• Robert L. Giron

Issue 123 — Six Poets & Three Artists

In this issue, work by


Amirah al Wassif

Nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize


according to nature’s rules


50 barefoot men carrying

their empty pots

their facial bones

tell you about long ages of bitterly

shabby dresses, fearful eyes

ancient faces full of pimples

much sweat

and shaky hands


50 barefoot men bearing their pain

looking for a way

to protect their feet

but the shattered glass

was everywhere


the dispossessed people died

and the rest were alive around the river

laughing, jumping, drinking

but the river has a sense of justice

so, it made a good decision

according to nature’s rules

and, dried up!



Copyright © 2019 by Amirah al Wassif



a woman looking for a tongue!


they said your voice should not be heard

we need a woman without sound

then I asked my god

o lord, do I count?

and he answered me in short

raise your voice and shout

they said we need a perfect doll

walking and stopping when we want

but I am totally tweety bird

so, I whispered: no, I cannot

they said the good girl knows how to

close her mouth

she always pretends to ignore seeing

revolutions in the north

or in the south

the good girl used to crawl

she must hide the bright side of her soul

good girl hasn’t any right

or even fight for her vote

the good girl could not contemplate the faint light

in the middle of the road

they said we need a plastic woman

but, I act like a real woman

so, they cried “be shy”

but, I insisted to fly!



Copyright © 2019 by Amirah al Wassif



as an African child


As an African child

I crawled on mama’s arm

Searching for an imaginary house

Which bears me with a fancy view

Of the coming clouds upon my head


As an African child

I jumped many times for seeing the clown

Who laughs and cries

Making jokes

Acts an excellent spy

With many children in their bed


As an African child

I saw the bitterness on mama’s face

And tried to chase

Her shadow before her cheek was wet


As an African child

I drew my plan on the clay pot

I insisted to fly

Asking my sun to let

The charming of justice light

And asking the darkness to rest



Copyright © 2019 by Amirah al Wassif



About the Author

Amirah Al Wassif is a freelance writer who hails from Egypt. She has written articles, novels, short stories poems and songs. Five of her books were written in Arabic and many of her English works have been published in various cultural magazines such as Praxies Magazine, The Gathering of Tribes, Credo Spoir, Reach Poetry, Chrion Review, among others. Her books in English include: For Those Who Don’t Know Chocolate and The Cocoa Boy and Other Stories.



Elsa Bonstein


Ark


Where is our ark?

Our place of refuge?


Where can we go when the earth shifts

When the mountains are moved to the seas?


There is a peaceful village

Close within our hearts

And to that quiet place

We bring our thoughts and fears.


We flee to the sacristy that rests inside,

Everlasting, beyond thought or understanding,



Copyright © 2019 by Elsa Bonstein.



America


If there is a value in America, it is ideals and philosophies,

not wealth and power. We will not keep those ideals here,

locked in our land.


When we say “Give me your tired, your poor,” we mean give us

your old, patriarchal, backward, non-functioning mores

and let us show you what liberty and freedom can do for your people.


Give us your masses of oppressed men and women and

let us teach them to read, to think and to reason, for we know

that goodness exists in the core of every human being.


If we do this, the beauty, the excellence, the giving

and helping healing heart of all people will grow, and

we will have a new world: free, abundant, kind, and caring.



Copyright © 2019 by Elsa Bonstein.



About the Author

Elsa Bonstein has been a feature writer for various publications and magazines. She has written two novels, Find Edsell, which received the “Mark of Excellence” from Writer Digest and Footes Creek, which is available as an ebook at Inkitt or at Bonstein’s website, www.elsabonstein.com.



Alyssa Cooper


Midazolam


Time of death was 11:56.


They broadcast the vitals of the men they were killing,

as if those failing heart beats were news stories,

as if those flickering lifelines were tabloids,

and their mothers and daughters watched them die

alongside a horde of slathering spectators.


Time of death was 7:20.


And the next morning,

the headlines told of their arching backs

and gnashing teeth,

they told of the drugs that we knew didn’t work,

that they used anyways, poison in vials set to expire,

like canned soup must be eaten before the date stamped into the tin,

except this was not tomatoes and cream,

it was life—

and this is what we call freedom.


Time of death was 10:33.


Killing men to teach them not to kill,

state sanctioned murders in sterile rooms on clean white gurneys,

and the men who write the laws insist that it is painless,

they insist that it is moral, that this is justice,

they say there is no pain,

but if they truly believed those hollow words,

they would not paralyze their victims before they stopped their hearts.

