DECEMBER, 2019

FORWARD INTO A DREAM

BY SYNNIKA LOFTON

I lean and let gravity play its music, play its
role in crafting my destiny, a purpose that I
celebrate. In my head, a kingdom lives with
stones shaped in an innovative design. I
breathe for those that sacrificed. I climb
for those that didn’t have a chance to realize
their potential. This is much more than a
slave song, a ballad that circles in air from
the coast of West Africa and makes a home
on a street corner. I lean forward into a
dream, with a clenched fist.

CINEPHILIA

BY GRANT LOMELINO

She was like a Kubric Film,
Master strokes of purposeful small details.
A soft directional stare
Holding a distant beauty

I’ll eat up every second—
popcorn in hand,

Admiration in eye
She placed her hand in my palm
Carefully slipping her fingers in between mine
Just for a moment
Then returning her hand to a fist
To lay dormant atop my open hand.
I lived for the drives we would take.
Winding, twisting, flying
Past street lights,
Framed perfectly in the passenger window

She glowed—
I stared lovingly at the scene

She avoided my sight line,
With pontificated silence and dismissive head nods
As I stumbled into a monologue of my personal interests
She was a troubadour to my passions
Entertain,
Dismiss,
Move on.
I played the fool to it.
Always waiting for the next performance

SOUL·AR*

BY ALIE MCARDLE

lovers so transcendent
i would feel my soul
lay into his
our bodies activated
telepathy

onward into the kaleidoscope
our energies plugged into
separate neurons

and our connection
weakened

RELATED: THE PAINTER

NOVEMBER, 2019

A DOUBLE, AT LEAST

BY BRIAN RIHLMAN

I grabbed the bat
from beneath the bar
and brandished it, yelling
“That’s enough, assholes!
I’ve already had a gun
pulled in here tonight!”

They stopped shoving,
but the three hundred pounder
with the shaved head
glared at skinny me, shouted,
“Fuck you, motherfucker!
I ain’t afraid of your bat!”

I blinked. Glared back. Waited.
His friends talked to him,
sat him down, got him a drink.

Not the reaction I expected,
but at least I’d smoothed the wrinkles
from the rest of the night.

Under the counter,
the bottle clinked
against the glass
as I poured myself
a vodka cranberry.
Double, at least.

THE WEIGHT OF MY SKIN

BY DARLENE SCOTT

She says the man threatened her.
Salt stings the corners of my eyes

wider than usual with the index
crisscross of plaid, cracked leather

of his sneakers; dare in his pout; my wet
skin, heavy to the pumpkin flesh, his also

cracking; my lips viscous; tentative.
I am cadence, 180 strides per minute.

Channel 6 will ask for a word or witness
to account the sprout of her limbs

near a bronze box, replica of the one in which
Henry Brown shipped himself to Freedom.

I give myself to morning nearly every day;
today, the breeze interrupts thick humidity.

But fails my skin.

In autumn, even, the weight of wet skin;
in the store choosing dinner; I-64 to errands

so heavy my Human wilts under it.
We should both know this.

Her petition finds me an excuse
of sweat and anonymity.

REINCARNATION

BY LYDIA GROTE

Shattered
I picked up the pieces
of dignity
and happiness
that littered
the street like
broken glass

Reincarnated
I died at the corner of
N. Franklin and W. Monroe
I came back
as a woman

Shallow
The future was dim
I trudged through
to find
myself

Patched
A Band-Aid fix
to hide
my sadness

Graduated
I left you
I left this chapter
I left my self-loathing

Reincarnation II
Here I stand
In the city
That—
shattered me
killed me
swallowed me
But I am —
mended
reincarnated
powerful
whole

