18

June 2024

“A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” -- Samuel Butler


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From PHILADELPHIA, the WORDSHOP of the WORLD


Cover Image by André Durenceau for The Way Of All Flesh, Samuel Butler, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1944


Dipti Anand
Three Poems


“I See How You Look at Things That Aren’t Me”

it's not your shape, which is like a half heart,
.............bow-crossed arms against questions
..........................asking after your well-being.
it's not the small voice you use
.............to mark our perimeters on the bench,
..........................how your fingers shiver out of your pocket
.......................................like petals threatening to fall.
it's not the art itself,
.............punctilious, persuasive,
..........................promised to paradise --
.......................................and tall, so tall, looming over us
....................................................like mountains unconcerned with those who pass them.
it's how you look at the painting that removes me from my skin.you knew the exit signs by full heart.you've been here before, with others.did they tell you? you look in cursive,
.............a pencil gripped by immature fingers
..........................making up everything it sees.
(a back story. you may be tired, but at least you are here.)the length of your split ends are no longer than paintbrush hairs
.............that once talked the paint out of disappearing –
..........................scaling, chipping, like a flat, flash of lightning,
.......................................now yellow sand, now glass,
....................................................now a trembling contour
all too small to fit the size of your perspective.cupped in the crescent of your palms,
.............the figure in the foreground is
..........................made of strokes so sharp
.......................................they cut through your cheek.
I notice the painting takes whatever of you it can get. (just like me.)
(you know the longing of a short distance, the odd comfort of a long one.)
your soles rise a few inches
.............and then
..........................you lean forward
.......................................and even so
....................................................I know your name isn't Alice
.................................................................but what if you fall in?
the colors ricochet, fireworks for our eyes.but time passes, puncturing all things that touch it.finally the palette dries
.............except yours is still as full as unbroken light.
I hate white.when we glide through like two ghosts
.............past the concealed electrical boards and foreign signage
..........................how you look at the blank walls also confuses me.
I much prefer home, where there's stress on silence.


“I Could Not Say Then What The Word Meant”

my mother never played with dollsbut she knew how to sew clothes for themI liked to talk to them insteadmum grew into a word and I, of manymany words, many dollsbut only one of porcelain I took everywherewhen I asked mum what porcelain meantshe perched me on her lapand read to me from the dictionaryshe couldn't quite describe itwithout using the word porcelainwithout pointing at the dollso she used the word fragilefragile, I repeatedliking the acuity of the wordI said itI kept on saying itbut the word fragile did not breakit did not yield to meso I abandoned the dollI kept the words that described itthe next day mum laid me on her lapwith my hair a riverand told me about the calmness of peachestheir compulsive bruisingtheir ripenesstheir incompetence revealed by even a child's biteso compressible are peaches they are forever compressed, she saidbut remember, they're soft, she said, softlyas if to make me believesoft, I repeatedliking the elusiveness of the worda minute later, I lost my tongue


“The Butterflies Did Not Whisper, They Wept”

Julys are hot.It's both hot and wet today, I say.Humid, I say, succinctly,
which is how I should've begun our conversation.
We can't help it,
we are our excesses.
While friends mill about the garden
working off a fat lunch,
I stave off my attention in the direction of a not-yet sunset
taking the shape of shadow among blades of grass.
Out of earshot
now, I think
how --in daylight
the treacle reach of tree branches betrays the self-centered soul of the tree.
even a little brown infuriates some green, a crunchy red or yellow.
primaries and secondaries mix but not always do they do it well.
meaning purely,
meaning without an itch of what else was meant,
meaning we belong more to our differences than we do to each other.
in the dark stillness betrays them both.
but because a leaf turns tricks we call it beautiful
blaming branches that long for good luck
like an appearance,
since like some words they pierce,
while trees litter their achievement
of half-erring sentences everywhere
that silence also betrays.
and how --it takes at least a million butterflies
to make a sound in the jungle.
together they rustle, like a waterfall.
how badly does a single butterfly want
to drop over the drop?


Daniel Rabuzzi
Four Poems


“My Ear Gave Birth To A Bird”

Both ears in truth,and two kinds of bird:from my left a wren erupted
judgment-rippling, disputatious
from my right slip-sprang
a thrush veracious, soft-soothing, mediating.
all night they sang to me
by turns, and then together
in a hatched harmony
pitched, and angled, a semi-timbred house;
I
understood
the deep kenning of the world
but when I wokeI
could not tell you
what they sang;
my mouth was full of feathers


“Pinning A Relic Or A Flower Just Picked”

[Thoughts while viewing works by Taeuber-Arp, Schwitters, Rauschenberg, and Snyder]

if the world
.............would hold
.............stillfor one partial
moment,
I could quick pin a relic or a flower just picked
on its membrane,
light-dancing arc retreating before me,
always just out of reach,
also behind me,
wave above as passed by below,
ignores placidly my mightiest whisk,
my bespoke and fully wrought token,
fingerholds, handstrokes, all the elbow-grease of
once-being, twice newly been gone


“Objetos Perdidos”

felt like the guy whose wits went to the moon
misplaced
lunar dust everywhere
or maybe just showers from the construction sites
up and down Essex
or truck-fug leeching into concrete,
idlers before the Williamsburg Bridge
anyway, I went to the place where they salvage your memories
on Rivington, or might be Eldridge
(I could not remember, you see)
turned up, on it like it was gonna be the DMV
had all my forms, and docs, and best pleading voice
“please sir, yes m'am,” you know the drill
only the door was shut
no, not shut, not there
bureaucrats who vanish, right, not news where we live,but office itself gone altogether – call the Post, tell your barber, and your
grandmother too
the lost come looking lost for a location that's lostlotsa luck, buddy


“Belomancy”

[Imagining Diana's response to “Der zürnenden Diana” by Johann Mayrhofer, set to music by Franz Schubert, 1820]

A stag, with taunting horns and the feral pace of entitlement, strode through a thicket.Twelve points, fourteen -- yet not the divinity to which he aspired.True grace, direct and fletchered bright, emerged from Diana's quiver, then flew with ferruginous rage.

1...a wasp-whistle in lunar light
2...a shrug
3...a name-check without recourse

Afterward, she prodded the corpse with a cavalier boot.“Next time,” she said. “You must be quicker.”


Charles Albert
“Alejo Patata”


