Making Art, poem by Tim Peeler

Mak­ing Art

He down shifted the Opal from third to second

As they approached the inter­sec­tion of Hooker Road

And Arling­ton Blvd, swivel­ing his neck in an instant

Assess­ment as they sped on through the red light.

You crazy son of a bitch, his room­mate hollered,

Fight­ing the hot sum­mer wind to re-light a half-burned joint.

He was late; they had spent too much time arguing,

Then fight­ing after the intra­mural soft­ball game,

And now his model would be wait­ing at the house,

The art class project due in the morning.

Two more run lights and a near crash at Elm and 5th

And he skid­ded to a stop on Avery Street,

Clat­ter­ing in his cleats down the sidewalk,

Smil­ing at her with his busted lip and reach­ing out

His bloody-knuckled hand; thank you so much

For wait­ing, he said in his puppy dog voice;

Her hand held the green night­gown she’d picked out

For this por­trait he’d promised to copy for her

Boyfriend, and her beau­ti­ful face had the dark

Wor­ried look he would draw with­out the mark

He left there when she first refused to strip.

His room­mate lis­tened to them fight for the hour

It took the bong hits to do their work;

He’d heard it all before.

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A Wave of the Burger, by Dale Wisely

I'm in my patrol car
and I ges­ture to let a big guy,
dusted with white paint,
make a left in front of me.

He's dri­ving an old pickup
bur­dened by lad­ders.
There is a thick layer
of debris on the dash­board.
Cig­a­rette packs, food wrap­pers,
maps, receipts, work orders.

He cuts a big, slow,
sloppy arc across my path,
turn­ing the wheel with the heel
of one palm.

He's eat­ing a ham­burger
and has it in the other hand.

As he passes,
he salutes me with
a wave of the burger.

Fail­ing to do so would be
ill-mannered.

Dale Wisely grew up in Arkansas and lives in Alabama, where he edits
Right Hand Point­ing, White Knuckle Press, and One Sen­tence Poems.

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Two Poems, by Larry Thacker

I swim the vacuum

between your atoms
sing along the dark
mat­tered strands
between galax­ies
beyond imag­i­na­tion
wit­ness­ing the base
pat­tern of all worlds
the mys­tery scripts
hang­ing orna­mented
about your thoughts
I hum under your feet
within the val­leys
of fin­ger­print ridges
shrink­ing, expand­ing
destroy­ing, cre­at­ing
my laugh and smiles
wrap­ping your world
in scales of D flat major
be still, and know me

Mean­ing 

There are days when every­thing means every­thing,
polar­ized against oth­ers when all is the fright­en­ing
pit of mean­ing­less­ness. Who is immune to the inner
script of the empty end or, on bet­ter days, a hero’s
mys­te­ri­ous story in a world that screams both
sym­bol­ism and blank­ness as the bit­ter­est of kin.

We must lean in, and we do, and we fail and fal­ter,
some­times emerg­ing slightly scathed and hard­ened
against our silly demons, real­iz­ing how sky quakes,
earth sounds and flock deaths, fish kills, bee plagues
and rivers of snakes and win­ter tor­na­dos are nei­ther
curses nor bless­ings, but are just sim­ple questions.

 

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Indian ID, fiction by Eric Ramseier

I have this plas­tic lam­i­nated card that says I'm an Indian.  It has my name on it, the tribe I'm from—some kind of Chero­kee, and my pic­ture.  It needs my pic­ture because I don't look like an Indian at all.  I could be the cover photo for some neo-Nazi's utopian novel.  My dad made me go up to the reser­va­tion north of town to sit for the photo and get the card.  You never know, he said and left it at that.  He meant that I might need it because of the minor­ity sta­tus, like if I didn't get into the col­lege I want or I needed to get a schol­ar­ship or some­thing, I would just mark down that I'm Amer­i­can Indian and they would bend over back­wards to wel­come me.  He never had to use it, he made me well aware, but, again, you just never know.  I mostly use the card to buy beer.

The ride up to the reser­va­tion is always the same.  When we cross the bridge over the Kansas River and I look down and think what a great place the banks would be for paint­ball with all the tall reeds and sand bars and cot­ton­woods.  I feel a bit guilty for dream­ing this sort of thing.  It's like when I catch myself star­ing at the base­ball cards in the gro­cery store—I am too old for that kind of stuff now.  At least I believe I am sup­posed to think and feel that.   The high­way north is always empty except for semi trucks and farm equip­ment, and the sky is so blue that it appears purple-gray.  Maybe I always think there is a storm.  That is where they always come from, dump­ing rain, mak­ing the air smell stale and dan­ger­ous, caus­ing the dogs to howl then cower under fur­ni­ture.  There is a bizarre mix­ture of cookie-cutter fake-mall sub­urbs encroach­ing on wild prairie.  We'll see all this tall grass and farmer's weed, then all of the sud­den there's a Casey's Gen­eral Store, a strip mall with a Chi­nese food place and a fire­works stand, and a half com­pleted sub­di­vi­sion of houses.

