Linden Avenue Literary Journal
Issue Thirty-One- December 2014
After This (for AJ)
A round moon rises over Chicago’s hampered darkness.
There is no spring for 25 miles.
The concrete is absolute.
We fish for dinner in small bars
At the edge of Uptown.
We munch on traffic. I drink
The neon lights. Her and I talk about the moments
August, heading West, jobs in Seattle.
She is from Chicago. I happen from the North.
The snow is a dream inside me,
And my life flits like eyes slanted in a storm.
Someday the beautiful, excruciating wreck
Of all that’s happened will find itself a poem.
Until then, two old friends, slowly learning
The alphabet of years.
We Must Hold Them Close
My friend is from the desert
And she carries a rage,
Like sunburst in her heart.
It flares out, unexpected and fierce,
And I love her for that fire.
On some nights we drink too much
And fight the trivial fights of friendship.
We cry, make up, and go get dinner,
5 AM, while the morning wakens.
On those nights I return to my apartment,
Drunk and barely conscious,
And I think of other friends gone into darkness,
Their faces washed clean by time or addiction,
Their bodies in the earth or shadows,
Their memories fading now
On that dark, forgetful blade.
One Last Dance (A Play list)
2. Electric Boogie-Marsha Griffith
3. Something Just Ain’t Right-Keith Sweat
4. I Can’t Get Over You-Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
5. Another Sad Love Song-Toni Braxton
6. Sign Your Name-Terrance Trent Darby
8. I Wanna Be Down- Brandy
9. Lead Me Into Love-Anita Baker
10. The Long Walk Home- (Unknown)
11. On And On-Erykah Badu
There was no television or art on the wall in the living room of my childhood home. We didn’t have a fine china cabinet or fancy window curtains. The most important fixture in that room was the stereo, equipped with two gigantic speakers on each side and the ability to play vinyl records, CDs and cassette tapes. The white sectional sofa, coffee table and piano were there, but only to compliment the stereo. My mother loved her music and in this room amongst her many albums and CDs, she sought solace.
2. Electric Boogie
I hated this song at first. I thought it was cheesy, gimmicky and likely a one hit wonder. All of this might have been true, but it was also catchy. It was also impossible not to notice the joy my mother felt when she heard it. With a glass of Chablis in hand, she snapped her fingers and smiled infectiously as she taught me to do the Electric Slide for the first time. Together, we stepped to the right, then left, then back to front, then turned and repeated. Before I knew it, I was singing along. “You can’t see it. It’s electric! You gotta’ feel it. It’s electric.”
From then on she insisted on doing the Electric Slide as much as possible. I recall Saturdays where my mother, sister and I passed the entire day dancing on the living room floor.
3. Something Just Ain’t Right
I only heard this song through the vents in my bedroom at night. Anytime Keith Sweat was on, my mother was in party mode, which meant I was supposed to be asleep. Of course, I never was. I lay there in bed eavesdropping as she laughed and gossiped with her girlfriends downstairs in their chorus of “Chile please” and “Honey let me tell ya.” The sound of her snapping her fingers let me know she was dancing and some nights, I hopped down and danced in front of my bed. It felt like I was in the living room with her and I didn’t have to see her to know she was smiling.
4. I Can’t Get Over You
This was her melancholy song. Maybe she was reflecting on something; someone. Sometimes she played it midday while cleaning or sometimes late at night in solitude. To me, it was a beautiful song and Frankie Beverly had a sultry tenor voice that was just so easy to get wrapped up in but I knew she wasn’t just listening to him for his voice. I could never quite figure out her mood when she listened to it but the lyrics said it all.
“I know I brought it on myself
I owe no blame to no one else.
And now I realize, I can’t get over you.”
5. Another Sad Love Song
I was eleven years old when mother took my sister, my cousin and I to Clearwater Beach, Florida for a spring break. We were so excited that we stayed up all night until it was time to get on the road. I brought a few of my own cassette tapes, thinking we would all share the radio equally. I failed to realize my mother was obsessed with Toni Braxton’s new single, “Another Sad Love Song.”
