Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Produce and Prose and Poetry...

Calling all Albany-area Authors with Published Novels and Poetry Chapbooks!

As part of their annual Earth Day celebration, the Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York, is inviting authors to take a table where they can display and sell books. Earth Day will be celebrated Saturday, April 21, 2007. So if you have a published novel, or a book of poems, and you want to display them that day at the Coop, please contact My_Story_Lives@yahoo.com. We will ask each author to shepherd the table for an hour or two that day. Here’s a great way to sell a few books, and to help support a wonderful organic and local food operation in Albany.

P.S. If you aren’t a member of Honest Weight, think seriously about it. In a world faced with global warming, the need to buy our food from local farmers is URGENT!!!! The food at Honest Weight is awesome, wholesome and affordable!

Monday, February 26, 2007

"A Life of Crime Begins Two-Thirds of the Way Through the Movie"

By John Grey

One after another,
they sneak into the movie theater.
They don't even care what the show is
or if it's half over.
It's the thrill they're after.
Once inside,
I'm sure a film
of their own cleverness
is what they'd much rather see.
Forget the car chase,
the gunfight,
the romance,
when there's a door
wedged open at the back of the cinema,
and a bunch of unabashed new stars
make their entrance from the bathroom door.
Snug in their seats, their heads
are full of trailers for coming events.
So many ways of trespass to come,
of getting something without paying for it.
And always their names above the title.
On a rap sheet, if nowhere else.

Poet John Grey lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His latest book, "Where Else is There," is published by Main Street Rag.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"It Was a Backwater Beach"

By Cecele Kraus

It was a backwater beach in a backwater country, before the drug trade in Colombia; it was festival time in the beach towns of the Caribbean, festival time in Cartegena. Peace Corps volunteers, we traveled by bus from the inland city of Barranquilla to dance the cumbia, drink rum and coke. Foreigners with no advantage in this night of music and rum, Dan could pass for Colombian, but my red hair and freckles allowed no chance for passing.

Dan and I left the throngs to sit on the beach and as we listened to the distant steel drums, a man came upon us. Methodically, he unwrapped a gun from tissue paper, but spoke so rapidly, I could not understand. Dan understood and his words to me were firm:

You get up and walk back to the hotel. Do not look back. Do not run. Just keep walking unless I tell you to stop.

As he talked steadily to the stranger, I walked into the night, slipping down the beach toward the hotel. As I passed the revelers, the music dropped away, the dancers blurred. I steadied my eyes on the lights of the hotel, taking strength in Dan’s voice sounding over the beach, Keep going!

Now memory fails me. I arrived at the hotel safely. Dan joined me, we drank rum at the bar, but I do not remember what he said to the stranger with the gun.

A few weeks later, Dan said he could not give me what I needed and we stopped trying to fall in love. He could not give me a future. Maybe he gave me my life.

Writer Cecele Kraus works as a psychotherapist in Chatham, New York. She is working on a collection of poems and short fiction.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"The Door"

By Alan Rowland

The door stood at the end of a long, dark hall. It was closed and locked to all prying eyes and curious minds. I was afraid of the chipped paint and broken pediment, as though it might crumble and splinter to sharp pieces on the bare floor below.

No one ever mentioned the door or what lay beyond its insistent silence and dust. But silence may speak, and dust may cover a secret. The light of day through high windows and reflected off even higher mirrors never reached the door in its quiet darkness. No sound echoed from footsteps misguided to a wrong part of the church-like house. A pet never investigated; children showed no interest.

The door was merely 'there' - mute, imposing, with the threat -- or promise-- of something unknown.

To start it was only a door, but it became THE DOOR over time, as I grew to manhood. 'Curious,' I thought, and the door remained shut, locked and unpainted throughout years of painting and repainting the rest of the house. Eventually an armoire was lifted and dragged ungracefully down the long hall to cover the door, until it faded in mind, like old, stained wallpaper.

The house was an imposing structure, lovingly restored across a family's years to its original gothic beauty, with every modern convenience of the day. My mother fancied she had 'taste': 'That's one thing I always had,' she would boast, 'taste...eclectic, but taste.' The house was a testament to her modern sensibilities and style. The high-ceilinged rooms were painted a warm white, as a perfect environment for a mid-century modern decor, one that had seen its day pass, and return again to fashion, an affirmation of mother's 'good taste.'

The main rooms were large and connected to one another by French doors, with glass always sparkling. Twice a week mother would have 'help' come in for $45.00 a day. She would do her 'spot cleaning' each night before 'the help' would come to help keep up with a demanding, old house. Mother loved color, or 'colour,' as she might spell the word.

Textured color, vivid 'atomic' prints that even a child could love; color on drapes, upholstery and in the Picasso, Braque, and Cezanne prints that covered the walls - even in the 'commode', as I imagined she thought of it. Faded Persian color washed the floors, and rich, ceramic color lined shelves throughout the kitchen. The old Zenith color T.V. was banished to the huge kitchen, the obvious hub of the house, especially for the children.

It could have had 'rabbit ears,' but I might be imagining that. My brothers and I each had our own spacious room. I, the youngest of six, was relegated to an old butler's pantry in the long forgotten servant's quarters, nearest THE DOOR. The room had one Gothic window, with its four walls a platoon of closets and shelves, lined up neatly and ready for God's battle with the Infidel. A generation grew, with Dad and then, tastefully, Mother 'passing on,' as people used to say.

I inherited the house, as the sibling closest by - my brothers spreading out across the country, indeed the world. I moved to the heart of the house, and married within a year of my mother's death. Another generation began. My beloved wife Emily and I bore three sons, if you counted the first -- still born. Our hearts broke, until later, with hearts aglow, Emily gave birth to those two sons, five years apart. They were like twins. They looked alike and spent all their time together, exploring the house and sharing its mysteries.

