Henceforth, your wife declares, Friday night is christened family game night (which will later turn into Friday movie night, which will later turn into leave-us-the-fuck-alone-night, which will probably one day turn into let’s-Skype-the-kids-who-live-3000-miles-away-night). As a Mormon, you are supposed to believe families are eternal and despite your best efforts you are tethered to each other in this life and the next, like a string of cosmic paper dolls. You volunteer to make dessert. You select marshmallow surprises, a kind of gooey cinnamon biscuit discovered in an 8th grade summer cooking class. You are the only boy in class. The girls in your kitchenette wear fake nails and fake smiles and with fake whispers so everyone in class hears compliment you on your tits as you put on your apron. You don’t tell them how you stand at the mirror pressing little boy boobs together wondering if God made a mistake, which you believe is impossible because in the 8th grade you still believe in a benevolent deity. You come home crying, accusing your mother of hating you. Why else would she enroll you in a class for girls? She says one day you’ll thank her and—after thirty years still refuse to admit this to her—she is correct. In college you host dinner parties and discover college girls don’t want Neanderthals for husbands and find your dexterity in the kitchen arousing, as does your wife who has on occasion whispered inappropriate things in your ear as you prepare bœuf à la Bourguignonne. Dip marshmallows in melted butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Wrap each marshmallow in pre-packaged croissant pastry dough, pinching dough at corners to seal marshmallow inside. Cook at 350° for ten minutes. Game night is Pictionary. Your turn proves complicated: self-portrait. This is confusing. Which self? As a firm believer in the multiverse you live in many hypothetical realities. You are a 16th century alchemist in the Bohemian court of Rudolf II with a cabinet of curiosity envied all over Europe. By day you are a fin de siècle flâneur in Paris, but by night a steampunk inventor. You are abandoned by your aristocratic parents because of a congenital heart defect and raised by gypsies in Budapest and educated on the high seas by cleft-palate Somali pirates before coming to America where you write leftist poetry loved by millions of New Yorkers. You are a vulture fighting over a roadside carcass. Again and again your lives return to the problem of religion. You practice messianic Judaism with Sabbatai Zevi and atheism with Rousseau. You make love to Rābi al Basri the Sufi mystic, take a vow of silence in Pangboche, protest slavery with the Quakers, spit on Christ as he walks to Golgotha, talk to jellyfish on a mescaline odyssey with a Navajo shaman, run through a busy market in Kabul wearing a fashionable C-4 vest shouting Allahu Akbar, and are a disembodied spirit sitting at the judgment bar before three empty chairs. Smoke fills the kitchen. A few of the marshmallow surprises are crisp sugary delights. Most have exploded into charred goo. You return to the drawing pad and as you draw a stick figure are seized by the possibility that in all these inflections of yourself, all of your transdimensional Whitmanesque multitudes, you have the same wife and the same four children and the same literary anonymity and the same kitchen full of smoke, a hope so impossible—so absurd—you have faith it has to be real.
Ryan Habermeyer’s debut collection of short stories, The Science of Lost Futures, won the BoA Short Fiction Prize (2018). He received his PhD from the University of Missouri and an MFA from UMass Amherst. His prize-winning stories and essays have twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, his work most recently appearing in or forthcoming from Bat City Review, Hotel Amerika, and the Los Angeles Review.
You show yourself in the rumba of the oak leaves,
in the patriotic flip flap of the flag fastened
to its lowest branch, in the tritone of the wind chimes
out by the water’s edge. The distant mountains
form a kind of concert hall of storm sounds,
their acoustics a marvel of nature’s engineering,
making your operatic echo magnify itself
in thrilling arias. But then,
at storm’s end – silence. The moon twins
its spotlight on the water, mirroring
itself. You’ve gone quiet, invisible. Yet,
we know you will outlast us all. In our will
we bequeath you the universe.
Don’t forget your songs, whether or not
anyone is left to hear them.