That three-injection cocktail that they call protocol

was not mixed for the sake of the man being killed,

it was mixed for the sake of the men invited to watch

the spectacle.


Time of death was 11:05.


And this—this is what we call freedom.



Copyright © 2019 by Alyssa Cooper.



Labyrinth


From this distance,

I can see things that were not clear,

before,

when I was so close that your sweat was

clouding my vision,

condensation on my windows,

blurring out the details—

I can see the things that mattered more

than love,

or adoration,

or commitment,

I can see the things that mattered more

than soulmates,

and from this distance,

I can see the things that stood between us like

tightropes,

precarious and unsteady,

the things that drove us apart, like nails

hammered into flesh,

I can see those columns of real life,

and it is impossible to navigate between them

and make my way to you,

it is impossible to find an end to the maze

that lands me in your arms, and that is

okay.


This is not a story.


I am no swooning heroine.


There is no neat and braided plot line

that leads me back to you,

no breadcrumb trail to bring me home,

there is no home at all, and that is


okay.



Copyright © 2019 by Alyssa Cooper.



Twin Sister to Elation


Tonight I press my fingers into

bruises, just to feel the ache; on

days like these, pain is twin

sister to elation, because at least

it is something, and bruises are

just blood learning to rot, learning

to walk, liberated from my veins

and building galaxies, just beneath

the surface of my


skin.


I am looking forward to the days

when I can greet the sun without

wondering why, when my hands

will not spend quiet moments

itching for elation, when I will

know that I am built of dying stars,

without having to be


reminded;


but more and more each day, this

future seems like fiction, like fantasy,

like one of the books I always seem


to be writing.


The curve in my spine was put

there by hardship, and how can I

expect anything less from


the rest of me?


I am a bruise in the shape of a girl,

a monument of rotting blood,

begging for fingers to introduce me

to elation. I am a galaxy spinning in

flesh, I am soft white scars that were


once purple,


were once open,


were once nothing,


I am nothing,


this is nothing,


the sun that begs me to wake each morning


is nothing.



And on these days, I would

give anything for something.



Copyright © 2019 by Alyssa Cooper.



About the Author

Alyssa Cooper is a Canadian author and poet currently living in Kingston, Ontario. First published in 2008, she is the author of four novels, a short story collection, and two poetry collections, as well as having her work included in various local and international publications. An active spoken word performer, she currently holds an executive position in the Kingston Poetry Collective and the Queen’s Poetry Slam planning committee. Visit: www.alyssacooper.ca



Phyllis Green


Ann Wore Her Lucky Red Cape

Acrylic, 36" x 48".

Copyright © 2019 by Phyllis Green.


About the Artist

Phyllis Green is the author of 16 books for young people, these include Nantucket Summer, Eating Ice Cream with a Werewolf, Bagdad Ate It, to name a few, as well as over 50 stories in literary journals. She has had 26 paintings of Women and Flowers at Beaverton Oregon City Hall during the last Christmas season and this coming season she will have five large paintings of European royalty from the years 1100-1800 on display. Ann Wore Her Lucky Red Cape is her first painting in a literary journal and she is delighted.



Jenean McBrearty


The Revolution


Today, and Italian right-winger attacked some migrants.

I don’t know any of the people involved. It happened

in Europe. Theoretically, I’m glad. It’s the only way

the Identity Movement will be effective at ridding

our societies of these invaders. Untheoretically,

I feel sorry for the victims.


Nate made his first notation in February, a month made for worrying, and worry he did. The optics were bad. He called Faustina Purdy.


“Sure, it’s a good sign, we don’t want a failure, Purdy. It demoralizes the rank and file.”


“You talk like a union boss. I think it shows the invaders we mean business. I say good for the guido. The rank and file need to know we mean business too.” He imagined her lips moving as she spoke the words.


Maybe she was right. So many people got fed up with inaction. When are we going to start fighting back, they always asked? I’m almost thirty! Yes, by the time people get thirty, most peoples’ lives get complicated. He kept his life simple. Clarity, he called it.


He listened to his recorded speech at last night’s meeting he’d just posted on U-tube. Self- congratulation was a bottle of twenty-dollar wine.


“Extravagant,” Purdy had said when she saw the check she’d promised to pay.


“I delivered a great speech, for Christ’s sake,” he’d defended.


“It ought to be great, it’s the same one you’ve given for ten years.” She was spot on, but how many ways and how many times can you say the government stinks? If they’d kept the pregnancy, their kid would be old enough to answer that question.