It's always the two of us.  Dan and me.  We aren't pop­u­lar, and we aren't nerds.  We are just there.  Con­nected only because we are neigh­bors and known each other for­ever.  Dan wants to be pop­u­lar.  He asks me, "What's your favorite kind of beer?"  We are in the gas sta­tion just inside the reser­va­tion bor­ders.  It's not like reg­u­lar gas sta­tions.  It's not bright and clean with aisle after aisle of candy and chips.  The walls are wood pan­el­ing.   There's fish­ing bait on one aisle.  There's only two refrig­er­ated cases.  There's almost no name-brand food.  The plas­tic wrap­ping on the food looks old, like it's brit­tle and ready to crack.  "I don't have a favorite beer," I say.  And I don't.  It all tastes like I'm suck­ing wet bread through a straw.  I just like what hap­pens when I drink a lot of it.  The world isn't the same any­more.  Things slow down.  Thoughts come slower.  If I move my head fast, I can still see the out­line of what I was just look­ing at.  "I like the high­est per­cent beer."  I say.  "Jen likes Heineken.  We could see if they have it," Dan says.  But I don't want to buy beer for every­one.  I don't want to be known as the hookup.  I don't want the atten­tion.  I don't want the respon­si­bil­ity.  I shrug at Dan.  We both know there is lit­tle chance that there will be Heineken in this store.

The cashier eyes us the whole time.  He knows we aren't eigh­teen.  He looks like an Indian.  Straight black hair.  Looks like he played foot­ball.  I won­der what his life is like.  How is an Indian that dif­fer­ent from me?  I am the legal limit of Indian to have the card I have and to get the pos­si­ble gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits.  I think it was my grandmother's grand­mother who was full-blooded some kind of Chero­kee.  I've seen pic­tures.  She looks severe.  The cashier looks severe, too.  Maybe that's the main dif­fer­ence.  No one has ever described me as severe, and I do not think of myself this way.  I pull the card out of my wal­let and place it in front of the cashier.  It's like a pass to under­age drink­ing.  He unfolds his arms and exam­ines the card.  I think I detect a smile form­ing.  "Okay, man.  Just the beer?" he asks.  Dan has a suit­case of a brand of beer that we have only seen on the reservation—they cer­tainly don't adver­tise it on TV—in each hand.  He knows the drill.  He lifts the beer up to the counter with­out let­ting go—as though this were all a ruse and it might get taken away from him—while the cashier runs a barely-working laser wand over the bar code.  I have a twelve pack in my free hand.  We pay the money we earned from our after-school jobs and walk out like it's any other trans­ac­tion at any other store.

When we get to the car, though, it's a dif­fer­ent story.  War cries.  It's like we got away with some­thing, and I sup­pose we did.  None of us are even close to eigh­teen.  We are barely old enough to drive.  It's like liq­uid gold, what we have.  "Is there some place around here where we could start drink­ing it?" Dan asks.  He has a shitty life, though no one can quite fig­ure out why.  He likes to drink even more than me.  But Dan always has answers, and he always comes off as being full of shit.  He always wants to take that one step fur­ther from the edge.

***

            Dan's house is where we drink, though.  His par­ents are always off on busi­ness trips or vaca­tions, and his sib­lings have all moved out.  We never start at his house, though.  Most of the kind of kids that hang out at our high school hang out in the park­ing lot of the fur­ni­ture store.  It is tucked away in a res­i­den­tial sec­tion and isn't well lit.  The only times cops come out are when there is a fight that gets too loud and an elderly neigh­bor calls in.  I don't like to adver­tise how much beer we have, so we park and take it one at a time.  When­ever some­one pop­u­lar asks where we got it, we always say my parent's-fridge-and-this-is-all-we-could-score.

"Aw, shit, Jen is here," Dan says.  "Act cool."  We don't do any­thing dif­fer­ent.  Except Dan makes it clear that he is in pos­ses­sion of beer.  He pokes a hole in the bot­tom of the can with a screw­driver, shot­guns it, crushes it with his hand and smashes it against the pave­ment.  Jen sees this.  On some level, every­one sees this.

Jen has a pla­toon.   She is not the leader of the pla­toon, but it's easy to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion in which she over­throws the cur­rent leader and becomes despot.  "Do you have more of that," Jen asks.  Dan reaches in the back­seat and pro­duces a can for her.  The rest of her pla­toon huffs and snorts, so he gets cans for them as well.  I move to the other side of the car, not want­ing to par­tic­i­pate.  "Fuckin' party," Dan says just below a yell.  The pla­toon, includ­ing Jen, roll their eyes.  The beer by now is warm and cheap, so of course they don't like it.  It offers no relief from the sweat­ing night.  "What is this swill?" Jen asks.  One says, "I'm so trashed right now," after three sips.  They ask for more, and Dan deliv­ers.  "So what are we doing after this?" Dan asks.  "Uh, we have the car wash fundraiser tomor­row for the dance team, so we are out of here after this," Jen replies, all atti­tude.  "Nice, maybe I'll have to drop by and get my car washed," Dan says.

The god damned dance team.  Dan's blinded by sperm backed up so far in his brain that he doesn't real­ize he's being played.  But I'm not.  Rela­tion­ships in my high school are always about give and take and I'm not aware of any com­mod­ity I might offer beyond the abil­ity to get beer.  It's not sta­ble enough.   I learned just like every­one else that I am my own unique indi­vid­ual and that some­thing about that is spe­cial, but I can't stand the thought of being rejected.  Every­one talks to and about each other.  I don't want peo­ple talk­ing about me.  And if there is one thing the dance team does, it's talk.

