Saturday, December 30, 2006

"The Woman in the Mirror"

By Leslie Larsen

Her eyes flit, always in motion, checking hair, skin, eye makeup, lips. Never resting long in one place. Never long enough to really see what's reflected. I know her secret: if you stay in front of the mirror long enough, people will think you are actually looking at yourself.

They don't realize that this partitioning off allows one to put a presentable face forward without really seeing it. Things might have been different, I suppose, if she were able to fit solidly into one category, be it beautiful, plain, or even something else.

Instead, she landed right on the cusp; you'd probably never call her plain, exactly, but there is something -- some unknown yet missing quality -- that keeps her from being truly beautiful. Perhaps it's simply that, with dark hair, light brows and lashes and oddly-colored eyes that defy any specific term, she simply never fit the ideal. Perhaps because her coloring is more like a fair redhead than the brunette she is, or that she has a dimple on her chin instead of hiding in her cheek, or that as she's aged she's begun to develop wrinkles on her forehead instead of crinkles near her eyes from laughter. In any case, there she is.

It's not the worst place to be. At times, it's downright beneficial, as when faced with the possibility of a sudden, unwelcome meeting. At these times she can simply shut down and become invisible. It's been commented on by friends who've watched as exes and salespeople both just walk right by, "They simply don't see you."

She's heard this more than once. Of course, there is an equal possibility that the only thing keeping her from being beautiful is her own opinion. As her eyes slide across the pieces, refusing to see what she's internalized as 'good enough' or 'not bad' somewhere along the line, she simply never questioned these statements and, in the accepting, became them.

At the end of the day, the process is repeated. Eyes checking for stray, leftover makeup, making sure moisturizer is applied evenly, teeth are flossed. And for a split second, before she turns out the light, she steps back as if-this time-to really take it all in at once. But she hears an old echo, 'you'll do,' and instead give a half smile, shrugs, and turns away.

Writer Leslie Larsen lives in Albany, New York. She works for an agency in state government.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Stair Crazy"

By T. R. Healy

I am convinced the earth is flat. At least I am when I am out running, always preferring level surfaces to bumps and slopes and holes and depressions. I want to sail along smoothly, not labor up some wicked incline with my jaw scraping my knees.

More than anything I detest stairs, even if only a couple steps are involved, and try to avoid them at all costs. Surely, they are among the most hazardous obstacles in the path of a runner, only there to cause him to stumble and fall and injure himself. Time and again, I have slipped on them and twisted an ankle and banged a knee and sprained a wrist, collecting bruises like tattoos all over my body.

I also associate stairs with raspy-voiced coaches who have lost patience with those under their control. "Run'em!" they would scream, referring to the cursed steps in some drafty old gymnasium or stadium. It was a punishment that still resonates in my mind whenever I see a flight of stairs even though it's been a long time since I received such a directive from a coach.

A few years ago in Portland, Oregon a race was held that was reputed to be the highest stair climb competition in the country. It involved two bank towers that together comprised 84 stories, totalling 1,700 steps or approximately 400 meters. The race attracted several hundred participants, many of whom trained for weeks climbing the attic and basement stairs in their homes.

Never had I thought of entering the vertical race before, sure I would rather run naked through a bed of rose stickers. Yet for some inexplicable reason I did, and after considerable hesitation, I signed up on the morning of the event. Of course I told myself it was for a good cause, to assist homeless teenagers, but then nearly all races have some worthwhile objective. More likely, I suspected I wanted to do something I didn't want to do in hopes of overcoming my peculiar apprehension. It was a kind of therapy I reasoned.

Anxiously I stood in a ragged file at the bottom of the stairwell of the first bank tower, behind a mountain of a man whose arms were as thick as fire hydrants. I was sure he would soar up the winding stairs and was a little surprised he was not wearing a cape over his massive shoulders. Old rock songs blared through the lobby and curiously I figured it was only a matter of time before "Stairway to Heaven" began to play. So many of the lean, young, muscular people waiting to storm up the stairs seemed the kind who wanted to go to heaven without having to die.

Half a minute after the guy in front of me was sent up, I followed, abruptly taking two steps at a time. I scrambled up the first story easily, the next even more easily, and thought if I could maintain this pace, I might even catch man-mountain.

Harsh reality soon set in, however. By the eighth floor I was proceeding step by step, and by the eleventh I was grabbing the railing and pulling myself up the cruel stairs. Suddenly I was concerned about developing blisters on my hands, not my feet, I was straining so hard. At one point a short guy so pale he was almost transparent bolted past me and quickly disappeared, making me wonder if he was a ghost.

Occasionally people appeared in the doorways of the different floors, offering encouragement, and I smiled weakly, trying to conceal my fatigue. It was difficult, though. And before long I was cursing each and every blasted step I took, remembering how much I detested stairs.

All I did after I reached the roof of the first tower was cough, furiously, like a three-pack-a-day smoker, trying to recover from the stale air of the stairwell. A bone seemed caught deep in the back of my throat that I could not dislodge. My lungs felt as if they were being squeezed together like an accordion. My head hung limply over the ledge, my eyes barely noticing the smaller surrounding buildings.

Still hacking away, I rode the elevator down and shuttled over to the other tower, and after a few minutes resumed the race, still behind man-mountain who seemed more imposing than ever. Again I felt as if I were breathing through a straw. I was almost in a daze as I clawed my way up the narrow red stairwell, scarcely knowing whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt. All I could think about was placing one foot in front of the other so I did not stumble and embarrass myself.

After the race, I hurried out of the lobby and impulsively started running to where my car was parked. "Weren't the stairs enough for you?" another climber shouted as I ran by him. I laughed and continued on, grateful to be back on level ground.

Writer T.R. Healy lives in the Pacific Northwest. His essays have appeared in The Climbing Art, Marathon, and Beyond, among other publications.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Five-n-Dime Christmas"

By D. L. Luke

Friends of mine in the First Cavalry --Marcus, Spaghetti-O, Harry Lynk nicknamed "Missing," and I -- were excited that day. The mail had come from home.

