‘Avalon’ by dave ring

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I’m sure I heard you say it.

The name fell awkwardly from your lips into the sullen din, the grace of its syllables made ugly by your clumsy tongue.   I heard it and my skin puckered, each pore tensing and every hair standing up, as longing swept through me.  My memories of there still steam, raw and hot, as if they’d just been born, just been made whole.

I will be patient if you are forthcoming with your secrets.  Have you truly been there, breathed its air and tasted the salt of its shores on the back of your tongue?  Has it put its mark on you?  Did you too feel the heat of its scorned regard every day that you did not return?

I would call it my second home if it had not so thoroughly usurped the first.  The streets there know my heart.  They’ve mapped their twists and turns onto my veins so that the simple pumping of blood could teach my feet their permutations.

No matter your familiarity, somehow I don’t believe that place greeted you the same.  It didn’t keep you awake for countless nights, singing the sweat from your brow until you could speak its name flawlessly like the benediction it should be.

I left before it was time; my string was cut short.  An accident, it was promised.  But once cut, the door creaked open in front of me.  I remember digging in my heels, holding on for dear life.  I can still recall the pressure of able hands at the small of my back. I think I was pushed.  Though I scrambled for purchase on the threshold, my flight proved as impossible to prevent as catching a cresting wave with my bare hands.

You don’t look like much.  To hear that name on your lips is torture.  I know I heard you say it.  Don’t deny it.

Oh, for another day there, for an hour, I would do anything.  Do not speak to me of obsession, of contentment, of living in the now.  I have savored those lands with every inch of myself and found this place a gauche echo, a paltry shadow.  And so I will hunt for the means of my return until my feet falter, my eyes cloud and the parched winds of this sorry consolation prize have bleached my bones.

Speak.  I will crawl into your esophagus if I must, to reclaim that homeland, one I’d forged of intention, rather than a circumstance of birth.  If you’ve hidden the cipher for the reaching of it somewhere behind your incisors, I will pluck the teeth from your mouth like boiled sweets until it is mine again.

I know what I heard.  And I lied to you earlier.  I am not that patient.

dave ring is the community chair of the OutWrite LGBTQ Book Festival in Washington, DC. He was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 Futurescapes resident. He has recently placed stories with Mythic Magazine, FLAPPERHOUSE, Speculative City and The Disconnect. He is the editor of Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was, forthcoming from Mason Jar Press in August 2018. More info at http://www.dave-ring.com. Follow him on Twitter at @slickhop.

Five Poems by David Hanlon

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Ravine

Space created
by erosion
from our
river run
dry yet
still we
stand tall
and steep
cross- sectional
side by
side

Tonight will be the night I finally rest

I tell myself that restlessness burns
deep down
in my stomach
like a head-lit match with no other end
it is just burning
& burning & burning on & so I read write edit
& on & on
constantly on
will this obsessiveness drive success or
trigger
my downfall? my hand hurts as I write this my mind’s stuck on
overdrive
I was going to watch a film I
was going to meditate
I was going to eat more than a peanut butter
sandwich I was going to turn off
this phone screen
but how to tame how to steer this energy
that’s like a rocket?
continuously blasting off on its own stubborn
course my eyes
sting now like they will tomorrow morning after
another night of
not enough sleep & I know this but routine
is a rope around my neck tightened by the evening
stillness those reflective hours when the
proverbial
lightbulb flashes & blinds my capacity for
reason
is it that our best writing
comes to us in the moments
when we are not doing
what’s best for us? or are these just
the late-night ramblings
of a navel-gazing junkie?

Change

Faster than a humming bird’s
wings you’re gone,
and I’m here,

slack-jawed
at how much loss
can be felt
from a single
wing beat.

I’m left, unhinging
myself to a morning
breaking at sunset:

I pine for the Arctic in summer,
the midnight sun,
but then I remember

its winter is in complete darkness;
I’ll hold the night sky
thick between my teeth,
bite down on it
as it fills my mouth,
trying not to forget

how many times
I’ve been awakened
by the dark.

We all want something to call our own,

don’t we? I read recently on an online dating profile. Ownership: why do we want to own someone like a possession? To feel we have control over something? Because we can’t face the reality that, ultimately, we don’t have control over anything? Like how long we’ll be able to keep possessing things for, how long we’ll be remembered for?

