Est. 2012

 Issue Twenty-Six-July 2014

Thomas J. Erickson
Agnosto 2013
The deer antler spray must be working
because my Christ Complex is on 
the wane.  My wonder is
back.  The Pope is
retiring and I wonder if he’s still 
infallible if he leaves the toilet seat up 
in his new rooms in the convent.
If I were a Scientologist, I would be working 
in Tom Cruise’s garden and going clear.
The color of Beyonce’s skin is beatific.  I have 
never seen anything so beautiful.  There 
needs to be a new crayon called “Beyonce”
so I can buy the 64 pack with the sharpener 
and color all day long.  I’ll put on 
Leonard Cohen and hold that crayon
like a crucifix.  
When John Brown reached the scaffold
he said, “This is a beautiful country. I never
had the pleasure of seeing it before,” as he 
gazed over the valleys of Virginia.  And 
what of the wonderful vistas seen by the pilots
on the clear as crystal morning of 9-11?  Or the
jumpers from the Towers?  
And then Tamerlan and Dzhokhar happen. 
If I believe again 
I will blame it on you.

Joseph Somoza
Rain, After Four Months Of Drought.
It rattled the car roof and 
windshield as we
splashed on the road to Mesilla.
It turned the world cold and
somber, and the trees, gazebo and
buildings on the plaza 
into an Impressionist painting, 
though with not one person 
walking with umbrella.
We stood under the eaves of a café 
smelling and hearing the world 
our senses of smell and hearing 
transformed also, 
the internal combustion engine 
of our bodies, our closed 
system of rivers and streams, 
our private storehouses of memories 
by the rain filtering 
through the air, the less permeable
membrane of our skins,  
and the various portals 
through which the world normally 
converses in a whisper
with our drowsy
interior regions.

Before the maple tree outside this window
rooted, or this building was built,
or the other buildings in this neighborhood
that now block the view of distant hills
against the sky—before Beethoven first
heard this “late quartet” I’m playing
in our room, hardly any part of this 
existed, except for the waves 
of the Pacific, then an unnamed ocean, 
waves that had been rolling in 
before anyone arrived 
to build houses 
with an ocean view, 
on hills at the far end of a country 
not yet a country, the hills 
innocently leading down 
to a beach no one, 
had set foot on.

Marian Shapiro
Late July. Shorts. Bathing suits. Ice
cream. Blueberries bluing daily, filling
the breakfast bowl. Tomorrow’s raspberries down the road.
Flowers everywhere, paint brushes swiping
life with every color you’ve been dreaming of.
All winter you’ve been waiting for The Coming,
for the families of golds and purples, sun-
set orange-reds, luminous whites striped 
with lipstick pinks …on canvasses of greengreen
green; greens of every flavor - limes and mints,
parsley, cucumbers, pistachios, and granny
apples, sweet summer greens surrounding us,
infusing us; grass, bush, and fir. Birches
hooking elbows. One can hardly tell where
one arm ends and the other arm begins.
One maple leaf is drifting down, landing
its autumn forecast on the road I’ve taken for 
my morning walk. Like a red balloon whose air 
has fizzled out. Like a bottle of Dom 
Perignon left uncorked overnight. 
Finished. Over. But the Angel of the Breeze
whispers in my ear: Never mind. Listen!
The flickers are giggling; – Summer! Summer! The bees 
are waltzing in the clover. Children are climbing 
on the playground jungle gym. Tonight the town
will turn out for the streetdance.  The music’s live,
loud, joyous, raucous, and utterly
forgettable. Dancing’s the point. Dancing
for today, for July and August. For
the time worth waiting for.

Sarah Marchant
The Fear
With this teaspoon, I intend
to dig this river dry,
laboring over every pitiful portion.
Huddled under an Indian blanket,
my hunched shoulders shaking,
rhythms of Plath's ceaselessly echo.
My tongue cannot taste;
my eyes cannot rid themselves
of this terrible aching.

