Reversal of Fortune
That . . .
Today, I write:
no brain lock or writer’s block,
never idle or addled, plot upon plot.
Practical prompts, writing schedules,
I aspire − become renowned
as scribe of insightful stanzas,
toward tour de force status,
something deemed a Classic.
Endowing with endearing words
as adulating aficionados gnaw painted nails,
climaxing with thumbs-up . . .
a dedicated shelf in bookstores –
glitzy chain and Indy alike –
masterwork, magnum opus!
This . . .
Today, I fret:
soured lines glares back,
needing reweaving into resonance.
Fictions and goading prose whacked
into petite victories, hard to celebrate.
Suppress a passive verb.
Second coat of adjectives.
Laminate lame line with adverb.
Pious patinas . . . hocus-pocus. . . .
I declare to the image, make homage
to the muse, regret oft-committed sin.
Lesser pleasures depress ears,
joys chopped, smeared over tongue.
Eyes directed to shadowy things,
I re-pledge to slivers and scattered
scruples backsliding across my page.
On the Shelf
A single space gapes between
books on the shelf. Most fill
allotted slot unread, collected during
semesters, or cluttered years.
At attention behind framed photos
and dusty memorabilia, well-worn
volumes denote evidence of worthy
pursuits: immediate joys weighing
against passed lulls, token props
and notions. I shall vow to search
for another book to bridge the nagging
breach in my archive. Pillage boxes,
stacked and stored; or revive a weighty
transcript – not just a joyful passage –
one revered cover to cover. Drab
shrouds stare back, awaiting re-sorting.
Perhaps I could disguise the gap, dust off
a snapshot of a past-lover’s bleary smile,
on a blurry day: her unanimated eyes, our
overcast desire never dowsed, since hidden
spellbound in a drawer. Even a colorful vase
might stand in: yet bouquets become a nuisance
. . . the watering and required trims. . . .
Each shelf evokes slivers of the man I sought,
every boring binding a craving: pages
of extinct minutes, passed-on un-mended,
too easily supplanted with prattle. The gap
reminds me of my delinquent spaces
I must fill before true midnight turns,
reread awkward chapters only skimmed.
Revisit bookmarks, and retranslate
word by word to reckon a foreseen self.
Poems have appeared Poetry South, Crucible, Asheville Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina, Potato Eyes, Georgia Journal, Main Street Rag, Iodine, and Pembroke Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals Vox Poetica, Pyrokinection, and The Blue Hour. His fiction has been recognized by the Norfolk Society for the Arts and published in Atlantis. His Second poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (Press 53), was published in April of 2016, and a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016. He was awarded an “Emerging Artist’s Grant” from the Winston-Salem Arts Council to publish his first collection Changes of Venue (Mount Olive Press); has been a featured poet on the North Carolina Public Radio Station WFDD; received the 59th Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society for his poem “The Blood Watch”; and is a Pushcart nominee. Sam lives in Winston-Salem with his wife and has two children, and retired from his day-job of 32 years with the Winston-Salem Recreation Department. He is the 2017 President of the NC Poetry Society, and Past-President of Winston-Salem Writers.
Every day Amanda Treese would draw hearts on her math warm-up when she finished it, and finally Matthew Taylor, who sat next to her, couldn’t take it anymore and he said, “What do you love?”
“What are you saying that you love with all these hearts?”
She looked at her paper. “It means love.”
“I know it means love. But what are you saying that you love?”
“It’s just love.”
“It can’t be just love. It has to have a point behind it. Like as in you love something or somebody.”
“Because otherwise it’s just floating out in the air and it doesn’t have a…”
“A destination. A place to land.”
“Why does it have to land?”
“Why does it have to land? Because otherwise of course love. Of course love is nice, but…”
“Do you like love?”
“Of course! How is anybody going to be against love? But…”
“You should draw a heart too then.”
“I can’t draw a heart. I have to have some purpose for drawing a heart.”
“What is your purpose?”
“I mean suppose I loved somebody. Then I would draw a heart and write their name. That would be a purpose.”
“Do you love somebody?”
“Not like that.”
“What do you love?”
“I love my family.”
“You could draw a heart and write your family.”
“I already know I love my family. Anyway this is just a math warm-up.”
