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Karla Cordero – How to set an apple tree on fire

How to set an apple tree on fire

The sun will tell you
it is too early for destruction
continue to shut the doors and
windows to keep the house from
coughing on your misery

Basket the ripest apples and set them
on your neighbor’s porch with
a recipe for pie crust          

Funeral his picture beside
the thickest root where
the moss refuses to grow

Rake a wreath of dry leaves
for kindle and smear mud into
the grooves of his carved name

Evacuate the birds and squirrels
say a prayer for the ants along branches
there isn’t enough time to save them all

Soak the tire swing in kerosene
swing back and forth against gravity
and light a match across the bark

Ignore the smell of burning flesh
let your lungs breath slow and
listen to the scream of leaves

Karla Cordero 

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M. E. McMullen – Dream Three

Dream Three

They’re always throwing goodness at you,
But with a little bit of luck, a man can duck.
—Lerner and Lowe

If you’re six four and weigh two hundred eighty pounds, maybe you should give up your dream of becoming a jockey.’ Those are the immortal words of the mythic Prussian martial philosopher, Hans Aough, and I’ve tried to make them my words to live by, in governing my own dreams. The thing about dreams for the future is that they have to be elastic because they usually have a whole lot of ass to cover with just a small patch of chintz.

         I never dreamed Times Square could be ruined, but it was.

         Used to be, you could go down there, score porn, find a hooker, black or white, boy or girl, didn’t matter. They had everything from mouthy midgets to aggressive cross-dressers, and drugs galore. A junkie could go down to Times Square with any jones you could name, score his pegs of large animal tranquilizer in less time than it takes to tell. They had grainy snuff films, every kind of fuck film you can imagine. They had that famous fuck film where the Texas stud and this young babe with huge tits have one going out on the wing of this small plane. Now, things are going good, and this guy is really putting the wood to this babe as they fly along. In the long shots, you see them gyrating around on the wing like a couple of rag dolls in a hurricane. The babe’s husband, the pilot, who they’ve drugged so they could get this big bang going, wakes up.

       Ah, conflict.

       If you saw this one, you remember what happens next. The pilot sees his wife out there on the wing, goes berserk, flies into a jealous rage, starts doing loops and dives and all this stuff to shake the unfaithful whore and her all too willing swain off the wing. They’re buck naked, hanging on to the wing struts for dear life, and this guy’s hung like the proverbial horse, of course, so, his gigantic wang is flipping and flopping out there like a hooked giant eel, and if that isn’t bad enough, the babe’s hooters are waving in the breeze like the Union Jack on Trafalgar Square.

       You couldn’t go down there now and see something like that.

       It’s all Walt Dizzy and family stuff. Bring the family. It’s a family place. Bring the family. Go down there now, all you see is tourists looking up at the tall buildings and long lines of yokels trying to buy theatre tickets. No more outrageous pretty boys in Little Miss Muffet outfits. Hell, I got to thinking about it, thinking what they’ve done to Times Square. My old voice trailed off, I kind of swallowed hard, got caught up in the sudden eruption of a blender,—vvvvrrrreeeeee,—which only Jake and I are tuned to, sitting across the table from each other like a couple of stoned Buddhas, bag headed alkies that we are, graduated to semi-street folk because Jake has been staying with a lady friend, and I’ve been bagging at Jake’s flat, living the life of `Jake’, answering to Jake when I’m there, all having to do with a bunch of rent control bullshit you don’t want to hear about.

       Of the forty odd folk within hearing distance of the blender, this being on the Friday night end of a brokenhearted weekend odyssey, us barely out of the gate when the hammer falls, us already one wavelength above the pack, due to recent involvement with a mutual friend of ours, from Panama, named Red, if you get my drift, I see in Jake’s eyes that he’s tuned right to that blender, and from there, to the tune that’s ripping on the speakers above the bar, `When the Whip Comes Down,’ with Mick and the boys blaring out over some fairly sassy woofers and tweeters flanking the moose head, which is the kind of oddball stuff you used to see down on Times Square, but don’t anymore because of who’s taken over.

       That was my first dream, and it proved to be true.