A few days before Christmas, in 1968, we were no longer the FNGs in base camp, taking half 55-gallon drums out from under latrines and burning shit with diesel fuel. We were passed that point, yet leagues away from the code words that earmarked the pages of our imperfections in history: ‘White Christmas.’

I'd been the BS -- bullet-stopper, dipstick, dago -- names the old-timers used to call us -- in Vietnam three months, twelve days.

My girlfriend Mindy sent me a package and at first, I didn't want to open it. All I could do was smile at the smiley face sticker next to my name. All I could do was touch the crisp neat corners, the scotch-taped ends with the nubs of my fingers. The thrill would be gone once I opened it.

For breakfast, coffee, powdered eggs, and sausage links were served in mess hall. We sat around a table, smoking, sipping on piping hot coffee or Tang, waiting for everyone to get done eating so that we could open the mail. It was the only thing we had to look forward to in the day. Otherwise it would've been like any other day in compound, cleaning our M-16's, next to impossible to keep clean, drinking, feeling sorry for ourselves. We shot the shit about who's a mark and who's a number ten, and wrote letters to families and friends.

It felt like being a kid again finding gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. We opened our packages and displayed all the loot.

Joe Speglio, nicknamed Spaghetti-O, was nineteen years old, from Bensinghurst, Brooklyn. "Look, the latest Hendrix tape," he said. "Picture my old man, this little Italian wearing a shop coat with sawdust on his shoes. He goes into a record store and asks the salesman where he can find 'that Hippie's Voodoo music.' Cracks me up just thinking about it."

"I got Fruit-of-the-Looms and homemade chocolate-chip cookies," Marcus said. "Mom must've heard about us going commando out in the jungle. I guess she wants to make sure I have a fresh clean pair, just in case."

"Yeah, in case your balls get blown off and they have something to put 'em into when they carry you out in a body bag," Missing asked. "What you get Mahone?"

"A Christmas tree," I replied. "My girlfriend sent it."

No taller than ten inches, five inches in diameter at the base, the Christmas tree was made out of plastic. The batteries were beneath the bottom of the base. When you flipped the switch, the little tree's lights turned on. They were tinseled all different colors: reds, golds, blues, and army greens.

"Ain't that sweet," Missing said. "What you get her?"

"Nothing," I replied. "Didn't have time."

"Mahone's too busy with that redheaded dink chick," Marcus asked. "Where does little Miss Saigon Lucy get off thinking she can dye her hair red? It is dyed isn't it?"

I got up from the table, shoving Mindy's letter into the inside pocket of my field jacket. I pushed the chair back and picked up the tree from the base. "Don’t overfeed the housecats," I said, and tucked it underneath my armpit.

Barracks was dead. Close to noon and already it was jungle rot hot. At least, I'd get some peace and quiet. I took off my jacket and relaxed on my cot. I opened the letter, lit a cigarette, and started reading.

Dear Evan,

Freaky how it's that time of year again.
Doesn't feel like Christmas since you've been away.
Mom wants me to go with her in the
city and shop. She wants to see B. Altman's windows.
I told her to go with a friend. You know me, I don't dig crowds.
I miss you. Can't wait to see those baby blues of yours again.
Look at it this way, you should be grateful.
You don't have to eat those orange-sliced candies
Grandma hands out to all the grandkids. You know, the kind of
candied fruit that tastes like chewing on an amoeba.
Hope you like the gift. Write to me soon --

My eyes followed the clean lines of her penmanship. I grew bored of reading and watched the faded blue lines draw flames as I lit the letter with my Zippo.

The next day we were sent out in the Central Highlands. To insure our troops nonviolent efforts, we endured another hellish walk in the yellow heat. We trudged through the swamps and marched across the wet, open rice paddies. If our feet got wet, we kept a change of wool socks on us at all times.

We swept the area for any booby traps and spider holes south of the Iron Triangle. The dense forest, beyond the dry flat land, was scarred hillside and bare mountains. Bone-dry sand sifted underneath my steel-plated rubber soles like sifting flour mom used to make piecrusts out of dough.

Pressing down into the small of my back was my rucksack. Even though the tree Mindy had sent me could not have weighed more than a few ounces that extra weight made a difference to the seventy-two pounds I was already humping.

Off in the horizon, the sun set a jaundiced color, the color of dead flesh hanging from the canopy of trees, the color of jackfruit. We picked a spot where we'd spend the night.

We dug our foxholes on Christmas Eve. I wanted to light the tree; but I couldn't do that. Hell, I couldn't even light a cigarette. If I lit one, boom I'd get my head blown off.

VC could see a burning cigarette a mile away. Even if I'd tried covering it by cupping my hands around it, taking a drag would make my face glow red.

We dug a foxhole extra deep. When we'd gone down deep enough I turned to Missing and said, "Put your poncho on top."

The foxhole was big enough for only one man at a time to fit. Since it was my tree, I went first.

I turned it on. The star had a mild brassy glow. Weehawken was the furthest place from my mind, but the energy coming from the string of lights reminded me of home.

For a brief moment, I forgot about the war, the fear that kept us surrounded. How the air smells like sweat, smoke, and white phosphorus. I took a step back and detached myself from what I’d seen: she’s just a kid, naked running down an old ox-cart trail with her arms stretched out burned from the napalm that had been
dropped on her village a few hours ago. "Nong Qua," she cries. "Nong Qua." ("Too hot").

The one emotion – longing to go home – haunted me in my dreams. In the waking hours, I fought back the feeling, which never lost ground inside my interior landscape, plagued with disorder and conflict. Yet there I was in the moment with Mindy. I pressed my head against the warmth of her American full-sized breasts.

The sensation slipped away into the fog that crawls along the land before the dawn disappears with sunrise. Through the fabric of the poncho, Spaghetti-O said, "What's he doing in there? Praying or taking a dump or something?"