RELATED: A SON OF COMMON SENSE

OCTOBER, 2019

PHRANKLIN PHINSTER

BY TRAVIS FLESHOOD

And so it was, that Phranklin Phinster did take his neon pink skateboard; and with it, mercilessly thrash his Aunt Sam’s begonias, for they had offended him. After which, he meandered down the pock-marked avenue that was his sanctuary, from the rutabega-festooned two-story bungalow that was his home. It was, that as he meandered, he accused random mammals of incestuous cribbage games and believed several automobiles to be singing “O, Danny Boy”. His steps became more ungainly, his stride more stilted, and his hair more aflame as he continued his aimless trodging. His eyes glazed over and several witnesses accounted to seeing him start doing the Hustle sporadically over the course of seven minutes. He then came to a sudden stop that was so sudden, all the loose change and lengths of wire and rope kept in his pockets, socks, and codpiece were expelled from therein, with such velocity that there were nineteen instances of penetration in the stucco and brick walls of the houses and shacks lining the avenue; and one case of penetration of Mrs. Stuck-in-the-Mud, from whom was later removed $2.83 Latvian, and a string of tea bags.

After stopping with such great force, Phranklin craned his head back so as to observe the sky, on that day a lovely shade of bright purple. He craned his neck to the point where his adam’s apple was perpendicular to the uneven asphault, and further still until he was looking directly behind him, taking in the collateral affect of his erstwhile stroll.

Upon seeing what lay behind him, coupled with the effect of viewing it upside-down, it is said that his eyes began to fill with tears of milk and honey. His heart welled up with sorrow, his stomach with bile, and his bladder with urine.

He felt he could not bear to view the aftermath any further, and so he began to tilt his head back even further, pressing it into the bumblebee pattern on the back of his shirt, until a tear formed at the front of his neck. Further he stretched, until he had ripped his own head off from his own neck on his own shoulders, and had taken note of the hole in the back of his shorts’ leg as the level of his eye fell. His body, however, much like that of a chicken, was not yet consigned to death; and proceeded to drop the skateboard, mount it, and ride it down the avenue. Without the benefit of a head, though, the body jumped the curb and slammed into a spreading chestnut tree. And so it was, that Phranklin Phinster was dead.

JOHN

BY MARY COGGINS

It is nearly dusk on Halloween, and soon the youngest costumed children will be coming to the door escorted by their parents in wagonfuls. John sits on the couch, facing away from the closed bedroom door. He was previously thinking about dinner but is now preoccupied with his decision from several hours before to let the hospice nurse go home early.

There must be a paper somewhere, he thinks, with all the appropriate numbers. They have classes for these kinds of things, he is aware, but they were always at such inconvenient times. Did the hospice nurse have children she needed to take trick-or-treating? He doesn’t remember. For some reason his memory of the hospice nurse looks like McDonald’s clown, which is unsettling so he would prefer not to linger. Perhaps her number is on the paper that must be somewhere. He is unsure of how to handle this situation.

The doorbell rings and John dutifully pushes himself out of the deep cushions. When he opens the door there is a three year old Dalmatian with blonde hair and ears made from the corners of an old crouton box. John recognizes her as the Moorfield girl, Jenna, or Gemma. Perhaps it’s Jennifer. The Moorfield woman is behind her holding a baby in bumblebee stripes.

“Trick or treeeat,” the Moorfield woman says in the delicate voice women use for children.

“Gemma, what do you say, baby?”

The Dalmatian lifts a plastic pumpkin closer to John and mumbles something he assumes is related to the holiday.

“Oh, wonderful!” John says, “Look at what a pretty puppy we have here, oh yes, ha ha … let me go find a treat for this good girl, okay? Okay. I’ll be right back now.”

Of course, there is no candy. John is aware of this. He does not purchase candy; it’s terrible for your teeth and his teeth are terrible already. John vaguely panics thinking about the dentist and shuffles back toward the kitchen in hopes that there may be some peppermints shoved in the back of a drawer somewhere. He is not sure how to handle this situation.