The armoire, dragged so awkwardly to hide the door so many years before, had never left its spot as sentry. The door, now in its second generation of memories and buried under six coats of Benjamin & Moore's Linen White, held its silence, kept its secrets.

My sons raced together into manhood. We lost the first in a pipeline explosion in Kuwait, and the second on his first night's deployment in Iraq. The deaths shocked us to the core, and seemed to happen overnight, "...and then there were none."

Emily's sadness slowly killed her; an aching, gnawing grief that embraced a loving heart and turned her soul black with pain and anger.

And then there was one. Me rattling about a house too large for me, too full of memory and grief; my own faith slowly ebbing. Consulting my brothers around the world, we agreed finally to sell the house and its furnishings - lock, stock and armoire at the end of the dark hall.

My gay friend Arthur leapt with flamboyant joy at the prospect of owning the house he had coveted in secret for... forever. He, weary of 'all those dusty, old putti,' as he put it, a confusion of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, ripped the house to its old bones. As each Gothic detail was rudely torn from the house, I seemed to lose one more vestige of the faith which had brought me a peace across the years.

Soon my faith had deserted me to but once a year, watching Cecil B. De Mille's "The Ten Commandments" on High Definition TV, and getting a tickle of 'faith' - until monday morning. Arthur's demolition of the prized Gothic house slowly worked its way up flights of stairs, down halls and into rooms all barely even recalled. Finally the wrecking ball and hammer found their way to the top floor and my room as a boy, blessedly left alone.

Arthur's armoire, now 'one old painted whore, with too, too many facelifts,' would turn her last trick.' Arthur would need my help. It's amazing what the efforts of two men at opposing ends of enthusiasm can accomplish. Arthur played 'HRH Elizabeth I' and I reluctantly feigned obeisance. Fifty years of a Mother's 'gift' for 'tasteful' color and 50's 'Buck Roger's' wallpaper, peeled off in huge sheaves, as though they were fleeing the door. Arthur trilled with pleasure.

We used scrapers and hammers. We used a clever gadget that removed rusted screws from their old iron foundry tombs. The lock and three hinges were removed with much difficulty, and just a bit of melodrama. The door was finally, irrevocably free from its prison, and it toppled like the Titanic in two giant slabs. We leapt back and waited for the huge dust storm to clear and reveal... nothing!

The door collapsed in a groan to reveal insulation and pipes, and cables for the Zenith and HBO. The insulation revealed older insulation and some older than the last. Arthur tore at the insulation, the newer a 'Pink Panther' pink; the older - damp and faded in some moldy, spectral brown/grey. Scotch taped to the oldest of the insulation was a page torn from an old newspaper bearing the image of Siddhartha, sitting cross-legged beneath the Bodhi tree. His eyes, once heavy with kohl, were now heavy-lidded, in acceptance of Nirvana.

The figs of the Bodhi tree lay rotting at the feet of his frail body. Next to this fading page was taped another, a gravure picture of the smiling Buddha, fat with promise and good luck. Some Chinese newspaper was crumpled into balls on the floor, behind the door that led nowhere. It had never occurred to Arthur to wonder why the door was there. 'It'll make such a fab niche,' he said, and if fact were told, I had to agree with him.

I never did find the real truth about the door myself. But I came to believe my - our - first born, still, lifeless and mute as the door itself, had the answer. He might have had all the answers.

And then, there was one.

Writer and artist Alan Rowland lives in southern New Jersey. For many years, he worked 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 and prose about health, illness, art and loss.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Practicing for Paris"

By Ellen Zunon

During my student days many years ago I spent a summer in Paris studying French; since then it has always been my dream to return there for a few weeks, and perhaps to write some short stories set in my favorite spots around the City of Light.

In “The Writer’s Paris,” Eric Maisel suggests taking a day now and then to practice for a writing retreat in Paris, spending the day writing in cafés or public squares in your hometown.

In this way, if you ever do have a chance to spend some time in Paris just writing, you’ll know what to do. On a recent day off from my day job, I decided to do just that -- practice for Paris.

I left my house for the bus stop at my usual time, my word processor disguised in my plastic lunch bag, planning to get off the bus near a local coffee shop. As luck would have it, a friend was on the bus, with a selection of the 400 photos she had taken during her recent vacation in India.

I oohed and aahed over the few snapshots I studied, and mumbled something about doing an errand before work as I got off the bus way before my usual stop. Step One of my plan involved writing in the café for an hour before taking the bus to the park. I sat at a table with my mocha frappacino and chocolate croissant. But before I could take out my notebook and pen, I noticed a man with pad and pen seated at a nearby table.

He seemed to be furtively glancing around at the other coffee drinkers and taking notes. Was I being targeted by a fellow writer, objectified in red ink on a yellow legal pad? My Muse was not amused. Too embarrassed to pull out my own notebook, I finished my coffee and looked for a bus to the park.

Stepping off the bus, I walked down a quiet street to the park where I used to fish for sunfish as a kid. The red-winged blackbirds were just as I remembered from my childhood. The silence was broken only by the whirring of locusts and the mating calls of two dueling bullfrogs among the cattails -- until a chainsaw joined the chorus from the other side of the pond.

My Muse was not amused. I moved to another bench where I enjoyed a few minutes of sunshine before looking for the next bus. Finally, after an early lunch at another café, I sought out a carrel at the public library. One would think that the local public library would be a nice, quiet place to work.

But no such luck today; behind my carrel was a shelf that the library volunteers had chosen to reorganize. They were not using their quiet voices. And nearby, a mother and her pre-schooler were bickering about whether Pokemon or Spiderman was the better choice for a video to check out. My Muse was not amused. Would the university library be any quieter? I wondered.

