Spring 2013

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FICTION

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADAM FARGASON “Farmer – Nghe An Province” farmernghean “Woman at a Street Market – Long Hai” womanstreetmarket “Woman on Ba Den mountain – Tay Ninh”womanatbaden “Man at Cao Dai temple – Tay Ninh”manatcaodai2 “Woman at Cao Dai temple – Tay Ninh”womanatcaodai “Partially Blind soothsayer at Nha Vy Temple in Nghe An Province.” This fortune teller uses leaves to read the future of temple visitors.soothsayer “Woman at Cao Dai temple – Tay Ninh”womanatcaodai2 top

POETRY _________________________________________________________________________

THE RED NOTEBOOK by Marina Rubin _________________________________________________________________________

He was a child of chewed-out pencils.
I was a hunter of dust behind bureaus,
under beds, searching for his journal.
I found it one day without locks or guards
at our parents’ house where we’ve become
special guests on holidays and birthdays.
In a drawer among old magazines and records,
the cloistered soul laid in the hunter’s hand,
with its red vinyl binding faded, scratched,
corners curled, pages creased, falling out.
Among forbidden writings I saw a sketch:
a large table in front of a mirror, a little girl
standing on top in full-height, grimacing,
lopsided bow in her hair, a crooked scribble:
Marina is trying on yet another dress. June 1989.
Today is February 2012, snow falling on the
windshield. Distances in miles, years, lifestyles.
He is now a family man of Caran d’Ache pens.
I am a hunter of words, a collector of dresses.
With each meeting we become older, meager.
I brought the journal back, slipped it in between
magazines, locked away the past in a drawer,
took it out again, stuck a piece of bubble gum
on the last page, as a sign of my victory

_________________________________________________________________________ COPENHAGEN by Marina Rubin _________________________________________________________________________

in Tivoli Gardens
an acrobat is walking
across the Ferris Wheel,
streetlights orange yellow
the shape of topsy-turvy
wedding cakes

at the Christiana Commune
they live still thinking it’s the 70′s
Bob Marley hats and purple scarves
and tiny wooden boxes
to stash daisies,
Mary Jane

down Kingosgade Briggade
men of financial markets
ride bicycles to work
past monarchies and H&Ms,
their horns – pollution free
good-mornings

at the Denmark Tavern
bartender rings the bell
every time he gets a tip,
calls me foreign princess
offers to slip a pea
under my bed _________________________________________________________________________

33 by Erren Kelly _________________________________________________________________________

thirty three
was the year you said
people started getting serious
about life
they started taking things seriously
we were sitting in a coffeehouse
on bedford avenue
in williamsburg, brooklyn
and i realized there was more
to the world than louisiana
you was the tallest girl
i’d ever known (6 feet in bare feet!)
and the tallest girl i’d ever wanted
to make love to
you claimed to have eight nationalities
in your blood, but yet you were
white as a cottonball
you asked me if i had a room somewhere
and i would’ve sold my soul to the devil
for a moment alone with you
i would’ve sold my soul to hold you
on a rooftop in bushwick
when i thought brooklyn was the
placebo i needed to survive
i would’ve loved having you tower
over me naked as a goddess
your breasts in my mouth
blonde hair covering frozen in wonder
patchouli scent dancing in my nose
just as Christ found his epiphany at 33
i find my moment as i touch you
naked on a rooftop
with only brooklyn as our witness
the city lights cleansing us free
from shame

________________________________________________________________________

To remind these dead -this rock by Simon Perchik ________________________________________________________________________

To remind these dead -this rock
was once their only word
though now no one can hear it

-they too have forgotten
where nothing had a name
let the place do all the talking

-it was a time for breaking in
and breaking out -the weakest breath
learned to tremble from the weight

piece by piece deep inside
the bone that is your throat
-this endless sound worn smooth

knows nothing about the others
was left here to harden, try again,
higher, tastes from kisses and edges.

________________________________________________________________________

This comb stretching out by Simon Perchik ________________________________________________________________________

This comb stretching out
is dragged across your brain
the way a butterfly migrates

-the same side to side
fixed in its wings as a place
it has never been before

though under the mirror a sea
follows you from the beginning
with weeks at a time, surfaces

for the waves it left behind
-by the thousands, impaled
on some vague wind just now

flickering on your forehead
as the hair that’s kept in water
for directions and a leaving.

________________________________________________________________________

Don’t you believe it! to be continued by Simon Perchik ________________________________________________________________________

Don’t you believe it! to be continued
distracts from the front page
brushing against some hearse

wants more time -this newspaper
is opened then wider as if the rattle
could be heard though you sleep

a lot, sitting in a chair half wood
half the way a bell will practice
till its stance feels right

though you are the only one
listening in some great hall, your arms
folded as if they were not yet lost.

