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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 191

 This issue features

 

photograph by Arturo Limon,

poetry by JC Allier,

fiction by Diego Arias,

photograph by Rawpixelimages,

photograph by Ruth H. Curtis,

fiction by Caryn Coyle,

poetry by John Grey,

poetry by Mark J. Mitchell, and

poetry by David E. Poston

                                                                                                                                                                 

Arturo Limon

 

Tambourine and Castanets

 



© by Arturo Limon.

 

 

JC Allier

 

Street Evangelist

 

She wears a tee-shirt that reads Make Disciples,

fancies herself urbane and witty,

her spiritual intelligence running on feral.

 

At home, she hangs a tambourine

on an upper corner of a pierglass mirror

inherited from her aunt’s estate.

 

A clamshell on her vanity holds castanets

her preacher won’t let her play in church —

swears it’s just Heaven’s hunger for music

 

that drives her to make believers

among songless souls. This good-time girl

of worn-out elegance,

 

makeup a total rebuke to moderation.

When out in the dimmer provinces

of the night-struck city, and some wayward soul

 

casts a shadow she’s not had the pleasure to save,

she’ll beseech them, in the gospel’s sinewy pleas,

if they’re ready for the street-born

 

surrender to the reborn life.

Awaiting their reply, her neck cocks to one side,

strands of hair in a windfallen lilt,

 

her face bearing the soft countenance

of the figurehead on a spectral ship,

hoping they’ll show for tomorrow’s sunrise service —

 

her would-be disciple’s mind impenitent

but reaching back to childhood

where the sun prisms frost on a bedroom window.

 

Copyright © 2023 by JC Alfier.

 

 

Before You Abandon Life Here

 

Step out of the bright tide of a backlit window.

It is already a mere memory of light.

 

Know it as what the drowned left behind,

like shanties only they could give voice to.

 

Think of the world you tried to un-stranger,

how you’d cross this ground out of breath.

 

Check the forecast: weather’s a wayward promise —

hits like scorn, impeding travel.

 

Quickly search everywhere for what is worth taking.

Enter every room.

 

Copyright © 2023 by JC Alfier.

 

 

About the Author

JC Alfier’s most recent book, The Shadow Field, was published by Louisiana Literature Press (2020). Journal credits include Carolina Quarterly, Copper Nickel, The Emerson Review, Faultline, New York Quarterly, Notre Dame Review, Penn Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Vassar Review.

 

 

Diego Arias

 

Bani, Epistle: 1993

 

The sweat was showing through their shirts. The sun baking them in white cotton, wet blotches under their arms. People stood around the bus station. A man looked over at them and smiled. He had a beard, and he wore a blue tank-top with green shorts. He walked over to them. “Un poco de ayuda joven,” he said. Christopher handed him some coins, equal to about two dollars, and the man thanked him and turned back in the direction he was originally headed.

 

“That was probably more than you should have given him,” William said.

 

“There’s enough to go around for all of us.”

 

William turned away. He walked over to a wall next to them and read through a schedule.

 

“Little bit of a problem here,” he said.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“The last bus out of here, left thirty minutes ago,”

 

“That seems like a bad turn of events. Do we have any contacts here in Bani?” Christopher asked.

 

“We baptized a family here not too long ago. Elder Thorn Brett came down last year to celebrate the five-year anniversary. We can ask the man if he has some sort of transportation.”

 

A youth passed by with a black Walkman. He listened to loud music. William could hear the rhythmic beat as the adolescent came closer to him. He muttered something in Spanish, spit on the floor, and continued across the street.

 

“Not sure if we should stay here until dark.”

 

Christopher nodded and stood silent for several seconds.

 

“We may have no other option. The next bus leaves tomorrow at 9 in the morning,” he said.

 

They walked over to the bus station’s office, but the employee had locked the door. “Estamos cerrados! Ya no hay mas guaguas hasta mañana señores!” The man came closer to the door and dropped the blinds in Christopher’s face. The blunt sound of the plastic slamming down on the wooden surface startled him.

 

“Maybe there’s a store around here. He doesn’t seem like the friendly type. He just said there’s no more buses until tomorrow.”

 

“It’s ok. I think there’s a colmado up ahead,” William said.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Oh, I forgot you just arrived here. It’s Dominican for a convenience store. They should have a phone. I have a list of contacts with me. We can call the man I told you about.”

 

Christopher and William reached a small corner store where a young girl and a dog sat outside listening to a radio. Christopher could barely make out the lyrics to the song. The Spanish classes he had taken had not been very helpful down in Santo Domingo, and less so in Bani, where the locals spoke so quickly and cut off so many consonants and vowels that the language changed into something unlike the tongue, he had studied for seven months in Southern Mexico. While William spoke with the man on the phone and nodded along to the conversation, the young girl listening to music looked up at him and smiled. “You like Bani?” she said. “Yes, very much. You have beautiful sand dunes.” “Yes, yes, it is a beautiful place.” She bopped her head to the music on the radio and laughed. It was a mix of Caribbean music and hip-hop that had grown popular in parts of America. He had never heard anything like it. “You will like Bani. Never leave Bani mister. This is a good place.” He laughed and handed the child a small popsicle.

 

“Yes, yes, maybe,” he said to the girl.

 

William ended his call and walked over.

 

“Well, some bad and some good.”

 

“Lay it on me, man.”

 

“Well, we’ve got no transportation, but we’ve got a place to stay for the night. We’ll have to call Elder Joel when we get to Manuel Then’s house and let them know we’re staying here for the evening.”

 

“Then?” Christopher asked. 

 

“Yea, it’s a common name here. Not sure where it comes from.”

 

They paid for a small bag of groceries, the child’s popsicle, and some toiletries. The young girl with the dog waved at them as they walked towards a row of houses near the sand dunes.

 

“There could be worst places to get stranded. The weather is quite wonderful,” Christopher said.

 

“It is, this is one of my favorite places in this country. I’m guessing you don’t know much about this place,” William said.