I folded the poncho over and climbed out of the hole. "Everybody'll get their turn," I said.

From front to rear, from razor rash to gritty black face, a long line of men stretched across the entire length of the trenches. Atheist, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish didn't matter. They were all waiting their turn to see the Christmas tree.

As far away as I could get, I made my way to the back of the line. Those that had the time had already set up home. Canteens of water, C rations, letters, mags, mosquito repellent, helmets, sunglasses, and decks of

Bicycle playing cards invited temptation. With the mood I was in, I wanted to shuffle the cards around, scatter them into different decks, make a mess of things. Something soft and pink, the color of flesh tones caught my eye. Underneath a letter was a photograph.

I picked up a snapshot of a foxy lady in a string bikini posing for the camera. She stood on a beach. Her face wasn't much to look at; but she had a great body. What I wouldn't give to be with her for five minutes. That's all the time I would need.

Frizzy-haired Detroit knocked the picture out of my hands. "What do you think you're doing, gawking at my wife like that?" he asked.

"I didn't know she was your old lady," I replied. "Man, you'll make everyone crazy leaving a thing like this around."

Point man, Chuck Reed, and his chipped tooth, the only injury he got for being on-point during his second twelve-month tour, had been the last one standing on line to see the Christmas tree. He overheard us talk. His hand snatched the photo from Detroit.

"She's a piece of ass, all right," he said. "I don't get why a woman like her would want to get hitched to Frazzle-head. It ain't fair."

No match to Reed, Detroit was the last soldier anybody wanted in his foxhole while under fire. The dumb fuck got in the way and jeopardized the welfare of others when terror came to kill and maim. Reacting in his usual pussy fashion, Detroit flipped out and threw punches like a girl. Chuck grinned a chipped-tooth grin from ear to ear.

They were about to go at it with each other when the company commander broke through the crowd. "Cut the crap," he said. "Before I write you both up."

Reed shoved Detroit into the wall of sandbags. He tore the snapshot in half and slung the halves at him. "Here, you can have your wife back now," he said. "I'm done with her."

Hours later, things began to settle down. Somewhere hidden in the lineup of men, Detroit waited his turn to see the Christmas tree.

The zone -- dense with a darkness that smothers the moon and the field of stars -- felt like being sealed inside a coffin. It reeked of formaldehyde. It reeked of stinking dead bodies bloated from the heat. My guilty conscience reeked.

When you're away from home, living in a world of hurt, a world of shit that makes your worst nightmares seem tame you got compensated for certain things. Some guys dug booze; for others, it was drugs. I couldn't get into any of that. I loved women.

They were so easy to get. They were always right there. Hell, they'd send them out in the middle of nowhere out in the jungle. They'd come in army jeeps with rolled up mats.

I thought I loved Mindy. I used to worry about who she dated. If she was still a virgin or not. Now, I didn't care.

I never got crabs, the clap or any of those sexually transmitted diseases from fucking women. I figured I had nothing to lose; I’d take my chances.

Who knows why I couldn't get enough warmth from a woman, any woman. It didn't matter what she looked like or who she was -- so long as she wasn't VC. If she could give me warmth, affection and a little understanding, if she could make me forget where I was and the things I'd seen than I was happy, however brief it might've been.

The line of men waiting to see the Christmas tree had shrunk. It took all night, but everyone in my company, including the company commander, went down into the foxhole and looked at the five-and-dime tree on Christmas Eve.

Author D.L. Duke resides in Ithaca, New York and also writes as a journalist.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"She Told Me Her Secret"

By Diana Raab

The day after I found grandma dead,
my mother bought me a journal.
Through its pages, I spoke with her,

sitting in my walk-in closet,
clothes draped over my face.
Twenty years later, I visited a psychic

who invited me onto her faded
needlepoint chair, just like Grandma’s.
No crystal balls or tarot cards, just deep eyes

putting mine under a scope,
stripping me of all I thought was mine.
She knew everything about me. I shook

beneath my olive skin, tottering between
wanting to know everything yet nothing.
A yellow light surrounds you, she said

and as a healing vapor, Grandma’s spirit
surrounds you. She told me to channel
with her, she held a secret.

That night lying in bed staring
at the blank ceiling obstructing my view
to her heaven I told Grandma I wanted

to speak with her the next day at eleven.
At the strike of eleven, she whispered
my name; her voice velvet to my ears

asking if I recalled the hours before
her death, our walk around the block
and her secret. My memory and limbs

went numb as I was lifted
up and thumped down again. Was I
on her heaven or was she on my earth?

I lost all sense of place.
After a paralyzing silence,
my grandmother whispered of a gift

in her closet in her room next to mine.
The next day I ran up the creaky stairwell
and frigid iron banister of my childhood home,

flung open grandma’s closet door,
where her fragrance, Soir de Paris
still lingered. Her image flashed

like a spoon of honey to my heart.
From the shelf, I grabbed her journal—
typed musings on loose yellowing papers laden

with strikeovers, on the same typewriter
she placed my six-year old fingers.
Her life spilled over its pages like merlot

upon a white tablecloth—the wars she fought,
the dances she danced, the bridge games she won,
the lovers she had, and the passions

haunting her sixty-one years. I sat
on the closet stool, head buried in knees,
crying until I heaved and then finally stopped.

It suddenly hit me.
She’d never know my secrets, but I knew all of hers.

Writer Diana Raab lives in Santa Barbara, California. Her memoir, "Regina’s Closet: A Granddaughter Discovers a Grandmother’s Journal," is due out in September 2007. She is working on two other memoirs. The image at the top is a painting called "Grandmother Moon," by David Beaucage Johnson, an Objiwa Native Artist from Ontario, Canada.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Twilight Battle"

By John Grey

Step around and over fallen comrades.
On the battlefield, it's dusk, the day
is dying slow. The light has had enough.
Everywhere it shines, there's death.

For the sky sure looks like skin, and
the orange is a wound that's pulling
it apart, and the red is blood that
dries itself on the tops of smoky trees.