Two Times

People only talked about
how hard break-ups were
but not about how much learning
I’d take from them.
If I’d have known the latter
in advance
would the aftermath
have not been so hard?
Or, like with any hard learnings
about oneself,
is enduring the pain
a part of the process?
Then reflecting on it
as you heal?
Is that kind of loss
a dress rehearsal of sorts
for a loss caused by death?
So we are better prepared, more resilient
to cope with it?
I have lost two times in my life.
Will the learning from these be enough
to get me through:
the naïve romanticist
turned budding realist.
Is life not just nurturing
our growth
to make us more accepting
of our inevitable deaths?

David Hanlon is from Cardiff, Wales, and currently living in Bristol, England. He has a BA in Film Studies & is training part-time as a counsellor/therapist. You can find his work online in or forthcoming with Occulum, Riggwelter Press, Dirty Paws Poetry Review, Into The Void, Impossible Archetype & Yes, Poetry, among others.

‘I’m a dreamer’ & ‘Why you left’ by Richard Tilly

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I’m a dreamer

I’m a dreamer.

I won’t deny it.

Those days I spent looking through the window wasn’t because I wanted to see the outside world.

I was dreaming.

I was in my world.

A world where I could be whoever I wanted.

And do whatever I wanted.

Being stuck in here with you has taught me one thing.

One very important thing.

That living in the real world is better than the world in my head.

Sure, I can’t do whatever I want.

I can’t have everything I want.

But there is one thing I can have that dreams can never give me.

Why you left

There has to be a reason you left.

A damned good one.

Otherwise you wouldn’t leave me like that.

I don’t believe you would.

You loved me, didn’t you?

So why would you leave me?

You must have had a reason.

I know you must have.

You had to.

That’s it.

You had to leave.

You wouldn’t leave me.

Richard Tilly is currently a student living in the north of Sweden and has been writing fiction and poetry for as long as he can remember. He also runs a blog called Rtillyflash (Rtillyflash.com).

‘The Worst Call’ by KR Pendergrass

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I sat alone on the bench of my ambulance, tears falling unchecked, quite sure I had made some seriously bad career decisions. The stretcher was all made up with clean, folded linen and a fresh pillow, but in my mind I still saw it disheveled, only one strap fastened over the tiny, still body. I wasn’t cut out for this. I mean, who was? What kind of lunatic could do this?

The infant had been gone too long for me to do anything to help, but in the dimness of the mobile home I couldn’t be sure. In the bright lights in the back of the ambulance, it was clear. She was blue, and cooling quickly out of the hot environment of the trailer in the summer heat. There was no activity in her heart. She was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it.

My partner had kept her distance, not sure how I was going to react, giving me time to compose myself. It was cool inside the ambulance bay, but I could still feel the heat from that home, giving me false hope that the baby could be saved. I had put on a professional mask, informed the family that she had been gone too long, transferred the scene to the state troopers and the coroner. Being a paramedic, there was nothing else I could do there.

It was the first question everyone asked when I said I wanted to be a paramedic. “How will you handle children, babies, dying?” It was the topic of conversation among students, the first thing rookies asked the old pros. “How did you handle your first SIDS baby?” It is the question on everyone’s mind when they first get into an ambulance on the first day. The half-finished letter of resignation on the bench beside me was my answer. “How did you handle your first SIDS baby?” “Not well, kid. I quit to become an accountant…”

I sat there alone trying to deal with my feelings for almost an hour. Layers of tears dried on my face as I went through waves of being ok, NOT being ok, wanting to finish my letter, wanting to tear it up, and wanting to just lay down and sleep for a month. I was so deep in thought that I jumped a mile when the back door opened and a familiar face appeared.

This particular state trooper had worked dozens of scenes with me, seen me hold together through some messy ones, heart-wrenching ones, all the stuff that goes along with our professions, and had seen me be strong. I guess now it was only right that he see me be weak.

Without invitation, he climbed inside and sat down on the bench. Picking up the half-finished letter, he read it. Putting it down and looking at me, he said, “That’s your plan? Walk away?”

I shrugged, changing the full battery on my monitor so I wouldn’t have to look at him. “Not a bad way to deal. There’s plenty of other jobs out there where you don’t ever have to hold a dead baby.”

“True,” he said. “There are. But not for you. This is where you belong.”

“Not necessarily,” I replied, now deciding my airway kit needed cleaned.

“Then tell me this,” he said, taking the airway kit so I had to look at him. “You couldn’t help this one. And that feels like crap. Maybe you can help the next one. But I can tell you this for sure.” He held up my letter. “If you turn this in, you go become a teacher or a carpenter, you absolutely, one hundred percent, CAN NOT help the next one. You stay here in the ambulance, the next person who needs your help will get it. If not… Well who knows who will get the call?”

