and all this misunderstanding.
“How old are you?” I asked. No sense beating around the bush.
Suddenly, things got quiet. She sucked up her tears, took a deep breath and said, “Can we go to your place? I can’t talk about that here.”
I said nothing and continued to look at her straight-faced.
“Please?” she asked.
I could sense the end of things coming as we weaved through the hills toward my little home in Eagle Rock. She gazed out the window the entire way over and chewed at her nails, vigorously. There were things about her only I knew, which she confided in me. There was a wall in her bedroom where she would spend hours writing my name on it. Not a white spot remained on that wall. In fact, there were etchings of my name over other etchings of my name. She was abused when she was younger, molested as well. She was also a cutter. I was her “savior.” She was my damsel in distress. I thought I could help her, be there for her, and love her. That was all before I found out how old she was. With all of that swimming in my mind, how the hell was I supposed to do the right thing?
We got to my house and she positioned herself as she always did, taking a seat on the bed, leaving me with the beanbag chair. I did not sit. She slid halfway off the bed and reached for my waist. She started to pull me towards her as if nothing was wrong. She put her hands down my pants and panted heavily on my neck and being 18 years old, I couldn’t help but hesitate. The desire for her lips was still tremendously strong and in some other epoch, we might have grown old together, might’ve lived a long and healthy life together, happy and as content as two souls who were a perfect match for each other could be. But not today. Not only had society put up invisible lines that drew frowns upon this sort of thing, there were laws against it–laws that would bunch me in with serial rapists and other psychopathic felons.
“Okay stop,” I said as I pushed her away. “Tell me the truth.”
“Obviously, you know already,” she said in a bratty voice that showed a sliver of her age.
“Why did you tell me you were 18?”
“Duh!” More of her immaturity began to surface.
“I don’t understand? Why? If you knew how old I was, why couldn’t you...I don’t know, just why?”
“I was at Devon’s house one day with Nicole, and I saw a picture of you at one of your shows. I asked him about you. I don’t know, I just had to meet you, that’s all,” she said. “I fell in love with you. It doesn’t matter how old we are, right?”
“You know the answer to that?”
“Well can’t we move somewhere, get away from here?”
“You’re not serious, are you?”
She was serious because once I said that, I could see the tears well up. Nothing pained me more than the sight of a stunningly beautiful girl with a stunningly beautiful soul, shedding a tear from her somber eyes and letting it roll off the side of her cheek. I felt so helpless and upset. Were I to fly in the face of the law, of social convention, I would alienate the both of us from the world we knew. As I watched her sob and wrap her arms around my neck, I felt at that moment, the two of us alone in the world was all I needed. As her warm tears spread out along the fibers of my shirt I also felt that in time, the two of us alone would not suffice. We would bore of each other and when we did, we would long for the others we abandoned. We would spite and resent each other and conjure feelings catastrophic to a seemingly impenetrable relationship. Her embrace felt as right as pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. I tried to soak in as much of it as I could before peeling her arms away.
Like tentacles, she resisted. I only hoped that she felt my heart tear as I tore her arms away. She sunk like dead weight, an anchor on my floor.
“If you’re mother knew, I’d be in jail,” I said.
She was digging her nails into her arm. Her radiant skin slowly turned rose colored. I could hear the blood cells rushing up, trying to push back her nails. She began to shake. First her arms, then her body, then her head. Back and forth, silently screaming, “no.” When it was apparent that I would not kneel down and comfort her, she broke her silence violently. She let out a scream not even the sirens could replicate. It was a lament from the darkest depths of space and it nearly crushed me in its gravity.
