Koon Woon, 10/14/2019

Current Occupation: Koon's current occupation is mathematics and logic tutor, freelance writer, editor, literary consultant and publisher.

Previous Occupation: Koon's previous occupations include running a restaurant and as an employee of the US Postal Service.

Contact Information: Koon started working in the family restaurant at age 12. Then he worked for the US post office. He earned his BA degree in creative writing from Antioch University and his MLS in literary arts from Fort Hays State University. He currently works as editor and publisher of Goldfish Press. Here is a link to Poetry Foundation website about Koon  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/koon-woon

Koon is editing the 2020 Chrysanthemum Poetry Anthology forthcoming from Goldfish Press in spring, 2020. Submissions can be emailed to koonwoon@gmail.com before closing date of December 31, 2019.

 

#

Yellow
 
     Honest, I wear the same yellow waiter’s jacket that’s been worn for three generations. The jasmine tea is tepid and yellow too. I bring egg drop soup and that’s yellow with bits of green onions floating in it. And the white sauce, all day on the steam table, turns into various shades of yellow.
     But I am really dark and brooding like soy sauce, especially during the slow hours when I sit in a back booth reading Nietzsche. Maybe we have to re-evaluate this. Maybe we have to re-evaluate Nietzsche. Maybe we have to re-evaluate the whole thing. I mean, what is this liberal arts education getting me into? Now I can quote Schopenhauer and Freud, Locke and Hume, and a bit of Kant. He is always difficult. Daily, I still fill the napkin holders, the black pepper shakes and the salt, and I make the hot mustard for barbecue pork, and that is yellow and hot.
     Customers come in and want to see the Chinese menu. In English translation of course. And they always ask me what the Chinese scroll painting on the wall says with its calligraphy. It is really deep stuff I say, but I am not a Chinese scholar. In fact, I doubt if I am Chinese anymore. My dad calls me “bamboo.” And he says the more I am educated, the less he knows me. Why couldn’t we have started a chain of fast food Chinese restaurants in the Midwest? He lamented often.
     He is old now. He retired from standing in front of the wok for forty years, stirring chop suey. He looks sallow now. A salad doesn’t taste green to him and a steak doesn’t tastes red. His yellow pajamas hang around his neck like a noose. He tastes the bitterness of ginseng, and that is yellow too, and that is supposed to be good for his health.
     Yellow is the river where Mao used to swim to reassure the Chinese people, all six hundred million of them, that he was still healthy and able. Yellow was the river where Li Bai drop poems written on bamboo slits, and thereby naming all the children of China. But the poems were drowned in the swift downward water, washed out to the Yellow Sea…
 
 

Charles Kell, 10/7/2019

Current Occupation: PhD student and instructor at The University of Rhode Island. Adjunct instructor at Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut.
Former Occupations: adjunct instructor; teaching assistant; visiting instructor of English; telemarketer; farm-hand in rural Ohio; Rip saw and cross-cutter in a sawmill; steel mill; furniture deliveryman; furniture upholstery; warehouse at DHL and W.W. Grainger; janitor / maintenance in a nursing home; janitor in a catholic primary school; landscaping, porter, laundry, janitor at a hotel; laborer; private tutor.
Contact Information: Charles Kell is the author of Cage of Lit Glass, chosen by Kimiko Hahn for the 2018 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize (forthcoming in September 2019). His poetry and fiction have appeared in the New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, Columbia Journal, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He is Assistant Professor of English at Community College of Rhode Island and associate editor of The Ocean State Review. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Rhode Island with a dissertation on experimental writing, criminality and transgression in the work of James Baldwin, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joanna Scott and C.D. Wright.

 

#

The Nervous Shoplifters




 

are bored at the movies, green

bottles of whiskey 

between open legs.

Even with May on the horizon

they disperse in silent alarm

through random quadrants of the city.

The one with short yellow

hair sings hymnals under her breath.

The other with black leather

gloves becomes easily jealous.

At first, their reluctance almost gets

the better.

Then a flurry of bees blankets

them in desire.

They grow hungry for unshared passion.

The way after the tour ends, and one

is left looking for extra

hands in pockets,

head down low.

There one goes following the whistle.

Who are you, in your glass piety?

In the morning robins sing on the windowsill.

  

 

Peter F. Crowley, 9/30/2019

Current Occupation: Abstracting & Indexing Workflow Coordinator


Former Occupation: Courier


Contact Information: Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Work Literary Magazine, Opiate Magazine, Truthout, Green Fuse Press, Antiwar.com, Peace Review (forthcoming), Mondoweiss, Visitant (forthcoming), Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review, Libertarian Institute, Middle East Monitor, Dissident Voice, Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society. His first book Those who hold up the earth is planned for publishing over the next year by Kelsay Books. His website is located here: https://peterfcrowleyauthor.com/

#

Bias for Action [a sing along]

A-my-name-is Andrew and I have a bias for action

I move this way and that, 

darting out just like a cat.

People must wonder what kind of cat is that?

I’m guilty, I discriminate on behalf of motion.

 

I have a trigger finger at work, 

sending email responses without a word in reply.

When a conference question is raised, 

I shoot up my hand, 

but my tongue goes limp.

 

In crowded elevators, I leap up and down, 

with a grin that begs others to join in.

After offering to be a front doormat, 

I confuse the foot by scuttling away

This causes some to curse aloud, 

but most appreciate my bias.