Alejandro was the eldest of the Zapata children. His nickname was Alejo Patata because when he was no more than three, he composed a song about himself which began El gran Alejo Zapata / No es una patata (The great Alejo Zapata / Isn't a potato). The other children sang the song every time they saw him, because it was rather catchy. This gave Mama Zapata visions of musical genius, and so his parents bought him an upright piano. Used, because they were thrifty people.Alejo grew up to be a sturdy young fellow, well formed and with a lush head of curly black hair that was the envy of the girls in his school -- and their mothers, too. Kids in the small Catalan town of Girona respected him, for he was intelligent and always cheerful. He played the piano in the school orchestra, and was far and away the top student in his class. He was always in a good mood, even when his father scolded him.While Alejo was studying for his first communion, the parish priest, Father Aragon, instilled in him a deep fear of sin. He came home one day with tears in his eyes and told his mama, "Father Aragon says that Papa is going to hell because he reads Interviuand that is pornography."This was the early 1960s, and it was understood that sexy magazines with scantily clad centerfold models were a necessary outlet for the generation of young men who had survived the civil war and were now expected to build the economy. So rather than confront her husband about his racy periodical subscription, Mama Zapata pulled Alejo out of the Catholic Church. The papal doctrine against birth control was about the only part of the whole Jesus thing she believed in, anyway -- at this point she was now pregnant with her sixth child.By twelve, Alejo had finished most of his parents' collection of literature in Catalan -- Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hawthorne and Dumas -- and began to read his father's old mathematics textbooks. Within a few years Alejo had taught himself Euclid's geometry and Newton's calculus. By the time he started high school, he had already completed their entire mathematical curriculum. No one knew why. Though his father often joked that it was probably because "math is easier to figure out than girls."Alejo entered high school in 1971. There were two young ladies in his Spanish literature class who'd been especially drawn to his shy, unassuming demeanor, and who gazed with admiration at the generous pile of dark curls upon his head. But their interest was not reciprocated. Whether Alejo's social awkwardness was the result of his Catholic upbringing, or a curious antisocial tendency inherited from his father (it wasn't called Asberger's back then), no one could say.When he took the geometry test and scored an impossible twenty out of twenty, his teacher, Senor Lourdo, was incensed. The damn kid knew more math than the teacher! He promoted him to trigonometry -- kicked him upstairs, as it were -- with a special relish. Let him be Sr. Herrero's problem! This worthy realized that Alejo could only proceed in his math studies at the new local university, Universidad de Girona. They didn't have a math department yet -- they were only starting up. But they had one faculty member with a doctorate in math: Prof. Alessandro. To accommodate Alejo, the professor designed a course of private instruction, so the boy came to the university campus every day after the high school let out.During these high-school years, Alejo practiced the sophomoric antics which long-suffering younger siblings the world over may recognize. He traumatized his younger brother Vicenç with the announcement: "Everybody in the world except for you is a robot, and we are all studying you." Whenever his sister Eulalia would ask where Mama was, he'd say, "L'he menjat" (I ate her). And no matter what Nicolau's question, his answer was always, "Pebre en gra" (Peppercorn).As Alejo entered the final year of high school, his reputation as a prodigy had spread, and he was awarded a summer internship at SEAT, the Spanish auto manufacturer. This was the one of the first companies in Catalonia to buy computers, and he joined the team that installed their bank of IBM mainframes. That earned him an invitation to return the following summer for another internship, this time to help write the program that optimized the engine performance of their economy sedan, the SEAT 600. The internship paid next to nothing, but Alejo was so thrilled to be working on a real computer, he didn't care. On the day he was given a small desk-top sized computer to work on from home, he was so happy that he couldn't stop smiling.By the time he graduated from high school, he had exhausted the mathematical resources of Professor Alessandro, and of the University of Girona. The dean of the university presented Alejo with a scholarship to the University of_ Barcelona, the ancient and world-famous school only fifty kilometers from home. But Papa Zapata objected: the scholarship did not include room and board."It's not worth the money to live in that city of crooks," his father said, and forbade Alejo from leaving Girona.Since the University of Girona still didn't have a math department, they matriculated Alejo into the school of engineering. His engineering professors recognized him as a welcome computational resource at a time -- the mid 1970s -- when the calculator and the PC were not yet available to the public. They asked him to do their complex calculations for them, at no pay and without any credit for his contributions. In this way, he helped colleague after colleague with their research.When Alejo finished his undergraduate degree, Sr. Prof. Alessandro helped him gain acceptance in the graduate department of the University of _Madrid, which at the time was considered one of the best math faculties in the world. Alejo was allowed to pay his tuition and board with a teaching assistantship. As he was only a graduate student, he wasn't supposed to give the actual lectures, but they asked him anyway -- they were short-handed and knew he wouldn't complain.Alejo was now twenty; his students were only two or three years younger than him. A beautiful girl named Fatima flirted with him every day in the hopes of improving her grade. She hooked him harder than she'd expected. He fell in love with her, and asked her to marry him."I don't know if I love you, though," Fatima told him. "I can't decide between you and Marco."Marco was the son of a wealthy furniture dealer in Granada. Alejo understood this was about what each man could offer to Fatima. So he gave her his car, which his father had purchased second-hand with Alejo's SEAT money, and which he had only loaned to Alejo so that he could drive home to Girona for holidays.Fatima kept the car for three years, driving it until the engine burned out. She'd never had any basic maintenance done on it. A month later, she married the furniture dealer's son. Alejo sat in the pews and with tears in his eyes watched them exchange vows.After that, he buried his heartbreak with a renewed focus on his research. He completed a doctoral dissertation on solitons: single waves that don't travel in groups like regular waves.One night Alejo was walking home late from his office, where he had been working on solitons the entire day. A group of three young immigrant men began to follow him. Alejo didn't want to seem racist, so he did not take pains to cross the street to get away from them, or duck into a cafe with people, or anything. Instead, he reminded himself of the importance of open-mindedness while allowing them to catch up to him on a dark and isolated street. When one of them produced a large knife and demanded his wallet, he was nearly crippled with anguish. Such racist stereotypes! He began to sob uncontrollably. Embarrassed by his behavior, the attackers grabbed his wallet and ran away.Another night when he was walking home -- now in a different neighborhood -- an older woman came up to him and asked if she could go to bed with him. He was afraid to appear prejudiced against old prostitutes, and he didn't know how to make her go away. She followed him all the way to his apartment, talking the entire time about how she had once been the mistress of the Biology Dean until he died of a mysterious infection.When Alejo reached his apartment building, he planned to squeeze into the front door and close it on the unwelcome woman. But she had already stripped naked in the time it took him to unlock the door. So he had to let her into the building. Rather than follow her in, though, he closed the door behind her and ran as quickly as he could to his advisor's house, four miles away on the outskirts of town. He didn't dare return to his apartment until two days later, after he had been able to confirm from his apartment manager that his naked squatter had left. Somehow she had gotten into his bedroom and taken all his shoes.The following year Alejo published his doctoral thesis. He was now looking for a tenured teaching position. But despite his brilliance, his hireability was reduced by not having gone to the world-class campus of the University of Barcelona when he had the chance. Worse, at Madrid, he'd never participated in the necessary conferences, or otherwise engaged in the kinds of self-promotion required to get noticed by the top schools.Eventually he was hired by the University of Granada, a solid third-level school that was trying to build up its underrated department of mathematics. It was after he began teaching there that something happened to him which had never happened before in his life.This something was that a young lady in his senior-year real analysis class, a beautiful North African student named Zuwena, began to show an interest in him. She was already the top student in the class, so this was no mere ploy to improve her grade.Zuwena laughed in a knowing way at his jokes in class. Nothing he said seemed to escape her. And even more dangerously, she began making her own humorous remarks during class in her funny broken Spanish. Comments such as, "That drawing supposed to be asymptote, _Profesor _Zapata, but it look like squashed spider."Best of all, she would come to Alejo's office hours and they would talk about anything. Zuwena had also been the prodigy in her family, and shared his take on what that was like. And so it was that Alejo began to understand for the first time that a person could be valued by another person just for the pleasure of his company. And could be important to that person, even though they had no need of his car, or his intellect. And that he, Alejo,was just such a person.When his mother had valued him, as a boy, he hadn't noticed. That was the way things were supposed to be. It was just the same as him valuing himself. But all of the sudden he saw that this Zuwena -- no kin to him at all -- found him interesting, and wanted to talk to him. She would bring him a slice of potato omelet in his office hours, and then would watch him while he was eating it. When he glanced at her, she would start laughing. And then he would start laughing.The wife of the dean of the college had many times complained about professors spending too much time with their female students, and now it was declared to be against the university rules. The dean called Alejo into his office to announce this. Alejo listened to him and nodded, an embarrassed smile on his face. How did anyone know who he was spending time with? It hadn't occurred to Alejo that his activities could be of interest to anyone else. Nevertheless, he understood the reasoning behind such a rule. So after class the next day, he told Zuwena that they couldn't see each other any more.She began to cry."I'm sorry for it, but that's just the way it is," Alejo said. "Professors aren't allowed to be too friendly with their students. It's considered unprofessional, and it would complicate how grades are awarded."At the office Christmas party a week later, the dean's wife asked Alejo if he and Zuwena had stopped seeing each other."Looks like we have to," Alejo said with an attempt at a laugh. But then he had to leave the party, because something got in his eye.Zuwena wasn't quite ready to give up, however. She wrote him a note and slid it under his office door. "As long as I student here, we aren't anything. But after I graduate, we'll see."She graduated from the University of Granada that spring. She and Alejo began to see each other again immediately. If anything, their forced time apart had intensified their longing, and they decided to get married that summer.Zuwena was an atheist and the Zapata family had long ago stopped going to mass, but Alejo wanted to have the ceremony in the Catholic Church. He figured no one in his family would want to go to his wedding, so he didn't tell them about it.But somehow word got out; on Thursday morning two days before the wedding, his parents arrived with several of his brothers and sisters in a shiny new Peugeot. Alejo surprised himself and his bride-to-be with his tears of joy. Which he carefully hid from everyone else.He offered his family his flat for the night, and he would sleep on a couch in a friend's apartment. His family could even stay in his house on the next two nights, because Alejo had already booked a cheap honeymoon hotel room on the beach nearby, in a little run-down town called Torrenueva Costa.On Friday afternoon, a few more siblings arrived -- only one brother and one sister weren't able to get time off from work. There was enough room for all in Alejo's flat, as long as they didn't mind sleeping bags on the carpeted floor.Papa Zapata, who was still as cheap as ever, didn't see the need to take anyone out to dinner. And Mama Zapata, who seemed to be undergoing a bad reaction to losing her first-born son, could not find the energy to cook or even go to the market. So his sister Marieta sent her boys the next morning down the street to the nearest pasteleria for baguettes and potato tortas. Marieta, herself a poor waiter, went to the market and bought a kilo of barley, a pile of vegetables, and a block of cheese to make a big pot of soup on Friday night. She was appalled that somehow, her entire family of college students and their college-educated parents had lost the ability to think.The wedding on Saturday was paid for by Zuwena's parents, a remarkable feat for immigrants of little means. The dinner that followed was by no means high-end: a soup and a wedge of egg tortilla, with a humble vino de tavola to accompany it. The affair was held in a bare-walled cinderblock community center. Even the officiating priest joined in. He sat among three of Alejo's younger brothers and flirted shamelessly.Besides the car, Papa Zapata's other splurge was a brand-new camcorder, though he forgot to use it during the ceremony. Or any of the meals at Alejo's house. Or at any time other than Thursday night, when he went into the backyard and filmed a small cluster of pond turtles which had come out to feed at dusk. However, even that record of the weekend was lost the following year, when Papa Zapata taped over the video in order to record a soccer match between Real Sociedad and Barca.If at any point up to the wedding, Zuwena had begun to suspect that she was marrying into an entire family on the spectrum, she managed to hide it. The enormous grin on her face as she and Alejo drove down the highway together toward Torrenueva was actually fortuitous: Alejo dared to think it was not from relief at escaping the madhouse of the wedding, but from anticipation of their first night together as man and wife. Still somewhat committed to the morals of the Church, Alejo had insisted they couldn't be intimate until they were married. And so this was going to be that nearly unheard-of anachronism in the early 1990s: a real honeymoon.To Alejo, the impending evening felt dangerous. A possible fall from a metaphorical roof. How awkward would it get? Would Zuwena know what to do? Because he wasn't sure he did! And if he couldn't fulfill the role of the masterful lover, how likely was it that Zuwena would want him?

