Greg Farnum: “Other Wars”

Other Wars

1
_____It was a very bright hat. It was mostly black, but it was a very bright black. Same for the gold that spelled out the words RETIRED ARMY. You probably had to pay extra for such bright colors, even though it was only a baseball cap. It was the first thing he’d noticed after he pulled in next to this car in the bank parking lot, the bright hat sitting on the dashboard. That and, on the passenger seat, letters from the VA. Then, as he began to walk toward the bank, the vanity license plate identifying the driver as an ARMY VETERAN and the bumper sticker of a US flag in the shape of the US, with the words Land of the Brave. Inside, the lobby copy of the newspaper said the famous Silverdome was slated to be torn down. After a moment he set the paper down and moved to the counter to cash his Social Security check, noticing the old veteran from the patriot car at a desk off to the left trying to get a loan.

2
_____The food pantry was crowded when we arrived. You were allowed to visit the place once a month. This was the first day in August that they were open, one of the few days they would be open this month because they’d be shutting down in the second half of the month to give their volunteers a late summer break, so the people who used the place — the “clients” — had jammed the waiting room and all the chairs were taken. I leaned against a wall and Mike went outside for a cigarette. Eventually, though, as some of the people ahead of me were processed and left, I was able to sit down…just in time to hear a guy in a Vietnam Veteran hat explain about the war. His stories — the usual sort of old codger Vietnam vet bullshit — met with a receptive audience. It seemed he’d gotten back about six months before I did and I was tempted to ask him where he’d been — maybe like me he’d been in the Americal Division — but decided not to interject myself in the conversation when he started to explain history. As many people were killed in the Korean War as in the Vietnam War he told his fellow clients, even though the Korean War lasted for two years and the Vietnam War lasted for seven. Wrong, of course, on all counts. Of course the audience didn’t know any better, but I didn’t expect them to. But if you’re going to wear your little hat and hold forth on war, and wars, you should at least get some of your facts straight. At that moment the history lesson ended when they called his name. He rose to claim his box of free food and take it out to his car. As he did someone called out “Thank you for your service.”

3
_____It was so unfair, the old veteran explained to his daughter — We were paying their soldiers and they were using our rifles and then… and then he seemed to switch to a different war. “They bombed the marine barracks and killed 221 marines. So we bombed them and killed some of their civilians and oh, they were so mad we had to promise to be more careful in our bombing.” And then it was time to go. He rose carefully to his feet and, with his daughter leading the way, slowly pushed his walker towards the door.

_____

Greg Farnum: “Soldier, student, soil tester, factory worker, pizza deliveryman, journalist.”

Devon Gallant: “Lido delle Sirene”

Lido delle Sirene

Somewhere, in the quaint, crafted gloss
of patterned ceramiche, fried fish, and lemon gelato,
you lose yourself:
submit, surrender
to the sun, the rocky cliffs, the coastal villages…
surrender to the pebble-strewn beaches
that burn your soles and test your balance…
surrender
to the salty brine of the ocean
as it rests on your lips…
in the corner of your eyes…
surrender to it all,
forgetting that you ever have to go back.
Forgetting that this is not reality
but only a brief and fleeting dream
along the strange curves of life’s winding course.

And isn’t life as beautiful and nauseating
as the serpentine roads along the Amalfi Coast?
Isn’t life as immeasurably sublime and untouchably majestic
as those cliffs that jut up around you?
As unforeseeable as the horizon of that sea?

And yet, one day, you do wake up—
the current of your inner tide
sweeping you back into its swell—
and you find yourself left with only the memories of lemons.
Lemons as large and mysterious as the moon, herself.
Lemons you never tasted
but will,
_____one day.

A promise you make to yourself, a vow you make to the moon.

_______________________________________________________Amalfi 2017

 

Devon Gallant is the author of four collections of poetry: The Day After, the flower dress and other lines, His Inner Season, and S(tars) & M(agnets). His work has been featured in Vallum, Carousel, Bitterzoet Magazine, Misunderstandings Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of Cactus Press [cactuspress.wordpress.com] and the host of Accent Open Mic [accentseriesmontreal.wordpress.com]. He resides in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal.

