On Growing Old and Discovering Truth

My days are measured

By bottles of discount wine,

My weeks by clean linens;

Each morning

I seek salvation

in a cafe benison.

 

Sleep, sleep divine,

Why should eternal sleep

not be heaven?

 

For religion begins

Where knowledge ends.

 

My little fame in life,

I know,

Will be confined

to a freeway sign:

“Missing Elderly,”

numinous against

a gray morning sky,

Flashing, flashing, flashing

above a highway exit.

 

The door was closed

and did not open,

So how did the cat

go out again?

But remembering to floss

gives each day

a bright new meaning.

 

So knowledge ends

Where religion begins.

 

Italy’s third volcano,

what’s it called?

Not Etna or Vesuvius,

The one in the movie we saw?

I forget, though I should know;

And not Olympus,

with Hera and Zeus

and Jove.

 

For us mortals what does it signify,

purchasing stain remover

by the gallon?

Pessimism of drooled spaghetti

or long life’s delusive

grand ambition?

 

All hail Staphylococcus,

with my name on it;

Where fear reigns,

religion gains.

 

Dough, the financial guru says,

you’ll need ’til you’re ninety five,

or perhaps, I think,

to .38,

Or maybe I’ll rob a bank

or fail to pay my taxes

for a prison bunk

and hospital bed.

But what about the poor teller,

the cop

and the unlucky feller

who has to clean up the mess?

 

But hark!

The coffee grinder churns,

the espresso machine

still renders,

so why should I surrender?

 

Yea, verily, I declare

on my life’s embers

that where true knowledge ends

unyielding ignorance begins

and religion wins.

 

James Garrison

A graduate of the University of North Carolina and Duke Law School, James Garrison practiced law until returning to his first loves: writing and reading good literature. His novel, QL 4 (TouchPoint Press 2017), set in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, has won awards for literary fiction and military fiction, and it was a Distinguished Favorite for the 2019 Independent Press Awards and a finalist for the 2018 Montaigne Medal. His creative nonfiction works and poems have appeared in online magazines and anthologies. Sheila-Na-Gig nominated his poem “Lost: On the Staten Island Ferry”‘ for a 2018 Pushcart prize.

Before Winter Exhales

Is death a seed born in us, growing unseen

ripening at some pre-determined moment

a heart stops, a car strikes, cancer takes a final bite

 

Is it possible to die a little slower or stretch time out

like a sleeping lion

or salt water taffy

 

Can you bargain with Time, haggling and hammering

out deals like a summit meeting

but holding hardly any chips, only a few memories

 

Like her first cry or moments of tidal love

that comfort you during the lean years

memories you are willing to exchange

 

For a minute, an hour, a day

can you wear Time down until, totally exhausted,

setting his scythe aside, consulting his ledger

 

fiddling with his abacus, doing the math

like your granddaughter struggling with algebra

making sure it adds up, nothing extra

 

Nothing left over

he looks at you with tunnel eyes, his brow

narrowed and gnarled

 

I am an old man he sighs, twirling

his white beard, scratching his ears

where rogue hairs have begun to sprout

 

He brushes away ash from a burned out star

before handing you a scrap of paper

three days

 

You write your lover’s name on it

postponing phantom pain

written in the black glyph of forever

 

Claire Scott

Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.

The Pawn Shop on Putnam Ave.

The pawnshop faced the traffic of Putnam Avenue. The people who went inside usually ducked their heads and moved with quick movements, but my dad liked to go in and wander around and buy things like old VCRs and televisions and dishwashers – a purchase he would forever regret after our house became infested with roaches. But Dad’s biggest regret came not from purchasing from the pawnshop but from selling his most prized possession to it.

I don’t know what lawsuit or worker’s compensation claim landed my dad with the money to buy that Gibson Les Paul. What I do remember is him giving each of us kids $100 when the windfall came down. I held the money in my hand, vowing to save it, but over the course of a week bought $100 worth of pickles instead because those Big Papa pickles were the shit.