I sit on the hood of the car, my back against the wind­shield.  My head rests on a piece of the metal trim bent up from the seam.  It's painful, but a good kind of pain.  The kind of pain that lets me know I am present even as I drink can after can of the foul smelling beer.  Some­one says, "I almost vom­ited in my mouth.  Isn't that so funny?"  And there is the cor­re­spond­ing laugh­ter.  I sud­denly real­ize I am in a hideous town with hideous peo­ple and I need to get away from here as soon as pos­si­ble.  I sup­pose I have always known that, but star­ing up at the stars, I rec­og­nize this isn't the only place in the world, that there are peo­ple liv­ing in com­pletely dif­fer­ent places and doing com­pletely dif­fer­ent things.  I want to be one of them.

***

            The beer runs out.  That hap­pens when a pla­toon of peo­ple share it with you.  They march off, and Dan is left with blue balls.  "It's all about mak­ing head­way," he says.  "I've laid a foun­da­tion for future encoun­ters.  This is the leg­work, and you don't always see results with leg­work.  The results present them­selves later on down the line."  I see how I'm like Dan, too.  I don't let on.  I keep my suf­fer­ing to myself.

Dan is in the back seat kick­ing the empty card­board boxes and empty alu­minum cans out of frus­tra­tion when I hear a dull thud.  "Thank fuck­ing Christ," he says, dig­ging out the twelve pack I had bought.  "They didn't take all our beer."  We end up at Dan's house.

Both of our houses are set up basi­cally the same way.  Above the front door of our split lev­els are the typ­i­cal trap­pings of sub­ur­bia.  An entrance way with embar­rass­ing fam­ily pho­tos from ten years ago, a liv­ing room with down-home charm and the occa­sional kitschy dec­o­ra­tive touch, the par­ents' con­ser­v­a­tive mas­ter bed­room, the teenagers' rooms with ques­tion­able smells ema­nat­ing from within.  Down­stairs, though, is another story.  Tucked away into the little-used sec­ond TV room amongst the fur­ni­ture that didn't match any­where else and the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions stood the fam­ily com­puter which dou­bled as a depos­i­tory of the most depraved pornog­ra­phy we could find.  I am no dif­fer­ent.  I would like to say that I am, but I am not.

Watch­ing ter­ri­ble movies is usu­ally how we fin­ish off a night like tonight, but when we go down­stairs, there is already a blue-green glow com­ing from the tele­vi­sion.  Dan's brother is sit­ting on pais­ley couch, his legs crossed, smok­ing a cig­a­rette.  If there was one thing you didn't do in any of our houses, it mess with the care­fully cul­ti­vated san­dal­wood scent.   There are sto­ries about Dan's brother.  He was this straight-laced guy all through high school.  He was 4.0, clean cut, and going on a free ride to KU.  But some­thing hap­pened to him after he graduated—nobody, not even Dan, knew what—and he sim­ply didn't go to col­lege.  It was sort of unthink­able.  Then he grew out his hair and grew a beard.  He started tak­ing all kinds of weird drugs no one we knew could even imag­ine get­ting.  He went on a vision quest in the desert.  He went to Mex­ico and robbed banks.  He started a folk band in Lau­rel Canyon, Los Ange­les.  Dan never talked about him, so who knew what was true.  I could never con­nect my mem­ory of his brother with those sto­ries, but he looks every bit the part.  He's wear­ing mis­matched plaids and a blazer even though its humid out­side.  His eyes are glazed over.  His hair is stringy and greasy.  He looks as worn out as the knees of his trousers.  "Look what the cat dragged in," he says as we file down the stairs.  "One of those beers for me?"  I look at Dan.  "You're not sup­posed to be here if mom and dad aren't," Dan finally says.

Dan even­tu­ally steps for­ward with a  beer in hand.  "What do you say to a trade?" he says.  "How do you mean?" his brother replies.  "I mean you got any­thing stronger for our trou­bles?"  I want to say 'what the fuck are you doing?'  I want to say that I'm fine with beer, that's tame enough, but there are sto­ries, and I don't want things to get out of con­trol.  I say noth­ing, though.  Maybe he just has mar­i­juana.  Who cares about that?  I look at Dan and he looks deflated, like he's crum­bling to pieces on the inside.  And I don't get it.  "Sure, lit­tle Danny, I've got some­thing stronger."  I real­ize just how much I don't know Dan and why he does what he does.  Dan's brother con­tin­ues, "But we should get out of here.  I need some air."

We pile back into the car because what else could we do, and Dan's brother cracks his beer—something we would never think of doing.  Dan starts dri­ving, as per his brother's instruc­tions, with no des­ti­na­tion in mind but mind­ful of where cops typ­i­cally have DUI check­points.  Neigh­bor­hood streets shouldn't be a prob­lem, though.  I look at Dan's brother in the rearview and won­der how that hap­pens.  He has a men­ace about him that was never there before.  I wanted to pre­tend it wasn't there, but this was not the same guy I knew.  "How'd you kids even get this beer?" he asks fin­ish­ing off the can and toss­ing it out the win­dow.  We explain about my card and how Indi­ans look the other way for other Indi­ans.  "No shit?  You're an Indian?  I did not know that."  I didn't like him tak­ing a per­sonal inter­est in me.  I kept quiet, only nod­ding at his ques­tions.  "This will work on pretty damn well, then.  Let's head up to Burnett's Mound."

