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.