- Robert L. Giron
In this issue, work by
A. J. Rodriguez, and
a treachery of feathers ready
to receive another broken bone,
looms inches from the surface.
Step deliberately when approaching this tableau.
With exceptions where water falls,
ice has claimed this part of the pond.
That is where you see her.
A sluggish ghost in the shadows,
slow, conserving what fragile heat
she still has in this late winter.
A canopy of juniper, dressed with light snow,
overhangs, lingers, watches.
Last year, a quorum of her kind was lost,
turned to stone, to frigid silence,
at one with the frozen water.
Although she doesn’t know that story,
some instinct guides her to keep
what warmth she can, to cruise
in stubborn torpor.
In her drift, she remembers the summer,
her long, languid vowels.
The accompanying texts of her companions.
How they interwove manuscripts,
narrations of sky, tree, sun, and moon.
Warm days are a memory now,
and thoughts rest lightly in her body.
She has kept the same posture for an hour.
Her bones have reached a conclusion,
an idea about hope itself,
there, near the indifferent bridge,
there, inches from the force that will take her.
Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Adams.
Snow explains each contour
of the mountain range,
makes planes obvious
in its remorseless pursuit
of my geography.
I stand on the crest of
a frozen hill, listening as
trees stiffly drop their masks
of white ice.
I offer my bones to the snow,
but that isn’t what it wants.
It wants the blood pooling at my feet,
blood that fails to warm,
fails to nourish.
An arctic hare comes,
laps up the red stain,
looks in my eyes,
and tells me
things that no one else
I’ve been silent about.
Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Adams.
About the Author
Carolyn Adams’ poetry and art have appeared in Beatnik Cowboy, Willawaw Journal, Glass Mountain, San Pedro River Review, and Common Ground Review, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart prize, as well as for Best of the Net, and was a finalist for 2013 Poet Laureate of the city of Houston, Texas. She is currently an associate editor for Mojave River Review. Having relocated from Houston, she now lives in Beaverton, Oregon.
A Forest Full of Horrors
for you and the food
of your blood moon
bouquet the hollow corridor
your burned journals
mirrored dark where
the next brush is
a white van and
your child a stray
bullet or six lest
you forget the slow
morphine drip God you always
think this way and God
too is a forest and no one
is more afraid than you
His noose stiff
on each birthday a forest
to cover the names
the cross the days
on your forearm shoulder listen
I—ll tell you a secret
when the next trucker
nods off in New Jersey
your name is carved
to the bark here
hold my hand
I will guide you
and leave you to starve.
Copyright © 2020 by Ben Heins.
The New Regime Prefers
to burn the forest, i.e.
carve women from chin
to breast, feed them
to men who grip
a massive wooden cross
as it circles in the sky
and bodies, like hard rain,
burst upon arrival. But this
is not the cruelest game.
A baby the size of a house
dances with rattles
inside a cage. When he breaks
his toys, he cries,
beats the earth. To appease him,
we, the people, shove
our naked black king through the gate and—
the tears dry. Now, the child
plays again—watch him chase
his new doll—
see him discover,
like any child,
the thrill of imagination:
The hand that pins
the black king down;
the other that grabs
his dark flesh, rips
his skin off in one piece,
waves it like a flag.
Copyright © 2020 by Ben Heins.
About the Author
Ben Heins was mentored by the late Dr. Len Roberts. He is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Cut Me Free (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2014) and Greatest Hits & B-Sides (Vagabondage Press, 2012). In addition, he currently oversees the internship and service learning programs at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. While browsing through a recent issue of Poets & Writers, he says he came upon an advertisement in the classifieds section and became an instant fan of the work published by ArLiJo.
Afternoon at the Uffizi
My father never did succeed in visiting the old country. Born and raised in Herrin, Illinois amidst a sizable Lombard community, my father spoke nothing but Italian until he started the first grade. In 1922 when my father reached his tenth year, he was supposed to have traveled to Italy with my grandfather in order to meet his relatives, but in 1922 Mussolini came to power; immediately, my grandparents swore that they would never go back to Italy and took out papers to become American citizens. In 1970, after much anticipation, finally, my father and mother prepared to make the long-awaited visit, but one month before they were to board the plane for Milan, my father suffered a stroke which left him dead within three days.
Twice in my youth, I did manage to visit Italy courtesy of the United States Navy. In 1962, while on my senior Midshipman cruise, the ship put into Naples for a week, and during that period, on an American Express tour that cost twenty-six dollars, hotel and meals included, I spent four days in Rome. Ten years later, while on a Reserve cruise as a Lieutenant, I once more put into Naples but spent only one night in Rome before I caught the plane to return to the States. In neither case did I ever set foot so much as a mile north of the eternal city.
