‘A Sinful Wager’ by Douglas Clark

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The melodic sound of the Cicadas echoed across the honey colored grass field. The cool breeze caressed the tree tops that lined the open plateau and speckles of pollen wafted about the currents helplessly. An almost too warm early morning sun beamed down painting the landscape with a golden hue, except for the patch of ground under the shade of the elm leaves. All the branches formed a natural umbrella, cooling the area down just enough from to remain comfortable.

An old wooden swing wrapped around a low-hanging branch swayed back and forth with each passing zephyr. Amongst the massive roots of the ancient tree a book sat propped up as the breeze made its way through the narrative without a reader; pages flapping as it passed by. A loafing figure rested; his head up against the bulk of the tree, ankles crossed as he slowly chewed on a wheat stalk. His straw-hat frayed at the ends of the brim and sat low on his head. With fingers interlaced his hands sat on his belly. His stomach rose and fell rhythmically while light puffy clouds made a slow craw across the azure sky.

A soft, crunching sound broke the calm as if a lumbering monster stomped across the field toward him. Not so much attempting stealth, but reticence at approaching. Half asleep, he cocked his head in the disturbance’s direction without opening his eyes. He became aware of labored breathing, as if a horse had suffered great pain for hours before allowing to rest. The sound grew louder and excessive heat seemed to envelop him despite his resting in the shade. It drew so near that the cicadas silenced themselves and the zephyrs halted their meandering. An uncomfortable silence descended over the field until the resting figure felt compelled to sit up. Looking over to the where he felt the invading presence he saw a girl, perhaps thirteen years old.

“Excuse me, but may I take part in the shade of your elm tree?” the girl asked grasping the edges of her sun dress and offered a small curtsy.

“It’s free shade, in a free field; A free country for that matter. I’m obliged to share I reckon,” the straw-hat boy replied.

“You are very kind,” she said, her eyes followed the rim of shade that separated the ground under the tree from the heat and light of the sun beyond. She huffed slightly before taking a reluctant step in. The straw-hat boy shifted from his lounging to sit up.

“Kinda nice bein’ out of the burning sun, ain’t it now?” he asked being polite and turning his attention to the unexpected companion.

“It certainly is to be appreciated come the summer sun,” she replied, pulling a small shawl from her forearm and flapping it out before laying it down on the ground to sit. She sat with her feet out to one side and made sure to cover her knees. Planting her hand on the shawl covered ground with one hand she rested her body weight to that side and let her other hand fall to her lap. They sat there in silence for a while surveying the landscape out before them until she let out an exaggerated sigh.  

“You be expecting something?” the straw-hat boy asked?

“It being summer and all, I was hoping for some games. There’s so much to do in the autumn with harvest and the winter is something awful with the snow and bitter cold. Do you like games?” she asked with a raise of her eyebrow.

“They be a mighty good time if ya play ‘em right? And the wager is worth the betting,” he responded.

The girl ran her free hand through her raven-black hair and frowned. “Oh, gamblin’ be a mighty great sin if the adult folk find out you been bettin’ on things. Possibly get a woopin’,” she said, with an odd little smile.

Continue reading “‘A Sinful Wager’ by Douglas Clark”

Three Poems by Dah

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After All, Enough Is Enough

A cat named Gideon
lives in the crud of an alley
with the odor of urine
and decayed scraps
Trashcans are talking to the wind

A skinny drunk named Wily
crawls out of cardboard
and rags
It’s good to sleep it off here
he thought
The chirp of a hidden cricket

At dawn Wily wishes
upon the last star
though convinced he’s unworthy
of such dreams
A blue fly nibbles

I could be lying to myself
not admitting that Wily
is the Idler
lounging inside of me
Woe to idle lives

Sometimes I feel less human
less capable
like an elephant in a circus
with days of chains and locks
or like a head-bobbing marionette

Today will be different
I’ll turn a new leaf
walk the straight and narrow
give a little whistle
do the right thing
With each fib my nose grows

Snow Glass Apple

I am rooted in the secret
of apple trees coddling
scarlet fruit
with strips of light winking
inside summer’s green fiber

If I were Snow
the bluebirds would sing
excitedly lacing the air
with glass ribbons
above this fragrant August

Waving its arms a spider agrees
though too busy to follow her
round and round
I envy the dwarves
coloring her dreams
with white roses and rainbows

I am not pure enough
nor true enough
for a breakable heart like hers
Though never seen nude
I’ve undressed her many times
Eyes glowing at the fruit

She wakes from her sleep
and exclaims
‘Oh, it’s adorable! Just like a doll’s house
with many butterflies as maids!’
I can’t stop looking at her
Then there’s Dopey, he don’t talk none

I am the sensitive Huntsmen
holding excessive compassion
My unbreakable arrows find no thrill
in killing stags
Now what are you
and who are you doin’ here?
Her bloody heart in my hand

A Rustling Imagination

Near the stream’s
soggy edges
thumb-sized toads are trolls
under large green leaves
They fade with each hop

Between summer and autumn
earth marinates her spread
Big white clover scatters
like scented snow
A blindworm’s topical escape

I see a pair of toy eyes
a small whiskered face
a gray coat neatly pressed
cautious field mouse
A large white fly buzzes

In the alleys of fern
a rustling imagination
overloads my logic
I’m sitting on a toadstool
Perhaps myself, perhaps not

Barely beneath the surface
of mulch
a mole of Thumbelina delight
stirs and trembles
A swallow zigzags happily

Bone-tired from the rolling sky
the sun staggers to keep up
I ogle an orange mushroom
the size of a teensy umbrella
The cloudbanks are paunchy

I move to where darkness begins
slightly before rain
There’s a rejoicing wind
with a body’s motion
blowing over small footprints
Perhaps mine, perhaps not

Dah’s sixth poetry collection is The Opening (CTU Publishing Group, 2018) and his poems have been published by editors from the US, UK, Ireland, Canada,  Singapore, Spain, Australia, Africa, Poland, Philippines and India. Dah lives in Berkeley,  California and is working on the manuscript for his ninth poetry book. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the lead editor of The Lounge, a poetry critique group. Dah’s seventh  book, Something Else’s Thoughts, is forthcoming in July 2018 from Transcendent Zero Press.

