“Announcement: Thursday, March 12th is Bring Your Soul to Work Day. As with Bring Your Child to Work Day, we welcome all to participate but also kindly remind you of our company policy that productivity must be maintained. We will have regularly scheduled activities throughout the day for those souls who choose to participate.”
Alex studied the memo in the copy room with a little tremble. She’d just started at the company three weeks ago and was still fumbling her way through the politics on the office floor. Noticing the office manager entering the room, Alex sorted and re-sorted the papers in her hand. It would never do to look un-busy.
“How are you today, Randall?” she asked.
“Fine,” said the office manager with his back to her. He was putting supplies away. Randall was exceptional at making people feel less important than he.
“Uh, so…” Alex continued to fiddle with the papers that she was done with. She’d read a book about how to do well in the corporate space—My Life in Cubes. It made the point again and again that it was necessary to always “connect” with others, especially key players like the office manager. “So,” she continued brightly, “Bring Your Soul to Work Day! Is that an annual event?”
Randall’s shoulders rounded as he turned to glare at the memo tacked to the message board. She thought she heard him growl.
“Yes, unfortunately,” he finally answered, brushing fake dust from his white pants. “The office gets trashed, I end up with two or three notices on my desk to hand over to the chief at the end of the day, and no one is ever grateful. Nor do they ever RSVP the proper amount so the catering is always too much or too little and who do you think has to hear about that all day?” He pointed a thumb at his crisp white shirt.
The point of “connecting” was not to upset the other person, so Alex made a comment along the lines of “Oh dear, I’m sorry,” and fled the room.
Back at her desk, she picked up the next loan document for review. It only took about two minutes of looking at it for the words on the form to blur. She shook her head a little and began again. This week alone she’d gotten six paper cuts already and it was only Tuesday and she kept losing her place on the page.
“Alex,” a stern voice interrupted. “Do you have a minute?” Without waiting for an answer, Steven perched himself on her desk, making her scoot her chair back so she wasn’t quite so close to his diabolically strong cologne. Her cube was miniscule, the size of most end tables, with just enough space to breathe deeply and exhale often. Steven had a stack of papers in his hand. “Do you see these forms?”
“Yes.” She wasn’t blind. They were only a foot from her face. She could have reached out and licked them if she wanted to.
“These are forms that you reviewed. They are all wrong.” Steven slapped the papers down on a desk and pointed to box #42C. “This here needs an initial by the client. These need to be approved by the end of the day which is getting closer every second. I suggest you hurry.”
“Oh god, sorry, so sorry!” she muttered. “I’ll start right away.” She gathered the papers and peered at the miniature blank box on the sheet. #42A and B were complete but the teeny box that was #42C was woefully empty. It had taken a week to finish reviewing the forms in the first place. She’d have to call the analysts right away. Steven left and she hit redial to catch the last analyst she’d spoken to.
“Carmen Miranda’s office,” a bubblegum voice answered.
“Oh, I’m so sorry—I don’t know how what happened. I have the wrong number.”
“No you don’t. You never have the wrong number when you call me. I’m the right number.”
“Yes, but I wanted to call George Larimore’s office.”
“I don’t think you did.”
“Well, no, I know I didn’t call his office. Because I called you somehow instead.”
Alex heard a smile crackling on the line. “No, honey. I mean, I don’t think you really meant to call him. He sounds dull. I think you were hoping for something else entirely.”
After a moment of shallow breathing, Alex finally stuttered, “I should go.”
“Oh, darling. Have you learned nothing from the last few moments of your life? What you should do and what you really want to do are clearly at odds right now, aren’t they?”
Alex blinked at Randall rushing past her desk and then back to the pile of paperwork in front of her. “I’m sorry, goodbye.” She thought she heard the mysterious woman say, “Darling, don’t be sorry,” before she hung up. Shaking her head to clear it, she thumbed through the filofax, the tacky retro filofax full of analysts’ phone numbers she’d been given on her first day—analysts who yelled at her daily since she began with the company. She found George Larimore’s number. She very carefully punched in the number, double-checking before the final digit. It rang.
“Carmen Miranda’s office,” said the same voice as before.
“What? No,” Alex cried. “What is going on? I checked the number. It worked this morning.”
“Well sweetie, clearly things have changed since this morning.” The woman’s voice was the picture of patience, if voices could be pictures.
“I don’t understand,” Alex said, feeling defeated by the telephone lines. “Wha—” But she couldn’t even finish the sentence.
“Oh Alex, don’t fret.”
“Wait, how do you know my name?” Alex whispered fiercely into the phone’s receiver and slid to the edge of her seat. She scanned the office behind her to see if anyone was watching.
“Why darling, Caller ID of course!” The woman laughed.
“Who are you?” Alex asked, wishing she was better at faking politeness.
“How kind of you to ask. I ask myself that question three times before breakfast. Ah, sometimes it’s not until the third cup of coffee that I remember. I, my dear, am a manifester of life.”
“A what? No, who are you? What is your name?” She stopped herself before yelling “What the hell is happening to my mind?” which was the question she really wanted answered.
“Name?” the woman asked, sounding disappointed. “My name is Gaelic,” she said flatly.
“Nice to meet you, Gaelic,” Alex chirped in response automatically. A sound like wind chimes erupted from the phone as the woman laughed.
“No, it’s Gaelic: the language. I can’t tell you my name until the moment is right.”
“What? Listen, I’m just trying to get my job done here.” Alex balled up a sheet of paper that was sitting innocently on her desk.
“Well dear, I’m afraid to say there’s never just one thing going on at any moment. While you were talking you were also breathing and thinking, and probably sitting. So getting your work done was hardly all you were doing.”
Alex’s voice dropped an octave. “Seriously, what is going on here?”
“Oh, I know dear, I know,” the woman with the Gaelic name cooed. “It’s always hard at first. But it will become clear soon. You’ll see. Right now, I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” Alex asked, not entirely sure she wanted to know.
“I need you to take a memo.”
“A memo? About what?”
“My my, so impatient to know everything. Darling, there are so many wonderful questions to live with. You’ll know what the memo is after you take it, now won’t you?”
“I guess so,” Alex pouted. Really, was it too much to get a straight answer? Looking at the forms on her desk, she was overcome with the desire to be completing them instead of talking to the confusing woman who seemed determined to frustrate her.
“Okay then, ready?” the woman said brightly. “Once upon a time…”
“Wait, stop! That is not how you begin a memo.”
“Well, darling, it is if you begin them correctly.” She cleared her throat and began again. “Once upon a time, at three o’clock on a Tuesday it was determined that all employees should reset their imagination three times daily while at work: once in the morning, once at noon, and once over coffee at half past two.”
Alex’s hand hadn’t moved over the blank page she’d felt obligated to pull out at the word “memo.” “What?” She’d used that word today more than any other in her life. “I can’t write that. That’s not a proper memo.”
The woman snorted. “And since when did you become the authority on what is and what is not a memo? It’s not a proper memo yet because you haven’t taken it. As soon as a memo is taken, then it becomes a memo. There’s a system for these things. Pay attention.”
