Issue 76 — Livia Abramoff, Carrie Albert, Colleen M. Farrelly, Robert D. Kirvel, Rene Pedraza
No one ever took a tomato juice bath.
No skunks, no possums,
Except when they’re dead.
My mother a liar,
And I, a down stench.
I’ve hung up the future,
To star in a war.
Sat—between me and myself.
Still—as a figure, a shelf.
I perform, I’m leisure–in the right clasp.
I twirl, I titter–I purge out shelled men.
The bile in waves of frantic flit days.
Arm over, sprawled out, but balanced in hand:
There are one enough gamines and shimmering heads.
I whip my eyes ‘round,
Plant my palms in the sand,
As if he could see me,
Let them lunge–let them bend.
The ground paints my palm print,
My knees buckle and land,
When I regain my grounding, I lift up my head.
An allowance–my eyes clear,
I open my lips: here I am, crooned,
Strung and kept–to his lungs in the sand.
I watch for composure,
At his face: a baby’s laugh.
I thumb down the likeness,
To suck the sting back.
Like a beached blonde child, who’s avoided the land,
To let my pulse fall: I’ll breathe slowly, I’ll breathe hardly,
And I’ll tick where I’ve been.
But I wake up–Sat strung
In a surrounded red tub
My lungs are alive
And swollen with pride
My fists pound out ripples,
“I wanted to die.”
Copyright © 2015 by Livia Abramoff.
Livia Abramoff is a student at Montgomery College who has recently been accepted into its STEM program. She won an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Ventura Valdez Poetry Contest.
Metamorphosis of Silence 11
Previously published in Monarch Review
Metamorphosis of Silence 2
Previously published in Monarch Review
Metamorphosis of Silence 1
Carrie Albert is poet and visual artist and often the two merge. Collage and poem pairings have been published in Grey Sparrow, Monarch Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Soundzine, qarrtsiluni, Triggerfish Review, All Things Healing, ink sweat and tears, among others. Her poetry and art is featured monthly at Penhead Press, where she is Writer-Artist in Residence for 2015.
Colleen M. Farrelly
The moonlight shimmers
in the barrel
of a passing wave—
like a school of swimming sardines—
before the barrel implodes,
exploding into a wall
as it passes down the barrel,
as if a line of dynamite
I tumble through
the ensuing chaos
under the ocean’s stage,
a sock fighting
the spin cycle—
until up is down
and down is up.
On shore, the sand is
born in this chaos,
like the barrels beyond
I wash ashore
for being born
Copryright © 2015 Colleen M. Farrelly.
Old Man by the Sea
Sitting on sand this moment,
I am a collector of moments,
an observer of the changing tide—
tempest-tossed and battle-tried,
refined by wave and flame
until only heart remains:
guardian of this tiny ship,
her port, her crew, her lisp.
Each moment courses through my veins,
carved like a delta through the Plains.
I see pitch, yaw, period, and trough,
chop, channels, eddies, and your sloth.
But watching the waves this moment,
you do not see collections of moments—
only that the tide rises,
and the tide falls.
Copryright © 2015 Colleen M. Farrelly.
Colleen M. Farrelly is a freelance author and data scientist living in Coronado, CA, whose poems have recently appeared in Best of Vine Leaves Literary 2014, The Transnational, The Recusant, Creatrix, and Lake City Lights, among others.
Robert D. Kirvel
Troublesome Lines Between the Lines
In the hour before indigo dusk, when the sun circumscribing a late winter afternoon declines at the double. Before a couple emotionally decouples. Upon exiting modern dance workshop and sprinting to catch a bus back to her flat and the master carpenter with stained glass eyes and a severed finger—hazard pay for one careless day, he jokingly dubs the disarticulated digit. Once the decision is made to challenge him. After the key to the apartment is turned and a greeting carries down the hall from her loveable lug, home from a job earlier than expected. Only when she joins him on the sofa and decides most bases are covered: should he resist, she will insist; start to veer and she’ll re-steer; stall or balk and she’ll make him talk all the more.