Visit:
www.dahlusion.wordpress.com

Twitter@dahlusion

 

‘Sweat’ & ‘Revolver’ by Walker Storz

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Sweat

How many times
can you
rise up to be
beaten down
by a blunt wall–
Red, humid,
broad as a thoroughfare

 

Before failing

A lucid star drops
from the east, a
soundless bomb
Shattering like a
Vermillion mirror–the
soul reflected into
Itself, infinitude–each
piece a drop of
sweat. The star
crosses the equator–
tumbles toward
Hell, the
guts of Earth. A
place teeming with
sickening, writhing
life; life which is too
vigorous, which wants
to be free of its
skin.

Where is my
will? What is it
that says “I am
I,” or says “I will
not—not today” I
suppose it governs
by default. I am
too tired to put these
things to bed. My
body endures
obliquely–it does not
thrive, it does not
generate a will;
it sits in
itself, its opaque stink
of congealed time,
deadening of
nerve

Condemnation, debt,
remorse, duty—all
gravities with
different vectors.
Some pull from
the firmament,
some from below
the waters, from the
insides of the
earth.

The earth washes itself
of itself, and in
these rhythms is
a seasick nausea—
I, the sick, the guilty:
I am the vomit
of the body of the earth, and
I am like a tide
rolling back on
itself without
reason.

Revolver

Hundreds of doors
open and close a
minute: revolving glass—
whirring ceaselessly

Crystalline flashes
wink outward

Something flutters
in my chest
A nest births a flurry
of swallows
with damaged
wings, beating
a slant,
idiotic tune
in the air.

 

They peel off
and tumble
out of line,
smashing against
the inside of
my ribcage like
breakers, making
red sea-
spray, vapor
and choked cries

Below the heavens,

blue circles cull bodies, the
damaged sink
into heaps of slab,
Dust-piles at
the broken edge of the
clearing—like cream
separating from skim

 

 

 

 

God has ceased to
tend to this machinery.
The stove is on,
the clock
broken from its
trajectory, the
world a
mute, anxious scream.

Three Poems by Nick Wort

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Notes from a Birthday Party #2

There is a diner in southern Michigan that lists
spaghetti as an “ethnic offering”
we are at that diner, 2:03 AM
and it is your birthday, we are drunk
and you are sitting beside me, drinking milk

I know that the lactose inside of
that milk will upset your stomach,
sugary shoelace knots of
carbon and hydrogen and oxygen
will run — undigested — through your
intestinal track, like Carl Lewis in 1984

I am trying to eat French fries (which
are not an “ethnic offering”) but

it is hard to focus on eating because
your friend (my friend too)
is beside us and talking about her biscuits
and gravy having too much sausage
and her friend (your friend too)
is beside her having a panic attack

it is hard to focus on eating
because I dumped too much ketchup
on my impressively crinkled fries

it is hard to focus on eating
because the inside of my brain is
a fog machine of Prozac and Tecaté

it is hard to focus on eating
because all of my jokes are stupid
but you’re drunk and laughing anyway

and eventually, I guess that we have to leave,
and eventually, someone pays
(I did not pay)

and we stumble to the back seat of a
silver Ford Taurus with automatic
locks and windows
(and heated seats)

and you look at me and mumble, and it
sounds like you’re speaking
in tongues, and you put your head
on my shoulder for exactly 5.8 seconds
then turn away

your breath smells like
a garden of Marlboro Reds
(the short ones, the 83s)

Chicago (January 2017)

The checkerboard tile was covered in a patina of nicotine yellow and mud from the soles of dirty Doc Martens.
And I am watching you sway to some 2000s R&B hit with questionable lyrics sung by a man with a questionable
lifestyle, as the smell of mids wafts in from an alley out back, in through a graffitied door slightly ajar, I wonder if you
even notice. Your hands and your feet move to the beat, but never quite the way they should — instead you are
the second hand of a clock: mechanical and precise, expected but stiff. Sometimes when you twitch just right
you move a little too fast, a bit out of time, and the beer in your glass leaps up above the rim — a little amber tsunami
dripping down to your fingers. It’s astonishing, but you don’t notice, and you leap back in just a second too late.

Grenoble

568 years ago in what is now Peru,
an ancient civilization sacrificed
140 children and 200 llamas to the
moon, according to National Geographic.

I feel bad for the llamas.

Before the sacrifice, the children’s
hearts were ripped out en rituel,
and before that, red char was
rubbed into their crying little faces,
like black streaks below a
linebacker’s eyes.

What does a human heart smell like
anyway? Red wine? Licorice? The
hair of a former lover? The smell
that still sticks to your pillow, even
after you started smoking again
just to get rid of it, because
you’re dramatic and young and
stupid despite your balding head
and the degree covered in dust
above your window?

Maybe they smell like chartreuse.

A scent known only to bougie
alcoholics and Charthusian monks
in the snow soaked mountains of
France. Monks who have taken a
vow of silence to protect their bitter
green liquor.
(Great with a mint garnish!)

I wonder if any of them deserved it?

Certainly one among the 140 was a
little shit. Wouldn’t clean its room,
take out the trash, deserved to be
strewn to bits and shoveled into a
sacrificial pit to appease an astral body.

But those llamas.

Nick Wort is a grad student at IU South Bend, and the winner of the 2017 Wolfson Poetry Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @dollartreevegan

Three Poems by Jayant Kashyap

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Moon-gazing

Every month they’ve a gathering on the moon,
when they light a million candles on our side
of it that it looks plump and round —
like the one that my cousin used to draw when
she was little as a lamb;
she would draw a few dark spots which, she
said, were mountains that they couldn’t climb
to put the candles upon — Mauna Kea,
Mount Everest and names I don’t recall — she’d
say that the mountains had several alien
trees, they used to do their chores themselves,
but she never said anymore;
she would tell me sometimes though, when
no one was listening, that it was tough to see
farther than the trees that swung their heads
while we imagined her stargazing.