***

            In ele­men­tary school we all learned that when this city was founded, the city father's bought a bunch of pas­ture land from Chief Bur­nett.  We didn't learn that he was plied with whiskey and then booted from his prop­erty.  Not to be out­done, he did as the affronted often do and cursed the land.  He said that so long as no man-made struc­ture was built on his mound, the city would be safe from  nat­ural dis­as­ter.  He knew man-made struc­tures would be built there as soon as pos­si­ble.  There was a lot of spite both ways back then.  Even­tu­ally, he was buried on that mound, though the grave marker was long gone, and tor­na­dos tore through city in 1966 and then one time in the 80s and again when I was in fourth grade and cow­er­ing in the hall­way with my hands folded over my neck.

We drive to the top where a barbed wire fence sep­a­rated us from the enor­mous beige water tower that was built into the side of the mound.  Dan's brother wraps his blazer around a sec­tion of barbed wire and scales the fence.  Dan tosses the rest of the beer to him and climbs the fence as well.  I feel left behind.  I don't remem­ber many preg­nant pauses shared with Dan, but we share one now.  I'm not so drunk that I don't know what's going on, but I am drunk enough not to care, so I fol­low.  We are not walk­ing through vir­gin prairie back there, as I had thought we could be.  Crum­pled candy wrap­pers and plas­tic bags lit­ter the ground.  We see a few used con­doms and lost fris­bees.  The grass is over­grown and our socks col­lect cock­le­burs with every step.

We fol­low Dan's brother up the iron lad­der welded on to the side of the water tower.    It's smooth and slick on top.  The metal is sweat­ing from the heat.  From there, though, we can see the lights of the entire city.  It's so depress­ing see­ing the ter­mi­nus.  We each open our last beers.    From his pants pocket Dan's brother pro­duces a hand­ful of brown but­tons.  "This is straight up Anasazi  pey­ote.  I got it off an old med­i­cine man.  It's totally legit.  Take one and swal­low."  We each swal­low a but­ton and wash it down with the beer.  It tastes bit­ter, and I won­der if I'm going to throw it up before it has a chance to work.  "Why do we have to be up here to take this?" I ask.  I have never taken the stuff before, obvi­ously, and don't know what it does.  I start to have con­cerns for my safety.  "This is cursed Indian land.  This is Indian drugs.  This is the only place in town wor­thy of tak­ing this stuff.  I want to see if it messes you up more," he says.  "I want to see if you can sum­mon the spirit of Chief Bur­nett.  If you can kill a buf­falo with your bare hands."  Dan laughs, but his brother seems serious.

My face burns.  I feel like I'm being asked to per­form.  The two of them stare at me, so I turn my back on them and step to the edge.  Far off to the west I see heat light­ning.  I crouch down hop­ing the pey­ote will take pos­ses­sion of me, and I'll no longer be here.  I won­der what the cashier on the reser­va­tion is doing.  I won­der if I could get a job at the gas sta­tion.  I could take the shift after him and sell beer only to peo­ple that have their lam­i­nated cards.  I real­ize that, too, is a night­mare, and I just want to go home.  I want to go to bed.  I won't even mind tomor­row when I'll wake up with that feel­ing of not know­ing whether I'm hun­gry or sick.

The two of them stand behind me.  "Oh man, you should do a dance and see if you can call the storm this way," Dan's brother says.  "Yeah," Dan adds, "Maybe it's like this innate thing you can do."  I look up and Dan, but he's not help­ing.  He won't see that I don't want to par­tic­i­pate, and I feel betrayed.  "Come on, man."  "Yeah," they urge.

I get up but do so too fast.  I lose my foot­ing and fall off the water tower.  It's prob­a­bly twenty feet, but I feel like I'm falling for­ever.  I do finally land.  I know I'm not par­a­lyzed because a dirty news­pa­per ends up on my face, and I remove it and am once again look­ing up at the stars.   My body tin­gles, and I hope it's the pey­ote.  All is silent, and I think about what I was about to do.  My nat­ural incli­na­tion would be to just do a goofy dance to remove the ten­sion and move on to another topic.  But I'm not so sure that's what I was going to do.  I might've been con­fronta­tional.  I might have really laid into those insen­si­tive pricks.  Told them to go to hell and they weren't going to be using me any­more.  That it was cruel how they were treat­ing me.  That I wasn't even really an Indian.  I knew noth­ing about it.  My heart pumps harder as I grow more and more con­vinced that this is what I was going to do.  I feel sweat bead­ing on my face.  Or maybe it was rain;  per­haps I did con­jure a storm.  I close my eyes and hope it is the pey­ote.  My body quakes.  I hear rustling in the grass around me and open my eyes.  Two fig­ures sur­round me.  "Jesus, are you dead?" one of them asks.  "If you aren't, get up.  We want to go get more beer."  I wig­gle my fin­gers and toes and reach out to the stars.  They looks so close, yet I know that I won't touch them.  I mouth 'Fuck you,' but I don't think I actu­ally say the words.  I shut my eyes tight, and I feel weird.  I hope it is the pey­ote.  I want it to be the cool light of day, and I want to be run­ning through the grass with a smile on my face.  I want to grab an orphaned fris­bee or my Indian ID card and loft it into the air.  I can't do this.  I just can't do this.