That sky must have taken a bullet
or two in its time and so that's
why it's bent up, crouching, letting
night get shot at for a while.

But how do you blacken what's already
dark. At least, some stars float out like
ducks in galleries. And the moon is wide
and yellow, saying "Come and get me."

But the army's out of ammunition. Or
everyone's too dead to bother.
So step over or around fallen comrades.
Shadow, it's time for you to leave.

John Grey's latest book is “What Else Is There” from Main Street Rag. He has been published recently in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review and The Journal Of The American Medical Association. Grey lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Once There Were Four of Us"

By Marti Zuckrowv

Once there were four of us, before their father
slid from sanity.

He'd tried not to. He had stumbled, crawled, dragged
his belly on the ground, grasping at weeds, and rocks,
and shards of glass scattered every which way
because he could only see just so far before madness
overtook him and the garbled words in his head
hammered away at his skull.

It was then that his very own Jewish crown of
thorns bled him dry of reason. He'd rolled up his
sleeves and hurled insults on heaps of filthy snow,
yellow with mongrel's piss, and cigarette butts.
He'd tried driving a cab, a reckless attempt to
disguise his blistered brain. He came home at night
with nothing in his hands but my, their lives,
and his, dribbling away.

Back then, he was still young, and handsome, and
blond like a movie star. Back then, he hit home runs,
strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge and up through
Manhattan and wandered for hours on streets paved with
the gold of his grandfather.

Then it was the three of us, rambling along
3000 miles of the USA. We arrived in Berkeley,
where nothing much mattered except
nuts and grains and where a can of Spagettios was linked
to fascism, and Diet Coke was a sin amongst sinners
and gurus and those caught up in the middle floundered
for meaning like fish in a net.

I read "Where the Wild things Were" to my daughters,
who needed the wild woman in me to keep
them safe.

I did the best I could.

He must have too, their father, stuck away in a
padded room, out of sight, out of his mind, minding
his own business at Bronx State Hospital except to
beg, borrow, or steal the cigarettes that yellowed his
fingers and faded the crimson rage or grief of
whatever it was that rattled his brain, so he no longer
knew what was real, or where he was, or why he

It was not easy to walk away.

We had to walk away.

We'd walked too close to his edge and the shape of our
lives was caving in like a rotting jack o' lantern.

It was Christmas or the day before when we drove up to
the big house, "Big Rock Candy Mountain," aptly named
by a collective vote of the 15, 20, 70 housemates,
dropouts, outlaws, and lovers of babies, heroin,
and Jesus, who inhabited the many rooms and
cubbyholes and makeshift tents set up in the backyard,
held together with worldly wisdom, and prison smarts,
and wood carvings staked in the pebbly ground.
Shoots of grass pushed through the soil and we pushed
on, tugging one another, a mother and her cubs.

We were surfacing on the West Coast where
dolphins were thought of as gods. There was no God
looking after us or the man we'd left
behind embracing the Gods of Abraham as haldol cruised
through his veins and silenced the demons he
swore were crushing his head.

The state looked after us, as they'd done in New York City
and they looked at us, too, and through us and through
the others crammed into the airless room policed by
government employees who hated their jobs as much as
we hated being there, and had to be there, too,
for a handout and sometimes a limp hand shake.

It was not hard to walk away from that room with
the promise of a check in a week or two and meanwhile
we sat at the big round table at "Big Rock Candy
Mountain" and learned to eat sprouts and brown rice
and stews of many colors with or without meat,
depending on who was cooking that night.

I was not trusted in the kitchen.

I did not trust myself.

I managed to be a rock for my two little girls, the
one blond and cherubic like her father's side, and the
dark one, like me, with my ancestors' faces staring
back at me, her big dark eyes seeing too much,
already at four she'd seen too much of the madness in
her father.

We held on tight and sat in circle on the floor while
a fire in the fireplace danced flames of warmth and
hope and hints of adventure and where, later, the
welfare social worker interviewed all the URAMS,
(unrelated adult males) who were legitimate and/or
legal enough to appear before her and swear they were
not paying me for sex.

We moved on, said our goodbyes to the Bronx housewife,
co-conspirator of the failed family. We moved on, our
feral instincts guiding us toward food and shelter.
I met a man. We had clean laundry, and a dog. We went
to Value Village and got a kitchen table and four
lumpy chairs for $2.50.

I made the beds and brushed their hair.

We swam at the beach and came home sandy and sleepy
and hopeful.

Writer Marty Zuckrowv, of Oakland, California, is a lifelong dancer and performance artist who teaches movement classes to people with disabilities.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Food Trip"

By Noah Kirsch

There is nothing like a bite of a blueberry pancake, soaked in fresh maple syrup right when you wake up. Then again, I do like challah French toast – the trick is to add maple syrup to the batter. And an omelet with diced tomatoes and spinach isn’t bad either. I could settle for waffles. I could probably settle for peanut butter and banana with a glass of milk. That’s just breakfast though.

If you can’t tell already, I am a food aficionado. It runs in the family. One of my grandmothers is a first-generation Italian-American. Anything made by D (short for Dena) is Deeeeee-licious– raisin meatballs, homemade pasta, bracciole and biscotti, quite literally, to die for.

My other grandmother founded a gourmet catering company with sites all over the greater New York region. She may have retired from the kitchen years ago, but when it’s time for Thanksgiving she can still make a turkey right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Growing up around good, no, incredible food has been a privilege that I have embraced. I don’t just eat to live, I live to eat. And so, if I could do anything for a day, I would spend it eating my favorite foods. With that said, the food in my house can be scarce at times. A few years ago my mother bought into the organic food craze. I knew things had really become dire in the Kirsch household when my mother topped a pizza with quinoa. So to get the best food possible, I’d have to venture out of the house – way out of the house. That means a road trip with one of my best buds, Misha.

