Issue 127 — Chekouras, Cotter, Judge, Loprete, Moul, Sabourin, Wiezorek, Winn
In this issue, work by
Jan Wiezorek, and
Everything collapsed in the space of one evening near Christmas. The owners of our AirBnB, in an old Seattle neighborhood that had withstood everything time and demographics could throw at it, recommended a Vietnamese restaurant and we were trudging up the hill into the wet pearlescent dusk to find it. We arrived at a string of shops, no more than three or four blocks intersected by a few promising side streets. Bare, black tree limbs crosshatched the low-lying fog. The rain stopped. We crossed the street and between one corner and the next, gray twilight hardened to blue night. Wet streets juggled reflected light from brightly lit shop windows, each a glowing bread crumb on a well-worn path to holiday cheer. I stopped at one to admire a set of hand-blown glass candy canes. Oh, look at these! Look. I love candy canes on the tree I said. My husband said Will you get them? I said They’d probably slide off the branch the first minute and turned from the window. He walked away. In the restaurant he scanned the menu. He said, Shall we get just white rice? Is there brown I asked. An order of both then, he said, and How about papaya salad? I said Are there green tea leaves in it? I don’t know he said and closed his menu. And just like that, unheralded by years of companionability, a window and a menu added up to divorce.
And the days and the nights and the days and the nights. Does some part of us regret consciousness; sorry we left all other animals behind when we ascended from hunted to hunter? And the story of Lucifer, of separation, are those rebellious angels really us? When we turned on everything?
Alone by summer though not yet divorced, I flew to Palm Springs for a June wedding. I rented a convertible and drove to one of the fraying little motels there, a holdover from the old Route 66 days of auto touring. In my room that night I hung my dress and drank away my fear of being unattached; rehearsed with each pour some clever thing I might say if someone asked after my husband and I found that as the bourbon sank lower in the bottle my resolve rose to the point where I thought I’d be okay.
The morning smelled of sprinklers and wet concrete. I took coffee by the kidney shaped pool and read the newspaper, another holdover from the 20th century but one I enjoyed. I liked the rattle of the page when I turned it and again when I gave the sheets a crisp snap to bring them to order. By noon the temperature had reached 120. One last dip, a swing through the crumbling turquoise vending area to pick up a bucket of ice, and I went in. I wanted to be fresh for the celebration tomorrow. It was a mistake to spend the afternoon in bed icing my eyes. By 10 pm I was awake, sober, restless and bored. I stood at the window in the dark of my room and watched the pool shimmer ghostly white. Feral cats in the high branches of lemon trees awoke from their daytime stupor and came down to drink from the swimming pool and hunt for lizards. I was exhausted the next morning and again slept away much of the day.
The wedding itself, private, a perfunctory obligation attended only by family, was in the afternoon. I was thankful to have escaped the excessive cheer of relatives and new in-laws. The evening reception was the main event and we all, friends of the grooms I mean, expected a party worthy of a Palm Springs rental—an amusement that would separate the Christians from the lions. I arrived at a mid-century modern, all glass and sharp exterior angles, late enough to easily dissolve among the boisterous revelers and found a good perch, not far from the bar and with an excellent sightline from the patio through the living room and out to the top of a horseshoe drive. The party was just reaching critical mass, that tipping point at which it either starts to cook or people get bored. I scanned the crowd to get a read on which way this gig would break and saw a car pull up. An older man in a white tux got out, handed his key to the valet, and then helped a woman from the passenger seat. She wore a strapless dress of pale lavender beautifully cut on the bias and ruched at the waist. So I saw her first. Before she saw me. We both knew one of the grooms so I wasn’t terribly surprised and yet without the hard shell of my husband to shield me I instinctively sought the shadows. I’d heard she’d married again, a third or fourth time. I watched them come through the front door. Hair up, chin up, she entered the living room like a much younger woman, head tossing like a racehorse, eyes blazing, her mouth ripe and ready for anything.