Rolling her eyes, Alex wrote down what she could remember of the memo. “Did you say half past two or three?” she asked wearily.
“Two, dear. Three would be much too late. No good then.”
“Whatever,” Alex muttered, while writing down the “correct” time. “And what is it exactly that you want me to do with this memo now that I’ve taken it?”
“Well, you’re to send it about, of course. Put it where you saw the Bring Your Soul to Work Day memo.”
Alex sat straighter in her chair. “How do you know about that?”
“Why, I sent it of course. Having a slow day are we, dear? Feeling a bit dim?” she chirped.
Alex was about to register her offense when she spotted her boss coming down the aisle. She automatically picked up the pile of forms and shuffled them in an urgent looking fashion, and made sure she was overheard politely on the phone to say, “Certainly! Of course. Right away!” She thought she saw a half smile form on her boss’s face as he passed her cube.
“Well,” the woman on the other line said, sounding pleased. “Glad you’re finally on board dear. We’ll talk later and you’ll let me know how it goes. Ta!” she sang, and before Alex had time to respond the sound of dial tone blared in her ear.
“The nerve!” Alex spat. She looked down at the dictated memo and was about to crumple it into a ball for the waste basket. She sighed instead and noticed the clock on her computer read noon. “Once at noon…” she spied on the page. Reset your imagination? What did that mean? Was it like resetting a clock? Or a button that you pressed? Well, whatever it meant, she spied the entire contents of the office spilling out for their lunch breaks and knew this was her only window to hang up the memo undetected. She pressed it to her body and tried her best to look casual. She tiptoed to the copy room and quickly pinned it up next to the Bring Your Soul to Work Day memo. She looked at that one again, now realizing that someone else in the office must have talked to the strange woman. They might be able to tell her what was going on. If only there were a way to find out who that was without sounding like she’d lost her mind, which at this point was an absolute possibility.
When everyone came back from lunch (she ate at her desk, too frightened to leave), Alex listened for clues that anyone had seen her memo. She didn’t have to wait long. Randall, the office manager, zipped by her desk muttering “Reset my imagination, my ass. How ‘bout you reset my paycheck to add another zero or two.” People shuffled in and out of the office supply room, lingering more than long enough to read the memo, and left again either unfazed or unaware.
Alex got back to her paperwork. The next time she dialed out to reach an analyst, she got through. She felt triumphant, and just a little bit disappointed. But at least she was also able to get a bit of work done. One of her books was adamant about making sure you created a sense of accomplishment each and every day.
Three hours later, she took a stack of finished paperwork to her boss’s office and knocked timidly.
“Come in,” he gruffly instructed.
“I’m done with these, sir,” she said and placed them on his desk.
“Is that all of them?” He peered at the stack over his glasses.
“Almost. I’m waiting for a few more phone calls back.”
He grunted and drove his nose back into the work she’d interrupted. She stood there for a moment waiting to see if he would address her.
Finally he took off his glasses to glare at her, and said, “Is there anything else, Alex? Because if there isn’t you really should run along and finish up the rest of this pile before the end of the day.”
Alex slowly walked back toward her desk, but felt compelled to head into the copy room to see if any additional messages from the universe or that crazy lady had arrived. She pretended to be looking for staples, opening cabinet doors as she worked her way closer to the memo board. There was a new posting: an advertisement of kittens for sale. The sign announcing a litter of unwanted animals would have been perfectly normal except for the way the mouth of the momma cat turned down in saddest frown. Alex tried to break herself away from the ridiculous board but felt stuck. Seeing no other way out, she tore one of the phone number slips attached from the poster and ran back to her desk.
Quickly, before she could talk herself out of it, she dialed the number from the slip. Clearing her throat, she looked around to see if anyone was watching her as she waited out the dial tone. The voice of a woman who had obviously been smoking her whole life came on.
“Yeah, what do you want?” It graveled into her ear. Shocked by normality, Alex went mute. “Hello?” the voice said. Alex cleared her throat as if in sympathy for the vocal chords on the other line.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I was calling about the kittens.” Now that it was out of her mouth she realized she hadn’t even really seen what they looked like, so absorbed had she been by the mother cat’s frown.
“Hang on a minute. I’ll have to get Luanne.” Alex felt like she could smell the ash emanating from the other end of the line. She sighed while she waited, a bit perplexed at herself, but curiosity tugged convincingly.
“Well hello, honey,” the same voice from this morning sang in her ear. “I had a good feeling about you.”
“Wait – how are you – wait!” Alex slammed her hand down on the table. “You’re telling me your name is Luanne!!” Of all the things that had occurred that day, this might be the most ridiculous. “How is that even Gaelic?”
“I told you you’d discover my name when the time was right, darling.”
“Yeah but…your name is Luanne.” Alex blinked hard, as if the snapping of her eyelids might help the connection from brain to reality.
“Now sweetie, you’ve progressed really well today. But one thing is missing.”
“What?” It was hard to squelch the pleasure of finding she was progressing well. Perhaps not at work, she thought ruefully, but at least in whatever weird venture was befalling her.
“What’s left is to decide.”
“To decide what?”
“Ah, there you go getting impatient again. You will know what to decide after you decide what your decision is.”
Alex gave her head a little shake. “What?”
“Exactly. You’ll decide on the what then.”
“When you’ve figured out what your decision is.”
If she’d had anything to eat or drink recently, Alex would have sniffed it to see if she could detect any drugs. Perhaps she’d been split in two and the other half had gone and done shrooms.
“Are you ready?” Luanne asked, sounding at once twinkling and maternal.
“For what? To decide? I don’t even know what we’re talking about, how could I be ready?” The clock above her desk struck 4:45 and she’d not completed anything else that afternoon. Suddenly the sense of doom and possible termination beat down on her.
“No, dear. That will happen when the sun falls behind the moon and the bluebird crows. I mean, are you ready for Take Your Soul to Work Day?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do.”
Luanne’s voice broke into a cackling laugh. “Silly, it doesn’t get much more obvious: you bring your soul to work. Listen, give me a call tomorrow and tell me how it goes.” Alex thought she heard an air kiss before the dial tone hit. The clock clicked five and her cube-neighbors filed out past her desk. She sighed and picked up the first unfinished file, knowing anyone she needed to call to get the missing info would be gone for the night already as well. She’d have to start again tomorrow and work as fast as she could before her boss got the chance to talk to her.
That night was restless and useless for sleep. She kept dreaming of paperwork and felt the cat’s disappointed eyes on her. It was a relief when the alarm went off and she could finally give up the charade of sleep and drag herself into the shower.
Her favorite photo of herself hung in her bedroom by the door. It made her smile to look at it so she tried to remember to notice it, especially on weekday mornings before leaving for work. It was like giving herself a hug goodbye and saying “Have a good day, honey” to herself as she walked out the door. The photo was from when she was three years old. In it she had two tiny braids on the sides of her face, an enormous drooly grin, and her mother’s recorder. That photo was the first of numerous others of her posing with instruments: the flute; the clarinet; the violin; two unfortunate months of the ukulele. Everything she tried she liked and there was an ease about learning. It was so easy in fact that she gave up early, when she was fifteen and she’d became self conscious of the way her thighs looked in the spandex band uniform. There was too much pleasure in it for her parents and her teenage heart had crusted over. She wasn’t happy after, but then neither were any of her fellow high schoolers. She assumed the time for happiness was over. She only kept one of the instruments: a small brown plastic recorder from the sixth grade, the same year she got braces and had her first kiss.