As I gathered up my things to leave, the student volunteers were arguing about whether it was better to stay in high school, or drop out and get a GED. “Stay in school,” I wanted to shout out loud. Another short bus ride took me to the university library, where my husband and I had gone on study dates years earlier.

The murals and stained glass windows installed during the 1920’s created a soothing atmosphere conducive to study. I headed for a table under a stained glass panel with the Latin inscription “Post bellum nefandum pax”: “After an unmentionable war, Peace.” Just before I sat down, I caught sight of a sign near the circulation desk that said, “Please excuse the noise. A construction project begun on Monday will continue for several weeks.”

Sure enough, I soon heard a racket of sawing and hammering. My Muse was not amused. I could go on, but you get the picture. Next time I take a day off to write, I’ll do some reconnoitering ahead of time to help me plan my day. I’ll ask myself: What’s my style, noisy or quiet, solitude or anonymous crowd? Indoors or outdoors? A shady bench in the park may be just the thing.

On a different day, I discovered a perfect little park behind City Hall where government workers lunched quietly among the flowerbeds. I sat at a picnic table behind a burbling fountain where sparrows sipped and chirped. Hardly anybody noticed I was there, so I was free to read and write for as long as I liked. If you need to do research, a library may be your best bet; just steer clear of story hour if you would find it too distracting. Or if you’re one of those lucky people who have a laptop with a wireless card, you might want to skip the library and go to a café or bookstore with free wireless access.

You may even find your equivalent of the Café des Deux Magots or Café de Flore, where the existentialist crowd used to hang out. I may not get to Paris this year, or even next year. But when I do arrive in the City of Light, after all my practice I’ll know what to do. There’s an empty bench in the Luxembourg Garden, just waiting for me, near the fountain where the children sail all their sailboats.

Writer Ellen Zunon has taught English as a Second Language in the U.S., France and Cote d'Ivoire. She now hangs her hat in Guilderland, New York.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"For Reah"

By Jasmon Drain
Reah was a pretty girl living in the big city. Really, she wasn’t that pretty but just pretty enough to be noticed. She spent much time checking makeup in the mirror, checking her blouse, checking whatever she thought made her look better than other girls.

It didn’t matter where she was, the bus stop or work, it didn’t matter, she was always checking her prettiness. People would stop and say hi, she’d turn her head, eyes rolling a full 360. The only reason she would act different when the men said hi was because they smiled when they did it. Reah believed they were just being nice, complimenting her. Men compliment pretty women, she thought. She never noticed that the minute she turned her head they gave one another hi fives, talking loudly.

She had nice short hair, Anita Baker style, and got it done every week. Lonnie paid for it.

“Lonnie ain’t I pretty?” Is what she would ask plucking at the curls. He would answer yes, of course, although sometimes he wanted to say no.

Lonnie: a working man, a telemarketer sometimes, enough of the time that he could keep her happy and coming back home.

Lonnie would bring pizza, free pizza with mushrooms because his sister worked at the restaurant. Reah loved that.

In the beginning, before she knew she was pretty – when she wore bottle thick glasses – the two would sit in front of the small t.v., greasy mouths and all, licking their fingers. Now, after a set of contact lenses and a few of those compliments, that pizza just didn’t taste the same.

During dinner she would tell Lonnie she had the savor for new clothes, blouses, sexier, showing as much cleavage as she could. Had to match that pretty face. Lonnie had no problems with it – at first that is – he wanted her to look her best.
He even suggested a few items.

He was a war veteran, shrapnel accident victim, inconsistent jobs didn’t hurt much because government checks for his amputated leg paid the rent. A little extra money for Reah wasn’t so bad either, she deserved it after all she’d been through. He’d been gone for two years.

They met before the war, when he was a regular man (as Reah would say), at a church revival. They had a good sex life before the war too, could even be called lovemaking. Lonnie could move any way she wanted him to then. He was her first.

She promised to wait for him – she kinda’ did except for those couple of times with Gerome.

Gerome bought those contact lenses, took her to “Snap-o-bee’s” instead of free pizza, and told her she was pretty. That’s where it started. No, it’s not. Lonnie said she was pretty, but he meant it different. By Jasmon Drain
He meant it pretty like a great person. That used to be enough. Gerome meant pretty like I want to fuck you. Lonnie meant that too, but he didn’t know how to say it like that. He was a simple church boy with one leg now.

Reah had to help him do everything when he got back, use the bathroom, move to the table, did all the work during sex. She would call Gerome after he went to sleep and talk all night about their problems. After about a month of this, she started sneaking out late to his house. Lonnie would be sound asleep, or so she thought.
A couple times, he woke when the door clicked. He figured she deserved a complete man. Her leaving didn’t hurt so bad. When she got home, he’d even hug her, overlooking the smell of Gerome’s cologne along her chest, neck, private areas. Lonnie would try to get her to make love to him right away, just to prove she still belonged to him in some way. She’d refuse.

“I need you to pay me some attention!” Lonnie would yell. Reah would just take a shower and put on her night makeup. Yes, makeup to go to sleep in.

“Ain’t I pretty?” She asked him. Of course a yes, with a frown. Reah would peck him on the cheek, off to sleep.

Gerome even started calling the house when his “real” girlfriend wasn’t with him. Lonnie wasn’t quick enough with that wheelchair to get to the receiver before Reah, but knew there was another man on the line. He just knew. In his mind, the voice matched the cologne.

“You need to pay some attention to me!” Lonnie yelled again. Reah fanned her hand. He heard Gerome on the phone telling her how pretty she was.