 

“Well, I did a lot of reading on Santo Domingo and Santiago, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I knew much about it,” he said.

 

“It’s got a long history, from the Native Americans who lived here, to the Spanish empire, to the death of Trujillo, The Dictator. One of the men who killed The Dictator was from here. Poor guy. Trujillo’s son tortured him for five months before he took him to a family hacienda and had him murdered,” William said. “He chopped him up with no mercy. A bloody, ruthless tyrant. He was as dumb as a rock, but as terrible as his father.”

 

“I didn’t know any of that. Seems like an awfully peaceful place. Everyone is so happy.”

 

Manuel had a small house with a tin roof on the outskirts of Bani. They walked for forty minutes until they reached his home. Christopher had a map of the city and Manuel had told him the house was located near an old boat nestled in the sands of Almendro Beach. Manuel lived with his wife and seven-year-old daughter. He was a devout member of the church. He took the bus into Santo Domingo every Saturday morning, attending service with his family for four hours and returning in the late afternoon. Bani benefited from a long, winding, paved road that linked the city directly to the capital, where the Mormon church had a strong, passionate following. Manuel had recently come to the attention of the church because he had begun converting several local Baninenses and a small community of followers had formed in the municipio. The church had featured Manuel in a small promotional video to share with the leadership back in Utah. In the video, Manuel urged more young men to visit The Dominican Republic. “Please come and teach the people that they are in nothing but darkness, that there is no God in many hearts, and that together we can make Dominican Republic a beacon of the light!” The crowd erupted in cheers the night Christopher watched the video in a small community atrium. Leadership had helped Manuel secure a visa with the U.S. embassy to visit the church in June. A consul at the embassy, a Mormon man from Nevada who had been a part of the Foreign Service for over fifteen years, had written him a referral as an important contact of the U.S. government and that his efforts in The Dominican Republic worked towards the benefit of both countries’ national interests.

 

“We can leave together. My wife will pack some quipes for you. They are very delicious,” Manuel said.

 

Christopher drank some hot chocolate from a cup that Manuel’s wife, Efilia, had given him.

 

“Where does the name Bani come from?” Christopher asked. “Is it Spanish?”

 

“Ah. Bani. It is Taino for abundance of water. The land is said to also be named after a famed chief of Caonabo, the great leader of the Taino people. Caonabo was the first liberator, the first man in this island to defeat the Spanish during the Conquista. They say he killed and hanged three hundred Spaniards from the trees of the forest. They still hang there, their necks like chickens, their hands and faces blue like rocks from caves.”

 

“I’m sorry, who are the Taino people?” Christopher asked.

 

“The Tainos were the Aboriginals of this island, the Natives,” William said.

 

After dinner, Christopher and William slept on some sheets and pillows laid out on the living room floor. It was cold and damp like hard clay covered in the morning dew that forms in higher elevations. As William slept, Christopher, awake from the discomfort caused by the ground, heard a sound outside. He stood and looked out of a window. The sound appeared to be the wailing of a woman or a child. It was loud and high-pitched and became a sunken feeling in his chest pulling him towards its muffled cries. The sound grew louder. A woman must have been hurt or seeking aid. He tried to wake William, but he asked him to remain in the house and ignore the wailing. “It’s best not to get involved Chris. Who knows what’s happening?” William turned around and fell back asleep.

 

Christopher stood and picked up his black pants, a white shirt, and a pair of shoes. He dressed and opened the front door.

 

He walked along a wooded area, stepping over branches and rocks. The wails changed from a long, troubled voice to a heavy breath that crawled over his neck and back, down to the end of his thighs. He followed the sound to a small pond where a figure sat on a log. A woman combed her hair, black threads that sucked the light out of the space around her and flowed down to her legs like ribbons of universe draped over glistening, wet brown flesh. She turned and faced Christopher. Her teeth were like bones left out to bleach in the sun rays of the American desert, her eyebrows thick and arched, laying shadows over deep, almond eyes. She stood. Her nipples erect and dark, almost purple. She swam across the water and reached the soil and branches. She was eight to ten feet from him. He could feel her heartbeat in his ears, throbbing, the leaflets of her mitral, tricuspid, pulmonary and aortic valves vibrating in the flesh behind his eyes. Her breath now turned to words, her feet backwards, walking towards him but facing away from her body. She pressed against him. Her mouth smelled of chamomile and wet, red clay. He touched her hair, and his hands were numb. He was touching the ends of space and time, the curves between reality and dreams, pale blue rivers of ice where clouds of methane absorb red lights, and suddenly, before him, he saw bright flashes. He witnessed visions of heliotropes and blue and violet vines with thorns as thick as demon’s horns and he heard a voice scream in a low tone, like a khoomei chant at full throated volume.

 

From Manuel’s home, William opened his eyes when he heard a man screaming. The front door to the house was open. He ran over and grabbed his pants. Bursting into the small bedroom, he shook Manuel, asking him to accompany him into the woods.

 

“No, we cannot do that.”

 

“Sir, please! Can’t you hear the screams outside?”

 

“He is not ours anymore. The Earth has claimed him.”

 

“What in God’s name are you talking about, man? Come with me, we must help him!”

 

“He is with the Ciguapa now. Christopher is no longer here.” 

 

“What are you saying, damnit?”

 

William ran out of the home, slamming the front door behind him, his feet covered in mud, his hands pulling back trees and vegetation that covered the forest. He arrived at the small pond and looked around. There was a large, dead tree in front of him. He walked over and looked at it closely. Blood covered its surface, long streaks of red sliding down the side of the wood and covering the damp earth at his feet. He could feel the blood soak through the clay and its warm human life stain the exposed skin on his feet, burrowing inside his nails and in the wedges between his toes. He turned and faced the pond. Something white flashed in front of him. He ran towards the edge of the grass and reached over to tug on some white cloth caught on a branch. He pulled it towards him. It was Christopher’s shirt, clean, only stained by some soil and pond water.

 

“Christopher!”

