“SYNTAX” by Ken Poyner

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It is a mystery for some, but not for me.  I have seen it before, and you only have to see it once to be hooked.  It gets into the sinew of you and you cannot help but feel it is both wrong and right, normal and misshapen.  Common and special.

It starts out as an individual thing.  Individuals begin to lose their nouns. They lose their words for places; then they begin to lose their words for things they do not see very often.  Soon, though, it is things and implements that they do see often, that they use and understand. Not long, and the contents of their own living rooms in the majority are not namable, are corporeal but not conversationally a reference other than by direction.

The nouns go.  They do not whisper one last utility and then vanish, nor do they fire out in screams and then collapse in to a woeful spit of flame. No.  You can go down to any drain and see the nouns caught in the eddies created when anything draining away backs up against trash or leaves or anything that makes for a breakwater.  Nouns swirling in meaningless whirlpools, caught in debris at the edges of clipped front yards.

You might fish them out, pen them to a backyard clothesline – in time, use them again.  No one has thought of it.

Soon the individual phenomenon becomes social.  People who have lost nouns realize others – their neighbors and commercial associates – have lost the exact same nouns.  Or at least have lost nouns that are applied in the same way, used in similar circumstances, employed as anchors to conversations embracing the same subjects.  Nouns that in one way or another occupy, for more than one person, the same space – if, nonetheless, for each individual bent just slightly differently around the mystery of syntax.

People note that some have lost nouns primarily around the house; others in more public and wide windy spaces; some in travel alone.

It is only natural that those with similar losses would band together, find in each other’s experiences a common purpose, or at least a common hand.  Even given the similarities, how could someone still retaining most of the nouns for his second story bedroom relate substantively to someone who could not reference his second story at all?

This is not the mystery.  Like to like gather; citizens of similar loss make pact.  But then, so divided and collected, they all continue to lose nouns and ever more are all one and the same:  a collection of divisions grown comfortable but indistinguishable. What once was safety in sameness, now is but pockets of safety, each safe zone an identical light in the dark.

As the nouns grow ever more scarce, sentences begin to lean heavily on their verbs.  Many sentences are resolved to remain incomplete. In fact, it becomes the fashion: short, choppy stabs at meaning.  The speed of everything accelerates. Action. Direction. Order.

Adverbs.  A conjunction.  An article. One marooned noun now and again.  If they cannot define themselves with their nouns, the afflicted will fall to applying their verbs to the problem, to their possessions, to their loved ones.

Verbs that move and angle and propel and position and play and placate and render and uproot and plan.

The last remaining nouns are not yet lost.  Each is happy for a while to be the sole affection of the crowd, and they remain happily intent for as long as they can, relishing the celebrity of scarcity.  But soon the elasticity of the need for them becomes too great. They begin to fray; they begin to hold more meaning than they can focus. They tire. Soon, worn and threadbare and looking almost like verbs unfed, they elect to go.

The last nouns pack what they can salvage from the action-heavy sentences that they have been left to buttress, and walk out of town under cover of the last stand of the adverbials.

The next morning there is nothing but activity in the citizenry’s eyes.  Muscles do not know they are muscles, but they tense prepared for the day’s non-stop eviction of energy, for the coming and going, the racing and the slowing.  Mouths form into the train stations of onrushing blind activity, of continuing and continuing and continuing without the need for conclusion or destination. It is amazing how much dead weight nouns could be.

It is no mystery, not to me, none.  I have seen it before. I ask, without a pronoun, why in all of this would I act?  But hearing is only hearing; listening is only listening; understanding is only understanding.

It is time for me to leave.  I must get home while the house is but a blur and arriving leads to settling leads to resting leads to rejuvenation leads to the wife saying whoever you are:  I am prepared. I am prepared. I am hoping it will become a mystery, though what was once a means to an end is now only a means.

 

Ken’s seventh book, his third collection of mini-fictions, “The Revenge of the House Hurlers” should be available at largely any bookselling site, and possibly a misguided bookstore or two, around the first of February, 2019.  Four of his previous six books are still in print, and two of those are mini-fictions also.

 

Constant Animals, 42 unruly fictions

Victims of a Failed Civics, speculative poetry

The Book of Robot, speculative poetry

Avenging Cartography, 55 bizarre fictions

Available at www.barkingmoosepress.com,

www.amazon.com,  www.sundialbooks.net,

and most bookselling web sites.