When they finally reached their cheap, gritty hotel, they saw their tiny room was completely taken up by the double bed. There wasn't even a chair. Alejo sat on the bed and waited while Zuwena used the shared toilet down the hall.When she came back, she closed the door behind her and took off her clothes without hesitation. That gave him the courage to do the same.They got in bed together, and she showed him what she wanted him to do. He began to understand and let his body do what was, after all, instinctual.He stopped worrying about whether they were going to be all right together as they both got faraway looks in their eyes, like they were amazed by something. Then something surprised them, and they both stretched out and died... just a little.


Marte Carlock
Two Poems


“Dressed”

The woods dressed for a formal event last night
.....every trunk and twig black and white
.....some even wore diamonds
it must have been quite a party
today their garb lies like so much laundry
.....on the forest floor.


“Wildlife”

I haven't seen a deer all winter
she sees them though
.....hawk.....deer...rabbit
tries to points them out to me
I tell her the nomenclature
.....stag.....buck.....doe.....fawn
….......cottontail.....kit.....raptor
sometimes I glimpse a white tail vanishing
.....into the brush
sometimes I see the bird fly
I have yet to see the buckstill every time I pass I pause to look out the window
just in case.


Mark Russ
“The Green Elephant”


When I realized the green ceramic elephant wasn't missing after all, I could breathe.Just a few inches high, it had stood on my mother's dresser for as long as I could remember. I loved running my fingertips over its smooth, cool glaze. The "Japan" stamp on its underside added to its exotic mystique; I was unaware of its mass-produced souvenir provenance.I never learned how my parents acquired the elephant nor its appeal to them. They were certainly not collectors and had never been to Japan, although as refugees of the Holocaust, they had been almost everywhere else. I knew this fragile pachyderm could not have accompanied them during the war nor in the rootless years that followed. The ceramic, I surmised, was a kind of placeholder, a stand-in for objects of real value they hoped would come with in a new life in America, but never did."You're addicted to Philip Roth," Valerie exclaimed when she walked into the living room and saw a copy of The Patrimony in my lap, my feet on the ottoman, my eyes staring off."What were you thinking about?"I suspected Valerie really didn't want to know.I was about to make something up when Abie, our four your old, bounded down the steps and plopped himself into my lap. Philip Roth saved me from a direct hit."Can we go to the playground, Daddy?" Abie's speech was fluent and articulate."Let me just finish reading this page and we'll go." Abie insisted on immediate responses.We set off for the playground near the elementary school, Abie skipping circles around me."Push me, Daddy. Push me fast!"I grabbed the closest stanchion on the merry-go-round, its red chipped paint covering the dimpled steel platform. It creaked at first but settled into a worn hum as it picked up speed. Abie clenched the opposite stanchion, his mouth gaping and his back hunched over, bracing himself for a dizzying ride."Faster!"I ran and pushed and pushed and ran and ran and pushed with all the strength I could muster. Exhausted, I finally let go. Like an oscillating quasar, Abie's shrieks of joy whooshed louder and softer within each revolution. I relished Abie's delight against the centrifugal force.Abie jumped from the merry-go-round when the creaking sound returned, a sign it was safe to hop off. He climbed the stairs of the slide and skidded down, ran to the monkey bars where he hung by one arm and hooted "Oo oo oo", swung belly-down on the swings, and boomeranged to my side."Let's go, Daddy."My thoughts had returned to the ridges in the elephant's glaze, smooth and cool."Let's go, Dad!" Abie was more insistent, already by the playground entrance gate.When I realized he was no longer at my side, I followed quickly, not wanting him to approach the street without me. I gripped his hand tightly. When we were safely across, he ripped it free and ran ahead."How was the playground?""Daddy pushed me real fast, but I wasn't afraid. The merry-go-round is my favorite.""Your son is a whirling Dervish. Not sure he would return in one piece.""Oo oo!" Abie imitated a monkey again, scratching the armpit of his raised hand, and bolted up the stairs.Valerie sat next to me on the sofa, our thighs touching. She grabbed my hand."It's good you took him out. He really enjoyed it. I'll do the chest PT tonight.""I can do it. Give you a break. Besides, we both know I'm better at getting up the mucus.""Did he wheeze in the playground?""Just a cough here and there. He was full of energy.""That's good. But for how long?""One day at a time, Valerie." I released my hand from hers and stood up. "We'll give him the best life we can for as long as we can."Now it was Valerie who was staring off at nothing.Suddenly, Abie appeared, his hands behind his back."Daddy, I was playing monkey and it broke. It was an accident." Abie revealed two pieces of green ceramic, one in each hand. "Can we glue it together?"Valerie looked at Abie, then me. Her eyes said she did not know who to console first."Sure," I said, without the slightest hint of conviction.


Jake Sheff
Five Poems


“The Seagull’s 412th Seguidilla”

Itinerant lecturers
Pick the complacent
Flowers. "These hit different, they're
TED talk-adjacent."
Indelible lies
Are mentioned in the same breath
As is true advice.


“The Seagull’s 442nd Seguidilla”

The feeling of moving up
Promises to end
On November 35th.
The deadbolt's my friend
And a dying breed.
The Duke of San Francisco's
Subjects' verb agreed.


“Florentine Paraphrase”

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

It's funny how the Piazzale Michelangelo
doesn't hear itself. The Arno's crooked
beauty wasn't burnt out. It rode a limousine
of soft skills through the hideous, hooded
day. Let's drink to bad behavior's etymology!
For what it's worth, the smell of trippa
shoved the smell of lampredotta in the Arno,
to be funny and escape the trap of definition,
like all true things. Giotto's bell tower
loved to ring and love itself. Too busy sleeping,
gardenias blocked our view of bloodless
revolution. I snorted Adderall from the window
sill. "Tonight has genitals of light," somebody
said outside. A nameless feeling came inside
and ate its children at a snail's pace. Gelato
was a day late and a dollar short, until the law
student smoked a joint and sprinkled it
with grievances. For what it's worth, the pot
was pleased as Punch. It's funny, how you
looked at me -- with sprightly blame
and sprightly agitation -- until I punched
your necktie. The roof inside was more aloof
than ever. But outside, the monotony was
monstrous as ever. Death, with its ironic math
and frog legs, floated into the room, to say,
as always, "Too many gonads." Test
pilots led us by Santa Maria Novella to
the best cocktails and -- there's no sense
in lying -- cockeyed inactivity. The puddles
we stepped in reflected on the past, my face
and other streetlights. "These puddles lay
awake in shame," the neurologist said, before
the Ponte Vecchio. Descended from a monkey,
the Ponte Vecchio harassed the pustular
atmosphere. "Let's drink to desire's war
on reason and the Renaissance," said an AEPi
brother, wearing his novelty statue of David
apron, class ring and wellbeing. I meant
to throw my drink at him, but slipped; the floor
was trying to be so good. For what it's worth,
the smell of beer's expulsion eventually found
its way onto the apron. Freedom played so
rough in Italy. We were very tired, from our
very market-driven emotions. The heart's not
not to blame for what's too immediate and
painfully bone-bound. You most likely wore
the same inner outfit I did then, spoke the same
plastic language of a city's beating story,
which doesn't correspond to anything without
the daughters of memory and emotion.


“The Walls Of Pompeii”

Shae: "Why should I make up a story when I know the truth?"
Sansa Stark: "Because the truth is always either terrible or boring."
Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 1