Twenty years ago, our husbands, her first, my only, had been college friends. She joined our circle when I was away, an exchange student in Paris. She was at my welcome home party when I returned. Breathless with adventure, inflated by excitement and a looming proposal, I announced I’d bought a Degas. Degas! I was twenty-two and it was the most expensive thing I owned or imagined ever owning. Had the plate not been struck I could never have afforded it and still I came home penniless. Rather than see the black line that ran through the etching as a fault, the strike mark started a hundred lively conversations at the cheap wine and pasta dinners we gave those days. Our speculation, fueled by alcohol and weed, was always elaborate and detailed beyond anything we could know. Had the strike been a rash mistake, an outburst of anger immediately regretted? Had Degas pulled the print in anguish at what might have been? Or was the struck plate a betrayal, stolen by a trusted assistant and my print the thief’s desperate attempt to cash in on stolen talent, his own meager by comparison? Those wonderful evenings.
We’d been married only two weeks when we went to her first wedding. My husband wanted our gift to make an impression, to one-up the Spanish wine glasses they’d given us. We were young and had nothing but the future. He insisted I surrender the Degas. And I did. Her note, when it came, said only Thanks for the ruined print. Perhaps her language failed her intent but I don’t think so. Husband #1 left her after a few years. Complained of exhaustion. Said With her it’s one emergency after another; every day we have to save the farm, pull the baby from the well, beat back the Huns. And maybe that’s why I had sex with him, because by then he hated her, too. After they divorced, she called him her wasband.
She and her current husband, I assume that’s who he was, came through the living room, she in front, he behind so that all attention might fall on her. They stepped out onto the patio and stood at the edge of the pool, theatrical in the up-lighting. Her husband kept his hand at the small of her back. I kept to the shadows under the jacaranda trees. Men and women swarmed them. She seemed to know them all. I went to the bar, put her behind me, got a drink. It might have been my fourth Chardonnay. One of the groomsmen took my elbow and said I could retouch your hair. He steered me away from the party to the back of the house. Would you like to rest a bit he asked. I didn’t know him and resented the ease with which he assumed what I needed. I told him I was alright and he said Well then let’s get some alright makeup on you. And I let him.
I came back out to the pool, to loud music and grease smeared plates, to plastic wine cups rolling in the night wind off the mountains. I thought to go to her, to say Good evening, won’t you introduce me to your isband? But I hesitated and in that fractal of time a man I didn’t know, silver fade, black roots, and bespoke suit, came and stood beside me. He put a vape to his lips, drew a deep hit and then offered his pen to me. He looked at the pen, looked at me, oily vapor swirling in his chest, and nodded to encourage me. I knew I had to stop drinking so I took the pen. Lavender bloomed in my mouth and curled down into my lungs. Suddenly lighter than air, my head detached and floated above my shoulders. I was trying to return his vape, to lift my arm, when he winked at me, broke away, rushed through the crowd to where she stood. He scooped her into his arms in a motion so fluid it appeared choreographed. She screamed. Everyone turned. The purr of twisting linen and starched cotton combined in a collective gasp. And then he threw her. The patio roared silent.
She went into the air as though she’d seen it coming, had in fact provoked it. At the top of her arc, that brief moment of stasis, she hung perfectly still, legs crossed, arms folded at the wrists as if she’d been plucked mid-conversation from the dinner table. She hit the pool that way, composed rather than flaying, and disappeared down a great crown of white up-splash. We didn’t see her again until the water settled and there she was walking the bottom of that turquoise pool, as poised as a runway model. She reached the scalloped steps and paused, half in half out of the water, dramatically shadowed by pool spots. Her shoes were gone. Water ran the sharp angles of her cheekbones, the length of her golden arms. Her hair had come loose. Her dress clung to her, revealing her thighs, the cleft between her legs, her flat stomach and pendulous chest. She was gorgeous. Her husband held out his hand. She took it and he pulled her into a kiss; offered his jacket but she refused. And that’s when she saw me. Though she spoke to her husband, she never took her eyes off me. She said Baby, take me somewhere we can dance. And the crowd parted for her as did the sea for Moses.
