Sparks 17 - May/June 1997 - volume 6 issue 3- published by The Orange Street Press
We’re a little late getting this issue of Sparks to press for some big reasons. We’re moving from St. Louis back to Pennsylvania, our native land. St. Louis has been good to us, and we leave a part of ourselves with it. The Sparks online account will remain unaffected by the move (such are the advantages of virtual community).
Please be patient with us as we get adjusted to life back east. We do read all your submissions and comments and try our best to respond in a reasonable amount of time.
I've seen her this way
so many nights before:
she's on the recliner
during prime-time television
and she just can't stay
awake any longer
and she's sound asleep
and the television's blaring
and so many times
I've tapped my mother
on the shoulder
to wake her, or
I've raised my voice
to bring her back
but this time, this time
I had to kiss her on the cheek
my little way of telling her
I loved her
for the rest of my life
Warm rain falls in steady sheets,
swelling gutters lining the sides
of the village's one paved avenue.
Restless animals scrape hooves and bray
from a stable with packed-mud roof.
The child hops in shallow concrete dips,
loose-fitted clothes, wet and stuck to his skin.
He hums and lets water splash his bare legs,
he jumps back and forth over the gutter,
flaps his brown arms as he lands.
Stopping for a moment, he watches the hillside
where trees bend in the moist haze of rain,
and a passing train's white steam
foams and trails in the grey sky.
He hears a door open, the tap of a cane,
and his grandmother's voice calls, "Ashwin."
The child steps around the corner
and flattens himself against the high wall.
"Where are you, Ashwin? I want to talk to you."
He giggles and covers his mouth,
water flows down in tiny streams,
onto his shoulders and down his sides.
"Your mother has finally written,
and she has sent you an airplane ticket."
The child's hair is damp and matted,
dark black strips on his forehead.
Water-buffalo moan from the stable,
as he watches the drifting water
overflow the gutter and spread in the street.
where a cigarette is a rock n roll breakfast
and she is fourteen with a sold out country/western look,
inside an empty skull building in Tacoma,
she is a shell from FLA.
where a cigarette is anything but fancy exhalations
in a downpour of tears
the electric buzz of high tension omnipotence--
squiggly half-lines in acid-click awareness,
cold concrete oozes gray sweat
and the serpent hiss of steam
through the crooked teeth of a sewage grate
delivers a liturgy of heat
to her, the humped bug that got there first.
are sweaty headed against their pillows,
the dog, laying down, flies
free in her swooping dreams.
the furnace catching a low degree,
sucks a ghost through the basement door;
midnight hovers in the chaos
of yawning house sounds,
the molecular give of ductwork,
the ever groaning freezer and hiss,
the dry click of ice cubes
in this last drink raised
against this poem for you, my wife,
who toppled earlier to the twin cousins
of sleep and anxiety,
I roll close
to drown the other senses.
In the right side of the closet shared by Ed and Marie, there were twenty-six uniforms, each dry cleaned and hung in plastic bags. Most of them didn't fit anymore. Still in all, they were hung with care and precision like some army reserve unit, waiting for the country to call. There were six colors ranging from linen white through crimson to black, each denoting a change in management or ownership of the Harpley Hotel on Central Park. The last in line, the Hunter green jacket with the tan trousers, bore the logo of the major chain that was the current proprietor of the Harpley, the rest were emblazoned with the crossed lances behind the unicorn that, for more than a century, had represented the quietly elegant Harpley.
Ed had started at the Harpley in 1945. He had been twenty-two, but a hardened veteran of Normandy, Remagen and the drive to Berlin. One of a generation of men that grew up too suddenly in the fires of war. He became an elevator operator, and, when he retired, in 1988, he was an elevator starter. Had the Harpley not been acquired by the major chain, he would still be an elevator starter. The Harpley, until the advance of big business down the length of Central Park South, had been a place to grow old, and die in harness. Every post was filled by an expert, and Ed had been no exception.
During his forty-three year shift on the Harpley's elevators, he became a qualified elevator engineer. No one who worked at the Harpley after 1956 ever called an elevator repair company. Such an act would have been tantamount to high treason. The Hotel owned the building, but Ed Malone owned the elevators, and it was his proudest boast that no elevator at the Harpley had been inoperative longer than six hours, except for two black-outs, for which Ed never forgave Con Edison. Ed could stop an elevator at any floor with such precision that a level laid from the corridor floor to the elevator car never betrayed even the slightest variation. He operated his car smoothly, and with such skill that, often, his guests were unaware that they had reached their floor and stopped.
