Italians live with this very strong belief that the amount of hatred you feel towards your partner in a romantic relationship is equitable to the amount of love you have for them. This love/hate courtship shows itself as a couple fights in the town piazza, two actors performing for the crowd. There is no shame in public. She smacks him across the face for whatever wrong he did, or he’s screaming at her, an inch from her nose, vile insults are sprayed at each other, he grabs her arm a little too hard when she walks away, it’s all very beautiful to them. This same scene placed in an American coffee shop or mall would be a hideous sight for us. We keep these spectacles for our private homes and whisper the results to our best friend’s weeks later. But here in Italy, I imagine the onlookers thinking, “Che forte amore.” What strong love. “Ti amo o ti ammazzo”: it was a hit pop song on the top 40 countdown last summer in Florence, but it represents this concept that the Italians have been living with forever, probably. “I love you or I kill you”.
An April morning, or maybe March, my children and I were enjoying the medium-low sunlight, when my son, Jacob, found a roly-poly. We congregated and proclaimed it a fine representation of its species, clumsy in its armor, as if playing dress up in its grandfather’s old army coat, and concluded that it was most likely on its way home from a sleepover, whereupon I returned to my writing, they to their explorations. A few seconds later I turned my head to a quick succession of three strikes: the first soft, the second and third with a consecutively sharper snap. Jacob crushing the roly-poly with a golf ball to a gray paste.
A stunned second and then I was yelling, “What are you doing? No No!” and sent him on a big timeout. This from my gentle boy, my movie-time snuggler – this unprovoked devastation, exercise in the superiority of breadth, unfortunate example that even the sweetest boy will instinctually destroy what differs from himself.
Crying not just from my admonishing but because he really didn’t know why he had done it, head in his killer’s hands, smear of the murdered insect and the crushing ball at his feet
My daughter, Olivia, sauntered over and inspected the pulpy remains of the roly-poly. “Oh,” she said, her voice skipping over a pool of sadness, and then standing before the penitent boy on his timeout, began berating him, “No Jacob, No!” Her tone transcended her usual bossiness, and was not a mere mimicry of my tone, but rang of something deeper, something issuing from her that was innately feminine, of unprotected life and the mourning of common tragedy; she who insisted upon vanquishing every spider from the house was whipping my son with words, her body jerking with spite.
Chilled now in the warm yard a sister waits for her brother’s apology.
Josh’s stories have been published in several literary journals, a couple receiving Pushcart Prize nominations. His books include the seriocomic novel Alexander Murphy’s Home for Wayward Celebrities and the collection My Governor’s House and other stories.
I found myself at deaths door. Looking up at the reflection of the stars that mirrored an image of what I once thought was my life. It seemed that violence followed me, or was it that I have been chasing it all along. Maybe the fact is that I enjoyed its company. It was my way of escape into the dark realms of the other side of me. But I was trapped and I wanted to get out. How is it that I fought with everything inside of me but nothing was good enough? I became helpless, hopeless, and distraught.
I was on a path of destruction and damage consumed me. Every part of me. And nobody was here to save me. I laid at the bottom of the river with eyes wide open watching the world pass me by. Surrounded by unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar places.
A part of me could still smile, though this was extremely faint. Is this smile a reminder of life that still lives within me, or is this insanity?
I cried out for help, and no one came, no one heard, and no one could see. Everyone around me lacked the capacity to relate to my situation. Or, maybe no one gave a damn.
I laid there completely lifeless. Tears filled the air bubbles that offered hope, a second chance, a comforter, a hand. One to reach out into the water and grab me. That’s all I wanted. One hand.
Paralyzed with fear and bound to the part of me that I, myself could not understand.
I needed pulled out!
The water from the river quickly consumed the spaces in my lungs reserved for air. All my sorrows, pains, and hurt left me as I slowly and dreadfully suffocated. It was at that moment that I felt free. I no longer suffered from the infirmary.
I laid there eyes wide open at the bottom of the river.
Latorra Killebrew is a new and aspiring writer. She enjoys composing free verse narrative poems along with free verse shorter poems.
It has been millennia since I last ate you. How did I dare, today, breaking the spell?
Your stem neatly detached by a twist of my fingers, your thick flesh with its sparkly aftertaste exploding on tongue, your pit so very small that for lack of practice I’m scared of swallowing it… I have missed a fruit in my mouth, especially a fruit like you.