A kiss, some dinner, a small amount of sex – if there was such a thing – and Lonnie was off to sleep, one eye open.

Reah, eyeliner and shadow, dabble of lip gloss and fresh curls – sometimes paid for by Gerome – snatched her jacket to go.

“Don’t leave, Reah.” Lonnie begged. “Stay with me tonight?”

Reah turned her head to him, a wink, and fanned that hand.

Reah arrived at Gerome’s before the girlfriend she knew nothing about was home.
Gerome moved quickly, not a lot of time, he thought. He pressed his chest to hers, snatched her Lonnie bought blouse off – ripped it a little – and chewed at her body. She didn’t care what he did, as long as she was pretty.

“I’m pretty now," she replied.

“I’m pretty right?” She asked him. Yup. Her panties were down. He on top of her, rough. A key in the door lock. Gerome’s eyes opened wide, her’s didn’t. Alina and Friend. Gerome lifted, said he didn’t know her. Friend held Reah down in the bed, still naked. A shiny knife cut her pretty face in so many places.

Doctors spent hours on her in surgery. Said she would have permanent scars. Two hundred stitches for too much damage. Would be a while before she could function regularly.

She called home, to Lonnie’s house, but no answer. She called again. No answer. Come on, baby! Pick up! I need you right now! Still no answer. She yelled at the nurse to dial, maybe she had the wrong number, but there was never any answer.

Jasmon Drain, a former law student, is now a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction at an Illinois University. His goal is to "learn about himself, his life, and his people through the study and creation of literature."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Born Again"

By Camincha Benvenutto

Alba was barely two years old, or so the story goes. She has heard the story many, many times from many different people including her father, mother and her cousins, Julia and Alberto, each contributing a piece, a patch of the quilt. Sometimes one or another has told her the whole story, or as much as they know. So that now she really doesn't know what she remembers, if anything, or what she has been told.

This is a potpourri of memories from cousins Julia and Alberto:

Alba, at two and a half, you had been sick for several months and were way behind in weight and size for children your age. Several childhood diseases had debilitated you and made you easy prey for what came next, the fever that ravished your tiny, frail body. You were depleted of the defenses necessary to fight infections. That is why the sore on your left buttock refused to heal and kept extending over your entire back. No wonder the doctors had given up on you.

The argument between Uncle Alvaro and the doctors took place in an office somewhere off the labyrinth of the clinic's corridors. When he heard what they had to say, he broke out in a rage, would not listen. How dare they! What do they know! Die? She is not going to die!

As Uncle Alvaro charged out of the office where the meeting had been scheduled, the clinic's head doctor tried to follow him. Alba, you caught a glimpse of him as he turned on his heels in front of the opened door of your room, his eyes two dark pools of frustration, compassion. He probably thought he could reason with uncle Alvaro. Perhaps calm him down. It didn't work. Your father never listened to anyone and when adversity hit him turned definitely deaf.

Uncle Alvaro had been to see you a few minutes before. His handsome full face, with eyeglasses and smile, had looked down on his daughter's tiny frame. He was so tall, so big. He knew everything. God, who was God for you then? Your father. Then, and for some years after. Your father, dressed in the impeccable gray suit, silk shirt. As he bent over you, the mysterious black pearl nestling in his tie, seemed to shine with a special glow.

Your father. As he walked back into your room his eyes were full of determination, his lips a firm line as he turned his attention to instructing the persons in the room -- your nurse, your nanny—on how his baby was to be handled and bundled up. Careful there. Gently. Got her? No. No, not like that. To you, his voice softening: All right, my little lady?

Your father did take you home. But not to die. He had a plan.

Somehow Uncle Alvaro obtained reservations on the next ship sailing two days later from Callao to Mollendo, Arequipa. He would not travel by plane. He had with him, to help him care for you, your nanny, a maid and a house boy. When the ship's Captain was informed -- after you were securely aboard—that one of his passengers was a little girl who was deathly ill, another terrible battle ensued. The Captain wanted you disembarked at once. Uncle Alvaro convinced him to let you stay. He signed a document absolving the Captain of all responsibility. Nothing was going to stop him. His destination? Yura, the village in the Sierras famous for its thermal spring waters credited the world round with saving the lives of thousands. More miraculous than Lourdes or Vichy.

Yura. Remember, Alba? Then, and now, a valley in the mountains an hour's plane ride south east of Lima. By ship it took two days and arriving in the port of Mollendo, you traveled by train to Arequipa, by taxi to Tingo where we lived with our grandmother and Aunt Carmen, who was mother and father to us. Julia was thirteen, I was twelve. You stayed the night. In the morning we left by taxi for what was then an all day ride to your final destination.

Yura. People, then and now, come from all over the world to recover their health, bathing in its many different medicinal waters that perform miracles. World travelers, honeymooners, entire families, business people. Yura has something for everybody.

They come for the pure mountain air, to soak up the sun, to find peace in the quiet life of the village. And, as an extra bonus, to enjoy the natural beauty of the place, taking long walks, hiking up and down the surrounding mountains. They also find organized tours of the nearby soda factories. Picnics. Luncheons in the picanterías, the open air eateries. Elaborate celebrations of Catholic Holy Days full of pomp and ceremony. Usually starting with High Mass in the morning, then a procession through the main road that culminates in evenings of singing and dancing in the central plaza of Los Baños, adorned with string lights holding colorful lanterns under clear skies laden with bright stars.

When nothing major is going on, the tourists themselves would take over and organize casino tournaments in the ancient Valencia Hotel's dining room‹before the Hotel de Turistas was built across the main road‹where usually at least one player would display uncanny ability at card tricks. And there were also, in private homes, literary and musical evenings in which every member of a family or families would participate.