While endlight plays counterpoint for two, sitting close enough to press chiseled shoulder to meaty arm, devotees of truth or truths derived independently, she rises to admit slivered light through the blinds and retrieves the canvas. Hands it over and asks for honest thoughts about the most impassioned work she has done in a year. Prompts the man of sawdust and sweat for reactions though he distains questions that ride the coattails of implied questions.
He inclines across the painting to express interest or feigned interest then shifts to the customary angle of repose she knows well enough. Sighs a familiar sigh but does not resist. Does not veer. Does not stall. She watches as his arm is flexed to sweep the intact hand just above surface oil, careful not to soil, and observes his lips shape an almost inaudible response. “Not real.”
When encouraged to explain, he points to strokes of gray and darker gray on her creation reflecting the last zebra stripes of daylight. “The lines you’ve drawn here aren’t real. And here. They don’t exist in the world.”
Not real. She could demand the truth but withholds because she knows the statements offered are sincere.
Not real. The truth then? A pounding heart is real enough and true yet its lexicon may not be apprehended, which is closer to what he means to say about her work. He inhabits a quantitative topography reckoned with tape measures, she the realm of imagination. Because she understands what he accepts as real and rejects as not real, and does not feel the need to defend her lines, she can also appreciate why his reaction to the painting fails to recognize her idea of truth no matter how accessible or arcane, yet her skipping beats acknowledge that lackluster discourse in this instance may broaden the rift to unbridgeable aspect. She could explain how some lines might suggest physical contour, but others are not to be taken literally and can instead denote qualitative gradation or equality or inequality or a score of other qualities. Could but does not elaborate on the possibilities because the strokes are real to her. She does not clarify why they are genuine to her or what she had intended by them because the marks are simply resident on canvas to speak their language, indeed must speak that way, as can words in combination on a page that have no physical referent but are nonetheless true, or phrases suggesting a reality that is untrue, or expressions claiming one thing but meaning the opposite as does a young woman’s racing heart on this occasion.
Metaphor. The figurative. Irony. She might have used those descriptors as well but does not offer them because she lacks sufficient confidence to explain and suspects such terms will carry elusive meanings until her dying day. Because she is convinced most people live and die failing to comprehend them properly though it is possible, she suspects, that much in art and experience—living with or without Mr. Hairy Knuckles—is metaphor and a lesser portion ironic.
Because she is suspicious, fallible, but has enough evidence, she reviews other lines tugging in memory just now. All men are created equal. We live in a democracy. Half-truths to be half believed as though it were straightforward to separate the half that is true from the half untrue and know by what logic and in which context truth or falsehood might be reversed. As though it were reasonable, when precept departs from reality, to value the principle as even more essential and hold on all the tighter. As though everyone does not cling to fiction for comfort until the grip becomes unmanageable. Fiction about equality, democracy, love.
In the silence accompanying an artist’s cerebral explosions, cinematic, one line suggests to her another. A whale swallowed Jonah, and they both lived. Columbus discovered America. Manifest destiny justified the usurpation of native lands. Statements she recalls from childhood during an era when folks embraced myth as fact, but if literal interpretations are discredited by evidence available to all these days then what is true? What is real? That parents persist in being hypocritical, teachers and preachers are disingenuous, radio and TV mislead the public, and books and newspapers print lies while lovers opine. Absurd to think them all myopic.
Preposterous to think so. Nearsighted nonetheless, she knows, her brawny woodworker along with the rest.