 

When I don’t leap or dart, I roll.

I’ve rolled straight from parking lot, 

past security guard, into the elevator, 

past our confused secretary 

and straight into my office.

 

One time, a coworker stepped on me, 

but I didn’t really mind too much

The boss chastised her –

for walking on we with zealous bias  







 

 

Mark Blickley, 9/23/2019

Current Occupation: Teacher
Former Occupation:  Mail Carrier
Contact Information: Mark Blickley is a widely published New York author of fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry. His most recent book is a text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, Dream Streams (2019). He is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild and PEN American Center as well as a 2018 Audie Award finalist for his contribution to the original audiobook,  Nevertheless We Persisted.

#

“Blood on the Page”




 

    The title of this essay, “Blood on the Page,” refers to the red marks with which teachers slash up a student’s composition to highlight writing errors.  A student is returned a paper that looks wounded, bleeding.  I like that image.  It’s not only poetic and powerful, but also true.  Blood on the page perfectly describes how I felt each time a paper was returned to me as a young student.

    I am not an academic.  I am a professional writer.  I’ve had over  a dozen plays produced in New York and abroad, published scores of short stories and essays in journals, magazines and book anthologies, worked as a reporter for a top New Jersey newspaper, written for television, have had screenplays optioned, written art reviews as well as biographies, and a book of fiction, Sacred Misfits and recently a text-based art book, Dream Streams.  And all of these writing credits occurred, indeed weren’t even attempted, until I was past thirty years of age.  Why did it take me so long to become a writer?  The answer is blood on the page.

    When I first entered the New York City Public School System decades ago, it had a pretty good reputation.  But well before I completed elementary school, the Bronx had collapsed and the schools reflected the decline.  Emphasis shifted from teaching to discipline, and then to safety.  I never learned grammar.

    Was I taught grammar?  I suppose so, but to this day I know I never diagramed a sentence.  What I do remember was the introduction of new curriculum—phonics, word attack skills, and such.  My acquaintance with grammar was my teacher’s mysterious, red-ink scribblings that admonished me for my lack of it.  Grammar was a nuisance, something that slowed down and took away the pleasure from words and their sounds.  I thought of the rules of grammar as some sort of invisible predator, ready to pounce and destroy the fun of writing.  I just wanted to go ahead and do it, create something personal with my pencil.

    I loved writing.  I was gifted with a strong imagination and nothing gave me more pleasure than creating tales.  My mother handed me a second grade report card at the funeral of her second husband when I was in my mid-thirties, and I was surprised to read my teacher’s comments: “Mark likes to write original stories and has a talent in this area.  He should be encouraged.”  Well, I wasn’t encouraged at home, but more importantly, I was actually discouraged to write at school.

    Perhaps the most crushing attack to my writing aspirations came during the fifth grade.  My teacher, Mr. Mucelli, asked for a writing assignment that was wide open.  We could write a letter, a poem, essay, story, anything.  I don’t remember the question he posed, but I remember the title of the assignment I turned in, “Mr. Mucelliland.”  It was a fifth grader’s satire about his class.  I loved working on it.  The assignment was supposed to be two or three pages; my composition was triple that.  I really liked Mr. Mucelli and was excited and proud to have him read my opus.

    The paper he handed back to me looked like a bandage from a massacre.  Just about every sentence had a red line running through it with phrases scrawled in red describing my shortcomings.  The shock of my mutilated paper was nothing compared to the written comment he penned in red on the last page.

    I expected Mr. Mucelli to acknowledge, if not applaud, my story’s humor and mythological characters.  But his only comment was that titling the story, Mucelliland, showed a profound disrespect for the teacher—not one other word concerning the content of my composition.  My grade was a seventy, five points above passing.

    I didn’t care about the grade.  I didn’t write my piece for “material” reward, I wrote out of pride and excitement and pleasure.  I would have gladly flunked the assignment because of my poor grammar had my teacher engaged me at all about the story I wove.  I was dying to talk to someone about my writing; the only dying that took place seemed to be the red blood bath that drowned my words.

    I was promoted each year, although my disinterest in school manifested itself in more than just sloppy and neglected class work.  I became a behavioral problem, and like many of my Bronx peers, I dropped out of school and went into the service.

    After a stint in Vietnam and being laid-off at one too many dead-end jobs, I decided to wring a benefit from Uncle Sam by getting a monthly check from the G.I. Bill.  Enrollment in a school was no problem—Jersey City State College had open admissions.

    My writing ambitions were both fractured and resuscitated as a result of the college entrance essay exam I was forced to take.  I received two very different analyses of my writing sample.  The first reprimanded me to the college’s writing lab to work on my grammatical inaccuracies; the second was a congratulatory response, as I had been selected to participate in an Honors English course.  

    I shrugged off the paradoxical results of my essay.  I figured it must have been reviewed by two examiners—an aged Mr. Mucelli, as well as one of those bearded, laid-back type of professors I kept bumping into all over the campus.  When I attended registration the two conflicting assessments collided.  I was informed that after completing a remedial semester at the Writing Lab (at no credit) I could then go directly into Honors English.  Go figure.

    My “good” writing was a direct result of a covert passion, reading.  It had to be a secretive hobby for a boy growing up in the Bronx.  I would have been tormented by my peers had they discovered my “faggot” fondness for the library.