 

He called out twice, and hearing nothing, ran back towards the house.

Manuel was in the living room. William stood over him. Shirtless, feet full of clay and blood and sand, he screamed at him. He held the dirt-stained shirt in his right fist. 

“How could you just sit there! He’s been hurt, or worse, killed! And you’re just speaking gibberish! Get it together and call the authorities, the police, bring some sort of order into this goddamn place!”

 

Manuel sat silently on a wooden chair. He stared at the space in front of him.

 

“This is not your Earth. You must accept what this is as a message from our Lord, the final punishment is here before you, and you cannot question the doctrine. Blood spilled is like coins to cross a river, a payment for the fruit we eat, the serpent we allow to whisper, to seduce our hearts.”

 

“Absolute madness! You’re saying he deserved this? That this is some sort of punishment? Have you lost your wits?”

 

“Many things were lost for many decades. This is an atonement. You yourself brought these teachings to us, and now you question why the world outside, bigger than you and me, than your church in Utah, than the buildings you erect in pure, unadulterated vanity, is seeking to balance out what has happened here, here in Bani, here in the Caribbean, here where your hands drip with nothing more than the guilt of your countrymen?”

 

“I don’t know what in God’s name you’re talking about Manuel, but I’m headed over to the police. I’ve had enough of this bullshit you strange, old man.”

 

Outside of the police station, a man greeted William and asked him to wait. About five minutes later, another guard came to the front of the building. An old rifle slung over his left shoulder.

 

“¿Usted habla español?” he asked.

 

Si, pero prefiero inglés, por favor, una muerte, un amigo muerto!

 

“Okay, okay, wait. English speaker coming,” he said.

 

He could hear them inside, speaking to each other, trying to gauge the situation and involve one of their superiors.

 

Es un gringo. Tiene sangre en sus pies. Esta hecho una mierda totalNo tiene camisa, sargento,” the front guard said.

 

Ya veremos, hablare con él,” a taller middle-aged man said.

 

He opened the door to the front entrance and waved in William.

 

Inside, William sat across from the man in his office. Awards and degrees cluttered his walls.

Several certificates and diplomas from the United States Embassy in the Colonial section in Santo Domingo covered the space directly above the man’s desk.

 

“Sir, what is your name?”

 

“William. William Hawkins.”

 

“Mr. Hawkins, how can I help you?”

 

“I was staying with a man from our church, and I heard a companion of mine, also an American, scream outside, from the woods behind the house. And when I went to see what happened, there was only blood on the ground, his white shirt caught on some tree next to a pond near an old, rotten log.”

 

“One of the guards said someone was killed? Or had died? Besides the blood, have you seen any signs of struggle, did you hear anything besides the screams?”

 

“I did not sir.”

 

“Okay. I’ll organize a crew of men to go to the forest and search for your friend. Would you like me to call the U.S. embassy? They have someone assigned to cover their phones 24 hours a day.”

 

“Yes, yes, please. Thank God, I found you, Sergeant, um…”

 

“Sergeant Tavarez.”

 

“Yes, thank you, Sergeant Tavarez.” 

 

At the wooded area near the log, a police officer ran his fingers through the bloodied earth. He showed his hand to Sergeant Tavarez and wiped it clean with a handkerchief. William had gone back into the house and picked up some clothes. He was walking towards the pond. Sergeant Tavarez flashed a light into the stream and then ran its blue luminance across the trees and shrubs. Several police officers searched around the trees; others walked towards Manuel’s house. William sat on a rock, took a blue cloth Manuel’s wife had given him, and cleaned his feet. From a distance, a police officer walked down towards Sergeant Tavarez. 

 

 “Don Manuel, el viejo que vive aquí en este bosque, dice que el se levantó y escucho gritos,” he said.

 

The Sergeant took the officer to the side and leaned into him. 

 

El gringo, habla castellano. No es ningún bruto. Me entiende, Señor Grajales?”

 

Grajales nodded and handed William a pair of socks and shoes. 

 

“These, yours?” he asked.

 

“Yes, yes. Thank you.”

 

He walked over to the stream, dipped his feet into the water, and then wiped them off with the clean, dry parts of the blue cloth. He then dipped it in the river and ran it across his face, clearing the soil and blood from his skin. He put his shoes on and addressed the Sergeant. 

 

“I’ve got to make it back to Santo Domingo. The embassy told me I could request a taxi to take me back to the city. I need to return to my apartment.”

 

“We will ask a local taxi driver to take you back. You’ve got enough cash on you, I presume? The trip isn’t free, Mr. Hawkins.”

 

Upon returning to Santo Domingo, William met with Elder Trent Howell in suburban Gazcue, an upper-middle-class neighborhood near the zona colonial, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest European settlement. Minutes from the missionary’s home and office, one could visit Columbus’s original residence and tour the remains of his son’s still standing palace, a popular tourist attraction overlooking the oldest section of Santo Domingo. It had been three days since Christopher’s disappearance. Three days of dogs sniffing around Bani. Three days of search parties and press coverage. William had heard nothing yet from the investigators. The previous evening, Elder Howell had called to meet with him in his office. The Gazcue office was a two-story mansion that previously belonged to The Dictator Rafael Trujillo’s oldest son, Ramfis Trujillo. Aged, salted concrete made up most of its exterior walls; and its green, lush gardens were filled with avocado trees, roses, hortensias, and white and orange orchids. 

 

“You’ve told me that Manuel refused to help? Is that correct?”

 

“He showed no interest. He mumbled some gibberish about fate and blood oaths. He seems to have misinterpreted our texts.”

 

“You think he’s a danger? To us? To himself or others?”

 

“I wouldn’t say a danger. I don’t think he maliciously meant to hurt or disappear anyone. I just think he’s a bit of a kook.”

 

 “Right.” Elder Howell stood and walked over to a window overlooking his garden. He sat on the edge of a desk and spoke to William with his back turned, looking out of the window. His matte blue suit contrasted with his wet, ash-blonde hair. “You said that you were the first to hear Christopher scream, correct?”