The past floats by face down,
like a dead man. Then again,
this wall says, I remember
bloated nights
, and, Fuck off!,
by a blue boner. The right
to forfeit faith in reason puts
its forefeet on the mattress by
an image of a phallus four
feet high. Then again, this
column's ringed in fish-belly
white graffiti to memorialize
The best of friends, as if to
self-gratify and wring death's
neck are moral equivalents.
Next to a gated entryway, Share
and share alike is reimagined
as two giant talking testicles.
One says, "How are you?" as
the other promises, "The best is
yet to come!" The itchy palm
of yesterday suggests it loves
tomorrow, but those lovers
hate each other's bodies. Then
again, these walls have stood
the test of Mount Vesuvius; its
logic, vermin and board of
trustees' mathematics. Here,
it says, I sing of multigrain
transgressions and the hollow
tears of moments mummified,
not arms and a man. The pawn-
shop's penis says, "Comparison
brings rain," and squirts-
squires reforms that stand out
like a June bug on a snowman.
Cave canem wishes you the best,
and barks for the past from
most of the entrances. When
the pompous pump erupts, Tony's
mother cups and sups; I think,
by 'pompous pump,' this riddler
meant 'a poem.' Then again,
vulgarity's volcano never taught
a butt to shit -- sit, I mean! If
you need to see it, there's an
inscription with the cost of slaves
and counterfeit resolve, if you
see fit to need it. On the other
hand, this says, Maggie's person
is my body's arson; can you
believe that? In light of the mosaic
depicting "The Battle of Alex-
ander the Great," these walls
are like wells afraid of their own
opinions. In spite of the mosaic
from the House of Faun, this
one mocks the blockbuster
campaign of some upstart
magistrate against the marble-
cutters; he's drawn holding his
impeccably small, impeccably
limp pecker, with the caption,
Dick move. Ragged outrage
scratched out someone's name,
and wrote below it Josh. So it
reads, Josh bewitches witches.
A real-life finch has perched
above the mosaic of a water
basin with two parrots to
flaunt its growing breath and
peacock peace and everything
in between. Seems like only
yesterday these walls could
talk, with idiotic blasts, about
a husband hushed, or post-
tussive stress up the wazoo;
could talk about a certain Mrs.
Nice-guy's ho-hum sobriety
behind the curtain, talk about
the seven types of freak
outs (the elder's, the dealer's,
etc.).You could say, 'Here is
history hard-boiled.' Or you
might say, 'Shucks! I spent a
fortune on these huckleberry
hours, just to witness the same
ashes-to-ashes bundle of joyful
whiteness that I can get back
home from a preacher's pardon,'
if you're less provincial than
these walls. As we speak, a
pack of strays at the train station
circles a snarling bitch in their
territory, like a true story -- on
second thought, a gladiator!


“Youngs Bay Is Essentially The Result Of Its Own Anxiety”

"We learn to pity and rebel."
W.H. Auden, A Voyage: VI. A Major Port

Youngs Bay has grieved a thousand years.
...Amid acidic eyelids,
Like ever-unwell buccaneers,
...Unwelcome seagulls panic.
...Bridges mourn lost islets.
Nobody hears the bay's 'Farewell'
...Exploring like a Spanish
...Explorer's froe and maul.
The stars; they brother me. But guilt,
...Guilt, guilt is what their twinkles --
To and fro, on history's salt --
...Portend. Assault Astoria,
...Its owl-owned night: carbuncles
Follow. Our moon-moored dreams un-drowned
...The dead. Sic transit gloria
...Mundi_? Death's dethroned!
I need them more than apples need
...An apple tree, but sturgeon
Laugh at every hope I feed
...A frightened laugh from Buoy
...Beer Company. Enlarging
My humble human life, today
...Stops making sense; the towhee's
...Making friends with joy.
I kick a stone, and thus refute
...The tide, its lunar want of
Penates. Fringe cups play Beirut
...With Dixie cups and fire.
...The sea breeze is a fount of
Religion; listen to its smells:
...Paninis, feces, fees and flowers;
...Flowing free as whales.
In hushed and reverential tones,
...She tells me all that flitters
Filters. Next to Davy Jones,
...I look for my next answer…
...Every windstorm batters
These filberts and the public's trust.
...I look for her to sponsor
...Hope, but look unchaste.
We harvest reverence in the void,
...Where a .38 special
Is super-duper unemployed.
...This supernatural chowder
...Chases all the spatial
Despair away. In City Hall,
...They ask, "Shall we not murder?,"
...As every city shall.
Hope without forgetting, care
...With reason, lest we perish…
Unlicensed silence pulls my hair
...To silence every zephyr
...Whose voice brings thimbleberries.
The lord giveth and He taketh away:
...The world's grief was brought up here,
...And grief understands why.


Michael Thériault
“Beds”


