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Thom Mahoney – Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

She lived in the third floor apartment of a very tall and narrow brownstone at the south end of the District. A spindly tree of indeterminable age sprawled skyward and cast a dark and cool shadow across the building, its branches and leaves reflected in her window, looking so much cooler than the summer night sky it was mirroring.

A long and wide cement staircase tumbled down from double white doors, curving for the last five steps that widened as they reached the sidewalk. A cast iron railing provided guidance and comfort and a feeling of security.

He had been out for a walk that first July evening, clearing his head from something he’d been trying to write, failing miserably, the sickness of the silence digging deeper into him than ever before. The sun had set, the day’s humidity still hung in the air, and he heard her voice long before he could locate her.

He slowed as he approached her building, looking up through the branches of the tree, aware of how suspicious he must appear, his head tipped back, his eyes searching the windows of the apartment building. And when he located her open window, the source of the magic, he backed against the wall created by the tumbling staircase and listened in the darkness of the shade-tree and the stillness of the night.

And when she was finished with the aria, he stood there a long time, hoping, waiting, eager for more. But there was no more.

So he returned the following night, and the night after that, and all of the nights for the remainder of the summer and into the fall, tucked with his back against the staircase wall, as she sang spirituals and show tunes, pop and jazz and scat, waiting for her to sing once again the aria he first heard. But she sang one tune each night, and no more.

He wanted to meet her. During his days, he devised plans to be standing at the base of those stairs to greet her, to introduce himself, to learn her name, to explain how she had cured him, saved him, the magic regality of her voice, of her.

Even as the cold rains of winter chased closed all the windows of every building on her street and all those around the District, he stood with his back against the wall created by the tumbling concrete staircase until he, too, was chased away.

And when the New Year and the wet spring had passed, finally, he returned to find her window closed, and he stood with his back to the stairway wall and listened as the night gave way to thumping stereos and roaring motorcycles and lonely cats crying in the alley.

– Thom Mahoney

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Joel Netsky – The Existentialists

The Existentialists

All to him was a morass, a hurly-burly intertwining of decomposition and formation, of crumbling and construction, the eternal transformation of space at every moment. Wherever he looked he saw decline and ascent, the rise and fall of seas past the farthest horizons. Cities crumbled, elsewhere cities rose; into the pits was gravel poured to staunch the demise by being a new ground for new birth, which soon would grey and become mulch.

“What is the purpose of life?”

“According to the Existentialists there is no inherent meaning to the universe except what one gives to it.”

– Joel Netsky

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H.E. Saunders – The Plus Sign

The Plus Sign

She looked at the six shots lined up before her. They stared her down. One, two, three, four, five and six. All vodka. All full to the top and waiting. A lemon-flavored Gatorade stood at the end, the ugly duckling of the bunch. 
 

She had heard that a fetus less than twelve weeks old would not survive six shots of alcohol. It was how all those sorority girls had gone to keggers and fraternity hookups every weekend and rarely taken home a little linebacker. It was just too much for something that fragile. Something that new and pure. It didn’t matter what poison she picked, any one would do the job. She refused to hear the term “aborted” in her head.  

She didn’t know if it was twelve weeks. Less than, or more. It seemed so long since Jake had left and there had been so many men after. Night after night of letting men drown her sorrows and then drowning herself in them. It was comforting in the repetition, in the endorphins, in the release, in the distance. It was comfortable in the night when she knew she wasn’t alone but was still free. It was shaming in the repetition, in the addiction, in the hiding, in the insecurity. It was shameful in the morning when they left without looking back, revealing her to be empty and weak.   Continue Reading »

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Laura Baber – Out Past Where the Mangroves End

Out Past Where the Mangroves End

My name is Sunditi Desai and I am dead. I did not know it, not at first, when I woke to the natural up and down rhythm of the boat on the river. I am the daughter and grand-daughter of fishermen; the neighbor, wife and mother of fishermen. Waking up out here alone didn’t seem so strange to me. It was only when I lifted myself up on the red edged corners of the canoe, and the fancy jewelry we saved for death and marriages bobbed against my earlobes and wrists, did I begin to know the truth of it. I’m 86 years old. I wasn’t getting married.

