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Natalee Singleton – Inflammation of the Soul

Inflammation of the Soul

A man sits across from me. He speaks of taming wild thirsts; my fierce, unholy hungers. Of bread and blood. And meat and seed.

He crusades to turn my eyes inward and soul outward. He wants to see the prospect of nature everted and poke at the diseased spots of its pink, fleshy core.

I listen to the living word carried on his musky breath – like the dusty old books on his shelves. It smells like nothing has lived or stirred there in a long time. He spits when he pontificates.

A framed certificate confirms an ordination for God, but I keep expecting a demonic, bifurcated tongue to emerge. Oh God, don’t think of tongues.

He leans forward and asks if I’ve known the smell of sulfur. Have I been to Old Faithful? Visited St. Helens?

“It is better to marry than burn.”

I burn anyway. I burn for her. Because of her. Me. Us.

I wonder what passion looks like to him. Crumpled roller-permed hair and pit stains on his undershirt, every third Thursday of months without an r?

Has he seen passion like ours, ethereal and framed by the sun? Maybe if I hid it, if I tucked away our glow and loved her under the covers, to shield from Heaven’s eye all the parts of us we shouldn’t be. We could cover our mouths, with only whispers on our tongues to say the sun was ever there. Hide away, and covet my own cause for believing.

Our cocoon probably looks like a bundle of kindling to this man. With calm and folded fingers, he touts joys, simple and domestic, from a world of dutiful roles and plentiful, ripened fruit.

I want to scream; I want to hit him; I want to cry and get on my knees and beg him to absolve me.

“Shameful, unnatural… the evils from inside that defile you.”

I white-knuckle my armrests until I hear them creak in distress. But the fleshy pads of my fingers won’t draw blood from the wood.

He doesn’t understand. I’ve loved her before. I know I have. On an un-Grecian shore, when we were as we should be. I’ll just sit here and listen until I can remember – our names, the time and the place and the years of our age – and I can explain.

He reads me a passage and calls it breath.

But it can’t be the one I know. Because I’ve felt an angel’s breath on my skin, in the bliss of a little death.

Paul says I have choices, his verses or my own.

——-We’ll build them like Us
——-to walk as We do,
——-Our flesh to wear
——-Our will to bear,
——-to eat when they’re hungry
——-and starved for the truth,
——-to burn hot on the pyres
——-of many delicate fires.

- Natalee Singleton

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Harold Stallworth – Brothels

Brothels

I grew up in a shoddy trailer park just east of Roanoke, Virginia. My hometown has always been a hotbed for deviant behavior, an incubator for miscreants. I suppose this made it easier for me to reconcile with the idea of dropping hard earned cash in foreign whore houses. Jamilla was mortified by my tales of erstwhile debauchery.

“Oh my God,” she shrieked in the most judgmental tone she could muster. “How could you?!”

“How could I what?”

“Have you ever seen that documentary called Trap Door?”

“Yeah, I think so. Is that the one about the Mongolian Empire?”

“Worse! It’s about human trafficking and illegal adoption rackets. The girls that work in those cat houses overseas are sold into that life. Spending money in those places makes you complicit in horrific crimes against defenseless women.”

“Oh.”

“It’s on Netflix,” she said, reaching for her laptop beneath the coffee table. “Let’s watch it.”

“Ugh!”

“You should be more knowledgeable about the consequences of your actions. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of you glorifying a parasitic culture.”

“This is why I never tell you anything, Jamilla.”

My stint as a piddly deck seamen on the USS Somerset was undoubtedly the best four years of my entire life. I traveled the world twice over in a drunken stupor, occasionally seeking respite and refuge in exotic brothels along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was naive to assume Jamilla could unsaddle her high horse long enough to admire my off-color exploits. She cued up the documentary with a disturbing fit of enthusiasm. I squirmed about the couch, bracing for an impending wave of retroactive guilt.

No more than two minutes into the film, before the conclusion of the opening credits, Jamilla slammed the laptop shut and pivoted toward me, legs folded, arms crossed, attentive in a way that was equally creepy and endearing and endorsing. Her sunken brown eyes begged for honesty. Continue Reading »

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Richard Mark Glover – Synthetics

Synthetics

I reached out across the sheets and put my hand over the small of her back just above the skin, her camisole cinched, my mind in full focus as I encountered her aura. I breathed deeply thinking maybe this is the road back. It’d been awhile. I tried to think how long it’s been as I glided my hand above her butt feeling static generate from her panties, holding my hand just above contact like maybe the magic of silk and electro-magnetism would change things.