I held the cure to complete and utter despondency. All I had to do was touch her, hold her and the plight of her world would be lifted. But I also knew it would be temporary and that the only permanent fix was to stand strong. I stood my ground and from absolute despair, Valerie transformed into absolute indignation. Her eyes looked possessed. My strength weakened and I reached out to her, but it was too late. She swatted my hand away with a force impossible from such frail arms. She lifted herself up from the floor, her lachrymose replaced with inefficacy. She stormed out of my bedroom as if on a mission. Instincts always tended to break even the most consistent character, especially in times of duress. I had never been in a situation like this nor had I known anyone who had. But my instinct told me to act, so I chased after her. Before she could open the front door, I did the one thing I knew was a big no-no in times such as this; I grabbed her arm and turned her around. She gave me one second to kiss her and when I didn’t, she slapped me in the face.
“Let go of me, right now,” she said.
I let go. “Where are you going?”
“I need to get out of here.”
“It’s three in the morning,” I said.
“I need to go for a walk. I need to calm down.”
I was uneasy at the thought of a 13-year old girl walking around in the middle of the night. She picked up her purse from the couch and tried to ease my worries.
“I’ll be back in a couple minutes,” she said.
I was exhausted. I watched her walk down the driveway and turn the corner. I left the door open and walked back to my room. I lied down and tried to follow the blades of my ceiling fan. My eyes were heavy. My mind was spinning. A sudden calm rushed over me. The dark seemed to lift up and away. After a moment, Valerie slowly hovered above me. Her figure was a haze, a glowing orb. She smiled at me and said, “You don’t need to save me anymore.”
I sat upright in a flash and the darkness engulfed me once again. My head ached as if stuck in a vice. I looked at the clock. It read 4:45. I searched the house. Empty. The front door was still open. I grabbed my keys and started up the car. Slowly, I searched the neighborhood, looking for a frail, young woman dressed in black. The crisp, moist air before dawn rejuvenated me. Up one street, then down the next, my windows were open and my lights shone upon the ordinary. Suburban roads and lawns belonging to suburban families sleeping in their suburban homes, built up and down Oak-lined streets, illuminated every two hundred feet or so by a concrete lamppost.
About a mile away from home, I couldn’t imagine her walking much farther. My search seemed bleak and futile. I pulled over and turned off the headlights. An eerie silence surrounded me. No wind, no crickets, no hum of the lampposts above. The dead of night was in its throes before the resurrection of a new day. I stared intently into the steering wheel as if within it laid the answers. I took a deep breath of that moist and chilly air. I closed my eyes and as I exhaled, a murmur crawled into my ears. Instinct snapped my head to the left, opened my eyelids wide and my pupils even wider. Underneath one of those lampposts was a pool of blood. It oozed into the middle of the street, illuminated by the dull yellow bulb above. I followed it to where she was slumped, sitting at the base of the post. Her face in the shadows, all I could see were the cuts in her wrists, like the opening of a gate that imprisoned her soul. If I could help it, I was not about to watch it go free.
I rushed over to her. She was still breathing. She was cold and shivering and her breaths were weak and short. I took off my shirt and ripped it in two. I used the two pieces as tourniquets and picked her up. As I carried her to the car, she whispered, “I’ve been trying to get your shirt off all night.”
“You just hang in there,” I said.
“I’m already gone,” she said. I felt her heave and my heart sank.
“Valerie?” I said.
I set her down on the asphalt. Her eyes were flickering. I called to her a few times. I didn’t know what else to do. Her eyes re-focused for the last time as she said, “You don’t need to save me anymore.”
Her body went limp. Her eyes rolled to the side and I could tell they no longer worked. What was a vessel of pumping blood, moving parts, and productive organs was now a still and silent tragedy. My tears fell and spread out about the fibers of her shirt. I sat there with her and watched the sun come up. I thought that its resurrection might bring about hers. What a stupid thought. I can’t remember much of what happened after that. Wait, I lied. I remember everything.


