Writers of the Month: August 2018

Poet of the Month, August 2018

Lana Bella

A four-time Pushcart Prize, five-time Best of the Net, & Bettering American Poetry nominee, Lana Bella is an author of three chapbooks, Under My Dark (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2016), Adagio (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and Dear Suki: Letters (Platypus 2412 Mini Chapbook Series, 2016), has work featured in over 500 journals, Barzakh, EVENT, The Fortnightly Review, Ilanot Review, Midwest Quarterly, New Reader, Notre Dame Review, Sundress Publications, & Whiskey Island, among others, and Aeolian Harp Anthology, Volume 3. Lana resides in the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a mom of two far-too-clever-frolicsome imps.

https://www.facebook.com/Lana-Bella-789916711141831/

Idiopathic

Spine-hunched; sleep forces your eyes
open, wearing dense brushstrokes
across the landscape. In this city of gold,
you give limbs to shadows, only to
writhe around autumn and black flies,
braiding through wounds then long loves.
By the scent of your wrist, night’s lattice
work leads to the vein with its flat side,
born into shivers some dimly silver curves
about your wet-wool weight. This idea
of first coming over the soil, of storing up
life dissolving in the seeds and mud,
you are a woman on her flexure, fingers
full of posies, set among some rocks
nearer the sea that rushes at you
with plaintiff coos across the barley fields.

 


Prose Author of the Month, August 2018

Kris Faatz

Kris Faatz (rhymes with skates) is a Baltimore-area writer and musician. Her first novel, To Love A Stranger, was a finalist for the 2016 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award, and was published in May 2017 by Blue Moon Publishers (Toronto). Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Kenyon Review Online, Potomac Review, Reed, and Digging Through the Fat, and has been recognized in contests run by Woven Tale PressGlimmer Train, and NYC Midnight. Many of her published stories appear online at krisfaatz.com.

Kris came to writing via a roundabout path that included an undergrad degree in engineering and graduate studies in piano performance. She’s a professional music teacher and performer, but her working life is shifting more toward writing (with as much nudging as she can give it). Writing craft makes her happy and she would talk about it all day with anyone willing to listen.

As a writer, Kris loves to explore what makes interesting characters tick. “Fruits of Them that Sleep” began as a study about a character Kris wanted to know more about, a woman with experiences and perspectives very different from her own. She has always been a literary writer, but in her newest work (a second book), Kris is looking for the perfect intersection between the character-driven fiction she creates and the speculative fiction, especially fantasy, she loves to read. One of these days she imagines she will find it and settle into her long-term writing voice.

Kris thinks of storytelling as an ideal way to build bridges between people. That’s the single thing she most wants to do as a writer, and along with the pure joy of word-hunting, it always brings her back to the page.

Fruits of Them that Sleep

On the morning when her daughter Abby was put under the ground, Reverend Robin Cahill stayed in her kitchen and chopped strawberries for pies. She didn’t care much for that dessert herself. Fruit pies, especially uncooked ones, seemed too wet and sloppy. Or at least they used to, back when she cared to notice such things. She preferred pumpkin, sweet potato, and pecan. You could contain those pies and slice them into perfect segments. But the graham-cracker crusts, heaped up with fresh sliced berries and topped with clouds of Cool-Whip, had been Abby’s favorite.

A handful of miles away from Robin’s house, the congregation at the Church of Christ’s Everlasting Kingdom listened to Reverend Harris, the Church’s assistant pastor, speak long strings of words over a new hole in the ground. Robin knew the grave would have a carpet of green plastic grass over it. She had led funeral services herself often enough to know exactly how fake that plastic would look, and how raw the hole would be underneath.

She should have been there today with the others. Reverend Cahill should have said the words herself and laid her own daughter to rest, but no one would wonder that she didn’t. Even her husband Mike hadn’t wondered that morning, when he climbed into his black suit as if it had been armor that would hold him up. He hadn’t said a word about her choosing to stay at home. He hadn’t said a word to challenge her since she could remember. After all, for as long as he had known her, she had held the flame of God in her hands.

Not now. Now she held only berries, cold and wet. In the kitchen, with the house as empty around her as an unused shoebox shoved into the back of a closet, Robin stood over the wooden cutting board and drove the knife again and again into the red fruit. She planted the blade hard each time and thunked it solidly against the wood, as if the berries had been Reverend Harris’s words, or her own. The words she had given her congregation, the ones she had believed in herself for so long. The words that had meant she let Abby die.

Thunk. Thunk. Robin gripped the berries between thumb and forefinger and drove the knife in, as if she could have chopped all those syllables into tiny pieces and scraped them into the trash. The righteous word of God that said that vaccines were unnatural. The Lord would heal His children.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Soon, Reverend Harris and the rest of Robin’s flock would come back here from the cemetery. They would swarm into this kitchen to snatch paper plates and cups and plastic forks and spoons, and then like a plague of locusts they would stream out into the back yard and devour the luncheon down to the last crumb. Of course there would be hugs too, and tears, and sympathetic mouthings from the mouths that weren’t stuffed too full. Robin would hear, again and again, how her baby had gone home to Jesus, how Abby was blessed now with eternal joy and freed from this sinful world forevermore.

Robin had said the same kinds of words herself. When she did, they had always had the fire of belief in them. Now she set herself to finish chopping the berries. The juice stained her hands redder with each slice of the knife. When they were finished, she sugared them and let them sit in their own juice while she carried the rest of the lunch outside.

Trays of cold cuts, rolls, macaroni, salad fixings: Robin had put them together herself, last night, with no help from anyone. She couldn’t stand even to let Mike into the kitchen beside her as she busied her hands over the arrays of food. Now she carried the trays outside one at a time. Each trip through the yard, to the picnic table under the old willow tree, took her past Abby’s swingset. The bright white-painted metal bars still looked brand new. Robin and Mike had only bought the swingset three months earlier, in March, for Abby’s fifth birthday.

Robin made herself look straight at it as she lugged two plastic gallon jugs of lemonade over to the table. She remembered Abby gripping the swing’s chains and aiming her toes for the sky, her long hair falling down her back and her laughter spiraling up into the trees. Look, Mama! I can fly!

Robin adjusted the placement of the floral centerpiece, an arrangement of white lilies, on the picnic table. The table had a white plastic cover. White on white, like the cheesecloth sheets and blanket Abby tried to sleep under in the hospital, while the rash crawled over her skin and the fever burned away at her insides.

Back in the kitchen, Robin piled the cut strawberries into graham cracker crusts and mounded Cool-Whip on top. She eased the heavy glass pie pans into the refrigerator. By the time Mike came home, she had changed into her long black skirt and long-sleeved black blouse and run a damp dishtowel over the kitchen counter one last time, to pick up any stray splashes of juice.

Mike didn’t say anything to her when he came in, but she followed him down the hall to their bedroom. At the very end of the hall, the door to Abby’s bedroom was closed, the way it had been since the last night she had slept in it. Robin couldn’t believe that had only been a week ago.

In the master bedroom, Mike took off his tie in front of the long mirror. He saw Robin coming in the glass and nodded. The back of his head, with its small round bald patch, bobbed briefly. Robin didn’t look at his eyes in the mirror.