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Appalachians, by GC Smith

Moun­tain folk

I see them every­where. In the cities now. On the streets. In the pool rooms, bars, fightin' clubs. Inswank hotels. Still back in the Piney woods. I see them dri­vin' pick up trucks. Dri­ving BMWs.

Endur­ing people.

Fight­ing for the Gov­ern­ment. Wear­ing the Nation's uni­forms. Teach­ing school. Grow­ing pot.Pre­serv­ing the Nation. Turn­ing wrenches. Dri­vin' trac­tors. Lay­ing brick. Mend­ing fences. Writ­inglaws. Heal­ing the halt and lame. Swill­ing shine. Fight­ing the Gov­ern­ment.
Hardy folks.
Scots-Irish. Blacks. Red Indi­ans. Melun­geons. Folks with reli­gion. Folks with­out. Folks doing thehard work. Folks stick­ing to it. Folks liv­ing in the hard­wood forests. Livin' in the long leaf pinestands. Cookin' corn whiskey. Hard­scrab­ble farm­ing. Strip min­ing. Build­ing cab­ins. Cut­tingfur­rows. Build­ing roads.

Good folks.

Folks on moun­tain roads. On white water rapids. On back trails. On ridge backs. In Hollers. In thehills. In Cypress Shacks. Folks caught in snow drifts. Folks hangin' on.

Music mak­ers.

Dolly. Bill Mon­roe. Vas­sar Clements. Chet Atkins. Roy Acuff. Carters (Mother May­belle. June,Helen and Anita. A.P.). Johnny. Emmy­lou. Jerry Dou­glas. Alli­son. Lester Flatt. Nitty Grit­ties(Hanna-Ibbotson-Fadden-McEuen-Thompson). Doc Wat­son. Bela Fleck. Merle Travis. John Prine.Randy Scruggs. Ricky Skaggs. Earl Scruggs.

Foot­stomp­ing, fin­ger tap­ping multitudes.

Keep­ers of the cir­cle. Folks playin' dobro tuned gui­tars. Man­dolins. Auto­harps. Wash­boards.Fid­dles. Mouth Organs. Upright bass. Folks voices, solo and har­mony. Folks clog danc­ing. Whiskeysip­pin'. Singing rounds. Dancin' squares. Early day and mod­ern music makers.

Folks insur­ing endur­ing circles.

Singing. Amazin' Grace. Just a Closer walk. Life's Rail­way. Lit­tle Moun­tain Church House. One Toke Over the Line. Walkin' Shoes Don't Fit Me. You Don't Know My Mind. Wild­wood Flower.Honky Tonk Blues. Grandpa Was a Car­pen­ter. Lost River. Dia­mond In the Rough. Sunny Side.Fishin' Blues. Earl's Break­down. Will the Cir­cle be Unbroken?

Appalachia-Appalachians. America's back­bone. America's people.

The cir­cle endures, unbroken.

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Two Poems by Teisha Dawn Twomey

Wan­derun­lust

I want to believe in truck stop din­ers
blue­berry pan­cakes, vaca­tion villages

on the way to never ever again land.
By morn­ing, I’d think any place

could be home. I con­tinue to carry
old key chains with me.

They fail to unlock any doors
but open as many cold-ones

as I need. So, I call my older brother.
He is always on vaca­tion and I ruin

his good time. He has pre­dictable advice
on the other line, I should really take

care. Tonight I’m smashed-mouthed
and stormy. Some­times I’m like that.

grand illu­sion destroyed. I want that
tonight. To be unlike me, soft-spoken

and sweet. A child un–
will­ing to take off her boots

back­pack off, laces
laced too tight.

A Female Redback

Spi­der looms her tough untidy web
another male offers up his abdomen

som­er­sault­ing towards her mouth­parts
in exchange for a moment or two close

to her. This vul­ner­a­ble pos­ture only elic­its
a preda­tory response. The smaller he is

the more force­ful he’ll be can­ni­bal­ized.
This first and last instinc­tual barter

ben­e­fi­cial to the species mutu­ally.
He doesn’t con­sider the pros and cons.

He’s dri­ven towards her snare, the dance
in his loins, a never-ending congo of brothers

to come after and before lined up
at her door. She tidies her untidy trap

never waits too long. Same old song
on the radio and a young woman practices

tying another slip­knot behind a locked door.
The female Red­back spi­der has it pretty good.

Not just a girl in this country-bumpkin town.
has pow­er­ful limbs, a set of fangs, no step-daddy

too young for the mother but not for the daugh­ter.
The female Red­back Spi­der bears a bright blaze

on its abdomen. It warns: don’t draw too close
you’re sure to lose a hand. That’s just how it is

plain as day, seems fair and square. Sure
as shit, her venom could kill a full-grown man.

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Goosy Gus and the Cash Mob, fiction by William Trent Pancoast

(orig­i­nally appeared in Revolver)

Gus had acquired the name “Goosy” because of his shell shock and bat­tle fatigue from WWII and now he was no longer allowed in his daughter-in-law’s donut shop in down­town Cranston even though eat­ing donuts was his favorite way to start the day.