John empties the drawers of all their toothpicks and embroidered napkins and soy sauce packets, but finds no peppermints. Perhaps butterscotch drops, he thinks, because Barbara used to buy a bag and hide it in the crevice between the oven hood and the cabinet to eat while she cooked and he watched golf. It was a long while since Barbara cooked though, and there is no butterscotch bag in the crevice. John thinks perhaps there are some cokes in the fridge. Children like Coca-Cola, he thinks, but inside the fridge there is only a casserole from whoever lives across the street and a large bottle of beer, which John tells himself to remember for later.

And then, a stroke of luck! When he shuts the refrigerator door the paper with the appropriate numbers is right next to his hand, tacked on by a large plastic magnet commemorating John and Barbara’s cruise to Alaska four years prior. He takes the paper down and studies the magnet for a while, remembering that there was a very decadent chocolate cake for dessert when they had dinner with the captain and how thrilled Barbara was to win bingo the third night. John finds that he is smiling to himself despite the situation at hand. He is not sure how to handle it.

The immediate situation at hand, he suddenly remembers, involves a Dalmatian with an outstretched pumpkin. Candy, he thinks, and grabs a can of prunes on the way back to the front door. They are wrapped individually, John thinks, this is fine. 

“Okay then,” John says as he walks back to the Dalmatian and her mother, “I think I’ve got something this puppy-dog might like.”

He tries to open the can of prunes and realizes that it might be difficult while still holding the paper with the appropriate numbers and the rather bulky Alaska magnet. He does not want to put them down and risk misplacing them again, so after several long seconds of wrestling with the prune can it finally pops open. John is unsure how to handle this situation. 

“Aha!” John says. “Sorry there ladies, I was having a little bit of senior difficulty, ha ha.”

He pulls out two prunes and drops them into the Dalmatian’s bucket. He pulls out a third and hands it to the Moorefield woman for the Bumblebee.

“Fank you,” the Dalmation says.

She is timid in the way tiny blonde girls often are. John thinks she has excellent manners.

“You are very welcome,” he says and tries his best to bend to her level, “are you gonna grow up to be a big strong puppy dog?”

The Dalmatian nods emphatically.

“You’re gonna look out for this little bumblebee, right?”

Emphatic nodding.

“Wonderful, just wonderful. You’re a precious little thing, aren’t ya? Ha ha.”

John has to use the door frame to stand up all the way. The Moorfield woman is smiling, apparently proud of her offspring. There are less children in the neighborhood then there were ten years ago, John notes. He has been here for a long time.

“Thank you for the treats, Mr. Rivers, they’re very yummy, and not even bad for your teeth!” The Moorefield woman looks at her children while she talks, as if she is simultaneously speaking for them as well as instructing them on grown-up manners.     

This is a good woman, John thinks. He is admiring the children while she asks vaguely about Barbara’s health. This scenario can be handled privately, John thinks, she does not need to be involved. Women like to cause scenes, and there are a Dalmatian and a Bumblebee present.

“Oh Barbara’s fine, just fine,” he says, “Just taking a little rest today, you know?”

The Bumblebee gropes at her mother’s hair and seems to have some difficulty controlling her saliva.

“Yeah? I heard she was on bedrest, and then of course I’ve seen the nurse here every day.”

“Yes, yes, she’s been here. Very helpful for Barbara, you know, I’m absolutely useless.” John says. He is attempting to be amiable but is still distressed by the image of the hospice nurse as the McDonald’s clown. Leave that alone, he thinks.

“Well is there anything we can do to help out? Dean works all day, you know, and us girls aren’t bad company if you needed some extra help around the house.”

“Oh, we make out all right here,” John says, and for a moment is thrilled by the thought of spending languorous autumn days with the Moorfield woman, the Bumblebee, and the Dalmatian.

“I think mostly what Barbara needs is peace and quiet.”

“Mmm, that makes sense,” the Moorefield woman nods with a significant amount of sincerity.

“Yes, rest and rest is what the doctor ordered, ha ha.”