If I say, I couldn't stop thinking about them, I know what some people'd think. Beds know more than that. Movies together. Kids piled on. Staring at taxes. Breakfasts. Dog, cat. Once a rat ran cross both me and my kid brother Alphonse cause we had to share a bed; laughing and screaming, too, then.Whispers. Fights.Deaths, births even.Everything happens in a home lands in a bed.I drove a pickup for Public Works, what they call "broom support," out front the sweeper trucks streetcleaning days. Things too big, or just off the street on the sidewalk, I got before the sweeper rolled up. Just by volume, lot of that's beds. Mattress, box spring, course, but also headboard, footboard, frame, platform. I picked bed parts up don't know how many times a day.Didn't really think about them till a dream one night, or dream of a dream. Dreamt I was in a bed, dreaming, and in the dream in the dream I saw everything that had happened in the bed. I say see, but I mean hear, smell, feel, too, even taste, all that. The bed wasn't in my house or nothing, but in a place made no sense. Walls but no roof, rain with stars out. I woke up and Jo already had."Twan," she said -- I'm Antoine, but most call me Twan, Americans being crap with languages -- "you've been twitching," she said, "and talking like words, but they weren't."She was … she is beautiful, my wife, lips I couldn't get enough of, big dark eyes; curves to make you weak. Sweet, too, mostly. Marie, our little girl, takes after her. She'll be a knockout, and so smart. As things played out, I hated putting them through it; but what could I do?See, I was sure I'd learned a thing from the dream: Beds remember. Maybe not perfect, maybe like anyone, mixed up, with gaps; remember, anyway.Other thing the dream taught me is, beds can tell what they remember. A bed's a thing, I know. Things obey laws, mostly: Physics, chemistry. Anyone who's ever used a tool knows that's not all there is to them. Every thing has its ways, that all our science doesn't know, that maybe the thing will tell us. I don't mean in words. I don't even mean through our minds, I guess, least not at first. You're drilling in steel and after you get the hang of it you change the angle of the bit a little here, there, come off on the pressure or add to it, and you realize you haven't been thinking Angle, Pressure, but the decisions come from someplace not your mind, in answer to something hasn't ever got to your mind. Or what a welder at Port once told me at the bar: You watch the little molten puddle and the flick of the electrode back and forth cross it, and your mind's no part of the conversation, it's between your fingers and the welding stinger and the things you're welding. Things, your body, they talk.If a bed could tell you what it remembered, it would be like that, not you saying, Tell me about yourself, and it talking, but you touching it, lying in it, letting your body listen, but listen's not the word. If not when you're awake, maybe in dreams.For what I thought first would be just for yucks, I tried this out. One morning I'd got a full-size mattress in the truck; was pretty clean, couple little spots maybe blood but nothing scary, and not bad shape. Somebody maybe moved up to a king. I had tag end of a roll of Visqueen, used it to keep the mattress clean from the trash I loaded. Come lunch I pulled the mattress out, laid it down on the Visqueen right on the street between the sweeper and my pickup, right in front of the sweeper operator and parking control officers, and I flopped out on my back and set my phone alarm for twenty.It went off just as I got to edge of a dream: Kids' cartoon on a TV, about a dog and giraffe, and I think it was a boy and girl in the bed, and little man saying, "Not bringing pancakes up; come down.""Nice nap?" operator asked when I sat up."Just right," I told her. Seen what I needed: Beds talk.My regular run was for the sweepers on streetcleaning days, but I got called in sometimes when the mayor wanted a camp of -- homeless, unhoused; people without a roof, or a bed -- when she wanted it gone. I try to be respectful, give them time to pack up what they really want. Respect gets respect. I got to know the names of some. Some knew to call me Twan.My mattress experiment got me thinking: What memories would a sidewalk tell you, you slept on it? Dog piss, drunk puke, bits of what people toss, but mostly feet, feet tramping. I swear some sidewalks here go back most a century. Maybe millions of feet, then, tramping right where you lay your head. Or if you hide up a place out of sight of a sidewalk, your memories would be from other people hiding up a place, dumped like you out the back door of the world.This is where I began to get in trouble.End of that day's run, mattress and Visqueen back in the back, I'm taking the truckload to the Recology yard on Tunnel, I pass a spot where some guys who I knew lived on the streets hung out days. Ray was there. Skinny older black guy, maybe sixty; who could tell? the street makes it impossible. Ray was about the most together guy I knew out there, or really about anywhere. On the street ten years or better. No drugs, no booze, not even tobacco, just this is where things had landed him, and he wasn't bitching but making a life. Kept himself clean, considering. Always a book. Called himself an anarchist. He was always, Bakunin said this, Bakunin did that. Bakunin stopped in San Francisco, Ray said; said sometimes by the waterfront he could feel this guy Bakunin beside him, but the guy was dead more than a hundred years.Ray was a good candidate.I pulled over, waved him to the passenger side window. "Where you staying?" I asked him.He looked at me like he wasn't sure he should say."That ain't me," I told him. "Just, the mayor gets ideas, and when she does, I do what feeds my wife and kid."He paused a little longer, then waved at an overpass. "Under there," he said."You want the mattress in back?" I asked him."It clean?" he said."Tried it out a little. No bites," I told him.He went back and looked the mattress over. Rearview mirror I watched him run his bony hand over it. He came back to the window. "Sure," he said."Meet you over there," I told him.I drove to the overpass and had the mattress out the truck before he caught up. I did most the work, him being old, I guess, and skinny. He'd worked out a little spot, dragged some scrap chain link there and stood it up best he could no real tools, then planted ivy that grew up it so he had like walls and a little room. He had kind of a bed already, foam pad. He had bookshelves out of planks and cinder blocks, and old suitcases on more planks and cinder blocks that made I guess his dresser. I left the mattress standing on edge against these and went back and brought him the Visqueen so he could put it between the mattress and the ground."Thanks," he said."Ain't shit," I said, and got to the yard before the last truck in.See, seemed to me a dream of almost any home would be better than dreaming of a hundred years of footsteps where your head is, or of being chucked away. Most homes are a mixed bag, but okay, on the whole. I took a thing headed for the dump and gave it a way to be useful, to speak its piece, you could say, where speaking it might do some good.Ray'd be my experiment.Few days later, here's Ray again, waving me down now as I'm heading in. "You got another?" he said. "For James.""Give me a bit," I told him.Took me couple weeks and some mattresses were trash before I got one wasn't, a twin. James's set-up wasn't as worked-out, just a pocket top an embankment between two overpass girders, but it was big enough for a twin.Next months I found a few more and got them round, to Jerome and Tank and Mary and two guys I don't know the names.Somehow management got wind.I got called in for what you call a Skelly hearing. I made sure the union rep was there. Management had my foreman, who kept his mouth shut, and his boss, who did the talking, and the boss's boss, who I guess had only one dirty look in his repertoire, cause that was all I got. And the hearing officer, course, who was from Water."Mr. Dubois," said little boss, but like "Doo-boyce," so I hated him already, "it is impermissible that a City worker assigned to collect items for disposal should then redistribute them on City streets.""Freeway overpasses and space under them are state, not City," I told him; didn't know if he knew about the other places.But I'm guessing not, cause he looked perturbed. He went on anyway, "And it is unacceptable to use City vehicles on City time for this.""I got different ways to get to the yard," I said, "and I do everything the City pays me to do, and I get in when I'm supposed to."The rep, she was good. She said, "Is it the mission of the City to deny the unhoused any comfort, even at no expense to City coffers? If so, will you state this for the public record? Go ahead, write it down and sign it. I'll wait."The hearing officer from Water, he chuckles.Big boss, same dirty look, he says, "We'll take this under advisement. You may go."Outside, the rep grabbed my sleeve. "Twan," she said, "I won't say what I think about what you're doing, because it doesn't matter; I'm here to represent you, not judge. But you must know, if you're doing something management doesn't like, they won't care if there's no rule or policy against it. They'll look for other ways they can get you. Some I can protect you from. Some…." And she shrugged.So I stopped using the City pickup to make my deliveries. I had my own, old F-150 Supercab, back seat big enough for my little girl Marie few more years. I thought, maybe I keep going on my own. I could see problems in that, course, even if, I swear, I didn't see all of them. Right then, question I asked myself was, Is it worth it?I went to see Ray one Saturday afternoon. I'm heading out, I kiss Jo, she says, "Where you going?" and Marie by her side, both of them their beautiful dark eyes looking at me, and I say, "See a friend," and she says, "What friend?" but I'm already closing the front door behind me."Where's Ray?" I say to the guys one of the spots he hangs."His place," they say, point back the overpass.Ray'd got pallets and plywood, made a platform for the mattress. Didn't look half bad. He was sitting in a rusty folding chair next to it, reading."Nice setup," I told him."Works," he said. "Thanks again.""Hey, Ray," I said, "you dream?"He scoped me up and down, slow, says, "Everyone does.""Course, course. You dream any different," says I, "since you got the bed?"Don't think I'd ever heard Ray laugh, least not like that. Was a laugh full of razor blades. But I didn't flinch, and then his eyes went up and down me and he got a look, like, sorry for me and, like, I've seen some like you and worried for them, and aren't we all just a mess anyway?He says, "I dreamt one night of a skinny bottle blond maybe fifty, sitting on the bed next to me, her back against a wall there" -- he pointed where was no wall -- "and she's eating an ice cream cone, with a dish towel on her lap to catch drips and crumbs, and I said to her, 'Who eats an ice cream cone in bed?' She turns to me, from her eyes are coming tears the pink of strawberry ice cream. That was different.""Thanks, Ray," I said. "That'll do." Cause ice cream in bed, in bed tears, even strawberry tears, that's home.All the way home I was trying to think how to explain things to Jo. Got the truck in the garage under the house, I still hadn't figured how. I got to looking round. What I wanted to do, I'd need space. And things come to you when you're working. I got to work, cleaning up, organizing, making room.Jo was down the stairs quick, and Marie right behind her. "You weren't going to come up give us a kiss?" says Jo."I'm sorry," I said. "I just…." But I knew nothing else to say.I went and kissed them both."Your friend," she said, "is he … is your friend okay?"She had a hurt-bad look. It hurt me. Truth's best, best you can tell it. "He," says I. "Name's Ray. Stays under an overpass not far from Tunnel Road. He's fine."Look didn't go away. She said, "Is he…. Twan…. Is he selling?""No, no, you got it wrong," I told her. "Ray's cool. He's clean.""You just visiting?" she says; disbelief, now, in her voice and the look.This was no place for long explanation, cold garage, Marie already opening my tool drawers where were things could hurt her. And I needed to work to think."I'll be up quick," I told Jo. "I'll fill you in."She herded Marie onto the stairs and went up without another word or look.See, what I thought already I could do was drive my runs night before I drove broom support. Most everything we'd find next day would already be there. Any piece of bed any good I could stash in my garage. Weekends, I could get them round where they were needed.I thought, I lay this out careful as I can to Jo, she's smart, she knows me, she'll get it.Waited till after she'd put Marie to bed. She was heading to get ready for bed herself, I caught her, said, "Come here." Sat her at the kitchen table, went through everything: My dream, how things talk without talking, how a body hears and knows without hearing, my passing round mattresses and other pieces of beds, the hearing with the bosses and the guy from Water and the union rep, the experiment with Ray, and how it worked. Then, my plan. At the end she says, "You're going to lose your job over this."I said, "Can't. It's my time."She says, "Think that matters to them?"She says, "This is a new you I don't know. It scares me."Didn't neither of us sleep well.I followed the plan, starting with a twin frame, took apart. Easy fit in the garage. Needed couple bolts. Got them. Sunday I got it to James up the embankment, with plywood and a saw, so we made it work with his mattress. Mattresses ate more garage space. Had four once. Even on edge, they made me park the pickup on the street, which didn't please Jo any, cause, you know, thieves, hit-and-runs; but it came through okay.What pleased her even less was I was away so much, like being away for work wasn't enough. "Marie needs more time with Papa," she says.She was right, I knew, but I said, "Good for Marie to see Papa will do what he can for people who got nothing."And I didn't care if they were clean or drugged out, sane or gone. People are people are people.Someone at Public Works did catch what I was doing, then someone else heard that first someone tell management, and next Jo gets a call warning her they were out for me."Twan, like I told you," she says to me. "You got to stop."But that night I brought home two twins and a full-sized.That's when she called my brother Alphonse.He asked me out for beers."This what you call, like, an intervention?" I say to him when the waitress brings our bottles."Twan," he says to me, "your wife, she's a sweetheart, and she loves you and sees good in you that's news to me, but this beds business, it has her freaked. She tells me, 'I'm so scared. It's not just that he might lose his job, which is bad enough. I don't want to, but I'm even questioning his mind.' City's health plan, does it cover shrinks?""Never checked," I told him. "Fonse, my head's fine."Alphonse got quiet. He has a face long like a hound's, and times he gets in his deep brown eyes that kind of dog-sadness would make rock cry.Like now."Twan," he said, "she's not saying it. I will. Jo's got to wonder if what's happened in your head is a danger. You keep up what you're doing, what does she do?""You're wrong, Fonse," I told him. "Jo knows I'm doing it to help people; I told her so."He shakes his head. Sad dog eyes still. They got to me. "Okay," I say, "guess I'll check. Now drink up."Week went by, then a little more, and I just hadn't got round to checking the health plan, when the hammer fell; or, first hammer.Another hearing. Different officer, Muni this time. My foreman, little boss, big boss again, but they'd brought in two guys weren't from Public Works, that I knew of; from somewhere else in City.They both said they'd seen me passing out beds from my City truck on City time.