________________________________________________________________________

the agony of love by William Wright Harris ________________________________________________________________________

the unicorn
horn somehow warm
white ivory
piercing
the shape of a heart or a
hole
eroded into a wall
of brick masonry by
wind & rainwater &
love
blood dripping as warm
as the nude reclining
at mythic hooves or the
indifferent rays of a
watercolor sun dali
hung in the sky
_________________________________________________________________________ HURLY-BURLY BUROO by Ted Jonathan _________________________________________________________________________
–A concoction created to ward off rampant evil spirits

asshole of a tarantula
low john root
10 yenta tongues
wattle of a rooster
essence of a rose
clit ring of a whore
wahoo root bark
sumac berries
bling
underbelly of a wild boar
ingrown toenail of a centenarian
90 milligrams methadone
eyeball of a Cyclops
Mr. Potato Head
tonsils of Deep Throat
a partridge and a pear tree
foreskin of an elephant
heart of a flea
wallet of a schnorr
broom straws
1 Big Mac
2 hunchbacks
hot licks and deer ticks
whiskers of a hipster
left testicle of a sex addict
entrails of a sewer rat
violet leaf
liver of a sot
a purring furry cat

12 pints blood /
from any billionaire real estate developer
sprinkle MSG
and

boil it all in a pot.

This poem was previously published in The New York Quarterly. ________________________________________________________________________ WHEN I READ WHAT PHILIP ROTH SAID by Lyn Lifshin ________________________________________________________________________
I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer
anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you, it would make life easier. But
discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists

I think, after that night, is
there a hint of my rose scent?
To be discrete, I could say
perhaps I forgot, mixed
up one novelist for another.
Who knows after those
glasses of scotch. Since I
was the only woman at
the colony and I wasn’t quite
twenty, wouldn’t he remember
my still perfect skin before
a car slashed into my and
scalped my forehead? 120
stitches. Of course it might
have been someone more
discrete who saw me in a
dusty rose jersey near a bush
the same rouge, dusky as
a nipple, the inside of
lips. I won’t vow it was
Philip who invited me to his
cabin for a drink and so
nervous—I’d read all his
books and of course knew
his reputation and thank
God had my own story I
hoped would charm, how
in a weird way we were
connected by my ex husband’s
relatives who sold whole
sale artificial limbs. I
told him stories about what
they had said about him
belching in a TV interview
where to their horror he
he drank out of a soda
can. To be discrete, I won’t
tell you the place or the
year or why I couldn’t let
him inside me but to
be a little less so, I will tell
you he told me the bj I
gave him was heavenly

_________________________________________________________________________ TANGO WITH HIM AND HE LEAVES A STAIN by Lyn Lifshin _________________________________________________________________________

it’s indelible,
he’s glued to your skin,
then, that staccato
pull away that leaves
dark skid marks.
“dumped by,” I
want to say his name
but it ought to be
on t shirts, a warning,
revenge. He’ll hold
you so close you
can’t breathe, leave
you panting with no
thing but a dark
indigo. Each scar a
Rorschach he was
wild for then
tossed. Wild for
the chase, a hunter, he
sees what he wants
thru the cross
hairs. He uses his
charm like a
gun. He’s a dancer
who can turn. He
moves into you with
his eyes, his
bolero. Everywhere
he was you are
not what
you were

_________________________________________________________________________ WHEN IT’S ENOUGH TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM by Lyn Lifshin _________________________________________________________________________

with him. When it’s
enough to feel his
skin thru velvet,
my west touching
his east. Of course
the blues will follow
but when it’s enough,
the fantasy and the
smell of oozing sap,
cherry snow lasting
longer than he could.
So there won’t be
hanky panky, no
thing with blooms
like the Japanese pear.
When on the metro
it’s his eyes. When
I’m in danger
of missing my
stop what use to
write a love poem
when it’s fantasy. Or
maybe, yes, that is
the right time

_________________________________________________________________________ THE SOMEHOW I CAN’T GET THE DREAM RIGHT POEM, MAYBE BECAUSE I DON’T WANT IT OVER by Lyn Lifshin _________________________________________________________________________ when I couldn’t get him,
have him, couldn’t get
him out of fantasy.
When I was in the car
or at the barre in ballet.
When I knew. Not like
I could say he has left
the building and let
him blur seeing him
almost each night at
ballroom, his thigh
sliding up my thigh
in a class or two a
week. Like alcohol
to someone drying
out. Awake, nothing
was as if could be.
To escape in sleep
was hardly enough
and then as magnolias
began, after the
margaritas, after
stinging needles in
bad dreams, suddenly
I’m as summery in
as a blooming magnolia.
My legs have lost
their scars, my hair
is thicker, red. Even
the bottom of smell of
deep rose that will,
if the dream goes on,
wrap around him as I
still can barely
fantasize  _________________________________________________________________________

THE MAD GIRL FEELS HIM IN HER FINGERS, HER SKIN by Lyn Lifshin _________________________________________________________________________

that almost pain chill,
a needle in her arm.
If you haven’t felt
it you don’t know
her. She wants more
and more. Wants
to audition for
flamenco at 2 AM
in a sketchy
part of town,
would break up
your family if she
could but only
for the lava
inside her. “Foxy
Lady” they yelled
at Muscle Beach.
Some days they
still do. What she
aches for is elusive
as a man made
of snow. Her first
poems had that
image in them. What
was intoxicating
and then melting
quickly, snow
flaked beauty, there
and then not. Now
only she warms
the place filled by
her body. All
she is missing and
starved for is
what she
can’t have

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NONFICTION

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The Gravedigger’s Secret by Anna Villegas

_________________________________________________________________________

The casket holding my brother’s body does not fit into the gravedigger’s hole.