John is overwhelmed with the urge to tell this woman that his wife is dead. He is not sure how to handle this situation; it seems bad in every direction. How would this woman react if he told her Barbara died exactly forty-seven minutes after the hospice nurse went home? How could he explain, with the Dalmatian right at his knees, that his wife is a corpse under the covers with his own bedtime rapidly approaching?  The risk is great, John thinks, but somewhere on this page the appropriate number is written. And if she can help me find it, perhaps I can have dinner at a reasonable time. He clutches the Alaska magnet and prepares to breach the truth.

“I cannot have them thinking this is a prank,” John says.

The Dalmatian is looking up at him with so much innocence.

“I’m sorry?” The Moorfield woman asks.

“You know, for the holiday,” John says, “the Halloween and all.”

“I’m, sorry, I don’t understand.”

John takes a rather deep breath.

“I am reasonably sure that my wife is dead. I need to call someone, but I’m not sure which number it is. They have classes for these things, I know, that you’re supposed to do together before, you know, one of you becomes hopelessly infirm but we went to Alaska instead and had a wonderful time, and I’m glad we did, honestly, seeing the moose and the lynxes and lots of men with big beards and the syrup there is just fantastic so– ”

“You’re reasonably sure? She’s– dead?”

She didn’t even whisper the word, John thinks. She just said it.

The Moorfield woman moves past him into the house and sets the Bumblebee on the floor near the stairs. She asks several questions about the nurse and Barbara’s medications while the Dalmatian waits patiently at the door. The woman heads for the bedroom, toward the closed door beyond which  Barbara is no longer breathing.

“No no,” John says, trying to move as quickly as possible in slippers that seem directly opposed to his will, “I don’t think you need to see her. She’s dead. Please don’t cry.”

The woman is already in the bedroom. The Bumblebee scoots toward John and he marvels at the resilience of her diapers.

“I am afraid I don’t know who to call,” John says after her, “I don’t want the children to think it’s a prank, when they come to take the body away.”

The woman comes out of the bedroom not crying at all and John is surprised. Don’t women cry at dead things? Barbara cried at the very mention of dead things. She closes the door behind her. 

“I understand,” she says, “let me see that paper, please?”

John sees as he hands it to her that there is a name written in large capital letters, circled several times and highlighted. That is probably the appropriate person, he thinks, and tells the woman.

“Yeah, this is the coroner,” she says, “but I don’t know if they’d wait to take the body away. Maybe we should call the nurse? Is her number on here?”

“She had to go to her second job at McDonalds.” John thinks there is a possibility this might be true, as he is still unsure of the connection between Ronald McDonald and the hospice nurse. At any rate, he does not wish to see her.

The woman stands scanning the paper for anything. She seems to have a sense of what to do, John thinks. The Bumblebee stands up and clutches John’s leg like a tree trunk, moving in jerky, unsteady steps. He bends down to pat her bald-ish head, soft like a real bumblebee.

John wishes more than anything that Barbara had waited one more day to die. The day, even the morning following Halloween would be an ordinary time to die. People would only come to their house after the fact, bringing covered dishes instead of asking for candy. There would be no costumes and most likely no children. But tonight there would be people, complete strangers progressing in degeneration as the night wore on, milling about the neighborhood to witness his wife’s body being carted out of their house. They would assume it was a totally rad Halloween decoration, John is sure of it.

He wants her to be respected. He wants her to come back alive for twelve more hours. He wants to sit down.

“I think I would like to take a seat,” John says, but cannot detach himself from the Bumblebee.  He shakes his leg lightly but she’s clutching hard. She does not even look up at him, and her mother is preoccupied with her phone. The Dalmation has moved on to the yard, plucking dandelions from the grass. There is supposed to be some kind of dignity in this scenario, John thinks, and instead there is a small bumblebee drooling on my pants. This has gotten out of hand.

“I said I think I would like to take seat,” John says, rather loudly. He is suddenly overwhelmed by a need for French fries.

“Oh, sorry,” the Moorfield woman scoops up the Bumblebee and still manages to hold onto her phone and the paper with the appropriate numbers.