She shared her apartment with three other women. Their schedules almost never intersected, or when they did, it was over hastily made noodles in the kitchen or ice cream in front of the television. Alex spent the balance of her time poring over corporate self-help, manuals on how to live life that she read in her room for fear of the discovery that she cared that much about success. Occasionally, she would go to concerts, the kind that were so large she could be lost in the crowd. Small venues and small artists made her feel claustrophobic, as if cutting close to a wound safely healed. Work was often a relief from the sense of missed opportunities.
As she drove into work that day she realized her hands were shaking and she hadn’t even had her coffee yet. She was certainly more nervous than she’d ever been on the twenty third day at any other job.
When she arrived at her desk, coffee now in hand, it seemed that more than any other kind of day it might be, it was a casual day. She spotted a woman in a flowery sundress and wide-brimmed straw hat. She saw a man in overalls and large black boots. She caught sight of another man dressed entirely in lavender. It was only Wednesday, so casual Friday it was not, and even Fridays around this office were really dressy with a side of relaxed as opposed to truly casual. She felt overly formal in her gray slacks and black button-down shirt. All the manuals cautioned against optics: they advised to always consider what others saw when they passed you in the hall. After five minutes of observation and not detecting any backlash, she unbuttoned the top button of her shirt and even rolled up her sleeves. Twice.
She thought she heard her cube neighbor talking to herself and then realized that actually she was singing show tunes. At first very quietly, and then eventually escalating to a booming crescendo until she sashayed past Alex’s desk flailing jazz hands behind. When Alex popped her head out at break time, she heard a man sobbing. Seeing it was Randall in the copy room, Alex tentatively tiptoed into the room to ask if she could help.
“No, this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s just this day. Everything about it.” He was stuffing sheet after sheet into the fax machine while glaring at the table overflowing with uneaten catering in the corner. “Why couldn’t I work in a normal office?”
“I know what you mean,” Alex said softly.
“Do you? Do you know? You’ve only been here for a month.”
“Three weeks actually.”
“Three weeks!” he sputtered. “Try being here for three years.”
Alex had to admit to herself that she desperately hoped she would not be here even in one more year, so she just shook her head consolingly.
Cubicle walls are not actually made for privacy so the conversation down the way from her desk was completely eavesdroppable. She heard Janice in accounting say: “You have the world’s most annoying voice. Ever. Every time I hear it I want to die. And then I want you to die.” Janice told this to Charlie in a non-ironic nasal voice.
Charlie replied matter-of-factly, “I hate my voice too. It’s why I never call home.”
“Well that’s just sad,” said Janice.
Alex cringed. Randall was the only other person who seemed to not be enjoying the day as much as she was not enjoying it, except for perhaps Charlie. As for everyone else, she’d never detected quite as light a mood on the floor. Bodies moved around her in a way that almost resembled weekend life. Voices raised and dipped in cadences that felt natural and buoyant. She sat back in her chair, lulled by the sounds. When her phone rang her heart spasmed.
“Hello?” She was so caught off guard that she forgot to add the company’s name to her greeting, or even her own.
“So, how’s it going?” Luanne, the enigma. Alex felt a sense of comfort in the now-familiarity of her voice.
“Well, so far it seems like everyone’s in a better mood.”
“Yes, that’s usually the first step. It’s a relief really. Or a game. And you? What does your soul look like today?”
“Are you asking me what I’m wearing?” she asked.
That same tinkling laugh reverberated in her ear. “No, silly. I don’t give two cat hairs what you’re wearing. Did you even try to bring your soul to work today?”
“What does that even mean?” The comfort of hearing Luanne’s voice gave way to pure annoyance. She felt picked on. She was just trying to pay her bills, get through life until she figured out what she was actually supposed to be doing. It sure seemed like everyone else got away with that, why shouldn’t she?
“Ah, well….” Luanne twisted her voice into a tease. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
Before Alex could snap back something equally immature, Steven appeared at her desk, tapping his foot. “I’m gonna have to call you back.”
The moment she shoved the receiver down, Steven began talking. “What is the meaning of this?” He shouted, thrusting paperwork into her lap.
She lifted the form close to her face, recognized her signature in the sign-off slot as her own, though every other line was filled with hieroglyphics. The next form was completed in pig latin and once again her signature appeared at the bottom. The one beneath that had some form of Chinese characters, and her tell-tale slanted moniker. They were as scrambled as the contents of her brain at the moment. It had taken dozens of calls to get the right information in the first place.
“Oh dear! Is that all you can say? These clients are waiting for money we can’t possibly give them because their paperwork is illegible and your only comment is Oh Dear?” His face turned magenta and his whole body quivered. “I’m beginning to wonder if this is the right place for you.”
The image of her unpaid credit card bill on the side table in the cramped entrance to her apartment flashed before her eyes. “No! This is the place for me. I’ll fix these right away. I have no idea how this happened….” She looked at the unreadable documents. It seemed like each character was moving ever so slightly on the page, as if reconstructing themselves into yet another indecipherable form. She kept herself from yelling “Stop it!” at them, but only because Steven was standing there.
He growled. “You have until five pm today to have these fixed or you should not return tomorrow.” Giving her one last terrifying glare, he pivoted on his heel and left. It was only then that Alex saw the tiny Capuchin monkey in his back pocket. The monkey smiled a mocking smile and threw poop at her. She ducked just in time and it flew into her neighbor’s cube. The show tunes came to an abrupt stop.
“Shit,” Alex muttered. The universe seemed to be messing with her. She remembered completing those forms in English—in legible, evident form, and now they scowled up at her in a cacophony of insane characters designed to make the reader feel their mind peel away from them. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.” It seemed the only appropriate response.
Randall walked by and said, “You think you’ve got problems. Try having to clean up the mess that was Annabelle.”
Alarmed, Alex stood and looked over to Annabelle’s cubicle. She saw the outfit that Annabelle had been wearing lying on the cube floor, a puddle of garments and undergarments.
“What happened?” Alex asked.
“Streaker,” Randall said dryly. “Last I heard she was running to Mexico via the cafeteria.” He shuddered. “The mental image of that just helped me stick to my diet. At least one good thing came from today.” He walked on, holding the dustbin distastefully.
“Randall,” she called to his retreating back. “Did you bring your soul to work today?” She furrowed her brow while asking this overly personal question.
Randall snorted. “I don’t believe in souls. To me this day is a flagrant waste of time for self-indulgent people who never really get work done anyway.”
“Huh.” She was terrified to ask, but thought the only possible straight answer she might receive that day would be from him. Her book said that to be organizationally savvy one must learn what is appropriate to reveal at work. Different environments call for different levels of revelation. But there weren’t any instructions on how to navigate a day like this in her manuals. “Well, so if you did, what would it look like?”
“If I did what?”
“Believe in souls.”