The community of mourners who followed the hearse through our Gold Rush town, marching up to the cemetery accompanied by a soundtrack of vintage Dylan songs, has paraded back down Center Street to the Town Hall for the slideshow and the catered lunch.  Just a handful of us have stayed behind.  Under the oak tree gracing my brother’s grave with shade from April’s abrupt heat, we would not be mistaken for picnickers.  We make merry in the mid-afternoon light dappling my brother’s burial box, as he would have wanted, but we are all only two steps away from breakdown.

The casket won’t sit squarely on the earthen floor of its chamber.  The lid of the coffin, worked lovingly in rough-sawn local pine by three of my brother’s oldest and dearest friends, has bitten the grave’s clay walls, preventing my brother from settling into the still repose the last fifty-five years of his life never allowed him.  We all think it’s Jeff, that he’s hanging on to these shortening moments before present turns past and memory splinters into history.

Should we?  Jeff’s pallbearers ask each other.  Yes, they decide. Two of them step gingerly into the hole to stand on the casket.  They look at each other, shrug, and stomp on the lid, crushing the strewn poppies garnishing it.  There are jokes about helping the worms; there is laughter.  The casket resists.  Our voices, lifted in mirth a shade short of delight, pay tribute to my brother, who seeded these very poppies but whose curiosity about the role insects play in the process of decay would have trumped fidelity to funereal sobriety.   Pine boards crack; the box holding my brother’s body settles into its clay cradle.

Who wouldn’t cling to this day?

In spring, California’s Mother Lode can break your heart with its beauty.  April in our foothills, as my brother wrote in a poem just months before he died, “beats St. Peter’s streets of gold or any other ground.”  The town Jeff loved beyond reason has made an underdog’s scrappy comeback from a late wet winter.  The soil celebrates its win from behind with knee-high grasses jeweled by lupine and wild peas. A canopy of oaks guarding the funeral scene boasts polished leaves, new medals earned in combat.  In two more months, when the oaks’ darkened leaves are dulled by a powdery veneer of dust, hiking through these hills will reap only a harvest of burrs and foxtails.  But today, at my brother’s graveside, the negligent god in charge of final rites has blessed the ceremony by paying attention to details at long last.

The only flat note is the rude rust-red ground beneath our feet, poisoned into bare submission.  During one of his respites from shoveling, the gravedigger, a lanky, well-spoken man in his forties, will explain to my daughter and my sweetheart and me that the savings on graveyard gardening are too persuasive to resist.  Poisoning from the get-go is so much easier than tending grass, which is certain to disregard propriety and spread itself willy-nilly among the headstones where it’s not wanted, causing trouble for the living who, truth be told, just want to shake their heads, shed their tears, and move on.  The gravedigger has an uncanny appreciation for the backwards yield from poisoned ground.

Of course the gravedigger does not know this, but our mother was buried fifty-seven years ago on a grassy hillside in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, north of Los Angeles.  There in Whispering Pines, gravestones inset cleverly into a carpet of well-tended lawn allow mowers and sprinklers free play, creating the illusion of a vast athletic field where wholesome nuclear families might set up croquet wickets or volleyball nets and enjoy the manicured great outdoors while paying their final respects.

For a time in his twenties, Jeff had devised a plan to retrieve our mother’s body, to bring her back to Northern California in a cattle truck and bury her again in the town where her children could find her.  With shining eyes and a goofy grin, Jeff laid out to me how it would happen.  The scheme, which never saw lift-off, carried him through a manic phase, insulating Jeff from the psychic torment.  As a practicing attorney, my brother had to have understood the shortcomings in his plan couldn’t be overcome by shovels and strong arms.  Head bowed at my brother’s graveside, I recognize now that precisely because they are never enacted, the most enthusiastic designs for repair chart a life course more steadfastly than do those one does undertake.  Our mother, who still lies in her grave in Whispering Pines, has been with us every day of our lives since her death.  Her absence ensures the constant contemplation of her presence and of how different our lives—we—would have been had she lived.

As young adults, we visited our mother’s grave but once.  As a mature man, Jeff returned to Forest Lawn with my frail father to install the gravestone marking the dates of my mother’s life, a gravestone whose completion had been overlooked for more than fifty years.  For fifty years, our mother lay in her premature grave, unmarked and unvisited.  How much Jeff wished for her I can only measure with my own yearning.  How much her loss shaped his life I can only assess with my own longing.

Months after this day has passed, when my brother’s grave is soaked by rain and the oaks’ leaves have blanketed his grave, I will upend my study looking for a packet of poems Jeff had sent me decades earlier.  There in an untitled poem just three verses in length, I will be reminded that my brother appreciated the reign of absence in our lives far better than I:

Often dreams deny the thought:

of possibility

Paradise, the island, lies

beyond our humble sea.

Every soul the sparkled sand

Now touching, covets more;

Many be the fantasies

that die upon that shore.

Were it mine to minister

I’d rather time not teach.

Elysium, to be perceived,

must dangle out of reach.