       I told Jake to mark my words. I saw it clear as Hell itself. The scum like us, the street people, all the armies of the slightly whacked out alkie professors like me, all the pill-ridden, sweat drenched perverts, our day was done. Times Square was being taken over by families on tour, every last one of them more starchy and scrubbed than the next, and there wasn’t a thing to be done. They rounded up the crazy old dude, Reverend Tuck, who was always pushing Jesus down everybody’s throat. They stuck his ass in a big old gray brick asylum in Brooklyn where he could rant all day, and nobody but the rats and cockroaches could hear his ravin’ ass. Jake sat him down one day, gave him a Snickers Bar, which the blind old dude loved, telling how he’d sat at the feet of the Lord in Paradise and how the Lord told him that everybody was given three dreams in their life, and that the three dreams told the story of their life in three parts, past, present and future, and it didn’t matter one flaming fuck if they liked it or didn’t because that was the way it was. Period. Which I thought was, you know, kind of arbitrary, not to mention petty autocratic, coming from Somebody Who’s supposed to act and think Godly, but I let it go with the Reverend Tuck because that motherfucker was battier than Carl’s Bad Cave, and might’ve come across the table, put a blade on your ass, like I saw him do one time when some low life street preacher named Pantheon Jones, was talking around the yard like Jesus, Buddha, the Shinto guy, Mohammed, all those guys were really the same guy, like Peter Sellers playing all those parts in Dr. Strangelove.

       Somebody said it sounded like they could’ve been sent by the fucking devil himself, considering all the pure evil, all the turmoil, death, destruction, war, hatred and revenge had all been fucking carried out in their names, pretty much across the board. Well, old Reverend Tuck went after that motherfucker with a blade he pulled from nowhere, and would’ve iced him for sure, for lumping Jesus in with all these ‘false idols,’ which set some of the Muslim brothers on edge, muttering, ‘who you calling a false idol, motherfucker?’

       It could’ve gotten ugly.

        My second dream only lasted half a second. I dreamed a raccoon was up on my bed crawling across my face, and it woke me up. I figured that was the ‘present’ dream, because the present is a fairly elusive deal, here one second, gone the next. As for the raccoon, what can I say? A raccoon’s a raccoon, right? You say that word over and over again, any word, enough times, you get stuck in the present, and you see the naked reality. You say that word, you let the sound of that word raccoon, raccoon, raccoon, raccoon, bury itself in your brain long enough, you reach a state they call on the street, stuck in the fucking present. It’s a technical, psychological term you hear around. It means ‘muddle headed’, ‘fucked up,’ and there’s a lot of it going around. Stuck in the present, you have that same dream, over and over. Everybody’s selling something in the dream, just like life down on the new Times Square. Listen to what they’re saying down there. They’re selling.

       If you don’t think so, listen closer. Say raccoon, say any word, over enough times, even your own name, and the meaning behind the sound you’re making will disappear. Right before your eyes, it will dissipate and be gone, until it’s just a sound, like a clap, or a rustling of the wind, and doesn’t stand for anything anymore.

       If it doesn’t work, I’m sorry for you. You’ll be missing something. Maybe the fog in your head is too thick. I’m sorry, but it’s your problem if you can’t be bothered. For sure, if it freaks you to be disoriented, out of control, maybe you shouldn’t try the word repeating mantra. If it’s too much trouble, or, if you’re otherwise not up to it, don’t do it.

       In the third dream, the one about the future, I’m down on Times Square, and run into one of the old rummies they ran off when the place was sterilized years ago. Old `Pistol Pete’, they called him. Damned if he wasn’t down around his old spot, near where the orange bar used to be, where all the sexual predators and derelicts used to hang out, harassing the tourists, leering at the young girls in their tight skirts, throwing smooches to the virile young college boys, having slavered over himself, having lost somewhere in his alcohol-ridden brain any memory of that dark spot on his pants where he’s pissed himself.

       He gives me a grin. “Have you found Jesus, brother?” he says.

       “I didn’t know He was lost,” says I.

       It was an old joke but he smiled, shook his head, gave me a blank, happy stare that made me realize he didn’t remember me from the days before the do-gooders cleaned up Times Square. “Any spare change?” says he, so I give old Pistol Pete a fiver. He turns it over, snaps it a couple of times. His lips part in silent thanks, and he’s on his way down Broadway, heading for a place where he can buy a `shortie Rose,’ which is a bottle of Wild Irish Rose wine, get his head messed up.