    By the time my father died when I was nine, he had thoroughly trained me in the pleasures book offered.  He was a compulsive reader of history and politics and had turned me into one, too.  His campaign began when my sisters and I were pre-schoolers.   The nighttime stories he read us weren’t the simple fairy tales of youth: my sisters concur with me that our favorite book of the late 1950’s was Animal Farm.  When I re-acquainted myself with that work as an adult in my thirties, I laughed out loud thinking of how much my father must have enjoyed pouring those words into our little heads,  and the amount of improvisational “re-writing” for clarity he must have done to make those animals’ situations become so real to such small children.

    After “successfully” completing my Writing Lab stint, I enrolled in an Honors English course.  It turned out to be an independent study with a very good teacher.  Every week I read lots of interesting material and spewed out opinion and reaction papers.  I was praised for my writing, although my professor would periodically tell me to get a grammar book and brush up on my weaknesses.  He, like most other educators I encountered, thought that grammar was such a simple, basic thing to grasp that all I needed to do was to briefly apply myself to a study of it.

    I tried.  I truly tried.  It was just too overpowering, too many rules and concepts that all seemed to melt together and become indistinguishable from one another.  But I still received an “A” for his class.

    One more anecdote from my undergraduate years.  I was taking a World Literature course that I adored.  The readings, dating back to antiquity, held me spellbound.  I loved attacking the many papers I was required to write.  One day, after two months of World Lit, my professor was passing back papers.  When she handed me mine she said in front of the entire class how much she enjoyed my paper with its original and well-detailed insights.  I felt like bursting with pride.  The she said that after class there were two books she wanted to recommend to me.  I was too excited to wait until the class ended, so I pleaded with her to immediately tell me the name of those two books.  She fended off my pleas, but I was adamant.  The professor then looked at me with a smile and said, “a dictionary and a grammar book.”  I was humiliated.

    By the time I graduated, I was confused.  Unlike my elementary and secondary education, I was praised and rewarded for the content of my writing in college, but I felt like a fraud because I knew the thing I loved the most and did the best—writing—was incomplete.  I was always flying by the seat of my pants (intuition), taking dangerous chances instead of using the radar (grammar) that could guide me to safety and security.  And I felt quite stupid.  Ph.D’s dismissed my writing errors as some kind of minor obstacle that was easily correctable.  It wasn’t minor, or easily correctable.  My grammar problems were insurmountable.  In fact, after I graduated I covertly took an evening adult education course in grammar and did horribly in it, even though I was the only one in class with any college experience.

    I’ve always seen words as part of something bigger.  I just had an awful time deconstructing language into phrases, clauses, and parts of speech.  It was like staring at a tiny corner of a huge canvas.  I was too impatient and bored to slowly survey the entire painting; I wanted to either energetically attack a blank canvas, or step back and admire an entire painting, not waste my time on the artist’s pile of sketches and false starts that led up to the completed work in front of me.  Anyway, that’s the line I clung to whenever grammar reared its ugly head.

    I eventually became a playwright because I figured that grammar would be less noticeable when people were speaking, not reading, my words.  My poor grammar also became the foundation for my prose style of shorter, simpler sentences that needed compression in order to achieve clarity.

    It may appear that the preceding paragraph is my triumphant declaration of how a writer can overcome and ignore the oppressiveness and restrictions of grammar and usage.  It’s not.  Through the enormous repetition of all the writing and reading I do, I’ve learned to write grammatically correct English.  I still do it by intuition.  When I read grammar books they’re a little less incomprehensible to me, but my eyes still glaze over anytime I read one for more than ten minutes.  Everything still becomes muddled.

    Based on my publishing credentials, I’ve been fortunate to secure a teaching position at the City University of New York.  But now, as I approach my first assignment of teaching composition to college freshmen, I’m beset by some pretty unsettling questions.  How can I translate my method to students when there really is no method, just my overcompensating for not having learned what I needed to learn when I was a child?  Are my creative writing gene and the familial propensity to read that formed me as a writer so esoteric that I’ll be unable to share this with anyone else?  Will having to explain grammar to my students finally be the successful battering ram that breaks through my block about grammar?

    I’m quite excited by the challenge of teaching composition, but I’m not fooling myself into believing that teaching composition is going to be easy.  What I do know is that I’ll use any color ink, save red, when I make comments on my students’ papers.   

Since working on this essay I have to admit to the fantasy of being able to confront my grammar school teacher, Mr. Mucelli, over how his blood on the page retarded my intellectual, creative and career growth.  But what’s truly frightening is that I can also imagine that old teacher drawing himself up, standing eyeball to eyeball with my inner child and challenging me with a shout of, “Prove it!”

Robert Bak, 9/16/2019

Current occupation: Agent/Manager for BAK Editions.


Former occupation: DynaTheater & Planetarium Manager for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.


Contact Information: Robert has published stories and essays.  He has been involved with the entertainment business for many years.  First starting as a stage manager Off-Off Broadway in NYC, and then working in Los Angeles and Albuquerque.  He has been a director and producer of plays with national award-winning playwright William Derringer.  In addition to his involvement in theater, Robert has written a number of short stories, essays, and plays.  Door Is A Jar magazine will be publishing his essay, “Robin’s Tea Leafs” in their Issue #10 Spring 2019 issue.  SERIAL Magazine thought that Robert’s story, “One Wicked Ride” was a real “slice of life.”  Fiction Southeast selected his story “I Became A Writer” a finalist for their publication.  Work Literary Magazine Issue 8.38 published Robert’s story, “Move To Make Move.”   Diverse Voices Quarterly published Robert’s “Why Is There A Queue?” story in their Volume 8 – Issue 30.  Robert’s short story, “The Magic Room” was a finalist with Fiction Week Literary Review.  Work Literary Magazine issue 7.9 published his short story “The Flying Vase” in their 2015 magazine.  Agave Magazine (Volume 2 – Issue 4) published his short story, “The Monthly Bill Is What” in their fall issue.  Work Magazine at WordPress.com published his story, “Dark All Over.”  He would like to thank William for the training and insight of what the writing process is.