“Nate? Are you still there?”


“Yeah, I’m here. Listen, can you check out a guy named Chambers? He ordered a t-shirt we don’t sell anymore ⸺the one that says ’Politics are great but I’d rather be revolting’ on the front.”


“So, shoot him an e-mail and tell him.”


“I’d rather not. I think he’s nuts.”


“Damn it, Nate! You think everyone’s crazy.”


“He sent a check for a hundred-fifty for a thirty-dollar shirt.”


“Alleluia! Ask if he’ll accept a substitute. Find out if he’s married to the slogan, or if it’s just a cover.”


“A cover for what?”


“Infiltration, ya’ goofball. Just because we’re not on a list doesn’t mean we’re safe from prying eyes.”


He saw the conversation heading down a one-way street called Nate You’re Incompetent Boulevard. He needed orange juice. He put her on speaker phone while he battled an inner seal. “Maybe, he’s for real.”


“Okay, then ask him if he wants a topic of conversation or really wants to help the cause. Call him and find out. Movements stand or fall on their funding. Gotta go. Love you.”


They were disconnected in every way since she moved out. Funny how happy she sounded. He should call Chambers. Personal contact was the cardinal rule of recruitment. His college football coach taught him that. But a text was quicker. He settled for e-mail:


Dear Mr. Generous. Requested merchandise not available. Can we keep your money anyway? My car needs new tires. Signed Desperately Flat.


Zap! Suddenly the screen read You Message Has Been Sent.


“Aw, shit!” He composed another:


Situation dire. Bad Joke. I’ll return check ASAP. Truly yours. Mr. Stupid.


Hopefully, Purdy would never know how screwed up he was. Depressingly, he suspected she already knew.


***


He found ways to avoid signing into his e-mail for Chambers’ reply. Call his mom, wish her a happy something. Sneak a cigarette. Make a to-do list. Polish his shoes. Go to unemployment for recertification. But, by noon, he had to bite the bullet. Purdy would ask him about the t-shirt ’thing’ when they met for lunch. He had to make the truth palatable if he wanted a piece of something for dessert.


Chambers sent a cringeworthy answer:



No wonder the resistance isn’t going anywhere, asshole. Buy the tires so you don’t kill the innocent. No fire arms for dummies like you with quick fingers.



He’d have to tell her. “Good news, Babe,” he said and slid into the booth, his hands laden with burgers and shakes. “I squared things with Chamber and got tires for my car—”


“How’d things go at unemployment?”


“I’m good for another six months. I’ll find something, I promise.” He’d made the same

promise to Helen Marks, his assigned Career Coach Saint.


“I don’t have time for a screw, tell me the truth.”


“I told Ms. Marks I’m a drunk. If I go to A.A. meetings, I’m good for a whole year. I don’t suppose you have time for a blow—”


“No, Nate.”


Did she want him to be unfaithful? Obviously. When she went to the bathroom, he checked his e-mail again. Unemployment released his payment and Chambers wanted a meeting update. Things were looking up. He could pay for lunch. To Chambers he replied:


February thirteenth. 8 P.M. Gonzo’s Pizzeria upstairs meeting room. Bring your own beer. :)


***


The minute Chambers introduced himself, Nate knew he wouldn’t let Purdy near him. Too damn classy and way too intense. That he looked like a blond Superman made him seem like the movement’s messiah. He probably had a wonderful, lucrative career. Maybe he knew Helen Marks.


“We’ve got a new soldier in the struggle ⸺Princeton Chambers.” He turned to the guy next to him wearing soft linen slacks and a Van Husen with rolled up sleeves. “Do your friends call you Prince?”


“No, they call me Tony.”


“Tony, hunh. Are you Catholic?”


“It’s a long story.”


“So, let’s welcome Tony with a big round of applause!” The night was going to be tedious with Tony sitting near the dais, lounging in a folding chair and listening to every word. Here was a guy willing to donate to the cause but expecting to see results. What’s worse, he’d already told Purdy about him. Why were guys so damn proud of tires? Women were so much more practical. They were proud of scholastic records.


“He won’t last,” he’d told her on speaker phone when she called to ask about the meeting. He’d fishtailed on ice and decided to keep both hands on the wheel.


“Why not? You didn’t act weird, Nate.”


“We’re too radical for him.”


“Bullshit. We’re as radical as Mother Goose.”


“Well, then maybe we’re not radical enough for him.” The image of a dominatrix dominated his brain. How was he supposed to concentrate on politics and ice?