 

“Yes, that’s right.”

 

“You walked over to the woods and saw blood on the ground? His white shirt in the stream?”

 

“Yes, his shirt, was in the river, caught on some branch hanging off a tree.”

 

There was a pause.

 

“I don’t understand. Are you accusing me of something? Why the interrogation?”

 

“He’s not the one making that accusation Mr. Hawkins,” a voice behind William spoke.

 

He turned. It was Sergeant Tavarez. Two large Dominican police officers accompanied him. 

 

“Mr. Hawkins, please come with us.”

 

“There’s been some sort of mistake, this is unnecessary.”

 

“You are under arrest for the murder of Mr. Christopher Bentley.”

 

“Manuel told us he tried to help, but you turned him away. I’m sorry William,” Elder Howell said.

 

He nodded to the Sergeant. “Mr. Tavarez, thank you.”

 

“This is madness. What is this?”

 

Elder Howell shook his head. “Please. Just go with them. Don’t make this worse than it’s already been. You’ll have a fair process here. The Church will be in contact.”

The officers pushed him against the desk in front of him, handcuffed William, and brought him back up on his feet. 

 

“Absolute, damn madness! I haven’t murdered anyone. Christopher was a friend, are you fucking crazy? Is this some kind of sick joke?”

 

He was forced out of the mansion, its turn of the century architecture covered in fresh rain and lizards crawling down the sides of the verandas like little spies with webbed feet and big, bulging yellow eyes. The officers shoved William, head violently lowered under the black and white cruiser, into leather seats surrounded by shaded windows tinted so dark they blacked out the bright white Caribbean sun that began to appear over the day’s rainy clouds. Two officers flanked him on each side. One of the men had large legs that pressed against William’s thin body, their massive flesh rubbing up against him as the vehicle took off down the Santo Domingo streets.

 

Two weeks later, a New York immigration officer checked a passport and reviewed the pages on the recently issued travel document. The customs officer flipped through the pages and took a closer look at the biographic section on the passport’s second page. He reviewed a boarding pass that was folded up inside of the black booklet. The traveler was headed to a connecting flight but had entered via John F. Kennedy airport. 

 

“Mr. Then?”

 

“Yes.”

 

A donde vas?” the Customs and Border Patrol officer asked. 

 

“To Utah,” the man replied. 

 

“You speak English?” the officer asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Where are you from?”

 

“I am from Bani, Dominican Republic.”

 

“What is your travel purpose?”

 

“I am here for a religious conference.”

 

“Are you a speaker? An employee? Some sort of performer?”

 

“I am on business. I am meeting missionaries coming to my country very soon.”

 

“In Utah?”

 

“Yes, that is correct. This is only a religious meeting. I don’t plan to work or study.”

 

The officer looked over the passport, glanced back up at the man, and stamped an empty page. He held the passport in one hand and placed it between his thumb and index finger. He looked at a woman standing behind the yellow line that separated incoming travelers from immigration officers.

 

“Mr. Then?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“This young woman, is she with you?”

 

“Ah yes, yes.”

 

“Please, move up. I’ll process you together.”

 

A woman with dark, thick eyebrows and almond eyes came up to the officer’s window. She smiled. Bright, white teeth revealed under a red cupid’s bow.

 

“Hello young lady. Name?”

 

“My name is Isabella Then.”

 

“Is he your father?”

 

“Yes, he is my dad.”

 

“What do you do for a living Isabella?”

 

“I am a nurse.”

 

“You like doing that? Helping others?”

 

“It is God’s oath, sir, to heal the wounds of men.”

 

The immigration officer laughed and stamped her passport. He looked at her and nodded.

 

“Alright, well, all looks good, please enjoy your stay, and welcome to America.”

 

 

Copyright © 2023 by Diego Alejandro Arias.

 

About the Author

Diego Alejandro Arias finished his third tour of duty with the U.S. Department of State in June 2023. He has been published in Revista Cronopio, Acentos Review, Somos en Escrito, and has upcoming work in Another Chicago Magazine, Untenured, Action, Spectacle, and Cotton Xenomorph. He currently works as a civil rights attorney for racial and housing equity, and lives fifteen minutes from Jersey Shore with his wife and three cats.

 

 

Rawpixelimages

 

Full Moon in the Night Sky

  


© by Rawpixelimages.

 

 

Deborah H. Doolittle

 

The Phrases of the Moon

 

 

Almost verbal, are never wrong or right,

but murmured by tree, branch, and leaf

for being acquainted with the night

 

and all those things that take to flight—

owls, nightjars, whippoorwills—and sing

or mostly warble; neither wrong nor right,

 

they sound profoundly cosmos polite,

as does the cat, mouse, frog, cricket,

for having been acquainted with the night,

 

and the different ways to say Good night.

No quel heur est-il ? No que hora es?

but words to that effect, not wrong, not right.

 

There’s no time like the present moonlight

whether wide open full or squinting crescent,

to renew one’s acquaintance with the night.

 

You can chalk it up to romance, thoughts

of frost and how the moon would talk

almost word for word, whether wrong or right,

for being acquainted with the night.

 

Copyright © 2023 by Deborah H. Doolittle.

 

 

 

About the Author

Deborah H. Doolittle, who was born in Hartford, Connecticut, has lived in lots of different places, now calls North Carolina home. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of Floribunda (Main Street Rag) and three chapbooks, No Crazy Notions (Birch Brook Press), That Echo (Longleaf Press), and Bogbound (Orchard Street Press). Some of her poems have recently appeared (or will soon appear) in Cloudbank, Comstock Review, Kakalak, Iconoclast, Ravensperch, Slant, The Stand, and in audio format on The Writer’s Almanac. She shares a home with her husband, four housecats, and a backyard full of birds.

 

 

Ruth H. Curtis

 

Seacow Light House on Prince Edward Island

 


 © by Ruth H. Curtis.