Ever since this summer when my friend Misha and I took a spur-of- the-moment road trip to Rhode Island, there have been few things I’ve enjoyed more. Let’s just say my parents were awfully surprised when I told them why I wouldn’t be coming home for dinner that night. On the way we found great restaurants, ones I would love to revisit all in one day.

Bill’s diner with coffee, grits, hash browns and an omelet right in the heart of Hartford, Connecticut would be perfect for breakfast. If it were summer time, we could arrive on the beach in Narraganset no later than twelve o’clock. After a couple hours riding the waves, the smell of fried calamari from Real Seafood would be calling our names for lunch. Between salad, mussels, shrimp, calamari, French fries and ice cream, I probably wouldn’t need another influx of food for a good half an hour.

After lunch on the beach, it would be time to drive up to Boston to finish off the road trip. Basketball in the park might work off some of the 10,000 calories consumed during the day. Anyone who has been to Boston knows where to finish a day of eating off: La Strega (“the witch” in Italian) restaurant on the North side. With their Zuppa di Pesce – a real half of a lobster, scallops, shrimp, mussels, calamari, penne and a light tomato sauce– and canolis for desert, the road trip would be complete. The packed streets of Boston would be perfect to roam until home started calling our names.

Oh, yeah, the money part. There’s none in my pocket. It’s a sure good thing I keep my checkbook in the glove compartment.

Noah Kirsch, of Spencertown, New York, is applying to college. This essay is one he composed as part of the process. In addition to being a first-rate eater, Kirsch burns off excess calories playing a lot of basketball.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Comes the Miracle of Words"

By Alan Rowland

For four months, I lay in bed, mute, unable to speak, nor to care for myself in any way. I watched the Iraq war, every day -- indeed ALL day, in 'shock and awe', as my waning strength would allow. I stared 'death' in his empty, shark eyes.

I allowed no one to see me, no one except my partner, John, who dealt as best he could with my illness. I was convinced I would lose the battle, as the bombs fell on Baghdad.

Would I ever see another day, another moon?

.....The miracle was, I survived.

The miracle was, I was able finally to begin to write.

The miracle was,

I saw each day slowly unfold; and once again I saw the moon rise and pass through its phases in time I never thought I would have.

Artist and writer Alan Rowland worked for many years in New York City as an illustrator and art director until a seriously debilitating illness robbed him of the use of both hands. Five years ago he moved to the countryside in southern New Jersey, where he began to write poetry about health, illness, art and loss. This image was created by Colorado-based artist Julie Adair to accompany Alan Rowland’s poem. He is very grateful to her for her help.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"The Three Tarot Cards," Part Three, See The Mystery Unfold

By Laura Stamps

Leaving this city and the Blue Ridge
never comes easy, but Ravena
will go home tomorrow morning as
planned, because that’s where she
feels she belongs at this moment,
the prophecy of the three tarot
cards already manifesting. “But in
my mind,” she whispers, “I’ll take
the rainbow, the azure mist rolling
across the mountains, and my idea
of the world.” She knows everyone
in life clutches a particular idea of
the world, good or bad, following
that concept, walking a certain road.
“And I will walk mine,” she muses,
“a path following my heart, stepping
not only to an earthly circle, but also
spinning as a planet unto myself,
blessed in the arms of the Goddess.”

* * * * *

Early the next morning Ravena
pulls out of the hotel parking lot
onto the highway leading back
to Columbia, searching for a way
to say goodbye to the mountains,
their image growing smaller in her
rearview mirror with each passing
mile, and only the ringing of her
cell phone interrupts these thoughts.
“On the road yet?” Odell asks.
“Yes,” Ravena answers. “About
three hours away.” Odell mumbles
to his secretary and shuffles the
papers on his desk. “Okay, I’m back,”
Odell says. “Did you do the healing
spell last night?” Ravena wiggles
in her seat, trying to find a more
comfortable position. “I did,” she
responds. “What do you think?”
he asks. “I think it’s a good start,”
she replies. Odell sighs with relief.
“You should get here around noon,”
he says. “If you like, I could come
by the house, and we can go to lunch
at that vegetarian restaurant down-
town.” Three crows swoop over
the highway and disappear in a field
of sun-washed goldenrod. “That
would be nice,” she replies. “It’s a
date.” Odell laughs, and she realizes
it has been months since she’s heard
him sound so carefree and happy.
As they hang up, she glances in the
rearview mirror, the mountains
only a faint lavender ribbon curling
across the horizon. “Merry meet and
merry part,” she whispers, as the sun
lifts its dazzling chin over the Blue
Ridge. “And merry meet again.”

Laura Stamps ( is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over seven hundred of her poems and short stories have appeared magazines worldwide. Winner of the "Muses Prize Best Poet of the Year 2005" and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and six Pushcart Award nominations, she is the author of more than thirty books and chapbooks of poetry and fiction.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The Three Tarot Cards," Part Two: A Healing Spell for Odell

By Laura Stamps

Restless from her puzzling tarot card
reading, Ravena decides to drive
downtown and explore the neighbor-
hoods clinging to the mountains of
the city. Each narrow street hugs
the curve of a mountain, while drive-
ways shoot up at an angle or plummet
straight down. On the sloping side
of the street, mailboxes rise higher
than the roofs of homes that sprawl
large and spacious, most perched
on stilts, each with a wooden bridge
leading from the front door to the
road. High fences and thick masses
of trees and shrubbery surround the
mansions at the top of the mountains,
some resembling castles carved from
rock, painted in sunny pastel shades.

Winding through these mountain
neighborhoods, Ravena realizes
she must keep her mind focused
on the last tarot card, The World,
if she hopes to discern its meaning
in her life, to manifest its prophecy
of success and abundance. Quickly
she creates a chant for her intent:

“Wise Athena, thank you for your magic.
Open my eyes, guide this blessed chant.
Abundance and success shall manifest.
The World will bring me only the best.”