She went to her dressing table. She had already brushed her hair out so that it hung straight and smooth down her back – don’t cut my hair, Mama, Abby had said when she was three, I want it to look just like yours – but she passed the brush through it again now and asked, “How was the service?” In her own ears, her voice sounded light and distant.

“Good,” Mike said. “You would have liked Reverend Harris’s homily.” He said that without accusation, without any inflection at all. Robin heard the two light clinks as he dropped his cufflinks onto the top of his dresser. “Everybody’ll be here soon,” he added.

“Lunch is all ready,” she said. She heard him move to his closet, hanging up his suit jacket. She didn’t look at her own face in her dressing table mirror, any more than she looked at his. She only saw the long dark ribbon of hair that lifted up, extended, and softly fell again as the brush bristles passed through it. “The pies are in the fridge for now,” she said. “I thought the cream might go bad in this heat.”

“Okay. We’ll get them out later.”

“Yes.”

Mike went to the bedroom door. He would step out into the hall, Robin thought. The two of them would each be alone again, wrapped in separate packages of silence, just like they had been ever since that last night in the hospital, a handful of days or a hundred years ago. Instead she heard him say, “Robbie.”

Her nickname, the one that said I love you but also I need. Robin made herself look at him. Standing there in the doorway, with his shirt sleeves rolled up as if he was going to weed the vegetable patch or help Abby fill her plastic wading pool, he looked so young. Like the boy Robin had known seven years ago, who pulled a tiny velvet box out of his pocket, opened it up to reveal the hidden star inside, and held it out to her, with the words he was too scared to ask aloud written on his face.

He said now, “It’s going to be all right. She’s with God.”

Except that his voice went up on the last words and made them a question. Robin knew he needed her to say yes. She, who always knew what was right, who had a direct line to the Divine’s will and love –she had always thought so too, God knew she had – only she could make sense out of this pain.

Measles are natural. A simple childhood virus. God will see her through.

Robin couldn’t answer. She didn’t nod or shake her head or say a word. Instead she turned back to the mirror and ran the brush through her hair again, the soft dark sheaf just like Abby’s. After a while, she heard Mike walk away.

**

Everyone came for the lunch. Robin stood in front of the swingset, under the too-bright sun, and watched her congregation empty the food trays. She was at the center of a constantly shifting circle of faces, of sympathetic eyes and chewing mouths, of perfume and hairspray smells and somber suits and dresses. Words circled around her like the steady drone of bees. Your baby is at peace. Jesus will take care of her. You’ll see her again on the other side.

They sounded so certain. Of course they did. Robin had taught her flock to believe those things.

Robin didn’t feel the heat seeping into her black skirt and blouse. No sweat pricked at her cheeks or trickled down her back, and she didn’t seem to feel the arms wrapping around her either, one pair of them after the other. But she did feel it when, after how much time she didn’t know, Mike put his hand on her shoulder.

“Robbie. Do you want me to get the dessert out?”

When Robin turned to answer him, her hand brushed the side bar of the swingset. Abby staring out the window on her birthday morning, amazed at the magic of the swings suddenly appearing in the yard. (Mike had worked that magic the night before, wrangling the clanking pieces of the set as quietly as he could, with Robin standing by holding a flashlight.) Standing here now, Robin remembered her little girl sprinting outside to run her hands over the gleaming new metal, her eyes huge with delight.

Now Robin looked up at her husband. He had always been taller than her, but now he towered over her, his face far away. For the first time, she didn’t have the holy fire inside her to lift her up. She knew he saw how small she was.

She said, “It’s all right. I’ll get the pies.”

The circle parted to let her through. Alone in the house, with the back door shut against the hum of the crowd outside, she opened the fridge.

Abby’s favorite. Robin carefully maneuvered the cold Pyrex plates out of the fridge, one at a time. When Abby ate strawberry pie, she used to scoop the Cool Whip off her slice one spoonful at a time, savoring each taste of it before she started in on the sweet juicy berries. Robin and Mike teased her about eating her dessert one part at a time, leaving the crust for last. You’re supposed to eat them all together, ladybug. That’s how they work. Abby had only grinned back. I can taste it better this way.

Robin would have to take the plates outside one at a time. They were too heavy to carry both at once. First she went and propped the back door open so she would have both hands free.

She hadn’t made strawberry pie as often as she might have. Abby had always wanted it, but you could only get good strawberries for a few weeks every year, and anyway the pies were messy and Robin had never liked them much. She could have done things differently.

Measles are natural. A simple childhood virus.

Robin had never gotten measles herself. She’d gotten a shot instead, like all the kids she grew up with.

She lifted the first plate carefully, balancing the base on one hand and holding the edge with the other. Her fingertips dipped into the cool whipped cream.

God will see her through. That last night in the hospital, after Abby stopped asking when she would be able to leave. After her grip on Robin’s hand relaxed and her eyes stayed closed. God will see her through. The fire in the little girl’s body had been much too real, but the one in Robin’s soul had gone out.

Robin carried the plate from the kitchen through the den. When she stepped out into the yard, the sunlight pushed back against her like a solid wall.

Jesus will take care of her. You’ll see her on the other side.

There was the old willow tree, and there was the picnic table and the crowd of people around it. There was the swingset with its gleaming bars. All of them somehow far away, on the other side of the wall of light that Robin couldn’t pass through.

You’ll see her.

Holding the cold heavy plate in her hands, Robin felt the summer heat seeping into her dark clothes. She felt sweat beading under the curtain of her hair.

You’ll see her…but Robin saw her now. The child on the swing, holding the chains tight in her small hands. Her toes pointed to the sky. Her hair flying behind her and her face lit up with laughter.

Look, Mama! I can fly!

On the other side of the wall of sunlight, Robin saw Mike too. He was looking straight at her, and he looked worried, Robin saw, but she didn’t know why, because she was only standing here. But now the heat was filling her up, rising out of the ground or raining down from the sky, or both at once. And the plate in her hands felt much too heavy, and the wall, the one that stood between her and the husband she loved and the daughter she had lost, was too high and hard.

Look, Mama!

Robin gripped the plate in both hands, her fingers tight around the edges, digging into the cream and juice.

If I can do this one thing. It wasn’t a prayer. She didn’t say the words out loud or even think them clearly, but they were there, cool and solid in her mind. God, if you can hear me, let me do this one thing.

She should have made the pies more often. She should have done things differently. Now her body turned on its own, her hands moving through the air, her shoulders pulling back against the weight of the plate. And then the plate left her hands and skimmed high and far, over the wall she couldn’t get through, and red juice and white cream trailed behind it like a banner, and her hands were empty, and her body was as light as a breeze.

I can fly!

Robin felt herself collapse forward, felt her knees hit the hard warm earth. From somewhere else, she heard voices shouting. People were running toward her, Mike in front, his arms reaching out to her.

Robin’s eyes burned. Tears mixed with the sweat that stung her cheeks, but maybe, maybe it was going to be all right. Maybe she had made her offering fly high enough.

All the way to heaven, on the other side.