Charles Rammelkamp: Two Flash Fictions

What’s in a Name? 

_____Morna said, “Do you think he recognized me? Could you tell?”
_____I’d barely noticed the guy when he sailed past on his bike – a day-glo blue helmet, dark glasses. Who could tell what he saw? Besides, we were still in Morna’s car at the time, just pulled up to a meter.

**********

_____“We had a very brief affair,” Morna explained. “We were both on a panel judging a poetry contest. My marriage was at a low-point then, and there was a lot of alcohol involved. But I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t really like him, to tell you the truth. He was a snob, so superior.

_____We were having a pizza after a political rally. Another anti-Trump event. These meetings get to be tiring after a while, the need to sustain my outrage, but Morna and I hadn’t seen each other for a while, so it was an excuse to get together for lunch.

**********

_____“He was married, too. I wonder if he still is. I don’t see how anybody could live with him, but Bob and I are still together, so who knows? How’s it with you and Fred?”
_____“Ted. We’re still married. Everything’s fine, actually. It’s been nineteen years. Wow. He’s my second husband. The twins are from my first marriage.”
_____“That’s right, Ted. How are the twins?”

                                                                      **********

_____“You really don’t think he saw me? Recognized me? I didn’t know he rode a bike. Well, it figures.”
_____“How do you mean?”
_____“He was always worried about his carbon footprint. Don’t get me wrong. I think that’s legitimate. It’s just that he’s, I don’t know. Wow, I hadn’t seen him in ten, fifteen years.”
_____“I really couldn’t tell if he saw us or not, Morna. What’s his name, anyway?”
_____“You know, I’ve actually forgotten! It might have been Ted, to tell you the truth. Or maybe Fred.”
_____I wondered how many affairs Morna’d had. She was forever complaining about Bob. She used to drink quite a lot, too.

 

Thank You for Being a Friend

_____In the men’s locker room, Buddy Haskell was sitting in one of the faux leather lounge chairs watching a re-run of an episode of The Rifleman, a black and white western that aired in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain. Buddy watched this show every Saturday morning at the gym. I’d just been for my swim and was headed toward the showers when I heard the kid on the show, Mark, Lucas McCain’s young boy, say, “I can even say all seven stanzas of ‘Sheridan’s Ride.’”
_____Wait, a TV show where a kid recites poetry? Were people just more literate back then, was reciting a poem on a TV show not a big deal? “Sheridan’s Ride,” a Civil War poem by Thomas Buchanan Read, a portrait painter as well as a poet, though more popular in Florence than the United States. Portraits of Lincoln, Longfellow, Tennyson, the Brownings, William Henry Harrison. “Sheridan’s Ride” among his most famous poems.
_____On The Rifleman, General Philip Sheridan had just ridden up to the McCain Ranch looking for a place to stay. Mark, who worshipped the man the way very young children admire army soldiers, began to recite, “Up from the south at break of day …” and through to the last line of the first stanza, “And Sheridan twenty miles away.”
_____But after one verse, Sheridan interrupted him. “Sheridan twenty miles away,” he scoffed. “Now that’s what a man gets for trying to serve his country. They write a poem about him!” An attitude that may be the most American of attitudes. Sneering at literature.
_____In real life, Sheridan was a career U.S. army officer, played a vital role in the Appomattox campaign that brought the Civil War to an end. He was also the one who initiated the scorched earth policy Sherman would later follow through Georgia to the sea.
_____After the war, Grant sent Sheridan out west where he fought in the Indian Wars – The Great Sioux War, the Red River War, the Ute War. Popular history credits Sheridan with saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
_____In 1870 Grant sent Sheridan overseas to observe the Franco-Prussian War, and the next year he was in Chicago to coordinate military relief efforts during the Great Chicago Fire. In the 1880’s he became a great supporter of the Yellowstone area, preserving it from development. (later to become a national park, of course). Sheridan died from a heart attack at the age of fifty-seven, in 1888, having just sent his memoirs to a publisher. He outlived Read by sixteen years, though obviously Read’s poem was still being read in the mid-twentieth century.
_____“Sheridan, what a bloodthirsty bastard he was,” I commented to Buddy, still marveling at how American history and literature’d been so casually part of a knock-off TV western.
_____Buddy grunted. We always greeted each other casually when we saw each other at the gym, not exactly friends but familiar, on a first-name basis.
_____“I figured he was a made-up character,” he said. “You never know, do you? The Golden Girls comes on next.”
_____A commercial for some kind of deodorant came on then, and I proceeded to the showers.