I awoke on a guest bed. The music had stopped. My head was thick, the evening felt worn. All that remained of the party was occasional laughter spiked by the sound of empties hitting a bin. I found my things. Put lipstick on, ventured into the abandoned living room. Voices rose from the kitchen. I kept going.
I had Palm Canyon to myself and sped the length of the valley from Palm Springs to Rancho Mirage. The rental contract and my scarf blew into the starry night. In my peripheral vision steams of color spooled out from neon-lit hospitals, plastic surgeries, cosmetic dentistry, fertility clinics, gyms, sex clubs. Human organs, blood, hair, sex, the strength of our backs and arms, even our rentable wombs all lit up like retail while the night rolled over the desert and straight on to China. I stopped at a roadside bar.
I awoke in 29 Palms to the champagne light of a high desert morning. I didn’t recall stopping here or putting the top up. The jacket that helped me survive the cold night was not mine. I got out of the car and squatted. Hot pee spattered the asphalt and came steaming up amid bird song, the only other sound. I stood and took a dozen deep breaths of pure air to get the party out of me. I needed a cleanse and drove to Desert Hot Springs. I registered at a spa there and asked to speak with one of their personal trainers, said I wanted a good sweat.
A young man, enormous blue eyes with caterpillar lashes and dreads swept up into a shaft of honey brown wheat circled me, asked me to drop to the floor and rise, to reach above my head, to balance on one foot. He said I wasn’t getting enough from yoga. Stretching, yes. Flexibility, yes. But I was not building core strength or muscle mass. That’s when they come to me he said, putting me in that great huddle of They. You’ll feel nothing at first he said. You’ll notice more energy at the three month mark but at six months you’ll see it in the mirror and that’s when it turns for you. You’ll walk differently. You’ll project strength. I can get you there he said. I booked Chinese cups and an herbal wrap.
The next morning, I showered and packed. Got into the car and drove down the mountain. Lawn sprinklers in the valley launched white jets high into air so dry the water evaporated before it could land. People here can’t survive here without force. Without slicing, carving, pumping, and spraying water onto the flesh colored landscape in their demand to be sustained at any cost. I picked up the freeway. Driving 80 m.p.h. is no different than sitting still. Well, you are sitting still. All around you, air, dirt, and solar radiation whisper their dollar value to the roaring wind.
And the days and the nights and the days and the nights. My therapist said Language is symbolic thought. We move a few muscles in our throat, change pitch, our lips and tongue give final shape to air moving through a hollow tube and our innermost life is revealed. Tell me he said. I want to be in it I said. Tell me he said. Not near it or around it or parallel but inside it, of it. Tell me. I said Unaware of either it or myself, no separation, the same as it. Mmmm hmmm he said. I stopped going shortly after that session. It seemed useless. It’s a shame, my therapist emailed, because we were making real progress.
What happens when the universe no longer swells on the expanding lip of The Big Bang? When momentum is exhausted? Will the living feel that precise moment? When time stops? And the retraction; what will that be like? Will time go backward? Will an individual consciousness be aware of its existence helplessly receding? Will we see our own life come hurtling back at us?
Copyright © 2019 by Rebecca Chekouras.
About the Author
Rebecca Chekouras is a fiction writer and essayist. Her work has appeared on the Tin House blog, Narrative Magazine blog, in the Catamaran Literary Reader, East Bay Review, Pithead Chapel, Pacifica Review, Minola Review, FogLifter, and Longridge Review among other domestic and international publications. Her story Escape Velocity was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was a 2018 finalist for the Larry Brown Short Story Award. Chekouras is a Tin House fellow, and a fellow of the Lambda Literary Foundation. With writers from McSweeney’s and the San Francisco Writers Grotto she helped inaugurate The Basement Series reading. She reads for A Public Space.
Discussing Proust with Barbara Drake
I drove up to West Wilson Hall’s
Kids were moving in for the first day of classes,
unloading cars, most with their parents.
Boxes and suitcases piled-up on the lawn
outside the front door.