John moves toward the couch and its deep cushions. He sinks in and does not fight the urge to put his head into the soft bowl of his hands. He thinks he may be crying. How did I get here, he thinks. And where the hell do I go now?

Millions of tiny wonderings fill his head, like how will I fill my hours without the butterscotch hidden beneath the cabinet? What about the mums in the fall and the radio playing in the kitchen? Who will accompany me on all those exasperating grocery trips? What is left without my wife, John thinks. I do not know, is all he knows for sure. I have no idea.

 After a short while John realizes the Dalmatian has climbed up beside him and is studying his grief. She places one of her several dandelions on his lap. The Moorfield woman and the Bumblebee are watching him from the ottoman across the room. John takes the dandelion and puts it behind his ear, which makes the Dalmatian smile. She says something to the elementary effect that he is beautiful, and he wants to give her all the dandelions in the world.

SHIVA

BY DANIEL PRAVDA

when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof, i pictured how far it would go: carried by wind and my baseball swing, it could have sailed across the parking lot and over the 4-lane street into and through the front glass of city hall. when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof, i could say the glant guitar flew through the lobby of city hall–security sleeping–smashing the front door of the mayor and spanking him literally off his ass and rededicated to the people. in/stead she in her sheen grabbed by the gears of gravity spun like a crashing jet and broke her neck on a pallet of cinderblock amid yips and yells of glorious destruction. when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof,  i almost lost my balance.

RELATED: THE PSYCHIC

SEPTEMBER, 2019

ONE DAY IN THE SUMMER

BY TONY GENTRY

Huckleberry Hound was a lazy pup
but rounded the corner with raving eyes
lathered and frantic, like he was pursued.

Said, “Mama, he went up under the house.”

“Go get him,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

Dog-sized chink in the brick foundation
but if I reached one arm in tucked my head
could squirm up follow him into the dark.

She handed me a flashlight, said, “Go on.”

This was something I’d never considered
the guts of the house its underbelly

squared onto a powdery dirt that for
all the age of the structure had not seen
the light of day.  Dank dry dust and cobwebs
creepy and cool is why he’d gone in there.

It took a while but that had to be Huck
against the blank concrete wall of the porch.
Paired red dots way back there his trembling eyes
or was that just what my eyes were doing?

“Go on now,” she said.  “Dang, mama, alright.
On my belly toes dug in had to keep
from bumping my head on the kitchen pipes
then past them like diving under water.

Heard him whimper or again it was me
but closer now squeezing midway under
the dining room far up in there was a
private place like nowhere I’d ever been.

Hi ol’ Huck.

Eye to eye it was bad how he panted
neck strained teeth bared in a grin that scared me.
Far back in the day Mama said, “Get him.”
But this was my call.  I said, “Hush Mama.”
She didn’t like that. “Don’t you hush me boy.”

Who knows how long it took?  Flicked off the light
dropped my head on my arms. I knew one tune
and sang it.  Maybe you know the song, too?

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.

I did that a while like a lullaby.
Then this moan shut me up a whole ‘nother
song that right now scribbling can hear it plain.

A lot of time in there to contemplate
the dirt to consider the ticking dark
nose pressed in things I hadn’t thought about.

When I dared to switch on the light again
Huck was different, ribs still, legs stretched out
like he was running someplace, eyes bugged tongue
lolled long and dry.  So then what’s the hurry?
In that weird space I sang to him some more.

A slow drag then feet first for both of us
snot slimed to mud on my cheeks shirt rode up
and the rub of the dirt at my belly
press of the house like the flat of a hand
freaked out beneath the dangling kitchen pipes
desperate old drowning man flailing for air
little kid squirming to drag a dead dog.

At the hole, worked my legs out first but then
got stuck halfway and yelled.  Mama had gone
back inside.  She had work to do no time
for my triflin’. That was a lesson too.
Sharp brick drew a long red scratch up my back
but wiggled out one fist tight on a paw
to finally drag him into the light

Huck was heavy and stiff like all dead things
and dirt had kicked up in his startled eyes.
I said “I’m sorry” and tried to wipe them
my thumb on an eyeball hard as a marble.
Oh man how I hated that scary hole.