Writers of the Month: January 2018

Poet of the Month, January 2018

Mag Gabbert

Mag Gabbert is completing her fourth year as a PhD student in creative writing at Texas Tech University, where she has taught courses in creative writing, rhetoric, and literature since 2014. Mag holds an MFA from The University of California at Riverside and a BA in English, with minors in music and creative writing, from Trinity University, where she graduated magna cum laude with honors in English. Her essays and poems have been published or are forthcoming in journals including 32 Poems, The Rumpus, phoebe, The Nervous Breakdown, LIT Magazine, Sugar House Review, Carve Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and Birmingham Poetry Review, among other places. Mag’s first full poetry manuscript, titled Blow, has been listed as a semi-finalist for Persea Press’ Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, the 2017 Grayson Books Poetry Prize, Sundress Press’ 2017 Open Reading Contest, and for Agape Editions’ 2017 NOLO Award. It was also ranked third among manuscripts considered by Carnegie Mellon Press in 2016. Mag currently serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, and was previously the associate poetry editor for The Coachella Review.

For more information, please visit maggabbert.com.

 

 

David

After Michaelangelo

 

I was struck by your hands—

the right one, in particular—

so massive against your neat thigh,

and your posture,

half tense and half slack.

Tracing your gaze, I think

you must be looking for someone,

or dreaming

of the impossibly long sinews

of your enemies, plucked

and strung across the open

mouths of your lyres.

 

I am consumed

by violent stillness—

that you do not reach for me,

that you are not

that kind of man, but could have been

a wide, cool platform

to lie down on,

an empty plate for me to lick,

tracing the veined marble

with my tongue.

 


Prose Author of the Month, January 2018

Kori Margaret

I started writing to escape, whether the escape was from tediously boring days or from my chaotic childhood. I always found it difficult to express myself, but writing helped me articulate how I felt. It helped me establish some kind of foundation about who I was, who I was to become, and it gave me a sense of genuine purpose. Writing easily became a passion, and it has now become more than my own escape. I want others to feel how I first felt, that they can find their own haven within these stories, even if they are as dark as The Maiden. Writing, essentially, made me an empathetic person. It drove my need to connect to strangers, often on the other side of the world. Having a sense of yearning to make these connections, traveling to meet these people face to face and understanding their life story, is because of writing. I write now with the purpose of making people feel, to use words to paint a story and try to make it beautiful, whether it’s romantic or tragic, or dark or lighthearted.

The Maiden is certainly a dark piece, but I hope you enjoy it either way. Cheers, friends.

 

The Maiden

Dark clouds hid the sun. Thunder boomed, and rain poured relentlessly against little Amelia’s tiny window. She sat in the isolation of the small, empty attic, unafraid of the elements, but fearful of something else, something within her, a darkness that cried for help. She cried quietly into her knees, careful not to make a sound. Laughter from her mother’s party echoed through the floors, and she did long to be around them, around the company of others who seemed so cheery, but that was against the rules. She was forced to remain by herself, confined to the attic with only her thoughts to keep her company. Day after day, her life started and ended the same, and earlier that day was no different, except for her mother’s eerie sense of cheerfulness.

She helped clean and arrange the house to her mother’s liking for the party, performing labor her small physique struggled with in order to meet her mother’s demands. Everything had to be perfect. “Shiny, clean, and perfect!” Her mother would remind her. Amelia’s hands felt so raw from days such as these, cleaning everything over and over and over and over… Until perfection was finally met, she was not allowed to eat or rest, and for many days, such as this, she wouldn’t be able to stop for hours.

About now, Amelia would have taken the opportunity to rest and eat the meal her mother made her, but it was left untouched in its spot by the door. She felt worse than ever because she had done something wrong. Her mother doesn’t like it when things go wrong, and today Amelia created too big a mess for either of them to handle by breaking one of her most precious and expensive vases.

Amelia tried to apologize—she didn’t mean it—but her mother wouldn’t listen. She remembered being pummeled into a corner, and then pain. She cowered, closed her eyes, wished for it all to end, and cried, but her tears only made it worse.

“I’ll give you a reason to cry!”

In her hand, she clutched an older picture of her and her father, stained from tears and wrinkled all around. Amelia unfolded her hand and looked at his smiling face. She wished he was there to hold and comfort her, to make all of it go away. She would runaway to him in a heartbeat, but she couldn’t. Stuck and alone, she had no one to seek out comfort.

Thunder cracked again, and lightning lit up the sky briefly. Amelia’s gaze shifted to her window; that darkness within her grew more apparent, and she felt terrified. Yet, as if in a trance, she stood to her feet and walked toward the window. The laughter and chatter from downstairs immediately silenced as she opened the window. The bitter wind hit her with a bit of force, splashing water on her old clothes. Grabbing hold of the sill, she peered out and carefully looked down below at the muddy ground, mesmerized by the raindrops. But as she looked back up at the sky, the sensation slowly turned to gloom. No ray of sunshine, no matter how hard she wished or how long she stared, would make the rain end.

She turned her back to the outside and looked at the picture of her and her father once more. She saw her own smile, and she wanted that feeling again, to be happy with her father, but she couldn’t be. Not alone in the attic.

Amelia sat on the sill and held the picture close to her chest, against her heart. She took in a nervous breath, closed her eyes, squeezed the picture, and fell out the window.

Amelia inhaled suddenly and her eyes flashed open to a hazy blue sky; the haze seemed to cover everything as she continued to look around her. She rolled onto her side and lifted herself up to sit on her knees, and she smiled. She was surrounded by the most beautiful and colorful flowers. She pressed her hands against the cool dirt and leaned closer to the blossoms around her to smell their alluring aroma. The warmth of the sun and the beauty of nature offered comfort and bliss.

She stood to her feet and twirled amongst the flowers. She smiled from the freedom of her soreness and filled the void with laughter throughout.

Beside her, on either side, was an open meadow that seemed to stretch on forever, but she gasped as she finally turned around to look behind her. There stood her house, as if nothing had changed. She walked closer toward it with a spur of hope but, the closer she walked, the darker the sky became. Thick clouds rolled over the house, and thunder boomed, like on that rainy day. Amelia jogged to the door for shelter, and suddenly the air grew stiffer. The cold paralyzed her, gripping her with a fear she knew all too well. Laughter from inside the home echoed, and her eyes began to tear. Panicking, trying to catch her breath, she stumbled backward and fell against the ground. Shaking, she pushed herself to move back further into the field, and as she did the laughter quietly began to fade. The clouds rolled back behind the house as quickly as they came, and she was once more greeted by the sun. Its warmth was no longer welcoming, but puzzling. The house still stood, but as a memory.

Amelia held her hand against her chest to calm her racing heart, and she sighed.

She stood tall amongst the flowers and eyed them with curiosity. They were lovely, and they blossomed with brilliant color, but they no longer filled her with bliss. She slowly turned around, but was abruptly standing in the middle of a path in a forest. Her eyes widened, and she quickly turned around only to find an abyss staring back at her. The meadow was gone in an instant, and the sun hidden to her from the canopy.

Amelia gulped quietly and faced the path with an air of caution, stepping as if she were walking on egg shells. Although she could see light at the end of the path, it offered little comfort to what she would be facing along the frightening journey.

