Waking at Night
Such a short distance between genius
and shit. Take those elephant turds
Bruce Nauman (1991 Walker Art Center)
stacked in piles on the floor, soft cannon balls,
so appealing to some humans, something we can
all relate to. In my claustrophobic little corner
(compared to the Milky Way) I am happy,
moon-devotée that I am with a rag of the ancient
floating first hand outside my window. Take
these lines written in the darkness around
my bed. I hope they don’t cross
over themselves creating rows like il-
legible barbed wire some French girls
stood behind at the end of a world war,
brunette and blond collaborators
whose hair was shorn, the sign for bedding up
with a Wehrmacht man who gave them cognac
and nylons they could sell on the black market.
The girls’–women’s– heads, skulls, spat upon,
cross-and-bones thin, reviled little female
christs. It’s just dizziness. It’ll pass. It’s just this
time of night and the room so small. There
are bad dreams and then it’s over and they/
we can go back to sleep again.
But why would anybody
take this shit from the elephant kings,
their balls. Even the elephants were
astonished that their turds
were sold with their ivory.
We Missed the Boat
after Brave Irene by William Steig
Never compare yourself to another,
especially when she’s Irene Bobbin,
at the door to her mother’s little yellow
parlor with its pictures and mannequin.
“Bye! I’ll deliver the gown to the duchess.”
Mrs. Bobbin, a single mom, brimming
with exhaustion called from her bed,
“Don’t go, Irene. A storm’s in full swing.”
But Irene set off with gown in box,
into the darkening winter afternoon.
(You and I set out, too, on a mission.)
Even though the wind tore open
the box, even though the snow
was hip high, even though Irene
thought she was lost, maybe going
in circles, she struggled on.
(Did we quit too early?)
Somewhere past Farmer Bennett’s
pasture the wind was so strong it
blew away two tissue paper ghosts
that sheltered the beautiful pink,
sparkly dress. And the dress, too.
(What went wrong for us?)
Irene had a mission for sure.
She was focused on succeeding,
a matter of food for the cupboards,
wood for her mother’s cold stove,
and something for the pot on it.
(We could’ve tried harder, I guess.)
Irene‘s tasks doubled: now
she must find the lost gown.
Through gangly, primordial woods
where there’s no sense of direction,
she stumbled on, snow blind, from tree
to tree until her little legs protested
they could lift themselves no more.
But there! At wit’s end, there was
the dress, plastered to a tree,
decking the trunk out for a party.
(Maybe the Fates were against us.)
A sight indeed for sore eyes.
And not much farther on, an amber
window light spilled out over the snow.
The palace! Irene huddled before the door.
Like a snow sculpture, but she’d made it!
(And if she hadn’t? That happens, too.)
All good things followed: the Duchess’s
pleasure at the gown, the warm ballroom,
the delicious feast an absolute joy
for porridge-fed Irene. And best of all,
a purse full of money for her mom. The end.
(It almost hurts, others’ triumphs, they feel so good.)
by Sharon Chmielarz
Sharon Chmielarz has had eleven books of poetry published, the latest, “little eternities,” in Sept. 2017. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize seven times and five of her books runners-up for literary awards. Kirkus Reviews named her “The Widow’s House” one of the 100 best books in 2016. She was born in South Dakota but has spent her adult life in Minneapolis, MN.
We are all lined down;
deep and thick in a pit;
so black there is no other color
where pleas and prayers cannot escape
but seep down this jail of flesh.
There is no room to bleed.
Our ghosts scoff, “Show us your chains.
Give us your screams and your wails.
Tell us your stories and tales
of the ocean, of sales,
of fields, of bales,
or we don’t know you.”
Children barter unearned coin
with unmarked hands
and forsake God for gimme and gold
to buy peace from the secret sin.
They covet another color;
any other color.
What I hate about my color is my hate.
What I hate about my color is my sorrow.
What I hate about my color is that color
is so precious to the Beast.
God made us black.
The Beast made it matter.
Still, our ghosts scoff, “Show us your chains.
Give us your screams and your wails.
Tell us your stories and tales
of the ocean, of sales,
of fields, of bales,
or we don’t know you.”
What I love about my color are my mothers.
What I love about my color are my brothers;
sanctuary, survival, solace, and succor.
I may scale the strong walls,
and stronger walls that we build
with guilt, blame and shame.
and exorcise ghosts
that scoff and boast.
by Stuart James Forrest
Stuart James Forrest developed a passion for creative writing while attending the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He enjoys writing poetry and short stories and hopes to develop enough skill to be a strong, creative representative of his generation of Black Americans who lived through a very tumultuous period in American history.
Google News tells me academics in India are robbing literature of any personal touch. Poor literature breeds poor syllabus breeds poor literature, a vicious cycle while banner ads of Clarks walking shoes keep stomping across my laptop. Page down leads to Baltimore cops reading Plato and James Baldwin. Then: No bombs, no guns, just 90 minutes of football. As Google knocks, I learn that cinnamon may help attack fat and obesity. Scrolling up to schizophrenia, the subhed says angry avatars help people stop hearing voices by shouting at them. Meanwhile, Ohio State rallies past Michigan, Pakistani authorities order a media blackout and Easter eggs lay hidden in the new Senate tax bill. Are millennials narcissistic? The evidence is not so simple, says Google News. Silicon Valley, Black Friday, Donald Trump and the FCC. Badgers football, tobacco companies and the Pope in South Asia. I can still hear Google knocking. What to click? I choose the one that says Buddhism includes everything, even comic books.
by Gary Singh
Gary Singh was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. As a scribe, he’s published over 1000 works including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. His poems have been published in The Pedestal Magazine, Maudlin House and more. For 650 straight weeks, his newspaper columns have appeared in Metro, the alternative weekly paper of San Jose and Silicon Valley. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press). http://www.garysingh.info
I know that statistically, some of us are meant to be stabbed. But first there is only
a slight pressure, a metallic taste where my mouth could be. And some muffled sounds
I have learned are cuss words. Or the shaking they do in frustration.