Ed worked his shifts, in 1947, he married Marie. In 1950, Ed Jr. showed up, when to school, became a Civil Engineer, eventually married Sandy and moved to Denver. In 1953, Evie came along and followed Ed Jr. as far as NYU, where she met Tom, got married and moved to California. Ed missed them, like all parents do, but he still had his elevators. 1987 was the year that changed.
In 1987, massive renovations came to the Harpley, along with membership in an international chain of hotels. The old elevators were ripped out and replaced with self-servicing, lighted button, plastic and glass enclosed "things." Not real elevators at all. "Things," abominations, cold, inhuman boxes, that didn't say "sir" or "ma'am", and, to Ed's horror, were routinely as much as half an inch low, or high, when they stopped. That was when Ed decided to retire.
He put in his papers and the day after his sixty-fifth birthday was pensioned off with a party and a cheap watch emblazoned with the logo of the international chain. He wore the watch for a while, then put it in the box where he kept the eighty-seven pairs of white gloves, laundered and bleached to stark whiteness, that had covered his hands whenever he operated the Harpley's elevators.
He and Marie moved to Miami Beach, to escape winter in Manhattan, and elevators with lighted buttons. They found a quiet little residence hotel with a manual elevator, and settled in. The kids came to visit every Thanksgiving, with grandchildren. Ed acquired a little arthritis in his left hand and right knee, and Marie developed a need for glasses.
It was last Tuesday when the desk clerk had come running to Ed's door. Marie was shopping, and Ed was vainly trying to become interested in WHEEL OF FORTUNE. The elevator had stopped between the second and third floor, and old Mr. Henderson looked like he was having a heart attack in it.
Ed followed the desk clerk, a kid barely escaped from high school, down to the third floor. A group of people had gathered around the elevator door, but couldn't get it open. Ed pulled his keys from his pocket and opened a small penknife he kept on the chain. He carefully unscrewed the plate over the elevator button and shorted the doors open. He yelled at everyone to stand back, and slipped the catch to the safety gate, opening up the shaft. The car's top was two feet above the floor. Ed climbed up, feeling a warning pain in his knee. He found the emergency trap door and opened it. He dropped down through the trap, silently cursing anyone who would leave an elevator with dirt on it's top, and especially around the trap. He landed on his feet, but nearly collapsed as the arthritis pain lanced upward from his knee. He stepped to the switch, and brought the elevator down to the first floor where newly arrived paramedics took old man Henderson to the Emergency room.
Marie returned a short time later, walking into a crowd of retired people, discussing Ed's heroics instead of trying to become interested in JEOPARDY. In honor of her husband's new status among the residents and the management, the desk clerk took her up. She found Ed seated in his chair with tears streaming down his face.
"Did you see?" he said. "Did you see that the car was almost an inch from the floor? I just don't have it anymore."
Effort is supposed to reflect the urgency
but your urgency arrests you
Regimented dementia: focus or fidget?
I know you have too much on your mind
(traitorous friends, pill thrills, remembering that crush on Gidget)
with questions that need to be answered
(how do you take your coffee? Will you beat the traffic?
Can I get this over the counter?
...if I pay you under the table?)
to look up from your Depth Charge Latte
but I thought you should know
that the violence of your impressions
are not reflected in your actions
when you just sit there
looking forward to the anticipation.
your words are even emptier than mine
what are you thinking
remind myself: I am simple,
externaly sanity positing,
centering, and holding down, together.
that is why I'm dishonest-
a disjunction of what I do while
most of my conversation is anywhere else, and alone.
hate that I use you as an excuse for beliving that I'm here.
this is the help?
hurts under the eyes - fluid and pressure
I want to wake up during the night and wash my face, forget how to erase my day, and pile the pills
on top so I can open mind under water.
I still like the sound of buckets
things which calm me
nothing to kill me
just displace me
patients is arbitrary
breaking is ordinary
pictures fuck my head
buckets was a dog
The division is into simple and complex: color, taste, and pain tells me what the race is and although the reflection is distinguishable because the tone is darker the resemblance is still in the vivacity of cancer. The first appearance of uneasiness tricks my senses, forcing immediate pleasure and sometimes I have to use my fingers to scrape the film off my eyes. Mind employs many words to explain passions while Academia makes emotion an institution so it can institutionalize the emotional until impressions no longer strike with the liveliness of violence.