She doesn’t draw anymore but tells me when they
gather every month, she says that even they have
divisions — that not all of them lights the
same candles — like us, but never more,
and I believe her.

Exile

And you let me know that he was violent.
I wanted to lend you something to rest your head upon,
I knew you would need that.
You are still too far for me to sit by your side.

It is sun when it is night;
you have breakfast and I sleep.
I see you. You are always with me, but not too close.
Sometimes our hearts are not enough;
sometimes the vena cava — everything.

I shut the door and set fire to a little moth ball
— naphthalene — it sublimes.
Something that’s white and good once, soot and toxic thereafter
— human. You tell me truth comes out late,
and we have ourselves spoiled by then;
my room fills with smoke, the smell is still the same as had been —
faces are deceptive.

You must miss him, not for he was good, but because he was —
simply;
but people change. We did.
I tell you you should have told me earlier,
but we would both still have been as helpless as we are;
but I think psychology helps!

I’m sorry I write about him,
but I promise he won’t be named.
I write about everything, you’ve ever known.
You can’t stop thinking about the black ink and the black paper.
I can’t stop thinking about you;
I can’t stop thinking about the black ink and the black paper.
— It’s equivalent.

I still write about my shoulder, and your head to lay upon it.
I could write more — about him,
about you, about us — but you are away;
so I end it here:
Violence is weak.
You are beautiful.
I love you.

The Seven Sisters

Some stars died last week, some before them, and I
lost track of the seven sisters — light pollution, they say
— funny how we do not walk up the right alley and
keep track of something light years away while light is
polluted;

When I was a kid, I wondered whether naming was
an issue; I used to imagine the faces of the seven
sisters that still decorate India and of those now lost
somewhere — I would think if they were the same; I
never

Asked anyone though! Twice I sat in a train to one of
them with a map and a pencil to keep mark every
once in a while, but I would climb down before destination
— I was afraid of visiting a new place; I lost a face before I
could

See — once I did, and once again; and now we do it
together. I remember a time when songs had a phrase:
‘starry night’, and think how even the days became
obsolete; think how only memories now have stars in
skies.

Quite a few of Jayant Kashyap’s poems have been earlier in publications widely, including StepAway and Rigorous magazines; his debut chapbook come later this year by Clare Songbirds Publishing House. He’s also the founding editor of India-based ‘Bold + Italic’ e-magazine alongwith a friend of his. Find him at https://onlyhumane.wordpress.com/

‘The New World, or: What Is Lost’ by Robin Jordan

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My father’s house, which he shares with his fifth wife, a full pure-bred (indigenous inhabitant of this place that we call The New World), is a funnel-shaped tower in the preferred style of his new, aerially-inclined family. It sits atop a gentle and verdant hillock with a nearby copse of pine trees. Where the earth flattens out is a short stretch of sand dunes leading to a calm blue sea. The beach is shaded with mangroves and palms. These were always dad’s favourite types of locale.

The inside of the tower has been modified with a chaotic latticework of ladders, spiral staircases and wooden ramps to cater for my father, two children from a previous marriage (neither he, nor they, remember which) and any visitors. I suppose I was of the latter category. This gives it the aspect of an abandoned vault, lived in by spiders. Or so had been my first impression upon entering, standing at the base and gazing upwards at the endless ledges and balconies. Beams of dusty sunlight and distant-relatives floated back and forth, trailing streamers of shimmering blue.

 

“Have you ever lived for five-hundred years before?” asked my father.

Like all corpses, (the name lovingly applied to us by the pure-breds) whether by an act of will on all our parts or just as a general law of this land, none of us know; he had taken on the form of his twenty-five to thirty-year-old self. “Have you even lived past a hundred yet?” he continued.

I said nothing.

“If you live long enough, memories start to fade. And then they’re gone entirely.”

“I know, I watched it happen to mum,” I said.

“That’s not what I meant!” he barked, banging his fist upon the rich mahogany desk that he sat behind. His room near the top of the tower, from the efforts to reach which I was still recovering, was a remnant of his other life. His study. The one part of his life with us that remained with him in The New World.

“You don’t understand. You are clearly incapable of understanding. You just haven’t lived here long enough”

“Please, explain then.”

“You use her name against me as if it should mean something to me.”

“Yes, I do. You put me in her womb. You raised me and my sisters“.

“So you say,” he said, turning his face to the window. “Why don’t you go find this mother of yours?” he continued after a while, “bring her here. Perhaps it’ll jog my memory. If, that is, she is who you say she is. And you are who you say you are.”

“I can’t seem to find her the same way I found you.”

“Yes, you never did tell me how you did that. Most curious.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I just…knew you were here”.

I broke eye contact with him.

A brightly coloured Toucan flew into sight through the window, seemed to hover there staring at us and then wheeled around to sail off into the distance.

Over the next hill.

“Well, she’ll be in the city if she’s anywhere,” father said, absently gazing after it.

“There’s a city?” I asked.

“They made a go of it. It’s mostly deserted now. So I hear.”

“Where?”

He studied me a moment from behind his desk. “Through the swamp. Three days across the desert. Place is probably a bloody death-trap. Crumbling at the foundations. But, if it’ll give you something to occupy your time…”

A city.

Who had built it? And how?

Were they trying to get back what they had lost? What all of us have lost?

“Perhaps, I will,” I announced.

Father just grunted and went back to his papers. I was dismissed. God knew what kind of paperwork he thought there was to do here.

Trying to get back what is lost.

I stopped suddenly at the door, “How did you know?” I said.

“Know what?” he asked, cocking his eyebrow.

“How did you know mum would be in the city?”