If that doesn’t work. If that doesn’t render me in their hands, there is a blissful pause.
But I know they are looking for something sharper. When they find it, they will pierce
what protects me, even if it makes them break a sweat. They will get to me.
When they do, sometimes they are wheezing;
their breath belabored. They look at me like
I am supposed to cure them, relieve them
The dumb one is leaking and then swallowed.
We are difficult in our packaging, these bodies.
These round, silicone drug-filled things.
Her hand was shaking and I fell from it, so giddy I bounced. Rolled
on the uneven hardwood, fifteen feet from her grasp. I listen to her
suffer. I heard the echo of her fuck and then an oh and I knew
she wasn’t coming for me.
In the middle of this night only half of her can breath,
half of her filled with a corporal cement. The kind nature
designed to suffocate things. Her chest congested
with common things. I could have helped, but why
enable a good rest.
I am faulty; what they advertised.
A real plague
by Natalie E. Illum
Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a 2017 Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, and a recipient of an 2017 Artists Grant from the DC Arts Commission as well as a nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, a women’s open mic that lasted 15 years. She used to compete on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications, and on NPR’s Snap Judgement. Natalie has an MFA in creative writing from American University, and teaches workshops across the country. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, on her website, and as one half of All Her Muses, her music project. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes.
your body is still your body,
even though they took
everything from you,
like the famished hare
who pulls even the bitterer berries
from the wilted stem.
they came easily, jarringly,
and pried everything that you carried
from your tired, trembling arms
while the assorted leaves were
making their slow descent;
or while they went moldering
from green to that quiet blaze
before dismemberment or rot;
or while they succumbed
to their crushing, to a grinding down,
like the fronds falling suddenly,
pressed flat and silent
under the buck’s fierce footfall
—he did not see them,
he did not care,
their delicate fibers
were not of his concern.
and why would he look away
from the horizon’s early smoke?—
they were flattened, twisted and gnarled
for the rest of their short life
while the unmarred fronds grew
strong and straight and long
is there a resilience
that can be learned?
the carnivorous heron
holds wide its wings
to hunt. the false shade
a canopy of disaster
for its tired prey.
when the southerly wind
tears its wild way around the orb
you too will understand how
the heronshaw differs
from the hungrier hawk.
by Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett
Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett is a writer and translator from the SF Bay Area. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Apricity, The Stillwater Review, IthacaLit, Gathering Storm, Broad River Review, ellipsis…literature & art, The Fourth River, Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, and others. She twice received the UC Berkeley Dorothy Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Lyric Poetry for her poems “Song of Advice or Valediction” and “second lament,” and the Emily Chamberlain Cook Prize in Poetry for her poem “The Haunting.” Alani is currently working on a novel set in Portugal, many translations, and a collection of villanelles. You can find her at Twitter and Instagram at @AlaniRosa.
I thought about taking up Art once. Before I met Margery. Before I went into investment banking. Something I picked up in the military during the war. Not a real war. More of a military intervention. The Mongolian Intervention we called it. The gas fields of Northern Mongolian. We were liberating the gas lines there. We did liberate them. Very successfully. Exxon stock went up 15 points. Wall Street gave us a parade.
A bit of art can be a great solace to the human spirit. Especially alone, in a drafty barracks, in a strange land at thirty below, somewhere north and west of the Yangtze. Nothing that unusual, actually. It was quite big back then. Painting-by-Number. That’s where the pattern of what you are to paint, the picture, is already printed on the canvas in very faint blue lines, with dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of little blue numbers inside of them. And you begin to paint. Filling in each little numbered space with the correspondingly numbered pigment. It’s quite systematic. For an art.
I did a very handsome Spaniel I recall, and then a Golden Retriever, 12 by 14, but my favorite was the Old Masterpieces Series, “Recreate the Experience of the Old Masters in Your Own Home,” it said on the box. I did a rather nice BLUE BOY, that’s Gainsborough; a very good MONA LISA, and a passable Van Gogh, because with Van Gogh, for some reasons, I kept slipping outside the lines. There were sunflowers. A big vase of sunflowers. I used up two entire tubes of Cadmium Yellow #17 on that one. Oh, those sunflowers nearly did me in. Sometimes I was tempted to cheat, and smear over some of the numbers, but I restrained myself. I stuck with the rules. To the finish.
You need a great deal of patience to pursue Painting-by-Number. And a very steady hand. Not mine tonight. A young man’s hand. I recommend it, because at the end of the road, when you’ve painted in that last number 17, you have a very fine piece of art, your own Van Gogh, done in your own hand. You’ve sort of re-experienced his suffering. But without having to cut off your ear, of course. No amount of money can buy that. That sense of accomplishment is priceless. It stays with you a lifetime. My very own Van Gogh.
by Charles Leipart
Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.