Lowell Jaeger, Featured Author

Sugar-White Beaches

Such a never-ending winter, these months

of snow and ice and gloom.  We’ve lost

long hours again today, pushing back

last night’s leaden blanket of wet white,

mounding piles shoulder-high, towering

till they avalanche as if to mock our labors.

The wind whips our cheekbones red

and wet and raw, my wife and I,

our shovels lufting slush, lungs puffing

huffs and grunts . . . when, within a waking dream,

she says, That sugar-white beach

in Isla Mujeres, remember? I nod,

a touch of warmth, a blush, floods over me,

a smile.  Side-by-side we replay these memories,

wordlessly, relishing not just the mind’s rescue

but something bone-deep having bubbled up

like steaming waters from the earth’s core.

And I remember, as a kid, that same sensation,

a resurrection out of the depths of near hopelessness,

our schoolyard in late March beginning to thaw.

One brown patch of lawn opened where snows had receded,

and we gathered there all recess, huddled in awe.

 

The Bubbles

Jet-lagged, we snugged the covers over our ears

to muffle las campanas de la catedral, tolling.

Stepped into the midday sun, blinded by how far

the day had progressed without us.  Hungry

enough to settle for a vendor’s cart menu,

plastic tables and worn umbrellas, across from the plaza

where someone had switched on

fountains of spray hissing skyward and falling,

sizzling on the hot streets like rain.

Not a fountain, really, but jets

or nozzles embedded in the cobbles and brickwork,

firing at random for the simple screams

of barefoot niňos dashing to soak

their camisetas y pantelones for the joy of what

dazzle might rise on a Sunday afternoon.

And did I mention the children blowing bubbles?

Not blowing them, really, but throwing them

from homemade coat-hanger wands dipped

in pails of sudsy dish soap.  Huge soap balloons

taking shape as the children twirled and laughed.

Families cheering the bubbles as each rose toward the sun,

undulating liquid rainbows.  Kaleidoscopic rainbows!

As my wife and I held hands across the table,

glad to be in love amidst the bustle,

this world’s wondrous and baffling extravagance,

thousands of miles from home.

Three Cathedrals

Our strategy for this day: don’t waste it

roaming the cobbles in the aimless manner

we’d diddled away the hours yesterday —

my customary druthers when accustoming myself

to a foreign locale.  I like to simply set out walking,

let each new intersection dictate which way to go.

But this day at breakfast, a sunlit street-side café,

you opened the guidebook and made plans.  We’d locate

the burial site of the young peasant, a revolutionary.  The one

who gave his life — or so the story alleges —

not for his flag, but for the welfare of his wife and children.

You passed the map across the table, without speaking,

and pointed to our destination, tapping gently with one finger

on the exact coordinates of your chosen goal.

All morning we searched street names, asking directions,

straining to comprehend a few words of a language

not our own, charging this way and that,

until past noon we stopped for a glass of wine,

conceding we were lost.  Something between us,

lost.  I couldn’t guess what it was.  Except that our son

and daughters were grown and gone.  And when we rose

to go again, we had nowhere particular in mind, meandering

across the plaza, stepping recklessly through traffic,

lured by cathedral doors thrown wide.

In the darkness inside, I studied the carved-wood altar.

Someone might have mistaken my mumbling as a prayer.

You lit a votive and set it reverently beside dozens

of strangers’ wishes flaming.  Three cathedrals

we explored that afternoon — their spires rising on the skyline,

easy to find.  This day I now recall in its vaulted ceilings.

And a sadness in you, hushed at depths I’d scarcely divined.

You, slipping pesos into the slotted donation box.  You,

igniting brightness.  I’d give my life for you

and the children, I thought.  You, your face aglow

amidst a thousand flickering shadows.

I’d never loved you more.

We’d Planned

to pull the blinds,

uncork champagne,

jitterbug naked

— your mother and I —

inside the empty nest.

You slammed the hatch

on your Subaru, its bursting load

of fantasies and mysteries boxed,

pillowcases stuffed

with plush bears.