Jeff was only two years old when, four days after my birth, our mother died. As we bury my brother, his youngest daughter, the daughter named for the grandmother who didn’t live to raise her own son, is also two.  I don’t need attachment theory to tell me that losing her father at this crucial, poignant age will utterly transform my niece’s character and will determine the choices she will make for the rest of her life; my brother’s life is an archetypal narrative of the quest to heal separation anxiety.  But Jeff would only ever address matters of the deep heart’s core with a wacky banter meant to lull himself and his listeners into a faux emotional easiness.

Once, during a rare shared weekend about seven years before his death, Jeff applied his wry insight to his untidy, untended personal life.

“You know the best way to handle your problems?” he asked with a sideways smile.

Pumping his fists like Wile E. Coyote prepping for take-off, Jeff answered his own question: “Run from them!”

Grief on behalf of each of the three children disinherited by my brother’s premature death will come, complicated, no doubt, by my own loss.  But today all I can bear is to put one foot in front of the other.  Seated on somebody else’s slab above Jeff’s grave, the sun high and hot in the brodiaea-blue sky, now I cannot even do that.  I do not want to step away from this quiet site, as gently beautiful as it is.  I do not want to be the last one to abandon my brother, who only ever asked to be loved as a mother would love.

The coffin finally bedded, Jeff’s pallbearers climb out of the grave, their duty to their childhood friend executed.  The empty hearse has wound its long way out of the cemetery.  Laughter has ceased; the public ceremony is complete.  One by one, everyone except us rejoins the living congregation.

For centuries, others more talented in the language of loss have described what the animal senses know when the slow beat of dirt on wood commences.  The sound of the earth hitting the pine boards proclaims an untempered mistake, cruel words spoken for too long, words for which the unluckiest speaker never learns to atone.  An open grave kindly allows for delusion.  A closed grave no longer resists the consequences of death and their relentless implications for the living.  A coffin is a hollow box, after all.

The gravedigger, shovel in ungloved hand, materializes like a stage hand who’s waited patiently for the audience to exit before stepping into the aftermath of some mock mayhem.  He must have approached the grave site on foot because no motor has disturbed our meditation.  He can’t have attended the funeral: he’s wearing a well-washed T-shirt and threadbare jeans.  Even in our folksy little town, such attire would disrespect the dead—in this case, the dead whose all-time favorite outfit comprised a lime-green ball cap and an oversized Hawaiian shirt.  Beyond the call of duty, I think to myself, that a grave-digger should have to suffer through the last rites for every one of his mute clients.

We greet him.  We tell him sure, it’s okay for him to begin work.  Numb with our own separate sorrows, each of us stares at him.  The gravedigger did not expect to be the final act in my brother’s memorial ritual, but he approaches his task with decorum: not as solemn as an undertaker, not as sloppy as a ditch-digger.

Shovel by shovel, the gravedigger paces himself.  It’s an honorable livelihood, burying the dead with the sweat of the living.  As Jeff would have been, we three are drawn into conversation with him.  Yes, he tells us, he dug the hole by hand as he’s been doing for twenty-five years.  In a pioneer cemetery perched on a river canyon, there’s no room for the maneuvering of a Bobcat.  Respect for the previously dead is demonstrated by the tidy pile of excavated dirt he’s now restoring over my brother’s body, my brother’s box anointed by crushed poppies.  I witness this truth: It is possible to shovel dirt with reverence.

My daughter and my sweetheart and I tell the gravedigger we don’t have the temperament to sit in the shade and play spectators to someone else’s hard physical labor.  Is there another shovel?  He brushes aside our apologies: It’s his job, isn’t it?  On his days off, he laughs, he grabs a metal detector and mines the foothills for lost treasure—just another kind of digging.  Slow and steady, he fills my brother’s hole.

The gravedigger rests his shovel in the dirt pile at the halfway point for a smoke break.  Someone gives him matches; someone asks to bum a cigarette.  We share a smoke with him, our graveside communion ritual.

Jeff would have.

Among many other eccentric, wondrous talents, my brother had been blessed with a democratic heart.  As a lawyer—a county counsel, a public defender, and finally a district attorney—he never hesitated to speak truth to power, or to the powerless.  But whenever he spoke, whether bearing good news or ill, Jeff’s constant willingness to stop his own words in order to listen to those of others, no matter how halting or colloquial or nonsensical they might be, made him as beloved as only a country lawyer can be.  Entrusted with the desires and the injuries and the secrets of imperfect souls, my brother held his peace.  In my brother’s cosmology, a governor did not outrank a gravedigger.

On the rare occasion when my brother encountered the human being whose behavior had earned exemption from compassion, Jeff applied a typically dispassionate metaphor, an equation explaining human evil that had been inspired by a high school algebra lesson.  He posited that a really bad person was like a negative integer, yielding a value less than zero.  The negative human being, according to my tolerant brother’s dissertation, subtracted from the world by existing.  My brother explained his theory of the negative human integer to me over forty years ago.  I have kept it on a mental shelf next to Of Mice and Men and the periodic table of the elements.  When I need it, I know where to find Jeff’s theory.