He said nothing. Just frowned. I allowed myself the glimmer of a smirk.

Taking my small victory with me, I left.

That was the last I ever saw of my father.

 

That was three days ago. Now Kronos and I are trudge through a peat bog. Our path leads to The Desert, which Kronos informs me is just over the next hill.

Always just over the next hill.

He hovers through the air in the usual manner of his kind.

“Your corpse legs fare poorly upon this terrain, father,” he says

“They do.”

“Still, I suppose it makes a change…”

“What’s that?”

“Why, taking in the pungent yet surprisingly picturesque delights of this canopied carpet of rotting flora. Soaring o’er the tree-tops, as is my most oft-practiced mode of transit, I would ne’er have thought to…”

“You’re doing it again,” I interrupt

“What mean you, pray tell?”

“Being verbose.”

“Now, now, just because your culture of origin turned its back on the beauty of language, doesn’t mean I bloody well have to!”

“Now you’re doing the other thing.”

“What now?”

“Talking like me. You know it bothers the others.”

“Well, fuck ‘em!” He pronounces after a moments thought, “I’m your son, aren’t I?”

“Aye, that’s the problem.”

My son…. I think to myself, oh so very privately.

Jacinta, Kronos’s mother, although technically a half-breed, thanks to her – and my – corpse father, has all the characteristics of a purie, as does any child born of a pure-bred. Her skin has the look of smoothed, glossed ebony wood. Her eyes are the colour of a horde of gold ingots reflected off of a pool of water, and her hair, which she ties in a thick braid, was the blue that the Hindu-Indians had used to paint their pictures of Vishnu.

I remembered my primary school teacher telling me once that this colour was lost forever from the world.

But not here.

Kronos is now six years of age and Jacinta counsels us not to develop a bond; the culture of this place views these things as unseemly.

 

On a hard-packed road, in the shadow of the mesa, crimson in the pink light of evening, we meet a solitary traveller. She is a corpse, like me. She has built a fire by the roadside and sits cross-legged, roasting a gopher which she has speared on a stick.

“Howdy, traveller,” I say as we approach, “Mightn’t two weary pilgrims share the warmth of your fire?”

She smiles warmly but with a sardonic curl of the lip; “Well ain’t that a thing?” she says, “out here in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of time and space itself, and lo’ and behold, who should cross my path but an old settler.” Her voice is soft and low and seems a part of the land and the fire.

It occurs to me that this stranger may well have been alive in The Old West as I take a seat opposite her. The night is settling in and the world around the flames is becoming smaller.

Her name is Molly. She tells us that living in the desert is all that keeps America alive in her, and that as soon as she sets foot upon verdant meadow or wanders into the shadow of the tall pines, she starts to forget. She thinks she once had a family, maybe even more than one. But America: the land, the life…at least she can keep that.

Kronos asks what makes her so determined to hold onto the days before. Why not embrace The New World?

But this is his world. And with the fire painting a black canvas over the scene around us, it is easy to imagine that I am in The Settler’s. And for now, I wish to stay there.

She tells Kronos that once hers had been a ‘new world’. And having seen two already, she had no interest in seeing another.

I share out some of our provisions. Some purie food; a sort of edifying loaf which I refer to as lembas bread (which of course goes right over everyone’s head). We eat in contemplative silence, like frontiersmen and I wonder how long before London will be gone from me; is just a word that triggers nothing but the slightest flicker of recognition.

Kronos glides away into the night and as Molly and I curl up into our bedrolls she says to me “You’re not really from my time are you’?”

“No,” I say, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s no matter,” she says, “the pretence was nice. I Thank you.”

 

That night I dream of London in the fog. Of standing at the bottom of my street, looking up, and watching the road, the houses and the trees disappear into the swirling mist.

 

“Are you ready?”

I wake. Groggy. There is a bright, blinding light. A purple streak writes itself across the sky like a silken shooting-star, and fades like ink across wet paper. I have been noticing these ever since we left the swamp behind us.

“What time is it?” I mumble, sandily.

“Phoebus hath wended his fiery path through climbs far beyond the yard-arm, friend!”

“If you’re gonna be Shakespearean, at least be so in iambic pentameter.” I say as I kick myself out of the bedroll and reach into my pack.

“I am…what?”

“I am just risen from mine slumbers now, should’t please you some space would not go amiss!”

I try to rouse The Settler, who is still completely inert.

Large amounts of lembas and The Settler’s whiskey seem to have knocked us out way into the afternoon.

Baking under a hot sun.

“Kron, we’re both gonna need water, lots of it! How’s your supply?”

“You forget who you’re talking to,” he says as he undoes his satchel and pulls out an empty plastic container in the shape of an Italian wine-gourd.

“You sure about that?”

“Sure,” he says, “there’s an oasis about an hours walk from here. Three minutes as the pure-blood flies,” he says with a wink as he begins the long, intricate process of unbinding his rich blue braid.

“Is it gonna be okay?”

“Eh?”

“Will it drain you too much?”

“Nah!” he says as he starts to wring his hair out into the container. As he does so, the gossamer locks start to gradually lose their length and his glossy, onyx skin takes on a dark-grey sheen. The container fills with a sparkling liquid, the colour of the pale sky.

The Settler stirs awake.

 

Kronos takes us in a new direction, towards the mesas and arroyos. This path does not lead to my father’s fabled City but he insists that there is a person in the mountains who I must speak to. He says that this person is the source of the purple streaks

He is getting noticeably fatigued.

 

The well is dry.

A few thirsty looking palm trees, their leaves various shades of golden-brown are dotted around a wide and shallow depression. A bowl of hard cracked dirt. If Kronos had flown here and come back to join us on our path, we might have known sooner, but then he would likely be in even worse shape. Nevertheless, he is wracked with guilt and my heart goes out to him at the crestfallen look in his eyes. At his now pale-grey face. I place my hand on his shoulder.

He starts once more to untie his already shortened braid.

“Son…no.”