“If I believed in souls what would they look like?” He seemed about to blow her off but instead dumped Annabelle’s clothes in the trash and considered the question. “Well, as I recall the preacher from when I was little, he always tapped on his chest when he talked about his soul. So I guess I always just kind of saw it as a pair of lungs with wings attached, flying around playing a harp. Pretty fucking gross if you ask me.”
“Hm. But it does seem like everyone is enjoying it though, doesn’t it?” She sighed and got back to her paperwork. Randall looked at Annabelle’s collection of mini ceramic pigs that she kept on her desk and with a quick sweep of his arm, whisked them all into the garbage.
What would her soul look like if she brought it to work? Hard to say. She didn’t exactly grow up in a family that valued work for anything more than for the paycheck. Other than the food and shelter it provided, work seemed like something you counted down the minutes at until you could escape to the weekend or the next vacation. Her dad yelled his complaints against his boss, his co-workers and the conditions, nearly every dinner she could remember. She had been wise then, and knew the only way she’d get out of it was to never grow up. She tried desperately to stay small. When her shoes began to pinch, she didn’t mention it until her big toe betrayed her, bursting through the front and her mother dragged her off to the shoe store. When she washed the dishes, her daily chore, she snuck sips of the coffee left in her parents’ cups to stunt her growth like her father threatened it would. But the years advanced, each with a yellow cake and chocolate frosting that chronicled her failure to stay small. Her brothers went away to college and became day traders. She went to the local community college and then transferred to State, two hours away from her childhood home. Her mother has gone deaf in her right ear. It was as if the absence of Alex’s music had taken her mother’s right eardrum with it. At one time her music had brought her parents joy, the kind of joy that structured their lives with class concerts and band appearances to attend. Despite retirement, each night over dinner her father still found at least one thing to complain about.
Looking at the paperwork on her lap she imagined the years of things she’d come to complain about stretch out before her.
She hit redial. Luanne picked up immediately. “Well, honey, how’s it going?”
“This is stupid,” said Alex. “This whole day, this whole job. This whole crazy thing. It’s just stupid.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
Tears blurred her view of the paperwork on her lap. She caught her breath when she noticed the words coming back, becoming clear, becoming the words she had first placed on the form. She blinked quickly to clear the tears and the words went back to normal—or the normal that was actually abnormal and illegible. “Huh,” she said.
“What is it, dear?” Luanne asked.
Alex sniffled. “Nothing. Nothing, I just need to finish this paperwork and go home.”
“Hm. Yes, well dear, struggling against the inevitable can be exhausting, can’t it?”
Alex smirked at the phone and said goodnight. She took a tube of correction fluid and began to apply it to the form before realizing there wasn’t enough white paste in the world to make this mess go away. She started over with new forms and forty-five minutes later her hand ached and she was halfway through. The office cleared out and the air of gaiety left with it. She faxed what she had to the analysts for signatures and avoided passing Steven’s door on her way out.
She woke the next day and fumbled into the kitchen. The ritual of placing bread in the toaster and layering butter and jam made her feel gloriously safe. She sat at the kitchen window and ate her breakfast. A man walking to work passed by outside, whistling the Liberty Bell march. She rose, braided her hair into two braids that hung on the sides of her face and packed the recorder into her purse. Taking a deep breath, she went to work.
She sat down at her desk and peered at the pile of paperwork. The office around her had gone back to its usual low hum of displeasure. Nervousness kicked at her stomach. She pulled the recorder from her purse and began to assemble it. Sneaking one last glance left and right, she blew very softly, making the faintest note. A page fluttered. She played several notes. The words on the page danced. She began a haunting song she’d made up when she was a child when she still made time for something as frivolous as writing songs. The words twirled on the page and when the song ended, they landed, suddenly back in perfect English, legible and restored. She could hear some whispering nearby so before she lost her courage she began again for the next form, this time playing a Christmassy tune without holding back any of the volume. The recorder was plastic and not exceptional in design and the sound was not perfect. But it felt deeply familiar, like recognizing a lost friend among a crowd of strangers.
“What is going on here!” yelled Steven. Anger radiated from him like steam on a highway.
She set the recorder down and handed him the forms, all now complete.
“These are done,” she said.
His face went from purple to gray and then almost back to normal. “Hrmph,” was all he could manage, before turning back to his office.
Alex grinned and picked up the phone. Luanne answered.
“Well honey, how goes it?”
“I found it. I found my soul. I brought it with me to work.” She heard a squeal of delight on the other line.
“I knew you could do it, dear.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a little late to the party. Bring your soul to work day was yesterday.”
“No dear, that’s just the party. Like a birthday, you know: you only celebrate it once a year but that doesn’t mean you’re not alive all the rest of the rest of the year, now does it?”
“I suppose that’s true.”
Luanne clucked in her ear. “If you ever forget it again, just give me a call. I’m always here for you.”
“Thanks, Luanne.” She said goodbye and hung up. It was morning and time to reset her imagination. She played taps and went to get a cup of coffee and connect with Randall.
Sometimes I get sick
of seeing myself
in my poems, my Brooklyn
accent slurring its way
through every line,
whining about settling
into middle age, mostly
on my own, sometimes
lonely, while mulling over
every thing that’s missing.
I’m tired of song titles,
retards, autistic kids,
old and new girlfriends,
battered valentines, baseball
metaphors, not getting
laid, subway stations,
working class families,
drunk drivers, dead fathers
and every one else who never
try to talk to each other.
I want to open a window,
walk down a fire escape
without waking anyone,
without leaving a note. Walk
into a bank of coastal fog
and disappear. Come out
on the other side, twenty
years younger, go back
to school, get an MFA.
I want to believe in God,
language poetry, the power
of rhyme. Become witty,
clever and vague, cutting,
but sensitive and politically
correct. Wear a frayed
blazer, shave my balls,
smoke cigarettes, get
an ancient Japanese symbol
tattooed to my bicep, stand
around sipping cocktails.
I want to write poems
filled with abstract meaning,
Greek Goddesses, second
searching for identity,
down to earth lesbians,
World Trade Center
heroes, villains, victims,
all their greedy relatives.
I want to write a sonnet
about a thin woman
viewing a Matisse print
from thirteen different
angles. Write a haiku,
put a bumblebee in it,
the sound its wings make
brushing a fucking tulip.
I want to open my mail
to submission requests
from the New Yorker
and Poetry. Act humble
when nominations, awards
roll in. Put my agent
on hold. Teach at summer
conferences. Sell more books
than Billy Collins and Jewel
combined. And when I die,
bored, tortured school kids
will be forced to recite
my poems during
National Poetry Month.
This poem originally appeared in The New York Quarterly.
THE LAST GOOD THING by Tony Gloeggler
It was the Sunday
my father felt strong
enough to get out
of bed, take baby steps
to the bathroom. He fumbled
with buttons, tugged the top
over his head, unsnapped
his bottoms and let them
glide down his legs. Crouched
like a catcher, I untangled
his pajamas, removed
his slippers as he sat
down to piss. I ran
the bathwater, tested it,
turned on the shower.