“You mean you don’t like him. Why?”


“Uppity. You know. Snooty. Snobby. Elitist.”


“Employed. Well dressed. Solvent.”


“Okay. What of it? The poor and the slovenly need love too.”


She’d sighed and said good-bye and brought him chocolate cupcakes on her way home from the Kroger bakery. She’d work overtime because some gal couldn’t find a baby-sitter and to make sure the store had enough product for the Valentine’s Day, and still realized he needed attention when he felt like a colossal loser. She deserved better. Daily, he prayed she never seek it.


***


America is like a big ripe peach, golden pink and as luscious

to the eye as it is to the palate. More tempting than apples, and

sweeter than cherries. Because of technology, people all over

the world have seen her beauty and her promise, and envy

her. Hate her. Look greedily and lustfully upon her. They want

to possess her, rape her, steal her riches and take her down.



It sounded exactly like what Nate had been saying that for years, but when Tony said America was on the verge of extinction, it didn’t sound like a weak warning but a call to arms. Nate stared into the young faces of the Soldiers of Struggle and didn’t recognize them. They’d never looked at him the way they marveled at Tony. Any fool could see America was becoming unhinged, but the attention they paid to this guy told Nate they now believed it.


He should stop their adulation. It was like watching them masturbate. But he was suddenly aware of who he was: the voice of St. John crying in the wilderness. He let Chambers continue.


We must fight, or we will die. The thousand years of genetic

evolution will come to an end, gone forever, unless we act.

What can we do, you ask? I will answer. Our enemies have

fewer resources but more courage than we do. They’re fighting

asymmetrical war and so can we. We must take precautions.

We mustn’t be caught, because there are so few of us now.

But we cannot let that paralyze us. That will change. Those

of like mind will find a way.



Chambers was right. That’s what he was. Paralyzed. Constantly reminding them of a bleak vision of reality while Princeton Chambers was showing them a heroic vision of victory. His words were brazen and beautiful. His plans stark, violent, merciless. Yet, they rang of truth.



We all must die, but it’s what we’ve lived and died for that

makes us magnificent. God triumphed over death to strengthen

our faith and hope so we can triumph over those who seek our

bondage. Rise up, men of America. Smite her enemies. I will

instruct you how when next we meet. Until then, think on this:

if the Founders were not willing to shed their blood for you, we

would still be beholden to a king. Do you want your children

beholden to international communism? Are you so afraid of

mortality that you will sacrifice your freedom for a moment

more of breath?



The room was silent when Tony left the podium, the young men sitting in reverential quietude as they steeled their resolve. The time for amiable socializing had passed. One by one, the twelve men collected their coats and their conscience and left the hall, leaving Nate alone with the usurper. The situation was dire. Nate knew because the men had left their beer behind.


“What will you tell them next week, Tony?” Nate demanded quietly as Tony headed for the stairs. Not that he expected candor, but he did want indications of where the de facto new leader intended to take the Soldiers of Struggle.


“I’ll tell them what they need most of all. Instruction on how to fight an ideological foe.”


“You’re going to ask them to jeopardize their lives?”


Tony had donned his camel-colored wool coat. “And their fortunes and their sacred honor, too,“ he said and walked to where Nate was sitting at the information table. “The SOS men have honest affection for you, but they need a commander not a comrade. Think on that. They will. Next week we’ll discover if they’re real soldiers or simply sympathizers. If they decide to be warriors, they’ll get one of these.“ Tony pulled a small flat white sack from his coat pocket and handed it to Nate. Inside was a 3X3 inch black patch with SOS embroidered in silver thread, and below the letters was a red cross on a white shield.


“And if they come down on the side of sanity?”


“They will have chosen impotence and annihilation and will get nothing because that’s what they deserve.”


Tony left. Nate heard his footfalls on the stairs, and the squeaky door leading outside open and close. He believed he was alone, but Purdy appeared from the dark side of the room. She came towards him, holding her shoulder bag close to her hip with one hand and her keys in the other.


“How long have you been here?” he said grimly.


“Long enough to understand that you fear Chambers more than you fear the Marxists, and why you should.”


“You know he means to blow something up, Purdy. A building, a courthouse, a school. . . ”


“My guess is something big. A mosque maybe, but what do I know?”


“Somebody’s going to get killed.”


“I think that’s the point, Nate. Body counts matter in a war of some against all.”


“We can’t let this happen. We have to tell the Feds. They’ll cast a big net, and I don’t want to be caught up in it when things go south.”