As well the more current lines from pundits as if to suggest the propositions they trumpet are either everlastingly true or novel insights for today’s world. Corporations decreed to be people by some good old boys wearing robes. Man evolving from apes, touted as defensible ridicule by dogmatists poo-pooing biology. Bungling teachers guaranteed tenure, trickle-down economics sure to work, and a Constitutional right to bear arms sanctified as gospel. She is no historian but knows the founding fathers were less than infallible in their advocacy, so our modern-day right to bear arms can be interpreted to include what? Muskets used back in the day? Assault weapons? Laser-guided missiles and nuclear arms? She is reminded of irascible boys with dangerous toys and self-serving ploys inspired by erectile fixations. She is reminded of him.
A matter of interpretation, the political and moral aphorisms about which she dare not speak her mind candidly for fear of preaching, of offending Grandfather or Cousin Lillian or the man sitting nearby because she knows the claims suggest realities absurd. Not just suspect: she is dead certain they are false.
Although she admits to herself it is preposterous. Is. To know with certainty right from wrong about such lofty or mundane propositions when others do not. To know more than others. Her? Yes her. Because she reads Darwin for entertainment. The original Origin, the elevating Descent. Feels shortchanged in youth upon discovering for herself as an adult that man and apes evolved from a common ancestor, not one from the other as a child is told, and then experiences a sense of veneration afforded by one man’s breathtaking reasoning. Oh. Yes. That is something quite different. Elevating. She googles gastric pH to sample the digestive waters. Ponders representations of love in poems and cinema and art. Remembers love and yearns for faith but encounters cracks in the texture of both. Fissures. As in metaphor, if that is metaphor. And the rest? Undeniably, empirically erroneous.
Myths advertising higher knowledge but constructed for a cause. A cause not always just, not often just, rarely just. Land of the free. To stand in unemployment lines. Land of sweet liberty where all men are created equal. Except for minorities and women. Figures of speech, adages, maxims with a purpose, clich—s mouthed to keep people in line. Lines designed to keep people sidetracked by proclaiming one thing while implying another. Know the difference or grow up dumb. Grow old in ignorance while nothing changes. Die stupid.
Honest labor is rewarded. Translation: the poor must be lazy, poverty dishonest and deserved. Honesty is the best policy. For whom? Pimps and prostitutes alike? Lovers? Lawyers and Congressmen? Children more than parents perhaps, or is it the other way around? Is she to include within the oversimplifications car dealers, bankers, and corporate America? And when is honesty best? When buying a vehicle but not selling one; when purchasing stock in a company but not running one; when audited but not preparing one’s taxes; when answering vital questions from physicians but not hopeless ones from the demented or doomed. As for the doomed, the meek shall inherit the Earth. Fanciful assurance by the nonmeek to keep the meek meek.
After reading Darwin she devises a rule astonishing in its simplicity. In seeking answers, ignore talking heads and go to her Galapagos. Wondering what poverty means, she volunteers to work in impoverished neighborhood islands. Should all teachers have tenure? She listens to marooned students and rescuing teachers she knows rather than the inept. To discover whether being gay is chosen, she talks to gay acquaintances who laugh at the notion. Homosexuality condemned as choice but heterosexuality exalted as innate? If hetero-coupling is righteous and inborn, who but the deranged would choose otherwise? In what world? Planet Schizoid inhabited by a masochistic minority and vainglorious majority worshiping a pantheon that whimsically sanctifies some and vilifies other minions as abomination. Trickle-down wealth. Bolstering what? The minimum wage? She decides that modern controversies are complex yet solutions are not intractable, so she draws her own lines to convey impressions of truth on canvas.
Oh say, can you see now? She worries she has grown cynical but has evidence she is far from being cynical enough, understands that nothing in her work or about the absurd expressions repeated all her life is black or white, that various shades of gray are of genuine interest. Considers the most ennobling human enterprise to be creativity. So what? What now?
Just for fun. Draw more lines. Go out and dance the night into a happy tantrum while feeling the beat beat. Let painters and dancers and musicians rule the nation. Enjoy bright sun tomorrow on exhausted shoulders if there is sunshine, or taste the genderless snow descending silently in half-light if there is snow. Hoot despite the burden; laugh with one who knows how to laugh along. Who enjoys living. Loving. Rocks your world. Ooo baby.