In the beginning of our relationship she would turn to me late at night and ask questions like “Do you think I have nice hands?” And words would slide out of my mouth, “slender, soft.” She would listen and take it in and I could feel her smiling in the dark and we would make love.

We agreed, before we committed to each other, to live our relationship outside convention. The first step was not to get married. We made a list, Nina insisted, a list of everything we didn’t want: the corporate world, jobs with time cards, doctors with pills. Continue Reading »

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Bryce Taylor – Custom Jesus

Custom Jesus

Welcome to Custom Jesus! Where you get to hang out (virtually!) with the Jesus of your choice and predilection! Here are some recommendations to which you should not at all feel limited to, but feel free to choose them if you so please and desire!

Good Old American Jesus: This popular Redeemer emphasizes the importance of the traditional family, patriotism, freedom, capitalism, and the basic fundamental values of our Founding Fathers. For an additional $10, he will sing the lyrics of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to the tune of an ancient Galilean bar song!

Jock Jesus: Say goodbye to the “meek and mild” Savior of Sunday School days gone by, this Jesus is not afraid to flex his washboard abs. Turn the other cheek? I don’t think so! Jock Jesus does not walk the extra mile, he runs it — in under five minutes! Booyah.

Secular Jesus: Who needs over-the-top miracles when you can have fascinating lessons about generosity and humane behavior more or less consonant with the teachings of other humane leaders like Confucius, Gandhi, and MLK? This Jesus proves you can be super without being supernatural!

Marxist Jesus: Talk about immanentizing the eschaton, this Jesus preaches a Gospel of radical equality and classlessness and material prosperity for all, meanwhile eschewing hope in “another world.” Boy, can this Son of Man stick it to the man!

Historical Jesus: As per the latest research of renowned and accredited scholars, this Jesus will vary from month to month. Guaranteed to be the genuine article!

Coming soon: Prosperity Jesus! Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a homeless man than for this Jesus to give a rat’s behind!

- Bryce Taylor

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Austin Eichelberger – On Having Faith

On Having Faith

Mid-afternoon sunlight filtered into the Hayfords’ living room, throwing long, thin shadows across the carpet and softly illuminating objects in the room: the bookshelf, creased spines of mysteries and romances lined up beside photo albums, auto repair manuals; the plaid couch, matching crocheted doilies on each arm; the wood laminate china cabinet, glass doors protecting the shelves of plates, cups and saucers inherited from parents, aunts, a great uncle; and the padded rocking chair where Maureen sat, her body still except for her slowly pushing legs and tense, restless hands – which moved between fluttering about her lap and twisting the gold cross around her neck until the chain went taut – as she watched the light touch the objects around her.

            Maureen looked from her and Gerry’s wedding photo on the wall to the cold, quiet street out the window, and then at the half-table that was pushed up against the aging wallpaper facing her, willing the cordless phone sitting on the smooth wooden surface to ring. The table was one of the only things Maureen still had from her childhood home – her grandfather had made the table for her mother, carving the edges to look like the elegant, lacy trim that the bank manager and mayor had ordered for their homes – and she kept it nice by polishing the hardwood surfaces, hammering in a new nail when one of the legs got loose. The table being older than herself comforted Maureen, let her believe that if a tiny little table could withstand the world for that long, then so could she.

            Gerry had said he would call her the night before – he was hauling the rig cross-country in five days, and she hated when he’d try to get ahead of schedule by not sleeping, so she made him promise to call when he stopped each night – but as she sat up waiting on the third night, twisting and tugging on the cross hanging from her neck, the phone never rang. She had tried calling him around eleven thirty, an hour after he usually turned in, but his pay-as-you-go cell phone hadn’t even rung. Not unusual, she had thought while replacing the receiver, he turns it off while driving so he won’t be bothered – he’ll probably turn it on in a minute. After half an hour in the rocking chair, her sore knee began to loosen up a little and Maureen dozed off only to wake up seconds later, frantic that she had missed him. Once she saw the red LED zero on the answering machine, she got herself a glass of water and laid down in the bed. Continue Reading »

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AJ Urquidi – Forest

Forest

The manchild moved to where boys go to bald:
a forest of plaster, his language erased.
                        A terrier brushed his leg,
                        he longed to pet its fur. 

A boy and girl threw sticks at their ball in a tree,
he starved to reach up and embody their hero.
                        Into his open sore
                        he deposited an evening. 

He emitted more fluids than his liver contained.
He wondered why tattoos gave their harborers cool,
                        why men sported earrings,
                        why women sported earrings. 