She didn’t have the entire album. She only had the cassette single. So we listened to the song on side A and the instrumental on side B for the entire eight-hour drive. Each time side A repeated, my mother sang her heart out like she hadn’t heard it in years. For the first couple of hours, we sang along and got into it with her, but by the end of the trip we were ready to get out of that car and away from Toni Braxton.
It wasn’t that we didn’t like the song. We just didn’t like it nearly as much as she did. It’s been twenty years and somehow, I’m still sick of hearing that song. To this day, anytime it comes on the radio, I change the station.
6. Sign Your Name
It was a hit song by an obscure artist. I had never heard of Terrance Trent Darby and never did again after the release of this song but somehow it made its way into our home and through the vents of my bedroom. I didn’t get out of bed when I heard it. I just stared at the ceiling and listened. I imagined my mother laying in the living room doing the same, staring at the ceiling, searching, longing for something. I was not sure what. It’s just something I noticed the more I watched her. She didn’t sing a long or mouth the words to this song, but there was something about it that resonated with her enough to play it back again, to stay up late when she had to be at work the next morning, to have another glass of wine and another.
My mother played her music just loud enough not to disturb those who wanted to sleep, but I didn’t want to sleep if she was awake. It was never quite loud enough to drown out her footsteps towards the refrigerator or muffle the cork popping out of the wine bottle, followed by wine pouring into the glass. She poured more wine with each song and as the songs got sadder, so did she.
8. I Wanna Be Down
I had my own collection of CDs in my room and a miniature version of my mother’s stereo downstairs. She bought it for me as a birthday gift and on it I typically played the latest in R&B and hip-hop. Every now and again, she would pull herself away from the classics in her collection to find out what I was listening to.
I was playing Brandy’s self-titled debut album when she came into the room. She was immediately drawn to the first single, “I Wanna Be Down” when she heard it. There was nothing wrong with the song. It just wasn’t the kind of song I thought she would be into. It was kind of carefree and didn’t provoke much thought or feeling. There wasn’t any depth or soul. Nevertheless, she borrowed the CD from me and played it as much as she could and while she played it she danced, and while she danced she smiled. Meanwhile, bottles of Chablis were piling up near the trashcan and I began to see the pain behind her mask. She loved this song but for me, that didn’t matter. It mattered that her heart was too heavy to listen to a lighthearted song sober.
9. Lead Me Into Love
There’s something about Anita Baker’s voice. It’s the kind of voice that demands your attention, peacefully. It’s a soulful contralto that’s both warm and inviting. I’ve never heard anything like it. Of all her songs, “Lead Me Into Love” stands out because I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the lyrics, trying to dissect every word, every syllable.
“Take my heart and lead me into love.
Light the way for me. Without your touch I cannot see.”
I was too young to understand that kind of love or what it meant to long for it but I wanted to know why my mom listened to it so much. One night, I decided to get out of bed and find out.
I followed the sound of Anita’s voice downstairs and peeked my head in the living room door. There she was, sitting in front of the stereo, in the dark, crying. It’s the most vulnerable I’d even seen her. I wanted to hug her and wipe her tears. I wanted to understand why she was hurting. I wanted to fix it, but I was sure she would push me away. So instead of going to her, instead trying to ease her pain, I turned around, tip toed back to my bedroom and closed the door, not knowing how soon it would be too late.
10. Long Walk Home
I don’t know who sings this song. I just know my mother was sick. She went from her daily routine of going to work, coming home, having wine and listening to music to having cancer. Our relatives from out of town came to Atlanta while she was in the hospital and took over our house, our stereo. There’s no way she would let them take over her house if she was okay.
My Aunt Karen had this song on a cassette tape that she got from church, and on the way back and forth to the hospital to visit my mother, she played it on repeat —just like my mother played “Another Sad Love Song” some years prior. This time the mood was different.