Smiled, waved, honked,

and sped away.  Our last,

at last

college-bound.

We stood at the window

— your mother and I —

and breathed silence.

She simmered a Mexican stew

later that afternoon, which

side-by-side across from your place

at the table, we sipped

spoon by spoon.

Lowell Jaeger

Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is founding editor of Many Voices Press, author of seven collections of poems, recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

Yunhee-dong

The rain tapped against the window intermittently for days, hypothetical ellipses leading nowhere, until noon today, suddenly intensifying into staccato exclamation points. Monsoon season arrived during the bus ride back from the clinic at Hannam ogeri.

Not impossible to get an abortion in Korea, despite what the first doctor said, immediately offering to perform an ultrasound in his neat, contraction-free English. “We cannot do that. Would you like to see the baby?”

This clinic is forty minutes away on the 110A, on the same block as all the embassies: not behind, tucked away on a backstreet, but right on the corner, like a welcome mat. The clientele is exclusively foreign, save one Korean woman, clinging to the arm of a boy no more than 19, so blond he’s nearly translucent, the faint lines of his veins showing through his crew cut. Her nails dug gouges into his forearm, but the rest of her body angled away from him. If not for the armrest, she’d topple to the floor. At least she caught him, brought him here, even if the welts on his arm say he’s still trying to get away. Every other woman in the waiting room sits alone.

The clinic accepts cash payments only. The borrowed credit card of a pragmatic, unflappable coworker who comes from money and enjoys the association with something sordid isn’t going to cut it. Five days before the next available appointment to scrape together sixteen hundred dollars. The receptionist still demands two hundred for the appointment today, for taking up time that could’ve gone to another patient.

Did they say cash-only on the phone, their meaning lost between the language barrier and the code words?

Women, foreigners especially, in this part of Korea must be prone to problematic miscarriages, judging by the quantity of grimaces in the waiting room, the dozen pairs of eyes focused just to the left of the television. These women, all waiting to see a doctor who will record they underwent non-prosecutable evacuations.

He transferred to Japan a month ago, Seoul to Osaka, left Korea in a haze of Jagerbombs and shitty beer and cigarettes and fibbing about the condom. Everyone was thrown out of the bar at 4am, proceeded to the norae bang, where he spat the entire Eminem oeuvre, sharp joy evident with every over-enunciated bitch and faggot. It was well into Sunday morning before collapsing together on the apartment floor, because it was only going to be the once, and the sheets are clean, washing them again too much of a hassle. Worse, somehow, that he lied in the daylight, lied when he was mostly sober. Worse to have lain there and let the lie happen.

It’s impossible to leave a place entirely: a sock behind the dryer, a book lent and never returned, old text messages from now-defunct numbers. In all the ways that matter, though, he will be gone entirely by Thursday next.

Tristan Durst

Tristan Durst is a graduate of the MFA program at Butler University, where she served as the fiction editor for Booth. She will, no lie, step on your baby’s face if there’s even an 11% chance it gets her off an airplane half a minute faster.

Aged

Dusty, moldy, musty

Yellowed, brown stained

Wrinkled, tattered pages

Faded ink, missing leaves

Broken spine

Forgotten on the shelf

Few visitors

 

Antiseptic smell

Darkened, liver spots

Wrinkled, translucent skin

Gray, thinning hair

Achy back, swollen joints

Forgotten in the home

Few visitors

 

Have all their pages been written?

 

Priceless, rare editions

Stores of wisdom

Treasured stories

 

Will all their pages be read?

 

Suzanne Cottrell

 

Suzanne Cottrell, an Ohio buckeye by birth, lives with her husband and three rescue dogs in rural Piedmont North Carolina. An outdoor enthusiast and retired teacher, she enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, and Pilates. She loves nature and its sensory stimuli and particularly enjoys writing and experimenting with poetry and flash fiction. Her poetry has appeared in The Avocet, The Weekly Avocet, The Remembered Arts Journal, Plum Tree Tavern, The Skinny Poetry Journal, Three Line Poetry, Haiku Journal, Tanka Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Dragon Poet Review, and Naturewriting.