Dear (New England) January
Thank God for you! How thrilling your certainty, your lack of sun, your icy sidewalks, your air dry dry dry on the skin the lips the eyes, your frosted anthills pancaking gray beneath our boots. The lean coyote’s getting leaner, slinking closer to the house. The mice sneak in behind the dryer where it’s nice and warm. The pipes will freeze if we don’t stroke them with the hairdryer. No one wants to take a walk and tempt the Devil of Black Ice. Doggie will have to make do with an open door.
Hooray for you, January! There is no greater hope than standing here, planted in the almost-dark of 4 o’clock. It was darker just two weeks ago, when your older sister dressed herself in Christmas sparklers, merry-making in tiny multi-colored stars. December. The big tease. Will you won’t you will you won’t you snow on Christmas eve? Bring the airports to their knees? Leave travelers sleeping on the floor surrounded by their desperate festive packages?
Dearest January. You rock ‘n roll our thermostats through February. The snowman’s carrot nose has come unhinged, slipsliding towards muddy March. The ice dams cometh. Finally, April. The bravest flowers poke themselves out of the ground. Birds rev up their manic songs in search of mates. Gardeners rake the dead-brown earth. The arborists swoop in, warning of the latest moth-infesting threat to oak, maple, birch…. More money. Also, however, grass. Green leaves. More light.
More light. Spring. Summer. We salute you Janus, two-headed God of portals. You know that, like the past, our future rests assured. It’s enough to make a bully weep with gratitude.
Marian Kaplun Shapiro
Marian Kaplun Shapiro, a previous contributor, is the author of a professional book, Second Childhood (Norton, 1988), a poetry book, Players In The Dream, Dreamers In The Play (Plain View Press, 2007) and two chapbooks: Your Third Wish, (Finishing Line, 2007); and The End Of The World, Announced On Wednesday (Pudding House, 2007). A Quaker and a psychologist, her poetry often embeds the topics of peace and violence by addressing one within the context of the other. A resident of Lexington, she is a five-time Senior Poet Laureate of Massachusetts. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2012.
And so a playbill,
a box of kitchen matches
with blue heads and
a dry red rubber band
that parts at touch
from the belly of the box,
and a flat stone
similar to sea glass
that her child picked up
and stuck in her palm
more years ago than
she’s kept track. Junk
in a drawer she’s set
to empty, half-filled
She once knew the guy
who first appeared in Act I,
Scene I. He had a mustache,
freckles on his chest in summer
when they swam.
The photocopied playbill
of his last name
but not his eye-color,
not his voice.
for another hour and ten minutes
in the food court
in the hub-city airport
with the black and white
by the escalators
something he said to her once
It takes many, many years
to distill experience into prose.
Now there is vinegar
running down her right hand
from the overpriced submarine sandwich
chockfull, not of veggies
but of cheese and turkey,
now there is a recycled napkin—swipe-swipe.
But she carries its acidic scent
as perfume on the insides of her wrists
walking back with her carryon to Concourse C
with the vague memory of the place
where they bought the caramel apples
the practiced flick of the employee’s wrist
rolling each globed fruit on a stick in
a puddle of evenly-crushed pecans.
She’s tried many times to emulate
with a simple cutting board and knife;
no effort matches
what it was like, that first perfect bite.
Melanie Faith is a poet, fictionist, photographer, editor, tutor, and professor. Her writing has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. Melanie collects quotes, books, and twinkly costume-jewelry pins, and she enjoys spending time with her darling nieces. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her photography recently appeared in Harbor Review and The Moving Force Journal, and her poetry appeared in Verse of Silence. Get her artwork at WritePathProductions at Etsy. Her latest book, Photography for Writers, was published in Nov. 2019 (Vine Leaves Press) https://www.vineleavespress.com/photography-for-writers-bymelanie-faith.html . Learn about her latest projects at: https://www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/ and https://twitter.com/writer_faith .