I hated this song, not because the woman couldn’t sing ,but because I hated what it meant. I hated that my love of music forced me to learn the words even when I didn’t want to. It’s a song about the journey from Earth to Heaven, from life to death, from breathing to not breathing, from existence to nonexistence and I was supposed to be okay with that?
11. On and On
On the last day I saw my mother alive, I bought a CD, Erykah Badu’s “Baduizm.” I couldn’t wait to listen to it. I also bought a plant for my mother, and after I purchased the CD we headed to the hospital to visit her. I actually thought she would be okay, that this was just a phase and she would get through it. All of this changed the moment I saw her. She was delirious, barely alert and seemed to be fading away right before my eyes. So I did what any strong, independent, nonchalant fifteen year old would do. I cried. I ran out of her room hysterically and demanded to be taken home. I didn’t look back. I didn’t say goodbye.
I went home and listened to my new CD on repeat in silence, in my room, on my twin bed, where I had laid all those years as she sat downstairs in front of her stereo. I listened to one song in particular, “On and On.”
“Oh my, my, my.
I’m feeling high. My money’s gone. I’m all alone.”
I thought about how much I wished I could dance with her again. I wanted to rewind the time to before she got sick, before she was depressed, to when she was happy, to when we were happy. I thought about her sadness, her longing to be loved, that I would never truly know what made her cry all those nights. I thought about her. I thought about her. I thought about her.
By morning, the music had stopped and the vents in my room were silent. I walked downstairs to find an empty living room and stereo with no sound. I sat down in front of it, in her spot and wondered if she could see me too.
in the snow
the last time i saw you
was when you fell to your knees in the woods
almost indiscernible except for the blood that,
like your lost cape,
colored part of the landscape red
The Shaft of the Well
He can’t find it, the tall one with black dust jacket and white lettering on the spine, the title, The Shaft of the Well, in curly calligraphy. The author’s name, Jean Buckler, written in block letters, also white. Jean smiles in her photo, a smokestack belching up white steam in the background in a bilious cloud. Malcolm’s copy is autographed in jagged, indecipherable black letters across the title page. The ink bled through to the dedication, leaving a fuzzy line like a caterpillar that might chew through the words.
He is sure it is here somewhere. The books are all rigid, standing at attention, shoved into the shelf, covers smashed against one another. None of them slouch. To pry one out would cause several of its neighbors to cascade out as well, they are so compressed. He has no idea how he got them in there so tight, what he did to wedge them so close together between those walls of particle board. Malcolm scans the shelf again: no luck. It is not here. So many others, but not the one he wants now. Sunshine streams through the open window, and dust covers the wood in front of the books. Why hasn’t Magdalene dusted? He’s certain she does most afternoons, running a used dryer sheet across all the hardwood surfaces of the house, whisking away the settled dead skin.
He’s upset, wanting and needing this missing book. He turns in a slow circle, opening and closing his eyes while he spins, right then left then right again, like a ballerina in a music box, he thinks, and he lifts up his arm over his shoulders, hand cocked like a heron’s head, lifting one foot off the ground. He checks the shelf again, as though by pirouetting around within those four white walls the world would turn itself over and the book would come peeking out of whatever fold in time and space it has crawled into.
The book has not come back.
“Magdalene.” His voice echoes, a bouncy ball sputtering against the hollow walls into the hall, and spills into the living room.
“Malcolm.” He hears a damp whisper. It beckons from down the hall that is lined with photographs in black frames, all straight and level, parallel with the floor and ceiling, hovering at his eye line. Photographs he took of the Grand Canyon when he drove there, Magdalene listening to him talk while she smoked cigarettes in the passenger’s seat. The expansive fissure in the earth looks like a giant gaping maw in the first photograph, the rocks and ridges sharpened teeth waiting to scarf him down when a dearth of wind curls down from the sky and knocks him in. Magdalene is holding his hand in the photograph, leaning away from the canyon.