She thinks back to mornings when youth held dewy promise, to her lifeline re-envisioned by a dawn’s early light when as a girl she walked the rusting tracks that once aimed locomotives from the field behind her house toward a hopeful west. Tracks that followed the straight and narrow for miles before snaking around foothills along a path of least resistance. Her trajectory as well, avoiding the gravitational pull of a grade and paying a toll by never aspiring to high terrain. Measured success on the level, always; expanded vision from the peak, never. Failure to ascend, fearing the descent. Until now.
While they are together today at sundown. Because she has drawn her lines and studied his, knows his by heart. The folds at wrists, crinkles around eyes, furrows on forehead, creases veering into groin, and lines from lips. Especially between the lines from his lips when he means to convey guarded optimism. Means well. Where she sees the end of a line.
Out of the blue of pre-evening. When he asks why. After he asks how can she know suddenly, finally, and now? She answers with his lines.
“Because your lines are not real.” That is her position, countering his angle of former repose with words he cannot misinterpret. “The lines I see and hear from you don’t exist in my world.”
Observing her posture on the cushions, how she edges to gain distance and lifts herself slightly while speaking. Not about a painting. Responding instead to his lines about her lines, the ones that to her are about him.
It is serious, he realizes. His throat is sand, tongue a broken cord. He struggles to find the language and a voice to express it within a body dispossessed of verbal capacity, to liberate feelings corralled within barriers imposed by external judgment. Seeks to answer her without spending an evening in creative debate, whatever creative debate might mean. Without provoking outrage over reactions sincerely conveyed, making subsequent honesty more difficult. He wants to tell her yet suffers from spiritual laryngitis.
“I love you,” he almost hears himself say but is not sentimental and hasn’t the voice. “This is not about art or politics, religion or money. This is about two people.” But he says nothing. “This is about your work, which I don’t understand, and my work, which you do not value.” Words felt as stabs in the chest before they are usurped by other thoughts.
Half the daylight hours he worries about what he is doing. The right thing? Enough? If he had been clear from the beginning, would that have helped? To explain when he first realized that he could never play simultaneous roles of confidant, critic, comrade for a cause. That he came to her with insecurities and burdens. That he enjoys art in his way, casually, and enjoyment must be enough. That he always has and always will attend her openings despite the social intimidation he feels in crowds—abandonment amid luxury like a child left on an oversize mattress. He will observe and listen without claiming expertise but will never understand the value of art criticism. His nature. His downfall. His saying it: would that help now?
He sees things simply. Admits to weaknesses, failure to be more forthcoming from the start—the alimony and two children—when being candid mattered most. Dwells on what is real. Bills are real, debt is real and termination of service. Sees a balanced budget and mastering one’s accounts as evidence of maturity but can’t credit using one credit card to pay another. Sees things in black and white and does not want to see red.
He doesn’t understand her claim that everything about Wall Street is criminal or her obsession with social justice for farm workers and welfare moms when one is suffocating under debt and worried about prospects for the next job or whether there will be another job when a prospective client assesses a damaged hand as unreassuring evidence. Her excuse of artistic temperament to justify avoiding the bottom line, denying red ink and collection notices for nonpayment. Reasoning he cannot fathom.
He is not na—ve about democracy and its place in history. Knows that the democratic process in Washington might be dead these days or a lie and that real democracy hinges on participation by the people. We the people of course, but how can ordinary men participate when working double shifts? Democracy demands involvement, yes, and he has nothing against tax reform or gay marriage, but must a person step forward to volunteer? He feels a misalignment of political interests and disconnected from her bleeding-heart involvement. Arguing over the dinner table whether welfare or warfare is appropriate or inappropriate. Pointless. A rational conversation with her about Palestine? Unlikely. Weekend debates about conservative failings or progressive ideals. To what end?