 

#

                                                                             

SEPARATING THE NUTS

A FLASH FICTION STORY

 

It was the second week of Lucy’s new position of being in the retail business.  She was now a show presenter of food and supplies working in a big box warehouse environment.  After completing a rigorous training course in food safety and guest relations.  Lucy would be on the floor offers to the member's food items that the manufacturers had selected for presentation and hope for sales.

There would be cold and hot food items, plus different selections of cakes, fruits, cereals, and nuts.  Every day Lucy worked, her supervisor would make the choices the team members would be suggesting.  Lucy’s schedule would be Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  The weekend shifts had extra staff working on the floor as they had additional products for display.

Saturday morning came bright and early, and Lucy got her uniform ready for the day.  She got to the warehouse early, and went to the prep area and checked to see what she was scheduled to be offered.  Lucy found that she had been given the mixed nuts display, that was on a special sale price for that day.

Her clock in time came and she started to get her cart ready, it had a large metal bowl, two large stacks of small paper cups, napkins and plastic gloves.  She also retrieved the sign that would be on the front of the cart to inform the members of what they were sampling and what the sale price was.

Lucy found her assigned space near all of the dry food items.  She opened a couple of large containers of the mixed nuts and put those in the large bowl.  She then transferred a small number of nuts into each cup and placed those on a serving platter.

The nut combination included pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts.  Lucy tried to make sure each cup had one of each nut.  The members were enjoying the nut selection and many were buying the sale price two-pound containers to take home.

After about an hour, an older gentleman approached her and declared to her.  “I only want to taste cashews and pistachios!”  At first, Lucy was not too sure what the man wanted?  Lucy told him to take as many cups as he wanted to taste.  He then repeated his first request.  “I only want to taste cashews and pistachios nothing else!”

Lucy had to think fast as how to respond to this man.  Other members were trying to also sample the mixed nuts but could not approach as the man was standing right in front of the cart.  Lucy then told the man in a clear voice “that what was on the cart was available for all of the members.  If he wanted to purchase a container, he could take it home with him and separate the nuts himself.”    

The man had a shocked look on his face as what he wanted was not going to happen.  Then another member asked him to step aside so other people could sample the nuts.  He had a deflated look about him, but Lucy was not going to separate the nuts for him.

The rest of the day went much more smoothly for Lucy and she was able to sell her quota of mixed nuts.  She had learned quickly that not everything was included in her training class.  She was much more prepared now for any strange requests the members might throw at her.

Lucy found out that working with the general public was not always easy.  Every working day offered her a new challenge, being quick on your feet was very important.  Lucy had found out that there was more than one kind of mixed nuts to have?

 

Vincent Bell, 9/9/2019

Current Occupation: Poet
Former Occupation: Financial Manager // Management Consultant
Contact Information: Vincent Bell was born in New York City. He received degrees from New York University and Fordham University. He had always wanted to be a writer, but went into business after graduate school. He continued to write poetry while working and in retirement is writing full-time. Vincent has been studying at the Hudson Valley Writers Center with Jennifer Franklin. He has also taken workshops with Nick Flynn, Chris Campanioni, and Michael Collins. He lives in Ardsley, NY with his wife and they have two grown children.
Acknowledgements include: Plume (Fall 2019), Pank, The Ravens Perch, Mudfish 21, Work Literary Magazine, off Course, The Westchester Review, and Live at the Freight House.

#

BOWERY 1962

When I exited from

the subway on the Bowery

early on a weekend morning
to buy a guitar in a pawnshop,

I saw bodies scattered all over
the sidewalk or propped up
in doorways, asleep in pools
of their own. The bars were open
for them as they woke up.

 

Mostly men, they wore someone
else’s stained suit. I couldn’t see
that this was their life; that this
was where they lived.

The suits made me think that
something happened to them
on their way home from work;
as if they were trapped in time.
 

 

Robert Cooperman, 9/2/2019

Current Occupation: House Spouse
Former Occupation: English Teacher
Contact Information: Robert Cooperman's latest collection is THE DEVIL WHO RAISED ME (Lithic Press).  Forthcoming from FutureCycle Press is LOST ON THE BLOOD DARK SEA.  Cooperman's work has appeared in THE CHIRON REVIEW and PLAINSONGS.

#

Working in the Circus

 

Our nephew’s summer job is in a circus,

nothing dangerous, thank God, 

like a tightrope walker or lion tamer.  

He takes money and sells crackerjacks,

and has nothing to do with swaying 

forty feet in the air, balancing on the backs 

of fast moving horses, or standing very still 

for the knife thrower, since I still shudder 

about attending the circus years ago, 

with a friend and her small son.  We gaped

at a tight-rope walker teetering high above 

the lion tamer, then the unthinkable: 

 

the wire snapped, Icarus tumbling into the cage; 

the audience gasped, coiled muscle lunging,

before the tamer—Superman on adrenalin—

hurled the acrobat out of the cage; 

the man staggered, collapsed, attendants 

leading him away, the tamer cracking 

his whip over and over, like Indiana Jones, 

to maneuver those killers into the tunnel.