Malcolm leans into the hallway, hands curled around the door frame like claws. He can hear the sound of grease popping in a cast-iron skillet and sees steam fluttering toward the hall, the puff of white a balled-up fist. He watches it continue to billow toward him, filling the hall with a mother-of-pearl mist. It drifts toward the smoke detector, and he shuts his eyes, prepared for the alarm screech its monotone wail, but as the steam envelops him and seeps into the room, crossing his head, shoulders, his outspread arms, no sound comes.
The white covers him like a blanket, flutters out behind him in a smeared pattern of angel’s wings, but he does not ascend. He hears Magdalene call his name again, so down the hall he stumbles, hands raked out as he balances against the wall below the picture frames. A matte photograph of him shaking hands with Jean Buckler is smattered with condensation from the hot steam. The glass looks like it sweats.
The hallway spills into a wide living room lined with a wall of bay windows. Sun shines through the parted fabric of the drapes, filling the room with soft light. To his left is the galley kitchen, the source of the steam, which has become tinged with smoke. The choking scent infiltrates the air.
He coughs, squinting. He looks through the steamy smoke toward the kitchen, but he cannot see Magdalene.
He wants his book. His signed copy. Where is Magdalene?
As he waves his hands in front of his face to dissipate the wispy smog, the room becomes clearer.
She appears through the curtain of steam, angelic and pale, a bangle of bracelets on her wrist that clack against the iron handle of the skillet.
“Yes?” She turns to him, but the low-hanging cabinets obscure her face, her lips, the mole on her right cheek that caves into the dimple that forms when she smiles, teeth gapped like a picket fence.
“You didn’t answer me before.”
She giggles, her voice echoing like a fading whisper. “Sorry. A kitchen malfunction. You understand.”
“What are you making?”
Magdalene shrugs. The mist has started to rise, a storm clinging to the ceiling, and he wonders why she hasn’t turned on the ventilation fan in the microwave that hangs over the oven. “Something burnt.”
“Have you seen my book?”
“You know I don’t cook often enough. I’m sorry about the mess.”
“It’s okay. My book?”
“What book?” She leans on the counter, the white blouse she wears hanging down off her shoulders, exposing the depths of her cleavage.
“It’s not on the shelf where it belongs. There’s not even a gap there. Nothing. As though nothing’s missing when of course something’s missing.”
“Couldn’t something else just be taking up its space?”
“I can’t imagine what.”
“Then where did my book go?”
“What’s it called?”
“The Shaft of the Well.”
Magdalene shifts her weight. The steam has disappeared completely and he can see her now, her olive skin, the eyes whose green mimics his own. Her wrinkle-free forehead. She is perpetually young, as though she never ages.
“Can’t say I remember reading that one, Malcolm. Would you like a smoke?”
“The one by Buckler. She signed my copy. You took the photo of us.”
“Of you and me?”
“Of Jean—the author—and me.” He shakes his head, feels a strange rattling in his jaw. He tries to remember when and where he Jean Buckler, wants to remind Magdalene, but his memory is misty.
“What’s the book about? Maybe I’ll remember.”
“How would that help?”
“I’m indulging you.” She reaches into the pocket of her jeans and produces a crumpled cigarette pack, white, still shrink-wrapped in paper that isn’t quite translucent. It gives the box a beige tint. “Care for one?”
“Yes. No. No. Yes. No, wait, no.”
“You don’t seem so sure.” Magdalene reaches into her other pocket and withdraws a red lighter. She thumps the pack against her palm, rattling the bracelets. Clatter of a tamb
“Why’d you only make one hamburger?”
Magdalene unwraps the cigarettes.
“You know I’m not hungry.” Magdalene laughs when Malcolm shifts his weight, pulling a cigarette from the pack. “Don’t be so uncomfortable. There’s no one here. Loosen up, Malcolm.”
Malcolm walks into the kitchen and stares at the stovetop: a mangled hamburger patty, dark and shriveled like a piece of coal, is slumped against the skillet.
“None for you?” He turns around. Magdalene has left the kitchen and is standing on the other side of the galley window, leaning against the back of the sofa.
“I said I’m not hungry.”
“Just now.” She flicks the lighter. “You were saying about this book of yours?”
