Oscar’s Blues

by Gerald Kamens

The nurse left work at five o’clock. By the time she’d arrived in their driveway, her husband had already started digging, after the July heat had begun to fade.

“I was reading about political prisoners in some godforsaken country,” her husband shouted, when she came into the yard. “Forced to dig their own graves. Then, afterwards, the soldiers would shoot them on the spot. Fell right over into the holes. Jesus Christ!” Carving out a tiny grave for Oscar, her husband muttered snatches of curses and bellows as he sweatily dug down into the hard ground.

As she watched him, Martha thought about Roger’s rough childhood, their rough marriage, the second for both of them. She could barely make out his words, so disconsolate was she about her faithful cat, who’d befriended her, in his own sweet fashion, for going on sixteen years, twice as long as she’d known Roger.

Until yesterday, when she found little Oscar, lying under their bed, silent, barely moving. And this morning, he was dead. She hoped he’d have a better life in the feline hereafter, and wondered if it were true, as she’d heard from a friend, that departed pets came back to this earth as angels.

“I’ll get us some lemonade,” she said to Roger, a smallish, thinnish man, except for his incongruous paunch, which hung over his belt, as he hurled his pickax up and down, to make a big enough dent in the rocky ground out by their back fence. “Least,” he said, “we didn’t have to take him to the vet’s to put him out of his misery!”

She walked up to the kitchen, trying to recall exactly what had drawn them to each other initially, and into what wormhole that attraction must have disappeared a while back.

“Hey, wife, this is hard work. Squirt a little gin in that lemonade!”

Those were the last words she heard from him. When Martha came out from the kitchen and onto the back porch, carrying the tray with the two glasses, she saw one point of the pickax rooted in the earth, and her husband slumped over on that ground. The beginnings of Oscar’s grave could contain only the man’s hand. She walked over to her husband slowly, and, kneeling down, saw that he didn’t seem to be breathing. She took the pulse in his right wrist, the one hanging down in the half-finished grave. In her ER work, she’d taken many pulses.

Knowing for sure, since she was a professional, that he was dead, she walked slowly back up onto the porch, and slumped down in a chair. She sat there, immobile, for what seemed a long time, but probably wasn’t, wondering about mighthavebeens. Martha knew at some level that her customary state of feeling lonely had been replaced by one of being really alone, adrift in the ocean of the world. Finally, moving to the kitchen phone, although she realized it wasn’t really an emergency, she punched in 911.

 

Gerald Kamens has worked in a mental hospital, the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Most of his recent works are children’s stories, essays, and short plays. His last acting role was in Chekhov’s The Seagull.

 

A Dead Shark Isn’t Art

by Howie Good

All it takes is that one guy asking, “What if there’s a fire?” And now that room is on fire. The really strange thing is that no one thought this was strange. It’s like you’ve lost your car keys at night in your backyard and you’re looking for them through a toilet paper roll with a flashlight. It’s a horrible way to search. It’s hellish for the hand, if you’re not careful. My daughter asks me, “So, how does the story end?” I want to sound like an organ, to have this regal sense. But it’s just another day in my life. They shot seven people in the head, and then they took the people’s cars and left.

 

Howie Good is the author of The Loser’s Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize from ThoughtCrime Press, and Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements, winner of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry. He co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely.

furkalarkabattawords

by A. St. John

one day
We, beasts
began to speak
Tho didn’t we         Mean
already?
With an ear, just what
gets messhered?
source     filter
Message        how you dress it up is everything
so the question is

the vessel
is it justified in its duty
if a tongue’s tip sits up
on the ceiling of his or her house and
Ataptaptap
apuhpuhpuh
tuhtuhtuh
kuhkuhkuh
The Muscle-in-the-Mouth make dat
sethy rhyxmic          wave motion
Dudat dance then u finna
gemmein tha mood ta understan
iamma
liabledumumba
but, uh
buhbuhbuh


A. St. John
 is a full-time graduate student and part-time employee whose interests include communication and swallowing disorders, world languages and linguistics, politics, social justice, and food.

Fifteen Days Have Passed

by Andrew Kaiminthang Hangsing

They said it’d be a surgical strike,
Yet, a carpet bombing have we witnessed;
Fifteen days have passed since
And not much talk is heard of success.

As they, in desperation, take steps
To lessen the casualties,
Their rivals smack their lips with relish
For all they see are opportunities.

The people, torn between two poles,
Watch on, albeit not in absolute silence,
As both the day and the queue shorten
And the nation slips into a trance.

And, as the debate rages on
And the blame games criss-cross,
The blunder lies not in the intention
But in the means of putting it across.

Of course, never will us commoners understand
The nuances of running a motherland;
Yet I, for one, wouldn’t burn down the house
Just to eliminate a menacing mouse.

 

Andrew Kaiminthang Hangsing is poet and writer from Haflong, India. He is currently gearing up to publish a collection of his poems. More of his work can be found here.

No Winsome Johnny, I Do Whatever the Fuck I Please

No Winsome Johnny, I Do Whatever The Fuck I please_Alannah Farrell.jpg
Graphite, acrylic, pen, and ink on paper, 2017


Alannah Farrell
, b. 1988, Kingston, New York. In 2011 Farrell received a BFA from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, concentrating on painting and photography. Her work has been exhibited in New York, Berlin, and London. More of her work can be seen at http://www.alannahfarrell.com.

Broken Wrist

by Jiayi Ying

1997.

