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Bryce Taylor – What Henry Middleton Had Meant To Do Before Dying

What Henry Middleton Had Meant To Do Before Dying

He had meant to visit Rome, to feed pigeons with fresh Italian bread in the warm shadow of St. Peter’s. Over breakfast he would have swapped stories with fellow pilgrims: a young Parisian filmmaker, perhaps; a one-armed sculptor from the Bahamas; a Canadian bureaucrat who enjoyed mystical visions within the confines of his cubicle. 

He had thought of learning Greek, had daydreamed about translating the New Testament into English, not for publication, but for his own intellectual and spiritual enrichment. He had meant to look up local courses that could accommodate his schedule. 

He had wanted to take up bird watching. Slight callouses would form around his eyes from the binoculars, and he would recognize other bird watchers in the grocery store, not only from their own slight callouses, but from the gentle attentiveness that would accompany their every glance. One of them, perhaps, would be a middle-aged widow by the name of Diane, whose green eyes would appear to discern the presence of angels in an avocado. 

He had intended to become something of a film connoisseur, an expert in Hitchcock, Bergman, Malick, Kaufman. He would watch his favorites dozens of times, write essays with unprecedented observations, post them on a blog that would gain a steady readership. Eventually, a book publisher might notice his work and send an eager email. 

And he had meant, just once, to sit down and observe an oak tree as he had observed one in the 5th grade, when Mrs. Galli had taken the class outside to write. Somehow his poem had gone missing, and he wanted now, decades later, to write the same poem, to use the same metaphors, to compare the branches to wild roller coasters, their tips to fingers reaching up, reaching out, touching only wind.

Bryce Taylor

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H.E. Saunders – The Devious Nap

The Devious Nap

I never intend to set about napping; it catches me off guard, seduces me and pulls me away from consciousness before I can scarce protest. It must be a calm day, or a day when I have too much to do, or a day when I am bored, or really any kind of day at all, because naps are devious in that way.

You never say to yourself “Wow, today would be a great day for a nap. I will go home, walk the dog, nap, prepare dinner, sort laundry, and tidy the house.” No, no. Instead what we say is “I will be productive. I will go home, walk the dog, prepare dinner, sort laundry, and tidy the house.” Of course you can insert whatever other events you would like in this scenario; perhaps you hate laundry and absolutely refuse to do it unless you are down to only one pair of clean underwear and one pair of slightly used socks. I will not judge.

I personally love the fluff of clean fresh clothes and the warmth of them as they are just finished in the dryer. I love nothing more than to bury myself in their inviting softness and heat; to pull a collection of blouses and towels to my face and let the warmth tingle through my skin. It reminds me of when I was young and my mother would pile mounds and mounds of laundry onto her bed for sorting (I have four siblings so really it was a mountain) and I would dash into the room and throw myself headlong into the heap.

If I was quick, or she was in a playful mood, I would be able to burrow between the pants and blankets and socks and school uniforms and curl up like a kitten. The joy was always short-lived, however, because she would either snatch me from beneath the laundry and task me to sorting and folding, or she would leave me be to play, but the heat would dissipate too quickly, escaping through the sleeves and thin fabrics. And I would be left in a pile of nothing; a mountain of chores and stack of responsibility. But the memory of those moments in my kitten laundry cave is so delicious that I cannot stop myself from pulling my toasty laundry to my face every time as I pull it from the dryer. My eyes close and my heart sighs and my skin tingles.

But laundry isn’t always so indulging and sometimes a nap surprises me when I am trying to hide from responsibility. I suppose some would call it stress napping but I call it playing hide-and-seek with reality. All of the to-do lists and bills and appointments are very firmly stuck in the calendar, while my naps are endless diversions that care nothing of the calendar, if they even acknowledge it. And when I awaken, usually to find I have just missed an appointment or to-do item, I am always surprised at the devious nature of the nap.

When I call my missed appointment to apologize (and reschedule – reality requires it) I never tell them I was napping. I am quite sure the person on the other end would not understand. He or she would assume me to be lazy or inconsiderate, when really truly I am a simple victim. I made no plans to miss our appointment, to leave reality behind. The nap reached out and snatched me; kidnapped even! To be angered with me is to be angered with the victim. I was helpless as my eyes drooped and the world became hazy around the edges. I was still planning on going to my appointment, so my nap, ever so deviously, slipped my mind into a dream. Perhaps it’s a moment’s wandering about how the pool feels right now, on this hot summer day; how I could dip my toes into the water and let the coolness tingle up my leg, my side, my back up to the top of my head and the chill runs back down and the water is so bright and enticing and . . .

– H.E. Saunders

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William Greenfield – Dusk

Dusk

There is an ebbing of spirit;
The part that marvels at a sailor’s sunset

or finds solitude in the noise that crickets make.
In the coming twilight I will perform a life sustaining
walk past rolling leas and century
old farm houses. My arms and legs will
function like the involuntary beating of a heart.
I do hope that one day soon
a resolute spirit will resurface;
one that yearns fascination, like those
that come and flutter their powdered wings
seeking but a brief respite from the darkness,
one that can laugh along with a farmer’s
children at the morning bus stop,
one that can acquiesce to the
fading light of days.