“The Shaft of the Well. My favorite.���
“And what is it about?”
“I’ve told you this before, haven’t I? I’m sure I have.”
“I’m sure you have.” She takes a drag. “But I’ve forgotten. Probably for your sake. So tell me.”
“It’s about a child—Buckler never tells you whether it’s a boy or a girl—who falls down a well and tries to climb out.”
“That takes up three hundred pages?”
“You remember the length but not what happens?”
Magdalene shrugs and stands up straight. “So it would appear.” She sucks on her cigarette again, smoke pluming out like she’s some
kind of dragon, one head on an angry chimera. “Anything else happen?”
“The child tries to climb out but he can’t.”
“He? I thought you couldn’t tell.”
“It seems implied.”
“Was that a question?”
“Of course not. Are you sure you don’t want a cigarette?”
“You’re trying to burn down the house, aren’t you?”
She coughs. “Don’t joke about that.”
“You’re forgiven. Continue, Malcolm.”
Malcolm leaves the kitchen and sits on the sofa. He looks out the bay windows into the yard of the house across the street.
“The child manages to climb the shaft of the well, digging its hands and feet into the muddy cracks between stones. Several of its fingernails are torn. He bleeds a lot. It’s just easier to say he.”
“More humane,” Magdalene says. He hears the swish of her jeans as she paces back and forth behind him.
He says nothing for a moment.
“Keep going, Malcolm. I like the way you tell it.”
He keeps staring out the window. The sky is a yellowish pink, pale colors cracking through the blue as the sun starts to set.
“So what happens, Malcolm?”
“He keeps falling back in, and he’s soaked, and eventually he can’t even grip the stones anymore. The description of his fingers is very graphic.”
“I don’t know. You’d have to read it.”
“Okay. Then what?”
“He invents a companion, someone to speak to down in the well, someone who is able to climb out and go for help.”
“Does it work?”
“Of course not. But the boy is so hopeless without his friend, his companion, that he’s convinced that his friend will come back for him.”
“And he dies of starvation or dehydration or whatever happens to people caught in wells.”
“Yes. How’d you know?”
“That’s the only possible way that story ends, of course.”
“Didn’t you leave out the part where the boy gets so delirious he forgets he’s in the well? That he gets thirsty and can’t even remember that he’s surrounded by water?”
“You remember now, do you?”
He hears her stop moving behind him. Malcolm imagines that she, too, stares out the window toward the house across the street, a shield that blocks the fiery evening light. Streamers of plush yellow light flare up from behind the roof.
The front door yawns open, and a woman stumbles out, two small children in tow. All three have the same curly blond hair, the same vacant stare and oval-shaped mouth. A line of ducks skimming across an endless pond.
“He’s their age, maybe?” Magdalene says.
“The book doesn’t say.”
“Then how do you know it’s a child?”
“Who else but a child would fantasize like that?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He hears her exhale. “Sorry, Malcolm. I can’t say I’ve seen your book. Or read it, unless I’m simply forgetting. People do that, of course.”
“Didn’t I ever recommend it?”
“Perhaps. I probably couldn’t find it. Where did you last see it?”
“Where it belongs. In the library on the top shelf.”
“That’s very precise, Malcolm.”
There is a clarity in precision, he thinks. He says so.
Magdalene smiles, he suspects. Something about the way she breathes when she’s smiling. He can hear it.
The woman across the street is hauling her children into a van, dark red, the tires looking a bit lumpy and deflated. She looks like she is herding cattle.
“Precision is invention. You latch on to things so carefully, and do you know why?”
“I suppose you’ll tell me.”
“Of course I will. Isn’t that why I’m here?”
“And to burn dinner.”
“Don’t blame me for that. That was all your doing. You got me all distracted.”
He is about to ask how, but when he turns around to look at her, Magdalene exhales, blowing a puff of smoke into his eyes. Malcolm winces, but he doesn’t say anything. He looks back at the window. The woman has disappeared. The van has disappeared.
“I could use a drink,” he says. “You?”