I am seven years old. Grandma, Grandpa, Dad, and I are standing on the platform at the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station. It’s early—6am—and we’re waiting for the train to arrive to take us to Brussels, from where we’ll connect to another train that will take us to Luxembourg City. The scarves around our necks and the hats on our heads keep us warmed, but there’s something about the fresh coldness of the early morning that leaves us restless, makes our bodies bounce in place to their own beats. We stand under the white glow of moonlight, which seems to dilute just a little more every time I look at it.

Like us, the sky is only just waking up.

“The train must be delayed,” my dad says, in Chinese, to my grandparents. He looks at the schedule, locked inside a plastic case on the wall, to confirm his hunch, but the paper doesn’t return any new information. Our train that’s supposed to leave at 6:18 is still nowhere in sight at 6:16.

Aandacht alsjeblieft,” the voice of a train station operator blares through the overhead announcer. “Voor de trein naar Brussel deze morgen,” he says, a static crinkle stroking his flow of words, “het platform is veranderd naar platform zeven.

Vanwege deze reden, de trein vertrekt om zes vierentwentig nu. Als uw vandaag naar Brussel gaat, ga dan naar platform negen nu. De trein vertrekt in acht minuten.” He pauses before concluding, “Dit is het laatste bericht, dit is het laatste bericht.

I stand on the platform, not sure what to do. When else did he announce this? And how many trains are going to Brussels this morning? My dad, who has lived in Belgium the longest out of all of us, survives without needing to know Dutch. In medical research, he says, everyone knows English. It is on me.

“I think,” I say, in a meek voice in Chinese, “that the train is on a different platform. He,” I point at the concrete above, “just said platform seven.”

“Is it our train?” my grandpa asks.

“He didn’t say a number. Just the train to Brussels.”

“As long as it goes to Brussels,” my dad says. “Are you sure it’s going there?”

His asking makes me doubt. “Yes,” I say hesitantly. A small uncertainty gathered like a dust ball inside me—did I dream it? “He said Brussels.”

We ran to platform 7 and got on the waiting train. It took us where we needed to go. On the ride there, my grandparents boasted with pride and disbelief. Without me, they kept saying, we’d still be standing on that empty platform, waiting for a train that would never come. “Ayah,” my dad said, with a sigh, “None of us can understand.” A streak of amusement and feeble regret lingered in his voice. At once, I felt a sense of age, of respect. Is this how grownups feel? To have people do things by your word.

We spent the day in Luxembourg City, walking around aimlessly and posing for pictures in front of elaborate castles.

That afternoon, on our way to the train station, my grandma slipped on a metal cellar door on the sidewalk. She tried to break her fall and ended up snapping her right wrist. Back home, at the hospital, she had a titanium plate nailed across where the bones disconnected to hold the two pieces together so that they could grow back into one.

2011.

I am twenty-one years old, visiting Xi’an with my mom and sister. It’s summer vacation and, my dad, in the middle of a research project, could not claim, as we could, the time off as his right.

This morning, my fourth great-aunt—Grandma’s youngest sister—called to invite us over to her apartment. Earlier this year, her son had stayed with my family for three days, a detour in his trip through Europe. “Your fourth great-aunt wants to treat you, because your uncle said your mom’s cooking saved him,” Grandma said, with a laugh, as she announced the day’s plans she’d made for us. “He could not get used to any of the food in France.”

I nod, even though I wasn’t there. “Do you remember him?” my grandma asks.

“I don’t,” I say sheepishly, guiltily.

“You were too young,” she says. The last time I saw him was right before I left China, at five years old, and even then it was brief and sporadic, at a big family gathering. He knows what I look like now, Grandma tells me, because of the pictures my mom showed him. I nod and smile. I have no idea what he looks like now. Or before.

“How are we going to get there?” my mom asks. There’s five of us with my grandpa. We’d need two taxis.

“I can take one with Joyce,” I say, confident and eager. At twenty-one and fourteen, neither of us are kids.

My mom dismisses the idea. “You don’t know where Fourth Great-Aunt’s house is,” she shoots back, matter of fact, at me.

“I can write down the address,” my grandma says. She gets up from the couch and walks towards her bedroom. Her voice raised, she tells the story about when she and Grandpa visited us in Belgium and we were going to Luxembourg.

She comes back with a piece of paper, an edge of it raw from being torn off, and a pen. With her left hand, which she trained after her fall, she writes a string of characters and, with her right, she hands the note to me. “This,” she says, pointing to what she wrote, “is your great-aunt’s address. This,” a second line, “is our address.”

I look at it, none of it recognizable. She sees the blank look on my face.

Ayah,” she says, with a sincere smile. “I forget that you can’t read Chinese anymore.”

 

Jiayi Ying lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Yardwork

by Vivian Wagner

He carefully sliced the cancer from my skin,
one thin piece after another, finally extracting
the last bit of hardy weedroot.
If my face is a garden, it’s a strange one,
pocked and hilly, various in its shapes
and sections, unkempt and unpredictable.
In the end, though, he stretched the skin
over the hole and stitched up the suture.
He held up a mirror for me to see the tiny,
even stitches, and they seemed not so much a
surgeon’s work as that of secretive, midnight fairies
intent on making a faint but sturdy path through
planted lilies and unplanned dandelions alike,
on mapping a trail they might or might not take.


Vivian Wagner
is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. She’s the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). For more information, visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net, or follow her on Twitter, @vwagner.