I turned around and my bags were gone.
I talked to a campus cop.
He said, yes, they were likely stolen if I left them
unattended on the curb.
He said there was a group of students
who routinely stole things as kids moved in each fall,
and pointed to a building next door.
It was run-down and I forced my way in a wood door
that was half below and half above ground.
It was semi-dark inside,
light somehow filtering in
through the windowless partial basement.
I started to look through rooms.
Moved up to the first story,
room after room with plywood doors.
Most were unlocked.
I’d open them and look in
hoping not to find people.
The rooms were small and rectangular,
most 10 feet by 4 feet with a cupboard under a small sink.
I didn’t see my bags.
In one room I started opening plywood shelves,
then saw a guy sitting on the floor.
In each cupboard were neatly piled stacks of stolen items,
Scotch tape, film, duct tape.
He explained how he’d stolen it all.
None was mine.
When I opened the flimsy door of another room
a very hot guy—my type—
I told him what happened
and he suggested another room 3 floors up.
Classical music woke-me-up
at 6:35 a.m. like it was programmed to do.
I’d fallen asleep the night before
reading Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’s
I love several lines like:
“What is my nothingness, compared to the amazement
that awaits you?’
Never found my bags
but I’m in love with the painter
who didn’t care I’d opened his plywood door
and walked into his loft.
He understood my problems.
slender, long, dark hair, 19.
Why was I moving into West Wilson Hall
as if I was a freshman again?
Thirty-four years out.
Where is Tim Swartz?
Rimbaud is alive
not in France or Abyssinia.
I checked out Harar on Google Maps two days ago
in a country now called Ethiopia.
I want to walk through Harar
and meet the descendant of King Menilek.
It is said that Rimbaud was constantly writing there.
Know it might have been letters to his mother and sister.
But it might have been poems.
Piles and piles of new poems that were probably destroyed
as he went out unexpectedly, never to return.
He had become famous in Paris
but when this news reached him in Africa he
For many years of his fame he was assumed to be dead.
When word reached his fans in Paris he was alive in Africa
they hoped to meet him.
They didn’t know he had returned
with a leg amputated at the thigh
and was soon to become totally paralyzed before dying.
He seemed to have lived his last months in agony.
He had just turned 37 when he bought the farm.
Rush hour is calculus.
I never took calculus and heard President Obama use that word yesterday
about his “red line” for Syria
(the use of chemical or biological weapons or their movement).
I’ll vote for Obama again, like him very much,
but wonder why it is OK for the Syrian government to continue to execute
and massacre its people with conventional bullets,
mortars, tank rounds and bombs dropped from planes.
I’m pleased with his unwillingness
to take us into another war.
His is the best calculus.
I knew by 11 I was unelectable.
I talk Proust with Barbara Drake.
That was the tradeoff.
but Barbara and I can discuss
antennae in hawthorn.
Copyright © 2019 by Craig Drake.
About the Author
Craig Cotter , originally from New York, has lived in California since 1986. His poems have appeared in Caliban Online, California Quarterly, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, Free State Review, Great Lakes Review, Hawai’i Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Poetry New Zealand and Tampa Review. After Lunch with Frank O'Hara, his forth book of poems is available from Chelsea Station Editions. Visit: www.craigcotter.com
Jury S. Judge
Copyright © 2019 by Jury S. Judge.
About the Artist
Jury S. Judge is an internationally published artist, photographer, writer, poet, and political cartoonist. Judge’s Astronomy Comedy cartoons are published in Lowell Observatory’s quarterly publication, The Lowell Observer. Interviewed on the television news program, NAZ Today Judge’s work has been noted for its political slant and the work has been widely featured in literary magazines such as Dodging The Rain, The Tishman Review, Amsterdam Quarterly, Open Minds Quartely, Blue Moon Review, and The Ignatian Literary Journal. Judge graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2014.
Copyright © 2019 by Mario Loprete.
About the Artist
Mario Loprete of Catanzaro, Italy has shown his work throughout Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome, Torino, etc.), in galleries in Holland, Greece, Spain, Germany, and the UK as well as in the USA (Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, New York).