Simon Perchik
Four hundred miles, four hundred 
broken apart for the road inside
though this box-like hole in your chest
salted over –every winter now
you wear two shirts, white, torn
so you don’t surround the cold
with sandwiches when soup is needed 
–you bring along a bowl that lets itself
be carried off, empty, cared for
something to count that’s more than two
yet one finger loosens, its light spills out
as moons, single file and in the open
circles the snow fallen through 
bolted to the ground –someone 
feeding someone so many times.

Diane Hardy
Bradley and the Others
             Sunlight slams through the window; he awakens as though the alarm went off although it didn’t. Smiling he thinks, It’s set for 8:00 and here I’m awake by 7:50.  Bradley’s trying to get in the habit of waking up before the alarm each morning. He rises, rubs his left forearm, and pushes in the button on his clock.  Quickly he washes his face and hands and makes the bed, performing the tasks soundlessly. 

           It’s not Dad’s nightshift at the mine: he could be on one of his other jobs; or he might be in the bedroom asleep.  I’d better be quiet. He chuckles to himself. He’s not like Heather, the hibernating bear.

  ​        Bradley chooses a turquoise tie-dyed shirt to go with his bell-bottom jeans. I hope I don’t get teased about these clothes. At least they fit me better than last years did.  After a quick inspection at the hallway mirror, he heads out the door. By starting at 8:10 he’ll be halfway to school before Chet even leaves home.

         It was the first day of school last year, Bradley recalls, anguish creasing his brow. 

   ​       He’d been walking to school, excited, wondering about his new teacher and what fifth graders studied. Stepping in rhythm he softly sang, 

           I see the bad moon arising, I see trouble on the way, 
          I see earthquakes and lightnin’, I see bad times today.
          Don’t go around tonight, Well it’s bound to take your life, 
         There’s a bad moon on the rise.

   Bicycles came up from behind. He automatically quickened his pace.   

            “There he is, guys—Heather’s kid. My dad calls her the black widow—you know why?” squealed Chet. “Get this: after black widows screw, the female kills her mate.  Dad says that’s what Heather’s doing to Ralph. He used to look like a normal dude; now he’s a spineless wimp. No balls, ha ha. She killed that part first—that what happened, Retard?  Is that what your old lady did?”
            Bradley didn’t look at them—didn’t need to. Knew Chet’s scathing smile and cruel voice. Didn’t need to look at the other two, either—clones of Chet, hanging on his every word, thankful he wasn’t targeting them.
He rubbed his arm, walked faster.  
            “What’s your hurry, Weirdo?” Chet chided. “How come you do that thing with your arm?  Looks like you go to beat your meat, miss your dick, and get your arm instead.”
            Honking with laughter, the boys pointed and flew by.
            They’re right—I’m a weirdo and I do rub my arm. He inspected the wide oval on his forearm—red, hairless, mocking. 
            Now, the first day of sixth grade Bradley still rubs his arm with no more understanding
of why, knows only that it’s worse when Chet’s around. It’s because of all the trouble, he rationalizes.

            Like the time Chet and his friends toilet-papered Bradley’s house and the huge willow
tree out front, setting Heather off.  She flounced over to the Murdock’s and confronted Chet in front of his parents, him a dirty little bastard. Hank, Chet’s dad, ordered her off the property and threatened to call the police.
            Chet’s payback was to kill Whiskers two days later. Heather didn’t feed him much, so he’d gotten
used to running around the neighborhood picking up scraps of food from different houses.
            When the cat didn’t come home by dusk, Bradley rode around the neighborhood searching. At
last, he spotted him, dragging along the sidewalk that led from Chet’s house—bloated up, fat as a pig. Bradley leapt from his bike and lifted Whiskers up. The cat let out a low cry from deep inside. Leaving his bike on the sidewalk Bradley raced home carrying Whiskers and crying.

            “He can hardly walk and he’s really heavy,” Bradley panted. “Here, feel his stomach.”
            Heather examined the cat declaring, “It’s that little fucker, Chet. He’s stuffed Whiskers full of rocks.”
            “We’ve got to take him to the vet,” Bradley sobbed, raking his arm.
            “Hell, that won’t do any good. You can see the cat’s dying. Besides he’s old; we got him when you were two. Nope! I’m not wasting money on a doctor—just for a cat. And would you stop rubbing that arm?  What’s the
matter with you anyway?”

