Nathan Leslie: “Triangle Stamp”

Triangle Stamp

_____Wayne liked the African stamps best of all. One rainy day his mother bought him a starter kit–a bag of miscellaneous stamps from the hobby store and a book in which to affix the stamps, by country. The European stamps were compelling, especially the lithe Italian images and the German stamps, each featuring that dictator or post-war mop-up image attempting to project positivity–factories, women working, a family gazing off into the future. Nothing wrong with trying to stay upbeat.

_____But the African stamps were colorful and featured animals and were not always little boring corrugated squares–some were triangles, others were trapezoids. The African stamps depicted colorful action shots of animals, not tedious gray statues or bewigged politicians from the 1700s. It was birds, elephants, monkeys, warthogs, giraffes, gazelles. Some stamps depicted animals for which he lacked a name. This sent Wayne to the Britannica set in the basement. And the countries–he could figure out Sud Afrika and everybody knew about Egypt and Nigeria. But Namibia? Ifni? Rhodesia? Zambia? Back to the Britannica set. He learned more from his stamp set than he did from his geography class.

_____Wayne’s father didn’t care for the hobby.

_____“Why are you wasting your time cluttering up the house?”

_____Wayne’s mother cocked her head, unsure what to say. Caught in the middle.

_____“I’m not cluttering–”

_____“It’s stuff. The more you collect and hoard the more we have to pick up. The more your mother has to deal with these things, dusting. Cleaning up behind you all the livelong day.”

_____Wayne said nothing. He scratched his chin. He was fifteen years old. He fantasized about driving away, just as fast and straight as he could. But he couldn’t do a thing.

_____His mother tried to explain.

_____“It’s a pansy hobby,” Wayne’s father said. Looking at all of these little images from 1932 or whatever, he explained. That is not what the man of the future does, how he operates. “We are forward looking here,” his father explained. “Not backward.”

_____In this picture Wayne sits staring out the window into darkness. Someday he will be able to do something. Someday he will be able to make his decisions. One day Wayne woke up and his stamp collection was gone. Nobody could say where it went. Later Wayne found one triangular shaped stamp on the rug, next to his bed. It was from Republique Centrafricaine and featured a striped, maroon and black beetle of some sort. Wayne stuck a pin through it and affixed the stamp to his small cork bulletin board. It was perfect.

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Nathan Leslie won the 2019 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for fiction for his satirical collection of short stories, Hurry Up and Relax. Nathan’s nine previous books of fiction include Three MenRoot and ShootSibs, and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice. He is also the author of a collection of poems, Night Sweat. Nathan is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions, the founder and organizer of the Reston Reading Series in Reston, Virginia, and the publisher and editor of Maryland Literary Review. Previously he was series editor for Best of the Web and fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary magazines such as ShenandoahNorth American ReviewBoulevardHotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan’s nonfiction has been published in The Washington PostKansas City Star, and Orlando Sentinel. Nathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Julie.

Margaret Erhart: “Irony”

Irony

_____The day Sarah Hofstadter got up out of her seat in 7th grade study hall and wrote the word IRONY in big block letters on the blackboard was the day I stepped away from childhood. The year before, John F. Kennedy was killed and through tears that would not stop, Mrs. Taliaferro, our teacher, assigned us an in-class essay entitled “What Freedom Means To Me.” That day was a step away from childhood too. But the difference was this: Sarah Hofstadter’s blackboard graffiti was not an event that rocked the world. It caught no one’s attention but mine. It was the first time I made a conscious choice—a choice all my own—about what was important. This thing called irony added a dimension to language and to life itself. It was important. It was as if I’d poked my head underwater for the first time and exclaimed, “There’s a fish!”

_____A word can do that for us. It can grow us up fast. I remember how proud I felt when I learned to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. On the playground we’d sing out the spelling of it, a rhythmic song. We didn’t have the vaguest idea what it meant. It only went so far in growing us up. It was a baby step in the parade of things, including words, that would eventually make adults out of us. And of these, the word “irony” carried the most weight. “What happens isn’t what you think will happen,” wrote Sarah Hofstadter on that blackboard. The teacher told her to go back to her seat and a few girls snickered. It was easy to be unpopular if you were as smart as Sarah Hofstadter. I gazed at IRONY and its definition and put away my history book—I was reading about Charlemagne—and felt a thrill go through me, an aha! of understanding. Irony meant that life had levels of meaning, not just one, and if that was true then 7th grade wasn’t all there was; there was more. My sudden descent into adolescent awkwardness was just the visible picture, the surface of the sea, while below swam schools of multi-colored fish I could count on. In every situation there was depth of meaning. I understood this that afternoon and it made me more tolerant, more thoughtful, more dimensionally human.