 

 

Caryn Coyle

 

Prince Edward Island

 

Thunderstorms along the East Coast keep Gillian from arriving on Prince Edward Island for hours. It is midnight when she finally lands. Alone. Exhausted. She sees her cousin, Dana, smiling and waving on the other side of the customs desk. Gray is creeping up the sides of Dana's hair. Chin length, it waves and curls on her head, like a halo.

 

Gillian follows her cousin to her car. The sliding glass doors of the airport swish and there is the Honda Civic, parked at the cement curb. Gillian looks up and can see no stars; nothing. Darkness surrounds them.

 

The following night is bright, stars litter the sky. They sit on the back porch of a Victorian house that has been converted into an inn. The air is warm, comfortable. A thick, white candle glows inside a lantern on their table.

 

A feast of steamers is served, followed by lobster. But Gillian is not able to eat much. She blames her lack of appetite on yesterday's thunderstorms. She did not sleep well and is still tired. Emptiness lingers. She cannot push it away.

 

When they step out of the inn, Dana says, "We'll relax and have a nice long soak in the hot tub."

 

Gillian remembers the last time she was in her cousin's hot tub. Liam, Gillian's husband, sang O Canada loudly, over the roar of the tub's jets. Dana had sat, silent in the gurgling water, her lips set in a straight line.

 

In the hot tub tonight, Gillian and Dana watch a jet move in an arc above them. Occasionally, a star falls.

 

"Have you ever seen a satellite?" Dana asks, her face uplifted.

 

"No, do they look different than the planes?" Gillian asks.

 

"They don't blink."

 

Dana points out one jet after another, "They're headed to Europe. They want to be across the Atlantic by morning."

 

Gillian follows them as they blink over her. The tub's warm water pulses into her back and her shoulders. She does not think about Liam.

 

When they finally stand and swing their legs out of the tub, Gillian's fingers and toes are wrinkled. Her bathing suit is cold on her skin. They spotted four jets and twelve falling stars. No satellites.

 

-o-

 

The next day, Dana and Gillian listen to bright, joyful music at St. Mary's Church in Indian River. Fiddlers play the Princess Reel, Kennedy Street March, and The New Fiddle. Gillian taps her foot on the floor. Her memories are fuzzy about attending Mass here when she was small. She remembers the hard wooden pews and her father beside her, smelling of peppermint. He would not give her one of his candies.  It would have broken her fast for communion, and her father never walked down St. Mary's aisle with her to receive the sacrament. 

 

The fiddlers stand up.  They perform Spin N Glow; St. Mary's ornately carved, wooden altar provides a warm, elaborate backdrop for them.  Holding their violins perpendicular to their frames, the performers stomp their feet.  The beat picks up and they step dance with their fingers still picking out the chords. 

 

St. Mary's is used for concerts throughout the summer.  Its acoustics are said to be one of the best in the world.  It is no longer an active Catholic parish. 

 

Gillian remembers walking down the church's center aisle on a visit with Liam.  There was no concert that day, so she knelt at the altar beside him.  The church was quiet.  Outside, they stood on the front steps and took in the fields that surrounded them.  Cows grazed. 

 

To snap a photo of Gillian and Liam, Dana lay on the grass in front of the church.  They stood by St. Mary's tall, infamous spire.  The twelve apostles are carved in it.

 

But Dana's shot was too wide.  Gillian and Liam are so tiny, they are unrecognizable.

 

-o-

 

In Cavendish, the Cow's ice cream line is out the door and forming on the wooden boardwalk, above a gravel and grass parking lot.  The line moves quickly and Gillian orders coffee ice cream.  She gives the girl, in a triangular paper hat and a bibbed apron, an American bill.  "This is for the both of us," Gillian points at her cousin.

 

"Oh, Gillian, I wanted to treat you!"  Dana protests before she adds, "Thank you."

 

They tuck themselves into a picnic bench in front of the boardwalk's stairs.  Next to them, under an awning, tourists pick through t-shirts and mugs that have the Cow's pink ice cream cone logo.  Each shirt and mug also feature a cartoon cow.  Some play hockey, others wear wigs of red braids. 

 

"Do you want to check out Lucy Maud's after we finish?" Dana asks.

 

Gillian nods, "Sure!"

 

"They've made Anne a blonde for the latest edition, and she looks like a Barbie doll."

 

Gillian smiles, "When did this happen?"

 

"It's been in all the news.  The blonde Anne looks like she belongs on a trashy novel."

 

Five years older than Gillian, Dana had read Anne of Green Gables to her cousin, imitating Anne's enthusiastic voice.  Leaning against the headboard on her scratchy, crinoline bedspread, Dana would describe the "Lake of Shining Waters," or the "boughs of the Snow Queen."

 

"We are Anne's kindred spirits," she had announced.

 

"We are?"

 

"Yes. We are both half orphans," Dana had encircled Gillian's shoulder, patting her with the palm of her hand.

 

Dana's father had died a few years after a car crash killed Gillian's mother. Gillian had been an infant when the 1960 Chevrolet Impala dove down a railroad embankment near Miscouche, flipping over. Trapped in her baby carrier hooked over the back of the front seat, Gillian survived.

 

She lives in New York now and visits Prince Edward Island each summer. Gillian brought Liam with her for his first time a dozen years ago. It was dark when they drove down Water Street; the heavy foliage from all the trees framing the street in black. Gillian pointed out St. Paul's Cemetery where her mother was buried. She nodded at the piping college across the street from her family's restaurant. The restaurant was closed for the night, but they could see the Highland dancers under the college's lighted tent and hear the bagpipers and drummers. Gillian told Liam that the audience sat on long picnic bench seats, their feet scuffing gravel.

 

They parked on her father's cement driveway and Gillian saw him standing on the front porch. He gripped the back of a lawn chair, yellow and green strips of plastic that crisscrossed into squares. White wisps of hair floated on top of his head. The tiny wings of moths – accentuated in the porch’s yellow light – darted around him.

 

As Gillian swung her legs out of the car, Liam got out of the passenger side and walked up to the porch. “Hello, Mr. McKenna,” he raised his hand to meet Gillian's dad's outstretched one.