“Look, I’ve thought about this. If I give you and Mol the lion’s share, it should get you there. Then He can help us.”

“Who can help?”

“The guy I’ve been taking us to. The man in the sky, who do you think?”

“It’s a man?”

Kronos nods, as he begins straining the pale blue elixir out of his hair into the nearly empty container.

“Who is he?”

“I don’t know.” He stops straining, “I just call him The Scribe, but I reckon it could be…..you know…Him.”

“Him?”

“Yeah.”

I ponder this for a while as Kronos resumes filling the jug. His hair is now almost as short as mine. Here is where ‘He’ would be I suppose. If anywhere.

“The Scribe?” I ask

“Yeah”.

“Because he makes patterns across the sky?”

“Yup”.

“That’s very poetic, Kron”.

“Thanks”.

 

A very small amount of Kronos’s Elixir gives one a burst of energy and well-being, but before long you are flagging. It is necessary to ration it strictly while keeping oneself constantly topped-up as soon as one starts to feel the comedown kicking in. We had left Kronos at the dried-up oasis with a decent supply along with a few parcels of lembas that should keep him alive for two days, as long as he stays still and in shade.

“You call him son,” says Molly.

“Yes.”

“You two…you have something. People don’t have that anymore.”

We walk in silence for a time, our footfalls echoing across the flat plain, the dirt crunching under our feet.

“Not even family?” I ask after some time.

“Especially not family,” she replies.

 

Prairie turns into foothills and soon we are navigating trails in the shadow of forbidding mesas and jagged peaks, trying to follow Kronos’s directions. Knowing that if we get lost, we will all be dead before the next sunset.

And then where will we go?

As Molly and I pace our way across the hard-packed dust, we discuss the nature of time in this place. I tell her that I once did the maths in my head:

Assuming that my father is more or less correct in his assertion that all of his time spent in both The Old World and The New adds up to – give or take – five-hundred years, in Old-World time; that I deem myself to be thirty-six in Old World years, having come here at age thirty; and that father came here when I was twenty-four and he seventy-one. Assuming also that time here operates at a constant speed relative to the Old World and isn’t either in a process of gradual acceleration or just zip-zapping around without rhyme or reason; it would mean that when a year passes back there, about seventy-one-and-a-half years have gone by here.

Molly tells me I think too much.

 

A long valley eventually opens up into a short plateau of red earth. The evening sky overhead is an attractively malicious orange. The flat stretch of ground ends in a wall of crimson rock. We can’t see it from here, but if Kronos is right, there is an opening somewhere in that solid face. A narrow canyon through the mountain.

We stop for a drink before crossing.

 

Half way across Molly stops me with a gentle touch to my elbow. She is looking at me intently. She casts her eyes pointedly up to the sky. It is covered in a thick layer of brilliant stars. She looks back at me. A quirk appears at the corners of her lips as she presses her body closer to me, our hips meeting.

We stop for the night.

Under the brilliant stars.

 

In the morning we enter the shadow of the canyon. All the sounds of The Desert are suddenly muted and the air becomes still and cool. Our footfalls echo as if we are walking across marble. The pale-blue sky is a narrow bar above us.

“Well, this sure is unsettling,” whispers Molly.

“Yeah,” I whisper back.

But Kronos had passed through here four times if he was to be believed, and he said he had never come upon any danger.

We both take a mouthful and carry on through the passage.

Somewhere along the way, The New World comes crashing down onto our heads.

 

Pain.

The thick smell of dust.

I tear my eyes open and everything is hazy. The small world around me is smothered in a thick orange cloud. The slow journey through the canyon has become a blur and it comes gradually back to me in flashes.

A rockfall.

The path is blocked.

Molly!

I start to frantically scrabble in the ground around me.

“Molly?” I call.

My hands touch something soft. A sleeve of rawhide.

“Mol?” I croak, the dust caking my throat. I find her body in the dust cloud and cradle her head in my hands. She has dust in her nostrils and caking her eyebrows. Her light-brown hair is now blonde with sand.

Her eyelids start to flicker.

She mumbles.

She opens her eyes and looks at me. I smile down at her as reassuringly as I can manage.

“Looks like a rockfall, but I think we’re okay. For now at least. I think we should -“

I am interrupted by Molly as she begins to roar. The roar turns into a howl.

“My legs! My fucking legs! Oh god in heaven!”

 

By the time the dust has settled, Molly has been in and out of consciousness. Each time waking to howls of agony. The fifth time I was able to calm her down with a liberal bolt of elixir. Now she breathes heavily and her face is wet and pallid. After a while I was able to see where her legs went out of sight beneath heaped boulders.

It’s bad.

I turn my face away so that she can’t see my tears.

 

When my eyes are dry and my soul numb and purged, I take a deep pull of Kronos’s elixir and I begin my climb.

I close my eyes and picture Kronos’s courage coursing through me in the clear blue elixir. And then I set my teeth. My brows knot into a savage furrow and I find my first foothold.

It has been a while since I went rock-climbing in Kentish Town, and I almost lose my footing when I realise, alarmed, that my memory of that place is growing foggy. Like my dream.

Another place that is fading: The Grand Canyon. I had never been but in my minds eye, it does not seem much taller than the cliff-face. I resolve to put just as much effort into not looking up as I am into not looking down. With each new handhold, I take a moment to steady my breathing. Trying to gain control of the trembling that starts in my elbows and threatens to take over my entire body. In the still moments, I pray that the wall does not betray me and crumble under my feet.

 

The scramble leaves me with shredded palms and a drunken stagger. The elixir’s push is gone. My journey across daisy-dotted meadows on the surface is a frantic sleepwalk. Somewhere on the face of the mountain in the distance, hidden deep in the shadow of the fir trees, is a cave. So Kronos has told me. But The New World has already proven itself to be fatally unpredictable.

I march ahead.

Like a corpse.

 

“It’s already started,” Molly had said as we lay on our backs in our shared bedroll, staring up at the brilliant stars.