Almost for a lifetime I’ve shied away, fearing a secret threat you concealed under gracious smoothness, under naïve alegria. Innocent, are you?
You came in brown bags, paper satchels. You came timely, on season, and we waited for you: late May, early June. After the roses bloomed for the Virgin Mary, you wrapped up the sensuality of spring in a bloody sap, precursor of luscious summer, of apricot, peach and plum prodigality.
You appeared: velvety, dense – a queen dressed up for a court dance, but your size made you childish. Cheerful ballerina: hand in hand with rosy-cheeked playmates twirling in brazen tutus. Caroling, playing hide and seek in a maze of dark leaves.
Ladder pushed against the trunk, basket hanging across a branch, neck bent backward I gazed up, my eyes lost in a crimson orgy. Happiness was too large for my shrinking heart: cherries, I’ve left you behind, just where I left myself.
I don’t know who kept going after the split. Who lived in my name.
But it wasn’t me.
Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in Synesthesia, Wilderness House, The Harpoon Review and Litro NY, among other journals and anthologies.
I saw you today. You’d been left behind. Caught in the act of unzipping your old skin. There among the husks of your siblings, you gripped the maple tree, your body the color of new leaves unfurling. I saw your convulsive twitch, your jointed limbs. I witnessed your struggle to be born. That moment of leaving your armor.
We are not strangers. I know you from your song, August’s soundtrack, that vibrating sine wave. Your evening crescendo rises in the ears of joggers, gardeners, children at play on browning lawns. We shout to be heard from under the trees—or fall silent altogether.
I know you from your shell, torment of my childhood. Yesterday I lifted your kinsman’s carapace from a raspberry. My fingers shivered to do it. Recalling crackly monsters my brother left on my bookshelf, my pillow, my light switch.
I know you from your jittering bounce on the ground, a curiosity for the dog, an opportunity for the cat.
Once you appeared at my back door after I wrote a poem in which you starred. You looked up at me as if to say, You rang?
But I’ve never seen you like this, freeze-framed in the act of vaulting into your new shape.
Does it hurt, this slow-mo backflip into freedom? It looks like it would hurt.
Maybe it hurts like a foot gone to sleep, the flow of blood returning. Maybe you sense that soon, very soon, your new wings will dry.
Do you look back at your exoskeleton once you’ve juddered free? That hull too small to contain you?
I look into your unblinking eyes, and I think not. Perhaps it’s more like this: You climb, you rest, you open your wings.
The buzzing symphony pulls you to the treetops. You ready your instrument.
Mennonite by birth, mystic by nature, Shawndra Miller is a writer and community organizer who lives in Indianapolis. She is coauthor of Sudden Spirit: A Book of Holy Moments and is currently working on a nonfiction book about community resilience. Her work has appeared in Edible Indy, Indiana Living Green, Farm Indiana, and Acres USA, as well as Boiler Journal and Lavender Review.
His biceps strain and relax beneath working hands, transferring bright flowers and plants into moist soil. Sweat silks his skin in the summer warmth, digging, planting, wiping his brow. I stand at a window in the Financial Aid hallway, sipping my coffee. Professor what’s-his-name listed off parts of The Allegory of the Cave today, all the while this man had begun transforming the dusty, rectangular void of a courtyard into a lively space where the sun shines in at ten o’clock. It’s beautiful, with its fresh sod and artisan benches. I shake off the stench of body odor and marker fumes that couldn’t reach the window in our classroom. I sip my coffee. I stare.
I don’t know how, but I know that much more can be learned by watching this man work with the earth than sitting in a philosophy lecture. I wonder if this landscaper is internally complaining. Does he like working for the company whose logo spreads on his t-shirt? If not, his body tells a different story. He makes it look so effortless. Like when your Dad showed you how to paint a wall or wash a car when you were young and you wondered how he could move so swiftly. His movements fit him like a glove, as I stand and watch in awe. A beautiful human man. Natural. Vibrant. Respectable. Nothing on that campus was ever more beautiful.
…You won’t be able to smoke out there.
Erica Jacquemin is an American woman traveling the world and writing about it, as seems that pieces of her being are scattered across the globe for her to find. Her afflatus comes from the immense beauty of this planet, the languages and cultures she wanders into, romantic relationships, and the Italian language. She is from the Northeast of The United States but calls Italy home.