The procedure for identifying what actions are morally permissible or morally prohibited in the case of perfect duties (contradictions in conception)
BOOM step out on to the cement stage and sit in for a jam session with Jesus and Kathie Lee. With live muslix raining up from the heavens, the house comes down tonight. Ladies and Gents if I may own your attention for a momentum, I would like to point out that the exits are not located. And now with the floating point co-processor intact, enjoin the charade!
I1ll take the first sentence from the second paragraph of each page and rearrange based on the analog word / continent ratio = poetry.
I fry all flipped up on the mother tub under the pile of utensils and uncertainties slide through and I think I understand again but am wrong. I'd like to be there too- legs hanging over the edge, feet planted why always firmly on the ground. Makes me cringe like a vodka smile. There were other rooms in this house where stacked up beds pushed over and shaman fathers stood up to remind me that I walked down these stairs every day, sat on this porch of my suburban head, fresh squeezed some lemonade - stared in the charade. Feels like trespassing.
Everyone loves a ratio. better-improve-popular-progress. popular is progress, things didn1t used to be popular - that is post-mortem contort. But all of this is to avoid what is on my mind: the unifying disautonomating paradigm has go to be: 2talking around it3. Lesson of the ambit? This is not the time to take people seriously. Mind has beaten things into categories and relationships. What criteria to judge the criteria to judge? The criteria to judge. But to clarify nothing is to put something there. Like a motorway, a tree, or a blue moon theory, I learned everything from quirky mart parking larks. Now my love is shaped by endless debts.
Waitressing made Angela’s feet sore, but after three weeks the blisters on her heels had finally healed, and the walk up the hill after work had become bearable. The early uneventful evenings, her stiff single bed at the boarding house, and being the new face in town had all become bearable—welcome. Fifty miles from Brown’s Flat was proving to be far enough.
At night she’d iron her only skirt and lay out her clothes for work on her bed. At the top of the hill the street was quiet, and with her window open she could hear men talking outside their cars as they waited for their wives to return from Zeller’s or the drug store. She could hear their radios, their laughter, smell the sweet smoke from freshly lit cigarettes. She counted change and rolled it into brown paper cylinders and stacked it like a pyramid on her dresser.
One evening after work she changed into her sandals and started across the park. It would have been shorter to follow the directions June had given her once, but the cool grass soothed her feet, and she wanted to avoid the group that clustered on the Post Office steps after it closed. She could see the glowing tips of their cigarettes and the glimmer of a bottle being passed between them. And from a distance … Hey, Baby. Hey...what’s the matter? Too good to talk to us?… Coarse laughter—no one she recognized. She crossed the street to the rear of June’s building. Angela was accustomed to June’s shiny, flawless nylons, and shoes seemingly too ornate and uncomfortable for working. June came to the door wearing no make-up, and she could feel herself staring at her untucked T-shirt and her particularly out of place ball cap.
"Would you look at me," June said, wiping her hands on a rag. "Where you coming from?"
"Not bad. Forty-two dollars."
"You should’ve called. I could’ve put on some coffee. Can’t believe your first time here and the place is a disaster."
June was doing some painting. The walls had been stripped of their effects, and the furniture was pulled to the center of the room and covered with plastic. Large holes in the walls had been patched and sanded, and trails of dust had settled along the base boards. The bathroom had no door.
"Not much privacy, eh?" June motioned to the doorless room as she ushered Angela into the kitchen. "I’m getting that fixed. Want a beer or something?" She forced a smile and pulled down on her cap.
"Sure," she said, "but I just came by to see that apartment you were telling me about."
"Oh yeah, right. Here..." and she handed Angela a beer. "You want me to see if Clyde’s home?"
"Do you mind?"
"No. It’s no trouble." June got up and went to a small mirror by the sink. She undid her pants and tucked in her shirt. Angela pretended not to watch as she lifted her hat and checked a tender bruise on her forehead.
"Where’d you say you were staying?" She never actually listened when Angela answered her. She twisted in front of the mirror, and straightened her shirt. "Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back. You can finish painting if you like." She smiled easier.