Hours ago.

A lifetime ago.

“What has?”

“The forgetting.”

“But we’re still in The Desert,” I said.

“Yes. It’s being with you and Kron, I think.”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could manage.

A shooting-star arced across the midnight canopy.

“I’m not.”

I turned to her. Her face was lit by the starlight.

“Not this time,” she said.

 

Darkness.

Somewhere a fire crackles and I can sense the warm glow in my periphery. I can smell wet stone and moss.

A cave.

His cave.

The elixir had carried me some of the way. Something else has carried me the rest. Someone else.

How long have I been out?

Has my son already expired under the hot sun?

Have I lost him, too?

“I can sense your thoughts. Your most pressing ones anyway, so don’t be alarmed. Your friends are not beyond salvation.”

Is this the voice of God?

I bolt upright, sending my head spinning.

“Are you Him?” I blurt.

“If by ‘Him’ you are referring to the one young Kronos calls The Scribe,” the voice says with a good-natured chuckle, “then the answer is yes.”

“My friends…”.

“Now, what did I just say about your thoughts? Rest assured, your friends will be quite safe. Depending on the choice you are soon to make.”

“Choice?”

“Yes,” says The Scribe, “how very interesting…” He continues when faced with my silence.

“What is?”

“That you stopped to listen rather than leapt to insist that you shall take whatever choice will result in the deliverance of your friends. It suggests that maybe some other consideration competes with them in your mind”.

I have nothing to say.

“Fear not, you are by no means peculiar in this. Nor am I casting judgement on you. You see, everyone who has come to this place has been met with the same disappointments as you have. And they all react in similar ways. Despite your apparent complexity, you remain a predictable species, even here.”

“Mother.”

“Yes. Mother. Even knowing that the chances of her remembering you any more than your father does are close to naught, you still cling to that insatiable urge to be reconnected with your last remaining loved-one.”

“And you’re going to make me choose between them?”

“I do not offer this out of some perverse desire to test and meddle in the affairs of mortals, so to speak. I am just…how should I put it…drawn rather thin this evening. Run ragged, you might say. My powers, those such as I have, are finite and I have my survival to think about. But, and it remains an eternal mystery as to just why; something in my make-up, in my DNA as you call it, compels me to be ever helpful towards your kind, especially when they find their way to this little lair of mine. Usually at great expense to themselves.

“So help you I shall, but I only have the wherewithal to do so in one of three ways.”

I say nothing.

He leans closer to the fire and I can make out shining purple irises in deep-set eyes.

“I bring your new family – a most rare and wonderful thing, in this world – here. I use what power I have left to revive them. The three of you may rest here until you are ready to resume your travels.”

“And the others?”

“I help you to complete your quest. I take you to your mother. You can be reunited with her and likely face again the disappointment that makes such emotionally crippled, solitary wanderers of all of your kind.”

I say nothing.

“The final choice: and this is the road most travelled by. I take you somewhere else.”

“Somewhere else?”

“Clear white tundra. Tropical island. Deep in the heart of the rainforest. Somewhere you can forget. Put behind you all these disappointments. Seek the solitude that all here eventually come to crave. Put aside The Old World, embrace The New and find what happiness you can.

“Take what time you need to make your decision.”

“No…I’ve made it.” I say.

 

The trees in this new place stretch ever upwards to disappear into the mist. Their barks are dark, almost black. From somewhere and by some means, a blue-green light penetrates through the canopy to bathe the surface in the most beautiful glow. This has always been my favourite type of locale.

I sit with my back against one of these wooden giants and for the first time in years, I feel truly and blissfully alone.

Perhaps moving in with a large family was not the best way to start my life here. Not the best way to begin to adapt to this new existence.

This new eternity.

I take in a deep breath of my solitude.

“Ahoy down there! What ails thee so that thou sitteth so morosely against yon o’ergrown bole?”

Still, what did they always say? Three is company…

I shake Molly awake to begin the days journey.

Perhaps on our travels, we will come upon a city. And perhaps there will be people in this city. And perhaps mother will be there. And, living in this city, perhaps mum will have kept alive the memory of her beloved London. And perhaps, if she remembers London, perhaps…just perhaps…she will remember me.

‘Igneous Rock Structures’ by John Goodie

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The Professor was describing intrusive igneous rock structures that formed underneath the Earth’s mantle. He called them “plutonic” after the god of the underworld, Pluto. I was drifting into a nodding state, barely keeping my lids opened.

I started to daydream and the word plutonic stuck in my head as platonic which took me back to a girl I knew long ago. She was insatiable sexually and I was ten years younger than her, so we were like bunnies for a couple of years — in the mornings, after work before dinner, after our guitar sessions and all weekend. She wore long flowing dresses with no panties. My access was unfettered.

But one day, she stopped telling me she loved me. So, I left. We remained friends for many years, but we never had sex again. It was only a platonic relationship to me. I kept my heart out of it and my dick.

As I mused about that relationship in my vivid daydream, the Professor dropped a book on the floor in front of me and my head snapped back straight. The class pealed with laughter.

All I could think of was Judy and how she would sit across from me playing acoustic guitar with her dress hiked up and legs spread. I could play all night pretending I was watching her fingers change chords.

My next dilemma was getting the thoughts of her sweet scent out of my head so I could walk straight when the class was over. I held my backpack in the front to cover the bulge and started thinking about intrusive igneous rock formations under the Earth’s mantle.

Three Poems by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya

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Inner Bitch

A promiscuous bitch,
jailed inside of me,
can never be free –
or there will be no me.

She was raw and hungry when I was younger,
But now she is a sophisticated provocateur,
whispering “more, more, more..
a dream is better than reality.”
By Grace, I have kept up my sanity.

I forgive her
and keep her
locked under key.
In Heaven,
we will both be free.

Workin’

“When will you have a baby?”
“I’m working on it”, I reply with a smile.
People blush, and smile back.