Closer and closer, the distance between her and the darkness greatly lessened. Stepping through the light, she was welcomed to another meadow, but one much more closed in. Surrounding it was a denser forest, although there was no canopy. The sun’s rays were distorted among a similar haze from before, and water from a pond glistened. Upon reaching the bank, she knelt down and peered into the depths, but no fish swam, nor plants swayed. No life could be found.

Her eyes focused to the reflection staring back at her. Her hair was notably unkempt, and she finally saw the new mud stains on her tattered dress. She dipped her hand into the cool water and used it as a cloth to wipe away the dirt on her face, but not all of it would easily smear away. She continued to wet her hands and clean her face, but many of the darker marks would remain. Amelia felt her eyes tear up the more she tried to clean away the marks over and over, but still they stayed.

For a few moments, she sat in weeping silence. She kept a hand on her face, feeling the tender spots that covered her jaw and cheeks. She stared at her rippling reflection with uneasy eyes.

“You’re safe now, my child,” a soothing female voice spoke from above. Her head jerked up to see the woman standing before her. Amelia was startled.

“Don’t be afraid,” she spoke in a more hushed tone, lowering herself into the pond. She removed the hood of her cloak, and she was met with a hypnotic gaze. Long golden hair draped down her shoulders. Her figure had the same aura as the haze distorting Amelia’s vision, and her smile showed a kindness that the young girl had not seen in many years.

“Who are you?” Amelia’s mousy voice was a little shaky as she slid back a bit further. “Where am I?”

“I am what you asked for, Amelia. This is all that you wanted,” the maiden spoke sweetly while stepping to the side to reveal what was forming behind her. A white apparition appeared from the haze, shaping to the mold of a person. Amelia stared with wide eyes from anticipation as the white glow began to fade and the face was clear. She beamed with a smile, “Papa!”

“You can be with him again,” the maiden stretched her hand out. “Just take my hand.”

Amelia looked to her father for reassurance, and he gave her a calm nod. She stood to her feet and carefully stepped into the pond. Keeping her eyes mostly on her father, she walked toward the maiden until she was in reach of her hand.

“Are you ready?”

She gulped and lifted her hand up to the maiden’s, wrapping her small fingers around her palm. Amelia felt the rhythm of her heart beat slower and slower. Her eyes closed, and she was met with the vision of her father reaching out to her. She reached back to him and, upon their hands touching, she finally drew her last breath. Her body fell limp against the maiden’s.

The maiden lowered her head and took the child into her arms to lay her back on the bank. Her flowing long hair began to fall in strands to the ground, until her head was entirely bald. Her flesh slithered down her face revealing the clean white bone that lay beneath. She lifted the hood of her cloak back over her face as her eyes melted down onto the ground. Her teeth cracked and fell out of her jaw, following the flesh. Nails slid from her fingers. The pale puddle slipped into the pond until all of the flesh had been removed.

The figure lifted Amelia’s body from the ground and strode away from the pond. The water spiraled at its beckon, withering to nothing. The dense trees grew taller and darker, reaching to the light to block it permanently. The figure walked towards the path Amelia had bravely taken, and the two disappeared along its shadowy tunnel.

 

Writers of the Month: December 2017

Poet of the Month

 

Shahe Mankerian

The first time I saw my parents cry was at a theatrical performance of an Armenian play in Beirut. I concluded that words have the acidic power of onions; they make stoic individuals, like my parents, move to tears. So, at the age of 7, I played with Armenian words because that’s the language Mother planted at home. At school, Arabic letters slithered across pages and into my heart like snakes. And Grandmother cursed in Turkish because she believed the perpetrators of the first genocide spewed venom rather than language. With this cosmic concoction, I couldn’t escape being a writer.

“Backwoods with Queen Valentina” started out as a challenge to write a love poem without the pitfalls of clichés. Like all great unrequited lovers, it has seen many rejections and revisions. The only lines that linger from the original are “We paddled upstream” and “A cricket committed suicide.” Everything else morphed over time.

Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the co-director of the L.A. Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. His manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Antioch University’s literary publication, Lunch Ticket, nominated Mankerian’s poem “Inner City with Father” for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. Recently, Shahé received the 2017 Editors’ Prize from MARY: A Journal of New Writing. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

 

Backwoods with Queen Valentina

We paddled upstream.
She rehearsed lines
from a Slavic play:
“The married cosmonaut

died near Chernobyl.”
I swallowed a fly.
“Caviar will cure
your cough,” she adlibbed

and lit a cigar
like a Cuban surgeon.
“Sturgeon roe reminds
me of lost pupils,”

I mumbled. She curtailed
a current and exclaimed,
“Akhmatova!” We tied
our kayaks to a branch

like cowboy horses.
We used War and Peace
as a pillow. The tent’s
plastic windows uncovered

the stars. One fell
wayward and disappeared
behind a pine. A satellite
traveled across

the saturnine sky. Valentina
whispered, “A cricket
committed suicide,”
and waited for the applause.

 


Prose Author of the Month

William Baker

I am William Baker author of The Yard Sale Bandit.  I have had short stories published mostly under my middle name, Donald Baker.  My stories have been published seven times previously since 2013, mainly in online magazines.  Sometimes the inspiration for a story is a phrase I overheard or a person I saw in a public place.  Oft times I have no idea what inspires or prompts me, I get an idea in my head and go with it.  I have heard about writers block but have never experienced it myself.  I have the opposite problem.  I have too many stories and not enough time to put them all down.  I often think about and plan out a story in my head long before I have a chance to sit down at the computer.  The Yard Sale Bandit was actually done this way and the whole process was less than a week, including any revisions.

My biggest downfall as a writer, apart from not writing enough, is procrastination for my finished products.  I currently have three short fiction pieces completed, two flash fictions pieces, one novel which has been finished for some time, and one 90 minute stage play also long completed.  I am guilty of not putting in the necessary time to market these works for publication.  I plan on changing that for 2018, as soon as I finish my current stage play in process.

Apart from writing, I work for a hospital full time, am married, run around after seven Grandchildren, have an embarrassing amount of college degrees, and occasionally act in community theater.

Check out William’s other works at https://sylbun.com/!

 

The Yard Sale Bandit

Blaine Washington cleaned the remainder of the makeup from under his eyes with a baby wipe before sitting down in front of the television in the small theatre dressing room.  He tossed the plastic grocery bag of cash on the worn out sofa next to him, the costumes and props already put away.  His presence here would never allow suspicion, he was the stage manager after all and it was not unusual for him to be in and out of the theatre several times a week.  More so now that he was unemployed.  There was no danger of interruption this time of year as there were no upcoming performances in the works.  He could sit here and count his haul in peace and see if the news was covering him yet.  He figured that his score today was a good one, maybe a thousand.

The news anchor went on about a number of issues.  At the start of the next hour the news started over again and Blaine was pleased to see that he was top billing.  He smiled as the reporters gave him an excellent review.

“Our top story tonight, four more unbelievable robberies at small town Indiana yard sales.  State and local Police seem stumped at this summer’s rash of yard sale hold ups in the state.  All of whom seem to be committed by different men.  Rhonda Lytle is in the field in Jefferson Indiana, 30 miles south of Indianapolis.  Rhonda?”