“Tell me, how does the child get stuck in the well?” Magdalene asks. He wonders if she’s moved to make their drinks.
He takes a breath. “You don’t ever find out. He’s there on page one.”
“Don’t you ever wonder how he got there in the first place?”
“Well, no, not really.”
“Come, Malcolm, that’s not like you, not wondering. Why would you not wonder? I wonder.”
Malcolm stares at a an empty garbage can that has been knocked over and is languishing in the street, rolling from side to side.
“What’s happening to you?” He stands.
“Sit down, Malcolm. I’ll fix you your drink. I don’t know where your book is. I’ve never even heard of it.”
“I know I’ve told you this before. You just knew what it was about.”
“Lucky guess. Scotch? Or gin? Or does it matter?” She laughs. “You want scotch.”
“I’m not thirsty, anymore, thanks.”
“No one drinks because they’re thirsty.”
Malcolm pictures the liquid in its bottle, on the shelf in the cabinet, and can almost hear the clink of ice cubes in a glass.
“Scotch on the rocks for you, Malcolm,” she calls from the kitchen. She starts humming, and the noise amplifies into a gurgling sound lolling to and fro. He feels it in his own throat.
He glances at his feet, the brown leather of his shoes. When he looks up, he feels like he is spinning, his hands are throbbing, and the sun has set. He hears Magdalene laugh, but she’s no longer in the kitchen. The laughter fills the room, a gyrating cyclone of sound, of cackling giggles that ruffle the collar of his shirt.
He’ll wait here until morning, or until the woman across the street returns. Everyone must return. Magdalene must return. He’ll find his book. She’ll know where it is.
Black Haired Momma
I left my mother’s room feeling I’d just met her for the first time, witnessed her turning ghost in reverse. Like, until that day, I had never known my momma.
That night, my sister, Edelyn, invited me to accompany her boyfriend, Massoud, for open mic night at a coffee house they liked to frequent. I couldn’t imagine anyone giving a child such a name. But, from the way he carried himself, blacker than black, mightier than Africa herself, I suspect it’s a name he had given himself. It suited him well enough even if the name was the product of invention, cause and effect having been reversed, the man standing before us more a consequence of the name rather than the other way around.
This would be my first time to a spoken word cafe, nothing of the sort having found its way to Picayune. My interest drifted in and out as I struggled to relate to the barrage of unsolicited grandstanding, a stream of verbal assaults launched against an invisible foe from the safe confines of a dimly lit coffee shop gallery. I focused my attention in an effort to unravel the state of misfortune that had birthed the latest poem.
Each poet to take the stage had his or her own style of delivery. One whispered, his eyes closed, like his poem was a secret he wasn’t fully prepared to share. Most everyone else shouted about raising the roof or tearing it down, about imposing four-hundred years of misery on anyone who mispronounced their names, names that sounded as made up as Massoud’s if not more so.
I was laboring to cozy up to the drink I’d ordered–chai tea laced with a hint of ginger (a delightful alternative for the non-coffee drinker according to our server; in hindsight, I should have pretended to want coffee instead)–when I heard my sister announced as the next scheduled performer. Only the emcee pronounced her name in the odd sounding way she seemed to prefer these days–Eee’d-lyn Hill, resting heavy on the first E then skipping past the next like consuming too many syllables in one sitting was somehow forbidden.
Edelyn had evidently kept silent the bit about her performing as a surprise for me. I couldn’t imagine anyone exhibiting such grace having taken the stage spur of the moment on a whim. The mic served to transform her, her spirit melting into the crowd like ice cream resting atop a homemade dessert. She held the room transfixed with her solemn tale of a black haired momma who was never gonna see gray. I recognized her plight firsthand.
According to Gram, gray hair is a sign of wisdom creeping in. She explained how the first half of a person’s life is spent simple minded as can be, the second half trying to figure where the time has gone. Gram claimed she could count a gray hair for every mistake she ever made, for every time she moved too swiftly to judge a situation, for any time she failed to be reasonable.