            Bradley went to his closet for the first time that day, leaving the cat by the garage, Heather watching it curiously. The next morning he retrieved Whisker’s body from the garbage can and hurriedly carried him to a nearby empty lot, where he scraped out a hole to bury him.  

            “I’ve got to hurry and wash this dirt off before she sees me, but I just can’t leave you
in the trash, Whiskers,” he said, giving the cat a final caress.

              Bradley chastises himself for still thinking about Whiskers, digs his arm until it’s bright red, and enters the school. Finding his class is easy and he’s early enough to select any seat. He chooses one in the back and watches kids as they enter the room, excitedly laughing and calling to one another.

              Thank goodness Chet isn’t one of them; he must be in the other class. 

             He catches himself ready to rub his arm and fights the temptation by  concentrating on school.  Will I be able to make a friend this year? What will I get to eat for lunch? Who will be my teacher?

            Thank goodness it’s Mrs. Spendlove, who often talked to him when he was in the fifth grade. A small woman with beautiful silver hair and glasses that hang from a pearly string and ride her bosom. Her shiny white blouses smell of lilacs and are neatly tucked into an A-line skirt, the hem hitting her mid-calf. When Bradley hears her black two-inch pumps approaching, he has a feeling of coming heat and whirlwind. 

          She’s probably someone’s grandmother—wish she was mine.
          Mrs. Spendlove opens the class by having the students state their name and what they like best about school.  She starts at the front row and works toward the back. Amy begins; it’s definitely reading, Richard picks science, Ted likes recess. Bradley is last because of sitting at the end on the back row. 

         “My name is Bradley Reynolds and I like school lunch the best,” he softly asserts.
          The class erupts with laughter. 
          “That food is gross,” cries Martha.
          “I bring my lunch from home,” Ted boasts.
        Mrs. Spendlove smiles at Bradley. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.  Although school lunches may not be appreciated by all of you, we should be grateful they are available.”

        She goes on to say that when she was in elementary school in the 1930’s there was no school lunch offered. Children who were able to bring a lunch from home were indeed lucky because the Great Depression was on and food was scarce.  
      “My mother packed one lunch for me and my two sisters. We shared it at noon, each getting a third of a jam sandwich and a graham cracker. My older brother in high school got nothing.” 

       Now brightening, “Here in 1969 things are better. Why, our country just this summer put a man on the
Moon!  Let’s get out our science books and learn about our planet Earth and its solar system.” 

              By ten Bradley’s stomach is growling loudly. He looks at the clock—two hours to go.  He starts the science worksheet. Lance comes in from his reading class, smiles at Bradley, and points to the wall clock.  

            Oh good, he’s in my class—hope he’ll be my friend again this year. 

           Lance stands a full head taller than Bradley and outweighs him by sixty pounds.  People think he’s much older than other kids in class, but the difference is only one year, due to his being held back in the first grade. Looking closely at Lance’s face with the dull eyes and simple smile, you might realize he isn’t too bright.    

        Heather saw him once and gave a snickering bark, “You said your friend was slow—that’s the understatement of the year—he’s practically a drooling idiot!”
        Lance and Bradley file out for recess. They walk the schoolyard in silence, deep in their own
thoughts—a match by default. When class resumes Annette, a girl from Bradley’s neighborhood, comes by his desk. 
       “Your mother was here during recess. I thought maybe she was picking you up, but you’re still here. Didn’t
you see her?”
        Bradley shakes his head, reddens.  
        He hears Susan—wide-eyed, “That’s his mother?  She’s scary.”
       “You don’t know the half of it,” Annette whispers. “I’ll tell you later.”
       Bradley looks down—rubs his arm. 