June’s shoes tapped clearly in the tiled hallway and faded up the stairs…tap…tap…tap…tap. Angela stood up and examined some of June’s things from a distance: the plants on her window, her mismatched oven mitts, the dirty glasses in the sink, each a different size and shape. There were some boxes stacked in the hall. The top one was open and she could see a large pair of running shoes, some shaving cream and some magazine …tap…tap…tap…tap. She sat back down. "Here we are." June stood in the door swinging keys from her outstretched arm. "Got them from Clyde’s wife. Want to have a look?"
Angela followed June into the basement. The hallway was dank. There was a furnace room and a laundry room, and the bachelor apartment that June was unlocking. "Clyde’s wife said that it might need some work."
Indeed it did. June went in and Angela reluctantly followed. Duct tape kept the fraying carpet down under the door, and a grimy path lead the way inside. It was square; cupboards and sink in one corner and a closet and bathroom in another. The walls had the color and texture of avocado and were scuffed and dirty along the bottom. A smoky haze covered the windows and dirty yellow light filtered in. The fridge smelled of sour milk and the stove had been dismantled - the burners lay aging in a brown pool in the sink. The cushion floor in the bathroom was turned upward and away from the walls in the corners and patterned with burns and mildew freckles. Brownish-orange streaks spread up the wall in the shower under a leaking shower head.
"Jesus, that Clyde." June turned to Angela.
Angela stared abjectly around. "It could be worse," she said. The trailer in Brown’s Flat was worse.
"That’s hard to..." June stiffened and looked upward…ring…ring…ring… June’s phone--as clear as if it were in the next room.
"Shit," she muttered, and bolted from the apartment. Angela could hear her taking the steps two at a time, hear her key hastily unlocking the door. She answered on the fourth ring - some of the words were discernible, the tone harsh. June slammed the receiver into the cradle only to have it ring again only seconds later. What now?’ ... No. I told you no...You’re sorry...Just like last time, right?...I said don’t...’Cause you’re drunk...I can just tell...I gotta go...
"So what do you think?" Angela turned to find a man, shorter than her, eating an apple with one hand and rubbing his gut under his shirt with the other. Brown and gray strands swept from over one ear across his shiny head - Clyde. "Not a bad spot, eh?"
She nodded hesitantly and looked around, hoping to direct him to it’s shortcomings. "Last tenants just picked up and took off, middle of last month. Never heard from them since. Still got their damage deposit though." He chewed the core and spit a seed into his hand. "Rent here’s four-fifty - that’s everything included don’t forget. I’ll even leave the furniture - ‘less you got your own?"
They looked together at the dying brown plaid sofa-bed, and the frail coffee table. She looked past him for some sign of June.
"I got a few others real interested, so if you’re gonna..."
"Clyde." June was back. "I see you met Angela. Angela, Clyde."
"What’s with the hat?" He reached out for the peak. She leaned away from him and pulled it tightly down.
"Just doin’ some cleaning - keeping the hair out of my eyes." She glanced at Angela, then back to him, "Besides, when were you planning on cleaning this place?"
"What?" Clyde shrugged.
"What do you mean, what? Just look around. It could take a month. Right, Ang?’ June could exaggerate—Angela knew that. At work it was always…best pie in town, made it myself…what a gorgeous tie, I’ll bet your wife picked that out… Who knew if they were married? They always watched her walk away. June made a killing.
"Well, maybe not a month," she looked at June apologizing for her lack of instinct. "Maybe June can help me when she’s done painting."
"Painting?" Clyde turned to June.
"Just look at this carpet," June diverted.
"More trouble, June?"
"It’s nothing. You gonna give us a break on this place, or what?"
"Us?" he said.
"You gonna make your up mind, or what?" June said shortly.
He huffed and turned, "Half a month. I’ll give you half a month off. So have the money for me in two weeks," he looked seriously at Angela. "Can you handle that?" Half a month—her pyramid of coins. She nodded. "And you..." he motioned the core at June.
"Never mind, Clyde," she turned him and nudged him towards the door.
"I want to see that apartment..."
"I told you, it’s nothing. You just wanna get into my bedroom." She grinned back at Angela.
"And old lady Simpson. She says you guys scare the hell out of her..."
"I know, I know. Later. O.K.?" she gave him another nudge. "Call me if you need anything," she said looking back, and they were gone.
With less apprehension Angela ventured around the apartment, surveying the carnage. She passed a moistened finger over the counter, and with the clean surface revealed, she realized she was partly done. She imagined the apartment with the musty, stagnant smell replaced with potpourri and spices, her music playing, her television on, friends laughing. No fear of being embarrassed, no trailer, no cursing, no TV blaring…
When she was sixteen her mother caught her kissing Justin in her bedroom. They had been sitting on the side of the bed studying. He had his hand part-way under her sweater when her mother burst in and slapped her across the face.