 

He bowed deep as a swaggering Musketeer,

and strode from the ring, carefree as a tenor

in an operetta set in the Alps, though 

when he handkerchiefed his forehead,

I saw his hand tremble just the least bit.

 

M. F. McAuliffe, 8/26/2019

Current Occupation: Co-founder, co-editor, Gobshite Quarterly and Reprobate/GobQ Books
Former Occupations: Co-founder & contributing editor, Gobshite Quarterly
Contact Information: M. F. McAuliffe is the author of 1.5 books of poetry, two books of fiction, and co-author of the limited edition artists’ book, Golems Waiting Redux. Her verse and stories have appeared in The Clarion Awards, Overland, Australian Short Stories, The Adelaide Review, Poezija (Zagreb), Prairie Schooner, as well as in WORK. She co-founded and co-edits the multilingual journal Gobshite Quarterly and its sister press, Reprobate/GobQ Books.

 

#

– 13 –

Sometimes

I write

on the backs

of old

paystubs

each one

half a month

of my life

 

I think

of you

married

then

pregnant

then

with a child

 

and wonder

how

in the great silence

of the rounded

rooms

of your house

you could

grasp

the threads of space

weave

time

 

how there could be

a life

given

 

not

having

to be

 

rented out,

½-

stolen

back

 

stunted at every turn:

 

the time it takes to make a world

windows, rain, commute,

mountains, light, sea, the creatures

in their boxes, talking

 

the precise

tones of the birds in the morning

so like bellbirds, so unlike

 

the time it takes to go and return from that place,

the journey repeated

so often the door lies open

so often the wall dissolves

so often that place is real

and surprising

 

and the writing

controlling and refining

writes itself through you

so that the writing and the written, the perceiver and the perceived

are one thing

the gold in the fire

in the dark

 

That is what is forbidden us

by the lack of time

 

That is what is forbidden all of us

the readers of other people’s worlds

 

by drudgery,

the sink and the sinkhole.

 

Prices rise

 

Until only the secure middle class of the past

could have done this

until only the 1%

can do this

 

until we’re reduced to being grateful

for this vast historic theft;

 

for the occasional gifted aristocrat.

 

#

– 14 –



 

But this is a democracy still.

 

We, the unconnected, are encouraged to address

 

writing

coming-of-age

family

sex

self-esteem,

overcoming personal odds to live our best lives

(the odds are always personal)


 

(talk among ourselves

mind our own business)

 

#

– 22 –



 

You say, “A great library is freedom.”

 

Apart from your probably meaning

Triple-X Public, where I’ve worked for twenty years,

and know for a fact to be run by the vicious

undergirded by the clueless, or vice versa, depending on the regime

 

I say freedom is far more

 

Freedom is being free to use a great library

without bargaining your right to eat or sleep

to do it

 

the place being inhabited more by the homeless than by scholars

than by the dignified poor, carefully clothed

(mentally but not physically starved)

(this is not the ’30s; this is not the movies) 

 

the place a temporary shelter from the great predations of the State-backed anarchy of cash:

 

lying cylindrical in sleeping bags

across the footpaths in winter

freezing

 

dead in a bus shelter

a baby

3 plastic sheets to the wind

 

human turds extruded & excluded.

 

I know you know this

 

I’m weary with seeing the machine & what it does

 

Great libraries are great – 

(the paperback rack at Safeway 

among the mid-County car-yards)

 

Freedom is people racking off

leaving you

alone to get on with it

enough light and peace to get on with it

 

enough distance from your situation to be able to see it & act upon it

(sometimes the only freedom you’ve got is your own desperation)

 

Your forgiveness stories

The Yeowe and Werel slave stories

I didn’t find visionary

though they became sublime

I found them odd,

living there already

 

Below you is where the slaves live

 

Perhaps you are right

& having no real choice

is not the same as being locked up

held in bondage, tortured, set to prostitution

 

The slaves live below us

 

But that’s where it starts

with the predilection,

with the desire

for close-quarter control over someone else’s yes or no.

 

“A job that’s neither

exhausting nor morally disgusting,”

a friend once said to me,

smiling because I’d finally found work I could do.

But it is exhausting now

& a lot less not morally disgusting than it used to be

 

Context is everything

feeling has always been the difference between marriage, prostitution, and bond-servitude


 

Let me tell you a story.

 

Once upon a time a great library

had clever, intelligent, highly-skilled librarians

and said:

You will be replaced by your assistants.

Said to the assistants:

Don’t tell us what won’t work.

Chop-chop

lickety-split robo-grind

is the best you can hope for

 

if you don’t want

(human turd)

 

if you don’t want

(bus shelter)

 

If a great library is freedom

Whose freedom is it?


 

 

Colleen Wells, 8/19/2019

Current Occupation: Writer, Editor, Wordpool Press, Activities Assistant for a retirement community, Owner, “Putting the Funk in Junk”- Antiques, vintage, painted furniture.