Wild onions bow their heads to the
setting sun as Ravena walks back
to her room after dinner, every step
a tonic for cramped muscles after
a long day of driving. Rain curtains
one of the mountains, and the dark
sky reflects the same shade of gray
she chose when painting the deck
last spring. Instantly, clouds part
for the sun, and a rainbow stencils
its bright hoop over the murky sky
in scarlet, tangerine, yellow, green,
blue, indigo, and violet, this looping
spectacle so wide Ravena finds
color variations smudged in between
the usual spectrum. For several
minutes the rainbow towers before
her, a perfect semicircle. One side
closed, the other forever open.

When she walks through the door
of her hotel room the telephone
rings. “I know you’re coming home
tomorrow, but I couldn’t wait,” Odell
says, his voice laden with misery.
“I feel awful.” Sitting on the edge
of the bed, Ravena asks, “Are you
ill?” Odell groans. “No, not really,”
he replies. “It’s just that everything
bothers me.” Ravena smiles, glad
he can’t see her expression. “Could
you do a healing spell for me?” he
asks. “Anything, please, I’m so tired
of this.” Ravena laughs. “It’s not
funny!” Odell shouts, frustrated.
“I know,” she replies, thinking about
The Star. “This reminds me of a
tarot card I drew last night.” She
reaches for her bag of magical tools
and unzips the top. “I’ll be happy to
cast a healing spell for you, Sweet-
heart,” she says. “Great,” he replies,
and begins to complain about his job
and the cats as he walks into the
kitchen to search the freezer for
a snack. “Honey,” Ravena says,
“we need to cover all the magical
bases.” She hears him open the
freezer door. “Before leaving for
work tomorrow, go into my office,
open my cabinet of magical supplies,
and find a short length of red ribbon,”
she says. “All the ribbons in there
have been blessed with holy water.”
Odell pries the top off a cardboard
container of soy ice cream. “Pin it
to your shirt pocket to ward off the
Evil Eye,” Ravena continues. Odell
scrapes the last spoonful of ice cream
from the carton and throws it in the
trash. “Okay,” he replies, smacking
his lips. “I can do that.” Ravena
smiles at his sudden cooperation.
“Then I’ll cast a healing spell for
you tonight, and you’ll feel much
better tomorrow morning,” she says.
“I hope so,” he moans. “Love you.”

And he hangs up. Ravena drags the
tool bag across the bed and turns it
over. She fills a tiny green amulet
pouch with a pinch of dried fennel,
geranium, rosemary, and lavender
for healing. Then adds five beans
and two charms, a silver hand
and a crescent moon, both power-
ful repellents of the Evil Eye.
It worries her that some people
possess the ability to send the Evil
Eye to another without realizing it.
“Odell has been cranky for so long,
who knows how many people
he’s offended?” Ravena mutters,
closing the amulet pouch with
a red cord long enough for Odell
to wear it around his neck, hidden
beneath his dress shirt and vest
every day. She places the amulet
on the bed and casts a sacred
circle, waving her wand over it
three times in a clockwise direction,
seeking the healing magic of Isis.

“I call on the power of Isis,
Great Goddess of Restoration.
Heal Odell’s troubled mind.
End the root of this strife.
Hide him from the Evil Eye.
Under your wings I place him.
Please grant my supplication.”

She thanks the Goddess and opens the
circle. Energized from Odell’s call and
the power she summoned for this spell,
Ravena rolls over on the bedspread,
closes her eyes, and pulls light from the
table lamp into her body, using it to relax
her muscles, until she dissolves into
a river of star-shine, the three tarot
cards dancing upon a mystical horizon.


Laura Stamps ( is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over seven hundred of her poems and short stories have appeared in magazines worldwide. Winner of the "Muses Prize Best Poet of the Year 2005" and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and six Pushcart Award nominations, she lives in South Carolina and is the author of more than 30 books and chapbooks of poetry and fiction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"The Three Tarot Cards," Part One

By Laura Stamps

Spring arrives late in the Blue
Ridge this year. Only the second
week in May, and the soft fur
of buds and new leaves still
covers most of the trees at higher
elevations after an unusually
long, cold winter. At four o’clock
Ravena turns off the Parkway
and drives back to her hotel
along the country road that joins
each mountain town to the next.
Dark storm clouds gather in the
west, and she’s thankful to have
left the mountaintops before the
sky cracks, releasing its barrage
of fire-sticks and silver seeds.

When Ravena returns to the hotel
the thumping of steady rain pummels
her car, but by the time she walks
into her room the deluge stops.
Outside, water puddles pockmark
the courtyard, and a sparrow
jumps in one, fanning its wings,
splattering itself with water. Up
and down it hops and splashes,
until a robin twice its size charges
across the lawn, and the tiny bird
darts beneath a bush. The birds
in Ravena’s backyard bathe in rain
puddles as well, but none to such
a joyous tempo as this tiny sparrow.

Ravena steps out of her wet shoes
and pads across the room to the
bed, where she sits in the middle,
her legs folded neatly beneath
her, rummaging through the bag
of magical tools for her tarot deck.
She places it in the middle of a
cotton scarf illustrated with runes
and the image of Athena, Goddess
of Wisdom.

With her wand Ravena
casts a circle around the bed, calling
upon Athena’s guidance. Then she
closes her eyes, grounds her energy,
and says, “Dearest Athena, Great
Goddess of Wisdom, should I leave
Odell and my marriage?”

Ravena cuts the deck, shuffles three times
to symbolize the phases of the
Moon, divides the deck into three
piles moving left, stacks it again
in the same direction, and then
draws the top card. The Nine of
Swords reversed. A reversed card
always means “No,” this particular
one symbolizing a time of confusion.
“I don’t understand,” Ravena mutters.
“Dear Athena, show me another
card to clarify your answer.” She
props the Nine of Swords against
her magical tool bag, cuts the deck
again, shuffles, divides, stacks, and
draws The Star this time, a healing
card. “Now I’m really confused,”
she says. “Help me, Athena.”