William Greenfield

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Kim Peter Kovac – Garcia Lorca and Darwish at the Alhambra de Granada

Garcia Lorca and Darwish at the Alhambra de Granada

A frail man with a shock of hair and transparent skin shuffles across a red stone courtyard in the heart of Andalusia.  Amidst a cluster of buildings, he knows he must find the Citadel, and is drawn right, right, and then left. A Nasrid archway crowned with an arabesque leads to a long, dimly lit corridor, ending at a wooden door strapped with iron.  As he lifts his fist to knock, rusted hinges chirp, and he enters an impossibly tall cylindrical room lined with shelves overflowing with parchments and books.   As he slowly scans the rows of writing,  a soft swirling sound fills the room, a deep song of distant voices that covers his skin, enters his body, spirals within, and finally fills his heart.  At that moment the light switches in a pulse-beat to a hot white.

Now visible is a wiry younger man rising from a chair.  His piercing obsidian eyes smile gently: Ahlan wa sahlan, Mahmoud.  As the frail man replies Muchas Gracias he is surprised to speak in a tongue he does not know.

You look like . . .

Yes, jameel sha’er.  I am Federico.

But you were executed decades ago, yes?

Naam, I was. Shot in the heart.  Then my duende brought me here, to this place of death and words.

Federico stands very still and chants softly, not Spanish or Arabic, but ancient syllabic sounds, low and counterpointing the room’s choral song. After some time – either very short or very long – he speaks.

Mahmoud, your duende, your dark djinni, knew the third time surgeon’s steel pierced your heart would be the last.  In the guise of a hoopoe she guided you here to the home of the hopes of your tribe.  She knew that when the deep song of this room filled your heart, it would stop. 

And it did.

Chant with me.

Mahmoud now begins to chant, a slower rhythm and a microtone lower than Federico.  A glow the color of the desert moves from his feet, up through his torso, and out his back.  There the light becomes hoopoe wings, which free themselves and swoop up and down the room’s cylinder.  Federico offers him clear water from the Fountain of the Lions, and gestures for him to select something to read.  Mahmoud finds an ancient leather-bound volume, sits, and gently opens it.  As he blows the dust off, the printed words separate from the page and begin to fly, over his head, over Federico’s, up and around the room, like hundreds of tiny hoopoes.


Kim Peter Kovac

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Debra Danz – What She Found

What She Found

She found a finger swimming in her split pea soup.  It was fraternizing with the carrots and onions, acting as if it owned the crock it swam in.  She insisted that the finger jump out immediately. When it refused, she bit it, only to realize that it was her own – it throbbed for a while.

She found a foot on a warm sandy beach in St. Thomas, so she invited it to join her in the tranquil sea but the foot wouldn’t move.  She watched it from a distance still hoping to find a way to persuade it, but she couldn’t.   Much to her dismay, the foot sank deeper and deeper into the sand until it was swallowed up – it didn’t leave any prints. 

She found a golden nugget wedged in her tooth. She ordered it to sparkle and shed some light, but instead it dulled and fell to the floor.  The nugget said that it would wait there for someone who might enhance its luster; someone brilliant and polished; someone who was worthy of its radiance.  She stiffened in discomfort and spat out the tooth that the nugget had filled – the hollow tooth rolled into a curbside sewer.  

She found a child’s mind at the bottom of her laundry basket. She stared at it for a very long time wondering who might have lost it.  As if the child’s mind could read her thoughts, it pointed to her.  The mind begged her to move on but she didn’t quite know how to interpret that.  When she told it that she had already exhausted her journey, the mind didn’t cry, it didn’t even whimper; it just waited to be bleached, pressed and neatly folded in her drawer – she wrinkled it and hid it under her bed.  

She found a soul dangling in her closet and wanted to know just how long it planned to hang around. The soul replied, “For all of eternity”.   She considered that to be an unacceptable answer, as she needed more space for her new clothes.  She urged it to vacate by telling the soul that it had no purpose; after all, she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it.  Insulted and saddened the soul flew off in a huff, leaving only its debris to be swept away and more than enough space in her closet – enough space to fill a God-gap.   

She found a bleeding heart crushed under the Twin Towers. It was grieving and wailing, its   pathetic panting prevented it from beating harder.  Its arteries were still attached and stretched out like strong branches beneath a cloudy sky, the kind she could hang on or even embrace, if need be.  She requested that the heart beat faster and stronger; the heart obeyed.  Placing it inside her chest, she adopted it as her own; it didn’t pulse for very long – the tempo changed.

She found an old woman grunting and groaning. When she asked if she could help, the old woman said, “No”.  She questioned the response but the woman didn’t answer.  She looked deep into the woman’s eyes, which mirrored her own reflection and then she kicked her – knowing that the hurt would be her own. 

She found a wedding ring at the bottom of her jewelry box and demanded the ring to slip over her swollen finger but it claimed to be afraid of the teeth marks.  She spun the ring in circles until it was dizzy and disoriented; she spun it so fast that it pleaded for pity.  Finally she put it on a golden chain and wore it as a necklace – it burned a hole in her skin. 