When he was cor­nered or con­fronted with loud noises, he struck or grabbed the peo­ple or things in prox­im­ity to him­self. All who knew him tried not to sur­prise him, though the guys at the steel mill used to enjoy get­ting him going for their own enter­tain­ment. One day the new mill man­ager was tour­ing the plant and intro­duc­ing him­self to the employ­ees and when he came to Gus, one of the other mill­wrights slammed a board down on the floor behind Gus. The result was that Gus grabbed the plant man­ager by the throat and squeezed. He almost got fired over that one, until his dis­abil­ity was con­firmed by the secu­rity depart­ment and plant hos­pi­tal to Human Resources.

The rea­son he was barred from the donut shop was because of the “Buy Local” cam­paign, a last ditch save-our-jobs-and-city effort spear­headed by the local cor­po­rate news­pa­per. The same paper that had scoffed at Gus’s Buy Amer­i­can let­ters to the edi­tor twenty years ear­lier when Amer­i­can work­ers like him were plead­ing with the Amer­i­can peo­ple to con­sider buy­ing union prod­ucts made here in the USA.

Goosy Gus had been there eat­ing a maple-frosted cake donut one morn­ing when two car­loads of folks—the news­pa­per edi­tor included—piled out of a cou­ple of Toy­ota vans and came into the shop, bab­bling about the big come­back the down­town area was experiencing.

As they all ordered bags of donuts the daughter-in-law real­ized she was the bene­fac­tor of this week’s Cash Mob, a group of do-gooders who bought shit from a tar­geted mer­chant on a cer­tain day.

Gus sat in the cor­ner siz­ing them up.

There was the edi­tor, whom Gus referred to as a con artist and fraud and said that if jour­nal­ism was a spit­ball it wouldn’t stick to his slip­pery ass. The head of the Cham­ber of Com­merce was there too, a coun­try club­ber of the high­est order who had sided with the national Cham­ber and Karl Rove in spend­ing $40 mil­lion to try and beat the state’s demo­c­ra­tic Sen­a­tor. Along with those two was a gag­gle of hangers-on, the sort that Gus knew from look­ing had never worked a day in their lives. These folks were all here to shower some wel­fare on his daughter-in-law’s store.

Gus sank low in his chair at the back table, hop­ing this too happy group would buy their donuts and get the fuck out. He had just received notice that his health insur­ance, part of his steel mill retire­ment from a decade ear­lier, was being ter­mi­nated and he was in no fuck­ing mood to hear about the happy horse­shit these folks were shoveling.

With no warn­ing the com­pany had dropped his insur­ance. There was a meet­ing sched­uled for that after­noon at the union hall, but Gus knew there was noth­ing any­one could do about it. The com­pany always won. They would fake bank­ruptcy, lie, cheat, steal, buy politi­cians and news­pa­per edi­tors, what­ever it took. Goosy Gus had only wanted to con­sume a maple donut in silence—two this morn­ing instead of his usual one—to soothe some of the pain he was feel­ing. He knew that with his wife’s med­ical bills his sav­ings would be gone in another four months, and he, along with a bunch of the other retirees would be headed on a shit-greased slip­pery slope to bankruptcy.

Fac­ing bank­ruptcy, and this chicken-shit cor­po­rate news­pa­per edi­tor and his thiev­ing busi­ness leader buddy were all gal­li­vant­ing around the decayed rem­nants of the down­town with a bunch of old women who had never hit a lick in their lives, bab­bling about how fuck­ing great it all was that donut and bas­ket shops were spring­ing up in the ruins. One of these women got Gus banned from the donut shop. She had gulped her first pain pills of her new pre­scrip­tion that morn­ing and was cack­ling like a rooster pheas­ant on open­ing day.

Gus had heard her jab­ber­ing from curb­side when the do-gooders first got there. Then when they entered the store she gushed and eyed the pas­tries, point­ing out the var­i­ous kinds and describ­ing them in detail, dash­ing around in front of the other Cash Mob People.

Now she was in front of Gus’s table—the lone occu­pied table in the place— ges­tur­ing at the donuts in the glass case and on the shelves behind his daughter-in-law, point­ing at him, then to the donuts and peo­ple nearby. He heard the words “Buy Local” and “Cash Mob” sev­eral times. He watched the cack­ling woman, her hus­band was a bank vice pres­i­dent and they went to his church—his church not their church—as they were fresh in from the out-of-town cor­po­rate merry-go-round, as were all the peo­ple who now owned every­thing in his town, folks he called Tran­sients. As her face grew red and heated through her speed-freak dance before his table, he stood up and tried to slide along the wall toward the exit but she fol­lowed right along with him. He couldn’t help notic­ing her nip­ples pressed hard against the front of her rust-colored silk blouse, grow­ing in uni­son with her dance. He fix­ated on them as they grew longer and sharper and pointed as if accus­ing him of some unde­fined crime.

Gus thought about the expen­sive silk blouse she was wear­ing. Sex­u­ally abused lit­tle girls in South Amer­ica prob­a­bly made it. The union had always made sure its mem­bers were edu­cated on the issue of global labor.

Gus heard the words “Cash Mob” and “Buy Local” one more time. His right hand shot out in a blur of motion. His cal­loused and swollen arthritic fin­gers latched on to her left elon­gated nip­ple. He twisted it to the right. She screamed. She screamed sev­eral times. The Buy Local mob mem­bers turned toward Gus as the lady backed away, point­ing at Goosy Gus.