He had guitars before but none as beautiful as that dark green Gibson. I watched him open its case and run his hands over the red velvet interior before picking it up and stroking its strings. One thrum and a dreamy sort of faraway look passed over his face.

Dad loved that guitar but pawned it on the regular because on the regular, we were broke. He always managed to round up the cash to get it out of pawn before they kept it. Then one time, he didn’t, and when we drove by the pawnshop, his Gibson was sitting in the window with a for sale sign slung around its neck. One day we drove by again, and the Gibson was gone.

Each time Dad drove by the pawnshop, he cringed a little until eventually, he wouldn’t look at its windows at all.

April Pride Sharp

April Sharp is an English instructor at Felbry College School of Nursing, and a graduate of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. She often writes of her childhood growing up in Southeast Ohio. Her work has been featured in The Devil Strip, Rubber Top Review, and Appalachia Bare. When not writing she can be spotted stomping through the woods with her two dogs.

Drawing session

This story is about drawing my mother’s portrait in a twenty-minute timed session. She is in her late sixties, but I am not sure of her birth year or birthdate. She has changed. She has mellowed out over the years.

Capturing likeness is the aim. She is a willing model. She wants to please. She sits down and I begin. The forehead does not move. Facial muscles around the eyes don’t move. Eyebrows don’t move. They are thick, as they are penciled-in dark.

Eyelids move. Eyeballs move.

Her eyebrows point up; they didn’t before. The end of her eyes where the eyelids meet also point up; they didn’t before. That’s one botched botox job. She is frugal.

Her husband of fifty years wants to leave her. She chewed his ass growing up. He withdrew. She pursued. He withheld.

Old people break up the same way young people do. There is back and forth. There are acts designed to cause jealousy. There is reluctance. There is attraction. There is repulsion.

She lost weight. He lost weight and fixed his teeth. Divorce papers are drawn up, but not filed. Fifty years is a long time.

I am down to her chin now. She has facial hair. She didn’t before. They are bleached but not removed. That double chin can be captured with shading. Time’s up.

 

Hooman Khoshnood

Hooman Khoshnood began his artistic career five years ago, after practicing law for over a decade. He began painting at an early age. But his approach to art-making became more conceptual while studying with Laura LLaneli, a sound art artist, and Marc Larre, a photographer. Mr. Khoshnood was also mentored by Giancarlo Bargoni, a renowned Italian painter in painting and theory. They also explored possible connections between painting and poetry. Mr. Khoshnood continued his studies in art at the Art Students League of New York where his painting “Unknown to me” was published as exemplary student work in the League’s 2017/18 catalog. Mr. Khoshnood obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Doctorate in Law both from the University of Georgia. He is also an avid reader focusing on Linguistics, Literature, and Art History. He was born in Iran and has lived in Iran, Italy, Canada, France, Spain, and the United States. He is fluent in English, Farsi, and Italian. He considers Atlanta home.

Figs and Snaps

Karen Carpenter was emblazoned into my retinas in the mid-1970s. I see her as the delicate, elfin creature who tiptoed into the spotlight inside the Hersheypark Arena and simply said “hello.”

That night, Karen wore a bell-bottomed, lace pantsuit and a metallic gold belt. Pantsuits were the rage then. Everyone was wearing them from Gloria Steinman to Charlie’s Angels. But this pantsuit! Fashioned entirely of beige lace. I imagined an elderly, nimble-fingered woman from Bruges, pins pressed tightly between her lips, toiling under weak candlelight with her loyal, calico cat by her side. The lace maker had read the measurements sent by the famous American pop star to a tee. That pantsuit fit like an elegant glove.

As soon as I sat down in my seat eight rows from the stage’s lip, I pretended my concert companion wasn’t there. I vanished the form of her body inside a navy pea coat perched loosely around shoulders into thin air. I blockaded her Shalimar perfume scenting our section like an old flower delivery inside a closed room and concentrated instead on the hopefully intoxicating qualities of second hand pot smoke.