Here at my brother’s graveside, seated between the two people I treasure most in the world, I find no sympathy for the negative integers of the world.  It’s my congealing perception that a death, far from ennobling the survivors, brings out the bottom-of-the-barrel worst in people.  I am no better.  My conversation zigzags from the wrongness of Jeff’s death to those who, I calculate, deserve an early end far more than did my brother—negative integers who, in complete violation of justice and morality, continue to walk the earth with a spring in their steps even as my brother begins moldering in the grave.  Names are spoken, relationships revealed, sins recounted.  The f-word’s participial is a frequent adjective, pronounced dry and drawn-out as my brother pronounced it if he couldn’t contain his disgust.

Don’t mind me, the gravedigger says when, slack-jawed, I remember I have an audience extra-familia.  I apologize for my language.  The gravedigger accepts my apology and lights another cigarette.  We wouldn’t, he assures us, believe the stories he hears when decorum ends and the digging starts.  Without making one word up, he could write the longest running soap opera in the world.  Twenty-five years of overheard tantrums, confessions, accusations–the things people say, he sighs, rueful.

I do believe him: Jeff’s own narrative would last ten seasons.

Uh-oh, the gravedigger says, lifting a clay-coated chunk from the dirt pile with a delicate tip of his shovel.

Gravedigger’s secret, he says, and bends to pick up the wooden shard.

We are fascinated: The secret appears to be a remnant of redwood.  It is certainly, our gravedigger tells us, an artifact from an earlier burial.

We ask: You mean somebody else is buried under Jeff?

There are unmarked graves throughout these cemeteries, for sure.  That’s why he—our gravedigger—goes down only four feet.  In the old days, they used to dig six or eight.  If he stays at four, he doesn’t disturb anybody.  We are not to tell anyone.  Gravedigger’s secret.

Because it is a holy relic, my daughter and my sweetheart and I pass the chunk of wood from hand to hand.  We don’t want to leave it; we don’t want to take it.

After the gravedigger has tamped the last shovel of dirt on the new grave and we’ve said our goodbyes, we rest the redwood talisman on the slab uphill from Jeff’s grave.

Jeff would have loved this, I tell them.

Jeff would have stayed here all day.

_________________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________________

The Man in the Moon by Bob Mustin

_________________________________________________________________________

Structural engineering is a grueling, demanding profession. Days of this work are filled with precise calculations, intricate details, and pressured deadlines. After-hours, many of my former structural design colleagues sought release from this hectic mental work through pressure-relieving tête-à-têtes at local bars, or in quiet moments at home over a bottle of Jim Beam or Cutty Sark. The most immoderate of these began the ensuing mornings with multiple cups of bitter, viscous coffee and chain-smoked cigarettes. Others didn’t wait until evening to open such a pressure valve. They braved zigzagging noontime traffic to frequent Manuel’s Tavern in an old part of central Atlanta. Manuel’s hot dogs – steamed in beer and buried in sauerkraut – are to die for, but a forty-five minute lunch break hardly allowed time for eating. So they would split a pitcher of Andecker beer, have a couple of boiled eggs, a large dill pickle, or a pig’s foot while having a hurried laugh, and then scamper back to their desks, where the office manager was always waiting with a glare and a glance at his watch. But in those years, weekends were our real respite. Some found a two-day escape from work in the sweaty meditation of mowing lawns or raking leaves beneath an abundant suburban tree cover. Others lost themselves in carpentry. Or in playing music – loudly, and deep into Saturday night – to the consternation of their families and neighbors. Still others went home, as they called it, even after living away for thirty-odd years, to the towns they grew up in, glad to see the southeast’s largest metropolis disappear in their rearview mirrors. I, along with a few friends or colleagues, regularly took that time for camping, fishing, hiking, or driving sports cars in pell-mell fashion along the snaky roads of Georgia’s Appalachians. At the end of a week’s work quite a few years ago, my friend Rick and I drove south to Lake Jackson and a cabin owned by Rick’s uncle. This lake fills the confluence of the Yellow and South Rivers and provides recreation and household water to a large portion of central Georgia. Boathouses, second homes, and tiny cabins with mean amenities lay strewn along the lake’s shores. On early summer mornings, before skiers and houseboat owners awake and dominate the waters, fishing boats scour the open channels for bass, crappie, catfish, or jackfish. During fall, weekends at Lake Jackson turn tranquil. In early morning, a rising sun burnishes the chilly, tannic waters to a copper finish. Later in the day, when the air warms, a few boats venture out to add froth to the lake, and a gentle, motorized grumble to the rural ambience. Rick and I arrived on a late October weekend. We unloaded our gear and ate sandwiches from our coolers over a plank table in the cabin’s bare-bones kitchen. We were too tired for night fishing, so we zipped our jackets, sat on the porch rail, and peered into the lake’s dark glass. Silence began to swamp us, broken only by the lake’s soft lapping against a stony clay shore. A stand of pines had sliced the full moon into shards. Undaunted, earth’s closest neighbor continued its rise to an isolated sphere. Rick chuckled and pointed to it. His laughter has always been infectious and, for no reason I can think of, I found myself infected by his happy mood. He looked my way and again jabbed a finger at the sky. I gave a tentative shrug, still not sure I understood. “The man in the moon,” he said. For a moment I took it in. Somehow, the moon was no longer home to its usual topography – mares, mountains, and shadows, some quarter-million miles away. This one projected a jowly, bloated face, its eyes almost closed, barely concealing humor, an expression poised between mischief and grandfatherly wisdom. I blinked and tried to see it the way I always had, but I couldn’t. Later that night, as I slid into my sleeping bag atop one of the cabin’s cots, it occurred that this revelation had been an initiation of sorts: my unique induction into the imaginative, instinctual way humanity has always reached beyond the fabric of its limited condition. But why, I remember thinking as sleep took me, am I just now discovering something every five-year-old readily sees? Three decades later, that question’s broader implications still stain my thoughts.