"You think I don’t know what’s going on?" she said, half-smiling, half-enraged, with a long ash dangling from her cigarette. That was all she said; she never said anything to Justin as he left, and never cooked any supper.
When her father came home from work, Angela stayed in her room. She could hear them through the thin walls…don’t think I don’t know what’s going on in my own house... She could hear the tin-foiled antenna of their television rub against the wall as her father adjusted it, and said nothing - sometimes not responding was the only way to get her to stop. If her mother didn’t persist, he’d lie in bed and watch television. If she did, he’d go out to the kitchen and reread the paper. On those nights, sometime after the ice stopped rattling in her mother’s glass, her father would go and lie quietly in bed. Sometimes Angela would wake to find him asleep on top of the covers next to her.
When the plywood mill where her father worked closed, her mother would stay up all night in their trailer full of smoke and ridicule…I should have known…a real fucking job…better men than you... The mill never reopened—everyone was miserable
Just before the end of the school year her father showed up at school one day. He got a new job…Belldune…only a three hour drive…weekends… He explained that her mother would be keeping the car. He hunched down to make eye-contact with her…promise…but she couldn’t look him in the face.
That summer trucks rumbled in and out of the Industrial Park, past their trailer--everything sweat and was layered with dust. On weekends she walked home from the movie theater where she worked and would stop under the bleachers of the exhibition grounds to smoke and drink beer or cheap wine with others she knew. It was on one of those nights, with her lips and tongue thick and useless, her sight blurred, and struggling to keep her balance, that she navigated a dark field and a few back streets to find her way home. The sink was rounded with unwashed dishes, and a large denim jacket hung over a chair. Every light was on, even the one in her room. She passed out on top of the covers with her clothes on.
It was bright out, and after what seemed like only a moment of sleep, she woke to the sharp pain of having her hair pulled, and stinging slaps about her face. A word accompanied each slap… you...little...slut... She rolled across the bed away from the flailing hands. Standing over her was her naked mother - she was startling with her bright, smudged make-up and yellow, shaking hands, and loose, pale skin. She turned unsteadily and went to her room. Angela lightly touched the throbbing spots on her scalp and face. She could hear her mother frantically going through the closet. She came back and threw a small suitcase on the bed…go! Just get the fuck out and go… and she returned to her room and slammed the door and turned the television up quite loud.
When she didn’t return she got up and quietly walked past her mother’s room to the bathroom. Her head was pounding and her mouth dry. The TV blared. She stood in the mirror dabbing at her swelling lip, her tearing eyes - with her sweater on inside-out.
AFTER WORKING BREAKFAST the next morning, Angela went to her apartment to get started. She began in the bathroom but soon realized she had underestimated the effort required before anyone could go barefoot in the tub or on the floor. She cleaned with the anticipation of company, eager to showcase a clean hospitable apartment. The scouring powder stung her hands and eyes, but worked, and the filth consumed it liberally. Each brown and orange patch that was scrubbed away gleamed promise.
She could hear June rustling above her—water running, channels being changed indiscriminately, bottles rattling in her fridge. Her own fridge was empty. She was thirsty.
Someone, with eyes only as high as the chain that barred a barely open door, watched Angela go down the hall and ring June’s bell. It was mid-afternoon and June was still in her nightshirt.
"Hey, you smell like cleaner," she said. "Morning Mrs. Simpson," June called across the hall and the door shut and the eyes retreated. "Come on in. I’ll get changed and go down and give you a hand."
Her apartment was no closer to being painted, but a new bathroom door leaned against the wall. June changed and went into the bathroom. Angela could hear her urinating and brushing her teeth, and felt guilty like a child walking in on their parents.
"So, how’s it going?" June made coffee. Angela said she was just taking her time with things down stairs, in no hurry. But she was—though doing the neighbor thing felt good. June was chatty and seemed eager, even in her still sleepy-before-coffee-mode, to talk about work and some of the other people in the building. June said she was sure Clyde used to sleep with a woman that lived in the apartment Angela was in now.