Setting this card next to the first
one, she goes through her routine

one last time, drawing The World.
exclaims, thoroughly frustrated.
“None of this makes any sense to
me,” she sighs, staring at the three
cards as if they could speak, but
hearing no revelation from Athena.
“Not one word,” Ravena mumbles.
Slowly she gathers the cards and
packs them away in her bag, deciding
to try another reading tomorrow
before she leaves town for home.


Laura Stamps ( is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over seven hundred of her poems and short stories have appeared in magazines worldwide. Winner of the "Muses Prize Best Poet of the Year 2005" and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and six Pushcart Award nominations, she lives in South Carolina and is the author of more than 30 books and chapbooks of poetry and fiction.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"Butterfly Pavilion"

By Kika Dorsey

They flutter at the edge of my vision.
There are butterflies as small as a coin
and as big as a man's hand, of every
color one can imagine.
Some have owl eyes on the inside of their
wings to fool their predators.
My daughter reaches out to touch them.
I want to touch one, she says, but
a sign says that the oil on our skin can kill them.

I watch my daughter, my butterfly,
her delicate hands, her lush mouth
and I think of predators, how I wish
she had owl eyes painted on her wings
to scare them away, or a poison at the
touch of her flesh.
She points to a purple one and smiles.
Purple is her favorite color.

We leave the pavilion.
Another sign says to watch out
for hitchhiking butterflies
and I close the door quickly,
check my and my children's clothes.
I'm relieved to find none,
because I know what it¹s like to not
have a sanctuary, to be out in the cold
and feel oneself dying, wings molting one
into a different creature, one that breaks the hips
to give birth, one that carries the weight of babies.

My daughter is still a butterfly and all I can do
is keep her warm until the day she comes out
into the cold, her wings trembling like
the eyes of someone dreaming.

Writer Kika Dorsey, of Boulder, Colorado, has had her poetry published in numerous journals and books, including Anyone is Possible; Coffeehouse Poetry: An Anthology; Between the Lines; The Denver Quarterly and The California Quarterly. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of
Washington in Seattle and has taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Alchemy for Happiness"

By Diana Raab

Kisses on the inner thigh
the center of a chocolate soufflé
fluffy Maltese puppies
chilled Crystal champagne
Beatles concert in the park
lobster tails dipped in butter
bright purple Orchids
fresh snow on Christmas morning
roasting marshmallows
half-melted peanut butter cups
mysterious love letters
lying nude under the Hawaiian sun
writing in Parisian cafés
chestnuts roasting in the oven
wrinkle-free and svelte
multi-colored gel pens
Aunt Lilly’s chicken paprika
reading Anais Nin’s journals
unbreakable finger nails
French kissing under the full moon
a mink coat on a cold day
journaling in Big Sur
private jet to Fiji
bagels and cream cheese
scoop of coffee ice cream
vinaigrette-basted artichokes
hot chocolate at the skating rink
a month at Yaddo or Esalen
convertible drive on Route 1
freshly-caught salmon
chocolate-filled croissants
chocolate chip cookies dipped in cold milk
front row at a Sting concert
fluffy down comforters
sunbathing on a Caribbean beach
crunchy French bread
runny cherry pies
bunion-free feet
24-hour bookstores
meditating in The Himalayas
bilingual in five languages
Aunt Silva’s gefilte fish
chardonnay on the terrace
bouquet of red roses
surfing in Hawaii
sipping double espressos
boxes of Good ‘n Plenty
a night with George Clooney.


Diana Raab is a writer in Santa Barbara, California. Her memoir, Regina’s Closet: A Granddaughter Discovers a Grandmother’s Journal, is due out in September 2007. She is working on two other memoirs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"The Lost Girls"

By Robert Combs

two little girls
one fair
one dark
are running hand in hand
through a sunny house dressed
in red and white checkered dresses
with puffed sleeves
ribbons and bows
they run away from me
it's just a dream
but I am happy
when I wake I will feel no sadness
I have seen them again
I am comforted that somewhere
they still are

is it strange
to carry inside you a new life growing
to know it before it's born
to see at last
is it a boy or a girl
with perfect fingers and toes
to feel it nurse at your breast
to know this tiny life as well
as you know yourself

any father knows
you own it as you made it
you are the authority upon it
you are responsible for it

but they grow and you know them less
accidents and adventures
become their own as you lose track
still you know more about them than anyone
but little by little
the child dies
replaced by someone you thought you knew
gradually you are discarded
they argue with you
or ignore you or worse
they are kind to you
they who begged to follow
find imitation no more fun
they make few demands yet
you are grateful for those few

one day they will sit in my living room
an authority upon themselves
they'll show their husbands and children
my photo albums
and I will look too
and realize
the little girls in matching dresses
the fair one carrying her Cinderella
tin lunch box teaching
her puppy to come down the slide
is lost to me
just as the small one
with ebony pigtails
who played so often at my feet
is lost

but the world in which these two
wear bright red winter coats
and matching hats with fuzzy balls on top
exists so uncannily that
after I've seen the pictures
I believe in them
the bandage one has coming loose
in the photo of the other's birthday
the castles they are building at the beach
the puppies
report cards
boyfriends and tears
proms and boutonnieres
used cars and college
and loneliness
today I look at them
and all the old sure
knowledge bleeds back over me
and I put it down
I did know those children
I knew all about them
when did I lose them
how did I let them get away

I catch myself staring
at them when they visit now
try to find the children they

Writer Robert Combs is a single father living in Natchez, Mississippi. He has four daughters and four grandchildren.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Light Flight"

By Gabrielle Wilkon

he stays up all night over his blueprints and maps and plans out the exact course of action he will take in the approaching hours. the time unravels and brings sweat to his forehead. he works away in nervous anticipation of the rising sun, a sun that demands that his feet start out again down the road. he paints his life first, void of all intruding characters and imposing shadows. there are no fallen coins on his route. no black cats or unaccounted for newspapers can be found in his daily hours. every day has been scrutinized most diligently and seen through his eyes once before.