He grabbed my arm, leaned
on the sink and lifted
himself to his feet, stepped
into the tub. The water
hit his neck, rolled
off his shoulders. I watched
his eyes shut, lips
part and whisper sighs
soft as first kisses brushed
on park benches. I lathered
up the sponge, scrubbed
his back. When water
splashed my glasses, soaked
my clothes, I stripped
down to boxers, stepped
in with him and walked
all the way back to Brooklyn:
My father crosses Stockholm Street
carrying his tools. He straddles
the Johnny Pump, pulls,
bangs and yanks until
water explodes, roars out
of the hydrant’s mouth
and the block of kids cheer
like he’s some God
sending down rain. Afraid
of slipping, he turned
slowly, gripping my shoulders.
I took my time, soaped
under his arms, between
his legs. When I stood,
he pulled me close, tightened
his arms around me, kissed
my neck. I tried not to cry
when he said he could stay
like this forever, stay
until he died, until
the hot water got cold.
This poem originally appeared in Bottomfish.
2:30 a.m. by Cooper Sy
Who in the middle of the night will write poetry
imagining a rain forest replacing wild flowers
in your terrace garden, a banana fish floating
past your bedroom windows, or notice the
thin stem green plant bending its neck
toward your reading lamp dropping
leaves on the novel that pleased
I am the witness so solidly framed
by my own illusions you have to
take your tongue out of its
metal lock box and swat
me down like a fly.
Flee or stay, but do
not speak of taking
me down the river
in your leaky
I have sailed grand canals
when students marched
carried guns without
bullets, wrote poems
on planks of wood
And the beautiful young girl?
“Slugged shots of whiskey, tasted dry kisses
felt sharp teeth pierce my tongue.”
While strangers waited at the entrance
to your golden shore.
“I remember a beautiful boy with dark eyes
and black hair. He spotted me smoking
behind the tiny cinema on rue michel.”
“Gitanes,” I said. “Were you smoking
“Gauloises” more likely,” she said.
“I let him fuck me against the wall.
I told him I loved him in French.
My accent merged with his.
I didn’t change anything
for a week. No, I’m
lying, three days.”
She laughed bringing it all back lifting
her spirits off the mountain above
the sea a mile from her cottage
once a retreat.
Turning my own memories over and over
again like a brown postcard with faded
ink, I cannot recall one as luminous
as those of a stranger.
a body is a body on a photograph by Cooper Sy
A yellow swash of paint on the doorjamb.
A key attached to a sterling silver chain lost
on a trip abroad found three years later inside
a suitcase saved from getting lost on another trip
with a lover, lost now, instead.
A blue pillowcase with one or two dark stains could be
but are not dried tears. A nappy threadbare hand towel
with fading crocheted pink roses as hard as bristles
scratch the face.
A photograph of four strangers all dead.
A photograph inside a cracked glass frame
two thin women smile against a sterling blue
sea, corduroy blazers, brown clogs, two scarves
turtlenecks, pink lips, dark hair blowing away from
their cold faces.
A brown wedding photograph with the date—1944
etched below swirls of yellow satin.
A Bride. A Groom. Both dead.
A photograph with a date in the corner 1972
A photograph with a date in the corner 1984
A photograph with a date in the corner 1995
A photograph forgotten between the pages
of a novel; the oversize glasses, wide lapels
padded shoulders, circa 1982.
A photograph lying flat on a shelf, the boy 2-years old
4, 7, 9 fishing in Hawaii with his father. His father also
sucked his thumb until the age of 9 lying on top of a
A guest, a lover, friend stand at the mantle and politely ask,
“Who are these dead people inside the brown frame
holding the family together?”
“Mother, Father, three aunts, three uncles, one cousin
and a young husband still flushed from his recent honeymoon.”
I move the dust along from one photograph to the other without
noticing almost sixty years has passed.
Cover Note by Michael Estabrook
It is now official, Summer has arrived. Beginning with a heat wave here in Boston. And they say Global Warming might be a factor. Fiddle-de-de as Scarlet would say. I don’t know why we can’t accept things when they are staring us down. I’ve learned over my long, long lifetime that there are a handful of things best not to ignore, such as: Mother Nature, the IRS, my boss, an angry cat (or dog, or gorilla for that matter) a throbbing tooth, a seemingly benign rash, a tornado swirling way off in the distance, ringing fire alarms, an ominous fin sticking up out of the water (and moving towards you) and – most importantly – your Wife (with a capital “W” like Chaucer would write). Thought it might be time to check in and send along a few poems for your consideration. Thanks as always for your time and consideration, and I hope all is well,
Summers by Stephen Mead
Morning muffins, the sun striking tins
dull amid that sweet warm vapor as the radio,
the locusts hummed &, into mugginess,
I was borne adrift, loosened here & there by field breezes
plus one wade-able creek…
Mud becoming clay, a heron downstream,
suddenly some launched gawky pterodactyl
small against blotter-blue leaking like a page
upon brambles, thistle stalks, those growing
paths: the old railroad ties beyond corn tassels
the milkweed silk——paths remembering cows,
rabbits, rock fences, a grove of headstones…
Charcoal rubbings, finding the initials,
all brought back, spilled on the picnic table
with pockets of feathers, butterfly wings,
souvenirs marveled to gulps of ice tea,
that cool magnification. Poetic tension:
No, I wasn’t
sad yet, given
to some sulky
indulgence or a planet to escape from.
day was the Potomac
or an almost boat-less lake having
ferried off naval sails, soldiers bodies
into the forget of museum statues.
there were touches, giggles of lightning bugs
zipping out of jars & running seemed effortless
since flesh wasn’t for conquering, love, recreation.
Again, recollecting, I strip, dance on innocence here,
metropolitan-docked, while traffic backfires,
construction drills & I slip, feel your warmth,
its muffin sun of musky gliding so valiantly nude
in that fertile grass, that summer Aegean, that fur fur depot.
Kiss Me by Stephen Mead
It might be sordid, the bed spins and fingers
of impossibly gentle depravity You know
that of course, my prose-puckered lips
presently languishing silence except
for these brief exclamations,
these emissions of air.
How strange really
the way faces fit together,
a Jigsaw of angles scarcely aware
of the hazards of noses poking out
eyes. One must be anthropological,
objective, when studying the erogenous.
Either that, or Groucho Marx, in order
to keep perspective from flowing off
lost in a fluid of feeling which pays
therapist’s phone bills and lets
ghosts leak from mirrors.
Who are you? What a question
and what wants stampede to tear
asunder or reaffirm! Tongues of lust,
tender angel fire, the carnal mind
and loins of cannibals rationalizing
survival’s need with a virgin’s
merciful sensitivity spreading
fear, sacred tenderness, pure
as complications on this altar.
No. No. It’s quite simple.
I know how and the reasons why
cats purr. Their wisdom ripens,
mistletoe-right. It’s above us. close
as smoke. Am I looking too deeply?
Wait a minute. Don’t. Ok.
Autumn by Michael Flanagan
Last month this man, whose daughter
hangs out with mine, younger than me
at forty, died. No obituary needed to tell
you he will never smell rain again, or
step into a pool of water. It is true, more
of my life is behind me then ahead.