Yura. A fertile valley nestled in the mountains, traversed by a river that swells dangerously in the winter but is a gentle, useful friend to all the rest of the year. The local residents make their living at cultivating different crops and livestock and catering to the tourists.

Arriving in Yura, your father had arranged to have the house cleaned ahead of time. He exchanged the suit, silk shirt and tie with the black pearl for overalls, faded old shirt, comfortable worn out shoes and went to work in earnest to save his daughter from a sure death.

Although in Yura people were used to seeing signs of illness in different stages all around them, Uncle Alvaro learned very soon that he had to bathe you before or after the baths opened to the public. The first day he bathed you at regular hours, the others in the pool with you were appalled at the immensity of the sore on your back, nauseated by the sight of the dead flesh around it falling from it like dried-old-bread crumbs.

Uncle Alvaro then made arrangements with the baths' guardian to give him a key so he could bathe you when the building was closed to the public. He got up at dawn. Your first bath was at five in the morning. Your last one of the day at six in the evening. That way the guardian could also clean the pools before they opened to the public.

The house Uncle Alvaro had rented was a five-minute walk from the bath house. After giving you the morning bath, he fed you a bowl of oatmeal and warm milk in which floated a pat of rich butter. Then he applied himself to cooking your next meal, a thick soup. The servants he had brought with him-- the house boy, the maid—were kept busy cleaning, washing, peeling, cutting, preparing the meat, the vegetables, the legumes.

Uncle Alvaro designed a rigid schedule that he followed daily: he bathed you, fed you the oatmeal, at mid-morning he fed you the thick soup he cooked you daily. Next, he sunbathed you, making sure there was shade for your eyes while your tiny, skinny body was exposed just enough to the sun on the front, then the back. Then you had a nap followed by another meal. And he made sure that you were forever held, endlessly cuddled. Your every need anticipated. And round and round the next day and the next. For endless months he never deviated from it.

The fact that the family was divided did not quench his zeal. Aunt Laura was alone handling the family business. This was unheard of. The risk tremendous. Aunt Laura was young, delicate. But this was an emergency, he had to trust. And he was trusting the common sense and she had plenty of it. Besides, she had been alongside him in other business ventures. His decision turned out to be a wise one.

After months of sacrificing himself Uncle Alvaro had to return to look after their businesses. He didn't want to take his daughter back so soon to the damp, semitropical climate of Lima so he took you to our home in Tingo, four hours from Yura, and left you in the care of his sister, Aunt Carmen.

It was altogether two years before you, Alba, reunited with your parents. But when you did you were cured, whole!

What a happy pair you were. Uncle Alvaro elegantly dressed, again, in an impeccable suit, silk shirt, the black pearl in the tie. And you, Alba, holding on to his hand, all lace, pink ribbons and shiny patent leather shoes, cut a perfect picture of health and well being when you walked into the clinic. The one who, wide-eyed- and-opened-mouthed seemed about to lose both of those eyes, was the doctor, head of the clinic.

Camincha Benvenutto is from Miraflores, near Lima, Perú. She earned her M.A. in 1987 in Spanish Literature at San Francisco State University. She published her novella, "As Time Goes By," through iUniverse in November, 2005. Her poems,short stories and literary translations have been published in English and Spanish in several literary and e-zines magazine.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


By Al Stumph

The writing assignment was very simple. “In three paragraphs reflect on a hang up you have about the computer.”

Since I have been using various computers to compose for over 25 years, I believed I would have no problem finding a hang up to write about. But, I reflected, I like the computer as a writing tool so I don’t really have any hang ups about writing at it, except those occasional distractions that arise when I take a break and surf the net.

I do have hang ups, though, regarding computerized cash registers in supermarkets and the way manufacturers use computers in cars. When a mistake has been made at the supermarket checkout, no one can correct it without a “manager’s key.” Often the checkout person does not even know what the mistake was. It is just that the register has frozen up thereby bringing everything, and everyone, to a halt.

Computers in cars bother me because I used to be able to do simple engine repairs such as changing the oil or filters. Now I have no comprehension of what I see when I open the hood or what needs to be done when a “check engine” light comes on. And no mechanic is able to diagnose the problem without first attaching a diagnostic computer to the car. Maybe, as Andrei Codrescu implies, the virtual world of the computer demands so much information from us that we are permitting it to consume our relationship to the real world.

I decided to compose my three paragraphs for this assignment while covering my wife’s store during her absence. Often I fill in the time between serving customers with reading a book or writing at the computer. As I prepared to write my assignment I realized that if I sat at the office computer I would not be able to see the store entrance and watch for someone to enter. Usually, to overcome this problem, I would take the laptop and place it next to the cash register and work there. But Kathy had taken the laptop on her trip so it was not available. No problem, I would just write notes with pen and paper and transcribe them later on the home computer. I sat for two full working days with a pen on blank paper. After 25 years, I can no longer think in longhand.

Writer Al Stumph, of Chatham, New York, is a retired social worker and trainer whose specialty was adoption and foster care issues. During the 1960s, he was a Mariel priest working in Hong Kong. Today, he mows lawns, builds furniture and helps out with his wife Kathy's antique store, called "Welcome Home."

Thursday, February 08, 2007


By Coral Coons

She pulled her hood over her head and continued down the cobbled streets of Camelia.

It was pouring rain, not a good sign.

The street ahead of her was dark, yet it seemed to light up. White and light gray houses stood in a straight line, the torches on the corners blazing. Nobody was awake at this time of night, the silence echoed in her brain.

She turned and opened the door to a small shop, with dusty windows and a very large oak door. This building was so very different from the others, it had a certain air about it that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. It was tall, tilting slightly to the left. A dark brownish color, it stood out like a single star in the night sky.