       Running into Pistol Pete that way, even if it was only in a dream, made me feel warm inside, like at least one of the old derelicts was still around, stinking up Times Square, bothering the tourists, leaving the face of human degradation out there for everybody to see, the pissed pants of a lost human soul. Yeah, I know, Pistol Pete died in a drunk tank a long time ago, and those people in that porn film weren’t really out on the wing during all the dives and loops.

       I’m not stupid.

       As old Hans Aough, my personal spiritual and philosophical compass, used to say, ‘Dreams, you know, don’t care about space or time.’

- M. E. McMullen

Note: This piece was originally published in issue #10 of Avatar Review (2008)


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Mark Burgh – Dead Man

Dead Man

St. Mark’s Place at dawn, trash blown, summer light’s perfect clarity so good for artists, wasted here. Lower Manhattan, brick walls remain, black-painted window sills. Somehow I thought the old world hanging on here had some right
to peace, even if then or now, there was no peace. From Alphabet City I walk, young enough to be thrilled about it.  He lay: rags, or a bag of trash.  But a gray-brown face. But black pants, legs bent, shoes gone, one foot bare. I crossed the street. He looked asleep, but something lay too still.  The street rose up around him, a pavement’s song, linear harmony, dun and straight. I saw death,  & dancing toward the Village, I wondered what this conversation meant: am an urn to filled with flecks of ash, broken centuries later on the floor of sea amid rotten keels, home of colored fish, or, a funnel for all senses, piling cryptic lines like off-kilter bricks in a sagging building? Beneath the arch, later, I ate a roll, drank coffee. Let the pinwheels whir. Nothing crosses my mind about this dead man. I don’t know dead men, eyes open to sky like prophets.  I do know what dry bread requires: butter.

- Mark Burgh

Author’s Note:

“Dead Man” comes from a real life experience of mine while attending Film School at New York University in 1987.  I’ve been thinking about this memory for many years and wanted to reflect the scene, the season and impact of seeing a body on the streets of New York.

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Elliot Andreopoulos – Cassius, Goodbye!

Cassius, Goodbye!

Cassius O’Haloran was a loyal customer of Matlock Savings Bank.  He opened his first account as a youngster to deposit the pennies he found in the street, the same account seventy years later holding over one million dollars.  In the interim he opened numerous checking and savings accounts, personal lines of credit, credit cards, investments, a safe deposit box and a home equity loan that nearly caused him to lose the house his father built.  Safe to say, Matlock Savings Bank made a great deal of money off him.  He didn’t have a family and he enjoyed going to the bank and talking with the tellers, whom he treated like the grandchildren he never had. 
            Cassius took a trip to the bank to order checks and sat with the new banker whose upside down nametag read Alana.  She was an attractive twenty something with makeup caked on her face.  Her approach for a simple check order was a shock because she tried to sell him every product, practically holding him prisoner at her desk.  The one service he didn’t have was online bill pay, and though he repeatedly reiterated he wasn’t interested, she set it up for him, inputting his two credit cards to be paid. 

            A week later he got a phone call from the bank saying he was overdrawn.  He figured it was a mistake because he never overdrafted his account before.  He went to Alana, who explained he was overdrawn because his bill payments went through and caused seven checks to bounce.  He argued that he never authorized the bill payments and became enraged when she said she could only refund one of the $35 dollar fees he incurred.  He asked to speak to the manager and waited for twenty minutes, only to get the same explanation.

            Cassius left the bank insulted and enraged.  He was going to close his accounts, but that wasn’t punishment enough.  Then again, there was nothing he could do to hurt a multibillion dollar corporation.  He thought in the parking lot and came up with nothing other than petty vandalism crimes that he didn’t have the strength or desire to commit.  The homeless looking man who peddled the streets with freshly caught fish in a rolling cooler walked past.  Then it struck him.  He could stuff a fish into his safe deposit box.  It would smell putrid after continual enclosed rotting and would kill business for sure.  It wasn’t illegal to put in, but it was illegal for the bank to force it open without his authorization.   

            He returned to the bank holding the fish in a black plastic bag.  He told Alana he wanted to go to his safe deposit box and in her poor customer service she directed him to the teller line instead of doing it herself.  He was taken to his box by Mae, a teller he was usually friendly with, however she practically threw his safe deposit box at him, like she was under orders to mistreat him.    