“Nope.” She put her keys in her purse and set it on the chair. There was a table to clear, beer and beer to stash in the ice-box.


“Okay then, tomorrow we call the FBI. Agreed?”


“You do that.” She stacked the brochures and stuffed them in the trash can. He swiped a cookie from a plate he knew was her next target.


“You don’t think we should turn him in? I told you, he’s crazy. Did you see this?” He held out the patch Tony had left on the table. “Weird, right? SOS. The man, the plan, the insignia. They’re gonna think we’re all Nazis, or worse, terrorists.”


“I think there’s no easy way out and no easy answers. There never has been. There’s only winners and losers.”


“No win-win, ever? What happened to all that I’m okay, you’re okay crap we learned in psych 101?”


She had everything in its place except for the tablecloth. “Elbows up!” He leaned back in the chair and watched as she folded the slippery plastic that had Happy Birthday written in script around the edge. They’d go home now. Alone to different addresses, he predicted.


“You’re a wonderful guy, Nate. But Chambers is a guy on a mission. Probably one of the few alpha males left in these parts.”


“You make 2040 Lexington sound like the Paris of 1789.”


She got her purse from the chair. Like a slo-mo sequence in an action movie, she brought it over her shoulder and ten-thousand volts shot through his groin. That was her sexiest move. Covering up after she’d let him have a peek at her. If this was a movie, they’d make passionate love on the table, and reminisce about it on their golden wedding anniversary. She was his goddess, after all. Who knew Venus was alive and well in Kentucky and working in a grocery store bakery?


“This revolution isn’t going to have dress rehearsals. Go ahead and call the FBI. Or the CIA, or DHS, or any alphabet from the ACLU to the UN.”


He hustled to keep up with her. “We have to stop him some way—”


She stopped so abruptly, he almost fell on her. “It’s too late,“ she said without looking at him, “Try to stop him and Chambers will kill you.” She walked on, and he didn’t follow. Her words had the ring of truth too.


***


Today, the Italian police arrested that neo-fascist who

killed those migrants. Over a hundred-thousand

people demonstrated against his arrest and the cops

used tear-gas to drive them back. The crowd grew to

over two-hundred-fifty thousand —;led by Franco Laganza,

an unemployed tailor. When Pope Francis called for order,

peace and tolerance, the crowd threw tomatoes at him and

shouted Viva Italia!



Nate made his second notation in February, a month made for fear, and fear he did.


He’d recruited new members since Chambers had come and gone. He’d been lots relieved, but a little disappointed that his guys had turned out to be simply sympathizers. On the bright side, A.A. meetings were so anonymous he never had to prove to Helen Parks he ever went.


“How’s it going?” she’d ask every six weeks.


“I’ve got a terrific sponsor.” It wasn’t a complete lie. Purdy stopped buying him beer. Not even she could afford luxuries when the economy nosed dived again. “If things get any worse, you’ll have to move back in with me,” he joked. It didn’t happen, but things got a hell’uva lot worse.


His mother had died from the influenza epidemic in September of ’40. At least the doctors said it was influenza. The only person he still trusted was Purdy, and she insisted it was cholera. “When did you ever hear boil water warnings with influenza?” she asked when they left the emergency room that drizzly Tuesday night.


Before she pulled into his dive-way house, the hospital called and said, “We did all we could.”


“Stay with me, please,” he begged. Four words that really meant he had no idea what to do when anybody died. What happens when you have no money to bury your dead relative? Should he call his ex-step-dad in Montana? How could it happen so fast?


She made him a cup of tea. “Did you notice the streets?”


Was she trying to distract him? “It’d be nice if they collected the trash on schedule once in a while. Yeah, I sort’a noticed.”


“Dead animals, Nate. Strays and little tree critters. Listen.” It was midnight and they could hear trash trucks stop and go down the block. They went to the window and watched the city workers shoveling debris between driveways where the cans stood. “When was the last time you saw garbage collectors in haz-mat suits?” she said.


He’d never seen it. Or maybe he never noticed. Living in a fog had repercussions. Had he forgotten Purdy’s birthday again? He felt his throat tighten.


By Sunday, the obits in the Lexington Times ran two full pages. Lexington’s population of four-hundred-thousand had been reduced by twenty-five-thousand —most of those were UK students. Between out of town parents coming to claim their bodies, and early rain, the downtown streets were impassable for two weeks. Then he got more bad news.



All unemployment appointments have been cancelled

until further notice. You are being assigned a new

career coach. You will be notified.



We mourn the loss of the following. . . Joan Apple,