Under the yellow light, Gillian watched them pump their arms, once, twice; looking at each other. Neither of them smiled.

 

-o-

 

A brick path from the Cavendish Cemetery's entrance leads to Lucy Maud's grave, the only one with geraniums growing on it in rows. Wrought iron railings and two fir trees flank Montgomery's tombstone.

 

"How many times have we been to Green Gables?" Dana asks.

 

"I dunno," Gillian says. "But I'll bet you do."

 

"No, I can't remember," Dana shakes her head. "She really didn't live there, you know."

 

"I know," Gillian nods. "I toured her house. It's just a foundation, now."  She turns to look for it on the opposite side of Route 13, "Over there."  

 

Gillian remembers the tour because Liam was with her, and he didn't go on it.  Her dad hadn't gone either.  "I stay away from all the tourist traps," he'd said, drumming his fingers on the dull, beige Formica of the kitchen counter.  

 

It was the morning after they had arrived for Liam's first visit. The previous night, Gillian had waited until she thought her father was asleep before she descended the stairs. It was cool in her father's house. The windows were open and there were no night sounds coming through the screen. No cars, no crickets. Too late in the night for either. She headed for Liam in the guest room on the bottom floor of her father's split level.

 

Running her palm down the line of reddish blonde hair on his chest, Gillian could feel his ribs beneath skin she knew was splattered with freckles. His beard scratched when she kissed him.

 

He woke, "Are you sure? Your father's asleep?"

 

She had not replied. His warmth had spread to her by then.

 

Sunlight woke her. She could hear birds chirping and smell coffee. Finding her nightshirt, Gillian pulled it down over her head. Liam was in the kitchen by the coffee maker when she reached the main floor. He was staring beyond her.

 

“Morning.”

 

Gillian turned to see her father standing in the upstairs hall by her closed bedroom door. His arms were crossed. Shame, hot and uncomfortable, spread from Gillian's forehead to her cheeks, her neck. Her father wore a white polo shirt with khaki slacks. The leather belt around his waist was buckled with an extra hole that he must have punched himself. Looking at her, he narrowed his eyes, “Did you put your nightshirt on inside-out on purpose?”

 

Gillian glanced down at her chest. Backward brown words, “I Moose Be Dreaming” bled through the cotton material that covered her breasts.

 

 An hour later, she felt the vibration of footsteps on the front porch. The screen door rattled. "Helloooooo!"  Gillian's Aunt Alice stood, solid, her body large, generous. She wore a sleeveless, beige linen dress that hung like a tent. Her white hair waved, short, thick, on her head. She pulled off her sunglasses and blinked.

 

"Gillian," she said. Her voice sounded warm, comforting.

 

Tears bubbled in Gillian's eyes.

 

Hugging, they patted each other's backs and Aunt Alice purred, "hmmm-mmm."

 

"Hello. I'm Liam."

 

"Well, hello, Liam," Aunt Alice released Gillian and took one of his hands. She looked at Gillian's dad, "I thought we'd all go to Cavendish, today. What d'ya' think?"

 

"Not me," he drummed his fingers on the kitchen countertop. "I stay away from all the tourist traps."

 

In the car, Gillian sat in the middle, between her aunt and Liam, whose legs jiggled. They passed fields of potatoes; tiny white flowers mixed with the bright green of the plants’ leaves.

 

Liam talked non-stop, about how beautiful Prince Edward Island was, about how many shades of green it had. About how lucky Aunt Alice was to live there.

 

"And what do you make of my brother?" Aunt Alice asked him.

 

Liam looked at Gillian, his mouth open to speak, but he did not respond.

 

"He takes some getting used to," Aunt Alice added.

 

Gillian took Liam's hand and squeezed.

 

They parked on the pebbled lot outside the Cavendish post office. Liam climbed out, "This really isn't my thing. Why don't you go ahead?"  He turned, pointing to a restaurant on the other side of Cavendish Road. "I'll wait for you over there." 

 

A hand painted banner that read "Lobster Suppers" hung over a wall of full-length windows. Several large touring buses were parked in front of it.

 

Gillian's heart thumped in her chest. She felt as though she'd been struck.

 

Aunt Alice climbed out of the driver's side, "That's fine, Liam. We can meet you there when we finish the tour."

 

 Gillian remembered that the tour guide spoke of Lucy Maud, the post mistress for Cavendish. He said that Anne of Green Gables was rejected five times, but no one knew because she handled all the mail.

 

Aunt Alice had folded her arms, winking at Gillian. They both knew that Lucy Maud had left her manuscript in a hat box for a year, digging it out to submit it one last time.

 

Liam was leaning on the hood of the car when they returned. "So-o-o-o howwazit?" he called, slurring his words. Gillian glanced across Cavendish Road. A gap in the parking spots left from a departing tour bus revealed the letters, "B-A-R" in neon over the furthest window under the "Lobster Suppers" banner.

 

"Hello, sweetheart," he said, kissing her. Saliva stung her cheek.

 

"Let's get some ice cream," Aunt Alice murmured.

 

From the car window Gillian watched the green wall of spruce trees that lined Cavendish Road. Liam sat in the backseat watching the opposite side of the road, "Cows! A store for cows!"  His voice was loud.

 

He bought Gillian and Aunt Alice mugs with cartoon cows in red braids painted on them. Each cow stood in front of a white clapboard house with green gables.

 

When Gillian drinks from her mug, she remembers that day in Cavendish. She has chipped her mug's rim more than once, but she cannot throw it away.

 

-o-

 

Gillian pumps her calves until they sting, trying to keep up with Dana on a bike. They pedal against the wind on a trail along Summerside's shoreline. She notices a few boarded up shops in the downtown area beyond the docks. But the lobster boats are plentiful and there is a new specialty coffee shop and bakery. Neither Gillian nor Dana speak of the restaurant that their grandfather built as they pedal past it. It has been divided into four shops, one of which is empty and offered for rent.