*

You see, my career is almost over now, and a sense of urgency looms. I feel, as I did in that moment of lunar epiphany, that I have a lot of catching up to do. Each of us moves all too soon from youth’s promise to increasingly finite ends. Even the stars grow old and collapse after a final, glorious burst of light, perhaps a last-minute rebellion against the impending surrender of their radiance. Yet between fiery birth and spectacular collapse, I’m sure their time passes as innocently and as rapidly as ours does here on earth, and with all too many lumens left unburned. It’s strange to feel increasingly captive to career as its end nears. The mental harnesses necessary to negotiate organizational intricacies and a demanding, left-brained career still constrain, but now to the point of claustrophobia. I’m a plow mule on a rocky, red-clay Georgia field, the barn forever over my horizon. And I trudge toward it with trepidation. Formal education should have helped me develop the insight necessary to step lightly toward this long-promised future. Instead, it merely provided the bravado to carry me through my profession’s continual tests of endurance. Still, a few motes of soulful insight did filter through the clamor of my work. But these now seem incidental, having little to do with preparation for such a life change. So how do I move on? Is it really possible to alter the direction of more than three decades?

*

We woke early the next morning, dropped a johnboat into the lake and fished along its shoreline. As the sun continued its rise, a breeze stirred, and we drifted with it. We sat, mute, occasionally flicking our bobbers and worms into the shallows after bluegill and perch.

*

Looking back, the way we spent that morning posed the beginnings of reconciliation for my current sense of urgency. Through the eyes of youth, everything seems to coalesce to a pinpoint about the moment. Yet from the vantage point of middle age life’s broader fabric emerges: life, in the aggregate, breeds malleability. Our looks change. We have children; they grow and depart, and our needs transform along the way. Even the stars will eventually shift their placements, leaving some fortunate generation to ponder new mythic constructs in the heavens. If this is the way of life, can’t I now – to extend the metaphor of that morning’s fishing – dip my paddle deeper and come to a new compass heading? But redirecting things late in life causes eddies. Still, I’ve long supposed a sense of order underlying contemporary life. Maybe a glance over my shoulder at the roiled waters I leave behind will offer a clearer view of my anxiety’s basis, if indeed a subliminal blueprint does exist. But how do I manage to find my fractal alcove in such chaos? First, I think, by accepting the microscopic role time’s currents have swept me into.

*

Rick and I watched a large boat with an inboard/outboard motor swoop too close to a smaller fishing boat anchored at the mouth of a nearby channel. The fisher stood as his vessel bobbed. He shook a fist. With hardly a glance, the other boater rumbled on across the lake. The fisher jerked his anchor in, cranked up, gunned his motor, and disappeared around the lake’s closest bend.

*

We hurry so these days, paying little attention to the effect of our haste on others. Is that why we hear of seemingly nice people going postal and falling prey to road rage? I suspect that such mania requires our egos to extend the pre-Copernican belief that Earth is the universe’s core. That is, we become competing cores of a discombobulated, fragmented world. On the other hand, isn’t being an infinitely small but invaluable thread in an expansive tapestry preferable to wishing a whole universe crammed into each shrunken and armored psyche? If I can convince myself that the role of a single star in an infinitely populated sky has some scintilla of purpose in being there, maybe I won’t have cause to grow emotionally calcified as I age. Maybe then I won’t be reduced to watching TV news each night and ranting that the world hasn’t turned out as I had wished.

*

Boat traffic on the lake disappeared in early afternoon, so Rick and I un-cased our acoustic guitars and randomly picked at them, never staying on one piece to completion. Suddenly, on the road above us, a gasoline-powered rumble grew to a roar. Seconds later, a red Camaro flounced into view, slewing a wave of gravel downhill toward the lake. Then the car’s stereo began to pound out a Lynyrd Skynyrd song. We stood and peered around the cabin’s corner as the dusty muscle car fishtailed by. The driver, a longhaired, freckle-faced boy, grinned and yelled. Rick returned the grin, and we both waved politely. The boy flipped us a vee sign, popped his clutch, and raced away in a curling cloud of red dust. We returned to our bench and bent once more to our musical wanderings.