"You could hear them," she said, and she turned up her nose and shivered as if she had just inhaled something disgusting. The bruise on her forehead was fainter and she seemed unconscious of it. And…Mrs. Simpson…nosy old bitch…
Mid-afternoon turned into early evening, and coffee turned into cans of beer. June cooked a frozen pizza and the ashtray was filling with butts. Angela held it as long as she could but finally succumbed and used June’s doorless bathroom. She stared at the door, finally able to make herself go, and afterwards wondered what she had been so worried about.
"Got a boyfriend?" June asked.
Angela confessed a few in high school—nothing serious.
"How were they?" she asked.
She was unsure. "Nice, I guess."
"No, no. How were they?" and she leaned on the table and Angela could see that she was waiting to be confided in.
"They were O.K., I guess." She could feel her face getting hot and she remembered their smoky, drunken breath, their rough hands, and her naked, trembling mother…you…little…slut…
"Did you know that I was married once?" June prattled. "I mean it was a long time ago - and how the hell would you know that, anyway?" The beer was taking effect. "I don’t really need a man, you know," she continued. "I like them, don’t get me wrong." Her cigarette was cinched between her fingers and smoke coiled up and flattened against the ceiling. "But everybody gets an itch once in a while that they can’t scratch themselves. You know what I mean?" Angela laughed along politely.
"So, tell me, do you know that guy who comes in for lunch all the time - hair slicked back, always has a date square?"
Angela thought she knew who June meant. "I think so. What about him?"
"So what do think of him?"
"I don’t know. Why?" She thought he was smug.
"He was here last night. You think I look tired, you should see him." She laughed out loud again.
Yes. Date squares--—and tea—and large hands and a nose that looked to have been broken once.
June elaborated, graphically, and Angela remembered seeing her stuff the bill into his breast pocket once, rather than leave it on the table, and remembered her exaggerated laugh. It was Brian—Brian something-or-other. June imitated him, contorting her face…mmm… Angela was buzzing. Empty cans littered the counter. ..oh yeah…come on… June laughed.
June got up, still smirking, and emptied the ash tray. She checked the parking lot through the window over her sink.
"Expecting someone?" Angela asked.
"Just wondering when I’ll get my car back." June explained her son borrowed the car sometimes and June had to walk to work.
"You’ve got a son?"
"Why? Don’t I look old enough?" She smiled, not easily. "He’s a good kid," she turned to the window again, "well, not really a kid anymore. Just turned twenty." She butted her half-smoked cigarette. "Really misses his dad." June said her husband used to work too much—day and night she said. That was it. She hated being alone.
It was time to go.
ANGELA BOUGHT a few sheets and a fitted cover for the sofa-bed she had adopted. Every night for a week she collapsed on it from waiting tables all day, and cleaning until late. A good kind of tired she said. She enjoyed walking through the door into the clean aroma and she’d stand back and examine the arrangement of the few things she had purchased to spruce the place up—a pot holder and oven mitts (though she owned no pots), a vase and some scented candles. Clyde promised to fix the leaking shower head.
June came down one morning when the work was almost done. She was hung-over and said the smell of oven cleaner made her gag, and she left. Angela had hoped to have her down to see the completed transformation, but for a few days she didn’t see much of June - she had missed a few shifts at work. Some days her car would be gone, but she could hear her television on, or water running. The phone would ring, but never be answered. One night she went up to check on her, and a young man answered the door. She felt that she had interrupted something.
"I’m sorry…I’ll come back."
"Are you looking for June?’ he asked.
She hesitated. "Just tell her that I stopped in."
"Tell her who stopped in?"
"Look. Mom said she wouldn’t be long…so, if you want to come in and wait…"
She stared. He had June’s full lips and dark eyes, but his face was longer, his jaw square.
"Jason," he said, offering his hand.
"I know, you already said that," he smiled - June’s charm as well.
She agreed to go in and wait, but after a few minutes admitted she was uncomfortable being there while June was out - besides, she needed the bathroom. She suggested he come down to see her place. He smiled and agreed and followed her down with some of June’s beer , and they sat on the small sofa and listened to the radio.
"It’s not much," she explained.
"Smells clean, " he said, immediately ingratiating himself.
She made some sandwiches and they shared June’s beer on the rickety coffee table.
"All this furniture yours?" he joked and she smiled and was strangely unapologetic. They talked about music and movies and not about their mothers. She was unaccountably, and for the first time, free.
SOMETHING WOKE HER early: perhaps anticipation - the type that wakes children early the day after Christmas to play with their toys. The anxiousness to see and hold their wonderful gifts.