He lay in the grass and drilled out his mind
for images that could untie old knots,
                        his sweater sleeves tie
                        around his hefty waist. 

He lay in the grass near beautiful girls;
eye contact was neither made nor kept.
                        Aspirations to jog, walk
                        the dog around the block.

He spoke to Mother and dead CEOs
in his sleep, and in his sleep
                        he heard himself talk
                        and was afraid to awaken.

A shuttle bus shuffled past, clicked violins
into position. Near Rainbow Falls
                        two years before
                        a tree with loose roots

upended uphill and fast-lanced down a gulch.
The forest grabbed at, hoped to stop, or slow it,
                        but it hit the creek,
                        with lugubrious force,
at which point momentum broke it apart.

He lay in the grass and imagined that tree
would still lie in pieces, cracked little verses,
                        at a low, low point
                        for a long, long time.

- AJ Urquidi

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Erica Ruppert – Long Way Home

Long Way Home

It’s late, and cold with the first hard edge of autumn, and the car is not going to make it all the way back to town on what’s left in the tank.

The gas station is isolated, a lighted concrete patch along a rural highway, fallow fields and scant woods all around it. I rarely stop here. It is too exposed. Tonight I pull in. The sign in the office window says “open”. The office itself is bright with blue fluorescent glare. There is no one in it.

I wait for the attendant to work the pump. This is New Jersey, where I must pretend to helplessness. A single car passes, then another. The station lights hum like summer insects. Another minute slips by on the dashboard clock. I look around. The concrete pad around the pumps is crumbling, the edges of it dissolving into gravel. A dull assortment of cars marks the edge of the property. The office is the base of a bunker of cement blocks sealed with dirty white paint. From there the building stretches up to a second story with a picture window overlooking the pumps and the highway. There are lights on up there, and I can see a standing lamp and the edge of a shelf. A shadow passes on the visible angle of wall, and I hear a heavy door slam, feet coming down a hollow staircase.

A man rounds the corner of the office and heads toward where I sit locked in my car. He is an Indian, tall, possibly mid-thirties. He is wiping his hands on a crumpled rag as he walks. When he gets to my window I roll it partway down.

“I’m sorry, are you open?”

“Yes,” he says, his voice very lightly accented. He tucks the rag into the front pocket of his navy blue work pants. “Did you wait long? I’m sorry. I was having my dinner.”

It is nearly eleven o’clock.

“No, not long,” I say. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. The sign said ‘open’.”

“Yes. It’s okay. I live here, so I leave the lights on. Someone may come.”

He smiles. I smile back. I roll the window down farther.

“May I have twenty regular, please?” I say. He repeats my request and begins the pump. The sound of the machinery overrides the buzz of the lights. A car goes by.

He stands near my window, watching the numbers on the pump roll up. Then he turns to me.

“Were you working this late?” he says.

I pause for a moment, glance at the road. “No,” I say. “Not tonight. But I had a lot of errands to run up in Flemington. Shopping.”

“Ah,” he says. He shifts his feet. “Getting ready for Christmas?”

I pause again. The pump is at sixteen dollars now.

“No, not yet.” I laugh a little. “I used to start this early, but life got way too busy. I used to be really organized.”

He smiles and looks away at the night around us. It is impossible to see anything but darkness beyond the flat blaze of the station lights. He wants nothing from me. I pull him back.

“When are you able to get away?” I say. “Do you have any help here?”

He looks back to me, smiles again. “My uncle is here. My mother’s brother. He helps me sometimes.”

“That’s good,” I say. “Family is a good thing.”

“Sometimes,” he says, and now he laughs. I laugh, too.

The pump clicks heavily and shuts off. He screws on the gas cap and I hand him the money.

“Do you have a family?” he says.

I consider that. I could rely on the kindness of a stranger. I don’t ever have to come back here.

I edit.

“A son,” I say. “He’s grown. He’s out in Pennsylvania.”

He nods.

A pickup truck goes by, fast and aggressively loud. We both watch it pass, listen as the engine’s roar peaks and trails off.

“Thanks,” I say into the fresh quiet. “Have a good night.”

“Yes, thank you. You have a good night, too.”

He steps back from my car, away and behind it. I roll up my window as I start the engine. As I roll toward the exit I can see him in the mirrors, walking back toward the stairs. He waves at my taillights as I pull out onto the empty highway. I wave back. He won’t see me. The windows are clouded from the cold air, and I switch on the defroster.

It is still twelve miles to town. There are no streetlights on this stretch. In the dark sky, the stars are very clear.

- Erica Ruppert 

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