       Heather went on a diet last April, so she put Ralph and Bradley on it as well, although neither were overweight. Soon every morsel in the house disappeared.  For several years she hadn’t cooked, but now she cleaned the sandwich stuff from the refrigerator, unplugged it to save electricity, and had Ralph store it in
the garage.  A small freezer took its place with a hundred Banquet TV dinners. Each day during the summer the three of them got a choice of beef pot roast or Salisbury steak, warmed up in the electronic oven. They washed it down with a cold Tab. Bradley’s job was to keep the ice cube trays filled.
      On a morning in July the family went downtown. Ralph was headed to work at the Gilsonite mines, thirty miles away. Heather left him by the Safeway bus stop and she and Bradley drove down Main Street to the bank. Minutes later they drove back up the street and saw him chasing the bus. 

  “You idiot,” she shouted out the window. “Why’d you miss the bus?”
    Ralph sheepishly mouthed, “I was in the store.”
    Heather screeched the car to a stop. “Buying candy I see. Where’d you get the money?”
   “Out of the drawer—but only sixty cents…I get hungry without lunch, Heather,” he murmured.
   “You sneaky son-of-a-bitch—get in the car!”

    She flipped a u-turn and raced out of town, going eighty miles an hour on the highway.  Ten minutes later she squealed into the neighboring town’s bus stop just as men were loading.  Ralph hurried to board—Heather on his heals.  As he sat she confiscated the candy with Ralph’s co-workers staring in disbelief. 

  “That’s what you get for stealing sixty cents,” she jeered. “Was it worth it, Asshole?”

  In the car Bradley listened, eyes shut tightly, hands pressed over his ears.Then hearing Heather descend the bus steps and walk toward the car, he lay down on the floorboard of the back seat, pretended to be asleep.

   In August she said, “Bradley, with school starting you get no food at home ‘cause you’ll be eating school lunch,
except on weekends when you get the Banquet dinner and Tab—understand?  Ralph, you’ll still have the TV dinner and Tab everyday after work. I’m going on straight Metrecal.” 

   Both Ralph and Bradley lost weight rapidly, soon looking gaunt and weak.  Heather lost some, but stayed up around one hundred eighty pounds. At times her car smelled of french fries, and one day Bradley found the wrappings of six hamburgers under the front seat.  

           At last the bell rings and kids line up for lunch. Lance and Bradley are delighted to see the menu is spaghetti and meatballs with mozzarella cheese, green beans, white bread slathered with real butter, milk, and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

            “Ohhh, those meatballs make my stomach growl. I’m before you, so you’ll be lucky to get any,” Lance jokes.
            “Yeah,” Bradley quips. “Your pants are tighter than they were last year. When you bend down, I can
see your crack.” 
            Both boys know the three cooks by name—Mrs. Walker, Ruthie, and Beverly—who always smile and ask how things are going. Today they appear extra-friendly. After serving Lance they load Bradley’s plate with food.
            “Look what they gave you,” Lance cries. “Why do you get so much?”
            “They look at you and decide you don’t need it,” Bradley replies.
            A jovial mood takes over and the boys even talk to other kids at the table. Lance cleans his plate first. “I’ll wait for you to go back, Bradley.” 

            They line up again. Students are allowed seconds after everyone has been served. Mrs. Walker dishes up spaghetti and meatballs for Lance, who declines the green beans, but takes a couple more slices of bread and butter and another cookie. 

            Then the cooks hesitate, uncomfortably glance at Bradley and at one another. A dark, smothering silence descends. Bradley waits—hopeful, but wearing a worried smile. After what seems forever Mrs. Walker, with downcast eyes and an ashen white face, says in a whisper,  “Bradley dear, I’m afraid I cannot serve you more food. Your mother came by a little while ago and said we can’t give you more than one helping. If we do she won’t let you eat school lunch. I’m sorry, kiddo.”

            Beverly shakes her head and busies herself with the green beans. Rosie, tearing up, turns and runs toward
the back of the kitchen.   

            Bradley flees, bolting out the lunchroom door, his empty tray still on the counter. Lance, looking after him calls, “Here Bud, you can have some of mine.” 