 

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, has just been published by FutureCycle Press.

Joseph Saling: “Getting On”

Getting On

You never knew what we were about, so days
turned to pebbles in your shoe. You wanted
to quit the path, sow seed and watch it grow.
But that place was not for us. I tried to take
the bundled twigs you carried to build a fire,
but you had chosen each the way a child
gets seashells at the beach and wants the next
to be better than the last, coated with pearl.

You often asked where we were going, but I
didn’t hear; the wind was so strong it swallowed your voice.
You’d scan the edge of sky but found nothing
to see. At night you’d walk away from where
I lay until I became as distant as
the stars that seasoned the dark. The sun and cold
made our skin like leather; our souls immune to time.

One day we saw a colony of ants
go marching off to war. You followed them
until you saw their swift red current swirl
into a sea swelling with death then watched
as red pygmies clashed with giants, picking up
their dead and dragging their black bodied foe behind.
Later you cried. And when I asked you why,
you couldn’t say beyond its awful silence.

We came on houses built among the rocks
and gardens spackling the earth. You asked to stop
to splash your face with water from their wells,
to rock on weather-grayed porches and feel the touch
of another woman’s voice besides your own.
Later, you found stones and showed me pictures of birds
rising unimpeded toward the sun.

In towns where farmers sold fresh fruit, we walked
among them, sat with them at night. I heard you laugh
and saw their light reflecting in your eyes.
Brighter than the stars, softer than the moon.
A mountain crazed the rim of heaven’s bowl.
A city rose like the mountain’s child. Its streets
flowed like liquid music, its walls shimmered
like pearl in the morning sun, its windows blazed.

You said I should go ahead. You said you’d stay.
I lost my way. Against a wall of stone,
I watched the lights rise from the city. I
had nothing to do but wait for dawn to creep
across the sky, erasing stars. The world
around me shivered with sound, a staccato dawn,
the polyphonous hillside spotted with bird song.

And I had somewhere else I needed to be.
Having seen the wonders of liquid music and glass
on fire and you becoming you, I turned
and made my way down the mountain’s other side.

 

Joseph Saling‘s book A Matter of Mind is available from Foothills Publishing. He is the runner up for the 2016 Bacopa Literary Review Prize for Fiction from the Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville, and his poetry and short fiction have appeared widely in such journals as The Raintown Review, The Formalist, The Bacon Review, Blue Lake Review, and Carcinogenic Poetry.

Cliff Saunders: “The Final Storm”

The Final Storm

The day the stars fell, we were looking
at blue sky and losing faith in ourselves.
Our love cracked right in half like a tower
in a cold city that shook the ground
while everyone else panicked.
We spilled into its abyss late into the night.
It was important for us to suffer in our silence.
We wanted something that was us,
that represented us. All we found
were ashes around the drain in the sink.
How did it start? We knew the storm
was coming. The lights dimmed clear
across the country, and a paper ball
that kept on growing floated down sunlit Broadway.
An organ broke, snow fell from within us
out there on the street, where it left too harsh
of a light, including a moon only days from death.
I spent a lot of time praying for you and me,
waiting by the phone for you,
puffed by wind and surrounded by the sea.
All I ever wanted to do was dance
behind the curtain of the big bus
with you, to your heart’s discontent.
At the end of the bus ride, where were we?
I asked God all night to go sliding
down hillsides with me the way the wind
always revels in the final unraveling.
Instead, he gave me a gift, a story of codes,
and the text read: Once upon a time, the boy
who touched your broken heart beside the inlet
made you cry while he slept on your couch.

 

Cliff Saunders has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Arizona. His poems have appeared recently in Connecticut River Review, Five 2 One, Avatar Review, Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, and Whale Road Review. He lives in Myrtle Beach, where he works as a freelance writer.