Frazey Ford sings, Broken Telephone,
and my lip quivers. There is no hope
I will be a rock and roll star. I don’t
seem to be a traveler either. When
I walked, all those miles, all those
years in New York City, I was alone,
and I thought strange things. Most
of it was empty, but it was the freest
I’ve ever been. I hope one day not to
care enough to lie to be liked, I hope
to be myself, absolute and contained.
Twenty years of life, if there’s that
much left. Twenty Octobers of good
crisp air, twenty summers of heat.
Michael Flanagan died today. But it
wasn’t me, I never pitched for the
Baltimore Orioles. There is a chance,
you know, new lives form everyday,
flights leave daily, for Amsterdam,
California. Tomorrow I might say to
my neighbor, when we meet in our
driveways, and he speaks of such
things, I don’t care about your lawn,
what you use to clear it of weeds,
I don’t care that you waxed your
car, and it’s been raining each day
since. It’s hardly personal friend,
but the hour is growing near.
Two Roads by Michael Flanagan
Green leaves, fat trees, the orchard too
with flies, ticks, cold dusk. What you
see could be drawn differently. From the
womb you come and go. Two roads
converge in a mother’s heart. Tuesday
the doctor examined every orifice. Blood
was drawn. They marked you a clean
bill of health, set an appointment for one
year. In the cool, late morning, twenty
minutes of leisure, before you wonder
what button might be loosed in an hour,
might turn all this sour. The globe in
the air. The space between walls. The
linoleum on the floor of the kitchen in
your childhood home. Turn right at the
corner. The Korean deli with a bright,
pretty young thing at the counter. Buy
an apple, bite into juice, pulp and skin.
Where We May Be Found by Brad G. Garber
In the beastly belly, where hips knock into one another morsels tender to
tongue infused with liquid of insane desire steeped in blue blood and
clear membranes of the sucking souls of dried whoring voices in their
smoky laughter swirling to a dance of mad music all, where muffled
footsteps and grinding joints of artistic hunger in dusty rooms above
city streets slippery with fluids of animal wishes, where jointed floors
meet solid ceilings of rat runs and sewage of meat ground inspirations and
the screaming hair pulled from bare skulls of camel hair coated alabaster
skins, where “yessirs” and “no sirs” and “can I help you’s” are rolling
together in spring melt waters toward a roiling surf filled with empty
shells of abandoned lives, where pencils are broken against black lines of a
slow digesting molluscan trail winding across mud flats of human evolution
and tone stones tumbling alert aliens to our existence, where every punch
of a finger sends light into the deep space of digestion and the soaking
of the best of talent into the gut, where a sudden twitch of the head or
twist of neck or hunch of soft shoulder along the highway becomes a new
direction into the hardened lake of a St. Vitas dance, where salt sugar
sperm wheat heart egg rising become the bread that is fed to pens of
the howling and squealing kept, where the morning bed is folded into
the wall like a butterfly’s wing as light glances shyly across opened
fruit, where a congealed mass of intellectual blood settles into a
clasped hand raised into a burning dusky sky beneath diving
open-mouthed birds, and a lonely island in a pathway of relentlessness
surges like a one-chambered heartbeat
If I really told the truth by Brad G. Garber
I would have been killed
I would be a golden bird
there would be no dreams
I would have been naked
asteroids would have struck
she would be swimming
music would have lied
I would have no daughter
there would be no wine
the sex would be fantastic
no one could touch me
the sun would explode
there would be no gifts
we would enter the cave
you could be a white horse
she would be the witch
the universe would stop
my shoes would fit well
air would be like an egg
my body would be burned
the moon would not bend
danger would be flowers
you would open the door
he would dance his life
a knife would never cut
there would be giants
I would fly through water
thoughts would be silver
my life would be false
this page would be blank
After two steps, a driver and forty passengers lie in wait. A familiar pain: sharp, but also heavy, as if someone is kneeling on my chest while slowly inserting a knife, upwards. I drop coins into the fare box. I have counted them twenty or thirty times, enough to shine the coins with sweat, and the proper amount registers on the screen, but the driver does not give me a transfer. I ask for one, but he does not hear me, and, afraid to ask again, I remain at the fare box and hope that he will figure out what I want. The other passengers are already on to me, thinking, What is he doing? Why doesn’t he sit down? which forces me to repeat myself, louder, so everyone can hear. “Can I get a transfer?” The driver looks put out, as if to say, Why didn’t you tell me this before? Without looking at me, he hands me the transfer and seems to shake his head slightly to communicate my worthlessness, right in front of everyone.
The bus jerks away, and I am flung forward; only the grab-bar keeps me from falling on an old woman. My backpack swings and nearly hits another passenger in the face; she is beautiful, and she gives me a dirty look. Once again, panic collects, flows, and fans, reminding me of the thick, noiseless movement of spilled paint: toxic, inedible, unnatural. As I search for a seat, I realize the creaking pain beneath the hollow of my chest is layered. The base is formed by the walk to the bus stop, the getting closer and closer. The initial anxiety of boarding the bus forms another level, while the negative adrenalin of stumbling in full view of forty people creates a third tier. The weight of these strata has made me sore. Every time I breathe I feel like something inside is cracking, and thus, despite the elaborate stratification, my chest now feels brittle, like someone could put a hand through it, shatter it.
There are no empty seats! Moving down the aisle, passing up more rows, getting closer to the back, I grow jealous of the version of myself two seconds in the past, when I first began to explore the seating possibilities. But I have just passed another row, and I am running out of options. Forty passengers roll their eyes over me, scrubbing me, searching for flaws in the contours of my face. Look at how ugly that guy is! What a dork! Where do people like this come from? Hey, there’s your future husband! Oh my God, shut up! Can you imagine? They know that I am pathetic, but there is no pity: I annoy them, anger them. Again, the bus jerks, this time more furiously than the last, and I am flung toward a seat, and decide in mid-being-flung that I might as well just sit here. I try sinking in my seat, but I am too tall for that, and thus remain unprotected. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up in fear. I am the prey; something is rushing towards me ready to tear apart my neck with its huge jaws. It will not be a quick death.
I share a seat with another person, someone who will be thinking about me the entire ride. He is short, stocky, a Latino teen. Later he will go home and tell his friends about the dork he sat next to on the bus.
My lunch falls out of my bag. Grapes scatter. The last thing I ever want to do is to draw attention to myself, but now I have went and done it. I can hear the passengers laughing mentally. Again, that hateful laugh: Retard. Freak. Can’t that idiot keep his lunch off the floor? The stocky teen next to me fantasizes about violently attacking me. He is thinking so loudly that others can hear him, too:Couldn’t this faggot have sat somewhere else? I wanted a seat to myself. The last thing I wanted was some geek getting in my space. I’m better than him, though. Sucks to be him. And he’s right: He is clearly better than me. He is also tougher, and is probably a real, authentic person. People like him. When he deals with others—say, when he is paying a bill late, or clearing up a financial aid mistake—they are happy to help, and they understand him right away. When he walks down the street, people smile at him. I wish I was him—just for a year. There would be so much I would do.