Rhonda detailed the four hold ups in south central Indiana and gave descriptions of the four robbers.  Then brought on the State Police spokesman who talked a moment before Rhonda asked a question.  “All of these robberies, is this the work of a gang?”

“It would be an awful big gang.”  The spokesman explained.  “A dozen hold ups by a dozen different men.  There is not enough money in this for an organized crime effort.  This is individuals.”

“So, it is coincidence then that these crimes are taking place in a different area of the state almost every weekend.  Always towns close together, and by different men.”  Rhonda pushed.

“All of that is under investigation and I can’t comment. But we are telling people to please be aware and take precautions.  These men are always armed and dangerous.  They will be caught.”  The spokesman insisted to end the interview.

Blaine smiled, turned off the television and started counting the money.

It started with him flat out of money and ideas.  He was depressed and more than a little desperate with his unemployment coming to an end.  Fast food, retail, and warehouse work seemed to be the only jobs available and none of them paid enough to live.  He was bumming around a monster yard sale on the south side of Indy.  Looking for anything the theatre might be able to use.  Maybe he could get the producers to spring for something he couldn’t pass up.

This was one of those massive multi-family sales that filled the front and back yard of the residence.  Blaine found nothing for the theatre but did locate a Shakespeare coffee mug for a quarter that he couldn’t pass up for himself.  He heard the two ratty dressed forty something women talking at the cash box while he browsed with mug in hand.

One of the women with stringy black hair and a large gap in her front teeth was talking.  “Donnie done took six hundred to the bank.  He’s gonna have to make another trip soon as they get back.  I’ve taken in at least that much since he left.”

“Course you sold the riding mower since then.  That’s most of it.”  The other woman added.  Her hair was much more kept and her teeth lacked gaps but she was dressed in clothes that needed thrown away.  Blaine couldn’t help thinking that she needed to shop her own garage sale.  He paid for the mug and went home.

At home he thought about the yard sale and the $1200 in cash.  He found himself thinking of it often as he applied for jobs online at the library or used his food stamp/EBT card at the WalMart or as he sorted through the props and costumes at the theatre.  The thinking turned into what if.  And the what if turned into planning.  And the planning turned into a walk through.  And the walk through turned into a full costume trial run.  For him it was like Tech week in a production.  He wore sideburns, a brown wavy hair piece, and a small scar on his cheek and a deformed ear on the same side.  He dressed in a sport coat used in the last production of Arsenic and Old Lace.  None of the clothes were his own and he looked much older than his thirty-two years.  He parked on the next street then walked to the sale.  He browsed and kept his eyes and ears open.  No one seemed to think him the least bit strange or unnatural.  He saw the cash box opened one time and judged it has a few hundred in it.  He saw a half dozen opportunities to make his move with the prop gun in his pocket.  Then he went home satisfied that his thinking was right.

Blaine planned more and with one week left on his unemployment he made the move.  This time he was in the town of Monrovia and wore a blond wig pulled back in a pony tail, sun glasses, and orange to green reversible jacket, and an LA Dodgers ball cap.  His makeup was light but he sported a new nose.  He figured that the orange jacket and ball cap would be remembered and that was what he was going for.  His take was over $250 and he reversed the jacket, stuck the cap, sunglasses, prop gun and wig in the plastic grocery bag with the cash.  Then combed his hair straight back all while walking through the adjoining yards to the next street and his car.  He heard no commotion so he figured that the woman gave him the five minutes as he instructed.  She had considered others and he was encouraged by her thoughtfulness.  Blaine told her when he started to leave that he might shoot an innocent person, maybe a child if she didn’t give him five minutes before sounding an alarm.

Two hundred fifty dollars tax free was good but it wasn’t enough.  Blaine did his due diligence and scouted local online newspapers for yard sale ads.  Two weeks following the first time, he went in the middle of the afternoon to Tipton, then Atlanta, Arcadia and at last Cicero.  The news remarked that the robberies were in a straight line and was no doubt the work of a gang.  It went perfectly as he removed the distinctive parts of his disguise, stopped after each job and switched costumes in the car then drove to the next target.  That night after returning all of the costuming and props to the theatre he counted out $1167 in cash.  He paid the landlord and filled the car with gas and stopped at Starbucks, then started planning for the following Saturday.

The next time it was two sales in the far north of the state with a haul of over $1200 and he didn’t hit the other two targets as he didn’t want to push his luck.  Two weeks later it was far west, around the Terre Haute area.  Four stops and a big load of over $2000 cash.  Then the jobs in the central part of the state.  All five news stations in Indianapolis were buzzing and The Yard Sale Bandits were a hot topic.  He laid low for four weeks, even taking on a part time job.  But his research remained constant as planned.  He went to Jefferson, Whiteland and Greenwood, Indiana and came home with a disappointing $900.  He knew that he needed to roll the dice and go out again soon.

He planned the hits for the east central part of the state.  It was farm country and small towns but there were sales advertised, big sales.  Knightstown was to be first but Blaine made the decision to back out of the job once he looked around.  Too many redneck men hanging around and one of them had given him the eye.  He purchased a table lamp then left.  He decided to go to the next place near Rushville, and then jog over to Connersville, then up to the Cambridge City site before jumping on the interstate and back to Indy.  He saw the  Big Yard Sale Ahead sign at the side of US 40 and he slowed down.  He saw another sign pointing down a side road.  It was unplanned but he missed out on Knightstown and wanted to make up for it.

It was a big sale and he drove past then turned around on the next street and circled behind.  It was a good setup:  few houses, not far to walk and he could cut through a home construction site to the next street.  He checked his disguise, it was flawless, and he looked like an orange haired character from the Revenge of the Nerds movie.  His costuming was complete right down to the pocket protector and tape on the glasses.  The prop gun was inside his jacket.

The sale looked picked through and he was the only customer.  There were two women in their sixties sitting in lawn chairs in the garage watching a television.  He browsed close to them and feigned interest in an electronic dart board.  It was worse for wear and looked like junk to Blaine.

“I’ll go ten on that.”  One of the women called over to him.  “Still works, only has two darts to it.”  Blaine nodded to her and saw the cash box on the garage floor between them.  The other woman said something to her and they started a conversation during the commercial break for Family Feud.

Blaine decided to go for it.  It was a big sale that was picked over so there must be some cash.  He sidled closer while looking at the men’s shoes lined up in the garage, then stepped up to them and pulled the prop pistol, obscured with the sleeve of the jacket.

“Give me the box.”  He said.  The women looked at him.

The woman on the left sported bluing hair and terrible false teeth.  She snorted in amusement.  “You’re one of them Yard Sale thieves, huh?”  Blaine stared in reply and pushed the prop pistol out further.  Neither woman reached for the box between them.

The brassy haired woman on the right grabbed her purse off the table and put it in her lap.  “You don’t want my pocketbook too, do you?”  She asked.

“No, the box. Put it on the table now.”  He insisted in a low voice.

“I don’t think he would use that thing.”  The blue haired one said.

Blaine looked at her in disbelief, no one ever argued with him before, and then he turned back to the other woman.  The brassy haired one now held the smallest pistol Blaine had ever seen pointed at his head.