It was her own shop -- she had inherited it from her mother, Nala. For about a thousand years, every woman in her family had been a seer, and her grandmother, Narcisa, had opened this dingy little fortune telling shop as a source of income when her uncle Nandu was born.

To be honest, it was not very successful, and they got an average of one customer every month. But it was a family business, and she was expected to carry it on.

She pulled off her soaked cloak and hung it on the knob by the door. Shivering, she walked towards the front room, the only place in the house with a fireplace. It was also where she conducted her services, so it was hardly ever used. She opened the door and looked around the room -- almost everything was perfect.

The scratched wood floor was as pale as ever, the walls still their musty gray. The makeshift rack of hideous violet teacups stood straight in the corner. The tall bookshelves on the far side of the room were a little crooked, but every book was still there. A gray stone fireplace stood majestically on the right side of the room, probably the only beautiful thing in the whole shop. A door, closed and locked tightly, stood opposite the fireplace.

A small oak table stood in the center of the room, a pearly white table cloth covering the stains of age. A large crystal ball sat on a cracked glass pedestal on top of the table, and two matching oak chairs were arranged carefully on either side.

As her eyes scanned the room, they froze at the table. A young woman was sitting on one of the chairs, reading intently from a small red book. As she stepped forward, the woman stood up quickly, dropping her book, a surprised look on her face. Something in her eyes spoke for her, she hadn’t come here to have her fortune told.

She clenched her fist beneath her skirts, and looked at the woman, recognition kicking in. An air of silence hung between them for several minutes-the young woman was the first to speak.

“I am terribly sorry if I’ve frightened you. I know it’s late, and I shouldn’t be here, but I desperately need your help. As you can probably see, I am with child and quite a few months along. I have been having these unusual visions, and I think they are caused by the pregnancy. I do not remember anything from the craft, and so I have resorted to coming to you. I need to know what these visions mean.” She did indeed look desperate, and, definitely pregnant.

“Listen, Sorina, I know you need my help, but it’s late, and the shop is closed. I’m tired and I need sleep. Would you mind coming back in the morning?” She took Sorina by the hand and led her towards the door.

“But,” Sorina protested as she neared the door. “You don’t understand! I need help now! You can’t just throw me out, I’m your sister! Voria! Please!” She pushed Sorina through the door, and before closing it in her sister’s face, said: “Good luck with the baby!”

She leaned against the door and breathed out deeply. How could Sorina have returned, especially when she was the one who left in the first place? As she considered this, she noticed a tiny red book lying beside the chair. Thinking it was hers, she carefully picked it up and slipped it between two other books.

She retreated to her bedroom above the shop and fell into a deep sleep. Many dreams came that night, none very good. Thoughts raced through her unconscious mind, ones that she hoped would never come again.

The next day Voria was terrified that Sorina would come back, but she never did. Days passed, and, slowly, Sorina left her thoughts. Voria forgot everything that had happened, and continued her life peacefully.

She never saw her sister again. Never did she know that her refusal would cost her sister her life, and, in a while, possibly her children’s also. And she never knew that the little red book her sister had left behind was a diary that held the accounts of a war that wouldn’t happen for sixteen years.

Coral Coons is a sixth grade student at Howe Magnet School in Schenectady, New York. She is currently writing a novel called 'Zayla's Fire;' this is her prologue.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


By John Grey

I'm not getting any older.
These creases lie.
There's just the two ages of man.
Life and death.

I'm with the former.
The dancers. The divers.
The ones who read the newspapers.
The ones who don't.

Yes, there's evidence all
around me that the
years must factor into something.
Old men with canes.

Old women nodding off in church.
But that's their story.
Mine says I can do what I please.
And whoever saw pleasure with a cane.

I'll even fall in love next week.
I'll hear a new favorite all time song.
I'll finally get around to
James Joyce's "Ulysses."

You know, the dead guy
whose book is still alive.
I'll even beat my best time
for the hundred yard walk

to the comer store for bread.
I love ice cream, listen to loud rock music.
I slather over twenty five
year old minxes in the movies.

There's only one life
and it's called living.
Just the one death
It's out of breath.

Poet John Grey, of Providence, Rhode Island, is widely published. His latest book, "What Else is There?" is from Main Street Rag. His work has also appeared recently in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review, and The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"The Loneliest Girl in the World"

By Irene Lew

At 5 a.m., a man and a woman entered the same subway car at the Astoria Blvd station, but they did not see each other.

The woman had barely made it, running breathlessly up the two short flights of stairs to the train as the conductor was advising everyone to “stand clear of the closing doors please.” She slid into a seat and plopped her bag onto her lap, relieved that she wasn’t going to be late for work. The man had already taken a seat and watched with amusement as the woman dashed into the car.

They sat on opposite ends of the subway, the only two people in it. They were united by a mutual preference for privacy, an opportunity that many New Yorkers wait for on the subway, but rarely get.

The woman took out a notebook and a pen. She often wrote on the subway as she rode to work, but today she had difficulty concentrating. She was self-conscious, aware of the man sitting nearly a full-car length away from her. It seemed like a long distance, but the emptiness of the car shortened that distance so it was as if he was sitting right next to her.

A Snapple bottle noisily rolled from one end of the car to another, until he finally stopped it with his foot and set it upright under his seat. The man found it strange that he was in the subway car with only one other person. Even at 5 a.m., there were always at least a few sleepy construction workers in paint-splattered jeans cradling cups of coffee.