Jason was still asleep. Angela got up quietly to set her alarm for work - she forgot to the night before. The apartment glowed bluish gray from the street lamp outside, the vague outline of the bed , and his blanketed form, were all that stood out in that square, empty space…squeak…squeak…thump… She tip-toed back to the sofa, now folded out flat, and rolled back under the covers trying not to wake him - but not trying too hard…squeak…laughter…squeak squeak…come on…squeak… When she was lying next to him, she could see him listening, rigid, his eyes open and furious…thump…laughter…squeak…thump…squeak…squeak thump squeak thump…
And in that almost-darkness, she thought she could make silence for him…no… but he was fixated on it - the noise. And as quickly as she’d come home…squeak thump.. finally come home…squeak thump… it was being stolen all away. Something as laughable and meaningless…squeak thump…come…squeak…on… as Brian so-and-so’s whimpering and flinching was drowning something real - something of hers.
Jason got up and dressed. She wanted to tell him: "You get used to it" or "It stops after a while"…squeak thump…squeak…come on come on…mmm… He fumbled around in the shadows until he found the broom. He thrashed it wildly against the ceiling, roaring, "Stop!" But it didn’t stop. He flung the broom aside and clapped both his hands against the wall over his head - "Stop it!" CLAP CLAP. STOOOPP! But it didn’t, and he left, and she hated June…laughter…
Outside in a powdery silence, the street light clicked off as the sun began its task of overcoming a the dusk, the shadowlessness. Angela would not have gone to work had the alternative not been to sit there, in her own inability to sleep or forgive, and wait for the sounds of June getting out of bed. In complete absence of compassion she made coffee and listened to customers banter about the weather and the inevitable coming of cold weather…We’ve been very lucky this summer… Her stomach rolled from resentment and lack of sleep. It turned completely over when serving a date square and tea.
She wanted to leave—asked to leave—but couldn’t. June hadn’t shown up for work. Every minute was a struggle…squeak…laughter…and she wondered, what she would say, if she could stay…STOP!…
AT THE FRONT of the building Clyde stood casually at the bottom of the steps with his arms folded over his stomach. An ambulance waited with its doors open.
"What’s going on?" Angela asked.
"Were you at work?" he asked.
"Yes. What happened?"
"You could hear it all over the building."
"June," he said, and looked at her as she might be playing stupid. "Yeah. She’s pretty bad this time." He rubbed his gut.
"Yeah. But she’ll never admit it’s the boy."
The attendants pushed between them. June was flat on the stretcher wearing a stiff plastic collar that curled up under her chin. The attendants must have put a coat on her—her feet and legs were bare from the knees down and she clutched the coat securely shut. One side of her face was a brutal purple and black mass. Her eyes were closed tightly - but not from unconsciousness - and she winced as she turned her head away.
"Kid’s never been the same since he found his father that time," Clyde added as the ambulance left.
"What?" She wasn’t listening…thump…thump…
"The young fella - Jason. I said he hasn’t been right since he found his father that time."
"Found him? Found him where?"
"They had a house just out of town. Nice spot, too. Father hung himself not long after the divorce. Kid found him hanging in the garage one day after school. Stone dead - and right black. Ain’t been right since. Can’t say as I blame him - never changed June much though."
Angela could feel her color leaving her and she started down stairs. "Hey, listen. I didn’t forget about that leak," he called after her.
DOWNSTAIRS IT WAS STILL. Cleanser, scented candles, beer cans. Quiet, except for the dripping from the bathroom. With each drop, the mocking brown and orange streak reasserted itself. The sofa was folded out, its fitted cover heaped on the floor.
It felt like a Sunday, or a holiday, when there was nothing open and nothing to do in Brown’s Flat. Her mother watched television all day, ice rattled in her glass. Her father was in Belldune…promise… Days like that she stayed in her room, stared at the ceiling, and wished she could leave and never come back.
|"We thought we could get by without God-then the Khmer Rouge scared the shit
out of the old guard. The world went off and did its own thing. Theory was
no help what so ever. Why didn't they listen? We even attacked the
reactionaries who did post-modern literary criticism. Little good that did.