I stared at him, processing his words. He was right. I might be able to walk away from the job, but I would always wonder. Every time I saw a wreck or obituary in the newspaper, I would wonder if I could have changed the outcome, If I could have done something someone else wouldn’t have thought of.

Before I could form the words to respond, my partner hurried out. “We got a diabetic emergency at the nursing home. You ok, or do you want me to send the other crew?”

The trooper gave me a questioning look, still offering the letter to me. “It’s your call,” he said.

It was. And there was only one I could make. “We got this,” I told my partner. “Let’s roll!”

As we exited the back of the truck, he held up the letter again. “And this?”

I shook my head. “Just toss it. I don’t think I need it anymore.”

KR Pendergrass is a paramedic of 13 years, author, homeschool mom, wife, pet of a particularly spoiled dachshund. Years in rural EMS has produced many heartwrenching stories. It has also produced many hilarious ones as well. Her home with her husband, sons and dogs is full of both laughter and stories, because you can’t let the heartbreaking stuff take a piece of your soul. Her first novel, Incompatible With Life was released last spring, and her followup, Crisis of Faith, should be out in time for Christmas this year.

‘The Seven Words That Changed My Life’ by Mary Campbell

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April 1991. I want to be anywhere but indoors. A light rain has rinsed the dust off the creosote bushes, leaving that fresh, ephemeral scent of just-washed desert foliage that you absolutely cannot describe but that leaves a vague sense of having been an earthworm in a previous life.

By dusk, the whole world smells of Mock-orange in bloom. Nothing can compete, not jasmine or honeysuckle, diesel fumes, steaks cackling over mesquite; nothing brings on spring fever like the Mock-orange at the glorious height of its blooming season.

Tonight I must forgo my small luxuries: watching the sun set over the mountains, imbibing Mock-orange fragrance, chipping with an ice pick at the solid inch of salt atop my cold, tart margarita-on-the-rocks. Tonight I must attend a Leadership Class. Titled “Managing for the Organizationally Challenged,” it offers “useful strategies for ADD/ADHD sufferers,” on the apparent assumption that we’ve already exhausted the useless ones.

Arriving, parking, and going through my mental checklist—“clip keys to purse handle, lock doors, note car location”—I take a last, longing look at the Tucson Mountains to the west—always purple and mysterious when the sun sets, hinting at secrets in those backlit hills: The Elves’ Masquerade is about to start and you’re invited, but you must find the Enchanted Quarter-Acre. Sighing, I enter the windowless building and follow the unmistakable pre-class hum of desultory conversation and languid laughter.

There isn’t a soul I recognize in the large, drab room, which is packed to capacity with bodies steaming slightly from the unseasonably humid warmth of the April night. Tables and chairs are nowhere to be seen, so when the instructor says, “Find a seat, folks,” gesturing to the floor with a small laugh, we plop down complacently on the industrial-grade carpeting.

The instructor—“Sheila,” if her name tag is to be believed—is young, blonde, and busy, answering questions, emptying a large tote, then handing out single sheets of paper to the floor-sitters. She catches my eye, all confident, intelligent energy, as she works her way back to my corner. Over the heads of a half-dozen dark-suited up-and-comers, she sends two pages sailing. I catch them neatly, giving one to the jean-clad woman behind me. She is sitting on a small, quilted pillow. Has she been tipped off about the absence of furniture?

I glance incuriously at the letter-size sheet. In the years to come I will wish I had kept my copy, though it contains only four or five lines in the familiar Courier font. Perched on a bare table someone has scavenged from a closet, Sheila clears her throat and conversation dies down. With little introduction and no fanfare, she explains what we are to do, elaborating on the written instructions.

First, we have to “find a partner—someone you’ve never met before tonight.” I have been chatting with Diane, the woman in jeans, and we give each other that raised-eyebrow half-smile that seals our common destiny for the next hour or so.

Continue reading “‘The Seven Words That Changed My Life’ by Mary Campbell”

‘Crazy Making’ by Kelle Grace Gaddis

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Test. Test. Test. I found my father’s old recorder. He used to practice his sermons on it. Test. Test.

August 1, 2018

Roaches are despicable with their little-barbed claws; they give me the creeps. One will disappear into a crack and then reappear out of another. This morning I woke up with a big one on my pillow, inches from my face, its antennae practically in my mouth. Sickening. It starts with one; then, before you know it, they’re everywhere, eating your food, taking over, making you feel like a guest in your own home. Crazy making.