The look of disbelief was still on his face as he lay arms spread wide on the concrete driveway.  The glasses, flown off and somewhere behind him.  The prop gun slipped from his fingers and he stared at the summer sky.  The small hole in the center of his forehead trickled a thin line of crimson onto the orange wig.

Writers of the Month: November 2017

Poet of the Month, November 2017

Guido Castellani

Guido Castellani is a songwriter and poet based in Brooklyn, New York. His current project features a collection of songs focused on loneliness, longing, joy and sorrow, set to a backdrop of timid and gentle imagery. Originally from the rustbelt city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Guido has spent time living and writing in New York, Philadelphia, London, and Leeds. His songwriting draws inspiration from of artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Josh Tillman, Joanna Newsom and Kristian Matsson, as well as traditional American folk music.

Stories You’ve Told explores the feeling of holding onto whatever scattered memories one has of another person, whether good or bad. This song, from the project “Fair-Weather Friend”, contextualizes this abstract emotion into a fictionalized romantic relationship, taking some inspiration from past experiences but largely having been invented to explore the feelings of loss and longing.

 

Stories You’ve Told


Author of the Month, November 2017

Shannon Adams

 

I’ve been writing stories since I was able to write, but only have I been recently published in 1932 Quarterly. Most of my short stories are brainstormed in a wine filled haze and are never finished. Luckily for everyone, I thought of Red Ink when I was completely sober and bored out of mind in an English class. I was looking down the barrel of my ink pen and was wondering, “what if all of my words are already inside this pen?” After class, I sat outside and wrote Red Ink in one sitting.
Red Ink is the first in a series of short stories that questions sanity, mental health, and what makes us human. In addition for my love of English, I adore psychology and mental health. I hope Red Ink makes you realize that we are all fragile and life can change in the blink of an eye.

 

Red Ink

At a loss for words I pick up my pen from among the mess of papers and opened books covering my desk. I stare down the ink chamber looking for the words that were hiding, refusing to come out. I couldn’t find them. Go figure. They always evade me when I need them, but assault my mind when I don’t, like when I’m trying to sleep.

A bubble forms in my chest. Slowly it walks up my esophagus, taking its good sweet time.

I wait.

I know it’s coming.

When the bubble takes its final step into my mouth I welcome it like an old friend. The bubble bursts on my tongue. It’s bitter, the taste of my own hilarity. The vile laughter spills out and fills my room with its stench. It flows down the pen into the ink chamber and mixes with the words that will not form.

Punishing them one last time.

Reminding them that if they do not come out they will be trapped inside the damned pen forever. No one will care about them as I have cared for them over the years. Those stupid, comforting words.

I put the pen to paper one last time, allowing the ink one last chance to make words, one last chance to show themselves. My pen glides across the milk white page, but nothing sticks. Not a single fucking word shows itself. I pick up my pen to inspect it, maybe scare some words out of– I never clicked the top to allow the pen tip to come out.

Another small sob of bubbling laughter. Carefully I click the silver button and watch the tip emerge, silver and gleaming in the lamp light. I test the pen on the softest part of my wrist, pushing down enough to watch it draw a line of red ink. I unclick the pen and sit back in my chair my desire to form words forgotten.

I watch the red spread across my milk white flesh. There is a place between my skin and the ink that becomes pink. I can no longer see where my skin begins and the ink ends. Red and white, ink and skin, blood and light mix until I am drowning. Drowning like I always am, grasping for land, air, words.

Words!

I breathe again, returning back to my and my task at hand.

I promised myself I would finish it tonight.

I lift my pen to my face, eye level, and stare down into the chamber again only this time it looks different. I can’t seem to find the ink and the words that can’t be written. They have gone from me forever.

“I couldn’t find the right words, but I hope the ones I did find will be enough”, I whisper softly to myself.

I push the silver button again, but this time no pen tip emerges. Time slows down around me as I watch the bullet rocket down the chamber and cross the inches between the tip of the gun and my pale face. I know when it makes contact, but I cannot feel it. I silently thank all the bottles that litter my desk and around my feet for taking away my feeling. I don’t need it, not anymore. I really hope that bullet enjoys living in my brain.

God knows I sure didn’t.

It’s like a dream, hovering above myself, but I guess death is just kind of like that. I wouldn’t know, I’m new at this whole thing. As I begin to float away I think:

I really shouldn’t have used a red pen. Mom will never be able to read it now with the mess I made.

Writers of the Month: October 2017

Poet of the Month, October 2017

Ali Jacobs

I am – first and foremost – a writer. I mean that in if I had to pick “one word to describe who I am” as an icebreaker, it would and could only be writer. Writing is and has only ever been the single constant in my life. When I don’t write, I feel sore and sad and out of place in this weird little world.

So to solve that never ending existential crisis, I currently have a rough manuscript of poems completed, tentatively titled Postmortem. In this book and in all my writing, I try to speak from a place of honesty, and I explore the mundane and darkness of life. I am inspired by beautiful cinematography, snapshots of life caught as an observer and the commonality of all humans. I enjoy juxtaposing life to death and trying to make sense of death and what comes after.

I look to writers like David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein, Oscar Wilde for ways to write about the ugly with humor. I look to directors like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton for creating physical worlds that can enrich my storytelling. Musicians like Lana Del Rey, Van Morrison and Cher have informed my writing with their creative genius. I could not write fully-realized poetry without meshing all art forms into a messy, but purposeful, jumble.

I am inspired by what’s not said in line at the grocery store, political climates, acceptance speeches, sadness in the eyes of middle-aged waitresses and deaths I haven’t experienced yet. I like to keep one foot in reality with the other dangling in fantasy and a dark humor, and I never take the good fortune of my writing ability for granted. I write like every word will be my last and I always worry it will be so.

 

WW3

My feet
tie me to the earth,
like weathered reins.

The only worldly possessions
I may keep.

Prose Author of the Month, October 2017

Brent Herman

As long as I can remember, I have been told by friends, colleagues, and teachers that I am a “good writer”. I have always been willing enough to accept the praise, but I have always wondered what exactly it means to be a good writer. Whenever I write, I just write. I don’t have any special technique that I practice. I don’t fret over my word choice or my organization. I just take words from my head and put them on a paper.

However, I believe now that I am beginning to comprehend what good writing is. Good writing is subjective, to be sure, but I have noticed a common thread that I simply cannot ignore. I believe good writers write every second of every day without a pen in their hand. I am constantly making little notes in my mind. The shadow cast by a building as the sun is going down, the sound of a lazily moving creek, the smell of decaying leaves in the autumn woods. These are the simple, yet beautiful things that we are exposed to regularly, but so many people ignore these details. A good writer simply cannot. So, when it comes to writing, for me, it is not so much an exercise in creation as it is an exercise of memory. I have already written reams of material in my head, it is just about rearranging these notes in a palatable manner.

It makes me feel good to express these experiences the way I want to. I can make the rules and break them. But, what I truly want is to share my happiness with those around me, and to transfer my experience to whoever may take the time to read my rearranged thoughts.