He states: “For my Concrete Sculptures I use my personal clothing. Throughout the artistical process, I use plaster, resin and cement to transform the clothing into artwork to display. My memory, my DNA, my memories remain concreted inside, transforming the person who looks at the artwork as a type of post-modern archeologist that studies my work as if the items were urban artefacts. In the past few years, I have freed myself from all of the work relationships with galleries that I collaborated with. I think that my work has reached the maturity to be coveted and to be presented outside of an important gallery and I would like to use this venue to make it be known to others who might see my work.”
Please visit: www.marioloprete.com
The kitchen’s louvered door swings out
to a crowded counter, but sweet Honey
enters like Loretta Young on TV, arms
laden with deep-fried morsels, followed
by a constantly repeated blast of hot air,
super-heated like a ship’s boiler room,
as other servers do a soft-shoe hustle
into the beloved “Café of the Prairie.”
All toted, plains winter is a hard sell:
west wind sets ice on every surface;
eighteen wheelers always teeter on a
curve at least one hundred and fifty
feet from the tow operator with winch
and one hundred and thirty foot cable;
locals are literally frozen into tradition
for at least three visits per week, usually
on spaghetti, fried chicken or pie night.
Honey enhances none of these specialties,
yet she met all four of her husbands here.
Copyright © 2019 by Keith Moul.
Supplication to God
Water’s surface in wind foreshadowed science,
elemental cohesion with substance of its own kind,
where it must go responding to gravity, wind blow
and tidal pull. Mystery blows in from the west,
riding white caps like queens in a holiday parade.
Walk against wind increases awareness of impotence,
but my kind can be overwhelmed with fears and doubt;
with others like me, at this time in our lives, but rather
than doubt natural motion, I choose to recognize order,
which when ignored affects a sacrilege, or arrogance.
Those around me smell God’s hand, see God’s hand,
hear God’s voice in wind, but I resist if God meddles.
Copyright © 2019 by Keith Moul.
The Event so Long in the Planning
Life on prairie stubble was not easy,
had never been. The café had charm
and too much good food, thoughtful
service, and friends, not usually seen
anywhere but here on the west side,
wind typically pounding from Idaho.
To enter required eight steps, often
over salted ice; to exit required care,
especially patience and concentration.
Tonight he expected, perhaps craved
confrontation, almost begging a fight,
but he had planned carefully for years.
Actually, his epic departure would end
struggles on inherited land, leaving all
to others more committed to its history.
Now he would leave freely through
icy air, frost ladening and tickling
his nose hairs. He could have taken
his wife’s hand in summer humidity
and led her away to new discoveries.
He spent life learning that he could go.
Copyright © 2019 by Keith Moul.
About the Author
Keith Moul is a poet of place, a photographer of the distinction light adds to place. Both his poems and photos are published widely. These poems are from a new work about prairie life through U.S. history, including regional trials, character, and attachment to the land.
Point Reyes Wreck
Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Sabourin.
About the Artist
Stephanie Sabourin is a photographer, teacher, and nature lover. She draws inspiration from the beauty found all around her. As the owner of Stephanie Sabourin Photography, she is frequently found photographing dogs and other animals, along with their people, in natural settings. Stephanie is a member of Professional Photographers of America, and she has been published in Wonderful West Virginia Magazine and on a number of web pages. She lives with her husband and standard poodle in Columbia, Maryland.
Portion and Pantry
The lungs of these aisles,
slow and timed, deep and apologetic,
across the threshold,
you rest in sounds that squeeze
beyond trailers, dump dreams,
beyond those boxed and roadworthy,
succumbing to the widow who asks you
to place the pizzas. Carry them to the pantry
where there’s so much business. You see folks
grab as if at home, sliding boxes against white shelving
worked before apocalypse. This house swings
toward exhalation: a layman pulls his collar.
Mary abstains. We knew sound
like pronouns to live with:
Even monks wheeze
upholding coffin screws.