A couple of weeks ago, I put a slice of bread in the toaster, and one crawled out before I could push the lever down. Killed my appetite knowing that thing was in where my bread goes. They’re no easy way to get rid of them either, not under the best of circumstances and God knows I don’t have those.

I’d like to get the Shockwave Roach Bomb. It kills everything within one hundred feet of its canister, but it’s too expensive. Besides Jolene’s nursing her twins in the downstairs bedroom limiting my options. The woman’s clueless. She didn’t even notice her two-year putting roaches in his mouth. Disgusting. Her six and seven-year-olds aren’t any better. They treat the bugs like pets, racing them on tracks made out of cardboard boxes. Half-wits.

I can’t kill them fast enough. It feels like the infestation doubles every night. I turned the light on in the basement and nearly passed out. The floor was thick with roaches, it looked like black water rising and falling. All those little bodies rolling over one another scared me half to death. I didn’t want to risk driving more of them upstairs so I shot the light out.

August 5, 2018

I’ve been praying for an affordable solution, but God hasn’t shown me the way. A while back a lady at the church told me to use lemon peels and bay leaves, but the roaches ate those up and looked for more. Another member of the parish suggested sugar and baking soda. She said the roaches would be drawn to the sugar and killed by the baking soda when it mixed with the acid in their stomachs. Liar. The roaches tripled overnight. Jolene suggested coffee traps. I’ll grant that those helped a bit, but I can’t be expected to caffeinate the roach kingdom to death, that would cost a fortune. The fabric softener cure sounds perfect. No stimulant joy for the roaches before they die, just a tidy purification. Sadly, like all else, it’s pricey. One bottle is six bucks and I’d need five or more cases a week to kill them all.

August 8, 2018

I’m thankful that Jolene doesn’t complain about the roaches anymore. She was lippy at first, testing her boundaries, but now she’s well behaved. She’s happiest listening to rock music on her headset. Ticks me off that she can’t hear her babies crying when she’s got it on, but it keeps her content so I let it go. That said I’m getting tired of having to shout to get her attention. Overall, she’s easy to manage. Jolene catches on quick, much faster than her kids.

I haven’t spared any of them the rod, especially the children who, frankly, make everything harder than it needs to be. Family order isn’t rocket science. I answer to God, they answer to me. Simple. The roaches are another story. I have no control over them.

Continue reading “‘Crazy Making’ by Kelle Grace Gaddis”

Three Poems by Luanne Pumo Jaconia

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Elephant Ears

At age five, I discovered that when I pulled back the skin
Near where I peed, I could make myself look like
An elephant with a short trunk, and big floppy ears!

What a laugh I expected to get when I showed my friends!
Instead, I saw multiple pairs of wide, disbelieving eyes
Staring blankly back at me, mouths wide-open

No one laughed at the dinner table either
As my brother; owner of a pair of those disbelieving eyes
Recounted in vivid detail, my first attempt at stand-up comedy!

I wish my father had listened first, and then said, “Honey,
There are many ways to be funny! This wasn’t one of them!
You must keep your clothes on while you are outside.”

Instead, he etched his big Italian-American hand-print, easily readable
In the upper left-hand quadrant of my tender, young back
Then he sent me straight to bed, sobbing

This could have been an important learning curve
He could have gently encouraged me along my life’s journey
Toward a healthy, intimate relationship with myself, and others!

Instead, he chose violence,
And inflicted a shame
Which would take a life-time to over-come

Morning

Glistening dew drips from a half-awake leaf,
Your dew drips from my half-awake mouth

The sun rises, in all her majesty, to greet the new day,
While your refreshed body, rises again, to greet me

A robin jumps on the window sill, singing her morning song
As I eagerly jump on you, to sing my own song.

Scent of My Father

In the morning
I would jump in their bed
And could smell my father in the sheets
It was a warm, musky smell
Unidentifiable as the lingering scent
Of lovemaking…

It was simply my father’s scent
Strong and comforting like him
It was cozy when they’d let me
Snuggle in between them
But even sweeter
When they both had left the bed

Then I could nestle my nose in the sheets
And smell my father unashamedly
He died suddenly when I was twenty-five
I was inconsolable
My mother let me keep his robe
His robe reminds me of his sheets

Luanne Pumo Jaconia, CSSW, began her career in child protective services, and currently facilitates parenting workshops. Luanne and her husband are parents of two; hands-on grandparents of three. Her poems often reflect the difficult and exhilarating experiences that happen within families as they grow. Luanne began submitting poetry at 70.