 Kelly Kusumoto is a New York City-based writer with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has written articles and reviews for The Arroyo Seco Journal and Pasadena Weekly. He also maintained his own publication before moving to New York City. Currently, he is an editor for Cicatrix Publishing, a scriptwriter for Los Yorkers Productions and a copywriter and graphic designer for Kiltic Studios. He also publishes short works of fiction on various websites around the world and is working on projects ranging from novels and screenplays to gaming, transmedia, graphic novels, and children’s writing.

Brainfall, - by John L. Waters

Tiny transparent irregular lenses on a glass sheet suggest rain drops on a windowpane.  Their nondescript dribbling images hold your eyes steady until you envision Salvador Dali's drooping watches so clearly depicted in his painting "The Persistence of Memory."  
The singular photograph above these lines of black print works a crystal magic on the brain of at least one beholder.  You yourself can look at each raindrop and see how it compares with each one of the other drops held on the glass rather like children attending a class in school.  You see the similarities, such as each drop is almost entirely H2O in liquid form - and such as each one is a lens you can look through and see small things larger than in real life.  

You can also observe differences in the shapes of individual splatters and regard these differences as trifles - or as immensities - depending on your point of view and your mood at this moment in time.

Still looking through the pictorial windowpane and beyond its rain-spatters you see the falling waters and the distant streets, buildings, schools filled with silent children busily reading, writing, or listening to tapes or audiobooks, or talking computers and their loquacious and domineering teacher.  All the while large motorized trucks - those mechanical dinosaurs of our Koyaanisqatsi age - keep roaring and rushing past along the slick noisy pavements.  

The reflective clear water spots on the photo-glass remind you of these and other numinous essences.  Then you suddenly notice the purplish sky overhead as seen from a balloon floating two miles above the precipitating clouds that thirty minutes before made contact with the windowpane and started the sequence of events being described here.

And then, all of a sudden your active son-of-a-gun-of-a-mind shoots itself off in other directions, as well, even into other dimensions of miniscule immensity.

As you keep on and on looking into the photo, do you ever get through to the picture?  Do you stop and look at each beady eye looking back at you from the rain-studded glass?  Do you bend your own watches and click off the psycho-babbling memorial voice that keeps rambling on and on inside of your thinking, talking, or writing head?  

And son-of-a-gun whatever can be done when that iron-hard hand of clock-time comes crashing through the glass and you feel stricken and terminally cut down and crestfallen like that dismal bemangled ghostly white brainfall of a crushed head near the bottom of Dali's famous painting - the separated once well-oiled and otherwise adorned and respected head that is now almost totally sucked empty by a still-ticking silver-haired sharksucker that in Salvador's dream looks more like an old man's partially-melted but still parasitic mechanical pocket-watch?

About John L. Waters

I worked as a professional free-lance lyricist in Hollywood from 1969 until 1977.  It was there I met the two composers with whom I wrote eight songs which were published. I became ill with an acute respiratory disorder. I left the Los Angeles area in 1977 and worked out my self-healing method.

Since January 2000 I've been attending Humboldt State University in the over-sixty program. I've been doing independent research.  I have a large number of letters, articles, poems, graphic designs, musical pieces, and songs.

To obtain more information, go to: 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Path of Memory -by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Translation by Rehan Qayoom

If the path of memory on which you’ve been walking  
For an age at the same pace comes to an end  
Walk on a few steps further till you reach  
The crossroads of the wastes of negligence  
Beyond which there is neither an I nor you  
And the field of vision holds its breath for who knows when  
You might retreat, transcend, or turn around to look  
Though the eyes know this is all a lie  
If ever again we do see eye to eye  
Some other path will branch out from that point on  
And hand in hand we will begin the journey  
In the shadows of your tresses to the movement of your arms  
The other thing is also sorcery for the heart knows  
There is no turning no desert no spell  
Veiled in which my months can pass  
If the path of life runs with your thoughts - All is well  
If you do not turn round to look it doesn’t matter


Rehan Qayoom is a poet of English and Urdu, editor, translator and archivist, educated at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work internationally.  He has published 2 books of poetry and several works of prose.