 

Gillian's father, who took over the restaurant's operation when his father died, had the building dedicated to him. She looks for the plaque near the front door and she can see that it is still there as she pedals past the building.

 

Gillian used to sit with her dad in one of the restaurant's wooden booths, the sun penetrating the double screen doors behind them. It cast tiny square shadows on the linoleum floor, on the blonde wood back of the booth's seat and on her father's hair, his chiseled face.

 

Her dad would watch the screen door which would squeak when it opened, and slam shut with a slap.

 

For as long as Gillian could remember, her father would wave to each customer, “’Lo! How do you like P.E.I.?” 

 

It embarrassed her. Gillian would squirm and fidget and want to hide under the table.  

 

When she brought Liam to Prince Edward Island, Gillian's father asked her to meet him at the restaurant, alone.

 

"I want to talk to you."

 

Leaning across the table, the sun staining his arms with tiny squares of light, her father said, "He's a drunk, Gilly. Get rid of him."

 

Stunned, Gillian can still recall how her stomach ached so badly, she excused herself. She was crying before she reached the toilet. She knew her father would not approve, that he could recognize a drunk when he met one. That her father had been one, himself.

 

In one of her earliest memories, her father rises from his chair near the casket that held Uncle Martin, Dana's father. The wakes were still held in the front pallor then, and this one was in Dana's home. Gillian was too small and too scared to go near her uncle's casket. All she could see of her uncle was his hands. Gray, flat, they were just visible above the side of the coffin, entwined with the black beads of a rosary.

 

Outside, a bagpiper played Scotland the Brave.

 

Gillian's father, who had been sitting in a kitchen chair by the casket, stood. He had puffed his cheeks into round balls. His fists clenched at his sides, he tried to step dance. As he stomped one foot then the other, Gillian watched her father fall. Her scream filled the room.

 

She was tugged up the stairs to Dana's bed and the scratchy coverlet was pulled down for her to crawl into the cool, stiff sheets.

 

-o-

 

Clouds cover the sky on the last day of Gillian's visit. Dana drives along the island's western coast. Gillian gazes at field after field of potatoes, wheat, cows. Eventually, the steel blue water appears. A lobster boat, then another, headed back to shore.

 

At the North Cape, it rains. They run inside the large, white framed building of windows to eat seafood chowder, homemade popovers, and lobster rolls. Waiting for the rain to stop, Gillian and Dana sip cups of Red Rose tea.

 

They climb brick-colored cliffs outside the restaurant when the rain ends.

 

 

 At the edge, Dana points to the ripples of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence merging with the Northumberland Strait. The two seas meet in a waving arc, one shade of gray/blue water lighter than the other. "This was my mother's favorite spot," she says.

 

"I know," Gillian says.

 

Dana lifts an arm to hug Gillian, "Let's go visit her."

 

They drive through Miscouche on their way back. Gillian blinks at the town's name, centered in an ornate frame on the edge of the highway. She glances at Dana. Neither of them speaks.

 

At St. Paul's Cemetery, Dana parks the Honda. Gillian follows her to stand by her side at the McKenna tombstone. The newest name on the pink stone is Alice.

 

James, Gillian's father's name, was added two years after she first brought Liam to Prince Edward Island. In the decade since, Gillian has visited the family's gravesite with Liam each summer.

 

She stands so close to Dana that Gillian can feel her cousin's heat. The ground is also warm and the outline for the new grass under which Aunt Alice has been buried is still visible.

 

-o-

 

Her final night on the island is spent under the stars again, in the hot tub.

 

"The satellites just shine. No blinking," Dana says, resting a short glass of milky Carolans Irish Cream in a cup holder on the edge of the tub. "Wait! Look," she points above them.

 

Gillian's head is so far back, the water laps at her neck, soaking her hair. Twin bits of light -- like tiny diamond earrings – move slowly over them. It does not look like a jet. And it is not blinking. "A satellite!" 

 

"There, ya' see!" Dana says.

 

"Mm-hmmm," Gillian murmurs, savoring the warm night, the water.

 

"Remember when Liam sang O Canada?" Dana asks, softly.

 

Gillian sits up in the water. She does not respond.

 

"Where is he? Why didn't he come to P.E.I.?"

 

Gillian sighs, "He moved out."

 

Liam had stood by the oversized, upholstered chair that Gillian favored in their living room. She was curled up on her side, lost in a tense episode of the television show, "Nurse Jackie."  Liam took her hand, placing a chip he'd gotten for sobriety in her palm.  It reminded her of what the character, Jackie, had done for her husband on the show. But Jackie wasn't going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Gillian was suspicious of Liam, too.  She tried not to miss him, to think about where he was when he was gone for much longer than she knew the meetings lasted. Eventually, he was going to morning meetings too, and Gillian said nothing. Waking alone, she'd spread her hand over the empty spot in the bed.  It felt wrong, the sheets, cold.

 

Gillian asked to go to AA with Liam, but he insisted that she go to the support group, Al Anon, instead. He left her by the door. The two meetings were in the same building, side by side. Gillian could hear laughter and applause from Liam's meeting, through the wall. Each time the noise erupted; her stomach lurched. She wanted to rise from her chair, to leave.

 

But she stayed, listening to others in the room, though she found herself nodding when she recognized a description of the smell that always seemed to emanate from Liam's skin, Gillian did not find solace. She was not comfortable "sharing." 

 

Gillian didn't trust anyone in the room.

 

-o-

 

Sitting in the warm water with Dana, Gillian is silent. A sudden memory of her cousin slipping into the bed next to her on the night of Uncle Martin's wake comes to her. Why has she never thought of this before? For years and years, she has buried it, and yet now the memory is clear. She cannot shake it.

 

The crinoline bedspread had lifted with a swoosh. "Are you asleep?" Dana had said, before adding, "Your dad's drunk."

 

Gillian hadn't known what the word meant.  She'd heard it before, always spoken as Dana had just said it, in an angry voice.  She moved as far from Dana as she could. Squeezing her eyes shut, Gillian faced away from her cousin.