            He went into the private room where he removed the papers he kept and slid in the fish.  He exited the private room and Mae returned the box to the vault without noticing.


            A week passed without word from the bank.  It was riveting thinking about the damage he was causing, he hadn’t felt any emotion for years.  He looked for menial jobs to pass the time and combat his loneliness, but he was never hired, a combination of the poor economy and his age.  Maybe things would have been different if he got married and had children.  Sadly, the fake camaraderie he built with the staff at the bank was all he had.  He failed in life.  Some days he fooled himself into believing that was everything was fine, he was a millionaire after all, but money wasn’t enough.  He craved interaction and love and had none of it, and the sad part was he never would. 

            His phone rang, a rare occurrence.  “Hello?” he answered.

            “Is this Mr. O’Haloran?”


            “This is Curtis Stapleton, District Manager of Matlock Savings Bank.  Let me level with you Mr. O’Haloran, you put something in your deposit box that is causing an appalling smell.  I know you received terrible customer service and I’m sorry.  I’ve removed all the fees charged to your account so please remove whatever you have in there.”

            The bank was showing what a weak position it had.  They didn’t have a key for his box, so they were playing the waiting game, hoping against hope he would come in.  He wouldn’t back down.  They couldn’t take advantage of him and get off so easily.  They were dealing with Cassius O’Haloran, a gunnery sergeant who valiantly fought in the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star at Heartbreak Ridge.  He was not to be intimidated! 

            “I’m very busy,” he replied.

            “We are getting a court order.  I hate to see a situation where you get in trouble with the law.”

            “I’ll think about it,” he said and hung up the phone with no intentions of going.


            Cassius ran out of pocket money two days after the phone call, so he went to the bank because he had no other source to obtain cash.  He shunned modern technology, especially debit cards.  He walked to the bank where the branch manager and distinguished looking gentleman were waiting outside.  The branch manager snickered at the distinguished looking gentleman and nodded his head.

            “Cassius!  I’m Curtis Stapleton, I spoke to you a couple of days ago!”

            “Yes,” Cassius replied.

            “We should be getting the court order any minute now, so to avoid problems how about you just remove what you have to remove?”

            “Why should I?”

            “Because you are worthless and better quit while you’re ahead.  You’re a damn hood rat who is lucky cameras are here to stop your smashing in your skull!”

            “Why do care so much about the bank?  You didn’t start it.”

            “I take everything personally.  Shit balls like you can’t go into the business I am responsible for and boss me around.”

            “You’re right.  I’ll open my box.  You’ve convinced me.”

            Curtis looked at him oddly, but took him at his word and opened the door to the branch.  Cassius entered the lobby and his stomach heaved.  It smelled worse than the dead bodies he bulldozed into a mass grave in Korea and the overpowered air fresheners only exacerbated the smell.

            “Box number 245,” Cassius said and handed his key to Curtis.

            Curtis opened the safe deposit vault with the smell getting even stronger.  He handed the box to Cassius, who was choking back vomit.  He opened it and saw the dead fish had turned into a liquid.  He took the box and flung the contents at Curtis, getting it all over his suit, causing a chain reaction of puking by all three of them.

            “I’m not a damn bum you pompous horse’s ass!” Cassius screamed and ran out of the bank, laughing like he was a child again.   

- Elliot Andreopoulos

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Sarah Clayville – Expectations


You predict that running into the other woman will be traumatic, catastrophic, a ripping of the sandy earth beneath your feet.  You’ve studied enough Jerry Springer reruns to know that a millisecond of the meeting might prove exciting, the pulled hair and a nervous energy that drags you into actions you’ve never felt capable of before.  Your body will instinctually discern how to throw a punch, fingers curled into a fleshy puppet bent on exacting revenge.  Time will slow to a crawl while you savor every word you say, every inch of respect you reclaim.

Except when the moment happens, nothing you expected plays out.  It is sickeningly comical how mundane the incident is.  The apartment, his apartment, smells like dust and mildewed soap.  The other woman hangs back behind a spare bedroom door, because there is no bravery or excitement present.  There is, in fact, a distinct lack of passion.  When you walk into the hiding room, you realize that you are the only passionate being present.  Everything else fades to a milky white.  You want to laugh except it will seem out of place.  Both of them deserve the silence they’ve created for themselves.  You have your daughter in your arms, and when the two of you leave there will be laughter at home.  You save your laughter for the places that deserve it.