In sweaty nights, gentle mornings,
passionate kisses and longings,
prayer like rain and “a little death”,
I’m Workin’!

In pills, shots and temperature tracking,
HSG tests and more n’ more fucking,
Painful laporoscopies,
Pricey IUIs, IVFs, FETs
I Am Working On It!

Wrapped Up Under a Christmas Tree

No boyfriends to pester, no partners to dance with,
No long term relationships until that Special Someone.
A friendship was given, slowly blooming into marriage,
Lovemaking was challenging first, then perfected.

No child appeared for years of toiling
– in love, sex and even IVF moneying.
Ha! to our parents
we became parents instead.

My mom always said,
“You can build a house with money – try building without.”
My sorrows will bloom into joys –
no doubt about it.

Yevgeniya is a poet, a Christian, and she does not shy away from talking about tough subjects in poetry or in life. Yevgeniya’s poems were published in many journals including Ancient Paths Online, Anti-Heroin Chick, First Literary Review-East (accepted for September 2018 issue), the Pangolin Review and Time of Singing. Yevgeniya works as Administrative Assistant at Leonia United Methodist Church and facilitates Bergen Poetry Workshop. She hopes that her poems of faith and frustration, suffering and healing will inspire people all over the world.  Follow her poetry blog at ypoetry.weebly.com

★ ‘Pond Water’ by Cavin Bryce

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Dale sat on the edge of a retention pond with a stained work shirt wrapped around his head, catching salty sweat before it dropped to his eyes. He had been there for eight hours and his pale body was mostly red, irritated by an angry Florida sun. The case of beer to his right was full. Dale’s checking account was nearly empty. His savings account never even existed.

Dale said, “I just don’t understand.”  And the heron he was speaking to didn’t understand either. It stared with beady eyes and raised one leg up like a flamingo but it wasn’t a flamingo. It was just a heron and Dale knew the difference.

“You’re nothing special,” Dale told the heron. But the heron didn’t pay any attention. It closed its eyes and continued to pose. The heron was glistening from water. Dale was glistening from sweat. The heron was little and blue. Dale was pudgy and pink. He had a yellow mustache that had been stained over the past twenty-eight years by cigarette smoke and coffee.

Dale crushed a Busch Lite can and tossed it in the pond. Across the way, two kids were casting cane poles. He imagined that eventually those two kids will cast their poles in the same spot he was sitting then, and they would see the metal of his beer cans twinkle beneath the murky surface of the shit water and think it was treasure– a silver doubloon or a discarded religious artifact from an ancient civilization. He thought about the treasures he had found perusing ponds and forests as a kid. He remembered how exciting it was to find stuff, to find treasures, and Dale thought about how it was all worthless because most everything is worthless but algae encrusted aluminum cans and bike chains and rusty Coke bottle caps are really really worthless. If energy is neither created nor destroyed then where does curiosity go when children grow up? Probably into the atmosphere.

“Is anything sacred?” Dale asked the heron but the heron didn’t hear him. It had stopped listening hours ago. The heron had lasted longer as a makeshift therapist than the bartender at the Silver Dollar Saloon. And the bartender had lasted longer than Dale’s neighbor, who lasted longer than the schizophrenic guy at the bus stop who always boasts that John Cusack is his brother-in-law. Some people think Dale is homeless but he’s not, he’s just kind of grimy. Kind of used. Beaten up. Rough. Life can do that sometimes.

The heron looked over, stretched its tiny blue wings, and cocked its neck upward towards the sky. “It’s not so bad,” the heron said.  And the heron motioned with his wing for Dale to crack open a beer for him. “I mean,” the heron paused to burp, tossed the can into some nearby reeds, “what’s even bothering you?” Dale opened two more beers.

“It’s just that nothing lasts. You know? I’m getting old. Everything is disappearing so quickly. I feel like it was yesterday that I was just turning twenty one. I don’t even get ID’d anymore, can you believe that?” The heron could believe that.

The kids that were fishing had circled around the small pond and now they were steering towards Dale, eyeing him suspiciously.

“You wanna fish?” he asked the heron. And the heron nodded, waded out into the water, and started pecking at minnows.

“Hey!” Dale called over to the kids. They must have been thirteen, maybe fourteen. They started backing away. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. I just want to borrow your pole. Just for a little bit.” The kids crept closer. They wore no shoes. They were dirty from head to toe. In these ways, the kids and Dale were the same. Dale traded them five warm beers in exchange for one of the poles and some worms, under the condition he leave the pole there when he was done so that the kids could retrieve it later in the evening.

“Thank you mister!” they both said. Dale hadn’t been called mister in a lifetime and it warmed his heart to see these kids being so respectful. “You two be safe now,” he said, and then he went back and had a seat next to the heron who had stopped pecking at minnows by then.

“That wasn’t very responsible of you,” the heron told him. And Dale said it was only five beers between two kids, how drunk could they get? “Lite beer, nonetheless,” he added. Dale and the heron watched the sun paint the wake of the pond with wisps gold. The occasional bass would stir up water in the center. Rings and rings and rings of water.

“Oh! That’s a big one.” Dale said.

“Sure is.”

There was a tug on the cane pole. Nothing drastic, just a light pull. Dale grinned and looked over to the heron. He started backing up further and further until the line was taut and a bluegill was flapping on the shore of the pond. The heron told Dale, “that isn’t how you’re supposed to use a cane pole, is it?” And Dale shrugged, held the tiny fish up to the sun. “Look at that,” he said, “just look at that.” The heron asked if he could eat it but Dale shook his head no. “Not this one, this is my fish.” He released the bluegill and it disappeared into algae and grime. Dale and the heron laid down on their backs, stretched out their limbs.

“This has been nice,” Dale said. The heron nodded in agreement.

“I wish it could last.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll be gone by tomorrow. Fly to whatever pond, the next stop. Just like everybody else. Always on the move.” And the heron nodded again, understanding.

“There will always be another heron,” the heron said, “or a crane. Not that I recommend cranes, their talkative bastards. And loud.”