And the rest of it: silly, occasionally absurd. Violent, she says. Barbaric. Sunday football on TV for the brainless masses. Pagan, his hunting ducks once a season. The only forms of recreation he allows himself all year. Where is the crime?
To change her mind. Impossible.
To chide about money. Foolish.
To explain himself. Hopeless.
Score as a compatible life partner. Fail.
In the morning she arranges on the work surface—hers alone to clutter now—oils and brushes, colored pencils and charcoals. She selects what is required for the day and slips the items into a beaded portfolio purchased from a women’s cooperative in Tanzania supported by the UN’s Independent Labour Organization. In the passenger seat and foot well of a pickup he rummages through four seasons of clothing and extracts sweats and a jacket. A tool belt hugs his hips.
Sunlight catches the beads and returns to her eye a vibrant spectrum from the portfolio. Rays glint from a chrome-plated tool hanging from his belt. Masculine and feminine flashes are temporally coincident and kissing cousins of astronomical proximity but streak through different galaxies. It is a morning much like any other in winter, but clearer than most. It is not the start of day either of them envisioned a year ago or yesterday morning. To lighten the weight of her body, she challenges herself to picture a sweet spring of renewal. He thinks of stretched canvas and knows it has to do with an absence from his life. Later in the day she remembers the empty flat. From this time forward he imagines he can manage a budget freely, perhaps begin to save money down the road. As for passion, his saliva thickens. As for love, her eyes water.
Still. When all is said and done she knows he is a good egg. Despite everything, he values her spirit, never mind the blind spots. It is possible for two people to agree they will not engage one another on contentious topics, such as social justice and the meaning of art, is it not? A truce along the lines of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reimagined for a contemporary couple living in the home of the brave. That is possible, yes? They meet at a coffee house and wonder. He does not believe success likely but would give it a go; she talks about paired friends whose peace accord apparently works well enough. There is the problem of honesty of course. There is the issue of money. There is the certain pleasure of sex, the possibility of love. They venture outside in broad daylight to find the hour advanced—by emotional fallout from polar views—to indigo dusk.
Copyright © 2015 by Robert D. Kirvel.
Robert D. Kirvel, a Ph.D. in neurobiology, has authored numerous technical publications in peer-reviewed journals and anthologies. He now writes literary fiction and has published recent stories in Columbia College Literary Review, The Milo Review, Gravel, Shout Out UK, Riding Light Review, The Examined Life Journal, SHARKPACK Poetry Review Annual, and elsewhere.
René Pedraza del Prado
Winner of the Ventura Valdez Spanish Poetry Award 2015
Despierto sin haber dormido
Sombra larga de una luna negra
Arrastro mi alma casi muerta
Masticada y escupida amargura
Asesinado por los traidores de la luz
A esta hora llegan arrepentidas
Las misericordias dulces de tu perdón
Y se fugan como palomas sin alas
Huyendo el grito verde del vidrio roto
En mi espejo cristalino poblado de fantasmas
No me reconozco ya en el reflejo
Arrastrando voy con mil cadenas de plata
Y mi sombra oscura que murmura
Innumerables olas de lamentos ahogados
Soy una triste maleta vacía que nunca llega
Un telegrama amarillo con el tiempo aparece
Anunciando mi barco hundido de muertos marinos
Abandonados al fondo de un mar de lagrimas
Olvidados como las tumbas antiguas de sus padres
Cabezas descalabradas en sus ataúdes húmedos
He perdido mi nube azul de alegría
Y dentro del jardín de mis esperanzas
Han marchitado todas las flores verdes
Y ya me enfunda un hierro frío y nevado adentro
Del sepulcro final donde duermen mis espadas vencidas
Copyright © 2015 René Pedraza del Prado.
René Pedraza del Prado will be graduating from Montgomery College this May and will be going to Hampshire College to continue his education. As long as he can remember, he has had a passion for language. In the next few weeks, he will be going to India to study Urdu.