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Margaret Erhart’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, and many literary magazines. She won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, and The Butterflies of Grand Canyon (Plume), was a finalist for an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Margaret welcomes responses and conversations at www.margareterhart.com

Michael Cooney: “What You Said in German Was Not about Kissing”

What You Said in German Was Not about Kissing

Sharing a ham & cheese hero with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and a bag of those cheese doodle things you liked on a hillside at the Bronx Botanical Garden was more fun than meeting you in that trattoria on the Piazza Navona with the waiter who spoke such good English because you were wearing the blue dress that buttoned  down the front and we were caught in the rain but when we got back to the apartment on 189th street it was hotter than ever and we dragged the mattress up onto the roof and ate pepperoni pizza from downstairs where everybody spoke Italian to you but you didn’t know a word except maybe prego and scusi and although you took German at Hunter it wasn’t much help when we rode the D train to Central Park where the Met was performing something from Wagner, maybe Tannhauser which goes on forever but I loved you because you had read all of The Magic Mountain and called it Der Zauberberg  and sometimes I look at you and want to tell you that Dominic’s has been closed for years and there’s probably no one else except maybe Barbara Kaufman who remembers the night when you said something in German and I thought you said “Kiss me.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael Cooney has taught English and writing on the high school and community college level in New York City. His novella “The Witch Girl and The Wobbly” will be published January 1 by Running Wild Press. His poetry has appeared in Bitter Oleander, Badlands, and other journals.

Lana Hechtman Ayers: “Landscape in Dresses”

Landscape in Dresses

Glimpses reflected in mirrors
____________part sky part shaken branches
never your eyes
____________only the moment of motion   departure
Where is it you go
____________when I lose sight of you in fog?
I’m certain I’ve seen you in dreams
____________smell of burnt toast
On rainy days your laughter chimes
____________raindrops against roof gutter
When I taste lemon
____________I believe I am closer
to knowing you
____________tart   craveable

How does desire dress?
____________In fir needles
maple leaves
____________the unlined forehead of youth
I wet my lips imagining you will ride in
____________on high tide aback an Orca
No I don’t
____________I hope the inexpressible returns
like the Steller’s jay
____________to the handrail of my deck stairs
every morning around 10
____________fear
inevitable as splinters

What I believe I want is soft
____________what you are is silver glass
shards gleaming
____________for the warmth of my blood

Words never pass between us
____________so there can be no lies
My fingertips force the pen
____________over parallel lines
outside the margins
____________if anywhere   that’s where
love exists
____________scribbled   scratched out   indecipherable

When I look into the reflection of my eyes
____________all there is is shaded lake surface
murk brown   a single pebble radiating out ripples
____________siren call for help

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Lana Hechtman Ayers’ poems have appeared on Escape Into LifeVerse Daily, and The Poet’s Café,  as well as in her nine published collections. She manages three small presses on the Oregon coast in a town of more cows than people. Visit her online at LanaAyers.com.

William Doreski: Two Poems

The Purples in the Painter’s Eye

You can’t sneer away the clouds
knuckling their great abstractions.
You can’t rename every street

after your few brave followers.
I’ve tried to appraise you with song
on the tip of my tongue, but lack

the requisite melody. Stones
rattling in a mountain brook
would more likely catch your ear.

Today we expect to hear the truth
or read it in the New York Times
where every nation has a say.

We also expect the rain to arrive
in a cornucopia of wind
tinted by solar distractions.

You refuse to credit the mind
that mapped the atom forever.
You place no faith in the art

that names itself after silence.
You expect celestial glassblowers
to render landscapes so fragile

and elegant that your old aches
and pains will find no place to settle.
I wish you luck and favor

but don’t believe the purples
inherent in the painter’s eye
will rescue you from suffering

you wrought to punish yourself
for disowning the nation you crossed
a dozen times driving alone.

Let’s agree on something small
enough to pocket when we tire
of fondling its many contours.                           

The day exposes a yellow rind
under a sickly overcast.
Let’s read the newspaper at home

and leave the absences grinning
in the public streets where anyone
can mistake anyone for themselves.

 

_____

 

Puddles Shaped like My Enemies

Last night’s metallic rain left
puddles shaped like my enemies.
I hadn’t known I had so many,
but here they are, bearing weapons 
of quicksilver, chrome, and filth.

You advise me to stomp right
through them, shattering their calm.
You have no enemies, no trace
residue to rebuke you for
famously missed opportunities.

The hard rain blinded the night
so absolutely no response
seemed possible. The cats cried
nervously, the windows rattled.
We stayed up as late as we dared,

aware that pale forces were plotting.
At dawn the sky was meringue,
the trees stood around embarrassed
by a night of hysterics. You roused
the household and told me to don

my boots and splash those puddles
before they sulked underground to plot.
We’re being silly. These puddles
don’t resemble people except
in their slouch and selfish glaze.

Besides, my enemies aren’t yours,
so you don’t have to worry.
I plumb the puddles and determine
that they’re too shallow to drown me,
even if I flop face down.