‘2 Poems’ by Alina Stefanescu

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gospel of positive thinking

The boy stands near the model train station. His grandpa says my leg hurts. The boy realizes this pain might be a blood clot working its way toward a lung, become an embolus. His grandpa is dying. Like in the story. The boy remembers his brother saying things could always be worse. For example, the boy could hate train sets and still play with them. He could not love his mother. He could watch a puppy press its paw through the space under a door for hours.

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L5-S1. The disc herniated in my lower back. Because I could not press pause in the moment. Because the moment made noise, I wanted to feel the way noise turns inside the bones of a wrist. Because I wanted to ride my naked boyfriend in his tiny red hatchback, my knee bruised from patterned slamming against the stick shift. Because I wanted to know better than how it feels to be known. Because the shadow of a nodding donkey head rose up and down, up and down, stars and oil derricks squabbled for space near the airport. I wanted to keep moving. Because pain wasn’t as interesting as mining the seam of pure motion, I never had a torch song. Because I promised the girl in the hospital bed again and again, I crossed my heavy dark heart and swore pain was just a cheap wah pedal. Not a real Crybaby. Pain would never sate her hunger for life.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with four incredible mammals. Find her poems and prose in recent issues of Juked, DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, New Orleans Review Online, and others. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and will be available in May 2018. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes and President of the Alabama State Poetry Society. More arcana online at http://www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.

‘2 Poems’ by Joe Pickard

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A Little Control

I like to have control of the television remote
and I worry it might be because I am a man.

I know the change in dynamics
can make my ears itch in the white noise
of adverts. Coupled with a conversation
in the background, it can put me on edge—
I want to have the power to hide this
by casually lowering the volume to an even number.

My friend once said his erect penis was the same
size as a Sky+ remote, which I accepted as fact.

I wonder if there is a connection here—
they say a gun is a phallic symbol
and with the television remote I can kill
off any character with mute or standby,
then play god by bringing them back
with the touch of a button.

But I know that when I am trying to think
the sound from the television acts like a lobotomy.

I am sure it is just a way to take control
of my own body, and I always ask her
what she wants to watch, and I don’t ‘do’ sports
and I don’t like to have the indecision of choice

but I like to be the one to push the buttons and
control the volume, but I worry there is more to it than that.

Opening the Door

There is a moment’s pause before her greeting,
before she recognises me
or pretends that she does.

She avoids proper names.
Instead she waits until she reads the tag
on the poorly wrapped Christmas present

and then she uses it too often
to make sure it sinks in
or to try and reassure me
she remembers who I am.

Joe Pickard works as a journalist in London. He studied English with Creative Writing at the University of Chester. He has had writing published in Nine Muses Poetry, Crossways, Confluence, Prole, and elsewhere. He is the founding editor of Pulp Poets Press, which is always looking for submissions. Twitter: @PoetsPulp

“Shooting Johnny” by Terry Dawley

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The sun festered overhead like an inflamed boil while we sweltered in the train yard and waited for them to shoot Johnny.

I raised a hand to my brow to shielded my eyes from daggers of sunlight, glinting off the polished rails, and peered at those gathered to witness the affair. They were the faces of familiar strangers.

“Where is he?” I whispered to Tom, standing next to me.

He nodded in the direction of Johnny’s sisters. “Over there.”

Sherri, the older of the two, wearing a solemn expression, had Johnny pressed tightly against her chest. He was ashen and featureless. Their mother stood beside them, her face a mask of confused numbness.

It wasn’t every day that a mother would watch her son get shot on the tracks.

Sad as it was, it was a fitting way for Johnny to be disposed. He’d always had a thing for blowing shit up and burning things down. Like the time he’d set fire to the wooden walls on the inside of a boxcar with flares he’d stolen from a caboose.  

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The oily smell of creosote bleeding from the sun-heated railroad ties took me back to happier days. I could almost hear the creaking sway of a slow-moving line of cars being shuttled about by a switcher engine—see the younger versions of us partying in an empty boxcar with a keg of stolen beer—feel the giddy flutter of excitement while hightailing from the law.

The crunch of tires on the cinder access road brought me back to the here and now.

A pickup truck rumbled toward us.

“It’s here,” Tom said out of the corner of his mouth.

“Where’d they get something like this from?”

“Friend of Frankie’s.” Tom swiped a hand across his sweat-beaded forehead. “Guess he’s a tool and die guy.”

The truck came to a stop a few feet away from the group of us. Frankie stepped out the passenger side door, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, his eyes squinted against the smoke. Some guy I didn’t know got out the driver’s side. Both went to the rear of the pickup and the tailgate banged open.