"That's a lie," I said. "What I do, it's on my time, with my truck."The bosses looked at each other, smiled a little, like I'd admitted doing something wrong.But it wasn't."Don't impugn my honesty," says one of the new two."No honesty to impugn," I told him.He started up, like he had half a thought of going for me. Then thought better and sat down and smiled.Union rep was with me. "This is he said-he said," she says. "No evidence.""Two against one," says little boss."Formal warning," says big boss. "Stop."The officer nods.Outside, I ask the rep, "What now?"She says, "Goes in your file. I'll do a letter contesting the warning and make sure it goes in, too." Then the rep, she's not big, but she grabs both my arms in a pretty good grip for little hands and gives me a blue-eyed hard stare and says, "You keep it up, Twan, they'll cook up a couple-few more. Then we'll have a big fight about if they run you off or have to keep you. Arbitrator and all.""I'm telling you," I say, "truth's on my side.""I'm telling you," says the rep, "sometimes you get stuck with an arbitrator who already leans City, even after you've rejected anybody bad you can, or even you get an arbitrator who wants more City work and thinks, Close case, union can't be real upset if I go the City's way.""Things at play other than truth," she says.I have a vein of stubborn in me runs top my head to big toe tip. I branched out across the City, to neighborhoods I hardly knew. New old beds everywhere, new heads to lie on them, and in so many places weren't homes, now bed telling body: Home.Next hearing, it was one of the two liars from the last, and a new second guy, said he was from Rec-Park. Same lie but they had a photo this time, me and a guy who had a little hidden camp in Golden Gate Park carrying a twin together."This you?" says little boss, pointing."My own time," I say."Dressed for work," he says."We got no uniform," I told him. "I dress same for work my time as the City's.""Photo and two witnesses," he says, not to me, but to the rep."How can they lie like that?" I ask her outside."Don't know, Twan," says she, "except maybe they want to keep their jobs. People get into trouble like you've got in trouble, management knows how to say, 'Do this for us, trouble goes away.' They'll find others. Next hearing, that's the one they'll try to use to run you off. Just saying.""Thanks, Sister, you're doing your best," I said, "but I'm never backing down for lies. Just saying."Jo heard about the final hearing before I did. We lived in the Excelsior. I was cross town in the Richmond, found a twin late, no need to bring it home, knew someone close by who needed it but we struggled a little to get it where he wanted, uphill into the Presidio on a tight path through broom and coyote bush. Time I got home, Marie's already off to bed, Jo's sitting awake on ours, all dressed. Her phone was in her hand. She wasn't looking at it.I tried to kiss her. She turned away.She told me she'd just heard."Said who?" I asked."I'm not naming names," she says. "Twan, you…," she says. "Twan, I…," she says.She stood up. Got a big Macy's bag from a drawer, and from the closet the daisy-covered roller suitcase she used on our honeymoon, and she's loading stuff into them.I'm saying, "What? What?" like I don't know.She said, "I tried, but you wouldn't stop. I tried; you wouldn't get help. I tried. I don't know where your head is going. I'm scared to be around to find out. I have to go. I have to go.""Marie?" I said.Any love was ever in her eyes was out of them with that. Cold fire. "What do you think?" she said.And the bed heard this all.That was three months ago. No idea where they are now. With someone in her family, I'm guessing, but her family, they're not saying. Some point I'll know. There are things to work out. House to sell and split what we get. Child support could be tricky, with the job gone. I get enough from odd jobs and hauling with the pickup to keep me in food and gas for my bed deliveries. They don't have to be just nights and weekends now, which makes them easier.Once we sell the house, where I'll end up, who knows?But I know this: The bed's not coming along. And nobody else gets it. What it's heard, no one will. I'll find a spot, maybe out the end one of those Bayview streets almost dive into the bay, the little fab shops all round shut down for night, and douse it good in charcoal lighter and light it up, and those memories will go up where they won't hurt no one, smoke into the dark.


Greg Beckman
“Upstairs Elk”


There's an elk living upstairs.
I can tell by the lumbering.
Hard-crusted hooves
crash against the straining floor,
drunk, ungainly;
I'm sure his thighs --
they ripple with fat-stores
as he smashes from room to room,
not sure why he's there.
Still…when he makes love,
grunts around each night
mounts the elk-lette,
even his strange body
fades into power
and little elks.


Julia Yong
“Cubare”


into kicking rejections……a dented can
one stall the office long enough
janitor plucking daisies from the
printer jammed abject……wanting
daddy back……..a conventional identity
spurting oil they slicked her…….back
to forth………….onwards canned by a
yam what’s that for script ripping
rip &
undo. she, like every green
object changing its mind
she likes objects adjacent
we cannot touch……………here reeking
money (the wrong green)…..grinds
stream surfaces:…….to say root down
our new names are slated to arrive soonschedule thrusting………..rock-hard
…………….granite crock of lust over…….parboiled
in a shining report of…………mis-loves
rating-bent/ in wait of no summer
………they cue up the sprinklers &
…………………………..the paperwork dies


Robert Pope
“Kory And The Bitches”


Kory Brinkman knew power over his twin brother and certain of his classmates came not just from his size but from his determination. He had no rival except those older and bigger until he could equal or best them. These included older boys, parents, teachers, even the pastor of his church, all of whom implicitly understood but completely ignored his will to power. In his junior year in high school, Leonard Zink, center of the basketball team, moved to Arizona with his parents, making Kory the tallest boy in the school, a position he would explore until he knew what to do with it.Several options existed, and these he had talked about endlessly with an online group who had an interest in the subject, either as potential power brokers or potential victims. He noticed some of those in the victim category seemed to relish their own victimization. These held the key for him, those who enjoyed domination as long as they could also dominate others through the authority of the most powerful player. That is how they spoke of people, players in a game of which most were unaware. They often commented on ways in which political leaders or athletes, or criminals exercised domination, its uses and effects.Of those who took part in daily chat, only four, including himself, seemed to him to possess the power to challenge someone stronger and more determined. JRGMAN, UGLYDUDE3, and FUNKROZER. His chosen name, TOPDOG17, suggested there had been sixteen before him who had used the same name, but where were they? Meanwhile, he bided his time at school. At home, his father was weak, gone most of the time, his mother enamored of the bottle, so he exercised power over Rory in spiteful and arbitrary ways that his slightly shorter brother had to bear until he could take measures to reverse the arrangement.To test theories, Kory introduced the contents of that cobwebby bottle of coolant in a crowded corner of the garage into his father's cocktail, the tiniest droplets, which his father allowed him to mix. He reported that his father had grown weaker, spending several days in bed, at which point he went back to the old formula for the cocktail, without coolant. It pleased him to see a shift in his father's attitude toward him as he took over nursing duties until his father got out of bed again. He learned there were many ways to manipulate the unwary who expect nothing but good intentions wheresoever they go. Some took more time than others, but planning was key to any operation.Rory feared his twin but not as others feared him. Kory had sucked all the air out of the womb in which they both hung for the obligatory nine months before emerging already having achieved a stasis in which Rory avoided Kory, and in high school that meant none of the same classes, though they started out each day in the same fifteen-minute homeroom where they listened to announcements and whispered to their friends or finished the homework for first period. Rory in the front row by the door, for swift escape, Kory in the last desk, row closest to the window, where he had a vantage point on the class. Sitting in front of Kory and beside him, two he dominated and who dominated others in his name. He dubbed them Tick and Tock.This was the true subject of high school. The end goal came down to one thing, to learn what it took to take and hold the top of the hill. He had been a fighter, someone who ruled with his fists, but he had learned that Tick and Tock would do his bidding. His online buddies formed their own chatroom now and agreed to be his bitches, adopting online names Bitch111, Bitch222 and Bitch333, to acknowledge a new power arrangement. He became DAMAAN666. What he had over the bitches was not simply determination. Kory did well in all his classes and could have done so much more but held himself back consciously. He did not advertise his grades until Mrs. Calderon gave him a B- in History, the easiest of his subjects.There was precious little she could teach him, but she consistently gave him Bs and Cs on essays she had them write in class each Friday. She was a mousy thing, a good foot shorter and considerably heavier than Kory, but a well-liked if not beloved teacher. He had never met any of the bitches, but they were more than willing to do whatever asked of them, and they did a good job. He warned them not to tell him what they did but watched the results in the diminishment of Mrs. Calderon, who they had cyberbullied and literally harassed by damage to her house and car.Just before spring break, he approached her after class with concern for her health, which made her cock her head at him, and tighten her little mouth. He hoped she had a good vacation, she had earned it. He commiserated over what must have been a very difficult time, for whatever reason. She was his favorite teacher, history his favorite subject. He told her he appreciated her comments on his papers and would try harder to incorporate them into his written work. He said he knew she was harder on him than on others, and he appreciated her attentions all the more because of his respect for her.Mrs. Calderon felt sheepish about this because she did not like or trust her student, and not because he towered over her. Because of the attitudes she detected in his essays, his aloofness, his clear intelligence which she felt betrayed an arrogance that galled her and led him into errors not of fact but interpretation. He wrote once that war was an instrument of population control, and she had written in red ink, "I wouldn't share this opinion with the parents of kids killed in battle." Some in class found his responses witty, especially Tick and Tock, though some found them obnoxious and slightly threatening, though he had been careful not to tip his hand until after he became senior class president.Tick and Tock put up his posters, and he did his level best to ingratiate himself with students and teachers for the duration, giving some the hope of a turn-around for Kory. He treated Rory better, apologizing for whatever it was that made his brother distrust him. Rory endeavored to stay as far away from him as possible, which Kory insisted did not look good. If Rory couldn't support him for president, at least he could keep his thoughts to himself. And to this end, he had Tick and Tock befriend Rory, terrifying him to the point that he stayed home sick several days, his first absences all year.If elected even by the slimmest of margins, the swing would be those who had no idea not only who he was but who they were and where the future would overtake and subdue them. He had, in fact, determined, and included in his journals, that his end project would be the presidency of the United States, from which vantage point, just like home room, it would be easy for him to dominate the entire world. It was time to activate phase one, and to accomplish this he would need both of his thugs and all three of his bitches. He sent up a meeting for 10:00 PM after his parents had left town for the funeral of his aunt and uncle, both killed on the highway by a drunk driver.They understood that Kory could not leave because of the election, but Rory took the opportunity for a temporary reprieve from his brother. He had Tick and Tock for protection. He had never met the bitches and didn't know what to expect but the successful Apex must never underestimate three foes: his friends, his enemy, and his prey. He told them the back door would be open, come right up. He wanted the highest vantage, and, of course, they would have weapons, Tick and Tock knives. He had the pistol he exchanged for twenty bucks lifted from his father's wallet, plus a joint of killer weed for the box of bullets, from a kid whose dad was a cop who said he had a buttload of them and would never miss it.Ten o'clock at night, they came out of his bedroom. Tick and Tock took the top of the stairs, arms crossed, knives on display in one hand. Kory stood back with the pistol, looking over the banister into the stairwell, so he could see who was coming. He had the moment of greatest anticipation of the entire year waiting for them. He had always been so calm, cool, and collected, and now enjoyed the excitement scurrying like insects in his stomach. He had reached the apex of the Apex Triangle he had been constructing, as base his unknown bitches, the arms his thugs. He heard the rustling at the back door. "Get ready, boys," he said. "If we have to fight, fight like hell. The decision goes to the strong. Maybe this will go down all cool, and we'll be smoking a jay together, but for now, stand ready. I hear them."Encouraged by this speech, the boys closed ranks and prepared for whatever came up the stairs. Kory had the pistol in his right hand, leaning over the banister. They heard footsteps in the kitchen, through the dining room, in the foyer, and then he saw them at the bottom of the stairs, three boys of maybe twelve years old, all of them blonde, each wearing a black t-shirt with the word BITCH in white, not a smile on their faces. It wasn't until halfway up, after he had demanded they identify themselves, that he began to notice an oddness of proportion, the over-large head, the tiny eyes.And what surprised him most was when, arriving at the top of the stairs, the bitches opened up their enormous mouths revealing a set of gleaming silver teeth, each one a sharp triangular blade that quickly overpowered the toothpicks of Tick and Tock. Kory managed to fire the gun once, accidentally, and the bullet lodged in his own left knee. The sound of their teeth came like thousands of enormous scissors clipping up the boys like so many dolls made in school and out of construction paper. When it was over, all that was left for the distraught parents and his horrified brother was the body of Kory, future president of the senior class, at the bottom of the stairs with a bullet in his knee, drained of every drop of blood.His death and the disappearances of Tick and Tock blew up at the high school, destroying the population without harming buildings. The school went silent. Announcements were hushed. They marched solemnly to the auditorium where the principal introduced the superintendent who introduced Mrs. Karen Calderon who had to stand beside the podium with a squealing mic in one hand because she was so short. She gave Kory's various achievements but mentioned he had struggled in her class in his attempt to deal with some difficult moral issues. He had come to her before vacation to thank her for the lower grade she gave him, for the lessons on how to become a better writer, a better scholar, if not an accomplished historian. She felt in him a calling for political office.After discussion with principal and teachers, parents and selected students in her classes individually, she had concluded the election for president of the senior class must go forward. He would have wanted it. And so that the election may be fair and honest, and, at the same time, a real election, Kory's favorite twin brother Rory has agreed to stand in for senior class president. Thereupon, she extoled his virtues for a moment, asking Rory to stand and receive the approbation of his classmates and their deep sympathy.The ceremony continued with a coma inducing talk by the school psychologist, and a return to the normal rituals of the day. Only something was missing. Oh, yes, Kory. Whose body they had burned in the fire, whose two-handled urn Rory carried to his bedroom and set on a shelf reserved for various trophies of excellence in something or other, and turned smiling to his parents, who came to him and put their arms around him. With Tick and Tock vanished into thin air, and Kory safely reduced to ashes, it seemed to him well worth it now, waiting all this time to be born.