Momma was just beginning to seek reason in her dealings having only recently discovered the perspective a less combative attitude might afford. The tragedy is that time will likely run out on her before she can get any of it sorted inside her head. My cheeks were rolling with tears before my sister had completed the first stanza. By the time Edelyn passed the mic back to the emcee, there was hardly a dry eye in the room. After all, everybody’s got a momma.
I was spent. Black Haired Momma served in pushing me further in my desire to curl up in a warm bed and click the switch closed on this day before Massoud had his turn at the mic. On Edelyn’s insistence, I agreed to stay for his performance. I’ve never more regretted any single decision in all my years.
He prepared like the other poets before him, summoning the words from somewhere deep inside his soul as the emcee introduced the title of his poem:
The Better the Bitch –
The blacker the berry, the better the bitch is gonna make you feel.
The sweeter the juice, the more you’re gonna come for real.
And you’ve got to come for real, or she’s gonna leave your ass, for real.
The bitter the bitch, the more she’ll sweat your game;
Catch you in the streets, forever callin’ you outside your name.
The better the bitch, she’ll make your house a home;
She’ll cook your meals right and keep your back tight
squashin’ your tendency to roam.
The bitter the bitch, the more you’re prone to flight;
She’ll work your least nerve and your last nerve
Till you find yourself in the streets most every night.
The better the bitch will take you at your word;
The bitterest bitch ain’t believed a thing she’s ever heard.
The better the bitch, she’ll inspire you to rhyme;
She’ll be that rhythmic beat behind your tightest verse
making love in perfect time.
The bitter the bitch can also infiltrate your poem;
She’ll be that off night behind your stage fright wishing
you had left her ass at home...
I know in my heart I couldn’t do it, couldn’t stand in front of all those people and utter two solid words. But, if I could stand there, if I possessed the nerve not to mention the skill necessary to deliver a rhyme filled message, I’d be sure to have something more to speak on than the betterness or bitterness of a bitch. Even the best woman by his account is still a bitch. If I’m destined to be a bitch, I’m gonna be the worst bitch this homemade nobody has ever had the misfortune to cross paths with.
My sister could never be that bitch. Regardless of how deep she manages to come across on stage, her berry is not that black, her juice not sweet enough to redeem a soul as bitter as Massoud’s. She can wish with all her might, but she could never stoop so low to be the person he had in mind when this sad excuse of a tribute struck his empty head.
Broke Bicycles –
We caught up with Massoud on our way out. I stood off to one side to afford Edelyn and him some privacy, my tendency to eavesdrop curbed by how little interest I had left in anything this man might have to say. Eventually, their conversation grew boisterous making their squabbling impossible to ignore.
“Do you at least know where you’re going to be?”
“Homegirl, I ain’t gonna know that till I get there.”
“Should I call you then, ‘cause I don’t mind calling if it’s not convenient for you to call me?”
He mooshed her face. Placed the whole of his hand against the side of her head and pushed her aside like you would a broken down bicycle or a worn out couch, its springs no longer capable of supporting your weight. Not a hit or a smack meant to inflict physical pain. Only the emptiness of lost love in his touch, fatigue for a feeling he wasn’t feeling any longer.
I waited another half-second for my sister to stand in her own defense but intervened in the end fearing she might again ask whether she should call him. His chest grew large in front of me, the moniker of some just anointed clothing designer splayed before me in modern day hieroglyphics. I stood staring at the underside of his scruffy chin, past nostrils that breathed nothing but lies, a vapid stare at work behind vacant eyes making those lies out to sound true.
A simpler mind might have fled. But that would require I abandon my middle sister, Edelyn, reinforcing in her eyes that cowering before a man is an acceptable posture for a woman to take. For once, I refused to let anxiety dictate my will. No man is going to lay hands on my sister; not on my watch. Even if she’s prepared to swallow every ounce of pride she has left in exchange for the least bit of attention from him, allowing a man to dismiss her in this way is something I couldn’t stand idly by and let my sister do.