I rubbed my thumb against the gold bracelets that wrapped around my arms; followed the silver embroidery of a bright white sari I’d never owned; traced the dark spray of moles on the skin of my forearm. Skin that was lusher, plumper, more lovely than any that had been mine for 50 years at least. This is how I knew.

“You’re dead Suniti Desai,” my own voice whispered to me, come up from deep within my bowels. I wondered how it had come to pass, my death. Had it been sudden and violent? Crushed under oxen hooves or fallen from that slat bridge over the gorge? Or was it a slow creep, disease snuck in through an ear canal or an eyelid fluttered open in a dream. I wouldn’t know. Couldn’t. But I could still smell the jasmine garlands they were—my family, friends and neighbors—even now dropping into the river behind me.

I turned back to the shoreline to watch them set the paper boats into the water, each ship burning with a single, lit tea candle. The only light in a night without the sliver of a moon, without even a star to guide me. I could hear them chanting, their voices rising up in unison. Crying and wailing. I did not try to grasp their sounds into my heart. Instead I let their voices carry over the water and break against the wake of my boat, float away on its rippled waves. The life I had lived was already distant and hazy; a childhood dream long since left unattended. Continue Reading »

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Kim Peter Kovac – Elements

Elements

We like to think we’re built of major, minor, and trace elements, which use DNA as the recipe to mix and combine in patterns to make blood, bones, organs, skin,and such. Wrong. We are made of words. Words are in us from birth. As we grow, words take on meanings, so they can be combined and recombined indifferent patterns. Phrases and later sentences lock together, shaping how we move through our lives, more as architecture than language. Some of our words look inward and some outward, and we need a full complement of each. If some inward words are missing, we are incomplete. If some outward words are missing, there are gaps in our connections with others and these gaps are the distances between us. We are made of words, which are the elements of stories. As we learn to combine and recombine more and more words at the same time, they become stories, an infinite number of stories. All of our stories,together, make up the DNA of our culture and consciousness. Our stories ride with us as we walk through our days

– Kim Peter Kovac

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Siamak Vossooughi – Why

Why

     The way that a single man carries the human race is a mystery. Some men carry it so closely that they have a place to put the catastrophes of human behavior when they come their way. They have a place for them in their body and on their face.

     When the newspaper told Kamal Abdi in the morning of Nicaraguans killed or Salvadorans killed or Palestinians killed, he would make a place for them inside him. It was what he had always done. You started with the premise that the space you could make for them was infinite. Until human beings got it right, that was what it had to be.

     On Saturday mornings, something very bright and alive would happen. On those days, he would not have to make a place for them inside him because he would have breakfast with his son. His son, who was ten years old, wanted to know. He wanted to know about all of it. It was the world of men. It was something he was going to have to know about when he was older. If he didn’t know about it, who would?

     And so Kamal would be very happy when he told his son the histories of Third World nations, the stories of revolutions and counter-revolutions. Not everything had to go inside him. Some things could come out, and have a place on the table right next to everything that was beautiful about the morning – the bread and the honey and the cool air outside. Right there next to them would be the story of how the people of a brown or black nation had struggled for their liberation, and with his son listening, he saw how much it belonged out in the open. It was a wonderful feeling. It was not that the place he’d made inside himself was a bad place, but it did not have to be the only place. And the new place he’d found was just as infinite as the old one, because the person he was telling was a boy. Continue Reading »

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Jenny Williamson – In the Room

In the Room

It is more than a shadow over my face.
It is my own skull rising out of my skin
in slow motion;
the years piled up in the yard like slaughtered wolves.

Sometimes I catch my death
in the corner of my left eye
and trap it behind a contact lens.

Other times it will not be contained.
Some days it insists on itself
to anyone who will pay attention.

In the last room, I want it to be you.
Bring me a sprig of pussywillow
and all you ever were, in manuscript form.

I will be the old woman
clasping the limp word-corpse of some dead poet
tight to my chest, the smoke of my last burnt offering
rising from my mouth.

Jenny Williamson

*This piece was originally published by 24Mag
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