Trombone

When I was a child, my father’s trombone hung from a hook in the utility room in the basement. It was the color of dull brass, with a few greenish patches. It was an unremarkable piece of household flotsam among the extra furnace filters, metal folding chairs, and boxes of old clothes to give to charity.

He played it a couple of times a year. Played? He would blow into it for a few seconds and move the slide up and down, seldom conjuring up a sound that could be called musical. He puffed his cheeks out comically and crossed his eyes at us kids. We would shriek with delight that our strict, straight-laced father was clowning for us.

When my father came up the stairs with the trombone, my mother, grim-faced, would walk out of the room. If she was in the kitchen, she banged the pots around. Sometimes she left the house entirely.

My father was not given to explanations and we kids were too timid—no, afraid—to ask: Why did he have a trombone if he couldn’t play it? Or could he play it and he just didn’t let on? And why did it upset our mother so much?

When I went back to visit my parents as an adult, I always meant to ask him about it. I’d mostly left my fear of him behind, but each time I visited I had other things on my mind—dating, career, marriage, children, divorce, my parents’ health—and I never got around to it. To that and many other things.

My father died five years ago, but his presence remains vivid to me: his smell, his V-neck undershirts, his anger. Above all, perhaps, his guardedness. I never felt I really knew him.

My mother’s memory is failing her, and now she is moving to a nursing home in another city to be closer to my sister. As we were packing the contents of the house my mother had shared with my father for forty years, my sister asked me whether I wanted the trombone. I didn’t have to think twice.

The trombone hangs on a hook in my basement. I take it upstairs a couple of times a year and blow furiously into it. My children howl with laughter at the fractured sound and my red face. They never ask me why I have it. I’m not sure I could explain if they did.

 

Joel Streicker

 

Joel Streicker is a writer, poet, and literary translator based in San Francisco. His fiction has been published in Hanging Loose and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Kestrel and Great Lakes Review. Another story of his was a finalist in Epiphany’s spring fiction contest in 2016. Streicker’s English-language poetry appeared in the fall 2016 issue of California Quarterly, and his Spanish-language poetry was recently featured in El otro páramo (Bogotá, Colombia). Común Presencia (also located in Bogotá) published a book of his Spanish-language poetry, El amor en los tiempos de Belisario, in 2014. In 2011 he won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for his work with Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, and in 2012 he was a translator in residence at Omi Translation Lab. His translations of Latin American fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including A Public Space, McSweeney’s, and Words Without Borders. Streicker’s translation of a story by the Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez is forthcoming in Freeman’s. His essays and book reviews have been appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Moment, and Shofar, among other publications.

 

Although I Should Not Have To

sometimes i’m wound tight
like twisted twine made of bungee rope
coiled like a rattler ready to spring
stretched taut by the finger of an archer
aimed to launch the lust of my overheated rage

 

then i wind my temper down
and i forgive my brother
for the robbery
for the rape
for the theft
for the murder
for the slavery

 

now with controlled disgust
i can explain why the “N” word hurts
although i should not have to
I can explain why “boy” does not work
although i should not have to
i can explain why “monkey” is not funny
although i should not have to
i can explain why your conscience is lost
if you are still comfortable with these terms
although i should not have to

 

Jerry T. Johnson

 

Jerry T. Johnson is a new writer to the Connecticut/New York area. Jerry began writing in the early 1990’s, had one poem published and then he took a 21-year hiatus to pursue corporate work overseas. In the spring of 2013, Jerry restarted his writing career. Since then his poetry has appeared in several literary journals and he published his first self-published poetry chapbook, “Good Morning New Year!” In addition to his written work, Jerry does poetry readings in a variety of venues in the New York City area. Jerry currently lives in Danbury, Connecticut with his wife Raye.

James Dean’s Pants

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

 

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.