The bus groans as we start to climb the overpass on 75th Street. It’s an unpleasant sound, and it makes my seatmate angry. He keeps thinking about how nice it would be to elbow me in the face, to smash my face, drive it inwards. Now he is studying my face. This guy’s face is, like, the acne capital of the world, man. Look at what he’s wearing—you look real cool, man, real cool. Bet this guy gets all the chicks.
I think: what if it had been different? What if I were athletic? If I had a muscular physique? If I were good looking? Had I any of those things, I would not be sitting on this bus now. I would be in school with my friends. But I am nineteen and stuck working in a warehouse. What if I were a superstar? A baseball player. Who hit seventy home runs one season and was loved by the fans. At the All-Star game, I received the loudest ovation—and not just because of my talent. “This fella gave his entire $7 million salary to charity this year,” the folksy announcer on tv said. “He’s a real American hero,” the color man added in his gravely voice. “An athlete, makes the ladies swoon, fun-lovin’ and cares about his community: This is the real deal. Americans appreciate that today.” I hit two home runs in that All-Star game, and on the bench with me was a child who was terminally ill. All throughout my life, I enjoyed achievement on the field, but I remained humble and caring. Though I was nationally known (they loved me in Japan, too), I was a hometown hero. I frequently toured schools and hospitals. Life was secure. Effortless.
Embarrassed at what the other passengers would say if they knew what I was thinking about, I try to hide myself more, looking downwards, pretending to read, and placing a hand thoughtfully over my chin.
My stop is approaching. One more mile. How restful it was when I first got on, and had eight or so miles to wait! But now I will have to pull the cord and then, in plain view of everyone, get up and get off the bus. Pulling the cord—I know what people think when I pull it. Is that that ugly guy again? What a fucking mess. Then I have to get up, providing them with a close-up: Yeah, what sports did this guy ever play? My stop is next. Please, someone, please pull the buzzer. Please. No one does. The light is green, and the bus accelerates past my stop. We whiz by the next stop, and the next, before an old lady wearing a babushka pulls the cord. I am in luck; she is not only getting off in the front of the bus, but also making a little commotion. The driver, she says, needs to help her down. Most everyone looks at her, and I sneak out the back door. Success! I do not mind walking the extra half mile; I’ve survived, and am a little giddy. But I catch the faces of the remaining passengers—the regulars, especially—who are well aware that I did not get off at my regular stop. They are even talking about it now, as I am walking down the street. Why would Nerdboy get off here today? Why doesn’t he get off where he works? That’s weird.
It is summer and so people can see how skinny my arms are. I’m not tough. Each person I walk by has something to say about me. Not out loud, but I can read body language, I can read facial expressions. I’m better than him, they think. They don’t even address me: They say that they are better than “him,” not “you.” To avoid the people on the sidewalk I walk in the street, against traffic, constantly looking back, manifestly searching for a bus, latently keeping my face out of sight. Hidden behind parked cars and out of style sunglasses, they can’t see me as well.
I am a block away from work, and sweating; I just need to go one more block. A semi forces me onto the sidewalk, but it is empty, gloriously empty, and I smile, and pleasure threatens to take over. A few more feet of freedom. A half cigarette. One or two more drags—yeah I can get two more drags. Two more drags worth of freedom.
You know, this world ain’t so bad. It really isn’t. Look at it.
Like most arguments, in retrospect, the details are rather hazy and unimportant.
What I do remember is that I slipped on my shoes, laced them up, went out the door and bade my roommate goodbye. I needed to be alone and not sandwiched between four walls and a closed door.
In those days I didn’t have a car, nor did I have a driver’s license. I carpooled to work and used the public busing system (what we had of one in metro Detroit back in the late ‘90s). It was past 10 p.m. and I moved briskly through the streets of west Detroit. Walk with purpose. Be an immovable object, I reminded myself. Don’t stop.
I avoided the main streets because I didn’t want my roommate or my family trying to pick me up; talk me out of it. I wanted to walk. I didn’t care about the slight danger. I needed to clear my head.
Maneuvering through some back streets, avoiding the less-than-savory darker openings down Evergreen Rd., down Warren Ave., marching over the Southfield Freeway bypass, I finally approached Michigan Ave. My feet were hurting two miles into it, the accumulation of pavement, dirt, and crosswalk, wore into my soles.
Walking miles subverts all expectation. The world slows down to a gnarled crawl; details sweep against you like a flirtatious tide. No real trajectory, my instinct merely told me to head as far west as possible. Turning back would have been so much easier, but I walked and walked.
I reached the Detroit city limits and crossed over to Dearborn. Though I’d driven past these very streets many times before, this Dearborn was wrapped tightly in a noir-ish cloth, blanketed by greenish, half-functioning street lamps that lit the streets intermittently.
I felt the rubber at the tip of my shoe resisting, peeling away. I was afraid it would rip clear off and I’d be forced to walk home with one shoe. They were being pushed well past the sales pitch limit and perhaps wanted nothing to do with my little quest.
I passed a bar, loud bass-heavy music spilling out from an opened door. A man, early twenties, beer bottle in hand, pointed in my direction.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to be here!” he said, giggling. “What’s he doing here?”
“Cut it out, man, don’t say that,” said an apologetic friend.
Dearborn is known for a huge Arab population, but the number of African American residents is by far much smaller. As with most rude utterances, there was some truth to what he had said: I really wasn’t supposed to be there, statistically speaking.
My pinky toes begged me to sit down in the bar (they were rubbed pretty raw). I smiled and kept walking.
Somewhere along the pilgrimage, I passed the Ford Motor Co. headquarters, those multicolored flags rising into the sky. My pace was less brisk…that supply of adrenaline had cleared the “empty” column some miles back.
The cold was invading my jacket and the thought of going inside a warm bar or 24-hour restaurant was appealing, but none were visible. And then there was this bright running light. The word “MASSAGE” prominently displayed.
I opened the door and went inside. Men were everywhere, smirks on their faces. There were no women, except for the ones accompanying the men, scantily clad, most with bathrobes concealing bikini tops.
“Can I help you?” said the woman behind the counter.
“I’m not sure. Just browsing, I guess,” I said.
“What can we interest you in?” she asked.
“A massage,” I said. “What are the packages?”
And she pulled out a list. I had a credit card and was thinking a foot massage would be great. A girl waited behind her, smiling, presumably at me. She was right out of Playboy magazine complete with high heels and girl-next-door shine.
“What is your preference?” the woman behind the counter asked.
It was obvious this wasn’t a place I wanted to be caught in after midnight. I thanked them and walked out.
I trudged along another few blocks and my feet started to give out on me. I found a nice patch of grass by a bank parking lot and watched the shadows recede.
I saw my first sunrise.
A few wayward coins and a sweaty dollar bill was the extent of my financial worth, so taking the bus back to Detroit wasn’t exactly an option. However, as with most journeys, I knew that the way back would be much smoother.
And it was.
One can hear the old river, which in its confusion sometimes forgets and flows backward.