Mama came out laid a rag on his back
and spread it to almost cover his legs.
Said, “Huckleberry was a good old pup.”
Said, “Prob’ly old man Hollis and all his
durn chickens,” whatever she meant by that.

When Daddy got home my dog disappeared.
He mortared up the crawl space too but missed
the new one as fathers do opened up
in me where Huck and I to this day lie
flat in the dark far in and away right
up against the hard fact and singing
as best we can.

JAMBO NEELEY, COWBOY PHILOSOPHER

BY JAY CALHOUN

He started out as James. Was called so from birth. It was us turned him into Jambo once he started working the livestock on our crew. He was bout sixteen. Funny kid. Smart— always askin why we do this way, or why’nt we do it that.

His mother, who said James was too ‘intelligent’ for rodeo, was kind of a sarcastic woman. Called us a bunch of ‘wild-ass barn-apes’.

But Jambo he was, to everybody around. I guess he did get a little wilder than he would-of if he’da stayed home and read books, but he fit in real good with us. And he sure brought the sauce to the rodeo circuit.

No matter how bad things got for a rider, count on Jambo to bring a joke or a crazy look. Or just a hand-up out of the dirt. Never was much a one for drawn-out argumentations when he was pushed, had fast hands and a wicked left-hook. But always brought plenty of sunshine around….and Lord have mercy, the gals. Always seemed to have the prettiest one…or two.

Handsome, funny, he grew up quick. Started winning buckles and prize money…seemed like he was fearless. He drew the roughest beasts and held-on real good. He seemed wilder than they was. Jambo moved up the professional ratings at a real good pace.

Til that day the big hoppin Charolais bull hooked him through the hip and tossed him into a corner of the feedlot.

The horn went in the side of his right butt-cheek and tore up his lower pipes and organs. The surgeons sewed all that back up….it was the ruination to his pelvis bone that did him the permanent change. Least that’s what he claimed. He always walked funny after that.

And he took a more measured view of life. He was bout thirty, but he become like one of those old Greek philosophers, in the marketplace. Would give out advice like it was some cosmic truth.

He couldn’t ride or bulldog no more, so he organized a rodeo events company and hired all us ‘veteran’ hands to work for him. Started to get grey-haired, opinionated and more given to conversation. Never did lose his tendency for fun, though.

He’d bring some new hire in front of all of us and say, “Now Red,” or whatever the new guy’s name was, “Now Red, I’m countin on you to do a good job out there, just don’t get above your raisin’s.” Man, how we’d laugh at that man’s face…Or Jambo’d get mad cause one of us had mucked something up and he’d turn to who-all was standing around and say, “Next time I’m tempted to send a dumb SOB, I’ll go myself!”

You just wanted to hear his philosophy on things. We probly coulda learnt more from him but he acted like it hurt him to sit still. Anyway, he kept us too busy to loaf around talking.

It’d been two years since his last operation. We never dared to ask him why he keeps going up to Austin to see Dr. Jackson. That was the surgeon who repaired him after the bull tore him up.

Suspected some of his tubes didn’t get fixed good as new like he claimed. He sure didn’t go sniffin around the ladies like he once did do.

It was when we hauled up north to put-on one of those little county-fair rodeo’s that we got our surprise. We’re looking out for where-all Jambo got away to and somebody calls he’s out in the parking lot talking to some beautiful gal just stepped out of a BMW.

Jambo brings her around behind the chutes and introduces her with that crazy smile he used to always have around the girls.

“Want y’all to meet Sonya, promised to show her all the sights and ‘smells’ of the Rodeo. Give her plenty respect, now….she’s gonna be my bride.”

Then he locks onto her with a big old kiss. And she was into it!