Contributors


CHARLES JOSEPH ALBERT is the author of three novels, seven poetry collections, and three collections of short stories. A fourth collection, The Bottom of the Grab Bag, is being published in 2024 by Dangeray Press. His work has appeared most recently in Short Edition, Kelp Journal, The Lowestoft Chronicle, and The Writing Disorder.DANIEL RABUZZI (he / his), danielarabuzzi.com, is a Pushcart nominee who has been published in, among others, Crab Creek Review, Harvard Review, New Letters, Hopscotch Translation, Chicago Review of Books, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. He has earned degrees in the study of folklore and mythology and European history. He lives in New York City with his artistic partner and spouse, the woodcarver Deborah Mills.DIPTI ANAND, based in Delhi, is an Indian writer, curator, and editor with an interdisciplinary master's of arts degree from New York University, among other adventures. Her writing has appeared previously in Maudlin House, Catapult, Bruiser, Akéwì Magazine, the Aerogram, boats against the current, TXTOBJX, ASAP Art, Scroll.in, Enormous Eye, and several art catalogues. Her work is also forthcoming in a poetry anthology. Her first novel was long-listed for the DZANC Books Diverse Voices Prize in 2020.GREG BECKMAN is the author of three collections of poetry. He is Los Angeles born and raised and he writes in the everything-already California spirit. His work can be found in various journals and at gbeckla.com.JAKE SHEFF is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He's married with a daughter and a crazy bulldog. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. A full-length collection of formal poetry, A Kiss to Betray the Universe, is available from White Violet Press. He also has two chapbooks: Looting Versailles (Alabaster Leaves Publishing) and The Rites of Tires (SurVision).JULIA YONG is a poet and perpetual student, currently rooted in Philadelphia PA. She is the editor-in-chief of Temple University’s esteemed undergraduate literary and art magazine, Hyphen. Her writing has received recognition from The Academy for American Poets, JMWW, and Moonstone Press, among others. See more of Julia’s writing at her Substack.MARK RUSS is a psychiatrist in Westchester County, NY. He was born in Cuba, the son of Holocaust survivors. He has contributed to the psychiatric literature throughout his career and has recently begun to publish short stories and nonfiction pieces. His work has appeared in The Jewish Writing Project, The Minison Project, SORTES, Jewishfiction.net, The Concrete Desert Review, and Literally Stories.MARTE CARLOCK, after 20 years of journalism, decided it would be more fun to make things up. She is author of two collections of poetry, How It Will Be from Now On Out and Women Traveling Alone. She lives near Boston.MICHAEL THÉRIAULT has been an ironworker, union organizer, and union representative. He published fiction in his twenties and half a dozen stories in literary magazines but abandoned literature for decades to support a family then a movement. In his very recent return, he has been published in Pacifica Literary Review, Overheard, Erato Magazine, Livina Press, Remington Review, Sky Island Journal, Currant Jam, Iconoclast, Door Is A Jar, and Guesthouse. Popula.com published his brief memoir of ironworker organizing. He is a San Francisco native and resident and a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe. Find him at @mtheriaultsf@mas.to, mtheriaultsf, and @mtheriaultsf.ROBERT POPE has published several books of short stories, including, most recently, Not a Jot or a Tittle. He lives in Akron, Ohio.


Support ArtWell


SORTES supports local, charitable, and community-based groups. Here's one important organization that SORTES supports:

"ArtWell was founded in 2000 to respond to the chronic community violence in Philadelphia by introducing a preventive, educational, arts-oriented approach to reach underserved communities and youth facing discrimination, poverty, violence, and the everyday challenges of growing up. Our mission is to support young people and their communities through multidisciplinary arts expression, education, and creative reflection to celebrate their strengths, thrive while facing complex challenges, and awaken their dreams."Charity NavigatorThe people who have worked on this publication support this cause and we urge you to as well.

Thank you!


Submission & Contact

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SORTES is?

SORTES is a spinning collection of stories, poems, songs, and illustrations to help while away the wintery June nights. It’s an oddball grabbag wunderkammer mixtape offering distraction and refreshment.We have neither theme nor scene. Each issue is its own creature. We publish both the sufficiently strange and insufficiently boring: swart stories, hoity poetry, magical surrealism, beatnik travelogues, hard modern haiku, pulp, fantasia, antibiography, crooning balladeering, experimental sentimentalism, and grainy sideways photography.We also host online readings, old time radio performances, and other beloved gimmicks as they occur to us. Previous issues are available via the site’s Archive link.

Submitting

SORTES considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, prose, illustration, music, videos, and anything else you think may fit our format. Feel free to poke us; we’d love to find a way to publish dance, sculpture, puzzles, and other un-literary modalities.SORTES is published quarterly. Each issue includes approximately ten works of lit, visual, or performance art. We like a small number of works per issue: artists and readers should have a chance to get to know each other.SORTES, you’ll notice, is primarily a black-and-white publication, and we like to play with that (by featuring monochrome videos and photography, for example), but we’ll happily consider your polychrome submission.Submissions are ongoing throughout the year. We consider artists with both extensive and limited publishing experience. We accept simultaneous submissions but please inform us if your work has been accepted elsewhere. We publish translations and reprints on a case-by-case basis; please send us a note describing your interest. And while there's no restriction on the number of pieces you can submit, please have a heart.There’s no need for an extensive cover letter or publication history but please tell us who you are, what kind of writing or art you do, and a bit about what you’re sending us. There are no formatting requirements for text submissions. There is no fee to submit. Please send submissions as email attachments whenever possible; multimedia submissions may be sent as links.