Former Occupation: Adjunct Faculty Member


Contact Information: Colleen Wells’ work has appeared most recently in Gyroscope Review, The Ryder Magazine, The Voices Project, and Workzine. She is the author of Dinner with Doppelgangers – A True Story of Madness & Recovery and editor of One in Four – a collection of student narratives about mental illness.  She believes a bad day can get better with a pen, paintbrush, glue, pretty paper and maybe a little glitter.


www.ColleenWells.comwww.dinnerwithdoppelgangers.com.

 

#

Sunshine in her Soul

Ms. Robar, the newest resident at the assisted living facility where I work, pushes her walker purposefully to the sitting area for current events. She parks it by the end of the couch. Her walker is collapsible with a seat in between the sides that lifts up. Underneath is a basket where she keeps her Bible. Ms. Robar plops down in the chair next to me, adjusting her navy-blue scooped-neck shirt over her big belly. She has short, salt and pepper hair and sports large, black glasses. They remind me of the ones Buddy Holly wore. 

 “Hi, Ms. Robar,” I say, collecting my magazines and newspapers into a pile. 

“Good morning, Colleen. How are you?

“Great. How are you liking it here?”

“I love it. Everyone is so nice. Thank you for asking.” 

She is quick to answer trivia questions. Most of the other residents are slower, except Mrs. Quinn who knows everything, but repeats herself often like a skipping record. She has told me probably fifty times already this morning her son is a heart surgeon. 

Ms. Robar attends most activities. In the afternoon she likes to have a cigarette on the porch. I learn that she lived with her brother before moving in, and she used to be a nun. She wears a cross on a simple chain and often says, “I love you. God bless you.”

When I come to work I look forward to her enthusiasm, as not all of the residents are exactly bubbly in the mornings. She loves coffee and enjoys going to the coffee shop down the street. 

One afternoon when it’s time for our outing, I find Ms. Robar lying in bed crying. Her eyelids are red, her hair a greasy mess. “My brother’s cat died,” she says. 

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

I’m sorry for crying so much,” she says.

“That’s okay. It’s sad.”

“The doctor said he needs to adjust my medication. I have bipolar disorder.”

“You take care of yourself,” I reply. “Maybe we can get coffee next Thursday.”

“Oh, I’d like that,” she says. “Will you pray for my brother?”

“I’ll pray for both of you,” I tell her, noticing the silver crucifix hanging on the otherwise stark white wall above her bed.

I hesitate before leaving. I want to let her know I have bipolar disorder too, and that when things get stressful or tragedy strikes, I empathize with the process of getting meds tweaked, but Ms. Robar likes to talk and soon all of the residents and staff would know. 

Instead I say, “I was really sad when my dog died.”

“Oh, I love you. God bless you.”

The following week Ms. Robar is feeling better and we go for coffee. Steam rises from our mugs and she shares the story of a time when she was manic. “I had to go to the hospital. I was running around telling everyone I loved the sunshine in their souls.”

I take a sip of my coffee.

“And you know…” She pauses in thought. “Not everyone wants to hear that.

The times I have been manic I am also prone to recognizing the light in people too. There is no such thing as an enemy; I have only friends. Once I invited myself to go deep-sea fishing with a group of strangers in Florida, thinking after we returned to the dock that we were best friends.

When we return to the home, Ms. Robar kisses my cheek. I try not to look at the crumbs on the corner of her mouth or the black hairs sprouting from her chin.

 

A few weeks pass and suddenly it seems like overnight that Ms. Robar starts declining. Returning to work on a Monday I see Mrs. Quinn in the lobby. “Ms. Robar is moving to a nursing home,” she says. Before I can respond she continues talking, saying, “Did you know my son is a heart surgeon?” 

“That’s great,” I reply, feeling a loss over the news. “You must be really proud.”

I visit Ms. Robar two weeks later at the nursing home. When she sees me, she beams. “Hi, Colleen!” 

“Hello! I brought you something.”  I hand her a small tube of lavender lotion and a coin with an angel embossed on it. She thanks me for the gifts, placing them in the side pocket of her wheelchair. She looks tired and doesn’t offer any kisses. A ray of afternoon sunlight fills the visiting room, illuminating dust particles. 

The Activity Director walks in and introduces himself. He squeezes Ms. Robar’s shoulder, saying, “She’s like a breath of fresh air around here. You really enjoy singing the hymns, don’t you Ms. Robar?”

“I do,” she says.

I smile. The sunshine in her soul has dimmed a bit, but it’s not gone.







 

Danyal Kim, 8/12/2019

Current Occupation: Debt Specialist at a government agency
Former Occupation: college student
Contact Information: Danyal Kim lives in Chicago, where he works at an office job with a government agency by day and writes poetry by night. He will occasionally share his poetry at open mics. 

 

#

Tattoo Artist of New Orleans

 

I really wish you’d let me ink 

those fleshy apricot arms of yours 

I could draw a goldfish or fancy laces

it’d look good, I promise. No? 

Your religion doesn’t let you? Okay, well

If your God changes his mind, let me know

you have my number in your phone, okay hon?

 

I’m so glad I’m a tattoo artist now 

I was aching for a fun job for so long.

I don’t want to live a life of toil.

My father, this frail Polish man,

skinny, brittle piece of stale bubble gum,

made eyelets at a factory – remember those

metal hooks on the holes of shoes? 

He made those by hand and his fingers

puffed up, looking like popped popcorn. 

All those years of boring work 

made him go crazy. Before he died 

he walked around Magrinity in flip flops

talking to palm fronds and alley cats. 

 

I really miss my dad, and my grandma.