For years, while we built our professional careers, raised and educated our children, and planned for retirement, April and I talked about how we would eventually take flight and make the journey my parents had failed to make. In particular, in response to my descriptions of the experience, April looked forward to seeing Michelangelo’s iPietà and the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“The aesthetic reaction is visceral,” I told her. “The Pietà was not behind glass when I saw it in ’62. I walked into the Vatican, glanced to my right, and felt like I’d been kicked by a horse. I went almost to my knees. I could barely breathe. I hadn’t even known the sculpture was there before I saw it. The Sistine chapel produced nearly the same effect, and I anticipate that seeing the Botticellis in the Uffizi will reproduce it. I want to feel that sensation once more. I have to suppose it is the function of art which lends a spice to life.”
Not having learned Italian as a boy—my mother was a Scot and had studied French and German as second languages—I worked my way through an Italian grammar in preparation for our trip, but neither of us anticipated April’s illness, and then, quite suddenly, she was gone, leaving a void in my life so deep that I couldn’t possibly fill it. Immediately, I stopped writing. Immediately, although the galleries in which I showed called for new work, I stopped making prints. I stopped going out, and for a while, I nearly stopped eating. Our daughters, living in distant cities and dealing with their own grief, did what they could to lift my spirits, but as we all knew, I had no choice but to make a go of things on my own, and eventually, like Sisyphus, I once more began pushing the rock, knowing full well that I would never approach the summit of my former joy.
Two years later, my pleasure in teaching having died with my wife, I retired and returned to my hometown in the high mountain air of New Mexico. I’d learned to cook a little by that time, and I’d resumed reading, and here and there but without any sense of urgency, I once more turned out a woodcut or two for one of the local galleries. I did not resume writing, although my agent called periodically in an attempt to give me a shove. I couldn’t do it; too much had gone out of me. Given the number of coffee houses that had established themselves beside the new galleries in my hometown, it seemed natural, I suppose, that I would meet a few new people and make a few coffee friends, and I did, but aside from occasional morning visits, I kept to myself, lived comfortably but without passion, and woke up one morning to find that my daughters and their families had arrived by surprise to help me celebrate my seventy-seventh birthday. And in the course of that celebration, they produced yet another surprise, a round trip ticket for a three week visit to Milan, Florence, and Rome.
“You owe it to Mom and to your parents to make this trip,” my oldest daughter said.
“You do, Dad,” my younger daughter said. “You have to make this trip for them.”
I tried to be gracious. I didn’t want to point out the flaws in their logic.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll go. Thank you.”
I couldn’t bring myself, after all the trouble they had gone to, to tell them that it wouldn’t matter to me if I ever went near Italy or not, so in the end, I went, for them. Without April beside me, I couldn’t imagine how I would manage to fill my time there.
So in November of that year, when I knew that the heat would have dissipated but that the winter rains would not yet have commenced, I landed at Malpensa. It had been a long flight, and on the way over, having snatched up the book thinking that an Italian author might help lift me into the spirit of thing, I had read Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s The Triumph of Death. Whatever possessed me to throw that particular book into my flight bag, I will never know save for the fact that it came ready to hand after sitting unread on the shelf for forty years. Oddly, the choice turned out well enough but not for the reasons I had intended. In fact, the book proved to be so romantic, so florid in style, so grandiose by modern standards that it might even have put La Traviata in the shade. Quite clearly, the book turned out to be a virtual Grand Opera in prose rather than music, and I found that I could not possibly read it with the seriousness that D’Annunzio intended. Blissfully, I finished the novel before we landed and thereafter turned my attention to playing computer chess on the flight console.
Owing to the fact that I had spent more than thirty-five years teaching English literature, April and I had often traveled in England, and on several of those occasions, I had driven rented cars, but having twice witnessed the driving in Italy, I knew that I would never be prepared to risk it, so for once in my life, I’d arranged for a car with a driver to meet me at Malpensa. Lorenzo, my driver, turned out to be a bright, well-educated young man, so on the way to Arcornate, my grandfather’s village, we talked about Lampedusa, Calvino, Ippolito Nievo, Silone, and Camilleri, and then, because the distance was not great, we entered the village and stopped in front of the church where I learned that the full name of what had finally become a town of more than five thousand souls was Visconti-Arcornate. That, I suppose, is when I realized that all of the surrounding land had probably belonged to the Visconti and that all of the inhabitants had probably been peasants, working the Visconti soil, something which my grandfather had never mentioned when I was growing up but something which I imagined he had tried to leave behind him by immigrating to America. The church seemed new, but two blocks to the south as Lorenzo and I explored the neighborhoods, we discovered the Oratorio San Eusebio, dedicated to the saint from whom my great grandfather had taken his name, the edifice in which my grandfather and his siblings had no doubt been baptized. On the wall, I found a plaque commemorating all those like my grandparents who had immigrated to America. On the piazza, we took a coffee, and then, Lorenzo drove me into Milan to look at the Sforza Palace and the Duomo before depositing me at my hotel.