Finally, take a right
at the bread cart
before the pallet
of baked goods.
one, single breath—
Copyright ©2019 by Jan Wiezorek.
Hum Across Switchgrass
is the turn of the head
the eyeful shot to fear
it catapults the spirit
toward native grasses
not the stranger who leans
with the wind in frayed disarray
like Cephalus so manly with a spear
his ruah fated to grieve
but like us we stand our ground
and face the rampant deer our staggering justice
in the moment our Latin fails us
only the voice an advocate’s dark glasses
pulls us through to uncover other
where we wonder how victory smells
what pulsates is the ever-turning head
charging the grassland buoyancy in balance
of wild rye and prairie dropseed
maiden grass pausing for punctuation
rambling in myth so illogical
the veins of erythrosine ruddy at the border
coaxing us to turn to read again
to hum across a switchgrass
even hoping it tickles the lip
Copyright ©2019 by Jan Wiezorek.
Afterward, closing the car door,
locking it, seeing a warning light.
So it was safe. I walked up
to the woman and her man
strolling toward me,
needing extra space.
Passing the sculpture now,
no one else greeting me
upon my entering.
(And I remember we had talked
about the color of her hair,
magenta, but she said, “Teal,”
and I recalled she was
I asked for a few stickers,
but she failed to recognize me.
She did not look or speak
as oils and watercolors, collage and
assemblage, photographs and prints,
calligraphy and jewelry.
I was not in a place to know.
Everyone walked with stickers,
placing them near descriptions
of an acrylic, the faux-Cubist woman—
reminiscent of the overly colorful.
No one walked near me, asked my
opinion, or placed a sticker on me.
They admired the Cubist.
I sat on black leather, melted there,
sensing geometry, if you can imagine.
I was less as I have always been,
and more, as a fly licking leather.
Copyright ©2019 by Jan Wiezorek.
About the Author
Jan Wiezorek writes from Barron Lake in Michigan. He has taught writing at St. Augustine College, Chicago, and volunteers as a feature writer for The Paper in Buchanan, Mich. His poetry has appeared in The London Magazine, Southern Pacific Review, Yes Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, Xavier Review, Leaping Clear, and Adelaide Literary Magazine, among other print and online journals. Jan is author of Awesome Art Projects That Spark Super Writing (Scholastic, 2011) and holds a master’s degree in English Composition/Writing from Northeastern Illinois University
As I grow older and I hope wiser
I feel as if I am visiting from another planet.
These extra-terrestrials who
fill the news and the streets
of this more and more exotic world
are not of my kind and it
is not clear which of us is
from outer space or some
satellite circling this dying
world which they call The Earth.
They often look like me
although thinner from running
or biking in gleaming packs
except also for a growing number
of those who appear to be
inflated beyond understanding
by some ingenious insidious
filler of gas or plastic stuffing
brain belly and butt whether fat or thin
as if they have been manufactured
in some far eastern factory by
robotic workers underpaid and
perpetually hungry and underfed.
Their ideas when I can discern
them are remote from reason
and seem from some exotic faith
bred into them before birth in
the womb of a strange being
neither male nor female
for the mystery remains as to
how I got here in this strange
planet called Wonderland
Copyright ©2019 by Howard Winn.
Watching the Writer Die
in public or at least in print
the symptoms revealed
the treatment at hospice
outlined as well as the panic
that descends to the bottom
of his being when breathing
is not easy and when
falling and breaking occurs
without warning while the
crumbling bones only add
to the malevolent cells running
wild through the animal
body while the mind maintains
the clarity of knowing the
end is always death no matter
how long you manage to live
Copyright ©2019 by Howard Winn.
About the Author
Howard Winn’s work has been published in Dalhousie Review, The Long Story, Galway Review, Antigonish Review, Chaffin Review, Evansville Review, 3288 Review, Straylight Literary Magazine, and Blueline. He has a novel published by Propertius Press. He holds a B. A. from Vassar College and an M. A. from the Stanford University Creative Writing Program. His doctoral work was done at N. Y. U. He is Professor of English at SUNY.