Feel my ponytail – it’s rough like her hair

only hers was orange since she was Irish. 

She also had huge balloon tits

I didn’t inherit her tits, sadly – haha!

Her stupid husband liked fucking fat girls

ones with the jiggly jello tits and ass

and she ended up dying of a broken heart 

had a heart attack on our living room couch. 

 

But like I was saying,

I’m really going to become a successful tattoo artist 

I’m going to skate around the neighborhood 

the tattoos on my arms will be noticed by people 

walking around Frenchman street.

They’ll ask about my tattoos. My business cards 

will fly out of my purse, bees in service to their queen!

That will be my life now. Life is too precious 

to spend it doing something you hate… wait, 

they’re playing my song on the jukebox! 

Won’t you come and dance with me, hon?







#

Ones who go away

 

As a poor child growing up 

I watched my friends go on vacations

on massive cruises through foreign seas

while I was stuck in a small Illinois town

alone with geese and tortoises

on the muddy banks of tiny ponds. 

 

Now, as a 27 year old with a federal job

I have some money to fly or drive away

staring at old grimacing faces, hanging down

hallways of the Louvre, the Smithsonian.

Or listening to a blaring trumpet give away 

to the light strumming of an acoustic guitar 

between bars down a street of New Orleans.

 

I broke my phone while traveling once. 

Back in Chicago, at the phone shop, I asked 

the man looking at my phone if he travels 

he said, “no, don't have the time or money.”

His resigned tone reminded me of how 

oppressive my bland childhood seemed 

staring at baby geese that waddled across 

the town I sometimes thought I'd never leave.

 

 

Bob Thurber, 8/5/2019

Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: Shoeshine boy, paperboy, dishwasher, factory worker, painter’s assistant, soda jerk, short-order cook.
Contact Information: Born in 1955 and raised in abject poverty, Bob Thurber spent his adult years working menial jobs while studying the craft of fiction. He served a lengthy apprenticeship, writing nearly every day for twenty years before submitting his work for publication. Since then his short stories have received a long list of literary awards and citations, among them The Marjory Bartlett Sanger Award, The Meridian Editors' Prize, and The Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in 60 anthologies and in hundreds of publications including Esquire. Bob is the author of "Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel" and two collections of stories. He resides in Massachusetts where, despite vision loss, he continues to write every day. Visit his website at www.BobThurber.net.

 

#

At The Factory

 

 

 

I work a four-day week, four ten-hour shifts. I can't complain. All my Fridays, weekends, and every major holiday off. I work the line. All I know is the line. It's what I was hired for, trained for — which was plain dumb luck, because all that's left now is the line — just the line and the crew on the loading dock. Big shots up in Houston pushed everything else over the border. Three hundred miles dead south. Weavers, braiders, dyers, tippers, inspectors — all gone. Two hundred and eighty-six jobs.

Outsourcing, they call it.

I call it a sin.

Loading dock, they couldn't touch. Because of the union. I ain't union.  Nobody on the line is union. There are fifty of us left. Quotas keep climbing. One or all of us could go any day.

The morning I got the call, I said to the line boss, Hey Fred, mind if I stumble in late tomorrow?

Tomorrow, he said. What's tomorrow?

We were in the break room, a long narrow space, formerly an empty corridor, and well on its way to being one again. After the big lay off they sealed the cafeteria, donated all the tables and benches to some orphanage. Fred and I stood between a double row of vending machines.

He frowned at the mention of my being late as he studied his clipboard.

Wait a minute. Hold on. You don't work Fridays, he said.

I said, I know that, Fred. I realize that.

Then I said, My mother just died. Her funeral is in the morning.

That moved him back a step. He leaned against the soda machine and studied his clipboard some more. I honestly don't believe he knew what to say.

I said, Hell, it's no big deal, Fred. Everybody dies. Right?

Sure, he said.




I said, I thought maybe if it's okay with you I might go to the funeral and then wander in here. You know. Sometimes it's better I work and not think too much.

He studied my face. He looked at me hard. Then he agreed that sometimes working was better than thinking. He showed me his clipboard. He slid his finger across my name, and then down.

There. That's Friday. See. He shook his head. No Xs.

An X represented a machine with no operator. If there were machines available Fred was authorized to give hours to anyone who wanted them. I told him if I didn't work I'd drink.

He kept frowning, kept shaking his head.

I said, I'll end up crazy drunk with a bunch of creepy old aunts and uncles who believe Elvis is a Saint and still alive and that aliens do nightly flybys and that JFK is hiding in a bat cave somewhere in Montana.

I then made mention of several additional mostly old horribly creepy Hispanic people none of whom I can stand to be around and one of whom has a plaster of Paris impression of Big Foot's big footprint hanging on her living room wall. 

You a big drinker, Carl, Fred said.

I told him I hadn't had a drop in four years, honest to God, and that I would consider it a personal favor if this one time he could please cut me some slack, which is a stale joke around a shoelace factory.

How long you been sober? For real.

One hundred and twenty one days, I said.

That's still a lot of days, said Fred.

It's my new world record, I said.

He put his hand on my shoulder and steered me over to one of the coffee machines. He said he was terribly sorry about my loss. Then he fed the machine a few coins. He bought me a coffee.

Listen, he said. Tell you what. Coming in tomorrow is pretty much up to you, okay? What ever you want to do.


He smiled and I shook his hand. I thanked him. I told Fred he was a swell guy. 