I eased ever closer unmoved by his chest puffing antics, stood as near to this man as I could afford without provoking a physical altercation between us. I wagged a lone finger at him. Spit bible and verse about how a man should worship his woman, should treat her with the utmost respect–bits and pieces of Gram and every other woman whose viewpoint I’d come to depend on rolled up in me at once. I left Massoud with a final warning: if he again touches my sister in a way she doesn’t want to be touched, I will meet him back here at this very spot; see he meets his maker.
I felt the crowd bubbling at my back as I stepped away from him, Massoud’s entourage roused at the sight of him being bullied by his girlfriend’s older sister. Eventually, Massoud decided to join in their laughter. Chose feigned amusement over rage as the more logical reaction to my threats, his eyes locked on mine conveying a litany of venomous intentions that more closely reflected what I suspect were his true sentiments.
I stood steady on my word prepared if need be to take him with me to hell. To spend the rest of eternity sitting next to the devil, an eye
trained on Massoud to make sure his soul is suffering.
My Father’s Face
How could I ever think of stepping
Into it, but there he is again,
Complete with the relic of a scar
radiating above my eyebrow.
I was nineteen, rainy blacktop,
Near Niles, a car cresting a hill at sixty
Or seventy braked suddenly to avoid
Hitting a car in the blind intersection.
It slid across the no passing zone.
Time speeded up, or it slowed,
I can’t remember. 1967, summer, do not pass go.
The ER nurse woke me, speaking sternly
Into the deep proscenium of sleep as though
I was late for work. Tonight, eleven above zero,
The moon’s a sticky wad on my sole.
My father, unfazed, merely shrugs
With every glance in the mirror.
I push my hand through my hair,
Longer than he would tolerate.
My head full of leaves,
A rustle of twigs against ice.
Seth Jani was raised in Western Maine. He is the founder and editor of Seven CirclePress (www.sevencirclepress.com) and his own work has been published widely in such journals as Writers’ Bloc, The Foundling Review, Phantom Kangaroo and Chantarelle’s Notebook. He currently resides in Seattle, WA.
Karon Leslie is an Atlanta native, currently finishing an MFA at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), Atlanta, GA. She writes what’s most real to her to include creative non-fiction, poetry, and short stories, and is a master at finding silver linings. Karon Leslie has no previous publications.
Tamara Hollins has earned the following degrees: a B.A. in Art, with distinction, from Hendrix College; an M.A. in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University; an M.F.A. in Writing and Literature from Bennington College; and a Ph.D. in English from Claremont Graduate University. Her scholarly work, creative writing, and art have been published in journals, anthologies, and encyclopedias. Her research interest is the production and the construction of identity in American literature. She is an Associate Professor of English.
Joe Baumann possesses a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he currently serves as the editor-in-chief of Rougarou: an Online Literary Journal. He is the author of Ivory Children: Flash Fictions, and his work has appeared in Tulane Review, Willow Review, Hawai’i Review, and many others, and is forthcoming in Lalitamba and Lindenwood Review. He will be joining the faculty at St. Charles Community College in St. Charles, Missouri, as an assistant professor this fall.
Jedah Mayberry is an emerging fiction writer, born in New York, raised in southeastern Connecticut, the backdrop for his fiction debut released March 2013 by River Grove Books. The book was named 1st in Multi-Cultural Fiction for 2014 by the Texas Association of Authors. Jedah was a top ten finalist for the 2013 Best New Author Award sponsored by the National Black Book Festival. He also garnered honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s April 2012 Family Matter Short Story Contest for Ton Oncle, a version of which was published as part of his book. His worked has appeared at Flashing for Kicks, EtherBooks, and The Snippet App. He is a regular contributor to The Good Me Project. He currently resides with his wife and teenage daughters in Austin, TX.
John Minczeski’s most recent book is "A Letter to Serafin" (University of Akron Press, 2009). His poems have appeared in Cerise Press, Big City Lit, Agni, Quarterly West and elsewhere. He lives in St. Paul, and works as a poet in the schools, and teaches occasionally in area colleges.