I have no idea how or why my mother and I came to be sitting at that concert together. It was out of our ordinary. We never transcended. We never became more than what we were by blood. We almost never did “friend things.” It wasn’t meant to be. We were too different, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Even with the attendant mystery of why my mother and I attended a concert together once, I remember what a good performance it was. In addition to Karen Carpenter’s outfit, I have a permanent recording of her unique and beautiful voice inside my head: deeply resonant, pure, strong. But when she sang of being on top of the world, her smile was staged, a Cheshire grin on a thin face. Her brother Richard, seated at the piano, had the opposite problem. He was too consistently perky, bobbing his head every second note even during the sad songs like the one about rainy days and Mondays and having the blues.

It’s raining on a Monday. My mother forgets what day it is now. Her short-term memory has gone missing and the other parts of her, her distant memories, her sense of humor, are frequently on the fritz.

Today, she has forgotten more than usual. The index card standing at attention in the middle of her kitchen table is waiting in vain to learn: “TODAY’S DATE IS…” The Lilliputian billboard offering a daily reality check has taken the place of traditional, cheerful seasonal centerpieces and candleholders. I pick up the nearby red pencil and print: “Monday, October 7, 2019.”

“Here is your tea, Mom. No sugar, right?”

“I don’t want that milk.”

“Tea requires a drop of milk, remember?  To protect teeth enamel. How about a cookie?”

“What kind?”

I open the “sweets cabinet” underneath the toaster oven, noting the blackened toast crumbs and frozen pizza cheese coating the bottom tray like an ugly scab. Some changes about this kitchen of my childhood I will never get used to.

My mother’s sweets cabinet never harbored much promise while I was growing up in that house. Not today either.

“Fig newton or a gingersnap. Unless you want a Saltine or a box of golden raisins.”

“No chocolate chip?”

“No chocolate chip.”

“Forget it then.”

I give her one of each kind of cookie. She bites and chews.

“These cookies are stale. I can’t believe your father hasn’t inhaled them yet. Still good though. These are the classics, figs and snaps. Stick with the classics, Virginia. You’ll never be sorry.”

My mother stands. Limps. Retrieves both cookie boxes. Leaves the cabinet door open in a wide yawn. Takes one more of each variety for he paper plate. I put up my hand in protest when she reaches in for more. She hands over two fig newtons anyway.

“Speaking of the classics, Mom, how about pea coats. Remember those? People still wear pea coats.”

“Those were smart. Nice, big buttons with embossed ship anchors I think. Sailor coats.”

“Remember when you and I saw The Carpenters at the Arena? Remember the lace pantsuit Karen Carpenter wore?” I ask.

“I don’t really like pantsuits on women. Pantsuits make them look like astronauts.”

“What’s wrong with women being astronauts?’

“Nothing, I guess. If you want to fly to the moon, go ahead.” A rare laugh erupts from my mother, but it doesn’t succeed in changing the flat expression that has come to reside on her face.

“Do you remember that, though, Mom, when you and I went to the Hersheypark Arena and we saw The Carpenters? We sat really, really close to the stage?”

Outside, the rain intensifies. In the street, drops dart earthward, bounce off the standing, trampoline puddles. A red bird waits under a grey shrub, twitching nervously. Down the cement sidewalk, across the street, and up an identical walk, Mrs. Milhimes’ has arranged her customary, autumnal display of rust and yellow mums. The straw-hatted scarecrow stuck in one of the pots doesn’t like cold rain on his face. He’s slouched forward. He’s waiting it out.

My mother blinks, smiles weakly, swallows cookie.

“Yes, I do. I surely do,” she responds. “Didn’t we have a lot of fun together.”

I open my mouth and close it. Outside, the red bird decides she can’t wait huddled underneath shelter forever. She leaps, lifts her wings and flaps silently away.

 

 

Virginia Watts

 

Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found or upcoming in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Moon City Review, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, Ginosko Literary Journal among others. Nominee for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net 2019 in nonfiction, Virginia resides near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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