Rights

You asked and we provide: what's up with publication rights and ownership?Simple: When you publish with us, you give SORTES one-time publication right for your work. You retain all right to your work after publication. Work published with SORTES will remain available via our online Archive.While SORTES retains the right to link to or excerpt your published work, we do not have the right to publish your work in new formats (including print). If we would like to pursue publication of your work in new formats, we'll ask you and hopefully agree to terms.

Mahoffs

SORTES was created by founding editor Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and emeritus editor Kevin Travers. Current editors are listed in our masthead, Many of us live in Philadelphia, some luckily do not, but we invite writers and artists everywhere to live the SORTES fantasia.


Events

SORTES regularly offers readings and performances. For upcoming events, please check here and our Facebook page.


Please do amble on over to the

SORTES 18 READING

Sunday, July 7, 2024 @ 7pm ET

Steer your bayou bateau to our Zoom pontoon for the SORTES 18 READING, featuring some or all or some of our contributors, including quite possibly:

Charles Albert  ◊  Daniel Rabuzzi  ◊  Dipti Anand  ◊
Greg Beckman  ◊  Jake Sheff  ◊  Julia Yong  ◊
Mark Russ  ◊  Marte Carlock  ◊  Michael Thériault  ◊  Robert Pope

Our over-charon boatman will be Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.  All SORTES events are free and public;  we don’t check tags.


ID: 856 5018 8008
Passcode: 922951
Call in: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/k4qoV7Z3x


Radio SORTES



Archive


A Suspense-Full Halloween, October 29, 2023

On October 29, 2023, Radio SORTES presented A Suspense-Full Halloween -- live performance of two old time radio Suspense episodes -- "The Screaming Woman" and "Ghost Hunt" -- each dripping with period music and sound effects.From 1940 through 1962, Suspense, "radio's outstanding theater of thrills," terrified radio listeners with macabre true crime and supernatural horrors.Our production was reanimated by the electrifying Radio SORTES Players: Alyssa Shea, Betsy Herbert, Dan DiFranco, Demree McGhee, Eliot Duhan, Emily Zido, Fionna Farrell, Iris Johnston, Kelly Ralabate, Lino, and Nick Perilli. The performance was adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and Aria Braswell, with direction and sound by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.


Scary SORTESies To Tell In The Dark, October 30, 2022

On October 30, 2022, Radio SORTES presented three ghastly and unnerving old time radio stories, including original adaptations of Arch Oboler's "The Dark," Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains," and Oscar Wilde's “The Canterville Ghost,” plus poetry from "Weird Tales" magazine.Our infernal Radio SORTES Players included Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Christina Rosso • Demree McGhee • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Kelly Ralabate • Lino • Luke Condzal • and Rosanna Lee Byrnes. The performance was written, produced, and scored by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.Radio SORTES is an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine, whose events and readings are always free, open to all, and ideally less than two hours. See SORTES.co for inexpressibly brilliant literature, art, and upcoming events.


1950s Western / Sci-Fi Double-Feature, February 25, 2022

The talented Radio SORTES Players performed two old time radio episodes broadcast live via ethereal wireless right to our audience's home receivers.We galloped into the unknown with a 1950s western / sci-fi double-feature: The Six Shooter episode “Battle at Tower Rock” and the Dimension X episode “A Logic Named Joe” -- each with music and convincing sound effects.The all-star Radio SORTES players were: Abbey Minor • Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Daniel DiFranco • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • Kailey Tedesco • Kelly Ralabate • Kevin Travers • Luke Condzal • Nicholas Perilli • Rachel Specht • Rosanna Byrnes • and Victoria Mier.Radio SORTES -- an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine -- was produced and directed by Kevin Travers and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Radio SORTES is always free, open to all, and less than two hours. See SORTES.co for upcoming events.


The 39 Steps, February 19, 2021

The Radio SORTES Players performed this classic adventure story, written by John Buchan and adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum from Hitchcock's 1935 film and the 1937 Lux Radio production. It starred Brenna Dinon • Heather Bowlan • Rosanna Byrnes • Betsy Herbert • Iris Johnston • Warren Longmire • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Nicholas Perilli • Kelly Ralabate • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Victoria Mier • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • and Kevin Travers.


Halloween Eve Special, October 30, 2020

Introduction

Suspense, "The House in Cypress Canyon"

Commercial

Inner Sanctum Mysteries, "Voice on the Wire"

The Radio SORTES players presented a live Halloween Eve special: two programs of classic old time radio horrors. The shows -- including dialogues, music, and sound effects -- were performed for a live Zoom audience.The Suspense episode “The House in Cypress Canyon” was originally broadcast December 5, 1946 and the Inner Sanctum Mysteries episode “Voice on the Wire” was originally broadcast November 29, 1944. Both programs were performed by Kevin Travers • Sean Finn • Britny Perilli • Don Deeley • Brian Maloney • Betsy Herbert • Kyle Brown Watson • Nicholas Perilli • Emma Pike • Susan Clarke • and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Between episodes, we presented an original commercial in period style written and performed by Kevin Travers.


Odd Lots

Announcements and correspondence


Like any genius literary journal, SORTES invites readers and contributors to fight amongst themselves. Please email us to compliment our stellar authors and artists. Spicier fans may want to howl and bellow. Or maybe you have an announcement about a book, art project, impending marriage, &c?Be a part of the problem: comment on our stories and poems, other letters, and the SORTES demimonde in general by emailing


Announcements

TEXT


Correspondence

No Gimmicks

“SORTES continues to ascend the summit of artistic authenticity with every new issue its editors publish, showcasing the works of talented writers in a clean format that is accessible to the reader. There are no gimmicks here or busy links to click through, just the authors and their words. Read em'.”

James Feichthaler, September 8, 2022

James, we appreciate your words mammothly but we delicately disagree: SORTES is one transparent gimmick after another. It's a ruse wrapped in a gambit baked inside a flaky shenanigan potpie.


Missed Connection

“You: M/early 30s olive skin and a nose like a fleur-de-lis, burgundy sweater, pumpkin scarf.Me: F/38 eating olives out of pumpkin rind, lily patterned dress
The bartender sent me a glass of burgundy 'from the gentleman' and you tipped your hat. We talked about SORTES, the paper magazine on the internet, and sang karaoke of our favorite submissions. Drunk on bons mots and pithe, you knocked over the wunderkammer and were ejected by the bouncer. Let's meet and collage a poem!”

Iris Johnston, September 12, 2022

Me: That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my nose.

Credit and Debit


Archive



Shop

SORTES is a mostly online journal, as you know, but every so often we can't resist existing.


Annual 2023

The SORTES Spectral Winter Annual 2023 revives the tradition of haunted holiday fiction. This beautifully crafted 44-page paperback anthology features ghastly short stories showcasing a dead man’s special deliveries, a judgmental seaside specter, the pains of an aging table-rapper, the heartwarming war on the poor, and the electrifying end of the year / world, as well as poems celebrating the Jersey Devil's unsung siblings. Authors include Daniel DiFranco, Jean Zurbach, Kailey Tedesco, Max D. Stanton, Mordecai Martin, and Nick Perilli. The Annual makes an ideal holiday present for any dear friend or family member who loathes the living.

SORTES Sampler 2

A SORTES Sampler 2 is a slender tasty book collecting weird fiction by Max D. Stanton, surrealist collage art by Danielle Gatto Hirano, and a poetry cycle by Uri Rosenshine. It’s a handsomely designed but affordable little snack of a book. We have incredibly limited copies on hand, and every day they become incredibly more limited, so leap today.

SORTES Sampler 1

NOT QUITE SOLD OUT! We've uncovered a secret cache of remaining copies!A SORTES Sampler 1 was our first attempt to make the ephemeral real. It contains a dystopian farmstead fantasy by Iris Johnston, paper cutout art by Abi Whitehead, and a Coney Island noir by Mordecai Martin.


But are there deals? I have just decided there will be deals!

Annual 2023 + Sampler 1

Buy both and save $5

Annual 2023 + Sampler 2

Buy both and save $5

Annual 2023 + Both Samplers

Buy all three and save $10

While despairingly slim supplies last. Prices don't include shipping. To receive these special rates, items must be purchased together in the same checkout cart.


Or delay your delicious fulfillment and

Buy In Person

When in Philadelphia, please gobble up your copies from:Brickbat Books, Head & Hand Books, A Novel Idea on PassyunkPlease note that not every publication is sold in each location. If these fine stores are sold out, march to the counter and sweetly demand more SORTES.


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SORTES is dedicated to free: every online issue is lovingly brought to you for zero dollars while each Radio SORTES entertainment is beamed gratis to your Zoom dial. Our masochistic editors tell me they’re delighted to put in hundreds of hours for no money and paltry recognition.However, the rest of the chilly world is less dedicated to free and much the opposite: our website, our Zoom, our physical publications, and so many other digital nickels and dimes sap us more each year.We must fight back – and we need you to help us! Every dollar supporting SORTES goes to creating a strange literary world in which you’re a citizen. To delight you, we’re dancing in our red shoes down to our nubs.Why don’t we accept advertising? Because we hate it and it seems like too much work anyway. It blocks the bucolic view. It spoils the fine pleats in our website.So we turn to solicitation, which is much more up our alley. Patreon revives a tradition old as Roman poetry and frumpy chapel ceilings.


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