He was a lanky young man with dark, wispy hair and a dancer’s body that still managed to stay thin despite eating at all hours of the night and his predilection for McDonald’s fries. He wasn’t a model, but as a teenager, had been on several covers for those store catalogs you send away for in the mail, like Sears or JCPenney. This morning, he was running downtown to a friend’s studio.
This woman, the woman that was sitting across from him, was completely covered in an oversize winter coat, and he was disappointed that he couldn’t imagine the body that was hidden underneath all those layers.

By Irene LewSome of his friends joked that he was perverse and a “sex addict,” but he just enjoyed a woman’s body…sweaty flesh sliding over his, soft, full breasts that he could cup in his hands. When he looked at her, felt no sexual desire at all and this intrigued him. He felt a strange pull towards her, a curiosity about this woman whose head drooped lower and lower onto her notebook, like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

The woman stared at the page in front of her. The page was still blank. She glanced over in his direction, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. He was good-looking, and one of those men who knew it. His arms were draped casually over the back of the seat and his eyes were focused on a subway ad for a school of philosophy. Suddenly, he turned his head and caught her staring. Shit. Her eyes returned to the page before her, burning. She wanted to be someone else, someone unlike the girl she was used to seeing in the mirror every morning. She wanted to be uninhibited, lusty, confident but not too brazen, sexual and desirable without even trying. She imagined that this was the type of woman he dated. Model-thin leggy blonde with clothes that draped over all the right places. Women who took their beauty for granted and carried it off effortlessly. A sharp pang of loneliness jarred her.

“May I sit here?” The question startled her, and she glanced up, pen hovering above the page. The man loomed over her, leaning against the pole.

“Oh, go ahead,” she said, flustered.

To his surprise, she was rather beautiful, the kind of innocent beauty that would’ve gone unnoticed had he not looked for it underneath her waterfall of wavy black hair, delicate fingers peeking from a large coat, calm, brown, almond-shaped eyes that unnerved him as she peered up at him.

“Why are you taking the subway so early?” he asked.

“I’m going to work,” she said, closing her notebook. “I work at the concierge desk in a hotel.”

“Oh I see,” he said. “I’m going downtown to a friend’s recording studio.” The train had just pulled out of Queensboro Plaza and was going underground. The city skyline slowly sank out of view, and they were plunged into darkness.

Silence fell again. She didn’t know what to say to this stranger, didn’t understand why he wanted to talk to her, what he wanted from her. “Do you miss someone?” he blurted out. As soon as he said it, he instantly regretted it.

She was taken aback. “It’s not really someone I miss,” she said slowly. “It’s more like someplace.” And suddenly, she thought of home, thousands of miles away, in California. “And this city…even though there’s so many people in it, sometimes, I feel like the loneliest girl in the world.” She took a deep shuddering breath.

He felt the need to comfort her, a great need, something he had never felt the urge to do before. He wasn’t the consoling, cry-on-my-shoulder type of guy, but the wetness of her eyes unnerved him. At the same time, a part of him understood exactly what she was talking about,

“I think every single damn person in this city feels that way at some point,” he said.

* * *

The morning after spending a night with yet another curvy stranger, he rolled over and got out of bed as quietly as he could without disturbing the sleeping figure next to him. He grabbed a lighter and cigarette and padded barefoot outside to his outdoor terrace. It was still dark, and very faint streaks of pink light nudged the rim of the horizon. Leaning against the railing, he surveyed the scene before him. Rows of dilapidated warehouses that had stood abandoned for decades, the shape of the elevated train tracks. He could see the Astoria Blvd. station from his window, and he was reminded again of her-“the loneliest girl in the world.”

Writer Irene Lew graduated from the University at Albany, SUNY, in May of 2006. She is working for a trade publication in New York called “World Screen,” writing about the international television and media industry.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"The Ride to Port Antonio"

By Bill Ackerbauer

It was a remarkably well-behaved chicken. Plump and massive, it sat like a glossy-feathered black Buddha in the lap of its owner, watching me with one unblinking eye. The bird neither clucked nor fussed, content to be stroked occasionally by the old woman as we sat side by side on the crowded bus that would take ten hours to reach the other side of Jamaica.

I’d picked a bad weekend to visit friends on the North Coast. Mudslides from a recent tropical storm had made a mess of the main road across the mountains, so buses traveling from the south had to take the coastal route around St. Thomas Parish on the eastern tip of the island. From where I was staying, in May Pen, the trip to Port Antonio would have taken half the time if the road hadn’t washed out. But I was an 18-year-old exchange student on a break from school, and there was nothing better to do than spend a day on a cramped, hot bus beside the woman with her bloodshot eyes, her toothless smile and that fat fowl.

It was 7 a.m. on a Friday when I left the house and walked down the dirt track and over the bridge into downtown May Pen, pausing to let a small but menacing herd of goats trot across my path. I caught a mostly full bus to Kingston: mostly full is better than empty, because the buses don’t roll until the seats and every square inch of standing room are filled with passengers. Choose a seat on a mostly empty bus, and you’re liable to wait an hour for it to start moving. A person in a hurry can always pick a bus that appears to be filled to capacity, or even jump onto one that has begun to move. The greedy thugs who wrangle passengers and collect the fares are always able to find room for one more, even it means pulling a rider in through a window in a tangle of sweaty limbs.

That particular morning, I was lucky to get one of the last open seats on a bus that was filling up fast, as the ones bound for the capital usually do. It headed out of May Pen, past the bank and the post office, past the drugstore and the Kentucky Fried Chicken and on its way to Spanish Town and then Kingston. I got off at the chaotic terminal near Trench Town, a desperate, flyblown section of the capital where a few months later I would witness a riot — from the safety of another bus — whose purpose I never learned, but whose burning tires and outraged screams are indelibly etched into my memory.