On the following morning, I discovered that the Continental breakfast of 1962, a hard roll without butter and a cup of black coffee, had become a thing of the past. Somehow, for some reason, things had changed, the breakfast buffet offering massive platters of smoked salmon, salami, prosciutto, Brie, pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, several types of fruit and half a dozen different coffee preparations starting with espresso and cappuccino before going on to more exotic configurations. I knew at once that I would never have room for lunch and realized an immediate savings on what I had budgeted for meals. Eventually, sated and again made sleepy by the abundance of the meal, I paid my bill and took a taxi to the railroad station where I caught the train for Florence.
The train ride between Milan and Florence on one of the new high-speed rails made me feel like I was gliding through Italy on a cushion of air. In the beginning, passing through the outskirts of Sesto San Giovanni, I imagined myself to be riding on the same tracks over which my maternal great grandfather had once maneuvered his own locomotive, but then, we passed beyond the city and into the countryside. On either side as we sped through the Po valley, I could see that every square inch of land seemed under cultivation, solar panels having been erected in much of the dead space alongside the tracks. Here and there, we sped past villages and towns and the isolated farmhouses that rose like square fortresses from Napoleonic times, and suddenly, as I glanced at the wide expanses stretching out in all directions, April’s absence struck me like a bolt. Oh my, I thought, how she would have loved this, the fields, the red tiled villages, the wide calm expanses, the umbrella pines and tall cypresses rising in the distance. I bit my lip and felt a gnawing in my stomach for what might have been.
Two hours later, having reached Florence with ease, I took a taxi to my hotel and discovered that I couldn’t have been better situated if I had planned the trip for myself. With the Hotel Degli Orafi located directly beneath the Vasari Corridor on the banks of the Arno, the Uffizi stood right next door. Several hours remained before my voucher could take effect for the 4:30 tour, so rather than sit, rest and wait, I set out for a stroll and found myself almost at once in front of the Piazza della Signoria glancing back and forth between the facade of the Palazzo Vecchio where the copy of Michelangelo’s David rose to such an impressive height and Cellini’s Perseus which stands to the right beneath the immense arches of the Loggia dei Lanzi. Pressing on after giving half an hour’s attention to the remainder of the sculptures in the square, I moved straight up the Via dei Calzaiuoli until I found myself closed in by the crowds of tourists, looking straight up with them at Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome on the Duomo and Giotto’s towering Capanile. I remember walking all the way around the cathedral, and then, finally, I worked my way through the masses in order to study the Ghiberti and Pisano doors on the Baptistery, but for anything like a satisfying look, the press was simply too great, so I resolved to back off and return early on the following morning when I thought the crowds of tourists might have thinned. I knew I need not feel rushed; I expected to spend ten days in Florence before going on to Rome.
Eventually, along one edge of the Pizza di San Firenze where I could have a clear view the Bargello, I discovered an empty table, sat, and ordered a coffee, and there, savoring the moment but feeling increasingly empty if not downright bereft by April’s absence, I quietly remained until I knew it to be time to appear at the entrance to the Uffizi.
At 4:30 sharp, along with fifteen or twenty other English speakers, I handed my voucher to our guide, a short, bearded art student with unruly hair whose name I do not remember. What I do remember is that the young man had a good sense of humor and kept cracking jokes as we mounted the stairs and emerged into the East Corridor, and there, quickly, I realized the incredible gift The Electress Anna Maria Ludovica, “The Last of the Medici,” had left Florence when, otherwise deprived by the Austrians of all honors and her title, she had willed the city the vast Medici art collections upon which so much of the Florentine tourist industry depended. Put simply, the Uffizi overflowed with Medici art.