Though the cannon was only about the size of an overfed poodle, I could tell by the strain on their faces when they hefted it from the bed of the truck that it had some weight to it. The two of them muscled it between a set of rails and eased it down.

“Jesus Christ,” Frankie muttered, the cigarette between his lips jerking with every word. “That little sucker’s heavy.” He massaged the small of his back.

The guy I didn’t know knelt down on one knee and tinkered with the midget piece of artillery. He ran a hand over its sleek barrel as if it were the thigh of a lover. It was easy to see the thing was his pride and joy.

Someone burped.

I glanced over at Peanut. His face was lost inside a tangled mass of graying beard and shaggy hair. A pair of jaundice eyes—like two piss holes sunk into a dirty snowbank—stared back at me. In his shaky hand, he clutched a can of Bud. “Scuse me,” he said, the beard spreading enough for me to catch glimpse of his sparse-tooth grin.

“She’s ready!”

I turned my attention back to the guy and his cannon. He stood, brushed some cinder from his knee, and gave a thumbs up.

With an air of somber formality, the sisters escorted their brother forward to meet his explosive destiny, while their mother sniffed and dabbed a tissue at her reddened, puffy eyes.

When they passed by Peanut he raised the can of Bud as if he were about to make a toast. “So long, Johnny,” he slurred, brought the beer to his whisker-curtained mouth, tilted his head back, and chugged the can dry, then crunched it in his hand and let loose another belch.

The sisters walked Johnny to the front of the cannon. With their backs toward the assembled group of witnesses, they positioned him, then stepped to the side out of the line of fire.

A current of electrified anticipation crackled throughout the group when Cannon Guy leaned forward, struck a lighter and held the flame to a fuse poking from the top of the barrel. It caught, hissed snake-like, and curled into itself on a slow sizzling burn. Everyone—with the exception of Johnny—held their breath.

The bark of the poodle-sized artillery had the volume of a bull mastiff. Ears ringing, I watched in open-mouthed shock as a gray cloud exploded into the air.

“Holy shit!” Tom adjusted the hearing aid in his right ear. “Somebody’s gonna call the cops.”

Sherri stepped back up to the cannon. She dipped her hand into the plastic freezer baggie she held, scooped out more of the powdery ash, and reloaded the cannon with another fistful of Johnny.

 

Terry Dawley resides in the snowbelt of Erie, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, The Cleveland Review, Soft Cartel, and Law Enforcement Today. He is an award winner of the Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition and a five-time award winner of the Pennwriters Annual Writing Contest.

Nick’s Poetic Ponderings -“Getting Rich the Easy Way”

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Have you ever thought to yourself: “ahhhh geeze, I wish I could ask a poet for life advice,”? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m Nick, a real-life poet, and I’m here to give you guidance.

 

Today’s Question:


“Dear Nick,

I’m going to be getting my tax return back soon, but I’m not sure what I should do with the money. Do I pay my bills or buy something exciting?

Thanks,
-Fiscally Frightened”


 

 

Dear Fiscally Frightened,

I’m gonna be blunt with you, friend: both of these ideas are terrible. Paying your bill is boring and buying something cool is a onetime thrill.

You need to be able to buy yourself new stuff constantly.

Which is why you need to invest that tax return, baby.

I’m not talkin’ the stock market, none of that billionaire nerd ass shit. You gotta do it the good old fashion way. Here’s your best bet for stretching that tax return to the stratosphere:

Option one: Have you been eying some dunks? Or some Birkenstocks? Why waste your money on a fresh pair, when you can put your DIY ethos to action. No, I’m not saying make your own shoes, I’m saying make your own sweatshop.

How do you think Nike makes all that money? Do you think they’d pay bills with their tax return, if they paid taxes in the first place? Of course not.

Just find some kids, pay them pennies to work, and you’re all set.

Option two: Let me explain a little economics 101 for you. When you receive money, the amount you have is finite. That means that when you spend it, you’re going to eventually run out.

But there’s a really neat hashtag lifehack to get around that: counterfeit money from Wish dot com.

Wish sells a whole lot of fake money. Some is designed for movie props or whatever, and a lot just has some Chinese characters printed on top. That’s totally fine though, just get $1s and $5s. No one checks that shit.

Just sneak yourself a fake $1 in between two real $1s; 7-11 ain’t gonna notice. Buy a Slurpee with it. Shove candy bars in the Slurpee cup before you fill it.