 

With Great Power

I round the street corner walking as quickly as I dare, through the fog of a particularly damp Midwestern spring morning.  I glance at the outdated, gold trimmed pocket watch my father gave to me.  8:16. I am about thirty seconds early, as I had planned.  I unsling the leather bag from my shoulder and skillfully assemble the tool of my trade.  I look through the sight and focus on my target.  I press record.  

“What are you doing?” says a genuinely curious female voice behind me.  I do not respond verbally.  I do not even look away from my target.  Instead, I put a finger to my lips, then point at the railroad crossing across the street.  A train is approaching, but the crossing arms are not coming down.  A low rumble approaches the train tracks.  Still looking through my camera, the yellow school bus full of talkative juveniles with the rust spot on the rear fender appears in frame.  I know it is too late.  I keep my camera steady and close my eyes.  This is always the hardest part.  I hear the crash and the screams and the sound of the woman running into the corner coffee shop, presumably to call 911.  I move in on the scene and get all the angles I can get within the two and a half minutes before the corpulent police officer arrives and starts asking questions.

I am packing my bag when I first lay eyes on the owner of the curious voice.  She is short and slender with brown hair and piercing blue eyes peering out of black horn-rimmed glasses.  I pick up my bag and begin to walk away.

“You knew that was going to happen!  Why didn’t you try to stop it?”  I think about ignoring her, like I usually do when somebody is suspicious, but there was something about this young woman that made me feel obliged to respond.  

“Even if I did know what was going to happen, what was I supposed to do?  Run out in front of the bus, or the train?”  My response does not appease her.  

“I don’t know what you could do, but you should have done something!”

I sigh and look at the twisted, burning metal then back at her.

“I did.  I got it all on camera and now at least their story will be told, and I will be able to eat for another week.”  This satisfies her even less.

“How do you eat at all!?”

I smirk, turn my back to her, and head home for some R and R.  After I call the networks and start the bidding war, I won’t have to follow another Hunch for a couple weeks at least.  Seeing into the future can be quite a lucrative business.  I hear, “Coward!” called out from behind me.

I return to my downtown studio apartment.  A few phone calls and a few thousand dollars later, I allow myself to unwind.  I pour myself three fingers of Wild Turkey rye whiskey with no ice and sit down in my favorite recliner.  There is never any competition for this seat.  I do not have a cat or a dog, let alone a wife and kids.  The dreams make me a difficult roommate, as a young man found out during my first and final semester at college.  When I finally manage to fall asleep, I often wake up screaming or sobbing.  It has been this way since I was five years old, and yet it is nothing I can get used to.  It’s something different every night and it is never good.  I dream of future burglaries, homicides, suicides, the occasional rape, and pretty much every turmoil faced by humanity.  I do not have to have good dreams.  At this point I would be ecstatic to never dream again.

I look down at my pocket watch.  It reads 1:22 pm.  I am disappointed to see that my glass is nearly empty.  I take the last gulp of it with a slight grimace.  It is a warm afternoon and my insomnia and alcoholism have caught up to me simultaneously.  I am asleep before I have the chance to fear.  

I smell the familiarly bitter aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.  I hear the sound of a broom whisking dryly against a tile floor.  I soon hear another sound.  The unmistakable click-clack of a bullet being chambered in a handgun.  I have heard this sound countless times in nightmares past, and it never bodes well.  This whirl of sensation becomes focused into a scene that is too clear for my comfort.  The woman in the horned rimmed glasses drops her broom and throws her hands in the air.  A masked man is waving the handgun around and gesturing for the woman to open the register.  While the register is being emptied, I begin to hear the woman sobbing and begging the man to spare her.  He remains silent.  The woman puts the last of the bills into a plastic bag and slides it across the counter to the masked man.  He grabs it and turns around.  The store is empty and it is dark outside.  He gets halfway to the door before turning again.  There is a flash of fire, a solitary bang, followed by an unceremonious thud.  The man unlocks the door and quickly walks out to the street.  Blood runs along the pattern of the tile until it reaches the drain in the floor.  The clock reads 10:56, presumably right before closing time.  The last thing I see before the jackhammer in my chest overcomes my exhaustion is the black pair of horn-rimmed glasses with one shattered lens that has been spattered with warm blood.

My eyelids open and to my horror it is dark outside of my window.  I desperately grasp for my pocket watch and whip it open.  10:31. I have less than 30 minutes to get across town and no time to hail a cab.  I dash down the 3 flights of stairs in my building and nearly fall on the final and steepest flight.  I fly out of the door and begin down the street.  I stop when I get to the bike rack at the library at the end of the block.  There is a lone Schwinn left at this late hour and to my surprise it is not tethered to the rack by a lock or by anything else by that matter.  I normally would not condone theft, but I did not hesitate to debate the finer points of moral philosophy with myself, of all people.  I hop on and begin pedaling as hard as I can.

As I pedal the cool night air blurs my vision.  Instead of the sidewalk in front of me, I see the faces of all the people I have been too afraid to help.  The lonely man who hung himself who was not missed badly enough to be discovered until his rent became due nearly a month later, the woman and child on their way to church who got hit by a drunk driver right in front of my apartment, the children on the bus earlier today who were so unsuspecting, and finally the two that I see every night, my mother and father.  

They were stabbed in the street by a mugger after going out to dinner, as they allowed themselves to do the first Friday of every month.  It was my first week of college and my folks were so very happy that I was accepted.  They refused to believe my affliction and were scared that I would never be a “normal boy”, but when that letter came in the mail, my father told me he was proud of me the first time in my life.  He reached into his jacket pocket and gave me his prized possession, the pocket watch that had belonged to his father.  He told me that now I had no excuse to be late.  I dreamed about their death a couple weeks before their date night, but I could not bear to call them and bother them with my “nonsense.”  The fateful night came and I worked up the courage to call my parents.  My father answered and I could not find my voice.  I decided that there was nothing for me to do.  They have never believed me before, and they may as well die being proud parents of a college student rather than an incompetent freak.  I murmured, “I love you” and hung up the receiver.  That is the night I acquired an unquenchable thirst for alcohol.

My vision returns to me and I am more physically exhausted then I have ever been in my life, but I see the dim glow from the corner coffee shop at the end of the block.  It is the light house guiding my fogged mind and aching muscles.  I ditch the bike and check the pocket watch.  10:55! Without giving myself the luxury of catching my breath I run up to the locked door.  I see the masked man walking away from the counter, pausing then turning around.  I wrap the chain of my father’s treasure around my knuckles and thrust my fist through the plate glass door.  This startles the gunman and he turns his attention and his weapon to me and pulls the trigger.  The woman in the horn-rimmed glasses swiftly picks up her broom and swings ferociously, cracking her would-be murderer in the back of the head, sending him sprawling unconscious before he hits the floor.  She was no coward.  I become aware that the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins is now coursing out of my chest and through my sweatshirt.  I collapse onto my back on the sidewalk in front of the corner coffee shop.  The last thing I see before drifting out of consciousness is the shattered face of my watch. 10:55. I had no excuse to be late.