“It’s still a good place to draw a heart.”
“If you say it like that, then any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Then people would just be putting hearts everywhere!”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Well, somebody would want to know what is the thing that all these hearts are saying they love?”
“You would want to know that.”
“Yes, me. And some other people. Everybody who thinks that if you’re going to draw a heart, you should say what you’re talking about.”
“What if I just say that I love love?”
She drew two hearts on her paper next to each other.
“That’s better at least. But everybody loves love.”
“Do you love love?”
“I’m going to draw two hearts on your paper.”
“You don’t think it’s girly?”
“I’m not worried about girly. Girls are people. I just don’t understood having something about love without talking about what you’re talking about.”
She drew two hearts on his paper.
“There,” she said.
“You don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind. This has some purpose to it at least. It’s not just out there floating by itself.”
This happened near the start of seventh grade. For the rest of that year and through all of eighth grade, Amanda Treese drew hearts on her math warm-ups. She always drew two hearts together.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle. She has been published in Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, and Chattahoochee Review. Her collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
Miss Jeanette Theresa picks up a fallen branch from the water oak. Ozeal Autin watches her march around the front year. He thumps, thumps, thumps the top of his head. Miss Jeannette Theresa slams her feet into peat moss, an earthy sponge. Her hand dances around alligator bark. Her wrist rotates in perfect circles. She twirls. She twirls and twirls and twirls. She shines silvery. Light reflects off of her. It finds Ozeal Autin. The Light says, “Ozeal, you love that Miss Jeanette Theresa.”
Miss Jeanette Theresa circle the tree. Her hand rolls raw, tender. She nimbles the edge of a blister in the crescent of skin that links her thumb and forefinger. Ozeal wants to lie still in that space, let her rock him to sleep in the hammock of her hand.
Miss Jeannette Theresa lets the fluid drip into her palm. She gathers it there. She reaches with her tongue. Ozeal Autin thinks: salty. She sprinkles the drops into the puddle beneath the water oak. Ozeal watches them fall.
When Miss Jeannette Theresa goes inside for her lunch, Ozeal pulls a cane fishing pole from inside the flatboat he is working on. He breaks the pole in half, sands the broken edges down and sticks corks on either end. He tucks it between the trunk of the water oak and a thick heavy branch that swings down low to the ground.
For one solid week, Ozeal Autin checks to see if Miss Jeannette Theresa find the cane baton. Her sleeps under the flatboat in Mister Salmen Fritchie’s shed that rides up on the side-yard of her house.
On the seventh day of Ozeal watching, Miss Jeannette Theresa discovers the cane baton. She picks it up, runs her holy hands across its smooth surfaces. She twirls the cane baton round and round her palm. She twirls the cane baton round and round, inside and across her fingers. Ozeal thump, thump, thumps the top of his head. He wishes he was that cane baton. He wants her fingers to twirl his body. He wants to move inside her hand, between her fingers. Ozeal wants to be silvery.
From morning till noon, from noon to dusk, Miss Jeannette Theresa twirls. Ozeal like the way her skirt flares up, showing her slippery petticoat. On one twirl he sees her underpants; he grows hard.
On the ninth day, he climbs from under the flatboat before the sun rises. He washes his face in a bucket of rainwater that collects behind the boathouse. He takes a sip and rinses out his mouth. Ozeal is hungry. He pulls a pickled egg out of his pocket, but forgets to eat it. He leaves it rolling on the open lid of the tackle box that sits on a bench inside the flatboat.
Ozeal Autin crosses the yard and pulls himself over the chicken wire fence. He sits down under the water oak, on a thick root balancing his feelings. They teeter-totter inside. They burst into his throat and burn.
Ozeal takes off the steel-tipped boots he inherited from his daddy, and wipes smudges of creosote from the shipyard of the toes. Socks peel off like second skin. He washes his feet in the puddle that holds the driblet of Miss Jeannette Theresa’s blistered palm. Then he pulls his boots back on again.
Betsy Woods is a native New Orleanian. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, The New Orleans Review, Alive Now, and The Literary Trunk. Her nonfiction has appeared in ACRES USA, The Times-Picayune, Citizens Together, and Sophisticated Woman. She is a writer, editor, teacher, and narrative therapist. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University.