Gus’s daughter-in –law had been the only per­son to see what had hap­pened, and as she real­ized that none of the oth­ers had seen it, that they were all intent on her deli­cious donuts, she did not rat out her husband’s father, despi­ca­ble throw­back that he was.

The woman calmed down, but kept Gus in her view. She rejoined the group, and in a cou­ple more min­utes the Cash Mob was gone. Gus’s daughter-in-law stood over him at the table. She shook her head in silence as he fin­ished his coffee.

Fuck­ing Toy­ota dri­vers,” Goosy Gus said.

Now every morn­ing Goosy Gus sat at the Dunkin’ Donuts out by the free­way. For a while he said, “I like Dunkin’ Donuts bet­ter any­ways” until his son told him to shut the fuck up.

William Trent Pancoast's nov­els include WILDCAT (2010) and CRASHING (1983). His recent fic­tion has appeared in Revolver, Steel Toe Review, Mon­key­bi­cy­cle, Night Train, Fried chicken and Cof­fee, As It Ought To Be, and Work­ing Class Heroes. Pan­coast retired from the auto indus­try in 2007 after thirty years as a die maker and union news­pa­per edi­tor. Born in 1949, the author lives in Ontario, Ohio. He has a BA in Eng­lish from the Ohio State University.

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Squeaky Wheel Gets the Nitrous Oxide, poem by Dennis Mahagin

Carry on, wis­dom, as if eye teeth depended,
floss, floss, don't let them fit you for insane.
Lips make a purse, spit out
the Jolly Rancher,

get on your bike again.

Rot­ten molars,
a hail of bul­lets. My hygien­ist is buy­ing
an assault rifle on time.

It’s what you've got
to take, entropy and a flask of flu­o­ride
in the jockey box, you’ve got to talk
to the voice at the Drive Through

like an old uncle who's very, very fond of you
yet wor­ried, with a ner­vous smile. A Check Up
would ease the mind, as crack
on a side­walk, numb­ing the gums
come on hum­mer: hurry up twelve speed,
live the youth before they yank it now
sit up, sit up and spit

the wind for what it does to fears, rip­pling
tall grasses in sum­mer, the dis­tant rum­ble
of helios, hogs and chop­pers.
I say, hang
a hard left here at the light, you begin
to under­stand, all right, too much, fruit
smoothie on such a beau­ti­ful day,
coun­te­nance bright

as any dime, a lit­tle bell on
the han­dle­bar, you work it

like a Water Pic: it’s a laugh,

it's a gas,

and it's going away.

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And Rapture, fiction by Sheldon Lee Compton

There was this time I thought Gabriel was blow­ing his horn and dive-bombing me into Hell.  Turned out it was a Mack coal truck across the road at Dale Trivette’s Truck­ing pulling onto Route 610.

I was in bed and think­ing about what Mother told me while we had a snack that evening.

Don’t worry if you’re a sin­ner and the time comes and Jesus returns,” she said. “The Bible says Gabriel will sound his horn to sig­nal the Lord com­ing.”  She leaned down to me and put her soap­suddy hand against my face.  “When you hear that horn sound­ing out, just ask the Lord to for­give your sins and you can go to paradise.”

She smiled so big when she went back to eat­ing her straw­berry Jell-O.

So when that Mack honked to pull onto Route 610, I started pray­ing.  It wasn’t much of a prayer, you know.  Not the really prac­ticed kinds of prayers you hear in church.  What I was say­ing was mostly out of fear and it all ran together and maybe I was whim­per­ing a lit­tle, too.

A few days after I started vaca­tion bible school I was at mom’s house for the week­end.  My real mom, not my grand­mother who I called Mother.  I told her I was going to get saved.  She had just had my baby sis­ter, whose dad was mean but gone most of the time.  She looked tired and hurt before I said any­thing.  When I told her, she stared for a long time at the floor and then went into the bathroom.

I bent down and talked under the door.

I said, “I know I’m just a lit­tle boy, but I want to walk with Jesus Christ.”  I pushed my mouth close to the open­ing between the bot­tom of the door and the floor.  “You can, too, Mom.  If you hear Gabriel blow­ing his horn, all you have to do is ask Jesus to for­give you and you can go to par­adise, too.”

Vaca­tion bible school ended not too long after that and I started think­ing more about play­ing base­ball than I did about Jesus and sin and Gabriel.  But when win­ter came back around, I stood in Mother’s kitchen and started imag­in­ing again what Gabriel would sound like blow­ing his horn.

Out­side the kitchen win­dow, the grass in the front yard, the porch rails, the hum­ming­bird feed­ers, were cov­ered in ice.  Even whis­pers seemed to bounce off the frozen things and go on for­ever.  They bounced and bounced and made such a loud sound when they did.

Shel­don Lee Comp­ton is the author of the col­lec­tion The Same Ter­ri­ble Storm, which was nom­i­nated for the Chaf­fin Award in 2013, and the upcom­ing col­lec­tion Where Alli­ga­tors Sleep. His writ­ing has been widely pub­lished and anthol­o­gized, most recently in Degrees of Ele­va­tion: Short Sto­ries of Con­tem­po­rary Appalachia. He was a judge's selec­tion win­ner in 2012 for the Still: Jour­nal Fic­tion Award and a final­ist in 2013 for the Gertrude Stein Award. He sur­vives in East­ern Ken­tucky. Visit him at bent​coun​try​.blogspot​.com.