In the 13th Century and Giotto Room, the first we entered, I thought I could see at once the new dimension that Giotto had introduced into Italian painting through the depth of expression in the portraits of the Badia Polyptych, but then almost before I could absorb the full impact of the advance, our guide led us into the Lippi room, and there, looking closely at Piero della Francesca’s paintings of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, I found myself looking at work that I had several times before seen in reproductions. Previously, I had known that the portrait of the Duchess had been painted posthumously, but in reproduction, the deathly pallor of her face, staring at the Duke from the eternal but metaphorical past, had never carried the impact that it did when I finally saw it in the original work. Small wonder, I thought, that the Duke had had himself painted in profile, his darkened, blind eye hidden from the viewer like the pain of his loss. I think I felt a special affinity with the Duke in that moment; I couldn’t help feeling that I knew what must have gone through his mind the first time he had seen his wife’s finished portrait. Beyond the basics, I can’t remember what our guide said while we stood to view the paintings; I felt too absorbed, too lost in thinking about April.
Seconds later, I realized that my tour group had moved ahead, back out into the corridor, so rather than separate myself from them, I made haste to catch them up, and then finally, on the tail of the tour, I entered the Botticelli room. This was the moment I had anticipated, not only on the airplane coming over but across all the years that April and I had thought about and talked about the trip, and in the end . . . , well, the moment turned out to be slightly anti-climactic. The aesthetic reaction that I had anticipated, that blow to the solar plexus, that kick in stomach, never quite came off for me. Both of the paintings that I had so looked forward to seeing, both the Primavera and the Birth of Venus, were magnificent. Possibly, as the result of long study of both, I had overexposed myself to them in one form or another; possibly, the colors were slightly more muted than I had anticipated. Whatever the case, while I examined each with a loving eye, I found that I did so with a degree of objective detachment that I could never have foreseen. Perhaps, if I had been able to view them without the press of so many other people moving about the room, my reaction might have been different. Perhaps a private viewing might have made the difference. I cannot say; I will never know, but what I do know is that even as I admired their beauty and absorbed the superiority of Botticelli’s achievement, neither work slammed me against the wall in the way that my first sight of the Piet— had done, and then most unexpectedly, something did.
Quite suddenly, while once more shifting my glance from the Primavera to the Birth of Venus, I was struck dumb, literally staggered by the kind of physical blow that I had once felt in the ring during one of my boxing matches during a Navy training session. A girl had walked into the room, and as I turned my head slowly from one painting to the other, she had not only arrested my attention, she had in a heartbeat raised the moment to one of D’Annunzio’s impossible heights by, as he once said, putting the sun into my heart. The girl’s ensemble— high black heels, dark black tights, the tiny, flared black skirt then in fashion, the short navy blue jacket over the white blouse—seemed so perfect that I would not have been surprised to learn that she had come straight into the Uffizi from the showroom of an expensive couturier. Her face and makeup were flawless beneath a short flip of hair that shone like burnished copper, so much so that on the instant I almost imagined her to be the famous Florentine beauty, Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, Botticelli’s supposed model, come to life and stepped down into the room from the half-shell in his painting.
Catching my breath, I tried not to gape. And in the split-second that followed, I imagined that our tour would be ejected from the room so that a photo shoot might proceed, but when photographers from Elle, Vogue, or Bazar failed to appear, I knew that I was seeing the real thing, a flesh and blood girl, an unparalleled beauty of twenty-five or thirty, making her own private tour of the Uffizi. Had we been characters in one of his novels, D’Annunzio would have announced that our eyes met across the room. In fact, they did, but I know my age; I knew that the girl was merely trying to take her bearings, and when she had them, she turned away from me and stepped forward to look at the Primavera.
I watched the girl, of course. Generally, I do not trouble myself with such thoughts, but in that moment, there in that fading hour at the Uffizi, I could not help but wonder about the source of such flawless beauty. Was I to attribute it to evolution, to the Almighty, to some inscrutable combination thereof? I didn’t know and knew that I never would. Romantics might ask why I didn’t approach the girl, but as I said, I know my age. January-May relationships might work for some and might look good in the movies, but I was no longer thirty-five and did not wish to be. Call it wisdom, if you like, but beauty of that order, when found, should be appreciated for its own sake. Having gone to the Uffizi in search of beauty, I’d found it but found it in a form least expected, my “aesthetic“ response to it coming with such certainty that I didn’t want anything interfering with it. Had I tried to speak with the girl, had we exchanged words, the illusion might have been broken, and I didn’t want that particular illusion broken, not then, not ever. So in the moment, I gave thanks that I was no longer young.
Eventually, my tour moved on. I don’t remember much about what else I saw that afternoon save for the fact that much later, just as the sun was going down, I once more saw the girl at a distance near the steps in the East Corridor, and I have a vivid recollection of the fact that the impact of that sighting struck me with the same blow that it had when I had first seen her between the Botticellis. That was enough, in so far as I was concerned, so at that point, I left the tour, descended the stairs, and stepped out into the night, threading my way down the Via Lambertesca to the Antico Fattore, the little trattoria where I intended to take my supper.