And all of the fears, that she would be prettier or exotic, disappear and you understand that she isn’t even a person.  Rather she’s the physical embodiment of all the ugliness your soon to be ex-husband was hiding in the corners of his body, beneath his pillow at night right after he whispered I love you.  She is tangled vines and drooping intentions wearing a smirk that could be blown away with a cool puff of breath.  One word whispers behind your ears as you turn and descend a staircase actually carrying you upward.


- Sarah Clayville

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Mark Burgh – The Spies of Warsaw

The Spies of Warsaw

Cold rain stammers on lines of street bricks, worn ideas in rows, stained with tar or blood; read them at your leisure, coffee smoldering in her cup, your sweater bunched at the elbows. Eye shadow left open on the sink. Of tears there is a novel, or dictionary of smudged intentions. Here is a man, there a woman. That’s all the franchise needs to boil. Someone coughs in the night. Match snaps fire, lights a face for a moment. You gave up piano years ago, regrets are fool’s cash. A car door slams. It’s time to leave. Or time for two men to drag you out. Where the trees recline in winter. Dirt garnered, a congregation praying above the dug hole. The only prayer you’ll get or need. Mother draped a shawl over your shoulders. Stunk of naphtha & old cigars. The cinema barked in English, a Victrola wound down like days, tired Mozart. That first kiss in the cemetery just before the war. Fingers like upward rain on your legs. That boy died at Tannenberg, you think. Now like two lovers they walk you through the loam. Hold you under the arms. This the gift you always wanted, to be desired to the point of death, to be held so close. The city’s distant, painted gray in the weather. Tomorrow the maid will unlock the door to nothing but your yellow cat blinking on the sill. The final satisfaction: you never liked her anyway.

- Mark Burgh

Author’s Note:

“The Spies of Warsaw” is a poem about the life of young woman who takes up the role of spy and pays with her life.  This poem is an experiment for me, since I wrote it with a woman’s voice.  The novel of the same title inspired [it], and I wrote poem while watching the BBC production of the same name.

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Bruce Costello – The Flying Nightingale

The Flying Nightingale

Margaret’s friend Joseph visited her regularly in that lonesome hour between supper and bedtime. He always sat across from Margaret on the lounge suite.
  “Do you know why I enjoy you coming, Joseph?” she asked him one night, early in their relationship. “It’s because you don’t know anything.”
  Joseph raised an eyebrow.
  “I mean, you don’t claim to know anything. You never jump in with advice or criticism. You just listen. That’s why I can tell you things.”
  “Thank you,” Joseph murmured, with a nod.
  Joseph talked quietly and his nodding was thoughtful and sensitive. Margaret knew nothing about his life. He never talked about himself. She didn’t ask where he came from or how he could materialize in her lounge.
  She knew she felt safe with him. She deduced all she needed to know from his caring eyes, and from his ears, which heard and understood every word, including some she didn’t say.
  When Joseph spoke, his words were gentle and timely. He seldom asked questions. Occasionally, he made a witty remark to ease Margaret’s tension.
  He kept his shoes shiny and his hair combed, and sometimes Margaret saw cat hairs on his trouser legs. She liked that about him.
  Each time he called, he stayed for about an hour, said good night and vanished.
  Margaret told Joseph about her life. She was raised in London, an only child. Her parents died in the blitz. Margaret joined the RAF’s nursing service and after the Normandy landing, was one of the Flying Nightingales, nurses who flew on transports, often under fire, to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefields.
  “We weren’t allowed parachutes. If our plane got shot up and was going to crash, we had to stay with it to help any wounded who survived.” She made a face. “It was long ago, but seems like yesterday. Terrifying, dramatic, great days, just about forgotten now. Nobody around here has heard of the Flying Nightingales. I get blank looks.”
  Margaret told Joseph about hideous things she had never spoken of before. Tears streamed from her eyes. She sobbed and shook. Joseph stood beside her and put his hand on her shoulder until she calmed herself and was able to continue. Continue Reading »


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