Well, some women got books out of it and a lot of people made money
translating from the French, but what did all that come to in the end? The
woman I live with still writes dry poems of domestic struggle or some female
longing to unite with nature, but there is no real passion in them. I should
marry her, I guess, but then what would the readers of her column in The
National think? Our views of the world are still rather conventional, after
all. I watch her as she moves around the bedroom and wonder if I really love
her. There are scraps of paper in the bathroom and on the dresser with lines
written on them. She says she will paste them into a poem some day. We'll
see. Man, I'm tired of teaching. The students are just into music and drugs
and themselves. If only mother would die before she uses up our inheritance.
I mean, beyond the city, the people in Nebraska or Missouri, what do they
care about our books and our analysis? Someone out there is dicing apples
and dreaming of a new car, or a woman hangs her laundry on a backyard
clothesline to dry. Stupid love songs play on the radio, while the April
breeze carries the scent of plowed fields into the house. That's the extent
of living for them. We even though art would save us, living in lofts and
painting till our hands bleed. Or even reading till our eyes bleed, but it
didn't make a dent either. Look at that faggot over there with his
boyfriend! They seem so happy. Don't they know the Chinese are the last hope
of the age and their planners are wasting it, too? I wish I knew what was
coming next besides death. Damn, on a day like this in spring you can almost
trick yourself into thinking there is more to the world than just a
superstructure of illusion propped up by capitalists means of production.
What did I want? I am growing old. There is no end to lies."
|A man stands with his arm around a woman as they look at a map on the train station wall. He points to San Antonio. She smiles and nods. They are
traveling together now. See, Lucretius, their atoms have bumped one another
and stuck in the random fall through time. So, in my heart's illusion, I
marry the one I travel with. Let me point out our journey on the map of
|I wake up early. It is still dark, but the birds are making such a chatter
outside our window. I listen to him breathe in the next bed. The faint
silhouette of his body is drawn against the wall. How long has it been since
I passed the night with someone? The birds know about it-know about
whistling in the dark.
Robert Klein Engler,GayPoet312@aol.com, lives in Chicago. His poems and stories have appeared in Borderlands, Evergreen Chronicles, Hyphen, Christopher Street, The James White Review, Fish Stories: Collective II, American Letters and Commentary, Literal Latte, and many other magazines and journals. He has two books of poetry, Shoreline and Stations of the Heart, published by Alphabeta Press. Other works are published on disk by Spectrum Press. He was the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award for his poem "Flower Festival at Genzano," which appeared in Whetstone.
Maximillian Gill, firstname.lastname@example.org, has just obtained a Master's in Creative Writing from San Jose State University and is often seen at open mike readings in the area. The poem "Monsoon" is a fictional memory of himself as a very young child in India just before joining his parents in California.
Tom Hogan, Thomas_Hogan@brown.edu, is a fourth year Philosophy student attending college in Providence, RI and a research assistant in molecular biology at Neurogen Corp. in Conn. Rarely making use of characters, events, environment, or plot, he writes primarily about interaction with language. Although he does not yet consider himself a "writer", he has been published in a few E-zines and print magazines. He plans to pursue a PhD in Philosophy after college.
Janet Kuypers,email@example.com ... http://www.shout.net/~ccandd is an Art/Production Editor for a publishing company in Chicago. She has a bachelors degree in News/Ed. Journalism (Communications), with a minor in photography, from the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign and has published over 1,250 times for writing and over 150 for artwork. Janet is the editor/publisher of the literary/art magazine children, churches and daddies. She has had three books published, hope chest in the attic, the window, and close cover before striking. She is a graphic designer by day and also sings with a band.
Larry Lynch,firstname.lastname@example.org, is 32 and lives in New Brunswick, Canada. He works shift work for a pulp and paper company and does some writing on the night shift. His boss hopes Larry will write a best-seller someday and quit. Larry does too.
Tim Peeler,email@example.com, teaches English at a community college in Hickory, NC. He has edited and published THIRD LUNG REVIEW since 1987. His poems, essays and reviews appear here and there, and he has been affected by the lives of many dead people.
Richard Russell, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a retired New York advertising executive who spent most of his working years as a copywriter. Upon his retirement, he decided to attempt to write experimental pieces and expand the concept of literature as a whole. He sums up his attempts this way: "Stories are all around us, all the time. Literature attempts to tell a whole story. To have the story make sense. This is, in a sense, unreal and artificial, and, I think, that omniscience is becoming boring. In real life, stories are cobbled together bits of observation, gossip, intuition, imagination. That's what I am attempting to write." His other writing credits include: PISTIS SOPHIA, A Gnostic Gospel, and the introduction to the first facsimile version of THE AMERICAN MERCURY.