 

The door had opened at some point, and she remembers Aunt Alice standing in the bedroom doorway, blocking out the light from the hall. She smelled clean, soapy and she came into the room, leaning over them. Her kiss was soft.

 

When the door closed and it was dark again, Dana whispered, "And I'll tell you something else."  Gillian could feel her cousin's breath at the back of her neck. Dana's lips brushed her skin.

 

"Your dad was drunk when he crashed the car and killed your mother."

 

Gillian felt as though something had slammed shut inside her. Her head stung and her eyes filled, wetting her cheeks and her pillow.

 

 All her life, she has never spoken to anyone, especially her father, about the accident. No one talked about it. How could she have forgotten that it was her cousin who told her?

 

-o-

 

At the airport, Dana pulls Gillian's suitcase out of the Honda's trunk. Gillian's throat feels like it is closed. She blinks tears.

 

Dana hugs Gillian. Her eyes are also wet.

 

Pulling her suitcase inside the airport's glass doors, Gillian stops. She turns around and sees Dana has not moved. They wave again.

 

From her tiny jet window, Gillian watches Prince Edward Island's patchwork quilt of brownish red fields and green forests. Her chest feels like it is burning. An occasional dot of a white clapboard house with a dark roof falls away, replaced with the red cliffs of sand, then the vast, blue water of the Northumberland Strait.

 

Copyright © 2023 by Caryn Coyle.

 

About the Author

Caryn Coyle is an editor at the Baltimore based literary journal, Loch Raven Review and her work has appeared in more than four dozen literary publications. She has won awards for her fiction from the Maryland Writer's Association, the New Millennium, Delmarva Review, the Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Pennsylvania's Hidden River Arts. She lives in Massachusetts.

 

 

John Grey

 

Sometime in New York City

 

It was never silent,

never black and white,

seldom charitable,

and often pitiless.

 

Yet for two bucks,

I could help myself to a coffee

and an aging beat poet

or homeless balladeer.

 

I went unrecognized

for days and nights at a time.

Yet, I belonged to this great brotherhood.

of people seated alone at tables,

and scribbling in notebooks.

 

In the dark,

when the rain fell,

the ghosts came out –

Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Phil Ochs…

and, they were followed by the living…

so many NYU students.

 

I had a way of looking at them,

especially the women,

as if they weren’t in the here and now

but were being remembered by me.

 

So elusive…

and that led to more scribbling.

 

It was never hopeless,

always open-ended,

smoke-filled even when the air was clear,

and yes, despite what I said,

it sometimes was silent…

like a tear is silent on a cheek.

 

To me, it was like

living on the wing of a plane.

The passengers inside seemed to know each other.

I was exposed to the turbulence

but somehow never fell.

 

Copyright © 2023 by John Grey.

 

 

About the Author

John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident. He has recently published in Stand, Washington Square Review, and the Rathalla Review. His latest books, available through Amazon, are Covert, Memory Outside the Head, and Guest of Myself. He has work forthcoming in McNeese Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Open Ceilings.

 

 

 

Mark J. Mitchell

 

                       

Delay

 

Don’t look for it—

eventually, it arrives,

later than you’d like

and sooner than

you want.

 

Often, repeated dreams

form atmospheres of their own.

 

They hover, disguised,

hidden where your

eyes just miss them.

 

Many starts, and stammers

announce its path like

xed out words

in a poem you won’t write,

mistakes that aren’t yours—

unless they are. You’ll

make them all again.

 

 

Copyright © 2023 by Mark J. Mitchell.

 

 

 Mail

 

No is not a dancer—

It’s two letters

that slide through your door

and lie flat on the carpet

until you get home.

 

You open the door

and the lone vowel closes

leaving the stiff consonant

out of a dance

you forgot to dance

 

because that white

slip of paper holds

one typed word

and you already know

it’s not a dancer.

 

 

Copyright © by Mark J. Mitchell.

 

 

About the Author

Mark J. Mitchell has worked in hospital kitchens, fast food, retail wine and spirits, conventions, tourism, and warehouses. He has also been a working poet for almost fifty years. An award-winning poet, he is the author of five full-length poetry collections, and six chapbooks. His latest collection is Something to Be, from Pski’s Porch Publishing. He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka, Dante, and his wife, activist and documentarian, Joan Juster. He lives in San Francisco, where he makes his marginal living pointing out pretty things. He can be found reading his poetry here: https://www.youtube.com/@markj.mitchell4351.

 

 

David E. Poston

 

Petit Guignol

 

In case the metro restroom

fills with frothing zombies,

I always take the farthest stall.

 

On the walk home, I hear

a sprawl of leaves skittering

behind me

 

along the sidewalk, flanking me

in the harrowing wind. Of course,

I don’t dare look.

 

As I start dinner under my faintly

buzzing kitchen light, the Pillsbury tube

dimples beneath my spoon’s touch

 

for a heartbeat

before it pluffs like

a hit man’s silenced gun.

 

Copyright © 2023 by David E. Poston.

 

 

Chagrin

                       

When Ra made cats, he gave them none:

curious, yes, but born to be uninvolved—

deigning merely to be worshipped—

all this, yes, just for me.

 

Unlike us, shuddering over who has seen

our open fly or the spinach in our teeth,

like kids learning an intercepted love note

has been passed around the schoolyard.

 

Unamuno went home and died of it.

Though we revere Garcia Lorca,

shot down by the Falangists,

whom do we dare offend?

 

Who needs it? smirks the one on the podium.

My ratings are perfect,

my genius unparalleled.

Nothing can mask my power.

 

Copyright © 2023 by David E. Poston.

 

 

About the Author

David E. Poston is the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the full-length collection Slow of Study. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Atlanta Review, Cider Press Review, Ibbetson Street, Pembroke Magazine, Reedy Branch Review, and others. He is a frequent book reviewer for Pedestal and a co-editor of Kakalak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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