*

I was born into a generation that exalted nothing as much as youth. So when I heard a national leader say he still didn’t get the vision thing, it made a perverse sense. I now realize that statement’s blemish has to do with a squandered sense of purpose, the absence of a grounding levelheadedness, this absence tattering society instead of binding its diverse elements into a workable whole. Maybe the reason we’re unable to heal our age’s upset is imbedded in our desire to perpetuate youth, a time when everything seemed so exhilarating, yet so simple. I’m not the only one who remained caught up too long in this youthful, quintessentially American eagerness. I’m sure most of us are so busy we’re scarcely able to see beyond our noses. Mesmerized by career and status, we shun the commonplace tasks of housecleaning and cooking, of automobile and yard upkeep, and wish it onto immigrants and the relatively disadvantaged. Then, once in a while, we look up from our busy days and realize we’re a bit fearful of these helpful folks. I think such fear occurs because in our grasping for the next rung on the social ladder we flick autonomy aside, ceding control of large portions of our lives to those who perform our menial tasks. Too, we realize these quiet poor possess something we’ve lost: a humble belief in the value of menial work for its own sake. So we look down on them, force them to arm’s length; we become cold and sullen on seeing them eating in our restaurants, attending our churches, partaking of our nation’s social services. Maybe, having finally stepped ashore from my own version of the youth syndrome, I’ll find that fishing substance out of such mean-spirited, superficial waters isn’t really all that hard. And who knows? Maybe that will help foster – ever so minutely – the restoration of a revitalized eldership. How? By exemplifying the idea that age yields wisdom born of experience, not impotence born of perpetual immaturity. By restoring the idea that being is as valuable asdoing, that, in fact, being is at the core of doing.

*

Night came, and an unseasonal warming. Clouds had slipped in from the south and carpeted the sky with their ragged fleece. We turned off the cabin’s inside and outside lights. Only a few flickering back porch bulbs across the lake provided points of reference. Katydid songs began to rise and fall somewhere in the dark. A choir of bullfrogs added their percussive lowing. It seemed as though nature had decided to rectify the loss of moon and stars with something approximating a foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel sing. We laughed and added our own rhythms to the piece. We grew louder and louder, until the chorus stopped. I kept applauding, urging an encore. Rick shushed me. We waited. It took a few minutes, but the katydids slowly resumed their hoarse scraping. A cautious frog added its voice. Soon they were all back, in full symphonic glory.

*

I now understand that such moments re-create us. They make us laugh. They cause us to see things with fresh eyes, expand our sense of the possible. They set us on the path to simplifying in the midst of overwhelming complexity. Simplifying, not by excluding, but by revealing what are hopefully life’s greater patterns, the organic schemata constantly trying – against our instinct for individual expression – to embrace us, to overwhelm us with omniscience. But one need not sit constantly on the banks of Walden Pond to have such epiphanies, nor need one seek out whimsical reflections in the moon’s bumps and crevices. I now recognize something similar in the millennia of art mankind has left us. Art urges us to interpret events, whether manmade or born of nature, as they unfold about us, to ferret some form of deeper understanding through them. It’s my contention that art, however we perceive it or make use of it, can lead us from our current hectic, postmodern bewilderment to a workable grasp of our world’s various takes on meaning. Some argue that art must be its own end, but this seems egoistic, perhaps yet another form of nihilism we need to escape to reclaim our lost enchantment with life. Art can, and has, helped redraw life. Indigenous peoples, many now swept into the black holes of modern civilization, believed that art – with its brushstrokes, carvings, plaits, songs, dances, and storytelling – is the enduring foundation on which culture must be built. That art’s alternative worlds offer depth and resonance to the mundane. Call me a backwards looker if you will, but I agree. If art can represent at least a shade of substance in a world replete with disorder, then it can inspire a personal re-do from manic hurly-burly to an adept, graceful life. And if art really does hold the key to life’s subliminal patterns, it can help bind the conundrum of individuality and community into something newly viable.

*

The next day we fished again. That afternoon we fried our two-day catch and ate them ravenously, with pork and beans and white bread. We were slowly acclimating to something far different from the life-at-cliff’s-edge reality of big-city structural engineers. We were living simply, but we were living expansively. Still, as we knew all too well, time’s confines lurked, ready to yoke us once more. We hurriedly cleaned the cabin and loaded our things into Rick’s car. Twilight lingered for a while after we hit the Interstate, a semi-darkness that mirrored our mood. Our conversation tailed off. I had nine projects before me at work, each in need of rechecked calculations. Somehow, with that weekend’s unwinding, I’d managed to grow more tired than at the end of Friday’s work. I closed my eyes and tried to devise the details I’d need to put flesh to my structural calculations’ bones. I couldn’t. I wasn’t yet able to surrender unstructured time away from all that. I opened my eyes and glanced to Rick. As he made the return drive north, his dash lights began to reflect a grim, determined line where his usual grin sat. Ahead, clouds parted and the moon emerged. There he was again, that impish lunar dweller with the half-closed eyes. Oddly, the illusion had matured. It now seemed a jolly fellow sitting in a window open to another world, a world plump with liberating possibilities. Yet despite this upbeat lunar assurance, some deeply rooted darkness began to writhe within me – something that would remain beyond my ability to grasp for yet a while.

*

That long-ago weekend eventually led me to understand that we live in a time of deep, unrequited yearning, a time in sore need of both a personal and social tectonic shift. Concepts such as culture, community, and work must be redefined. Easing of our cognitive dissonances by strategic escapes such as the one Rick and I had taken that weekend does help, but they’re only temporary fixes. I don’t think the inevitable reworking we grabble for will come through legislative fiat, Sunday morning rededication, or moments of escape into nature. Substantive change always seems to rise from an inescapable stew of individual angst. And we can only stir such a goulash, it seems to me, by following that yearning into our deeper waters, by confronting the darkness there, by using it to shape and contrast the more illuminated aspects of our makeup. Maybe, person-by-person, if we persist in this, we can fabricate a new commonsense topology for meaningful living and working.