Charles Simic, The World Doesn’t End
It is Friday, March 28, 1941, the river Ouse, East Sussex, England, near the village of Rodmell, district of Lewes, just west of the Prime Meridian. It has been fourteen centuries since the emperor Honorius advised Britons to defend themselves, nearly nine since Normans landed on the Sussex coast, and three hundred fifty-three years since sentinels along those beaches kept watch for first sails of the Spanish fleet.
Ouse, pronounced oose, from a Celtic word for water.
Virginia Woolf is fifty-nine
She has walked a mile across soggy fields and marshes to reach her destination. She puts a large stone in the pocket of her coat. She does not mean to float, but water will do as it will with whomever it takes by accident or design. Children who find her body three weeks later think the bridge at Southease has caught a boggy log.
Wartime again. Their home in London smashed by bombs. Threat of invasion sticks like dank to mind. Air raids rupture sleep. Her husband, a Jew, also has means, should it come to that: doses of morphine in the kitchen, enough petrol in the garage to close up, run the car.
Voice has fled, she fears, and audience. No longer can she conjure words from air. I am going mad, she screams in silence, too far this time to come back. Her lovely books—finished, no longer to matter.
Only the river disdains the droning overhead. At its edges, weeds and sedges play against her, pretend to keep her out, pretend to pull her in. So much to forget, for she knows well how to swim.
She has written a good note, valediction. If ever notification of suicide can be generous, hers is, a loving goodbye, not one mark false or withheld. It moves like the river, swiftly yet dark within depths.
Rodmell to Southease—a short drift. Downstream the course advances to Piddinghoe and through Newhaven before emptying into the Channel. Strong sea currents govern the estuary. Surges reach far inland.
Leonard Woolf putters in the early spring garden. His wife out on a walk, calmer than yesterday, danger perhaps allayed.
Geologists say the valley was, one day again will be, entirely tidal wetlands. The Ouse. Onomatopoetic, from an early sound for water.
Of Holy Memory by Richard Baldasty
Richard Baldasty’s poetry and short prose have appeared in Pinyon, Epoch, and New Delta Review among other literary magazines. Work archived online includes publication in Raving Dove, AntipodeanSF, Feile-Festa, Café Irreal, and Marco Polo Literary Arts; Twitter verse at escarp and Twitter fiction atSeven by Twenty. His day job is garden design and maintenance in Seattle and Spokane. He also makes literary collages; recent work is represented in Third Wednesday and Fickle Muses.
Michael Estabrook is a Marketing Communications Manager for a tiny division of one of the biggest companies in the world, and man, going into an office every day can be excruciating. The stuffy air, the florescent lights are killing him. Thankfully he can retire in 10 or 12 years (maybe). But he still thinks that somehow he’s got to get himself on some boat collecting phytoplankton or into the rich brown hills of Montana searching for TRex bones. Then again maybe he simply should’ve stayed on Northfield Avenue where he belongs and learned to fix cars like his Daddy did.
Michael A. Flanagan was born in the Bronx, N.Y. and raised in the New York metropolitan area. Poems and stories of his have appeared in many small press periodicals across the country, most recently in Nerve Cowboy, New York Quarterly, Patterson Literary Review and Tribeca Poetry Review. His chapbook, A Million Years Gone, is available from Liquid Paper Press.
Cornelius Fortune is an award-winning journalist, whose work has appeared in iPhone Life magazine, The Advocate, Metro Times, Chess Life, Yahoo News,Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, Tales of the Unanticipated, Illumen, and others. He is currently a featured writer for Yahoo TV, and an editor for a local weekly newspaper. Upcoming works include “The Misadventures of Mr. Stiffens” serialized comic strip, an anthology, “Writings on the Wall,” and two books from the Detroit Ink Publishing, LLC (DIP) line. He is also a Rhysling-nominated poet and the author of Stories from Arlington. Visit his website at www.corneliusfortune.com.
T. Kilian Francis is a writer and former teacher. He lives in Chicago with his family.
Brad G. Garber is a writer, musician, photographer, and model. He has published poetry in Cream City Review, Alchemy, Fireweed, “gape seed” (an anthology published by Uphook Press), Front Range Review, the Newer York Press, and Mercury. His essays have been published in Brainstorm NW, Naturallymagazine and N, The Magazine of Naturist Living. He has also published erotica in Oysters & Chocolate, Clean Sheets and MindFuckFiction. A musician/lyricist since 1969, Brad was a 2003 Regional Semi-Finalist in the USA Songwriting Competition, and Honorable Mention in 1980 and 1981.
Tony Gloeggler is a native of New York City and currently manages a group home for developmentally disabled men in Brooklyn. His work has been in numerous journals, including Washington Square, Poet Lore, Rattle, West Branch,and Ted Kooser chose one of his poems for his American Life In Poetrynewspaper feed from Paterson Literary Review. His chapbook, ONE ON ONE, received the 1998 Pearl Poetry Prize, and ONE WISH LEFT, a full-length collection that went into a second edition, was initially published by Pavement Saw Press in 2000. TONY GLOEGGLER’S GREATEST HITS came out via Pudding House Publications in 2009 and in 2010, THE LAST LIE was published by NYQ Books.
Stanislav Golovchuk is a community journalist on Chicago’s North Shore and a photography hobbyist. Born in the Ukraine, raised in Skokie, Stanislav has a B.A. in Journalism from Loyola University Chicago. These photos were made during Stanislav’s “Starving Artist Phase” between graduating college and finding a full-time job — when he still had time to wander the streets of Chicago with nothing to do but take pictures and publish them to a blog.
Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Art. She resides in Graham, NC, with her cat, Charlie Chaplin. Kate is currently working on her first novel.
A resident of New York, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer, and maker of short collage-films. Much can be learned of his multi-media work by placing his name in any search engine. His latest project, a collaboration with composer Kevin MacLeod, is entitled “Whispers of Arias”, a two volume CD set of narrative poems sung to music: http://stephenmeadmusic.weebly.com/.
Cliffton Price’s work has appeared in MARY: A Journal of New Writing, Inside Higher Ed, and in the Pudding House publication, Love Poems and Other Messages for Bruce Springsteen, and is forthcoming in Artichoke Haircut, Lunch Ticket, and r.kv.r.y.
Christin Rice’s work has appeared in Pif, SoMa Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Magnitude, the Taj Mahal Review, and performed with LitUp Writers, Quiet Lightning and Bikram Writing. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, NC and a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Having recently escaped Corporate America, she is a happy resident of San Francisco, a Litquake committee member, and blogs at www.christinrice.com.
Cooper Sy is a writer, makes films, and draws cartoons. She moved to Los Angeles in 1984 with her small son to attend the American Film Institute as a Directing Fellow. When she arrived in Hollywood, the door to her 1973 Dodge Swinger fell off. She soon learned that one’s car determines your cache in southern California. Nevertheless, standing on top of the AFI’s terrace at magic hour overlooking the lights of Hollywood, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Hopeful, ecstatic, and certain she was close to becoming famous, she surrendered to everything that had to do with making movies. Thanks to the talented and generous people she’s worked with her soul and creativity are still intact. She’s finishing two novels — #1 about academia, and #2 a murder mystery set in the strange and edgy town of San Pedro, CA. www.taketwothemovie www.phoenixdocumentary.com