______________________________________________________________________________________

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities and retired after three decades at Keene State College. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.

paul Bluestein: “Subway Benediction”

Subway Benediction

Running for the subway shuttle
from Grand Central to Broadway,
I heard music drifting through 
an open door. I swung into the car 
and there he was. Long-haired, bearded 
standing in the aisle 
with his mismatched socks on display,
singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow 
in a voice so open and sunlit
that I forgot I was underground. 
Even the wheels squealing 
as the train rocked along the tracks 
could not pull me out of the song 
spinning through the crowded car
like a spider’s web, holding us fast 
for the ride that was suddenly too short.
A hat on the floor in front of him 
held some silver and some paper
and I added my thanks. As I left 
the train and headed for the exit, 
I could still hear him singing 
to the empty car, words that poured 
out into the station and were reflected 
by white-tile walls, spattering 
the passengers with red, violet and green.

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paul Bluestein is an obstetrician (done practicing) and blues guitar player (still practicing) who began writing poetry in 2018 after joining The Poet’s Salon in Fairfield, Connecticut. His work has appeared in The Linden Avenue Literary Review, Third Wednesday, and Penumbra among other publications. His first full-length collection, Time Passages, was published in 2020 by Silver Bow Publishing. 

Dan Nielsen: “Oatmeal”

Oatmeal

_____“Coffee, Sugar?” the waitress asked in passing.
_____Warren looked up from his book and nodded. A cup and saucer appeared. Coffee was poured.
_____“Anything else, Sugar?”  
_____“Eggs over easy and rye toast, please.”
_____She wrote something on a notepad, tore off the top sheet, and placed it beside the saucer.
_____“Do I pay now?”
_____“Whenever you like, Sugar.”
_____“I was going to order oatmeal, but it’s not on the menu.”
_____“We only have the packets.”
_____“Oh.”
_____“Right.”
_____The waitress tore off another sheet and handed it to the cook through a little window. The cook said something that made the waitress laugh. Warren tried to think of something funny to say. He added creamer to his coffee. He turned over the bill. There was the dollar amount and a name he didn’t read.
_____The eggs arrived. Warren ripped off a corner of rye toast, dipped it in the tiny tub of grape jelly, and used it to break open a yolk.  
_____“Want me to warm that up, Sugar?”
_____“Please.” Warren thought of something. “Is there a pay phone?”
_____“You passed it on your way in, Sugar.”
_____There was a phone book attached to a wire. Warren thought about the alphabet. He hummed the song. He found the page with the name and went down the list with a finger until he came to the full name. He dropped a quarter in the slot and listened to it fall, hitting a little bell somewhere along the way. The dial tone was a dead person in a hospital. He stared at the book and dialed a number. He stared some more and dialed another number. He lost his place. He started over. He made it to the end. Someone answered on the second ring.
_____“Hello.”
_____“Hi?”
_____“Warren?”
_____“You said I could call.”
_____“And you did.”
_____“Is this a bad time?”
_____“No, I’m interested in what you have to say.”
_____“I found the place. It looks good.”  
_____“I was a little worried.”
_____“There’s no bed, but I saw a lunar eclipse.”
_____“That’s nice.”
_____“I slept in a chair that smells like cat.”
_____“Is there a cat?”
_____“Not now.”
_____“You have a phone?”
_____“I’m in a restaurant.”
_____“Are you having breakfast?”
_____“Yes.”
_____“Oatmeal?”
_____“They only have the packets.”
_____“Oh.”
_____“Right.”
_____“It sounds like you’re okay.”
_____“That’s why I called. To let you know.”
_____“Are you okay?”
_____“Yes.”

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Dan Nielsen is a part-time standup comic. His least favorite flavor of jelly is petroleum. Recent FLASH in: Connotation Press, Jellyfish Review, (mic)ro(mac), Necessary Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, and Cheap Pop. Dan has a website: Preponderous, you can follow him @DanNielsenFIVES. He and Georgia Bellas are the post-minimalist art/folk band Sugar Whiskey.

Eugene Stevenson: “Need is Cold with Cloud”

Need is Cold with Cloud

Trees by the windows of the bus,
mountains by the wing: troubles
fade with distance, how many miles.

Need is cold with cloud, street
good for suitcases, sodden breath,
questions laid down on pavement.

A familiar voice glides its answers in
the wind, but wears the face of
a stranger, whose sidewalk, street.

A cut strong enough to out the abcess,
fills the void with piano concertos or
the monotone analysis of toilet training.

There is a hole in the park outside,
the earth’s blood curious & clear:
points of reference on a creased map.

Trees, mountains, personal history,
all as inarticulate as the adulterer
asleep with another in his own bed.

In the brain’s convolutions, study is
no help when ghosts of past & future
congregate for dialogue & confusion.

_________________________________________________________________________

Eugene Stevenson is the son of immigrants, the father of expatriates, & lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. His poems have appeared in Angel City Review, DASH, Gravel, The Hudson Review, The Loch Raven Review, October Hill, The Poet, South Florida Poetry Journal, Swamp Ape Review, and Tipton Poetry Journal, among others.