            In the bathroom he splashes his face with cold water.  His head pounds and raspy breath escapes in
gasps—like drowning. A boy comes in, enters a stall.  Bradley retreats to the last one, locks the door and sits on the toilet, fingers burrowing into his arm. 
            Minutes later in class Mrs. Spendlove assigns a review worksheet on fractions. Bradley knows them well, but sits staring straight ahead. After a few minutes she comes down the isle and asks kindly, “What’s wrong, son? 
Don’t you feel well?”
            I can’t cry, I can’t cry.  Please don’t let me cry, he prays.
            “Do you need to call your mother to come get you?” she asks gently.
“No,” he blurts—then, “I’m fine.  I’ll do my work,” and he hurriedly begins scribbling the answers. 
When the bell rings Bradley springs from his seat and bursts from the room; he’s first out of the building. 
Surprisingly, Heather is parked in front with the car running.
             “So you didn’t get to make a pig out of yourself today, did you?” she taunts as he gets in the car.
            Bradley shrugs.
            “Answer me, you stupid brat.”
            He remains silent, looking out the side window.

            “Well,” she snarls gleefully, “it got back to me that you ate seconds and even thirds last year. That bitch, Rosie, in the white garb and hairnet, told someone at church that the cooks all feel sorry for you and give you whatever they can ‘cause I don’t feed you.  Is that what you’ve told people? Huh?—Speak up!”
            Bradley shakes his head, finger nails digging into his arm.

            “By God, they’d better not try it again. I said if I heard of them giving you more than one helping, I’d cut you off from school lunch completely. Then that lard-ass Walker, said, ‘He don’t look like he gets enough to eat.’ ”
            “You’re slaughtering the English language,’ I told her. ‘The word is doesn’t, not don’t, and a fine
judge of weight you are with your big fat ass. You shoulda seen her face then.”
            Heather pounces on the gas feed and the car leaps onto the roadway. She glares at Bradley, cowering in the corner, wildly clawing his arm. Slapping his hand she shrieks, “Would you quit rubbing that fucking arm?The next time you do it, I’m gonna beat the shit outta you.”

            At home Bradley washes his hands, hangs up school clothes, puts on a tee-shirt and shorts, and sets
his alarm for eight o’clock in the morning. He rummages in the bottom dresser drawer, briefly panicking until
he finds it—the Norman Rockwell Commemorative Boy Scout Knife he rescued one day when Heather was cleaning out some of his dad’s possessions. Ralph received it from his father who was a young Boy Scout in 1939.  Briefly fingering the lettering, ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders,’ he wraps his hand around it. 
That’s when Mrs. Spendlove grew up.  Kids in those days had it real bad.

        Then he hurries, nestling down on the floor of the closet beneath the thick air, the door closed except for a
crack.  His heart pounds like blows of an axe and blood pulses in his fingertips. The knife blade gleams—a sardonic smile in the half-light of the closet.  
He fingers his scarred thighs.  

       Where’s a good spot?

       Closing his eyes he quickly swipes a two-inch line above the right knee. A single hard noise like a bird cry escapes, and tiny red bubbles dot the leg’s surface. 

       One more—I need one more. 

       This time it’s deeper…release washes over him and the darkness pools.  

Thomas J. Erickson is an attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His chapbook, "The Lawyer Who Died in
the Courthouse Bathroom" was published in 2013 by Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin Libraries.
Marian Kaplun Shapiro is the author of a professional book, Second Childhood (Norton, 1988), a poetry book, Players In The Dream, Dreamers In The Play (Plain View Press, 2007) and two chapbooks: Your Third Wish, (Finishing Line, 2007); and The End Of The World, Announced On Wednesday (Pudding House, 2007). A Quaker and a psychologist, her poetry often embeds the topics of peace and violence by addressing one within the context of the other. A resident of Lexington, she was named Senior Poet Laureate of Massachusetts in 2006, in 2008, in 2010, 2011, and 2014. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2012. 

Simon Perchik’s poetry has appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Yorker and elsewhere. 

Sarah Marchant is a writer and poetry editor living in St. Louis. 

Diane Hardy is a retired university professor and published author who chooses to write instead of dying in front of the living room television. She resides in Utah. 

Joseph Somoza

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