*

As I write this, I’m resolved to reinvent myself. Maybe this process will immerse me in some form of art: music, painting, or writing. Or maybe it’ll lead me to something less heady, more pragmatic: a new perspective on a career that had devolved from challenge and exhilaration to the toil of the humdrum. And maybe that will provide a natural continuity from career to what will follow. Imagination is humanity’s unique gift; it urges us beyond our comfortable sense of self to a grander scheme. Maybe on yet another epiphany-filled night, imagination will point me toward other instinctual threads strung between the Big Bang’s winking fragments, threads there to re-knit the fabric of modern life. But the job of reeling them in and adding them to life’s tapestry is more than one person can hope to manage. Such a fabric can only be, given the fractured state humanity has created for itself, a ragbag mélange assembled by each of us, pulling its warp and weft into place, ever so slowly, together. _________________________________________________________________________ top

CONTRIBUTORS

Adam Fargason is a photographer living in Vung Tau, Vietnam.  He loves traveling throughout the country and photographing the people he meets. His work includes landscape, nature, sports, portraits, photojournalism and macro photography.  His photographs have been used in Nature Photographer Magazine, The Tuscaloosa News, The Crimson White, SynArts exhibitions, and the UAB Art History department. Many stories are told in the faces of the Vietnamese – if these photos have any purpose, it is simply to share some of these stories with the viewer. To view more of Adam’s work, please visit the following website: adamfargason.smugmug.com.

William Wright Harris, a University of Tennessee graduate, has had poetry appear in 12 countries in such publications as The Cannon’s Mouth, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ascent Aspirations, generations and Write On.

Ted Jonathan’s a poet and short story writer. Born and raised in the Bronx, he now lives in New Jersey. His work has appeared in Pedestal, New York Quarterly, Hiram Poetry Review and many other magazines. Translations of his poetry have appeared in Russian magazines. His first collection, Spiked Libido, was published by Neukeia Press. Bones & Jokes, his most recent full-length collection of poems and short stories, has been published by NYQ Books (2009).

Erren Kelly received his B.A. in English-Creative Writing from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. His work had appeared in a number of magazines, such as Hiram Poetry Review, Mudfish, and Poetry Magazine [online], and anthologies such as In Our Own Words, A Generation X Poetry Anthology, Fertile Ground, and Beyond The Frontier. He loves to read and travel, having visited 45 states, Canada, and Europe.

Lyn Lifshin has written more than 125 books and edited four anthologies of women writers. Her poems have appeared in most poetry and literary magazines in the U.S.A, and her work has been included in virtually every major anthology of recent writing by women. She has given more than 700 readings across the U.S.A. and has appeared at Dartmouth and Skidmore colleges, Cornell University, the Shakespeare Library, Whitney Museum, and Huntington Library. Lyn Lifshin has also taught poetry and prose writing for many years at universities, colleges and high schools, and has been Poet in Residence at the University of Rochester, Antioch, and Colorado Mountain College. Winner of numerous awards including the Jack Kerouac Award for her book Kiss The Skin Off, Lyn is the subject of the documentary film Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. For her absolute dedication to the small presses which first published her, and for managing to survive on her own apart from any major publishing house or academic institution, Lifshin has earned the distinction “Queen of the Small Presses.” She has been praised by Robert Frost, Ken Kesey and Richard Eberhart, and Ed Sanders has seen her as “a modern Emily Dickinson.” Her website can be found at http://www.lynlifshin.com/.

Bob Mustin has had a brief naval career and a longer one as a civil engineer, and has been a North Carolina Writers Network writer-in-residence at Peace College under the late Doris Betts’ guiding hand. In the early ’90s, he was the editor of a small literary journal, The Rural Sophisticate, based in Georgia.  His work has appeared in The Rockhurst ReviewElysian Fields QuarterlyCooweescooweeUnder The Sun, Gihon River Review, Reflections Literary Journal, and at raving dove, Sport Literate, The Externalist, Language and Culture, Imitation Fruit, and R.KV.R.Y in electronic form.

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Yorker and elsewhere. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” and a complete bibliography, please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

Marina Rubin’s first chapbook, Ode to Hotels, came out in 2002, followed by Once in 2004 and Logic in 2007. Her work had appeared in hundreds of magazines including 13th Warrior Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Dos Passos Review, 5AM, Nano Fiction, Coal City, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Jewish Currents, Lillith, Pearl, Poet Lore, Skidrow Penthouse, The Portland Review, The Worcester Review and many more. She is an associate editor of Mudfish. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in New York where she works as a headhunter on Wall Street while writing her fourth book, a collection of flash fiction stories. Her website is www.marinarubin.com.

Anna Villegas, a fifth-generation Californian, has been a full-time college English teacher in California’s Central Valley for forty years.  Her published work includes essays, poems, newspaper columns, and three novels.  A forthcoming story collection set in the Sierran foothills of “The Gravedigger’s Secret” is titled What Doesn’t Kill You.