Boom. You just paid three dollars and left with like $6 worth of shit.

Option three: Why take a lump sum when you can easily quadruple your money at any Kroger in the country?

That’s right baby, I’m talkin about the magic of scratch offs.

You invest your whole tax return, turn that thing into a bunch of $1 lottery tickets, you’re bound to make it all back and then some.

Like, I haven’t actually done the math on this but it seems to make sense. If you buy enough, you’ll probably end up with a quarter of a million in no time.

 

And really, that’s all there is to it. Just invest your money in any of the above ways and watch your “bread,” as the kids say, multiply.

 

Have a question for Nick? DM him on Twitter! @dollartreevegan

‘3 Sonnets’ By Erik Fuhrer

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These poems are from a longer work titled The Voyage Out Sonnets, a page by page erasure of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. During the process of erasure, I moved chapter by chapter and then formed what I had into 50 experimental sonnets. Solmaz Sharif has convincingly linked poetic erasure to government censorship, which every erasure project certainly risks replicating. Woolf herself had to censor herself in her novel in order to get published. Since the intent of this project is to celebrate rather than censor, I was careful and mindful not to redact but to highlight Woolf’s words. Rather than physically blackening out words during my process, I left Woolf’s original text clean and instead circled words that I believed revealed the multiple possibilities in the original text. I highlighted language over narrative and provided agency and voice to animals and inanimate objects, which Virginia Woolf often does herself in her later work, such as “Kew Gardens.” For the most part, I did not add anything to the text, with the exception of the rare addition of an “s” at the end of a word. I also occasionally cobbled together a word from individual letters. That said, Woolf’s individual language remains mostly intact and unadulterated in these poems, which intend to pay homage to Woolf’s original text.

Voyage Out Sonnet 43

Bracelets absorbed slippery light across the room. Glimpses
spite long wrist muscles twitching to moods. Laughs muddle
burning hot voices. Sirens kiss wet cheeks with drops of cold water.
A chill pressed a gaze. Now quite dry eyes inebriate homes
with a slight smile. A profusion of bones sat up with animation, talking
about art. A lowered voice under skin talks with more pause
than breath. Slipped eyes push back fleshy
windows. Life crushed the body into reflection, losing
bright intimacy. The spark of night cut the eyes slowly. Yellow plucking
opened dark red music. Pleasure hooked
a lump of ginger in a slim elegant jar. Matter tipped untouched. Shipwreck
makes its appearance a kind of charm. The neck locking to whirl a spark in silence.
Grey coils fasten to time’s upper body, hooking the eyes
back to the light. Glass stiffens about tongues, descending.

Voyage Out Sonnet 44

The world floated in a dream. Ashtray sleep shapes
feverish red escape. A vision flames glass over the dust. Hot
silence murmured with dogs on a river in the sky. Sleep
touches careful chills in cheeks, leaves crushed chatter underneath the home.
A small sun stood between ruins. Rivers strode to empty
light beneath the diving night. Murmuring
sleep smelled of smoke. Cigarettes undressed
the darkness. The sky shapes landmarks into unknown mornings.
Red shrieks strangling high night. A chuckle flickered
and narrowed like a cathedral. Leaves fruit groans. Covered green
silence ate beneath the shore. Hot scents lace the stems of eyes. Drowsy
reflections of snakes shade the hour. Yellow creepers crimson
the sunlight circling red fruit. Animals patch sunlight with late fingers.
Bodies edge the river rocks for scraps. Dogs smoking a cigarette remember a stable yard.

Voyage Out Sonnet 45

Gnarled emotion ran through peace.
Eyes, a coil of rope. Legs gaze on the hot morning.
Cold light spoke with scattered rust. Springing
waves open hard laughing. Eyes fix the world
beneath a purple tie. The shape of fingers
like bent trees, crack breezes, drop a bolt of grass.
Broken figures remember who they were.
Bone hollows shape the plunge of speech.
Water rings the sun lifted from the lips. Light
shapes the withdrawal of an echo.
Time, half-choked with ordinary pianos heaped
great masses of human music. A series of sonatas returned
with a final chord. Rain exploded the sharp bark of the sun. Creatures pearl
old bone. Owls spark at the tops of trees. A torpedo choked drowsy the globe.

Erik Fuhrer is a Pushcart Prize and Best Microfictions 2018 nominee. He holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and his work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Maudlin House, Ghost City Press, Cleaver, and Softblow. He tweets @Erikfuhrer and his website is erik-fuhrer.com.