Highway billboard between Columbia and Kingdom City, Missouri
“Hell” is on fire, flames throbbing, hotter
than the 98-degree day vibrating outside
my windshield. I’m not convinced the sign
is true. I’m one of the lost.
Along an extravagant street in another country
I prowled the blue-lit windows, starved
as a stray cat licking its whiskers.
Each miniature world was illuminated
by its own bright sun, a magical point of light
that dazzled off facets, ricocheted from shaped links
and loops and ropes and polished chains
that I supposed would hold me so gorgeously
I wouldn’t try to slip through a carelessly open door.
I lusted after such opulence. Will that lust
drag me down to hell shimmering
like a pagan Christmas tree?
Consider this harsh conviction in the context
of fidelity, a measured approach based on facts:
after whom one is lusting should matter.
Should a little debauched fun between friends
have such disquieting consequences?
Where is it written that lust has to end
after vows are said, children born,
a big fat mortgage added to the mix?
I am the sort of woman who worries
about fitting in, being invited to bridge club
and to play tennis. The billboard is comforting.
Imagine a place where entertainments like lust
are the thread knitting everyone together.
Have you been in hell? Tortured?
Hopeless? Eyes red and swelled
with tears that will not cease? Your heart
hammering? Have you lain down
with dread, awakened with it clinging
to your pillow? Tangled in your hair?
There have been times when,
having indulged satisfactorily,
I considered the last two amber inches
in an exceptional bottle of single malt,
and didn’t stop myself from pouring
the last dram into my glass.
I’ve indulged in daylight sensuality,
celebrated its languid lustiness,
then napped late into the afternoon,
disinterested in further exertion.
I envy sanctimonious do-gooders,
one brilliant success after another.
I delighted in my bad decisions,
did the ‘walk of shame.’ I still want
to dress up and strut around
with my head high, neckline low,
hoping some guy—much younger than me—
will eye me lustfully, providing an opportunity
to be dragged down to hell one more time.
Nancy Pritchard is a life-long St. Louisan. Her poems have appeared in a number of journals, including Natural Bridge, December, The Cape Rock, Mankato Poetry Review, PMS (PoemMemoirStory), Melic Review, Poetry Southeast, Fugue, and two collections of Harvest: Jewish Writing in St. Louis. She received an MFA at University of Missouri-St. Louis. She won the 2005 and 2006 Wednesday Club Poetry Contests (T.S. Elliot only won once) and the Arts in Transit award. She has taught poetry to middle school students in the St. Louis Public Schools for Springboard to Learning(www.springboardstl.org) since 2006. She is an avid traveler, athlete, and grandmother of 12. Although she is obsessed with reading the obits (especially in the New York Times) she hopes hers is still a long way off.
The rules are shaped and branded
On to genes, down generations,
Passed round in
Story and in song,
To make forgetting harder.
Ideas are bubbled up
On home-fired cauldrons,
Fuelled by a thousand years or more
Of thermal layered grievance
That have no taste, no smell, no colour:
Yet, still, they stink.
A virtual reality of light and heat
And sound that causes
Temperatures to rise and red mists form
Round ancient borders
Where battle lines are drawn
And citizens are armed against each other.
Upturned tables, scattered pieces
Mean no peace for people powered by hate.
The frenzied game plays on;
Until the victor stands elated,
Knows records are at last set straight
And neighbour’s scalps are buried deep.
He will not sleep,
For ghosts of so called civil war
Will always rise again, to haunt.
Caroline is originally from Northern Ireland, now living in Ayrshire, Scotland. She has just started writing poems again, and writes mainly on philosophical, political and life experience themes. She has been published in The Galway Review, Imagine Belfast and The Snapdragon Journal and was shortlisted for Tales in the Forest. She blogs for Positively Scottish, helps the Women Aloud NI with social media and is a member of the Federation of Writers (Scotland).
I always wanted to wear the pants
James Dean wore, and Rebel
taught me he was all wick and no wax—
ghost-riding his way off the bluffs—
because you know that he didn’t
make it out of that car wreck,
not really, not in the cold, rehearsed
way his total soc counterpart did,
when he cowered before the onslaught
of fragrant light beams or
fictions, projections on canvas,
but never the real fear, real
darkness, no. Instead: two tons
of steel clasping him like a baby
bird in a broken nest. That day,
pretending to fly off the cliffs,
he gripped tight the wheel—
white knuckles, greased hair,
creased brow and grimace
grown around the stubby butt
of a cigarette—he gripped tight
and slammed the gas as though
the treads could peel back the future,
the Porsche 550 and 49 Mercury,
the lot and US Route 466
playing tug of war like two groups
of children unlikely to ever let
the sun go down. And James,
having seen the future and the past,
bit down hard on the smoldering
tobacco and shut his eyes, because
in that moment he was unsure if
he was about to die, or push through;
and the potential was in the engine,
potential in the pedal, potential in his feet,
in the rawhide stink of leather, in the smoke
and heat of gasoline, in the bristles
of his comb; and now that he no
longer knew which car he was in,
he flinched, and death caressed him
with metallic fingers; and the sun setting
across the desert flats flickered over
the crumpled flesh and steel, and
the bystanders squealed and cried
with excitement, and the ghost of
James Dean walked around the car
and wondered if he were the dream,
or his body. He looked down and thought
stop pretending. Always the actor, always
the hardness of perfection, of dying young
enough to have been everything and nothing
at all—broken bones, crumpled steel,
oil strewn across asphalt and dust, salty
tears, baking sun, acrid smoke, and on
the wind tossed side of perfection,
his cool hair fluttering, timeless.
Noah Leventhal is a gumshoe literary detective. He recently graduated from St. John’s College -Santa Fe, New Mexico where he managed to avoid nasty juniper allergies for three out of his four years. He enjoys dissolving dream into reality, even when he is talking or eating food with his fingers.