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Parade, fiction by Henry Hope

I can’t abide this shit. I can’t and I won’t.” Desmond, my mother’s new boyfriend, jabs his oily knob of a fin­ger into my fore­head. His breath is com­ing in rapid lit­tle spurts, a sign, I have learned, that his anger is one notch away from becom­ing phys­i­cal. “I don’t think you want me to hurt you but if that’s what it takes then that’s how it’ll be. Now put ever one of them tools back where they go and get your sorry ass out of here.” Desmond slams his hand on the work­bench. The sev­eral pairs of pli­ers and screw­drivers I’d laid out jump off the particle-board counter.

When I don’t move, Desmond steps in close. I can smell the scorched wheel-bearing grease spat­ter­ing his hands and fore­arms, feel the burn radi­at­ing from his shaved head.

Looky here, boy” he says. “When I tell you to do some­thing I mean it. Now get busy.”

I angle around him and reach for the near­est pair of pli­ers. He waits until I slip the sil­ver han­dles into their peg­board rings.

Soon as you’re done,” he says, “I need your help. So hurry it up.” With that he is gone.

I think of my mother while peg­ging the tools. Think how she is a lousy judge of men, always has been. My own father, before he died, was a drunk and a crook, always plot­ting how to get some­thing for noth­ing. Cheat, steal, con, it made no dif­fer­ence to him. He got shot dead nine years ago in the park­ing lot of the Rocket Launch B&G. I was six years old. But as young as I was I had seen enough, had lived through enough of what he called dis­ci­pline to keep my dis­tance from him. I was glad he was gone, felt like who­ever done the shoot­ing done us a big favor.

I enjoyed the free­dom while it lasted. Then the parade started. Most of the men my mother brought home dis­ap­peared after a night or two. Some made it a cou­ple weeks. The only halfway good one she hooked up with was here four months before she got bored and ran him off. And now it’s back to the likes of Desmond.

If you were flesh and blood I’d shoot your ass,” I hear him yell. “Turn you into a human colander.”

I’m sure he’d like to shoot me, too. He’s said so. But right now I know his threats are directed at his truck. It broke down yes­ter­day. The left front wheel locked up when he pulled out of the yard for a trip to Billy Morrison’s place the other side of Pomaria. He never made it to Billy’s. Didn’t even make the hun­dred or so yards to County Road 2 that runs past our singlewide.

I know he buys drugs from Billy because he once told my mother, “Billy got a new ship­ment of rox­ies in this morn­ing. I’ll stop by on my way home tonight and see what I can get from him.”

If pain pills and whiskey were a planet, you could look through a tele­scope and see sev­enty, eighty per­cent of the peo­ple who inhabit this holler orbit­ing in its grav­ity. It has been this way as long as I remember.

I slide the last screw­driver through its double-ring holder just as Desmond yells, “What the hell, Don­nie! Ain’t you done with them tools yet?”

When I step from the tool shed into the yard I see the coal-black soles of his Dr. Martens first, and then the rest of him sucked beneath the front axle of his Chevy. The tips of his boots are tap­ping empty air like he’s keep­ing time with some drug-addled coun­try song play­ing in his head. The wheel is off, a dark cir­cle of rub­ber and metal pros­trate on the cracked earth of our yard.

For a sin­gle blind­ing moment I want Desmond to feel the pain I feel when I have to pre­tend I’m asleep while he slaps my mother around in the next room. I want to ram a screw­driver through his fat, hairy chest, spit in his face, promise him he will die a slow death by my hand. It is then I see the jack han­dle jammed into the hous­ing. I notice there is no jack stand to take the Chevy’s weight should the jack fail. With one solid kick I could send Desmond on his way for good. Watch him squirm, stomp his help­less legs while the Chevy squeezes the final gasp­ing breath from his col­lapsed chest.

But then what? Déjà vu is what. The parade will com­mence all over again. So as much as I hate the man I’ll take my chances with him, and then the one after him, and the one after him. I can’t say when the parade will end or even if it will end. But what I can say is it makes me sick to be here and be a part of it. But that is the card I drew and until a bet­ter one comes along I’m stuck, just like Desmond if I trip his jack.

Desmond cocks a leg in my direc­tion. His greasy arm flops from the wheel well. “Hand me that socket set.” he says. “And make it quick. I don’t care to lay in this dirt no more than I have to.”

I walk to where the socket tray is spread open and slide it toward him with my bare foot, care­ful not to rush.

Dammit! Hurry it up!” he says, more of a grunt than actual words. “If I have to crawl out there and get it myself you can bet I’ll wrap you around that tire while I’m at it.” When the tray is close he snatches it, pulls it within easy reach.

While Desmond works I squat next to the truck, hop­ing the socket will slip, throw­ing his hand into the tie rod and rip­ping the skin from his knuck­les. No such luck. Across the yard, through the singlewide’s tiny bath­room win­dow, I see my mother hunched over the sink. She is hold­ing a washrag to her bruised cheek. I won­der how many bruises, how many black eyes, how many bro­ken bones she has had in her life. I won­der how many she will have yet. I hope for her sake it won’t be more than she can count on one hand. And as I wait for Desmond to call it a day, I hope for my sake I won’t have to be here much longer to serve wit­ness to it.

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