The terminal was a slightly more peaceful place the day I jumped off the bus from May Pen and quickly spotted one headed around the big bend to Port Antonio. This vehicle, a baby-blue former school bus, was nearly empty, so I grabbed a seat and settled in for some downtime. A man reached in through the open window next to my head and, like an angel of vice, promptly sold me a pack of Craven ‘A’ cigarettes and a mercifully cold Red Stripe.

The beer, combined with the long wait and the oppressive heat, must have lulled me to sleep, because when I awoke, the bus was bumping along a pot-holed stretch of country road. Sunlight was winking off the dirty pastel squares of houses and the corrugated metal roofs of the ramshackle rum shops.

And to my left was the chicken.

There’s nothing quite like waking up on a moving bus in a foreign country and being startled by the reptilian gaze of a chicken just inches from your face. After a moment of shock, I looked up to see the face of the person carrying this strange cargo. Her smile was wide enough to reveal discolored gums, and her tongue clicked with amusement – tch, tch. I said hello, and she nodded and mumbled something I couldn’t make out.

We sat together for hours, the bus crawling up and barreling down hills, but there was no conversation. When we reached Port Antonio and passengers started to stir, I realized with some alarm that my legs had both gone numb from the long hours in a seated position. The old woman must have sensed my problem, because she sprang up from her seat, tucked the chicken under one stringy arm and helped me stand with the other.

I thanked her as we climbed off the bus, and she nodded, mumbling again. She carried her bird off toward the waterfront, and I stumbled up the hill toward the Bonnyview Hotel, shaking pins and needles out of my legs.

Bill Ackerbauer is a writer, editor and one-man jug band who teaches journalism at the University at Albany. He lives in Johnstown, N.Y.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Marti Zuckrowv, of Oakland, California, begins a monthly column today.

My mother hid chocolate bars in her closet. Not the
small bars, but those big, family size Hershey bars.
How did I know this? I was a snooper. Like most kids,
I longed to discover the secrets of who she really
was, and therefore, who I was. And another thing:
once I got my nerve up and climbed into the closet, I
felt protected from the rest of the world, as if the
billowy fabrics brushing against me were shields of
armor. I'd be safe.

My father shared that closet with my mother, but his
side held little interest for me. Boring gray suits,
a blue one for special occasions and the dozen or so
long and short sleeve shirts my mother ironed for him
on Saturdays when she returned from the laundromat.

I ironed his handkerchiefs, a chore I came to enjoy for the meditative quality of sliding a steaming iron
up and down the ironing board. Magically, the wrinkled
white cotton square stretched out and lay flat and
flawless, ready to be made into perfect quarters. An
imaginative child, I'd pretend I was this flimsy piece
of cotton. I'd let my body go limp; my arms sagging
like elephant trunks, my legs as wiggly as overcooked
spaghetti. I'd roll up sequentially, vertebrae by
vertebrae, my spine transforming from a horseshoe
shape into a young oak tree.

I'd do it again, and again, often adding choreography that included
creating grand arcs with my arm, the iron heavy in my
hand, the stream from the iron hissing in musical
accompaniment. Little did I know I was embarking on my
lifetime passion as a dancer. Needless to say, my
ironing chores took forever.

It was my mother's side of the closet, though, that intrigued me.
I'd sneak in to the closet when I came home from
school. Both my parents worked in Manhattan and didn't
get off until five so I had ample time to do my detective

I'd slide the thin wooden sliding doors open, forever
intrigued by the novelty of sliding doors (all the
other closets had doorknobs with key holes beneath
them) I'd peek around the room, (just in case a
burglar or a murderer happened to be there) before
stepping in and leaning against the rack of her

I'd press my face into her quilted pink
bathrobe. I loved the cool silky feel of the fabric
next to my skin and the faint scent of her Jean Nate
spray that lingered there. Like a caress, the soft
fabric comforted me when the waves of guilt at being a
snoop threatened to drown me. I'd imagine I was
Rapunzel letting down my long golden hair. My handsome
prince would arrive and carry me off to far away
places where we would live happily ever after.

I'd be safe from that bad man, Mc Carthy, who my parents and
their friends talked about when they thought I wasn't
listening. I'd fold in like a pretzel, hug myself
greedily, then extend my arms and legs to become as
large as possible in such a confined space. I'd feel
the transformation of my body contracting, expanding,
contracting expanding. I'd be free of this world and
enter the world of movement.

I'd found home. I'd poke around my mother's handful
of fancy dresses, her royal blue taffeta box like frock,
her wedding and bar mitzvah outfit, her rose colored
velvet dress with it's thick soft sash that tied
in the back and draped down over her broad hips,
a lime green silky shirtwaist with tiny pearl buttons, and my least
favorite, the black long-sleeved narrow dress she wore
to funerals.

That dress, when I spotted its darkness, got my heart racing.
The Rosenbergs. Maybe my parents were next. I'd will myself
to breathe, make myself as small as possible and scrunch down to
investigate the few boxes of high heeled shoes lined
up on the bottom of the closet. (That's where I'd find
the chocolate bars, stashed away in an otherwise empty
box.) I'd step into my favorite pair of black suede
pumps, secure them to my feet with the thick ankle
strap that wrapped around, back to front, and imagine
myself a flamenco dancer.

I'd uncoil my body, stand up and walk out of the closet.
I'd pose before the mirror over the dresser. Taratata,
I'd suck in my belly, throw out my ribs,
arch my back, position my arms to frame my face and
snap my fingers. Taratata, taratata, I'd whirl
and twirl, unsteady on the high-heeled shoes but
committed to my dance. I'd see the girl in the mirror
and know that was me, a dancer.

Writer Marty Zuckrowvia is a lifelong dancer and performance artist who teaches movement classes to people with disabilities.