“Sure, yeah. It won’t be the same though.”

“No, it won’t be the same. It might be worse. Might be better.” They both nodded, sipped their final bit of beer, and tossed the cans.

With that, the heron flew away. Dale watched it soar, slightly cocked to the left. “Good guy,” Dale said, shutting his eyes, “real good guy.”

Cavin Bryce is a twenty-one year old graduate from the University of Central Florida. He spends his time off sitting on the back porch, sipping sweet tea and watching his hound dog dig holes across a dilapidated yard. His work has been published in Hobart, CHEAP POP, OCCULUM, and elsewhere. He is also a first reader and book reviewer at Pidgeon Holes. He tweets at @cavinbryce

‘The Men With Glass Skulls’ & ‘Love, Hope, Joy, and Sorrow’ by Zoë Chamberlain

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The Men With Glass Skulls

Once there was a race of men with glass skulls…. men whose thoughts, seen through the windows of their foreheads, were illuminated by the colours of their emotions and emphasized by rhythmic clicks and chirps, low melodious humming, whistles, or primitive shouts and gestures. Laughter made images bubble, sobbing made them writhe or quiver. Mothers, for example, cuddled their children in tender greens and joyous yellows or scolded in thumping greys and browns. Lovers merged in seas of fire reaching, at times, to peaks of golden ecstasy that faded gradually into pale yellow waves or disappeared among blue shadows of separation.

Men without deceit, without the possibility of lying or cheating. Without the means of stealing or committing premeditated crimes…. but passions and emotions shifted often like sand dunes in a wind storm, blurring reason and distorting harmony. Envy clouded the mind like a dark green shadow, while frustration created static pictures of jagged red on blue. Pride was projected like a swollen balloon glowing in reds and yellows; resentment, like a sinister whirlpool flashing in greens and purples. At times colour, form, and rhythm jammed in futile combat, then mental functions dissolved in a frantic spray of fireworks.

Music was their only form of art. They played unsophisticated melodies on primitive instruments, while colourful mental patterns pulsated and whirled in response to their wild rhythms. Painting and sculpture, literature and poetry were nonexistent, and architectural structures were unimpressive glass boxes. Perhaps it was the total lack of intimacy, stifling the growth of individuality, which inhibited any creative impulse among them. There were no dark corridors to explore, no secret dreams or yearnings to probe. No shadowy butterflies rising from watery depths. The men with the glass skulls were not given to introspection and had always been quite satisfied to cope with the material necessities of life, while their thoughts paraded forth in naked abandonment.

Afterwards no one could remember exactly when he had arrived among them, but it was thought that he had appeared, dressed in long white robes and decked with garlands of ivy, when the almond trees were in bloom and the first swallows pierced the clouds like tiny arrows. O-nlu, the luminous one, so called because of the special radiance of his forehead. He taught the control of the mind through concentration on image and colour, passing through various stages, each one a step to¬wards perfection.

O-nlu led his pupils into the immensity of the universe filled with spiralling galaxies carved out of darkness, or into the intimacy of a flower opening slowly to the morning light. He urged them to touch the rich reds and browns of the earth, the different greens of pine needles, ferns, and tiny blades of grass. He took them on mental excursions to towering, snow capped mountains and hidden valleys shuddering with the spray of waterfalls. They followed a silver stream rippling over pebbles bright as agates and a wide red river that led to the shores of the sea. The sea….turquoise, azure, cobalt, grey….whispering, caressing, roaring, and pounding….always changing but ever-constant….the sea, where life and death become one.

When his pupils had mastered the control of images, O-nlu submerged them in the world of absolute colour. They saturated themselves with the colours of the rainbow, advancing step by step through yellow, orange, and red; green, violet, and finally blue—the threshold to whiteness, and fulfillment. White was the colour of purity and innocence, of infant minds before they began to mirror blurred images of their surroun¬dings. White was the concentration of all colours and, therefore the realm of wholeness and completion.

Mental discipline and creative thinking were the means to self-discovery, and eventually O-nlu’s disciples began to develop a certain sense of freedom entirely new to them, somewhat like doves finding their way out of a jungle. Many had achieved whiteness, but only O-nlu could radiate that special luminosity like sunlight filtering through drifting clouds or ocean spray in moonlight.

But O-nlu was not revered by all, and for some—those who dominated by means of aggressive images—he was a threat. Since his arrival their thoughts had been darkened by green shadows and flooded by black pools of hatred, so when the appeal and success of O-nlu’s teaching became evident, they signalled warnings among their own. They accused him of at¬tempting to enslave the glass-skulled men. Control of the mind would erode that most essential of all rights, complete freedom of thought. But above all, they charged O-nlu and his disciples with subversion, with wanting to veil their though¬ts and thus destroy the basic structure of communication. Next they would invent helmets for their heads and build their houses of wood or stone. Their practices were an affront to honesty and decency. But reasons like cold steel could not hide the lust for power that oozed in purple stains and rattled like wolves’ teeth….

Men with glass skulls…. advancing like lava…. picking up stones and clubs along the way. O-nlu and his disciples, contemplating irises and lilies of the valley, never drea¬ming that nightmares like iridescent rams would over run their peaceful meditations.

But there were some who rallied to their defence—those who had never favoured the dominating faction, those who had often shown a flickering contempt from depths of grey submission. Now united in purposeful rebellion, they, too, collected large sticks and stones.

Then strife rang out like thousands of glass gongs and hundreds of innocents were slaughtered like lambs. O-nlu and a few of his disciples were thought to have vanished—melted away like snowflakes in a tropical storm—perhaps someday to become white butterflies beneath a summer sky…. Neverthe¬less, hatred and vengeance continued to burn and desolation spread…. until the men with the transparent skulls were reduced to slivers of colourless glass.

Continue reading “‘The Men With Glass Skulls’ & ‘Love, Hope, Joy, and Sorrow’ by Zoë Chamberlain”