he works away until the first blinding light of the sun appears. once he's prepared, he takes his briefcase, his coat and his hat and opens the door. he passes through every street, block and park through preprogrammed steps. at the alley way crossing, he opens his briefcase and examines his plan once more. he repeats the directions and the rules in his mind. he nods to himself at the green light as he walks forward steadily. he is satisfied with the scrupulous calculations that foresaw the exact angle of the white passing car with the barking dog hanging out of the window just diagonally to him now. he is here, exactly at 12:47 p.m. and so are they. he is on track. he freezes and waits for the yellow car and the grey semi to pass. he stands motionless. he is almost ready to go, he lifts his left leg and takes 4 steps, and there, there she is.

the red haired girl winds the approaching corner. she swings her red purse around her hand and hums the familiar tune to herself. he listens to her footsteps coming closer, and the scent is almost about to engulf him. he is ten steps away from her now. the hair is almost visible from his downcast gaze. he waits for another four full steps and then, yes, he is hit. she smacks him with the cloud of sparkling dust and a lavender aroma. with this scent inside him now, he is able to take flight. he soars with the angel who leads him. breath leaves his body, shadows disappear, closed equations and his briefcase disintegrate on the ground. he is free. the child in him returns. he glides higher and ricochets off the clouds. he is forced to take a breath. he pants and tumbles to the ground. his feet pound the sidewalk, but his gait is quickly resumed, as he remembers the formula that will take him back to his crypt.

alternating spectrums

lights sparkle in distant galaxies
light flickers
and a galaxy forever changes

spectrums from red to green
and the speed of light is diminished
to a halt

one scream arises from multiple mouths
and now silence reigns in
an intersection where no one stops

mantled steel and deformity are shared
among the participants
passersby stare with mouths agape

the sound of guitars hides the whimpers
that fill the air
no one can hear the silence that surrounds them

a wave swims to the scene
and takes the whimpers
into the blue, cloudless sky

the light turns green again
but no one is left
strolling, through

Gabrielle Wilkon is a student at York University in Toronto, Canada. She is majoring in Health Sciences but writing a lot on the side.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Back Home Again"

By John Grey

Nothing's where I left it.
Even the inanimate stuff
got up and moved in my absence.
Baseball cards marched from the dresser to the attic.
Baby blue blankets slid into closets
and stayed there.
Pennants hide in boxes beneath comics
and girlie magazine.
So if the souvenirs, the pins, the report cards,
won't sit still,
what hope is there for the people.
Try finding a child anywhere in this house
these days.
Listen for footsteps scurrying upstairs... nothing.
And scratching in the cellar... mice maybe...
but nobody in shorts and t shirt,
their bare feet scuffing up the dust.
Could that wry smile be concealing a grin?
Is the upside of a face ever in its downside?
I stroll slowly through the rooms
knowing I won't find a trace of what I'm looking for.
And yet my heart feels sated, my mind becalmed.
Maybe disappointment is its own reward.

Poet John Grey lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His latest book is “What Else Is There” from Main Street Rag. He has been published recently in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review and The Journal Of The American Medical Association.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Witch," An Excerpt

By Jennifer M. Wilson

If every step I took was fated, and every word I spoke written out long before my birth, then I can be held accountable for none of it. I would exist as naturally as the sky, and could be blamed for the events in my life only as the sky could be blamed for throwing down lightning.

Someone is sobbing.

The sound echoes in my head as I wake, cramped and cold on the floor of a dim prison chamber. My body is drenched in the wet mineral fog of morning. My throat is sore, and my joints ache. The air is thick with the smell of unwashed flesh, cold wet iron, and fear. The pale morning light forms a pattern of shadows where it seeps through the bars on a window. It is no longer raining outside, but water still leaks in over the sill and flows in rivulets down the wall. I can see steam rising from the ground outside as the sun climbs higher.

My senses slowly flicker back to life. My wrists burn from the shackles that tear at their wounds repeatedly whenever I move. After fifty-two years on this earth my body is unaccustomed to the abuses of prison. My arm is dead and so I rub the nail of my index finger against the flesh pad of my thumb until the touch penetrates through and the needles rise up to the surface. I focus on the life returning to my hand, slowly creeping in as the blood moves. I wonder if death is as vacant as that empty numbness. I wonder if my hand retained any memory of itself while it was asleep. These thoughts slither out of the remembrance that I am already scheduled to die.

The sobbing continues.

It is Abigail, a teenager who was brought in, as all of us were, on charges of witchcraft. She was imprisoned along with both of her parents. She is crying and begging God for forgiveness in prayers we can all overhear - though forgiveness for what, I am sure even she cannot imagine. She may have been doing it all night, tormenting those who can’t sleep because of the sound, tormenting the guard, whom I know feels some pity for her. Her translucent blond hair hangs in shimmering strands around her face. Her bodice, loosened in transport, was never fastened again properly and when she leans forward, she unknowingly exposes her own flesh.

Keys jingle from down the hall, and I hear a man clearing his throat. It is William the guard, come to check on his tenants. I have known him many years, just another unhappy man I served ale to in my tavern. He’s lonely, and he feels for Abigail, and I can see that he treasures the bits of comfort he can offer her as he leans over to wipe her cheek and feed her a sip of water.

As I watch them, she looks over his shoulder at me. In her eyes there is a cowering horror, as though I could summon beasts from beyond the grave to take her away if she should ever finally fall to sleep. She leans toward William’s dense body. She only knows what she has heard about me, and nothing more. But she believes in this, in everything that has brought her here. I feel as though I can see her so clearly and yet she cannot seem to see me at all. Her fear dirties her perception like mud on glass, allowing enough light through to reveal form but not detail.

Writer Jennifer M. Wilson holds a degree in Communications and Comparative Religion from Ithaca College, where she studied at both the New York and London campuses. "Witch" is her first novel. She currently resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she is raising twin toddlers and writing her second novel. You can read more of her writing at her website "Witch" can be purchased at