We were shocked. He hadn’t said one thing about a woman since that bull gored him. We just figured he was maybe more damaged down there than he’s letting on. Here he is ‘scorting the prettiest green-eyed black woman we ever seen.

Wasn’t more than bout an hour later one of the cowboys went off his bronc sideways, spinnin like a rag-doll and went all blinky when he hit the fence. I was riding pick-up in the roughstock competition so I got to him first. I was yelling, “911!…Get the EMT’s in here,” when

I seen Jambo’s gal climb over the fence and come pelting across the arena. You could hear the klaxons blowing, ambulance tryin to nudge through the crowd.

She just slid-in there next to me in the dirt and I says, “Give him some room Miz Sonya, he’s knocked out.” Then she says, “Well I guess I can see that,” she says, “you give him some room…go tell those EMT’s to bring their spine-board and a collar….and an airway…STAT!”

She started-in pumping on his chest while I was trying to get my creaky knees unbent so’s I could get up. I was taking too long. Anyway, Jambo come limping in by then, she yells at him, “James Neeley, you get that crash-wagon in here right now! This is your damn show.”

I heard him say, “Yes Ma’am, Doctor Jackson.”

“Cowboys!” She says, lookin up at me with those big eyes-flashing fire, “Why would a sane person want to climb up on a wild animal is what I want to know.”

PROLOGUE: HER WORDS NOT MINE

BY JOHNNY CUELLAR

“if we find ourselves
on a dead island
still flying around the sun
yet no longer moving,

it’s that men
and women both
became
the judge
jury
prosecutor
defendant
victim
guilty
innocent,

and executioner

all wrapped up in
one package held together—

a bottle full of flames
with a loose cork
and some wire.

and our beautiful blue marble
will fade away
screaming
in slow motion.

RELATED: RICHMOND COMMUNITY BAIL FUND

AUGUST, 2019

BORROWED TIME

BY KELSEY SMOOT

Summer slips
Like shorts off of hips
that forgot to feed themselves during the cold months
The shadows, that once cloaked the horizon’s secret inlets, stripped away
No more hiding in darkness
Lightning bugs tousle my nephew’s hair
Every street corner buzzes with the white hot energy
of onlookers and showstoppers 

I smile smugly—
a deceptively fruity concoction makes my head airy with bold assessments and boyish humor
I trade war tales with a socialite,
and become her very willing captive
Parading about the city in fine linens
I forget my transient existence in the bright lights of novelty 

And then
in the midst of a lunar love tryst
in the thickness of southern evening
I hear the familiar sound of silence
I stop to listen to the quiet
remove my shoes and plant myself in earth
I cannot ignore the subtle message of the breeze
that sweeps coolly overhead, and then intensifies,
nearly toppling me and all of my collected trinkets 

The long moment finally passes
the air calms,
the sounds re-emerge 

But I have already moved away from the crowd
taking swift, deliberate steps
my eyes retrained to the east—homebound

THE RICHMOND ACTOR

BY PETE SHELDON

The Richmond actor must drink and laugh through his sorrow.
Though his laugh be hollow and the drink be deep
Starts in fits and struts
He bows to hungover applause
Returning to his keep for a nightcap of beer, whiskey and tears

A DESPERATE HUE

BY GRACIE DESANTIS

I’ll glitter gold for you.
I’ll shine like a firefly,
even after twilight alights
and dusk puts you to bed.

I’ll hide my gray days
behind sugar clouds in lemonade.
I’ll dye my hair to look like lilacs.
Your favorite of the blooms we picked.
I’ll wear the cornflower frock
you ate up with dripping butter
the first time you saw me.

I’ll grow you a garden, water it daily.
I’ll pluck burning sunrise tomato fruit
and placid morning glories
who peek dainty from their dewy petticoats
while wasps whisper underneath.

Burgundy in an autumn cotton field,
the stain of my lips and cheeks,
and whatever else you reap of me
when you play upon my flesh.