Writers of the Month: September 2017

Poet of the Month, September 2017

Scott Banks

Scott Banks is a writer living in Anchorage, Alaska. His poetry and nonfiction writing has appeared in Cirque, Stoneboat, Permafrost, 49 Writers online and now 1932 Quarterly. Scott is a flyfisher and writes about the fish he doesn’t catch for Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Drake, Fish Alaska magazine, and also about the outdoors for Alaska magazine, We Alaskans, the Sunday magazine for the Alaska Dispatch News, Alaska Geographic, and American Heritage magazine. His essay “Light Exercise” won first place in the Northern Lights Essay Contest from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and second place for Harold McCracken Endowment Poetry Award for his poem “I Wore Cowboy Boots to Work Today.”

Scott said he is drawn to the challenge of poetry because of the way it distills the experience to its essence and in the fewest, most powerful words. Many Alaska poets inspire him like Anne Caston, John Haines, Derick Burelson, Jeremy Patacky, Arlitia Jones and Elizabeth Bradfield. Other contemporary poets press him to work harder like Billy Collins, Li-Young Lee, Kim Addonizio, and Dorriane Laux. He is a coffee shop writer and likes to write about “Whatever walks through the coffee shop door.” His poetry manuscript “The Place No One Can Find,” is currently under revision, and looking for a home.

The poem “Lemoncello” was inspired by a trip to Italy with his wife, their first trip to Europe. Many restaurants there served lemoncello after the evening meal. “It tastes of the sun and that’s the sense I tried to convey in the poem,” he said.

Scott is married to Jody and together they have three children.

Scott has an undergraduate journalism degree from the University of Oregon and an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Find Scott on Instagram @Anchoragescott.

 

Lemoncello

A fifth of vodka,

zest of five lemons,

six tablespoons of sugar,

 

held captive

for three months

in a Mason jar.

 

Boxed in by July’s heat

we top glasses with ice

and tip the jar

for a languid pour,

 

the sun held hostage

within the liquor

wrapped around

our tongues.

 


Prose Author of the Month, September 2017

Annelise Rice

My name is Annelise Rice, and I am from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. I’ve been an avid reader since elementary school, devouring novels and series of books in hours. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really began writing. My freshman year composition class brought a lot of insight to me with how my skills and ideas could be used. The creative writing classes I’ve taken helped me in ways that I could never imagine. I allowed myself to muse on images or jot down scenes and dialogue that would play through my mind. I’d be in the middle of a lecture and an idea would pop into my head, and the next thing I know, class is over and I’ve finished with half a page of class notes and five pages of a short story. A Child’s Tutorial to Drowning was a product from a fiction assignment for my first creative writing class. I liked the idea of drowning being an encompassing attraction to a person. I first wrote it with adults, but it didn’t seem to have the mystique that weird little children have. Children can take one thing we have complete logic for, and turn it into something illogical. Interweaving this form of nonsense was exciting and a unique experience for myself. 1932 Quarterly is the first magazine that I’ve had any work published in, and I’m anticipating what else I can capture a reader’s interest with in the future.

 

A Child’s Tutorial to Drowning

A forceful hiss of air expanded his lungs, pushing out the chlorinated water residing there. Blood-shot eyes burst open as spurts of pool water escaped from his lips, making him cough and choke. Wheezing breaths became easier through clenched teeth as he was rolled onto his side. His body shook from shock and cold, goosebumps making fine baby hairs stand to attention. Sounds rushed in one ear and out the other, words not being comprehended but still thrown repeatedly into his face, beating overwhelmingly against his pounding head.

“Did someone call an ambulance?”

“Are you ok? Can you hear me? What’s your name, son?”

“Bring those towels over here! Can’t you see how bad he’s shaking?”

“Step back! The paramedics are trying to come through.”

Gentle, callused hands gripped his shoulders and knees to lift him onto the stretcher. His head lolled to the side, catching sight of cornflower blue eyes. Those eyes had such an intense look of concentration to them that he didn’t look away until they were too far to be distinctive any longer.

The paramedics lifted the stretcher into the ambulance, carefully rushing to get the child to the hospital. As the vehicle took off, lights and sirens blaring, a heart-faced woman administered an IV line and began talking.

“Hi there, do you know what’s happening?” When she received a small nod, she continued. “Can you tell me your name?”

The boy opened his mouth and replied hoarsely, “Vincent Baker.”

“How old are you, Vincent?”

“Twelve,” was another hoarse reply.

“Vincent, we’re taking you to Mercy West Hospital to make sure you’re fine after that accident, ok?” Vincent nodded again. “Can you tell me your mom or dad’s name so we can have them meet us at the hospital?” Vincent gave the woman the information needed and waited until she was finished on the phone with his parents.

“Ok Vincent, your parents will be at the hospital when we get there. Just hold on for a couple more minutes until we get there.”

 

Three weeks later, Vincent was sitting on the edge of the pool, toes skimming the surface of the water and watching other kids play and swim. His nanny was relaxing in the shade, a soccer-mom romance novel encompassing her attention. A shadow swept across Vincent’s lap as a girl sat beside him, dipping her fingers in the pool. She didn’t look more than seven years old.

Cornflower blue eyes curiously stared at him, head tilted to the side. “What was it like?”

“What was what like?” Vincent asked, brows furrowed.

“Drowning,” chestnut bangs blew into her eyes, breaking her stare.

“Horrible,” he replied flatly.

“But what made it horrible?” she inquired, catching his gaze as he tried to shift away.

“Everything. The water. How much it hurt,” Vincent couldn’t have been blunter if he tried.

“Then you didn’t do it right,” the girl retorted. Vincent was tempted to either hit the girl, get up and leave, or do both in that order. How did she think the right way to drown was? Vincent had pulled his feet out of the water and was beginning to stand when the girl grabbed his wrist and pulled him back down, declaring, “Here, I’ll show you,” before slipping into the water herself.

With wide eyes and sinking stomach, Vincent watched the girl wade into the middle of the crowded pool. She looked over at Vincent to make sure he was watching, and when she noticed he was, sunk underwater.

Seconds ticked by as if in slow motion. Seconds turned into a minute, which turned into two minutes. He wasn’t sure what to do. What was she doing? Why wasn’t she coming back up? Searching all of the pool, Vincent found that the girl had still not emerged from the water’s depths. Vincent stayed rooted to his spot on the poolside, eyes transfixed and starting to tear from the lack of blinking.

A sharp whistle blew from the lifeguard on duty when a woman screamed about someone being face down in the water. The lifeguard dove into the pool hastening to the drowned girl and securing an arm around her pliant body, swimming them both back to solid ground.

Vincent staggered to his feet and ran to where the lifeguard was performing CPR on the girl. There was a man on the phone with an emergency dispatcher. A middle-aged woman was collapsed beside the girl’s body, sobbing loudly and screaming for her to wake up. Vincent observed the rise and fall of the girl’s chest as the lifeguard forced air into her lungs after every tenth chest compression. Her once fleshy and tan complexion now held a grey, clammy pallor, lips and fingernails tinted blue.

Suddenly, the girl’s mouth gushed water. A sharp inhalation from the girl brought exclamations of excitement and relief from the surrounding crowd. Someone had actually started clapping. Vincent looked on as the girl’s eyes squinted open, the cornflower blue scanning the faces around her until they clashed with his own hazel ones. The girl smiled at him, mouthing the words “You didn’t let the water in.”