She found her diary standing naked in the window of a bookshop; the pages were dog-eared and it was offered at half price.  She went inside the shop and reached for the diary but it winced with pain as it shed its cover.  The pages fell to the floor one after the other, unmasking their misgivings and mishaps.  There was only one blank page, and it was left standing – she tore it to shreds.

She found her shadow sneaking out one night and followed it to the rooftop. Suddenly it lost its balance and fell; she snatched its hand to save it from a 20-story plunge.  The shadow weighed too heavy for her frail hand so she lost her grip on its fingers and they slipped away one by one.  Surprisingly, its bruised and bitten ring finger was the last to let go; she decided to detach it from the rest of the hand in order to keep it for memory’s sake.  Whilst the shadow was still in decent, she summoned one final request – all she asked for – was another chance – she didn’t find it.

Debra Danz

Author’s Commentary:

“What She Found” was written while I was battling with grief over the loss of my husband. It was meant to describe my attempt to redefine my identity and reemerge as a functional human being. It’s a collection of my innermost thoughts on grief and how I viewed mundane tasks while balancing the burden of hopelessness and despair. At some point I was overwhelmed with sorrow and looked for a way to detach myself from it – but I didn’t find it.

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Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri – Traces

Traces

The moon shines through silver-gray clouds.  My sister huddles beside my bed.

“It’s all right.” She wipes my tears. “Life offers something unexpected and surprising underneath the rocks.”

I smile, staring at the lights across the hillside. She knew Dad would leave. It’s a pity, the way she gets used to these things. First there was Mom, drifting in and out of our lives. She always said when she got in touch with who she was, she’d send for us. Personal happiness was the most important thing.

Then there was Margaret’s accident. She’d gone to Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour, when he played Philadelphia. She got hit by some Vietnam vet after the concert.

She was in the hospital for a month.

I stole Dad’s car to pick her up, even though I didn’t have a license. The first thing she said to me was that being close to death was like those childhood shadows you thought were monsters, always visible out of the corner of your eye, no matter how hard you tried to run. She wanted to scream, but no one was listening anyway.

Then there are Father’s women.

Margaret was twelve when he brought the first one home. Kate lasted only two days.

“We’ll get on,” she adds now. “We’ll find something better. We’ll leave this place behind.”

“We won’t know anyone.”

“When you’re a stranger, you can start all over.” She squeezes my hand.  “Make it all up. It’s like being in the movies.”

“What about you? What about your college?”

 She shakes her head. Dad threw it away for a red-haired neighbor and we’re left packing.

 Packing photographs of football games and dance-classes past, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, ripped and dog-eared. Telling stories about the people we never became.

Margaret always wanted to be the big-name civil rights lawyer. I was the high-school history teacher. We’d piece together cases and historical facts, as swiftly as puzzle-pieces.

Unlike our lives.

So, we’re packing for glamorous cases and new classrooms, tours of cities unknown.  Boston. Los Angeles. New York.

Stacking every photograph and book in neat little boxes.

Boxes rising like a temple.

Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

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Joel Netsky – The Gentle Folk

The Gentle Folk

I was working in a movie theater as an usher. To the uninitiated, who think that the main vocation of an usher is to keep order – probably as a carry-over from going to movies as a kid – their primary duty is cleaning up: the theaters after the movie, restrooms during the movies, the lobby of fallen popcorn and wrappers.  With my foot I was holding a theater door open as patrons were exiting after a show, my two hands holding wide the mouth of a plastic trashbag for them to deposit their refuse, if they hadn’t already on the floor.  Out of the aether she from the lobby side emerged and asked if she could put a wrapper in

“Sure.”

She did so, and departed.  There are people, I guess like in anything, who take a hankering to a thing for a while, thoroughly enthuse over it for that time, then have their interests take them elsewhere.  Going to movies at theaters was for her in this period of her mortality a way of coping.  In the next few weeks I would see her any number of times in the theater lobby waiting for the evening show to begin.  Invariably she would be sitting on the long couch which extended the length of the side wall, studying the playbill of present and upcoming movies.  Weekdays, especially in winter, slow to a trudge, and individual countenances remain in the memory.  Once or twice had I tried conversation, inquiring about a film; always, though polite, she demurred.

Twice or thrice I saw her in the neighborhood; not once did either acknowledge – the last time she was sitting in a bookstore, reading, distress having seized her features.

An elapse of seasons crossed the heavens.  I was walking on the sidewalk when towards me she approached.  The crispness of late autumn with its clarity of air, the broom of brisk winds having swept away the residual dust, presented her to me as the unicum of a face in a portrait.  She looked well – her appearance almost was as if she had been freshly scrubbed.  Should I say hello?  Yet instead of passing me as a pedestrian, she came up to me as a friend, and said:

We are of the Gentle Folk:

We attach no agenda to our yoke.

As a matter of fact our shoulders are free

To live a life of liberty.

As much as they intimidate

And think that all are filled with hate,

We but remove them from our sight

And live a life of pure delight.

Joel Netsky

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