BY GORDON JEFFERSON

thinking thought:
unbroken movement;
limitless

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JULY, 2019

FORT STORY SHORELINE FENCED OFF FOR HOMELAND INSECURITY

BY DANIEL PRAVDA

On the northeast ear of Virginia Beach,
two lighthouses pierce the fog of dawn:

one black and white striped, the other brown brick
with a green copper top. When did the taxpayers

bestow barbed wire on themselves?
At eight a.m. sharp the Star Spangled Banner

gets mangled by crashing waves and running break.
The sands end at the red house on the rocks:

granite jetty Cape Henry holding
like a fist, blooming at every ebb tide, singing

like an honest siren.  When the ocean
routs your fence and drags that barbed wire

out to sea, I will walk past and share
a laugh with the lighthouses again.

BLUE RIVERS AND RED OCEANS

BY PORSHA ALLEN

The boy with moon skin spoke of stars &
a black sun, of trees holding themselves
up by the root, of apple picking & how
his father turned to air just before he was
born  & of how his mother tried to claw
him out of her own womb because of it.
He spoke of blue rivers turned red ocean.
I spoke of blue rivers turned red ocean. We
spoke of hands & the ones that touched
us. We used our hands to try & forget the
ones that touched us.

THE MOON ON THE OCEAN

BY TONI SPENCER

“Whenever I look at the ocean, I always want to talk to people, but when I’m talking to people, I always want to look at the ocean.”— Haruki Murakami

The moon lies upon the ocean—
a sleeping dragon curled about itself,
one eye half open observing the world below.
Snow falls like meteors— a shower of cold fire
doused in the black water heaving itself
Upon the shore. This moon is red as blood—
The dragon’s eye carnelian in its glow.
Bits of phosphorus twinkle on the sand.
A crab washes ashore and walks a few paces
before being swept back into the blackness again.
Farther from the shore early breaking waves
show white in the blackness and ladders
from the moonshine track back to the moon
undulating gently upon the water. The
moon on the ocean is a mysterious thing.

FRAGILE MILLENNIAL MATTER

BY JENNIFER DELANEY

Sometimes I pray for wrinkles
Agnostic balance, selfish, self-preservation
I am older than you think and older still than the times this flesh prison I woke up in has circled the sun
We are all made of stardust
Why do you insist on pretending that you are stronger for burying yours
It’ll still seep out of you, betray your wrinkles and thicken the tongue you keep biting back
When you find yourself,
Six feet beneath
Or ash, whatever’s becomes of the flesh you assign to identify
A gem, a vinal record, your body of art could decorate the walls of posterity if you’d just remember how close the universe actually is
Light-years
365, why
And more importantly how do you decide that the atoms of matter that make up *matter, that make *me*, default, matter,
Are
Insufficient
Like my funds are
Irrelevant
Like
Any lived experience you were too tall to witness
Are
In-fan-tile
Like
Your behavior
Your excuses
Justify this humanity, I mean
Seriously?
In this economy?
Ancestral laugh tracks that are too stubborn to be taken seriously
Mountains that deny their fractured plates
Origin story but make it nostalgia
Origin story but makes the guides liars and
Leave out the parts where you call yourself weak and ashamed instead of reactivate and severed in all the places it matters,
Like you matter
Origin story but lie about the plot.
Drop the twist and turn instead, hard right, veer, no yields signs within a mile of this generation
Just the big bold letters spelling
FRAGILE
monogrammed in ink, in SAT legible cursive
And tied tight with a symmetrical ribbon
And tired tye dyed catapults
Is the target on my back or on my face?
My credit score or my student loan payment plan?
Utilities is a fancy word for necessities.
Pale like a snowflake
And you think me weak for the part of my ego that cares more for me than you
Child
Dear, little lady.
Begging me to play something like pretend respect at your lungs, older than mine
Breathing the whole, wholesome time
Like you had a right to, and now a new right to assume
But absence and audacious,
Fragile, fake stained glass
Truth, I’ve found is less bitter when it’s a chaser for childhood
Baby, break your own heart
Isn’t that how the light gets in?

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