During my meal that evening, I enjoyed a brief conversation with a Dutch couple about my age, both of whom spoke English. One of my books about the Trojan War had been translated into Dutch, and to my surprise, I found that the man had read it and owned a copy, so for my edification, he was kind enough to tell me how to pronounce the title in Dutch. Afterward, I took the elevator up to the lounge at the top of the Degli Orafi, and there, before the big picture window that looked out over the rooftops onto Brunelleschi’s well lighted dome, I took a grappa, and then I took another, and finally, I returned to my room, sat down, removed pen and paper from the desk, and began to write with the sun once more in my heart. April would have understood, and I think she would have been pleased.
Copyright © 2020 by Phillip Parotti.
About the Author
Phillip Parotti has published three novels and numerous independent short stories and essays in little magazines. Now retired from a long teaching career at Sam Houston State University, he resides in New Mexico where he continues to write and work as a print maker.
that runs down your back streams
along the spine. Stand out
in the summer sun long enough,
and you’ll see
how much water
you’re made of.
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Rabas.
Town & Country
“I love these rolling hills
on the way to Wichita,” Lisa says.
“It’s a pretty drive,” and we
watch for cows, dots,
against the green,
and we wonder what it would be
like to live on the land,
leave town, drive in
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Rabas.
About the Author
Kevin Rabas was the Poet Laureate of Kansas (2017-2019). Rabas teaches at Emporia State University, where he leads the poetry and playwriting tracks and chairs the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism. He has ten books, including Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner. Rabas is the winner of the Langston Hughes Award for Poetry, the Victor Contoski Poetry Award, the Jerome Johanning Playwriting Award, and the Salina New Voice Award.
Copyright © 2020 by Bette Ridgeway.
About the Artist
Bette Ridgeway was born in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Her five+decade art career began with graphic design at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. She also studied at the School of Interior Design Art and the Art Students League, both in New York City. She continued her studies abroad—painting, exhibiting, and teaching— while also immersing herself in the cultures of Madagascar, Australia and Chile.
She pursued her fine arts career while also professionally flourishing as a visual arts specialist for the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission and Executive Director and CEO of Very Special Arts, an educational affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Ridgeway has been creating and residing full-time for over 20 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Global exhibitions include 80+ museums, universities and galleries, including: Palais Royale, Paris; Embassy of Madagascar; and London Art Biennale.
Her awards include: Top 60 Contemporary Masters; Leonardo DaVinci Prize, Rome, Italy; and Sandro Botticelli Prize, Museum of Florence, Italy. Mayo Clinic and Federal Reserve Bank are amongst Ridgeway’s many permanent public placements.
Numerous books and publications have featured her work, among them: International Contemporary Masters and 100 Famous Contemporary Artists. Ridgeway has also penned several books about art and process.
A. J. Rodriguez
Winner of the 16th annual Gival Press Short Story Award-2019
“In this moving, electrifying piece, the rush of Guero’s (the narrator), self-deprecating, wise-cracking voice carries the story from the particular world view of a young, first-educated-generation Latino’s life in New Mexico to a kind of universality. Guero masks his love of the land and his hurt at the racism inflicted on his people with a barrage of insults and curses, in Spanish and English. Subtly weaving anecdotes, memories, and descriptions of landscapes and weather into the unstoppable flow of Guero’s language, Rodriguez implicitly comments on themes as profound as family problems, racial prejudice, first love, and the degradation of the west.”
— Joan Goldsmith Gurfield, contest judge
About the Author
A.J. Rodriguez was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but he currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. In 2018, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University with a dual major in English and Latinx Studies. During his time as an undergraduate, A.J.’s mentor and award-winning author Helena Viramontes helped him discover and develop his distinctly Burqueño voice. As illustrated in Efímera, A.J. articulates his prose through an intersectional Nuevo Mexicana/o/x milieu and aims to investigate how the individual makes sense of simultaneously occurring issues swimming within machismo, race, and family. His short story, Paloma en Fuego, was published in Chapter House Journal’s 2016 Spring Issue and was a finalist in the Epiphany Magazine 2016 short story competition. In 2020, A.J. plans to begin his Master of Fine Arts in fiction with the hope of completing and publishing his debut collection of short stories.
Click here to read the story Efímera
Last Light, after the Rain, Banff
Copyright © 2020 by Stephanie Sabourin.
About the Photographer
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.