Then I emptied six sugar packets into my coffee and stirred it with a pencil. On the walk back to the line he asked if my mother's death had been sudden. 

She died this morning, I said.

He nodded. Then he said what he had meant to ask was had she been ill for a long time. 

I shrugged. You're asking the wrong person, Fred. I haven't seen the woman in a dog's age. 

How old?  

Not very, I said. She had me at fifteen. I was born on this side, about 800 feet over the border, which makes me one hundred percent legal, and would have made her a citizen too if she'd stayed. Mostly my aunts raised me. They did a good job. 

But then I ran out of aunts.

He sipped his coffee and looked everywhere but at me. I think he knew I wouldn't come in.  





*** 





The next afternoon, five or six hours after the funeral, I called in. I asked to speak to the line boss. It was late, right around shift change. I had to have Fred paged. Every half minute the receptionist came back on the line. Ace Shoelace corporation, can I help you?

Each time I told her the same thing: I'm holding for Fred.

One moment, I'll connect you.

This went on and on like a bad dream.

When Fred finally picked up, I told him how terribly sorry I was that I hadn't made it in. I apologized for letting him down. I said I felt stupid, and that I hoped he hadn't actually been counting me in the numbers.

Who is this, he said.

Carl, I said. 

Carl? Which Carl? 

Carl with the dead mother, I said.

It came out like a sob and for a moment I thought he'd hung up. Then he said he hadn't forgotten about me, that in fact the whole plant had been informed of my personal tragedy and everyone, management included, was deeply saddened by my sudden loss.

That did it for me. I lost it. I lost it badly. I told Fred the truth was my mother had been a cheap Mexican whore her whole life, had never given two shits about me, and that right now she was dancing with the devil in some cantina in hell. 

I said, I know this to be a fact, Fred. Because I'm in her sorry excuse for a house and it is full of crucifixes and creeps. Fred, they are everywhere, like roaches. They're spilling out onto the road.

Then I explained my simple yet elaborate plan to throw up on anyone who tried to wrestle the phone away from me.

Fred said that he couldn't talk anymore because it was shift change.

He said he was sorry.

You don't like me very much do you, Fred?

Why do you say that?

Because this is the longest conversation we've ever had.

The next one will be longer, Fred said. I promise. Then he asked when I was scheduled again. 

Monday, I said. 

See you on Monday, Carl.

Hey, Fred, what about tomorrow, I said, but he'd already hung up. 





*** 





My mother is dead and my boss feels bad news travels fast as my uncle Salvordor could make them I said Sal make me another mother, mine is dead Sal, my mother is dead, and he slapped me, hard, on the chin, almost a punch, so I said alright Sal, I said okay all you creeps, get out of my mother's house, get out you fuckers, get out of my sight you hypocrites, you rat turds, I couldn't see them or anything, blurred by drink but I was screaming leave, get out of my mother's house, go! and the next thing I know I'm coming to in the Emergency room which is really a two bit undercover abortion clinic, a shack with just one doctor and one nurse and I'm there with Sal, my uncle Sal, who suddenly doesn't look so good, so I'm asking the nurse is his heart strong enough to take this, so the doctor gives him the once over, and the doctor says not good, you better take these, give him two, never more than two mind you, four times a day all day, so all day Saturday I tried but Sal said no pills, Carl, no thank you no more god damn pills, but the doctor said I said, and my uncle said to hell with the doctor, Carl, get it through your thick skull your beautiful mother is dead.

And that told me something about Sal that I had never wanted to know, like it or not.  





*** 





First thing Monday morning I told Fred all about the ER. I related every part of the story that I could remember. He had called or I had called, I forget which. I don't remember the phone waking me up but I don't remember dialing, either. I was on a binge, but I didn't tell Fred that. I told him my uncle Sal drove us back across the border and carried me dead drunk up three flights of stairs. I reminded Fred that I weighed almost two hundred pounds. My uncle's about one ten, one twenty tops. It could have killed him, I said. 

Fred said, it should have.

I cleared my throat. 

I said, Sal's gone now. He left his pills and some money that he said my mother wanted me to have, and a grainy black and white photograph of her cradling something in her arms. He says it's me she's holding but you can't tell, not really. I'll bring it in, let you decide for yourself. 

Fred said he thought it might be a good idea for me to take a couple of days off. Think things over, he said. Get your act together. At a time like this by your family's side is really where you want to be, Carl. Are you hearing me, son? 

I said, Shit Fred, I ain't got no family. And I'm never very good at times like these, which is why I like to work.

I hear ya, Fred said.

By then I was sniffling snots and bawling like a brat. Fred kept talking but I couldn't make out half the words. Then I went to move the phone to my other ear and I dropped it. I kept reaching and fumbling the thing because my hands were wet and I was trembling so bad. When I finally got the phone up to my ear I figured Fred was gone for sure.

I screamed his name three times before he answered.

Easy Carl. Easy! Take a couple of breaths.

I didn't think I was going to make it. I couldn't get any air into my lungs.

Then Fred said: On second thought maybe you better get your ass in here.

He said, I hate to make demands on a grieving son, a man who just lost his mother, but I've got three machines sitting idle, Houston is screaming in my ear, and I've got fresh quotas to fill. You know how it is. Can you handle two machines at once? Can you do that for me, son? Can I count on you to help me out? 

Sure thing, I told him, I can do that for you, Fred. Hell, I said, what else am I good for?